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.
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.
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
Wildside Holidays – Spain
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