I missed the Fall

11 11 2012

“Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower”

– Albert Camus

One of the few things absent in the Canaries is the deciduous forest. There is a total lack of deciduous trees and the color of the forest is always green when seen from above. As I already told in the post Leaf’s life, there is a huge variation in the yellow-red gamma present in leafs already fallen to the ground and it’s in that stage when you can notice the changes in coloration.

Last Wednesday, as soon as I landed at el Prat airport, I already thought about visiting the Montseny mountains, where the only Atlantic forest close to Barcelona grow in the high north face. The beech trees must be red and the rosebushes plenty of thrushes. After too many months missing them, it would be also nice to see bullfinches, nuthatches, marsh tits and all these northern species. Moreover, Andrea and Helena encouraged me to go out on yesterday. They wanted to see passerines and I wanted to see a beautiful place (for the first time it wasn’t the opposite!) so El Montseny was a good option.

The first views we got when we arrived early in the morning where nice, but not the bests of the day. The first redwings and siskins were feeding on rosebushes fruits but there was not much activity since it was a bit windy. The next stop was entering the Santa Fe beech forest. Here the landscape was what I was looking for. The opened areas with thistles were plenty of chaffinches, greenfinches, goldfinches an among them at least 3 marsh tits.

Then, it was the time to go up the high mountain. El Turó de l’Home is the top of the Montseny and the closest place from Barcelona to find some species from the highs. A few minutes after parking the car, we saw a bird foraging on the road side which was a nice citril finch. There was a constant flux of cyclists that flushed it, but the bird came back each time. A female alpestris ring ouzel was sat in a rock, but only for a while.

The landscape from there allowed us to compare the different chorology between the north (beech forest) and the south face (oaks mixed with some conifers). In both cases simply stunning.

Almost in the top, we saw a flock of up to 6 alpine accentors. It’s nice to see such an approachable and localized species, always grateful and cooperative! 4 more citril finches also flew over.

In that moment, we had already been in a beech wood and in a high mountain opened area, so we didn’t know what to do. Fortunately, Robert Manzano was checking the beach at Malgrat de Mar and he found a nice 1st winter male snow bunting. I turned around and set off for Malgrat. When we arrived, Robert had not seen the bird for 10 minutes, but we managed to find it in the same area. It’s a local rarity but, above all, is a beautiful bird. Many thanks Robert!

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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.





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.





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.





Leaf’s life

24 06 2012

“Vincent Vega: It’s the little differences. I mean they got the same shit over there that they got here, but it’s just, just there it’s a little different.

Jules: Example.”

– Pulp Fiction

The laurel rainforest it’s neither a Mediterranean forest nor a tropical rainforest. The average annual rainfall is around 1000 mm, what is quite dry, and most of the leafs show a hard cuticle to prevent from water losses. Rainfall is the main limiting factor, but I wanted to see some other things that make that forest so special. Little differences in the leafs can lead to big differences in the forest. The Indian bay Persea indica is maybe  the most abundant tree species of the laurel forest and I think it’s worth to look at its lifecycle to explain the evolution of the whole forest.

Firstly, I looked at a died young leaf. I would like to see its texture and its illness. It lacks the hard cuticle, it doesn’t need it since young trees live in the undergrowth, where the light is scarce. That leaf had a lot of fungal infections, expect-able in a dead leaf, too attractive if you are a hungry oomycete.

The light must be therefore another important factor. I raised up my head and saw the distribution of the leafs. Everywhere there was a ray of light, there was a branch with leafs. That leafs have already a hard cuticle and the young pale green yield to a dark bright green. Nothing seems to be hazardous, leaf morphology is due to water abundance and leaf distribution is due to light abundance. 

Finally, I looked at the floor and found a new colour. The green is no longer needed and the leafs were all together turned into a reddish carpet that covered all the ground. In that moment, neither the water nor the light matter at all, leafs are just waiting for the passing, but even though they have kept that nice image to show in the last moment.








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