Sunday, August 30, 2009

Raptor conflict, dog days, sat-mon

Two eucalyptus tree views showing the drying ground cover, and below, Hizmeh hill behind. The fields are favoured by black eared wheatears and stone curlews ('thick knees), as well as foraging hooded crows and jackdaws, grazed by gazelle, and roamed by dark foxes. The trees are used by Syrian woodpeckers, greenfinches, bee-eaters, hobbies, hoopoes, masked shrikes and other birds.

Gazelle: Saturday: Boys saw at least half a dozen earlier in the afternoon, I spotted buck, made his way down hillside to graze north east corner of gazelle field. None on sunday but scat seen in sapling field, scat also seen today many places near north valley watercourse, some clearly repeatedly used.
Hyrax: Sun,sat, alarm calls and glimpses pumphouse colony and cypress slum colony. mon, alarm barks and shrills at Shadiker colony.
Feral dogs: two today, lone male by pumping station, another lone dog along security road, not totally canaani, looks like it had some mastiff.
Reptiles: where are the agama lizards? haven't seen any this season at all. Aharon says he sees them earlier in the day when the sun is higher, which makes sense.
Bee-eaters: not a peep from them for days.
Hobbies: Sun: two briefly harassing a Eurasian sparrowhawk over north slopes of windsurfer hill. They came from direction of Hizmeh. After brief aerial interaction one headed back to Hizmeh, other flew over towards peak of windsurfer hill. The sparrowhawk headed towards woods, look-out corner direction.

Collared doves: from pine grove east of cistern to cistern pine and then across gazelle field to younger pines.
Eurasian Jays: calls, glimpses all days
Feral pigeons: aloft, about buildings, quite active late afternoon
Jackdaws: vocal, active esp lower slopes of hill on which Hizmeh stands, calls all days
Hooded crows: a few up on windsurfer hill
House sparrows:about buildings, chirping early mornings
Laughing doves: cooing in gardens
Sunbirds: squeak calls from gardens. neighbour reported full song.
Syrian woodpeckers: calls esp. around eucalyptus grove
White spectacled Bulbuls: last few days many gutteral calls.. saw activity of at least three, probably more in the willow, likely whole family, late brood of fledgelings, one at top seemed to have food in bill for them.

Today: monday, we walked towards the quarry. Again bird life limited, mainly Eurasian jays. The yellow thistle, the blue tuft thistle and that small headed purple job I photographed a few weeks ago still in bloom, as is the low yellow pea family plant by the road verge and polygonum. Everything else is drying and going to seed. Only green is on cypress and pine, the growth of Inula and what looks like
the foliage of Chiliadenus iphionoides, (''goldilocks'') a composite with a brilliant yellow small star like flower. I photographed the flower at the end of september last year, it started to bloom shortly after the first rain had fallen. I've been watching this foliage grow up in clumps all over the place for the last few weeks.. watching and waiting for it to bloom. I suspect this is the goldilocks but may be wrong.. will just have to wait and see!
Seedpods of spiny broom had burst open revealing tiny seeds.. I made pics but must add them later.. (husband downloads them onto his pc but not copied to mine yet, may still be in the camera! )

Blackbirds, Chukar partridges, graceful warblers, great tits, greenfinches, stonecurlews: keeping low profile lately

Weather: mon: range 18-27 degrees C. (64.4- 80.6 degrees F) , wind: westerly at night, NW/N much of the day.
humidity, ~36% early afternoon, 94+ at night.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Ants, Grasshoppers and thistles

Thurs: 27 Aug: Today we had the pleasure of Moshe's company and hand at the camera. We found a busy ant's nest near the shaft and Moshe bravely came close to take these pics, because those big ones bite! In the pic below you can just make out the dark mandibles on the two large individuals on the left. You can also make out which end is which - abdomen is much darker than the head, and the head bears a pair of fine antennae with 'elbows' . I thought the larger ones were soldiers, only present to guard the workers but I did notice one clutching a large seedhead so it seems they do help out in the communal task of bringing grass seed to the colony storehouses. They certainly do guard quite ferociously, you step close enough a dozen or more will swarm up your boots and try to attack, but it's pretty easy to shake them off.

There are still lots of grasshoppers about in gazelle field. Moshe caught two species here, both I think we've been seeing all season. The one above has lost its left antenna. Looks like one of the Pyrgomorphella again.

Moshe also spotted our first gazelle of the day.. an adult buck heading down to the north watercourse towards the bat cave from the dirt road ahead of us. It had probably caught our scent but was in no hurry, it made its way steadily to the trees across the watercourse. A little while later the guys spotted another gazelle over there, partially hidden by the cypress and pine, a female from what they could tell.

Hobbies were very vocal over there again. Akiva and I agreed there must be three for sure by all the calls and he thought there may have been a fourth based on calls and glimpses of their movements. I had a nice view of one perched on top of a cypress for a while.

Other bird life was relatively low profile again. Syrian woodpeckers heard as well as Eurasian jays heard and spotted here and there. Hooded crows were about, feral pigeons spotted, laughing doves around gardens and buildings as usual and white spectacled bulbuls very vocal in many places. House sparrows and sunbird squeaks also in the garden. By contrast not a peep from greenfinches, bee-eaters or stone curlews. Not sure about collared doves and jackdaws.

Most of the greenery about now is that of Inula viscosa, the ragwort type plant which is flowering in some places, particularly at the end of Shadiker, but in most places is still a growing mass of rank smelling green foliage, but a strong contrast to the surrounding yellows and browns.

Today's temperature range: 18-28 degrees C. ~64.5 - ~82.5 degrees F. humidity: 30% early afternoon, 90% at night, smooth rise and fall between. winds: mainly westerly, SW & NW to and fro much of the day.

Monday, August 24, 2009

First half of the week

view from look-out corner looking north eastish towards the bunker pines and rubble. In this area we've seen black redstart and European robins in the winter, black eared wheatear family and bee-eaters in the summer, hoopoes, syrian woodpeckers and Eurasian jays pretty much year round. The trees you see are a favourite hang-out of greenfinches and collared doves and are also visited by goldfinches and others.

Monday morning: White spectacled bulbul started up a few minutes before 6 a.m. Sunbirds heard later in the garden.

Monday afternoon: plenty hyrax activity along valley road.. quite dramatic when two burst out between the thorny burnet right in front of us. Shortly after husband spotted a feral cat down there, amongst the rocks, cypress tree trunk bases.. no doubt that's what had spooked them up to the road.

Feral pigeons, Tristram's starling whistles heard from direction of windsurfer hill just as it was beginning to get dark.

Most interesting were the calls heard in the almond row and then not long after in Pistacio grove which sounded to me like those of masked shrike but we didn't see the birds, light already failing. I had not noticed any bird fly between the locations so expect we're talking about a number of shrikes in the area.

Tuesday morning: laughing dove started cooing about 5.55 a.m. and right after that just a few melodious notes of a white spectacled bulbul, a few more then a hooded crow at 5.57 followed by chirps of house sparrows. Sunbird alarm squeaks heard at 6.02 a.m.

Later on tuesday: another quiet day. Where did the bee-eaters go? Greenfinches and many others keeping a low profile. Jays squawking nasally, hobby calls, some collared dove coos.
Syrian woodpecker seen in the eucalyptus grove, female I think.

I did spot a group of four gazelle in the field/lower hill slopes just east of the bat cave.

Wednesday: morning: harsh social calls of bulbul in the garden ~5.48 a.m. 5.52 sunbird squeaks followed almost immediately after by house sparrow chirps. Melodious bulbul calls a few minutes later.

We again approached gazelle field from the north valley watercourse even though we'd be upwind because out in the open area they will be sure to keep at a distance comfortable for them even if they are aware of us.. which of course they were immediately. We first noticed an individual grazing by the bat cave.. I took it for a young male (?) but could not be sure.. markings esp. on head, seemed sharper, darker than those of females I've seen, short horns. An adult male approached from the direction of the young pine grove (where he's often been seen) and followed with interest.. at this point I thought maybe I was wrong, maybe female after all but still .. hmm wonder if an adult buck could make that same mistake? He kept a respectful distance, grazing nearby and approaching cautiously.. then casually sauntered over and put his head down, looked as if he were about to sniff hindquarters. The other got moving briskly and headed down towards the watercourse and away, the adult male still following. Could just be sharpness of features typical of 'teenage' gazelle, male and female.

Very young hyrax seen at Shadiker colony and calls from there later I took at first for chukars, they were so similar, but more grating.

Hobbies, at least two individuals very vocal in trees both sides of watercourse and took to air, circled a couple of times. Syrian woodpecker call heard. Hooded crows about.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Bees, chameleon and others.

The eucalyptus trees just past the pumping station and about half way up the east valley dirt road were humming with bees.

This specimen was found in husband's room. These types come into the house quite frequently, attracted to the light.

Below, vivid in death, this chameleon was found in the middle of east valley watercourse dirt road, possibly a 'traffic accident' as cars and dirt buggies frequently use the road to picnic and so on, and chameleons walk rather deliberately. Now it is attended by the local ants and an oriental hornet that buzzed off a couple of metres when we approached, but was clearly waiting nearby.

Sunbirds sqeak alarm in the garden heard various times during the day. Husband noticed two in the cape honeysuckle a day or so ago but couldn't make out sex of them. If more than one of them was brownish it would indicate they bred in the area this season.

White spectacled bulbul harsh busy calls but again no melodious calls. Blackbird 'tzreet'

Feral pigeons, jackdaws, hooded crows, laughing doves cooing. In the valley, flight call of collared doves heard. sharp calls that may have been ring neck parakeets.. I have suspected they are in the area based on several calls over the last week and one brief sighting but no definite confirmation yet. Great tit calls by valley road, kestrel somewhere south of pumping station, hobby from the sound of it but not confirmed, at least two voices, from the pines just west of gazelle field. Eurasian jay, probably family group, by the bridge near the pumping station.

(btw note from end of last week- Apparently two family groups of jays having a stand off at head of dirt road/trail leading down from windsurfer hill to Pistacio grove, I'd guess each held territories on either side of that trail and the east side family was interested in foraging on the west side.. and so they were having a noisy standoff)

No bee-eaters noticed or heard at all today.

Also forgot to mention a large scorpion walking on valley road about 10.30 p.m. late last week. Flies and wasp populations on the rise lately, esp. flies getting pesky in the house.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday

Above and below, another example of the vegetation found at Wadi Qelt. Same species, lower pic shows slightly more advance stage, and ripe berry. I would not eat these! Below that, yet another species unfamilar farther upstream in our patch.

Now for a brief round-up of local sightings.

: none in last two days.. Saturday: At least two in east field, not together. May have been 3 or we saw same one twice. Husband made out thin horns. The one down between pine grove and olive grove was female and big belly too though wouldn't expect pregnant now?
Hyrax: T alarm chitters and some activity around cypress slum colony towards sunset
Feral dogs: three seen, leader was female and from the way she looks she's got puppies somewhere. Aharon also told me earlier he was aware of puppies in the area.
Reptiles: gecko calls only. (interesting, no agamas seen at all this season yet)
Bee-eaters: Flocks heard several times over the last two days. As we passed the Pistacio grove a flock erupted from the look-out cypresses. Also heard numerous times friday and saturday.
Blackbirds: some chak chak alarm calls heard.
Collared doves: seen in various parts of the woods, on lines, between trees.
Eurasian Jays: Some harsh nasal calls heard up the east bank from east valley dirt road, individuals glimpsed between trees.
Feral pigeons: around and on buildings as usual.
Graceful warblers: Call heard but nowhere near as noisy as they were a week or so ago.
Jackdaws: T Flock up on windsurfer hill, foraging, taking off and landing again, ~200 individuals S: heard.
Hooded crows: Some also up on windsurfer hill, calls heard before dawn.
House sparrows:calls heard before dawn.
Laughing doves: coos in the gardens, several pairs foraging on the sidewalks, crumb corner.
Sunbirds: squeak calls heard in the garden and some song late afternoon, sqeaks also saturday.
Syrian woodpeckers: heard about dawn in the garden or one nearby, heard in forest saturday
Tristram's grackle heard as we walked north up east watercourse dirt road thursday.
White spectacled Bulbuls: raucous calls heard but no melodious calls last couple of days
Chukars: heard from somewhere by pine grove east of cistern about sunset.
Falcons up over windsurfer hill sunset but silhouetted, really couldn't say which.

Weather: Weather: temp range today: 19.5-30 degrees C, (~67- 86 degrees C)
winds W/NW/N, 1-12 knots esp late aft, early eve & midnight. humidity: ~25% midday, ~90% last night, 100% now.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Stroll in the fields.

These feathers we found on the bank of the watercourse where it borders the north east end of gazelle field. Those above are primary wing feathers and leading edge is indented about half way ( 4 mm wide top half vs 1 cm lower half) . Length, 35 cm long and 35.5 cm. You can't see the feather tips on this pic, the feather colour becomes considerably darker brown for the top 6 cm. Those below are much shorter and probably wing coverts, as you can see by the scale with my husband's thumbnail. There were also at least half a dozen smaller feathers which tells me this isn't moulting, this is remains of a wing! We looked around and found no bird corpse, we can probably assume a fox carried it off. From markings I'd guess they are of one of the Buteos but I'm asking Amir Balaban about these.

(27 aug) I just heard from Amir Balaban. He thinks the feathers look like those of a honey buzzard, Pernis apivorus, a large hawk that passes through here on migration in the late summer.
They don't eat honey but they will eat honeybees though they prefer wasps.

Below, eucalyptus flowers about half way along east valley watercourse trail. Different in many details from the euc flowers I took 9th july at look out corner. These have much darker central pits and no reddish colouration. The leaves are also shorter.

Gazelle: two today, one small one on lower northern slopes of windsurfer hill and then shortly after a slightly larger one with no obvious horns crossed our path as we headed down through the cypress grove, then recrossed, decided to head down north eastish

Hyrax: Several adults of the cypress slum colony out and about amongst the boulders on the forest side of valley road, some alarm screeches heard, could be because some other people were about on the road, family with children may have made them nervous.

At least 200 crows up on the hillside of windsurfer hill, most of them jackdaws, rest hooded crows, foraging on the ground mostly, taking off every now and again, then resettling.

As we set out, about 6.45 p.m. a flock of 50 bee-eaters wheeled up from the valley and flew over our street. Later, towards the end of our walk around sunset there were bee-eaters active around the cistern area.. no way of knowing for sure if they were the same flock, returned. Bee-eaters also heard from the house about dawn.

Sunbird in the garden, many squeak calls heard today. Also about, house sparrows, laughing doves, feral pigeon. Haven't heard the bulbul in the last couple of days but may have slept through it. I don't recall pre-dawn calls though. Husband thought he heard a Tristram's grackle, I briefly glimpsed a falcon, hobby I think.

Here's your memory of Wadi Qelt for the day. It strikes me as one of the Chenopodium, (Amaranth family) but could be something else. Like many of the vegetation we found there, none of it has been noticed on our 'patch' just a few miles up the same watercourse system.

Monday, August 17, 2009

More vegetation of Wadi Qelt

Above, giant reeds towered over our heads. The feathery part of that flower head alone is over two feet long. These reeds are also common in the brakish swamps next to the Dead Sea and along other wadis leading down there.

(I wrote a short piece about one such swamp on my website years ago, if you're interested. Such places are amazingly abounding in life even though they're right next to the Dead Sea. Water run off from the desert mountains makes the shores very hospitable in some parts. Also a potentially deadly place, black cobras and sinking mud are a possibility, one stays on the paths! )

The yellow blooms in the pic of the oriental hornet seem to transform to these white grape like fruits. Regular readers here may recognize the bug, yes the caper menace has reached Wadi Qelt too!

Below, richly green, and richly spiny- I am sure I have seen this plant in the books but can't place it. I hope I remember soon! This was also found along the trail a few metres out from the water. A lovely grass flower head, reminded me a little of pampas grass. There were patches of this growing here and there, a few metres up the hill from the water.

Put them all together, and what do you have? A wonderful jungly abundance of blue flower spikes, grasses, shrubs and giant reeds with an austere magestic backdrop of gorge wall. This is where I sat watching carpenter bees while the boys fished.

(In the process of searching for I.D.s on these I discovered the I.D. of a plant Avremi had photographed on our patch in the spring. It is Valantia muralis, a small shrub found in the shade of the trees. Always nice to I.D. anything even if months later! ) It also seems that those 'caterpillar burs' are from some kind of Torilis.

I must make more time to find I.D.s for these other plants! Apart from satisfying myself with a name and being able to tell you, this enables me to find out on the net what is known about the plant, and I also like knowing what family they belong to and what their relatives are, any interesting info.

I've found another: Malabaila secacul.. a kind of wild carrot with a yellow head a bit like that of fennel but the flowers more full. A plant very like this was blooming all over the patch in the spring, but this also looks a lot like Ferula and Ferulago- these are over now.. too late to compare leaves this season.

I did find one of the grasses by the blue spikes and 'pampas grass', seems to be Digitaria sanguinalis- or something similar. The damselflies liked settling on it, camouflaged them quite well once landed. I did not get any successful pics of them unfortunately. After a search, no luck yet the blue spikes or some of the others, I'll just have to keep my eyes open! There is more!

What did we find on the patch today?

4 gazelle! We ascended windsurfer hill up a trail just south of the bridge, this takes us near the saddle/'dry jacuzzi' watercourse. As we moved around to the north side of the hillside we spotted two gazelle, seemed to be a mother and young. They made their way down towards the small olive grove. We saw two more ahead of us, this time neither had horns, looked like one well grown young and a younger one. (are older siblings assigned to 'babysit' ?) . These two also headed down towards the olives when they became aware of us.

Hyrax: several on the boulders just down from the road, one older individual sprawled on his belly, back legs out, another younger one exploring, both probably of the cypress slum colony. Alarm chitters ahead from the pumphouse colony as a small pack of feral dogs, dingo red and patched, tails aloft trotted down the road in single file, then ascended the hill slope to the west.

Flock of bee-eaters heard in the eucalyptus grove, a small group took off and wheeled over the Pistacio orchard, more perched in the grove, could not tell how many- it was almost sunset and they seemed to be settling to roost.

Flock of crows up on the west facing slopes of windsurfer hill. 50 or so jackdaws took off with many vocalizations and headed west, over our neighbourhood. At least as many stayed on the ground on the hillside, some hooded crows amongst them.

Some collared doves glimpsed in the woods, several pairs of laughing doves at crumb corner while we were there, house sparrow flock foraging on the ground near Shadiker hyrax colony again, sunbird in song in our Bauhinia late afternoon. Blackbird active close by, our garden or neighbour's just before dawn.

Temperature range today: 19.5 - 30 degrees C ( 67 + degrees F - 86 degrees F) , humidity, ~35 % around midday, early afternoon to over 95% at night) , winds mainly W/NW

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Plants and flowers of Wadi Qelt , part 1

A short stretch of the gorge showing the dominant vegetation, Giant Reed, Arundo donax. This grass grows several metres high, (which gives you an idea of the scale of the picture) the flower head alone is longer than my arm, (I have one in my room for decoration!)

We walked along a trail along the outside of the vegetation, the boys walked through the watercourse itself and they were invisible through all the reeds.. we called 'Marco' - 'Polo' to keep up with each other!

The second most prolific plant were these beautiful lilac flower spikes.. the flower forms themselves can be best seen in the last post in the butterfly pic but here I wanted to show the whole form of the spike and leaves. Those were simple palmate, very similar in form to those of hemp but not serrated at all. The flower form was nothing like hemp flowers, however, much more like a mint but I'm not sure which yet. The flower spikes themselves were at least 20 cm long and growing right next to the reeds on the canyon wall side.

Below, seed pod of Datura, also known as Thorn apple, a highly poisonous plant of the tomato family growing in the form of a small bush on the dry side of the trail, farther out from the water than the purple spikes but not as far as those yellow blooms in the pic with the oriental hornet in the last entry.

This pretty golden flower below looks to me like one of the Ranunculaceae family and was growing out of the rocks on the lower part of the canyon wall just upstream from the wet section ( where it appears a spring emerges.) Clearly more dryness adapted than most of the Wadi Qelt plants but I have not seen this in our patch at all. The flower is about twice the size of a common buttercup. Below the single flower head is the seedhead and below that, a flower with leaves.

Below: Flowerhead of a bushy shrub growing a few metres from the water by the trail, rather inconspicuous but pretty pink tufty flowers, again, unknown on my patch.

That's still not all! I have yet more for you tomorrow! There was so much unfamiliar to me, it was a delight to try to collect views of anything I thought might interest you, and even then I'm sure I did not get to the end of the vegetation there. This is an artery to the Jordan rift valley and receives sub tropical influences from that direction.

I also noticed farther out, closer to the canyon wall were more familiar species.. dried up capers, old globe thistles, the yellow thistle growing all over our patch now.

Meanwhile on our local patch:
Gazelle: none today

Forgot to mention last wednesday: Feral dogs: brown and white patch male sniffing around the Pistacio orchard, alone last wednesday. Within minutes a feral cat: coincidence! One handsome wild coloured Tom, banded legs and tail, dark tear face markings but used to people, walked by Pistacio orchard to bunker rubble, sat amongst that, watched me

Reptiles: a number of gecko calls heard around buildings lately at various times of the night.
A striped lizard today, darted over central trail just before it reaches valley road. From the detail Akiva was able to make out, possibly Lacerta trilineata

: Calls heard on and off all day since dawn, they've been busy over the valleys. We headed out for a brief walk before sunset and heard them, saw flock active over the cistern area but hard to make out how many. We watched a few skim low over north gazelle field for a while.
Hoopoe took off from the ground near the bat cave and flew across north valley watercourse open stretch to land in a bare tree, looks like giant striped butterfly in flight though doesn't fly like one, partly a glide with a flick up of the wings at a rate of at most once a second.
Tristram's starling calls heard from the direction of the flintstones or upper hidden watercourse area. From the calls sounded like more than one bird. Sometimes I call it a grackle, sometimes a starling, the latter more correct as it's not in the New World grackle family but grackle is often used.
Collared doves, active, cooing, as were laughing doves in the gardens and feral pigeons on rooftops.
Eurasian Jays: glimpsed occasionally in the woods but quiet today.
Jackdaws: some calls, flock of 50,60 foraging on the ground up on the bank on east side of north gazelle field. Hooded crows: not obvious today
House sparrows: calls in the garden.
Sunbirds: some alarm squeaks from just before dawn, some song in the Bauhinia early afternoon.
Syrian woodpeckers: some calls heard
White spectacled Bulbuls: melodious calls started up at about 5.40 or a little later.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

More Wadi Qelt Fauna

An Oriental hornet gathers nectar or pollen at one of the yellow blooms growing a few tens of metres from the water.

This white butterfly settled right in front of me as I was watching the carpenter bees. This shows off the ubiquitous blue spike flowers quite well. What is it? As usual I visited Rittner's site to find out. I found a match with Anaphaeis aurota, also known as Belenois aurota. It has a number of English names: Pioneer white, brown veined white, and (African) Caper white. As you'd expect, one of the Pieridae, the family of white butterflies.

The dragonfly above I don't yet know, perhaps one of you dragonfly experts can help? Unfortunately the rock was not the best background for its bluish colouring but if you click on it you may see it better. Below are a few finger sized fish the boys caught in a pool. These fish love to nibble the toes but the larger specimens are much more wary.

Below, a group of Oriental hornets feast on some fallen food. These hornets were very common in the wadi but they did not bother human beings, being far more interested in the flowers and ground forage.

Tomorrow I'll post more pics from Wadi Qelt. I have a number of pics of the flowers and other vegetation I really want to share with you.

Meanwhile: A quick rundown of the local area for you, it's important to check on our regulars!

No gazelle at all over the last few days. Hyrax about lately and heard various calls. One of them sounds like a large slinky dropping on the floor. Bats also seen just after dark along central trail today.

Bee-eaters: Nice flock of 60 or so seen last wednesday afternoon over the eucalyptus grove and gazelle field. Bulbul, our local bird now getting up at 5.40 a.m. Sunbirds, many squeaky calls over last few days and foraging in the Bauhinia. Laughing dove, plenty coos, house sparrows. The feral pigeons probably also up on the buildings but I don't always check.

Seen and heard in and around the forest over the last few days: Collared dove, Eurasian jay, Great tit, Syrian woodpecker, Jackdaw, hobby, blackbird, greenfinch, hooded crow, stone curlew, chukar partridge .

Greenfinches are MUCH quieter than they were, seen furtively foraging between the bunker pines and eucalyptuses, occasional alarm calls or twitters. Occasional collared coos and turtles usually quiet now. I'm sure moulting season has a lot to do with their quietness.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Wadi Qelt Hike

Wadi Qelt, also known as Nahal Porat, is a gorge winding down through the desert from Jerusalem to Jericho, from an altitude of ~500 m above sea level to ~300 metres below. The gorge itself twists and turns and is at least 12 miles long, it's hot, and humid and almost feels like a different climate zone from Jerusalem nearby. We started at 4 p.m. and returned to the car nearly three hours later, the sun was already below the level of the canyon top by then of course.

We saw lots of vegetation we don't see on our patch ( Eyn Porat, the watershed/source) even though it's just downstream from there a couple of miles. I want to post pics of some of the vegetation for you Saturday night when I come back on line but tonight I want to share with you some of the animal life we found.

I took a LOT of pics and this account cannot cover the whole hike adequately so I promise I will share more later! I don't like to post too many pics at once for various reasons.

There were lots of dragonflies. Another I photographed and may share later was a beautiful azure in colour but this one I found near the beginning of the watered section. I have no I.D. on it yet. (It was not at Rittner's site though he did have a nice pic of the azure kind but without ID)

Probably the most common Hymenopteran there were the oriental hornets I have already shared with you in the form of Moshe's pic of the cistern. I took more pics of them at Wadi Qelt but those hornets were dwarfed by two larger species, each over an inch long and with powerful flight and an ominous drone.

However, unlike common wasps they are not interested in buzzing people and actually seem quite shy. While the boys were fishing I sat up the slope a little by a large patch of these lovely purple spike blooms and a range of feathery grasses and waited patiently for these bees to come within range. They must have excellent vision since they were unwilling to settle closer than about ten feet so I had to aim, focus as well as I could and hope for the best. They were quite intent on gathering nectar and/or pollen.

The one with the yellow patch on the back of the thorax is Xylocopa pubescens, a carpenter bee . The other all dark variety with violet tinted wings (which I've jokingly called Ninja Hornets till now) I think may be Xylocopa violacea. A couple of times two hooked up together and buzzed about rather randomly, disconcerting because one of those random turns took them both right in front of my face. Not sure whether they were trying to fight or mate.

On reflection that hole in the broken eucalyptus tree by east valley could have been occupied by one of these.. the 'Darth Vader Mask' I could make out definitely looked like a Hymenopteran face, and reading up on them a little Carpenter bees make such homes- and I've seen 'Ninja hornets' in our neighbourhood occasionally. On our last trip to Wadi Qelt I saw one disappear into the cut stem of a giant reed, the interior is very like bamboo and almost as large and is favoured by these bees, which is why they are so common here. Giant Reed (Arundo donax) is the dominant vegetation of the gorge.

The Jordan and its tributaries (including Nahal Porat, Eyn Geddi, Dan, Hatzbani and others) are quite unusual in that frogs and crabs live together in the same ecosystem. Here Moshe is holding small specimens of each he found today

There were also damselflies, a kind of bee rather larger than a honeybee I unfortunately did not manage to get anywhere close to photographing, a number of butterflies, whites, satyrids and a small one I saw only very briefly but had a barred underwing.

Mammals were not about, apart from other hikers of course, but where we stopped to fish there was a harsh screaming up near the top of the gorge which sounded like a outraged hyrax but I did not manage to find it.

Birds included a number of Tristram's starling, seen in small groups of 5-10 individual, whistling and flying near top of gorge level. There were also white spectacled bulbuls and some graceful warblers but not one single sunbird was noticed or heard, which I found quite surprising. There was a small flock of small brownish grey jobs way up the wall, didn't get a good look but could have been house sparrows. Laughing doves were also about and cooing. Chukar partridges were heard somewhere out of view. Martins were seen occasionally, I didn't get a good view but probably rock martins, Ptyonoprogne fuligula (also noticed on our last visit) We also heard a harsh grokking call somewhere near the top but could not find what made it. It did sound like one of the calls of hooded crows but could also have been a raven. Pity we didn't find it! I also noticed a collared dove near the entrance.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Here, there and everywhere

European kingfisher Alcedo atthis , by the beach near Hadera on the Mediterreanean coast. We have also seen these on a rocky pier in Tel Aviv and in both cases the birds didn't seem to mind that plenty people were using the beach nearby. The salt water doesn't seem to do the plumage any favours, in the Tel Aviv birds too I noticed a significant darkening of wing colour from their normal iridescent turquoise. Many years ago I noticed this kind of kingfisher perched by a rock pool at Southerndown beach in south Wales in early December but I remember that bird's plumage looking normal. Could be it had not immersed as much as these birds or that the pollution in eastern Mediterranean water has this effect.

Cattle egrets, Bubulcus ibis, are quite common in many grassy areas throughout the country. They have occasionally visited our patch and here several were strolling around the fields, not far from where husband and the kids pitched camp. A great place for camping if you like the wilds, no amenities whatsoever but free! Even nicer, I remember from last time, the earth was mostly sand which is very comfortable to sleep upon.

Below, the egrets take flight: As with most of the herons you see the head is pulled back, the neck in an S shape, in contrast to storks and cranes which hold their heads forward on a straight neck. (Akiva reported seeing a white stork in the Beat Shean area, just south of the Sea of Galilee. At this time of year! )

S= sunday, M=monday, T = tuesday

Sunday: 4.31 a.m. a laughing dove started up cooing but probably because of disturbances outside, woke up. They coo at a drop of a hat. Today several pairs were feeding at crumb corner late afternoon. M, T : heard many times in the garden
White spectacled bulbul started up with melodious calls today at 5.39 a.m. M,T: similar. Sunbirds and, much farther off, hooded crows started up at about 5.48 a.m. M: loose flock heading home to south not long before sunset. Sunbird later heard, male, subsong and foraging actively in the Bauhinia outside my window early afternoon. M,T: many squeaky alarm calls heard, and sunbird glimpsed foraging in the Bauhinia

Today (sunday) husband and the younger kids went to the beach, Mediterranean coast around 'Hadera area. Akiva e mailed me that they had seen a small flock of ring necked parakeets, some egrets ( probably cattle egrets), seen European kingfisher (above) and also heard and saw stone curlew.

Fruit bats also seen near the beach. Rousettus aegyptiacus

Afternoon walk here: great tit calls, some greenfinch alarm calls in the rubble pines, some twitters but otherwise quiet. M: did not hear these. T: greenfinch twittering in bunker pines
Collared doves very much in evidence in that area between bunker rubble and cistern, flying about the field, between trees and some down by cistern, joined by turtle doves. Hoopoe noticed dust bathing on the path just east and beyond the cistern.

T: collared doves cooing. Chukar partridges also heard just south of the pumping station.

Graceful warblers very vocal sunday and monday, watched a whole family on the move in scrub on the bank below the north curve of valley road. Calls also tuesday.

Hobby calling somewhere in the pines just north of central trail. T: calls heard somewhere south of pumping house shortly after sunset.

Bee-eaters S: heard on and off through the day. Tuesday: Flock on the other side of the eucalyptus grove, several dozen but impossible to count on the other side of the trees.. settling on the branches, then taking off and hawking over the north end of east field.

A few Jackdaw calls somewhere and raucous screeches of Eurasian jays somewhere in the pines. Syrian woodpeckers heard numerous times, also monday and tuesday.

Salmon Arab butterfly
noticed by bunker rubble.

barks also heard sunday and monday, latter at pumphouse colony. Some activity also at Shadiker colony on monday. Heard also on tuesday.

On Monday: At Park HaYarden just north of the Sea of Galilee Akiva reported that the family saw bee-eaters, ring necked parakeets, kingfishers, egrets, hooded crows and insect eating bats but they were much too busy having other fun to take more observations!

Monday's weather back here in Jerusalem: Range: 19.5-28.5 degrees C. ( 67.1- 83.3 degrees F) , humidity range ~50% in the heat of the day to ~95% at night, winds, westerly, veering north in the heat of the day, and later blowing in small cumulus.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Brief weekend round up

Another summer east field view, this one through part of the eucalyptus grove toward the olive and almond grove and Hizmeh.

Thurs: 6 Aug - Sat: 8th

Gazelle: No luck thursday, today, see below.
Hyrax: T activity and barks at Shadiker colony, some of them sound a lot like the chucks of chukars.
Reptiles: Gecko near the house small hours of the morning. S: active early morning Shadiker colony

Tristram's grackles were the bird of the day. T A pair by the quarry, left the abandonned building as we arrived, flew to a male flew to a rock nearby and whistled 3 tone call several times.. the female (apparently, from grey head) joined him, they flew across the quarry to wall across, flew around, came back.. visited the inside of the building several times while we were there. We didn't hear calls from inside the building but wonder if they have a nest in there, a late brood based on their movements. S: early morning whistle heard from bipass road area.
Bee-eaters: T Calls around dawn, also a group of at least 15 flying over north valley to and fro, hawking.
Turtle doves: Seen visiting cistern to drink. They fly to the edge, then down to the rocky island within.

Blackbirds: T alarm tzit and chak heard from trees up from north valley dirt road. S: early, brief song heard by hus.
Collared doves: T Coos and seen here and there S: several drinking at cistern, some coos.
Eurasian Jays: T Active here and there between trees. S: calls and glimpsed
Feral pigeons: T On top of and flying between buildings.S: flying about
Graceful warblers: T Some calls.S: calls in various places
Hooded crows: T A few flying and windsurfing up by A Ram, and foraging on the ground there. F,S calls
House sparrows: T Flocks active foraging near Shadiker hyrax colony, flying between there and some dense garden trees on Shadiker. S. about as usual, quieter in the garden, breeders joined flocks.
Laughing doves: T Garden from about 5.30 a.m. on. F: cooing early, S: cooing and about street
Sunbirds: T, F, S some alarm calls from the garden. : alarm calls in the garden
Syrian woodpeckers: T, S: calls from the trees

White spectacled Bulbuls
: T Amusing this morning: one started up very enthusiastically at 5.20 a.m. right outside my window as if to say 'you've been telling the world I've been sleeping in a bit more everyday, eh? well get an earful of this!' Also heard before dawn on friday and saturday.

Husband also heard
chukar early this (saturday) morning and at that time glimpsed a gazelle without noticeable horns near the top of the shepherd trail, lower slopes of windsurfer hill. Jackdaws also about.
More wasps and flies evident lately. Crickets and cicadas heard,
bats about.

Weather: Today: Range: 19- 29 degrees C ( 66.2- 84.2 degrees F), wind mainly westerly, backing more sw in the morning and early afternoon, veering more nw and picking up later afternoon and evening. Humidity: minimum ~40% early afternoon, ~95% peaks small hours of the night last night and now.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Yet another thistle, wasp engineering

Today I noticed yet another thistle species beginning to bloom that I had not noticed before. This was found by the east valley dirt road and so far only one plant of that kind. The blue tuft thistle and dry looking yellow thistle continue to bloom in many places. Above, close up of florets, below, whole top of the plant.

Below, seeds of Ailanthus, tree of heaven, a prolific tree found all over the neighbourhood and also planted in the sapling field and another older tree growing well at the edge of the east valley watercourse there.

This is another potter wasp creation discovered by Moshe low down against our garden wall. Very interesting are the additions of cement to the structure. The wasp is long practiced in forming nesting cells from earth but adding a man made building material .. accident or design? Anyone else heard of them using cement? The blobs look much more like accretions than a spill.

4 gazelle seen today. Two without any obvious horns grazing separately though not far apart on the north face of windsurfer hill just about the point the hill starts to rise more steeply towards its summit. As we watched them two more strolled over from the east, apparently a mother and young, the young following. They appeared to completely ignore the two others, making their way steadily around the hillside, stopping to graze every few paces.

Hyrax, one seen a few feet up on a cypress branch, reaching forward and down along the branch to nibble at the tenderest shoots apparently, also the alarm squeals heard from the pumphouse colony as we came down the snake path this evening at ~10.30 p.m. We don't usually go up there on our evening walk but I wanted to take some bottles to a collection point for recycling and to photograph the Ailanthus near there.

Laughing doves, bulbuls and house sparrows heard from the garden, sunbird also about I think. In the woods, collared doves much in evidence as well as jays and Syrian woodpeckers, husband glimpsed a hoopoe flying into the pine grove just east of the cistern, raising its crest on landing then continuing on its way, and I heard a clear Tristram's grackle whistle coming from the bipass road, a stretch favoured by them as it resembles a natural gorge.

Loose jackdaw flock calling and heading south over and along the bipass road, some hooded crows also, higher and behind them. Husband heard a stone curlew about sunset but I missed that call. No bee-eaters on this walk but I did hear them at dawn from the house.

Temp. range today: 22-31 degrees C. (71.6 - 87.8 degrees F) , winds mostly W or NW all day, humidity from 30% about noon to ~90 % late evening, as is fairly typical these days. Humidity at night often 90-100% through part of the night now.