Monday, May 25, 2009

Hillside discoveries

While many plants are turning to dry stalks the heat adapted horehound Ballota undulata is cropping up in little stands all over the western face of windsurfer hill, here, and many other places amongst the thorny burnet, centaury, wild oats and thyme. To the naked eye the flowers look white but look closer and you can see dotted streaks of violet. As you see, the flowers grow in the middle of a green ruff like structure and these in turn are arranged in a series of 'balls' up the spike.

An intuitive gamble paid off! It's getting harder and harder finding plants blooming now so late in spring especially those we have not yet photographed but this just encourages us to be more alert. Today I wanted to check the watercourse down from the 'saddle' between windsurfer hill and Pisgat Zev 'villa' hill, the one with the ''dry jacuzzi" where we photographed the boys some time back. Watercourses are always a little richer in vegetation than the surrounding hillside so I was optimistic. I still would have walked right past the discovery of the day if I had not been on the watch out for litter. As I bagged a plastic bottle on the other side of the trail from the watercourse and just a little way 'upstream' from the 'Jacuzzi'I found them! Scores of spikes of these gorgeously coloured flowers amongst and around the thorny burnet and protected by boulders. Each spike stood barely a foot tall from the ground and though that patch was doing very well I have not seen any like this anywhere else in the area. Here- detail of two flowers and below, the top half of the spike. Not sure what they are yet, they slightly resemble Stachys but not quite like any of them esp. with the four stamens held aloft like that, quite an unusual form.

While trying to I.D. these on the site I use I did manage to retroactively I.D. some other species we've seen but ran out of time to view more species.

That umbellifer like plant growing on the east side of gazelle field with the heart shape pods turns out to be Heart podded Hoary Cress Cardaria drabba and is indeed a member of the cabbage family as I'd suspected from the detail form.
Three of the local grasses are now clarified for me a little more.. Two spiked beardgrass Andropogon dystachyos is common in many places, the short spiky grass which I photographed some time back turns out to be Goatgrass Aegilops (biuncialis?) as well as a number of grasses which look like various species of Bromus.

The rotten orange scented umbellifer type seems to be Achillea biebersteini yellow milfoil, one of the Asteraceae. Finally, the blue five petalled job with white centre and stamens that was, growing near the owl bluffs on the upper valley road, matches Anchusa azurea Italian bugloss.

So, as usually happens I I.D. a bunch of flowers in retrospect but don't manage to find the one I'm looking for! Happy at any rate to sort out the others. I'm sure I'll find the one above in good time.

Gazelle: There was at least one, maybe more up windsurfer hill playing hide and seek with us, sproinging out of view, though if there were more, they were only letting us see one at a time! No obvious adult males.
Hyrax: Plenty active along and by valley road, scampering everywhere. Looks like they are having a good season!

Black eared wheatears: Several seen on and around a huge boulder on the northern slopes of windsurfer hill. The male took position a number of times at its top, posturing, though he would sometimes fly to another lower boulder a few metres away. From the extent of black on the head I'd guess he was a first year male. Two pale brownish wheatears nearby lower down on the rock, females or well grown young but no definite begging behaviour seen.

Swifts: calls heard, especially at dawn

Blackbirds: song heard in the woods
Chukar partridges: Foraging on the hillside, now and again we'd hear one or see one take nervous flight around or down the hill.
Collared doves: Cooing in the pines as usual. Didn't notice turtle doves today.
Feral pigeons: About tops of buildings as usual.
Jackdaws: Calls heard,
Hooded crows, on the wing here and there, foraging on the hillsides.
Stone curlews: heard in the valley last night and also this evening.
Syrian woodpeckers: Calls. We may have heard some other of the usual birds, (such as jays, greenfinches, graceful warblers) just don't remember. We need to make notes in the field!
Kestrel or some other falcon, was hard to make out, hunting briefly right over the top of windsurfer hill.
6.45 p.m. Tristram's grackle again flew over the valley straight from neighbourhood to windsurfer hill, whistling several times as it went. Probably is the same one each time given such regular behaviour.

House sparrows: chirping in gardens from very early, about buildings. Laughing doves: cooing in gardens, Sunbirds: calls heard in the garden. White spectacled Bulbuls: Very vocal in the Bauhinia

Weather: 14-24 degrees C, time of walk: (~6.15 p.m. ) 20 degrees C, 67 % westerlies 7-10 knots

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