The outings

The Gibraltar Ornithological & Natural History Society organise monthly outings for it's members within Gibraltar and further afield into Andalucía, visiting a variety of locations covering diverse habitats and offering the opportunity to see the wildlife of this beautiful area. The venues for the outings are chosen and timed to coincide with the season's happenings: see Cranes in their wintering grounds, Orchids in the spring, wading birds in the Doñana wetlands, butterflies and Ibex in the Sierras, come Autumn mushrooming in the Alcornocales and enjoy the spectacular sights of thousands of migrating raptors right on your doorstep.

For dates, contacts and how to join us, see the gonhs website

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Valdeinfierno, Los Alcornocales, Woodland flowers and Birds 11th May 2013

Valdeinfierno (Los Alcornocales)

Michael Tiedtke

Mediterranean Flora is often associated with a climate of long dry summers and cool wet winters. However, the large diversity of plant communities encountered in Andalucia can only be explained by other additional factors such as high variability of soil types (eg. acid or basic), altitudes, distance from the Atlantic,total annual rainfall ranging from the driest area in Almeria with north African type of flora to wet areas with rainfall in excess of 1000mm (per annum) in the south west Grazalema and Los Alcornocales Natural Park)  where higher altitudes are often shrouded in mists. Here and along rivers we find a lauroid wood similar to that of the moist areas of the Canary Islands with laurel (Laurus nobilis) ferns (eg Davallia canariensis) liverworts,mosses and lichens. On slopes where the forest Cork Oaks have dissappeared, heathland plant communities which are unique to this area have evolved due to its moist Atlantic conditions. This heathland resembles those from Britain but despite the high rainfall is typically Mediterranean with many plants being either spiny or having very small leaves and an altogether small biomass, reflecting the adaptation to the poor soil and hot dry summer. Many plants are endemic to the south west of the Mediterranean, while a few have a larger area distribution. the heather plant community of the Alcornocales has recently been studied by Perez Latorre, gavira and Cabezudo. (2007 Ecomorphology and phenomorphology of Mediterranean heathlands ( SW  Iberian Peninsula) Phytocoenologia 37(2),329-268.

The Valdeinfierno walk starts at the dirt track off the road C4440a at 81km and parking is under a few cork oaks after approximately 1km driving on the track.
Our walk leads first through heather, the dominant shrubs are Heather (Erica) Gorse (Ulex, Stauracanthus) and Cistus. Descending to the river (Arroyo Valdeinfierno) we walk first through woodland dominated by Cork oaks, that is typical for semi dry conditions. The vegitation along the river is determined by high humidity and mild temperatures throughout the year, typically lauroid in character (non deciduous trees and shrubs with glossy often rather large leaves) which is in strong contrast to the heathland as mentioned above. We finish the walk going back along the dirt track where we will see a few wild Pear trees and some Orchids.

Our walk 

Jill yeoman, photos Clive Horrocks

As we approached Valdeinfierno along the sandy track we were greeted by a bee eater circling overhead, we parked and quickly one of the party spotted a Common Redstart siting in a nearby tree, we also saw probably the same bird at the end of the walk this time with food in its beak so probably busy feeding young nearby.

We started our walk heading out over open ground where Micheal quickly pointed out the Insect Trapping sundew Drosophyllum Lusitanicum a pretty yellow flowered plant that can survive on this poor sandy soil by trapping insects on its stems using extremely sticky dew that traps the insects enabling the plant to gradually absorb them so norishing the plant.

Before the path took us gradually down into the river valley we had good views of a buzzard circling overhead on the path we spotted the gorgeous  Large Tongue Orchid Serapias Cordigera

Close by we also found an excellent specimen of  Spotted Rockrose Tuberaria Guttata with its pretty  primrose colour flowers with brown spots in the center.

We are now moving into woodland hearing Iberian Chiffchaff, Willow warbler and Chaffinch calling all around us, here we also encounter the babbling fast flowing river where Wrens are shrilling and a distant Wood Pigeon is cooing. Micheal pointed out a Royal Fern Osmunda Regalis growing in the crevice of a large boulder close to the river.

We stopped near a tributary stream where Michael pointed out Apium Nudiflorum Fools Watercress, we declined to try this but smelled the pungent fumes of Allium tributum Wild garlic with its unusual triangular stem. Suddenly close by we could hear the call of a Tit and on closer examination a Crested Tit was spotted in the canopy above us.

Continuing along the stream one of the group pointed out a small bird crouching on a cork oak branch at the side of the water, we could see its wings and back as it preened after its bath, and then it hopped up and gave us a bright red flash of its Red breast after this sighting suddenly the whole area seemed to be alive with robin song and calls. Another member also pointed out a very large spider hanging over the river on its strong web.

We continued through the dappled woodland following the river some of the group climbed up a leave covered slope and after a while of poking around carefully with sticks were able to find two different fungus species Russula Piperata similar to chanterelle but with a peppery taste allegedly we didn't try it and a Lactarium named as it produces a milky white liquid when you break the stem.

We also had good views of a short toed tree creeper probing into the bark of a cork oak and pulling out an insect. Other birds heard and some seen included Great Tit, Nuthatch, Willow warbler, Iberian Chiff, Blackbird and Blackcap, we also had some good views of jays flitting through the tree tops. some of us were also lucky to spot a Crested Tit 

As we came out of the canopy of the woodland we emerged into a clearing and were greeted by an expanse of wild flower meadow with lots of butterflies collecting nectar, Clouded Yellow, orange tip, speckled wood and meadow brown were some identified. Also spotted was the  Bee Beetle Trichius fasciatus We also suprised a female Pied Flycatcher who was hawking flies a near by branch.                    

Bee Beetle Trichius fasciatus

Meadow brown
Speckled wood

After a drink in the shade of some large oaks we started our walk up the road in the direction of the parked cars, all along the road side were many wild flower species, Michael was very excited when he spotted an Epipactis with its small deep red flowers looking to be wilting but are actually fresh growing in quite shady woodland at the road side. Here we saw another jay and heard nuthatch calling once more. We had good views of a pair of Short toed Eagles displaying and a Booted Eagle light phase.

A loud blast of machine gun trill made us search a cork oak as we walked close by and we were rewarded with excellent views of a Bonelli's Warbler busily searching through the leaves, and later a few of us who had hung back to enjoy this also caught fleeting views of a Fallow deer running down and across a fire break and crashing into the undergrowth and out of sight in seconds. Continuing on along the path as the edges opened up we were treaed to lots of bee Orchids and large groups of small Tongue orchids many unfortunately almost over, but still spectacular and well worth a visit next year.

During the drive back to the venta for our lunch we had a quick stop to look at some beautiful unusual bog type flowers and suddenly the air was full of Griffen vultures giving us stunning close up views, later we were treated to the songs of Nightingale, Serin,and Corn buntings as we drove.

The gang