Sunday, May 31, 2009

Cuckoos and grasshoppers

The hill slopes across north valley, up from the watercourse showing how most ground vegetation is becoming dried out and gone to seed.

A juvenile great spotted cuckoo calls for attention from its foster parent, a hooded crow which is busy foraging for it. We watched two young cuckoos following the crow and begging from it, and the crow gave food every few minutes. Unfortunately distance was too great for a clearer pic with our lens. This was under the pines just east of the trail which links valley road with the north valley dirt road.

Grasshoppers are probably one of the commonest insects now, all highly camouflaged so that when they land it can be difficult to find them. This kind was quite easy to find but another species was uniformly pale yellow and small, just like a piece of chaff.

A common seedhead which also acts like a burr. These 'stars' become easily detached from their stems and attach to clothes, these, the 'caterpillar' burrs, thorny jobs, grass heads and many others that need meticulous extraction after every walk.

Mammals.. No gazelles noticed today, though fresh scat in the cypress grove by the north valley watercourse. Fox spotted trotting in front of the bat cave, made its way east and descended to the watercourse, crossed and headed into the young pine grove.. where suddenly we noticed there were two! Were there two all along from the bat cave or did that one meet another here? They were both of the dark patchy variety and one, the thinner it seemed followed the other several metres behind but not a chase. They both crossed the trail ahead of us and headed up into the trees in the direction of the neighbourhood. Not sure if we heard hyraxes, did not go by a major colony but for the Shadiker one and that was quiet.

Known hyrax colonies in the area:

1- at least one before the quarry, large.

2- one just down from end of rchov Shadiker, medium size

3- one on the bank down from the school- small

4- half way along the bank between valley road and buildings- and boulders other side of road (cypress slum) large

5-hillslopes up and west from pumping station, including boulders across valley road corner of sapling field, medium

6- western slopes of east valley down from upper valley road (the famous little owl) - there could easily be several colonies in that locality as we've seen hyraxes on top of that bluff as well.

Wind was brisk down north valley and we watched a hobby struggle against it at canopy top level but make no headway. he could not glide into that. About a dozen bee-eaters plied the air at a higher level up and down over north valley, calling as they went. Swifts heard towards sunset and also from the house, at dawn at their most shrill. They scream most as it just gets light, their dusk calls don't reach quite that level of excitement.

Graceful warblers were calling from around valley road, some blackbird song , collared dove coos.

House: Garden- house sparrows, white spectacled bulbul calls, sunbird calls, laughing dove coos.

15-26 degrees C, time of walk starting about 6.45 p.m. 22 degrees C, 60% humidity, winds westerly, 9-15 knots.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Miscellaneous, and lotsa hyraxes

Hyrax parent and little one at 'cypress slum' .. taken by husband a few days ago.

This moth landed on this young eucalyptus stem mimicking in both general colour and shape the buds farther up the stem. This is all the more interesting since the eucalyptus is not even a native tree. A little lower on the same euc growth was this lacewing. This pic does not do justice to this diaphanous insect. I hope to get a better pic on another occasion.

A zoom of part of the pinwheel Nigella showing seeds, below, the seeds in the palm of my hand. A scattered them in a suitable area nearby.

Brief report for Thursday, Friday and Saturday:

Gazelle: Friday late afternoon, a few scattered on the hillside just north of gazelle field. One just beyond the batcave, grazing, another a little farther east. Husband found a couple more walking, then grazing.

Hyrax: A LOT of activity of the 'cypress slum' colony lately, lots of little ones making a ''thwitter" sort of call. An adult by the road on a rock gave a short ''ark!" bark as we passed that sounded like a warning to the others, but didn't feel threatened itself, just watched us for a little while before scampering under the rocks. I'll probably share more cute li'l hyrax pics over coming days.

Plenty Syrian woodpecker activity, calls, glimpsed various places between and on trees.

All doves cooing, feral pigeons in eaves of buildings, laughing doves in gardens, turtle doves and collared doves in the woods.

Great tits active, foraging, greenfinches twittering and chawing, some calls of shrike in gazelle field trees, call of young great spotted cuckoo in new pine grove. Swifts overhead occasionally but bee-eaters not heard. Some chukar partridge calls but stone curlews relatively quiet lately. Occasional brief hobby calls

Jackdaws and Hooded crows vocal, to and from neighbourhood, over valley and about. Jays active in the pines.

Sunbird and white spectacled bulbuls active and vocal in the garden as well as house sparrows. Hope I haven't overlooked anybirdy.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Delights of Form and Design

An Allium of some sort, yes another of the leek and garlic clan, found growing near the east valley watercourse. Taller than the Carmeli it stood on its single stem about four feet high. The flower head was maybe 6,7 cm diameter.

The closest match I found was A. pseudocalyptratum but that is unlikely since it's found up on the Hermon in the north. The one we found also has pink bases to floret stalks rather than whitish and more rounded bell like florets.

Below.. roughly same location, a pinwheel Nigella Nigella ciliaris has opened its seed pods showing shiny black seeds, flat and looking crimped at the edges. I'll show some pics of the seeds later in the week.

This seed head below attracted my attention for its star/spearhead shaped seed bodies. I think it's one of the clovers and was found by some thorny burnets, again, near the east watercourse.

Even flies have their beauty. This (perhaps) hoverfly was found resting on an old star clover, no doubt tired after a hard day's hovering. Notice the mini wings at the base of the main wings.

I took more pics of various seed pods and insects but want to keep these for later..

Other insects found included a lacewing resting on a eucalyptus leaf and a moth which seemed to be deliberately disguising itself as a eucalyptus leaf bud. It's colour and position on the stem was remarkably similar to the red tinted fresh leaves. This was growth at the base of a eucalytpus tree, almost a 'bush' growing up enthusiastically, green and lovely.

No luck on gazelles today though we weren't near or within sight of favoured grazing areas much of the time. We were mostly exploring along the east watercourse area for vegetation and insect life. Hyraxes we saw in abundance on the bank up and west of valley road, we lost count! Scores and many of them young just a few weeks old.

Birds: Collared dove and turtle dove cooing. Syrian woodpeckers, a number of calls. Hooded crows and jackdaws heard and seen flying about and foraging. Eurasian jays about the trees, relatively quiet today though they were making a din around look out corner last night towards dusk but we could not make out what was bothering them. Graceful warblers calling frequently in the vegetation along valley road and other places, Blackbird song heard. Swifts in flight above the woods but no bee eaters today.

House sparrows chirping about the buildings as usual, laughing doves cooing, white spectacled bulbuls calling a number of times. I listened for sunbirds but heard none all day. Shows you can take nothing for granted!

Weather: Cooler, more overcast than yesterday. Still much pollen in the air. Range: 14-25 degrees C. Time of walk: ~6.30 p.m. ~21 degrees C, 65% humidity, westerlies, 9-11

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Beauty on the wing

This butterfly wandered into the boy's tent (set up in the garden, they love to sleep in there) . Moshe took these pics this evening. This is a middle eastern race of Large Wall Brown, Lasiommata maera orientalis- above, showing the upper surface of the wings, below, the underwings. I've seen it classified with Satyridae like the Meadow Brown I photographed a few days ago, and also in Nymphalidae.. evidently there are different conventions amongst entomologists and I don't know the latest settlement on these divisions.

In the fields by the north valley today saw more Pontia, (Bath white)

This peculiar beetle (below) was clinging onto one of the spines of a budding globe thistle near the north valley watercourse. Given that long 'snout' it must be a weevil (family Curculionidae) and checking Rittner's pages, most resembles members of the genus Larinus. These are flower weevils, and no doubt find globe thistle quite delicious. for Rittner's great pics of more of these.

This hoverfly (below) has settled on a head of tiny hairy seedpods. Not quite as sharp as I'd like but you can clearly see the huge compound eyes and nice reflection off the wings. These flies are often mistaken for bees but are harmless. They fly very much like hummingbirds, hovering in one spot, and occasionally reversing.

The new flower of the day! Growing under the shade of pines in an area of dried cereal grasses and Eryngium a little north of central trail , this tiny plant was barely six inches high, but several were growing in that patch though I had not seen them elsewhere.

What else is out? Plenty centauries still, capers of course, the Ballota, the low yellow broom like plant that never seems to finish its season, viper's bugloss and still a few late small poppies, Kickxia, and those tall lobed flowers I've been photographing lately.. another clump of yellow version in a particularly fertile area by north valley watercourse in the open.

Birds: Husband had interesting observation earlier today. A pair of hooded crows AND a pair of kestrels both harrying a Buteo right over our street. Probably long legged buzzard but husband didn't get more details due to the position of the sun at the time. This is the second time we've seen falcons and crows after a buzzard together, last time it was one of each over on the hillside just north of where the gazelle field watercourse leaves gazelle field a couple of years ago. The hoodies quit after a while, leaving the kestrels still on the offensive.

In the pines just north of central trail we heard and glimpsed a juvenile great spotted cuckoo calling and gliding from one pine tree top to another. I'm sure it was calling to be fed and a hooded crow was following it so still seems interested in the welfare of its foster chick. The cuckoo may have been following the other of the pair.

Plenty greenfinches heard as well as cooing collared doves and turtle doves. Blackbird song, chuckling of chukar partridges somewhere not far from central trail, hoopoes, flying between bat cave area and pine trees. Bee-eaters heard up above the trees somewhere and common swifts also on the wing over the valley.

Garden: House sparrows, white spectacled bulbuls, laughing doves, not sure about sunbirds today. Feral pigeons on building tops as usual, jackdaws heard. The usual crew!

Left the house about 18.50 p.m. temp. just under 22 degrees C, humidity 54%, wind NW 9 kt. Today's range: 16-25.5 degrees C.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Hillside discoveries

While many plants are turning to dry stalks the heat adapted horehound Ballota undulata is cropping up in little stands all over the western face of windsurfer hill, here, and many other places amongst the thorny burnet, centaury, wild oats and thyme. To the naked eye the flowers look white but look closer and you can see dotted streaks of violet. As you see, the flowers grow in the middle of a green ruff like structure and these in turn are arranged in a series of 'balls' up the spike.

An intuitive gamble paid off! It's getting harder and harder finding plants blooming now so late in spring especially those we have not yet photographed but this just encourages us to be more alert. Today I wanted to check the watercourse down from the 'saddle' between windsurfer hill and Pisgat Zev 'villa' hill, the one with the ''dry jacuzzi" where we photographed the boys some time back. Watercourses are always a little richer in vegetation than the surrounding hillside so I was optimistic. I still would have walked right past the discovery of the day if I had not been on the watch out for litter. As I bagged a plastic bottle on the other side of the trail from the watercourse and just a little way 'upstream' from the 'Jacuzzi'I found them! Scores of spikes of these gorgeously coloured flowers amongst and around the thorny burnet and protected by boulders. Each spike stood barely a foot tall from the ground and though that patch was doing very well I have not seen any like this anywhere else in the area. Here- detail of two flowers and below, the top half of the spike. Not sure what they are yet, they slightly resemble Stachys but not quite like any of them esp. with the four stamens held aloft like that, quite an unusual form.

While trying to I.D. these on the site I use I did manage to retroactively I.D. some other species we've seen but ran out of time to view more species.

That umbellifer like plant growing on the east side of gazelle field with the heart shape pods turns out to be Heart podded Hoary Cress Cardaria drabba and is indeed a member of the cabbage family as I'd suspected from the detail form.
Three of the local grasses are now clarified for me a little more.. Two spiked beardgrass Andropogon dystachyos is common in many places, the short spiky grass which I photographed some time back turns out to be Goatgrass Aegilops (biuncialis?) as well as a number of grasses which look like various species of Bromus.

The rotten orange scented umbellifer type seems to be Achillea biebersteini yellow milfoil, one of the Asteraceae. Finally, the blue five petalled job with white centre and stamens that was, growing near the owl bluffs on the upper valley road, matches Anchusa azurea Italian bugloss.

So, as usually happens I I.D. a bunch of flowers in retrospect but don't manage to find the one I'm looking for! Happy at any rate to sort out the others. I'm sure I'll find the one above in good time.

Gazelle: There was at least one, maybe more up windsurfer hill playing hide and seek with us, sproinging out of view, though if there were more, they were only letting us see one at a time! No obvious adult males.
Hyrax: Plenty active along and by valley road, scampering everywhere. Looks like they are having a good season!

Black eared wheatears: Several seen on and around a huge boulder on the northern slopes of windsurfer hill. The male took position a number of times at its top, posturing, though he would sometimes fly to another lower boulder a few metres away. From the extent of black on the head I'd guess he was a first year male. Two pale brownish wheatears nearby lower down on the rock, females or well grown young but no definite begging behaviour seen.

Swifts: calls heard, especially at dawn

Blackbirds: song heard in the woods
Chukar partridges: Foraging on the hillside, now and again we'd hear one or see one take nervous flight around or down the hill.
Collared doves: Cooing in the pines as usual. Didn't notice turtle doves today.
Feral pigeons: About tops of buildings as usual.
Jackdaws: Calls heard,
Hooded crows, on the wing here and there, foraging on the hillsides.
Stone curlews: heard in the valley last night and also this evening.
Syrian woodpeckers: Calls. We may have heard some other of the usual birds, (such as jays, greenfinches, graceful warblers) just don't remember. We need to make notes in the field!
Kestrel or some other falcon, was hard to make out, hunting briefly right over the top of windsurfer hill.
6.45 p.m. Tristram's grackle again flew over the valley straight from neighbourhood to windsurfer hill, whistling several times as it went. Probably is the same one each time given such regular behaviour.

House sparrows: chirping in gardens from very early, about buildings. Laughing doves: cooing in gardens, Sunbirds: calls heard in the garden. White spectacled Bulbuls: Very vocal in the Bauhinia

Weather: 14-24 degrees C, time of walk: (~6.15 p.m. ) 20 degrees C, 67 % westerlies 7-10 knots

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Violet dye and forest breezes

It can be thrilling to see up close something you'd only read about before.
Today husband found two specimens of live Janthina, purple sea snail, blown onto Tel Aviv beach by the brisk westerlies. They make rafts of bubbles which enable them to float on the surface of the sea, these bubbles obviously a bit firmer than soap or water bubbles as they're made with their secretions. There they float until they meet a jellyfish, on which they prey, something which highly amused the boys since they were amazed that much larger jellyfish (one species of which had stung them in the past ) could be food for such small inoffensive looking snails.

As soon as Moshe picked up one of them it exuded this beautiful violet ink, probably a defense mechanism like the ink of squid. The whole shell is only 2 cm across at widest

Here the ink has coloured the shell itself. Above the ink is seeping into the water ( Med Sea water in a disposable dish)

This is a somewhat unusual blog entry in that the pics have nothing to do with the account.

Today I was alone in the woods as husband had taken the boys to the beach. It felt so good to get out and feel the cool breeze on my face after having been indoors all day!

I started off along valley road then headed down central trail. Veered off to the north, heading through 'owl glade', attracted by the sound of incessant young bird calls. Turned out to be a juvenile great spotted cuckoo near the top of an Aleppo Pine calling repeatedly at a hooded crow. The crow had its back to the cuckoo and was pointedly ignoring it, though not flying off. The cuckoo was well feathered and handsome, already had a very dark crown and creamy yellow underparts and looking dapper.

From there I continued down through the pines, dry oats and Eryngium and occasional singed patches, old asphodel stalks and occasional thorny burnet, till I reached the path leading from central trail to north valley. All around were the coos of turtle doves and collared doves, twitters and chaws of greenfinches, occasional calls of Syrian woodpeckers and blackbird song.

I searched the hillsides and north gazelle field for gazelles a number of times but no luck , though did note a flock of hooded crows scattered on the ground around the bat cave and lower slopes, foraging on the ground for whatever juicy invertebrates they could find. Then I heard a shrill high fast repeated cry up along the valley to the west and soon zeroed in to a fine looking hobby in the top of another pine. After a while it took off, heading north. A little farther and a series of high pitched calls kay! kay! kay! turned out to be a Buteo, probably rough legged, being chased across the valley by a pair of hooded crows. It alighted in a cypress and the crows then let it be. Other calls, of great tits, brief chukar partridges chuckles, bee-eaters overhead somewhere, swifts also screaming aloft, wheatear calls and/or larks somewhere over to the north.

Laughing doves and feral pigeons around the buildings as usual, house sparrows, white spectacled bulbuls and sunbird in the garden. Heard very nice sunbird song when leaving the house for a walk, male singing in the cape honeysuckle. Graceful warbler heard from house and also north bend of north valley road where we photographed that fledgeling. Jackdaws also about, some calls. Altogether refreshing, and shifted two more bags of litter.. nasty work but worth it for a beautiful clean forest which I love!

Later I picked another few score 'caterpillar burrs' out of my socks (like a swarm of ants frozen onto the fabric) , as well as some pesky grass seeds.

Weather at time of walk: (~6.15 p.m. ) 16.9 degrees C humidity 78%, wind NW 9.6 knots. Range: 14-21.5 degrees C.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Brief saturday report

View of how hill slope across north valley is looking now. Already the green is turning to dry grass and giving the hills an olive green tinge

Yet another pic of those glorious strange lobed flowers we found in the north valley watercourse. Each flower showed a different combination of velvety orange, plum and lemon.

This pic shows to some extent the convergent evolution of the centaury (thistle family) and Eryngium (carrot family). The centauries are those with pale brown spines, the Eryngium are all young and green here (though deeper ones are turning blue) but the spine star shape and size are very similar. Below, what I call 'caterpillar' burrs.. half a centimetre long burrs that attach to socks and clothes in scores. They don't cause much discomfort but take a while to pick off!

By the way, I found stalks bearing the 'spiny seed capsules from hell' in the east valley crossroads today amongst a stand of spiny grass which I have photographed in the past. Still not sure what they were and never heard of grasses making capsules like that but going to keep on eye on other such stands. I'd like to know what seeds belong to what plants and I don't always remember exactly what I've seen where to keep track.. I'd say more likely to be one of pea family but still not sure. The stalk bore several capsules spirally up the stalk irregularly. Then I picked several of them off my skirt! Must follow husband's suggestion and plant some, see what they grow into. Same for the caterpillar burrs!

Gazelle: No luck today, nor feral dogs or reptiles
Hyrax: Some activity just down from valley road late afternoon. Mother with young one on a rock, not obviously nursing at the time, but probably disturbed by passers by. Nursing young out on boulders they do a lot.

Bee-eaters: single distant call heard east field/windsurfer hill direction
Black eared wheatears: calls heard over at or beyond north valley watercourse in open stretch. We're a bit sad and miss Bill and Bob's family when they bred in sapling field and rubble area.. perhaps more people frequenting the valley area put them off this year, but they're still plentiful on the hillsides.
Hobbies: Some calls heard lately
Swifts: Calls over fields and general area.
Turtle doves: Much cooing especially in eucalyptus across from Pistacios and trees near cistern.
Hoopoe: seen flying across back of gazelle field, along line of almond trees, finally settled on low pine branch.
Blackbirds: Much song, activity generally.
Collared doves: Cooing, flight calls, general activity around cistern.
Eurasian Jays: Much activity especially around cistern
Feral pigeons: buildings as usual, fancyish individual foraging alone by Pistaccio orchard, cote escape?
Graceful warblers: Numerous calls heard from valley road
Great tits: Calls of family groups here and there throughout the woods.
Greenfinches: Much twittering and chawing especially around rubble area pines.
Jackdaws: Some calls, flying to and fro
Hooded crows: Calls, flying about as usual
House sparrows:Gardens as usual, a small group around thistles, grasses gazelle field central watercourse.
Laughing doves: cooing in garden, around street, several pairs at crumb corner,
Stone curlews: some calls.
Syrian woodpeckers: calls heard along east valley watercourse dirt road.
White spectacled Bulbuls: Calls in garden and a few other places.
Kestrel, flying about over bipass road, showed me its tail bar nicely for clear I.D.
sunbirds, chukars quiet today.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Late stork flight, flowers, bugs

White storks. Highlight of the day. Above, Ruthie Schueler's pic, not ours. The storks were too far for our camera to get a sharp shot. When you see the birds criss crossing like this they're soaring, rising on thermals of warm air. Today at about 6.50 p.m. we counted ~160 storks heading over the neighbourhood from roughly south west to north east. They were gliding on the headwind but as they passed Hizmeh they started to rise on a thermal like this. Quite a few kids in the area also noticed them and were oooing and aaahing at them. They knew they were 'hassidot, (Hebrew for 'stork') didn't need to be told that & were much impressed at the sight.

This is so late in the year! Last year we saw a flock like this on 1st April. Are they seriously hoping to get to northern breeding grounds on time? Are their schedules so messed up this year? That several week stop over of storks we had we'd never seen before.

These are a peculiarity of yesterday. I noticed the bush of yellow blooms above north of the north valley watercourse. In flower form and leaf they were exactly like the flowers I'd found in the north valley watercourse a week or so before (below) but were pretty much all uniformly yellow as above and had almost none of the gorgeous range of purples, lemons and rich oranges of the watercourse clump. Different soil conditions or all genetics?

The charming beetle below we found a little way up the hill north of the north valley watercourse. The antennae, general shape and legs look like those of beetles in family Silphidae (carrion, burying beetles- another one for the forensic entomologists)

This hairy short shrub appeared to be just past flower bearing stage and interested me because of the shiny greenish ant like insect I had not noticed before I zoomed in.

Gazelle: No luck today. Also looked for the fox family without success.
Hyrax: Lots, family groups either side of valley road shortly before 7. Plenty new hyrax kits about!
Feral dogs: Barking from east valley after dark
Bee-eaters, hobbies: none seen or heard
Black eared wheatears:distant calls.
common Swifts: seen in ones or twos, heard as it was getting dark, esp. heard just after dawn over the house, much screaming.
Turtle doves: cooing in various parts of the pine woods, cistern area
SWALLOW : passing over north valley low, didn't see others. They're not resident, always only passing through
Shrike scratchy call in the pistaccio/eucalyptus orchard just east of the rubble but didn't see it.
Blackbirds: song, visibly active many parts of the woods
Chukar partridges: not seen or heard
Collared doves: Much cooing, seen active, flight calls.
Eurasian Jays: Some about and active, not noisy.
Feral pigeons: on rooftops and aloft,coming and going.
Graceful warblers: calls by valley road as usual, active
Great tits: numerous calls various parts of the woods.
Greenfinches: some calls, twittering, various parts of pinewoods
Jackdaws: some calls and flying over east valley, and around, foraging
Hooded crows: congregating at mid east valley roost, much toktoktok, sounds like bill clatter, woodpecker
House sparrows:Around houses as usual, first chirp at ~4.20 a.m. quite regular these days.
Laughing doves: cooing around houses from dawn onwards. active
Stone curlews: calling esp. from east fields on and off since dusk.
Sunbirds: gardens probably, wasn't paying attention to them today
Syrian woodpeckers: Plenty calls in the woods today along east valley trail.
White spectacled Bulbuls: Many calls in the garden, musical and hoarser family calls.

Weather: 6.45 p.m. just over 22 degrees C, humidity ~57% and rising, wind WSW 4.3 knots. Today's range: 16.5-26 degrees C.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Weird and wonderful seedpods

Even though we've photographed these before I just couldn't pass this flower by. It's a desert mullein, Verbascum (fruticosum probably), just starting to bloom now. It seems each flower is quite ephemeral, blooming then dropping quickly off the spike. Note the pale, hairy almost succulent leaves, adapted to the dry days of May onwards.

I call this the 'spiky seedpod from hell' I haven't found what plant produces it yet but it's evidently very common because we usually find these embedded in the soles of our shoes, in our socks etc. You DON'T want to step on this in bare feet and you usually end up pricking yourself trying to remove them by hand. I measured this one at about 1.5 cm long x 1 cm high x 1 cm width at widest spines.

It's not the commonest intrusion in shoes though, those tend to be grass seeds of various kinds and a tiny burrs totally covered with velcro like tiny spines that look like a miniscule caterpillars and stick to socks and shoe laces or any other appropriate cloth surface in scores. I'm still picking them out hours later!

Much more inoffensive and charming are the seedpods of Medicago orbicularis, a very common clover like plant with yellow flowers. Indeed probably one of the yellow clovers we photographed this season was probably this. It's also called 'round fruited medick or button clover, and like many other clovers this plant can fix nitrogen in the soil.

Just how small is a mustard seed? Above, wild mustard seedpods, below, pod opened. The seeds measure 2 mm across or slightly more.

Hyraxes seen on the way down the trail from north loop of valley road to north valley trail, scuttled off under the boulders for cover on our approach. No luck on gazelles today.

Calls in the pines to our right (east) down that connecting trail and some brief sightings revealed that there great spotted cuckoos had been successful in hoodwinking the hoodies . Hooded crows were tending two young cuckoos which were already quite good fliers and able to move from tree top to tree top. Amazing how the crows will viciously attack adults but will tend their foster children without recognizing the difference.

Two hoopoes, husband glimpsed one or two more so could be a family group, foraging and moving more or less together between bat cave and hidden water course. Great tits active in that upper area and from the sound of it, also white spectacled bulbul young not far off. Wheatear type calls heard farther north. Collared doves and turtle doves active cooing in the woods, laughing doves in gardens and close to buildings. Hooded crows, jackdaws, jays about as usual. Graceful warblers and blackbirds also vocal and active, some blackbird song. Stone curlews heard after sunset.

weather: 17.5-25 degrees C Time of walk, about 6.30 p.m. ~21.5 degrees C, 50% humidities winds westerlies 6-9 knots

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Butterflies, drying plants and pollen.

Pontia daplidice, also known as the Bath White, a widespread Pierid butterfly. There were still a number of marbled whites about but I noticed this was smaller and followed it till it settled. Then my eyes were watering so much I couldn't tell if I was focussed or not! Not sure why, wind or pollen or both. At any rate I took a number in the hope that at least one was in focus because I could hardly tell! Turned out four were of which I selected this one.

While looking on Rittner's site for I.D. of this butterfly I did notice a familiar insect. The black wasp with red legs Akiva photographed back in #443, May 16th entry, though still without a definite I.D. This turns out to be a parasite of white butterfly caterpillars. It lays its eggs inside the caterpillars with its ovipositor and its larvae use the poor caterpillar for food.

This one was taken by husband, a couple of beetles in the heart of a golden thistle flower.. a pic that really brings out the gorgeous colour of the petals.

Here the Gundelia is almost finishing its season, the yellow star like flowers are passed and the core has swollen. I learned that these have the tumbleweed trick, of head and upper stem detaching themselves and rolling about to disperse seeds so I'm watching them to see if we can find this stage. Below: The yellow/orange purple flowers I found in the north watercourse, another view. These flowers were full of character and I took a number of shots. (see May 12, #440 4th & 5th pics )

First birds in the garden today were chirping house sparrows starting at about 4.20 a.m. with a sunbird out in the Bauhinia chiming in a little later. A bulbul joined in with musical notes a little after, followed by laughing doves, then distant hooded crows and finally jackdaws. After that I fell asleep!

In the woods: greenfinches heard, some young birds heard also. Collared doves and turtle doves cooing away. Blackbirds in song. Feral pigeons on rooftops.

Graceful warblers around head of valley road as usual. Swifts and bee-eaters (~12) overhead, Syrian woodpeckers heard, Eurasian jays about, some sightings of hobbies, melodious calls of I think black eared wheatear calling from open part of north valley watercourse or farther, towards bat cave.

Gazelle seen grazing up on the skyline, on the hill to the north.

Weather: marked drop from yesterday. Range: 18-26.5 degrees C. time of walk: ~6.30 p.m. 22 degrees C. 40%. Wind W/WNW ~8 kt.

Monday, May 18, 2009

445 Heat and Amazing crawling things

Small white crab spider found on the snapdragon today, almost dusk. He's not very camouflaged, his only purpleness is in the form of thin markings on his abdomen.

This spider above was far more camouflaged. I first found it on a bright yellow centaury, but then it dropped down and played hide and seek around the stem, trying to stay on the other side of the stem from myself and camera while I manoevred up and down the east watercourse bank trying to get a good shot, which was amusing if a little precarious. Husband waved it around.

The two moths below were found in gazelle field yesterday afternoon, superficially similar but a second look shows many differences. There are probably many other moths like this (family Pyralidae?) - worth taking a pic of every one just to see what variation exists.

This charming little grasshopper perched in one convenient spot on this young Eryngium

That Eryngium is really popping up everywhere, I even found some in my garden today! I laugh at myself that I was not even aware of its existence till very recently. Also blooming now is 3 spot pink ( Dianthus ) seen in gazelle field yesterday and today, golden thistle (Scolymus hispanicus) were blooming gloriously alongside the trail by the cistern and the globe thistle looks poised to bloom in many places. Looking for interesting insects on these so I can get a two in one shot for the season.

Now much of the lower fields and wayside has turned to dried stalks and leaves, of thistles, cereals and other plants and the bulk of the spring growing season is pretty much over. As we know, more species will appear over the summer, such as the globe thistles and mullein but for most of them business is pretty much done. We must continue to watch the thistle heads as many birds love the seeds especially greenfinches and goldfinches.. the latter I haven't seen in a while.

Hyrax just down from pumping station, stared at us from a few feet off.. their faces always manage to look horrified, indignant and suspicious all at the same time! Feral dog seen later by itself.. I though this was mother of a family group we'd seen before but no others about. Forgot to mention bats around look out corner last night but not today.

Birds: laughing doves about, pair on roof top edge, one preening the other, one looked messy, as if he'd just had a bath somewhere. Feral pigeons on other roof tops. Collared doves and turtle doves in the woods, cooing.

Blackbird song and some chakchak alarm calls, graceful warbler, greenfinches twittering, chawing active in many parts of the woods, Syrian woodpecker calls. A number of common swifts high over east valley hawking for aerial insects. Hooded crows, jackdaws and Eurasian jays about as usual. Tristram's grackle flew over from neighbourhood to windsurfer hill, calling repeatedly. Again! We'd seen exactly this in recent days but didn't note the time but could be regular thing, like that sparrowhawk that regularly returned from hill to woods about sunset, same route.

We met some boys coming back from the cistern. they'd just caught a bucket load of quite well grown tadpoles (of the green toads) and also water boatmen. Cicadas were also shrilling loudly in the Pistacio orchard to cistern area and crickets also starting up. The large black millipedes were seen draped over viper's bugloss clumps along valley road.

Hot day today! When we left the house at about 6.46 p.m. temp was just under 31 degrees C (range today 25.5-35.7 degrees C) , humidity just 15%, winds WNW 10.4 kt

Sunday, May 17, 2009

#444 Eryngium in bloom

Here the Eryngium is blooming, the tiny flowers open, each of five tiny petals curled back. Bear in mind the whole flower head is usually less than 1 cm across.

A butterfly I photographed in north gazelle field. I have yet to I.D. it.. I assume it must be one of the Pierids but haven't found any with no markings at all like this. Another butterfly looked quite striking but I did not manage to get a picture of it at rest. Underwing was mid brown with a striking area of yellow with a darker marking on that. Unfortunately that was all the detail I got and still not sure of the I.D. though probably a Satyrid of some kind.. then it fluttered into a large patch of wild oats and Gundelia and I completely lost sight of it esp. with the quickly failing light.

I also took photographs of two moths but I'm saving those since these below will soon be out of date.. the time for this purple flower is probably passed, I haven't seen any of its kind in a week. Here's a honeybee feasting.

We saw a young gazelle, very short horns, very clear, fresh face markings, make its way across north gazelle field on our approach, moving from the hawthorn trees towards the lower hill slopes where it stopped and gazed at us for a while. At the time I was busy photographing the moths and butterflies and comparing the Eryngium to the nearby Centaury but each time I looked over there it was still there, staring back at us from the flat rocks there, perhaps curious about what we were doing.

My favourite bird today was a red backed shrike, Lanius collurio, a species I hadn't seen in the area in a while. It was in the tamarisk at the top of the storm drain and soon after flew into a pine but was still in good view though too far for our camera unfortunately. Good to see it! Looked like a male, very neat, nice chestnut back and the white on most of the tail base caught my attention as it flew and piqued my curiosity.

Others about, common swifts above, husband briefly heard bee-eaters. Blackbird song, much chawing and twittering of greenfinches in the pines including an alarm call. Collared dove and turtle dove coos. Brief glimpse of raptor over the Pistacio orchard, husband thought sparrowhawk. Stone curlew heard briefly as it became dark. Syrian woodpeckers quite vocal. Hooded crows, Eurasian jays and jackdaws around as usual.

In the garden a positive din of house sparrows together with young birds calling not far off and the usual bulbuls and laughing doves.

Temps: 23.5 - 33 degrees C. Time of walk: ~29 degrees. Humidity 20-21 %, NW 3-4 knots.