Friday, 29 August 2014

New Forest splendor

AS the summer draws to its inevitable close, the colours on the New Forest heathland turn to purple with heather ('ling') flowers, along with the odd splash of yellow gorse.


Cattle and  horses are the main graziers in the Forest, along with deer that browse and pigs that root!  These animals maintain the delicate balance between keeping the vegetation down to ensure that it does not revert to woodland, whilst not overgrazing and destroying the wildlife interest.

The day was quite warm for our visit and here the horses were taking advantage of the few waters sources still running in the valleys:


Not many butterflies were evident - but this grayling seemed quite happy to sit on a warm, reflective hand (mine!).  As I changed my position it turned in order to maximise the warmth from the sun.

Our lunch spot:

Where there are flushes and the ground is damp for most of the year, mosses can grow and in the nutrient poor habitat the sundews are able to thrive, supplementing their diet with trapped insects.

These areas are also preferred by cross-leaved heather:

On the fringes of the forest there are areas of unimproved grassland within small paddocks.  Where the grazing is lighter and the ground is also flushed with ground water, the feverfew flowers profusely at this time of the year.

The New Forest is surprisingly sparse in visitors (away from the car parks).  It has something to offer at any time of year, but is particularly special in August (for the purple heather) and later in Autumn, for the amazing colours and profuse fungi.  We highly recommend it.

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