Wednesday, June 11, 2008

North Valley Walk

Ecballium elaterium, 'Squirting cucumber', Yerukat ha'hamor (hebrew name literally means 'expectoration of the donkey' ) When the fruit pod is ripe it squirts a mucilaginous liquid containing tiny seeds, a quite explosive action for a plant.

Another relatively cool day: range just under 16-22 degrees C.
At about 6.30 p.m. temp ~20.5 degrees C, humidity 70%, , winds W to WSW ~8kt.

We headed up north valley today. Sun was already pretty much behind the hill to our south and not in our eyes.
2 kestrels flew across the valley toward A Ram.

2 gazelle without horns noticed across the valley amongst the pines. Small enough, I judged to be last year's young.

Husband spotted an adult male gazelle sproinging up the hillside to the north, just below A Ram. He bounced till he gained the security road, then headed east along the contour.

A little back and down below a very interesting fox was moving quite quickly in the same direction, parallel. Maybe it had spooked the gazelle, though it would be hardly likely to take on such a larger mammal, still the gazelle would not want to risk a bite. This was not a normal red fox, that was plain, but a patchy looking job, mostly grey but quite variegated well camouflaged against the hillside. The tip of the tail was whitish but not so clean as that of the red. I'm sure this is the same kind we've seen around here before that I had taken for the Ruppell's but after checking out more information we think it's too big for a Ruppell's or a Blanford's. Yoav Perlman is probably the closest, that it's a strange variation/subspecies of Red fox. Vulpes vulpes even though the 'jizz' is so different. It does seem to slink lower and longer. I still wonder if we in fact have a sep. species here though I don't know what else it could be. We've seen typical red foxes in the forest quite a few times though not lately. This patchy job we've seen a few times, once as far south as Look-out corner hunting along the dry water course. It does make sense that this strange variation hunts the hillsides out in the open while the more typical red stays under tree cover since the former is so perfectly marked for the rocky hillsides. The red fox has many variations including a black variety.

Another gazelle without horns then appeared a little further down the slope farther back to the west but heading in the same direction.
Husband wonders if a stand of larger older pines up on the south facing slopes might act as a refuge and home base for the gazelle. We'll have to keep an eye on it, esp. for this year's young.

On approach to the quarry I challenged myself to try to find the Little Owl (Athene noctua) that we'd noticed there on an earlier visit. It was fair to assume we might find it again in the same area, such birds tend to stick to their haunts.
'Hmm, now if I were a little owl, where would I stand?' I searched the east facing boulders and slopes just to the north of the waterway path with patience and optimism and presently found him! There he stood, perched on a boulder. Unlike many owls, Little Owls typically hunt during the day. Presently it flew around the rocky mass on its broad soft wings and took a south facing position. A few minutes later it flew up a little westward and stood up on top of the mass, giving it the broadest field of view.

It was almost sunset, husband was eager to get back before dark. The moon was high but only at half phase so wouldn't give much light. We had a brief look around the quarry. I whistled and we soon found a pair of Tristram's grackles. They flew from the quarry and landed up on the abandoned buildings south of the path, one with black head, a male, the other grey headed, female or juvenile, probably former and his mate. She gave a three tone whistle from time to time and was answered immediately by a pretty much identical whistle from a third bird somewhere in the quarry. Perhaps she was warning the rest of the family humans were here.

Plenty chukar partridge tracks on the ground. Then we saw a covey of them, at least ten, erupt from a hopper shaped section of the quarry building. Good place for them to camp, they'd be safe from foxes up there. They headed up the hillside to the north east, no doubt our talking had made them nervous, or the grackle whistles had tipped them off.

Other stuff around: collared doves, cooing and flight calls; plenty active Eurasian jays, Graceful warblers vocal, blackbirds in song esp. about sunset. Hooded crows, feral pigeons, house sparrows in predictable places.

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