Hula Birds: Gallinule, Lapwing, Egret

Hula Valley birds
Among the birds I saw at the Hula Valley in Israel: gallinule (moorhen), lapwing, egret, crane, pelican. My daughter saw a small blue bird fly by quickly twice – this may have been a kingfisher.

A bit of history about this magical (to me, at least) place in northern Israel:
Back in the 1950’s the malaria-ridden swamps of the Hula Valley were drained. However, this caused ecological damage. From the leaflet of the Hula Agamon Lake: “Over the years the peat earth that is typical of the Hula(organic earth the the remains of plants and animals) dried up, broke up, sunk, and even started to burn underground. The worst thing was that the phosphates and nitrates in the earth were washed into the Kinneret and polluted its waters.” In the 1990’s earth was restored; the project included digging canals that allowed the control of water in the area.

One of the major benefits of the 1990’s work was this ornithological spot, unique in the world. Over this area twice a year no less than 500 million birds migrate.

Learn more here:

This bird is a spur-winged lapwing or spur-winged plover.

Here is a gallinule – note that orange beak.

nesting box
Here my daughter is standing by a white nesting box. We didn’t see any birds near the box, but the box reminded me of the boxes we saw at Cape May. According to the literature we were handed when we entered, these are for white owls. It seems the white owls eat voles, and voles do damage agriculturally, so eliminating the voles is a good thing.

I got some good photos of the handsome egret.


egret in flight
I believe this is an egret in flight.

The most abundant bird species in the area are the cranes.

Those spoonbills sure have funny beaks. (see

This furry-looking guy is a muskrat.

rainbow in hula lake
Ah, after rain on and off, it’s nice to be rewarded with a rainbow!

rainbow with birds
Even better, here is the rainbow with birds flying by.

Notes on visiting Hula Agamon Lake: don’t do what we did and try to walk the whole thing. We should have rented the golf cart. It’s a big area! There are also bikes available to rent. It would be great to visit during a migratory period, but I feel fortunate that I got there at all.

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Nature Notes

Park Britannia Flora: Cyclamen, Anemones, more

israel Park Britannia landscape
I have always wanted to see the spring flowers in bloom in Israel, and on my recent trip, I had that opportunity. Too bad my daughter thought the day too cold for an outdoor trip, but to me it felt like April in Boston.

There is a song in Hebrew for these beautiful red flowers that show up all over the landscape in February in Israel: kalaniyot. The English name for these flowers is anemones.

anemones in Park Britannia
The ones I saw were not yet open. I asked my son who is spending the year in Gush Etzion if he saw any red flowers, and he said, oh yeah, he did see a lot of red flowers. Probably wouldn’t have noticed if I hadn’t said anything.

cyclamen rakefet
This is rakefet – cyclamen in English. Turns out there is a song for rakefet as well!

almond blossom
This is an almond blossom. That one, too, comes with a song: Hashkedia porahat. In about one month parts of Israel will be full with these blossoms.

I saw this chicory flower as well. I think the Hebrew is olesh.

Tel Azeka
There is history in the park as well. Supposedly, somewhere in the plains David battled the Philistines.

Tel Azeka city scape
I’m not sure what city that is in the background, but when you reach the top of Tel Azeka on a clear day, you can see far in many directions. I think the general area is called Emek HaEla – Valley of Ela.

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Story: Rich Man Insults Unwanted Guest

Rich Man in Bar Kamtza story
Once upon a time there was a rich man (played by my daughter, see above photo). He was throwing a party. He told his servant to invite one particular guest. His servant messed up and invited the wrong guy. Ooops. Major oopsie doopsie. The rich man was super mad. In the end, a temple was destroyed, and the Jewish people scattered. Yes, to those who know, this is the Bar Kamtza story. Learn more here:

Or use the Wikipedia version:

And if you want a really long detailed discussion of the whole story (this is from the yeshiva where my son is, Yeshivat Har Etzion):

Rich Man Insults Unwanted Guest – Bar Kamtza Story in Photos

My daughter played the rich man. Here is the story (or some of it) in photos:
Invitation: "You are invited to Mr. Ashir's Birthday Bash! If your name is Bar-Kamtza, don't come."
The invitation says: You are invited to Mr. Ashir's Birthday Bash! If your name is Bar Kamtza, don't come.
TIME: Sunset – Sunrise
PLACE: Somewhere

servant instructions to invite Kamtza
Mr. Ashir the rich man instructs his servant to invite Kamtza to his party. Servant messes up (note the similar names between the friend and the enemy), and Bar Kamtza shows up the party instead.

Mr. Ashir screams at the top of his lungs at Bar Kamtza.
Mr. Ashir screams at the top of his lungs at Bar Kamtza. Now that is one unwanted guest!

Bar Kamtza takes his revenge by putting blemishes on these cows. Everyone including the Roman emperor gets upset. Disaster happens. Temple is destroyed. There are lots of morals of the story (you can look up those up if you are really interested).

Notes on Bar Kamtza Story

1) We never find out anything about Kamtza. He does not seem to be a part of the story. Just has a great name (probably a fake one, like Ploney Almoney).
2) What in the world did Bar Kamtza do that made Mr. Ashir dislike him so much?

Your Turn, Please

If the wrong person showed up at your party, what would you do? How would you treat him or her, especially if it were someone you didn’t really like? What if you were a guest, and a host starting yelling at an uninvited guest? What if you were hurt by someone – what do you do with the hurt?

Blue Jays: Are Blue Jays Blue?

blue jay visits backyard
For some reasons blue jays decided to visit my backyard last week. I’ve been more careful about filling my bird feeder. If I get outside with my camera at the same time that the birds visit, I get some nice photos.

blue jay in flight
I was rather excited to see blue jays visiting my tree. Here is a little about blue jays from Cornell Lab of Ornithography:

This common, large songbird is familiar to many people, with its perky crest; blue, white, and black plumage; and noisy calls. Blue Jays are known for their intelligence and complex social systems with tight family bonds. Their fondness for acorns is credited with helping spread oak trees after the last glacial period.

Seems like the blue color is a physics trick: “The pigment in Blue Jay feathers is melanin, which is brown. The blue color is caused by scattering light through modified cells on the surface of the feather barbs.”

More on the blue color on the Wisconsin Natural Resources Magazine:

It’s the same science that explains why the sky is blue.

Feather colors are determined either by pigments, called pigmented colors, or by light refraction called structural colors. Feathers contain two types of pigments. The melanins are sharply outlined, microscopic particles we see as black, dull yellow, red and brown. The lipochrome pigments are diffused in fat droplets and produce brighter yellows, reds and oranges.

When light strikes a pigment, it absorbs all the other wavelengths of the color spectrum except the color we see, which is reflected back to our eyes. Black is produced when all color wavelengths are absorbed and no color is reflected.

Structural colors, produced by selective light reflection, are mostly the blues, greens and violets. Shimmering iridescent colors are produced when light bounces off the grooves and ridges on feathers. The distance between these surface irregularities influences which colors we see. These structural colors change with the angle of view. Most blue structural colors are produced when particles smaller than a light beam scatter light. These blues do not change hue when viewed from different angles.

John Tyndall, a British physicist of the late 1800s, first described how minute particles, usually less than 0.6 microns, absorb the longer red wavelengths of light but reflect or scatter the shorter blue wavelengths. This phenomenon became known as “Tyndall scattering” and accounts for the sky’s blue color that is sometimes called “Tyndall blue.”

In bluejays, the color-producing units are found in feather barbs. These barbs consist of three layers. A colorless, transparent horny outer layer covers box cells, which cover a dark layer of melanin-containing cells. The box cells contain irregularly shaped air-filled cavities that scatter light. When sunlight strikes a bluejay feather, the beam passes through the barb’s transparent outer layer to the air-filled cavities that scatter the blue light and absorb the longer red wavelengths. Any transmitted light that remains after passing through the box cells is completely absorbed by the melanin. The blue we perceive is actually enhanced in intensity by the underlying melanin-rich black layer.

Do you get blue jays where you live? Did you (like me) always think of blue jays as blue?


More bird posts on this blog:

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Nature Notes

Favorite Posts of 2015

Cardinal on a branch in my backyard, December 2015 - featured image for Favorite Posts 2015
Cardinal on a branch in my backyard, December 2015

This past fall I have gotten busy with work and haven’t had a chance to post much. Now that it is quiet, I am taking the opportunity to post a few of my favorite posts from this past year. If you want to learn ways you might do a year end post of your own, check out: How to Create an End of Year Post – 2015 Version

Sandy Hook

I had a lot of fun visiting Sandy Hook with my daughter and her friend. So much history and scenery!

Sandy Hook: Nature and History

Shakespeare at Rutgers Gardens

I greatly enjoyed watching Shakespeare performed in our local Rutgers Gardens.

Shakespeare at Rutgers Gardens

Montréal Botanical Garden: Signs, Art, and Waterfall Shots

A highlight from our trip to Montréal, Canada was the beautiful botanical garden.

Montréal Botanical Garden: Signs, Art, and Waterfall Shots

Cucumber Seedlings Grow (and Portulaca)

In the spring I watch my cucumber seedlings grow and took photos along the way.

Cucumber Seedlings Grow (and Portulaca)

The Reluctant Videographer: Miss Hannigan

My daughter played the role of Miss Hannigan in our local show of Annie. I was the reluctant videographer.

The Reluctant Videographer: Miss Hannigan

Recipes: Favorites from 2015

I’ve been making Squash Carrot Soup again and again. I also re-posted my Cashew Berry Pudding because happily it is a dessert that my daughter loves (and it’s healthy!).

Backyard Highland Park: Spring!

I am posting this one with the photo of a bird in flight.

Backyard Highland Park: Spring!

Bird Series Posts

In the spring of 2015 I posted about different birds that show up in my backyard: House Finches, Dark-Eyed Junco, Tufted Titmouse, and Cardinal.

Watercolor Portrait of a Young Man

Finally, here’s a watercolor of my eldest son:

Watercolor Portrait of a Young Man

What were your favorite posts? (on your blog, my blog or anyone else’s blog)

Tech note: many of the links on this page are shown with the new embed feature of WordPress 4.4. Have you tried it on your own blog? By default with WordPress 4.4, if you just post a link, it will show as an embed.

Maternal Grandfather in Costume in Yokohama, Japan

Costumes in Yokohama, Japan
My daughter needed some old photos to show in school. This one of three men in Japanese costumes is one of the old family photos I scanned in for her to use. The man on the right is my maternal grandfather – he looks quite youthful. I do not know the other men. I never met this grandfather – he died long before I was born.

I didn’t know anything about Yokohama, Japan, so I looked the city up. It looks quite modern now, but it seems to have quite a bit of history. I found this on

With only a population of 600, the small village Yokohama started to become widely known to its own country and the world, when its port first opened in 1859. Since then, Yokohama has been taking hold its business function as a modern trading city, pursuing export of Japanese silk and tea.

I have written in the past about my maternal grandfather. When you don’t know a relative, it is intriguing to try to learn more about this person; unfortunately, everyone who once knew him is no longer alive. Here is my grandfather in front of a shop. Here he is on a boat. I originally wrote about my maternal grandfather on this post. Finally, here is a post about a visit he made to his hometown, Mariampole. That was the last time he visited – the relatives there were all murdered in World War II.

 • • •

So why do I have time to write a little? Today is a fast day – the 10th of Tevet (Assarah b’Tevet). It commemorates the beginning of the siege of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. On the 9th of Av (in the summer), he destroyed the Temple. This was way back in 588 BCE.

The rabbinate in Israel decided that the 10th of Tevet should be a day to commemorate any loved ones who died in the Holocaust, and we are unaware of their yahrzeits (dates of death). As my relatives from Mariampole fall into this category, I remember them today.