Thursday, April 30, 2009

Scrambling on the north valley hill slopes

Clusters of these little purple jobs have been here and there amongst the rocks on the south facing slope of north valley from about half way up to almost the top. I took these pic last week and we've been seeing them since then but as they're already starting to finish I'm getting this in before it's too late. It looks somewhat similar to one I took in gazelle field a couple of weeks back (#415) but not the same species I just compared.. even though I don't know the I.D. of either yet. If anyone can help me I.D. them I'd be thrilled! The site I use displays them all in alphabetical order which is not extremely helpful as I just don't have time to go through every single one . I usually find species I recognize while looking for others and I.D. them much later.

One of the Robber Flies: family Isilidae, found by Moshe, photographed I think by Avremi , clinging to this grass halfway up the hill. Insects were grounded in the brisk winds and this one wasn't going anywhere. We had seen another like this on our walk last week but then the boys didn't manage to get a good pic of it so we were glad we had the opportunity again. The wings of the fly are hard to see, they lie together on top of the abdomen as far as next to last segment. We had to shield it all around with our hands to prevent the wind blowing the grass. We also found another wasp moth, similarly grounded, clinging onto a flat rock on the hillside for dear life! If it would try to take off it would be immediately carried east for scores of yards.

This tiny herb now growing fresh by the rocks in many places I found quite photogenic so I asked Avremi to get a shot. Click on it for closer view.. tiny hairy pods are visible between the leaves. I don't know what this is yet.

WARNING spider below!

The I.D. of this one was easier to find. It's a nursery web spider, Pisaura consocia a common house spider here. This one was found in our kitchen by husband. It looks rather formidable but is in fact only about an inch across from (front) leg tip to leg tip

Garden in the morning was pretty lively, with house sparrows and sunbird vocalizing while it was still dark. They were soon joined by laughing dove and white spectacled bulbul and not long after by a singing blackbird. Jackdaws heard later.

We headed into north valley and continued up the slope on the opposite side, up the hill almost as far as the wall by A Ram where breezes were strong enough to make walking a struggle, even if we had not been hiking on sloping ground littered with treacherous small stones. We were struggling but watched four gazelle run down the slope as if it were a doddle. I had the boys on alert for any new vegetation or insects.

Hooded crow and feral pigeons seen later and also out foraging in flocks .
In the woods, collared dove but turtles still quiet. Graceful warblers active up by the road as usual. Chukar partridges heard, Syrian woodpecker seen flying north /south across the valley. No storks but a large raptor up across the valley over by A Ram flying east. I couldn't make it out very well but had hint of forked tail and wide wings, enough to make black kite likely. Haven't seen those in a while but they do appear in the area from time to time.

Moshe also found a dead small butterfly, from the looks of it, a fritillary, Melitaea likely knapweed fritillary, M. phoebe but sadly it was so fragile it disintegrated in my hands and I wasn't able to bring it home to photograph properly.

Weather: Cooler than yesterday 12-18.5 degrees C. time of walk (~6.15 p.m.) 14.5 degrees, 70%, westerlies 13-20 kt but felt quite a bit stronger on upper hillslopes, funnel effect.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Rock roses and other sweet things

We found this beauty blooming a little below the tree line on our way up the shepherd's path from east valley watercourse dirt road up to the east field. Not sure what it is yet, I'm thinking Pink Rock rose, Helianthemum vesicarium or Cistus creticus. Definitely one of the Cistaceae. Below, stigma and stamens zoomed.

I take back what I said about Maccabee's blood Helichrysum sanguineum never developing beyond red blobs! Of course it has to produce pollen sometime and this revealed itself to me today.. here it is below, a sweet eruption of extremely tiny florets and pollen producing stamens- the whole thing is merely a few millimetres across, this is very zoomed so it was rather hard for me to focus sharper when I could barely see on what I was focussing ! Still, I'm rather pleased with the degree of sharpness I managed, you can see here structures that are barely visible to the naked eye.

This looks a lot like star clover in structure though each star much smaller and quite a few more of them! (Reminds me of the water creature, Volvox) There are a lot of these about now and I just found them very prettily photogenetic though I'm not sure what they are! Taken a couple of days ago but seen today also

This Bear's breeches, Acanthus syriacus is progressively turning to fruiting stage.. some white flowers still visible but two fruits well developed, all part of the same spike. Always interesting to me how each plant develops through its life cycle, much of it pleasantly photogenic. (this pic taken some time last week)

Other flowers out.. Syrian and milk thistles, yellow centauries, brooms, viper's bugloss, the tiny yellow figwort(?) like flower, the 'micromint' (Veined savory, Micromeria nervosa), the common blue-purple 'mini sage' like spikes, wild carrot (Daucus) beginning to appear more and more, poppies, though seem smaller ones than those we photographed . Ballota and Verbascum foliage coming up but not blooming yet.

Wednesday, temp peaked at ~27 degrees C but at time of walk, shortly after 6 p.m. was down to just over 21 degrees. humidity 43% winds westerly and very light. Some cumulus cloud.

Garden: white spectacled bulbul, house sparrows, sunbird, cooing laughing dove. Jackdaws heard, feral pigeons on and between rooftops.

Quite a few hooded crows aloft, loose flocks heading to rest, or individuals just heading to and fro over the forest to forage. Chukar partridges heard chuckling up on the west facing slopes near the bridge, sunbirds in the eucalyptus near sapling field. Greenfinches in the pines and cypress. Great tit calls.. significantly, fledgeling great tit calls also near the sapling field. Common Swift aloft over east field.

No sign of white storks.. finally moved on? Turtle doves not heard but we did not go near where we usually hear them, particularly the north end of east valley and around. ARe they really so locally distributed or do they just usually coo much less frequently than collared doves? Also noticed no cat- thyme germander on windsurfer hill at all though there's loads of it on the hill to the north.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Fledgeling, and north valley delights

Fledgeling graceful warbler, Prinia gracilis, called Pashosh in Hebrew. This is a very common and highly vocal wren like bird that breeds prolifically in low scrub like this. Look at the base of the bill, you can see the yellow skin which tells you it's very young, still being fed by the parents. It was just about five feet in front of us for several minutes, occasionally hopping up and down the scrub, quite unconcerned. I have to say this. Isn't he cute?! Akiva

This extraordinary shaped yellow Nigella ciliaris (Ciliate Love in-a-mist) was found by Akiva in a eucalyptus grove close by the north valley watercourse. We found quite a few others in the area. Gila

This tiny wasp clinging to a grass barely 1 cm long was also found not far from the north valley watercourse. It matches Eumenes mediterraneus, a potter wasp. These insects build tiny round homes for their larvae out of mud. I did not realize it was a potter wasp when I took the pic, just looked it up now at Ritter's site. That's the wonderful fun of this hobby, discovering it all as we go along.

Eurasian jays, chukar partridges, blackbirds vocal and active. Lots of graceful warblers esp. by the corner of valley road where it turns east for a way.. near the hyrax colony there. Seems a whole family just fledged and parents very vocal.

A lot of Sylvia warblers working the acacias, contact calling 'tack tack' all around us but keeping within the foliage and not allowing us a fair glimpse. Husband made out dark upper head briefly which makes Orphean warbler quite likely. One briefly burst into song.

White spectacled bulbuls also foraging in the trees, perfect for them.

Hooded crows and such about, we were too much under the canopy with our attention at a lower level to notice much in the sky but no bee-eaters, swifts or turtle doves heard and no storks seen at all.

We headed down into north valley and explored the area by the watercourse. There again grasses and Syrian thistle dominant, still plenty mustard but the geraniums, persian buttercups, orchids and other delicate flowers of earlier spring are now past. Still some blue pimpernel here and there hugging the ground and poppies on banks in patches. Much of the watercourse and surrounding little meadows was thickly strewn with acacia pollen and fallen florets, yellow like lichen on the rocks and tangled with the thistles particularly those with webs. Pollen everywhere and tissues in hand.

The ramble along that watercourse track, barely a track, perhaps for a porcupine, was really quite idyllic, framed by steps of limestone and tiers of vegetation, reminiscent of a greek woodland fantasy, half expected to meet dryads, nymphs and satyrs along there! We must make a little video one day because still shots just do not do the whole place justice.

6.15 p.m. 18.8 degrees C, 48% humidity, winds NW 5.2 knots, skies totally clear.

Here's your mystery pic! It's a zoom of a pic Avremi took recently though the original pic is not posted it is a species I have mentioned many times and posted other pics of it, and yes, that really is its natural colour!

Monday, April 27, 2009

Sages, Thistles and the Windurfer Watercourse

This image of a yellow Phlomis (P. viscosa) flower was taken by Avremi. We found a whole stand of these half way up the watercourse that runs from the south saddle of windsurfer hill towards east valley. Also known as Viscid Jerusalem Sage and related to the purple Phlomis in 'sage valley' and more distantly to (true) Jerusalem sage, Salvia hieroscolymitana

Hope you're taking notes there will be a quiz about sorting out the sages! Just kidding. There is yet another sort of Jerusalem sage but we call them rabbis:)

I loved this one for its purple florets mingled with the yellow. Do click on it for better appreciation. There was another variety on the hillside that was all pure yellow but this one caught my eye first. It's blooming by the roadside now all around the neighbourhood. I thought it might belong to the genus Centaurea but I have not found a satisfactory match. Definitely one of the thistle related clan. Gila

This one is all over the place now, in valley and on hill. As you see the purple head is generally quite small and sometimes occurs in irregular 'nodules' around the main stalk, and always with those outlandish purple spines. I I.D.d it as Syrian thistle, Notobasis syriacus as nothing else I've found comes close. Avremi

Here's a cameo appearance of our two young photographers and adventurers, Avremi (left) and Moshe (right) sitting in the watercourse.. after heavy rain they'd be sitting in a pool with a little waterfall coming down behind them but now they're just pretending they're relaxing in a jacuzzi. Even though the watercourse is dry it is still the richest part of the hillside in terms of foliage and therefore always worth investigating.

Hyrax seen amongst the rocks at the corner of sapling field near the pumping station, skittered under the boulders at our approach. Nice buck gazelle in north west lower part of east field, ran across and entered the woods.

White Storks are indeed still around. We saw one wheel around over the look out corner area and I made out at least four in tops of various trees around. I might have been able to pick out four if my eyes weren't so tired! Are they steadily moving on and therefore losing numbers or have they simply spread out more?

I was also happy to hear, finally, after weeks of silence, several calls of a Syrian woodpecker coming from the east valley trees down from valley road. Many jackdaws active foraging in a flock up on windsurfer hill. Hooded crows also about. Watched and admired hobby pair fly high together over east valley for a while. Chukar partridges, swifts, great tits, graceful warblers heard. Probably also greenfinch and collared dove not sure, but definitely no turtle doves heard today. They seem to prefer to coo on warmer days.

Around buildings: sunbirds, laughing doves cooing, foraging at crumb corner, on the street and around. House sparrows, white spectacled bulbuls, feral pigeons.

Temp at time of walk: 17.6 degrees C, 68% humidity, wind NW 9.6 kt. Today's range 10.5-22 degrees C

I'm giving you another day to tease you with those red blobs. Admittedly not an easy one! I have posted a pic of it way back and mentioned it recently, that's all I'll say. It's not pomegranate or thorny burnet berries.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Dominance of the Composites and mystery pic

Here's a view roughly to the south east from the hillside just north of north valley. East valley crosses the picture from upper right to centre left, beyond it on the right, 'windsurfer hill', up on the left, Hizmeh, beyond, more of north Jerusalem, Right centre, the lower part of our neighbourhood, valley road winding down from there, crossing east, then bending towards the south out of view on its way to the pumping station.

Composites growing close to the acacia tree down from the southward bend of valley road. Looks like one of the Scorzonera, (Viper's Grass) looks similar in some respects to both S. papposa and S.multiscapa. Plant about two feet tall with simple long narrowish leaves.

A Scabiosa? Looks most similar to S. rhizantha though according to the site I use I shouldn't expect to find it up here. At any rate, we found and photographed it in gazelle field last year also. This was growing around north valley. Though this looks very similar to the composites it's in a different family- Dipsaceae.

Also found blooming: Still some Acanthus though now steadily turning to fruit which looks like a small long melon inside. Meanwhile spitting cucumber is spreading well where it grows and flowering well, some fruit developing. A common thistle in many open areas Notobasis syriaca (Syrian thistle, Barkan Suri - this is the plant on which are the beetle pair Avremi photographed) . Yellow Centauries are also starting to bloom in many open places. This is definitely the season of dominance for the Asteracea, the composites, they've taken over from the lily family flowers of the early spring.

It was really quite pleasant to walk on the hill crest in the cool breeze amongst mats of gentle yellow flax, assorted thistles, Gundelia, innumerable star clover and the ubiquitous mole rat mounds and look around at the views.. the pleasant rolling view to the south, (above) and the more austere desert hills to the east. We saw the new moon, curved face down against the sun which was already out of view behind the hills by that time though there was still plenty light, just enough to get down off the hill in time. Crickets were already chirping on the hilltop.

Gazelle: Nice views of small bachelor herd of six individuals across the hidden watercourse and up the hill. There horns were of varying sizes but they were all pretty much adult males, some clearly more mature than others. They ran down the rocky hillside with a nimbleness that always astonishes us as footing for us must be careful and is occasionally treacherous where small stones gather. They do tend to travel along regular trails which wind around the contours of the hills. I'd bet that trails shepherds use were originally made by countless gazelle hoofs over the ages.

Birds? No storks at all today though husband theorized the winds might be keeping them down if they are still around. Bee-eaters also not aloft. Some Buteos about, long legged buzzards from what I could make out, hooded crows flying up and making them unwelcome as usual. Birdlife quite quiet today in fact. We did hear some black eared wheatear calls on the hillside and possibly larks. Some jackdaws also about and calling, collared doves active and vocal, turtles quiet. Chukar partridges quite noisy somewhere in north valley.

Garden: sunbird calls, laughing doves, white spectacled bulbul, house sparrows.

Weather: range 11-19 degrees C. Time of walk: 16 degrees, winds westerly 6-8 kt, )though I suspect more where we were)

Today's mystery pic. Any clues what this might be?

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Brief Saturday report

Marbled White: Melanargia titea titania. Taken by Avremi. I mistakenly called them 'clouded whites' a few times lately, must go back and correct that.

Zoom up of the cat thyme germander flowers, showing how they look like tiny fleurs de lys. Below, leaves of this plant.

Small unidentified plant with seed pods, just up from the orchard. If I'd seen which plant it was before it had the pods I might have known!

White storks still about.. 11 individuals counted coming over the hill and heading into the trees to roost at about 6.30 p.m.

Stone curlew heard later in the evening from the direction of east field.

Collared doves: very active , cooing, flight display with flight call. Turtle doves cooing. Laughing doves and Feral pigeons around the buildings. House sparrows, white spectacled bulbuls, graceful warblers all vocal and active. Blackbirds in song in Bauhinia, vocal and active in the forest. Great tits also calling today. Husband heard drumming of woodpecker, first we've heard from Syrian woodpeckers in a while. Hooded crows and jackdaws active. Quite a few Buteos active in the area, soaring overhead, some being harassed by the local hooded crows. One tried to settle in mid East valley and was chased out of the tree by several crows.

Husband saw fox by north corner of valley road, near the large acacia there. He also found some blue composites.. Lactuca? They had closed up late afternoon.

Range: 11.5-21 degrees C. Time of walk: ~18 degrees C. humidity 50% , winds W/NW 6-8 kt

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Beetles and flowers

This pair of beetles was taken by Avremi. Are we looking at male and female with sexual dimorphism? They are very similar though one only has orange shoulders and on the upper individual most of the wing case is coloured. As with all pics, click on them to enlarge.

These we found coming up a densely vegetated bank from gazelle field onto the north valley dirt road.

This beautifully hued flower was found by Avremi half way up the south facing slopes of north valley. We didn't see any others like it anywhere. I think it's Dwarf Chicory, Cichorium pumilum ~3 to 4 cm across

This is also a kind of composite but not sure what it is and seeing the whole plant with inflorescences that never seem to get larger, I think this is about the extent of the petal development. I think I shall dub this 'minimum effort dandelion' but I think the end does deserve a sharper focus to do justice to the tiny florets. The whole flower is less than 1 cm long.

These juicy fat little beetles (each at least 1" long) were, as Moshe put it, very 'buzzy', there were several about in the scrub all vibrating wings and scrambling over each other actively, perhaps a mating frenzy going on there.

These were on the ridge of hill between north valley and the hidden watercourse, not far from the flint rocks and in an area rich also today with marbled white butterflies and another wasp moth which delighted the boys, esp. Avremi.

Today the boys came with us as we wanted to show them some of the plant and insect life we'd found yesterday as well as look out for birds, gazelles or whatever might show. Since the boys are often good at spotting insect life they're always an asset to these trips and Avremi gets really into using the camera. This is just a sample of today's shots.. he was snapping great pics of Bear's breeches, clouded whites and other stuff all over the place.

We also like sampling the smells and tastes of the area.. thyme and germander leaves were a must and Avremi also noticed that cypress leaves also have a wonderful aroma. I ate some mallow seedpods and found them quite mildly nutty and pleasant but the boys weren't so much into that. Mustard leaves seem to get more peppery by the day and we also found that a grass which looks like wild wheat has a garlic clove like bulb at the base though harder and with a milder flavour.

Gazelle.. noticed two up near the ridge , a little farther east of our position, one approached the other and was mildly head butted away.. hadn't seen that before. These looked like gazelle 'teenagers', hardly any horns visible but quite well grown. A third farther north west of them.

Birds: Some white storks about, stone curlews heard after dark in east field. Eurasian jays quite vocal today, as were graceful warblers up by the road. Quite a bit of hobby activity over north valley, a few Buteos seen aloft, bee-eaters heard and seen overhead, common swifts about, distant (prob. black eared) wheatear call on the hill slopes farther east. Hooded crows also about but not jackdaws today. Feral pigeons aloft. Masked shrike like call heard near the north valley track but not seen.

Garden: White spectacled bulbul in the Bauhinia at dawn, sunbirds calling, blackbird singing in the afternoon, laughing doves cooing and of course, house sparrows.

Weather: Temps dropped considerably since yesterday and sky overcast when we set out. Last night wind was up and a little rain and thunder wee small hours. Today's range: just over 11 degrees to ~20 degrees C, time of walk, ~6.15 p.m. down to 16 degrees and falling, humidity 65%, winds westerly and about 11kt.

Yesterday's mystery pic was indeed a donkey stripe, identified by Garry. My apologies, I have not had time to find a mystery pic today, yet, I may add one before Shabbat.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Return of the Wasp Moth

My favourite pic of the day, Akiva's shot of a gorgeous wasp moth, Syntomis mestrali. Looking back in the records I notice we saw this species on the 21st of April last year, just one day different! Funny thing is, that was also settled on wild oats, though that was down in gazelle field and this is up on the hill between north valley and the hidden watercourse. Click on it to see the blue hue better. (Back then I gave a ref to Ofir Nir's pic but seems he took it off, that url no longer works, but this pic is much better than the one we managed last year). They hover when they sip nectar a little like a hummingbird hawkmoth but not for so long.

Teucrium capitatum Cat-thyme germander

These were blooming in many places on the hills, some of them growing amongst, even through cushions of thorny burnet. Their tiny white and yellow flowers are like small fleurs de lys and their leaves (of which I must get a separate pic) are frond like, pale green, densely hairy and pungently aromatic. It's a kind of hyssop but not sure which yet though it may be a candidate for the biblical hyssop since those used had to have white flowers, symbolizing purity.

Not sure what this is, anyone? Elli? When I first took this shot I thought the seedpods belonged to the same plant as the yellow flowers but looking at the sepals now the seed pods look like they they're those of Scrophularia peyroni growing alongside.

We also found some 'Maccabee's blood' , (Helichrysum sanguineum) (6th April last year) first I've noticed this season, growing near the trail leading down to north valley, north facing slope. Other plants around.. grasses at peak, I gave a nice green handful to a donkey quartered half way up the hill. Still some cyclamen blooming but mostly Acanthus, Gundelia, clovers, many in seed esp. star clover, many smaller umbellifers. Some of the Israeli thyme has started to bloom blue flowers but most not.

A lot of marbled white butterflies active in the flowers.. (photographed last season though I may include a pic coming sat night) every few steps sent some flying up from the vegetation.

Gazelle.. three adult males spotted north ridge ahead of us, (between gazelle field and the sage vale) . One with slightly smaller horns making more speed to the east.. seemed he was a little intimidated by the other two. A little later we watched a female ascend the hill to the place where the males were heading but then we lost sight of them.

Some white storks still around.. at 8 or so, seen in tops of trees relaxing, occasionally flying around but no notable sunset arrival from the north as had been last week. I wonder if they spread themselves out more or most moved on?

Hobbies very active, at least three individuals over the hill to and fro between north valley and hidden watercourse. Sorting out territories? Eurasian sparrowhawk returned from hill back to forest as darkness fell, as had been seen before. Chukars heard, some bee-eaters about flying quite high. Four swifts over the hillslopes. Eurasian jays heard in the pines of north valley. Graceful warblers active and vocal, Turtle dove heard cooing. Hooded crows about. Buteo sitting up on rock near the top of the hill. Collared doves cooing, three squabbling for a position on top of a cypress.

In the garden: Blackbird in song, house sparrows heard, laughing doves and farther off. Watched a laughing dove jackdaws take off from top of a building fly up quite steeply and then sail down to land on a line very similar to the display flight of the collared dove but without the ascending wind clatter and flight call.

Temps hit 30 degrees C today but by 6 p.m. had cooled off to just under 28 degrees, humidity just 16% , winds northwesterly almost still but had been blowing from the east from about 5.30 a.m to 5 p.m.
Above, yesterday's bee, isn't it cute!?
How about this one and how is it relevant to the Holy Land? Also Akiva's, taken today.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Daisies and brown jobs

Flower and (below) leaves of the beautiful Crown daisy, Chrysanthemum coronarium. At first I had taken this to be an escaped garden flower because of its size (betw 2 and 3 feet tall and blooms ~~4"across ) and was delighted to learn it is in fact a wild flower found in many parts of the country. I also read that its leaves are edible and used in oriental cuisine. Look in closer at the ring of little flowers within the main petals.

A large kind of clover Trifolium found growing just about and beyond the tree line on the south facing slope of north valley. Blossoms were all either pure white or white with a pinkish purplish tinge. Leaves below. No match found to my satisfaction yet. Blooms at least twice as large as T. repens, at least 2" across.

Quite a few Buteo types seen today, Akiva reckoned over 20 soaring on thermals over the hill to the north in groups of half dozen each or so. Too high for I.D. for my level of expertise with these types. Some of them looked like long legged buzzards but I don't think all were and unfortunately our pics were not good enough for I.D.s. Hardly any distinguishing marks to go by, all rather patchy dark with no noticeable barring.

Still some white storks about though not so many, half a dozen perhaps more but we did not stay long enough to really watch pre roost arrival. We must do a proper count again soon. Settling in random trees throughout new pine grove and central areas of the forest.

Great spotted cuckoo heard from direction of almond trees, greenfinches heard in woods and also in next door neighbour's cypress. Eurasian jays heard, Hooded crows and jackdaws about, stone curlews heard. Akiva glimpsed a hoopoe flying quite low just north of the new pine grove.
About a dozen bee-eaters flying quite high over gazelle field. Flocks of feral pigeons seen aloft, plenty collared dove coos. Brief chukar calls.

Garden: blackbird in song, house sparrows, some chicks audible from window, likely sparrows. Laughing dove coos.

Fire uphill just south of the pistaccio orchard but we suspect spontaneous. There was a lot of accumulated ground litter there and though quite a few people about in the woods again today none seen with cigarettes or any sign of malicious intent. Area of fire was also not on a route of a frequented trail. We collect any cast away plastic bottles to remove litter and prevent possible focussing of rays and glass rarely found. It's possible the sun can focus through beads of pine resin that sometimes exude from trees. A firetruck arrived as we left, someone had called, concerned.

Weather: Time of walk: ~6.10 p.m temp 23.7 degrees C, humidity 24%, winds WNW ~11 kt (which didn't help in photographing that daisy!) Today's range 19-27 degrees C. Warm!

Re mystery geometrid moth of last post.. reader Honeybee noticed that Lythria cruentaria (the purple barred yellow) comes quite close and I believe she's on the right track. Could be another Lythria or a variant. Still looking!

How about this?

Monday, April 20, 2009

Checking out the Quarry

Somewhat blurred but still recognizable image of a Red Admiral butterfly Vanessa atalanta on hawthorn tree by north valley. Normally the larvae of these use nettles and the only ones I know are in the mouth of the cave just over north hill but there could be others.. or possibly other food plants.

A very pretty pink and green Geometrid moth Akiva spotted amongst the ground vegetation. Perhaps one of you insect enthusiasts could I.D. it more precisely? There's your mystery pic challenge today as far as I'm concerned.. help me with my research!

A common grass growing in stands in many places right now. The effect of square metres of this starlike stuff together is really quite pretty.

This grass was noticed interspersed with the above, clearly a different species but amongst them here and there. There were so many other grasses out right now including feral wheat, barley and oats I could probably make a little gallery just of grasses. The Poaceae (Gramineae) are a wildly successful family of plants with amazing variation including Giant Reed, Arundo donax, which grows like bamboo in many wadis in Israel as near as Wadi Qelt. If you are good at I.D. ing grasses you can put your talents to work on the above ! Neither featured in my nice but rather limited Azaria Alon guide

(We also found a lovely stand of Crown Daisy Chrysanthemum coronarium behind the Shadiker buildings, near where the trail down to the north valley begins. At the time were not sure if they were legit wild flowers or garden escapes but now I see them in A. Alon's guide as a wild flower. We had also noticed one down by valley road. Will include pics tomorrow. )

Many kids in the area are still on vacation so most of the valley was populated with families taking spring strolls or boys gathering dry wood for the Lag BeOmer bonfires. We decided to head up towards the quarry where we expected few people would go.

There were at least three Tristram's starlings in the area, two around the abandonned three story building and at least one more down across the quarry. I think the two are a pair as one has a rather grey head and one all black, female and male respectively, and I suspect from their movements they have a nest in the building somewhere. They flew there from the quarry on our approach ,then a few minutes later flew back into the building.. then the female flew to a field of boulders next to the building where she called a few times, then preened. Presently the male came to join her. She was clearly the most vocal, he only called while in flight.

Gazelles: Two adult bucks seen together, one following the other a few metres back, on south facing slope of north valley near the pine hangar. The boys found a group ~7 in the hills somewhere near the bat cave early afternoon today.. adult buck with females and young, including one very young one from their account.
Hyraxes near the quarry, seen scampering over the field of boulders.

White storks still around, a couple noticed perched in the top of pine trees middle of east valley, others flying around leisurely fashion, but we were not in a place where we could really keep tabs on their movements today.

Eurasian jays heard, collared doves, chukar partridges, great tits calling, very vocal graceful warblers. Buteo over the quarry, heading north west. Collared doves and chukar partridges about.

Sunbird, white spectacled bulbuls, laughing doves cooing, house sparrows in gardens, hooded crows and jackdaws also heard. The pretty turtle dove not noticed today:(

Boys found a skink today, and there's been a gecko near my bedroom window, 'tak tak' late at night. First marbled white butterfly I've seen this season by the north valley trail today.

Weather: today's range: ~17-26.5 degrees C. noticeable rise! Time of walk: 24 degrees, winds NW ~3 kt and rising. (were easterlies all morning till about 2.30 p.m. )

Yesterday's mystery pic was I.D.d by Garry Souders, today.. the moth! Good luck!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

'Before' and 'After' the fire

Don't you love 'before' and 'after' pics? This is part of east valley by the watercourse taken after the devastation of the fire 13th May 2008. Below same view.. today!:) click on them for best appreciation.

White Storks still about and some were settling in early in eucalyptus by the east valley trail, and flying hither and thither between woods, fields and north hill. Stone curlews heard. Bee-eaters over east valley quite high around sunset in small groups. Great tits and greenfinches active, calling. Common Swifts working the air over east field. Whistles around east field told us Tristram's grackles about somewhere but we didn't find them. Great spotted cuckoo also calling in east valley. Eurasian jays & graceful warblers also active and vocal, esp latter.

Silence of the Syrian woodpeckers is noteworthy.. no calls at all lately.. just breeding season furtiveness?

Sunbirds and white spectacled bulbuls vocal in the garden as well as blackbird and laughing dove and of course, house sparrows. Jackdaws, hooded crows and feral pigeons about as usual.

Weather: Time of walk, shortly after 6 p.m. ~22 degrees C, humidity just 19%, wind ESE almost still. Range: 11-22 degrees C

These beautiful tiny white gems were growing amongst the Spanish stonecrop on a rough old cartroad leading up to east field by the Pistaccio orchard. I also took a pic of the former stonecrop and replaced the blurred pic back in #418

Myst. pic solution. The beautiful diamond dove Geopelia cuneata, a tiny Australian dove just ~20 cm long, that's a little smaller than an American robin. These were my birds back when I was into aviculture. I kept a range of finches and small parrots and bred some of them. Close up of the upper wing covert spots was reminiscent of sparkling diamonds, no? that was my hint.

And today's mystery:

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Fox cubs at play

Another scenic springtime view of the woods

We were both taken with the way the pink hairy flax unfurls its petals as it opens, spirally.

''Don't point that thing at me!" This jackdaw might have been spooked when we pointed the camera at them. Crows are smart, I've often wondered if they see black tubular objects in the hands of people as threatening objects. The pair appeared to be curious, landing on a nearby fence while we were taking pics of laughing doves.

The most amazing sight we had today was a mother fox, (I assume she was the vixen) with her three (quite well grown) cubs (at least) on top of the hill towards sunset. Husband first spotted her on the hill ridge to the north, close to its easterly end I zoomed in with the Bushnells to see the parent sitting on her haunches and giving a cub a thorough licking. We watched for some time as she stood guard, occasionally walked around that little patch, then resumed watch on a flat rock up there, sometimes standing, more often on her haunches. Around her, her cubs wandered about, explored but did not stray more than a few metres, occasionally returning to her. Usually I could just see one at a time, then two, but the highlight was when all three were near her and even at our distance, over 100 metres down the hill, I could tell the cubs varied in colour quite a bit. The vixen seemed darker but at least one of her cubs had much lighter brown markings and one more like herself. We were standing out in the open down by the east gazelle field watercourse, not far from the cistern and though the vixen could probably see us quite clearly she obviously felt no threat at our distance. Great vantage point up there because very little of any size could approach with sufficient cover. ( Aharon and Moshe were up on the hill earlier in the day and startled a dark fox, could have been her)

Gazelle also about, we saw an adult buck following another about without obvious horns and this morning Akiva saw five down in the new pine grove, on the service road, heading out onto gazelle field.
Last night on our late walk we heard a hyrax rough bark up on the hillside west of the pumping station, probably an alarm call since some feral dogs were about. We've seen those a few times lately, forgot to mention, including a well grown puppy.

Birds: White storks still about, flying hither and thither between the eucalyptuses and fields to the north, wheeling around. Beak clattering greeting heard from eucalyptuses behind look-out corner. They are not at all intimidated by the hooded crows. Not sure how many today, at least a dozen, conservative estimate.

Bee-eaters starting to accumulate. Nice little ''swarm" of about 35 working the air over the pines, both new pines and east valley, and calls also heard shortly after dawn from the house again must have been down over east valley. Flocks probably look like swarms because that's exactly what they're following and working , and they can be a real job to count when they start to weave and criss cross in the air.

Nice size Eurasian Sparrowhawk spotted over gazelle field returning to forest (female?), A Buteo flew over towards the south quite lazily, a couple of great spotted cuckoos. Collared doves active and cooing usual , greenfinches chawing and calling, very brief turtle dove coo heard. Great tits calls, some song. Stone curlew getting quite vocal.

And the solution! Trickster's ear! LOL he's one of our guinea pigs.. temp quarters while the big hutch was being cleaned I think.

And today's mystery .. what might this be? Yes it is natural and living, but what you see may remind you of the very thing that gives it its name....