Ariège Wildlife Report by Graham Hart
Graham Hart has lived in Ariège since May 1998 and has known the area since 1991. He has a life-long interest in natural history, which started with butterflies and birds and now includes other insects (especially moths) and flowers. He leads butterfly watching holidays in the region and is writing a book on the butterflies of Ariège. When not out chasing butterflies Graham works as a vet in Ax-les-Thermes.
The weather was in general rather mild with a good lot of sunny days as well as some snow quite low down. Towards the end of the month it was very mild and I even saw butterflies flying at over 2000m!
Things have started to hot up, Orange Tip was spotted about the middle of the month and by the month end they were out in good numbers. Brimstones were seen regularly as were Peacock, Comma, Red Admiral and of course, Small Tortoiseshell. To add to this Large Tortoiseshells have been seen regularly throughout the second half of the month and its close relative the Camberwell Beauty is also putting in regular appearances. On the 26th I went skiing at Pas de le Case in Andorra, just over the boarder from Ariège. When we arrived the temperature outside was 6°C at 2000m, exceedingly mild for 9 oclock in the morning at that altitude! In the early afternoon I spotted no less than two Camberwell Beauties flying along over the pistes towards woodland, I was astonished! Then three days later at my local ski station at Ax Les Thermes, at about the same altitude, I spotted two Small Tortoishells flitting around. Spring has really arrived!!!
Other sightings were Sooty Copper on the 15th, Small White on the 16th, Green veined White on the 18th, Small Copper, Weaver's Fritillary and Speckled Wood on the 19th. A surprisingly early Oberthurs Grizzled Skipper appeared on the 26th, followed by Holly Blue on the 28th and Small Heath on the 29th.
The spring flowers are now out in profusion. For me the prettiest spring flower of March is the Hepatica, which is very wide spread at medium and high altitudes here. It is found in its three colour forms, blue, white and pink. They can often be seen together, with the pink form being rather more unusual than the others.
Cowslips were well in bud by the month end, and I have seen lots of leaf rosettes of orchids which will be flowering in a few weeks.
Things are going well with the Lammergeiers, they are feeding their youngster who is doing well. The song birds are singing away in the mornings now. The commonest are the Black Cap and the Robin. Crag Martins can now be seen in some numbers flying up and down, mostly near rivers, catching little insects. These should soon be joined by the House Martins and Swallows.