Summer in the Ariège

20th May 2023

The weather is wet and cold and summer is late. There is hardly a butterfly on the wing and the bumblebees and other hymenoptera are moribund on thistles and asphodels. Early spider orchids are still out and there are no signs of spring gentian although trumpets are in flower. Surely temperatures will lift and the sun will be more than a faint glimmer and life will return to the meadows, forests and high alpine pastures.

Even under a grey sky, the meadows above Caussou are stunningly rich, lit up by meadow cranesbills and yellow rattle; the dry grasslands do not appear well advanced; there are crowds of man orchids but only a few cistus and no rock roses. Wood bitter-vetch is common in a damp pasture alongside an emerging butterfly orchid. A combination that is reminiscent of some ancient pastures in mid Wales. And there is a a near total absence of flying insects with only a wall brown and freshly minted common blue on the wing.

Above Col du Marmare, the weather is greyer with a persistent light rain; on the long route up to Col du Fajou the fritillaries and cowslips, meadow saxifrage and early purple and elder-flowered orchids are plentiful. After an hour or so the rain clears; the alpine flora on the steep cliffs of the Col is late and I can only find one reddish saxifrage Saxifraga media plant in flower but the terrain is slippery so the survey was exhausting but not exhaustive. A pair of red-billed and half a dozen alpine choughs turn up and sound like they are both laughing and scolding.

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