Mont Carrière, a hill about 3 kms from home, is famous for its orchids. Last year we missed out on seeing the orchids in the spring for obvious reasons, and visited in the summer, when it was too hot and worse, during the couple of weeks when we were invaded by midges (non biting, thank god!). It was practically impossible to stand still to admire the views as swarms of the darn things circled our heads, and anyway, most of the wild flowers were going over as the countryside dried out. This year we made sure we came up here during orchid/wildflower season. It was fabulous and so worth the effort of a few kms gasping up the hill! 😂
The first photo which was taken in February shows where I am talking about. To access the plateau the easiest way is up a long uphill track that goes off to the left (in the picture) and beyond, then returns along the summit to the plateau which is the area in the middle of the hill in this photo. The top and the south slope that you see here is real garrigue - I was amazed that it was covered in so much thyme which is flowering at the moment. There is also rosemary galore and some lavender plants which I'd like to go back to see when they are flowering. Other plants typical of the garrigue are the Kermes Oak (Quercus coccifera), a very low growing scrubby evergreen oak, whose leaves look like holly leaves. On the way up and at the top there were deciduous oaks coming into leaf which I think are Downy Oak (Quercus pubescens). There are many other garrigue shrubs but I am still learning my way around this new unfamiliar vegetation!
I was really surprised to see these irises growing along the banks beside the track at the lower end, also surrounded by this amazingly blue flowered plant, which I have been trying to ID. It's possibly Lithodora of some sort.
Along the track there were many of these orchids, which I'm pretty sure are Lady Orchids (Orchis purpurea).
Halfway up, looking back towards the plateau, where there is a little wooded patch.
On the way up where there was a wooded area there was a patch of damp earth on the track, and what luck, there was a little blue butterfly feeding on the minerals; this is known as puddling. It was also a butterfly that I had never seen before! I found out when I got home that it is a Black Eyed Blue (Glaucopsyche melanops).
Towards the top of the hill there is an area where there are fields and the verges of the track have more familiar grass and the yellow mustard/brassica that we see all over the place round here. I didn't know that my photo was being taken!
Still looking backwards, we are looking in the direction of the Toulouse/Carcassonne plain with the Montagne Noir in the distance.
Up at the beginning of the plateau, where the vegetation changes abruptly to garrigue flora. Here there is thyme and a few lavender plants, and the tree on the left is the Downy/Pubescent Oak (Quercus pubescens). That's Fanjeaux that you see in the distance.
Actually, there weren't as many orchids as I had imagined, but I would think that ideally one would need to come up here about every three weeks from the end of February to see all the species (if lucky).
This orchid above and below is the Yellow Bee Orchid (Ophrys lutea). It was lovely seeing it en masse like this. We had this one in our lawn last year, but I haven't seen it this year. It's possible it was mown off - whilst K has stuck a label in everywhere that he saw orchid leaves back in March, it's still difficult to not mow off some of them.
As there were some people walking their dog nearby, we took a track which hugged the south side of the slope, where there were both regular Swallowtails and these Scarce Swallowtails (Iphiclides podalirius) flitting about.
Up on the plateau, with thyme flowering everywhere.
The one plant that I see on the garrigues elsewhere that was missing here is the Rock Rose (Cistus), but K spotted this plant, which is also known as Rock Rose, but is in fact a Helianthemum (shows why the Latin name is so important when talking about plants!).
Another orchid, unknown.
I went for a pee behind a bush, and I'm glad I did as I spotted this orchid nearby. I believe it is the Green-veined Orchid or Green-winged Orchid (Anacamptis morio).
There are a number of info boards giving you information about various orchids that are seen up here. I would love to see the Woodcock Orchid (left) or Bee Orchid (right).
There are also about four of these photo boards which show what you are looking at in all the directions from the plateau. Unfortunately on this day the Pyrenees were really hazy so it wasn't worth trying to take photos. But normally the view is amazing, especially when they are covered in snow. Here we are looking towards the Montagne Noir.
On the way back down this small white butterfly landed on a plant and I knew it wasn't a 'cabbage white', so took photos zoomed in. I'm glad I did as it turned out to be a Wood White (Leptidea sinapis)! There was a patch of woodland on the side of the hill around this area.
Back at the place where I saw the butterfly puddling earlier, guess what, more blue butterflies puddling! I immediately knew that the one with the turquoise on the wing was another lifer as I've seen that one in my butterfly book. It's a Green-underside Blue (Glaucopsyche alexis) and there was another butterfly puddling as well; this turned out to be a rather tatty Holly Blue. I'm not bothered about the lesser quality image as I've seen and photographed this butterfly many times before!
We didn't see any birds of note, but then I was looking down not up! On the way up were a flock of Serins, a Cirl Bunting sitting in a tree, several Hen Harriers flying around when we were on the plateau, and on the way back down we heard a Melodious Warbler. K is getting very good at recognising bird song, but I am absolutely useless! 😀
All in all an excellent butterfly and wildflower/orchid outing! We plan to come back again in about three weeks to see what else may be flowering (and flitting about).