Favourite byways

Southern White Admiral (Martin Kelsey)
I guess it is a gut feeling that signals that something has potential, is special. Thus so a path through decidous woodland that I have only ever walked along six times so far and, only once, indeed, have made significant progress along it. It lies in the Ibores Mountains of eastern Extremadura.  It starts unprepossessing enough, like any number of the rutted dirt tracks that finger their way across the countryside here, access routes to smallholdings and traversed by old Citroen vans. It climbs, mostly gently, with a stream at its side, which provides irrigation for little vegetation gardens on terraces on the opposite bank. It makes its way through ancient coppiced Sweet Chestnut groves, small clearings where side paths set off and tracts of dense Pyrenean Oak. Banks of brambles tumble alongside the path in places.

Pyrenean Oak glade
I had first visited this track a few autumns ago, surrounded by glorious Fall colours and made note to go again in springtime. My vow was to remain unfulfilled until last year, when I returned in mid-May. Within minutes of starting the walk, I was finding the withered flower spikes of orchids. I searched amongst them to find any whose flowers still showed any memory of colour or form. It became almost a forensic investigation and my conclusion was that there were at least two species, one with pink flowers and the other with creamy white flowers. I even made a guess at what species they were, but clearly I needed to wait another year and return earlier in the spring to establish their identity with certainty.

This year, thanks to the opportunity of taking a visitor round who was keen on orchids, I returned. It was mid-April and the path exceeded my expectations by a league. Dotted along close to the path were magnificent creamy Sulphur Orchids, in perfect condition. Early Purple Orchids appeared on higher slopes, whilst Narrow-leaved Helleborines were just starting to flower. My hunch had more than paid off, but now the path enticed me further. I was not convinced that the remnant pinkish orchids I had found the previous year were Early Purple Orchids, especially since they had not been growing where this colony was present. Three weeks later, I secured a return visit. With the acceleration that is spring, three weeks is a huge gap and the Sulphur Orchids were now barely recognisable. But what had emerged in the interim excited me still further. Langei's Orchids were now beside the path and were clearly the pinkish-flowered species that I had found a year earlier. But a little further along the path, I found what I had really been hoping for: a stand of  Dactylorhiza insularis, scarce and highly localised species in Extremadura.

Dactylorhiza insularis (Martin Kelsey)

But the walk that May morning had added further attractions to the lure of this path. Beautiful Demoiselles flitted across the glades, moving from shaft of sunlight into shadow and on the newly opening bramble flowers and patches of blue scabius on sunny banks, butterflies wandered.

Beautiful Demoiselle (Martin Kelsey)
Southern White Admirals sought resting places on bramble leaves, tantalizingly seemingly changing their minds at the last minute, leaving one guessing where they would land. Provence Fritillaries hugged the scabius together, whilst an Amanda's Blue settled on the path by my feet. In just two short walks of not even a couple of kilometres in length (naturalists don't tend to go for a walk, they go for a stop), a week apart, I have found 32 species of butterfly this spring, and the flight period of others may only just be starting.

Amanda's Blue (Martin Kelsey)
In a few days time, I will return to this byway again and who knows perhaps even make it beyond the first kilometre or so....but more than likely not.


Koenraad said…
Nice pictures and well written.

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