The scenery around Millau is quite spectacular with various rivers, most notably the Tarn, having cut precipitous gorges deep into the surrounding Jurassic limestone plateau. The resulting individual plateaux between the series of gorges are at an altitude of about 1000m and are referred to as causses [pronounced koss, we think]. The limestone causses, with harsh winters but a near Mediterranean spring and summer climate, support a rich diversity of wild flowers and are particularly known for their orchids. One of our main reasons for coming here at this time of year is for Francine to search for those orchids.
Today was forecast to be un peu plus mauvais [a bit worse] than yesterday but, though the morning dawned grey, it didn’t look too bad. We made lunch of left over sausages and a baguette, and set off up the Causse-Noir, just behind our campsite. Our advised route took us to the attractive village of Peylereau and up the D29.
With Francine spotting orchids as we drove, the trick is to find somewhere to stop on mountainous roads with hairpin bends. Nonetheless we managed to find several areas in appropriate places and Francine was soon crouching down, snapping away and building up a list of orchids. She even had me looking for orchids. Whatever next?
As Odo-nutters are well aware, old favourites are always nice to see but it’s new species that cause excitement. Our first stop produced Francine’s first new find of the trip, the Military Orchid (Orchis militaris). It’s nice to see a grin spread across a face. 🙂
Military Orchids (it says here) can be confused with both Lady and Monkey Orchids, both of which I deduced were on Francine’s hit list. Our third stop produced another gleeful gesticulation at the driver as Francine found one of the potential confusions, a Monkey Orchid (Orchis simia), beside the road. Excitement went through the roof wandering back to the car as she spotted two diminutive Burnt Tip Orchids (Orchis ustulata). I was now driving a very happy camper, though she really did want to see the other potential confusion, a Lady orchid.
Stop #4 started slowly but produce more broad grins as Francine stumbled upon a small group of Bird’s-nest Orchids (Neottia nidus-avis) lurking beneath a conifer, apparently the wrong kind of tree entirely. Exciting her discovery may have been but colourful it wasn’t. Bird’s-nest Orchids contain no chlorophyll whatsoever and are consequently a rather dull honey-brown colour. Another new one for the list, though. Over the road were a few Lesser Butterfly Orchids (Platanthera bifolia), not new but enjoyable to see anyway. Just as we were about to leave, sneaking behind a bush – using your skill and judgement, guess the reason – Francine discovered a small colony of Common Twayblades (Listera ovata).
Our penultimate stop, stop #5, was producing more specimens of those already on the now lengthy list until, again returning to the car, we spotted a single Lady Orchid (Orchis purpurea) lurking near some bushes. Delight turned to ecstasy. How lovely to see such a satisfied customer.
Back at Guillaume, a sixth new species was added. All around our route we had been seeing large numbers of what Francine at first thought were White Helleborines (Cephalanthera damasonium). With a book to hand, she realized her mistake: these were Narrow-leaved Helleborines (Cephalanthera longifolia).
So, a very successful day, all in the Causse-Noir hunting orchids, which, at least, neither run nor fly away. Six new species for Francine in a day’s total of 15 (+1 to be identified when it flowers – we need to go back again).
Look at that grin. 😀