Wild Sardinia

If you read my blog regularly you will know that I recently celebrated a big birthday and my wonderful husband announced he would take me on holiday to celebrate. We decided on the island of Sardinia and spent a long weekend there at the beginning of the month – not quite long enough in the end, I wished I could have stayed longer! Anyhow, despite being a holiday I couldn’t leave my camera behind so I thought I’d share a few images with you in this week’s post.

We flew to Cagliari in the far south of the island, in fact we didn’t have much choice about that at this time of year. It was a warm but rather flat grey day when we arrived but that didn’t bother us too much as we were already into the afternoon and had a long drive ahead of us to find our hotel near Alghero. We soon found our way onto the motorway and I was doing my usual trick of trying to tell what the wildflowers were on the verge as we passed them at high speed. The countryside was beautiful beyond the verges too and we enjoyed the journey despite some interesting Italian driving styles!

The following morning we decided to explore the area around our hotel a little. We headed through the lovely little coastal town of Alghero and out towards a Regional Park called Porto Conte. There were lots of Acacia trees flowering along the roadsides and despite being an introduced species they provided a wonderful golden glow to welcome the day.

We soon found a car park from which we could take a walk, albeit slightly by accident! The sun was shining, the sky was blue, but it was still cool so we donned coats and boots and set off. We didn’t get very far before I was in my normal position crouched over a new plant taking photos with my poor husband waiting for me. There were so many different things to take in being our first full day on the island, let’s just say the first hundred yards were definitely the slowest!

One of the beauties I stopped to photograph was this stunning Allium subhirsutum, a member of the onion family.

 

Allium-subhirsutum

 

This was just one of a host of flowering plants growing under the pine trees at the beginning of our walk with others including Narrow Leaved Cistus, Star Clover, Euphorbia wulfenii, and Allium trifoliatum. I also found a single Tongue Orchid but it was impossible to photograph tucked under the shrubs down a steep bank. There was lots of evidence of Wild Boar digging for roots and tubers on the forest floor. Darting in and out of the shade under the trees were also masses of butterflies, here all the Southern form of Speckled Wood with a more orange hue than ours in Britain. I managed to capture an image of one as it basked on a sunlit stone.

 

Southern-Speckled-Wood

 

There were quite a few other insects too, particularly in the sunnier spots. My husband spotted a bee-fly nectaring on a Cistus flower so I stopped to take a few photos as it buzzed from flower to flower in search of its sweet reward.

 

Cistus-&-bee-fly

 

Of course, where there are insects there are plenty of things which feed on them. We were surrounded by birdsong, Chaffinches, Firecrests and Sardinian Warblers for the most part, making a wonderful sonic backdrop. There were absolutely masses of lizards too, with almost every other step we would hear a sharp scuttle and see them dart off the path. This individual was obliging enough to stop under a Dwarf Fan Palm for me to take a snap.

 

Tyrrhenian-Wall-Lizard

 

As we climbed the hill, the forest opened out into Maquis, a rough scrubland with Juniper, wild Rosemary, Agaves and a whole host of different plants. Amongst them I came across the intriguing greenish-yellow flower of Fringed Rue. I rather like its little frilly petals and this one is sporting a fetching spidery decoration too.

 

Fringed-Rue

 

We were heading towards Punta Giglio, a towering rocky outcrop overlooking the sea where the remains of settlement from the Second World War stand watch over turquoise coves and offer views across to the spectacular cliffs of Capo Caccia and its lighthouse. Near the entrance to one of the buildings we spotted a small bluish-white butterfly flitting from flower to flowering when it settled for a moment or two I managed to capture a few images. At first I thought it was a female Orange Tip but on closer inspection it was an endemic species, the Corsican Dappled White. A very attractive butterfly, here settled on a Bugloss flower.

 

Corsican-Dappled-White

 

Wandering on through the empty building and out into the sunshine on the other side I was met with a sea of Yellow Crown Daisies. Face down in one I found a White Spotted Rose Beetle feasting on pollen.

 

Crown-daisy-&-beetle

 

Suddenly my husband called out that he’d seen a snake and I looked round just in time to see it slip off the step of another nearby ruin and into the undergrowth. We later concluded that it was a Western Whip Tailed Snake. I was a little disappointed to have missed a photo opportunity but mostly pleased to have seen it.

Further along the headland I found some impressive specimens of Illyrian Sea Lily amongst the Tree Spurge and Junipers. We climbed up to one of the gun emplacements which nature is slowly reclaiming and took in a wonderful view across the bay.

 

Punta-Giglio

 

Above us Swallows were joined by Crag Martins, Swifts and a couple of Alpine Swift with distinctive white bellies and calling loudly as they wheeled after insects in the updraft from the sea below. We sat in the sun watching them for a while and drinking in the fresh spring air and herbal scents around us.

 

Alpine-Swift

 

Having reached Punta Giglio we started our return journey and took a looping path that dropped us back to sea level and along the coastline. We had continued to see more butterflies all along the walk but most had been zipping at high speed. There were Red Admirals, Small Copper and Common Blue as well as quite a few Swallowtails. I managed a poor record shot of one Swallowtail which allowed us to identify it as a Common Swallowtail rather than the endemic subspecies. It was a slight shame but I’ve no doubt that by the numbers we saw there was a large possibility that one of them had been a local. The visual differences are so minor that it would have been impossible to tell them apart in flight!

Our return journey did yield a few new species of plant including Tassel Hyacinths and a pink flowered Cistus, as well as a photo opportunity for one of my favourites. On the way up, I had noticed lots of Barbary Nut buds but none were open yet. These little Irises come out during the morning and are over by the evening. Finding a couple open, I couldn’t resist a shot or two.

 

Barbary-nut

 

After a spot of lunch we drove out to Capo Caccia where we got some fantastic views back to where we had just been walking and looking north over the impressive Isola di Foradada. We then drove on up the coast to a little bay called Porticciolo where we there was a lovely viewpoint. Here I found a swathe of Three-Cornered Leeks and from here on they seemed to be everywhere we went!

 

Three-cornered-leek

 

Our final stop of the day was at Lago di Baratz, the island’s only natural freshwater lake which backs onto a large dune system. We sat by the water watching damselflies and a large number of Coots chasing each other around with great squawking and splashing. Under the trees I found Giant Orchids which were past their best and another type with which I was unfamiliar; Gennaria is a small orchid with yellowish green flowers, bearing a passing resemblance to Twayblades that we find in Britain but with a slightly different flower shape and leaves which alternate up the stem. Just nearby I also came across another personal favourite, Spring Cyclamen which were in deep shade amongst the understory. I found one bathed in light and took this photo which almost seems to glow.

 

Wild-cyclamen

 

We enjoyed enormous pizzas in the restaurant near our hotel that evening and spent our time discussing the beautiful discoveries we had made in our first few hours on this stunning jewel of an island.

The next morning we woke to a cloudier outlook and decided to head south along the coast to see if we could find some sunshine. Having stopped to provision a picnic with delicious local breads, cheese and cured meats, we set out at a leisurely pace along the coast road towards Bosa. Every now and then, rounding a bend we could see Alghero behind us and the rocky coastline winding its way ahead.

 

Alghero

 

The clouds closed in and we met a little rain storm but were soon out into sunshine the other side. The road reminded us rather of the Pacific Coast Highway in California, winding along the edge of the mountains, hugging the coast all the way and with fantastic views on every side. The hillsides were covered in yellow Broome while Purple Bugloss, a small blue Lupin and Pink Butterfly Orchids adorned the verge. We stopped briefly on a couple of occasions to take in the views and identify the odd flower. One such pause led to an enjoyable few minutes watching Sardinian Warblers in the scrubby bushes up the hill followed by a glimpse of a pair of Griffon Vultures soaring high above and disappearing into the clouds.

Continuing further south we lost the cloud cover entirely and emerged into glorious sunshine. We ended up on the Sinis peninsula near Oristano at a Phoenician archaeological site called Tharros. The dunes surrounding it were covered in all manner of wildflowers including Algerian Tea, Sea Meddick, Three Horned Stock and Purple Bugloss to name few. There were Clouded Yellow and Painted Lady butterflies battling the strong sea breeze to visit them and we thoroughly enjoyed wandering through the dunes admiring the colours against a turquoise sea.

We were about to turn back for the car when I suddenly spotted a gem of a flower that I had really hoped that we might see; a Mirror Orchid. Needless to say I was over the moon and set about photographing it.

 

Mirror-orchid

 

After lunch we took a looping route home and stopped at a tidal lagoon nearby with the hope of seeing some special birds; Greater Flamingos. We were in luck as there was a small flock feeding in the shallows. They were beautiful to watch but they did insist on facing the other way!

 

Flamingos

 

We met the rain again on our return journey but we did make a couple of brief stops when it eased, the first to look at a Woodchat Shrike (where we also heard a cuckoo), and the second to visit a Dolmen – a huge stone Neolithic tomb. The latter was surrounded by Tongue Orchids and Pink Butterfly Orchids as well as the now ever-present Three Cornered Leek. It was a beautiful spot and there wasn’t a soul there save three lovely donkeys under the trees up the hill but the rain returned once more and so we wound our way homewards.

That evening we had booked ourselves into a local Agrituristica where we enjoyed an absolute feast of a meal. Almost all the ingredients had been produced on this traditional farm and cooked with love. The delicious dishes just kept coming, over fifteen courses in all! I think its fair to say we virtually rolled back to our car, we were ridiculously full!

The sunshine had returned by morning and we set off to explore some more of the island. We took a few little detours down scenic side roads where our first find of the day were Man Orchids growing in thick drifts beneath a damp rock face.

 

Man-orchid

 

After a short hop on the motorway we headed towards the mountains in the centre of the island. Our journey was studded with beautiful views, Kestrels and Lesser Kestrels hovering by the roadside, Corn Buntings singing from telegraph wires and wonderful local architecture along the way. There was also a bank swathed in a mass of Pink Butterfly Orchids which we turned the car around to admire.

 

Pink-butterfly-orchid

 

We stopped to admire the scenery too on a couple of occasions, including this vista overlooking Lago del Cedrino.

 

Lago-del-Cedrino

 

There was still a snowy covering on some of the taller mountains and while we would have loved to explore further we were already rather a long way from our hotel so decided to take a scenic route home and vowed that we would come back another time to take it all in.

That evening we enjoyed a lovely walk along the harbour in Alghero watching the sunset amongst the bobbing yachts.

Our final full day on wild Sardinia began with a short walk from our hotel. There were a few new flowers and lots of birds including Swifts and Alpine Swifts, House Martins, Swallows, Stonechats and Corn Buntings to name a few. The lizards were out in force and we saw another Western Whip Tailed Snake basking against a rock on the hotel drive. There were lots of tiny solitary bees making the most of any pollen available.

 

bee

 

Returning from our walk we set out north towards Capo Falcone. We stopped for a blissful hour or two on Salines beach near the small town of Stintino. From here we had wonderful views across to Corsica and Isola Assinara across yet more turquoise sea. The best part though was that while I’m not one to lie on a beach doing nothing when on holiday, I was able to do just that as the beach was backed by a nature reserve so we could bird watch to our hearts content. There was a wonderful mix including a colony of Common Terns, a small flock of feeding Greater Flamingo, Dunlin and Ringed Plover foraging in the wet sand, Cattle and Little Egrets fishing in the shallow pools and Shell Ducks sleeping in the sun.

 

Saline, Stintino

 

We enjoyed lunch in a waterside restaurant in Stintino, watching a myriad of fish below, before returning to Lago di Baratz for a walk along the shore. Here we were greeted by a chorus of tree frogs and a particularly loud Cetti’s Warbler singing in the reed bed. It was a lovely relaxed day.

Our final morning was mostly taken up with the journey back towards the airport but we did stop for one last fix before we gave the hire car back. On the edge of Cagliari is a lovely wetland area with salt pans where we saw hundreds upon hundreds of Flamingos feeding, some in so deep they looked like bizarre pink swans! They were joined by Slender Billed Gulls and the pools were fringed with yet more lovely flowers.

 

Slender-billed-Gull

 

Sadly it was time to head back to reality but having discovered this jewel of the Mediterranean I’ve no doubt we will be making a return visit!

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The colour of spring

Recently, while looking through some photos I’d taken, I noticed a common theme. Apart from the green of new growth there is one colour which stands out at this time of year: Yellow. I would go so far as to call it the colour of spring, for it isn’t anywhere near as prevalent at any other time of year among wild flowers.

Stop to think for a while of spring flowers and among those emblematic of the season are a great number of yellow blooms: Daffodils, aconites, primroses, cowslips, oxlips, lesser celandine, kingcups…

 

yellow cowslip - the colour of spring

 

There are others too though not necessarily associated with spring, they can be found flowering now too: Gorse, buttercups and dandelions for example.

 

buttercup

 

That said, yellow isn’t perhaps strictly the only colour of spring, as white – if you can call it a colour (that’s a whole other discussion!) – is also common at this time of year.

Snowdrops are perhaps the most obvious that come to mind, shortly followed by others like wood anemone, blackthorn blossom, greater stitchwort, wild garlic and jack-by-the-hedge.

 

snowdrops

 

Wood-Anemone

 

Greater-Stitchwort

 

Of course they aren’t the only colours either, there are vibrant purple violets, wonderful sapphire bluebells, delicate pink herb robert, mauve ground ivy daintily speckled with maroon and all manner of others in between. But none of these really proliferate through so many species, even if bluebells do form magnificent carpets of colour that can dominate an entire woodland floor!

 

ground-ivy

 

The idea intrigued me and having done a little reading around the subject it would appear that there are several theories as to why shades of yellow and white are the colours of spring.

Firstly, being brighter colours, they are easily spotted by what few pollinators are around in the cooler weather conditions. Next, the paler colours soak up the warmth from the weak winter sun more efficiently in relation to their background foliage and than darker coloured flowers which generally emerge later in the season. This allows them to develop better and remain fertile even in colder temperatures.

Fascinating stuff – I love it when a simple observation leads me to such an interesting concept!

Next time you’re out and about take a look around you and see what you notice about our native wildlife, perhaps you’ll have a similar revelation… let me know if you do!

 

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