Heather and Cath, Day Two, amongst the Orchids.
I picked Heather and Cath up again in Loja and we headed into what looked like a very wet Ronda area. The rain was pouring when we arrived so we had a coffee and made the decision to head to the furthest point and do the days route in reverse. Firstly we pulled off the road just north of Ronda and had a distant view of a Bonelli's Eagle (Aguila-azor Perdicera / Hieraaetus faciatus) sat on its nest.
Our second stop was in a very old Olive grove just off the side of the Zahara to Grazalema road beside the lake. The site gets a rough ploughing every few years but this does not seem to affect the Orchids which grow here too much. We soon found all three colour forms of the Woodcock Orchid (Orchis scolopax var picta), the seples are Pink (most common), White or Green (most uncommon). The spikes of Giant Orchids (Barlia robertiana) were all over with but we also found several spikes of Yellow Bee (Ophrys lutea), Mirror Orchids (Ophrys speculum sub speculum) and good numbers of Small-flowered Serapias (Serapias parviflora) all of which were in good condition. We then moved on and started the drive up over the mountain from Zahara to Grazalema; we soon made our first stop on the side of the road where we photographed Honeywort (Cerinthe major), Blue Alkanet (Anchusa azurea), Fedia (Fedia cornucopiae), Intermediate Periwinkle (Vinca difformis) and Field Gladiolus (Gladiolus italicus). A small group of Griffon Vultures (Bultre Leonado / Gyps fulvus) passed over quite high in what was fortunately a clearing sky, followed closely by a noisy group of Red-billed Choughs (Chova Piquirroja / Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax). Moving on up the hill we started to find more Orchids including Italian Man (Orchis italica), Lange’s Orchid (Orchis langei), Small Early Purple (Orchis olbiensis), Dull-bee (Ophrys fusca subsp fusca) and Dense-flowered Orchids (Neotinea maculata), the latter was not Quite in flower. On the rocks near the top viewpoint a great many flowering Spanish Bluebells (Scilla hispanica), Southern Knapweed (Centaurea pullata subsp pullata), Linaria platycalyx, Candytuft (Iberis crenata), Yellow Anemone (Anemone palmate) and Mallow-leaved Bindweed (Convolvulus althaeoides) were seen. At the viewpoint we saw more Vultures, Choughs and added Bonelli’s Warbler (Mosquitero Papialbo / Phylloscopus bonelli), Rock Bunting (Escribano Montesino / Emberiza cia), Booted Eagle (Aguililla Calzada / Hieraaetus pennatus) and Wren (Chochin / Troglodytes troglodytes). On the way down the other side of the ridge dropping in to the town of Grazalema we started to see a few spikes of the Afro-Iberian endemic Ornithogalum reverchonii and Meadow Saxifrage (Saxifraga granulata) were in flower along with a still to be confirmed Saxifrage species.
We then called in at the Information / Visitors centre on the main car park in Grazalema to pick up a few bits and pieces. We meet Clive in the car park and then had a look inside. Cath bought a couple of books and I picked up a couple of maps.
The next stop was at La Rana a few Kms further on towards Ronda, after scrambling under the electric fence and then over the bolder and wire fence a little further across. There were large swaths of Champagne Orchids (Orchis champagneuxii) including two spikes of a completely white variant. Four spikes of Pink Butterfly Orchid (Orchis papilionacea) looked very smart amongst a great many Champagne Orchids and the hybrid between the two (Orchis x gennarii). Sawfly (Orchis tenthredinifera) and another Ophrys species which I originally thought was Ophrys dyris. After consulting the new orchid book and seeing a species in there I am not so sure. We then pushed on to wards the Montejaque loop passing several spikes of Sword-leaved Helleborine (Cephalanthera longifolia), Bushes of Grey-leaved (Cistus albidus), Gum (Cistus ladanifer) and White Cistus (Cistus salvifolius) and a couple of spikes of Spanish Iris (Iris xiphium). We next made a stop at a grassland area along the road to Montejaque, here we found the usual Yellow Bee and Mirror Orchids plus an unexpected spike of Pink-butterfly Orchid. We also picked up Common Stonechat (Tarabilla Común / Saxicola torquata), Crested Lark (Cogujada Común / Galerida cristata), Sardinian Warbler (Curruca Cabecinegra / Sylvia melanocephala) and Barn Swallow (Golondrina Común / Hirundo rustica). In the crags area we picked up a few Chough, Crag Martin (Avión Roquero / Ptyonoprogne rupestris) and heard Green Woodpecker (Pito Real / Picus viridis). Here we also found several Man Orchids (Aceras anthropophorum) growing on the tops of the road side rocks.
We moved on around the loop and stopped at the Cave of the cat but could not get there as the bridge had been badly damaged. A single Alpine Swift (Vencejo Real / Apus melba) was seen to fly into the cave, large numbers of Crag and House Martins (Avión Común / Delichon urbica) filled the sky along with a passing flock of about 30 European Bee-eaters (Abejaruco Común / Merops apiaster) and a Cetti’s Warbler (Ruisenor Bastardo / Cettia cetti). We then made our way home via Supersol in Ronda.
Photographs from the top: Woodcock Orchid (Orchis scolopax var picta), Honeywort (Cerinthe major), White Champagne Orchid (Orchis champagneuxii), Ophrys dyris type Orchid and Pink Butterfly Orchid (Orchis papilionacea).