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Valira Torrent:   Contents | Subject index


Perforation image from Serif Art Gallery. © Serif Inc, 1996

Valira Torrent - bulletin of the Andorran Philatelic Study Circle. Issue 11, pp2-3 (April 1980).

Copyright notice

Recent Nature Protection Series

by W. D. Bent

Each year the French Postal Authorities for Andorra issue one or more stamp with the theme of Nature Portection. In 1978 there was a single issue, a recess printed stamp, designed and engraved by J. Pheulpin, in perf.13 and the issue date was the 18th March, 1978. Its face value was lf and the initial printing was 500,000. It depicted a Red Squirrel (Sciurus Vulgaris). Squirrels of various types are found in most parts of the world, but in Europe they are usually the red or grey variety. The red is smaller and more delicately built than the grey. The feet of the red squirrel are long and pliant and it has a particularly bushy tail to help it maintain balance, and which serves as a wrap when the animal sleeps. They have four toes on the front feet and five on the hind feet, with all being furnished with sharp, curved claws. The teeth are unusual in that they consist of a single pair of incisers, that are heavily enamelled only to the front, in the upper and lower jaw, plus one pair of pre molars and three pairs of molars in both jaws. Sometimes there are a further pair of pre molars, in the upper jaw only.

Red squirrel

The animal moults in May and October and there is a small colour change between brownish-grey and ash-grey according to season. Both sexes are alike in size and colour.

Red squirrels are usually found in coniferous woodland but can be in mixed woodland too, as food, shelter and seclusion are the three vital factors to a suitable habitat. In the winter months red squirrels do not hibernate but their activity is greatly reduced. The squirrels main food is seeds of scotch and corsican pines, european larch and various spruces, together with many types of nuts, berries, roots and bulbs. They usually collect food on the ground but climb trees before eating. Another unusual feature of this animal is that it climbs down trees head first as easily as it climbs upwards. It is, when fully grown, some 220mm head and body length (plus tail of about 180m) but when born weighs under ½oz. They have been recorded as living for more than 10 years. Foxes, wild cats, buzzards, golden eagles etc. are all known to prey on red squirrels but probably do not make substantial inroads into its population, which seems to be governed mainly by availability of food and habitat.

Isard

24th March, 1979 saw the issue of a further stamp, recess printed, with a face value of lf, designed and engraved by Pierre Bequet. It was again in perf 13 with an initial printing of 250,000 and depicted an Isard or wild goat, usually described as a Chamois (Rupicapra Ruricapra). Strictly there are two almost identical animals. Known as the Chamois in the Alps, with the Pyrenean variety, being somewhat lighter in weight, being known as the Isard.

The Isard is usually about 120cm long in the body and about 75cm high to the shoulder. Females generally weigh about 40kgs with males about 5kgs heavier. They are brownish yellow in summer and brownish- black in winter. The same colour underneath as on the flanks. They were originally found only in woodland of all kinds where-ever there were rocky slopes. Nevertheless they can now be seen more frequently on rocky ground well above the tree line, even up to 7,500 feet. They are not found anywhere in large numbers and are almost exclusively European, being found in the Alps, the Balkans and small areas of Northern Spain and the Pyrenees. They are chiefly diurnal, very rarely active at night, also usually resting in the middle of the day especially in hot weather.

Chamois are very agile and skilful, either walk or gallop but rarely trot, and can climb extremely well. They can swim, but will not do so voluntarily. The animals live in small flocks, the females keeping with the young, and the males usually living apart either in small groups or alone, and the only time males and females are in the same group is during the mating season. They are usually quiet animals but hiss or whistle when concious of danger. There is also a quavering goat-like bleating between females and their young. The males utter a danger signal, much gruffer and more hoarse than the female, and in the mating season have a gutteral "cough". Where Andorra is concerned, the animals are now very much an endangered species and are comparatively rare.

9th April, 1979 saw a further one stamp issue, this time printed by a photogravure process, designed by Pierrette Lambert after a painting by Hermann Heinzel. The face value was 1f20 and 250,000 were printed. They were in perf 13. The illustration was described as being of a "white partridge" but this is in fact incorrect. The stamp clearly shows a Ptarmigan (Lagopus Mutus) a member of the Grouse family (Tetraonidae). The essential difference is that the Ptarmigan has feathered legs as well shown on the stamp, and feathered nostrils and this feature is not present on any of the partridge family. However, they have short wings, heavy whirring flight and a similar silhouette.

Ptarmigan

The Ptarmigan has three plumages a year. White in the winter, with just black on the tail and an eye patch, plus a red wattle. In the summer, the upper-parts change to greyish-buff and in the Autumn much greyer still.

The Partridge (Perdix Perdix) is found in farmland (usually arable), downs, heaths, moorland and sand dunes, whereas the Ptarmigan rarely comes below the tree-line and is found well up mountains, and in tundra, usually above 2,000 feet, as the stamp illustration would suggest. The Ptarmigan will nest among boulders in a shallow depression sometimes lined with a little dried grass. Eggs, usually between 5 and 9 are laid in May or June; incubation takes about 25 days, and the young can fly about 10 days after hatching. The birds feed mainly on fruit, shoots and leaves of heather and various mountain plants, and sometimes they will take insects, mainly crane-flies.

These birds do not like disturbance and the increasing winter sports in Andorra make this species more and more difficult to find. The birds European stronghold is now Iceland, Norway and Northern Sweden, with limited numbers in Northern Scotland. The Partridge is far more widespread in Europe being found in almost every country except for Southern Spain, Portugal, Iceland and Northern Scandinavia.

The Nature Protection issues for 1980 will be two stamps featuring flowers.

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Updated 30 July 1998