Postcards from the Ariège – April 2022

April started with a great blizzard and remained cold for a week or so; when the sun returned and temperatures lifted, the fishermen took to the rivers, trees came into leaf and the first flowers appeared on the bare alpine grasslands. The most captivating was Lady of the Snows Pulsatilla vernalis with vivid, white hairy petals on short stems and which erupted like a rash on the snow-flattened grass. Other early flowering species included purple saxifrage which was common on the outcrops at Col de Pailhères as well as the more ubiquitous but always vivid gentians, Gentiana vernalis and G. occidentalis.

At the Orlu nature reserve, access is restricted to the main path that runs through the beautiful valley so catching a brief view of a Pyrenean desman on a tiny stream as well as the more abundant marmots and isard or Pyreneans chamois was remarkably lucky. Here too lammergeiers were frequent in the lower valley where the steep cliffs probably provide a nest site. The beechwoods above Caussou put on their first leaf with swathes of squill and bittercress rapidly and briefly carpeting the bare floor. The high meadow grasslands were littered with elder-flowered orchids in their ice cream colours of vanilla and raspberry as well as abundant Pyrenean fritillaries.

And April 2022 was the year of the French presidential election, where a dozen hopefuls were quickly whittled to just two as recorded outside every Mairie in a series of uniform but often creatively disfigured posters.

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