Yesterday we were just packing up and sorting stuff out, getting ready to leave today. We said goodbye to Juan-Anton in the afternoon and in the evening we went to visit Silvia and Rafael. They invited us in again and we had another tasty dinner and talked about Catalonia, its people and wildlife. Everyone here has been so warm and welcoming! It feels like such a nice place to live.
This morning we put our bags in the back of the taxi and freewheeled the 12 km to the main road, soaking in the gorgeous scenery and the morning sunshine. Then we met the taxi again in a nearby village and got taken 25 km uphill to another small village in the mountains. We locked up our bikes and waited with our huge pile of bags!
We had been invited to Boumort by Jordi, who arrived at 10am as promised, and we piled into his car. We didn’t know what the plan was for the day but were ready to go with the flow. And it turned out to be a good one!
Jordi drove us off the tarmac road onto the tracks in the reserve, telling us about the place on the way. Boumort is one of 3 areas that Jordi and the rest of the team manage as hunting reserves. Hunting is the main activity here but they are also starting to generate an income from ecotourism. There are hides at the vulture feeding station and you can pay to spend a half day there watching the birds and taking pictures.
The reserves were set up in the 1980s and one of the first projects was to reintroduce red deer. (I guess that was rewilding before anyone started talking about it like that!) The only species that can be hunted on the reserves are red deer and wild boar. They are also reintroducing black vulture here. The project at Alinya is the same one as at Boumort, so the 45 birds live between the two places.
Jordi told us our first stop for the day would be the vulture hide! There were two other visitors that day too, so the four of us went inside with Jordi and watched the frenzy. We saw hundreds of griffons, at least six black vultures, a handful of Egyptian vultures and at least three bearded vultures!
After the frenzy, we set off again in the car with Jordi and he told us about the black vulture reintroduction project. They have a holding cage at Boumort for the young birds and a hacking station on a cliff top. Hacking is when you take young chicks from captivity and put them somewhere you want them to call home. Then you feed them until they grow up and fly the nest. They see the place where they fledged as the place where they were born and tend to stay there to reproduce when they are grown up. It’s a good way to supplement the reintroductions.
We stopped for lunch next to one of the office buildings on the reserve, which had a fabulous view over the valley! Nice place to work.
The history of Boumort is similar to Alinya – when people moved away from the area and abandoned the farmlands and forestry areas, nature started to come back. Now the forest is taking over the grassland areas, which is something they are trying to prevent. A mixture of habitat types is ideal for all kinds of species, and in a wild ecosystem, a mosaic of habitats would form naturally through grazing, fire, flood, landslides. But where there are no top predators and where fires are controlled, alternative forms of management are required, so they have reclaimed some of the old pastures.
Over the past few decades since the wolf was hunted to extinction in the area, a few lone wolves have been seen here, but not for 5 years. And the lone wolves were almost always males. Only one female has been seen in the whole region over the last 20 years. Reintroduction of the wolf is not possible politically but if it comes back naturally, that would be great for the reserve. In the meantime, hunters do the job of the wolves. As well as trophy hunting, there is selection hunting. You can pay a small fee to come and take out the deer that would probably be taken by wolves in a natural ecosystem. They won’t have an impressive set of antlers, but hunters are always looking to hone their skills, and it’s an important function for the reserve.
As we drove around, we were soaking up the scenery. The weather had been gorgeous all morning; sunny with a few fluffy clouds. Now in the warm afternoon we drove along the north side of one of the mountains and enjoyed the lush cool forest.
Jordi had said that he could only spend the morning with us, but it was almost 4pm when he dropped us back by our bikes. Ah, Spanish midday! Then we said our goodbyes and he headed back to the office to carry on working, whilst we got our bikes together to set off.
Managing three reserves must keep Jordi very busy! We feel very privileged that he spent the day showing us around. It was the perfect day trip.
We got back on the bikes and headed back up to the pass. It was only 5 km to the top, then we got to ride downhill the rest of the way! It was happily overcast and we enjoyed the journey.
That evening we got to a campsite in Organya, set up, showered, laundered, cooked, ate and were about to pack up when another touring cyclist arrived. He rode into the middle of the camping pitches, dismounted, and promptly dropped his fully laden bike on the ground. Thud. We gave him a wave and he set up before coming over to say hello.
Joe is from Sheffield doing a tour around Europe. He set off in January (!) and is about to make his way back home. We chatted until it got dark, shared some food and headed to bed.