Valencia diaries: Thursday, day 3

Thursday 12 March – Mediterranean garden and Calpe
We had a relaxed departure as our first destination wasn't open until 10 o'clock. The L'Albarda garden, not far from Dénia, is a rich man's project: an Italianate garden that failed when originally planted but now developed with Mediterranean species adapted to survive in the local climate. Our guide, Àngel, showed us around and tolerated the wildlife digressions with patience. These started as soon as we arrived with singing firecrest, blackcap and chiffchaff and displaying serins. The clipped hedges of myrtle, trained wisteria and bougainvillea and the other features were elegant, though there was more formal garden I'd prefer to see. However Àngel's assertion of the wildlife-friendly, pesticide-free management was fair. Highlights included a geranium argus around a pot of pelargoniums, Cleopatra butterflies and Iberian water frog, though these were topped by the horseshoe whip-snake that slithered through a shrubbery, evaded Angel's attempt to catch it and disappeared behind a shutter on the main building. A dark booted eagle flew over, showing well its 'landing lights' on the leading edges of its wings.

Another area was natural-looking with native species, even though it was actually constructed with local rocks, with flowers such as narrow-leaved cistus, large Mediterranean spurge and houndstongue, over which flew our first swallowtail butterfly of the holiday. On a pond near the entrance we looked at the egg-laying scars of willow emerald damselfly on oleander. To find these on oleander is unfamiliar from a UK perspective, though it is a previously documented 'host' according to Adrian Parr from the British Dragonfly Society. We had coffee and cake, and here some in the group saw a red squirrel.

We drove to the coastal resort of Calpe, parked below the Natural Park and between we took our packed lunches to the picnic area up the hill. Yellow-legged gulls were numerous and tame. Flowers by the ascent included giant fennel, white mignonette, a big patch of paronychia, Fagonia cretica and the very local pink Silene secundiflora, with bold stripes on its calyx. As we picnicked there was a tame Sardinian warbler in the bushes by the shelter.
Asteriscus maritimus
Nearby was a giant orchid, past its best; much showier were big yellow patches of Asteriscus (or Pallenis) maritimus as we looked around an open area by viewpoints over the sea. On the rocks below were shags, of the Mediterranean race of course, a generally scarce sub-species but not so here today as there were 13 of them.

We descended and drove the short distance to yet another pocket nature reserve, some open scrub well used by people and, from the rootings, by wild boars. At last there were some galactites – Mediterranean field thistle – in flower and Pau located some mirror orchids. Wild gladiolus was obvious and there was a nice-looking giant orchid by the boardwalk. A report of pignut (an English umbellifer) was a puzzle: it was a name half-remembered correctly as they were Barbary nuts, a pretty blue iris. The boardwalk took us to a platform overlooking a lagoon, once upon a time saltpans for the Romans but now a landscape feature in front of the high rise hotels beyond. Flamingos were present in good numbers, plus a few shelducks and a common sandpiper.

Sue G found an intense red flower on the return walk and later solved the puzzle: scarlet flax from Algeria, though known to occur as a casual in Mediterranean Europe.

View of Calpe, with yellow-legged gull

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