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

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/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 http://www.wildflowers.co.il/english/plant.asp?ID=100

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.

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