With a slightly worrying weather forecast (precipitation 3mm 60o/o chance)13 hardy individual GONHS members arrived at La Refugio de Juanar after a drive up into the misty Sierra Blanca hills just past the white pueblo of Ojen taking the winding track leading to the Refugio we were treated to the bright pink blooms of Echium albicans. Alas we needed our rain jackets and umbrellas to get to our coffee.
After a lovely leisurely breakfast of cafe, toastada and fruit cake, at the Refugio we emerged into sunshine to commence our walk. Sadly due to the damp terrain it was decided that we would not take the planned path up the steep and now slippery path to the summit but the less demanding flat circular walk towards the view point.
We were quickly shown a yellow bee orchid growing close to the path by Michael our botanical expert and also enjoyed the beautiful chestnut blossoms of a small copse, some of the hardy ones of the group scrambled up an incline for more flora whist others enjoyed fleeting views of robin, great tit and cirl bunting, the woods were alive with bird song, mostly chaffinch but also cirl buntings and wren were heard.
We wandered on up around a bend towards the plateaux and heard the distinct sound of firecrest high above us in the pine trees, Jill managed to see them and point them out as they flitted busily from branch to branch.
Once onto the flatter terrain of open maquis a jay flew behind us and hopped through the branches of an olive tree and we enjoyed a group of Tassle hyacinth's and saw plenty of the taller Reseda barrelieri.
Tassle Hyacinth Reseda Barrelieri
We took a left hand path heading towards the direction of the coast the rain holding off but a chilly easterly wind keeping us moving, Linda was lucky to spot a beautiful tightly closed roosting small blue butterfly sadly the only one of the day, in more clement weather this area is abundant with butterflies.
We headed into a pine forest with blue, great and crested tits calling around us and reached the first of the breath taking view points with Marbella and the Mediterranean spread out below us the mist clearing just enough. We continued up to the official viewpoint and enjoyed more views and some beautiful Cistus monspeliensis. Alas the chilly easterly and a few large spots of rain had us hurrying back to the shelter of the pines
Cistus Monseliensis Pallensis Spinosa
We circled our way back towards the main path and continued on the track to other viewpoint this time looking down the coast towards the straits and Gibraltar but as the advance group approached it they found the winds very cold and retreated quickly so we decided to take the more sheltered track into more sheltered woodland. Here we were quickly rewarded with the most spectacular views of clumps of the beautiful and enchanting Narrow-leaved Orchid (Cephalanthera longifolia) they were tall and looked like jewels amongst the damp rusty colour pine needles covering the forest floor. In these woodland we had great views of chaffinch a pair of busy nuthatch and noisy blackbirds and some of us heard a distant but distinct drumming of a great spotted woodpecker. We also found a mirror orchid ( so called as it has the shape of the wicked queens mirror in snow white)
Narrow Leaved Orchid
On our return walk we were treated to great views of a perched booted eagle (light phase) taking flight at our approach and circling above us and also a cheeky jay hopping around the base of olive trees gave us good views of it's beautiful distinctive plumage.
We got back to our cars and although a bit chilly were grateful that the rains had stayed away for us, some of the group then made our way to a nearby venta where we had a lovely, entertaining and very inexpensive lunch.
This area with its lovely mountain walks and spectacular scenery is highly recommended and we will certainly be doing it again in hopefully more clement weather.
Text Jill Yeoman Photos Linda Maley
The Flora of the Sierra Blanca: a brief account of its diversity Michael Tiedtke
The Mediterranean vegetation evolved as a result of climate change from a tropical to a Mediterranean climate with long dry summers and cool wet winters. The preceding vegetation consisting of Laurophyll trees, palms etc. now exists only as relicts in Macaronesia (Canaries, Azores and Madeira) and the southwest corner of Andalucia (e.g. Laurus nobilis). In Mediterranean regions, the ensuing widespread dense forests of Holm oak (Quercus ilex subsp. rotundifolia) largely disappeared mainly due to fire, animal grazing and agricultural and forestry purposes. This is also evident in the Sierra Blanca, where large areas are now covered by olive groves, pine forests (Pinus radiata, P. pinea and P. pinaster), Sweet Chestnut (Castanea sativa) and Eucalyptus globulos as well as by maquis (a dense community of small trees and shrubs less than 3m high) and garrigue (a more open community of small shrubs less than ½ m high).
Most of the Sierra Blanca, particularly at higher altitudes, consists of calcareous rocks ranging from limestone to dolomite. Silicate soil conditions occur at lower altitudes favouring quite different plant communities adjusted to more acid soil conditions.
A sustainable plant (and animal) diversity depends crucially on the size of the habitat area as described by Wilson in his book on ‘The Diversity of Life’. The Sierra Blanca cannot be regarded in isolation but has to be seen as part of a larger mountain range with similar soil conditions comprising the adjacent Sierra Mijas, Sierra de Las Nieves and Sierra Grazalema, which to a large extent share the same population of plants. The rich diversity of the flora comprising over 1000 species of vascular plants may be due to several reasons: the absence of a permanent ice cap during the last ice age ending ca. 10,000 years ago, the Mediterranean climate, a variable range of altitude and soil conditions, the replacement of monotonous uniform forests by more open types of vegetation and the introduction of species from other areas of Spain mainly by dispersal of seeds by wind, birds etc. Diversity is particularly high on calcareous rocky slopes, where only some small trees grow due to poor soil quality as a result of erosion, thereby promoting the growth of a large variety of shrubs, perennials, annuals and bulbous plants e.g. the majority of the over 30 orchids observed in the Sierra Blanca. Some plant families are particularly well represented such as Cistaceae (considered the typical Mediterranean family per se with Helianthemum, Cistus etc), Labiatae (Thymus), Orchidaceae (Orchis and Ophrys), Compositae and Scrophulariaceae.
The Sierra Blanca offers several sign-posted walks across different habitats. The circular walk with start and finish at the Refugio de Juanar (where Charles de Gaulle wrote his memoirs) is most interesting - in particular the east facing rocky slope (first quarter of the walk) which habitats a rich flora of Mediterranean plants.
GONHS would like to thank Michael for this interesting insight of this wonderful region and for his expert guidence during the day.