Picris willkommii is a member of the Asteraceae (Daisy) family, and as a non-botanist I would have likely overlooked it among the dwarf Pallensis spinosa and Corn Marigolds with which it was growing. The ICUN Red List of Threatened Species lists it as Endangered. P. willkommii is a south-west Iberia endemic with a very restricted range and is only known from two adjacent localities, one in the hills around Ayamonte, Huelva, Spain, the other just across the border in Portugal.
We parked on the verge of the N122 just outside the built-up area of Castro Marim and walked into a field with scattered Almond trees. Immediately, we located several blooms, their dark centres readily distinguishing them, although it is their purplish-tipped sepals that are diagnostic. It was a sobering experience to be standing in an unexceptional field beside a main road staring at a small yellow ox-tongue, knowing its very existence is in the balance. Continuing urban development around Ayamonte threatens the plant’s survival in the wild, while overgrazing is a further hazard. Studies in Spain, where it may already be extinct, could result in the species’ status being upgraded to Critically Endangered (Valdés & Caldas 2011).
After an exceptionally wet spring high hopes for a good orchid season in the Algarve were, by and large, justified. Early species such as Ophrys fusca and Neotinea tridentata subsp. conica (formerly Orchis conica) were rather later because wet weather usually means slightly cooler conditions. The Algarve spring starts well before the turn of the year when the first rains of the autumn/winter kickstart the growth of plants, and we have often found Ophrys fusca in full flower in sheltered positions in December and January.
Our orchid hunting trip which began in early April this year felt late in the circumstances but, as always, the orchids managed to confound us in surprising ways. The spring of 2016 was an exceptional year for Heart-flowered Tongue Orchids - Serapias cordigera, but on this trip we failed to find any open before we left at the end of the month. We did, however, find plenty of Serapias lingua, Serapias parviflora and a few Serapias lingua subsp. duriaei (Syn. Serapias strictiflora) in full flower. The Heart-flowered Tongue Orchids returned to their usual status of 'wonderful but occasional finds'.
Our books and website on the subject of wildlife in the Algarve always gives us special impetus to try and find different and unusual things to photograph or report, and thanks to our network of wildlife enthusiasts throughout the region, this year was no exception. Prior to leaving Wales we had had a report of colonies of the relatively rare subspecies of Anacamptis morio, Champagne Orchid Anacamptis morio subsp. champagneuxii. As we had not found any for several years we kept a special look out for them on all our forays and finally succeeded on our final day of hunting high up in the hills behind Monchique where there were several groups of plants. They were kept company by Southern Early-purple Orchid Orchis olbiensis and some particularly fine specimens of Dense-flowered Orchid Neotinea maculata (formerly Orchis intacta).
Another surprise was the finding by Tricia Bechgaard of a white Pyramidal Orchid Anacamptis pyramidalis var. alba. We met Tricia several years ago and she told me that she had once found a white specimen of Pyramidal Orchid but that it had not reappeared in the intervening years. We have failed to find a white specimen in the Algarve during our many trips but now we have a new one to show off.
Earlier we had been informed about and had a picture sent to us of a hybrid between the Mirror Orchid Ophrys speculum and the Sawfly Orchid Ophrys tenthredinifera. This wonderful discovery was made by Margaret Munro to the west of Monte Gordo.
Last but not least, the 'new' colony of Bug Orchids Anacamptis coriophora found by Carla Cabrita (Walkin'Sagres...) remains intact at Vale de Telha far out in the west of the Algarve although the significantly larger plants are somewhat fewer in number this year than in 2016 when we first saw them.
A mavellous colony of Bug Orchids have been found in the Vale de Telha area of the Algarve. The Bug Orchid is one of the most difficult to find of the numerous wild orchids species to occur in the region. Close to the conurbation of Vale de Telha the orchids were found in an area of mixed cork oak and pine woodland growing in very sandy soil.
The flowers will only be visible for the next week or so.
Multiplication made Deceptively Simple
Fungi in the mycological family Phallaceae go by the common name of stinkhorns. Some members of the family really do stink. Others hardly smell at all (to us, that is, but as I explain below flies and other insects certainly are lured by their pong) but nevertheless from their shape alone they are instantly recognisable as stinkhorn family ‘members’. This is the case with Mutinus caninus, which is commonly referred to as the Dog Stinkhorn… obviously a male dog!
Dog Stinkhorns are found throughout Europe, but it took 15 years of fungi foraying before we stumbled across this distinctive species in the Algarve; it popped up its sticky green head on Christmas Eve 2015 in cork oak woodlands near Monchique. Insects of various kinds soon cluster on the spore-laden sticky gleba that coats the tips of these stinkhorns, and as the bugs consume the olive-green soup so inevitably a few of the fungal spores stick to their feet. Once a fly takes off after lunch and alights elsewhere in the woods, it leaves tiny sticky footprints from which new mycelia (microscopic thread-like fungal networks) can develop. By this harmless deceit, Dog Stinkhorns and their relatives manipulate insects into helping them to ‘go forth and multiply’ – and no Bitch Stinkhorn is involved!
Here is a link to the Dog Stinkhorn page on our First Nature website…
In a winter of exceptionally warm and wet weather almost everywhere in the northern hemisphere, it comes as no surprise to find that the Algarve is also exceptionally warm for December with, so far, few days of the bitingly cold winds that sometimes occur here. Spring flowers are well advanced and there is almond blossom on the trees and Common Asphodel in full flower beneath them in some of the more sheltered areas. Also in full flower in a sheltered spot on December 24th was the orchid below
On a fine and sunny late September morning I spent four hours exploring my beloved Ribeira de Alportel (Alportel River). This seasonal river was almost bone dry and even the millpond had been reduced to a tiny puddle. This year (2015) has seen the hottest Algarve summer since records began 87 years ago and so far this autumn it has not rained. Never had I seen the riverbed so dry. Whilst there was not enough water for even the most ambitious dragonfly, nature’s perpetual seasonal pattern was much in evidence. Great yellow swathes of Aromatic Inula Dittrichia viscosa, punctuated by showy spikes of Sea Squill Urginea maritima, broke up the brown field layer. Here and there were clumps of Mediterranean Mezereon (also called Daphne) Daphne gnidium, sporting both flowers and berries on the same panicle. This plant is highly toxic and in Portuguese is called Mata-lobos (wolf killer) and even today the berries are illegally used to poison the last of the fish in the river pools. Most Algarve trees are deep-rooted and remain green throughout the longest droughts. The discreet flowers of the Carob Trees are hidden on trunks but in autumn their pungent scent fills the air. Some liken the smell to fresh toast or mushrooms whilst others think more of sweaty socks.
Migrant birds ignore the dryness and as they have always done travel through the valley. On this morning the migrants included Pied Flycatchers, Common Redstarts, Willow Warblers and that atypical woodpecker, a Wryneck. Eventually I found a pool, no bigger than a bathtub, but it was a magnet for resident birds and was well concealed by riverside trees and tall reeds. I blended with a bush and waited and slowly the birds came for a drink, a bathe or just a look. Less common visitors included Crested Tits, Eurasian Nuthatches, European Serins, Common Waxbills, an Iberian Green Woodpecker, a Great Spotted Woodpecker and Woodlarks and Thekla Larks. Then, quite suddenly, they vanished. Why? I hadn’t moved but there above me was a fat female Eurasian Sparrowhawk, waiting as eagerly as me for the next birds to arrive.
Sent to me on April Fool's Day but not a joke! Pictured left is the rare hypochromatic form of the Mirror Orchid Ophrys speculum. Picture, above, by kind permission of Harry and Jean McMahon
From time to time orchids lacking their normal colours will appear as a result of genetic abnormalities. This condition can affect the whole plant, the flowers or sometimes just part of the flowers. When all the red and blue pigments (anthocyanins) are blocked, the resulting flowers will appear completely white, green or yellow as in the case of this Mirror Orchid Ophrys speculum photographed near Paderne. The lack of anthocyanins allows the anthoxanthan (white to yellow) pigments and chlorophyll in the flowers to become dominant.
The reverse condition, hyperchomy, can also appear in orchid populations and this results in very dark, strong coloured flowers.
This beautiful male Bluethroat was photographed in mid-March in the Algarve. About the same size as a Robin the Bluethroat is very shy and normally dives for cover long before you have a chance to get a photograph. Look for them in wetlands and along the coast. (Picture by kind permission of Harry and Jean McMahon.)
The Little Crake is slightly smaller than the Spotted Crake and is also distinguished by the presence of white spots on its flanks. They have green legs with long toes, a short straight beak which is yellowish at the tip and red at the base. The short tail is barred black and white beneath.
First reports of the Algarve's wild orchids coming into flower are beginning to filter through with one of the earliest species appearing some four weeks behind spring 2014.
The shortage of rain in the Algarve this spring will not have been an impediment to the growth of the Conical Orchid Neotinia tridentata subsp. conica (pictured left) since its favoured habitat is dry, rocky limestone locations which drain quickly after spring showers.
Until recently this orchid's scientific name was Orchis conica but the increasing use of DNA study to determine more accurately the relationships between plants has lead to it being reclassified and placed in the Neotinia genus. It joins two very similar-looking species, Neotinia lactea (Milky Orchid) and Neotinea tridentata subsp. tridentata with which it is easily confused in countries where two or more of the orchids are known to occur. In the Algarve the only species recorded (so far) is Conical Orchid and so finders of this widespread but rare (in the Algarve) species can be confident of accurate identification.
One of the special joys of a stroll in the woods at this time of year (late January to late March) here in the Algarve is the chance to gather a few edible wild mushrooms to serve up as a special treat. Of course, you do have to be careful, because certain kinds of mushrooms are toxic and easily confused with edible lookalikes. Beginners to fungi foraging are therefore strongly advised to steer clear of gilled mushroom, the group that contains most of the seriously poisonous ones.
Among the safest of mushrooms, because they are so distinctive in appearance, are the various kinds of chanterelles. They do not have gills on the undersides of their funnel-shaped caps; instead they have either wrinkled surfaces or virtually smooth, matt surfaces. It's hardly a compromise to settle for chanterelles, because they are among the most delicious and highly prized of all edible fungi.
Two other plus points are worth a mention: firstly, chanterelles of various kinds are abundant in the Algarve, so it's very easy to collect say 150gm, which is quite enough for two people. The second big bonus is that two of our finest chanterelle species have bright golden caps that are easy to spot, even in the dim light of a dense woodland settings. Cantharellus cibarius is a large, chunky mushroom, while Cantharellus aurora is generally smaller and has contorted caps of a darker shade - this is one of the chanterelles with smooth surfaces beneath its caps. Both are common in pine and oak woodland, and I have even seen them under strawberry trees Arbutus unedo and on hillsides under some cistus species. Remember also that mushrooms vary somewhat in their appearance, so if you have any doubt about the identity of a mushroom, leave it out.
Finally, please always gather fungi responsibly. They are, after all, the main source of food for many kinds of wildlife creatures, so never take more than about a third of the chanterelles you find in a patch. Happy foraging.
Pat O'Reilly is the author of Fascinated by Fungi
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