Auronzo di Cadore, in the northern part of the Dolomites, is one of the most northern municipalities of Veneto (Belluno province), being on the border with the Val Pusteria (Bolzano province). Even if it lies at an altitude of only 866 m, the habitats around are definitely alpine, with extended woodlands of Spruces, Larches and Dwarf Pines.
The Ansiei river passes through the valley replenishing the attractive artificial lake of Santa Caterina, that characterizes the basin of Auronzo di Cadore.
All around spread the dolomitic massifs of Marmarole (2,932 m) and Sexten Dolomites (=Dolomiti di Sesto) with the outstanding Tre Cime di Lavaredo (2,999 m), Cima Bagni (2,983m) and Croda dei Toni (3,094 m).
The human presence in the area is particularly old, with many evidences of roman populations, while the little Church of Santa Caterina di Alessandria is one of the most ancient buildings, survived from XVI century.
I spent two different days in the area of Auronzo di Cadore at the end of July, exploring the rich woodland areas and visiting, thanks to the very kind Roberto Zanette, some interesting orchid sites along the Ansiei valley.
Even if the best time was gone, there were still a lot of gorgeous species of flowers in full bloom, including Heath Speedwell (Veronica officinalis), Lax Cinquefoil (Potentilla caulescens), Star Gentian (Gentiana cruciata), Large-flowered Hemp-nettle (Galeopsis speciosa), Grass-of-Parnassus (Parnassia palustris), Glutinous Sage (Salvia glutinosa) and many more.
Unfortunatelly many of the orchids, like Coralroot (Corallorhiza trifida), Red Helleborine (Cephalanthera rubra), Bird-nest (Neottia nidus-avis) and White Adder’s Mouth (Malaxis monophyllos), were already with fruits.
Some other orchids were with their last flowers: Common Spotted Orchid (Dactylorhiza fuchsii), Common Twayblade (Neottia ovata), Short-spurred Fragrant Orchid (Gymnadenia odoratissima) and Creeping Lady’s-tresses (Goodyera repens).
The woodland was rich in funny presences like colourful beetles and the misterious Dutchman’s pipe (Monotropa hypopitys)…
..but also amanzing fungi: Penny Bun (Boletus edulis), Charcoal Burner (Russula cf. cyanoxantha), Panther Cap (Amanita pantherina), Coral Mushroom (Ramaria sp.), Common Puffball (Lycoperdon perlatum) and the stunning Fly Agaric (Amanita muscaria).
The forest is home of quite a few interesting birds, but July wasn’t the best time of year for birdwatching, as usual, so I spotted of interesting just: Honey Buzzard, Black Woodpecker, Craig Martin, Crested and Willow Tit, Common Treecreeper, Crossbill, Bullfinch and, first of all, a gorgeous male of Tree-toed Woodpecker (Picoides tridactylus alpinus). It’s a rare species in Italy, with only 100-250 breeding pairs , 10-20 of which in the Belluno province (according to “Ornitologia Italiana, vol. 4”, Brichetti & Fracasso, 2007).
Much more rich was the enthomofauna, with beautiful Six-spot (Zygaena filipendulae), and Narrow-bordered Five-spot Burnets (Zygaena lonicerae)…
…but expecially butterflies, with some outstanding ones like Dark-veined White (Pieris bryoniae), Large Wall Brown (Lasiommata maera), Woodland Brown (Lopinga achine), White Admiral (Limenitis camilla), High Brown Fritillary (Argynnis adippe), Scotch Argus (Erebia aethiops), Arran Brown (Erebia ligea), Large Skipper (Ochlodes sylvanus),…
…and the commonest of all, Silver-washed Fritillary (Argynnis paphia), with its amazing green form vallesina.
Ending the post, I can’t finish without showing the full blooming orchids I had, starting from helleborines: Dark Red Helleborine (Epipactis atrorubens) and Broad-leaved Helleborine (Epipactis helleborine).
The best species I had was the reason of the second visit to the Auronzo di Cadore area: the outstanding Ghost Orchid (Epipogium aphyllum), famous to be one of the few species to not have any chlorophyll and to have an unpredictable appearance, disappearing for years and sometimes appearing where was never reported before.