Saturday, March 27, 2010

Mercury and creatures under rocks.

Rockrose.. Cistus. This is not a member of the rose family at all but of the family Cistaceae. Widely scattered individuals on the north and west slopes of windsurfer hill (Wed)

Below: Moshe found this false black widow (Steatoda paykulliana ) under a large rock. Her legs span about 2 inches and here she guards her pinkish egg pouches. She looks fearsome but is not dangerous to man, though I wouldn't put her bite to the test! In Israel the black widow spider is all black, without any red markings. Steatoda actually hunts them, according to my guide, by Pinchas Amitai.

Moshe seems rather fond of a form of 'Russian roulette'... turning over large stones at arm's length and leaping back just in case of vipers.. though I've yet to see one in the area. Although other creatures found can be venomous they will tend to just sit there and not attack.. as in the case of several scorpions he found and a venomous centipede (by his description) which unfortunately retreated into a hole before we could photograph it. The red mouthparts indicated danger. Most rocks had nothing noticeable underneath, or very small spiders and ants. One, near the tree line, had a small snake, (or perhaps a skink), which also escaped into cover before I could reach it with the camera.

Below, a yellow scorpion: really not sure which species. At first I though Androctonus amoreuxi hebraeus but given the long delicate shape of the pincers it could be the (dangerous) Leiurus quinquestriatus. Quite common and definitely not to be touched.. I was reluctant to examine it closer as it was crouching in aggressive fashion and might jump, and the most delicate pincers are usually found on the most venomous scorpions.

Below, a geometrid moth found in the house. I adjusted the contrast on this one in order to show the patterning more clearly. Its natural colouring is much lighter and more 'washed out'.

Saturday 27 March:

Now the clocks have been changed, which must be borne in mind when giving times for walks, sunrise birds and son on. Now sunset is about 7 p.m. (10.56 a.m. ) and we head out for our afternoon walk at about 6 a.m.

This morning the bulbul started calling shortly after 6 a.m. (remember that was just after 5 a.m.) a few days ago, sunbirds chimed in a little later and laughing doves by half past. Not sure about the warbler. Blackbird also joined the song from farther off. House sparrows were active shortly after 5 a.m. as usual .

Rain on and off for last day or so giving the valley a distinctly damp feel, pools of water in the watercourse but already no actively flowing water. Hyraxes stayed in due to the damp and no luck on gazelle either but plenty birds active.

Hooded crows, Eurasian jays, Syrian woodpecker, Great tits, greenfinches, great spotted cuckoos, graceful warblers all heard, blackbird singing. Stone curlews only heard on our later walk at about 10.30 p.m.

Plants by valley road now include flowering Kickxia, viper's bugloss, veined savory, (the delicate tiny purple flowered Micromeria nervosa) . Also coming up now and all over, wild wheat and barley, goatgrass and an assortment of other grasses. Milk thistle still blooming all over and in some places the super spiny purple Syrian thistle is already out.

Watching and listening out for hobbies, turtle doves and passing storks but none seen or heard today.

Sunday 28th March : dryer than the weekend today so I was not surprised to find an adult hyrax right by the edge of valley road.. I'd spooked it and it descended a couple of metres, and then gazed back at me from atop a rock.
alarm call in pine, sounded like chiffchaff. Great tit alarm down in the pines. Stone curlews very vocal into the night.
Favourite sighting of the day was a black eared wheatear perched , flicking and from time to time calling melodiously atop a rock on a boulder mid northern slopes of windsurfer hill. So the wheatears are back for sure!

Monday 29th March: Bulbul started up just before 6 a.m. this morning, sparrows already up. within about 15 mins could hear the warbler singing.

Tuesday 30th March:
.. north slopes, could see 10 individuals, not sure how many with horns.. could have been some involvement of bachelor herd.
In east field another four individuals, two and two, unlikely any of the northern group had reached there. Blackbird song. wheatear call on east field.

Wednesday 31st March:
Early morning: house sparrows, orphean warbler, bulbul.

Forest and hill: laughing doves, stone curlews , (one heard wheeling and calling close over the forest south of the bridge at twilight) , call of Little Owl , we haven't heard that one for a while but, based on direction, could be the same owl that uses the bluff on the higher valley road.

We ascended windsurfer hill on the cistern side (northern), finding the Cistus and the various scorpions, spiders and such along the way.

Wheatears seen and heard calling on the hillside, a couple flying together around us. One gazelle, below us, disappeared under forest cover.. Akiva said had short horns.

Wednesday's pics are up above.

Task of the day, astronomical- a change from flora and fauna- to see mercury. This week mercury is relatively high above the western horizon and visible just after sunset so we decided to climb windsurfer hill to get the best view. Watching the golden western sky waiting for Venus to show can be like watching a kettle boil! Venus was our reference point since we knew mercury would be at about '4.30 p.m'. in terms of clock position from Venus (not time.. it was already after 7 p.m. in terms of time) and roughly between Venus's elevation and the horizon.

Soon, finally, Venus began to shine out of the darkening azure sky and we could start searching for mercury. Following Akiva's directions with binoculars I was able to locate it quite easily, a steady tiny shining pearl, clear and definite in the cloudless sky, less bright than Venus but still shining clear. We passed the binoculars all around so that Avremi, Moshe and Akiva could get a good view. I really could not see it with the naked eye neither could Avremi, Akiva barely could and Moshe said he could just make it out, this perhaps because of ambient light from the city. I was satisfied though, I'd had a good view of a planet that does not often give such a good opportunity and delighted that conditions were so perfect.

Then we had to descend the hill quickly in the gathering twilight as the still full moon had not yet risen and light was fading fast. We made our way down to the saddle water course trail and from there easily towards the bridge and pumphouse- surprisingly easy as our eyes adjusted and the whiteness of the limestone certainly helped. Soon mercury was barely peeping between tree branches, appearing increasingly bright as the sky darkened.

It had been a good day, a nice work out for all of us, including our little cairn, and satisfying in terms of finds.

No comments: