Monday, June 23, 2008

Fear and Loathing in the Bat Cave

Indian porcupines, (wikipedia) Hystrix indica

Today we left at about 6.40 p.m, but we still had a good amount of time since it doesn't start to get dark till after 8 p.m.

Temp just above 24 degrees C (today's range, 17-28 degrees C), humidity 67%, winds north westerly just over 4 kt

Gazelle sightings :) 6 today. Husband found mother with young near eastern end of the north valley dry watercourse, grazing on the flat. Young quite well grown already. Female retreated toward the pines after she noticed us and the young one sproinged after her shortly after, much to the delight of the boys. A short time later I spotted 4 more grazing in the north eastern end of gazelle field/lower slopes, beyond the charred patch all quite well grown.

The boys wanted to explore the bat cave again, naturally. I hoped they'd find the jaw bone of the dog but they didn't see it, but did bring out a scapula and one of the leg bones, (a tibia?). They didn't manage to catch me any isopods, those were not scuttling about today for some reason. They did find upwards of 20 porcupine quills on the floor indicating that the place is or was a den for them. (The nicest one we brought back measured 23.75 cm and was pied ebony and ivory, light at the point of attachment to the porcupine, dark band, lighter band, darker dark band, lighter band again, then dark all the way down to the sharp tip. )

There are two low recesses that retreat back into the hill, one on the far back left and one over on the right side where the dog bones are located. Either could be dens, hard to tell how far back they go.

I'd been telling them repeatedly to watch out for snakes, not to take any chances, not to put their hands into any dark places they couldn't see etcetera. They both had flashlights and could see well ahead of them. There was some excitement when they could hear something slithering beyond the bones. They were keen to go in over and over again , 'just five more minutes, just five more' till Moshe suddenly came out backwards at speed! (Avremi was already out at that time)

According to his most sincere report he'd just encountered a viper -(most likely Vipera palestinae ) ahead of him along the left side passage, thick, spear head shaped head and nicely marked, and he was so shaken by the experience he swore he was never going to enter the bat cave ever again! He did NOT appreciate my 'cool!' and 'awesome!' . I commented that he must have had the same feeling of adrenaline I had when I saw a lion fish in front of me by the coral at Eilat.
'It wasn't just adrenaline, it was adrenaline flavoured with fear, and also flavoured with panic, and also flavoured with 'get the ... out of here as quickly as possible!' I had to laugh, I did relate to the feeling, not to mention this was after I'd been saying 'watch out for snakes' like a gramophone record for the past half hour.
'They're probably in all the caves, you know', 'Don't tell me that, mom!'
It's one thing knowing about something intellectually, it's something else entirely actually meeting it.

Perhaps a (this) viper had killed that dog?

I'd seen similar vipers in the south of England (Vipera berus) but those were relaxing and sunbathing on a rock and just didn't seem to inspire fear when they look so laid back like that.

Meanwhile out in the fresh air husband and I had been enjoying a beautiful swarm of bee-eaters over gazelle field, somewhere between 40 and 50 at a guestimate.. I'd say 'swarm' because of the way they constantly changed places in the flock, moving independently as they hawked, probably keeping up with a similarly moving swarm of flying insects we couldn't see. Stone curlews were vocal and active again and husband spotted a hoopoe.

Syrian woodpeckers, collared doves, greenfinches, laughing doves, house sparrows, hooded crows all active in their regular haunts pretty much as usual today.

The boys also found a tiny preying mantis on a stick, no bigger than my pinky nail, and also a beautiful Lycaenid (blue ) butterfly.

Underwing of Eastern Mazarine blue, Cyaniris antiochena. The back is more vivid blue, pic by Akiva Atwood. See

Looking again it may be Pseudophilotes vicrama astabene (Eastern Baton blue) which is found in the Jerusalem hills as opposed to the one above which is found farther north in the country, though the orange spots seem to match Cyaniris better.

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