|Guide to Central Valais -Flora & Fauna
This guide has been written for customers of the Chalet Mazel in Nax. All references assume you start form Nax. The guide has been assembled from 15 + years of experience in the area and is intended as a living document.
Please send any additions and improvements to the author for inclusion in the next revision.
Some sections are far more complete than others, sometimes I have the extra material but it has not yet been Web formatted.
The guide runs to c 25 pages of A4 when printed. The Web version has been kept graphic free to speed up downloading. It is assumed you have maps and can read them.
To navigate just pick a main category from the choices and descend through the index levels. Alternatively you might wish to browse, for instance, the walking section from the top. Walking is filed under Summer(Topography)
Flowers cover the Alps. The best identification reference book is Grey Wilson (see bibliography).
The season, the height, and the location are all important clues as well as size, colour, petal count, etc.
Grey Wilson is surprisingly accurate on such things and if he says it doesnt grow beneath 10000 feet or west of the Hérens, you can be sure its accurate.
All seasons are good, even winter, but probable best of all is June. Most of the snows have now gone. It is warm in the day and water is abundant. These are ideal conditions.
It is quite impossible to describe the floral abundance. You just have to be there. It is impossible to walk about in some areas without murdering prime specimens under foot.
Hérens is a very good location, watch out for Pasque on Noble in particular, Gentians all over the place, Snow-bells wherever there is receding snow, Glacial crows foot on scree, Edelweiss on Gautier & Becca de Lovégno, Globe flowers in the streams, the list is endless.
The LAr du Tsan on the other side of the Col de Cou is a national reserve, full of rare marsh/water plants and protected. The area around Derborence is also a reserve and a riot of colour. The highest official flower is the aptly named King of the Alps. It only grows east of Hérens and above 3000m. There are many on the Stockhorn, no where else as far as we know.
Dams and bocage like roads are a good viewing site as they are moderately graded and the flowers obligingly grow up the banks to facilitate eye level viewing.
Switzerland protects many species. Posters give details in public places such as libraries as do many shops.
The Mazel grounds are mainly grass and trees, but there are many flowers of interest. Watch out for the tremendous display of Hepatica bulbs in spring.
Nax has a rare yellow rose, which features on postmarks and posters. The Valais flower book details all restrictions and rare sites.
In all we have classified more than 100 species from Grey Wilson.
The best time for flowers is spring. As the snows recede they all come out. At first it is just patches but it builds up to a veritable riot of colour. An early display of abundance is the Bulbicodium fields around Evolène. These are amazing, they are a sort of open crocus and literal carpet the ground with millions upon millions of blooms. They come as the snow recedes while the grass is still short and flattened following the winter snows. Easter is normally the best time. Unfortunately they are in prime pasture and the farmers scarify and fertilise these quite early on as summer grass is important. return to top
The main trees in the area are Pine and Larch. The Arolla pine is probably the most common all over the Valais not just in Hérens. Large hardwood trees are rare, but do exist.
The grounds of our chalet have a very good example of a giant Arolla pine. There are also quite a lot of Grey Alder, Silver Birch, other Pines and some flowering shrubs and Pine.
Nax has a very large forest, this is at least 10 square miles in area. It is logged commercially and has a network of tracks which change with logging operations. These tracks can be driven in the summer but some are very rough. In winter they make excellent pistes for walking skiis or snowshoes. return to top
Butterflies abound in the area. Classification requires expert knowledge as there seem to be many species that dont exist in the UK. The giant Apollo is a good example this is about 3 inches across an looks like a badly drawn childs picture of a butterfly. This species can be guaranteed at Volovron in season. Bird life is quite sparse, presumably due to the harsh winters. There is none of the hedgerow type small bird population we are so familiar with. Notable species are the large black starling sized mountain birds called Chuffs real name Choucards.
Hérens has quite a few Grand Corbeau, these look like big Chuffs but are a type of Raven and quite rare.
All mountain areas have birds of prey and Hérens is no exception. There are many hawks and some eagles. The Nax cliff is home to Royal Eagles.
Conservationists are trying to re-introduce the Lammergeir. This is a giant vulture with a wingspan c six feet. Quite capable of taking small deer, marmots or tourists.
Switzerland has much the same population of snakes, frogs and lizards as the UK. Vipers are quite common and poisonous, we have seen them near the house but noise scares them away.
The warmer valley areas, being Mediterranean in character have crickets and quite large lizards. return to top
There are many quite large alpine Mammals. The most spectacular is the Bouquetin, a horned mountain goat or Ibex. These get pretty large and are tribal in nature. They are shy of humans but if you know where to look there are many in the Hérens alpage above people level. The best spots are Prafleuri and Cotter. The smaller Chamois goat is also about at the higher levels and the Nax forests have Cerfs and Chevreil deer. The later were obviously the inspiration for Bambi but are difficult to view as they are very shy. Hunting is allowed in season.
Probably the most common but rarely seen close up is the Marmot. This is a sort of rabbit sized rodent, which hibernates. Watch out for their burrows on the mountain as they are an ankle trap. These animals are very gregarious and live as an extended family. They normally post sentries to look out for hikers or prowling eagles. The warning call is a very load single screech cum whistle. This is repeated if the danger persists and is extremely distinctive.
There are also many Red squirrels that are much smaller than the English Grey and far less tame.
The Réchy valley (behind Mount Noble) is also allegedly the home of some of the last surviving Lynx. Lynx are a dog sized Leopard, but we have never seen one just a few tracks. We also saw the remains of a recent Chamois kill.
We have however seen the very rare Snow hares at Cotter a small alpage above Villa near Evolène.
Domestic animals are all over the place.
Cows are every where, but there is also a fair sprinkling of mountain sheep and goats. Summer festivals sometimes include good natured cow fights. return to top