Tuesday, June 30, 2009

A swing towards warmer weather

A familiar sight now, patches of blooming globe thistles. This one by valley road near the pumping station. Still swarming with the green and red beetles and I must remember to check if head of the greens is just like that of the reds on its long 'neck'

I wanted to find which plant was 'guilty' of being the 'caterpillar burr' plant which I pick up so many every day. This seems to be it but I must pay closer attention next year to observe which plant it WAS in terms of flowers before it developed burrs. I'm really not sure! That and the thorny seed pod, mysteries yet to be solved.

As for Prince, the name the boys gave the jay, he seems to be settling in nicely and since our vet is paying a visit soon for the dog I want his advice on the jay too, in terms of worms and such. He shows no signs of ill health but shows no inclination to fly away. The boys tried to free him this morning but he was clearly not ready to leave us yet. I have not examined his wings, I'd rather give him time to settle in and get used to us all first. He is eating and drinking. Below, shots the boys took of his fancier wing feathers and his face.. watch out, he will try to peck!

Gazelle: No luck today. Hyrax: Lots and lots all ages.. on valley road scampering down from the slum cypress slopes across the road to the boulders on the forest side where evidently they feel much more secure.
Reptiles: Geckoes heard on buildings after sunset.
Bee-eaters: Lots of bee-eaters whirling and whickering in the air over gazelle field and eucalyptus grove area as yesterday.
Turtle doves: Coos heard various parts of the woods.

Hoopoe also seen flying from gazelle field area towards woods. Tristram's grackle whistle heard a few times from direction of neighbourhood but we didn't spot the bird or birds.
Blackbirds: Some song heard in the pines
Collared doves: Coos, activity, a few down by the cistern, flying in to drink (there are some rocks and stones they can perch upon in the large cistern which is why it was a mystery why the jay floundered.
Eurasian Jays: About as usual, and perhaps it was just my imagination but a couple came down to perch within plain view near the bunker and stared at us, curiously? reproachfully? as if they knew we'd taken one of them.
Graceful warblers: Calls heard. Greenfinches: calls heard, small flock flew from bunker pines to over look out corner
Hooded crows: I think we saw them, didn't see any jackdaws lately, perhaps they've gone off following goats again. We have seen goat herd activity across to the east and we know they do follow them.
House sparrows:Around neighbourhood as usual, also seen at bunker rubble.
Laughing doves: Around buildings and street as usual, cooing.
Stone curlews: Brief call around sunset
Sunbirds: short melodious calls just after 5 a.m. in the garden as usual these days.
Syrian woodpeckers: husband glimpsed and heard a couple while I was looking at vegetation near the cistern
White spectacled Bulbuls: again, started up in the tree just before 5 a.m. this morning.
Weather: Range: 26- 34.5 degrees C. (78.8 -94.1 degrees F )

Time of walk: ~6.45 p.m. ~31.5 degrees C ( 88.7 degrees F)

Humidity: ~27%, wind NW ~6kt.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Jay rescue

This above - by valley road I noticed the short leguminous shrub growing together with Polygonum (horsetail knotweed) and thought the combination pretty so took some shots- noticed later on the zoom the red and black plant bug, probably Pyrrhocoris apterus, also known as the firebug. (or Scantius aegyptius or related )

Avremi captured this pic of an opened seedpod - magnified, the actual seedpod was barely half a centimetre across. All this kind had three chambers like this and each held at least two seeds.

(As I write I can hear Bauhinia pods bursting out their seeds every few minutes, a disconcerting effect if you don't know what it is! )

These were between valley road and the north valley turn off, we headed off the path under the pines near where we found that carob tree and Moshe always has fun jumping down the limestone shelves and boulders.

Below: Hyrax, eyes lit by the flash. They must have good night vision to have light gathering retinas like this and we have seen them occasionally scampering about well after dark especially in the neighbourhood gardens along the snake path.

The boys found a very busy ant nest, ants of two distinct sizes collecting and milling around industriously. The large ones were quite aggressive and swarmed onto us if we let them, the boys received a few nips. We need a better pic to show their mandibles.

Gazelle: We noticed an adult male today in gazelle field not far from the north valley watercourse, peacefully grazing.
Boys noticed a gazelle up on the hill to the north but couldn't make out definite horns.
Hyrax: A few hyrax noticed at the Shadiker colony.

Boys noticed the
fox family this morning on their return from their campsite, must have been around 7 a.m. Mom vixen and three cubs making their way quickly up the hidden watercourse and then up its northern banks.

The younger boys also came with us for the walk this afternoon. Avremi likes to use the camera and Moshe wanted to check out the cistern for toads or whatever. Turned out to be a good decision!
Bee-eaters Lots of activity over gazelle field, eucalyptus grove and the lower part of east field beyond. Scores, hard to estimate numbers because of the way they moved about and that we did not have all of them in view at any one time but something over 60.

Turtle doves: Some coos heard.
Blackbirds: no song but a pair whistling thin alarm call by central trail on the way back.
Chukar partridges: some calls heard as we arrived at the north watercourse dirt road.
Collared doves: coos, flight calls, general activity.
Eurasian Jays: Activity, calls as usual, and a RESCUE! The boys found a bird that had somehow become waterlogged in the cistern. They rescued it and before they could even ask ''can we keep it" I told them to take it home as at least a temporary pet. Jays are omnivorous and therefore quite easy to feed on table scraps and was already taking pieces of bread by the time Akiva and I arrived home. Soon it was sitting quite calmly on Moshe's hand without restraint. We used an old cage we have for its quarters when not being handled, more to protect it from the dog and other accidents around the home. We must get pics of him when he looks less bedraggled! Aharon was impressed at the beautiful blue barring on his wings.

Greenfinches: Twitters and chaws in the pines as usual.
Hooded crows: A few flying about.
House sparrows: Around the houses as usual and a small flock today at the bunker ruins foraging on grass and apparently also thistle seed.
Laughing doves: around buildings and cooing as usual.
Stone curlews: Calls from fields from about sunset onwards
Sunbirds: melodious short calls in the garden since about 5 a.m.
Syrian woodpeckers: A few in the eucalyptus groves, calling and banging beaks into the eucalyptus trunks.
White spectacled Bulbuls: calling in the garden from about 5 a.m.

Mr. Goldwasser reported a large bird in the valley, from his description most likely a long legged buzzard.

Weather: today's range, 16- almost 30 degrees C, ( 60.8 F - 86 F)
Time of walk, starting about 6.30 p.m. ~27 degrees C. (80.6 degrees F)
humidity ~40%, winds NW/NNW, 7-8 kt.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Sunday's walk

The hillslopes across north valley watercourse. Below, the stigma (green) and stamens and anthers (white and purple) of a caper flower, still in bloom in many places now.

Young Eryngium- they progressively turn blue/purple and put out tiny indigo flower parts.

Spiny broom, a kind of legume, has finished blooming and fertilized flowers have turned to beanpods, this by central trail. The short softer leaved broom by the roadside continues to bloom yellow flowers.

Gazelle: One spotted running into the trees across north valley watercourse into tree cover.

: Heard calling over north valley for most of the walk.
Turtle doves: Heard cooing. Blackbirds: heard in song
Collared doves: heard cooing, active between trees.
Eurasian Jays: active about woods, foraging.
Graceful warblers: calls and foraging in gazelle field.
Greenfinches: Twitters and chaws in pines, foraging for thistle seeds in gazelle field.
Hooded crows: Calls, active. House sparrows:calls, active
Laughing doves: coos, active around houses.
Stone curlews: calls around and after sunset
Sunbirds: calls from just before first light.
Syrian woodpeckers: calls in the pines
White spectacled Bulbuls:melodious calls in the garden before first light again, repeated harsh cries of a couple in the Bauhinia late afternoon, making big fuss, possibly one of neighbour's cats around.

locust noticed on valley road on the way up. It flew to cover of a caper, already getting dark, unfortunately couldn't find it. I have never seen a swarm on the move here but found individuals many times, usually grey brown, one summer, a few summers ago there were a lot of red ones about for a short while.. would make a great subject if we can find like that again.

Local boys were curious what I was looking for (locus is called
arbeh in Hebrew) so we got into a conversation about the local wildlife. They reported seeing a number of Kukri snakes in the area, or perhaps Dahl's whip snakes, could be either by their description, both small and harmless species. (snake is na'hash in Hebrew )

Our eldest son, Aharon (age 22), took the two youngest boys camping this evening, not sure where they're going to pitch their tent, they may go all the way to the sage vale.. hope they have good reports for us tomorrow!

Weather: 16-26 degrees C, ( 60.8 -78.8 degrees F) - time of walk: 22 degrees C. (71.6 degrees F)
humidity: 65% and rising, wind W/NW, 6-10 kt.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Brief Saturday Report

Another view down the central trail towards the bunker rubble. Turn off to the north valley on the left, pine behind the cistern ahead and slightly to the left, hillside leading up to Hizmeh behind. Towards the right are the three pines by the bunker rubble, back right, eucalyptus trees at look-out corner, on the right you can see some of the charring from the fire which burnt up the ground behind and around look out corner.

Below: this is what the thorny burnet berries look like now, all rough and brown.

This plant below was growing right by the cistern and part of a little group. New growth in a relatively bare patch. Not sure what they'll be yet, there was a hint of beginnings of small yellow flowers in the centre.

Gazelle: Adult male seen in the morning in the watercourse behind the cistern by Akiva, we both saw him again towards sunset grazing behind the row of almonds. Most likely same one as the males are territorial over areas inhabited by females and young. Magnificent horns, we saw him rub them against some shrub
Hyrax: Plenty about by valley road from the cypress slum colony.
Reptiles: Gecko calls heard.
Bee-eaters: A number of bee-eaters seen on the ground on the dirt road next to the Pistaccio orchard, at least a dozen possibly more.. what were they doing there? We looked at the patch but found no ant activity so what were they doing, just chilling, cooling down in the dust? We noticed this same behaviour same time of year last year.

Blackbirds: some song heard in the pines.
Collared doves: some coos, flight calls, activity, flying about between trees, and ground.
Eurasian Jays: quite a few vocal in the pines, seen active between trees, foraging.
Feral pigeons: Seen flying over
Greenfinches: calls, twitters around bunker pines
House sparrows: chirps around buildings, garden, some activity in gazelle fields foraging for grass seed.
Laughing doves: cooing around buildings as usual.
Stone curlews: calling in gazelle field just after sunset.
Sunbirds: calling around dawn in garden last couple of days, with bulbuls.
Syrian woodpeckers: A few very vocal in the eucalyptus grove just east of the cistern
White spectacled Bulbuls: vocal in the garden from before dawn and a few other places on our walk.

Weather: Range today: 17-26 degrees C ( 62.6- 78.8 degrees F)
Time of walk: ~7 p.m. 21 degrees C (69.8 degrees F)
Humidity ~75%, winds westerly 9-20 kt . Given these winds it may have been difficult for the bee-eaters to hunt - perhaps they were quite literally grounded.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Walk with the boys

This is a view east down the central path towards the bunker rubble and the pines there. Today we took the boys, Moshe and Avremi- always livens things up!

Within a short while Akiva spotted two gazelle in the shade of the pines off to the left of the path (north eastish). Through binoculars one had thin uneven horns, the other had none visible at all and was noticeably smaller though not tiny- looked like mother and young. A few minutes later another well grown youngster, alone, strolled out of the east valley woods from the right (southish), entered the near part of 'gazelle field' and stood and gazed at us for a few minutes while Moshe took pictures. After a short while it recrossed central trail and headed back to the east valley woods.

As we admired it we also noticed a hoopoe and a Eurasian jay foraging on the trail nearby- such a difference in styles- the hoopoe meandered about like a chicken poking its long bill delicately at the red dusty ground and the jay pounced about, jabbing aggressively, flying briefly between positions.

We heard fluid bee-eater calls and waited as they seemed to be approaching. Presently they flew into view from over the eucalyptus by look-out corner, first a dozen.. then more and yet more till the sky whirled with them, at least 70 individuals, and heading north not far above canopy level towards the hillside.

Akiva spotted a fourth gazelle later, just emerging onto gazelle field from the most north easterly tip of the pines- this time an adult male with beautifully curved horns.

Below: when I arrived at this globe thistle (near the cistern) there were at least half a dozen of these bees on top of the flower. They took off together at my approach like a squadron and made themselves scarce but after a minute or so this one came back.

Many of the leaves of Pistacios in the eucalyptus grove were infected with galls- hard bulbous red growths probably caused by tiny parasitic wasps or some other insect.

Reptiles: Geckoes heard from a building as we returned to the neighbourhood shortly after sunset.

Turtle doves: Brief cooing in the pines
Blackbirds: song, calls.

Collared doves: Coos and activity, stone curlews: some calls.
Eurasian Jays: Quite a few raucous calls and activity
Feral pigeons: a few flying about Graceful warblers: vocal by valley road
Great tits: some calls. Greenfinches: some calls, Syrian woodpeckers, calls
Great spotted cuckoo, calls and brief glimpse by Akiva

Hooded crows, House sparrows, Laughing doves: as usual. Sunbirds, vocal in the garden

Temp: reached 32 degrees Celsius today, (~89.5 degrees F)

Time of walk (approaching 7 p.m. ) 86 degrees C, humidity ~50%, NW wind

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Brief quarry visit

Opposite view from yesterday's pic, this one faces back east towards the neighbourhood. A full moon is rising over Hizmeh on the hill ahead. (It's now a new moon, and was up in the western sky as we returned home)

Today we walked to the quarry and made an about turn at sunset as we needed to get back before it got too dark to see the way up the hill. Though we cannot see the sunset from our walks since to the west is uphill the mosques make clear when that occurs as the call to maghrib prayer is at that time. We're Jews, not Moslems, but it is useful to know a little about our neighbour's culture!

These are the excavated structures we found on the hillside just up from that tree with the small green fruits. We first thought they looked like mikvaot (water pools) or perhaps storage cisterns and husband theorized they may have been used as bunkers during a war in the past.

We struck lucky on mammals today: Gazelles: 2, appeared to be a mother and well grown young coming up from the north valley watercourse onto the path. Then husband noticed the shape of a head ahead of us atop a little hill of rocks between us and the quarry. It was a fox, gazing down at us, curious. It stayed there for a couple of minutes before moving off. When I looked back to see where the gazelles were they had gone and when I looked back, so had the fox.

Plenty hyraxes about today in two different colonies.. the ''shruuuu!" alarm call at the colony below the end of Shadiker which we passed on the way down to north valley.. we took the long way down, a barely discernible trail from the end of an alley below and parallel to Shadiker, which parallels the dirt road till it finally joins with it. The other hyrax colony is at a 'field' of boulders to the left of the dirt road just before reaching the quarry- much activity there, adults and youngsters scampering amongst the rocks.

Forgot to mention yesterday saw another blue butterfly and a more colourful one.. only caught a glimpse but looked like a painted lady. Today a couple of whites, most probably the Pontia.

Intense cicada noise heard about sunset today. We just had to stop and listen to the high amazing continuous hum all around us. Later a variety of crickets were calling.

Reptiles: Geckoes heard in the evening. One just now, it's just after 2.15 a.m. as I write.
Bee-eaters: calls heard over north valley during much of the walk. Have the swifts left? Haven't seen or heard any in about a week.
Hobbies: glimpses, flights over the valley a few times. One in a cypress by the quarry.. I took a pic but only silhouette and barely discernible without powerful telephoto. Kestrels in that area too and not easy to tell apart in silhouette when they're quick, have to see the brown/chestnut back of the kestrel to be sure, or the clear hood of the hobby. Kestrels are more likely to land on man made structures whereas hobbies much prefer trees, hence their Hebrew name 'Baz Etzim' - Tree falcon. The Kestrel is 'Baz matzui' which roughly translates as 'common falcon'

Blackbirds: Some song. Chukar partridges: calls from a covey across the watercourse somewhere
Collared doves. Coos. Eurasian Jays: calls and plenty activity throughout the woods
Graceful warblers: calls, Hooded crows, calls
House sparrows:about the buildings chirping as usual. Laughing doves: about the buildings, coos, foraging in pairs
Stone curlews: calls especially just after dark, heard clearly from the house.
Sunbirds: calls in the garden. White spectacled Bulbuls: calls in the garden since before first light.

Whistles of Tristram's grackles at the quarry. I hadn't wanted to turn around before finding them! I'd rather have stayed longer to get a count but time was running out on us.

blooming: thyme, caper, mullein and globe thistle. Golden thistle finishing, still some viper's bugloss about and Inula (ragwort type) sprouting up green in many places. Still waiting to see bloom on that mint like greenery.
Tree tobacco at the quarry also finishing up blooming their strange tubular yellow flowers.

Weather: about 82.5 degrees F at end of our walk, reached about 85 degrees today maximum. Humidity on our return, about 70% with winds in the west more or less.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

North valley walk

I took these two pics to show the contrast in colour between two cushions of Israeli thyme flowers. Disregard the relative sizes, the flowers are the same size, lighting conditions were exactly the same but those below are significantly deeper in colour. I also notice now there are noticeable differences in form too, especially of the lower petals, those these are same species. Most of the thyme is like that above but the deeper purple clump was growing close to the north valley dirt road close to other clumps.

Moth on the spines on the lower part of a globe thistle.

Fruiting bodies of cat thyme germander- Teucrium.

A view up the north valley dirt road, the way to the quarry at about 7.30 p.m. today (S.T. )

Gazelle: No luck today. Hyrax: Did not pass main colonies.

Bee-eaters: A flock active and vocal through the whole walk over north valley, at least 25 birds.
Blackbirds: song heard in the woods

Collared doves: coos and activity
Eurasian Jays: screeches and activity
*Kestrels: At least two hunting across the valley between A Ram and tall buildings in upper part of neighbourhood, some kind of interaction but unclear if family or territorial, husband glimpsed third individual.
Graceful warblers: vocal and active by valley road
Hooded crows: about and active as usual
House sparrows:calling, active around edges of neighbourhood, foraging, chirping
Stone curlews: calls from fields after sunset
Sunbirds: active and vocal in the garden
White spectacled Bulbuls: harsh calls heard near dark from north valley watercourse, family calls.

By contrast many of the usual birds were relatively quiet today. There was a nice breeze coming down north valley blowing the globe thistles about but warm, not hot, similar to yesterday.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Snowflake sighted again.

Say ''hello" to the hyrax! Recent photo by Akiva. This one shows a good view of his front feet.

Some trees are struggling valiantly in the sapling field though surrounded by milk thistle almost as tall as themselves.. the park authorities need to cut that again! Some were Pistacio and some Ailanthus, hardy choices that can manage well in this dry climate. Ailanthus is also called ''Tree of Heaven" and is found all over the city. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ailanthus. This one I took yesterday (Sunday) but wanted to devote that entry to the globe thistle fauna.

You'll probably need to lean back for the pic above so that you can make sense of it. The flank stripe and white belly are obvious but otherwise it blends into the surroundings. It has a big white spot on its forehead, a feature which makes this one easy to recognize. (''Snowflake". We've seen this one grazing near the central watercourse of gazelle field in the past) We need a telephoto! So much sharper and prettier in binocular sights, this does not do it justice at all. Those are ears you see, no sign of horns. This was in the pine grove between the north valley dirt road and watercourse where it heads out into gazelle field.

This is one of three gazelle we saw in that area, this with the white spot, another with thin uneven horns (but not lefty), - these two were seen together not long after making their way through the field not far from the north valley watercourse, very casual and grazing. They knew we were there, we were upwind for a start and they could see us but were not spooked, as long as we are at least 70 yards off they show no fear at all. We also saw a handsome adult male, first noticed him under the same pines and then he too moved out into the open and grazed across the watercourse. For a little while he seemed to be pushing his horns repeatedly into a bush as if he were sparring, then he settled down to graze.

Hyrax: Some activity by valley road.

Bee-eaters: Heard calling somewhere up above over the forest most of the walk.
Hobbies: Some calls. Turtle doves: some coos
Collared doves: some coos, flight calls, flying about, general activity.
Eurasian Jays: About, between trees, busy.
Graceful warblers: Calling by valley road as usual.
Great tits: Some calls amongst the pines near central trail
Greenfinches: Calls in the pines as usual
Hooded crows: returning from forage somewhere north and east towards sunset, very loose flock.
House sparrows, Laughing doves: around buildings as usual
Stone curlews: Calls from fields towards sunset.
Sunbirds: In the Bauhinia, heard calling sharply and melodiously shortly after 5 a.m.
Syrian woodpeckers: Some calls.
White spectacled Bulbuls: Calls in the Bauhinia about 5 a.m.

This handsome specimen below we found taking a stroll on valley road at about 10.30 p.m. We don't usually take the camera on those walks but we had spoken recently of seeing nocturnal life and husband remembered. It made no attempt to attack us and of course we didn't provoke it, assuming it doesn't mind the flashes.

I think this scorpion is a Jericho Nebo, Nebo hierichonticus, and measured just 5 cm from claw tips to the curve of the tail. (Add another couple of centimetres for the tail itself) . This species can get double that size. First scorpion we've seen this season.

Weather: Range: 20-29 degrees C ( 68-84.2 degrees F) Time of walk: started just before 7 p.m. again 25 degrees C, 77 degrees F. Humidity: 40-45%, wind W/NW 6-11 kt.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

All the action is at the globe thistles today

Warning: some of these pics might make your skin crawl! If you are at all sensitive to the sight of bugs you may not wish to go further.. you have been warned! :)

Flowering plants are great places to find insect activity so I usually check over every flower I see for anything of interest. I'm rarely disappointed. This one I found on a globe thistle close to the beginning of the north valley dirt road.

This above is my favourite pic today. A white crab spider has captured a kind of wasp. Note it's not the same kind of white crab spider that I found on the snapdragon- this one has yellow markings rather than violet.

Below: I spotted this tiny spider just below a globe thistle, hanging on to the thistle spines. My teenage daughter Elisheva spotted something else I didn't catch myself.. you can just make out a very fine thread leading up to the left from the tip of the abdomen. To the naked eye I could not see how spiny it was, the whole spider was less than 1 cm from toe to toe but I could make out that it had interesting markings and hoped I'd get a shot sharp enough to show them, and I wasn't disappointed. You can also see quite clearly two of its eyes top and front. (facing down and right) . Honeybees were also visiting the globe thistles.

Many of the globe thistles were teeming with these red and green beetles, as they were also last year. On the flower below several were busy feasting on the inside of the florets, possibly for nectar and/or pollen. When I first saw them I thought they had mouthparts like weevils but the zoom showed it was an elongaged head and neck region.

There was also some activity on the flowering capers- a variety of ants- I took a pic of a black and red one but not satisfied with its sharpness. I also took a pic of a pure white grasshopper which landed on the lower stems, I'd never seen such a thing before. I'm not totally satisfied with that pic either and got quite scratched up in the process! Still, I put them aside for the record.

Gazelle: No luck today. Hyrax: Plenty active just down from valley road though small ones not out.

Bee-eaters: calls and flying quite low over the canopy over east valley towards gazelle field, saw one flock of 15 or so birds and from the calls another group close behind.
Hobbies: calls, Turtle doves: coos in various parts of the pine woods.
Blackbirds: Some song. Collared doves: coos and activity.
Eurasian Jays: Plenty activity, quite a lot about though not very vocal today
Graceful warblers: vocal today up by valley road as usual.
Greenfinches: Much twittering at sunset and chawing in all the pines between north valley dirt road and gazelle field, and the pines around the bunker rubble.
Hooded crows: Calls througout day, small flock heading to roost central east valley as usual.
House sparrows:Chirping in gardens and around houses as usual.
Laughing doves: Cooing much of the day in gardens
Stone curlews: Calling in the fields around sunset
Sunbirds: Calling melodiously in the Bauhinia on and off throughout the day from about 5 a.m. and glimpsed hunting for insects in there.
Syrian woodpeckers: some calls.
White spectacled Bulbuls: Calls in Bauhinia since shortly before 5 a.m. again and also down in the acacias in north valley.

Weather: Today's range: 20-29.5 degrees C ( 71- 82.5 degrees F) time of walk ~7 p.m. : 25 degrees C ( 77 degrees F) . Humidity ~60%, winds westerly 7-11 knots

Saturday, June 20, 2009

"Bug with a tattoo"

On Friday I sent the boys into the garden and asked them to find anything interesting and photograph it. Within minutes Moshe found this handsome little plant bug (nymph?). Below you can see how big it is on my son's thumb. (12 year old, I assume it's Avremi's) . Moshe described it as a bug with a tattoo.

Moshe found this spider guarding it's den.. it has a network of silk on the ground which can detect potentially delicious passers-by. The spider attacked a ''daddy long legs" type spider and judging by remains found in other photographs had attacked these also in the past. (The boys are now working on a photoshopping exercise to put themselves in the picture wielding ''Sting" and taking him on! )

These are fruits from that tree up on the rocks by the north valley dirt road. I checked on them a few days ago to see if they had developed further but they were still green.

Last couple of days (friday, saturday) first bird up has again been the white spectacled bulbul calling musically in the Bauhinia at about 4.55 a.m. Both days also a sunbird chimed in within the next 10, 15 minutes. Friday afternoon a sunbird was singing beautifully while the grass was being sprinkled- many birds like to sing when there's white noise of water in the background. It was truly delightful to hear his sweet notes at that time.

House sparrows started up shortly after 5 a.m. and then hooded crows heard farther off. Laughing doves would start to coo within the next half hour or so.

Great spotted cuckoo heard calling down in the pines in east valley as we walked along valley road. Blackbird song heard, graceful warbler heard.

Quite a bit of hyrax activity especially by the pumping station. Gazelle crossed the east valley watercourse dirt road and headed up the hill to the east. Plenty greenfinches heard twittering around bunker rubble area, some great tit calls and activity in that general area. some collared dove coos, turtle dove coos, calls of bee-eaters, swifts overhead. Eurasian Jays glimpsed in the woods here and there.

Crickets and cicadas heard. Tiny black or almost black reptile briefly spotted, looked like tiny snake but there was a slight twitch to its movements that told me it was really a skink, that it had tiny legs but sadly didn't have much of a view as it vanished completely in the undergrowth. It was really small, barely 10 cm long. A couple of bats noticed as it got dark.

Weather: today's range: 29.5-19.5 degrees C. Time of walk ~7 p.m. ~25.5 degrees C 45% humidity, winds westerly 4-9 knots

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Pomegranates begin to swell

Colours of the season. A pomegranate beginning to ripen. Akiva took this one near the cistern about sunset today. Below, a view of boulders and miscellaneous vegetation on the hillside.

Gazelle: Two near the bat cave.. those two adult males - we assume they're the same ones. Not part of the bachelor herd nor connected with the females and young. Akiva tried to get shots but they were two distant, pics too grainy and none that showed both sets of horns.

Bee-eaters: heard calling over north valley, gazelle field.
Hobbies: Calls heard near east end of north valley, south side, towards sunset
Swifts: Calls heard towards sunset.
Turtle doves: Coos heard
Hoopoe (?) I heard an 'oo oo oo' while husband was photographing that pomegranate but didn't repeat, sadly. They can sound so much like doves and other birds, it's the sheer monotony of the call that gives it away.
Collared doves: quieter today and don't recall hearing blackbird song either
Eurasian Jays: glimpsed
Feral pigeons: building tops on the street as usual.
Great tits: activity and calls between acacias by north valley watercourse and pines.
Greenfinches, graceful warblers, jackdaws heard from the house earlier
Stone curlews: calls after sunset
Hooded crows: around and over as usual.
House sparrows:garden and street activity and vocal as usual though they have ceased for a while to start up at 4.20 a.m. , I think because their young fledged and they are not so busy right next to the house from so early.
Laughing doves: cooing in the garden and around the street as usual.
Sunbirds: calls in the garden from barely first light and other times in the day.
White spectacled Bulbuls: First call I heard in the morning, almost 5 a.m.

Insect activity quite low.. a few butterflies, a good number of small grasshoppers and lots of crickets later in the evening of a range of pitches.

Weather: 17-29 degrees C, time of walk: ~7 p.m. 24 degrees C. Humidity: ~60% winds westerly 8-10 knots

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Olive Grove

I discovered a few almond trees behind the olives, between them and the fence. The nuts are ripening inside their green cases. That and a hawthorn.

Today Akiva wanted to go to the olive grove since we haven't checked out that area in a while. We ascended the shepherd's trail from the east valley watercourse to emerge on the lower slopes of windsurfer hill and made our way through thorny burnet and rough rocky trails towards the grove. We stopped to watch a young gazelle ahead of us coming down from the lower slopes, passing in front of the olives then pausing as it reached the top of a stone wall. It paused, clearly understanding 'look before you leap' as it figured out its route, then, with a decisive tail wiggle it jumped to the lower level and went on its way.

We also found a whole family of graceful warblers emerging from the dense scrub in what clearly used to be a water channel between the fields. I really will have to post a view of this area as seen from the slopes of windsurfer hill so that you can see that as with gazelle field much of east field between the olive grove and the Pistacio orchard used to be an arrangement of little fields divided from each other by dry stone walls.

We followed the route of the gazelle pretty much after having found no new vegetation in the grove and came across a spread of these little plants in the lower part of the old fields, some kind of sage like herb.. it had no noticeable aroma when squeezed but it was all rather dry and yellowing, very few had any green in them .. yet still bravely trying to grow as it had in the past probably when it was being tended. It is probably a culinary herb.

We also found a magnificent mullein in the lower fields, blooming yellow five petal delicate flowers and the old dry stalks of last season packed along their length with seedpods. Also plenty globe thistle.

Some time along this walk we heard many bee-eater calls and saw to our wonder a beautiful flock crossing between north valley and the neighbourhood - I lost count at 60, there could have been a score more.. there were waves upon waves of them rippling and undulating and yet keeping a set distance from each other it seemed, not a tremendously tight formation but definitely a formation and always a delight to behold with their graceful delta wing shape and rainbow colours. Largest gathering this season yet though normal compared to last two seasons.

Grasses abound, these delicate tassels towering over the ubiquitous oats, by valley road.

Hyrax also noticed down from valley road and I forgot to mention the fox husband glimpsed between the pines between central trail and north valley trail yesterday afternoon.

Other birds: a pair of syrian woodpeckers in the eucalyptus by east field, looked out for more which would indicate a family but didn't see. Calls also heard.

Sunset greenfinch chorus around look-out corner was very lively today, plenty twittering, singing, chawing, all the local males getting in the act from the sound of it. That, together with a distant blackbird song, the cries of a stone curlew somewhere in gazelle field and singing from four different mosques on nearby hilltops was all quite surreal.

Garden: house sparrows, white spectacled bulbul and laughing doves, I didn't notice sunbirds today, they were quiet or I slept right through them but husband did notice one zip between window and Bauhinia. I also heard jackdaw calls early afternoon and as usual hooded crows were ubiquitous, a flock returning today from Hizmeh area towards sunset, heading back over lower slopes of windsurfer hill towards their roost in east valley. Feral pigeons about building tops as usual.

Weather: We left at ~6.50 p.m. temp then was 22.8 degrees C, humidity 63% wind WNW 0.9 kt. Range today was 17-26 degrees C. For a change I remembered to get the figures from the weather station just before leaving rather than read it off the line graphs at the end of the day as I usually do... then forgot the notebook to jot down obs in the field! No doubt I'll remember something I forgot to mention later, and I still have more burrs to pick out before tomorrow's expedition! I was amused to read that the invention of velcro was inspired by a man's observations of the burrs that stuck to his dog's fur. Those ''caterpillar" burrs definitely work just like that.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

New green amongst the greys and browns.

This is one of the Heteropteran plant bugs found on some composite by valley road late this afternoon. Not sure of the species, or even the genus. It resembles bugs in Lygaeus and also Spilostethus but unfortunately my pic of the back was too blurred to post, (though would be good enough for I.D. if I had found a match) The side view was lucky, that plant was waving in the wind vigorously most of the time and almost impossible to get any focus.

Back featured a grey cross on orange background with a number of regularly placed black dots, rump section black white a large white dot.

This green growth was my favourite find of the day. Found amongst the pines between central trail and the north watercourse dirt road and near the base of a cypress, from the leaf configuration it looks like a young carob tree, Ceratonia siliqua less than a metre high! The leaves are wonderfully shiny and green protected from the dryness by a waxy layer and growing nicely , I do hope this tree flourishes. There are many carobs in other parts of Jerusalem but this is the first I've seen in the Mir Forest. I am a huge fan of the sweet chewy bean pods which have sustained me on walks on many occasions. I have never seen it as a chocolate substitute but as a delicious food in its own right and now I am wondering if I am the cause of this tree since I may have spit out the very seed that grew this sapling on some walk a while back...

The hard round seeds themselves are also pretty neat because as well as being commercially useful in their own right they are the origin of the carat weight.

I don't know if any of you wanted to see the head of the hoopoe we found, which is rather sad, bony and gruesome for many, though quite interesting to a zoologist like myself, but here I share with you a few feather of the wings and tail. I noticed that the black stripes on the wings have a brownish hue whereas those of the tail are shiny bluish black like a crow.

Below: more seedpods, a regular feature of the forest now as well as swaths of dried oats, deep blue and spiny eryngium, thorny burnet, the berries dried brown by now, the occasional glorious burst of golden thistle and now many cushions of thyme blooming a range of hues from deep purple to lighter lavender or bluish purple. These are buzzing with honey bees, wasps and others but sadly my honey bee on thyme pics were too blurred.. no doubt I'll get more opportunities this season.

Gazelle: No luck today.
Hyrax: A couple seen at the colony down from Shadiker and alarm calls from there later, I think because of children playing nearby.
Mole rats are already excavating the burnt patch by the path down from valley road to north valley dirt road, their brown mounds humped all over the charred area. These are not moles but true rodents, by the way. Spalax sp.

Reptiles: gecko heard outside window last night.
Bee-eaters: heard incessantly late afternoon to sunset.. a dozen or so seen flying up over north valley towards ridge and later as we returned to neighbourhood a flight of nearly 30 wheeling around over neighbourhood edge, lovely sight if anyone on the streets was paying attention!

Hobbies: shrill call from pines where east and north valleys meet. Also another call heard from Roscoe highrise buildings, from sound of it, a kestrel. Those buildings are frequent haunts, I think kestrels manage to breed there every year as well as the high rises in the centre of the neighbourhood by Petri gardens.

Swifts, chukars: not noticed at all today.
Turtle doves: coos in various parts of the pine woods.
Blackbirds: Song heard. Collared doves: coos and generally active in many parts of the pinewoods.
Eurasian Jays: very vocal in many parts of the woods.

Feral pigeons: tops of buildings and in flight between as usual, and one flying to nest in handy eave like location UNDER a building on pillars.
Graceful warblers: active and vocal, seen foraging. Great tits: calls in trees to south of north valley dirtroad.
Greenfinches: Heard in the pines, twittering and chawing.
Jackdaws: not noticed for sure today.. and I actually remembered a little notepad and pencil today to jot things down.
Hooded crows. A number seen as well as calls over various parts of the valley, they seem to patrol the area.
House sparrows:Gardens and edges of habitation as usual, foraging for grass seed or anything else edible
Laughing doves: Cooing in the gardens and several pairs at crumb corner.
Stone curlews: Heard in north part of gazelle field.
Sunbirds: Heard calling musically outside window in the garden since before dawn
Syrian woodpeckers: occasional calls in the pines
White spectacled Bulbuls: Calls in the garden since before first light ~4.30 a.m. as well as calls amongst the acacias by north valley watercourse.

Also a mysterious unfamiliar bird down there about sunset, such a tease because we had to get back home and not time to investigate but carrying clear ''tzeee suuuuuu! " call, repeated every at least ten seconds. Hope we find it again!
Husband also saw a large bird land in a tree up by the ridge, thought one of the
Buteos but landed out of sight and the crows that arrived there a little later did not get it to fly up.

Weather: range today 16.5 to just over 26 degrees C (steadily dropping over last three days as you see), Time of walk: not long before 7 p.m. ~23 degrees C. humidity 66%, wind W/NW 6-9 kts.

Monday, June 15, 2009

More north valley discoveries

One of the blues, (Lycaenidae) considerably darker than the blue husband photographed a few days ago. The back was deep iridescent purplish bluish black and the underwings have as you see a brownish background. A darker variant of Polyommatus icarus? I don't see any other species it matches on Rittner's site. This one was fluttering about the thorny burnet and other scrub just off the dirt road to the quarry and posed for me for a while on this stalk though the stalk itself was constantly vibrating in the breeze so I took a number of shots to be sure I had at least one clear one.

Here and there three spot Dianthus are blooming. This also just up from the north valley dirt road and in the shade of some pines. These delicate pinks never seem to bloom in great numbers, just scattered here and there like forgotten handkerchiefs. You can see how it got its name, each petal has three darker pink dots near the base.

Advance warning! Following picture may be too creepy for some!

You asked for it:) This is the head of a snakeskin found by our neighbour Goldwasser. You can see here that they shed everything including the outer layer of the eye. It makes sense this needs to be protective and continuous with the skin since snakes don't blink. The whole snakeskin was at least 1 metre long and the head is about 2.5 cm at widest. Since skin pretty evenly coloured, no tapestry markings at all, I'd say it's of a black whip snake, Coluber jugularis, quite common around here and not particularly dangerous though often quite long and fearsome looking. There are two shorter black snakes in Israel that are deadly but they are found farther south in desert areas near the Dead Sea.

Last of this batch of Hyrax pictures, two good size individuals in the cypress slum area.

Gazelle: No luck today. Hyrax: since we headed straight down into north valley we did not pass the usual colonies and we didn't see activity at the colony down from Shadiker at all.

Bee-eaters: heard calling incessantly and flying up and down over north valley but apparently hawking high today
Hobbies: Saw one pass over the valley
Swifts: Calls Turtle doves: Some coos.
Hoopoe: one found dead by the side of the north valley dirt road, already mostly dried up and unfortunately too long dead to spread out wings, skull partly exposed. Good from the point of view of preservation, we brought it home. I have not yet made photographs, plan to do so tomorrow and will share if anyone is interested. The skull is really quite remarkable, the narrow slightly curved bill measures 5 cm from tip to nostril
Blackbirds: Some song
Collared doves: some coos and seen active about the woods around north valley
Eurasian Jays: a number of calls and seen about the woods as above
Feral pigeons and Graceful warblers: probably, don't recall. We really should take notes along the way so that I avoid forgetting which regulars we've seen. Same applies to greenfinches, jackdaws and the like!
Hooded crows: Seen flying over
House sparrows:chirping in the garden as usual. Laughing doves: another probably. Sunbirds: here a definitely, calling in the Bauhinia outside my window since just before dawn.
White spectacled Bulbuls: also a definitely, in the garden and also near the north valley watercourse. I watched one forage on the ground and take food up into the acacia above where probably young were waiting for it.
I highlight in bold species I definitely remember seeing and hearing. Often I check with husband later what he remembers hearing and seeing.

Weather: 17-29 degrees C. Time of walk: ~6:50 p.m. ~24 degrees, humidity ~60% and rising. winds westerly, 8-12 kt. Now a couple of degrees cooler than last night since these moist westerlies blew in.