Wednesday, April 2, 2008

The hidden olive glade

wild gladeolus. A. Atwood CC

Today husband wanted to hike north to check out a mysterious field we could see on the hillside just down from A Ram. We figured it would take us two hours to get out there, have a good look round and get back by dark so we took a bottle of water and headed off about 5 p.m.

The sky was totally clear, weather pleasant ~18 degrees C, winds light, shifting to and fro much of the afternoon, humidity also low, between 30-40% which helped visibility a lot.

We crossed north valley, headed straight up the opposite bank to the first crest and headed toward the little secret valley. There we found a very nice stand of more mature 'bear's breeches' (Acanthus) already putting out the white florets. We also surprised a patched white bitch feral dog, which evidently had a den somewhere in the gully. She burst out of cover, climbed the opposite bank, turned and barked back at us. Her mate, a dhole coloured dog watched us silently from higher up the slope. She was clearly nursing and we didn't want to disturb her pups so we circled around that part of the gully, crossed and made our way up the slope to to the summit. Immediately to the north west was the wall between us and A Ram. Ahead and slightly below was the field that was the object of our quest. We decided to circle to the north and east to get the highest vantage point, and to see what was beyond, between our position and Adam, and then descend to the field.

On our way we surprised the bachelor herd of gazelle and this time counted 8 individuals, three of them headed down and across the field, the rest stayed on highest ground, one group heading off north east. Only the most impressive individual stayed his ground and stared back at us. He was more magnificent than the male that has been seen around the females lately.. perhaps this one is too old to breed? A veritable grandfather of a gazelle, beautifully marked and horned. After regarding us for a while he headed off away.

Up there we finally had lark sightings, looked like crested lark Galerida cristata conveniently perched on top of a boulder at the summit, as well as numerous sightings and calls of black eared wheatears. We heard song of both wheatears and larks as well as a few bee-eaters.

Up at the top was a rough amphitheatre like bay of limestone, tiered white rock with much scrub, garigue type vegetation, all stepping down from the summit. We found and photographed a very nice Gundelia... a thistle like relative of the sunflower with a head a spiky ball of yellow florets, as well as a few arum types that I was quite surprised to find so out in the open.

To the north east we had an awesome view of the rumpled tawny desert hills between Jerusalem and Jericho, and our own valley system continuing down into it. Already by the fourth bend the rock walls were rising significantly each side. This was the beginning of the canyon of Wadi Qelt. Due to the relative clarity of the air we could see the dramatic backdrop of the Jordanian escarpment miles off to the east, unfortunately one of those vistas best visited personally as our photographs would not do the whole panorama justice.

Turning south it was time to head down towards the mysterious field and try to figure out what was grown there. We were none the wiser.. the crop was obvious, dense ranks of an unfamiliar dicotyledonous plant, leaves paired and opposite, leaves much longer than wide, and smooth edged. We took pics to send our botanical acquaintances. Growing in the midst of them we found a gorgeous wild gladeolus.

Just down from the field was a glade, totally hidden from view from gazelle north field because of the hill between. In this glade were upwards of 100 olive trees we had not known existed! It amazes me how much we had to discover just within an hours walk of our home.

From the lowest (eastern) end of the olive glade we merely had to walk round the eastern end of the hill cross country to get back to the north east corner of 'gazelle field' . Along this stretch we surprised several small game bird types.. consulting the guide book husband believes they were quail, Coturnix coturnix which is a possibility.. they are common passage migrants and would occasionally breed in such habitat. My first impression was snipe but they were darn fast and we didn't see the long bill. A pair in the glade itself between the mystery field and the olives, and another one ascending the hill. The olives were also the haunt of collared doves, and we saw a pair of sparrowhawks passing over low. We also heard and glimpsed stone curlews at the east end.

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