Articles in ‘pre-Pyrenees’

The Valley of Alinyà

Written by Lucy Brzoska

Butterflies were everywhere – congregating by the river, fluttering over rippling grass, courting by the road side.

mating-fritillaries-melitaea-sp

In the heat, they were busy “puddling”, looking for supplementary minerals wherever available, whether from sweaty skin, a metal rucksack zip . . .

fritillary-on-zip-melitaea-sp

. . . or from a pile of dung.

butterfly-on-dung

At the top of the valley, some of the terraced fields are still used to grow the knobbly and tasty “bufet” potatoes, shunned by restaurants for being too fiddly to peel. But most are now given up to broom and box, and grazing chamois, who run into the pine woods when disturbed.  Flowers that thrive in dry stony ground have divided up the land –  Junquillo Falso (Aphyllanthes monspeliensis), White Flax (Linum suffruticosum) or Hoary Rock Rose (Helianthemum oelandicum).

fields-in-alinya

Other flowers were found at the sides of paths and roads in stunning isolation – Sword-leaf and Red Helleborines, and Bee and Woodcock orchids.

woodcock-orchid-ophrys-scolopax1

Walking down from Alzina d’Alinyà one day, the highest village in the valley, a column of Griffon Vultures formed. Those at the top were mere specks, at some unguessable height, while the lowest were clearly visible. One preened a wing while soaring, and white woolly heads turned to scan the terrain.  Further back,  we’d passed a comedero, where stripped carcasses lay among heaps of feathers: signs of a competitive and tumultous lunch.

During the day, Cuckoos called continuously up and down the valley, while at three in the pitch-black morning there was the surreal sound of Nightingales through the bathroom window.  We found a Black Redstart nest inside a small chapel on a  window ledge.  Four white eggs lay on the soft downy lining.

Submerged in the hot butterfly-filled tranquility of Alinyà, it was easy to forget the world outside.  From the valley rim you had views of the Pyrenees, with a few lingering streaks of snow, the Sierras de Cadì and Boumort, or Coll de Nargo, down by the river Segre. The heat was kept in check by storms, which could be seen forming over the Pyrenees before rumbling south.   After the rain, mist would rise – small tufts at first, spun gold by the sun, and then in thick white clouds, mushrooming out of the ravine with incredible speed, and making me run for where I’d left my stuff while I could still find it.

mist-welling-up

More information on Alinyà here.

Note on Butterflies

After expert help from entomologist JM Sesma I can now identify the mating fritillaries as Mellicta deione, the Provençal Fritillary, and the one on the zip as Melitaea cinxia, the Glanville Fritillary.  The butterfly on the dung is a Ringlet, possibly Erebia triaria (Prunner’s Ringlet) but impossible to be sure without a view of its upperside.