Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Tree planting time!

North facing hillslope of north watercourse showing thorny burnets, red anemones.

One of the early cyclamens, this one out in the open relatively pale for the species.

Above: Saplings waiting to be planted, conifers over on the left, Pistacio left foreground and red gum on the right. Just a corner of the stash waiting by the cistern.

One of the buttercup family already blooming, next to a thorny burnet, also showing plenty new leaves.

Tuesday 26th Jan

Temperatures cool: today 5.6-8 degrees C with intermittant rain, much cumulonimbus but not totally overcast.. plenty opportunities to see Orion, Mars, Venus, and now the waxing half moon.

Windsurfer hill.. at least five gazelle on upper north windsurfer hill slopes.. adult buck not seen.

Medium/small tree on Rchov Elias serves as roost for white wagtails, at least a dozen in there.. it's a very densely leafy tree, one of the few trees that actually has the shape kids draw in pictures, roughly a somewhat flattened ellipse in three dimensions, and as I said, very dense though I don't know what it is, some garden ornamental. One wagtail flew in, caused some disturbance and the whole group emerged twittering, wheeled around and reentered.

Also, jackdaws, hooded crows, Eurasian sparrowhawk, graceful warblers, Syrian woodpecker calls.
Gardens: sunbirds, white spectacled bulbuls,

Wednesday 27th Jan. Trees are being planted! , oaks, conifers and eucalyptus around shaft area.
Gazelle : 1 buck on north ridge skyline.

Husband heard Tristram's starling up at the main shopping forum of the neighbourhood.

Thursday 28th Jan. Found empty crates for several hundred trees near the shaft and several score more by the dry stone wall near the cistern waiting to be planted - checking the labels, Eucalyptus torquata, Tabor Oak and Jerusalem (Aleppo) Pine. I hope they thrive! The Euc is a species not already in the valley, also known as Coral Gum, it has reddish flowers and is quite beautiful, and hopefully will do better than the eucs that have been suffering in the last years.

Blackbird singing and variety of calls in the garden.

7 gazelle including adult male grazing on the mid eastern hillslopes of the hill north of gazelle field.. the other two or three that are usually in that group could have been just over the ridge out of sight beyond them.

Some asphodel fine and already producing 'berries' , green and growing, but others showing mirid bug damage. Roman squill, star of bethlehem, anemones, monkwort many places.

Stone curlew vocal from east field as it got dark, jackdaws, hooded crows, Syrian woodpecker call, chiffchaff calls,

Saturday is officially Arbor Day in Israel, known as Tu BiShvat but since it's also Shabbos, trees will be planted before and after. I expect we shall see plenty activity on Sunday.

Sat 30 Jan: Blackbird calling and singing in and near the garden. Other birds active included Syrian woodpecker, graceful warbler, chiffchaff, and we all heard the loud call of a white breasted kingfisher somewhere in the east valley while we were eating lunch. More stone curlew calls in the evening

Gazelle: Four noticed grazing just beyond the almond row, almonds which are now filling with blossom esp. the large one.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Latest flowers and birds

This is a view from our street, just across the road from where we live, looking roughly north east. At your feet you see the verge by the fence where we photographed round leaved geranium, fumitory and other flowers. (This pic was taken in April when the dominant vegetation is obviously wild mustard. ) The building ahead is a primary school.

You can just see the road I call 'valley road' down the bank to the east (middle right of pic). East and north watercourse dirt roads are much farther down out of sight amongst the trees. Beyond the pines in the valley you can see the green hillsides where the mountain gazelle most love to roam. We can sometimes spot them through binoculars from this view. Today (wednesday: middle of last week now) I saw 10 individuals down there including an adult buck, the alpha male, grazing on the lower slopes of the hill and at least one that was significantly smaller than the others.

Below, the storksbill we found just below this fence yesterday. One of the Erodium genus, probably E. malacoides also known as Mediterranean storksbill. Leaf on top left belongs to another plant.

Below, a mignonette.. genus Reseda .. growing back of gardens top of Shadiker hyrax colony.. near the wood sorrel (Oxalis) and ramping fumitory.

Wednesday 20 Jan: Blackbird song in garden at about 4 p.m. and also in the woods a little later. Chiffchaff calls along valley road and some great tit calls.

Thursday 21 st Jan: 9 gazelle in the valley today, same location, a little north of north watercourse in the open- counted them from the shaft look out position, adult buck did not seem to be amongst them.

Yet another Erodium or Geranium species or related, found again by that fence above. Similar flower form and colour but with complex fractal leaves, many small leaflets. Below, zoom of flower head and below that, whole plant with leaves. Haven't found a match yet.

This one below is something else, found on the long path leading down from Shadiker colony west down to north watercourse dirt road. Seems to have purple buds. We need to come back to this, see what it does next, leaves size of lettuce leaves but much glossier.

Below: the underground structure of asphodel showing multiple storage tubers or rhizomes. Some of these masses were exposed by winter flooding. Yesterday (sunday 24th) we noticed more asphodel infested with Mirid bugs along the path from valley road down to north watercourse dirt road.

Sunday, Monday: much rain especially at night, temps down to between 5 and 6 degrees C. . Male Black redstart spotted on rebar of bunker ruins late last week. Every day, jackdaws, hooded crows.. yesterday, Syrian woodpecker, chiffchaff and chaffinch calls and quite a few Eurasian sparrowhawk sightings. Stone curlews very vocal lately in east field area, just as it gets dark, again just before dawn. Sunbird active in the gardens from just before dawn. More blackbird song but not great tit in last few days.

Also blooming: more dead nettle, verge of street, roman squill, and the white broom brush down the steep bank, north valley road loop. The almonds are also starting to flower.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Insect season gets started

Another fumitory in bloom, I think this one is Fumaria capreolata, Ramping fumitory, their flowers always remind me of tiny painted fingernails. These were also noticed last season by the valley road pine corner and photographed by Avremi then, this was found up near the Shadiker hyrax colony. Nearby, unfurling yellow Oxalis (below) and a tiny delicate purple vetch like flower also noticed last season.

Thursday: one of the caterpillars on the hill, the type that was on the asphodel leaves, at least two inches long. The caterpillars with stripe of red hair on the thorny burnets were generally shorter.

Capsodes infuscatus , Mirid bug nymphs on asphodel leaves near north watercourse, quite a distance from the place we discovered them on thursday, on the slopes of windsurfer hill.. some adults also present but most we saw were nymphs. I think we can assume they are widespread and any asphodel that can make successful fruit this season will be fortunate. Many did succeed last season and Mirid bugs were present then too though we only found them in one location, under the pines just north of central trail. We shall see. Asphodel leaves were becoming discoloured with pale and yellowish patches and many drops of dark fluid. Adult bug below.

White breasted Kingfisher seen again for first time in ages last thursday. Husband saw it fly offd as I approached a tree some way behind look out corner and I had my eyes on the ground as usual. Saturday heard it but did not see it. We were near the pumping station and it sounded as if it was coming in our direction but didn't show itself. Chiffchaff calls all over the place and some stonechat calls around dusk behind the cistern. No more luck with hawfinches but some greenfinches and chaffinches about.

Saturday 17 January
: Late afternoon hyrax very active along valley road and in cypress trees, several at least 15 feet up in there.

Sunday 18 January: Graceful warbler heard in the garden at dawn. In the woods: Great tits more vocalisation but not song. Eurasian jay calls.

North valley opposite slope: Gazelles Adult buck following female, she looped down and away and for some reason he was disinclined to follow her, grazed, looked perplexed if anything.

Feral pigeons and house sparrows around the buildings as usual and laughing dove regular cooing in the garden. .Sunbird in the garden, also another calling in the pines as we came down the long trail to the north valley dirt road. Jackdaws calling from somewhere up near A Ram. Brief Eurasian sparrowhawk sightings last couple of days. Hooded crows about as usual though more dispersed, looks like they are staking out breeding territories.. now returning to roost separately, various parts of woods or sitting silently in trees.

First cyclamen bloom noticed today! In cavity part way up a rock. Also the wood sorrel, yellow Oxalis, is starting to bloom behind the gardens, long tubes beginning to unfurl and leaves already out. Vipers bugloss also blooming near Shadiker hyrax colony area and also some Bellevalia (Roman squill, looks like a small offwhite version of bluebell)

Monday: rained out.. raining all day and most of previous night. Husband did hear Tristram's starlings on his way down the hill to where we live.

Tuesday 19th Jan:

Some cumulonimbus rolling in from the south west, we took a brief stroll down valley road to the pumping station till rain started to fall again. Before the rain birds were quite active.. a flock of hooded crows seemed excited over the trees to the south . . we got the impression there were actually two distinct flocks, perhaps arguing over where the groups were to roost. Young black redstart on the bank, calling chiffchaffs, some individuals glimpsed, great tits, white spectacled bulbuls and blackbirds, graceful warblers all vocal, probably all quickly foraging and making contact before the rain. Group of greenfinches noticed high in a cypress.

One of geraniums in flower near edge of street, I.D.d for now as Erodium malacoides, a storksbill but also very similar to E. botrys. Not a good pic today, had only cell phone for I.D. , hope to get a better pic with the D40 tomorrow when it's charged up again. Some flowers had already developed into the characteristic stork bill shaped seed pods.

Also found a small green young bush cricket amongst the geraniums and other vegetation today.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

More blooms and other reports

Found this one growing about half way up the hillside.. just one small growth.. known as 'ground pine' or 'Chian bugle', Ajuga Chamaepytis, it's a member of the Lamaceae which also includes mint and thyme. The Israeli thyme is also filling out with leaves and wonderfully powerfully aromatic if one brushes past it.

A delicate purple bell like bloom growing alongside the pale monkwort type. There's a lot of blue and the white monkwort in bloom now in many places. (wednesday)

This red anemone was growing near east watercourse (tuesdays). Others popping up all over the place.

Interesting vegetation near east watercourse: One of the Euphorbias? Somewhat like Euphorbia chamaesyce in leaf shape and arrangement.

I never tire of the myriad forms of greenery, each has its own recognisable pattern, each unique, each is a new wonder.. and I ramble from patch to patch like a kid at rockpools of the shore.

Tuesday 12 Jan : Bird of the day, a white breasted kingfisher! Haven't seen that in months! Husband saw it leave a pine in the grove behind look out corner.. (I'd spooked it walking over there), and headed off in direction of look out corner but did not call.

Greenfinch calls and a couple seen in the top of a tree just east of valley road.

Around house: house sparrows very vocal, laughing dove cooing, sunbird squeaks (?)

Temps have been very mild lately.. today was overcast this afternoon but midday temps in upper 60s earlier this week, just over 60 degrees F at peak today and minimum (dawn) just over 48 degrees F.

Wednesday 13 Jan:

Sunbird squeaks and hooded crows about dawn, house sparrows and laughing doves later.. (latter as also thursday morning). Jackdaws, Eurasian jay calls,

stone curlew just after it got dark, from direction of east field.

More stuff blooming.. we crossed north watercourse and wandered up the hill. I found Bellevalia.. those small pale versions of monkwort, I found the species but don't recall right off, more red anemones.. a blue bell like flower I remember seeing in gazelle field last season but still did not identify and some very nice Ajuga. All this blooming this early, I just don't remember seeing so much so early last season. Either I have a better eye for it now or it really is all blooming earlier.

Group of four feral dogs in north valley. Adult male gazelle sighted up on the hill ridge.

Thursday 14th Jan:

Today was cool/mild, some threatening cumulus this week but we didn't get caught in the rain. We headed up shepherd's trail up onto the lower slopes of windsurfer hill and found plenty new insect life. Apart rom the web tents made for armies of very small caterpillars there were numerous hairy caterpillars of at least two different species already quite abundant over thorny burnet and surrounding vegetation including asphodel leaves and stalks. One kind had a row of reddish hair, the rest brownish.. take a look back at last season.. Moshe took a number of pics of these back then. I took some pics today but in husband's pc at the moment or the camera not sure, at any rate, I won't be able to get to those till saturday night (due to Shabbat and its preparations) so they will have to wait.

There were also many plant bugs on the asphodel leaves, longish, brown with diagonal orange/yellow markings, which I recognise from last season, already causing some leaf damage up on the hillside though I haven't seen them in the valley asphodel yet. It was a Mirid bug, Capsodes infuscatus

(See Rittner's great pic at http://www.nature-of-oz.com/heteroptera.htm)

Husband noticed a pair of Tristram's starlings today in the middle of town, just at the junction between new city and the south west corner of the walls of the old city .. there is an open area there with some date palms. I have seen Tristram's starlings many times in the Old City, once actually perched on the western wall but more often 2-4 birds on various parts of the Al Aqsa mosque and round about. I have sometimes referred to them as grackles as they are also known here but starling avoids confusion as they are not at all related to New World grackles but are members of the starling family.

Other birds today included stone curlew (calls after dark again), hooded crow, large flock of jackdaws low over Hizmeh, Eurasian sparrowhawk flying quite high over east valley towards south about sunset, graceful warblers vocalizing, chiffchaff calls, chaffinches on cypress tops, blackbirds and our usual garden sunbird, laughing dove and house sparrows.

By contrast, chukar, stonechat and white wagtails have not been seen or heard lately though we did hear white wagtail today briefly around valley road.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

A new bird for the patch and other delights.

Male hawfinch.. this gorgeous image was captured by Ruthie Schueler. This was the bird of the day! First time I've ever seen it on my patch! Three of them. Always worth checking the tops of trees at this season. Usually I see chaffinches (as today) , occasionally linnets but these, wonderful! Easy to recognise from some distance with the black around the relatively massive bill and the clear white stripe slashing across the wing.

Below, thorny burnet in bloom in many places, red tufts are female flowers above, and stamens of male flowers further down. Many stalks were like this.

Below, first golden drop of the season. (Podonosma orientalis, one of the Boraginaceae) This one was growing by a wall just down from the street across the road, near the apartment buildings. There are quite a few clumps along that stretch.

Saturday 9th Jan:

About houses: sunbird (squeaks from dawn) , hooded crows and jackdaws heard, laughing dove coos, feral pigeons and house sparrows about the houses as usual.

In the forest.. great tits.. various calls and some song. Graceful warblers, various calls. Chaffinch calls. Large bird over middle of east woods.. from shape and flight I'd guess long eared owl though we didn't get a good view of its head. Stone curlew calling in the evening from direction of east field.

Buckler's mustard is starting to flower by valley road and many more flowers noticed on thorny burnet.. male and female on same stalks in many cases, must get pic. Another anemone in the middle of fore part of gazelle field, near dry stone wall.

Sunday 10th Jan: Boys accompanied me on the walk for a change since husband had a business meeting. On the way along valley road saw a few adult hyraxes down on the boulders.
Birds pretty much as yesterday.. lots of activity from sunbird now that the honeysuckle is back in bloom, squeaks from dawn and other calls throughout the day.

There was lots of tidying up to do by the bunker rubble due to careless weekend picnickers and I totally lost sight of the boys.. I know they'd made their way towards the cistern but now they were gone. I was baffled, the fields were empty.

I realized to find them I had to think like a boy.

I walked under the cistern pine and looked up.. they were WAY up in there, at least 40 feet or more. The foliage is so broad and dense I could not see them from farther off. A mother's terror! Climbing up is always so much easier than climbing down so I encouraged them to take their time and not take any chances on the descent. The branches were conveniently spirally arranged, they'd just ascended as if it were a spiral staircase and fortunately the descent was about as easy. They told me there was sort of a crow's nest arrangement up there which would be ideal for a zip line.. all they needed was some cable. Where could they get cable? I had no idea but this is one of Moshe's pet fantasy projects that he's always wanted to set up.

The cisterns were still pretty much at the highest level they could be, buckler's mustard was flowering by the roadside and I spotted yet more red anemones growing just up the bank on the east side as well as a fine white sprinkle of cymbalaria speedwell blooms along the opposite verge. Increasing lush growth of all sorts and a breakthrough for me as I have finally I.D.d that purple flowered plant with the fern like leaves as Erodium acaule.. no English name I could find but a kind of storksbill, which I had guessed. (one of the geraniums).

Blackbirds and bulbuls calling in east valley pines as we made our way back up central trail home.

Monday 12 Jan:

Most exciting thing today, well, for me, was the sight of three hawfinches in the top of some cypress by the tree line. Two at the top of two different trees, the other a foot or so farther down from the first. Akiva tried to approach to get a pic but they took fright and flew off toward the north/east. I've seen hawfinches a few times at the JBO (south of here a few miles) but never on my patch till today so I was quite thrilled!

We headed south after the bridge for a change, then turned east up the hill, along the watercourse that comes down from the saddle between windsurfer hill and villa hill. This had the natural jacuzzi I mentioned. A couple of hundred jackdaws and hooded crows rose, fell, swarmed, flocked around the top of the hill.

Coming down we encountered yet another cistern that we don't recall noticing before. Hazardous if you are walking there in the dark, one could easily fall in and injure an ankle, but quite easy to climb down into and out of without ropes or any assistance. I checked all around inside and noticed the walls were again daubed with some kind of stone like mortar , the inside was pretty round and flask like though not as deep as those with boulders on top, no side passages.. I was careful to watch out for snakes and scorpions but saw no living thing. There weren't even any clumps of maidenhair fern anywhere around.

Birds included: garden: the usual as above.. woods: Syrian woodpecker, a kestrel on an eruv pole by the saddle watercourse, great tits , one in loud song, White spectacled bulbuls, blackbirds, (two tzeeting at each other on a line, amongst others) , graceful warblers, stone curlew later as it was getting dark and again not long before dawn.. their vocalizations are definitely picking up as the day length steadily increases.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Flowers, mammals, birds assortment

Blooming flower, I'm assuming one of the Brassicaceae from general form.. by the small watercourse by stone wall by cistern palm. I also found something very like this blooming just off north watercourse dirt road last season, but later in the season and several hundred yards to the west of this one.. no other places yet.

Fumitory growing by fence down some steps across our street. Most likely Fumaria densiflora as only that one blooms this early and form and colour pretty much match.

Mallow.. a clump of them were growing around the base of an Ailanthus planted on our street sidewalk.

This one's for you, Veronikka! This is a speedwell, Veronica cymbalaria found near the Shadiker hyrax colony, along foot of a bank which I believe gets water run off as these speedwells favour such areas and several were blooming there.

This pic shows the delicate purple flowers which seem to lose their petals so readily.. as you see the one at the top is almost denuded.

Monday 4 Jan
: also: (cattle ) egret flew up from cistern area disappeared behind east pine grove towards Hizmeh. Stone curlew as it was getting dark.

Tuesday 5 Jan: fox barks (?) over towards bat cave, husband saw something moving about around crest of hill to north.. fox? feral dog?

Sunbird in cape honeysuckle, house sparrows and laughing dove (coos) in garden.

Buteo over cistern

Hooded crow about, frequent jackdaw calls, Syrian woodpecker call. Dueling great tits, one in pines down from valley road, one from somewhere around the pumping station. Alarm calls of chiffchaffs, 'pink' calls of chaffinches and one seen on tree top just down west of valley road. Graceful warbler calls. Bulbul seen on acacia and calls.

No gazelle or hyrax.

Vegetation: Brassicaceae type yellow by east watercourse beyond cistern, also white speedwells beginning to bloom there.

Wednesday 6 Jan: . While we were still on our street husband suggested looking over valley towards north field with the binoculars and I laughed out loud because there were two gazelle right in the middle of my first view! They stayed in that area, very north part of north field, not far from watercourse in the open , quite lush grazing there now, as well as lower hillslopes.

I spotted Fox seen on hillslope just up from bat cave and Husband noticed some hyrax at Shadiker colony, adult and juvenile. That's all three of our major mammals today, nice.

Blackbird song and calls, great tit scolding churr on north facing pine slopes, graceful warbler calls, chiffchaff alarm calls, Eurasian sparrowhawk flew over north valley dirt road, heading towards bat cave for a change.

garden: laughing dove coos, house sparrows, sunbird in cape honeysuckle as usual. Hooded crows, feral pigeons, jackdaws about as usual.

Thursday 7th Jan: Found two more blooming red anemones, these part way up west hillslope of windsurfer hill, I fancied a little ramble through a cypress grove there to see what vegetation was coming up.. thyme, spurge and thorny burnet filling out with leaves, winter crocus pretty much past now. Fresh gazelle scat along that way but didn't manage to see any gazelle. We did see a pair of feral dogs.. male dingo brownish colour leading way, female, white with brown patches looked like she had milk, following.. we first saw them under pines just north of sapling field and they made their way over towards the small olive grove.

Immature black redstart on a boulder on the hill, blackbirds and bulbuls pre roost calls on the way back around east watercourse as it approaches central trail. Others today, jackdaws, lots of calls, Eurasian jays, calls today and yesterday.. hadn't heard them in a while. Sunbird last few mornings, (and now for that matter, it's 6.12 am friday morning and I hear the sunbird squeaking out in the garden somewhere. Also heard singing blackbird more distant and hooded crow calls) Hardly any white wagtail calls lately..where did they go?