I am no expert photographer, preferring to capture the moment than get a perfectly composed shot. The pictures on my blog are either taken with a compact Canon, a Panasonic Lumix FZ150 or on my phone.

Saturday, 1 October 2022

Sierra Nevada, Spain Flora

I remember back in 2014 before I went to the Sierra Nevada I asked for information about good walks there where I would be able to see butterflies. I was surprised when the recommended walk was up at the Hoya de la Mora carpark, which is over 2,500 metres up in the mountains.

I was told it was a great place to find Zullich’s Blues, Sierra Nevada Blues, Spanish Brassy Ringlets and various other endemic or rare species. A look at Google aerial views showed a very baron, rocky environment. I was particularly surprised that I was also told that July was the perfect time of year to see butterflies, thinking that it would be particularly hot and dry then.

What I didn’t take account of was altitude. What I discovered when I visited was that at 9am it was only 10 degrees Celsius at Hoya de la Mora, rising to 17 degrees by midday. Only 15 kilometres away in Granada the temperature was over 35 degrees.

Hoya de la Mora is a popular ski resort and for seven months in the year is covered in snow. Even in July there are odd pockets of snow in shady spots.

All of this makes the high Sierra Nevada mountains a unique habitat supporting a very interesting variety of flora. It wasn’t until I started walking that I notice all of the small plants tucked into cracks in the rocks. Here are a few examples that I have tried to name, although I am no expert.

I was very intrigued to see what looked like Kidney Vetch, Anthyllis vulneraria, but instead of the yellow-flowered plant I am used to seeing on the east coast of Scotland, in the Sierra Nevada it is pink. I think this is the subspecies arundana, although there are other pink subspecies found in mountain ranges across Europe.

One of the many lovely cushion-forming plants I saw is Arenaria tetraquetra, which I think is endemic to the Sierra Nevada.

The plant below is a Cerastium species. There are many very similar species. An endemic of the Sierra Nevada is Cerastium alpinum ssp. nevadan, but I can't be sure that this is what this one is.

I am a great fan of Dianthus, so I was delighted to see this one dotted around the rocks there. I think it is Dianthus brachyanthus, although there seem to be many different names given for species and sub-species depending on which book or website you look at!

This is Erodium cheilanthifolium, which is found on many mountain ranges in Spain.

There was a lovely white Rockrose growing amongst the rocks and scree. I think this is Helianthemum apenninum, which is said to occur in the Sierra Nevada, although there is another very similar-looking Helianthemum almeriense that occurs in southern Spain.

Back in Scotland I have spent many hours searching Rockrose for the eggs of Northern Brown Argus. I didn't think to have a look to see if there were any eggs on this white Rockrose!

A plant that I have specifically looked for on each visit to the Sierra Nevada is Androsace vitaliana, which is the food plant of the Zullich's Blue caterpillar. As with so many other plants there is a subspecies, nevadensis, which occurs in Sierra Nevada and it is only found above 2,400 metres. I have only ever found it on very loose scree on exposed, windswept slopes.

In these same areas I have seen this lovely little pink flower, Nevadensia purpurea. It forms lovely cushions, covered in flowers and only occurs in the Sierra Nevada.

Another lovely little prostrate flower found high in the Sierra Nevada is Leontodon boryi, which also appears to be endemic to the Sierra Nevada.

Jurinea humilis gave a lovely splash of colour on some of the exposed slopes. It is found over much of Spain above 1500 metres.

There were so many other flower amongst the rocks and scree and I mostly photographed those that were in flower. I believed that over 2100 different species of plants have been recorded in the Sierra Nevada, so what I saw was only a fraction of those. Just a few more!!

The Sierra Nevada Violet, Viola crassiuscula, seemed to be quite common along the side of the paths that I walked on. Yet again, this plant is endemic to the Sierra Nevada.

I particularly liked the Sempervivum vicentei, which squeezed into small cracks in the rocks.

I was intrigued by this woody plant that I spotted between two large rocks at the bottom of a scree slope. It is Prunus prostrata, a little cherry tree!

This prostrate Juniper, Juniperus sabina, was quite common in some areas. It gave off a lovely scent when I brushed against it trying to get pictures of butterflies!!

Not all of the area up there was so bare and rocky. Next to a stream and in damper areas below springs there were green areas of grass with wild flowers.

These areas supported a variety of flowers. The most striking was a gentian, Gentiana sierrae. This only occurs in Sierra Nevada and Sierra de Baza.

They were often seen near Pinguicula nevadensis, an insectivorous plant which is endemic to the Sierra Nevada.

So many of these species are only found on the Sierra Nevada mountains and they are quite vulnerable to erosion. I noticed this summer when I was there that the National Park have blocked off some of the paths and are encouraging walkers to stick to the main paths. They are also preventing cyclists using the rough paths, asking them to stick to the road, to try to reduce erosion of the mountainside.

I was always very conscious not to stand on any plants and often I felt as though I was in the middle of an amazing rock garden!

Further down the mountains by about 1500 metres above sea level there were a lot more shrubs and trees and the flowers there are taller and very similar to what can be found in other areas of meadow in Spain.

I can highly recommend the WASTE Magazine website, where I have found so much useful information about the flora and fauna of Sierra Nevada and southern Spain. It was Merche from this website who first recommended that I should visit Sierra Nevada to look for butterflies.

Wednesday, 21 September 2022

Antequera Butterflies June 2022

Two days before the end of our holiday, on 11th June, I decided to drive up to Antequera to walk along an amazing little track I found in 2019 when we were last in Spain. This track runs along the north side of El Torcal de Antiquera, which is an amazing area of limestone rock. In April 2019 I had seen an amazing variety of spring butterflies and when I returned in September that year there were still a lot of butterflies there, despite the local goat herd having grazed all of the flowers down.

I had great hopes for this year, but noticed as I drove up that the wind was getting stronger and stronger. When I arrived it was incredibly windy, but as I was there it would have been silly not to have gone for a walk. The gusts of wind whipped up sand from the track and bent the vegetation. Despite this, there were still a few hardy butterflies hanging on! They were mostly species I had seen elsewhere on our holiday, such as Bath Whites, Clouded Yellows and Sage Skippers.

There were one or two Spanish Gatekeepers and Southern Gatekeepers sheltering amongst the vegetation.

I was really pleased to see an Iberian Marbled White.

There were also Small Whites, Large Whites, Painted Ladies, Meadow Browns and Mallow Skippers. I didn’t want to pursue any of them for pictures, as when they took off they were immediately taken by the wind and I was concerned they would be blown into some scrub and sustain damage.

I was amazed to see a Swallowtail doing some acrobatics, trying to feed on a flower that was blowing violently in the wind.

The last butterfly I saw was a Red-underwing Skipper. Normally I see a lot of these, but this was the only one I saw this holiday.

Despite the wind I saw 15 species. I couldn’t manage a decent picture of any of them, as they were being battered by the wind and so was I! I can only imagine how many more butterflies there would have been had it not been windy.

Saturday, 27 August 2022

Sierra Nevada continued

There is a meadow is just off the road at about 2,000 metres above sea level that I always visit when I go to the Sierra Nevada. It has a little stream running through it, which I expect is quite ferocious during the snow melt, but is mostly dry in the summer months. It is such an amazing spot, as there are so many butterflies in quite a small area. Again, the butterflies I saw this June were quite different from what I am used to seeing in July. There were far fewer, but they were lovely nonetheless.

Almost immediately a beautiful Knapweed Fritillary landed on a shrub in front of me. I think there must have been about ten of them in this area.

A few Iberian Scarce Swallowtails kept flying across the meadow and there must have been more than 40 Clouded Yellows.

All along the dried up stream bed there were little Lorquin’s Blues.

Despite their size they were quite aggressive, chasing off any other butterflies that dared to land too close! Here is one about to attack a Common Blue!

I normally see a lot of Marsh Fritillaries at this spot, but this year I only saw one. I also saw eight or ten Small Heaths. These had me a bit confused at first as some of them appeared to have some metallic scales on their wings.

The Queen of Spain Fritillaries here were a lot fresher than those higher up the mountains.

I was pleased to see some Common Blues, Polyommatus icarus, here. In most of Southern Spain they are replaced by the identical-looking Southern Blue, Polyommatus celina, but the Common Blue occurs in the Sierra Nevada, having been left behind as the climate warmed after the last Ice Age.

I spotted another little butterfly that I was surprised to see was a Green Hairstreak. I think I saw three different individuals. I have never seen these in the Sierra Nevada before and expected that they would occur earlier in the year.

Making up the numbers were Small Whites, Painted Ladies and Meadow Browns.

There were some Western Dappled Whites amongst them.

 I also saw a Southern Marbled Skipper.

And I had a lovely view of what I thought was a Spotted Fritillary. It wasn’t until I checked my pictures back home that I realised it was a Lesser Spotted Fritillary, Melitaea trivia, – a species I hadn’t seen before.

In each of my three previous visits to the Sierra Nevada, always in July, I have seen over 40 species of butterflies. This year, with it being earlier in the year I saw 23 species. I didn’t feel disappointed in the slightest. It would have been nice to have seen some of the rarer species higher up the mountains, but this delightful meadow was so lovely and it made up for the lack of variety I had seen earlier in the day.

Wednesday, 17 August 2022

Sierra Nevada Butterflies - June 2022

No visit to the villa in Alora would be complete without a visit to the Sierra Nevada. This year I visited on the 3rd of June, almost exactly a month earlier than normal. It is a three-hour drive to get there, but well worth it for the range of butterflies that occur there. There are three different locations that I normally visit, each with its own selection of butterflies.

Initially I drove up to the Hoya de la Mora carpark, which is as high as you can drive. From there I walked down into a valley with a lovely clear stream running through it. Normally, there is quite a variety of butterflies down there, but I started to worry after a few hundred metres and I had seen no butterflies.

Eventually, as I reached the stream I saw a Small Tortoiseshell. A little further along I saw a Small Copper. I was starting to get a bit fed up, as I had traveled all this way to see two butterflies, both of which I had seen in my garden before I left Scotland!

However, I soon cheered up when a Provence Orange Tip flew past me. Frustratingly, I saw at least two of them, but neither settled at all. Eventually, I just fired off my camera in their general direction and managed to get a picture of a little yellow and orange dot, a few pixels wide, just to prove I had seen them!

At least it now seemed worthwhile struggling down into the valley. On the way back up towards the carpark I saw a couple of Clouded Yellows and Queen of Spain Fritillaries.

So, just five species. Usually, in July I will see about 15 species on this same walk.

I then walked up to the small area where Zullich’s Blues are found. I anticipated I would be too early to see any, but thought it worth checking as I was there. I have sat on a rock up there in the past, eating my lunch, watching Zullich’s Blues sparing with Spanish Argus with the occasional enormous Apollo gliding past. Sadly this year, none of those species were flying yet.

On my way back down to the carpark I did see some Painted Ladies and quite a few Small Tortoiseshells. Also some Wall Browns and a Bath White.

Driving back down the mountain road, I stopped at the viewpoint I have visited in the past. This is a very reliable site and as usual, there were Swallowtails and Iberian Scarce Swallowtails hill-topping there. Also a lot of Wall Browns amongst the scrub. This year there were also quite a few whites flying. Those that stopped allowed me to identify them as Small Whites and Western Dappled Whites.

I was really excited to see a little Panoptes Blue flying there along with two Purple-shot Coppers.

There was also a mystery Skipper that didn’t land for long enough for me to photograph it and a large orange Fritillary whizzing around, which I had no chance to identify! Next I drove down to my favourite spot - a scrubby meadow. 

I will continue this in my next post.