Monday, March 31, 2008

Bear's Breeches and Martins

'Bear's Breeches' (A.Atwood. CC)

Temp range today, ~8-16 degrees C, at about 6 p.m. (start of walk) just under 12 degrees, cool WNW breeze blowing nearly 16 kt and 75% humidity. (though wind blowing from SW earlier in the day)

Bird of the Day is a hirundine, a group of at least a dozen martins, relatives of swallows, moving together as a group and hunting flying insects over east valley. Due to their height and the lighting it was hard to see which they were, and of course I was kicking myself that I didn't get more detail on them. Contrast was not high enough for a house martin, though underparts clearly very pale to white, upper parts much darker and I didn't make out a chest band (which would make it sand martin), but could not be certain with the slight silhouette effect, lighting and distance. Hopefully we'll see them again, not the first time I've seen martins in the area. One of the Ptonoprogne martins is a possibility, such as P. fuligula.

Plant of the day, spotted by husband in the saplings field, was a cool, fearsome looking purple spike of curious blooms surrounded by a wide rosette of large spiny thistle like leaves. Looking it up it seems to be Acanthus syriacus, (or similar) also known as 'Bear's breeches'

At the orchard we spotted some interesting catkin type growths and tiny (developing?_ fruits on a couple of the larger trees at the side which we photographed for further I.D. There was also a heavy infestation of galls on many of the leaves. (galls are often caused by tiny wasps that trick the tree into producing small nutritious growths for their larvae) One of my readers, (Honeybee) as well as one of our neighbours, a professional gardener, thinks these trees may be a kind of pistaccio.

We also saw a couple of swifts up with the martins, heard white spectacled bulbuls, laughing doves and sunbird in the garden. Hooded crows and jays around as usual. Around the orchard saw and heard Syrian woodpecker. Greenfinches also about twittering though collared doves quieter today. We're also listening out for turtle doves that should be returning soon, though none heard yet. Enthusiastic graceful warbler calling and some blackbird song.

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