Lovely observations from Rachel who stayed in the Grazalema area with her husband for a few months last year (2019). After exploring the main footpaths such as the Garganta Verde, Pinsapo forest and the high peak of Torreon they found a small River in the Gaidovar valley and walked upstream finding some nice surprises in the heat of the summer.
At the beginning of August, when the heat was turning up towards its maximum for the year, Dave and I decided to walk for a couple of kilometres up one of the smaller river beds within the Sierra de Grazalema natural park to see if any small pools lingered through the summer and just what treasures they would hold, we were more than pleased with the results!
The striking images above show a blanket of algae that has been bleached and baked dry in the sunshine clinging onto boulders, in stark contrast to the heavy flooding just 4 months earlier!
Expecting a dry river bed
The first part of our walk turned up several dried exoskeletons of crayfish that had dried out as the exposed shallow pools diminished in the heat. Tamarisk, oleander, willow, brambles and smilax at times virtually closed off our access as we traced the dry waterway upstream. The first water filled pool that we came across had a distinct autumnal feel despite the time of year. Some trees drop their leaves in the summer to conserve energy. These ash trees overhanging the pool had cast a yellow cover of dried leaves, crunching through them at the edge were a couple of terrapins unsuccessfully trying to avoid detection. The pool at about half a metre deep and 20 metres long may provide a safe haven for many creatures.
The next of these pools that we came to was teaming with tiny frogs. As we developed an eye to pick out their tiny forms we could count 10 or so in a metre squared, some clustered in small groups on rocks and others with just a pointed snout breaking the water’s surface.
A larger body of water which stretched for perhaps 50 metres had many small fish that were extremely inquisitive, shoaling around my feet looking for an interesting snack. There were less frogs in this pool for a very good reason. Further upstream some larger boulders held what would be an impressive cascade in the right season but, for now it simply retained a higher pool with amazingly bright green algae and families of terrapins sunbathing on exposed rocks. It seems that each wet area is host to different creatures depending on depth, overall length, shade etc. This small pool has more sunshine hence the algae growth and terrapin occupation as an important need for their metabolism is warmth from the sun.
The next pool may have put some people off as I noticed a Viperine snake moving around the edge despite its impressive camouflage against the gravel base. Once it realized that we had seen it, this small aquatic snake made a dash through the open water before hiding briefly around Dave’s sandals and then disappearing around rocks into the deeper area. And next we had to climb out and over some large boulders to avoid breaking long strands from a spider’s web!
Deep in the shade of overhanging trees we found a pool with ripped apart remains of large fish. But just the bones and scales with none left swimming around. These enclosed water bodies had made catching a summer meal much easier for the hunter. A strong odour emanating from rocks along the banks quickly led us to numerous spraints laced with fish bones and crayfish shells which confirmed to us that we were in otter territory. We were surprised to find that an otter could survive through the summer on an area that virtually dries out but having walked it, and given the over grown nature of the banks an otter could easily wander up and down stream undetected to the various pools in order to find a meal.
The frogs were plentiful down stream and further on we found a good selection of large fish in an area with slow flowing water with plenty of grassy cover on the banks. This new area was popular with dragonflies and damselflies which danced lightly through the air in colourful displays as we briefly disturbed their tranquillity before leaving the river and returning to our car.
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