I am writing this on an extraordinary afternoon, with the thunder rolling endlessly around Vallespir. We have had several humid days, and they have been warm, too, warmer than at the same time last year, fairly hot, most people seem to agree, for around Midsummer. It will be interesting to see how July and August work out!
We recently made one visit back to the Etang: the flamingos were certainly still present in numbers, which must prove that they do breed there. Sadly, they were, as so often, on the far side and really out of range of my binoculars, so I have no idea whether they had young. Two black swans were still there, without cygnets, and we also saw a few of the wonderful great-crested grebes, a grey heron, and a few egrets. Most remarkable to us was a huge flock of coots, more than I had ever seen together anywhere, in the middle distance. Again, there was no chance to tell if they had young among their numbers. It all goes to reinforce our view that this Etang (and the many others in the Roussillon) form a very important part of the natural landscape which surrounds us. And on the way into the hide, I had a quick, but perfect view of the red-eyed Sardinian Warbler, of which I knew nothing at all before I saw Isobel’s lovely photo.
When we have felt it too hot and humid on land, we have taken to the sea, which has been delightful. Our wee boat ("Puffin"!), lives in our garage, and it takes little more than half an hour to tow her to the slipway at the Argelès basin. From there, chugging along at a pleasant, and ecologically friendly, speed, we reckon to reach Collioure in little over six minutes, Port Vendres in about another six, and to round the craggy rocks of Cap Béar in about 20 all told. This stretch of the coast is really best seen from the water, and although I still fail to see from where the description: "Cote Vermeille" really derives, it is a handsome piece of coastline, with splendidly contorted crags of metamorphic rock.
Recently, we ventured as far as the Marine Nature Reserve south of Banyuls. You are not meant to anchor casually in this clearly-demarcated stretch of water, but there is, at this time of year at least, adequate provision in the form of substantial buoys to which you can attach your boat. We were fortunate to arrive at a relatively quiet time, and managed to take possession of a buoy which was quite close in to the rocks, beneath a magnificent, jagged, overhanging cliff. When we arrived, the sea was quiet and inviting, not quite the ultimate "glassy calm", but silken-smooth.
I love being in the water, but want to stay firmly on the surface, whereas Martine, on the other hand, must actually really be part fish, and loves being under it, for as long as possible. So I swam around for a while, rejoicing in the clean coolness of the water, then returned to the boat, and watched the sea idly as I dried off in the sun. Looking over the side, the first thing to strike me here is always the clarity of the water, in itself a real achievement when you consider that there is a significant human population on this stretch of coast. A few fish were obviously enjoying the shade cast by the boat: they were a medium grey, tinged with a slight yellow when in the sunlight, with a pronounced black and white patch back by the tail. Their young, paler but with the black and white equally pronounced, had been swimming inquisitively around my legs a few days before, when I stood in a lovely small bay just around Cap Béar. Reference to a colour chart we had recently bought made us decide that these are probably the Saddled Seabream (oblada melanura).
Martine, meanwhile, had been snorkelling around the rocks, and had been having a wonderful time. She had been trying out a small underwater camera, and playing games of hide-and-seek with (other!) fish around the rocks and in the weedy gullies, trying to take pictures of them. She said it was quite difficult, as she was trying to look through her mask, through a tiny viewfinder, at little fish that were scooting about! Only later, on the computer, could we really assess the results, and a few of them follow this blog, along with attempted identification where we are sure of it. All told, that day we had a wonderful time at sea, but more importantly it is clear that there is, out there, an underwater landscape of some richness, and - most important of all - it is being well looked after.