If you go up high anywhere in our area, say the shoulders of Canigou, the Albères or the nearby, lesser Pyrenees, you cannot help but be conscious of the enormous area of wooded habitat. It stretches in all directions, broken only by lots of bare rock, and a few, remaining high meadows. Importantly, it is much more extensive than the maps would suggest, as most of it is hugely steep, plunging to the valley floors. And it is really impenetrable; the only sensible access tends to be by path or track.
Because of these factors, we really do not tend to see many of the inhabitants of this, certainly the largest habitat in our area-apart from the Mediterranean itself! And mammals tend to be shy anyway, which means that any sighting feels significant and memorable.
During the recent hot and humid spell, I went for a couple of visits to a favourite campsite, which, being at a higher altitude, tends to have a fresher climate, and, generally, rather fewer mosquitoes, despite the stream that flows through it. Here I could enjoy a stroll at dusk without smothering myself in evil-smelling repellent. The water flows along the floor of one of these deep, wooded valleys, and possesses a couple of meadows which are still cut annually, although more for amenity than for hay as they would once have been. But the meadows are backed on all sides by the usual precipitous jungle of bushes, trees, creepers and various sharp, spiny things...
One magical, quiet, warm evening, I was wandering on my own here, walking up a sort of natural ramp, on to one of these meadows; quite recently cut, its short turf was highly aromatic in the still evening. Looking at the ground, it was as much covered by various types of mint and marjoram, (which by day attracted hosts of tiny butterflies), as by grass. As I looked to my right, along the meadow, I saw a big fox, almost black in the fading light, loping easily across the open ground. It turned its head and saw me, of that I am sure, but maintained the same, unhurried pace until it disappeared in the rough margins of the field.
A few days later, my wildlife sighting was in some contrast to this, and rather more comical. I was in the same place, and halted in my stroll, as I heard various grunts coming from the wood. I guessed that this must be sanglier, and waited in slight hope that something would emerge out into the open. Rather to my surprise, “something” did: a mother wild boar, followed by a single baby. She crossed the meadow, almost to the other side, followed by junior, and started to root around in the grass. I knew I must be silhouetted against the evening sky, and stayed totally still, but somehow she became aware of me, abruptly turned, and headed at speed for the cover of the wood, tail high. She very noticeably failed to wait for her offspring, who started to squeal as it, too, belted for safety in the trees. There did not seem to be much evidence of maternal concern among sangliers, I decided, unable to suppress my giggles.
The stream here harbours several of my favourite insects, about which I have written before: the beautiful demoiselle aigrions. Once again, I set out to watch and photograph them, which must look pretty funny, as I teeter on the edge of the water, or crouch within it, camera in hand. This year, there seemed to be more of them, perhaps also a consequence of the different weather. This meant, as far as I could see, that the vivid-blue males were having difficulty in maintaining their territories, and aerial scuffles were more frequent. I am puzzled by the casual nature of their inter- actions with other species of insect, especially with the larger dragonflies. One of the male aigrions, having seen off a rival, settled for a few seconds on the head of a much larger dragonfly, but the latter paid no attention at all.
I did observe behaviour which was new to me, between a male and female of the species. The female was positioned on a prominent leaf above a dark pool, (a very typical location) when a male came over to her, and hovered gently above her. The effect was hypnotic, the black, shot-with-blue wings, the vivid blue body glinting in the dappled sunlight, a brief vision of real beauty. Alas, the lady seemed unimpressed, paying the ardent male no attention at all, and after a while, he gave up...
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