Thursday, April 22, 2010

Capers are back in bloom, cuckoos roaming.

This view may be familiar to some of my readers now. Yes, it's north gazelle field as it is now with its free standing almond and hawthorn trees, framed by Aleppo pines on each side. Now you can see the numerous plastic tubes used to protect the little saplings. dew condenses inside the tubes and helps water the young trees. You can also see part of the field beyond the almonds is also dug up though you can't see the trees there.. they are there. Beyond that the grasses of the lower hillslopes are growing paler, further lighened by stretches of whitish old oat heads.
In the foreground plants are already emerging through the overturned earth, mostly the hardy composites and restharrow. No Malcolmia or the other little gems this year but I hope they will be back next season.

This fancy little green abdomened spider had webbed almost the whole of this composite head and has accumulated quite a little larder underneath it. When I first saw it I thought it might be a crab spider but now, zoomed, seeing the shape and patterning of the abdomen it has to be one of the others-

Wednesday 21 April:
1 gazelle noticed mid west slopes of winsurfer hill.

Thursday 22 April
: Gazelles-(3) 2 on northern slopes of windsurfer hill, looked like mother and well grown young. Another relatively young individual seen running fast through east field towards the hill, as if spooked but I did not see anything towards the woods that could have alarmed it.

Birds last couple of days: blackbird song, graceful warblers active and vocal, great spotted cuckoo calls in eucalyptus near the Pistacio orchard.. fledgeling begging from hooded crow. Great tit fledgelings heard. collared doves both days, yesterday turtle dove heard even though quite cool.

Around house: bulbul, sunbird, house sparrows, laughing doves regulars, jackdaws, feral pigeons, hooded crows never far off.. (Orphean warbler not heard lately). Crows often noisy.. flock still roosting in eucs by east dirt road.. the non breeding group I assume, too young and too old (both together or do they make different flocks?)

No luck spotted any white storks this season, they may have passed over earlier in the day this past month. Hope we still have a chance!

Blooming: Ononis spinosa- spiny restharrow blooming pink in many places east field, windsurfer hill slopes. A group of 8 3spot Dianthus near tree line.. first time I've seen that many in a group, usually find them in just 1s and 2s. Foliage of mullein Verbascum and Cat thyme germander Teucrium capitatum becoming more and more obvious each day but not blooming yet. African fleabane going to seed, centaury, yellow on windsurfer, yellow with purple stamens, slightly larger, edge of neighbourhood.

Saturday 24th April: Still no luck on migrating storks but plenty bird activity before sunset.
European cuckoo heard a few times in the woods near the shaft about sunset. (though no great spotted cuckoo calls today) .. then a little later much noise put up by three, perhaps four hobbies in the pines by the owl glade. Akiva suspected they may have been alarmed by a large dark hawk (a Buteo?) that we had seen in there a short while before though I suspect it was more likely to be a conflict about territory , perhaps with immature hobbies from previous years having returned to their birth place when their parents preferred they would disperse. They wheeled about and called various calls numerous times though we didn't see any aerial encounters.

Gazelles: (7) One at the top of the shepherd's trail, (female?) with bent right horn bent more than 90 degrees inwards (and backwards?) a short while later we noticed a group of four individuals not including an adult male.. I think these were all young adults- moving from olive trees towards lower north slopes of windsurfer hill. A little while later we saw two more passing from woods in front of bat cave and out into the open field.

Other birds heard/glimpsed: Hooded crows, jackdaws, bee-eaters, swifts, stone curlews, blackbirds, graceful warblers, collared doves, greenfinches, Eurasian jays.

Monday 26th April

Weather: cool to pleasant mild : range 13- 27 degrees C. winds westerly most of the day, quite breezy in the afternoon hours increasing humidity to about 75% but that fell later, sky mostly clear, .

First capers seen blooming today! At least one great spotted cuckoo flying about between eucalyptus grove and cypress groves either side of Pistacio orchard, some calls. I think these are juveniles attended by crows. Syrian woodpecker also vocal and active in same area and the dusk songs of a little flock of greenfinches in the large pines by the bunker rubble, chawwing and twittering like canaries. Collared doves also heard and faintly from across gazelle field, the purr of a turtle dove. Laughing dove also did display flight over valley road today. Swifts about hunting over look-out corner, bee-eaters heard, Tristram's starling distant whistle. Hobby? over east field.. dark but with some brown markings.. an immature?

Hooded crows, jackdaws, Eurasian jays about. In the garden a sunbird vocal and active in the Bauhinia this afternoon.

Gazelles : at least three on north and north west slopes of windsurfer hill, not including an adult male. Moshe told us he saw a fox and at least three cubs several times near his tree house, a few hundred yards up from valley road, not far from the pumphouse hyrax colony.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

A cooler week, and the burrowing thread

Akiva caught this beautiful blue flower up on the hill between north valley watercourse and hidden watercourse.. at first I thought it was a Scabiosa rhizantha but I'm not satisfied with that now as the petal form is wrong.. will post a better I.D. when I find it.

Charming walk up there today (monday 19th) .. must be about the peak of marbled white activity right now and a brighter salmon coloured butterfly which I didn't get close enough to see properly. Brighter than a salmon Arab I thought- perhaps coppers but none settled long enough for me to see it well. When they land their underwing spotted pattern hides the orange and makes them completely disappear. The pale orange underwing of salmon Arabs also conceals them very well amongst the dry oats.

This spirally twisted seed thread thread is becoming a real menace on walks as we move into the dry season. The tiny deceptively softly barbed end (left) catches onto ones socks and then, as one walks it works its way into the skin of the foot, literally planting itself quite painfully. You don't notice them when they first catch but after a minute or so you feel an increasingly aggravating pricking sensation. I stopped numerous times to pull a number of these out of my socks.. one had worked its way into my shoe and gone unnoticed for a few minutes till I took off my shoe to deal with all the sainfoin ('demon') pods, grassheads and threads I'd picked up. Only by taking off my sock I found the final offender - one had already worked its way into the most tender part of my upper foot and yanking it out was really quite painful due to the barbs and hairs. Really, this little thread of vegetative matter looks like nothing but it acts like a tiny American porcupine quill.

Above, the whole seed thread, finishing at a finely tapered tip lower right- just over 7 c.m. long and feels tough as wire. From now till the rainy season I shall probably now keep to trails and not strike out cross country without more protection!

A young but chubby member of the grasshopper group.. haven't found the species. This one was sitting out on valley road last week. There is an ancient tradition in the middle east to eat some of this group, indeed there are several species which are considered kosher by Jewish law - IF you can identify them reliably and today few have the oral tradition, most of those from Yemen. Would I eat this? If it were one of those, and roasted with barbecue sauce.. hmm interesting idea.... Below, a geometrid moth found in the house. Silver Y moths and a nice size mantis have also invaded lately.

Tuesday 13th April :

Early morning, bulbuls and sunbirds started up at about 5.45 a.m. house sparrows had been up for a while and laughing doves were cooing shortly after.

Today we went up the saddle watercourse, I wanted to see if I could find those extraordinary spikes of crimson flowers I had yet been unable to identify. They were blooming there this time last year but no luck. Perhaps they are biennial? I'd guess they were one of the Lamiaceae but I could be wrong.

Best sighting was a hobby, gliding over the upper west face of windsurfer hill.. first one I've seen this season.

Chukar heard ,then seen flying low across our ascending path.

Up the slope, also on the west side and north of us, two gazelle grazing.
Hyraxes active by valley road. One sitting on a boulder facing away from us. It turned round 180 degrees and stared up at us when husband said ''wuff!'' Great tits and collared doves about, some flight calls of the latter. Great spotted cuckoo heard.

Wednesday 14 April:
4 gazelle seen grazing up on western slopes of windsurfer hill, not including an adult male. Hyraxes active.
Vocal and active: , Eurasian jays, jackdaws, Syrian woodpeckers, graceful warblers, collared doves.
Bee-eaters. . flock hawking over east valley and valley road, and neighbourhood now 40-45 individuals. (also heard early thursday morning.. about 6 a.m. )

Thursday 15 April:
1 gazelle spotted just out of the trees south of us as we emerged up the shepherd's trail. She was aware of us but far enough off not to be afraid, and after some hesitation she headed under the shade of the pines.
Medium/small flock of jackdaws over north slopes of windsurfer hill, hooded crows about. Graceful warblers, collared doves, greenfinches, bulbuls vocal and active. Blackbird song. Turtle dove heard cooing by central trail not far from valley road. Stone curlews calling about sunset or a little before. That was while I was letting a small crowd of local boys have a turn at my binoculars and talking with them about what wildlife could be found in the valley. They were a polite and receptive lot and it was a pleasure to share with them.
Bee-eaters.. just 15 today

Friday 16 April:
Early morning: house sparrows for a while, bulbul started up at 5.55 a.m. , hooded crow caws farther off. Laughing dove cooing just before 6 a.m.

Saturday 17 April
Hobbies in the young pines immediately west of gazelle field.. definitely 3, based on calls already there, likely 4 . Establishing territories? I'm guessing offspring of previous year came back and parents want them to disperse. Many calls, both repeated high note and a shorter 'tsirikik'' like call.
Calls of young birds in the pine grove immediately east of the cistern.. sound to me like at least one young great spotted cuckoo .. hooded crows seen coming and going but didn't see the cuckoo, no doubt deep within the foliage.
Stone curlews about, collared doves, bee-eaters.. at first a group of about 15 seen, later a group of about 22.

Sunday 18th April
Mountain gazelles (5 in all) on north slopes of windsurfer hill.. adult male attending two females (or one female and well grown young). The two ran westward, followed some metres behind by the buck. A little later two more gazelle noticed on flatter area towards fence, closer to the olives.. they ran north.. young 'teenage' gazelle in this case with short horns.

Hyrax by rocks on sapling field side of valley road, near pumping station.

Blackbird song, Syrian woodpecker, graceful warblers (by dry stone walls near olives) , today and yesterday much greenfinch twitter and chaw

Monday 19th April

Warmer today, range, about 16-27 degrees C.

collared doves and turtle doves cooing, great tits and blackbird song. Jackdaws, hooded crows, jays about. Large hawk (buteo?) perched on the ridge to our north, mostly dark brown with some pale feathers on the breast.. a black eared wheatear minding its territory nearby clearly perceived no threat from it. Also melodious calls of latter.

Encounters with pods and burrowing seed threads discussed in captions above.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

'demon seedpods' , gladeolus, tiny tits

Wild gladeolus : Gladiolus italicus found in a flat area under a grove of trees close by north valley watercourse. Several others found blooming in the area.

A cool wind was blowing down the valley from the west and this marbled white butterfly was clinging hard to the thorny burnet.

Below, not sure what this is: the bright colour of the leaves caught my eye, and the unusual shape of the seedpods.. Found under the shade of the pines, amongst the boulders.

This spider was lurking over our porch.. Akiva took this pic just before we cleared the cobwebs. Its leg span was about 10 cm.

Below: one of the smallest snakes in the country, a Typhlops, - known as a blind snake, though you can see a dark eye. This individual was betw 15-20 cm long. Moshe found it under a rock in the neighbourhood today and Avremi took this pic.

Finally I have an I.D. for the 'demon seedpods' plant ... they are called Sainfoins (a french name meaning 'healthy hay' because of their value as feedstock. They are species of the genus Onobrychis and there's a very nice wikipedia article about them at

Acanthus already in bloom.

Saturday 11 April: Blackbirds in song, swifts, bee-eaters, flock of about 25 over gazelle field, hawking. stone curlew calls at about sunset same area. Turtle dove heard cooing vigorously by east valley dirt road near Pistacio orchard. Collared doves, hooded crows,
Sunbird in the garden.

Sunday 12 April : Bulbul started up melodious calls from about 5.45/5.50 a.m. house sparrows have been up for about an hour already. Orphean warbler heard singing at 5.54 a.m. laughing dove cooing at 5.56 a.m. distant cawing of Hooded crow.
Today we walked up to the centre of the neighbourhood, then walked back through a park and down to the upper valley road where a little owl is usually found on the bluff. No luck today.. but there were many passersby so that may have made it seek quieter refuge.
We did see plenty mustard in bloom with Viper's bugloss of the local kind and quite a few clumps of blue Anchusa azurea on the way down (Italian bugloss)

Monday 13 April: Today we went down to the north valley dirt road.. many neighbours were still on spring break so there was much activity: some boys had acquired a third donkey, a young black one, as well as the mature brown female and the well grown white and other boys were hauling dead trees for bonfire night.

*Great tits had fledged* .. a whole family was flitting between the pines at the edge of the watercourse, calling incessantly, the coarse high pitched calls of the juveniles and the deeper scold of the adults. We saw one large dark hawk fly quite low over the valley towards the north, bee-eaters and swifts were also aloft. Great spotted cuckoo heard , hooded crows and jackdaws also around as usual.

Cool day today: just 10.5-15.5 degrees C. The Hamsin that filled the sky with fine dust just yesterday has already broken. Winds today have been brisk and westerlies all day.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Olive orchard, Hidden watercourse

These photos are from today's (thursday's walk) around the hidden watercourse . Above, a Campanula, captured by Akiva. There were many blooming up and around those slopes, each tucked demurely by the rocks. Below: a crab spider I came across, perched on some goat grass.

Below: Akiva took this one when I wasn't looking.. and I love the clarity of the petal form. This is one of the two scabious flowers now blooming in many places. I think this one is Prolific scabious, Scabiosa prolifera. The other, Scabiosa rhizantha, is similar but has a wonderful lilac/blue tint- pics posted on previous seasons.

Below.. these are all over- I thought they look like some kind of clover seed head and are often found next to star clover. I was enchanted by the diaphanous rosettes. They are in fact the later stage of the scabious flowers above.. (may be S. palaestina, both these white scabiouses have similar seedheads)

The following pictures were taken, wednesday 7 April, we walked to the small olive orchard in east field. The olives themselves are now no more than tiny nodules.. looks like we missed the flowers, which are tiny, green and delicate.

A sage common in open areas right now, often by stone walls and trails in little stands. I.D.d as Salvia judaica.. Judean sage. Quite a few stands in the lower parts of east field.

Above, flower, below, leaves of a bindweed: best match I've found Shaggy Bindweed Convolvulus betonifolius. Only one I've seen in the area.. this was growing near the olive grove, a relatively flat open area with much ground vegetation, richer deeper soil than that in most of the area.

Beetle on one of the Asteraceae.

Tuesday 6 April
Bee-eaters 18/19. First turtle dove of the season heard, middle of east valley in a tree near the watercourse. Jackdaws, jays, a big brown job, Buteo type. Collared doves, greenfinches.

Wednesday 7 April

After sun up heard some phrases of what sounded like a blackcap in the garden. Earlier, around dawn, house sparrows, hooded crows first, then bulbul and I think Orphean warbler.

late afternoon: More bee-eaters, now flock at about 30 individuals. Syrian woodpecker, European cuckoo call near east watercourse, pair of great spotted cuckoos between pine grove and Pistacio orchard

Thursday 8 April: Today we headed across north watercourse and up to the hidden watercourse. The acacias looked green but, as it turned out, in the case of the lower, larger tree.. I did not check the other, not because of leaves but thousands upon thousands of the tiny round green seedheads. There were some leaves but not so many. The lower branches which had been scorched by fire two years ago were apparently dead.

Most significant news today was a new bachelor herd of mountain gazelle.. 6 individuals, all with obvious, but not large, male type horns.. clearly younger than the group we saw on the hills farther to the north. These are young males that have broken off from the female and young group and formed their own association.. and also separate from the older bachelor herd we have seen. Will they join together? Akiva noticed some brief sparring. We also noticed another male, obviously more mature with well developed longer horns, watching us and the young herd at a distance.

Two hoopoes flew from hidden watercourse area over towards trees by bat cave. Greenfinches, collared doves, wheatears, bee-eaters, all heard. European cuckoo heard near look-out corner, Great spotted cuckoo also heard. Jackdaws, Hooded crows Eurasian jays, blackbirds, graceful warblers about. One Hooded crow appeared to be (successfully) chasing away a feral cat.. seemed it wanted to forage on the ground and didn't want the cat there.

Monday, April 5, 2010

More images from the Wadi Qelt outing, plus

Another dragonfly resting on a rock in the middle of the watercourse. Getting one's feet wet is part of nature photography:)

Above: Roman Nettle, Urtica pilulifera- found along the watercourse bank, shaded by the ubiquitous giant reed.

Hollyhocks (Alcea (setosa?) (Bristly hollyhock, most likely I.D.), the largest representatives of the mallow family, are native to the middle east, and, though they seemed incongruously showy on the slopes of Wadi Qelt amongst the wild cereals, they are quite at home.

This blood red dragonfly stayed obligingly in front of me on the trail as if posing for a photo.

Below: more vegetation found in Wadi Qelt on friday.

Sunday 4th April
Akiva heard European cuckoo call from inside the house. The call is far carrying, it could have been either side of valley road. Later he also heard oop oop oop call of hoopoe. I heard Orphean warbler around dawn as well as bulbuls, sunbirds, house sparrows and laughing doves.

Monday 5th April
Late afternoon walk: Upper NW slopes of windsurfer hill.. 7 mountain gazelle grazing, not including any adult bucks. All appeared to be adult females.
Some hyrax activity by valley road, down on the boulders, cypress slum colony.

Birds active: great tits, greenfinches, collared doves, jackdaws, hooded crows, great spotted cuckoo heard somewhere north east gazelle field. later: stone curlews

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Wadi Qelt, return of the bee-eaters

Friday morning (2nd April) we headed down to Wadi Qelt/Nahal Porat - my objective: to see how the vegetation differs in spring from that of our previous visits in the summer. The differences were marked.. the lavender/blue sage dominant in summer was not visible at all but instead a variety of other vegetation as I will show below.

An overview: quite literally. Akiva climbed a trail to a higher vantage point to get this shot down the watercourse. That's actually me in the dark skirt and little backpack, just left of the watercourse.

Much work had been done on the area.. to make it both visitor and nature friendly. it is now officially a nature reserve: fishing and other interference with the nature is prohibited. (Our boys reluctantly had to deposit their home made nets). Chemical toilets are now available near the start of the hike and specific areas for barbecues set aside.. campfires now not permitted along the trails for obvious reasons- not so much an issue now but will be in the summer as vegetation dries out. Their favourite swimming pool along the watercourse was mostly filled with gravel, this I am sure for safety reasons since youngsters would jump in it from a rock.. no more! The park authorities no doubt want to prevent accidents. Still, the boys did find some places deep enough to have water fun. The water was very cold but after lying in the midday sun with caps over faces they soon warmed up. Temps were in the upper 80s if not higher.

Below: I got this shot of pairing dragonflies near the beginning of the walk. We saw several pairs of dragonflies flying about in tandem like this. Below , a fritillary which obligingly perched on and by the trail. From what I can make out, referring to Rittner's site, it's a female Knapweed Fritillary, Melitaea phoebe telona.

Numerous dragonflies were seen as well as just one damselfly though I'm sure more were about.. but nowhere near as many of the latter as we saw in summer. I did see a few carpenter bees but they were not about in the numbers we saw in the summer, and oriental hornets were completely absent.

Below: an unfamiliar plant- I do not remember seeing this at all in our summer visits.. and in fact did not see it on this. Akiva found it on his way to the top and captured this exquisite shot.

Below, this delicate bloom I found growing in one place not far from the watercourse itself. I yet have to find an I.D. for both these.

Now we get to the dominant vegetation growing and blooming in the wadi right now. As I mentioned, the lavender/blue sage dominant in summer and familiar from previous visits, was completely absent but several other plants colour the rocky banks. Above, and found just about everywhere, a kind of Viper's bugloss but not the mats we get up in our region. The blooms are larger and the striping on them suggests they are Echium rauwolfii

The second main plant there is a kind of cress, (above) a member of the cabbage family, ranging in colour from lilac to almost white. These, together with a mustard type, another cabbage family representative, make the ubiquitous mosaic shown below. Bugloss close to the ground, cress forming the middle storey and mustard crowning the whole riotous effect.

Other flowers noticed in patches here and there were bright yellow crown daisies and a surprising stand of glorious light purple hollyhocks up on a bank along the trail- wonder how they got there?

As for birds : graceful warblers about and allowing quite close approach, they were busy foraging for their families no doubt. One flittered by me almost like a butterfly but was too fast for me to get a shot. Tristram's starlings were heard, (crag?) martins darted about between the rock faces. We noticed a large raptor hovering over the desert on our approach to the wadi, had a terminal tail band.. tentatively IDd as a honey buzzard.

Back to our neighbourhood:

Thursday 1st April:

Headed up to quarry today. On approach to quarry heard repeated chukar partridge calls.. we saw one on top of a rock on a great pile of rocks north of the trail (where we've seen little owl) ..just standing there and calling harsh short call many times.. another way up the hill, top of first quarry to the south doing same thing. Yet another somewhere on south facing slopes beyond the pines.. seems to me cocks announcing their territories.

As we walked into main quarry area I whistled and within seconds heard a Tristram's starling whistle. There were four birds sticking together in two pairs, flying about the quarry and perching on the rocky ledges opposite.

Then a magnificent sparrowhawk, from size I suspect a hen, flew in circles over us and the quarry.

Other birds about included blackbird, in song as twilight fell, check w Ak

Two gazelle just down from the north ridge.

Saturday 3rd April: The bee-eaters are back! A group of 9 calling and flying over valley road as we descended at about 6.30 p.m. and then, as we passed by look-out corner, we watched a group of 15 or so hunted between the pistacio orchard and the cistern.

Also about: jackdaws, hooded crows, blackbirds, greenfinches, graceful warblers, swifts. Chukars(?) Hyraxes very vocal and active.