TRAVELLING NATURALIST TRIP REPORT
Saturday 26 June - Saturday 3 July 2004
A successful trip on the whole, with some rather hot weather which sent us scurrying back to the hotel at midday to have lunch, and thence to return to the fray in the relative cool of the evening. The highlights were probably the Lammergeier at Col de Pal, the mud-puddling butterflies and the flowers on the top of Tossa d'Alp. The wet late spring certainly meant that certain flowers were in surprisingly good shape, for example, the Mountain Avens on Tossa d'Alp. On the other hand, the butterfly season was late and we missed the spectacle of all the hairstreaks at Víllec; some compensation was the Chequered blues and Duke of Burgundy Fritillary, which we don't normally see at this time of the year.
JUNE 26 BARCELONA AIRPORT - PRULLANS
An uneventful ride from the airport left us in Prullans in a late afternoon and after a quick briefing we went out for a short pre-dinner stroll through the village. Crag Martins and Black Redstarts were soon spotted and a Nightingale appeared on a fence to someone's garden just below our little street. Collared Doves were very much in evidence on the rooftops, and we stopped to watch a Spotted Flycatcher take food into a very visible nest under the eves of a house in the main street. On the way back, we had views of the Rock Sparrows that seem to like sitting on TV aerials to wheeze out their nasal call.
JUNE 27 PRULLANS - COLL DE PAL
We started the morning with a more concerted stroll through the village which brought us views of Grey Wagtail, Crag Martin, Rock Sparrow and Black Redstart before leaving the village. Once out of the village and out along a track heading into the meadows, our attention was first drawn by a Nuthatch on the track, and then by the sound of a Great Spotted Woodpecker (which we later saw on a telegraph pole) and Golden Orioles in the tall trees along a small stream ahead of us. Whilst we stood and waited for the Golden Orioles to appear, we saw Blackcap, Mistle Thrush, Cirl Bunting, Cuckoo and Hoopoe, and heard a distant Wryneck and Quail. Up in the fields behind us in a dead tree we all had good views of a pair of Red-backed Shrikes and a couple of Red Squirrels
Back at the hotel, we headed 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, for a leg stretch and a first butterfly moment: Scarce Swallowtail, Moroccan Orange Tip, Wall Brown, Painted Lady, Piedmont Ringlet, Black-veined White and, best of all, our first Apollo, flopping somewhat clumsily along the road. Flora in this sunny, dry and almost Mediterranean place (although we were at 1500 m high) included Pyrenean Flax Linum suffruticosum, Lavender Cotton Santolina chamaecyparissus and Blue Aphyllanthes Aphyllanthes monspelliensis, with its sweet edible blue flowers.
Unfortunately, Lin took a tumble over a roadside barrier, which came off rather better than Lin didÖÖÖÖÖÖÖ.
The first of our two walks of the day started a bit further up the road, at Coll de Pal, fully 2,100 m above sea-level and where the road runs out. We walked up over the grassy pastures, that were at their best since spring had been cold and delayed the flowering season; furthermore, the vast herds of sheep that graze the area had yet to appear. This meant that thousands of gentians were flowering in front of our eyes, with the big flowers of Trumpet Gentian Gentiana alpina, the endemic Pyrenean Gentian G. pyrenaica and Spring Gentian G. vernalis, all more or less in equal numbers. We also found rather fewer Elder-flowered Orchids Orchis sambucina and Black Vanilla Orchid Nigritella nigra, and beautiful stands of One-flowered Fleabane Erigeron uniflorus ssp. aragonensis, although Jim found one with two flowers!!
Butterfly-wise, the day hadn't really warmed up and, birds included Wheatear, Water Pipit and Skylark amongst the passerines, and Griffon Vultures regularly overhead as our first large raptors.
Once up at Comafloriu, with its wonderful views northwest to the Moixeró ridge, we rested before heading up to the rocky outcrop to the south, where we spotted some of the day's first butterflies: Small Blue, Clouded Yellow, Large Whites heading north on migration, Small Heath, Queen of Spain Fritillary, Large Wall Brown and a number of Peak Whites, rushing around in the sun and refusing to settle. We had fun with a large Monochamus sutor, which for those who weren't there, is a large long-horned beetle that feeds on the wood of Mountain Pines and Silver Firs. The flora of this area was composed of plants well-adapted to the special environmental conditions of high limestone outcrops, with a couple of clumps of Reddish Saxifrage Saxifraga media, Ciliate Rock-jasmine Androsace villosa and Matted Globularia Globularia repens. From the rocky outcrop, we made our way back to the vans over the grassy slopes, picking up Lin and Martin on the way and catching sight of a single chamois in the bargain.
On the way down to our lunch spot Mike's van had a quick view of a Rock Thrush and we vowed to return to look for it after having eaten. We ate amongst the scattered pines, with Dunnocks, Citril Finches and Woodlarks around us and Ö a Lammergeier overhead. Coll de Pal rarely fails to provide a decent Lammergeier. This time we were treated to the sight of an almost full adult bird cruising low over the ridge just beyond the road; it turned around, came back and then disappeared.
The excitement over and the interrupted digestion restored, some of us piled into one van to return to the Rock Thrush spot. After much debate over the exact spot, the male was spotted on one of the ski fences further back up the road, prompting comments of 'I told you so'. We got closer, although it flew before we managed to quite get it at arm's length. Meanwhile, the other members of the group calmly enjoyed the great floral richness of subalpine limestone pastures around us, kept that way by shepherds who periodically burn off excess vegetation. Joy discovered the last Pyrenean Fritillary Fritillaria pyrenaica of the season, and we also found Mount Cenis Restharrow Ononis cristata, Burnt Orchid Orchis ustulata, and the endemic Pyrenean Golden-drop Onosma bubanii, amongst others.
After lunch we headed just 200 m down the road to pick up a track into the woods and on towards a disused mineshaft. On the limestone walls of this area we discovered some fine new plants to add to our list, such as the endemic Pyrenean Saxifrage Saxifraga longifolia, unfortunately not yet in flower, Ramonda Ramonda myconi, Dwarf and Alpine buckthorn Rhamnus pumilus and R. alpina and another endemic jewel, the delicately pink and red-stained Erodium glandulosum at the entrance to the mine shaft itself.
Up by the mine a group of Alpine Choughs appeared with a Honey Buzzard over the ridge. A Golden-ring Dragonfly was also spotted, although perhaps the Golden Eagle over the ridge up to our right was the best spot of the walk. Butterfly-wise we saw a late Orange Tip, Common Blue and Queen of Spain, Glanville and Pearl-bordered Fritillaries
By about 4.30 we decided to gradually make our way home, stopping only for a quick stop by a spring where we had quick views of a late Duke of Burgunday Fritillary, many Essex Skippers and a Wood White.
JUNE 28 GRÈIXER MERANGES RIVER SEGRE AT MARTINET
The day dawned bright as we headed off for a site which Mike assured us was excellent for raptors, having seen 10 species in a couple of hours with another group just 2 weeks before.
We parked just outside the small village of Grèixer and headed off up the hillside, expectant and with all 4 eyes strained skyward. However, our first sightings of interest were butterflies High Brown Fritillary, Scarce Swallowtail, Black-veined White, Queen of Spain and Graylings all around the track as we left the vans. Further up, other species Essex and Small Skippers, Small Tortoiseshell, Peacock, Small Copper, Swallowtail, Pearly Heath, Silver-spotted Skipper and Brown Argus came under attentive gazes. Despite the heat, a fair few birds were singing, including Whitethroat, Nightingale, Ortolan Bunting and a Quail. A male Rock Thrush flashed by to a rocky outcrop above a gulley, and we spotted another male way below us on a pylon. But still no raptors.
As we got higher, we came across a small gulley with a little trickle of water in it. Andreu investigated and found a small population of Bug Orchid Orchis coriophora subsp. coriophora, a rare plant in the Pyrenees that brought photographers such as Martin into action. Also here we add Fragrant Orchid Gymnadenia conopsea to our list.
Further up we entered into a slightly more shady area of trees which took us towards a nice shady gully, where all of a sudden we started to see an incredible variety of butterflies. First a large fritillary flew up the track, which Mike identified as either a Silver-washed f. valezina or a Cardinal, and then we began to more species such as False Heath and Marbled Fritillaries and Moroccan Orange Tip by the wayside. And then, just at a bend in the track we spotted the previous large fritillary on the ground and Mike was pleased to announce it as a Cardinal, his first for the area. All got good photographs, but as we rounded the corner we found even more fritillaries on the track: this time High Brown, Dark Green, False Heath and Niobe Fritillaries all together on a damp patch. The Niobe took a bit of identification as Tolman & Lewington talk of a variety of the High Brown in the Pyrenees without the bright white spots on the underside of the hindwing that normally separate it. Subsequent study of photographs seem to show the black-lined veins, the faint green flush and small spot on the under hindwing that, together, identify the Niobe Fritillary.
Looking for plants in the dry siliceous rocks of the area, Stan, Carol and Andreu discovered forked spleenwort Asplenium septentrionale and the brilliantly pink Carthusian Pink Dianthus carthusianorum, although perhaps the most attractive flowers were the colourful stands of Poppies Papaver rhoeas and Cornflowers Centaurea cyanus in the fields, a sure sign of the good health of the environment in this area. Noor, Martin and Lin insisted that the vans stopped on the way home to be able to capture the moment indelibly on film.
In the end no raptors, just a possible Tawny Pipit to add, but no one minded.
As it was still early, we decided to head off for the meadows of the village of Meranges. Here our attention was first attracted by the fabulous flowery meadows, in stark contrast with the dry area we had been in before: Great Yellow Gentians Gentiana lutea, Saint Bruno's Lily Paradisea liliastrum, Heath Spotted Orchid Orchis maculata subsp. maculata, the large umbellifer Molopospermum peloponesiacum and Starry Saxifrage Saxifraga stellaris to mention just some of the most significant species.
Butterfly-wise, these meadows were much damper than the ones we had seen that morning and correspondingly we started seeing species such as Sooty and Purple-edged Coppers, Orange Tip, Amanda and Mazarine Blues. Down in the damp meadows by the river there was such a wealth of butterflies on display that here there is only room to mention the rare Geranium Argus, nectaring on its larval foodplant Wood Cranesbill Geranium sylvaticum, Lesser Marbled, Glanville, Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary, Bright-eyed Ringlet and Large Skipper.
We headed back to the hotel for lunch and then reconvened at 6 for our afternoon/evening excursion along the river near Martinet. Here, as we got out of the vans, we were treated to an immediate raptor fly-past that made up for the morning's disappointments: a smart pale-phased Booted Eagle low overhead, followed by Short-toed Eagle and then a quick Hobby. As well, a Golden Oriole appeared briefly and headed along the river.
Along the river the vegetation and flora resembled somewhat parts of northern Europe, with Alders and Ash the predominant trees, and stands of Yellow Flag Iris along the riverbanks. We enjoyed the cool shade of this riparian woodland and as we walked along, Andreu picked a couple of leaves from a two large species of Mullein, a genus that is too complex to be identified on the spot. Later on, however, thanks to the not inconsiderable weight of the handbook to the Catalan flora that Andreu was carrying, they were separated as White Mullein Verbascum lychnitis (common in Europe) and V. chaixii, (found in the mountains of southern Europe and Asia and one of the number of plants with eastern European and Asian distributions that thrives in the relatively arid and continental climate of La Cerdanya).
The riverside vegetation was also home to Rock Bunting, Wren, Chiffchaff and other familiar birds from home, as well as Chestnut Heath, Mazarine Blue, a 6-spot Burnet and, amongst the other 'misc.' invertebrates, a Ladybird Spider. On the last part of the walk as we arrived towards a look-out point, we found a dozy Chequered Blue next to the path and then from the viewpoint had views of a Dipper flying up and down the river. Before turning around and heading for our evening picnic site, we continued a little way along the path and found the attractive Soft Snapdragon Antirrhinum molle and Livelong Saxifrage Saxifraga paniculata along the low cliffs next to the path.
On the way back, after finding a bedstraw to place a Hummingbird Hawkbird caterpillar that had attached itself to Lin, we chose a site in a small meadow from where we could look up to the Eagle Owl cliffs and down on to the river. Unfortunately, neither the Eagle Owl (a long-shot) called nor the local Nightjars (surprisingly) made themselves apparent, and we had to make do with views of Short-toed Eagle, Black Kite, Honey Buzzard and Hobby above the cliffs, as well as a solitary Chamois. Joy found a perfect example of the endemic Pyrenean Honneysuckle Lonicera pyrenaica clinging to a nearby boulder.
JUNE 29 CLOT DE L'ORRI MEADOWS ABOVE LLES
On another bright day we left the hotel and headed up the windy road to the mountain hut/restaurant at Cap del Rec, where we dropped off a threesome, and then carried on along 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 recently from a succession of dry years that has left it looking rather blasted. The basic flowers on the way up were, as in the first day, gentians, but we also found Pyrenean Broom Genista purgans and Alpenrose Rhododendron ferrugineum, and some smaller but still striking species such as Alpine Catchfly Lychnis alpina, Mountain Houseleek Sempervivum montanum, Maiden Pink Dianthus deltoides and Wild Pansy Viola tricolor subsp. alpina.
In the woods we had good views of Crested Tit and Citril Finch, as well as more homespun species such as Robin, Coal Tit, Wood Pigeon and Cuckoo. Mike and Andrew disagreed on the origin of the Treecreeper sp. that was calling: this area has both Short-toed and the more familiar Common Treecreeper. Apparently, both species tend to imitate somewhat the other in their calls, although hybridisation is as yet unrecorded. We watched a Black Redstart for some time, heard Goldcrests and watched for a long time a pair tame of Ring Ouzels very nearby in a largish clearing. The butterflies here normally fairly unexciting were limited to lots of Small Pearl-borded Fritilaries and an Olive Skipper.
We arrived at El Clot de l'Orri, 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. The flora here is very special due to the extreme diversity of habitats, with Large-flowered and Common Butterworts Pinguicola grandiflora and P. vulgaris, Pyrenean Buttercup Ranunculus pyrenaeus, Pyrenean Lousewort Pedicularis pyrenaica, Entire-leaved Primrose Primula integrifolia, Creeping Azalea Loiseleuria procumbens, Early-purple Orchid Orchis mascula, Broad-leaved Orchis majalis, and many others on the flat areas. Nevertheless, the main botanical interest was perhaps to be found higher up on the granite outcrops, where we found a perfect patch of Pyrenean Lily Lilium pyrenaicum (unfortunately not really in a easy place to take photos), a minute pin-cushions of a saxifrage-like rock-jasmine Androsace vandelli, the very rare Rough Saxifrage Saxifraga aspera and the endemic Hairy Saxifrage Saxifraga pubescens.
We lunched after our wandered around the area, hoping that a Marmot might appear: although we could hear them whistling, none gave us a chance to study these woolly beasts, introduced into France in the 1960s and now widespread on the southern side of the Pyrenees. On the way down we picked up the threesome at the refuge and carried on down a little way to a roadside meadow replete with many Great Yellow Gentians Gentiana lutea, Globeflowers Trollius europaeus, Bistort Polygonum bistorta and Verticilate Lousewort Pedicularis verticillata. Here, Lin passed the fritillary test and identified (with a bit of prodding) a Bog Fritillary, one of the rarest Fritillaries in Spain. Other butterflies included Mazarine and Adonis Blues and Purple-edged Copper.
Even further down the road, we stopped again to investigate another set of slightly drier meadows. Along the path we had good views of a number of Red-backed Shrikes, as well as our first Yellowhammers, eagerly viewed by Noor. Flowers along the way side included Twayblade Orchid Listera ovata, Saint Bernard's Lily Anthericum liliago, Great Burnet Sanguisorba major and Rock Cinquefoil Potentilla rupestris, a plant rare in the Pyrenees.
Along the track there were dozens of Silver-Studded Blues, as well as Lesser Marbled Fritillary, our 15th ? fritillary of the trip so far, a Baton Blue, Berger's Clouded Yellow and a Queen of Spain.
JUNE 30 RIDOLAINA - SANAVASTRE
A pre-breakfast walk took us up the road behind the hotel and produced Cirl, Rock, Corn and Ortolan Buntings, as well as Golden Orioles flashing around in the trees below, Red-back Shrike, Hoopoe and Woodlark.
After a restorative breakfast, we took the vans down to the valley below and prepared a walk up the valley of La Ridolaina, in the Cadí Natural Park, a new destination for our Cerdanya trips and a possible Black Woodpecker site. This river holds one of the best riparian forests remaining in the Catalan Pyrenees and in the moist woodlands of this enclosed valley we could hear plenty of Nightingales, Chiffchaff, Song Thrush, Blackcap and Robins. We also caught sight of Spotted Flycatcher, and heard Crested Tit, Firecrest and, frustratingly, a Bonelli's Warbler, which did not want to appear in view.
The vegetation was very varied and the most interesting areas were the clearings in the wood, where we found a new species in the history of our tours in La Cerdanya: Military Orchid Orchis militaris. Martin and Lin commented that they had only seen this orchid before in Crete. Other interesting plants included the tall Italian Catchfly Silene italica, Fragrant Solomon's Seal Polygonatum odoratum, Lesser Butterfly Orchid Platanthera bifolia, Erect Clematis Clematis erecta, Straw Foxglove Digitalis lutea and Jupiter's Distaff Salvia glutinosa. Andrew noticed that the flowers of the Heath-spotted Orchid were different, and Andreu explained that this was a calcicolous and thermophile subspecies of this common plant: Orchis maculata subsp. meyeri.
Predictably there was also a great variety of butterflies initially: Pearly Heath, Wood White, Chestnut Heath, Mazarine Blue, Black-veined White, Heath Fritillary, Escher's Blue and Dingy Skipper. Also around were a male Broad-bodied Skipper and a Golden-ringed Dragonfly. Further up the path we started to see many White Admirals (but no Southern White Admirals), Marbled and Lesser Marbled Fritillaries in the patches of meadow, as well as new species for the trip such as Knapweed Fritillary and Osiris Blue.
Our destination was a patch of Aspen woodland used by Black Woodpeckers we found the nest and continued a little way up the track and sat in an open area to wait in hope (or really just to rest). Here, however, our attention was mainly drawn by an Apollo which was flopping around in the clearing next to us.
We retraced out steps to the vans, conveniently parked next to a 'butterfly scrape', that is, a patch of water which acts as much a magnet to butterflies as scrapes do to waders in Minsmere. Here we had the pleasure to be able to crawl around viewing many, many butterflies from close-up: lots of Black-veined White, many Silver-studded Blues with just a few Idas Blue in and amongst them (larger and with a browner ground colour), Green-veined White, Brown Argus, Amanda Blue, Queen of Spain Fritillary, Chequered Blue Ö There were also a number of pale-coloured tadpoles in the puddles that with the help of our guide books we identified as Midwife Toad larvae.
We lunched back at the hotel and in the relative cool of the evening returned to a typical British habitat the disused gravel pit lying amidst cereal fields on the south bank of the river Segre near the village of Sanavastre. As we got out of the bus, the songs of many Skylarks greeted us, and as we made our way along the track, we heard Quails and then stopped to watch the Bee-eaters in the steep walls of the gravel pit, whose old nests are used by Hoopoes, Sand Martins and Tree and Rock Sparrows. Suddenly, we heard a Stone Curlew, seemingly out of place in such a mountainous region, and then all got a sight of the bird as it flew across the fields behind us to land next to the farm just above the gravel pit.
The fields were dotted with thousands of corn flowers Centaurea cyanus, as well as just a few corncockles Agrostemma githago and a couple of Cow Basils Vaccaria hispanica still in flower. Looking at these colourful fields we could perhaps imagine what the British landscape might have looked like before the intensive use of pesticides began.
Encouraged we carried on beyond the pit and hang around in the fields, watching Blue-headed Wagtails, Crested Larks and Tree Sparrows, until Celia pointed out a raptor that turned out to be an elegant male Montagu's Harrier. It cruised over the fields in front of us before disappearing off towards the river.
Other sightings on the way back included the sound of a Great Reed Warbler and Iberian Pool Frogs from the gravel pit, a Devil's Coach-horse beetle and a Bath White.
We moved on to Sanavastre, walking from the village down to the hay meadows. However, there was little of interest here as the habitat seems to have changed: fields of maize instead of water meadows and little flora or fauna on views. Of note were the many Large Red Damselflies and the Essex Skipper and Clouded Yellow roost found by the track.
1 JULY COLLADA DE TOSES LA MOLINA BELLVER
On this very busy and hectic day we began by driving up to 1,900 m to meet our local guide for the morning, Àngel, who was to take us to a Black Woodpecker site.
We met at La Collada de Toses, and Àngel took us a little way down the road before we parked by the roadside and began a walk along a flat track into the depths of an attractive mixed Mountain pine Pinus mugo and Silver Fir Abies alba forest. In the undergrowth we found Alpenrose again, and also Black-berried Honeysuckle Lonicera nigra, Common and Pale-green Wintergreen Pyrola minor and P. chlorantha, Aconite-leaved Buttercup Ranunculus aconitifolius, Luzula nivea, a beautiful grass with whitish flowers, Burnet Rose Rosa pimpinellifolia and Cow-wheat Melampyrum pratense.
The birds were fairly similar to other days at altitude Goldcrest, Coal Tit and Crested Tits and Robin as we marched further into the forest. Butterflies included Small Tortoiseshell, Queen of Spain Fritillary and many Pearl-bordered Fritillaries. Àngel kept us on our toes by showing us the signs of Snow Voles, which burrow between the snow layer and the soil, leaving a visible semi-circular burrow once the snow has melted.
At a first break, we saw a couple of Bullfinches (here an upland species), and a little further on evidence of where Wild Boar had been turning over the soil. Two Citril Finches graced the path and we heard what this time was definitely Common and not Short-toed Treecreeper. The star of the morning, however, was probably a Large Tortoiseshell that sat in full view on a pine just above the path, although the photographers would have liked to have been a bit lower down. For many of us it was the first time we had used a 'scope to watch a butterfly! In a runnel on the path we also came across a number of leeches, which we couldn't persuade any one to pick up.
Our next stop was at an attractive gulley, replete with the rare Round-leaved Saxifrage Saxifraga rotundiflora, Starry Saxifrage Saxifraga stellaris and Raddish-leaved Bittercress Cardamine raphanifolia.
At this point we retraced our steps a little and Àngel led a few of us up into the forest to the Black Woodpecker habitat. Andreu decided to explore the fauna sheltered under stones, and discovered what is possibly the most magnificently coloured beetle in the Pyrenees, the striking gold-coloured ground beetle Carabus rutilans. We stood and waited for the Black Woodpecker, but to no avail: the habitat looked good plenty of dead wood and enough standing trees for nesting holes and we had to make do with Tree Pipit and Siskin.
We returned to the main group and walked back to the vans.
We moved onto another part of this forest where we had lunch in the now traditional Travelling Naturalist spot on the banks of a small stream with another 'butterfly scrape' just opposite. Some took it easy and had lunch before looking at the butterflies or going on a botanical stroll, while others photographed the butterflies first before eating (no names).
The bank just beyond the stream was alive with Purple-shot Coppers, Orange Tips and Black-veined Whites. The main attraction, however, was the stream in front of us where we counted 140 Black-veined Whites together, plus dozens and dozens of Small Blue (some doubt initially as to whether they might have been Osiris blue, but given that none were blue on top, and that it's almost the males that come to water Ö), Escher's, Silver-studded, Turquoise and Mazarine Blues, Heath Fritillary, Wood White and Safflower Skipper.
The botanical walk yielded only a few new plants as the late spring had meant that some plants such as the Martagon Lilies Lilium martagon were not yet in flower. However, we did find Mountain Valerian Valeriana montana, Water Avens Geum rivale, Gromwell Lithospermum officinale and Columbine Aquilegia vulgaris. Celia, Stan and Andreu also investigated the invertebrate fauna of the stream, where there plenty of Stoneflies, Caddis flies and Mayflies, indicating the cleanliness of these mountain waters.
From here we moved onto the Cross Gentian meadow, which normally holds plenty of Mountain Alcon Blues at the beginning of July. This year, however, we found that the meadow was far less advanced and very few Gentians had eggs on them (there are often over 40 eggs on each plant). We looked around for a little while before retiring for a much-needed drink in Bellver. Here we met Àngel again and arranged to meet him at the next site: a good place for finding the Pyrenean Brook Salamander, a Pyrenean endemic.
On our way to our rendezvous, we stopped to look at a raptor, which turned out to be a beautiful (when are they not?) pale-phased Booted Eagle, metres over our heads. From here the drive took us into the hills and to a parking spot where Andreu, Àngel and Mike promptly showed us all some lively little Pyrenean Brook Salamanders, and a very entwined mating pair.
From here we had a slight hesitation about where to go next (we'd only done 4 sites that day!), and finally decided to go down to an area of restored lagoons in the valley bottom near Bellver. Here, there is a rather bizarre White Stork introduction programme no evidence exists to suggest that White Storks ever bred here, but here they are in a large cage waiting to be released in a few years as a part of a breeding programme in the area. We walked around the lagoons, spotting an Emperor Dragonfly, 4-spot and Broad-bodied Chasers and a few Azure Damselflies, as well as a Grayling and many Commas.
JULY 2 TOSSA D'ALP BASTANIST - VÍLLEC
On our pre-breakfast stroll we headed for some dry pine plantations near the local rubbish tip. Bonelli's warbler and Firecrests sang in the trees, while Raven populated the rubbish dump and Ortolan Buntings called from the scrubby hillsides.
For our final day we decided to go as high as possible, to over 2,500 m to the top of Tossa d'Alp, one of the main peaks in the limestone range to the south of the Segre valley. We started in the somewhat less than attractive surroundings of the 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, we tacked around leftwards along the bare mountain side and avoiding the bare ski slope up which we normally go for some reason best known to the guides, and crossed a small snow patch.
Wandered around the bare limestone slopes was a pleasure, with Andreu regularly darting to and fro as he discovered interesting species: Pyrenean Whitlow-grass Petrocallis pyrenaica, Mountain Avens Dryas octopetala, Parnassus-leaved Buttercup Ranunculus parnassifolius, Chamois Cress Pritzelago alpina and Candytuft Iberis sempervirens. The de-calcified soils here also provide good habitats for Gentians and some new species as Moonwort Botrychium lunaria, Vitaliana Vitaliana primuliflora and the rare Glacier Crowfoot Ranunculus glacialis, discovered by Stan and a new species for our La Cerdanya tours.
Animals were harder to come by: we watched a family of Ring Ouzels in a gulley, before disturbing a large Brown Hare (aren't they always, after seeing Rabbits all the time?) that shot off across the hillside as if pursued by the hounds of hell. Maybe we looked a bit that way after 6 days in the fieldÖ
Birds included Water Pipit, Alpine Chough, Northern Wheatear and occasional Griffon Vultures overhead (a bit of a redundancy - underfoot Griffon Vultures would be something), and butterflies consisted of Small Tortoiseshell, the occasional Peak White, Small Heath and de Prunner's Ringlets. Once up on the ridge-top and looking south away to where we had been the first day of the trip, we turned right and headed towards the summit. On top Mike got a quick view of a male Rock Thrush and whilst we were sitting biscuiting, a group of 3 Alpine Accentors appeared a pleasant surprise for all and the first time we had recorded this alpine species in La Cerdanya. Flower-wise on the rocky outcrops were Alpine Rockrose Helianthemum oelandicum sub italicum var. hirtum, the endemic Spoon-leaved Candytuft Iberis spathulata and White Musky Saxifrage Saxifraga moschata, only seen by Carol and Celia. A new butterfly for the trip was also just about flying the very dark Lefebvre's Ringlet.
We wandered back down the bare slopes to the ski-lift and we found a final mountain speciality - a perfect stand of Mountain Toadflax Linaria alpina, much photographed by Noor - and were back at the hotel for two o'clock to pick up Lin and Martin and head off for a picnic by the sanctuary of Bastanist, the spiritual centre of La Cerdanya.
After lunch (Nettle-tree Butterfly) and a brief stop to look at Little, Amanda, Escher's, Mazarine, Silver-studded and Idas Blues were taking moisture from a puddle, we took a path up into the woods. Botanists had views of Peach-leaved bellflower Campanula persicifolia, Sticky flax Linum viscosum, Meadow Clary Salvia pratensis and Centaurea scabiosa: However, perhaps the most attractive feature of this area was the vast extension of well-preserved native forest that rolled away towards the foot of the spectacular sheer cliffs of the Cadí range.
We saw more of the same butterfly-wise initially Pearly Heath, Large Skipper and Marbled Fritillary, for example and just as we were beginning to return we saw our first hairstreak on a patch of stonecrop. Mike at first glance identified it as a White-letter Hairstreak, but took his eye off it to warn the rest of the group (his excuse) and by the time he looked again another hairstreak seemed to be flying around as well. This stopped on the same patch of stonecrop and was definitely a Blue-spot Hairstreak - rarer for the British viewers, commoner than the White-letter for the Catalans which was soon joined by an Ilex Hairstreak.
Lower down the valley we stopped near Víllec, a delightfully shady spot in a wooded valley which is well known as a hot spot for butterflies. Whilst not quite living up to expectations this year 66 species in 2002 when the season was more advanced and all the Dwarf Elder Sambucus edulus was in full flower and hairstreaks battled to find room to nectar. We were a bit disappointed to see the Dwarf Elder was not in flower and only found a few hairstreaks, including a single Sloe Hairstreak right at the end of the day, as well as a Purple-shot Copper.
JULY 3 PRULLANS GARRAF
We had another pre-breakfast stroll up towards the villages of Orden and Talltender, where our tired eyes found Red-backed Shrike, Woodlark, another Rock Thrush (taking our number to at least 5 males for the trip, when we often struggle to see any at all), Dunnock, Hoopoe, Stonechat and Ortolan Bunting and heard a couple of Dartford Warblers. There were surprisingly many butterflies around so early: Large Wall Brown, Silver-studded Blue, Chestnut Heath and Large Skipper.
Back at the hotel, we ate breakfast, packed up and said our sweet farewells and set off for Barcelona.
After dropping Stan off at the Airport to get an earlier flight, the rest of us had time to go and eat our picnic in the Garraf Hills, amongst the true Mediterranean plants such as Lentisc Pistacia lentiscus, Strawberry-tree Arbutus unedo, Dwarf Fan-palm Chamaerops humilis, Fragrant Clematis Clematis flammula and the tall clumps of Ampelodesmos mauritanica, an African savanna grass that has found its way here naturally. After lunch we travelled further into the hills and enjoyed good views of a young Black-eared Wheatear and Sardinian and Dartford Warblers. In terms of butterflies, we found lots of False Ilex Hairstreaks, Dusky Heaths and Lulworth Skippers, all new for the trip list.
BIRD DAILY LOG; LA CERDANYA; JUNE 2004
DAILY BUTTERFLY LOG; LA CERDANYA; JUNE/JULY 2004
6-spot Burnet Zygaena filipendulae : on 28th near river Segre.
Mullein Moth Cucullia argentea: on 29nd in meadows above Lles
Chimney Sweeper Odezia atrata : abundant
Humming-bird Hawk-moth caterpillar Macroglossum stellatarum : on 28th (on Lin) near Martinet. Flying adults common.
Emperor dragonfly: pools at Gallissà on 1st
Azure Damselfly Coenagrion puella : pools at Gallissà on 1st
Large Red Damselfly Pyrrhosoma nymphula : on 30th along Ridolaina; meadows at Sanavastre on 30th
Four-spotted Chaser Libellula depressa : Clot de l'Orri on 29th; pools at Gallissà on 1st
Broad-bodied chaser: pools at Gallissà on 1st
Orthetrum brunneum: on 30th along Ridolaina
Golden-ringed Dragonfly Cordulegaster boltonii : on 27th on way up to Coll de la Bòfia; on 30th along Ridolaina
Longhorn beetle Monochamus sutor : above Coll de Pal on 27th
Devil's-coach horse Staphylinus olens: gravel pit on 30th
Carabus rutilans beetle: woods near Collada de Tosses on 1st
Male Ladybird Spider Eresus niger: near river Segre on 28th;
1 ex. Chamois: above Coll de Pal on 27th
Alpine Marmots heard on 29th at Clot de l'Orri; gravel pit on 30th
European Brown Hare: on top of Tossa d'Alp on 2nd.
Iberian Pool Frog: on 30th along Ridolaina