Thursday, 21 July 2016

My French Adventure (Part 2)

Crested Tit
On the morning of day two of my French adventure, I woke up early to join a few others of the group for a bird walk. We drove down to La Sierre, which was at an altitude of 1375m. At this time of the morning, it was freezing! We saw a crested tit, a coal tit, a raven and a mistle thrush and that was about it. Still, seeing the crested tit and raven was pretty good. We also found some interesting plants including pyramidal orchids, yellow foxgloves, harebells, yellow ox-eye and fringed pink.

View from La Sierre

Yellow Foxglove

Not sure (forgotten what it was)
A Stonecrop (possibly biting)
Yellow Ox-eye
Harebell (I think)
Pyramidal Orchid
Another Yellow Foxglove
Fringed Pink

Mistle Thrush

Burnt Orchids
After breakfast, we all went out to Les Merciers for two locations. First was a short walk up a rocky slope beside a winding mountain road. This was a great place for plants. The plant enthusiasts within the group got to grips with many great plants like Carthusian pink, Italian catchfly, white stonecrop, Martagon lily and hoary plantain as well as many other things. We also found two beautiful species of orchid, both extremely rare in the UK. The burnt orchid is my favourite out of the two with its beautiful florets and scorched-coloured tops. The red heleborine was also lovely to look at with its delicate- looking flowers. Fragrant orchid and lizard orchid were also found along the roadside of this place.
Red Helleborine
Martagon Lily
Wood Pink (I think)
White Stonecrop (I think)
Fragrant Orchid

Lizard Orchid
Carthusian Pink
Creeping Bellflower

Marbled White
There were some great butterflies here as well. Some of which I have never seen before. There were marbled white, large wall, scarce copper, heath fritillary and pearly heath. Then at our second location, along the top of a gorge just down the road, we found a great banded grayling and, to my annoyance, a common blue! There were actually a few common blues around here, sheltering in the grass. I wonder if I could smuggle one back to Strumpshaw?
Large Wall (that was what I was told, but I think it is a Meadow Brown)
Pearly Heath
Scarce Copper (with wings closed)
Scarce Copper (with wings open)
Heath Fritillary
Banded Grayling
Common Blue

Further up the path along the clifftop, we came to a viewpoint of the gorge. Looking down the cliff was a sheer drop, a long way down to the bottom. I would not want to fall off the edge here! The views around us, though, was amazing. Crag martins were whizzing past along the cliffs and on the other side of the gorge, miles away, were chamois (pronounced sham-wah). These goat-like creatures are adapted to life in the mountains as they have the ability to walk along the narrowest of ledges with incredible ease. They were so far away that they looked like tiny brown specks half hidden amongst the rocks near the top of the cliff face. If it wasn't for my eagle-eyed guide, I would not have known it was there!

Asptic (or Asp) Viper
As we made our way back, we chanced upon something slithering between the cracks of a rock. It was an asptic or asp viper! This was the mountain equivalent of an adder. A zig-zag pattern adorns its bright orange body and the fact that it is bright orange means that it has recently shed its skin. This is, like the adder, a venomous snake and this species was allegedly the one responsible for killing Queen Cleopatra. Of course, like most snakes, it won't attack people unless provoked. It was happy to shy away from us and to hide within the rocks out of sight.
Slithering to safety!

For lunch, we drove to Gorges du Furon. This was a peaceful spot for a picnic beside a fast flowing stream, a perfect place to see dippers. I found this youngster bobbing up and down on a rock before it flew off further down the stream. We also saw grey wagtails and this dark green fritillary.

Dark Green Fritillary
Greater Butterfly Orchid
Next up was a quick stop at Les Bruyeres to try and find marsh warblers. I think we found one, but a short heavy shower started pouring down and we had to abandon our search. Our final stop was at a forest by a busy road. We were looking for ghost orchids, a plant that is incredibly hard to find. To add to the difficulty of the search, we had to walk down a steep slope covered in trees. This was exhausting work for me. In the end, we failed to find these elusive orchids, but we did manage to find a greater butterfly orchid, some old bird's-nest orchids and some yellow bird's-nests, which are not orchids but strange parasitic plants that absorbs all the nutrients it needs from other plants.
Bird's-nest Orchid (an old one)
Yellow Bird's-nest
Another Yellow Bird's-nest

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