Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Shiny leaf and predawn songster mysteries solved

Remember that shiny leafed plant with the purplish buds we found on the trail down to the north watercourse dirt road? Today we found another one, on the mid northern slopes of windsurfer hill. Note in both cases on northern slopes and pretty much in the open, though partially surrounded by boulders, thorny burnet and other vegetation. This one, however, had a fruit and this I recognised from a walk years ago with herbalist Miriam Asheri. I had not remembered the leaves well but that fruit looked just like that round fruit Miriam showed me back then. At home I looked it up for confirmation and it was .. mandrake! Mandragora officinarum. This looked a lot I thought that was pretty cool, this is a very interesting plant.

Check out more info at

The other plant of the day was a sun's eye tulip found on the western slopes of windsurfer hill (again, western slopes as we had found last season - pls check pics from last year or but a different location) Tulipa agenensis. I had checked the inside of a petal to see that it was indeed sun's eye.. there is a striking yellow edged black long petal shaped mark at the base of each vivid red petal.

Below: Spider found running on the east watercourse dirt road.

Wednesday: 24 Feb: Other wildlife today included 'family group' of gazelle on upper north east slopes of windsurfer hill.. adult male, female and quite well grown young.

We've been busy lately and we've also had a LOT of rain, hail, thunder so several days walks were almost rained out.

Monday 1st March: Husband saw Tristram's starling on top of a 6 storey block of apartment buildings up the hill, up on top of a solar boiler. I've seen them up there before on occasion, one time over 15 years ago a flock of over 20 whistling on a tall tv aerial , the most I've EVER seen in our neighbourhood.

Garden last days.. almost every morning sunbird calls just as it was getting light and just before that the beautiful lark/thrush song but have never managed to see the bird. either too dark (usually) or hidden from sight. Checked bird songs at and found it matched garden warbler, Sylvia borin, a common passage migrant all over the country at this time of year. Really pleased to have that I.D.d as it's been mystifying me this season and last .. and it's a first I.D. for our patch too!

Heard it again and listened a little more critically . comparing it with the recording.. there are some phrases with a rising and falling trill not heard in the garden warbler but more like those of a close relative, the Orphean warbler-S. hortensis, not unlikely.. it is also a common passage migrant and populations also stay to breed. As far as I'm concerned this is not closed. I want to find more related bird songs before I settle but I think we're warm.

Other birds seen or heard in last few days: greenfinches starting up in the pines, Eurasian jays, hooded crows, jackdaws, feral pigeons, blackbirds (much song on and off), graceful warblers,

Thursday, February 18, 2010

First Bee Orchid amongst other delights

I found this orchid by the shepherd's trail this (Monday) afternoon. Carmel Bee orchid.. below.. zoom in on two flowers. (Ophrys carmeli) . First Ophrys orchid noticed yet this season

Delicate but expansive succulent around the rock flat ponds, just east of the turn off to north watercourse dirt road. These red succulents are common over many flat rocks with the slightest amount of earth, their flowers, just a few mm across, mostly seem to have four petals though some of them seem to have five. Will post I.D. when I find it again.

Akiva found this feather in the pine grove around the service road. It is 7 cm long and about 4 cm wide and given its size and colouration (white with slightly orange tip) my best guess is body feather of a cattle egret.

Thursday 18 th Feb:
Early morning in the garden: melodious calls of both Sunbird and white spectacled bulbul coos of laughing dove, chirps of house sparrows, and again song of something like a lark going on and on.. still havn't found it when I've gone out to look. Only sings as the sun is about to come up, then stops. Not a skylark but similar, very beautiful.

A couple of calls of white breasted kingfisher near north watercourse turn off, in the pines just west of gazelle field.
Also about, great tits, calling, chukar partridges (at least two) seen flying from by valley road near the wattle tree down into north valley watercourse with loud calls. Blackbirds, Eurasian jays in the woods, jackdaws and hooded crows passing over to roost, stonechats calling in field area by north valley watercourse.

Found I.D. of the plant very similar to the blue flowered monkwort (Nonea) . It's Egyptian alkanet, Anchusa aegyptiaca. There is a LOT of this in bloom right now.

Saturday 20th Feb: more white breasted kingfisher calls. Great tits again but not song. Chukar partridges heard down in north valley,, they've been more vocal lately, jackdaw and hooded crows passing over to roost . Blackbird song and calls, 4 swifts seen over the neighbourhood just before dark.

Hyrax activity by valley road, all adults. No luck on gazelles, none seen in either gazelle field nor east field.

Sunday 21st Feb: Best bird of the day and a new one for me, spotted by Akiva hopping on the rocks about the Shadiker hyrax colony- a blue rock thrush Monticola solitarius. I first took it for a male blackbird but soon saw the gizz was wrong, more graceful continuous movements but still thrush like, more like those of a nightingale. Once I could see it in good light the colouring was obviously different, not black but bluish slate grey and more variation about the body, though still smooth, and a lighter head.

Hyraxes were active round about, oblivious to the bird and vice versa. Two gazelle on the lower green slopes of hill to the north, looked like female and well grown young.

blackbird song in various places, also some great tit song in the garden today. Stone curlews calls about dark. Feral pigeons, jackdaws, hooded crows active overhead.

In flower in the valley also now, Veined savory, Micromeria nervosa, Gynandriris irises.

Monday 22nd Feb: Amazing song again this morning, starting when still dark about 5.15 a.m. like something between lark and thrush. A nightingale? As it got lighter a sunbird joined in with a variety of calls and then some time later laughing doves cooed and a chiffchaff sang for a while.

Best find today was the first Ophrys orchid I've found this season.. above.

Forest this afternoon: hundreds of crows on upper western slopes of windsurfer hill, on ground, occasionally taking off and flying about, then landing .. jackdaws and hooded crows. In the woods, great tit calls, some blackbird song, chiffchaff calls, Eurasian jays, graceful warblers. Stone curlews vocalized from direction of east field as it got dark.

As we emerged onto the hillslopes we soon saw three young gazelle moving into the trees by the 'alien head' trail, (so called because of a rock we found there -it's a rough trail down through the trees between the easy shepherd's trail and the Pistacio orchard.) As we descended the track which leads from top of the hill down to the cistern area, Akiva saw at least six run into the tree cover farther down. 9 today then, no adult male amongst them that we could make out.

More clover variety out including star clover, a small yellow type, also Astragalus.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

First orchid, Irises, gazelles

First orchid I've seen this season.. found on mid west slopes of north windsurfer hill, just above the tree line. Pink butterfly orchid I think, Orchis papilionacea

First Iris of the season. Vartan's?

Another Euphorbia.. parts larger than E. hieroscolymitana.. and less yellow.

Some kind of interesting unfamiliar fly on a buttercup.

Saturday 13th Feb: New caterpillar by valley road , must find again, black with several neat even rows of orange spikes, orange spot base.
Jackdaws, call could have been great spotted cuckoo back? over in direction of shaft, owl glade.
blackbirds, graceful warblers.

Sunday 14th Feb: dawn: sunbird calls, then laughing doves, white spectacled bulbuls, house sparrows. Chiffchaff, both today and yesterday in the garden or next door's garden, in song, on and off.

That caterpillar was in the same place! This time I photographed it.. see above.
Walk: SWIFTS over east valley, 4 counted. Husband heard chukar partridges earlier. On tops of cypresses, 1 hawfinch, at least a couple of chaffinches, jackdaw flock up on the hill, hooded crows dispersed about forest, definitely breeding territories now. European Robin calls farther down into forest from valley road in lower tier
stone curlew as it became dark.

3 mountain gazelle heading up windsurfer hill, three more at least grazing beyond almond tree line in north field. Hyraxes active by valley road on forest side, on the boulders.
Most of forepart of gazelle field now planted with saplings

Monday 15th Feb: North watercourse, ascended south facing slope, lots more clary, anemones, cyclamen and also first irises (Vartan's?) No luck on gazelle today.

Tuesday 16th Feb: 6 gazelle around north slopes of windsurfer hill, running, spooked by two feral dogs sniffing up after them. No adult males noticed. Perhaps a 7th. Chukar partridges heard again.

Lots of finches about, green and chaffinches, blackbirds, graceful warblers also vocal and active. Sunbird calling melodiously since before dawn.

Purple orchid seen just above tree line next to thorny burnet on our way up, see above.. first of season. .

Heat wave of the last couple of days may have broken. Temps nearly 80 yesterday, mid 70s today

Wednesday 17th Feb: dawn, melodious sunbird calls again. Some other bird a little farther off, continuous pleasant almost lark like twittering song.. not like greenfinch or sunbird and I remember hearing this song last season too.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Cold rains continue

Pea type plant found just past the wattle tree on valley road.. flower was so large we wondered if it might be a garden escape rather than a wild legume which usually have much smaller flowers. but not I.D.d as yet. Below, whole plant. It's garden pea! Pisum sativum.

Below, the white broom down the bank at the north loop of valley road is in glorious bloom and looks about twice as large as it did last year. Close ups in last years seasons entries. This little tree so enchanted me I use a pic of the flowers as background for my twitter profile. This is the only white broom I know in the area.

This curious dense bundle of webs and insect remains found on a pine sprig- I'd first taken it for a nest of pine needle eating caterpillars but seeing this gruesome larder suspect some kind of spider at work.

Above, storksbill flowers and, on the left, the seedpods which give this group their name.

Monday 8 Feb: It has been raining almost every day recently esp. at night but some days much of the day, and rain so cold we have thought perhaps it would snow. Most not with thunder and lightning. At other times the sky has been clear, as most of today.. (which is great for our solar water boiler) though that means temps drop in the evening.
temps 2.5 degrees C (last night) -9.5 degrees C (mid afternoon peak) ( 36.5-49 degrees F )

2 gazelle seen on mid north slopes of windsurfer hill, looked like mother and well grown young.

white spectacled bulbul (east edge of Pistacio grove), great tit calls, white wagtail calls, (also heard over last few days passing over to roost) , Eurasian sparrowhawk over gazelle field. blackbird.. song in the garden shortly before we left for our walk.. now about 4.30 p.m.

Group of at least four feral dogs near the quarry, barked at us, show of bravado, they always back off when we approach.

Tuesday 9 Feb: Hawfinch on top of one of the cypresses just east of valley road but my favourite bird sighting of the day was a European robin perched on top of one of the rebars at the bunker rubble near the cistern. This is usually the site of a black redstart and though I searched found none but happy to see the robin, first sighting and positive I.D. this season though a few times we heard calls that were probably robins.

Otherwise: large flock of jackdaws up on windsurfer hill and calls many times today, calls of Syrian woodpecker, chaffinch, graceful warbler, chiffchaff, and stone curlew over to the east as it became dark.
calls in the gardens. Honeysuckle is blooming and fragrant, common as well as cape and it seems they like the nectar of both though I mostly see them around the cape honeysuckle. Bottle brush tree and other ornamentals are attractive to them.

No luck with gazelle or hyrax today. Temps a little higher than yesterday with plenty high altitude cirrus.

Wednesday 10th
Adult male gazelle seen in east field then group of eight, perhaps nine (we only got one count of nine as they were running and I may have been mistaken) , females and young heading from olive grove up windsurfer hill.

Otherwise, chukar calls, blackbirds, white spectacled bulbul, graceful warbler, hooded crows, jackdaws, house sparrows, sunbirds, laughing doves.
husband heard Tristram's starling up near Klein's school, (near top of hill)

About half a dozen of the caterpillars that are normally on the thorny burnet found draped over a dead eryngium. Why would they go there? Totally bare and exposed unless they would pupate there.

Thursday 11th Feb
3 Gazelle in north field grazing just beyond the almond tree line. Plenty hyrax activity by valley road, on the boulders across from the bank. All adults/well grown, no small ones. It's cold but dryer and sunny and I had a hunch that they'd be out and about today.
Hawfinch again up on top of a cypress near there.. Akiva tried to get a shot but it was wary and flew before he could get anywhere near close enough. We need a 400 mm lens!

Otherwise, jackdaw flock, Syrian woodpecker, Stone curlew shrill fast repeated call , could be alarm from direction of bat cave , perhaps because of a fox. Great tit calls, blackbirds, house sparrows about the houses as usual.

Monday, February 1, 2010

February begins

Blooming Jerusalem spurge, Euphorbia hieroscolymitana present in varied sized cushions usually next to boulders or thorny burnet. I read a little about this genus on wiki.. very fascinating.. chili hot sap and related to Poinsettia.. Linnaeus named it after an ancient Greek who used it as a purgative, hence the name.

Below, a vetch which is commonly found festooned about thorny burnet.

Below, a caterpillar common on thorny burnet right now. The red streak is similar to the red colour of the female flowers of the burnet.

Monday 2nd Feb:

Temps from 7-14 degrees C , slightly warmer this (monday) night than last.

Salvia viridis
, also called Annual Clary, found in bloom, about half way up the south facing hillside amongst the limestone tiers, about same region we found and photographed it last year. Many of the pale monkwort types, lots of Buckler's mustard, cyclamen, roman squill.

Stone curlews more vocal, great tit calls, blackbird, sunbird calls.

Male adult gazelle seen ahead of us as we climbed/trekked up the south facing slope towards flintstones area and hidden watercourse.. this has happened before. We crossed the watercourse, noted that some thorny burnet already has berries while others are still in flower. We crossed the hidden watercourse and headed up to ridge between that and the sage vale.. more like a saddle at that point, a stretch of flat, partly grassy area, more soil than rock with many hoofprints.. I believe this is the location of the gazelle rutting arena for this reason.

Hyrax last few days have not been very active as far as we have seen.. has been clear last couple of days but following an overcast rainy few days.

Tuesday 2 Feb: 7 gazelle seen northern slopes of windsurfer hill including adult male.

Birds included Syrian woodpecker, stone curlew , this time from hidden watercourse area, great tits, graceful warblers, chiffchaffs, jackdaws, blackbirds, sunbirds and laughing doves about houses,

Now starting to bloom, some chamomile daisies by valley road last few days, not far from pumping station, a low purple headed small thistle has been blooming for a couple of weeks now, a pale vetch again draping itself over thorny burnet.. we noticed this also last season.

Wednesday 3 Feb: Cold, rainy, just walked down valley road.. two hawfinches on top of cypress, second time seen about here. Kestrel flying over low part of neighbourhood. Blackbirds, graceful warblers, white spectacled bulbuls active.

Saturday 6 Feb: 5 gazelle grazing north of the row of almonds, grazing, one mother and young, no adult male visibile.

Blackbird in the garden at dawn, also graceful warblers, laughing doves, house sparrows, jackdaws, in woods, 2 chaffinches on top of cypresses, Syrian woodpecker calls, hooded crows.