Vall d’Aran

26 07 2012

“AIR, n. A nutritious substance supplied by a bountiful Providence for the fattening of the poor.”

– Devil’s Dictionary, Ambrose Bierce

Again in the Pyrenees, but this time in the northeastern corner of Catalonia. The Vall d’Aran is the only north face of the Pyrenees we have and it’s easy to notice that just by looking at either the vegetation or the butterflies. In conclusion, we are talking about one of the best places to forget about city noises and feel happy just by looking around.

I wouldn’t like to repeat myself posting another set of butterfly pictures. The purpose of that post is to show the beauty of Vall d’Aran’ landscapes and let you feel as if you were there for a minute. To give some advice, I specially recommend the route from Honeria to the Liat mines. You start walking throw a wet forest of fir trees, one of the few places known in Catalonia where you can see the Middle spotted woodpecker Dendrocopos medius. Then you leave the forest to enter in the alpine meadows, good for some localized butterflies such as Glandon blue Agriades glandon. Finally you reach the mines where you can enjoy an impressive landscape composed by stony slopes and the Liat pond in the bottom of the valley. Alpine accentores, Water pipits and Alpine choughs are breeding here, while Ring ouzels do breed in the last layer of trees (Mountain pines Pinus uncinata) but also feed in the alpine meadows, just as Citril finches do.

If you are looking for butterflies, it’s worth to make a stop in the middle heights, specially in an opened forest area. It’s not hard to find Large blue Maculinea arion and the always nice to see Apollo Parnassius apollo. If weather conditions are not suitable to the butterflies, you could enjoy some other images, like the water of the mist in the spider webs.

If you have energy enough when you come back to the refuge, there are some nice village around that deserves a visit. Sant Joan de Toran, el Pedret and Canejan are all little villages that have no more than 10 residents living in each one. The buildings are mainly wood-made but they resist the cold and the snow of the hard winter.

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Altitude, butterflies

17 07 2012

“Literature and butterflies are the sweetest passions known to man.”

– Vladimir Nabokob; see image here

Migration is probably my favorite natural phenomenon and, in that aspect, Barcelona is a better place to live than Tenerife. Even though, I must admit that after 6 months living in a city surrounded by well-conserved habitats and stunning landspaces, only a week after leaving it my eyes are already missing that kind of images. Ebro Delta is too hot those days, so the solution was on the Pyrenes.

I had already talked about a weekend in the Pyrenees with Martí something like a month ago, when Tenerife was suffering the efects of a Saharian hot wave and I thought about the green and fresh top of the Catalan mountains. Birds there are not so diverse, and you know what you are going to see as soon as you decide to go there, but in the other hand the diversity of plants and butterflies is the highest of Catalonia. The main purpose of our weekend in the Pyrenees was to enjoy learning about butterflies, seeing as many species as possible in a superb environment.

We first prospected a flowered field surrounded by oak trees. It was partially clouded and it seemed there were not butterflies, but as soon as the sun started to heat up they suddenly appeared. We identified more than 30 species in the same field, but I must underline Map butterfly Araschnia levana, Sooty copper Lycaena tityrus and Purple emperor Apatura ilia, all of them lifers for me. We had some problems with the always hard to recognize Fritillaries, but we managed to identify Spotted Melitaea didyma, Heath Melitaea athalia, False heath Melithaea diamina, Knapweed Melitaea phoebe and Meadow Melitaea parthenoides. Of course some individuals were discouraging impossible…

When we arrived to Fontalba (near Queralbs), the fog was at the same time depressing and impressive. We were not able to see anything so we took some pictures and set up the tent while hearing (not seeing) some Citril finches Carduelis citrinella.

The day after started foggy again but the wheather forecast indicated it would get better soon. We descended the valley looking for a warmer area, were butterflies would be already active. The meadows surrounding the stream, in the bottom of the valley, seemed perfect but it was still cold. After a couple of hours of quite intensive search, we found some interesting species such as Large ringlet Erebia euryale and Shepherd’s fritillary Boloria pales. Also some nice flowers like the Moorland spotted orchid Dactylorhiza maculata below.

When the fog vanished, we go up crossing the slope composed by a mixture of Rhododendron and Juniperus communis nana. Again, we noticed some nice species such as Spanish brassy ringlet Erebia hispania and Marbled skipper Carcharodus lavatherae. A brownish (probably a juvenile) Ring ouzel Turdus torquatus flushed into a pine. The landscape from there was stunning and we confirmed the Norther weathear Oenanthe oenanthe success in its breeding season.

In the way back, already in the lowlands, we detected some Scarce coppers Lycaena virgaureae and Dark green fritillaries Argynnis aglaja while a male Red-backed shrike Lanius collurio was calling from a nearby bush.

I want to finish this post with something like “In conclusion”, but there’s no conclusion. It has been an extremely nice weekend, with lots of things learned and all of them in a great company, but I know I will need another one soon.





Back to the cradle

9 07 2012

“Sleep, oh sleep, my dearest boy./I will cradle you. I will guard you”

– Henrik Ibsen

Visiting Llobregat Delta always brings me a lot of good memories. The field where I saw a marsh sandpiper last year, the fields where I found a Rose-colored starling, the reeds where I ringed an Icterine warbler, an Iberian chiffchaff, another Iberian chiffchaff, some Moustached… The day of the 7 White-winged terns, the day of the Cream-colored courser, followed by the day of the Broad-billed sandpiper. All of that, concentrated in the Prat de Llobregat area, what means memories can be multiplied by 2 if we take the whole Delta.

Back in Barcelona, to visit the Llobregat was one of the first things I had to do. There was a Blue-winged teal but I didn’t care actually… I wanted just to be there and see what the Delta could offer to me. July is not the best season to enjoy migration but only by seeing the local species, I remembered what “diversity” means. Since I’ve returned to the continent and seen even the most common species, I realized how hard it must be to colonize an archipelago such as the Canaries.

Both dragonflies and butterflies are at their maximum, and I was able to see the rare (the UICN declared it “Vulnerable”) Mediterranean skipper Gegenes nostradamus. It’s neither beautiful nor colorful, but it’s enigmatic and hard to see… that’s enough.

I didn’t have too much time to look for dragonflies, but I saw 7 species at a glance. Blue-tailed damselflies Ischnura elegans were mating while keeping an eye on the Black-tailed skimmers Orthetrum cancellatum. I looked at that during only 10 minutes, but I saw at least 5 catches of damselflies by the powerful skimmers. The Violet dropwings Trithemis annulata seemed to be quieter, maybe enjoying the show played by others’ frenetic life.

And what about birds? I didn’t see the teal. I saw a nice female in April while I’ve not seen a Black-winged stilt since long time ago. However, the best was a singing male Savi’s warbler Locustella luscinioides at Calaixos de Depuració de Ca l’Arana, an irregular breeder at Llobregat Delta. I don’t know if we are already in the dispersive period, but the habitat is suitable for the species and the bird was singing.





A Song to say Goodbye

7 07 2012

“Und die Vögel singen nicht mehr…”

– Ohne dicht, Rammstein

I am already in Barcelona again and I have in mind a post about this city (she deserves it) but I must talk about my last day in Tenerife, out in the field.

Natacha told me about a route from Los Silos to Monte del Agua, probably in my favorite place of the island (as I said before) and I could not imagine a better way to say goodbye to Tenerife. The route starts in a low bushland area and goes up entering the heart of the laurel forest. In the first part of the ascent, you pass beside some old typical Canary Islands constructions, surrounded by fruit trees and water courses. Some of that old houses are deserted and you feel obliged to think about the possibility of living there.

A few meters above, you cross an underground gallery built in the past times to transport water throw the mountains. When you exit the tunnel, everything is green, you heard the pigeon’s wings clapping in the trees and then you realize you are already in the laurel forest. Just when we leaved the gallery, we saw that Epaulet skimmer Orthetrum chrysostigma resting on the ground.

The whole trip was very nice. We were all the morning trying to identify as many plant species as possible. Sometimes we managed to do so, but some others were a bit more exasperating. Just as the butterfly Gonepteryx cleobule! I’ve been 5 months in Tenerife and it has been impossible to take a miserable picture of it. Some of them flew over us while consulting our plant field guide, one was even almost sat on a flower for a while, but it never stopped flying actually. Just another reason to come back.

One of the most stunning stages of the trip was the path surrounded by Isoplexis canariensis, a flower called “rooster-crest” by local people. This plant is pollinated by birds and therefore its whole structure is designed to attract birds and impregnate them with the pollen. The anthers are placed in the upper part of the flower, a part that birds can’t avoid to touch with the nape when sucking the nectar. Moreover, the color is in the orange wavelenght, like most of ornithophil plants.

It was also nice to see the Canaries madrone Arbutus canariensis without the bark, showing a stunning pinkish red trunk. There were many of them in what probably is their best area, as it is for many other localized plant species. The landscape was incredible and we decided to have lunch. Thank you Natacha for the sandwich and specially Esther for the honey!

In the way back, we saw some deserted houses again. As usually, walls were plenty of Tenerife lizards Gallotia galloti and we had to share the prickly pears we had collected since they seemed to be hungry.

Later on, already close to Los Silos, some dragonflies such as Red-veined dropwing Trithemis arteriosa fulfilled my thirst just enough to forget about wildlife for the rest of the day and enjoy a music festival at Buenavista del Norte. Esther defined the day as “perfect” and I couldn’t agree more.





Water points

2 07 2012

“I’ve been able to get an excitement back in the water”

– Michael Phelps

Canary Islands laurel forest is the only rainforest in the world that has a dry season during summer, just like a Mediterranean forest. It’s maybe that mixture of Mediterranean and tropical elements what makes this ecosystem so special. During that hard season, the forest doesn’t depends on the rain but on the capacity the laurels have to fix the water resting on the fog. This water, however, is available only for vegetation, while animals must look for some other sources of water. In the pine forest, the situation is even more dramatic. Both animals and plants have to adapt their physiology to the drought. Plants develop some resistance structures and animals take profit of their mobility to go wherever the water is.

The shyer species become more approachable when drinking (because they are obliged to do so) and you can get good views of them if you know where the water is.  Last week, I found a watering hole where pigeons come to drink and I thought it would be a good idea to be a whole morning hidden in a nearby bush, waiting for them. Moreover, the young and promising birder Marc Illa visited the island looking for endemics, so there we went.

Unfortunately, the African hot wave had went out the day before. Even though the day was cooler and pigeons didn’t seem to be thirsty, we got some nice views of Bolle’s pigeon sat in the nearby eucalyptus trees. A sparrowhawk was flying around all the morning long and pigeons didn’t rest on the tree for so much time, but enough to enjoy them.

The afternoon before, we had went to the pine forest to see the Blue chaffinch. When waiting for it near a water point, two Great-spotted woodpeckers came to drink for a while. They were an adult and a juvenile and it was nice to notice the dark-marking specially in juvenile’s underparts, typical of the canariensis subspecies. I had been talking about that with Beneharo, considering the possibility these black feathers are due to Canary Islands Pine tree Pinus canariensis bark, which always seems to be burnt. Close views demonstrate it’s not an acquired coloration but the real pattern of the feathers. The adult was cleaner, and therefore it must be a huge variability in that feature, God knows if it’s age-related. 

Butterflies are at their maximum right now and, even this year there are not many flowers because of the drought, it’s possible to enjoy some endemics such as Canary blue Cyclyrus webbianus. The edges of the Pine forest is the best place to find it.

And of course, two pictures of our target bird, just to say I will miss it a lot.

The last afternoon Marc was here, we enjoyed Laurel pigeons in what is probably my favorite place of the island. They feed on avocado trees and flew as always in a stunning way. The white in the tail is noticeable from a big distance, maybe it’s pigeon’s attempt to say “I am still here”.

In the water point close to the track, there was a large amount of Stripeless tree frogs Hyla meridionalis. The variation in color was evident, going from the brown to the green. I had seen some blue individuals near Barcelona, so that’s maybe the most variable frog species of our region.

Finally, we unsuccessfully tried to see a Barolo’s shearwater from Garachico. There was nothing but Cory’s but the place was perfect to take a nice farewell group photo.








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