Thursday, April 1, 2010

Wadi Qelt, return of the bee-eaters

Friday morning (2nd April) we headed down to Wadi Qelt/Nahal Porat - my objective: to see how the vegetation differs in spring from that of our previous visits in the summer. The differences were marked.. the lavender/blue sage dominant in summer was not visible at all but instead a variety of other vegetation as I will show below.

An overview: quite literally. Akiva climbed a trail to a higher vantage point to get this shot down the watercourse. That's actually me in the dark skirt and little backpack, just left of the watercourse.

Much work had been done on the area.. to make it both visitor and nature friendly. it is now officially a nature reserve: fishing and other interference with the nature is prohibited. (Our boys reluctantly had to deposit their home made nets). Chemical toilets are now available near the start of the hike and specific areas for barbecues set aside.. campfires now not permitted along the trails for obvious reasons- not so much an issue now but will be in the summer as vegetation dries out. Their favourite swimming pool along the watercourse was mostly filled with gravel, this I am sure for safety reasons since youngsters would jump in it from a rock.. no more! The park authorities no doubt want to prevent accidents. Still, the boys did find some places deep enough to have water fun. The water was very cold but after lying in the midday sun with caps over faces they soon warmed up. Temps were in the upper 80s if not higher.

Below: I got this shot of pairing dragonflies near the beginning of the walk. We saw several pairs of dragonflies flying about in tandem like this. Below , a fritillary which obligingly perched on and by the trail. From what I can make out, referring to Rittner's site, it's a female Knapweed Fritillary, Melitaea phoebe telona.

Numerous dragonflies were seen as well as just one damselfly though I'm sure more were about.. but nowhere near as many of the latter as we saw in summer. I did see a few carpenter bees but they were not about in the numbers we saw in the summer, and oriental hornets were completely absent.

Below: an unfamiliar plant- I do not remember seeing this at all in our summer visits.. and in fact did not see it on this. Akiva found it on his way to the top and captured this exquisite shot.

Below, this delicate bloom I found growing in one place not far from the watercourse itself. I yet have to find an I.D. for both these.

Now we get to the dominant vegetation growing and blooming in the wadi right now. As I mentioned, the lavender/blue sage dominant in summer and familiar from previous visits, was completely absent but several other plants colour the rocky banks. Above, and found just about everywhere, a kind of Viper's bugloss but not the mats we get up in our region. The blooms are larger and the striping on them suggests they are Echium rauwolfii

The second main plant there is a kind of cress, (above) a member of the cabbage family, ranging in colour from lilac to almost white. These, together with a mustard type, another cabbage family representative, make the ubiquitous mosaic shown below. Bugloss close to the ground, cress forming the middle storey and mustard crowning the whole riotous effect.

Other flowers noticed in patches here and there were bright yellow crown daisies and a surprising stand of glorious light purple hollyhocks up on a bank along the trail- wonder how they got there?

As for birds : graceful warblers about and allowing quite close approach, they were busy foraging for their families no doubt. One flittered by me almost like a butterfly but was too fast for me to get a shot. Tristram's starlings were heard, (crag?) martins darted about between the rock faces. We noticed a large raptor hovering over the desert on our approach to the wadi, had a terminal tail band.. tentatively IDd as a honey buzzard.

Back to our neighbourhood:

Thursday 1st April:

Headed up to quarry today. On approach to quarry heard repeated chukar partridge calls.. we saw one on top of a rock on a great pile of rocks north of the trail (where we've seen little owl) ..just standing there and calling harsh short call many times.. another way up the hill, top of first quarry to the south doing same thing. Yet another somewhere on south facing slopes beyond the pines.. seems to me cocks announcing their territories.

As we walked into main quarry area I whistled and within seconds heard a Tristram's starling whistle. There were four birds sticking together in two pairs, flying about the quarry and perching on the rocky ledges opposite.

Then a magnificent sparrowhawk, from size I suspect a hen, flew in circles over us and the quarry.

Other birds about included blackbird, in song as twilight fell, check w Ak

Two gazelle just down from the north ridge.

Saturday 3rd April: The bee-eaters are back! A group of 9 calling and flying over valley road as we descended at about 6.30 p.m. and then, as we passed by look-out corner, we watched a group of 15 or so hunted between the pistacio orchard and the cistern.

Also about: jackdaws, hooded crows, blackbirds, greenfinches, graceful warblers, swifts. Chukars(?) Hyraxes very vocal and active.

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