Wednesday, December 25, 2013

The first blooming orchids of the Cantabrian Mountains: the giant orchid and the somber bee-orchid.

Deze post in het Nederlands: Klik hier.

The first blooming orchids we will be able to observe at the end of this winter in the north of Spain can be found in the autonomous region of Asturias, located in the milder parts of the northern Cantabrian Mountains. We are talking about the giant orchid ( Himantoglossum robertianum, formerly classified as  Barlia robertiana) and the somber bee-orchid ( Ophrys fusca ), also called the dark bee-orchid. The giant orchid will already be blooming in the second half of February  and most of the somber bee-orchids will flower in March. The giant orchid is certainly not a common orchid in the Cantabrian Mountains, but we still managed to locate some groups with up to 20 flowering specimens. I know that this is nothing compared with certain regions in Portugal where I´ve seen literally thousands of giant orchids, but I´m very glad we have some of them around in our region too. Of the Ophrys fusca we have found a very promising area right on the seashore with hundreds of plants in bloom and also some hitherto unknown smaller populations scattered around Asturias, at least unknown according to the specialised literature.


Monday, June 10, 2013

A new location of the Orchis italica (naked man orchid).

A new location of the Orchis italica in the Cistierna area (province of León).


The Orchis italica is a Mediterranean orchid whose distribution is mainly located in the southern half of Spain, while in the north of Spain their are only two known territories (see map). Two weeks ago I found three specimens of Orchis italica in the neighbourhood of Cistierna, situated between those northern territories and indicated on the map by the blue rectangle.

Characteristics of the Orchis italica.

The Orchis italica is known in English as the naked man orchid, due to the form of the individual flowers which resemble a naked male form. The spike is very densely packed with flowers of a purple-pink-whitish colour. The petals and sepals are all curved upwards forming a kind of helmet covering the column. The lip is long and has the shape of a man, with arms, legs and a third protuberance. The colour of the spur is somewhat lighter than the rest of the flower and this spur is short, thick and slightly curved downwards. The bracts are short compared to the ovary. The leaves are corrugated and may have some purple-brown spots.
The orchids I have found were all located on more or less shady places between the bushes, but they also occur on sunny grasslands.


Saturday, June 1, 2013

The Riaño lake, the valley of Oseja de Sajambre and the pilgrimage village of Covadonga.

Deze post in het Nederlands: klik hier.

From Cistierna to Covadonga: Pictures of some very special places in the Cantabrian Mountains.


From Cistierna, a village situated on the southern edge of the Cantabrian Mountains, to Covadonga we have to cross almost the entire Cantabrian Mountain chain. The 100 km which separate both villages can be driven by car in about 2 hours, although the beauty of the landscape probably will cause a considerable delay. Yesterday we repeated this trip and in this post I want to share some pictures of some very special places we came along. These places are only a small part of the overwhelming nature which will be encountered on this trip, for instance the mountains of Crémenes, the mountain pass "El Ponton" and the huge gorge of the "Desfiladero de los Beyos" are not photographed.


Monday, May 27, 2013

Wild orchids in Spain: Anacamptis picta

Deze post in het Nederlands: klik hier.

  A huge field filled with tens of thousands of wild orchids of the species Anacamptis picta.


About 10 days ago by chance we encountered a huge field full of wild orchids. They were all of a species which is fairly common in the southern Cantabrian Mountains: the Anacamptis picta. As often, not everybody agrees with this name and this orchid is also known as the Anacamptis morio subsp. picta, and formerly it was known as the Orchis morio subsp. picta. Whatever its name, suddenly we saw a field which was really packed with orchids. Fortunately, the field was not grazed by cattle, although grazing at the right time of the year is rather  positive for orchids. The numbers of A. picta were truly overwhelming, so much that there was a purple glow over the field. The surface of the field is about 10 hectares (measured from air photos) and a very conservative estimate is that there are significantly more than five hundred thousand (500,000) orchids. Of course something special like this has to be shared, although the exact location can´t be mentioned

READ FURTHER AND ENJOY THE PHOTOS.                                           

Thursday, May 23, 2013

The tree frog (Hyla arborea subsp. molleri)

Deze post in het Nederlands: klik hier.

A tree frog in a pond.


On one of our botanical searches we came to a small pool of water, which as usual was inmediately investigated for the presence of amphibians and what a surprise: along the side and hidden among the reeds there was a tree frog. By approximation it disappeared under water, but apparently the animal wasn´t to comfortable under water because every minute or so it came back to the surface. After a few pictures we decided to try to catch it for a detailed inspection, which with a lifetime developed catching technique wasn´t too difficult. After close inspection the animal was put on a branch for a picture and as usual it barely wanted to leave my warm hand. The animal was cooperating very well and after some shots it was put back again at the place where it was caught.

Information about the tree frog.

In the northwestern half of the Iberian Peninsula the tree frog Hyla arborea is replaced by the subspecies Hyla arborea subsp. molleri, although many scientists consider it as a separate species: the Hyla molleri. Anyway, the tree frog is a small green frog that usually dwells between the foliage on damp places near water. This frog is a good climber which is due to the adhesive disks on fingers and toes. It has a smooth green skin with on both sides a black stripe along the body, which seperates the dorsal skin from the ventral skin. This black stripe is bordered by a white line. The ventral skin has an ocher-yellowish color, which of course we usually can´t see. The pupils are horizontal and the iris has a color similar to the belly of the frog, but slightly yellower with a golden appearance. Normally this species is active at night so it was a real opportunity to find it. In Spain, the species is booked as "near threatened" and the populations are declining for several reasons, of which the most important are: the increasing general desiccation of Spain, decrease of the right habitats, and contamination of water by agricultural fertilizers which is very damaging to the larvae.
The favorite food consists of insects, especially ants, but however the frog itself is also on the menu of vipers, owls and kestrels, among others.


Sunday, May 19, 2013

Wild orchids in Spain: the Anacamptis champagneuxii.

Deze post in het Nederlands: klik hier.

Just another orchid from the Cantabrian Mountains: the Anacamptis champagneuxii, member of the section Moriones.

The Anacamptis champagneuxii is a rare and purple colored orchid from the western Mediterranean, also present in the strip of wild nature directly adjacent to the Southern Cantabrian Mountains. Until about 10 years ago the genus Anacamptis counted only one member, namely the pyramidal orchid (Anacamptis pyramidalis). However, due to the strong rise of the genetic research the former orchid classifications have been shaken up quiet a bit. Many orchids which traditionally were counted to the genus Orchis were found to have much more in common with the Anacamptis pyramidalis than was ever suspected. The research of Richard Bateman and co-workers in 2003 led to a new classification based on phylogenetics and other aspects. As always in science not all researchers agreed with the changes, but today it seems to be the most widely accepted classification. However, because of this relatively recent change and some resistance against the new name , it is possible to find this orchid in the literature as the Orchis champagneuxii. The genus Anacamptis is divided into sections and the Anacamptis champagneuxii belongs to the section Moriones which also include the green winged orchid (Anacamptis morio) and the Anacamptis picta, which are all present in the Cantabrian Mountains.The species name champagneuxii is in honor of the French botanist Champagneux (1774-1845).

The Anacamptis champagneuxii is especially similar to the Anacamptis picta, which is also known as a subspecies of the green winged orchid (Anacamptis morio subs picta) and therefore it can be hard to tell them apart and therefore I first want to enumerate the most striking differences between both orchids.
  • The central part of the lip of the A. champagneuxii is completely white or pink (perhaps with very faint spots), instead the lip is speckled.
  • The side lobes of the lip of the A. champagneuxii arealmost completely folded back, much more than the lip of the A.picta, which even can be wide spread.  
  • The spur of the A.champagneuxii is longer in proportion and at the end more flattened.  
  • The spike of the A.champagneuxii is shorter, thinner and with fewer flowers.
  • The A.champagneuxii grows very often in striking compact groups, which is due to its vegetative propagation.
  • The A.champagneuxii seems to have three tubers while the A picta has only 2 tubers, but obviously  we are not going to dig up, so in practice its not a very useful feature.
Note: if its clear about what genus we are talking, it´s a custom to indicate the genus only with its first  character. In this case instead of Anacamptis champagneuxii we use A. champagneuxii. 


Saturday, May 11, 2013

Encounter with a beautiful but wounded hoopoe.

Deze post in het Nederlands: klik hier.

When trying to save a hoopoe seems more important than mushroom hunting.


Looking for some tasty St. George´s mushrooms (Calocybe gambosa or Tricholoma Georgii), a mushroom that is common in our region, we suddenly saw a black and white bird sitting in the grass. Maybe it was a magpie? No, it was a hoopoe. Without noticing we had approached the hoopoe up to at least 5 meters and it still hadn´t flown away, would it be dead? No, although the creature didn´t move a muscle, it still blinked occasionally with its eyes. This was an opportunity and quickly I walked back to the car to grab the camera. At a closer inspection its right wing showed to be in an unnatural position and when after a cautious approach the bird still didn´t get away, it was confirmed that there was something wrong with it. After picking it up very carefully we could see that the wing was damaged. What to do now? Luckily in our region we have a wildlife care-center where one of the attendants is a friend of ours. The mushrooms were immediately forgotten and we set off to the care-center which is situated in the middle of the woods. Once we got there it turned out that nobody was present, so we phoned our friend which wasn´t at home neither. Nevertheless he said we could leave the poor animal in the back of his land rover which was parked by his house. We installed the hoopoe as comfortable as possible and left it waiting for the attendant to come home. The next day we called him, but it turned out that despite the devoted care the animal had deceased.

Some Facts
As can be seen in the photos the hoopoe is a quiet exotic looking bird with black and white wings and tail and a pinkish-brown body. Another conspicuous characteristic is the pinkish crest, of which the upper part is also black and white. In the United Kingdom the hoopoe is a very rare bird, with only a very occasional breed. In spring some hoopoes may appear in the south of England when they are migrating. However, in Spain the hoopoe is rather a common bird which is resident in the south of the Iberian Peninsula. Also in our region it can be spotted frequently, although only as a summer guest (see map), especially in the more arid meseta that lies directly south of the Cantabrian Mountains. The hoopoe likes to stroll around in meadows and along paths, searching with its long beak to surprise various unlucky arthropods and sometimes lizards. Good places for spotting them are the forest edges of planted pine groves. These are planted on former agricultural lands and are therefore of a reduced size and surrounded by open fields, very much to the liking of the hoopoe. Moreover, the hoopoe is fond of the pine processionary caterpillar, a caterpillar which is quite harmful to the pines. This has caused the hoopoe to be commonly considered as a very welcome guest.


Wednesday, May 1, 2013

The limestone cliffs of the Asturian Coast (Spain).

Deze post in het Nederlands: klik hier.

How the waves form the coast.

At some places the northern border of the Cantabrian Mountains almost reaches to the Bay of Biscay, from which it is only separated by a narrow coastal plain, and one of these places is the east of Spanish province of Asturias. Here the plain consists mainly of limestone, which is a rock with the property that it is slightly soluble in water. For this reason the eternal waves of the ocean have sculpted a very particular terrain with steep cliffs and numerous sea caves. Furthermore, the whole area experiences a slow geological uplift which has caused the rising of the former sea bottom above sea level, forming the actual coastal plain between the sea and the Cantabrian Mountains.  In other words, the current plain was formed by the wave action of the sea, which reached a few kilometers further inland to the foot of the mountains. After the coastal plain was elevated, caves have formed in many places. In some of these caves beautiful prehistoric rock paintings have been found, including those of the Cueva del Pindal (Colombres) and the caves of Tito Bustillo (Ribadesella).  Before showing the pictures of the coast  I will show a few "boring" maps which indicate the exact location of where we visited the coastal plain.

This location is part of the officially protected landscape of the eastern Asturian coast (Paisaje Protegido de la Costa Oriental Asturiana), which covers a total length along the coast of about 30 kilometers and a surface of nearly 67 square kilometer.


Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The many names of the dandelion (Taraxacum officinale).

Deze post in het Nederlands: klik hier.

Why the dandelion is not named a Leontodon (Hawkbit).

Who doesn´t know the dandelion, this common yet so beautiful flower? The dandelion does not exist of a single species, but of an agglomeration of many micro species, which is partly the result of its possibility of multiplication by means of unfertilized seeds (cloning). The plant forms a rosette with strongly toothed leaves and the stems are hollow with on top a flower head consisting of many yellow ray florets. The dandelion is listed among the composites or Asteraceae. The plant has a surprising number of applications, but to avoid too long  a post only its naming is discussed here. Already many years ago I noticed that the meaning of dandelion in English and Spanish is "lion´s tooth", although in the Netherlands the name lion´s tooth is reserved for the genus Leontodon (hawkbits), while the dandelion is called "horse-flower". However, to make the confusion complete some Spaniards call the dandelion "meacama (= piss-a-bed) and the hawkbits (Leontodon)  they call "diente de león". So this asked for a little research.


Thursday, April 18, 2013

The Salamandra salamandra bernardezi: An endemic fire salamander of North Spain.

Deze post in het Nederlands: klik hier.

A fire salamander rescued from a dangerous crossing.

At our last visit to my brother who lives in Asturias, he had a pleasant surprise in store for me. On his shady and cool back patio there was a large covered plastic vegetable crate, filled with 4 inches of damp earth and leaves. After removing the cover I could see an old tile and under the tile ....

A day earlier on the way home from a pleasant bike ride my brother suddenly saw a fire salamander who just started an attempt to cross a road with lots of traffic (or as my brother put it: a salamander that had just started a highly efficient suicide attempt). Normally he takes life weary amphibians with him to release them in a safer environment away from roads and other calamities. But my brother remembered that I always have been a lover of amphibians and that´s why he decided this time to wait a day before releasing it again.

........So under the tile there was a beautiful fire salamander. According to my brother, it was a lot thicker than when he found it and this was very likely due to the diet of earthworms and slugs which he had served it the night before.
Using the opportunity some quick snapshots were taken and soon the salamander was back inside its temporary shelter. The same evening it was released in a humid slope forest more than a kilometer away from the nearest road.
Incidentally my brother found a week later and almost at the same place another fire salamander which not had managed to cross the road.

This salamander belongs to the subspecies Salamandra salamandra bernardezi, endemic to the northwest of Spain, and thus also to the Cantabrian Mountains.
Deze post in het Nederlands: klik hier


Thursday, April 11, 2013

Flowers in March in the Cantabrian Mountains, Part 1


The end of winter in Asturias: flowers already blooming in the Cantabrian Mountains.

In march we managed to escape a few days to Asturias to enjoy its softer sea-climate, where we found many blooming plants. We were able to photograph at least 40 different species of which some are really common and others quiet rare. A small collection of flowers we found is shown in this post, while the others will be adressed in following posts.


Saturday, April 6, 2013

The Natural Park of Monte Santiago: El salto del Río Nervión, a 300 meter high waterfall.

Deze post in het Nederlands: klik hier.

Monte Santiago, the abrupt boundary between the Spanish plateau and the Basque lowlands.

During the Easter holiday we managed to escape for a few days, devoting our time to the detection of new orchid sites, exploring caves and visiting beautiful places. In this post I want to share some pictures of the Monte Santiago Natural Park, with its 300 meters high waterfall: “El salto del Río Nervión”. This blog is also dedicated to natural spaces located in the immediate vicinity of the Cantabrian Mountains
The location of this park is quiet special, because it´s the only place where the Spanish highland (meseta) borders the coastal lowlands. Most of the northern meseta (with heights of 800 to 900 meters) is separated from the north coast by the Cantabrian Mountains (with altitudes of over 2000 meters). However, these mountains end some 30 kilometers west of Monte Santiago, so that in this park the meseta is directly adjacent to the lowland of Vizcaya (Basque Country). The border between both regions consists of a dizzying steep cliff of about 500 to 600 meters high and several tens of kilometers long: a spectacular sight enhanced in value by the presence of numerous vulture nests. The River Nervión collects its water on the meseta and streams towards the cliff where it flows over the edge and plunges down. However, this 300 meter high waterfall can only be admired during periods of heavy rain or melting snow. This is due to the karst nature of the plateau, where most of the surface water quickly disappears below ground into an enormous underlying cavesystem. Monte Santiago is covered with a beech forest which is fed by rain and mist coming from the sea. Also there are the ruins of the medieval monastery of Santiago de Langrériz, which gives its name to this natural park.  


Friday, March 22, 2013

Photos of some wild orchids found in León (Cantabrian Mountains).

Deze post in het Nederlands: klik hier.

Photos of some wild orchids found in the province of León (Spain).

General introduction.

In Spain, the Cantabrian Mountains (Cordillera Cantábrica) are widely known for its rugged and unspoiled nature and its great abundance of animals and plants. Some of the most emblematic animals are: the brown bear, the wolf, the capercaillie, the golden eagle, the griffon vulture, and  the bearded vulture, which has returned three years ago. Also the recollection of medicinal herbs and herbs for the kitchen is a centuries-old habit.
Less known is the great wealth of wild orchids. In a recently completed study, conducted in a relatively small part of the Cantabrian Mountains (in the province of León) by J.M. Diez Santos, no fewer than 55 species and 10 hybrids have been determined.
Since the wild orchids are my favorite plants, they will certainly feature prominently in this blog about the nature of the Cantabrian Mountains.


Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The Anacamptis picta is a species very similar to the green-winged orchid (Anacamptis morio).

Description and photos of the Anacamptis picta.

The Anacamptis picta, which is very similar to the green-winged orchid (Anacamptis morio) and who some consider to be a subspecies (Anacamptis morio subsp. picta), is one of the most common orchids of the Cantabrian Mountains. It flowers from April to June depending on the amount of rain and temperature, and the altitude and orientation of the habitat. The unspotted and lanceolate leaves grow in a basal rosette with some leaves sheathing the stem almost up to the flowers. The inflorescence has normally between 6 and 25 flowers, although it can be slightly less or much more, which are distributed in a linear or pyramidal bunch on top of a stalk. The dorsal sepal and the lateral petals form together a helmet, covered or "winged" by the lateral sepals which have a prominent green or sometimes purple veins, much like the features of the green-winged orchid (A. morio). The three-lobed labellum or lip has a pale center with purple spots and the side-lobes are clearly folded backwards, which is one of the characteristics which distinguishes it from the green-winged orchid, which has a broad lip. The spur is relatively long and straight or slightly arched upwards with a dilated and flattened apex, which contains no nectar.
The colour is red-purple to pink, although very pale specimens can be found occasionally. The Anacamptis picta has normally 2 sessile tubers (meaning that they are attached to each other), with a great similarity to two testicles.


Monday, March 18, 2013

In the footprints of the Roman legions.


  Walking in the Cantabrian Mountains: Fuentes de Peñacorada.

General introduction.
This post will give a description of an easy and beautiful marked route near the southern border of the Central Cantabrian Mountains. The importance of the route lies both within the spectacular landscape and the cultural heritance.

This route is called "La Huella de las Legiones", which means literally "The footprint of the Legions". The designers of the route are completely convinced that we are dealing with a Roman way, which was constructed during the Cantabrian Wars (29-19 BC) to reach the local Celtic settlements called "castros".
Those "castros" were invariably built in inaccessible places, very difficult to conquer. The general idea is that the Romans built some main ways following the mayor river valleys and many smaller sideways which led from a main way towards the Celtic settlements in the mountains. In this case, our route is interpreted as a sideway of the main way along the river Esla (generally recognised as a Roman way), which led to a castro situated at the Campurrial pass.

According to the historians Eutimio Martino and Siro Sanz, this way has all the same characteristics of some closeby and widely recognised Roman ways in other parts of the Cantabrian Mountains. Considering the fact that the region has been under roman control for more than 400 years, since the Cantabrian Wars till the beginning of the 5th century when the Suevi, the Vandals and the Alans entered Spain, it is not far fetched to imaging that they also constructed a network of roads in the Cantabrian Mountains. Because those ways were the "natural" connection between the villages, they have been maintained and repaired in the centuries since, which means that they are only partially original (in the meaning that not all the slabs of stone were literally laid down by the Romans). In medieval writings of before the year 1000 this way is already mentioned, which at least proves a minimum age of more than a millenium.

Other cultural aspects are the ruins of a medieval castle, "el castillo de Monteagudo" on top of a steep mountain and traces of a Celtic settlement.


Thursday, March 14, 2013

Some photos of the Cathedral Cave

The Cathedral Cave.

Marius van Heiningen

Within the Cantabrian Mountains there are an awful lot of places which are virtually unknown, especially to tourism. But this aspect is not restricted to the surface of these mountains, below ground there is a very rich subterranean patrimony. The deep caves of Picos de Europa, with depths of over 1500 m and the extensive caves of Cantabria and northern Burgos (eastern Cantabrian Mountains) are world famous in the speleological community. For instance, the Mortillano system, the Gándara system, the Alto Tejuelo system (all in Cantabria) and the Ojo Guareña (Burgos) each have over a hundred kilometrers of galleries. Nevertheless, in the rest of the Cordillera Cantábrica there are lots of less notorious caves and even quite a few which are totally unknown. That some caves keep being unknown to the public, even after they are discovered for the first time, is sometimes due to their incredible vulnerability. Some caves have large amounts of delicate formations which would suffer irreversible damage if they were visited frequently. In this post I will show some photos of the Cathedral Cave, named for the untouched formations and grandiosity of this cave. This cave was discovered some 20 years ago and the pictures are taken some 5 years ago. In all these years we have entered the cave only 4 times, and always with only 2 environmental conscious speleologists. The photos are taken by my speleo companion Julian Benito. To take clear photos in a cave is very difficult, among other reasons because of the great humidity inside the caves and because of the frequent awkward small passages which not invite to bring the most luxurious cameras. So considering I think these photos are quite good. There will be no explanation by the photos because the different cave formations will be treated in other posts, just enjoy the report.


Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Winter in the Cantabrian Mountains

Snow in Spain

Marius van Heiningen

Spain is known for its good weather with a lot of sunshine, which of course is true, but in the mountainous areas of the north thick layers of freshly fallen snow are quiet normal. Although on the higher and northwards orientated peaks several meters of snow can accumulate, normally the snows disappears rather quickly due to the strength of the Spanish sun, which even in winter is appreciable. This year the snowfall came at the end of January and the beginning of February, which gave me the opportunity to click the “white” photos of the following photo session. These photos serve to give a general view of the mountainous character of the Cantabrian Mountains. Of most photos mountain names and direction of view are given, with the heights and the place from which the photo is taken in parentheses.

The southern border of the Cantabrian Mounatins, as seen from the meseta of the Duero basin. The view is to the north.This mountain massif is called Peñacorada (1835m). To see the same picture full screen, click on the small photo to the right.


Sunday, March 10, 2013

Orchis purpurea or the lady orchid

Description and photos of the lady orchid (Orchis purpurea).

Marius van Heiningen

Personal introduction.
The usual way of most plant books to describe a species is by means of a picture of the flower and a description of the details, which is understandable because colour photos are expensive. On internet a lot of websites follow the same patron, which is less understandable because the capacity of blogs and webs is actually quite big (for instance, the capacity of a “blogspot-blog” is 5 Gb). When flower hunting in the field, an accurate description of the details is very welcome, because you can check them right at the spot, with the book in your hand. But when searching on the web for more information I would like to find detailed descriptions with lots of photos. For this reason I´ll try to write my posts showing the characteristics in various photos. I hope this way the information will be of use to the reader.

The lady orchid or Orchis purpurea is a conspicuous orchid, both due to the height of the flowering stalks (25 – 100 cm) and the dense inflorescence with lots of purple-white flowers. It even may be too conspicuous, because it makes them prone to flower picking. It is a perennial plant who´s leaves appear above ground in the winter, normally in January or February. These more or less lanceolate leaves, this is with a rounded base tapering towards the apex, are relatively big and parallel-nerved (like all orchids). In the Cantabrian Mountains flowering takes places during April and May. The flower has a spur without nectar, so it is a food-deceptive orchid, but they produce a sweet odour and are pollinated by bumblebees or butterflies.
In the southern Cantabrian Mountains this orchid is not very common, but I have been able to locate several groups of about 30 – 40 of adult orchids with inflorescences and much more scattered exemplars have been found alone or in small groups. Most grow in full sunlight, others grow between (evergreen) oaks or even in poplar plantations, but none has been found in heavily shaded forests.

Photo 1 shows the general robust aspect of Orchis purpurea, the lady orchid, with long and broad leaves and a thick spike with a dense inflorescence, which may have up to a hundred flowers or more. They grow on calcareous soil, often in full sun but also in partly shadowed habitats.


Thursday, March 7, 2013

White Storks nesting on castle ruins

 The White Stork (Ciconia ciconia)
Marius van Heiningen 
I think everybody knows the White Stork, a large white bird with black wings, which builds enormous nests on buildings, electricity masts and trees. And “large” isn´t exaggerated if you look at its dimensions: a standing height of 100 - 125 cm and a maximum wingspan of 215 cm. When I still lived in the Netherlands I remember that the White Stork was one of the most popular birds and that very great efforts were made to encourage them to make their nests in Holland, even appearing regularly on the TV news. When I came to Spain I was stunned by the overwhelming amount of White Storks in the direct neighborhood of my new home, which most certainly surpasses the total population of my native country.  It was very easy to spot colonies of 15 or more nests close together or seeing over 50 Storks foraging in a meadow alongside the road. For data about behaviour, breeding, description, conservation, etc., I refer to a comprehensive report in the Wikipedia.

The White Stork is a migrating bird which stays the winter in Sub-Saharan Africa and breeds mainly in Europe and the Middle East, with a subspecies wintering in India and breeding in Turkestan (map 1). In Europe the storks have two strongholds, the first in Poland and Eastern Europe (about 150.000 pairs) and the second in the Iberian Peninsula (about 40.000 pairs) with very few pairs in western and northern Europe (map 2). In Spain most storks breed in a 250 km wide strip parallel to the border with Portugal (map 3). In the southern Cantabrian Mountains they are common and in the northern part even rare, but in the foothills directly to the south they are extremely common. This great concentration is possibly due to the much sunnier climate, compared with the northern Cantabrian Mountains, and the common practice of irrigation in the form of flooding the meadows, which forces all small animals to crawl above ground. It is really easy to observe a flooded meadow with large groups of storks. In Spain most nest are built in trees, churches and electricity masts, although sometimes they use other structures like the ruins of a castle, as is the case in the next photo report. In our region the first storks arrive at the end of January and normally leave in September or October, but most probably due to the relative soft winters of the last years, lately some birds stay the whole year.

Map 1 shows the breeding and wintering distribution of the White Stork. Map taken from the Wikipedia.


Tuesday, March 5, 2013

A family of Egyptian vultures.

The Egyptian vulture (Neophron percnopterus).


One day in august last year I decided to observe a family of Egyptian vultures, which had their nest situated in one of the fissures of a great limestone cliff, just about a kilometre away from my village. I climbed a parallel limestone ridge to reach a height slightly above the rock shelters on the opposite side of the valley, where I settled comfortably with binoculars and camera ready. For some exciting three hours I kept observing the flights of a pair of Egyptian vultures with their only young and occasionally some griffon vultures. I tried to shoot some photos, but my semi-reflex camera is better in shooting short distances macro-photos than long distance photos of relatively small objects.


On internet there is already a lot of general information available about the Egyptian vulture, so in this post it won´t be repeated, but instead I like to emphasize on the geographic distribution. A search on bird-websites leads to variable data about the number of adult individuals in Europe and Spain, but all reach the same conclusion of an important generalized decline. In the 2008 SEO/birdlife censoring for Spain the results gives 1452 certain pairs and 104 possible pairs, while the whole EU population is estimated at between 1700 and 1800 pairs (Environmental website of the European Commission). So it doesn´t seem unreasonable to consider Spain as the European stronghold of the Egyptian vulture (see map 1).  In recent years the Iberian population has declined more than 25%, mainly because of poisoning caused by the consumption of illegal baits used for predator control. Also the loss of food supplies caused by the sealing of municipal waste dumps, a great decline of the Spanish rabbit population and the current controlling of the disposal of animal carcasses (2002 regulations, trying to avoid the bovine spongiform encephalopathy  (BSE) or better known as mad cow disease). Other important causes are electrocution when colliding with power lines, lead poisoning (from gunshots), collisions with wind turbines, disturbance and habitat loss. Decline in Africa, the Egyptian vulture is a migratory bird, is likely to be caused by loss of food availability (extinction of the African wildlife) and of direct hunting in some places. Therefore the Neophron percnopterus has become in the unfortunate situation of being considered an endangered (EN)-species, which means that there is a high risk of extinction in the wild.
The distribution map of the Virtual Atlas of the “Avifauna Terrestre de España” (Terrestrial Bird-fauna of Spain, map 2) gives a high concentration of pairs in the central and eastern Cantabrian Mountains, together with a general high concentration for the inland of north-east Spain. A 50x50 km frequency grid gives information about the percentage of 10x10 km grids occupied with the species concerned. For instance, when a 50x50 km grid has a frequency value of 60-80%, it means that between 30 and 40 grids of 10x10 km have at least one pairs of Egyptian vultures. From the six 50x50 km grids which together cover the Cantabrian Mountains, the grids number 6 (88%), 4 (80%) and 3 (72%) are placed second, third and fifth in the national rank of grids with the highest frequency (map 2), which highlights the Cantabrian Mountains as an excellent place to spot these beautiful birds.


Sunday, March 3, 2013

Structure of an orchid flower

The structure of an orchid flower

Marius van Heiningen

I decided to write this post because I personally had some difficulty in finding clear pictures which explain the basal anatomy of an orchid flower. It seems that in every picture some basic parts were missing. In this entry I first give a brief summary of the basic parts of a common flower (stamen, carpel, sepals and petals), to continue with the basic parts of an orchid flower and followed by a more detailed description of the gynostemium (column). The structure of the labellum (lip) will be treated in another post because of its great complexity and diversity and its importance for indentifying the exact genera or species.

Very brief summary of a typical flower. 

A typical flower has stamens, carpel(s), a whorl of sepals (calyx) and a whorl of petals (corolla).
A stamen is the pollen-producing male organ of the flower and normally consists of a threadlike filament with an anther on top. It is the anther which produces the pollen. All the stamens together are collectively called the androecium (man´s house).
A carpel is the seed-producing female organ of the flower and normally consists of an ovary, style and stigma. The ovary is the basal part of the carpel where one or more ovules are formed.  The style is a stalk through which the pollen reach the ovules in the ovary. The stigma is usually on top of the style and is often sticky to capture the pollen.
 In many plants the carpels are fused into one or several carpel-like structures. All the carpels together (fused or unfused) are called the gynoecium (woman´s house). In almost all flowers the gynoecium is located in the centre, surrounded by the androecium. Both are surrounded by the perianth.
The perianth is the outer part of the flower consisting of the calyx (the sepals) and the corolla (the petals).  When the sepals and the petals are very similar they are called tepals.

Photo 1 shows a flower of the Turk´s cap lily (Lilium martagon) with a 6 of stamens surrounding a single style with stigma. The flower has 3 petals and 3 sepals which look very much alike (tepals).


Thursday, February 28, 2013

Bloemen in Maart in het Cantabrisch Gebergte, deel 1.


Eind winter: bloemen in het Cantabrisch Gebergte (Asturias).

Halverwege maart zijn we enkele dagen naar het qua klimaat zachtere Asturias geweest, waar vele bloemen al vol in bloei stonden. We hebben zeker 40 verschillende bloemen kunnen fotograferen, waarvan sommige heel algemeen zijn en andere best wel bijzonder. In deze post wordt een kleine verzameling van de gevonden bloemen getoond, terwijl de resterende planten in andere posts aan bod zullen komen.


Wednesday, February 27, 2013

De eerste orchideeën van 2013 in het Cantabrisch Gebergte.

This post in English: Click here.

De reuzenorchis en de bruine ophrys.

In een kort doch aangenaam bezoek aan Asturias, het autonome gebied dat te samen met Cantabria bijna het gehele noordelijke deel van het Cantabrisch Gebergte uitmaken (zie Geopgraphic Location), hebben we de eerste bloeiende orchideeën van dit jaar kunnen waarnemen. Het gaat om de reuzenorchis (Himantoglossum robertianum) en de bruine ophrys (Ophrys fusca). De reuzenorchis staat al in bloei sinds eind februari (persoonlijke communicatie) maar de gevonden bruine ophrys is net in bloei gekomen, met vele exemplaren die nog in de knop zitten. Omdat het de bedoeling is om een geheel artikel te wijden aan elke orchidee afzonderlijk (want dat verdienen ze wel), zal ik nu slechts enkele foto´s tonen. De reuzenorchis is nu niet een orchidee die bepaald veel voorkomt in het Cantabrisch Gebergte, maar we hebben toch verschillende groepjes weten te lokaliseren met tussen de 2 en de 20 bloeiende exemplaren, met een een totaal van ruim 60 orchideeën. Van de Ophrys fusca (bruine ophrys) hebben we een zeer veel belovend gebied pal aan de kust gevonden met vele tientallen planten in bloei.


Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Wilde orchideeën in Spanje: de slanke harlekijn of Anacamptis morio subsp picta.

This post in English: click here.

Een enorm veld vol met tienduizenden slanke harlekijntjes (Anacamptis picta of A. morio subsp. picta).


Zo´n 10 dagen geleden stuiten we bij toeval op een enorm veld vol met wilde orchideeën. Het gaat om een in de streek vrij algemene orchidee, n.l. de slanke harlekijn. De wetenschappelijke naam is Anacamptis morio subsp. picta hoewel veel botanici het beschouwen als een aparte soort, de Anacamptis picta. Maar goed, plotseling zagen we dus een afgezet veld werkelijk afgeladen met orchideeën. Gelukkig werd het veld niet begraasd door vee, hoewel begrazing na de bloeitijd wel positief is voor het orchideeën bestand. Het aantal slanke harlekijntjes dat aanwezig is is werkelijk overweldigend, zodanig zelfs dat er een purperen gloed over het hele veld ligt. De oppervlakte van het veld dat is bedekt met orchideeën is ongeveer 10 hectaren groot (gemeten op luchtfoto´s) en een voorzichtige schatting is dat er beduidend meer dan vijfhonderd duizend (500.000) orchideeën bijeen staan. Zo iets bijzonders moet natuurlijk wel gedeeld worden, hoewel de exacte lokatie natuurlijk niet genoemd kan worden.


Sunday, February 24, 2013

De boomkikker (Hyla arborea molleri).

This post in English: click here.

Een boomkikker in een waterpoel.


Op één van onze botanische speurtochten kwamen we onlangs bij een kleine waterpoel, die gewoonte getrouw even werd onderzocht op de aanwezigheid van amfibieën en welk een verrassing: langs de kant en verscholen tussen het riet zat een boomkikkertje. Bij benadering verdween hij natuurlijk onder water, maar schijnbaar is het diertje daar toch niet zo op z´n gemak want telkens na ongeveer een minuut kwam het al weer boven. Na enkele foto´s besloten we om hem te vangen om de details eens goed te bekijken, hetgeen met een levenslange ontwikkelde techniek niet zo moeilijk is. Na nauwkeurige besturing werd het diertje nog even op een tak gezet voor de foto en zoals gewoonlijk wilde het mijn warme hand maar nauwelijks verlaten. Het diertje werkte goed mee en na enkele foto´s werd het weer teruggezet op de plaats waar het gevangen was.

Informatie over de boomkikker.

In de noordwestelijke helft van het Iberisch Schiereiland is de boomkikker Hyla arborea, vervangen door de ondersoort Hyla arborea subsp. molleri, hoewel veel wetenschappers het ook als een aparte soort beschouwen: de Hyla molleri. Hoe dan ook, de boomkikker is een kleine groene kikker die zich gewoonlijk ophoudt tussen het gebladerte op vochtige plekken in de buurt van water. Deze kikker kan dus goed klimmen hetgeen te danken is aan de hechtschijven op vingers en tenen. Dit beestje heeft een gladde groene huid met aan beide zijden een witomrande zwarte streep langs het gehele lichaam. De onderkant heeft een oker-geelachtige kleur maar is natuurlijk gewoonlijk niet te zien. De pupillen zijn horizontaal en de iris heeft een kleur gelijkend op de onderzijde van de kikker, maar iets geler. Gewoonlijk is deze soort s´nachts actief zodat het een echt buitenkansje was. In Spanje staat deze soort te boek als "bijna bedreigt" en de populaties gaan om verschillende redenen achteruit, waarvan de belangrijkste zijn: de toenemende algemene verdroging van Spanje, afname van de juiste habitats, en contaminatie van het water door agrarische meststoffen waarvoor vooral de larven erg gevoelig zijn.
Het favoriete voedsel bestaat uit insecten en vooral mieren, echter staat het kikkertje zelf ook op het menu van o.a. adders, uilen en torenvalken.