A walk in the mountains – Col vert

The A Walk in the mountains series

French word of the day: canicule = heat wave

These days, Europe is suffering from a heat wave. In France, temperatures have reached at least 40°C. What is really hard to bear, and also is a characteristic of heat waves, is the night temperature, which doesn’t decrease very much. As Wikipedia says, heat accumulates more in daytime than it evacuates during nighttime. There is no universal definition for heat waves, as it depends on the climate of a certain area. For instance, in Toulouse, in the south-west of France, we say that there’s a heat wave if the temperatures reach 36°C during the day while not going under 21°C during the night. I guess it’s more or less the same in Grenoble.

At home, we really take care of opening windows during the night and closing everything as soon as the outside temperature overcomes the temperature inside the house. To escape the heat, I also try to go out early in the morning. This Saturday, I woke up at 3.30 to go walking in the mountains. I met a friend in Vif, and together we headed to Col vert (“the green pass”, literally). The area is supposed to be a really good spot for mountain species while being quite easy to access. In the car, along the road, we saw two roe deers (Capreolus capreolus) and a Beech marten (Martes foina).

The walk (I tried to made it clear so that you understand it with the text; feel free to ask if you have any doubt)

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We started to walk at 5.30 with the rising day. Even if we were quite high in altitude, the air was abnormally warm, and it was an unpleasant hike. Still, there were some birds around, among them thrushes and blackbirds on the path and Eurasian blackcaps (Sylvia atricapilla) singing in the trees. We visited a tree formerly occupied by a Boreal Owl (Aegolius funereus), but the holes in the trunk were empty. Afterwards, we left the forest for open meadows covered by Apiaceae plants, these flowers sheltering countless insects, including bees. Above us, we spotted a male Common rock thrush (Monticola saxilis), displaying from a rock, but it was far away. In the sky, a Common kestrel (Falco tinnunculus) was circling, and we also saw a Rock bunting (Emberiza cia) singing. What a beautiful bird!

An Apiaceae flower

An Apiaceae flower

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We stopped in a field, overlooking Saint-Paul de Varces and the urban area of Grenoble. We were waiting for the Ring ouzel (Turdus torquatus), a close relative to the blackbird which is very common in the area. However, we could not see any, and the area was not very active anyway. Were the birds stunned by the heat? The Tree pipit (Anthus trivialis) was however omnipresent.

Tree pipit (Anthus trivialis)

Tree pipit (Anthus trivialis)

When we were getting dispirited, an Alpine marmot’s (Marmota marmota) cry woke us up. We turned round and discovered a gorgeous Golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetos) patrolling above the ridge. The kestrel attacked it a bit later, probably trying to move it away from its younglings, but the eagle, unshakeable, simply followed its course. We saw it go to the south, then north again, but I failed my picture attempt, for I was not in “animal photography” mode. What a shame, but what a sight!

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We decided not to go to the pass, but to go to a spot renowned for the presence of the wallcreeper (Tichodroma muraria). We climbed in boulders to close on the cliff, sat and looked up. After some time it showed up but did not stay long. The sun was already high in the sky, the stifling heat of the last days back, so we went down the mountain to find shelter at home. On our way, we visited the Tichodrome, a fauna shelter healing a lot of injured birds, including many birds of prey. By the way, tichodrome is the French name of the wallcreeper…

> Full gallery of the day

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