Catalan Pyrenees

Sat 29 June - Sat 6 July 2002

Mike Lockwood
Andreu Salvat

A successful trip on the whole, with some rather cloudy weather on the first few of days which prevented us from getting up higher at Coll de Pal, and thereby missing out on the black vanilla orchids and possibly Golden Eagle. The heat on the last couple of days also restricted our activity somewhat.

The outstanding absentee was the Black Woodpecker, with nest-holes and feeding sites galore, but no sound or sighting of a bird. On the other hand, the Lammergeier circling over our heads before lunch on the first day was breathtaking and we had good views of untypical species for such a mountain area - Bee-eater and Woodchat Shrike - and a stunning male Rock Thrush.

All the plants we had expected turned up, with the odd surprise such as the Xatardia in the lay-by on the first day. Most memorable were probably the clumps of Pyrenean lilies in full bloom on the second day on the way up to Clot de l'Orri. Butterflies were abundant whenever the sun shone: Mike's search for two rarities - Mountain Small White and Meleager's Blue were frustrated by a later-than-usual flying season, although the unexpected finds of Bog Fritillary and the debilis subspecies of the Marsh Fritillary were more than ample compensation.

Other groups included a good representation of Odonata by the river Segre and sightings of Chamois and Marmot.

29 June Arrival Barcelona - transfer to Prullans

An uneventful transfer left us in Prullans in a late afternoon storm which kept us indoors until just before dinner. A pre-prandial stroll took us through the village and provided sightings of Rock Sparrow and the sound of a Nightingale singing from an orchard.

30 June Road de Coll de Pal

We started the morning with a more concerted stroll through the village which brought us views of Crag Martin, Rock Sparrow, at least three Black Redstarts singing from the roof-tops, a Cuckoo, a brief view of a skulking Nightingale and a Blackcap. Once out of the village and out along a track heading into the meadows, our attention was mainly drawn by a couple of basking Spanish Purple Hairstreaks, one providing fine views of the upper side, the other of the underside; also stirring in the cloudy morning were a few Iberian Marbled Whites. Further bird sightings included Serin and Nuthatch, as well as a Golden Oriole singing from the nearby woods. Flowerwise, the unusual subspecies viriflora of the broad-leaved helleborine Epipactis helleborine, with a white lip, was growing in a nearby ditch.

Back at the hotel, our bus driver picked us up on time and whisked us off back through the Túnel del Cadí and up the long windy road from the small town of Bagà (where we chose not to visit the park information centre) towards Coll de Pal (2,100m). We stopped first at a lookout point, somewhat shrouded by clouds where nature observation was limited to the observation of a possible Rock Bunting and a group of Mediterranenan plants sheltering on the sunny cliffs: the yellow lavender cotton Santolina chamaecyparissus, Pyrenean germander Teucrium pyrenaicum, a spectacular spurge Euphorbia nicaensis and even a holm oak Quercus ilex or two.

Our main walk of the day started a bit further up the road, up a track which led towards a grassy saddle known as Coll de la Bòfia and down past a disused mine shaft and onto the superb lookout point of Mirador del President. On the rocks on the first part of the walk we saw a couple of superb spikes of Pyrenean Saxifrage Saxifraga longifolia, Paniculate Saxifrage Saxifraga paniculata, many rock-hugging shrubs of Pyrenean Honeysuckle Lonicera pyrenaica in a perfect position for photographers, Pyrenean Vetch Vicia pyrenaica, Alpine Skullcap Scutellaria alpina, Creeping Gypsophila Gypsophila repens, Matted Globularia Globularia repens, all together in a delightful rock garden. Butterflies were few and far between and, without any sun, we were limited to a rather dopey Glanville Fritillary and a Black-veined White.

Things started happening up by the abandoned mine. Firstly, we found the rock walls in the area covered in superb clumps of Rock Stork's-bill Erodium glandulosum, Alyssum cuneifolium, Tufted Catchfly Silene saxifraga and Mountain Tragacanth Astragalus sempervirens. In the same area a group of six Alpine Choughs provided good entertainment, and we also found a couple of Woodlarks, a Dunnock, a Black Redstart and, perhaps best of all, a couple of Citril Finches feeding in the grass just to the left of the track.

Further along the track we came to a large boulder at the base of a scree slope backed up by a very inviting north-facing limestone cliff (where Marion identified at a good 20m the Pyrenean endemic Pyrenean Golden Drop Onosma bubanii). The boulder gave us arm's-length views of Ramonda Ramonda myconi, Pyrenean and Reddish Saxifrages Saxifraga media and Valeriana apula, a fairly complete set of Pyrenean rock-loving endemisms. Mike and Andreu scrambled up the scree slope behind to look for Xatardia scabra, a low umbellifer with a striking appearance with thick rays of very unequal length, and only found in a few limestone mountains in the eastern Pyrenees. However, they also found lots of clumps of Blue Saxifrage Saxifraga caesia, one of which was fortunately near enough to the track to be admired by the group as a whole. Continuing along the track, we soon entered the woods and, just as the clouds cleared, we came to the lookout point which dominates the south face of the Moixeró ridge. Spikes of Pyrenean Saxifrage sprung out of the rock at our feet and just as we were thinking of leaving, a shout went up and our first raptor appeared which was quickly identified as a full adult Lammergeier. This magnificent bird circled low over our heads (although Ted failed to get a good close-up shot of its claws, and could not fit all of the bird into his view-finder) before gently cruising off, leaving us breathless in wonder.

From here we turned round and headed back for lunch, only to find Kenneth and Jenny sitting by the track having seen not one, but two Lammergeiers. At this point two Griffon Vultures also appeared, to complete the picture.

After lunch in a pasture next to the road, we leisurely explored the rocky surroundings which, aided by the odd patch of sun, brought us a few more butterflies, including Adonis, Turquoise and Escher's Blues, Clouded Yellow, Olive Skipper, False Heath Fritillary and Black-veined White. Birdwise, another (almost certainly the same) Lammergeier flew close by along the ridge to the north, and Red-billed Choughs also let themselves be heard. An Ortolan Bunting performed its version of Beethoven's 5th somewhere in the distance. The surrounding pastures held a good collection of calcicole plants such as Mount Cenis Restharrow Ononis cristata, Round-headed Rampion Phyteuma orbiculare, Alpine Aster Aster alpinus, while by the roadside (with no need to climb!), we found two Pyrenean endemic species, namely Alchemilla-leaved Cinquefoil Potentilla alchemilloides and a single plant of the aforementioned Xatardia.

By 4.30 we decided to gradually make our way home, stopping only for a wander down a flowery roadside with many spikes of a yellow variety of snapdragon Anthirrinum majus var striatum and the highly scented Pitch Trefoil Psoralea bituminosa. Here we were also able to get to grips with some more fritillaries: Heath, Provençal and Marbled. Other butterflies included Large Skipper, Moroccan Orange-tip, Large Wall Brown and a single Apollo floating over the roadside vegetation; Barry also recorded Wall Brown and an Esper's Marbled White.

The trip home was quick and no stops were made other than to say hello the driver's wife's cousin's daughter's husband and child. Two Honey Buzzards were spotted circling high and a strange brown-white shape in a field was almost certainly a sub-adult Egyptian Vulture.

1 July Clot de l'Orri

The day dawned fairly overcast as we left the hotel in the coach for the windy road up to the mountain hut/restaurant at Cap del Rec, and then for a short stretch of unmade-up road as far as our drop-off point below the glacial corrie of Clot de l'Orri.

The walk up through the mountain pine forest was fairly gradual, over grassy slopes with just a few steepish sections, but through a forest which has somewhat suffered from a succession of dry years which has left it looking rather blasted. The basic flowers on the way up, not rich as the day before given the acids soils, were Maiden Pink Dianthus deltoides, Wild Pansy Viola tricolor ssp. alpina, Mountain Houseleek Sempervivum montanum, and Campanula scheuzeri, a type of harebell with drooping flower buds.

In the woods we heard Crested Tit and Short-toed Treecreeper calling, but didn't get a decent sighting of a bird until we all saw a male Citril Finch which turned out to be the first of many for the day. The clouds meant that there were few butterflies around, although we did note a female Mazarine Blue, a Piedmont Ringlet, Small Pearl-bordered and Meadow Fritillaries and a Dingy Skipper.

Once up into a larger clearing we were treated to good views of parachuting Tree Pipits, as well as a number of Crossbills and a Rock Bunting. A further clearing provided excellent views of two male Ring Ouzels feeding on the ground, well seen by Andrew through his 'scope. The only other winged creature of note on this final stage of the ascent was another ringlet, this time the small Common Brassy Ringlet. Otherwise, we found here the most spectacular flowers of the day: a perfect clump of Pyrenean lily Lilium pyrenaicum amidst the Alpenrose Rhododendron ferrugineum, a bush that is really abundant in this area.

Dinner was taken on the edge of the Clot, a spectacular corrie with a steep back-wall and a peat bog - once a lake, but now filled in by sediments - in the lower part. Lunching, we could hear the penetrating whistling of the local Marmots. After a wander around the area, seeing all the typical flowers of the habitat such as Common Butterwort Pinguicola vulgaris, Lady's Smock Cardamine pratensis, Starry Saxifrage Saxifraga stellaris, Broad-leaved Marsh Orchid Dactylorrhiza majalis, hundreds of Pyrenean Gentians Gentiana pyrenaica and another Pyrenean endemic species, the Pyrenean Buttercup (with thousands gone over but Jim found the last few in flower in a more damp area) - we concentrated on the Marmots and Sue's telescope provided us with reasonable views of a couple of these woolly beasts, introduced into France in the 1960s and now widespread on the southern side of the Pyrenees. Andreu and Mike also scrambled up to the base of a small rock face and found Hairless Mossy Saxifrage Saxifraga pentadactylites and a cushion of Androsace vandelli.

On the way down we picked up Kenneth and Jennifer and made it back down to the 'bus-stop' in good time and so were able to stop on the way down the hill towards the village of Lles for a break for salad and biscuits (sic) next to a meadow replete with flowers and colours, with many Great Yellow Gentians Gentiana lutea, Globeflowers Trollius europaeus, Bistort Polygonum bistorta, and a small stream where we found Verticillate Lousewort Pedicularis verticilata and Barbara pointed out the differences between the leaves of the Great Yellow Gentian and White False Helleborine Veratrum album (unfortunately not in flower). Best of all, however, were the many Lesser Marbled Fritillaries flying along the edge of the meadow and a couple of the very scarce Bog Fritillaries, the former nectaring on the Wood Scabious Knautia dipsacifolia, the latter on the Bistort. Further downhill still, we walked along a track away from the road, through glorious meadows and waysides with Meadow Clary Salvia pratensis, the enormous Hogweed Heracleum sphondylium and Great Burnet Sanguisorba major. Maurice found three different orchids just twenty metres from the coach: Twayblade Listera ovata, Lesser Butterfly Orchid Platanthera bifolia, and Heath Spotted Orchid. Here we came across our first Red-backed Shrikes, a couple of distant Yellowhammers and a much nearer Quail which, unsurprisingly, failed to show itself. The clouds were keeping most butterflies quiet, although when they did appear, we found Meadow Brown, Silver-studded Blue, Pearly Heath, Essex Skipper, Grayling, Chestnut Heath and Knapweed, Violet and Dark Green Fritillaries, as well as a much photographed Scarce Swallowtail, motionless in a meadow next to the track, discovered by Marion.

On the way back to the coach, Barbara saw a quick Red Fox (not jumping over anything), and we also had good views of a Woodlark and five Griffon Vultures overhead. Once back on the bus, our only stop on the way home was for a group of five Honey Buzzards and a Sparrowhawk soaring above the road.

2 July Segre Valley.

A change of scenery: we headed for the flat alluvial plain of the Segre valley where areas of cereal cultivation provide a vastly different habitat from those we had already met on the two previous days.

Our first stop was at a typical British habitat - the disused gravel pit - lying amidst cereal fields on the south bank of the river Segre. As we got out of the bus, the songs of many Skylarks greeted us, along with a few chirping Rock Sparrows. The gravel pit itself was fairly dry but still rang with the sound of Iberian Pool Frogs. In general, it has little interest for aquatic birds; its charm lies in the colonies of Bee-eaters in its steep walls whose old nests are used by Hoopoes, Sand Martins and Tree and Rock Sparrows. All these species were spotted as we circumnavigated the pit, along with a solitary Little Ringed Plover, three Grey Herons and a single Alpine Swift. Overhead we had the first of the day's many raptors sightings: Honey Buzzard, Short-toed Eagle and Black Kite, as well as a distant pale phase Booted Eagle. Beyond the pit, a Quail called from the fields, Yellow Wagtail, Crow, Raven and Linnet were all spotted, as well as a Spurge Hawk-moth caterpillar.

The fields were dotted with thousands of Cornflowers Centaurea cyanus, and thanks to Jennie we also found the last few Corncockles Agrostemma githago in flower, a find that took us back to the days when agriculture was free of pesticides. Other wayside plants included Great Knapweed Centaurea scabiosa, and two species that caught the attention of Barry and Maurice: Red-hemp nettle Galeopsis angustifolia and Annual Androsace Androsace maxima (the latter sadly long gone over). A few butterflies were on the wing and we recorded Bath White, Mallow, Red-underwing and Essex Skippers and a Lang's Short-tailed Bblue. Back at the bus we had good views of a Crested Lark on a wooden sign.

Our next stop - just 500m down the road - was the village of Sanavastre, probably the only village in the Cerdanya which hasn't been attacked by the all too rapidly advancing plague of Swiss-style chalets, built as second homes. From here we wandered down through the water meadows, their irrigation canals lushly vegetated with Yellow Flag Iris pseudacorus, Reed Canary-grass Phalaris arundinacea and many other tall grasses typical of wetland habitats. Our first Odonata were recorded here: in all we only came across fairly familiar species: Large Red Pyrrhosoma nymphula and Azure Damselflies Coenagrion puella, Broad-bodied Libellula depressa and Four-spotted Chasers L. quadrimaculata and lots of the lovely Beautiful Demoiselle Calopteryx virgo (here southern European ssp. meridionalis with wings clear at the base but then pigmented right to the tip).

In and around the meadows, we saw what was probably the same pair of Black Kites as before and heard many Nightingales, but strangely few Golden Orioles. At the beginning of the section of the track which follows the flood-defence wall of the river Segre (here a nature reserve) we found an Otter scat on a large stone - not by chance, as it's always there! - and got quick views of a Common Sandpiper; along the flowery wayside, the main plants in flower were Tansy Tanacetum vulgare, Musk Mallow Malva moschata, Soapwort Saponaria officinalis and Wild Mignonette Reseda lutea.

Butterfly-wise, the most interesting species were the Amanda Blues - here the caterpillars surely feeding on the abundant upright vetch -, the Marbled Fritillaries basking, as always, on the brambles, Violet Fritillary, a solitary Great Banded Grayling and a number of Ringlets. One butterfly - a distant Camberwell Beauty on the other side of the river, patrolling around a row of willows - almost escaped us, although in the end most of us - except Ted! - who was away as ever chasing the ultimate photograph of the ultimate butterfly - managed to see it through binoculars.

Lunch was taken in a shady nook, near the best preserved alder forest of Cerdanya, filled with Comfrey Symphytium officinale and Meadowsweet Filipendula ulmaria. The irrigation canal, owing to the overnight rain, was too full to cross and so we returned back towards the coach at a very general pace. Records on the way back included a Red-backed Shrike on the other side of the river taking a Red Admiral - rarely are adult butterflies recorded as bird prey items - and birds including Chiffchaff and Stonechat and a very elusive Golden Oriole, heard but not seen.

Once back at the coach, we relaxed on board as we took a detour around the cereal fields near the small aerodrome in the hope of seeing one of local Montagu's Harriers, before disembarking in a small meadow beyond the village of Alp. Also on the wing here were Silver-studded and Amanda Blues, Bright-eyed Ringlet, Small Skipper, Esper's Marbled White, Chestnut Heath, Meadow Fritillary and a rather too-near helicopter working on a power-line. However, the most surprising sighting was that of a Nightjar: Mike disturbed a bird as he entered the meadow, which a number of people then saw later on in the woods. But, as we were leaving, two dappled white eggs were spotted on a pile of dry wood, just where the Nightjar had flown from. Conclusion: a Nightjar's nest.

After dinner we went out for an owl listen: no Scops Owl, but plenty of Midwife Toads in the distance and a couple of bats.

3 July La Molina - Tossa d'Alp

A very complete day in all we did, although some of the birds rather let us down.

We started the morning in a well-preserved pine forest on the route to La Molina where we wandered around for a good couple of hours searching for some sign of a Black Woodpecker. First of all, we had good views from the road of a dark-phase Booted Eagle; as for the woodpecker, in the end the nearest we got was a couple of trees attacked for the beetles that live under the bark. Many passerines were calling from the forest: Short-toed Treecreeper, Crested, Long-tailed and Coal tits were all heard, but frustratingly, we only got good, but brief views of a single Crested Tit. We had also views of Garden Warbler. The outstanding butterfly was a fresh male Southern White Admiral, glinting blue in the sunlight which here feeds on Fly Honeysuckle Lonicera xylosteum, a very rare plant in Britain.

Next stop was the horrendous ski-station of La Molina whose only saving grace is its telecabina, a modern ski lift which deposits you at 2,350m, just 200m below the windy summit of Tossa d'Alp. After an exciting ride up over thousands of Great Yellow Gentians, we then had to rather grind our way on foot up the bare ski slope to the refuge on the summit where cold and hot drinks awaited us as we sat and ate our picnic. After that we wandered around the bare limestone slopes, packed with a great diversity of low clumps of flowers such as White Musky Saxifrage Saxifraga moschata, the dense white hairy Snow Cinquefoil Potentilla nivalis, Alpine Toadflax Linaria alpina, Alpine Fleabane Erigeron alpinus, the endemic Pyrenean Bedstraw Galium pyrenaicum and Spoon-leaved Candytuft Iberis spathulata, only seen by Barry. Otherwise, botanical diversity increased in more grazed areas where we found species such as Garland Flower Daphne cneorum, Pyrenean Lousewort Pedicularis pyrenaica and Alpine Avens Geum montanum.

A group of Chamois, locally called Isards, were grazing on the southern slopes, and Sue's telescope allow us all perfect views of these beautiful animals. Winged fauna was hard to come by: Alpine Chough, Raven, Northern Wheatear and Citril Finch were about the sum total of the birds, while the butterflies consisted of increasing numbers of Small Tortoishell, Lefebvre's Ringlet and Peak White. Further down we had a pleasant surprise in the form of a sudden appearance, in an area carpeted with Alpine, Spring and Pyrenean Gentians, of the small, dark subspecies debilis of the Marsh Fritillary (awarded species level by some authors) whose caterpillars feed on gentians.

In complete contrast, on the way home we stopped by a stream in the woods near La Molina where a single grassy bank, bathed by the afternoon sun, produced False Heath, Pearl-bordered, Small Pearl-bordered, Glanville, Dark Green, Meadow and Queen of Spain fritillaries, Moroccan and 'normal' Orange-tips, Purple-shot, Purple-edged and Sooty coppers and Mazarine Blue. In the woods and damp soils beside the watercourse, we found Straw Foxglove Digitalis lutea, the endemic Mountain Figwort Scrophularia alpestris, a magnificent group of Broad-leaved Marsh Orchid and the first plants of one of the most typical generas of the subalpine forest, the Nodding Wintergreen Pyrola chlorantha.

4 July Víllec

An early morning Golden Oriole search proved successful as all the early birds got good, if a little brief, views of a glorious male in the middle of a nearby poplar.

And on the sixth day came the heat! As it had been threatening all week, we suddenly found ourselves in the full heat of the summer with temperatures over 30ºC. Sue and Andrew decided to go off for a longer walk on their own, whilst the rest of us headed for the mixed woodland of the valley bottom along the Torrent de Bastinest, one of the best preserved streams on the northern side of Cadí Natural Park. The coach dropped us at the top of a track which we were to follow all day back to the coach waiting for us near the village of Martinet.

On such a hot day, it was obvious that the main faunal attraction was going to be the butterflies; and that's how it turned out. We recorded 66 species (a good seven species more than are regularly recorded in Britain), without really going too deeply into all the skippers or running around too much in the heat. The birds were quiet: the main attraction was a number of Bonelli's Warblers singing in the woods at the beginning of the morning, and then until we saw a Dipper on a stream, followed in quick succession by a Raven, Buzzard, Nightingale and a very dead Wryneck in the road, little avian fauna was recorded.

The flora was splendid and very rich in Mediterranean species that were really attractive for British naturalists. An abbreviated list includes three different flax: the blue Beautiful Flax Linum narbonense, White Flax L. suffruticosum and pink Sticky Flax L. viscosum, as well as the composites Cupidone Catananche coerulea and Cone Knapweed Leuzea conifera, both with papery bracts, Crown Vetch Coronilla varia and a magnificent Wild Delphinium Delphinium peregrinum ssp. verdunense. Otherwise, there were thousands of a type of Tansy, Tanacetum corimbosum, easy to distinguish because flowers are in clusters and not solitary, as commented on Barry, Marion and Maurice.

Linked to this great botanical richness, a complete list would not do justice to the sheer numbers of butterflies on the wing throughout the day. At first the hairstreaks caught our eye, with nectaring Blue-spot, Ilex, Sloe and Spanish Purple Hairstreaks seen on thistles. Fritillaries on the wing included Knapweed, Spotted, Dark Green, Violet and False Heath. Perhaps, however, the most entertaining area was the stretch between the small 12th century church of Víllec and the turn-off up towards the sanctuary of Bastanist. We sat and had a refreshing snack in the overgrown cemetery (with the endemics soft snapdragon Antirrhinum molle and Alyssum lapeyrousianum on the surrounding walls) whilst Ted and others photographed the numerous hairstreaks nectaring on the Dwarf Elder.

A little further down the road, at a junction next to a farm the group split unintentionally into two, one group heading off into the irrigated meadows with Andreu to find a new habitat very different to any seen before, with tall forbs such as Great Masterwort Astrantia major, Clustered Bellflower Campanula glomerata, Erect Clematis Clematis recta and a spectacular Martagon Lily Lilium martagon. They also ate some cherries, picked directly off the tree. The other group with Mike, after views of a Lesser Purple Emperor by the bridge, then proceeded to look for the first group, failed totally, and then only met up again on the road later on. Nevertheless, once reunited, just past the bridge we spotted another Lesser Purple Emperor for Ted but, at exactly the same time, also a Large Tortoiseshell which left Ted unsure which way to turn (in the end the Large Tortoiseshell won the day).

Lunch was taken by the river: some crossed over, some tried to cross over and turned back, whilst some actually chose involuntarily to swim across (sic). By this time the heat was building up and the walk down the road after lunch was taken at a very leisurely pace, still accompanied by numerous butterflies, few birds and deliciously shady riverine forest. Eventually we arrived at a bridge, where we regrouped with a Map Butterfly nectaring on the brambles below. In the same place we found a very rare plant in the Pyrenees, Sticky Sage Salvia glutinosa, unfortunately not in flower. A short walk through a delightfully shady forest took us back to the bus where we took quick refreshment before venturing out again to search for the much-heralded Mountain Small White which Mike had found here a year ago. Unfortunately, this exceedingly rare species failed to grace our camera lenses (likewise Meleager's Blue), although a leaking water pipe provided good puddling for literally hundreds of Silver-studded Blues. Mike concluded that although the first week of July last year saw both these aforementioned species on the wing, the absence of Chalkhill Blues - present last year as well in the first week of July - indicated that the butterflies were perhaps somewhat retarded compared to the previous year.

On the way back to Prullans, we stopped for a quick and well-deserved drink in a roadside bar.

5 July Prat del Cadí

On our traditional last day in the Cerdanya, we made what many see as a pilgrimage to one of the most beautiful spots in the Pyrenees: Prat del Cadí, a small pasture lying amidst thick pine forest at the base of the stunningly sheer white cliffs of the Serra de Cadí.

Our idea was to make a bit of an earlier start to combat the heat and be able to spend as much time as possible up high, although, as they say, the best laid plans of mice and Travelling Naturalists, often go awry. In this case, our otherwise very reliable driver arrived 25 minutes late and so we didn't leave Estana and start walking up towards the pasture until getting on for 10.30. We made few stops in the way up, although the red badlands offered an unusual appearance being covered by thousands of flowers of the papery white Paronichia argentea, sometimes looking almost like patches of snow. In this dry habitat we also found abundant the lavender Lanvandula angustifolia ssp. pyrenaica and Italian Catchfly Silene italica, a tall and sticky plant able to grow where no other plant can.

When we entered in the ancient pine forest the path changed heavily, and the typical species of mature habitats appeared - as Lesser and Nodding Wintergreen Pyrola minor and Orthilia secunda, respectively, Nettle-leaved Speedwell Veronica urticifolia and Greater Butterfly Orchid Platanthera chlorantha. The most abundant plants were Mountain Valerian Valeriana montana, and the seed heads of Alpine Pasqueflower Pulsatilla alpina, with very special rounded clusters of hairy fruits.

Once the climb and the main part of the walk was done, we could relax and concentrate a bit more on the forest birds: although at times frustratingly hard to see, we had views of Crested Tit, a Firecrest and then a Goldcrest. Once up at the pasture and well rested, we headed off for a delightful walk through a mature mountain pine forest, with stunning views of the Cadí cliffs above us. Citril Finches and Crossbills flew over, Mike caught a glimpse of a female Bullfinch, Coal Tits were everywhere and Andreu positively identified a Eurasian Treecreeper. In a clearing in a forest in a gully Mountain Clouded Yellows, False Heath Fritillaries and Wood Whites flew, we caught sight of four Chamois on the scree above, and flowers included a Sticky Columbine Aquilegia viscosa and Alpine Butterbur Petasites paradoxus, with large, silky leaves.

Lunch was taken on a superb look-out point over looking the forest and with a Pyrenean Saxifrage in full bloom at our feet. We left our bags at the lunch spot to enter further into the forest into an area full of gargantuan Silver-firs Abies alba, plenty of dead wood and Black Woodpecker holes but no sign of the bird. Barbara had a close encounter with a solitary Chamois and we eventually turned around after reaching a small cliff covered in Ramonda myconi in full flower. On the way back in the same gully as before, Andreu found Yellow Mountain Saxifrage Saxifraga aizoides - our 12th saxifrage for the trip - as well as Pygmy Hawksbeard Crepis pygmea.

Back at the meadow we reluctantly headed down back to the village of Estana, to meet up with 'those who stayed behind' in the small village bar, where we proceeded to compare notes. Nobody had seen the Black Satyr - normally on the wing at this time of year-, although Ted's remarkable camera had managed to capture a Mountain Alcon Blue, thus finding another site for this rare butterfly.

6 July Prullans - Adóvol - Barcelona

As on our first day, the last day provided rain, although not sufficient to dampen out spirits as we took the bus up from the hotel to the next village of Ardòvol and walked back down to Prullans. Our main objective was the Woodchat Shrikes which breed here alongside Red-backed Shrikes at one of their highest Pyrenees stations. And before long we had located a male atop a rose bush, seemingly sharing habitat with the Red-backed Shrike. Two further male Woodchats were located, along with a smart male Cirl Bunting, a group of Woodlarks, a Tree Pipit, Tree Sparrow and, best of all, a pair of Rock Thrushes, barely 30 metres from the road.

Back in Prullans, we drove off towards Barcelona, stopping only for lunch by a river near the town of Bagà (with a White Admiral and Southern White Admiral, for good measure).


Plant List



Athyrium filix-femina 
Asplenium ruta-muraria Wall-rue

Asplenium septentrionale Forked spleenwort

Asplenium trichomanes Maidenhair spleenwort
Asplenium viride Green spleenwort
Blechnum spicant Hard fern
Cryptogramma crispa Parsley fern
Cystopteris fragilis Brittle bladder-fern
Dryopteris filix-mas
Gymnocarpium dryopteris Oak fern
Gymnocarpium robertianum Limestone polypody
Polypodium vulgare Polypody
Polystichum aculeatum Hard shield-fern
Polystichum lonchitis Holly fern
Pteridium aquilinum Bracken


Gentiana acaulis (= Gentiana kochiana) Trumpet gentian
Gentiana alpina Southern gentian
Gentiana cruciata Cross gentian
Gentiana lutea Great yellow gentian
Gentiana pyrenaica Pyrenean gentian
Gentiana verna Spring gentian

Parnassia palustris Grass-of-Parnassus
Ribes alpinum Mountain currant
Saxifraga aizoides Yellow mountain saxifrage
Saxifraga aspera Rough saxifrage
Saxifraga caesia Blue saxifrage
Saxifraga granulata Meadow saxifrage
Saxifraga longifolia Pyrenean saxifrage
Saxifraga media [ssp. media] Reddish saxifrage
Saxifraga moschata White musky saxifrage
Saxifraga oppositifolia Purple saxifrage
Saxifraga paniculata Livelong saxifrage
Saxifraga pentadactylis Hairless mossy saxifrage
Saxifraga pubescens Hairy saxifrage
Saxifraga stellaris ssp. alpigena Starry saxifrage

Iris pseudacorus Yellow flag

Anthericum liliago St Bernard's lily
Asphodelus albus ssp. albus White asphodel
Lilium martagon Martagon lily
Lilium pyrenaicum Pyrenean lily
Ornithogalum umbellatum Star-of-Bethlehem
Polygonatum odoratum Scented Solomon's seal
Veratrum album False white helleborine

Dactylorhiza maculata ssp. maculata Heath spotted orchid
Dactylorhiza majalis ssp. alpestris Broad-leaved marsh orchid
Epipactis helleborine ssp. viridiflora Broad-leaved helleborine
Gymnadenia conopsea Fragrant orchid
Listera ovata Twayblade
Platanthera bifolia Lesser butterfly orchid
Platanthera chlorantha Greater butterfly orchid


Marmot Marmota marmota: at least two at Clot de l'Orri on 1st

Otter Lutra lutra: one spraint alongside river Segre on 2nd

Red Fox Vulpes vulpes: one seen by Barbara on 1st

Chamois Rupicapra rupicapra: four seen by group on Tossa d'Alp on 3rd; a further group seen above Prat del Cadí on 5th.


Grey Heron: three at gravel pit at Sanavastre on 2nd.

European Honey Buzzard: birds seen from coach on the first few days.

Buzzard: one bird seen on 2nd and 4th.

Eurasian Griffon Vulture: two birds on 30th; six on way down from Clot de l'Orri.

Egyptian Vulture: one bird (probably) from coach in meadow on 30th.

Lammergeier: one bird circling low over Mirador del President on 30th (two seen here by Kenneth and Jennifer); one bird later on the same day.

Short-toed Eagle: at least two pairs in and around Sanavastre on 2nd; two individuals on the following day.

Booted Eagle: one distant pale phase on 2nd; one dark phase much closer on 3rd.

Black Kite: one pair in and around Sanavastre on 2nd.

Kestrel: singles seen on most days.

Quail: birds heard on 1st, 2nd and 5th.

Little Ringed Plover: one bird Sanavastre on 2nd.

Common Sandpiper: one bird on river Segre on 2nd.

Rock Dove (Feral Pigeon): birds seen most days in valley bottom.

Wood Pigeon: birds seen on most days.

Eurasian Collared Dove: stable breeding population in Prullans

Cuckoo: singles seen on 30th, 1st, 2nd and 5th.

Tawny Owl: birds heard at night in Prullans.

Nightjar: bird disturbed from nest near Das on 2nd.

Common Swift: seen every day.

Alpine Swift: single bird over gravel pit at Sanavastre on 2nd; group around main Cadí ridge on 5th.

European Bee-eater: breeding colony of approx. 4-6 pairs at Sanavastre on 2nd and 6th.

Hoopoe: pair seen on both visits to Sanavastre (2nd & 6th); also around Prullans on more than one occasion.

Great Spotted Woodpecker: numerous sightings in all types of woodland.

Green Woodpecker: one bird heard first and last day.

Black Woodpecker: nest holes and feeding sites seen on 3rd and 5th.

Wryneck: bird reported calling on 4th and dead bird in road near Martinet on same day.

Sky Lark: numerous birds singing at Sanavastre on 2nd and 6th.

Woodlark: singing birds on 30th, 1st and 3rd; small flock on 6th.

Crested Lark: One bird seen well on 2nd at Sanavastre.

European Sand Martin: approx. 6-8 pairs at Sanavastre on 2nd and 6th.

European Crag Martin: present every day in Prullans.

Barn Swallow: seen every day.

Common House Martin: seen every day.

Yellow Wagtail: bird of the race iberiae seen at Sanavastre on 2nd.

White Wagtail: reported every day.

Grey Wagtail: one bird along stream near Víllec on 4th.

Tree Pipit: one bird singing on 1st on way up to Clot de l'Orri and on morning of 6th.

Red-backed Shrike: reported from all suitable open habitat: 1st, 2nd, 4th, 5th, 6th.

Woodchat Shrike: three males above Prullans on 6th.

White-throated Dipper: one bird along stream near Víllec on 4th.

Hedge Accentor: singles seen on subalpine habitat on 30th and 1st.

Ring Ouzel: three males foraging on way up to Clot de l'Orri on 1st.

Mistle Thrush: seen every day.

Song Thrush: reported on 1st and 3rd.

European Robin: heard singing most days in all types of woodland.

Common Nightingale: seen and heard in Prullans and along river at Sanavastre.

Black Redstart: common in all villages, as well as rocky subalpine habitat.

Northern Wheatear: at least four birds on Tossa d'Alp on 3rd.

Stonechat: reported near Prullans on four other days in total.

Spotted Flycatcher: pair breeding in garden of hotel: single at Prat del Cadí.

Chiffchaff: heard in all pine woodland.

Western Bonelli's Warbler: heard and seen briefly on 4th and 6th.

Blackcap: heard around Prullans and on most days.

Garden Warbler: seen on 2nd, 3rd and 4th.

Firecrest: one bird on 5th around Prat del Cadí.

Goldcrest: one bird on 5th around Prat del Cadí.

Coal Tit: annoyingly ubiquitous.

Crested Tit: seen on 1st, 3rd and 5th.

Great Tit: reported around Prullans.

Blue Tit: reported on 30th and 4th.

Long-tailed Tit: family group near La Molina on 3rd.

Eurasian Nuthatch: heard around Prullans, La Molina and Víllec.

Short-toed Treecreeper: heard on 1st and 3rd in woodland.

Eurasian Treecreeper: Prat del Cadí on 5th.

Eurasian Jay: common.

Magpie: common.

Red-billed Chough: seen and heard on 30th near Mirador del President and on 3rd at Tossa d'Alp.

Alpine Chough: ditto above.

Carrion Crow: common.

Common Raven: pairs reported on 2nd, 3rd, 5th and 6th.

Golden Oriole: heard every day, but best seen on morning of 4th near Prullans.

Spotless Starling: common around Prullans.

Yellowhammer: seen and heard in meadows on 1st and 5th.

Rock Bunting: singles recorded on 3rd, 1st and 4th.

Ortolan Bunting: one bird singing after lunch on 30th.

Cirl Bunting: head on 30th near Prullans; seen on 6th above Prullans.

Common Chaffinch: common.

European Serin: common.

Citril Finch: common in pine woodland on 30th, 1st, 3rd and 5th.

European Greenfinch: common around Prullans.

European Goldfinch: common around Prullans.

Common Linnet: reported on 30th, 2nd and 3rd.

Common Crossbill: common in pine woodland on 30th, 1st, 3rd and 5th.

House Sparrow: common.

Eurasian Tree Sparrow: recorded on 2nd, 4th, 5th and 6th.

Rock Sparrow: noisily common in Prullans.


Iberian Pool Frog Rana perezi: numerous males singing at Sanavastre on 2nd.

Midwife Toad Alytes obstetricans: heard in Prullans whilst listening for Scops Owl.


Swallowtail Papilio machaon: only recorded on 4th and 5th.

Scarce Swallowtail Iphiclides feisthameli: observed on 1st, 2nd , 4th and 5th.

Apollo Parnassius apollo: only observation on road down to Bagà on 30th.

Black-veined White Aporia crategi: common every day.

Large White Pieris brassicae: recorded in all habitats.

Small White Pieris rapae: common

Green-veined White Pieris napi: recorded on 2nd and 4th.

Bath White Pontia daplidice: recorded on 2nd and 4th.

Peak White Pontia callidice: 4+ individuals on Tossa d'Alp.

Orange-tip Anthocharis cardamines: in subalpine woodland on 1st and 3rd.

Moroccan Orange-tip Anthocharis euphenoides: surprisingly widespread, including in woodland at Prat del Cadí at almost 2,000m.

Clouded Yellow Colias crocea: recorded every day but never in great number.

Mountain Clouded Yellow Colias phicomone: 6+ in woodland at Prat del Cadí on 5th.

Berger's Clouded Yellow Colias alfacariensis: singles on 4th and 5th.

Brimstone Goneptryx rhamni: common.

Cleopatra Goneptryx cleopatra: only recorded near Víllec on 4th.

Wood White Leptidea sinapis: common even up to Prat del Cadí.

Spanish Purple Hairstreak Laeosopis roboris: common around Prullans; also near Víllec on 4th.

Sloe Hairstreak Satyrium acaciae: common nectaring on dwarf elder near Víllec on 4th.

Ilex Hairstreak Satyrium ilicis: common nectaring on dwarf elder near Víllec on 4th.

Blue-spot Hairstreak Satyrium spini: common nectaring on dwarf elder near Víllec on 4th.

Small Copper Lycaena phlaeas: individuals on 30th, 2nd, 4th and 5th.

Sooty Copper Lycaena tityrus: female near La Molina on 3rd.

Purple-edged Copper Lycaena hippothoe: observed near La Molina on 3rd.

Purple-shot Copper Lycaena alciphron: observed near La Molina on 3rd.

Scarce Copper Lycaena virgaurae: observed near La Molina on 3rd.

Long-tailed Blue Lampides boeticus: Víllec on the 4th.

Lang's Short-tailed Blue Syntarucus pirithous: only observation near gravel pit at Sanavastre on 2nd.

Short-tailed Blue Everes argiades: Víllec on the 4th.

Provence Short-tailed Blue Everes alcetas: Víllec on the 4th.

Holly Blue Celastrina argiolus: recorded on 2nd and 4th.

Osiris Blue Cupido osiris: one worn individual in meadow near Das on 2nd.

Mountain Alcon Blue Maculinea rebeli: recorded in meadow near Das on 2nd and photographed near Estana on 5th.

Silver-studded Blue Plebejus argus: common.

Idas Blue Plebejus idas: one positive identification in Prat del Cadí on 5th.

Spanish Brown Argus Aricia agestis: recorded on 3rd and 4th.

Mazarine Blue Cyaniris semiargus: one female on way up to Clot de l'Orri on 1st; males on 3rd and 4th.

Escher's Blue Agrodiaetus escheri: recorded on 30th and 4th.

Amanda's Blue Agrodiaetus amanda: along side river Segre on 2nd¸also on 3rd and 4th.

Turquoise Blue Plebicula dorylas: single male after lunch on 30th.

Adonis Blue Lysandra bellargus: males recorded on 30th, 1st and 3rd.

Common Blue Polyommatus icarus: common.

Lesser Purple Emperor Apatura ilia: at least two near Víllec on 4th.

Southern White Admiral Limenitis reducta: fresh male near La Molina on morning of 3rd; also on 4th, 5th and 6th.

White Admiral Limenitis camilla: only recorded near Víllec on 4th and at picnic on 6th.

Camberwell Beauty Nymphalis antiope: one individual on other side of river Segre on 2nd.

Large Tortoiseshell Nymphalis polychloros: near Víllec on 4th and Estana on the 5th.

Peacock Inachis io: recorded on last four days.

Red Admiral Vanessa atalanta: recorded on 2nd and 4th.

Painted Lady Cynthia cardui: recorded everyday from all habitats.

Small Tortoiseshell Aglais urticae: commonest on Tossa d'Alp on 3rd.

Comma Poygonia c-album: recorded most days.

Map Butterfly Araschnia levana: single near Martinet on 5th.

Silver-washed Fritillary Argynnis paphia: near Víllec on 4th and Estana on 5th.

Dark Green Fritillary Mesoacidalia aglaja: recorded most days; the commonest large fritillary.

High Brown Fritillary Fabriciana adippe: only recorded definitely from near Víllec on 4th.

Queen of Spain Fritillary Issoria lathonia: recorded in small numbers on 30th, 3rd and 5th.

Marbled Fritillary Brenthis daphne: nectaring on brambles on 30th, 2nd, 3rd and 4th.

Lesser Marbled Fritillary Brenthis ino: good numbers nectaring below Cap del Rec on 1st.

Bog Fritillary Proclossiana eunomia: two observed with Lesser Marbled Fritillaries on 1st.

Pearl-bordered Fritillary Clossiana euphrosyne: recorded on 3rd and 5th.

Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary Clossiana selene: recorded towards Clot de l'Orri on 1st and with C. euphrosyne on 3rd.

Violet Fritillary Clossiana dia: recorded on 2nd and 4th.

Glanville Fritillary Melitaea cinxia: individuals on 30th, 3rd and 4th.

Knapweed Fritillary Melitaea phoebe: commonest fritillary.

Spotted Fritillary Melitaea didyma: only recorded on 3rd, 4th and 5th.

False Heath Fritillary Melitaea diamina: common at altitude, especially at Prat del Cadí on 5th.

Heath Fritillary Mellicta athalia: probables on 30th, 2nd and 4th.

Meadow Fritillary Mellicta parthenoides: common; recorded on 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th.

Provençal Fritillary Mellicta deione: less common than congeners; only recorded on 30th.

Marsh Fritillary Euphydryas aurinia subsp. debilis: small dark subspecies recorded at altitude on Tossa d'Alp on 3rd.

Southern Marbled White Melanargia lachesis: common except at altitude.

Esper's Marbled White Melanargia russiae: scarce; only recorded on 30th and 2nd.

Woodland Grayling Hipparchia fagi: probably this species, not similar H. alcyone on 4th near Víllec.

Great Banded Grayling Brintesia circe: common in second half of week.

Grayling Hipparchia semele: individuals on 1st and 4th.

de Prunner's Ringlet Erebia triaria: one worn individual on way up to Clot de l'Orri on 1st.

Common Brassy Ringlet Erebia cassioides: common on way up to Clot de l'Orri on 1st.

Lefèbvre's Ringlet Erebia lafebvrei: common on Tossa d'Alp on 3rd.

Bright-eyed Ringlet Erebia oeme: only in meadow near Das on 2nd.

Piedmont Ringlet Erebia meolans: the commonest ringlet by far; recorded on 5 days.

Meadow Brown Maniola jurtina: common.

Ringlet Aphantopus hyperanthus: recorded on 2nd and 4th.

Small Heath Coenonympha pamphilus: common, especially on Tossa d'Alp on 3rd.

Pearly Heath Coenonympha arcania: common.

Chestnut Heath Coenonympha glycerion: recorded on 1st, 2nd and 4th in meadows.

Dusky Heath Coenonympha dorus: not scarce in drier habitats on 4th and 5th.

Speckled Wood Pararge aegeria: common

Wall Brown Lasiommata megera: surprisingly only recorded on 30th.

Large Wall Brown Lasiommata maera: common; recorded on 30th, 2nd, 3rd and 5th.

Olive Skipper Pyrgus serratulae: one of the easiest Pyrgus to recognise, being recorded on the 30th after lunch.

Red-underwing Skipper Spialia sertorius: recorded on 2nd and 4th.

Essex Skipper Thymelicus lineola: the commonest skipper.

Small Skipper Thymelicus sylvestris: recorded on 2nd, 4th and 5th.

Large Skipper Ochlodes venatus: not uncommon on 30th, 2nd, 3rd and 4th.

Dingy Skipper Erynnis tages: only recorded on 1st and 2nd.

Mallow Skipper Carcharodus alceae: only recorded from river Segre near Sanavastre.

Tufted Marbled Skipper Carcharodus flocciferus: one recorded from near Víllec church on 4th.


Spurge hawkmoth Hyles euphorbiae: caterpiller on spurge on 2nd near gravel pit.

Hummingbird hawkmoth Macroglossum stellatarum: common.


Beautiful Demoiselle Calopteryx virgo subsp. meridionalis: river Segre on 2nd.

Large Red Damselfly Pyrrhosoma nymphula: river Segre on 2nd.

Azure Damselfly Coenagrion puella: river Segre on 2nd.

Four-spotted Chaser Libellula quadrimaculata: river Segre on 2nd.

Broad-bodied Chaser Libellula depressa: river Segre on 2nd.

Migrant Hawker Aeschna mixta: one near Prat del Cadí.

© The Travelling Naturalist 2002