Thursday, August 13, 2009

Wadi Qelt Hike

Wadi Qelt, also known as Nahal Porat, is a gorge winding down through the desert from Jerusalem to Jericho, from an altitude of ~500 m above sea level to ~300 metres below. The gorge itself twists and turns and is at least 12 miles long, it's hot, and humid and almost feels like a different climate zone from Jerusalem nearby. We started at 4 p.m. and returned to the car nearly three hours later, the sun was already below the level of the canyon top by then of course.

We saw lots of vegetation we don't see on our patch ( Eyn Porat, the watershed/source) even though it's just downstream from there a couple of miles. I want to post pics of some of the vegetation for you Saturday night when I come back on line but tonight I want to share with you some of the animal life we found.

I took a LOT of pics and this account cannot cover the whole hike adequately so I promise I will share more later! I don't like to post too many pics at once for various reasons.

There were lots of dragonflies. Another I photographed and may share later was a beautiful azure in colour but this one I found near the beginning of the watered section. I have no I.D. on it yet. (It was not at Rittner's site though he did have a nice pic of the azure kind but without ID)

Probably the most common Hymenopteran there were the oriental hornets I have already shared with you in the form of Moshe's pic of the cistern. I took more pics of them at Wadi Qelt but those hornets were dwarfed by two larger species, each over an inch long and with powerful flight and an ominous drone.

However, unlike common wasps they are not interested in buzzing people and actually seem quite shy. While the boys were fishing I sat up the slope a little by a large patch of these lovely purple spike blooms and a range of feathery grasses and waited patiently for these bees to come within range. They must have excellent vision since they were unwilling to settle closer than about ten feet so I had to aim, focus as well as I could and hope for the best. They were quite intent on gathering nectar and/or pollen.

The one with the yellow patch on the back of the thorax is Xylocopa pubescens, a carpenter bee . The other all dark variety with violet tinted wings (which I've jokingly called Ninja Hornets till now) I think may be Xylocopa violacea. A couple of times two hooked up together and buzzed about rather randomly, disconcerting because one of those random turns took them both right in front of my face. Not sure whether they were trying to fight or mate.

On reflection that hole in the broken eucalyptus tree by east valley could have been occupied by one of these.. the 'Darth Vader Mask' I could make out definitely looked like a Hymenopteran face, and reading up on them a little Carpenter bees make such homes- and I've seen 'Ninja hornets' in our neighbourhood occasionally. On our last trip to Wadi Qelt I saw one disappear into the cut stem of a giant reed, the interior is very like bamboo and almost as large and is favoured by these bees, which is why they are so common here. Giant Reed (Arundo donax) is the dominant vegetation of the gorge.

The Jordan and its tributaries (including Nahal Porat, Eyn Geddi, Dan, Hatzbani and others) are quite unusual in that frogs and crabs live together in the same ecosystem. Here Moshe is holding small specimens of each he found today

There were also damselflies, a kind of bee rather larger than a honeybee I unfortunately did not manage to get anywhere close to photographing, a number of butterflies, whites, satyrids and a small one I saw only very briefly but had a barred underwing.

Mammals were not about, apart from other hikers of course, but where we stopped to fish there was a harsh screaming up near the top of the gorge which sounded like a outraged hyrax but I did not manage to find it.

Birds included a number of Tristram's starling, seen in small groups of 5-10 individual, whistling and flying near top of gorge level. There were also white spectacled bulbuls and some graceful warblers but not one single sunbird was noticed or heard, which I found quite surprising. There was a small flock of small brownish grey jobs way up the wall, didn't get a good look but could have been house sparrows. Laughing doves were also about and cooing. Chukar partridges were heard somewhere out of view. Martins were seen occasionally, I didn't get a good view but probably rock martins, Ptyonoprogne fuligula (also noticed on our last visit) We also heard a harsh grokking call somewhere near the top but could not find what made it. It did sound like one of the calls of hooded crows but could also have been a raven. Pity we didn't find it! I also noticed a collared dove near the entrance.

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