TRAVELLING NATURALIST TRIP REPORT
2 to 9 July 2000
Mike Lockwood and Teresa Farino
Firstly we would like to say how lovely it was to have the company of such an enthusiastic and knowledgeable group and we hope that this report brings back some happy memories of your trip to the Catalan Pyrenees. Secondly, there just isn't room here to list everything we saw, so this report limits itself to recording some of the highlights of the tour, rather than giving lists of species seen on each day, which we hope will make for more interesting reading.
The total number of vascular plant species that we encountered during the week came to around 450 - including 60-odd which we had not seen on previous trips to the area - for the most part excluding grasses, sedges and rushes (the 'write-ins' are listed in Appendix 3).
We were all amazed by the sheer numbers of butterflies on the wing, which was also reflected by a high level of diversity. No less than 96 species were recorded: almost twice that of the whole of the United Kingdom! Particular highlights were the Lefèbvre's Ringlets at Tossa d'Alp, the Camberwell Beauty above Viliella, the Map Butterfly at Sanavastre and the Mountain Alcon Blues, although what will remain most in the mind are surely the banks of danewort with their hoards of nectaring fritillaries and hairstreaks (see Appendix 2).
A total of just 73 birds was our tally for the week, but all must agree that quality in this case far outweighed quantity. We had several good views of Lammergeiers and although our biggest disappointment was not encountering the Black Woodpecker, it was a bonus to be able to add such essentially Mediterranean species as Hoopoe, Bee-eater, Stone Curlew and Golden Oriole to the list (see Appendix 1).
We awoke to brilliant sunshine, so immediately after breakfast headed back through the Cadí tunnel to the village of Bagá, where we spent a few minutes looking round the interpretation centre of the Cadí-Moixeró parque natural and also purchased maps, postcards and not a few T-shirts.
Our first stop on the narrow winding road which leads up to the Coll del Pal (2100m) was for a quick wander through pastures and mixed forest. The botanists found that, floristically, this lower level of the Catalan Pyrenees had much in common with southern Britain, although the presence of species such as the bronze-flowered goat's-beard Tragopogon crocifolius, small yellow foxglove Digitalis lutea, large-flowered self-heal Prunella grandiflora and peach-leaved bellflower Campanula persicifolia served to remind us that we were in fact in Spain. Among the more distinctive tree and shrub species here were box Buxus sempervirens, Italian maple Acer opalus and Lusitanian oak Quercus faginea, with an understorey of Genista scorpius and winged broom Chamaespartium sagittale.
Among the many butterflies already on the wing, by far the most eye-catching were the Apollos nectaring on the composites next to the coach, but the area also turned up False Ilex and Blue-spot Hairstreaks, Adonis and Escher's Blues, Spotted and Glanville Fritillaries, Scarce Swallowtail and White Admiral. When we returned to the coach, we found that Ted was missing; it turned out that he was chasing an elusive Large Tortoiseshell through the undergrowth in the hopes of a photo, but while Mike went to look for him we spent the time profitably in an examination of 'Hilary's' Griffon Vultures, cruising over the ridge opposite.
Our next stop was at a mirador with a superb view over the pre-Pyrenean ranges to the south, almost as far as Barcelona. On getting out of the coach, Mike spotted a raptor at eye level which, so he claims, looked just like a Lammergeier, although on closer inspection it turned out to be a Honey Buzzard!
The botanists immediately set to work identifying some of the plants growing on the adjacent cliffs, locating some colourful clumps of lavender cotton Santolina chamaecyparissus, Pyrenean lavender Lavandula angustifolia ssp. pyrenaica and wall germander Teucrium chamaedrys, as well as the related felty germander T. polium, here represented by the yellow subspecies aureum. Here too were Pyrenean flax Linum suffruticosum ssp. salsoloides and the lilac, thistle-like Carduncellus monspelliensium, while Bob spotted a single spike of St Bernard's lily Anthericum liliago growing on top of the cliff.
We continued on up to a small refuge at about 1900m, set amid incredibly diverse sub-alpine pastures and backed by a low limestone cliff, where we encountered many of the typical Pyrenean grassland species which were to be a feature of the whole trip: Pyrenean eryngo Eryngium bourgatii, with its glorious steel-blue, spiny flower bracts, the trailing Pyrenean vetch Vicia pyrenaica, with large, solitary pink-purple flowers, fringed pink Dianthus monspessulanus, whose large, 'frilly' flowers quite overshadowed the smaller, deeper pink blooms of the Pyrenean pink D. pyrenaicus, and alpine gypsophila Gypsophila repens, with delicate pale pink flowers, as well as carpets of the restharrows Ononis striata (yellow) and O. cristata (pink and white), the latter going under the distinctive common name of Mount Cenis restharrow.
Also in the pastures were the white-flowered mountain clover Trifolium montanum, alpine aster Aster alpinus, cypress spurge Euphorbia cyparissias, round-headed rampion Phyteuma orbiculare, clustered bellflower Campanula glomerata and harebell C. rotundifolia (with upwards-pointing flower-buds), while the limestone rock-gardens hosted the curious stemless cotton-thistle Onopordum acaulon, the white-woolly, scented lesser catmint Nepeta nepetella, the yellow-flowered labiate Sideritis hyssopifolia and Pyrenean germander Teucrium pyrenaicum.
Other plants of note here were Pyrenean golden drop Onosma bubanii, the cushion-forming, white-flowered alchemilla-leaved cinquefoil Potentilla alchemilloides, the cream-flowered crested lousewort Pedicularis comosa, beautiful flax Linum narbonense, with large, sky-blue flowers, the star-of-Bethlehem Ornithogalum umbellatum and mountain kidney-vetch Anthyllis montana.
The non-botanists were torn between looking at the many butterflies on and around the limestone scree and pastures and gazing up at the cliffs for passing raptors. The raptor watchers were treated to a 4th- or 5th-year Lammergeier flying low over the cliffs and then a Golden Eagle being harried by a group of Red-billed Choughs. Griffon Vultures cruised by at regular intervals, small groups of Alpine Choughs frequented the crags, and a large female Peregrine Falcon also put in an appearance. Closer to the ground we found Escher's, Eros, Turquoise and Chalkhill blues, as well as Common Brassy and Piedmont Ringlets, Peacocks and Commas.
A rather late lunch was taken near the refuge, after which a few enthusiasts went a little further down the hill, where David found fragrant orchids Gymnadenia conopsea (most of which had seen better days) and spiked speedwell Veronica spicata.
We drove on as far as the Coll del Pal before 'debussing' and heading up the grassy slope as far as the Collada de Comafloriu, from whence we had a superb view over towards the main Cadí ridge in the background, with the impressive cliffs of the Moixeró mountains in the foreground.
During the climb the botanists added a number of new species to the list, including Pyrenean thistle Carduus carlinoides, alpine bistort Polygonum viviparum, distinguished by a spike with whitish flowers in the top half and bulbils below, alpine clover Trifolium alpinum, catsfoot Antennaria dioica, matted globularia Globularia repens, dark stonecrop Sedum atratum and ciliate rock-jasmine Androsace villosa.
Once off the rock outcrops and onto an area of deeper soils on more gentle slopes, we found black vanilla and greater butterfly orchids (Nigritella nigra & Platanthera chlorantha respectively), as well as the sharp-spined mountain tragacanth Astragalus sempervirens ssp. catalaunicus, the umbellifer Endressia pyrenaica and alpine forget-me-not Myosotis alpestris, while a small rock outcrop turned up rock speedwell Veronica fruticans, alpine skullcap Scutellaria alpina and common houseleek Sempervivum tectorum, with leaves only hairy round the edges.
Once at Comafloriu we could hear the odd Water Pipit and a Ring Ouzel gave good, if brief, views, while way over to our left a group of 23 Chamois nonchalantly grazed on the rocky outcrop we planned to walk up to. In the hot sun, half of the group chose to stay on the ridge for the view, whilst the other half walked up to the limestone on the left to poke around for more botanical gems. Here we found some 'gone-over' clumps of purple saxifrage Saxifraga oppositifolia, as well as the related livelong saxifrage S. paniculata, hairy saxifrage
S. pubescens and very rare reddish saxifrage S. media, all in rather better shape. Other additions to our list here were snow cinquefoil Potentilla nivalis, moss campion Silene acaulis, a few rather stunted Pyrenean gentians Gentiana pyrenaica, distinguished by their ten, deep purple petals, and the curious fern known as moonwort Botrychium lunaria.
Our way down was a narrow path off the col, alongside which we came across alpine toadflax Linaria alpina, the seedheads of alpine pasqueflowers Pulsatilla alpina, the columbine Aquilegia hirsutissima (= A. viscosa) and the distinctive Pyrenean endemic umbellifer Xatardia scabra, growing in the screes, with very short, stout and unequally-branched umbels. Eventually we reached the pine forest - here mountain pine Pinus uncinata - where some of us had reasonable views of the Citril Finches that were to become a daily feature of the trip. Small flocks of Crossbills flew across the path, and Crested and Coal Tits called from the shelter of the trees.
Once out of the woods, we rejoined the main path for a short stretch back to the coach and the road. The views to the south were magnificent, but the sun was hot and most people's minds were mainly on getting back to the coach for refreshments rather than every little floristic or faunistic detail. Still, we managed to get good views of Black Redstart, Crossbill and a couple of Glanville Fritillaries, while a solitary limestone boulder turned up our first Pyrenean saxifrages Saxifraga longifolia, ramondas Ramonda myconi and Pyrenean honeysuckle Lonicera pyrenaica, all at photographic level for a change.
Other new plants on the walk back to the coach were some large cushions of rock storksbill Erodium glandulosum, spotted by Morag in an old mining area, as well as round-headed leek Allium sphaerocephalon (protected by law in the UK), the yellow-flowered Pyrenean toadflax Linaria supina and the related striped toadflax L. repens, thrift Armeria maritima ssp. alpina and drifts of the papery-white Paronychia kapela ssp. serpyllifolia on the cliffs.
After listening enviously to Geoff's account of a pair of Golden Orioles the previous morning, we decided to rise with the larks and take a quick stroll around Prullans before breakfast. We walked through the village, first looking at the Crag Martins perched on the apartment opposite the hotel. Rock Sparrows were calling in the background, although it wasn't until we were more or less out of the village that we got good views of a one on a roof. One particularly well-marked male with a very visible yellow breast spot was calling loudly from a roof behind us. Whatever it was saying must have worked, because a female duly appeared and we watched them mate.
A Hoopoe was spotted briefly on the roofs of the village and we could hear Golden Orioles calling from the trees along a stream; a little later on we had quick views of a couple of these lovely birds as they flashed through the tree tops. Also around were Tree Sparrows, White Wagtails and Black Redstarts.
After breakfast we drove down to Martinet and then climbed back up the northern flanks of the Segre valley, through the village of Lles, past the Cap del Rec refuge and along a rough track to the start of our walk up to the delightful 'bog' known as the Clot de l'Orri, located at the foot of an impressive glacial cirque.
As we climbed slowly through the pine forest - here on granite - we saw and heard plenty of Citril Finches and Crossbills, with a clearing producing Tree Pipit, Short-toed Treecreeper (loud call separating it from the Eurasian Treecreeper) and Mistle Thrush. There were far fewer butterflies on the wing than the day before - mainly Mountain, Common Brassy and Piedmont Ringlets - along with good numbers of Small Pearl-Bordered and a few Queen of Spain Fritillaries.
The botanists found the flora here a little less exciting than on the limestone, but quickly added mountain houseleek Sempervivum montanum (basal leaves hairy all over, usually favouring acid soils) to the list, along with the harebell-like Campanula scheuchzeri (distinguished by its drooping flower buds), smooth sheepsbit Jasione laevis,
globe-headed rampion Phyteuma hemisphaericum, maiden pink Dianthus deltoides, rock campion Silene rupestris and lots of the wild pansy Viola tricolor ssp. subalpina.
As we climbed higher, clumps of alpenrose Rhododendron ferrugineum started to appear, as well as other acid-loving ericaceous species such as bearberry Arctostaphylos uva-ursi and ling Calluna vulgaris. Wetter areas hosted pyramidal bugle Ajuga pyramidalis, alpine catchfly Lynchis alpina, bistort Polygonum bistorta and heath spotted orchids Dactylorhiza maculata, while the 'boulder chokes' sheltered a rather different range of plants: alpine rose Rosa pendulina, wood cranesbill Geranium sylvaticum, the pink-flowered composite Adenostyles alliariae, Austrian leopardsbane Doronicum austriacum, the giant umbellifers masterwort Peucedanum ostruthium (white flowers) and Molopospermum peleponnesiacum (yellow flowers), and two species of wolfsbane - Aconitum napellus, with slate-blue flowers, and A. lamarckii, with more elongated, yellow ones. The highlight of the climb, however, was undoubtedly a stunning clump of Pyrenean lilies Lilium pyrenaicum.
Teresa, arriving first at the bog, was surprised to startle an Alpine Marmot foraging right out in the middle, but unfortunately it beat a hasty retreat into the rocks at the back of the cirque before the others caught up. We didn't manage to see them again on this occasion, but their piercing alarm whistles emanated periodically from the rocks throughout the afternoon.
A quick pre-lunch exploration of the bog turned up masses of pristine Pyrenean gentians, marsh marigold Caltha palustris, great burnet Sanguisorba officinalis, starry saxifrage Saxifraga stellaris, hairy stonecrop Sedum villosum, with unusual bright pink flowers, Pyrenean lousewort Pedicularis pyrenaica, large-flowered and common butterworts (Pinguicula grandiflora & P. vulgaris) and alpine bartsia Bartsia alpina, as well as the cotton-grass Eriophorum scheuchzeri, bog whortleberry Vaccinium uliginosum, alpine coltsfoot Homogyne alpina and Pyrenean buttercup Ranunculus pyrenaeus, most of which had finished flowering.
After lunch, we dispersed to investigate the lower slopes of the cirque, heading first for a granite outcrop which holds a population of the rare rough saxifrage Saxifraga aspera, as well as tight pincushions of the saxifrage-like rock-jasmine Androsace vandelii. David and Teresa found alpine knotgrass Polygonum alpinum and the seedheads of spring pasqueflower Pulsatilla vernalis, while higher up, Morag came across one last flower of the yellow subspecies of alpine pasqueflower (apiifolia) which grows on acid soils in the Spanish mountains. A few Griffon Vultures cruised over the back wall of the cirque, while in the pines scattered around the bog we managed more good views of Citril Finch, Crossbill, Black Redstart, Hedge Accentor and Crested Tit.
We headed back to the coach via a rather different route in order to take in the small glacial lake of l'Estany de l'Orri, where David spotted a single spike of lesser wintergreen Pyrola minor, but our proposed circuit of the pool was thwarted by the haphazard jumble of boulders around the margins. Once back at the coach, we paused briefly for a drink at the Cap del Rec refuge and then again by a meadow which harboured a stunning display of great yellow gentians Gentiana lutea, globeflowers Trollius europaeus, spiked Pyrenean rampion Phyteuma spicata (with pale yellow flowers), imperforate St John's-wort Hypericum maculatum and spotted cat's-ear Hypochoeris maculata. We were also treated to a spectacular show of Lesser Marbled Fritillaries nectaring on a stand wood scabious Knautia dipsacifolia here.
A change of transport arrangements saw us taking two 4WD taxis and Teresa's Opel Montery up to the Prat d'Aguiló, an area of subalpine grazing at the foot of the main Cadí ridge. We met our 4WD taxis in Martinet and then drove up past the village of Montellà where we were pleasantly surprised to see couple of Bee-eaters fly up from their watch points in the roadside bushes. We stopped and all had good views of four or five birds which were probably nesting on a sandy bank to the right of the track. Gordon also spotted a Red-backed Shrike here, again in a rose-bush.
A second stop, ostensibly for Mike to show us some white helleborines Cephalanthera damasonium (which were well and truly 'gone over') turned up some fabulous spikes of Pyrenean saxifrage on the cliffs above, unfortunately well out of photographic range, as well as clumps of soft snapdragon Antirrhinum molle on the cliffs nearer at hand. Also new here were cut-leaved germander Teucrium botrys and fly honeysuckle Lonicera xylosteum, which is confined to a single Sussex locality on the chalk in the UK.
While we wandered around, we spotted a couple of raptors circling not too far away over the valley below; first a pale-phased Booted Eagle, probably breeding in the Cadí-Moixeró Park now, given its recent expansion in the area, and then a Honey Buzzard, the latter near enough to see all the pertinent field marks. Butterflies here included lots of Apollos, Dark Green Fritillaries and Berger's Clouded Yellow.
Time was pressing, so we continued on up to the Prat d'Aguiló where, right next to the carpark, we found a stand of martagon lilies Lilium martagon, although they had seen better days and were also situated unhelpfully (from the photographers' point of view) right on the edge of the cliff. We walked up through the pastures, keeping an eye open for Lammergeiers along the ridge, but only Griffons appeared, along with a number of both Chough species, which to-ed and fro-ed above the pasture for the rest of the morning.
The flora was very similar to that of the first day: among the many old friends here were Pyrenean eryngo, Pyrenean germander, sideritis, alpine skullcap, round-headed leek, common houseleek, clustered bellflower, cypress spurge and winged greenweed, although new to us were wild cotoneaster Cotoneaster integerrimus, Pyrenean sneezewort Achillea pyrenaica and mezereon Daphne mezereum, now at the red-berried stage.
We split into two groups, a few of the more stalwart souls walking up part of the path which crosses the main ridge and which was once used by seasonal labourers crossing from Catalunya into France for the harvest (Picasso also used the path on his way to Paris!), the other preferring to grockle around by a small stream where we would later have lunch.
Once we had reached an area of north-facing limestone outcrops, the flora became more interesting, including yellow wood violet Viola biflora, green spleenwort Asplenium viride, brittle bladder-fern Cystopteris fragilis, chamois-cress Hutchinsia alpina, mountain valerian Valeriana montana and the lovely garland flower Daphne cneorum. Here too John came across some gentians, but was unable to locate them again to show Teresa, although they were probably of the spring variety Gentiana verna. Most of the butterflies at this height were Mountain Clouded Yellows, although Brimstones were commoner lower down.
Before lunch we pottered around in the stream, finding a young Pyrenean Brook Salamander, complete with external gills, and clouds of mud-puddling blues, mostly Chalkhill and Mazarine, together with a few Escher's and Common. A Plebejus blue was examined with a hand-lens to determine if it possessed the spine on the tibia of its foreleg - none was in evidence and, given other factors like altitude, ground colour of the hind wing and the narrow black border on the upper wing, it was pronounced an Idas Blue.
We started walking down the track amid a blaze of butterflies, and the photographers had a field day, with Ted and Gordon getting good shots of one of the many Mountain Clouded Yellows that were on the wing. Further down, in the pines, we came across Grayling, Large Ringlet and a very quick Map Butterfly which, alas, disappeared before it could be recorded for posterity on film, while our first and only Cleopatra of the trip flashed by at almost 2000m. New plants during this part of the afternoon included the hawksbeard Crepis conyzifolia, growing on a shady cliff, and cut-leaved self-heal Prunella laciniata and broad-leaved catmint Nepeta latifolia in the rough grassland.
Once reunited with our 4WDs, we stopped lower down where Teresa had spotted a large clump of danewort Sambucus ebulus on the way up (during the last few days she'd come to realise the significance of this species as a nectar-source for butterflies: danewort seems to attract butterflies almost like an estuary attracts waders: anything could turn up!). Here we had one of our best butterfly experiences of the trip so far: Mountain Alcon Blues were flying in a small meadow to one side of the track where there were a number of cross gentians Gentiana cruciata, their food plant, while the danewort was alive with nectaring Marbled, Lesser Marbled, Knapweed and Small Pearl-bordered Fritillaries, False Ilex, Blue-spot and Sloe hairstreaks, Purple-shot Coppers and Amanda's Blues, as well as Pearly and Chestnut Heaths, Black-veined Whites, Peacocks and Iberian Marbled Whites.
We walked a little way down a track into woods where we came across a couple of stunning male Southern White Admirals basking in the sun and showing off the rich blue iridescence of their upperwings. The lush track-side vegetation also turned up the handsome Vicia onobrychioides, meadow clary Salvia pratensis(a UK Red Data Book (RDB) plant), meadow cranesbill Geranium pratense and common valerian Valeriana officinalis, with all leaves pinnate.
Dragging ourselves away, we continued homewards, stopping briefly for the Bee-eaters and Red-backed Shrike again. This time a Common Quail was calling from the nearby fields and we also came across a couple of Spanish Purple Hairstreaks flying around their foodplant: ash Fraxinus excelsior.
Teresa's car, with Ted, Elsie and Gordon, opted to give the Bee-eaters a miss, instead stopping at another patch of danewort close to the village of Montellà. Here we too found Spanish Purple Hairstreaks, but they were completely eclipsed by Teresa's discovery of a Lesser Purple Emperor near a small stream. Unusually for a species which is often seen flying or perched high among the foliage of riverside trees, this individual returned time and again to a patch of grass on the track, much to Ted and Gordon's delight. While they lay in wait with cameras poised, Elsie and Teresa wandered off and found a splendid male Iberian Wall Lizard, as well as a huge stand of cotton thistles Onopordum macracanthum which was also providing a feast for the larger butterflies, mainly Great Banded Graylings and Painted Ladies.
A new experience for almost everybody was a surprisingly smooth ride up in the recently opened telecabina which links the ski resort of La Molina with the 2,536m mountain-top of Tossa d'Alp although, from our vantage point on the ground prior to departure, the cabins seemed to swing around considerably and Rita just couldn't face it.
The telecabina dropped us off at 2,400m, where the scenery, frankly, left a lot to be desired, scarred by ski slopes and often completely devoid of vegetation. We struggled up the remaining 150m in a very stiff 'breeze', and some of us were enormously surprised to spot a small group of Chamois picking its way down a rocky slope right next to the path: these shy bovids usually steer well clear of such disturbed areas. A few Northern Wheatears and Water Pipits were the only birds present along the way, although we did identify our first Lefèbvre's Ringlets: one of Spain's classic high-altitude species.
After a restorative cup of coffee in the bar at the top, we headed out into the gale to absolutely stunning views of half of Catalunya. Mike, Geoff, Jim and Alan spent a fruitless hour or so searching for Lammergeier, Alpine Accentor and Wallcreeper, while Teresa and the botanists undertook a hands-and-knees examination of the limestone outcrops nearby.
Some of the 'alpines' were familiar from previous days, including alpine toadflax, alpine forget-me-not, alpine aster, catsfoot, dark stonecrop, alchemilla-leaved and snow cinquefoils, hairy and reddish saxifrages, chamois-cress, moss campion, matted globularia, yellow wood violet, mountain tragacanth and Mount Cenis restharrow, but others were new to us: mountain avens Dryas octopetala (although Morag had seen this during a solitary foray on the first day), Pyrenean bedstraw Galium pyrenaicum, hoary rockrose Helianthemum canum, yellow milk-vetch Oxytropis campestris, the lovely yellow genipi Artemisia umbelliformis and sheets of the high-altitude thyme Thymus nervosus.
The low cliffs facing towards the northwest turned up some lovely dense-flowered clumps of white musky saxifrage Saxifraga moschata, as well as a few almost 'gone-over' pincushions of Pyrenean whitlow-grass Petrocallis pyrenaica, distinguished by its lilac-pink flowers, the candytuft Iberis sempervirens and delicate clumps of Valeriana apula (= V. globulariifolia). The reddish screes on the level areas nearby were inhabited by a rather different array of plants, including parnassus-leaved buttercup Ranunculus parnassifolius, sadly in seed, although we did find a magnificent clump in full flower on our way back down, spoon-leaved candytuft Iberis spathulata, dwarf sheepsbit Jasione crispa and alpine birdsfoot-trefoil Lotus alpinus.
A number of butterflies were around, although most were hard to track down in the strong wind. There were plenty of Lefèbvre's Ringlets, Peak Whites and Small Tortoiseshells, and Mike found a solitary Glandon Blue on the way back down to the telecabina.
Lunch was taken in a little glade by the side of the road near La Molina, surrounded by butterflies galore, notably Moroccan Orange Tip, Scarce Copper, Amanda's Blue and Dark Green Fritillary. After lunch the group split in two: Mike took one group off to search for the Black Woodpecker, whilst Teresa and company pottered up the lunchtime stream in search of more butterflies.
Mike's group found lots of dead wood hammered to pieces by woodpeckers, three or four large Black Woodpecker nest-holes and plenty of ideal habitat for this elusive species. Despite some periods of serious listening, however, not a squeak (or whatever) was heard, although Mistle Thrush, Crossbill, Citril Finch and Crested Tit provided some alternative entertainment.
Teresa's group, meanwhile, was having better luck, with plenty of photo opportunities arising for Southern White Admiral, Queen of Spain, Pearl-bordered, Small Pearl-bordered and Meadow Fritillaries, Comma, Purple-shot Copper, Spanish Brown Argus and Mazarine and Escher's Blues. Not to be outdone, the botanists added columbine Aquilegia vulgaris, nodding wintergreen Orthilia secunda, water avens Geum rivale, gromwell Lithospermum officinale, mountain current Ribes alpinum and narrow-leaved bittercress Cardamine impatiens to their by now considerable list.
Once reunited, the whole group stopped briefly above the village of Alp for what Mike and Teresa call the 'Mountain Alcon Blue meadow'. This small patch of overgrown grassland has a large population of this butterfly and, naturally, good numbers of its food plant, the cross gentian, liberally laden with eggs. Other butterflies found here included Bright-eyed Ringlet, Esper's Marbled White and Chestnut Heath, as well as Spotted Fritillary, Large Wall Brown, Rock Grayling and Blue-spot Hairstreak.
A pre-breakfast coach trip took us to an abandoned and flooded gravel pit near the village of Sanavastre for a rather different range of birds. Grey Heron and Little Grebe were present in the pit itself, while Sand Martins and Bee-eaters hawked over the water. We all had good views of a Hoopoe perched on the edge of the sandy bank, while Rock Sparrows called from some of the old Bee-eater nest holes up to the left of the track.
We followed the broad track on past the pit into an area of cereal fields where Blue-headed Wagtails were perching on the wooden fence-posts. Among the arable weeds we noticed cornflowers Centaurea cyanea and the seed heads of the corncockles Agrostemma githago which are so rare in Britain today. On a clump of spurge Euphorbia sp., we found the gaudily-coloured caterpillars of the Spurge Hawkmoth - some large and mainly red, others smaller and greener - and it was interesting to see such a diversity of size on the same food plant at the same time.
A little further on we stopped by an area of fallow land, where Mike spotted a Stone Curlew hiding among the 'weeds'. We all got good views of it, although the same can't be said of the Montagu's Harrier in the background: distant views as it quartered the fields towards the houses in the background.
After breakfast we once again headed up to the Cap del Rec refuge above the village of Lles - seeing a couple of Short-toed Eagles en route - this time to walk down through the pine forest and meadows. We left the refuge in glorious sunshine and walked through the pine forest, where botanical highlights included henbane Hyoscyamus niger and a solitary bug orchid Orchis coriophora in a boggy patch which also turned up the willow-herbs Epilobium tetragonum and E. alsinifolium (square-stemmed and chickweed respectively).
This sun-dappled 'ride' also provided ideal habitat for a number of butterflies, notably Scarce, Purple-shot and Purple-edged Coppers - both males and females - which made for some good identification practice. In a stop for biscuits in a clearing we were buzzed by a migrant hawker Aeshna mixta, up in the forest for the summer before heading lower down to breed in the autumn. A little further on, a Large Blue puzzled us briefly - pine forests not being one of the typical habitats for this species - but. there it was.
The path took us along the edge of the pine forest, overlooking the meadows/pastures down to our right. Crossbills called, and a dark-phase Booted Eagle flew over briefly: an unusual sighting at this high altitude. A few new plants were encountered during this part of the walk, including field gentian Gentianella campestris, devil's-bit scabious Succisa pratensis, marsh speedwell Veronica scutellata, mountain sanicle Astrantia major, dyer's greenweed Genista tinctoria and a solitary early marsh orchid Dactylorhiza incarnata, spotted by David.
Butterflies were everywhere, but none attracted more attention than a Camberwell Beauty which Mike located on a forward reconnaissance mission. We all walked quickly around the corner, hoping to see it and were half-disappointed, half-pleased to get (only) a quick view of it as it glided over the path and away into the forest. Despite waiting around for some time, it didn't come back and so we pressed on to lunch.
Lunch in the shade was vital given the heat and we collapsed on the ground for an hour or so, giving us enough time to sleep, photograph or just wander around. Ted came back after lunch radiantly happy at having managed to photograph both the aforementioned Camberwell Beauty and a Large Blue.
After lunch we left the marked path briefly to wander through the meadows down by the stream - although these were a bit too 'chewed' for the botanists' liking - where Gordon reported a Clouded Apollo, our only one for the trip. Other new species for the area were the delicate ragwort Senecio adonidifolius, swallow-wort Vincetoxicum hirundinaria, perennial yellow woundwort Stachys recta and angular Solomon's seal Polygonatum odoratum.
We carried on down a quite steep, loose section of the path, past a good display of cobweb houseleeks Sempervivum arachnoideum, accompanied by the white-flowered, pinnate-leaved rock cinquefoil Potentilla rupestris (protected by law in the UK), and on down into the village of Viliella. By now the heat was really pressing and so some chose to cut the walk a bit short and wait for the coach with Teresa near the village, whilst Mike took the rest on for a couple of kilometres more along a track back to the where the coach was parked. Many more butterflies for Mike's group - Ted's digital card was by now almost full - including a Nettle Tree Butterfly, although unfortunately not everyone saw this peculiar creature - while Teresa's group encountered an Emperor Moth caterpillar crossing the road!
A double day as we again split into two groups to either grockle lower down for butterflies and flowers in the meadows around the village of Estana, or walk from the same village up to the delightful subalpine pasture known as the Prat del Cadí.
Mike's walkers started early and were on the path up from Estana by 9.30am. We proceeded to walk steadily up through the pine forest (Scots pine Pinus sylvestris grading into mountain pines higher up) to try and have plenty of time up in the Black Woodpecker habitat around the Prat. We had various breaks on the way up and, during one, were fortunate enough to look up just as an adult Lammergeier cruised across the sky not too far away, heading for the base of the Cadí ridge.
We kept up a fairly steady pace and arrived at the Prat del Cadí at 11.30am where, after a short rest, we took a narrow path into the woods for an intensive Black Woodpecker hunt. In fact, although we listened and looked in vain both before and after lunch, we heard nothing whatsoever from what is usually a fairly vociferous bird. Crossbills, Crested Tits, Citril Finches, Goldcrests and, on the way back to Prat del Cadí, a Bonelli's Warbler calling - yes - but not the bird we were after. We enjoyed the ancient silver fir Abies alba forest, however, with huge mossy fallen trees providing plenty of material for woodpeckers, coming across numerous trunks which had been attacked by the same.
We got as far as large limestone boulder where we rested; David enjoyed the abundance of flowering ramondas in the area and also found two new wintergreens here - pale green Pyrola chlorantha and one-flowered Moneses uniflora - some attractive fragrant orchids and one solitary alpine pasque-flower still in bloom amidst the hundreds which had gone to seed some weeks previously.
We walked down steadily, rather regretting having to leave such an idyllic spot and slightly rueful at not having even heard the Black Woodpecker. Still, we all agreed that it had been worth the effort and that the walk wasn't quite as hard as Mike and Teresa had made it out to be! Our last halt was a drink in the bar at Estana before driving home in Teresa's 4WD.
Meanwhile, Teresa and her group started out very gently in the village of Estana, where we successfully examined the blackthorn Prunus spinosa for Sloe Hairstreaks, amid hundreds of the black and red forester moths known as Aglaope infausta. Here too we came across False Ilex Hairstreak, Spanish Brown Argus, Black-veined White, Great Banded Grayling, Knapweed Fritillary and Comma, as well as a number of new plants: cupidone Catananche caerulea, sticky flax Linum viscosum, crown vetch Coronilla varia, dropwort Filipendula vulgaris and the lovely red trefoil Trifolium rubens.
As we climbed to a spot that Teresa knew was good for Black Satyr, we started to see more butterflies, including both bright orange males and ashy-coloured females of the Spotted Fritillary, Wood White, Chestnut and Pearly Heaths and Rock Grayling, as well as Apollos galore, a single Swallowtail, Esper's Marbled White, Scarce Copper and numerous blues: Amanda's, Common, Chalkhill, Silver-studded and Adonis.
Eventually the Black Satyrs were duly located, flying, as always, over a denuded area of red, crumbly rock. Teresa managed to catch one, so that all could appreciate the top-side markings, these butterflies having an annoying habit of folding their wings immediately on landing. We climbed just a little higher for lunch, which we ate in full view of the splendid cliffs above the Prat del Cadí, wondering how Mike and his group were faring.
Wandering down to Estana once more, we distantly heard a Wryneck calling from a copse near the village, then drove back down the hill for a stroll through the deciduous forest. An abundance of fly honeysuckle here was no doubt responsible for the dozens of White Admirals which we encountered, along with Escher's Blue and Ilex Hairstreak.
Owing to the late departure time of the flight home, we had time for a couple of hours in the water meadows along the Segre river near the village of Sanavastre. The southern European version of the Beautiful Demoiselle Calopteryx virgo meridionalis was present along the small water channels which are used to flood the fields, with other Odonata encountered including Large Red Damselfly Pyrrhosoma nymphula and Four-spotted Chaser Libellula quadrimaculata.
A Hoopoe was spotted by Sheila in the fields near the village and Common Nightingales sang from the scrub along the river bank. On the river itself a Common Sandpiper flew away upstream and a family of Whinchats chattered from the fence posts in the meadows. Over the other side of the river we could distinguish both Garden Warbler and Blackcap, as well as a Melodious Warbler which refused to show itself.
The tracks here were flanked by a tall-herb community that varied considerably according to the soil water content. The drier, more freely-draining areas were dominated by a colourful array of soapwort Saponaria officinalis, evening primrose Oenothera biennis, woad Isatis tinctoria, wild parsnip Pastinaca sativa, white mullein Verbascum lychnitis and a narrow-leaved ragwort that was identified as Senecio inaequidus. The ditches, however, were choked with common reed Phragmites australis, reed canary-grass Phalaris arundinacea, great reedmace Typha latifolia, yellow flag Iris pseudacorus, purple loosestrife Lythrum salicaria, comfrey Symphytum officinale and common figwort Scrophularia nodosa, all tied together with tangles of bellbine Calystegia sepium.
On the way back to the coach we all had good views of a Lesser Purple Emperor perched high among the leaves of an ash tree, where it was stationary for a few minutes before indulging in its characteristic gliding flight above our heads. And, as a final fling, just as we were arriving back at the village, a patch of danewort in flower attracted our attention - complete with a Spanish purple hairstreak and suddenly a Map Butterfly, one of our main reasons for visiting these water meadows: it was a second generation adult and displayed its attractive underwing pattern very well.
Once back in the coach we said goodbye to Teresa and headed south through the Túnel del Cadí for the last time. We had our last lunch together in a lay-by that also hosted White Admirals and then finished the trip with an uneventful journey back to Barcelona Airport.Teresa Farino and Mike Lockwood; August 2000
Birds seen or heard on a daily basis during the Travelling Naturalist trip to the Catalan Pyrenees; July 2000
Butterflies seen on a daily basis during the Travelling Naturalist trip to the Catalan Pyrenees; July 2000
Total number of species recorded: 96
Vascular plant species added to the master list during the course of the Travelling Naturalist trip to the Catalan Pyrenees; July 2000.