Obviously, we are spoiled!
When we go to the mountains, we go with very precise objectives in mind, i.e. to collect our precious samples and data, on which our scientific results will be based. Even if the temptation is sometimes strong, we unfortunately don't have time to stroll around, to rest at the edge of the lakes, in short to play the tourist. But we keep our eyes and ears open, we enjoy the beautiful landscapes that the mountain offers us and, often, we have the chance to make observations of fauna and flora that enchant us. Especially since Dirk and I know the place perfectly, having walked the same trails to sample the same lakes for almost 15 years!
A few days before our stay in Cauterets, during a conversation, Nikola told me that he had not yet had the chance to see marmots while hiking. And, because Nikola, Pauline and I woke up very early and we were the first to walk on the path, it is not one, but 5 marmots, in 5 different places, that we admired all along the day of Tuesday, July 5th (in spite of the presence of our unusual guide).
The next day, Wednesday, we get up even earlier. We hope to have time to set off before the storm arrives, but thunder rumbles as we dip our spoons into our cereal bowls, then an impressive series of lightning bolts rips through the small town in a downpour. Too bad, it's only a postponement...
On Thursday, we are ready to finish the sampling of the Cauterets gradient. The storm has disappeared, the sun is just starting to shine on the valley, a few clouds still dot the blue sky. On the way up through the forest, a salamander wanders on the path, then another and another. Three adult salamanders of good size. A new species for my two colleagues! Each amphibian is swabbed to make sure it is free of the fungus Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans, a pathogen from Asia that decimates salamanders in the Netherlands and Belgium.
Just before leaving the tree cover, I tell Pauline and Nikola that we are entering an area where there are many isards. We might see a few, who knows? We silently start moving again. I lead the way while sweeping the sides of the mountain with my eyes in search of the silhouettes of the isards. We follow the curvature of the trail and, suddenly, the landscape opens up before me. I can't believe it: two isards are running at us! At full speed, they are running one after the other on the hiking trail! They are in such a hurry that they didn't see us... I freeze and say softly "Hey, I'm here! The two isards slow down, stop only two meters away from me, look at us with a mixture of amazement and fear... before running away in the valley. "When I told you we might see isards, I didn't think it would be this close!"
And the day is just beginning!
We pass the lake of Embarrat and join our sampling places. Other beautiful surprises await us. In the icy water of one of the sites, we discover (for the first time in this place!) two calotritons, the famous Pyrenean euprocts, a male and a female. And while we are working on the lake, head down and hands in the water, we hear the marmots whistling, announcing the danger. A raptor flies overhead. "What is it?" asks Pauline. "Oh, a bearded vulture!
Obviously, we are spoiled!
Summary of our stay in Cauterets :
1 bearded vulture
Lots and lots of tadpoles