The Sun Returns

With the unsettled weather of the early weekend over, we wandered along the Jalón river to meet a couple for coffee in the Lliber village square. More accurately, we wandered along beside the dry river bed that marks the occasional course of the river between Jalón and Lliber. Our friends are in the process of becoming full-time Spanish residents so we spent an interesting couple of hours chatting over a few coffees each. Now, get this: 8 coffees and two portions of tostada y tomate [toast, olive oil and tomato – standard Spanish breakfast] – 10.60€. [I know, I’m getting repetitive but … for Darwin’s sake!]

We wandered back towards Jalón through the vineyards which, by the way, have just been harvested. With the sun out and with my elbow on the mend from its first brush with the Jalón river, we once again couldn’t resist having a squint at the ford to see who might be around. One again, I was not equipped with camera and monopod so, perhaps inevitably, we saw something that caused me to get excited.. Francine did have her camera but an inappropriately short lens – only 200mm. Nonetheless, I tried snagging my suspect.

J17_1597  Desert DarterThis was too frustrating. I left Francine watching my quarry, which seemed perfectly happy to return to its favoured perch, while I drove back to Casa to get my camera and lens. Sure enough, Mr. Suspect was dutiful still on its perch, watched by Francine. It was, indeed, what I suspected and hoped for, a Desert Darter (Sympetrum sinaiticum). This is still the only place I’ve seen them and I feared for them after the winter torrents. They were still here. It may have been a favoured perch but it wasn’t the most photogenic of perches so t was never going to be one of the greatest pictures but it proved the point.

J17_1610  Sympetrum sinaiticumWe scrambled further and I found another example, perching better, but the poor thing had a malformed abdomen. Continuing further, however, eventually I found a more cooperative and accessible example in very good condition. This time I couldn’t have asked for a better pose and I managed to get a photograph that I was really happy with. Contented camper.

For our Sunday evening meal we were once again trying Spanish lamb. I have to say that I have been nothing but disappointed with Spanish lamb which is, in my opinion, for too young to have any flavour. The lambs are tiny, about 12kg only. I have the same problem back home with so-called spring lamb, which is considerably older than Spanish lamb but still too young. Tender it may be but flavoursome it ain’t.

This evening, we tried a paletilla [Shoulder] but, instead of buying it from a supermarket, this came from a proper meat stall on the market in Denia. it weighed just over a kilo. I gave it 90 minutes on our Cadac with the lid on, essentially a gas powered oven on the balcony, and it was better; still not as tasty as British or New Zealand lamb but a definite improvement. Oh, it was quite a bit fattier than those we’ve had from supermarkets.

A reasonable end to an interesting day.

Posted in 2017-09 Spain

Solar Interruption

As forecast, Friday and Saturday proved unsettled, not to say very wet indeed. Rain stopped play.

Saturday was actually acceptable so we went investigating the market at Denia. We needed something for dinner on Sunday and we lashed out on a shoulder of lamb from a butcher on the market. We hoped it might prove better than the rather tasteless examples of Spanish lamb that we’ve tried thus far only from supermarkets. Watch this space.

Technorati Tags: ,,,,
Posted in Uncategorised

Another Old Habitat

There is apparently some unsettled weather forecast for the weekend so it makes sense to get some Odo-hunting in while conditions are favourable. Today, though, might be considered a little warm for some hitting the low 30s Centigrade. Nonetheless, it was a good opportunity to try the Pego-Oliva marsh at this time of year.

When we arrived there was only one other car present, which left shortly after we parked. There were, however, a couple of slightly distressing signs advertising “Barques” (boats) for rent. As a very biased nature lover, I would hate to see this splendid stretch of habitat invaded by tourists splashing about in boats. Being out of the main season, all was peaceful today, though.

It was a little quieter than I might have expected. This could be because we are now beyond the end of the flight seasons of a number of its residents. We were ,for example, entertained by Green-eyed Hawkers, a.k.a. Norfolk Hawkers (Aeshna isoceles) in May and they’d be finished now. Similarly, the Small Redeyes/Small Red-eyed Damselfly (Erythromma viridulum).

On the damselfly front, the only species we did see was a Blue-eye/Goblet-marked Damselfly (Erythromma lindenii). Representing the big boys, there were a few Emperors still around, both Blue Emperor (Anax imperator) and Lesser Emperor (Anax parthenope) but just one or two that we saw.

J17_1567  Broad Scarlet femaleJ17_1573  Broad Scarlet maleMuch of the activity featured the ever-popular Broad Scarlet/Scarlet Darter (Crocothemis erythraea)  which, in continental Europe, it’s easy to get blasé about, being as widespread and common as they are, but one shouldn’t, they really are quite striking. Here’s both a male and female.

J17_1564  Trithemis annulataJ17_1585  Trithemis annulataI’m pleased to say, keeping the Scarlets good company were several examples of one of my gaudy little personal favourites, teh deliciously pink Violet Dropwing/Violet-marked Darter (Trithemis annulata). I didn’t spot any females (which are not pink) but I did snag several cooperative males. A man can’t have too many Violet Dropwings. 🙂

Curiously few Red-veined Darters (Sympetrum fonscolombii), too; Francine spotted one but I can’t say that I did.

Cold beer was required.

Posted in 2017-09 Spain

A New Species

One thing that almost matches visiting new habitats is visiting old habitats at a new time of year; the species are likely to be different. In August 2016 we had been delighted to discover Northern Banded Groundlings (Brachythemis impartita) at the Parque Natural del Hondo just south of Alicante. I was keen to see them again, if possible.

We’ve managed to get our friend Jim interested in photographing critters, too, so much so that he’s been investing in better camera gear to capture them on pixels. So, when we offered him the chance to accompany us down to Hondo, he readily accepted. It’s a 90-minute drive. We picked Jim up and arrived at Hondo at 11:30. Being out of main season and mid-week, it was quite quiet with only two other cars in the car park. Excellent.

J17_1420  Long Skimmer eatingFirst we made for the boardwalk, which we’d missed out on last August having started on the mudflats and being instantly captivated by the enchanting Groundlings. There were quite a few Long Skimmers (Orthetrum trinacria) flitting about, including this one which I spotted settled and tucking into a hapless Common Bluetail (Ischnura elegans). Long Skimmers do seem to be particularly prone to eating other Odonata.

J17_1463  Black PercherFurther along the boardwalk life got exciting, in a slightly frustrating kind of way. Hawk-eyed Francine spotted something unfamiliar-looking flying low down in the reeds to our right. It was small but clearly a dragonfly. It was black. It was very difficult to follow and was proving even more difficult to focus on. Why is it that Canon DSLR autofocus logic strongly favours green vegetation? As a result of a post from a contact that I’d seen earlier, from the Valencia region, I was almost sure that what we were seeing was a Black Percher (Diplacodes lefebvrii), and so it turned out to be. I was beside myself as we all contorted ourselves over the handrails in various attempts to snag the little delight. Francine resorted to manual focus to try to improve our chances. Given the situation, they were never going to be prize-winning shots but we did get some.

Cock-a-hoop, we repaired to a baking hot car for some lunch  temperatures were forecast to hit 30°C.

Time to go in search of Northern Banded Groundlings on the mudflats. These like to fly around your feet catching smaller insects that your footfalls disturb. Disappointment; Northern Banded Groundlings were there none. Maybe we were a little too late being some three weeks later in the year, though the book says we’re still in their flight season. No matter, we’d got a new species, anyway, so the day was good.

J17_1495  Black PennantFurther round the mud flats We began spotting a few more black dragonflies and these were perching atop stems with clear backgrounds. Great stuff! Having already seen the Black Perchers, I began snapping away at what I assumed were the same species, without taking that much notice of the details in my viewfinder. I did see a colour of pterostigma that gave me pause but since I wasn’t familiar with the detail of the Black Percher I continued snapping in my belief that these were they. Wrong! These were actually male Black Pennants (Selysiothemis nigra). I was right to wonder about the pterostigmas, after all. I’d see Black Pennants first in 2016 both in Croatia and then, again, here at Hondo in Spain. However, I had seen only females. Now, at last, I had the males.

I’d love to have seen the Groundlings again but I had ample compensation with a new species and a previously missing male. What a good day.

A contact on a Spanish dragonfly site has since mentioned that Northern Banded Groundlings can be prone to just disappearing from a site, for no readily understood reason. I do hope they will return.

Posted in 2017-09 Spain

Wrong Country

We’re supposed to be in La Belle France. We were to be going with Guillaume for three weeks. However, as our departure date got perilously close, just about everything that could go wrong did go wrong. So, France got delayed [I still have the ferry tickets to be used in 2018]. Instead, as a consolation prize, we booked a 1-week trip to España. Besides, we really needed to replace the moisture absorbers in Casa Libélule before winter hit. 🙂

The easyJet flight 2223 to Alicante from Luton seems to be getting ever earlier. Our departure time was 05:30 so our alarm went at 03:00 and our taxi picked us up at 03:30. Ours was the first flight timetabled to leave. Luton airport was blissfully quiet. Well, not quite blissfully, perhaps; little about Luton airport could ever be described as blissful. Our gate was announced early and we boarded.

We sat on the plane, which was not actually an easyJet plane – it wasn’t even a British plane, bearing no writing whatsoever save for an LY- registration. Ah, Lithuanian. We sat. The captain came on the blower and announced a 75-minute delay “due to French air traffic control”. Bloody marvelous! The French were at it again. It began to feel as though some higher authority might be trying to tell us not to go anywhere.

Eventually our delay was shortened to about an hour and, miracle of miracles, we did get airborne. The flight was reasonable and we duly arrived in Alicante airport a shade prior to 10:00 local time.

Friend Jim had experienced awful delays at Alicante passport control due to its pitifully slow automated passport reading machines, when four plane loads of passengers spill out simultaneously. We were apprehensive. Mercifully, there seemed to be no flight having landed just ahead of us and we got to the immigration hall in good time. Francine and I were third and fourth in line for one of the infernal machines. It still took about 10 minutes to get processed but we got through, collected our rental car and drove to Jalón in glorious sunshine, which was part of our reason or coming, let’s face it.

It seems that M. Macron has caused consternation in France because he declared that he wants to revise their employment law. This is why French ATC threw their toys out of the pram. News reports stating that Ryan Air had cancelled several flights the same day suggested that we had been lucky to get here at all.

J17_1393  Epaulet SkimmerWe relaxed with some lunch washed down with the obligatory rosado or two, then went to check out the local ford for Odos, which had been woefully low in numbers on our spring visit as a result, I suspected, of the raging winter torrents. Better, here were some friends to photograph. We counted five species flitting about. Worse, I missed my footing and managed to slip on the rocks, buggering my right elbow. parts of the water-smoothed rocks suddenly took on a bloody red hue. Bother! It wasn’t the wine’s fault; I failed to spot a loose piece of plastic covering the rock I tried to stand on. I got the shot , though. 😉

We retired to patch my elbow. Dangerous sport, this Odo photography. 😀

Posted in 2017-09 Spain

Overcrowded Roads, Overstretched Services

We packed up Guillaume at Tebay Services soon-to-be-no-more campsite and headed south for home on the M6. A radio report soon announced that some pratts decided to have an accident on the M6 around Tebay but happily they did so behind us. We were off and running.

We were running until something broke down in the lengthy road works section around J17. Why is it always in the coned-off-anyway stretches of road? The inevitable queues and delays built up. My primary navigatrix would need a natural break heading into unknown delays so we pulled into the next services before hitting the queues. When we left the services, the back of the queue had already caught us. We crawled onwards.

Eventually we got through the trouble noticing that now another vehicle had broken down in the northbound carriageway, also in the already restricted road works section. See? Faultless!

Declining the exorbitant £10 fee for a car and caravan on the M6 Toll road, we ran into more delays where slip roads came in. Take note, cheapskate!

Getting through that delay took us beyond Birmingham and towards the next necessary natural break so we peeled off into Corley Services. Towing vehicles were directed in along with the HGVs. Chaos! Trucks were reversing into the odd remaining parking bay and others were manoeuvring. No room at the inn. I tried stopping somewhere unofficial but caused something of an obstruction The toilet stop was impossible. We were forced to continue.

We filtered off the M6 and onto the M1 heading for the next service area, Watford Gap, to try our luck there. Our luck was no better – no room at the inn, again. Francine came up with the jolly idea of refuelling just so she could use the loo. Why not? Park at the pumps. I didn’t actually need fuel but paying top dollar for it worked. Comfort at last.

As we left to re-join the M1 we noticed that, not only were all the HGV parking spaces taken but HGVs were also littered/abandoned all the way along the hard shoulder of the slip road back onto the motorway, their drivers also clearly having been unable to park somewhere official and having walked back up the slip road for their break.

We don’t usually travel on a weekday, now, preferring the weekend, and particularly Sunday, when HGV traffic is considerably less. Most of the trucks are foreign from Catholic countries and most of them won’t work on a Sunday. Here we were travelling on a Friday and the inside lane was pretty much constant HGVs, with a fair few extras in the second lane slowly overhauling the inside lane.

The truck drivers are on the clock, the spy in the cab, a tachograph, so there are enforced stops for them. Our truck traffic has increased out of all recognition since the rest areas were originally constructed and, though some may have been extended, there is now nothing like enough capacity to cope with them all. Our major trunk roads are swamped with HGVs. We did see two specialist truck stops, which are presumably a new phenomenon, signed on our journey … but two in 250 miles? There has of course been an amazing increase in private car traffic as well but where we were sitting, it’s the sheer volume of heavies with which the country can no longer cope.

When the M25 was finished I remember people saying that it was designed using traffic volumes that were now 10 years out of date. The service areas are suffering similarly.

We got home, relieved. It’s enough to make you want to stay there.

Technorati Tags: ,,
Posted in 2017 Scotland

Happy to Leave

Today was technically our last full day at Cannich. However, we awoke to the gentle pitter-patter of rain on Guillaume’s roof, punctuated by the occasional syncopated beat of drips from an overhanging tree branch. [Given the choice, don’t park caravans under trees. Normally I wouldn’t.] There being little point staying twiddling our thumbs in a depressingly wet place that we’d largely already investigated, we packed up and hit the road south at 08:00 in the standard Highland morning summer temperature of 11°C, which rose gradually to the standard Highland summer high of 13°C.

After 12 miles crossing the countryside we hit Loch Ness at Drumnadrochit, which is a total tourist trap nightmare, complete with the very worst kind of souvenir shop (Nessie, Wee Monster T-shirts, etc.) and dreadful canned bagpipe “music”, against which I had to close my driver’s window, in the street. Silly Sally Satnav wanted us to turn north and negotiate the relatively heavy traffic of Inverness before heading south down the A9 into the frightful congestion caused by extensive road works near Perth. Bonkers! We were already half way down the A82 beside Loch Ness so we turned south and drove down the Great Glen passing, after Loch Ness, the amusingly named Loch Lochy. [Run out of ideas, eh?]

Our route continued through Fort William, another depressing town in our view [previous trip]. In persistent rain the road then followed the shore of Loch Linnhe before climbing into Glen Coe which, if one could see it, I admit is grand and quite impressive. Today, however, with the clouds on the deck and drizzle, dream on.

Our blistering Highland temperature remained at 13°C until we began descending towards Loch Lomond where things improved a little, though not the road surface beside the northern part of the loch which absolutely sucks. As well as uneven, the road is narrow with unforgiving stone walls on both sides. We negotiated it safely but passed a disconcerting number of broken pieces of car abandoned beside the stone walls edging the road. Take care.

Now in the Lowlands, both the temperature and meteorological outlook improved a little more and by the time we skirted Glasgow we were being treated to 17°C – positively balmy.

Approaching the English border we saw sun and the temperature soared eventually to 22°C. After three weeks, we were now more acclimatized to Scottish Highland summer temperatures, i.e. 13°C, and were beginning to bake. Should we turn on the aircon?

I saw the “Welcome to England” sign as the M74 magically transformed into the M6. My heart sang; a weight had been lifted.

We checked into the soon-to-be-closed campsite at Tebay Services. It closes on 3rd September, the end of an era.

With it at last feeling like summer, I broke into a sweat getting Guillaume set up.

Posted in 2017 Scotland

Close but no Cigar

Wednesday morning was forecast to be fine and so it proved to be. I was interested in a second attempt at Coire Loch to see if we could get a better look at those Emerald dragonflies and Francine fancied a 40-mile trip to Ardersier, just northeast of Inverness, where there was supposed to be a colony of Coralroot Orchids (Corallorhiza trifida). Since orchids don’t run and hide if clouds appear, it made sense to try Coire Loch in the morning, while the sun was appearing, and Ardersier in the afternoon.

We packed our Wellington boots for the boggy moss beside the loch and negotiated the 4-mile single track stretch back to the Dog Falls car park in Glen Affric where we found the parking ticket machine still out of order – excellent! Somehow, knowing how much puffing uphill was involved and precisely where the loch was made our second visit seem easier. We donned our Wellies and worked our way out to the side of the main water, taking up slightly different positions to cover more territory. We waited. Quite soon, as the sun put in sporadic appearances, we began to see dragonflies on patrol along the side of the loch. They were very fast and paused only infrequently. I knew there were Emeralds but couldn’t swear to which. There are three possible suspects in this part of Scotland:

  1. Downy Emerald (Cordulia aenea)
  2. Brilliant Emerald (Somatochlora metallica)
  3. Northern Emerald (Somatochlora arctica)

Photos of either of the last two would’ve been welcomed additions to our collection. We’d seen Northern Emeralds in France on one occasion but failed to get a picture of the tireless little beasts. Similarly with the Brilliant, I’ve seen one fly past at Thursley Common but failed to get a snap. I didn’t think the territory here looked right for Northern Emerald but hopes were high for the Brilliant, for which Coire Loch has a reputation.

_17C5566 Emerald_17C5574 Emerald in flightI kept trying and failing to bring my lens to bear on my target. I didn’t get a single shot. Eventually, though one suspect settled in the heather behind Francine. She snagged it. It was face on which would normally be good – the face is a distinguishing feature – but its frons was partially obscured by a sprig of the heather. Drat! A little later, I heard Francine announce that we could pack up because she’d caught one in a hover and had several successful flight shots. Brava Francine! We didn’t quite pack up straight away but we’d been standing there 90 minutes so it didn’t take too much longer before we wearied of it.

When I studied Francine’s excellent pictures, I was a little gutted. She’d caught not one of our hoped for Brilliant Emeralds but a Downy Emerald. Don’t get me wrong, it was still an achievement and a very welcome flight photograph BUT we have a colony of Downy Emeralds just 2 miles from our home 500 miles further south. 😀

As forecast, the clouds did, indeed, begin to cover us. To save time, we bought sandwiches for lunch and headed out to Ardersier on the far side of Inverness in search of orchids. Driving through Inverness wasn’t too scary and we soon found the car park for Ardersier Common. Inside information from the new friends we had met in Aviemore gave us clues as to where to look. The description they had used had been “dune slacks” which are seasonal pools.

Knowing which path to follow, we soon began finding what we thought were the so-called dune slacks. They were now dried out but there were depressions in the ground which looked as though they would fill with water in teh right conditions. _17C5591 Coralroot gone overFrancine ducked through a gap in the vegetation [no, not for that] and I saw her crouch low. “Ah ha”, she muttered, encouragingly. She had, indeed, found a few spikes of the rare Coralroot Orchid. Upon closer inspection, she was pleased to have found them but somewhat less pleased that she had essentially found them too late – the flowers had all gone to seed. We kept searching further but no specimens with flowers presented themselves. Understanding only too well this kind of disappointment, I felt so sorry for her. She’d seen them but not as she would have wished, in their blooming glory.

An interesting day, if a somewhat frustrating one given our two near misses.

Posted in 2017 Scotland

How to Ruin a View

I’ll keep this brief.

We were once again under the Scottish  Highlands’ blanket of cloud and back its mode highest temperature of 13°C. I have lost count of the number of days that have topped out at a meagre 13°C/55°F. Odonata hunting was clearly not going to be rewarding so we decided to go to the limit of public navigation of the road beside Glen Affric. According to the Forestry Commision Scotland, It is, after all“one of the most beautiful places in Scotland”.

Driving the 10 tortuous miles along the single track road to the end of Glen Affric is moderately nervy with blind S-bends, passing places, occasionally just before the blind bend and muddy verges. It is of more concern when road signs indicate “construction traffic” to contend with as well. I drove very conservatively and finally, after passing some of said construction traffic and a couple of jumps into reverse to let a campervan descend, we arrived at the final car park to experience one of Scotland’s best bits of scenery.

There was a short walk of about ½ml up to a viewpoint and back. As we approached, I could see that we were going to be disappointed. OK, the weather was dull and the light was rubbish but … really. The very centre of the view was ruined by a crane and assorted construction detritus. Bloody brilliant!

_17C5540 Glen Affric

Thankfully the car park ticket machine was out of order, like the one at Dog Falls, so at least we didn’t waste any money.

Technorati Tags: ,,

Posted in 2017 Scotland

Off to Cannich

On Monday morning we relished the thought of finally being able to leave our car park camping site in Kinlochewe. We had had a very convivial Sunday evening with our visiting friends but now it was time to move on to Cannich at the foot of Glen Affric. Our journey was about 60 miles and would take about 90 minutes. I planned to leave at about 11:00.

Guillaume had other ideas. We hooked up and one brake/rear light failed to function. Out came my tool kit. Never travel without a tool kit if you have a caravan. You may not be able to do anything to fix a modern car but caravan technology is not modern, frequently breaks and can be fixed, if you’re lucky.

I removed Guillaume’s right light cluster. The bulb looked good. The contacts, however, were not living up to their name; they were not in contact with the bulb. I fiddled with the contacts, gave a spray of good ol’ WD40 and refitted the the light cluster. rear and brake lights OK but now the indicator failed. Unbelievable! I removed the light cluster again and cleaned the indicator contacts. I refitted it all. Indicator OK but rear and brake light not working yet again. Bother! I removed the light cluster for a third time. Again, the contacts on the rear light were adrift. The securing mechanism, plastic spring clips, was not securing the contacts successfully. I used a matchstick to wedge them apart and secure them more firmly. Isn’t high technology great? I refitted it yet again – my screwdriver muscles were beginning to ache. All lights on. An hour late, we hit the road.

The other thing that hit the road for the 60 miles of our journey was my 12S (supplemental) plug – that’s the one that powers the interior caravan features, like the fridge and lights. I’d clearly forgotten to refit it in all the frustration of fixing Guillaume’s rear light cluster three times. It was ruined. Bother again!

After a calming drink and lunch, we used the essentially pleasant afternoon to forget ruined plugs and to scout out a likely location. The campsite owner was kind enough to point me to one walk in particular which did a loop around Dog Falls and included Coire Loch. I was surprised to find that Coire Loch was specifically mentioned in the Smallshire/Swash dragonfly guide as being known for Brilliant Emeralds, one of my few missing UK species. Hmm?

The road up Glen Affric is one of Scotland’s beloved single track roads with passing places, though not quite as frequent as those we’d become accustomed to on the single track roads around Poolewe and Kinlochewe. The road is 10 miles long. We had to negotiate only the first 4 miles to get to the Dog Falls car park. Mercifully, the parking ticket machine (£2 for the day) was not working so parking became free.

Coire LochThe walking route began gently enough and then headed uphill.  It continued uphill. I couldn’t quite imagine a loch/lake in this generally very sloping terrain. The route began heading back downhill, around some turns. Further down and around a few more turns we finally saw a very attractive looking piece of sheltered habitat, Coire Loch. Mr Campsite had referred to it as a lochan; whatever it was it was delightful.

We descended and the path got close to the edge of the water – close but not that close. To get really close, where the footfall became very boggy, one really needed Wellington boots. We were clad in trainers but I did try a few tentative steps onto the squishy moss beside the water proper. It remained overcast and this was just a scouting trip. Picking my way via small trees, which don’t grow on the boggiest areas, I got to lochan-side. For a while nothing moved but then we did spot what looked like a a couple of Emerald dragonflies.

There’re three species of Emeralds possible in this neck of the woods. I thought what I glimpsed looked quite bright but we’d need another chance to be definite.

We’d need better conditions and a lot of luck, too – Emeralds do not perch readily.

Posted in 2017 Scotland