Archive for July, 2009

Picnic on Santa Fe

The road up to Santa Fe is one of countless twists.  You climb, swinging to the right and the left, until finally you take another turn and find you’ve left the Mediterranean behind.  It was intoxicating to be out of the coastal heat and in an under-canopy world of streams, fungus, and beetles that glow like sapphires.

We’d planned a short walk to a rocky outcrop known as the “Empedrat de Morou”, a good place for lunch.  But an hour later, we were still within a stone’s throw of the visitors’ centre.  It’s what happens when coastal urbanites are let lose in a completely diferent habitat.



Chafer beetles (Hoplia caerulea) were scattered in profusion near the stream, shining in the deep deciduous shade.  We watched them stretch their limbs and use their hooked extremities to negotiate the leaves.  Then there was the enticing pool by the tree roots, where tadpoles lurked, legs sticking out at right angles (identification pending). But by the time the Camberwell Beauty flew past, pursuit would’ve been stretching patience.  On we went, towards lunch on the Empedrat de Morou.

The route took us through coppiced chestnuts and into the solemn beech wood, among large granite boulders.  But clearings were frequent and all had butterfly activity, to the consternation of those with growing hunger pangs.  A Comma (Polygonia c-album) was chased away to thwart more photography sessions.  Then a stunning Queen of Spain Fritillary (Issoria lathonia) settled on the track, marked like a cheetah above, and  with large silvery spots below.


Despite gnawing hunger, it was worth holding out to the Empedrat de Morou. The rocks are smooth, the view inspiring, and there were even chives growing in the cracks, for forager Nick to spice up his sandwiches.  Other fissures were filled with white flowering stonecrop, possibly Sedum hirsutum.  While eating you could look over the Santa Fe valley at the Turo del’Home, partially hidden in the clouds.


The mist suddenly went roaming and came swirling around us, so we ducked down into the woods again.  Although the trail was simple, we managed to lose it, and for a while were plunging ankle-deep in beech leaves and marshy soil.  All kinds of fungus had emerged after last week’s rain, with thick white stems and caps like freshly baked bread.

We hit solid ground again near the small reservoir, which used to provide electricity for the Santa Fe hotel.  There were Heath spotted orchids (Dactylorhiza maculata) and wild strawberries by the path. We went past a stream where water slid over the rocks in a succession of pools and waterfalls – an otter’s playgound.  Monica did some sliding too, but luckily had dry clothes to get changed into.


On the way down, back to the coast, we pulled over for a while and walked about in the warm light mist.  Vapours were pouring up the slope, like smoke out of a chimney. The roadsides were filled with colour: Nettle-leaved bellflowers (Campanula trachelium), Yarrow (Achillea millefoium), and vivid Pinks (Dianthus seguieri) and Violets (Viola bubanii). The last moments of calm were savoured before going home.


Evening butterflies

Written by Lucy Brzoska

Swatting off scarlet and black mylabris beetles, I walked down to the horse paddocks.  Summer’s hit us like a sledgehammer, and mornings have been too hot to go out and look for butterflies (or anything).   In the mellow evening sun, among olive and carob trees, I looked around to see what was about.  Behind me, horses snorted and a Golden Oriole was calling.

Most of the scabious has gone to seed already, and the only flowers were thistles and stonecrop.  A Common Blue perched on a dried flower head, slowly turning in a semi-circle, as if to make sure all sections of the audience got a full view of its violet shimmer.


No sooner had the Common Blue flown, its place was immediately taken by a Long-tailed Blue.  It shifted its wings, but kept them closed, a beige slip of a butterfly.  In no hurry to move, it let me get close and see the “face” in the corner – the imitation antenna and eye spots.


When I got too close for comfort and the Long-tailed Blue moved on, I noticed something magnificent further up the slope, motionless on a wild carrot flower.  I approached carefully, commando-style.  After staring so long at the diminutive Longtailed Blue, the sheer size of the Swallowtail, boldly outlined in black, was impressive.  Its abdomen hung down like a paper lantern.


One of the benefits of hunkering down quietly in the grass for ages is that you pass unnoticed.  Over in the horse paddock, I watched a rabbit stop to scratch its back.  It lost patience and rolled over to rub the elusive spot, legs in the air.  All around sparrows were taking dust baths.  The rabbit suddenly detected my presence and froze, white tum stretched out, before bounding off into the trees.