Tuesday, 30 March 2010


Rained in again, this morning. The weather is not good, but at least it is not as bad as it has been over the winter. This was brought to mind yesterday as I read an article about how our small birds have suffered in the cold. Our Long-tailed Tits have suffered badly. At the start of the winter, our fat-balls regularly had six or eight of these little, feathered beauties pecking at them. Now, we have just two! It's all rather sad.
On a brighter note, we had some wonderful views of waterfowl a few days ago as we walked around Shipley Park. It all started as we watched a pair of courting Great Crested Grebes (Podiceps cristatus). They approached each other.....
Then they started to display their magnificent 'ruffs' of reddish, rusty, orange feathers.
A few seconds later, they both dived beneath the surface, emerging with gifts of weed for each other which they presented with such care and delicacy, you just had to smile.
To end this courtship display, they suddenly rose up on furiously paddling legs and began to dance across the water. A more touching, fantastic and wondrous display, you could never wish to see. Such a privilege to be allowed to witness it.
To end with, we were able to get lovely views of a Pochard (Aythya ferina) as it swam among the Mallards on the lake at Straw's Bridge. This is a male bird and much more showy than the rather drab female.

Monday, 29 March 2010


What a day! It was very cold this morning, so no walk around the countryside for us today. Instead, Malcolm and i took the opportunity to take a little retail therapy around Aldi.
In the last few days we have seen some lovely signs of Spring, it seems such a shame that we have lurched backward into Winter. One sign of Spring the other day, was the appearance of some invertebrates in our garden. Firstly, an insect which as kids, we used to know as a Sun Beetle. It is actually a Ground Beetle with the catchy name of Pterostichus madidus.
Another small creature found trotting across our patio the other day was this little chap - a Striped Millipede (Ommatoiulus sabulosus) going about it's business oblivious to me and my intrusive camera lens.
An animal I have mentioned before on this blog, was to be seen jumping around on the fence. The tiny, Zebra jumping Spider (Salticus scenicus). It is unbelievable, how these little spiders can leap up and down vertical surfaces with such ease. How does it do that?
No sign of any bugs and beetles this morning, they would have been washed out in the rain.

Sunday, 28 March 2010


You always know that Easter is on it's way, when the weather forecast mentions high winds, heavy rain, hail, sleet and snow. I hope things do not get too cold again as the hedgerows are full of flower buds at the moment and any hard frost will inevitably result in them being nipped off. Among the most common flowers which are showing at the moment, there are these tiny individuals.
They belong to the Hazel (Corylus avellana)trees and are the the female flowers, the male ones being the more familiar 'catkins' which dangle in the wind sending out clouds of pollen with each passing breeze. Getting close to the female flowers, you can see how attractive they are.
The Willow trees are also in flower now and are showing some beautiful yellow stamens, particularly when viewed against a sunny, blue sky.
Another yellow flower blooming in profusion at the moment are the Coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara). This plant has been used for years as a treatment for coughs. The name 'Tussilago' means 'Cough Suppressant'. If dried and smoked, the plant is also supposed to be an effective treatment for other lung problems such as asthma - wouldn't like to try it though!
By the way, thought it was about time I had a change to the look of my blog. Do hope you like the new layout and colour theme.

Saturday, 27 March 2010

Last of Benidorm

Some will no doubt be pleased to hear that these will be the last of my pictures of Benidorm - for the time being!
A few more flowers to start with. The first is another familiar garden, summer bedding plant in Britain, which is to be found growing wild almost everywhere in Spain. Sweet Alison, or Alysum (Lobularia maritima) carpets this part of the country, especially near the coast - as the Latin name suggests.
Next, a larger shrub which is fairly common on the Mediterranean coast, looking like a soft-leaved version of Rosemary, this is a Germander called Teucrium pseudochamaepitys.
A bird now, and another common sight and sound in Spain. The Serin (Serinus serinus). This small, yellowish finch has the most fantastic song. Fast, high-pitched and squeaky, it has been described as sounding like glass splintering.
Next, another species new to me. The common or Red Crossbill (Loxia curvirostra)is to be found in Britain, but I have never seen one here. In Benidorm however, there were many of them flitting around the pine trees on our way up the Sierra Helada.
This bird was a female and is rather less colourful than the male, but the main reason to be excited about this bird is the sight of it's extraordinary beak. Designed to extricate small pine seeds from the cones, it is crossed at the end so as to be able to prise the pine scales apart. Quite fascinating.

Friday, 26 March 2010

Long Walk

On the middle Saturday, Malcolm and I took a long walk (a round trip of a little over 10 miles in all), to the small resort to the south of Benidorm, known as Finestrat. The small beach is rather lovely, but the town itself is very busy with building works and on the day we were there, a market.
From the seafront, you can see the northern end of Benidorm, from where we had walked that morning. You can just make it out in this picture, between the rocks.
Growing all along the seafront, were lots of white, frothy flowers growing in the sandy soil. They are White Mignonette (Reseda alba).
Making our way back to our apartment, we walked past the imposing edifice of the Gran Bali Hotel. At 610 ft high, it is the tallest building in Spain and the second Tallest hotel in Europe.
Completed in 2002, it was built entirely without need for loans, which is why it took 14 years to build. This is one of only 9 buildings on the European continent that reach 50 or more storeys.
There are 2 separate panoramic elevators which can also be used in case of an emergency. What a sight!

Thursday, 25 March 2010

Still More Flowers

Are you fed up yet with the floral theme?
Looking like a common Dandelion, this glorious little jewel of a flower is actually called Reichardia tingitana. The dark, central area of the flowers makes them stand out among the Dandelions.
I was most excited about the next flower. As we were looking around the scrub which surrounds the Cross at the top of the hill, there were several, small, pinkish-looking flower spikes poking out of the ground. Closer inspection revealed a magical and fantastic little gem of a plant. The Sawfly Orchid (Ophrys tenthredinifera).
A member of the family of Bee Orchids, it has no scent or nectar to attract the insects which pollinate it. Instead, it relies on mimicking the insect and fooling it into thinking it's a mate. What a beautiful little flower.
Another plant, new to me, was equally spectacular and bizarre. This time, a parasitic species which has no chlorophyll with which to produce it's energy, so parasitises it's host plant, taking what it needs. There are dozens of types of Broomrapes, differing depending on their choice of host plant. These are called Slender Broomrape (Orobanche gracilis var. gracilis) and grows on the roots of various members of the Pea family.
The tall flower spikes are beautiful, but get closer, and the individual flowers are rather beautiful and not a little strange.

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

More Flowers

More today from the world of flowers in Benidorm. Firstly a rather diminutive, white flower which is to be found hugging the ground and scrambling about the stems of other plants. Firstly a member of the Sandwort family with a rather catchy little name of Arenaria montana subsp. intricata.
Another member of the Pea family next - there seem to be so many of them. This one stands about 3ft high and has grey-green, hairy leaves and the brightest yellow flowers. Called, Broom-like Kidney Vetch (Anthyllis cytisoides), it is a common and lovely shrub in these parts.
A couple of pictures of the same plant next. The Mallow-leaved Storksbill (Erodium malacoides) has a delicate little pink flower.
The name Erodium comes from the Greek for Heron and this is because of the seed pods of the plant which are supposed to resemble the Heron's Beak.
Lastly for today, one of the most iconic plants of the Mediterranean. The Pitch Trefoil (Psoralea bituminosa). Another member of the Pea Family, it is supposed to smell strongly of pitch when bruised, although I am yet to notice this particular trait.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Bugs and Birds

Benidorm in the Spring is, like everywhere in Europe, full of bugs of various kinds. So, here are some we came across.
Firstly a diminutive little insect which we found on our last morning in Benidorm as we sat in the sunshine by the 'Castle' at the southern end of the Sierra Helada. A Black (and very shiny) Ant (I think Alloformica undet). Quite large as ants go, it looked as if it would pack a decent nip if you got too close. I just couldn't get over how shiny it was. If you look closely, you can even see my reflection in it's abdomen as I took it's picture!
The next insect has to be one of the most horrible-looking things. It is a Glow-Worm larvae (Lampyris noctiluca)and was toddling it's way across the path to the 'Castle'. They feed on snails, and I expect you don't need to look particularly good if you spend your life face down in a snails entrails!
A far more beautiful creature next. Again, spotted on our last morning in Benidorm, this insect was found huddled into a corner of our balcony. A large and rather gorgeous Silver-Striped Hawkmoth (Hippotion celerio) with a wingspan of about 4". The larvae of this moth feed on Bedstraws and Willowherbs.
A couple of birds to finish with. Firstly, when you walk around the old town of Benidorm, you cannot fail to notice all the white doves flying around - particularly around the Elche Park area, where many people feed them and they bathe in the ornamental fountains there.
Lastly, a very common little wild bird, the Black Redstart (Phoenicurus ochruros). Flitting all over the place like sparrows they constantly flick their tails as if they are on a tight spring. A lovely little bird, this one was seen hopping around the scrubland up at the Cross on the hill overlooking the town.

Monday, 22 March 2010


In Benidorm, there is always something to set you back on your heels and make you doubt your eyes. This time was no exception. Some of the more exotic things to be seen included both plants and birds. To start with, perhaps the most exotic plant anywhere to be seen. Called a Parrot Bill vine (Lotus berthelotii), this one was tumbling down the walls of an equally exotic villa on the hillside of the Sierra Helada. Stunning!
An exotic plant with which you may be more familiar, is the Freesia. A well known and well loved flower of almost every supermarket bouquet, they are best known for their rich, sweet fragrance. Here, they were, Freesias (Freesia refracta), growing wild amongst the grasses and Thyme plants.
Maybe a little less exotic, but equally well known are the bearded Irises and, yet again, here they are growing wild amid the grasses of the Sierra Helada. These are German Irises (Iris germanica).
Without doubt, the most exotic thing we saw during our stay in Benidorm this time, took us completely by surprise as it appeared in a pine tree close to our apartment. We had just finished our lunch and were finishing off the glass of wine which accompanied it, when a pair of birds caught my eye in the top of a nearby pine. Grabbing the camera and the binoculars to get a better look, I was stumped to put a name to them. Convinced they were not native birds to Europe, the name 'Bulbul' came to mind, although there was no way of confirming it at the time. Back home and trawling through the net to identify these birds, I find that they were indeed Bulbuls - hooray! To be precise, Red-whiskered Bulbuls (Pycnonotus jocosus). Natives of the far east, they will be very much at home in this area of Spain as they love to eat the fruits of Loquats, Ficus trees, and many other plants which grow in abundance around here.
About the size of a large thrush, they were rather too far away to get a good picture, but here is another picture taken from the Internet just for reference. From HERE.

Sunday, 21 March 2010

In The Pink

Moving on from the yellow theme of yesterday, we move on to those pink flowers which are much in evidence at the moment. Starting with another common plant which seems to be all over the place around the hills of the Sierra Helada and one which will be familiar to most of us. The Common Thyme (Thymus vulgaris).
Fragrant and rather beautiful to look at, you need to get up-close and personal with this one in order to see the tiny flowers at their best.
Anyone who is familiar with British wild flowers, will know the Campions and Catchfly plants which bloom around our countryside in the summer. Over in Benidorm, we found this little member of that family which bizarrely, had both pink and white flowers on the same plant! Silene secundiflora is quite a mouthful for a name for this delicate little plant.
Popular in most British gardens is the Dianthus family which include such flowers as Carnations, Sweet William, etc. A rather scrubby and straggly member of this family was to be found around the hills of Benidorm. Dianthus broteri has the most delicately coloured, pink flowers which look as if they have been torn apart in the wind. A more ragged flower you will not find.
Yet another garden favourite here in Britain is the Gladiolus. Again, there is a wild version to be found in Spain. The field gladiolus (Gladiolus italicus) has very showy, deep pink blooms on architectural stems growing on some very inaccessible parts.
One of the most common flowers of Spain and an iconic image of that country, is the Cistus family of plants. Here, the Grey-leaved Cistus (Cistus albidus) has papery, pink flowers about 4" across with a bright yellow centre of stamens, which make a wonderful show against the pale grey/green leaves.

Saturday, 20 March 2010


Continuing our theme of yellow plants in full bloom at the moment, one of the most common plants is a member of the cabbage family. not that you would know it as you glance at its minute flowers. Carrichtera annua has flowers only about half an inch across, but are no less beautiful for their diminutive proportions.
Far more showy and much more brightly coloured is this low growing, creeping plant known as a Sea Aster (Asteriscus maritimus).
Rather more spiny and prickly, is a relative of the thistles called Field Eryngo (Eryngium campestre). This is a useful medicinal herb and is used to treat whooping cough and urinary infections. The root can be candied and eaten as a sweet.
Another spiny one - although not so prickly as the last plant - is the Pallenis spinosa. Related to sunflowers, it's bracts which surround the inflorescence are tipped with a spine.
Lastly for today, we move away from the yellow theme to look at another very common plant. The Dorycnium (Dorycnium pentaphyllum). This has numerous, tiny pinkish-white flowers which are borne in little whorls at the ends of the stems. You will have to look very closely to see the true beauty of this one as the individual flowers are so small. But it's well worth the effort.