Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Orchids and Toads

A pair of Bufo viridis , in amplexus on Moshe's hands, NOT actually mating. He's just in position waiting for her to spawn, fertilization being external. Taken by husband. Great sexual dimorphism, the female being significantly larger and redder in colour.

Today we cut through the pine woods from valley road exploring the ground as we went. We met the path leading to north valley and from there cut across the north part of gazelle field towards the cistern, and then back towards look-out corner where we took a couple of bag fulls of earth from the banks of the watercourse where it emerges onto the field, for an apple-seed growing project Moshe wanted to do. I had noticed the earth right there was soft and rich.

The first find was in the first stretch, under the pines just west of valley road. I was seeing plenty asphodel, Roman squill and red anemones but it was husband who first reached and spotted a small group of orchids, Ophrys lutea (Yellow orchid). I suspect it's a Judean subspecies, apparently there are several in this country, it's quite a bit greener than the more northern version. We'd seen this type last year much lower in the woods, under the pines just west of the clearing by the east valley watercourse. I was not aware they were growing up where we found them or so early in the year.

Yellow orchid, Ophrys Lutea. Pic taken by Moshe today.

Next interesting find to show Moshe was a kestrel Falco tinnunculus busy with its classic hover hunt technique. It was over the mid part of the hillslopes facing into the wind, flying into it in such a way that it stayed in perfect position in the air, its head able to fix on the ground. We saw it go down and then up again a few times, ending in a decisive dive. Then it flew to the top of a pylon where I could see it through binoculars feeding. It grips the food under a talon and bends down its head to tear off pieces, and this movement we could clearly see. Amazing how they can successfully find prey at such a height and catch it so well.

Husband noticed a pair of stone curlews alight on the hill slope and after some searching with binoculars I was lucky enough to find one of them amongst the boulders and burnet. I little farther and we emerged onto gazelle field where we were delighted to see a group of seven gazelle emerge from the pines between us and central trail and head for the cistern. From there they headed up the slope to the east, on the way to east field. I did not see any adult bucks amongst them, all females and well grown young as far as I could make out.

At the cistern Moshe spotted movement in the water and headed down the ladder those lads had left. Turned out to be a pair of green toads Bufo viridis in amplexus. The male clutched her determinedly, in position to fertilize her spawn when she would be ready. Possessive little chap! Even on Moshe's hands he maintained his grip, only letting go briefly at some uncomfortable movement of the hands. As soon as the pair hit the water again he resumed his position.

I was happy to see Malcolmia crenulata, a pretty kind of mustard, blooming in gazelle field again, not far from the cistern. Yet another species not hurt by the fire, and back! A variety of small dandelion types were also blooming, both orange and yellow.

Malcolmia crenulata, a member of the cabbage family, in gazelle field near the cistern.

Jackdaw flock heard from the east, hooded crows about, some blackbird song heard and house sparrows and laughing doves in the garden earlier,

Today's range: 5-7.75 degrees C. Time of walk: (4.40-6 p.m. ) ~7.2 degrees C and falling, humidity: 75% and rising, winds W/WNW, 4-8 knots. Intermittent rain but not on our walk.

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