Thursday, February 26, 2009

#380 Quarry visit

Milk thistle foliage- Silybum marianum, taken by Moshe. It really look like it has milk flowing in its veins!

Today we decided to head up the north valley path as far as the quarry to check out what is there at this season.

On the way we saw three gazelle half way up the hillside across the valley, making their way single file along one of their paths eastward and upward to a group of pines growing there. They continued on to the skyline. A little later closer to the quarry we heard a peculiar sound which we first took to be some large bird then soon saw that it was actually a nice adult male gazelle amongst the pines. The noise sounded like something between a honk and the 'grok' call of a hooded crow and definitely seemed to be coming from the buck. He did this four times, intermittently, as he walked along, then he headed off along a trail eastward. I've never heard gazelle make any sound before so this was a first for me!

There were quite a few hyraxes scampering about the limestone shelves across the valley just before the quarry and more, including young ones, in the colony just down from the north bend of valley road.

One goal of the quarry trip was to see if the Tristram's starlings were there and if so, just a pair or a whole family group, or small flock? Well, they weren't around the buildings as they had been last spring. I whistled a few times, when they're close they often respond to that. After some time we were happy to hear their whistles coming from way over the other side of the quarry. We found a trail around the southern edge, being careful not to get too close to the edge of course, and tried to locate them but scanned the cliff faces in vain. I'd seen some movement from a distance but now they were staying out of view and briefly their calls changed quality, as if they'd entered a cave or cavity of some kind. They must be around some corner out of view but from the calls, at least two birds.

Last season it seemed a pair raised a couple of young which makes them the only breeding T. starlings I know of in Jerusalem, unless they're breeding near the Al Aqsa mosque.. possible, I've seen family groups there. They come to visit Jerusalem in flocks regularly, probably arriving from the Rift valley via Wadi Qelt. You can count on seeing them there.

Other birds in the area were chukar partridge which we heard chuckling numerous times, also along the way as well as a group of seven on the approach to the quarry, graceful warblers, house sparrows and feral pigeons. A pair of jackdaws was also flying around the quarry and may breed there. Other jackdaws also about but that pair looked the most serious about nesting. Swifts seen and heard up above, white spectacled bulbuls about. Black redstart? Husband thought so but I didn't get a good view.

Great spotted cuckoo call heard once across the valley along the way. Blackbirds in song.
Eurasian sparrowhawk flew over, Eurasian jays heard a number of times.. also gearing up for breeding and getting more vocal.

Vegetation: hawthorns budding, starting to get green, most of those mentioned recently, cyclamen, spiny broom, red anemone, as well as more yellow orchid Ophrys lutea on the north facing slope as we made our way down a rough hillside trail into the valley.

Thursday 27 Feb- range- 8-14.5 degrees C. Time of walk ~ 4.30 p.m. : 9.2 degrees C, 61% humidity, winds north easterly 3.5 knots, sky almost all clear.

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