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June 11th 2019

This morning I set off with three friends to walk a trail new to me, intriguingly called “Sendero de la Mariposa Monarca” or Trail of the Monarch Butterfly. This is a fairly newly established trail that gives the opportunity to walk through some old mixed woodland along the banks of the rio Guadarranque, in the company of Monarch Butterflies. I’m not sure what to expect, but I’m sure it will give a new perspective to an area we know quite well, known to us as La Almoraima.

10.40 – We arrived at Venta de la Cantina, which is where we have decided to start our walk. The plan to have coffee and tostada for a late breakfast was disappointingly scuppered, as being a Tuesday the venta was closed for business. It was already very warm though, so maybe just as well we didn’t hang about; it would be a longish walk and I had to admit, highly likely to be slowed down by me stopping to take photographs.

Lantern吧A sign on the far side of the car park points us in the direction of the beginning of the walk, along a dusty narrow track through tall rapidly drying vegetation.

 

Still green is a big sprawling Castor Oil Plant bearing round prickly fruits – as yet unripe, through which is twining the lovely bindweed, Lantern吧 – so aptly known as Heavenly Blue.

Another flash of blue on the path catches my eye – the opened wings of a Blue-winged Grasshopper as it leap-flies out of the way. Such a clever strategy – a potential predator strikes at a brown insect, then confused by the sudden flash of colour as it flies away, turns its attention to looking for a blue one. On the drying head of a Wild Carrot, another insect that uses colour as protection – a  Striped Shieldbug, or Minstrel Bug,  whose black and red stripes warn that it does not taste good.

10:53- I’m already lagging behind so speed up to find my friends reading a board bearing information about the Monarch butterfly. It’s in Spanish of course, but roughly translated, this is some of what it says:

The Monarch Butterfly-Danaus plexippus, the biggest and one of the most beautiful butterflies found in this area, is probably best known for the great migration of thousands of kilometres it undertakes, flying from North America to winter in a small part of Mexico, where they may gather in their millions.

The only breeding populations on the European continent occur in the area around the Strait of Gibraltar, where its presence has been documented since 1994. Here on the banks of the Rio Guadarranque, on the way to Castellar de la Frontera, we can watch the flight of the big Monarchs, which have a wingspan of some 10cm, as they hover around the plants on which they feed……

10:57 – A first sighting of a beautiful Monarch butterfly

and a first glimpse of the river. I don’t know this river, but I would say that its water level is already quite low – much of the water brought by this small river is contained by a dam and stored in the nearby reservoir, Lantern吧What we are seeing here is the depleted final stretch of the river that will soon reach its emptying point into the Mediterranean Sea at Algeciras Bay. The water is a milky cloudy grey-brown colour and hardly to be moving.  Bracken and brambles grow close to the water and the branch of an Alder tree hangs low over it. Entering into the woodland beautiful tall Alder trees give already-welcome shade from the rapidly increasing heat.

11:03-Another Monarch, this one half-hidden behind a bracken frond.

Lantern吧

11:07- The shade from the trees was short-lived and we are into a cleared space where the ground is hard and dust-dry; grass is dry and bleached, but Bracken is still vibrantly green. I spot a large Apple of Sodom plant. This very poisonous plant has pale purple flowers that resemble those of Nightshades and fruits, currently green that look like small unripe tomatoes.

11:15 – We meet some glorious trees – this one is an Ash – Fraxinus sp– Fresno in Spanish, a species sometimes found growing near small streams and springs as well as in larger river valleys.

Lantern吧

Nearby is a White Poplar or Aspen, its leaves and bark silvery against the clear blue sky.

White Poplar or Aspen –

11:25 – We hear the gentle clanging of bells, warning us that we are about to encounter animals. It’s very common to meet domesticated animals when out walking in woods, most often grazing cows, who may look up to see whose passing before resuming their eating, but today it was a small herd of foraging goats. They were on the opposite river bank, so not chomping on the vegetation of this conserved area. I wondered if they had been deliberately let loose to do a bit of conservation grazing on the undergrowth.

Browsing Goats

11:27 – A Monarch feeding on an orange-flowered Tropical Milkweed.

Tropical Milkweed – Asclepias curassavica

Not native to Europe, many of these plants, which flower from March through to December,  have been planted here to meet the needs of the butterflies. The information board explained that Milkweeds or asclepias, poisonous to the majority of herbivores, are the host plants for Monarch caterpillars. As they eat, the insects absorb poisonous substances from the plant, making them poisonous too. The black and yellow colours of the caterpillars and orange of the adults warn off potential predators. Once the flowers are finished, adult butterflies will take nectar from other flowers.

Lantern吧

11:31- The path closely follows the river for a stretch, going around a huge Alder tree with deeply fissured and textured bark. Some old cones remain on the branches, settling any doubts we may have had about the species.

11:36 – Two Striped-neck Terrapins bask in the sun on the partially-submerged branch of a fallen tree. The water looks to be quite shallow here.

11:37 – A tall specimen of another milkweed species, this one is Gomphocarpus physocarpus which has a number of common names, but I’m going for the pretty and polite one of Swan Plant.

Lantern吧

11:38- A patch of recently dug-over earth has a clump of a white-flowered plant growing in it that again looks to have been deliberately planted. A female Common Blue was happily taking nectar from it, whatever it is and however it got there. Nearby a Speckled Wood, looking a bit battered  basked on a bramble leaf.

11:41- I was surprised to see a Foxglove flowering here. They are a native species found in places in the Alcornocales woodlands, but as there was only the one plant I wondered if it had been planted to encourage it to establish, or perhaps to re-establish here.

11:42 – The trail leaves the shade of the woodland and takes us along its edge where a simple post and wire fence marks a boundary. Here growing is one of the biggest, healthiest-looking Olive tree I think I have ever seen. Its shadow, almost perfectly matching the shape of the tree shows the sun must have been almost directly above us.

Lantern吧

We stay out in the open for a while, walking across the undulating ground of a cleared area.

Lantern吧

Having fallen behind again, I caught up with the others who were standing peering into a huge bramble bush. They had heard a Nightingale singing briefly from within it, but although it kept up contact calls, it proved impossible to locate. But, it was definitely a Nightingale, qualifying this one to add to my list of ‘Nightingale Trails’!

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11:47- A pristine Monarch perfectly posed on a leaf

It was hot out there away from the shade of the trees, so it’s a relief when the path picks up the riverside once again. Large Oleander shrubs, smothered with lovely pink blossom bring an almost-tropical feel to some parts of the river, especially where the water appears still and calm.

Not all is calm though, Pond Skaters skitter about frantically , disturbing the peaceful surface.

Lantern吧

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Back on track and a section of track close to the river that is in lovely dappled shade, but which is quite uneven and awkwardly sloping

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12:08- It seems we’ve only walked 1.7km so far, meaning we have another 4.3 km to go to reach the end of the trail.

My fault, I’m sure, but there’s been so much to see and I’m sure I won’t be returning here anytime soon….but a bit of speed-walking is probably in order. But first – here’s a Cork Oak which has had most of the bark harvested from its lower trunk that hasn’t grown back.

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Lantern吧

A line of Alders lean in over the water; the path passes very closely behind them: won’t people walking on it further erode their supporting earth?

Lantern吧

Another Alder that wouldn’t look out of place on the banks of a tropical river. It is already multi-trunked, or branched and the greenery that is growing from what seems to be a thick trunk is more Alder – that could potentially grow to form more trunks or branches.

We’d seen quite a few of these blue-flowered plants that will also have been planted for the Monarchs – I don’t know what they are, but this one looks pretty with pink Oleander blossom.

Out of the woods again and out of sight of the river, we are walking through another clearing with ‘scrubby’ vegetation – Dwarf Fan Palms & thistly Spanish Oyster Plants, and unless I’m mistaken Cotoneaster. Scrub vegetation quickly fills in any spaces absented by trees.

I could have lingered longer here as there were insects to be found, but I could see the girls ahead of me, patiently waiting, so I settled for a black-spotted red beetle, that has no common name but I think is a Lantern吧 sp., an I’m still trying to find-out what insect on Spanish Oyster Plant flowers

and a Safflower Skipper butterfly

The girls were waiting in a spot where a mass of the blue-flowered plants against a background of pink-flowered Oleander could have been part of someone’s summer garden.

Lantern吧

Back to the river; shallow and little more than a slow-moving stream here

12:31- A Monarch clings to a bare twig

Lantern吧

The path gets s a bit uneven again here as it passes along a rocky bank

Lantern吧

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Lantern吧

Through a tangle of trees and shrubbery we glimpse a movement and stand still to watch a deer grazing. It must have heard or sensed our presence though as it lifted its head, looked in our direction and ran away.

We are back out of the woods and in another wide, clear area of sun-baked ground where a huge Carob tree frames a park-like view of trees and big Oleander shrubs.

Lantern吧

A rough section of the path crosses a dry rocky stream-bed, then it smooths out again; the river here has narrowed to little more than a stream which bubbles and foams as it races over  rocks and around fallen tree branches.

12:45- Beyond the river widens again & water surrounds trees – it looks primeval; more like a swamp or creek in Florida than an Andalusian river.

A gnarled and misshapen Ash tree, its trunk divided into two. I fancy I can see the shape of a primate in the trunk nearest to me – if I had the time to stop and look at it for a while I’m sure I could and probably would make up several variations on a fairy-tale featuring this characterful tree.

On a bank further along another misshapen old tree, this one an Alder.

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12:58- A Monarch nectaring on a Swan Plant; so pretty

A  black beetle scurries across in front of me. He’s big and has two distinctive ‘prongs’ that extend forward either side of his head – he’s a Minotaur Beetle, a type of dung-beetle, so he’s probably out seeking something nice and smelly.

13:03- The path passes beneath two huge pipelines supported on concrete columns that must be carrying water away from the nearby embalse (reservoir).

13:04- Another signpost informs that we still have almost 2km further to walk – it’s taken just over 3 hours to get here.

Lantern吧

I should speed up a bit, but there are so many distractions, like this Stripe-necked Terrapin posing so nicely on a log in a patch of milky water that is reflecting overhanging reeds…

13:10- Another shallow and animated section of water that swirls and falls rapidly over rocks and around trees, racing past pretty Oleander

Upstream beyond this moment of watery excitement all is calm –  the river is suddenly much wider and deeper, which probably accounts for the apparent speed where it narrowed – we are walking upstream, so looking at the river’s flow almost retrospectively.

A huge chunk of rock sits on top of the bank at the side of the path. I can’t help but wonder both how it got there and how long it’s been sitting there. It looks as though it has been roughly cut and shaped, so maybe it was once destined to be part of the Castillo that sits high above where we are walking. Its surface is aged and covered with a patchwork of mosses and lichens. It would take some shifting.

Lantern吧Another section of dry, slippery sloping track needs some concentrated negotiation

Lantern吧 the path is still rough, dry and dusty and lined with what I think is probably Esparto grass.

Lantern吧13:25- A Monarch poised on a thorny bramble twig

Lantern吧

More Tropical Milkweed has been planted close to the water where the plants will find more moisture.

A fallen tree has been left where it fell across the path

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We see another section of the river where its level and flow is much diminished.

I spy a lovely little Spanish Gatekeeper butterfly probing for nectar in one of a very few remaining flowers on a thistle.

Lantern吧13:38- Less than a kilometre to go!

Lantern吧Plenty of time to squeeze in a few more photographs, like this one showing the interesting bark on a multi-trunked Alder tree.

13:39- A Monarch on a bramble – I’d been hoping to catch at least one with its beautiful wings open; this was close but not quite there.

We are on a  scenic length of trail, back amongst trees and following a section of river that is wide and flowing gently.

There is bright green ferny bracken on the riverbank and

clumps of Iris foetidissima – whose Latin name always sounds so much prettier than the plant’s common name of ‘Stinking Iris’. There’s quite a lot of it growing here and it reminds me of my home woodland patch in North Wales, where interestingly the plant is at a similar stage of growth, having produced its distinctive big seed pods that are still unripe and green.

Lantern吧The river narrows again and is partially dammed by a fallen tree

Lantern吧

We cross over a deep gully which looks like it channels a significant stream into the river in wetter months and is fitted with a crossing aid – a sort of fence that allows you to cross by walking sideways along the lower rail while holding on to the upper one.

Once again the river is wider and is edged with a  neat line of Alders.

13:52 -We had heard the calls of Bee-eaters flying overhead several times during our walk, but now in a clear space where power lines cross high above the river we had lovely views of one of these gorgeous birds perched on a cable scanning around for potential prey, tilting its head to look above and below.

We reach a post and wire boundary fence which is fitted with a wooden-framed opening to allow people to pass through but which would deter larger animals such as Wild Boar.

The path is now bordered on both sides by long grass; on the shadier and presumably damper river side it is still fairly green whilst on the other side it is already bleached and dry.

13:57-And still there are Monarchs to be seen, this one nectaring on the flowers of a Tropical Milkweed.

13:58- The road bridge that crosses the river at La Jarandilla is in sight.

Lantern吧Just one more dry gully to cross and we’re almost at the end of our walk.

13:59- A tall Eucalyptus tree marks the end of the trail

And there is an official  signpost in case we hadn’t realised we had made it

14:00 – What a shame the Venta Jarandilla is also closed on Tuesdays. I have some very happy memories of pre-walk breakfasts and post-walk coffee or lunches enjoyed there in past years.

 

 

 

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June 10th – Marchionilla – Jimena de la Frontera

I can hardly believe it’s been five years since I last visited here during the month of June, so I couldn’t wait to get out and about to re-familiarise myself with the landscape and as much of the local fauna and flora that populates it as I could in the short time I was here.

07:35- At this time of year there are birds still nesting and although of course their mission to feed their young is a day-long one, still the best times of day to see most adults out and about is either in the cooler hours of the early mornings or the late evening. This morning I wanted to see and photograph wildflowers before the sun got too bright, but I was also questing after a bird that is very special to me – a Nightingale. It’s too late in the season to catch them singing, but out walking here a couple of evenings ago we’d heard what we thought were sounds of young ones in a nest, and we caught glimpses of an adult moving around in a dense shrub. A little later we had lovely sightings of another out in the open foraging along the edge of the track, so it’s likely it still had young in a nest too. I was hoping I may get lucky again this morning and at least catch sight of a parent trying to keep up with their offspring’s demands.

07:39 -I seem to be the only person out and about and am watched by Spotless Starlings perched up on an overhead cable soaking up some early sunshine. Bins for general rubbish and recycling are located at the bottom of the road opposite the venta. Regular deposits of food waste help support a whole family of jet-black green-eyed cats that spend much of their time in, around and beneath the bins, which venture out in hope each time someone approaches.Lantern吧  They were guarding stacks of English-language paperbacks and DVDs on offer in front of the bins. I wondered what was in  the plastic bag from Copenhagen, but resisted looking inside.

Crossing to the other side of the main A405 road a large signboard informs that this is the beginning, or end of the walking route given the name “Ruta Vega del Hozgarganta” ( in English, the Vega of the Hozgarganta Route). The route follows an ancient bridle path once used by muleteers and drovers and if you were to walk from here along its entire length, you would reach the southern end of Jimena de la Frontera. I was only planning to go as far as the river.

The Spanish word vega is used to describe an area of low, flat, fertile ground that is generally at the edge of a river, which sums up this area perfectly. There are also lovely views across cultivated fields to the east and west to the hills that border the area. The short length of the track I was about to meander along is just about wide enough for two cars to pass and surfaced with some kind of aggregate that makes it hard but that turns easily to dust in dry weather. It runs between low-lying cultivated fields, passes an orange grove, gives access to a small number of farms and properties along its route and leads down to a ford crossing over the river Hozgarganta.

These trackside verges are pretty much left to their own devices and support an array of species of wildflowers. Although still early June, the summer heat was already intensifying and there’d been very little rainfall lately, so many plants were at the end of their flowering and setting, or had set seed, but there was still plenty left for me to see. One of the first to catch my eye as there’s quite a lot of it, was a white-flowered umbellifer. I often struggle with these as there are so many that look similar, but this one I do know- it’s Ammi majus, which has several common names, amongst them the intriguing False Bishop’s Weed.

Then there was a sunlit patch of Viper’s Bugloss, almost finished but with flowers still at the tips of its stems, sprawling out onto the dusty track.

Plants flowering at this time of year have to be particularly tough and be well equipped to survive and thrive in the hot dry conditions of early summer. This is the time  that thistles dominate the roadsides and field edges, appearing in a variety of shapes and sizes, some are pretty spectacular and all command attention.

Lantern吧

 

Scotch Thistles – Onopordum acanthium often tower above everything else, some easily  reaching at least 2 – 2.5 metres in height. Those growing here were so tall I had to use a zoom lens to get close enough to see the flowers at the top.

My prize for the most eye-catching and dramatic thistle of them all must go to the Cardoon – Cynara cardunculus. Stunning, stately architectural plants  they are beautiful in all their parts, although fearsomely spiny.

It’s not surprising they are widely cultivated as garden plants too.

 

 

Lantern吧

By far the commonest and most abundant thistle, that for me is the emblem of early summer here in this region is most appropriately named Scolymus hispanicus, or in English, Spanish Thistle, Oyster Plant or as I know it a combination of the two, the Spanish Oyster Plant. In Spanish its common name is simply Tagarnina.

Lantern吧This attractive tall golden-yellow flowered thistle  grows abundantly in dry open places such as fields and most noticeably, on roadsides. It favours neutral or acid soils and is less common on limestone, but is very widespread and common throughout this area.

Tagarnina is a sought-after foraged food plant in South-west Spain. When the first autumn rains fall, the plant reappears as a flat rosette of dark spiny leaves, which are cut. The leafy part is removed to leave the pale green midrib which is then used in stews and famously in omelettes, similarly to asparagus. I can verify that Tortilla de Tagarnina is delicious and served in many roadside ventas where the plant grows locally.

Lantern吧The flowers of the Spanish Oyster plant are very attractive to insects too, particularly bees, which clamber over the anthers to access nectar, covering themselves in pollen on the way.

 

 

Growing alongside the Spanish Oyster Plants in the above photograph is another stalwart of the late-flowering plants. It’s definitely a Mullein- or Verbascum, but I’m not completely sure of the specific species just now. This lovely tall  branching plant,  has delicate-looking pretty lemon-yellow flowers with violet-purple stamens at their centres. It’s quite widespread and common in this area.

 

 

Familiar as a garden plant grown both as a root vegetable and for its fragrant seeds, Fennel –Lantern吧 is more than abundant here.  It’s not currently flowering, but the smooth tough green stems and ferny foliage are unmistakeable.  It’s tall too, easily reaching heights of up to 2 metres.  I can never resist crushing a leaf to inhale its aniseed-like scent.

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08:01 – I spot a wildflower that is a new species to me and one that I could easily have missed.  It looks a bit like a delicate Knapweed, but has long spindly stems that don’t seem to be under any kind of control and go their own random ways. I discovered it’s called Crupina- Crupina crupinastrum and is a member of the thistle tribe.

08:04 -The track I am following curves off to the right now, dropping down in level as it approaches the river. As you can see the vegetation here is a blend of native shrubs and herbs backed by Eucalyptus trees and punctuated with an exotic Palm tree.

Lantern吧

Here I found the pale lemon flowered Rabbit’s Bread Andryala integrifolia, in Spanish, Pan de Conejo. With its grey felted stems and leaves I always think this looks a soft, gentle kind of plant, but in reality it’s pretty tough, designed to deflect heat and preserve moisture.

There’s Wild Carrot too. On most plants the flowers are over and are either in the process of setting seed or have already done so, their umbels lifted and neatly closed together into an oval ‘cage’. I did find one or two still in flower though, a froth of tiny white blossoms surrounding the distinctive purple ones at their centre.

Raised banks clothed and topped with vegetation border the track going down to the river. It’s drying out now and covered with dust thrown up by passing cars. It’s hard to envisage that at times when rainfall has been heavy and prolonged the river level often rises and flows out to fill and cover the track up to here and beyond.

Lantern吧

Beneath the layer of dust on the verge I realised there were the lovely bright blue flowers of Chicory peeping through.

08:07 An enormous, high bank of brambles mixed in with other scrubby vegetation reaches around and beyond the bend, providing great habitat for birds. Here they nest, forage and find cover when moving between more open spaces. I’d walked carefully around the bend as just ahead was where we’d watched the foraging Nightingale on the edge of the track. I knew there was little or no chance of seeing it out on the road now; it was brightly sunny and I’d already been passed by two cars, one from each direction, which had kicked up yet more dust as well as making noise.

 

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Lantern吧

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There’s another curve in the track before the river comes into view and again I walked carefully around, this time hoping to catch sight of the Grey Wagtail family we’d also seen the other evening. They were there – a parent and two young ones; the adult spotted me and took off quickly with one young one hot on its tail, but the other lingered a moment, just long enough for me to take its picture.

Lantern吧

I wasn’t quick enough to catch the Grey Heron though and only managed to glimpse it as flew off upriver between the Eucalyptus trees.

The river level is low now, which may account for the urgency of the frogs’ calling. They may not have much time left to hold onto their watery territories.

08:17 – I’m not good at identifying frogs, especially as there’s so much variation in shading and patterning even within the same species, but I think this pleasantly plump one sunbathing on a rock may be a Marsh Frog?

Lantern吧

I spotted another down in the water that may, or may not be a Painted Frog. I’d be more than happy for anyone knowing better to let me know! Whether I’m right or wrong, I love this image with the textures, patterns and shades of green of water and weedy algae stuff.

The track continues across the river here by way of what I suppose is a ford, nothing sophisticated, just a thick concrete slab that the water flows over, or not, depending how high its levels are. Sometimes it’s too deep to walk across, but  this morning the water  flowing across barely came to the top of the soles of my walking shoes. I took this picture from the other side to the way I was walking, so looking back the way I’d come with the river flowing from left to right.

Lantern吧

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The character of the surrounding habitat changes dramatically once you’ve crossed the river. Now it is dominated by a woodland that is predominantly Eucalyptus and on one side an understory of towering Giant Reeds.

High above my head a Damselfly is suspended from the leaf of a Giant Reed; it looked as though it may have just emerged.

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Lantern吧

Then came birds I had no problems identifying;  a foraging family party of Blue Tits, this one looks a little bit odd, but it may be a young one in the process of growing its adult feathers.

Lantern吧

There was a family of Great Tits too.

Lantern吧

Then, to my absolute delight, a Golden Oriole began to sing. I crossed over to the other side of the track and stood in a cleared space amongst a stand of Giant Reeds to listen. These beautiful birds have an equally beautiful song, which is similar to that of a Blackbird but somehow richer and maybe louder too.

Some of those bird sounds were being made by Blackcaps that appeared in the reeds right next to me. There were four of them, so maybe another family: the one in my photograph looks like a young one.

Lantern吧

08:38 – It’s warmed up considerably and the sky above the Eucalyptus trees is that almost-impossible shade of clear dark blue.

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I stopped again just beyond the river to take a closer look at the vegetation on the side of the track. It’s an unruly tangle of Common Mallow, Chicory and Crown Daisies intertwined with various other stuff, too tricky to unravel and photograph clearly now. I was impressed by a nearby Crown Daisy though, that has not only managed to survive but to flower in a dry stony spot on the very edge of the track.

On a Chicory flower a cute little bee was taking nectar, she’s clearly been working hard, her pollen sacs are already bulging. We used to get these in the garden in Sotogrande and they seem to be quite common although never in any number, usually only one.

Lantern吧

The view of the track going back – typical now of how introduced trees and plants have changed the landscape. I wonder what it looked like when the old drovers used to pass this way?

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09:08 – In the big field at the top of the track there is activity. A tractor was towing a trailer loaded high with bales of hay. Along the edge of the field are bales of hay wrapped in white plastic, a common sight in the fields now. I think this is done for two reasons; dry hay is wrapped to preserve it that way and to cut out oxygen to stop it breaking down and wet or damp hay is wrapped to create silage for animal feed, which I’ve read described as a kind of pickling process for forage. It’s probably safe to say that anything cut now is going to be more than dry.

09:10 At the field entrance, it’s lovely to see wildflowers once strongly associated with cornfields all over Europe, including the British Isles; golden yellow Corn Marigold Crysanthemum segentum and scarlet poppies, Lantern吧also sometimes known as Corn Poppies.

09:11 – A big grasshopper leapt into the middle of the road. Its long wings and stripy eyes suggest it an immature Egyptian Grasshopper. Although adults are big and brown, these grasshoppers start off tiny and green, then work their way through 5 instars before reaching adulthood.

Lantern吧 Lantern吧

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The piles of paperbacks and DVDs were gone. They’ll probably reappear at a future date, offered for €1 each at a weekend car boot sale.

 

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Jimena de la Frontera

I can’t think of  a better way to start a Sunday morning in March than to have an al fresco, or should that be an al aire libre, breakfast with friends in the Plaza of a Spanish Pueblo Blanco in the sunshine. Unless that is, you have all of the above with the added indulgence of some brilliant birdwatching without having to stir from your seat, which surely makes it almost blissful.

The Coat of Arms of Jimena features the Castle

Our breakfast venue is located in Jimena’s Plaza de la Constitutíon, the central large open public space that is typical of most Spanish towns and villages. The Plaza has been modernised and is attractively paved and furnished with trees, including Seville Oranges some of which currently have fruit and exquisitely-scented blossom, around its edges. The surrounding buildings are original, with whitewashed exteriors as befits a Pueblo Blanco and mostly used as commercial premises. The standout feature of the Plaza in more ways than one, is the tall historic Torre Campanario, or Bell Tower. More about that later, first, breakfast.

Lantern吧

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We headed for the Bar de Tapas Pastor 2, perfect for us as it has plenty of outdoor tables – who wants to be indoors on a sunny, if cool Spring morning? And as I mentioned earlier, this is a great spot for birdwatching. Jimena lies beneath one of the main flying routes of vast numbers of migrating birds, many of which at this time of year are returning to their breeding grounds after wintering in Africa. Whilst chatting and waiting for breakfast we had already seen overhead White Storks, three Booted Eagles and a Short-toed Eagle. At this point, not far from their crossing point over the Straits of Gibraltar, and at this time on a cool day the birds are flying relatively low and seeking thermals that will lift and carry them without the need for energy-consuming wing flapping. Perfect for some close-up views with binoculars. Lantern吧

Breakfast arrived; huge slices of toasted fresh bread with garlic to rub on it before sprinkling with olive oil and loading it with jamón, queso and luscious flavourful sliced tomato sprinkled with herbs. All this accompanied with fresh orange juice and cups of good café con leche that looks milky and innocent but delivers an effective awakening caffeine hit. Simple but perfect. And served by the attentive proprietor who seemed to think we needed  feeding up and kept offering us more!

From our table we had an uninterrupted view to the afore-mentioned Torre Campanario – the Bell Tower, which we were watching in anticipation of seeing some of the special birds that return here each Spring to take up residence and raise their families alongside the pigeons: Lesser Kestrels.

The information in Spanish, loosely translated, tells that the Tower is all that remains of a former church. The first reference to the Church is from 1690 and found in the book of Fray Jerónimo de la Concepción, where he speaks of Cadiz and its Province. The original building was founded during the 17th century as the Church of San Sebastian, which was changed to the Church of Saint Mary in the last third of the 18th century. In 1736 records show the poor state of the building due to the deterioration of the multiple layers of clay of the slope on which the town sits. Such was the gravity and danger of collapse that the building was demolished in 1947, leaving only the bell tower which remained sound.

El Torre Campanario

Construction of the Tower followed the architectural tradition of other churches in the area, such as the Tower of the present Church of la Victoria and the towers that rose in the monastery of Los Angeles. The lower part of the Tower is completely flat, rendered and whitewashed, while the upper part of the Bell Tower is made from brick. My observation: Those bricks are tiny and must have taken a lot of work to manufacture and to lay. There are other decorative embellishments around the top of the Tower which have been worn down over time but are still visible if you look closely. I love the colours and textures of this ancient Lantern吧

Back to the present and we were delighted to see the Tower now had living embellishments in the shape of a pair of beautiful Lesser Kestrels.

Lantern吧Falco naumanni – Cernícalo Primilla

Lesser Kestrels are summer migrants to Iberia, returning to breed here during March/April after wintering in Africa and south-east Asia, where most will return in August/September. They are gregarious birds that nest colonially and there are often several pairs flying around and in and out of the Bell Tower here in Jimena, but today we saw just this one pair. No complaints though as the lack of numbers was more than made up for in the quality and length of the sightings we had today, giving us the perfect opportunity to get some brilliant close-up views.

Small birds of prey, the Lesser Kestrel closely resembles the larger Common Kestrel but has a proportionally shorter tail and wings.

The male was absorbed in some intense preening which gave us some lovely close-up views of his fanned-out tail feathers. In the next photograph you can see some of the grey patches in his wings and that the talons of his outstretched foot are a creamy yellow colour, a diagnostic feature of this species that you don’t often see; the talons of other falcon species are dark in colour.

Lantern吧

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The female Lesser Kestrel is larger than the male. She may weigh up to 170g, he around 130g. She too resembles the female Common Kestrel but she and the young birds of this species are slightly paler. Their differing calls and size may (or may not) help to separate them out in the field, but their behaviour and location are often the most help.

Lantern吧

Lesser Kestrel female showing clearly her yellow talons – in other falcon species they are dark

From their behaviour it would seem likely that the pair haven’t nested yet. It’s still quite early in the season and there may well be other members of their colony still to arrive back.

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Lantern吧

ECOLOGY & STATUS 

Lesser Kestrels breed throughout the Mediterranean region and across to Central Asia. They are found in a variety of habitats including Steppe, farmland and in towns. Globally the species is widespread and plentiful and is classed by the IUCN as of Least Concern. However, throughout Iberia, where they were once an abundant breeding bird, Lesser Kestrel numbers have declined sharply during the past 30 years. It would seem likely that this is due to the increased use of insecticides on both breeding grounds here and in their African wintering areas. The bird feeds largely on insects and a marked reduction in the availability of this prey would undoubtedly have a huge impact on them.

 

 

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Members of the lily family, Asphodels are tall elegant but robust plants with tuberous roots and leafless stems rising above tufts of leaves that are long flat and narrow and taper to a point. The flowers are starry and white There are several species that look similar to one another, but in Southern Spain and Gibraltar the two most likely to be seen are the Common Asphodel and the White Asphodel.

Common Asphodel-Asphodelus aestivus (microcarpus)

Flowering January to March

Mainly a lowland plant, the Common Asphodel can be found in a range of habitats including coastal, light woodland, roadsides, rocky slopes and garrigue.


A medium to tall plant that often reaches up to 1m high. It has tuberous roots, which provide a firm anchor and store moisture. The leaves are long flat and strap-like, keeled beneath, 12-30mm wide and grey- green in colour.

The flowers are held in a much-branched inflorescence that puts me in mind of a slightly wonky candelabra; individual flowers are star-shaped, white and has 6 petals, or tepals,  each striped with a pinky brown midvein. Fruit is a small oblong capsule, less than 1cm across.

One of my all-time favourite sights of Common Asphodel is this one taken at El Faro, Alcaidesa where the background is of gloriously scented golden gorse, blue sky and an even bluer Mediterranean Sea.

Common Asphodel at El Faro, Alcaidesa, Cadiz

Lantern吧

Common Asphodel- Punto de Canero, Straits of Gibraltar coast (March)

Common Asphodel in woodland clearing of El Picacho, Cadiz (March)

Common Asphodel can sometimes be seen covering large areas of open uncultivated fields. It’s unpalatable to animals, which graze around and between the plants; spot the cow doing just that in the left of the photograph below.

Common Asphodel covering a large field, La Janda, Cadiz (February)

I love this glimpse I got of a Cattle Egret tiptoeing stealthily through the forest of leaves.

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White Asphodel Lantern吧Es: Gamon

Flowering March to June.

The White Asphodel also grows in a variety of habitats, in seasonally damp places, open woodland, meadows at low altitudes and is commonest in the hills and mountains.

White Asphodel-Mediterranean Steps, Gibraltar (March)

Similar in stature to the Common Asphodel, White Asphodel also reaches heights of up to 1 metre tall and has tuberous roots. The leaves are basal, linear, slightly grey-green, channelled and taper to a point at the tip. The flowers are borne in a dense, simple spike-like raceme; individual buds have a narrow brown midvein which may be less marked on the starry white petals; bracts are usually  dark brown. Fruits are almost round capsules.

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White Asphodel, El Cabrito mountain (April)

Thankfully the varied greens of  heather and pine trees in the background helped the flower spikes stand out.

We came upon it again on El Bujeo mountain, which neighbours El Cabrito but has a different aspect and character. Here it was growing in a damp grassy clearing in front of a Rhododendron shrub.

White Asphodel- El Bujeo mountain (May)

And here it is in the forefront of this amazing view from the summit, which looks down over the busy port town of Algeciras and across the Bay to Gibraltar. I took this photograph way back in 2005 since when there has been a lot of development and construction on both the Spanish mainland and on Gibraltar itself, but I’m sure the view remains stunning.

Uses for Asphodel

The leaves are used to wrap burrata, an Italian cheese. The leaves and the cheese last about the same time, three or four days, so fresh leaves are a sign of a fresh cheese, while dried out leaves indicate that the cheese is past its best.

Although left alone by animals, the starchy tubers are just about edible by people and are known to have been used as food by poorer people, in times of  hardship and need; hence such food was thought good enough for the slaves.

Medicinally the Asphodel was supposedly a remedy for poisonous snake-bites and a specific against sorcery; it was fatal to mice, but preserved pigs from disease.

Libyan nomads made their huts of asphodel stalks.

 

Sources: Wildflowers of Southern  Spain – Betty Molesworth Allen; Mediterranean Wild Flowers-Marjorie Blamey; The Flowers of Gibraltar-Leslie Linares, Arthur Harper & John Cortes; Wikipaedia

Photographs: All my own work!

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March 22nd 2018

I can hardly believe it’s been a year since I was enjoying the Spring in Gibraltar; how time flies! Here in North Wales this afternoon the temperature is 9C, it’s windy and the humidity 76% – rain was predicted but so far has missed us. The BBC tells me it is 16C and the humidity 44% in Gibraltar, about the same as it was a year ago but it would seem not as windy as it was then. To cheer myself up while waiting for our Spring to arrive I thought I’d take a virtual trip back there recalling the spectacular walk I took on the Upper Rock on this day a year ago. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

March 22nd 2017

Early morning and we were back at the Bird Observatory at Jew’s Gate on the Upper Rock. As on previous days the wind blowing from the north was still preventing returning birds from travelling this way: a little disappointing, but I had other plans for the day and was keen to get going. I was going to take a walk along the Mediterranean Steps path. It’s a challenging trail, about 1.5km long and as it warns in the name, quite a bit of it involves climbing steps. It’s not recommended for anyone of faint heart or with vertigo, but if you are fairly fit it is more than worth the effort. The views are truly spectacular, there are some rather special birds you may be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of, but for me it’s mostly about the wonderful array of wildflowers that flourish here, many of which are at their best in the Spring.

11:30 Once on the path the bulk of the Rock gave complete shelter from the wind and it was warm and sunny, perfect conditions for my style of walking – leisurely ambling punctuated with frequent stops to take photographs. From the outset there were plants to stop and look at. Many were familiar to me but I hadn’t seen them for a few years and already they were bringing back happy memories. This walk was going to occupy me for some hours to come!

170322-GIBMS3-1134-Bear's Breech-Acanthus

Bear’s Breech – Acanthus mollis

Bear’s Breech, Acanthus mollis was the first plant to catch my eye. Often valued as a garden plant, in the wild it spreads like wildfire to the detriment of other more desirable native plants, and is all too common in all habitats throughout the Rock. The plant’s strikingly handsome leaves were often replicated as architectural embellishments, particularly around the capitals of Corinthian columns.

Then Butcher’s Broom with large red berries that intriguingly sit in the centre of the thick leathery leaves. The plant is so-called as the stiff stems were tied together to make a broom or brush; perhaps especially favoured by butchers for sweeping the sawdust from their shop floors.

The leaves of the plant twining around the stems of the Butcher’s Broom belong to the Pipe Vine, also known as Dutchman’s Pipe both names due to the shape of its flowers. Nearby another climbing/twining plant had reached its way to the top of a shrub. This was Rough Smilax, a harsh name for a plant I think is rather attractive with its glossy heart-shaped leaves that are red-bronze when new. It may be so-called as the stems are equipped with hooked spines to aid climbing.

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170322-GIBMS15-1146-Giant Squill &
Warty Spurge-Euphorbia squamigera & Giant Squill-Scilla peruviana

The dramatic Giant Squill flowers are past their best now, but still look good to me. The lovely Spurge is Warty Spurge, so-called as its fruit capsules are covered in rough little bumps that clearly made someone think of warts.

To begin with the vegetation on either side of the path is quite dense perfectly suiting a Sardinian warbler that was making its way along through the shrubbery, he popped out every now and then but not for long enough to photograph.  Soon the vegetation thinned and opened up the spectacular view that demanded to be admired; I was happy to oblige. The North African coast, just 12 miles (14km) away across the Strait was obscured by mist today: when it’s clearer the mountain of Jebel Musa and the town of Ceuta which is 5km to the south of it, are easily visible. Down below is Europa Point; the Mosque is visible in the far left corner of the photograph.170322-GIBMS7-1136-African coast &

The  path is narrow and uneven with loose stones and exposed rocks, another reason to take it slowly! It is bordered with lush dense vegetation, much of which is evergreen, tough and perfectly adapted in a variety of ways to survive and thrive in the harsh conditions it is exposed to year round.170322-GIBMS31-1201-Med Steps cliff path

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Below me a squadron of  gulls appeared relaxed, but doubtless at least a few of them were on look-out for potential aerial threats or interlopers, including any passing migrant raptors; it would take very little to launch them squawking into the air.

170322-GIBMS20-1153-Yellow-legged Gulls

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170322-GIBMS31-1203-Dwarf Fan Palm-Chaemerops humilis

Dwarf Fan Palm-Chamaerops humilis

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Blue Pimpernel, the southern version of our Scarlet Pimpernel is one of my favourites. I caught a Bee-fly taking nectar from a little yellow flower I didn’t know, but later found it to be Succowia, which is a member of the mustard/cabbage family.

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170322-GIBMS31-1203-Med Steps cliff path

Tree or Shrubby germander is another shrub often cultivated in gardens. It’s a lovely shrub with pretty flowers much loved by bees and much tougher than it looks.

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170322-GIBMS39-1210-Spiny Broom
Spiny broom – Calicotome villosa

Nearby, a similar looking but smaller and softer shrub is also fragrant; Shrubby Scorpion vetch. It takes its common name from its seedpods – they are …. and resemble a Scorpion. I think its Latin name Coronilla valentina is much prettier.

My eyes were drawn upwards where a great number of Yellow-legged gulls were up in the air circling and making a tremendous racket. Every white spot in my photograph is a bird, not dust on the lens!170322-GIBMS41-1210-Dwarf fan palms on cliff-yellow-legged gulls up

A single gull looked out from a rock outcrop above me.Lantern吧

A significant plant I haven’t mentioned yet is the Giant Tangier Fennel – a wonderfully architectural plant that towers over your head and leans in to frame many a view out to sea.

12:15 – I reached the section of the path where steps lead down the cliff a way- this bit needs a bit of care and attention as to where you’re putting your feet.

170322-GIBMS48-1215-Reaching cliff face

170322-GIBMS48-1215-Reaching cliff face

I’d been watching out for butterflies and finally saw some here. There was a beautiful male Cleopatra flying back and forth constantly; as is their wont, he didn’t settle at all. More obliging was one of several equally lovely Spanish Festoons. It was flitting from plant to plant, I don’t know why, I wondered if it was a female ovipositing, then at one point it seemed to be sucking up honeydew from clematis leaves.

170322-GIBMS50-1215-Spanish Festoon underside

Spanish Festoon-underside

In the foreground of the larger image is the back of the Pink Mediterranean Catchfly-Silene colorata. This pretty little plant only opens its flowers completely from evening-time to the early morning.

Many plants find a home in fissures of the limestone cliff, in this group are Sea daisies, Wall helichrysum & Giant squill.170322-GIBMS55-1221-Mixed group of plants on cliff face

On the stony ground below was Rough bugloss.

Behind it at the foot of the cliff a large Dwarf Fan palm backs Giant fennel and a patch of Alexanders.170322-GIBMS61-1230-Mixed-Palm,Thapsia, Alexanders

Another fresh Spanish Festoon

170322-GIBMS66-1239a-Spanish Festoon upperside

Spanish Festoon – Zerynthia rumina

170322-GIBMS68-1243-Sea Daisy-Pallenis spinosa

Sea Daisy-Asteriscus maritimus

Lantern吧

A Wild Olive tree – Olea europaea

170322-GIBMS70-1243-Upper Rock wildlife info board12:47 I had still only reached the bottom of the steep steps that lead up to Martin’s Cave, where a board gives more information about The Upper Rock’s Varied Wildlife. I would have liked to have seen a few more birds, especially a Barbary partridge or a Blue Rock thrush, but this is not the best time of day to see them and also I’d met or been overtaken by quite a few people which would have sent them into cover too. The flowers have more than compensated for their lack.

170322-GIBMS70-1243-Upper Rock wildlife info board-birds

12:48 Ready to tackle the steps170322-GIBMS71-1248-Steps going up

12:52 – First stop to look back at the way I’d just walked around the edge of the cliffs.

170322-GIBMS72-1252-Looking back

and then at the view slightly further round with tankers waiting out at sea

170322-GIBMS73-1252-Ships waiting

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12:58 A good view of the Europa Point Lighthouse, also known as the Trinity Lighthouse down below

Lantern吧

I found Tree Mallow here, the Common Mallow I’d photographed a bit earlier below the steps.

13:02 I had stopped in front of the cave for a lunch break and just to sit and admire the view and watch what was going on around me. I didn’t sit still for long as I saw or heard things that caught my attention. A little wasp, a potter or a mason, was busy collecting earth which it would make into building material for a container in which to lay eggs.

I heard Wrens singing from a couple of spots nearby but try as I might I couldn’t see one.

170322-GIBMS91-1347-Wild Olives

Olive, Osyris, Bear’s Breech & Bermuda buttercup with Esparto grass in the foreground

  13:36 An Osyris shrub with orange fruits.

170322-GIBMS92-1347-Osyris with berries

Osyris quadriparita

There’s a lot of Bermuda Buttercup up here. Also known as Cape Sorrel, it is another invasive ‘alien’ that spreads rapidly, particularly where ground has been disturbed, but it doesn’t seem to do any damage to native plants and it’s a great source of nectar for insects through several months early in the year.

13:40 Looking down onto the glittering Mediterranean Sea

170322-GIBMS93-1347-Sea with sparkles

A Squirting Cucumber plant was growing from the corner of a step and a Prickly pear had taken hold at the side of the path, growing through more Bear’s Breech.

13:50 From here on the walking gets more strenuous on the way to the top. The steps continue and lead to the Goat’s hair Twin Caves. It’s hard to imagine that these caves would once have been at sea level.

170322-GIBMS93-1353-Path up to caves

Along this stretch were Slender Sow thistle and a stem of  Branched Broomrape, which is parasitic on the Oxalis it is growing amongst.

13:56 At the top of this flight of steps the path passes through a short World War 2 tunnel.

170322-GIBMS97-1356-Tunnel entrance

Growing from the rock on the Tunnel’s side was a pretty group of Sea daisies and Sweet Alison. Sweet Alison is a common plant here in Gibraltar and on mainland Southern Spain, but every time I see it it reminds me of British summer bedding displays – garden borders edged with alternate white Alison & blue Lobelia.

170322-GIBMS98-1356-Sand Daisies and Sweet Alison
Sea daisies & Sweet Alison – Lobularia maritima

Light at the end of the tunnel.170322-GIBMS100-1358-Tunnel exit

170322-GIBMS102-1358-Morrocan Orange Tip fem on mustard plant- ovipositing possBy the side of this stretch of path was another butterfly, a female Moroccan Orange Tip. The females are similar in appearance to our northern Orange Tips, but the males 14are bright yellow instead of white.

On a plant of the mustard/cabbage family, the butterfly was ovipositing (laying an egg) – these are the food plants of the species larvae.

14:01 I was happy to see a Wall Lizard venture out on a rock to warm itself in the sunshine.  (Andalusian Wall Lizard Podarcis vaucheri )

More Giant squill with a stem of Wall barley grass.

170322-GIBMS112-1410-Giant Squill & Wall Barley

14:10 – A bit higher up and a stunning view across to the Costa del Sol.

170322-GIBMS113-1410-View from Upper Rock along coast of Spain

Another superb view looking north along the east face of the Rock down onto Sandy Bay and along to Spain and the coast of the Costa del Sol. Directly above the Bay were the now disused Water Catchments. The slope on which they sat is the Great Gibraltar Sand Dune, an ancient consolidated sand dune. Rainwater flowed down the slope into an open channel which fed into the reservoir system inside The Rock. In 2001, the Gibraltar Ornithological and Natural History Society began to oversee the dismantling of the catchment construction. By 2006 the slope was fully restored to its natural state and is now being recolonised by vegetation native to this unique habitat.

170322-GIBMS115-1410-East Side-Talus Slope,Catalan Bay, Sandy Bay

Further round to the north of Sandy Bay is Catalan Bay.

170322-GIBMS115-1412-East Side-Sandy Bay

14:15 There’s a little building up here, built by the military for use as a gun emplacement or observatory. It certainly has a wonderful view.

Lantern吧

There were a few scattered patches of one of Gibraltar’s special plants up here; the Gibraltar Candytuft. Not the best  examples, but at least I found some.

Another lizard scuttled across the concrete

170322-GIBMS115-1417-Lizard runs for cover

Podarcis vaucheri-Andalusian Wall Lizard

A Yellow-legged gull tilts its head to look skywards

170322-GIBMS115-1418-Gull looking up

14:22 Another fairly gentle upward section of path.

170322-GIBMS115-1422-Path

14:24 Looking down onto the vegetation and the little building I just left.

170322-GIBMS115-1424-Looking down onto concrete building

A patch of pretty Intermediate Periwinkle

14:27 Another straight stretch passing by a large Shrubby Scorpion vetch that smelt lovely.170322-GIBMS115-1427-Path & Scorpion Vetch

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170322-GIBMS115-1429-Prickly pear

14:34 A long steep set of steps to climb, but getting closer to the top.

170322-GIBMS115-1434-More steps

I love this view of a gull that was sitting on a rock above looking over its edge.

170322-GIBMS115-1443- Yellow-legged gull sitting

14:43 And yet more steep steps.Lantern吧

A junction of cliff face, rocks and man-made walls.

170322-GIBMS115-1445-Man-made meets natural cliff

14:48 The final flight of steps!

170322-GIBMS115-1448-Last set of steps

At the top a Red Admiral butterfly sunbathes on a warmed rock.

170322-GIBMS115-1449-Red admiral

14:50 The view from the top is spectacular!

170322-GIBMS115-1450-What a view

From the top of the Rock looking down onto Catalan Bay and out to the Costa del Sol

The estimated time for this walk is 2 hours. My amble took me 3 hours and 20 minutes, but as you can see I made a lot of stops. The steps weren’t that painful!

Credits & links

My friend Jill

My well-used copy of The Flowers of Gibraltar compiled by Leslie Linares, Arthur Harper and John Cortes ISBN: 84-7207-088-3

For comprehensive information about the flora you’ll find it here: http://floraofgibraltar.myspecies.info/

For more information about any of the wildlife of Gibraltar you’ll find it here on the Gibraltar Ornithological & Natural History Society (GONHS) website: http://www.gonhs.org/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ilustración

March 20th-Day 2 afternoon- A walk to the Alameda Gardens via Commonwealth Park and the Trafalgar Cemetery 

During the day the lower parts of Gibraltar are hectic and noisy with traffic. Most people drive everywhere, take the bus or hire a taxi, so in this small place with a large population, traffic is heavy and subsequent noise levels high. The drone of the constant streams of cars is punctuated with frequent horn-tootings and the waspish buzz of swarms of scooters dodging around them adds another dimension. Noise levels are further echoed and amplified by the proximity of the Rock itself, by the high old sea walls that bound the old town and by the ranks of the tall modern buildings that line the roads. Despite all this, as this fairly short walk shows, there are calm and peaceful oases to be found, busy roads are fringed with beautiful trees and looking upwards, the Upper Rock is cloaked with a mantle that is evergreen.

The Moorish Castle rises above modern buildings set against the background of Upper Rock greenery

I started my walk more or less at this small ‘desert-island’ of a roundabout and walked along Bishop Caruna Road to the next roundabout, then turned left onto  a stretch of the roadway that travels around the base of the Rock, Queensway Road.

Lantern吧

COMMONWEALTH PARK

After about half a mile or so (approx. 600m), or around 12 minutes of walking, I   left the noisy pavement to take the scenic route through the green and peaceful haven of  Commonwealth Park. Opened in June 2014, this is the first public park to have been built in Gibraltar since the Alameda Gardens opened in 1816. Flanked by the old city walls the park has been thoughtfully landscape with large open grassy spaces, plenty of trees for shade and a large ornamental pool as well as planted gardens and it has matured into a lovely space that is well used and appreciated.

The Park’s visitors are not just restricted to human ones, the water is particularly attractive to birds too. House Sparrows enjoy it all year round and White Wagtails skitter around on the grass chasing flies, but a number of birds not commonly seen in Gibraltar have been spotted here too, including the occasional Egret and this past winter saw the arrival of a Cormorant who stayed around until he had eaten most of the larger fish in the pool! Recent records state that a Lantern吧 was seen here on April 1st. 

I didn’t take many photographs here as there were quite a few people out enjoying the sunshine and I didn’t want to intrude on their peace. I ‘borrowed’ the picture above from the official visitor website. I found the scene below quite amusing though, and couldn’t resist photographing the cheeky pigeons disregarding the sign.

Striped-neck Terrapins had scrambled out of the ornamental pool to sunbathe on a small island of rounded boulders and seemed perfectly happy to pose.

I left the Park at its far end to rejoin Queensway Road and carried on walking to the Ragged Staff Gate, turning left onto Ragged Staff Road. From here it’s a short distance to Trafalgar Road and my next destination, which was the Trafalgar Cemetery. (If you follow written or map directions here it seems complicated to find as its at the junction of several roads, but basically it is right in front of you and you can’t miss it.)

Lantern吧

The Trafalgar Cemetery is a peaceful haven for both those laid to rest there and for visitors seeking out its history or a calm place to escape a while from the nearby hustle and bustle. It is immaculately maintained and the old graves are shaded by a variety of beautiful trees and shrubs.

Lantern吧The cemetery was consecrated in June 1798, seven years before the battle of Trafalgar. Known then as the Southport Ditch Cemetery, it may have been a part of the old St. Jago’s Cemetery, which was situated on the other side of Charles V Wall. The association with the battle of Trafalgar does not seem to have been made until many years after the event.

The cemetery was used for burials between 1798 and 1814, then fell into disuse. Earlier gravestones from St.Jago’s cemetery were set into the eastern wall in 1932, and  a few free-standing stones, some of which date back to the 1780s, have been transferred here over the years from the Alameda Gardens.

Lantern吧

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Lantern吧

A bitter, or Seville orange tree has both fruit and blossom now

The warm air was fragranced with orange blossom, a male blackbird sang while a female foraged beneath the trees and a chiffchaff was calling his namesake tune from a tall tree.

I saw my first butterfly of this trip here, a pretty fresh Speckled Wood. A similar species to our northern European butterfly of the same name, but a rich orange replaces the cream on the wings.

THE WINDSOR SUSPENSION BRIDGE

Leaving the Cemetery I crossed the road in front of me, walked a short distance then crossed Elliots Way (the road that goes up to the Upper Rock) to the car park, within which is located the Cable Car Base Station. The main entrance to the Alameda Gardens is at its far end. Looking up at the Upper Rock from here I stopped to photograph its new feature, the Windsor Bridge, Gibraltar’s first suspension bridge, which opened to the public in June 2016. Forming part of the Thrill Seekers Trail of the Upper Rock, the bridge is located between two Batteries, constructed over a 50 metre gorge and is 71 metre long.

the alameda – gibraltar botanic gardens

A BRIEF HISTORY

The Botanic Gardens cover an area of around 6 hectares (15 acres); the site was a cemetery before the gardens were commissioned in 1816 by the then British Governor of Gibraltar General George Don. In 1815, considering that “there being no place of public recreation in this Garrison” he “was induced…to establish a walk around the Grand Parade, and form what is called in this country an Alameda, where the inhabitants might enjoy the air protected from the extreme heat of the sun”. Alameda is derived from the Spanish word “Alamo”, or White Poplar Populus alba, and old writings mention these trees growing along the Grand Parade.

House Sparrrows abound here and this one was my first bird sighting in the Gardens

To avoid the use of public expenditure the gardens were laid out with voluntary contributions, including some from the Amateur Theatre and monies raised by a series of public lotteries.

Following the 1970s the gardens had deteriorated and had fallen into a poor state. Since 1991, the restoration of the Alameda as a Botanic Garden has been in the hands of Wildlife (Gibraltar) Ltd., on contract to the Government of Gibraltar. The aim is to develop the gardens in ways that will enhance enjoyment, conservation and education, so that its future will be even richer than its past. In 1994 the gardens saw the addition of a zoo: the Alameda Wildlife Conservation Park.

The gardens are laid out with a network of interconnecting paths leading around water features and terraced beds built from the local Jurassic limestone. The planting includes Mediterranean species, including some endemic to Gibraltar. There is also an African bed and an extensive cactus garden. At path junctions and in other strategic places are placed antique guns and other artillery that commemorate Gibraltar’s military heritage.

THE ELLIOTT MEMORIAL

A number of features were gradually added to the gardens, most reflecting historical facts or personalities. Entering through the main gates you are greeted by one of the oldest and the tallest of them; a memorial of George Augustus Eliott, 1st Baron Heathfield, guarded by four 18th-century howitzers (canons).

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THE DELL BRIDGE

A favourite feature of mine is the bridge with its attractive pergola tunnel, presently shaded with flowering Bougainvillea, that spans the Dell and Sunken Garden. I like the patterns the pergola and railings make on the paving of the bridge. It also affords good views down onto the sunken gardens of the Dell.

Lantern吧

Lantern吧

The bridge is named for Guiseppe Codali who was the head gardener and horticulturalist of the Gardens during the mid-19th Century. He was Italian, from Bergamo and was brought to Gibraltar specifically to work in the gardens. His Italian influence can be seen particularly in the bridge and sunken garden, The Dell, in the centre of the Alameda which was opened on the 24th September 1842 and re-inaugurated 150 years later on 24th September 1992.

THE WHALEBONE ARCH

This pair of whale jaw bones was originally placed at one end of the Dell Bridge. Their origin is long forgotten , but whalers regularly called into Gibraltar until the early 20th Century. The bones now form an arch over the gate leading into the Dell.

Lantern吧

Stripe-necked Terrapins stack up to enjoy the sunshine on the edge of a pool in the Dell.

PLANTS OF THE GARDENS

The plants of the Alameda Gardens are a combination of native species and others brought in from abroad, often from former British territories like Australia and South Africa with which Gibraltar had maritime links at the time of the British Empire. Since 1991 many new species have been planted, some growing in Gibraltar for the first time.

Lantern吧

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SOME PERSONAL FAVOURITE PLANTS

There are so many beautiful plants here it takes many visits to appreciate them properly, but here are some of my personal favourites.

The gardens have a stunning collection of Dragon Trees Lantern吧the oldest of which is over 200 years old, perhaps as much as 300, and would have been amongst trees here that pre-date the opening of the gardens. It is still young though, there are claims that they live upwards of 1000 years! An unusual member of the lily family The Dragon Tree comes from the Atlantic Islands of the Canaries, Madeira and Cape Verde. The smooth grey bark is reminiscent of an elephant’s hide and its red resin, which quickly crystalises, was used medicinally and known as Dragon’s Blood. Its panicles of showy white flowers appear irregularly in summer and produce bright orange berry-like fruit in winter.

There are Bird of Paradise plants, Strelitzia reginaein several spots throughout the gardens. The species is originally native to South Africa and is the most exotic of flowers I think and so aptly named – I fancy this group looks just like a flock of large-billed birds about to take flight. Its scientific name commemorates the British queen Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz.

Lantern吧

Another species of Strelitzia grows here too, it’s much larger and I think it may be S. nicolai , which is the largest in the genus, reaching as much as 10 m tall and producing stately white and blue flowers.The leaves are large and similar to a banana leaf in appearance. This beautifully newly-pruned tree shows the leaves grow in two ranks to form a fan-like crown of evergreen foliage. There is a flower bud squeezing between the leaf stems.

WILDLIFE OF THE GARDENS

Lantern吧

A Blackbird singing from the branch of an old pine tree

The gardens are rich in wildlife. Bird species nesting here include Sardinian Warbler, Blackcap, Blackbird, Robin, Greenfinch, Serin and Wren. Winter additions include Grey and White Wagtail, Chifchaff, Black Redstart, Chaffinch, Short-toed Treecreeper and occasionally Kingfisher, while notable birds of passage periods are Hoopoe, Redstart, Woodchat Shrike and flycatchers. Kestrel (throughout the year) and Booted Eagle (in winter) regularly hunt in the grounds.

I spotted a female Blackcap nearby, a species that is a year-round resident in the Gardens.

There is a small raised pond in the courtyard between the administration buildings and greenhouses where I caught a resident Perez’s frog – Pelophylax perezi basking in the sunshine.

Other wildlife that may be spotted are reptiles including the Moorish Gecko and Iberian Wall Lizard, Amphisbaenian and the harmless Horseshoe Whip Snake. Of the bats, the Pipistrelle is the commonest (often seen during the day), while Schreiber’s Bat and the European Free-tailed Bat can also be seen.

贺旺年老外学非遗④丨秦淮灯彩:洋徒弟要把 ...-中国江苏网:2021-2-19 · Gu Yeliang, 56, born to a lantern-making family, started making lanterns at the age of eight. Various kinds of hand-made lanterns are seen at Gu’s home, just like a small lantern show.

Lantern吧

More cacti stand in a rank along a wall opposite a collection of various Aloes.

and finally for this visit, is a iew of part of his display of the epiphyte collection: a beautiful piece of living art.

 

 

 

 

ilustración

March 20th-Day 2-Bird Observatory, Jew’s Gate, Upper Rock

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Lantern吧

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07:45 -We were here for birds as my friend and wonderful host Jill, is in training as a bird-ringer and was hoping for some practice in this highly skilled art, but thus far this morning had been  disappointing for the current resident ringers. Not only was it cool and misty, but also and worse was that the cold wind was blowing in the wrong direction to bring migrating birds over the Strait in this direction, so the mist nets were very sparsely populated. If there are no birds to process and record, a day with a dawn start can seem very long up here, despite the amazing views.

Lantern吧Gibraltar has long been recognised as a key location for observing the migration of birds and the Bird Observatory, run by the Gibraltar Ornithological and Natural History Society (GONHS), is a highly desirable venue for bird-watchers and in the appropriate seasons, bird-ringers, from many parts of the world. Perched high on the Upper Rock the views from the front door extending across the Bay of Gibraltar, over Algeciras and across the Strait to the Moroccan coast are truly stunning. The climate is appealing too, but of course it’s the opportunity to witness birds on their migration passages, often in great numbers, that draws them here.

Inside the Field Centre, suspended on hooks above the ringing bench, a male Sardinian Warbler and a Willow Warbler were waiting in little cotton bags to be ‘processed’. Within minutes the birds were quickly and carefully weighed, measured, ringed, entered into the record book and released.

0757-Sardinian Warbler processed and ready to go. Note the manicured fingernails of a female bird ringer – it’s not a job strictly for the boys

0759-Willow Warbler with view across the Bay of Gibratar

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08.17 – Excitement as an incoming Marsh Harrier dashes overhead-the sighting was brief, but we thought a male as has black wingtips.

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0919-In the sheltered ‘garden’ area at the side of the Obs there is a small pool of water inhabited by frogs. As the sun gathered strength the warmth brought them out to sunbathe and the males began to sing. Their human neighbours were not as happy to hear them as I was; apparently they’d be singing loudly for most of the night. I don’t know his species, but according to the GONHS website, frogs present here in Gibraltar are introduced and of the species Rana (Pelophylax)Lantern吧i (Perez’s Marsh Frog). Maybe someone will confirm or correct me?

Lantern吧

Other insects were also appreciating the sunshine; an interestingly coloured millipede warmed himself on a wall and little bees were gathering pollen and nectar, particularly from Rosemary and Tree germander.

There are wildflowers here too, including some elegant and highly fragrant Freesia blooms. Not a native plant, but one-time introduction originating in South Africa, it is now naturalised in a variety of locations around the Rock. It’s much tougher than it looks, here it competes for headroom with other native plants, but it is also found pushing up through cracks in paving and against walls.

Freesia refracta

Pitch Trefoil or Bitumen Pea-Psoralea bituminosa

Another plant flowering is the Pitch Trefoil or Bitumen Pea, so called because if crushed the plant releases an aroma uncannily like that of the tar they use to repair road surfaces, which happens to be one of my life-long favourite smells, so I love this plant!

09.55 – A juvenile male Blackcap has been ringed and is released

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The wind changed slightly, but was still not from the most desirable westerly direction. Mist still hangs over the Strait and the Bay, but the appearance of the Black Kite prompted scanning with binoculars as these most numerous of incoming raptors frequently travel together in variously sized flocks. There were more! In conditions such as today’s when visibility is limited, birds often fly close to the surface of the water and have to flap their wings to maintain momentum, expending precious energy. Arriving close to land again and once they can see where they are and want to be, they begin to circle seeking currents of rising warmer air. These ‘thermals’ will enable them to gain height without flapping and once they are up high they are able to glide towards their destination on the wind.

Jill retrieved a very feisty female Blackbird from the mist net. Already ringed, she was clearly a local resident bird and a brood patch on her breast showed she was nesting, so was quickly set free.

My last  pictures of the morning here was of a large Wall Lizard, that looked like it was in the process of shedding its skin.

and another wildflower, this one growing at the front of the building, White Mignonette, is also planted in gardens as an ornamental.

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Day 1 – Arrival and ‘Setting the Scene’

March 19th

Landed in Gibraltar at 17.43, a little later than scheduled, but down to a ‘missing’ passenger at Gatwick, taking his luggage off caused missing our take-off slot. It was a mostly smooth and scenic flight. Snow on Pyrenees in the north-east of Spain, then much of the country veiled by misty cloud, so visibilty for aerial shots not good, but could see the unfolding panorama below well enough. Weather here was still sunny and a balmy 19°C, had been warmer earlier on. I was told I was lucky with the weather. Last week stormy weather and high winds meant most flights in and out were diverted to Malaga.

170319-1743-Landed in Gibraltar- first view of the Rock

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Lantern吧

Gibraltar Airport photographed from the top of the Rock

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I’ve realised recently that although most people are aware of Gibraltar, easily recognising images of this iconic ‘Rock’, not so many know exactly where in the world it is. My own interest and past involvement with Gibraltar has been, and still is, largely connected with its natural history: the Rock supports a surprisingly rich and diverse fauna and flora, which my next few posts will mostly reflect. It is Gibraltar’s geology and its  geological location that makes it such a unique and fascinating place for those interested in natural history: but those factors have also determined and shaped its history, culture, politics and society.

There’s a great deal I didn’t really know myself, so as I  was here for a few days I thought I should find out more. Gibraltar has been in the news rather frequenty lately too, in connection with Britain’s ‘Brexit’ from Europe, so I thought it might be interesting to look at how Gibraltar came to have British sovereignty in the first place. I’ve tried to keep it brief, but although a relatively tiny place, there’s an incredible amount packed into it, so forgive me if it goes on a bit.

WHERE Gibraltar IS LOCATED 

Geographic coordinates: Latitude: 36°08′41″ N : Longitude: 5°21′09″ W
Elevation above sea level: 11 m = 36 ft

Gibraltar’s terrain consists of the 426-metre-high (1,398 ft) Jurassic limestone Rock of Gibraltar and the narrow coastal lowland surrounding it. Its territory covers 6.7 square kilometres (2.6 sq miles) and shares a 1.2-kilometre (0.75 mile) land border with Spain. It  is  located on the southern end of the Iberian Peninsula, on the northern side of the Strait of Gibraltar, in Spanish Estrecho de Gibraltar, that run from the Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea. This narrow body of water connects the Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea and separates Gibraltar and Peninsular Spain in Europe from Morocco and Ceuta (Spain) in Africa. Europe and Africa are separated by 7.7 nautical miles (14.3 km; 8.9 miles) of ocean at the strait’s narrowest point.

Evening approach into Gibraltar from east side with La Linea and Spanish coast

Gibraltar from the air shows its position in relation to Spain. Photographed after take-off, the following photograph shows the West Side of the Rock and the southern tip that points towards North Africa.

The shoreline of Gibraltar measures 12 kilometres (7.5 miles) in length. There are two coasts or ‘sides’ of Gibraltar: the East Side, which contains the settlements of Sandy Bay and Catalan Bay; and the West Side, where the vast majority of the population lives.

The town of La Línea de la Concepción, a municipality of the province of Cádiz, lies on the Spanish side of the border. The Spanish hinterland forms the comarca of Campo de Gibraltar, which translates literally as “Countryside of Gibraltar”.

La Línea de la Concepción – the new Harbour

On the opposite, southern side of the Strait lie Morocco and Ceuta, which is a Spanish exclave (English--千龙网·中国首都网:Lantern Festival: The ‘real’ Chinese Valentine’s Day 元宵节:赏灯约会,这才是真正的情人节 3月2日 16:09 23 oldest words 世界上最古老的已知词语,I, fire, mother等词已是15000岁高龄 2月27日 10:50 English couplets 春节到,贴一副英文春联吧!2月14日 11). Variably visible from Gibraltar, depending on the degree of mist, is the part of the African coastline defined by the Atlas Mountains. The Straits are just 14 kilometres wide at this point and a hazardous place to be due to the immensely strong currents.

TERRITORIAL WATERS

The Strait lies mostly within the territorial waters of Spain and Morocco, except for at the far eastern end. The United Kingdom (through Gibraltar) claims 3 nautical miles around Gibraltar putting part of the Strait inside British territorial waters, which then means that part of the Strait therefore lies in international waters according to the British claim. However, as we are aware, the ownership of Gibraltar and its territorial waters is disputed by Spain, and similarly Morocco dispute the far eastern end (of Ceuta), which is owned by Spain. It’s complicated.

Lantern吧

Across the Strait to Ceuta and Jebel Musa from Gibraltar

The highest point of this photograph is Jebel Musa, which is 851 metres high and located five kilometres west of Ceuta in Morocco to the south. Together with the much smaller Rock of Gibraltar at just 426 metres, these two mountains guard the entrance exit to the Atlantic Ocean from the Mediterranean Sea and form the Pillars of Hercules.

GIBRALTAR FROM OTHER ANGLES

The distinctive Rock is visible from miles away. Often shrouded in mist, its unmistakable bulk can still be readily identified from many locations along the Spanish coast and particularly from the vantage point of mountains that have views to the south, all of which help to place it in the wider landscape.

Lantern吧

Gibraltar seen from Alcaidesa on the Spanish coast east of La Linea

Gibraltar from alongside the Strait to the west of the Rock

Lantern吧

View to Gibraltar from the summit of El Bujeo across the town of Algeciras

A Brief History of Gibraltar

Ancient times

View of the northern face of the Moorish Castle’s Tower of Homage. Built in the 14th century.

It is a unique and fascinating place historically and culturally. In ancient history its strategic geographical position on the northern boundary of the Strait of Gibraltar saw it occupied and influenced in turn by Neanderthals, Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Romans, Vandals, Visigoths and most pronouncedly by the Moors. The name Rock of Gibraltar originates from the Arabic  Jebel Tariq, meaning “Tariq’s mountain” was named after Tariq ibn Ziyad.

How Gibraltar became ‘British’

In 1462 Gibraltar was finally captured by the Spanish Juan Alonso de Guzmán, 1st Duke of Medina Sidonia. There was some to-ing and fro-ing of control amongst the Spanish themselves, but it remained Spanish until 1704, when during the War of the Spanish Succession, a combined Anglo-Dutch fleet, representing the Grand Alliance, captured the town of Gibraltar on behalf of the Archduke Charles of Austria in his bid to become King of Spain. In 1713 the Treaty of Utrecht ceded control of Gibraltar to Britain ” in perpetuity”, to secure Britain’s withdrawal from the war. Unsuccessful attempts by Spanish monarchs to regain Gibraltar were made with the siege of 1727 and again with the Great Siege of Gibraltar (1779 to 1783), during the American War of Independence.

Britain’s interest in Gibraltar historically has been a military one. It became a key base for the British Royal Navy, playing an important role prior to the Battle of Trafalgar (21 October 1805) and during the Crimean War of 1854–56, due to its strategic location. Its strategic value increased when the Suez Canal opened, as it lay on the sea route between the UK and the British Empire east of Suez. In the later 19th century, there were major investments in improving the fortifications and the port. During World War II it was an important base for the Royal Navy as it controlled the entrance and exit to the Mediterranean Sea, which is only eight miles (13 km) wide here. It remains strategically important to this day with half the world’s seaborne trade passing through the Strait.

Present Day Gibraltar

The last UK-based army battalion left Gibraltar in 1991 and the Royal Gibraltar Regiment took charge of local defence under the command structure British Forces Gibraltar. Today Gibraltar is used primarily as a training area for the British Armed Forces, due to its good climate and rocky terrain, and as a stopover for aircraft and ships en route to and from deployments East of Suez or Africa. (More information on Lantern吧 )

Today Gibraltar’s economy is based largely on tourism, online gambling, financial services, and shipping. The sovereignty of Gibraltar is a major point of contention in Anglo-Spanish relations as Spain asserts a claim to the territory. Gibraltarians overwhelmingly rejected proposals for Spanish sovereignty in a 1967 referendum and again in 2002. Under the Gibraltar Constitution of 2006, Gibraltar governs its own affairs, though some powers, such as defence and foreign relations, remain the responsibility of the British government.

We can only wonder what the future has in store for this iconic Rock, but whatever may happen politically and historically as a result of our human wrangles and power struggles, let us hope that its wonderful wildlife continues to survive and thrive.

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All photographs are my own. Other references include: Wikipaedia (various) and The Rock from Bottom to Top by Nick Nutter ISBN-13: 978-1530659449

 

 

 

 

 

 

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In September, a slight increase in humidity brings forth the appearance of the yellow-flowered Aromatic, or Sticky Inula, which is similar in appearance to Ragwort. It’s not the most beautiful of plants, but it brings some welcome colour back to the otherwise bleached brown landscape ahead of the eagerly anticipated autumn rains and provides a good source of nectar for butterflies.

Aromatic Inula-Dittrichia viscosa- Sotogrande beach edge

Aromatic Inula-Dittrichia viscosa- Sotogrande beach edge

Aromatic or Sticky Inula Dittrichia viscosa

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

Aromatic Inula – Dittrichia viscosa – the flowers are similar to those of ragwort

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Flowers in the late summer-autumn months in a variety of habitats, on woodland edges, along roadsides, in uncultivated fields and as in my photographs, even at the back of  beaches.

As its name suggests it has a pleasant aroma, a bit like camphor, and the plant was traditionally used as a dye of a greenish yellow shade.

The Carob Tree – el Algarrobo

Recently I bought a bar of Carob ‘chocolate’ in my local health food shop, which reminded me that this is the time of year when the fruits of the Carob trees are ripe for harvesting. The trees have long been cultivated in Spain where its long brown pods were traditionally used as animal fodder, although nowadays they probably have more value as a natural additive to many human foodstuffs.

Carob orLantern吧in English; Algerrobo or Algorroba in Spanish and scientifically Ceratonia siliqua, is a species of slow-growing flowering evergreen shrub or tree belonging to the pea family, Fabaceae. It is native to the Mediterranean region where it has been cultivated for some 4,000 years for its edible beans and as an ornamental shade tree in parks and gardens.

Carob tree - Gaucin, Andalucia

Carob tree – Gaucin, Andalucia

The tree grows up to 15 metres (50ft) tall and is supported by a thick trunk covered with rough bark. They are slow growing and can live to be 200 years old. They are well-suited to growing in dry, harsh climates on infertile soils and may produce fruits for 80-100 years.

Ripening seedpods

Ripening seedpods

The Carob tree is dioecious (has separate male and female trees), so only the female trees bear fruit. Flowers of the male are stamen clusters with pollen, producing a very strong odor, while the female produces small, yellow, aromatic flowers (pistals), grouped in clusters.

Pollination

Both male and female flowers produce nectar and attract large numbers of insects. There is also research supporting the idea that Carob flowers could be Bat-pollinated as the perfume is released at night and during the cool season when warm-blooded pollinators have an advantage over insects.

October-Flowers on a male Carob tree

October-Flowers are highly attractive to insects

The perfume of the male flowers is a strong and curious one that may radiate hundreds of meters from the originating tree, particularly in the cooler evening air. Few descriptions of the scent that I have come across are at all enticing. It is even included on one list of the 9 worst-smelling flowers! Others claim it has “the scent of rotting flesh”; then another compares it to sweaty socks. Maybe it is best to stay upwind of a male Carob in flower.

Lantern吧

Male Carob tree in flower

The distinctive pods, or more accurately legumes, take more or less a full year to develop, starting off green and then becoming hard and brown, usually becoming ripe in September or October each year. The flowers and ripe pods are then together on the tree simultaneously.

September-Carob tree with ripe seedpods, flowers and a chiffchaff-R oman Baths, Manilva

September- female Carob tree with ripe seedpods, flowers and a chiffchaff-Roman Baths, Manilva

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060829-Carob beans-Portugal

USES OF CAROB

Lantern吧

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MEASURE FOR GEMSTONES

The carat weight measure used for gemstones originated from the weight of the carob seed, which was thought to be consistent. Sadly, modern research has now proved it to be no more consistent than any other seed. The word carat stems from the Arabic word qīrāṭ which was a very small unit of weight based upon the weight of the carob seed in that 5 carob seeds equals one gram and thus a 1 carat weight is 200 milligrams.

MODERN DAY USES IN THE FOOD INDUSTRY

Spain is the world’s highest producer of Carob, which is now in high demand by the food industry and ad Carob pods are usually processed in their country of origin, this makes it an important contributor to the country’s economy.

After harvesting, the pods are both dry and wet cleaned and kibbled (coarsely ground) to separate the seeds from the pulp. After seed extraction, the pods are roasted, milled and sieved and then stored in controlled conditions to prevent them becoming hard and lumpy. The resulting powder, known as locust bean gum (ceratonia or carob bean gum) is then used as a gelling agent, stabilizer or emulsifier in ice-cream, dessert fruit filling and salads.

Carob powder is used in baking and food manufacture, sometimes as an alternative to cocoa powder. Carob bars, an alternative to chocolate bars, are often available in health-food stores. Non-dairy carob bars use vegetable fat, soya flour and soya lecithin as an emulsifier. It is naturally sweet so no added sugar varieties are available.

MEDICINAL USES

An oil called algaroba is extracted from the carob seeds to be used for medicinal purposes.