Sunday, May 18, 2008

Back to the Quarry

A bloom of Eremostachys laciniata (Desert Spike) growing close to the quarry. There was a whole stand of them with many gorgeous flowers. This is the same yellow job that was growing by the pump station.

That was my original I.D. Now after review I believe it's one of the Verbascum genus, a kind of mullein.
probably V. fruticosum Desert mullein.

Today we set out a little earlier, before 5.30 p.m. in order to check out what was going on at the quarry at the upper end of north valley. We'd noticed a few trucks heading there lately.

Many high altitude clouds in the sky, winds north westerly, about 10 knots, had been westerly earlier. Temp: range today 12-21 degrees C, on our walk: 20-19. Humidity 65% and rising rapidly.

I noticed many gazelle tracks in the dust along the way, all heading east.. probably a small group and within the last few days. We also saw plenty feral dog tracks. Later we noticed two gazelle on the opposite hill slopes, one, I think, adult female grazing right near the top almost at A Ram, another young male about half way down. These were the first we've noticed since Thursday when we saw two bucks up at the top just east of A Ram.

Nice sighting of a little owl taking off and silently heading low across the valley north with something in its talons, just at the approach to the quarry area in an area of dirt and rock banks. The most exciting sightings at the quarry itself were a family of common kestrels AND apparently a family of Tristram's grackles. Clearly the kestrels had been using a small cave entrance way up above the north face of the quarry since they often landed or almost landed there. Two grackles were tentatively picking their way up the rock face, foraging apparently, while another two flew more widely about the area, whistling and then repeatedly returning to the two on the rock face. We can't be 100% sure but there's a fair chance that those on the rock face were their young.

As we watched them, a rock hyrax barked alarm repeatedly from the direction of the cave, though we couldn't see it. Other birds heard and seen in the area were chukar partridge (including a nice covey up on the slopes just north east of the quarry) , great tits, graceful warblers, and of course feral pigeons and house sparrows taking advantage of the nesting opportunities in the old quarry buildings. (The trucks had taken a scrap car and probably other scrap metal, and made the area passable to more trucks but otherwise done little. )

On the way there and back we also heard and saw a nice masked shrike in the acacias by the dry water course, call of a great spotted cuckoo somewhere in the trees on the north slopes, collared doves, turtle doves, greenfinches and Syrian woodpeckers in the pines on the south side, and singing blackbirds. Jackdaws and hooded crows were about and bee-eaters were heard, stone curlews later. An excited hobby was heard from the direction of look-out corner but not seen.

To my delight and astonishment my boys found (the location of )the sunbird nest in the cape honeysuckle. It was right in front of us all along! I'd been looking into the densest part of the honeysuckle assuming it was well hidden but it was not, it was dangling in plain view, a web covered pale dome, right over the stairs leading to our entrance! We'd watched the male and female squeaking about in the honeysuckle earlier but both had been smart enough not to return to the nest while we were there and we had not recognized the mass for what it was. The boys were given strict instructions not to try to reach it or touch it with anything because we wanted every success for the little family developing inside, and both are nature lovers enough to comply.

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