Sunday 15 March – hills above Pego
It was a day of various stops for pottering or particular wildlife highlights, with sites for particular orchid species often prompting the locations. The first of these, in an open area having driven up through woods, was for conical orchid Orchis conica. The orchids were rather underwhelming, though the general area was so nice it hardly mattered. The supporting cast of flowers, outshining the orchid, included the silver-leafed pea argyrolobium, star-of-Bethlehem and a red-flowered houndstongue. A broomrape didn't seem to fit any in the book and Pau checked with a friend who confirmed it as Orobanche lastiquama, parasitic on rosemary, and not in the book. A trilling sound revealed at least two crested tits that fed for a while in an open tree. Beyond them, Christina picked up on two distant raptors which, as they neared us, proved to be short-toed eagles.
We moved onto Vall de Gallinera where orchards of cherries in blossom were a delight and prompted many photos.
Moving on, we stopped at the Mirador del Xap (pronounced 'chap'). We looked down onto manna ash and a bright blue-grey male blue rock thrush. A prostrate tiny white labiate – I called it Teuchrium alpestre at the time, but later study showed it was Sideritis romana – and white rock-rose were new flowers. The seriousness of the Spanish government's state of emergency in response to coronavirus was brought home by a Guardia Civil vehicle questioning what we were doing out and about rather than being confined indoors.
Provence hairstreak (Pau Lucio).
Our next stop included our picnic lunch in the countryside somewhere in the Vall d’Ebo. Pau caught a Provence hairstreak which after release then settled on the ground and there were many flowers of Centaurea pullata. We'd paused here as there's a pond tucked out of sight, well off-road. The pond was alive with frogs and the buzz of many bees landing alongside white-flowered water crowfoot. We couldn't find the hoped-for winter damselfly, though recently-emerged red-veined darters perched helpfully still in the warm sunshine.
Red-veined darter (Pau Lucio).
Moving on, next stop was a roadside where Pau knew there would be Italian man orchids, more typical than the single undersized specimen at Xap, and large numbers of the yellow-edged Ophrys lucentina. Grass-leaved buttercup Ranunculus gramineus was a nice find here. Then there was a brief photo-stop for a large, deep pink pea: Lathyrus pulcher (= L. tremolsianus).
At the next roadside stop unusual seed pods were on noted, twisted on Scorpiurus and a spiral on large disc medick. A pristine swallowtail fed on a bloom of pitch trefoil. A very large pink snapdragon was later identified as Antirrinum controversum (also called A. barrelieri) and a tiny yellow one as Linaria oblongifolia subsp. aragonensis – the photos on florasilvestre.es/ for the latter were taken here at Vall de Gallinera. Under some dense rosemary, we looked at the scarce and local Ophrys dyris
Our final stop was by a hillside that looked like any other, where Pau knew we could find Orchis olbiensis, the Iberian version of early purple orchid. They were in a range of shades of pink plus one that was almost pure white.
Monday 16 March – at Hotel Casa Babel
The curfew for everyone to stay inside really kicked in today. Dawn and I fetched belongings left in the minibus in the hotel's secure car park a couple of small streets away, and even for that Gemma on reception was cautious, though the remote control for the car park at least established a good reason to be out. We heard a loudspeaker announcement in Spanish, and I could make out enough to hear that it was stressing the need to stay inside. So that's what we did all day, though I did walk to the nearby supermarket for essential supplies, namely chocolate. Some did a little birdwatching from the hotel's roof or took the air in the hotel's courtyard, until blue sky turned to clouds and it started to rain. At least we'd missed the worst day, weather-wise. Pau joined us for dinner - essential work for him, of course.
Tuesday 17 March – return
We had an early breakfast at 7:15 to allow a departure at 8:15. Traffic was light as we returned to the airport, having first topped up the minibus with fuel. The airport was relatively quiet, with many people wearing face masks despite the widespread advice that they are ineffective. Karin & Brennan safely returned to Germany. The rest of us were on the same flight as we expected to be on, though now called an easyJet ‘rescue’ flight with a new flight number and new boarding passes. We returned to Gatwick and to self-isolation and social distancing as measures to tackle coronavirus were tightened back in the UK.