Wednesday 25 March 2020

Valencia diaries: Wednesday, day 2

Wednesday 11 March - butterfly reserve and micro-reserves for flora
We had a generous breakfast at the hotel at 8am and Pau joined us at nine o'clock to load up picnics, including natty little Casa Babel backpacks, and help to release the minibus from the hotel's parking compound a short distance away.  

We drove to the new butterfly reserve that Pau has been instrumental in setting up, a partnership between butterfly conservation NGO Zerynthia and Gandía Council. The person from the council who was supposed to meet us didn't turn up, but it didn't matter very much. Pau’s vehicle was allowed in and the rest of us walked up the road alongside botanically rich hillsides. Those hillsides had been hit by serious fires in August 2018, and the charred remains of pines and of damaged buildings were evidence of that, though natural regeneration was in full swing. Bright blue beautiful flax and aphyllantes (sometimes called blue grass-lily) mixed with white sage-leaved cistus, splashes of colour from mallow-leaved bindweed, the unusual yellow pea Anthyllis cytisoides, bushes of Phlomis purpurea and two species of Dorycnium. A wood white butterfly and black redstarts added variety.

Honeyguide group at the butterfly reserve
At the reserve's sign Pau described the project and its flagship species, two-tailed pasha, and he immediately found a caterpillar of the pasha on a regenerating wild strawberry tree, the larval food plant. For such a distinctive looking larva - bright green with horns - it was surprisingly well-hidden on a leaf of a similar colour, but we still found two more. Long-tailed blue and Lang's short-tailed blue were two additional butterflies.
Two-tailed pasha on a strawberry tree (Arbutus unedo).
It's in the shade: the splash of white is sunshine on an adjacent leaf.

We had a brief stop at a closed natural history interpretation centre, but it was a poor year for orchids here. Pau introduced us to the local special thyme Thymus piperella, with a strong scent and spicy taste. We walked a short distance in welcome shade as far as an old lime kiln in the pine wood before driving onto Barx for our coffee & loo stop. We had our packed lunches at the picnic tables by the snow well nearby, where for many some shade was welcome. We enjoyed some geckos – three at least – hiding in gaps in the metalwork over the snow well.
Ophrys lucentina

We drove on to another botanical micro-reserve called Pla de Mora set up for one of Europe’s scarcest plants, the pink Silene diclinis. We found these easily enough: it took more effort to put a name to blue dyer’s alkanet growing here. A Cleopatra butterfly flew round as did a Moroccan orange-tip – now called Provence orange-tip. A green hairstreak showed very well. Attempts to watch a short-toed treecreeper soon stopped when an adult Bonelli's eagle came overhead.

A little further on we stopped for a group of some 20 sawfly orchids, already fading with recent heat, and in among these were three examples of the very local Ophrys lucentina[1]. The final stop on this afternoon's circuit was to look at a Thekla lark on a wire over an attractive area of open scrub. Distant telescope views were improved on as it sang overhead. Several serins and stonechats added to the late afternoon scene.

We caught up with two days of wildlife checklists before a delicious dinner: Casa Babel’s food impressed us all week.

[1] Ophrys lucentina (this is the name given in the orchid ‘bible’ by Delforge, which notes that the name is from Alicante, ancient Lucentum of the Romans) is also known as Ophrys dianica. It’s one of a group of Ophrys orchids midway in appearance between sombre bee orchids Ophrys fusca and yellow bee orchid Ophrys lutea.

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