Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Sierra Nevada, Granada Province.

33+ species of butterflies and a lot more.

John and Pam Fielder arrived yesterday for their 3rd or 4th visit to our house and were staying for a week to get to know the area and it’s wildlife a bit better. This year instead of concentrating on the birds we were doing more work on John’s butterfly list which we started back in 2010.
We started the day at the deep water Embalse de Canales in the Genil Valley above Granada, we walked out on to the dam wall and immediately started the butterfly list off with a male Long-tailed Blue (Lampides boeticus) which was moving between a couple of broom bushes. Also on these brooms were a single female Violet Dropwing (Trithemis annulata) dragonfly and several Carpenter Bees (Xylocopa violacea) which with their large size and dark colouration look quite menacing but are quite harmless unless you are a beam in some ones old house! We walked out to the far end of the dam to the cliffs where we soon picked up a couple of Blue Rock Thrushes (Roquero Solitario / Monticola solitarius), a male Black Redstart (Colirrojo Tizón / Phoenicurus ochruros) and a pair of Red-billed Choughs (Chova Piquirroja / Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax) which flew from the cliffs to join a second pair on the Embalse control tower. In the air there were goodnumbers of both Pallid (Vencejo Pálido / Apus pallidus) and Common Swifts (Vencejo Común / Apus apus), House Martins (Avión Común / Delichon urbica) and Barn Swallows (Golondrina Común / Hirundo rustica). We then walked back along the path nearest the water and picked up a couple of the very fancy Thread Lacewings (Nemoptera bipennis) which look good but make flying seem hard work. On the bird front we saw a singing male Rock Bunting (Escribano Montesino / Emberiza cia), Crested Lark (Cogujada Común / Galerida cristata), Spotless Starling (Estornino Negro / Sturnus unicolor), Jackdaw (Grajilla / Corvus monedula), Jay (Arrendajo / Garrulus glandarius) and Common Chaffinch (Pinzón Vulgar / Fringilla coelebs).
We continued on further up the valley passing a large group of school children who were making their way along the same valley. We stopped a little further on and walked a short track down to the river and crossed the bridge to a spot where a couple of years ago I had taken some nice shots of a Queen of Spain Fritillary (Issoria lathonia) and after just a few seconds we were in luck as the species was still at the same spot. A cracked flew up and down the centre of the track and chased of several other species including Spanish Gatekeeper (Lobito listado / Pyronia bathsheba) and our first Marsh Fritillary (Euphydryas aurinia beckeri) of the day. Down by the river we had some good views of a male Grey Wagtail (Lavandera Cascadena / Motacilla cinerea), Spotted Flycatcher (Papamoscas Gris / Muscicapa striata), a singing Wren (Chochin / Troglodytes troglodytes) but there was no sign of the Dipper (Mirlo Acuático / Cinclus cinclus) that had clearly nested at the spot. Our chances of seeing anything else was greatly reduced by the arrival of some very well mannered and compared to other groups of school children I have come across quite quiet kids with there teachers. On the way back up the track we added Long-tailed Tit (Mito / Aegithalos caudatus), Serin (Verdecillo / Serinus serinus), Goldfinch (Jilguero / Carduelis carduelis), Blackcap (Curruca Capirotada / Sylvia atricapilla), Robin (Petirrrojo / Erithacus rubecula) and Crag Martin (Avión Roquero / Ptyonoprogne rupestris) to the bird list while Mallow Skipper (Carcharodus alceae), Speckled Wood (Pararge aegeria) and Wall Brown (Lasiommata megera) joined the butterflies. Our next stop was just a little way along the same road where we again dropped down to the river but this time we went right down on to the pebbly margins where we were in for quite a wildlife treat as there were at least 3 to 400 adult Marsh Fritillaries all down on the edge of a 20 metre length of the stone river bank, along with these there were several Marbled (Carcharodus lavatherae) and Small Skipper (Thymelicus sylvestris), Holly Blues (Celastrina argiolus), Small Copper (Lycaena phlaeas) and Small White (Artogeia rapae). We spent quite a while here amazed at the numbers of Marsh Frit’s which were not just down by the river but on all the surrounding brambles and any yellow flower that could be seen, I would guess that in total there were between 6 and 700 insects in that area alone and we saw lot more at almost every stop we made on the lower slopes. As we started to walk back to the car a single Spanish Marbled White (Melanargia ines) was seen and both Golden Oriole (Oropéndola / Oriolus oriolus) and Firecrest (Reyezuelo Listado / Regulus ignicapillus) were heard from nearby trees. We then started to climb up and away from the river into the denser Sweet Chestnut woodlands, after the first few hairpin bends we parked and straight away our attention was draw to a larger butterfly which was flying higher up in one of the chestnut trees, eventually it dropped down low enough to identify it as a very smart High-brown Fritillary (Argynnis adippe) and almost at the same moment a male Mother of Pearl Blue (Plebicula nivescens) came in and landed on the same bramble as the frit but sod’s law said that there was a chain-link between us and them. We then turned around and caught up with Pam who was doing some artistic shots of some very large Goats-beard type seed heads, a short walk along the road from here to an area of flowers on a steep bank gave us two very interesting species, both of which have turned out to be new for my Spanish list. The first was a female Escher’s Blue (Agrodiaetus escheri) which looked really good in amongst a clump of Tufted Vetch (Vicia villosa). The second was a Lesser Spotted Fritillary (Melitaea trivia) which was at first down the steep bank and out of the range of the cameras but one of the many Marsh Frit’s flushed it and it flew up and landed right next to Pam and we managed to get some shot. I had at first identified this insect as the Spotted Fritillary (Melitaea didyma) as the Collins guide shows the distribution of the Lesser being just in the North of the Peninsular but after checking the new book on the butterflies of Sierra Nevada I find it is within range. We did really well at this spot and also added Cardinal Fritillary (Pandora / argynnis Pandora), Clouded Yellow (Colias Común / Colias crocea), a late tatty looking Spanish Festoon (Zerynthia rumina), Common Blue (Icaro (Dos Puntos) / Polyommatus icarus) and Large White (Pieris brassicae). A little further on we again stopped on the road side this time to have a look at a couple of Orchids which grow in a roadside ditch, the first Robust Marsh Orchid (Dactylorhiza elata) was in full flower but the much rarer Epipactis fageticola was at least a week away from blooming.
Moving on to the next site found us still amongst the Chestnuts but with a much greater mix of other trees as well, here we added another Orchid to the list by finding a few spikes of the uncommon Small-leaved Helleborine (Epipactis microphylla) on the roadside. John and I did a walk along the road, heading up hill we came out into an area of fields which were full of Cherry trees and the road sides were line with bramble filled hedges. Here we picked up more of the very common Marsh Frit’s and our first Black-veined White (Banca del Majuelo / Aporia crataegi), Brown Argus (Aricia agestis), Meadow Brown (Maniola jurtina ssp hispulla), Scarce Swallowtail (Chupaleches / Iphiclides podalirius feisthameli) and Grayling (Hipparchia semele). Birds included Woodpigeon (Paloma Torcaz / Columba palumbus), Turtle Dove (Tórtola Europea / Streptopelia turtur), Subalpine Warbler (Curruca Carrasquena / Sylvia cantillans), Hoopoe (Abubilla / Upupa epops), Great Tit (Carbonero Común / Parus major), European Bee-eater (Abejaruco Común / Merops apiaster) several flying over head, Common Magpie (Urraca / Pica pica), Bonelli’s Warbler (Mosquitero Papialbo / Phylloscopus bonelli), Blackcap (Curruca Capirotada / Sylvia atricapilla) and Blackbird (Mirlo Común / Turdus merula). On the walk back to the car we saw a small group of blues chasing each other around a dam area of soil which turned out to be some active and difficult to photograph Silver-studded Blues (Plebejus argus hypochionus). At yet another spot further up the hill towards the visitors centre we stopped and had a walk in amongst an area of thyme filled grassland and in this area we picked up our first Bath White (Blanqiverdosa / Pontia daplidice), several more Grayling’s and a smart looking yellow Moth which I have yet to put a name to. While we were in the woodlands a few wild flowers were identified including False Sainfoin (Vicia onobrychioides), Berberis vulgaris, White Bryany (Bryonia cretica), Common Myrtle (Myrtus communis) and Salvia lavandulifolia.
We then dropped down just a km or so along the main road up to the ski resort where we got a very good lunch before carrying on up to the car park at 2500 meters. Just before we reached the top we picked up a couple of Griffon Vultures (Bultre Leonado / Gyps fulvus) and a small flock of Rock Sparrows (Gorrión Chillón / Petronia petronia). From here we took the track out towards the Barranco de San Juan but there was a cool wind and not many butterflies, we did however see a single Small Tortoiseshell (Aglais urticae), an Iberian Marbled White (Melanargia lachesis) and on the bird front a couple of male Northern Wheatears (Collalba Gris / Oenanthe oenanthe), Common Kestrel (Cernicalo Vulga / Falco tinnunculus) and several more Pallid Swifts. As there were so few butterflies here were dropped down through the resort and made our way out on to a track which took us out onto the ski slopes, there were a few more insects here including our only Moroccan Orange Tip (Anthocharis belia) of the week and this turned out to be the only new species seen up at this altitude. We did see quite a few species of wildflower up in this area including Verbascum nevadense, Mediterranean Kidney Vetch (Anthyllis vulneraria), Arenaria imbricata, Leucanthemopsis pectinata, Linaria aeruginea ssp nevadensis, Pterocephalus spathulatus and Saponaria ocymoides. From this spot we took a steady drive back to the house, getting back at around 18:30. Later in the evening we picked up Azure-winged Magpie (Rabilargo / Cyanopica cyanus), Stone Curlew (Alcaraván Común / Burhinus oedicnemus), Little Owl (Mochuelo Europeo / Athene noctua) and Red-necked Nightjar (Chotacabras Cuellirrojo / Caprimulgus ruficollis) from the roof terrace whilst talking about a memorable day over a beer.

Photographs from the top: 2x Marsh Fritillary (Euphydryas aurinia beckeri), Small Skipper (Thymelicus sylvestris), Escher’s Blue (Agrodiaetus escheri), 2x Lesser Spotted Fritillary (Melitaea trivia), Grayling (Hipparchia semele) and Silver-studded Blue (Plebejus argus hypochionus).

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