Sunday, April 6, 2008

Cuckoos, 'May' and 'blood'

'May blossom' in April, blossom of the hawthorn, Crataegus in gazelle field. A.Atwood.

'Maccabees' blood' Helichrysum sanguineum, also known as strawflower or Red everlasting.

Bird of the day today was also a cuckoo, but not the same cuckoo we saw yesterday. I wanted to get some photos of the Hawthorn in blossom, (Crataegus- as a side-note, in the British Isles, hawthorn blossom is called 'may' because that's when it usually blooms. In Israel however, at least 20 degrees of latitude south, it's normal for hawthorns to bloom in April)

The hawthorn I had in mind was right next to the largest almond tree and I was in no hurry to approach because there was a very nice great spotted cuckoo Clamator glandarius in plain sight on one of its lower branches. This individual looked like an immature bird, not in full breeding glory but had a rather dusty greyish cast- It was facing us for most of the time till it decided to take off and fly into to the eastern end of the north valley pines where it soon started to call harshly and excitedly. In retrospect I think I was hearing that call yesterday a few times too. Another individual crossed gazelle field,heading into the east valley trees where it started more noise over near look-out corner. Clearly AT LEAST two individuals in the area and did make me wonder if that European cuckoo we saw yesterday might actually have been chased by one of these birds.. they may not tolerate each other's presence. As I said then, I did not get a good view of the pursuing bird.

See last years' spring entries for a photo and the saga of 'Malfoy, Crabbe and Goyle'.. a very nice example of successful brood parasitism of hoodies by these handsome cuckoos. This is another summer visitor, migratory and wintering in Africa.

After photographing the May blossom, I mean, April blossom :) of Crataegus as well as a few gorgeous white scabious like flowers nearby, we headed off to east valley. We photographed some very nice Ainsworthia (trachycarpa?) by the stream bed there, a handsome white umbellifer, members of the carrot family.

We heard bee-eaters and saw a few hawking for flying insects over the eucalyptus grove and the orchard, and heard some stone curlews from the north end of gazelle field as well as a few notes of a black- eared wheatear somewhere to the north.

Hooded crows, the chosen 'prey' of the great spotted cuckoos, were busy everywhere, as were Eurasian jays and collared doves. Blackbirds, graceful warblers and greenfinches were also active. Some swifts hunted and screamed way up over head. No hobbies noted today though husband did see a pair of kestrels by the pumping station earlier in the day, one in pursuit of the other.

We decided to continue along the path south after the bridge near the pumping station, to see if we could find the chukar partridges we could plainly hear. They sounded so close, just down in the stream bed, but they kept to cover and camouflage very well and seemed to be almost chuckling at us as they maintained a fifty yard lead. They headed up the south east facing slope and we followed, watching out for snakes, till we found ourselves clearly amongst the rocks of a huge hyrax colony. Several times rock hyraxes called a warning 'psssst!' like a shrill high whistle, under the boulders and out of view. We'd heard the shrill alarm barks at our approach and now they were keeping 'indoors' and safe, just 'hissing' at us. At a few places on that slope away from the colony, I found the strange Helichrysum sanguinum, known as strawflower, red everlasting or Maccabees' blood, a plant I haven't seen anywhere else in Mir forest so far but this slope.

Finally we hit a trail that led to the other end of our street and decided to call it a day since the light was fading. We noted increasing numbers of black millipedes swarming everywhere including over some blooming comfrey like flowers.

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