Category Archives: Nature notes diary

herbicides have been banned in the Sierra de Grazalema

Some absolutely fantastic news this week! Finally, the use of herbicides has been banned in the Sierra de Grazalema. For many, many years the contractors to maintain roads in the area have used various types of herbicides such as “spasor” and “roundup” to control the herbage at the sides of the roads. Most of the herbisides used contain glyphosate.

The quantity of chemical used over the years is quite stunning. So much so that after testing of water suplies in the area such as lakes, streams and sources, amounts of up to EIGHT times the allowed limit (by European law) of glyphosate has been found.

As you can see in the picture at the top a two to 5 metre wide strip is sprayed. I call this “Lazy” land management.

We’ll have to see how the contaractors will manage the road sides in the future but all in all Clive is a happy pixie this week with this fantastic (although very long overdue) news.

¿Que hacer en la Sierra?

The Spanish language part of the Grazalema Guide “What to do in the sierra” is developing very well indeed. With over 10,000 facebook followers it certainly has some promotional clout. 🙂

There are over 40 villages in the area of the Sierra de Grazalema and the Serranía de Ronda. I have the pages on each village written and published and some of the villages are now starting to promote low level events such as concerts and tapas routes etc. The big festivals and ferias are still cancelled until further notice due to the Covid-19 of course.

So if you want to practice your Spanish have a look here… 🙂

Bank holiday weekend in Spain

Last weekend was the big holiday of “Spain” day. A national holiday and quite frankly it was a successful “disaster”. Of course the tourist businesses need all the help that they can get but the amount of people in Grazalema was overwhelming. Footpaths were crowded and any kind of social distancing was forgotton completely. A great shame that people are unable to control themselves an we will find out in the next couple of weeks if the lack of common sense boosts the infection rates of Covid-19 in the area of the Sierra de Grazalema.

Wildside Holidays – Spain

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Heat of the Summer in Grazalema

Apart from the ongoing coronavirus scares, fears and consequences the heat of the summer in Grazalema continues… It’s mid August and there seems to be no sign of the teperature dropping…. Its hot in the morning, hot in the daytime and yes, you guessed it hot at night.

That said, normally on the 1st of September it’s like someone flips a switch and all of a sudden you are wearing socks with your sandals and wondering if you should have put trousers instead of shorts on for the trip to the shops.

The reservoir at the bottom of my garden is getting very low. (You can just see the hilltop town of Zahara de la Sierra in the distance)

reservoir in the Sierra de Grazalema - Very dry in summer
Reservoir in the Sierra de Grazalema – Very dry in summer

In the small pond left behind in the above photo are around a hundred or so terrapins… (Read about terrapins over at Wildside Holidays) They are pretty much trapped here as the reservoir edge is now almost a kilometre away. I visit each day and the ones I can catch I take them down to the waters edge. A second chance hopefully as they will surely die once the water in this small pond dries out.

Rio Guadalete - Grazalema
Rio Guadalete – Grazalema. The river is almost totally dry now. Its hard to believe that just a few months ago it was a bubbling torrent.

In other “news” a bear was hit by a car up in the north of Spain in the heart of a National park no less. Instead of calling the police or anyone to help the people decided to video the poor creature with its shattered leg and fear obvious to all.. Yay!! Great youtube material guys!

Read about the bear and watch the disgusting video over at Wildside Holidays.

There is a search to find the people so that they can be prosecuted…

Bear hit by car in Somiedo
Bear hit by car in Somiedo. The only thing the car driver could think of to do was to video the badly hurt bear…. Duh! maybe call the police? Get some help for the bear?

Work is continuing at a “rapid” pace at Wildside Holidays. Only 6 articles left to write for the Natural parks of Andalucia. Made a start on the mammals and reptiles pages. I have decided that I am going to turn Wildside into a kind of wildlife news website for spain. Most Importantly I am having fun doing it.

Over at Ronda Today I have added an affiliate to a company producing some really nice printed T.Shirts.

Buy one and support Ronda Today.

Ronda Landmarks T-Shirts. Available in black,white and green
Ronda Landmarks T-Shirts. Available in black,white and green

Happy nature spotting wherever you are! 🙂

A Small river in the Gaidovar valley

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!

Dried, bleached algae blankets the river bed rocks
Dried, bleached algae blankets the river bed rocks

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.

leaf covered pool and a Spanish terrapin (Mauremys leprosa)
leaf covered pool and a Spanish terrapin (Mauremys leprosa)

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.

Left: Young Iberian Water Frogs. Right: Tiny fish looking for a meal.
Left: Young Iberian Water Frogs. Right: Tiny fish looking for a meal.

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!

Left: A Viperine snake underwater. Right: A spider's web blocked our path.
Left: A Viperine snake underwater. Right: A spider’s web blocked our path.

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.

Left: An otter spraint. Right: A Small Pincertail dragonfly (Onychogomphus forcipatus)
Left: An otter spraint. Right: A Small Pincertail dragonfly (Onychogomphus forcipatus)

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A walk in the Garganta verde.

Digging up old articles and reviews from 10 years ago or more I came across Steves great trip report about a walk in the Garganta Verde. First published in 2012.

“After recently enjoying a family holiday in the Sierra de Grazalema Natural Park, Steve has written this article to share his experience of hiking the Garganta Verde.”

Remember that to enter this restricted area you need a permission from the park authorities. Read here about how to obtain permits for restricted areas in the Sierra de Grazalema

As part of our week at the end of August with Clive and Sue (of The Grazalema Guide and Wildside Holidays) we had permits for a visit to ‘La Garganta Verde”‘ a “must do” for the more adventurous visitors to the Sierra de Grazalema Natural Park.

Continue reading A walk in the Garganta verde.

Grazalema Poppy (Papaver rupifragum) Amapola de Grazalema

The Grazalema poppy is a soft orange in colour and can be seen in the wild only in the Sierra de Grazalema (within Europe.)

It hangs off cliff faces, lodges itself between rocky clefts or is found tucked into natural pavement crevices.

The main flowering time is in the month of June and it was originally thought to exist solely here in the Sierra de Grazalema area but it has also been found in similar mountain localities in the western Rif and the Middle Atlas, Morocco.

(There are actually quite a few plants that are shared between the south western Andalusian mountains and North Africa as historically they were connected through this mountain chain.)

The altitudinal range of the Grazalema poppy is 900 to 1.600 m with most occurring between 1.100 to 1.350m. The temperature change at this altitude on the mountains through the course of a year can be quite dramatic spanning from snow coverage to a baking drought.

This plant species is limited to the north and north east facing slopes as these are slightly cooler and more humid. If the plant has grown in favourable conditions it may survive for 15 years, others falling in less hospitable terrain die during the summer, hopefully not before setting seed.

The seeds are dispersed close to the parent plant by wind throughout the summer and germinate with the autumn rains. If these arrive late the plants may not grow strong enough to survive the winter.

This hardy perennial plant can have around 1000 to 2000 seeds within one seed pod, but as only around one per cent survive to reproduce they are on the list of protected species within Andalucía. There are various reasons for this low number, the main one is being grazed by wild and domestic goats which can remove 50% of the flowering shoots.

Some plants that escape this fate are those on sheer cliff faces but the seeds from these may fall into deep, moving scree slopes where they can not grow.

For an alternative way to see the Grazalema poppy in flower visit the Botanic Gardens “El Castillejo” in the village of El Bosque on the western side of the Sierra de Grazalema natural park. As with most poppies a morning visit is recommended as they drop their petals during the afternoon.

Family: Papaveraceae
Scientific name: Papaver rupifragum Boiss. & Reut.
Spanish common name: Amapola de Grazalema

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!