Thursday, March 27, 2008

Hidden valley and the bachelor herd

Small wild Iris, the bloom is barely 5,6 cm across

Today for a change we decided to strike out north for the ridge beyond the north valley to see what we could find. Naturally as often happens when walking up hills there's another ridge beyond the ridge that wasn't visible before. We still had plenty light so we pushed on by lichen patched limestone, aromatic scrub, mole rat mounds and a large variety of vegetation, much of it with tiny spines and prickles that worked their way into my shoes, not exactly a new experience. Always best to stick to goat trails or flat limestone when possible. Still, on the way we came upon a few pairs of chukar partridges amongst the rocks as well as (later)a nice pair of hoopoe flying back toward north valley.

Then we made three very nice discoveries pretty much at once. The first was a small group of gazelle, 5 females and immatures followed by a grown adult male heading in the general direction of gazelle valley. (later it seemed they looped around to the north west as we saw an almost identical group heading up that way and running. Husband believes it was the same group but since we lost sight of them for a stretch we can't be 100% sure. )

The second, slightly more glorious in a sense, was a hidden valley I had no idea existed, a whole mini canyon/wadi system between the north ridge and the security wall. I'd plainly underestimated how much land there was up here and was delighted. A lark was singing somewhere but we couldn't find it in the expansive landscape. We also kept our eyes open for stone curlew's nests because I didn't want to step on the eggs.. and also of course, because I wanted to photograph one! We also kept a look-out for venomous snakes. Carpet and common vipers and similar reptiles are very possible up there, and very camouflaged on those rocks.
The known potential for wildlife habitat (in our records) rose by a quantum leap by the discovery of that valley since such systems are lush with vegetation and breeding possibilities. It was so beautiful! The photographs we took really did not do justice to its charms as well as the fact that light was beginning to fade and we had to get back to the central trail at least before dark set in but I just drank in the wild tumbled green landscape and tried to picture how enchanting the course would look right after rain.

The third and most glorious discovery was a bachelor herd.. finally! Way up on the highest ridge to the north right up by the security wall in that direction was a group of at least five (visible) gazelle, ALL males! Two had fully grown horns, the others well grown. Two of the medium sized horns were head butting and definitely a more serious contest than those we saw recently between the immature males with the tiny pointy horns. Still, these were still practice matches, not an earnest 'win the harem' match you'd see between the largest bucks. That apparently had already been settled because we'd just seen the winner down with the females heading west.
Over all our observations we now have confirmed at least 15 individuals comprising 9 females and immatures, 6 males, and there are probably more females and immatures in the area that we couldn't determine as separate without colour marking or ear tagging them in some way.

Another discovery on the north facing slope of north valley was a beautiful miniature iris, first I've noticed this season. Cyclamen are pretty much finished already as are most asphodel.

Today we also noticed sunbirds, white spectacled bulbuls, laughing doves and house sparrows around the buildings, Jackdaws, Hooded crows, jays round and about. Great tits, blackbirds in the woods. Brief burst of song in north valley sounded like a blackcap Sylvia atricapilla but we didn't hear it again and didn't find it.

Yesterday we also noticed swifts, syrian woodpeckers, greenfinches (including male in full song by the bunker), as well as a very nice mallow, and a gorgeous iridescent green beetle with bronze highlights on a thistle head. (now blooming everywhere, milk thistle and others, purple and white) Nearest I can find in my insect ref book is Potosia cuprea , one of the Scarab beetles,

We also noticed quite a few mating burnet moths, bright scarlet with black markings.

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