Category Archives: Nature notes diary

April wildlife in the Sierra de Grazalema

April wildlife in the Sierra de Grazalema starts with some bird species returning from their wintering grounds and many passing northwards to their breeding grounds. The first newborn Spanish Ibex take tentative steps across the rocky terrain whilst streams and permanent ponds are full of spawn and larvae of amphibians. Many snakes and lizards are out of hibernation and hungry for a snack!

If you are looking for a botanical or wildlife tour in the Sierra de Grazalema then contact Sue from Nature Plus – Grazalema: https://wildsideholidays.co.uk/nature-plus-grazalema/

April wildlife in the Sierra de Grazalema
Nightingales have complex songs.

This time of year holds many joys for birdwatchers with nightingales singing as young males try to compete with more seasoned adults which show, even to an untrained ear, the difference between simple and complex songs. Along the same rivers you will hear the abrupt and loud tones of Cetti´s Warbler, almost always heard rather than seen! Golden Orioles join in with their unmistakable fluty tones as they mercilessly chase away even much bigger birds from their breeding territory, usually in the tall poplars along the river banks. As the weather gets warmer, the joyful chirping flocks of European Bee-eaters start appearing high in the sky on their way back from Africa to their European breeding grounds. They can even be heard passing through on clear starry nights. Local colonies of Bee-eaters tend to come back towards the end of April and immediately get busy repairing the nesting holes in river banks.

Bright yellow and black male Golden oriole
Bright yellow and black male Golden oriole

Field borders and roadside banks transform after the spring rains from a lush green to a profusion of mixed colours as the flowering plants make the most of these ideal conditions. Bright natural ‘planting schemes’ appear smothered in fast growing annuals that reach their peak before the summer heat arrives.

The air carries the sound of bumblebees and carpenter bees as they appreciate the numerous flowers of Bugloss, Large blue alkanet, Elder-leaved Figwort, Blue hounds-tongue, Purple phlomis and Poppies. Blue, slender and elegant, the Spanish Iris is complimented by Rosy Garlic. Wild gladioli gives a bright splash of colour to meadows, while the mallow-leaved convolvulus adorns wayside banks in a more subtle shade of pink. Green-flowered Birthwort may be a small and easily overlooked plant, but as a foodplant to the Spanish festoon butterfly it holds its own importance to the natural balance.

Around the village in the rocks and cliff faces can be seen two locally endemic plants, the dainty yellow Grazalema Toadflax and the creamy coloured Centaurea clementei.

The number of orchid species in flower increases as we move into the spring, so be look out for Yellow bee, Bee, Sombre bee, Sawfly,Tongue, Italian Man, Man, Sword-leaved, Lang’s, Woodcock and Mirror.

Here are a few plants to look out for whilst walking in the Sierra de Grazalema divided by colours.

Pink and Lilac

Mallow-leaved Bindweed (Convolvulus althaeoides)
An eyecatching, large pink flower that forms a full circle (with no separate petals) with a darker centre. As a twining climber it may spread across at ground height if there is no support available, or be seen clambering up onto shrubs to around 1 metre. The leaves are of variable shape, silvery green, covered with fine hairs and alternately positioned along the stems. Found on rocky banks, fields and roadsides in most soils. Flowering from March and continuing through to July at higher altitudes. Commonly found in the Mediterranean area.

Rosy Garlic (Allium roseum)
A single stem emerges from a bulb with multiple flowers clustered at the top. Flower colour can vary from strong pink, pale pink to white. The soft green, linear leaves sheath only the lower part of the round scape (flower stalk) and papery white bracts remain just below the flowers. They can be seen growing in scattered groups at roadsides, on stony banks and in cultivated areas, flowering from March to June with a very widespread distribution.

April wildlife in the Sierra de Grazalema
Left: Mallow-leaved Bindweed (Convolvulus althaeoides) – Right: Rosy Garlic (Allium roseum)

Blue and Purple

Spanish Iris (Iris xiphium)
This tall and slender iris has blue to violet flowers with yellow/orange areas on the falls (cascading petals). The central petals (standards) are erect, there can be one or two flowers on the same stem. These flowers remain open for several days. Grey/green leaves sheath the flowering stem, the lowest are long and tapering and the highest shorter and more upright. They can be seen in grassy or rocky areas, beside roads and field edges or in scrubland through April and May. Their distribution is from Iberia eastwards to Italy and NW Africa.

Barbary Nut Iris (Gynandiris sisyrinchium)
Flowers of this pretty iris lookalike plant do not open until the afternoon. Several flower stems emerge from a corm with colours varying from pale blue, deep blue to purple with white markings (and occasionally also yellow) on the falls (cascading petals). Clusters of these small flowers may appear at once, fading by the evening to be replaced later the next day. The few leaves are narrow and often much longer than the flowering stem. They can be seen on fallow and cultivated land, in scrubland, olive groves, roadsides and in open woodland. Flowering time can span from February to May with a wide distribution in the Mediterranean area.

Left: Spanish Iris (Iris xiphium) Right: Barbary Nut Iris (Gynandiris sisyrinchium)
Left: Spanish Iris (Iris xiphium) Right: Barbary Nut Iris (Gynandiris sisyrinchium)

Tassel Hyacinth (Muscari comosum)
The showy and most recognisable parts to this plant are the vivid blue / violet sterile flowers that decorate the tip on just as brightly coloured short stems. The actual flowers are a dull brownish colour and form an open column up the scape. The leaves are wider at their base and tapering, sheathing the lowest part of the flowering stem. These plants can be seen in olive groves, open scrubland, roadsides and dry grassy areas, flowering from March through to June they are common around the Mediterranean area.

Honeywort (Cerinthe major)
This unusual looking plant has purple (or combined yellow/purple) flowers that hang down in clusters which are partly hidden by greyish green bracts decorated in white spots. with those closest to the flower itaking on shades of purple. It is commonly grown in Northern Europe as a cultivated plant in gardens but in this area can be seen growing wild on roadside verges, stony slopes and field edges from March to June in many areas around the Mediterranean.

April wildlife in the Sierra de Grazalema
Left: Tassel Hyacinth (muscari comosum) Right: Honeywort (Cerinthe major)

White

Bladder Campion (Silene vulgaris)
Small white flowers hang in lax clusters atop this short to medium spindly plant. The individual petals are deeply notched and behind the flower is an inflated calyx tube from where it gains its common name. The linear to oval leaves are set in pairs, spaced out along the stem. These plants can be found in cultivated and fallow fields, rocky areas and roadside verges. They can begin flowering in March, going through to July and are widespread throughout Europe and Asia.

Sweet Alison (Lobularia maritima)
This is a commonly used garden plant which occurs naturally in this area. The plant holds many short branches with dense racemes of flowers. These consist of many tiny white, sweetly scented flowers forming low tussocks. Hidden beneath are the fine leaves which are linear and pointed. Found in dry rocky crevices from February through until June.

Left: Bladder Campion (Silene vulgaris) Right: Sweet Alison (Lobularia maritima)
Left: Bladder Campion (Silene vulgaris) Right: Sweet Alison (Lobularia maritima)

Red and Orange

Common Poppy (Papaver rhoeas)
As the name suggests, this is a common poppy and is often seen in cultivated fields if herbicides are not used. The flowers are scarlet or crimson, sometimes with dark markings at the centre and these in turn can be edged with white. The anthers are bluish in colour. The seed capsule is almost round and is hairless. The deep green leaves are much divided, both leaves and all stems are hairy. These strongly coloured poppies can be seen at roadsides, growing from ruined buildings, in wheat fields and on waste ground from March to June, with a wide distribution throughout Europe.

Common Poppy (Papaver rhoeas) Flower bud, flower and seed capsule of Common Poppy
Common Poppy (Papaver rhoeas) Flower bud, flower and seed capsule of Common Poppy

Long-headed Poppy (Papaver dubium)
These flowers are pale scarlet to almost an orange tone, normally without a dark centre. The anthers are violet. The leaves are deeply divided and hairy. Hairs on the stem are more flattened than on the previous poppy. The seed capsule of this plant is of a longer tube-shape and also hairless. It can flower from March to June being found on roadsides, waste places and cultivated land throughout the Mediterranean region.

Long-headed Poppy (Papaver dubium) Flower bud, flower and seed capsule of Long-headed Poppy
Long-headed Poppy (Papaver dubium) Flower bud, flower and seed capsule of Long-headed Poppy

Elder-leaved Figwort (Scrophularia sambucifolia)
This is a member of the Figwort family that is rarely seen in the books.
The two-lipped flowers vary in colour from lemon/orange through to red. The flowers are grouped in clusters, spaced out along a tall, squared flowering stem. The large cut leaves form quite a dense base to this plant with much smaller leaf bracts adjoining some of the flowering rings. Generally the flowering stems are very upright and may vary from one to numerous. This plant can be seen at roadsides, bordering cultivated land and in damp areas in South Western Iberia.

Scarlet Pimpernel (Anagallis arvensis)
A delicate looking, low growing plant, that has five petalled scarlet flowers. Despite the common name it also occurs in blue or pink! The oval to lanceolate leaves are set in opposite stemless pairs. These prostrate plants can be found on cultivated and waste ground, roadsides and orchards from April to October throughout Europe.

Left: Elder-leaved Figwort (Scrophularia sambucifolia) Right: Scarlet Pimpernel with blue form inset (Anagallis arvensis)
Left: Elder-leaved Figwort (Scrophularia sambucifolia) Right: Scarlet Pimpernel with blue form inset (Anagallis arvensis)

Green and Brown

Snakes-head Fritillary (Fritillaria hispanica)
These nodding bell shaped flowers, striped green and reddish brown and sometimes slightly chequered, can be difficult to see amongst grasses and shrubs as the colours blend to their surroundings. Their height is dictated by surrounding plant growth and shade, tall and elegant if under a tree or short if in more open ground. The slender leaves are alternate, spaced out along the stem with the last one standing up above the flower. They can be seen in small, scattered groups flowering from March to May in open woods, rocky and grassy areas. Distributed throughout most of Iberia – except the north. (Also known as Fritillaria lusitanica)

Green-flowered Birthwort (Aristolochia paucinervis)
This is a small, spreading plant, the flowers of which are easily overlooked as they blend with the leaves or back ground. The tubular flowers are fairly straight, with a long curved tip at the opening. The colour can vary from green, a dull yellow to brown or be striped in these colours. The leaves are on very short stalks, they are lobed, in a long heart shape, tapering to a rounded tip. They tend to grow in protected areas, beneath trees or between rocks. Found in the European Mediterranean and NW Africa. (Previously A. longa). Foodplant to the Spanish Festoon (Zerynthia rumina) caterpillar.

April wildlife in the Sierra de Grazalema
LEFT: Snakes-head Fritillary (Fritillaria hispanica) RIGHT: Green-flowered Birthwort (Aristolochia paucinervis)

Yellow

Yellow anemone (Anemone palmata)
This very decorative yellow flower might be found scattered singly over a wide area or occasionally forming a dense mat. The upper part to the petal is a clear yellow, whereas the underpart is blushed with a peach colour and covered with hairs. The lowest set of leaves that form a rosette on the ground are very simple, three/ five lobed. Other leaves which sheath the flowering stem are deeply cut and more fringe like. Found on rocky slopes and in open woodland, flowering from March to May in Iberia, S. France to Sardinia and Sicily.

Grazalema Toadflax (Linaria platycalyx)
A small and dainty plant that forms a flowery mat in rock crevices. The flowers are in clusters, yellow with a darker tint at the mouth. The tubular spur at the base has fine brown stripes. The leaves begin as a whorl of three clasping the stem but higher up can be paired or singular. This particular Linaria is endemic to a very localised region of Grazalema and Ronda, flowering from April to June.

Left: Yellow anemone (Anemone palmata) Right: Grazalema Toadflax (Linaria platycalyx)
Left: Yellow anemone (Anemone palmata) Right: Grazalema Toadflax (Linaria platycalyx)

Centaurea clementei
The pale, creamy yellow flowers are a little lost on this impressive thistle like plant with its deeply cut silvery leaves and decorative, spiny bracts which form a cone shape around the flower. It can be seen growing out of crevices in sheer cliff faces of limestone rock and is endemic to south west Spain.

Osyris (Osyris alba)
This is a short (to around 1metre), broom like plant that can densely cover an area. The upright stems have small alternate leaves with male and female flowers forming on different plants. These tiny, but sweetly scented flowers are a yellow / green colour, the male flowers are in clusters and the females solitary. Flowering from April until July and widespread in the Mediterranean area, this plant is semi-parasitic on a range of other plants and trees.

Left: Centaurea clementei Right: Osyris alba
Left: Centaurea clementei Right: Osyris alba

Orchids in the Sierra de Grazalema

These first two species of orchid often resemble a female bee, therefore attracting a male bee who intends to copulate, unsuccessful he travels to another orchid flower transferring pollen as he goes.

Yellow bee orchid (Ophrys lutea)
This yellow flower with a dark centre and blueish markings is one of several terrestrial ‘Bee’ orchids in the area. The flower spike can be between 10 to 30cm tall with perhaps around 8 flowers spaced along it. These plants often form scattered groups and may be mixed with other species too. Found in grassy habitats, open scrub, pine woodland and olive groves. Widely distributed in the Mediterranean region, flowering from February until June.

Mirror orchid (Ophrys speculum)
Another ‘Bee’ orchid, this one has a very showy metallic blue centre, with a dark brown fluffy trim. Sometimes this trim is separated by an edge of green. This plant will often be seen in the same areas as the Yellow bee orchid. Flowering from March to May and found in open scrub, olive groves and grassy habitats in much of the Mediterranean region, often forming large colonies.

Left: Yellow bee orchid (Ophrys lutea) Right: Mirror orchid (Ophrys speculum)
Left: Yellow bee orchid (Ophrys lutea) Right: Mirror orchid (Ophrys speculum)

Italian Man Orchid (Orchis italica)
The densely packed flowers on this orchid create a conical, although occasionally globular, head. The lower flowers open first in shades of white through to pale pink, each one looking like a male figure with arms, legs and genitalia. Sometimes, if you look closely, they even have a big clown type grin! This orchid has noticeably wavy edges to the leaves. They can be found in scrubland, grassy places, rocky slopes and open woodland, from March to May. Although not in France it is common in many countries around the Mediterranean.

Champagne’s orchid (Orchis champagneuxii)
A fairly short orchid with few deep purple flowers openly spaced along a darkly coloured stem The ‘hood’ is marked with veins, the central lobe has a white middle (without spots) and is folded. The spur which points upwards is thickened at the tip. Its distribution covers Iberia, S. France and N. Africa. Seen flowering from March to May in grassy meadows where it can form large colonies, scrubland slopes and oak or pine woodland clearings.

Left: Italian Man Orchid (Orchis italica) Right: Champagne’s orchid (Orchis champagneuxii)
Left: Italian Man Orchid (Orchis italica) Right: Champagne’s orchid (Orchis champagneuxii)

Man orchid (Aceras anthropophorum)
A tall and slender stem, covered with many small flowers that can be red or yellow in colour. Each has a green hood that does not lift or open and the shape of the petal draped below is of well defined ‘arms’ and ‘legs’, resembling a tiny man. These grow on stony areas, grassy habitats, roadside banks – often on calcareous soils. These flower from March to May and are widespread in the Mediterranean region.

Tongue orchid (Serapias lingua)
Growing to around 25cm tall with flowers distributed along a slender stem, this orchid can be overlooked amongst grasses. The flowers can be a deep red, a washed out red and occasionally cream. The central, narrow lobe or tongue hangs down and the bracts which are as long as the tongue with dark veins stand upwards. These can be found in damp meadows, grassy areas, scrubland and olive groves, flowering from March to May. Distribution covers much of the Mediterranean region.

Left: Man orchid (Aceras anthropophorum) Right: Tongue orchid (Serapias lingua)
Left: Man orchid (Aceras anthropophorum) Right: Tongue orchid (Serapias lingua)

See also a more detailed list of orchids in Andalucia here: https://wildsideholidays.co.uk/orchids-in-spain/

Other plants to look out for in the Sierra de Grazalema in April

Orchids

Yellow bee orchid (Ophrys lutea)
Sawfly orchid (Ophrys tenthredinifera)
Woodcock orchid (Ophrys scolopax)
Bumblebee orchid (Ophrys bombyliflora)
Dull bee orchid (ophrys fusca) – (Ophrys dyris)
Champagne’s orchid (Orchis champagneuxii)
Lang’s orchid (Orchis langei)
Conical orchid (Orchis conica)
Southern early purple orchid (Orchis olbiensis)
Pyramid orchid (Anacamptis pyramidalis)
Man orchid (Aceras anthropophorum)
Tongue orchid (Serapias lingua)
Small-flowered Serapias (Serapias parviflora)
Giant orchid (Himantoglossum robertianum)
Sword-leaved Helleborine (Cephalanthera longifolia)
Dense orchid (Neotinea maculate)
Broad-leaved Helleborine (Epipactis tremolsii)
Violet Limodore (Limodorum abortivum)

Pink, Blue, Purple

Mallow-leaved Bindweed (Convolvulus althaeoides)
Rosy Garlic (Allium roseum)
Barbary Nut Iris (Gynandriris sisyrinchium)
Tassel Hyacinth (Muscari comosum)
Honeywort (Cerinthe major)
Field Madder (Sherardia arvensis)
Winter Speedwell (Veronica persica)
Fedia (Fedia cornucopiae)
Andaluz stork’s-bill (Erodium primulaceum)
Long-spurred Valerian (Centranthus macrosiphon )
Melancholy Toadflax (Linaria tristis)
Spanish Lavender (Lavandula stoechas)
Borage (Borago officinalis)
Intermediate Periwinkle (Vinca difformis)
Narrow-leafed Lupin (Lupinus angustifolius)
Grape Hyacinth (Muscari neglectum)
Tassel Hyacinth (Muscari comosum)
Hedgehog Broom (Erinacea anthylis)
Purple Sage (Phlomis purpurea)
Spring Rockcress (Arabis verna)
Grey-leaved Cistus (Cistus albidus)
Persian Speedwell (Veronica persica)
Spanish Bluebell (Hyacinthoides hispanica)
Sand Crocus (Romulea bulbocodium)
Southern Knapweed (Centaurea pullata)
Dovesfoot Geranium (Geranium molle)
Portuguese squill (Scilla peruviana)
Cut-leaved Dame’sViolet (Hesperis laciniata)
Pink Catchfly (Silene colorata)
Violet Cabbage (Moricandia moricandioides)
Ivy-leaved toadflax (Cymbalaria muralis)

White

Ornithogalum reverchonii
Star of Bethlehem (Ornithogalum orthophyllum subsp. Baeticum)
Bladder Campion (Silene vulgaris)
Sweet Alyssum (Lobularia maritima)
Three-cornered Leek (Allium triquetrum)
Sage-leaved Cistus (Cistus salvifolius)
White Asphodel (Asphodelus albus)
Spanish Toadflax (Linaria amethystea)
Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna)
Mouse-ear Chickweed (Cerastium gibraltaricum)
Silver Nailroot (Paronychia argentea)
Wild Olive (Olea europaea sylvestris)
Meadow Saxifrage (Saxifraga granulata)
Cymbalaria-leaved Speedwell (Veronica cymbalaria)
Candytuft (Iberis pectinata)
Saxifraga bourgeana
Marsh Chamomile (Chamaemelum fuscatum)
False Candytuft (Jonospidium prolongoi)

Red, Orange

Common Poppy (Papaver rhoeas)
Long-headed Poppy (Papaver dubium)
Scarlet Pimpernel (Anagallis arvensis)
Lentisc (Mastic Tree) (Pistacia lentiscus)

Green, Brown

Green-flowered Birthwort (Aristolochia paucinervis)
Snakes-head Fritillary (Fritillaria hispanica)
Alexanders (Smyrnium olusatrum)
Stinking Hellebore (Helleborus foetidus)
Stinking Iris (Iris foetidissima)
Large Mediterranean Spurge (Euphorbia characias)
Mediterranean Buckthorn (Rhamnus alaternus)
Giant Fennel (Ferula communis)

Yellow

Yellow Anemone (Anemone palmata)
Lesser Celandine (Ranunculus ficaria)
Hairy-thorny bBoom (Calicotome villosa)
Small-flowered Gorse (Ulex parviflorus)
Narcissus baeticus
Narcissus cuatrecasasii
Bermuda Buttercup (Oxalis pes-caprae)
Silver Broom (Adenocarpus decorticans)
Osyris (Osyris alba)
Villous Deadly Carrot (Thapsia villosa)
Alyssum simplex
Tree Honeysuckle (Lonicera arborea)
Pale Stonecrop (Sedum sediforme)
Bupleurum fruticescens ssp spinosum
Perennial Hyoseris (Hyoseris radiate)


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March in the Sierra de Grazalema

March in the Sierra de Grazalema brings more migratory birds returning back to their breeding grounds, with large groups of Short-toed and Booted Eagles passing through to Central and Northern Spain, and then “our” breeding pairs settling back home.

Short toed eagle in the Sierra de Grazalema

This is also the time when you have a good chance to spot the beautiful white and black Egyptian vultures, which are progressively rarer here in the South of Spain. There are a few breeding pairs in the Grazalema Park, however in March good numbers can be observed refuelling and resting on their flight northwards.

Note the wedged tail of the Egyptian vulture

Most male birds will be sporting their breeding plumage by now. The spectacular bright Blue Rock Thrush, true to its name turns a deep azure, the Black Wheatear becomes an even more glossy black whilst displaying its fan-like, pure white tail and the humble Linnet starts showing a lovely bright patch on its breast, which, if you are poetically inclined, could be described as a pink heart.

Black wheatear

One of the most sought-after species by birdwatchers, the Rock Thrush, should be back in place this month, nesting at higher altitudes than the Blue Rock Thrush. The stunning combination of the male´s blue and red plumage makes it a treat to look at. The male Black-eared Wheatear keeps up with its salmon-pink breast and black mask (including a black throat in a second variation) frequently sitting on top of dry-stone walls where it can be easily observed.

The Spanish Ibex, are roaming the mountains in search of food; especially the very visibly pregnant females which by now need a lot of nutrition and can be seen at lower altitudes munching on delicate young shoots and sunbathing on flat rocks. They will be returning to the higher more secluded slopes to give birth in April and May.

As the temperatures begin to rise towards the end of the month, crickets can be heard chirring at night, and to add to that lovely feeling of spring, there are more plants showing their colours. Some are easily seen as they stand tall and strong such as the White Asphodel. In contrast the Barbary-nut iris is dainty and only opens for a few short hours each day.

Two narcissi; Narcissus cerrolazae and Narcissus baeticus can create large yellow swathes in a few locations. Spanish bluebells look delicate here in their natural, rugged habitat and the Snakeshead fritillary, a master of camouflage, is always a lovely sight.

The terrestrial orchids can be a highlight for many, whether botanically minded or not. Giant, Sombre bee, Early purple, Bee, Conical and Sawfly orchids are ones which we will look out for.

Of course as there are more flowers opening, there are more butterflies on the wind adding that picture perfect decoration. Sporting the same bright yellow and orange colours are the large Cleopatra and the tiny Moroccan orange tip. Intricately patterned Swallowtails drift by whereas Painted Ladies on migration move swiftly on.

As shrubs begin to show colour, spring is becoming more obvious and this alters from when we enter the month with a few shy blooms, to crossing into April with the “now in flower” list ever increasing. Over the first two weeks of March, the plants in flower are scattered and you need to know where to look, during the third and fourth weeks the selection grows with colour cropping up on roadsides, pastures, rocky slopes and river valleys.

Southwest broom (Cytisus baeticus)
A shrubby, yellow flowering broom which grows to 4 metres. The flowers are in clusters distributed along the branches. The leaves are three lobed, held on short stalks along the many fine branches which are ridged and green. The short, straight seed pods are densely covered in silvery hairs. Prefers shady areas such as stream sides, also seen on mountain slopes and in cork woods. Distribution: South West Spain, southern Portugal.

Narcissus cerrolazae
(Also known as Narcissus fernandesii, possibly to be separated but not all are in accordance)
This scented, bright yellow narcissus can grow to 40 cm tall. The central cup (corona) is flared and fluted with 1 to 5 flowers per stem (most frequently 2), supported on a long tube. The erect leaves are around the same height as the flowers; they are smoothly curved on one side and indented with a groove on the other. They prefer fields that are undisturbed and very humid during the winter. Distribution: Rare and very localised, South West Spain.

Bridal Broom (Retama monosperma)
Multiple fine branches drape from this elegant shrub, during March it is smothered in small white, strongly scented flowers. Each pea type flower has a red calyx. It can reach 3 metres in height, spreading to double that in width. The few leaves soon fall from the slender green stems. More frequent in coastal dunes nearer to the Atlantic area, here it is planted to decorate the roadsides. Distribution: South Western Spain, Southern Portugal and Northern Morocco.

Three-cornered Leek (Allium triquetrum)
This small plant has 5 to 15 white flowers with a green midvein, they hang noticeably to one side. The common name comes from the odour when a leaf is crushed and the shape of the flowering stem really is three sided. Dense tufts form from tightly packed bulbs; the green leaves are smooth on the upper side with a keel (central ridge) on the reverse. They generally prefer damp, shady areas such as stream sides, ditches and woodlands. Distribution: Iberia eastwards to Italy.

White Asphodel (Asphodelus albus)
Tall flower spikes to around 1m in height adorned by white flowers. Each star shaped flower has a brown stripe on the reverse of the 6 petals. It differs from the Branched asphodel in only occasionally forming branches, its papery bracts are a conspicuous dark brown and it is more frequent at higher altitudes. The leaves are grey-green, sword shaped and in lax clumps. Seen amidst limestone outcrops and in high pastures, it is unpalatable. Distribution: Mediterranean area.

Violet Cabbage (Moricandia moricandiodes)
Small violet flowers, of four petals with a darker centre, decorate this finely branched plant. The leaves are grey / green and thickened. It can grow to around one metre tall and create large colonies, although it is often more scattered. It grows mainly in clay soils on roadside banks, field edges and uncultivated ground. Distribution: Eastern and southern Spain.

Some of the local plants in flower during March:

Orchids

(Read about orchids in Spain here: https://wildsideholidays.co.uk/orchids-in-spain/)

  • Sombre bee orchid (Ophrys fusca)
  • Bee orchid (Ophrys bombiliflora)
  • Sawfly orchid (Ophrys tenthredinifera)
  • Giant orchid (Himantoglossum robertianum)
  • Conical orchid (Orchis conica)
  • Mirror orchid (Ophrys speculum)
  • Southern early purple orchid (Ophrys olbiensis)
Yellow
  • Narcissus baeticus (Also known as Narcissus assoanus subsp praelongus)
  • Narcissus cuatrecasasii
  • Hoop Petticoat Narcissus (Narcissus bulbocodium)
  • Bean trefoil (Anagyris foetida)
  • Western gorse (Ulex parviflorus)
  • Field marigold (Calendula arvensis)
  • Bermuda buttercup (Oxalis pes-caprae)
  • Yellow anemone (Anemone palmate)
  • Hairy thorny broom (Calicotome villosa)
  • Spanish broom (Spartium junceum)
  • Jersey buttercup (Ranunculus paludosus)
  • Bay Tree (Laurus nobilis)
Green, Brown
  • Stinking Hellebore (Helleborus foetidus)
  • Large Mediterranean Spurge (Euphorbia characias)
  • Friars Cowl (Arisarum simorrhinum)
  • Spurge laurel (Daphne laureola)
  • Spanish fritillary (Fritillaria hispanica)
Pink, Blue, Purple

Pink catchfly (Silene colorata)
Periwinkle (Vinca difformis)
Tree germander (Teucrium fruticans)
Romulea (Romulea bulbocodium)
Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)
Southern Knapweed (Centaurea pullata)
Fedia (Fedia cornucopiae)
Common mallow (Malva sylvestris)
Andaluz storksbill (Erodium primulaceum)
Cut-leaved dame’s violet (Hesperis laciniata)
Hound’s tongue (Cynoglossum cheirifolium)
Hound’s tongue (Cynoglossum clandestinum)
Merendera (Merendera androcymbioides)
Shiny crane’s-bill (Geranium lucidum)
Cut-leaved crane’s-bill (Geranium dissectum)
Barbary nut iris (Gynandriris Sisyrinchium)
Butcher’s broom (Ruscus aculeatus)
Grape hyacinth (Muscari neglectum)
Spanish bluebells (Scilla hispanica)
Spanish lavender (Lavandula stoechas)

White

Branched asphodel (Asphodelus ramosus)
Star of Bethlehem (Ornithogalum orthophyllum)
Meadow saxifrage (Saxifraga granulata)
Common daisy (Bellis sylvestris)
Marsh chamomile (Chamaemelum fuscatum)
Shepherds purse (Capsella bursa-pastoris)
Sweet Alyssum (Lobularia maritime)
Tree heather (Erica arborea)
Laurustinus (Viburnum tinus)
Blackthorn (Prunus spinosa)
White Watercress (Rorippa nasturtium-aquaticum)


Signs and notices

Whilst out and about in the countryside here in Andalucia, you are bound to come across a variety of signs and notices telling you what kind of area you are in or whether you are about to stray onto private land. You may find signs telling you to “keep out!!” or to “Please close the gate”. More and more fences are going up and access to land is being restricted. In some cases trails and paths are closed and directional signs taken down illegally. (see Via pecuaria below)

Basically the rules to follow, whether on horseback, walking or cycling in the countryside are:
  1. Have an up to date map with the footpath shown
  2. Don’t go through a gate that has a Propiedad Privada sign on it.
  3. Respect private land (Propiedad Privada) and stay on designated footpaths
Continue reading Signs and notices

Water in the Grazalema Natural Park

The natural park of Grazalema is known for its many natural mountain springs, streams, river sources and fountains. Water in the Grazalema natural Park has always been extremely valuable to the local population with shepherds and hunters knowing where the wells and natural springs were, especially the precious ones that never dried up even through the heat of a long summer. These men and women were able to set off into the Sierras with a small leather pouch which they refilled as they walked instead of having the burden of several litres in a rucksack which would slow their pace.

Water in the Grazalema Natural Park
A waterfall in the Gaidovar valley, Grazalema

The location of such water sources has been passed on from generation to generation and the springs have been cleaned, maintained and protected, a tradition which still survives amongst the older generations.

Without maintenance a source of water would quickly become overgrown through the summer, as it enables plants to flourish when otherwise they would have died back. On the other hand winter storms and heightened flow would have made access more difficult.

The enormous respect which is shown towards water probably dates back to Roman and Moorish times. The Romans built a network of aqueducts in the area, many of which are still in use and known as “acequias”. The Moors updated the acequias and also brought with them a great knowledge of “water management” in dry, hot climates. They perfected the art of irrigating vegetable gardens and orchards so increasing and extending the harvest. They even went so far as to add water elements to architecture, to cool down, sooth and please.

Grazalema´s fuentes, the village water springs, were relied on for cooking, drinking, laundry and cleaning. These fountain-like constructions are quite often beautifully adorned and equipped with a stone sink or a long trough. The edges are often visibly worn out through the centuries of clay jugs, heavy with water, being dragged out of the fuente.

Women carrying cantaros

Water was used very sparingly as to supply a large family for their daily usage was a labour intensive task. During the winter there would be ample ice cold water projecting from the spouts, but during late summer this could reduce to a mere trickle.

Rain water is also preserved in the high mountains in carved recipients created in the rock and are called pilónes in Spanish. These holes gather and retain rainwater and then are carefully covered with loose flat rocks to prevent wild animals and farm animals from polluting the water source and still let the rain trickle in. In order to let the animals drink, pilones will often have a separated puddle away from the human watering hole. The pilón will often have a small tin cup attached to the rock, secured with a piece of string or wire. It is considered good manners to keep the cup clean and ready for the next thirsty visitor.

You will see “potable” and “no potable” signs on the various water springs and fountains found in Grazalema and other villages of the natural park area. According to recent regulations, the only potable water source legally speaking is the water tested and treated for human consumption, i.e.: from the tap or a water bottle. Of course, it is safest drinking bottled water or tap water. However, if you need to drink from a natural spring, it is essential to drink at the very source to get the cleanest water possible.

Some Andalucían water vocabulary

  • Arroyo – stream
  • Acequía – from Arabic sāqiyah – to irrigate. Irrigation channel.
  • Cántaro – clay water jug
  • Fuente – this can be either a natural spring in its “wild state” or a village one turned into a fountain
  • Lavadero – a water spring directed into a wash-house with dedicated sinks for soaping up and rinsing clothes.
  • Nacimiento – literally “birth”. Source of a stream or a river.
  • Pilón – stone recipient adjacent to a fresh water spring or a rain-gathering depression carved into a rock
  • Pileta – water trough
  • Chorro – an open water spout which flows naturally
  • Grifo – a tap for treated water
  • Agua de grifo – tap water
  • Una botella de agua – a bottle of water

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February wildlife in the Sierra de Grazalema

Even though its still winter, February wildlife in the Sierra de Grazalema is well worth looking out for. Resident birds will be actively looking for a mate, or existing pairs renovating old nest sites. The latter includes the protected Bonelli’s eagle which can give an amazing aerial display while warding off any large birds which stray into their territory.

February wildlife in the Sierra de Grazalema
Bonnellis eagle attacking a griffon vulture

Griffon vultures will be alternating their incubation duties, imagine piloting an approximately 9ft (3m) wingspan onto a narrow cliff ledge – it is an awesome sight! Swallows herald the coming spring season and they will be passing through with a selection of interesting birdlife on their northwards migration.

Small herds of Spanish Ibex quietly graze while moving across the mountains, although as large as a domestic goat, seeing them can sometimes be quite a challenge as their colours blend so well into the landscape. Look out for the Alpha male as he watches over his herd, distinctive large horns set him apart from the rest.

February wildlife in the Sierra de Grazalema
The male Spanish ibex are unmistakeable with their large horns.

Pools of winter rain ensure an active time for amphibians with either flowing streams or temporary puddles providing ideal breeding grounds. For Fire salamanders, Iberian parsley frogs, Natterjack toads and Southern (pygmy) marbled newts, this is a great time to see their lifecycle stages with spawn, tadpoles and hopefully a few adults too

Wildflowers are always a welcome sight, especially through the winter months, as coupled with the birds beginning to sing they show us that spring is just around the corner.

Continuing their flowering from January, almond trees in blossom are the most noticeable which adorn the hillsides and fields, varying from almost white to a shocking pink. The Paperwhite narcissus, Branched asphodels and Broad-leaved iris as each can create swathes of colour across pastures. Even the much smaller flowered Andaluz storksbill and Field marigolds can cover a large area in pink or golden yellow respectively.

Giant orchids are robust plants and the first orchids of the year to flower in these mountains. Other notable plants are the variety of wild narcissus – many cultivated hybrids used in gardens today originated from these endemic species native to Southern Spain.

Narcissus baeticus (Also known as Narcissus assoanus subsp. praelongus)
February wildlife in the Sierra de Grazalema
Narcissus baeticus (Also known as Narcissus assoanus subsp. praelongus)

A small and scented yellow narcissus with up to four flowers per stem held on long, sometimes curved, tube. They are found in small clusters or scattered in an open colony. The leaves are grooved on the upper side, rounded beneath and lax in habit. This bulbous plant grows in rocky limestone grasslands, dry pastures, in mountainous areas. Distribution; endemic to Andalucia in the Baetic mountain range.

Giant orchid (Himantoglossum robertianum)
February wildlife in the Sierra de Grazalema
Himantoglossum robertianum are the first orchids to flower in the Sierra de Grazalema

This is the earliest orchid to flower in the Grazalema area, it earns its name by reaching 50cm in height. The overall flower colour is pink – purple, with occasional white – green forms. The basal rosette is made of large dark green leaves, the finer upper leaves clasp the scape (flower stem). Found scattered on grassy slopes, roadsides, amongst scrub and in light woodland. Distribution; much of the Mediterranean area, excluding the east.

Branched Asphodel (Asphodelus ramosus)
February wildlife in the Sierra de Grazalema
Branched Asphodel (Asphodelus ramosus)

The white flowers have a pinkish – brown stripe through the back of each tepal, most noticeable when in bud. (Tepal describes both petals and sepals when they look equal). The flowering stem is around 1metre tall with many branches, but none longer than the central raceme. Each branch is covered in multiple flowers, each backed by a whitish papery bract. The leaves are grey / green, strap like and form a dense clump at the base. As they are not palatable to animals, pastures can be over taken by them. Found on rocky slopes, waste ground, open pine forests and roadsides. Distribution; Mediterranean Region.

Sombre bee orchid (Ophrys fusca)
February wildlife in the Sierra de Grazalema
Sombre bee orchid (Ophrys fusca)

This is the earliest of the Ophrys group of orchids here. Individuals are not easy to spot due to their dull colours blending well into the landscape, but it can form large colonies. The flower spike holds between 3 to 10 flowers, the sepals are generally green, concave, oblong to oval, the petals are shorter, green/yellow and narrow. The lip is tri-lobed, the central lobe is the largest and notched at the base; the smooth upper area has a blue/grey pattern like insect wings, the lower area is a reddish brown and covered in velvety hairs like a bee. Some have a yellow outer trim, and there are many variants. Found scattered on grassy slopes, roadsides, amongst scrub and in light woodland. General distribution of Ophrys fusca is the Mediterranean Region, with many isolated subspecies.

Friars Cowl (Arisarum simorrhinum)
February wildlife in the Sierra de Grazalema
Friars Cowl (Arisarum simorrhinum)

The heart shaped leaves sit close to the ground in a patch or clump, hiding within is the unusual inflorescence. The brown and white spathe is n upright tube, curled over at the top with a bulbous tipped spadix in the mouth. It can be found in stony areas and in rock crevices. Distribution; South and east Spain, NW Africa

Andaluz storksbill (Erodium primulaceum)
February wildlife in the Sierra de Grazalema
Andaluz storksbill (Erodium primulaceum)

A multitude of these plants can cover the ground creating a pink carpet. Recognised by the five pink petals which are uneven in size; the two shorter, upper petals usually have a dark purple mark at the base. The leaves are finely pinnate. It is most frequently seen creating a matt at ground level, but occasionally growing to 50cm -if competing with grasses. Open ground, uncultivated areas. Distribution; Southern Spain, NW Africa.

A few other plants in flower to look out for whilst you are walking in the Sierra de Grazalema
  • Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)
  • Violet cabbage (Moricandia moricandiodes)
  • Bean trefoil (Anagyris foetida)
  • Dutchman’s pipe (Aristolochia baetica)
  • Hoop petticoat daffodil (Narcissus bulbocodium)
  • Western gorse (Ulex parviflorus)
  • Narcissus cerrolazae, previously N. fernandesii
  • Common daisy (Bellis sylvestris)
  • Marsh chamomile (Chamaemelum fuscatum)
  • Field marigold (Calendula arvensis)
  • Bermuda buttercup (Oxalis pes-caprae) Invasive introduced species
  • Fedia (Fedia cornucopiae)
  • Common mallow (Malva sylvestris)
  • Spurge laurel (Daphne laureola)
  • Periwinkle (Vinca difformis)
  • Tree germander (Teucrium fruticans)
  • Southern knapweed (Centaurea pullata)
  • Romulea (Romulea bulbocodium)
  • Pink catchfly (Silene colorata)
  • Shepherds purse (Capsella bursa-pastoris)

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