Sunday, May 4, 2008

Fire and Phlomis

Phlomis: Jerusalem Sage. Akiva Atwood

Today temperature ranged from 14-23 degrees C. For much of the day winds were westerly, averaging 8 knots- but for a few hours in the morning they came from the east and dropped. By the time of our walk they were back westerlies, veering somewhat northerly, temp. ~21 degrees C, humidity 27%.

The garden was busy with white spectacled bulbuls and sunbirds.. this time I saw for myself that the sunbirds repeated 'toy squeak' coincided with the passage of a Garfield like cat.

Today local boys were scouring the woods for dead wood for the Lag Be'Omer bonfires. (In another three weeks or so) Those fires will be well tended and supervised but it was clear that some other boys have different ideas .. some mischievous youngsters, not from our immediate neighbourhood, have been setting fires at random here and there for the sheer fun of it, and though police and others have been trying to catch them, so far they have not prevented the burning of a number of patches of ground here and there, wood and hill. It is good that most of the growing season is over and most of the land remains undamaged , and these patches will themselves act as fire brakes for other fires later in the season. Still, the loss of any valuable grazing land is painful to see and it's hard to know how deep the damage goes. It is good that the land does recover from fire surprisingly well even though such wanton destruction is so saddening.

Our first discovery was a number of a newly blooming stands of gorgeous Jerusalem sage, Phlomis, close to the dry watercourse of north valley. The plants are about as tall as I am and the blooms as big as my thumb. Honeybees were visiting them and a number of clouded whites and brown satyrid butterflies were on the wing. We also had nice views of great spotted cuckoos calling to each other between eucalyptus and acacias along the watercourse, a low churring call back and forth, not as grating or shrill as other calls they use.

We headed up the hill on the other side of the valley to cross the low ridge and check out 'hidden valley' just beyond. On the way we passed the 'bat cave' .. a very small cave which at least one bat used/uses as a roost. At the back of the cave I found a patch of the only maidenhair fern (Adantium capillus-veneris or similar) I've noticed in Jerusalem. There's a lot of it at Eyn Geddi in the wadis to the south and I've also seen plenty in the upper tributaries of the Jordan (especially Nahal Dan) but this is the first time I've seen it growing here.. and fittingly, right at the back of a damp cave)

Plenty flowering Ballotia were growing right outside the cave so we took that photo-op, then went on our way. Up in the rocks we found a gorgeous purple thistle type quite unlike the milk thistle in form, (season mostly over for them) and heard quite a few musical notes from black eared wheatears calling in the boulders round about, now and again one would hop out on a rock and give us a view. I watched a nice female individual for a short while. They must do quite well here. Husband also noticed chukar partridge on the hillside and we saw and heard a group of at least 20 bee-eaters fly together over the hill like miniature Chinese kites.

The 'secret valley' enchanted me as it did before.. it was fun clambering up the dry watercourse and picturing the tumble of water on the rocks in the rainy season. Up here pretty much on top of the watershed we were in no danger of flash floods but generally walking up such courses is inadvisable! The rocks were stuffed with cushions of the familiar spiny aromatic labiate scrub that grows everywhere, its berries pretty much at their end now, as well as finished oats, Ballotia and more Phlomis, as well as many black millipedes. Finally we reached the place where a handsome acacia grows.. not saligna but some other I think, perhaps a native this time. This one looks like the acacias that grow down in Eyn Geddi. The ground all around there had been fired and was char for dozens of metres around. Just up the southern bank from that one was a mimosa ( Acacia tortilis) but most of its leaves had turned brown.. it was hard to know if they were simply spent or if the earlier fire had damaged them.

As saddening as the charring may be it is localized and each did not spread far.. and we were delighted to find the Jerusalem sage and maidenhair fern in particular.

A purple Centaurea type thistle up in the boulders on the north ridge

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