Elba is the largest island in the Arcipelago Toscano and lies just 10 km far from the coast of Tuscany. The vicinity with the continent, together with size, influenced its biodiversity making the island the most complex ecosystem of all the arcipelago. Orchids are present with more than 40 species, but they are also particularly threated.
The introduction of Wild Boars from the continent on the insular ecosystem has generated a dangerous imbalance: this large omnivore has impacted heavily into the natural habitats and orchids has become one of the most affected organisms, being searched as a delicacy by boars. Some species are almost disappeared, like the Dactylorhiza insularis, some other are decreasing in number.
Elba was also known as the first exile location of Napoléon Bonaparte, that spent here almost a full year before the escape and his last battle of Waterloo, inhabiting a couple of nice palaces in Portoferraio and S. Martino.
I visited the Elba in mid April, for about 3 days, after my excursion to the island of Capraia (link to the post), being rather unlucky with weather: the rain affected most of the time, sometimes with strong gusts of wind.
The navigation from Piombino to Portoferraio took about an hour, offering the possibility to do some seawatching: I observed a couple of Shags, few Scopoli’s Shearwaters, a ten of Yelkouan Shearwaters, some Yellow-legged and Mediterranean Gulls.
Portoferraio was a very attractive town, with powerful walls and forts, but also narrow alleys, steep flights of steps, warm coloured houses and terraces with a lovely view to the harbour or the Tyrrenian sea.
Orchids were spread expecially on the eastern side of island, having in the area of mount Calamita the best stronghold, with some amazing meadows.
What I observed was that many times the higher density of orchids was along the roads, probably because the vehicles could spread the pollens, but maybe also because the presence of traffic kept away boars.
The commonest species were the Butterfly Orchid (Anacamptis papilionacea)….
…Green-winged Orchid (Anacamptis morio)…
…and the superb Scarce Tongue-orchid (Serapias neglecta).
Here and there I found single or little populations of Ophrys classica…
…Common Tongue-orchid (Serapias lingua)…
…Milk-white Orchid (Neotinea lactea)…
…Heart-flowered Tongue-orchid (Serapias cordigera)…
…and the wonderful Mirror Orchid (Ophrys speculum).
The cute villages along the island were innumerable.
I did birding most of the time even in urban centres and the most frequent birds were: Ring-necked Pheasant, Barn Swallow, Eurasian Collared Dove, Blackbird, Blackcap, Moltoni’s Warbler, Sardinian Warbler, Firecrest, Blue and Great Tit, Italian Sparrow (sub-endemic of Italian peninsula), Chaffinch, Serin, Greenfinch and Goldfinch. More localized were Common Buzzard, Common Kestrel, Common Swift, Scops Owl, White Wagtail, Wren, Cetti’s Warbler, Long-tailed Tit, Jackdaw and Cirl Bunting.
A would have expected more migrants, expecially with rain, but I didn’t see much more than one Night Heron, tens of House Martins, few Tree Pipits and Robins, one Nightingale, one Song Thrush, a couple of Whinchats and few Willow and Wood Warblers.
The specialities of the island are the two subendemic species of birds of Tyrrenian islands: Corsican Finch (Serinus corsicana) and Marmora’s Warbler (Sylvia sarda). I managed to see only the second one in a place, together with the sister species Dartford Warbler (Sylvia undata).
The flora of the island was pretty rich, but probably in delay about the main blooms.
On the other hand, some interesting species of orchids were almost over, including Ophrys (fusca) lucifera, endemic of Italy and strictly linked with rosmary…
…and Ophrys exaltata montis-leonis, endemic as well of Tyrrenian sea coasts.
For some other species, instead, was unfortunately too early: for example for Man Orchid (Orchis anthropophora).
Particularly interesting were some ibrids among Ophrys, with truly bizarre shapes.
Anyway I would like to end the post with a last series of pictures of the commonest and most extraordinary species: Butterfly Orchid, Scarce Tongue-orchid and and Ophrys incubacea.