Sunday, 17 August 2014

The purples have it...

IF you live near an area with limestone or chalk bedrock it's worth hunting out patches of ungrazed, permanent pasture at this time of year, as the late summer colours can be spectacular.

The scabiouses and knapweeds are interspersed with old yellow rattle flowers, seeding grasses, white dropwort, blue harebell and orchids gone to seed - this provides a wonderful sea of purples and muted browns.

Sunday, 10 August 2014

The wonderful Pyrenees in early summer (Day 6 20/06/14)

DAY 6 (also known as Friday) was stinking hot, so we thought that we would go for another walk in the open mountains with the sun bouncing off the rocks! This time we went to the Lac d'Estaing and the valley above it.

The journey to the lake was a pleasure in itself, with wonderfully diverse hay meadows at every turn.

A view on the journey - wonderfully flowery, uncut meadows

We started out from a big car park with a touristic restaurant, rounded a lake and headed off up a valley.  The walk ascended gently, following a river with steep pastures and scattered woodland on the slopes on both sides. 

Again the flora was superb and a special bonus was the pair of lesser grey shrikes perched at the top of a hazel bush:

On we walked...

The small streams running down the slopes were wonderfully diverse with marsh orchids and butterworts where the soil was leached of nutrients.

The longer we went on the hotter it became and we ended up dodging from one shady patch to another - to be honest it got the better of us.  There was a good population of butterflies including dark veined whites and fritillaries.  At one site that week I also saw swallowtails but quickly lost sight of them, much to my frustration and so did not manage any photos.

A speciality of the Pyrenees is the English iris.  No sites that we visited had any in flower except for this one, where a single individual was showing early , which I was delighted to see.  The only only majors species that I missed were the Turk's hat lily, edelweiss and the Oreja de Oso.

The beautiful Alpen-rose was in full bloom and quite stunning.

As we ascended there was a particularly scenic cascade with tall spikes the magnificent great yellow gentian scattered around amongst juniper and Alpen-rose. This is as far as we went before descending back down to where ice-creams were sold!


Local grazers
By the river the marshy fringe supported its own special group of species such as ragged robin and marsh orchids, amidst the spikes of horsetail and rushes.

A wonderful place with easy access and on a cooler day we would have ventured much further up the valley and off the beaten track.

That was the end of our holiday.  Some of our adventures have not been described, but then its good to have some secrets; now its for you to discover in your own way...perhaps. 

Monday, 4 August 2014

The wonderful Pyrenees in early summer (Day 5 19/06/14)

THE previous day's disappointment was a blessing in disguise, as the 19th was a wonderfully clear day with the occasional cloud to add drama and scenic character.

We headed off to the Pic du Midi again and this time did go up the cable car to the observatory.  From here there is an amazing view of mountains disappearing off into the horizon.  This is the interpretation board:

The views were spectacular, but it helped to have a head for heights...

The mast and telescope housing at the top
Cable car - goes up in two stages - an amazing feat of engineering

Someone else taking pictures

Wonderful high cloud formations

Back down in the valley the griffon vultures were wheeling around seeking thermals and dinner..

Where the snow was still retreating the pyrenean buttercups were flowerings profusely

and very occasionally other plants such as this pyrenean snowbell could be found if one hunted carefully

Lizards were surprisingly frequent even at these altitudes