September in the Sierra de Grazalema

September in the Sierra de Grazalema is a good time to watch Bee-eaters, Short-toed eagles and Booted eagles on their Southerly migration.

September in the Sierra de Grazalema

The temperature begins to cool from the searing August heat and, if there is rain, then the ground will soften, giving way from dried straw colours to a soft green as plants sprout anew after their summer dormancy. Some of the flowers we can see now are Round-leaved fluellin, Common ivy, Fennel, Rosemary, White asparagus, Apple mint and Maritime squill. A range of fruits and berries begin to ripen, which can add a surprising splash of colour; Sloe, Blackberry, Hawthorn, Laurustinus, Peony, Turpentine Tree and Strawberry tree.

Reptiles will continue to enjoy sunbathing and snacking on a plentiful supply of insects. There are many insects which only live for one summer, they will now have reached maturity and are laying eggs which will hatch in the coming spring.

Podarcis Grazalema
Lizards are still out sunbathing and feasting on insects

During the month of September the night time temperatures are lower, allowing plant life a reprieve and the chance of at least a few drops of moisture in the form of dew, if not a rain shower or perhaps a storm. Heavy rain tends to run off the baked ground too quickly whereas steady showers can be absorbed into the parched soil. Either way the wildlife appreciates this sign of the approaching cooler weather and autumn bulbs “spring” into life.

Stemless atractylis (Carlina gummifera)
Standing at approximately 10cm, this ground hugging thistle is easily recognized.

Carlina-gummifera

The leaf rosette is dry and brown at the time of flowering, although it still offers a decorative and highly defensive backdrop to the flowers. These are broad at around 5cm wide, composed of compacted pink tubular florets, the centre of the flower head is often white. Due to their reduced height, they can easily be overlooked hidden amongst dry grasses in fields, banks and roadsides. Distribution: Western and central Mediterranean area.

Autumn colchicum (Colchicum lusitanum)
This small plant grows from a corm, with the long fine leaves appearing later in spring, but not at the time of flowering. The pinkish, lilac flowers which are around 10 to 15cm tall initially look like crocuses.

colchicum-lusitanicum

On closer inspection note the 6 yellow stamens inside (a true crocus only has 3 stamens), also notice a pale chequered pattern on the tepals and a central white stripe. The stem is thin and pale, adding to the fragile look of the flower. Found on dry, rocky hillsides. Distribution: Iberia, Italy, N. Africa.

Maritime squill (Urginea maritima)
This huge bulb can grow just beneath the soil surface or even in rock crevices. The leaves which appear in late winter and spring are a dark green, fleshy-leathery and broad. These die off completely during the summer heat at which point the bulb prepares to flower.

Urginea-maritima

A single un-branched inflorescence can reach over 1 metre in height. Each individual flower is small, composed of 6 white tepals with a dark central stripe. The flowering stalk and short pedicels (stems that attach the flowers) are purple in colour. All parts are toxic and so it is avoided by grazing animals. Distribution: Southern Europe, N. Africa, SW Asia, Macaronesia.

Autumn Mandrake (Mandragora autumnalis)
This is a low growing perennial which dies back in the summer months. The leaves emerge in the autumn and winter, they are rough to the touch with a slightly wavy edge and form a basal rosette. Clusters of large individual lilac, blue or whitish flowers appear from the centre of the plant, sometimes hidden in the leaves.

Mandragora-autumnalis

The five petals are joined at their base to form a bell shape. The long, thick root that can be up to a metre deep, is often divided into two branches similar in form to 2 legs, this gave the plant an anthropomorphic aspect that in ancient times increased its magical character. Found on slopes, roadsides, cultivated areas, flood plains of rivers and streams. Distribution: Mediterranean region.

Squirting cucumber (Ecballium elaterium)
A low growing, spreading perennial plant of the cucumber family with heart shaped leaves which are rough on the upper-side and have bristly hairs beneath. The flowers are yellow with a green tint at their centre and composed of five petals which are fused at the base. It actually flowers through many months of the year, becoming more obvious now as it flourishes when other plants die back.

Ecballium-elaterium

The odd name comes from the plant’s ability to eject a juice from the fruit which disperses the seeds, this juice can irritate skin on contact. A common plant, often seen in poor soils on waste ground, roadsides and margins of cultivated areas. Distribution: Mediterranean region, Macaronesia

Wild Asparagus (Asparagus acutifolius)
An evergreen perennial growing to 1.5 m, the somewhat feathery looking leaves on this leggy, scrambling plant are in fact needle-like modified stems. It is related to the much plumper asparagus (Asparagus officinalis) bought in shops and is much sought after.

Asparagus-acutifolius

The fine and tender newly emerged shoots of this plant, known in Spanish as “Esparragos trigueros” are collected from the hillsides and sold in bundles during the spring. The small flowers are pale yellow or green and star like in shape. It grows in woodlands and scrub, often partly camouflaged as it clambers through other plants.

Other plants in September in the Sierra de Grazalema to look out for
Yellow

Common Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare)
Round-leaved fluellin (Kickxia spuria)
Rush Skeletonweed (Chondrilla juncea)
Prickly Lettuce (Lactuca serriola)
Shrubby Hare’s Ears (Bupleurum fruticosum)
Stinkwort (Dittrichia graveolens)
Sticky Fleabane (Dittrichia viscose)
Ragwort (Senecio jacobaea)

White

Flax-leaved Daphne (Daphne gnidium)
White Melilot (Melilotus alba)
Apple Mint (Mentha suaveolens)

Pink, blue, purple

Dodder (Cuscuta epithymum)
Blue Lettuce (Lactuca tenerrima)
Chichory (Cichorium intybus)
Eryngium tricuspidatum
Hairy Willowherb (Epilobium hirsutum)
Pennyroyal (Mentha pulegium)
Purple Rush Loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria)
Common Verbena (Verbena officinalis)
Water Speedwell (Veronica anagallis-aquatica)

Green, brown

Common Ivy (Hedera helix)


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A week of August day trips in Grazalema

In Grazalema we are spoilt for choices between the myriad of places to visit. During a week of August day trips, a selection of the most diverse took me to historical sites, natural cave formations, a shaded woodland walk, botanic garden (El Bosque), rivers, lakes , a museum (Palacio Mondrago, Ronda) and an early morning walk above the village of Grazalema through the Sierra de Endrinal

Even the lightest breeze is appreciated when you are out and about in the sierras during August. Setting off with sun cream, hat and plenty of chilled water, even late into the afternoons the sun shows little desire to lower in the sky. The brilliant blue skies of August can be relied upon to form a beautiful backdrop to most images with occasional pure white fluffy clouds offering an interesting colour contrast.

As well as the seering heat, the most striking things at this time of year are the colours, scents and sounds. Although grasses are dry and golden many of the trees and shrubs are evergreen. Some trees and shrubs are flowering now such as the bright pink Oleander (Nerium oleander) which borders stream banks, the small Mediterranean daphne (Daphne gnidium) with its dainty night scented white flowers on the dry slopes and the unusual purple Stemless thistle that flowers at ground level (Chamaeleon gummifer).

The hot air carries the fragrance of thyme, rosemary, mint and pine resin. Look out for pine kernels beneath impressive Stone pines (Pinus pinea). The intense whirring from these and other trees is created by cicadas. An insect that spends years under ground as a larvae and just one summer in its adult stage when it lives on trees, drinking their sap.

Water is a good place to look out for creatures during the heat of the day. My priority this week was to find a wide selection of dragonflies, so I aimed for a variety of local water bodies from open reservoir, small ponds, gentle streams to flowing rivers. The most prolific was the Copper demoiselle (Calopteryx haemorrhoidalis), a delicate creature that alights on twigs besides or close to water, an easy subject to see and identify but more difficult to photograph.

Dragonflies in Grazalema
A dragonfly with lunch!

Other ‘dragons’ such as the Small Pincertail (Onychogomphus forcipatus) were less camera shy and posed happily on rocks. The Iberian Bluetail (Ischnura graellsii) were numerous in certain locations, but only once your eyes were adjusted to focus on something not much thicker than a hair at ankle height! Some of the larger crepuscular dragonflies zigzag so quickly and without stopping that their colours were impossible to discern in the fading light. Read more about dragonflies here: https://wildsideholidays.co.uk/dragonflies-and-damselflies-in-spain/

Pelophylax perezi formerly known as Rana perezi
Pelophylax perezi formerly known as Rana perezi

Of course whilst searching for these beautiful insects I also discovered Iberian water frogs (Pelophylax perezi formerly known as Rana perezi), Mediterranean pond terrapin (Mauremys leprosa), a selection of mantids and I got distracted by various birds too.

Golden Orioles live in the tall trees near to water whilst Bee-eaters and Swallows are attracted to the airborne insects. Nightingales and Cetti’s warblers although not obvious, as when they are actively singing in spring, could be spied in the shrubs and bushes. The call of Short-toed eagles is distinctive as they chatter together in a family group flying close by getting ready to migrate south for the winter. Other birds active were Sardinian warbler, Great spotted woodpecker and several noisy Red- billed Choughs.

The cave sink hole at Hundidero connects through 4.5km of underground channels to Cueva del Gato and the path down to the entrance has recently been improved (though it is still very steep!) The cool refreshing river that flows from “cat cave” attracts many swimmers on a weekend.

A week of August day trips in Grazalema
The “freezing” water at the cueva del gato

Cueva de la Pileta, another natural cave, is renowned for the cave art in many of its corridors and huge chambers. A selection of historical sites with the Dolmen ‘El Gigante’ at El Gastor, the Roman ruined town of Acinipo and the Moorish tower above Zahara de la Sierra completes a week of August day trips in Grazalema

A few flowering plants in August in the Sierra de Grazalema

This is a golden month, as most annual flowers have finished their colourful phase, produced their seed heads and dried completely to a straw colour. Although if you look in the right places there are still flowers to be found; watercourses, irrigated areas, animal watering troughs, damp meadows and high mountains will offer the best selection.

Oleander (Nerium oleander)
A tall, flexible, bushy shrub growing to about 6m, that is associated with waterways, the bright pink (sometimes scented) flowers are in clusters on the branch tips.

Nerium-oleander

The leaves are long and fairly narrow, they remain on this evergreen plant all year. It is wise to be cautious when handling this plant as the white milky sap released when a leaf or branch is broken can cause skin irritation and eye inflammation. All parts of the plant are toxic, even the smoke inhaled from burning its branches. Distribution: Mediterranean region, eastwards and widely used in gardening with many different coloured cultivars.

Shrubby Hare’s Ears (Bupleurum fruticosum)
This plant forms a bushy shrub which can grow to 2.5 m, although only in favourable situations. Its blue-green leaves are narrow and waxy which helps reduce transpiration.

The clusters of tiny yellow flowers are held on umbels above the leaves in summer and early autumn, they attract wasps and hoverflies. It can be seen growing in quite inhospitable places such as dry sunny limestone banks. Distribution: Mediterranean Region

Pennyroyal (Mentha pulegium)
This is a small perennial, growing to around 40cm tall. Its tiny leaves are highly aromatic, it is the source of the very popular Poleo- Menta infusion.

The clusters of pale lilac flowers are held in whorls along the stem, opening from summer to autumn, they are noted for attracting nectaring insects. It grows best in damp areas. Distribution: Southern Europe, including Britain, Mediterranean region, Macaronesia.

Common Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare)
The well known culinary and medicinal herb Fennel can grow to 2.5 m tall. The stems are hollow and branched with fine, feathery leaves. The yellow flowers are clustered on umbels, in our area you might also find smaller flower heads of a more orange-reddish colour.

We are not the only ones who enjoy its flavour, the attractively patterned caterpillars of the large Swallowtail butterfly can sometimes be found on these plants. Distribution: the Mediterranean, and naturalized in many parts of the world.

Apple Mint (Mentha suaveolens)
A perennial plant that can grow up to 1 m tall in the right conditions, it favours damp ground. The oval leaves have soft hairs on top and they are also felted with hairs beneath, thus giving rise to an alternative common name of woolly mint.

The flower spikes are made up of many tiny whitish-lilac blooms. It can be grown both as a culinary herb and an ornamental plant. Distribution: Southern and western Europe.

Purple Rush Loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria)
This is a robust herbaceous perennial with upright stems to 1.2m tall with narrow, willowy leaves. The small purplish-pink flowers are approx 2cm wide and held in dense terminal spikes, opening over a long period in summer.

Its favoured habitat is pond-sides and watercourses which allows it the luxury of a long flowering season. Distribution: widespread in Europe, NW Africa, Asia and introduced into N America.

Purple, blue, pink

Wooly Lavender (Lavandula lanata)
Eryngo (Eryngium tricuspidatum)
Blue Lettuce (Lactuca tenerrima)
Verbena (Verbena officinalis)
Mallow (Malva sylvestris)
Snapdragon (Antirrhinum majus)
Ptilostemon hispanicus
Star Thistle (Centaurea calcitrapa)
Hairy Willowherb (Epilobium hirsutum)

Yellow

Yellow Flax (Linum tenue)
Common Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare)
Clustered Carline Thistle (Carlina corymbosa)
Branched Carline Thistle (Carlina racemosa)
Ragwort (Senecio jacobaea)
Sticky Fleabane (Dittrichia viscosa)
Stinkwort (Dittrichia graveolens)
Spiny hare’s-ears (Bupleurum frutescens ssp. spinosum)
Shrubby Hare’s Ears (Bupleurum fruticosum)
Rush Skeletonweed (Chondrilla juncea)
Prickly Lettuce (Lactuca serriola)

White

Wild asparagus (Asparagus albus)
Flax leaved daphne (Daphne gnidium)
Cynara baetica
European Heliotrope (Heliotropium europaeum)
Apple Mint (Mentha suaveolens)


A week of August day trips in Grazalema. Read more about Grazalema here: https://grazalemaguide.com/blog/the-white-village-of-grazalema/

How to get to Grazalema

Grazalema is a traditional white village (pueblo blanco) located in the north-eastern area of Cadiz province. It nestles amongst the beautiful mountains of the Sierra de Grazalema and has a local population of around 2000 people inhabiting the village and surrounding countryside. Getting to Grazalema by car is easy enough but things become a bit more complicated using public transport. Read more about the village of Grazalema here: https://grazalemaguide.com/blog/the-white-village-of-grazalema/

Grazalema by car

Grazalema is on the A-372 road that connects Arcos de la Frontera to Ronda. Travel time from Ronda is approx. 45 minutes, from Jerez de la Frontera 1:30 hrs and from Sevilla or Malaga about 2 hrs.

Map to Grazalema
Grazalema by bus or train

Damas operate a bus service to from Malaga to Ubrique passing through Ronda and then on to Grazalema. After Grazalema the bus continues to Villaluenga del Rosario, Benaocaz and Ubrique. Basically you need to get to Ronda first. (Grazalema shows up rarely on bus search engines).

From Seville you also catch the bus to Ronda and then, if you are lucky, the Malaga – Ubrique bus to Grazalema. If not then its the taxi option.

The nearest train station is in Ronda. After arrival the options are bus or taxi to Grazalema.

Check here for trains and buses to Ronda (and then to Grazalema)

Grazalema by Kiwi Taxi

KiwiTaxi is a site where you can book a transfer to get from or to the airport, between two tourist destinations or other locations popular with tourists.

Just fill out the form below to organise your taxi transfer to Grazalema. Remember that you need to get to the Ronda area. Make sure you confirm with Kiwi Taxi that Grazalema is your final destination in order to confirm the price.

A good option at KiwiTaxi is the “Leave a request” service which can be found at the bottom on the search results page. Just fill out the form and drivers will suggest the price to your destination and you can choose the best option.

Grazalema by Plane

The nearest airports to Grazalema are Jerez de la Frontera, Malaga and Sevilla. After that your choices would be a hire car, taxi or bus for getting to Grazalema.

If you looking for flights to Spain, WayAway is a flight aggregator that provides travelers with the best rates on airline tickets. Users can also purchase the WayAway Plus membership plan, which gives cashback on flights, accommodation, car rentals, tours, and more.

Wildside Holidays – Spain

The top wildlife, activity and walking holiday companies in Spain. Small family companies living and working in Spain. Local guides are the best!

https://wildsideholidays.co.uk/

Summer heat in the Sierra de Grazalema

Someone has turned up the heating here in the Sierra de Grazalema and the rain and cool of the spring seems to be a long distant memory. Temperatures are up in the high thirties and the forecast is for more intense heat yet to come which will probably take us into the forties and the Summer heat in the Sierra de Grazalema

The green fields and colourful meadows have changed to dusty soil as the summer does its work to dry seed heads. Local farmers are doing their work to harvesting the fields of wheat, sunflowers and other crops.

Nothing surely can compare with walking through a pine forest in Andalucia with cones cracking in the heat and cicadas “whirring” in the branches.

The temperature hits the melt point releasing the essential oils from cistus, rosemary and lavender that fill the air with that unmistakeable Mediterranean hot summer scent… Maybe you can guess from my words… I love Andalucia in the summer!

in summer the bright pink Nerium oleander is in full bloom and if you look closer you will see that this plant generally follows watercourses and dry (sometimes wet) gullies… Oleander hedges always provide great rewards for insect expeditions over the hot months of July and August.

Especially look out for dragonflies and damselflies, shining jewels of the summer flying alongside the butterflies that appear in a myriad of colours and sizes feeding on blue sea holly and other plants of the thistle family

Many people find it too hot during the months of July and August but for those with a special interest in insects this area is litterally a “hotspot” for many normally hard to find species.


Wildside Holidays – Spain

The top wildlife, activity and walking holiday companies in Spain. Small family companies living and working in Spain. Local guides are the best!

https://wildsideholidays.co.uk/

Tourist Information Portal for the Sierra de Grazalema, The town of Ronda, Wildside Holidays and the Caminito del Rey.