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Pyrenean foothills – a few nature notes

a large mountain in the background


The forested hillsides of the Pyrenee-Orientales region of southern France,
with the Pyrenees in the distance.
 I am back from a recent holiday to the Pyrenee-Orientales region of France, that’s the bit on the Mediterranean coast near the Spanish border, close to the eastern Pyrenees.
Here the rock is predominantly limestone, often typified by karst-like terrain and tall pale limestone cliffs. The valleys and lower hills host myriad vineyards, while the steeper and rockier ground is predominantly clothed in a forest of drought stunted small trees and shrubs.
European praying mantis, this one is a female, the male is smaller and
a dull brown colour, (and often gets eaten by the female during mating).
On the lower, uncultivated rockier ground that is parched by the sun,  the dominant flora is scrubby rosemary, lavender, juniper and cypress. Whilst the higher forested hills are mainly evergreen oaks, (holly oak and cork oak), field maple and tamarisk. These forests cover these hills to the summits, which rise to a maximum of 1200 metres.
Reaching the summit or the 940 metre Pech d’Auroux.
Where there are breaks in the tree cover, and the thin soil allows, dry grasses and aromatic herbs grow. Here we found the ubiquitous crickets, ‘chirping’ their incessant call by rubbing their back legs together. The European praying mantis, clumsy looking but deadly if you are a potential meal, and the common wall lizard, well camouflaged and skittering nervously between the warm rocks.
Butterflies are everywhere, some species are recognisable, like the small blue and the fritillaries, but others are more exotic, like the creamy yellow and brown swallowtails. There is the occasional flash of bright colour, golden yellow or deep blue, as yet another unknown butterfly hurries by.
Spot the lizard, (common wall lizard?), well camouflaged
against the pale rocks.
Pungent lavenders still flower late into the summer, the perfumed oils concentrated by the dry, hot weather. Here and there we spotted the bright pink flowers of the wild colchicum, a native of these hills, and leafless until the spring. There was also the familiar scabious and knapweeds, the flowers pinky mauve rather than the blue shades we were familiar with.
There is very little water here, as you would expect in limestone country, but nearby the river L’Agly, (eagle river), cuts through  the hills to form the deep and impressive Gorge de Galamus, a popular tourist destination.
We never saw any eagles, or any large birds or mammals. However, here and there we saw  the typical scratching and ‘rootlings’ of wild boar, no doubt hiding deep in the forest and perhaps peering at us as we passed by.
Wild colchicum, or autumn crocus.


The route ahead passing through the forest, in this case the GR36.
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