Thursday, 26 June 2014

Mercantour National Park - Le Boréon

Here's another blog post about my recent trip to France. On our second day in the Alps we went on a most excellent walk in Le Boréon, the area near to the Alpha Wolf Park that we'd visited the previous day. Our wise guide Mel had originally been planning a different, higher-altitude walk, but the weather forecast for the latter part of the day was not great so instead we set out on this slightly less ambitious but nonetheless lovely walk!

Near the start of the walk.
Our walk started at the bottom of a valley which we gradually ascended. To begin with the forest was thick, with lots of Spruce. One thing that made a big impression upon me in the Alps was how many trees there are, living in the UK I am used to seeing all upland areas grazed to the max so it was great to see mountains thickly blanketed with trees. There were occasional patches of snow on the ground, which increased in number and size the higher we got. Here are a few things we saw during the first part of the walk:

Ants' nest. Mel jimmied them around a bit to get them to squirt acid!

Another flower whose identity I have sadly forgotten.
As we ascended, the Spruce disappeared and the forest became more open, dominated by Larch and Arolla Pine. Mel said that we should expect to see Nutcrackers soon as this was their preferred habitat, and he was not wrong! Nutcrackers like to eat the seeds from the Arolla Pine cones, and the pine is reliant upon them caching its seeds, enabling it to disperse to new habitats much like Jays and oaks back at home. Soon I was enjoying my first Nutcracker, and the first of many we spotted whilst in the Alps. They were one of my favourite birds that we saw, very jaunty with a bright alert intelligent look, a mighty bill, and a loud 'KRARK' call which carried quite a long way!

Another new creature we saw plenty of was Chamois - once the trees had thinned out, to one side of the path there were frequent snow-filled gullies on the hillsides. It was very easy to spot Chamois walking across these!

Snow-filled gullies, good for spotting Chamois!
Distant Chamois on the snow.
As we got higher, the path become more frequently covered in snow, but not badly enough for us to need our snowshoes. Although I unsurprisingly didn't see any of the little skulkers, we heard loads of Lesser Whitethroats - they seemed to like the low-growing dwarf rhododendron and juniper bushes. This was a slightly different habitat to what I am used to seeing them in, I had no idea they were found at such high altitudes (+2000 feet)! We also saw Treecreeper, Chiffchaff and a Tree Pipit singing his head off at the top of a pine, and heard Redstart and Nuthatch.

Higher up. North-facing valleys were still completely snow-covered, and some of the snow was stained yellow by Saharan dust carried on the wind and deposited.

Higher up.

Once more I got a bit excited about the fine igneous and metamorphic rock specimens that were to be found! 

Glassy grey quartz, opaque white feldspar, nice shiny biotite. Classic granite!
Ignimbrite, great example of a very ugly volcanic rock!

This one was a bit more cryptic. It looks as though it has some banding and quite a lot of biotite, perhaps it is a gneiss-like rock.
As the walk progressed, the weather conditions did become more grey and cloudy and sadly we had to turn back before we could break through the treeline to reach the lake (Lac Nègre) that we were aiming for. It was the right decision though as it did start to gently drizzle on our way back down. Fortunately the weather didn't get any worse than this and our descent was just as enjoyable as the walk up had been (with possibly more falling over in the snow from me :oD). Here are a final couple of photos of the amazing scenery :o)

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