La Mancha August 2013 | Weeks 3, 4 & 5 – Semanas III, IV, V

This post is going to be shorter and more random than the last one, as for one reason or another we didn't end up doing as much this past three weeks but I'm going to write about some of the highlights. 

Madrid: We went to Madrid on the 14th September, one of my favourite cities and the first stop was the Real Jardín Botánico. What an amazing place! As we walked beside the gardens and approached the entrance, the sound of parakeets resonated everywhere. The gardens are phenomenal with plants familiar to me from England such as Quercus robur (English Oak), alongside more exotic species such as Hibiscus syriacus, and Spanish endemisms such as the Canarian Palm (Phoenix canariensis).
    As we were walking around, I noticed a large butterfly flying around - A MONARCH! - I couldn't believe my eyes, as it was one of those species that was so familiar to me but not in the flesh. One of the best nature moments ever for me, and I even managed a decent-ish picture was a miracle for me.

Monarch Butterfly Danaeus plexippus

Plants: As with the last trip, Gui and I spent some time collecting plants for our herbariums. One day, in what I think was the third week, we once again spent the day in the mountains in the south of the province. This time we went to a different area to the previous, and instead went to the Riópar area. One of the most amazing places I have ever visited, which we visited that day was El Nacimiento del Rio Mundo. Mountains, waterfalls, pines, vultures... what more could you want! And an amazing array of flora. Ferns were one of the main plants we saw this trip, and the park of the Nacimiento del Rio Mundo was no exception. We saw four species on the site alone; Asplenium trichomanes, Ceterach officinarium, Adiantum capillus-veneris, and Pteridium aquilinum; one of our most familiar and widespread Fern species: Bracken. As if five species of these fascinating plants wasn't enough, whilst driving through Riópar on the way for Lunch; Gui spotted some Equisetums (Horsetails) on the outskirts of the village. After Lunch we stopped off to get some cuttings for our herbarium and after some identification at home we came to the conclusion of Equisetum telmateia. One of the most interesting additions! 
        Although we did get many other species, I'm going to save it all for a Herbarium post which you can expect at some point in the future so I can go into a bit more detail, and also due to the fact that I am not with them right now and have forgotten most of them. 

Dotterels: Our last wildlife trip out was to see one of the most beautiful waders: the Dotterel (Charadrius morinellus). We (Rafa, Gui and I) didn't have to journey far as in Albacete, the sandy, agricultural land in the outskirts of the city provides a great stopping ground for these birds whilst on passage. We first travelled down some of the many dirt tracks which wove between the fields, but were unsuccessful on the Dotterel front for a while, though we did see Short-toed Eagle (Circaetus gallicus), and my first views of one not in flight, as well as Black Kite (Milvus migrans), Marsh Harrier (Circus aeruginosus), Little Owl (Athene noctua), and always lovely, a Hoopoe (Upupa epops). When we arrived at the site of the Dotterels, we were traversing the sandy field, trying not to sink in when Gui spotted a strange looking falcon. On the first glance, Hobby seemed the obvious option as the behaviour was very much the same; chasing a Hirundine. However after having a closer look, the shape was not Swift-like like a hobby, and the bird was slightly larger and furthermore different in colour. After a moment of pondering, Rafa confirmed that it was in fact an Eleonora's Falcon; a lifer for Gui and I as we had missed out the last time in Spain, as Rafa had seen some in the same site just a couple of days after we went. As if this wasn't awesome enough, within a minute or so of the sighting, we finally found our Dotterels. At first, we didn't get such great views but they were quite obliging and on getting closer I even managed to get an ok photo. We walked on further, towards the car and found a field full of individuals, and got even better views, but as we did the sun started to go down and so it was time to head home.

Short-toed Eagle feeding on a Woodpigeon


And that's it for the Spain reports for now, though I am hoping to return at Christmas for the third instalment!