Saturday, September 26, 2009

Weekend Notes, more Gan Sacher pics

September sunset at Gazelle Field- now you can see how most of the grass has changed, but at least most not burned this year!

Below, the Medicinal Squill at the Jerusalem Bird Observatory. Last entry I showed you the florets of the lower part of the spike. Here's the whole spike, well over a foot long.

A mimosa (?) growing near the Jerusalem Bird Observatory. Wicked spines protect the delicate leaves. Below, one of the local oaks producing acorns in Sacher Park. Compare the leaf margins of the oaks to those of temperate zones. Other oaks in the region have leaf margins similar to those of holly. Not 100% certain but this may be Quercus ithaburensis, Mount Tabor Oak.

A less savoury subject.. these may look like spilled dates but no, they were made by passing Indian porcupine. Found in the old graveyard close to the Jerusalem bird observatory.

Thursday: Gazelle: Adult male wandering under the pines just beyond the owl glade, a little north of the central trail. Four females/well grown young grazing in the lowest part of gazelle field, near where the watercourse runs out of the area.

Hyraxes: Plenty seen today of varying ages in the cypress slum area esp. just down from the road on the forest side, some up in the cypress trees nibbling away.

Husband saw about a dozen bee-eaters early this morning near the pumping station, on a wire above the hyrax colony there, pretty much in the same region migrating bee-eaters were seen last year. Gerda mentioned to us that our resident bee-eaters have left some weeks ago but there were many passing through Jerusalem midweek.. though we didn't hear any in our neighbourhood in the north that day. However those we heard from the house the previous friday also must have been passage migrants.

Sunbirds have been visiting the Bauhinia regularly in the last few days and singing in the early afternoon again. House sparrows chirping, laughing doves cooing, bulbuls heard on and off and a graceful warbler in our garden or nearby being very noisy a couple of days ago.

Baffling softbill on top of a cypress by valley road, near the pumping station. Was behaving like a flycatcher from that perch, flew up, caught insect, back down. Wheatear like in shape but sitting more upright, Very white, throat chest, darkish brown head, smooth grey brown back and wings, lighter brown edges on wing feathers, dark tail, no flashes of white or red, no striations. Redstart like but seemed a touch bigger.

Shrikes (or shrike like calls) heard around bunker rubble area but again not seen, several days in a row at just after sunset, several individuals, in the bunker pines, eucalyptus grove and north end of Pistacio grove.. so far eluded even Akiva's sharp eye. So many, usually we've been able to spot a masked shrike but not getting any confirmation on I.D. of these birds unfortunately, not giving us a glimpse. Light fading fast at that time doesn't help.

Watching out for return of black redstarts and stonechat but no definites yet, nor calls or sightings of wagtails at all.

Hobbies still about, (increase in hobby sightings lately may not be due to local breeding but passage migrants) Akiva saw kestrel this morning, jackdaws calling, hoodies about, a bit quieter than usual. Collared dove pair by valley road. Syrian woodpecker calls, Eurasian Jay calls. Blackbird chak chak at dusk.

Today's weather: 19-29 degrees C, (66.2-84.2 degrees F) ,humidity fluctuating more than usual today and 10-~62%, low compared with past days. winds WNW /SW/NW/N . Surprising readings.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Visit to Gan Sacher, Sacher Park

A little photo tour for you today. At their heartfelt request we took the boys to Gan Sacher so that they could enjoy the skateboarding section of the park- a trip that combined two goals since I had long intended a return visit to the Jerusalem Bird Observatory a short walk away.

The expansive public lawns were filled with people, Palestinians celebrating Eyd with BBQs and family recreation, Israelis playing ball and generally enjoying a pleasant autumn equinox afternoon in peace and apparently carefree harmony. Scores of hooded crows were foraging on the ground allowing approach of about ten feet and husband spotted a kestrel dive down, grab something and pick it apart under a foot as they do, up on a tall electric post in the middle of the park. I had been looking out for Lesser Kestrel as they occasionally nest in the old buildings of Nachlaot next to the park but they have probably already left. From what I could tell this was a female common kestrel.

The water habitat has been considerably developed since I was here last- a little brook with waterfall channelled into a wide pond surrounded with profuse vegetation. Frogs occasionally croaked in there and two freshwater turtles were hauled up on the opposite bank. Girda, a friend of Ruthie's, was there and I asked her about them. They are native to Israel and Amir Balaban brought them to the J.B.O. from their pond in Beit Shean which was unfortunately drying up. I'm assuming they're Emys orbicularis, European pond terrapin, also found in numbers at the zoo lake.

While we were there Akiva spotted a small job hopping down to the brook to drink. This proved to be a leaf warbler, Girda felt confident it was Willow Warbler, Phylloscopus trochilus though to me pretty much indistinguishable from a chiffchaff, perhaps a touch yellower, unless it sings. Several had been trapped and ringed at the J.B.O. that day and the people there are very good at birds in the hand so I'd trust that I.D. Chiffchaffs are winter visitors here but this was just passing through. We watched this delightful dapper little bird foraging up and down the vegetation. Also passing through was a Sylvia warbler, also spotted by Akiva drinking and foraging close to the water. I recognized it as one of the whitethroats and Girda I.D.d it as Lesser whitethroat, Sylvia curruca . Several of those had also been caught and ringed today.

Akiva caught this image of a male sunbird on the sugar water feeder. You can just make out his sickle shaped bill turned to siphon out the juice, and he's showing fine, well maintained plumage with hints of malachite and violet, sky blue on the rump.

I heard one in song in the Bauhinia again early afternoon.

The most obvious flowering plant around the pool was, as Girda told me, Great willowherb. Epilobium hirsutum As soon as she said willowherb I had an 'of course!' moment as the colour and form of downy seeds is so similar to the rosebay willowherb I know from England. I couldn't get closer than this without getting in the way of the hide view. Some very nice pics found at

Several spikes of 'Sea Squill' also known as Medicinal squill (Urginea maritima ) were also growing near the pool. Despite the name this is often found far from the sea though generally near water. Last time I saw it was in Wadi Qelt, though not on our most recent trip, that was too early in the season. They generally come out just before the onset of the rainy season. Here are florets on the lower part of the spike which itself is over a foot tall, I should have measured it. The entire plant, a member of the lily family as you can tell from flower form, is about four feet high.

One of those times I'm sure Akiva wishes he had a longer lens! A white breasted kingfisher landed on a branch a few feet above the water way over on the other side of the pool and it was really not feasible to get a better shot with our camera from the hide. This view is a tiny window cropped out of one of his pics, but at least shows bill, white breast, chocolate brown body colouring and the flash of iridescence on the back and wings.

While we were there we also noticed white spectacled bulbuls, uttering a variety of calls, Akiva spotted a pair of hoopoes high in a bare tree farther off and Syrian woodpeckers were clearly around. We also heard a few great tit calls and a laughing dove foraged on the ground not far from the water's edge.

After watching the warblers, kingfisher, sunbird and hoopoes from the hide for a little while I went out to find flowers to photograph and then we headed back to Gan Sacher via the old graveyard. On the way I noticed some pretty fresh Indian porcupine poop on a downhill section.. Alen had shown us this little stretch was a favourite toilet of theirs, (something to do with a gravity effect on their bowels on that slope) so I knew to look out for it there. and there it was in abundance.

No white wagtails on Gan Sacher lawns.. a place where they can be found in abundance once they've properly arrived. The chukars around the wooded back edges were also keeping a very low profile, probably because of the many people about this afternoon.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

New Year observations, first rain!

This is a pic of a young sunbird on flowers of cape honeysuckle, taken by Ruthie Schueler.
Though this pic would appear in life earlier in the summer, since we've been hearing them a lot lately and in song it seemed timely to share it with you now.

Sunday evening report

: first of the season. Brief showers several times over the last few days!

Gazelle: Three seen on valley road at dusk today, one was crossing from the bank. We don't usually see them this close to the buildings but since when we do it is often between sunset and midnight it is probably a regular thing.

Bee-eaters: Friday afternoon: calls heard from the house several times late afternoon. Husband saw flock of 20 or so from the garden.
Sunbird: Last few days squeak calls of sunbird heard in Bauhinia tree, song various times of the afternoon.
Laughing dove: cooing in the garden this morning.
White spectacled bulbuls : melodious calls in the garden various times last few days.
House sparrows: chirps as usual, Feral pigeons about.

Great tit
activity up today: calling in the pines and other trees off valley road and other places.
Jackdaw: plenty calls, groups flying about, general activity esp. lower slopes of Hizmeh hill, (where there happened to be herd of goats and sheep at the time.
Hooded crow: seen and heard about as usual.
Hobby: high squeaky call heard up from Pistacio orchard
Shrike, probably masked, calling somewhere in the Pistacio orchard at sunset but playing hide and seek, couldn't find it!
Syrian woodpeckers and Eurasian jay heard and glimpsed about the woods as usual. Blackbird alarm calls heard.
High circling big brown job alone, prob a long legged buzzard but too high to get any detail.

Geckoes heard from the buildings several times over the last few days.

Weather: 17.75-22.25 degrees C (~64 -72 degrees F)
humidity 62.5-97%+ winds: W/WSW 4-14 kt

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

First flowers of the Goldilocks

Goldilocks has bloomed! I was delighted to confirm today that the green clumps we've seen growing up for the last few weeks were indeed 'Goldilocks' Chiliadenus iphionoides, as they finally flowered today after the touch of the first rains. I had I.D. this plant from a pic taken by the north watercourse dirt road end of September last year. They were waving a great deal in the wind today so I didn't get anything sharper than this, but want to try again because the detail of the small flower could be interesting. Many clumps were on the north facing hillslopes and other places.

I found this beetle running fast across the dirt road.. it paused for rest on this upright rock where I got this pic. I don't know which it is yet but that distinctive marking on the back should help I.D.

Moths of this kind seemed quite numerous on the open hillslopes, amongst the dry thorny burnet, as were grasshoppers below.

Finally, another pic which Moshe wished to share with you, taken by Avremi in the bottom of the pit the boys explored last week. This one gives some idea how expansive the space is down below despite the narrow entrance. Brightness enhanced.

Sunbird calling very short sharp calls and foraging right outside my window early afternoon, male, bright and beautifully iridescent. Bulbuls around, various calls, house sparrows heard chirping earlier, jackdaws heard numerous times as well as occasional hooded crows.

In the woods: Hobbies active and vocal over north watercourse, flying around overhead or perched in tops of cypresses, good look out positions. Kestrel also there recently. At least two individuals about. Collared doves about, Eurasian jays heard calling, blackbird alarm, Syrian woodpecker calls. Occasional shrikes heard lately.

No gazelle but fresh scat about, and hyrax alarm calls heard lately from various colonies.

Weather: Just under 18-27 degrees C, humidity, from 45% early afternoon to just over 95% at night. winds, westerly/north westerly 2-11 kt

Saturday, September 12, 2009

The boys' pit exploration

Here my boys share with you their (supervised! ) exploration into a pit on the hills slopes between the east watercourse dirt road and villa hill, Pisgat Zeev. The pit is about a quarter of the way up the slope or less and is partially blocked by a large boulder, though still with a hole big enough for entry. Someone chalked 'danger, fall!' (sacana mapolet) on the boulder.

Below, Avremi descends into the darkness by rope. The boys had already checked the location of the bottom by flashlight, between 15 and 20 feet down.

The pit turns out to be flask shaped, the lower part widens out at least twice or three times the diameter of the entry 'neck'. Clearly you don't want to be trapped down here. This is why we brought rope and strong father to haul them out when they were done! The cave has a side tunnel, artifically excavated but unsafe, signs of cave in. The boys wisely decided not to go that way!
Below, view looking up at the entry and the boulder.. don't worry, it was way too big to fall in! Note also the maidenhair fern in the neck, now the third location in the area I've found this plant.

Much of the bottom of the pit was a pool of water, hard to tell how deep, Moshe judged at least a couple of feet. This and the pic below of the 'roof' were enhanced in terms of brightness and contrast to bring out the fantastic patterning.

Below, Moshe leaves, rather reluctantly, after having made a little video down there and taken more pics.
Biblical stories come to mind. Joseph was probably dropped into a pit very like this one. You wouldn't get badly hurt falling in but escape would be pretty impossible without help and/or equipment. This also brings to mind the well covered by a rock in the story of Jacob, which he moved singlehandedly though normally several shepherds were needed. Moshe found a bucket and cord at the bottom amongst other debris, no doubt used much more recently by shepherds/goatherds.

This is the second one we have found just in the Yaar Mir region, the other being near the turn off to north valley though that was about half as deep and without the accented flask shape, though also with a boulder on top.

What has been around lately? Reporting today, saturday night.

Gazelle: Today I found an adult male with a white marking on his forehead, grazing just beyond the line of almonds in north field. Later also found a group of at least four on the lower slopes of windsurfer hill. A few days ago noticed another individual near the top of windsurfer hill.

Hooded crows were doing their windsurfing stuff a few days ago, as usual, just off the upper west slopes where the westerlies buffer the slopes and provide endless entertainment for these crows. Jackdaws were also about but don't seem to be interested in tumbling around in the air currents.

Lots of Hyraxes about. Today alarm barks heard near the pumphouse station, (slopes up west), lots of young ones seen at the cypress slum colony recently. A dead adult seen a few days ago at the Shadiker colony, no obvious injuries. Within a day a dead adult seen on valley road.. husband thought same one and that perhaps one of the feral dogs had been trying to drag it to its den near the pumphouse but been interrupted. Black feral cat seen hunting by the fence on the east. No foxes seen lately at all but does seem a general rise in number of feral dogs about. Bat seen today at dusk on our way back to valley road.

Hobbies regularly heard and seen, at least four in the area, perhaps more. One heard calling at about 10.15 p.m. in the north valley.

Syrian woodpeckers vocal, some stone curlew calls also after dark, occasional blackbird alarm calls but no song. Collared doves still about, but turtle doves not seen or heard from recently. No peep either from bee-eaters or chukars.

In the garden some melodious white spectacled bulbul calls and sunbird song heard early afternoon today. Feral pigeons about around rooftops and jackdaws heard frequently. laughing doves quieter than usual lately.

Geckoes heard from outside long after dark, crickets still chirping like cell phones, German wasp in the house (that will increase) and increase of ants noticed. Still occasional large black millipedes on walls and sidewalks.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Loud hobbies, caves

Yellow low broom like plant STILL blooming by valley road.. I'm beginning to wonder if it's season ends.. I don't remember! The spiny and spanish broom have a much shorter season.

Groundsel like composite also blooming by valley road. Blue tuft and yellow thistles still going strong.


The boys wanted to explore a pit in the rocks, in the hillside between the villas of Pisgat Zeev and the east valley dirt road, south of the pumping station. They brought with them good rope and flashlights.. the rope they tied around the trunk of a nearby pine and let themselves down inside. They took a number of pics and a video. I don't have the pics yet but will post any of natural interest later. Part of the inside had been excavated and there was a side passage that had caved in .. the boys wisely decided not to push their luck in that direction.

Hobbies noisy and active today just south of the pumping station.. one in the top of a tall thin cypress across the watercourse just west from us calling loud and repeatedly giving great views to Avremi who was with us.

Eurasian jays about, as were Syrian woodpeckers and stone curlews heard calling not long after sunset, somewhere off north east. Blackbird alarm calls around roosting time, husband glimpsed what sounded from his description like a long eared owl, over the dirt road near the bridge. (masked?) Shrike heard from direction of watercourse about sunset. Collared dove flight call heard.

Street: laughing dove coos in the garden, sunbird squeaks, white spectacled bulbul calls including some melodious calls shortly after 6 a.m. Hooded crows and jackdaws heard, feral pigeons about the houses, house sparrows chirping in the gardens.

Weather: 18-25 (+) degrees C (64.4-77 degrees C). Now it looks like temps are gradually falling towards the fall though we may have at least one more heatwave yet.. it often happens around yom kippur. It has been quite a mild summer here! More and more cumulus arriving lately, almost feels like rain not long coming. Winds pretty much westerly all day. Humidity varied from ~55% early afternoon to over 95% at night.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Wasp season gains momentum.

A grasshopper I spotted amongst the Inula foliage by valley road. Moshe took the pic.

Seven wasps, from the markings I'd say Vespula germanica, on what appears to be a date. Yummy! Edge of our street. Moshe found these and took the pic. Below, some fossil shapes he found in the limestone by central trail. The ring I think is a cross section of a stemmed aquatic creature, like a worm tube or featherstar type creature back when this region was submerged.

Today's early birds: 5.50 a.m. hooded crow, 5.53 am. calls of distant Jackdaw flock, 5.56 sunbird squeaks, 5.57 house sparrows, 6.40 a.m. laughing dove coos. Was there a bulbul? Not sure, thought there was not long after 6 but I don't see it written down. You see how they are all starting on average a bit later every day as sunrise advances. That is now about 6.15 a.m. summertime.

On our walk hobbies heard but best thing spotted, only because I haven't seen one in a long while, was by Moshe, small brown/grey job on a low branch of an Aleppo Pine not far from the central trail crossroads. It hopped right around and showed a speckled chest and thin insect eating bill, and two small and short to be one of the thrushes. All shape and features put it in family Muscicapidae (old world robins, chats and flycatchers ), I'd say Spotted flycatcher, Muscicapa striata .. these I've seen before but not for a long time. It flew down to the ground and shortly afterwards back up into a tree farther back.

Short 'squeak' Hobby calls from look-out corner area, Eurasian jays heard and glimpsed, collared doves about but otherwise birds low profile again. Hyrax alarm calls heard from direction of cypress slum colony. Again no gazelle. Bat a couple of days ago about one of the bright lightposts just down from our street.

Weather: just under 18 -29.5 degrees C, (64+-85 F) significant increase from yesterday.

Humidity: just under 40% ~noon -95%+ at night.

Wind: W veering NW/N during day, similar to yesterday

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

More fire damage and recovery

Up from the ashes. This looks like one of the broader leaved eucalyptus type though the eucs all around had quite different leaves, longer, thinner narrower.. so how did it get there? This area burned weeks ago, I mentioned it back then in the blog and now we could see the tree damage. All the pistacios on that side of the dirt road from the main orchard had shrivelled leaves, they being quite short trees. The largest of them was already sprouting new leaves from axils on all levels. The eucs were damaged at least half way up their height so it was good to see this new growth above.

I neglected to mention that a new area burnt quite recently, about a week to two weeks ago. This new area is mainly that between the water course running roughly north south across the middle of gazelle field and the pines to the west of gazelle field. The damper area (in the rainy season) between the watercourse and bunker has still managed to escape charring.

This was a pic I took yesterday of the seedpod and seeds of spiny broom. They remind me of sweet corn! Much tinier though. Below, seeds of fennel or a close relative, not sure, was growing low amongst the thorny burnet and broom type by the north bend of valley road. Fennel is usually much taller.

Below: not as sharp as I'd like, I want to redo this tomorrow if I can. Some of the caper bushes along valley road were already sprouting new leaves after the bug damage but almost all of them were sprinkled with eggs on the underside. A few caper bugs were still about, one adult right next to one batch of eggs so it seems quite likely they are theirs.

Again bird life was relatively quiet last few days. I heard raucous white spectacled bulbul calls before 6 a.m. and a few melodious ones shortly after.. sunbird alarm sqeak calls heard many times today but no melodious calls or song. Plenty house sparrow chirps by the house.

Jackdaw calls heard several times throughout the day, from the sound of it a good size flock nearby about dawn. A flock was also somewhere over below Hizmeh late afternoon. A few hooded crows returning south home to roost late afternoon. Jays heard and glimpsed in the forest. Collared dove heard cooing near the cistern area, Syrian woodpecker call in eucalayptus grove.

Hobbies heard and seen numerous times over the last couple of days. Hard to know how many are about.. are the two we see often over east valley the same pair as over north valley or two pairs in two different territories? I suspect the latter from the number, location and frequency of sightings but can't be 100% sure. We did see 4 individuals flying north together over gazelle field about sunset, no chase so likely two of them were the young of this season and these bred successfully, always good!

Yesterday's walk: Shortly after sunset large quiet broad winged raptor type bird flew from look out corner area, made a brief arc over south part of gazelle field and returned to east valley woods. From shape and movements I'd say long eared owl.

Not a peep from greenfinches, chukars, bee-eaters, shrikes or turtle doves. Probably heard laughing dove in last day or so but don't recall particular instance.

Weather: 15-28 degrees C. Nights are getting cooler! 59-82.4 degrees F.humidity: ~30% late morning -early afternoon, 95% at night. Wind: mostly westerly veering NW/N much of the daylight hours.