Archive for September, 2009

On the Puerto de Somiedo

Written by Lucy Brzoska

On a clear August night, we walked out of the tiny village of El Puertu.The absence of mist was almost uncanny and stars were visible in their millions.All around, out of the darkness, came the sound of bells.

El Puertu (1,486 m) was founded as a summer settlement by Vaqueiros de Alzada, the herders who’d take their animals and possessions up to high pasture as soon as weather permitted. Strong and athletic, Asturian cows are perfectly adapted to their mountain habitat.One day we were startled to see horns charging towards us through the broom, as two vacas roxas galloped down the slope, paused and then ran up hill again. Among other things, visiting the Somiedo natural park is about walking among cows and learning how not to upset their Mastiff guardians.

galloping-cow-in-asturias

The best pasture is on the irrigated level ground around the village, green even in late summer.  This land is carefully divided by long dry stone walls, home to a variety of creatures.

dry-stone-walls-on-puerto-de-somiedo

I went out with a torch one night, when the habitual mantle of damp mist had settled down on El Puertu, and found myriads of orange-eyed Common toads (Bufo bufo) had come out of the walls to hunt.This toad wasn’t distracted by the scrutiny and snatched up a beetle with its tongue.

common-toad-bufo-bufo

Just down the road to the north lies El Peral, another village of Vaqueiros.It’s famous for its well-maintained teitos, traditional stone houses thatched with broom.The only surviving teito in El Puertu is slowly falling down, although the storks remain loyal to it, their nest getting lower each year as the building crumbles.Perched on the border with Leon, El Puertu is one of the few villages in Asturias to have nesting storks.

teitos-in-el-peral

The presence of bears was tangible in signs and stories, if not sightings. A taxi driver from the nearby valley of Laciana told us that a mother and cubs have approached his village close enough to be seen clearly from the bar.  One theory is that the mother is keeping her young away from the male bears, always a threat, by ranging in areas they would avoid.

The mountain slopes of Somiedo are covered in bilberry bushes and we were told that late August, when the berries are ripe, is a good time to glimpse a sweet-toothed bear out in the open.  No luck on that score, but it was exciting to sit looking down at El Peral, knowing a bear had recently wandered past.

el-peral-somiedo

Dragonflies out to graze

Written by Lucy Brzoska

The beginning of September is dry and dusty in Collserola, after weeks of cloudless skies and hardly a drop of water since early July.  Only the Umbrella Pines look fresh and green.  One of the few flowers to be seen is the Sacred Herb (Verbena officinalis), tiny specks of blue on the tip of long stems.  Thistles are brown and petrified.  A few Corymbose carline thistles still show yellow flower-heads among the blonde grass, where flocks of young dragonflies cling.  They’re this year’s second generation of Red-veined Darters (Sympetrum fonscolombii), out to graze on flies and build up their strength.

They have plasticine-bright colours – yellow abdomens, pale green segments in the thorax and sky-blue eyes.  This young male has just a touch of the deep red of his adult colouring.

immature-red-veined-darter-sympetrum-fonscolombii

The males turn scarlet as they grow, while the females stay yellow.  Females are distinguished by their double black lines, like this one who munches on a fly while clinging to a broom seed pod.

female-red-veined-darter-with-fly

The darters anchor themselves to twigs and stalks, immobile except when the breeze ruffles their wings.  Sometimes they turn their heads in quick, deft movements.  This male’s golden wing veins will soon turn red.

young-male-red-veined-darter-wings

For all things dragon and damsel, it’s well worth visiting Steve Jones’ Cornish Nature web site, where you’ll find a wealth of information and superb photos of species found in Cornwall and Iberia.  Steve loves dragonflies and they’re quite partial to him too.