TRAVELLING NATURALIST TRIP REPORT
2 - 9 June 2001
Firstly we would like to say how lovely it was to have the company of such an enthusiastic and knowledgeable group; we hope that you all enjoyed yourselves as much as we did and that this report brings back some happy memories of your trip to the Picos de Europa. Secondly, there just isn't room here to list everything we saw, so this report limits itself to recording some of the highlights of the trip, rather than giving lists of species seen on each day, which we hope will make for more interesting reading.
The total number of vascular plants that we encountered during the week came to around 520 species in just this small corner of the Picos de Europa alone, despite the fact that we barely touched on some groups - such as grasses, sedges and rushes - being surrounded by a wealth of more interesting plants. Although the dry spring had obviously affected the flora to some extent, we encountered 20 members of the Liliaceae and 25 species of orchid, including all 6 of the Picos Ophrys, although some had seen better days while others were not yet in flower.
The dry spring also seemed to have affected butterfly populations, but we still managed to record a total of 58 species (give or take a few Pyrgus skippers). We had reasonable luck with the amphibians and reptiles, including some smashing Marbled Newts at Tudes, a splendid male Schreiber's Green Lizard at Frama and the first record of Large Psammodromus for the Picos area.
We recorded a total of 90 birds in the Picos (including those heard but not seen). We generally had good views of most the raptors and the Iberian and alpine specialities (including some superb Wallcreepers and Alpine Accentors) that make birdwatching in the Picos a delight. Our biggest disappointment was not getting good views of Black Woodpecker, despite Brenda and Barry's probably early-morning sightings, but this was more than compensated for by our close-up views of Middle-Spotted Woodpecker feeding young at the nest above Valmeo. Mammals as usual were few and far between, but we did manage several distant Chamois, a lovely Roe Deer fawn and a Red Squirrel on an early-morning foray near Fuente Dé towards the end of the trip.
The group arrived slightly late to the new Bilbao airport where they were met by Teresa and John M and two minibuses, to be whisked along the coastal motorway and then south through the La Hermida gorge to our base in Espinama.
A Clouded Yellow by the airport exit was a good start, while a good sprinkling of raptors along the route broke up the journey, with a hovering Short-toed Eagle, a fine adult Egyptian Vulture and dark phase Booted Eagle of special note and Black Kites and Common Buzzards more regular. Yellow-legged Gulls and Barn Swallows were also noted periodically, though a foraging White Stork near Santander was a particularly good find.
A short break for drinks saw us exit just in time to see a distant male Hen Harrier disappearing over the horizon, though the last section of the journey up through the winding mountain valley of the River Deva was the most memorable, a Dipper being seen by a few on one of the small rivers beside the road. We arrived late but happy and quickly settled in to a truly Spanish meal, starting about 10pm and not finishing before 11:30!
This 'break-in' day saw us walking from Espinama up along farmers' lanes and tracks through deciduous forest and meadows to Fuente Dé. Though cool and clear early on, it soon became breezy, which was welcome as the temperature rose through the day.
As we crossed the river and climbed into a small patch of Sessile and Pyrenean Oak woodland (Quercus petraea and Q. pyrenaica), we came across some interesting shade-tolerant species, including Stinking and Green Hellebores (Helleborus foetidus and H. viridis), Alkanet Pentaglottis sempervirens, Bastard Balm Melittis melissophyllum and Balm-leaved Figwort Scrophularia scorodonia, a species listed in the British Red Data Book [RDB].
We also started to encounter non-British plants which were new to at least some of the group, including White Asphodel Asphodelus albus, Pyrenean Valerian Valeriana pyrenaica (confined to the Cordillera Cantabrica and the Pyrenees), whose 2m stems are surrounded by huge (up to 30cm in diameter) heart-shaped leaves at the base, Mountain Sandwort Arenaria montana, whose white flowers and silvery foliage were recognised by the keen gardeners amongst us, and St Dabeoc's Heath Daboecia cantabrica, distinguished by its large, urn-shaped pink flowers, which is essentially an Atlantic seaboard species, found in Ireland but not Britain.
Although not so 'foreign' birdwise, a couple of Grey Wagtails, Spotted Flycatcher and Black Redstart were seen in Espinama, with a Short-toed Eagle over an adjacent hillside, but spotting birds in the woods was more tricky, despite plenty of song from Blackcaps, Robins and Wrens. A pair of Honey Buzzards circled over woodland, allowing all to see the basic distinctions, while at least two Hawfinches called from trees but refused to show.
In the small village of Pido we stopped and admired the hórreo (a rat-proof granary perched atop stone mushrooms), where we also located more Serins, Black Redstarts and White Wagtails, while Common Wall Lizards were also frequent. Here too we came across our first cushions of Grooved Saxifrage Saxifraga canaliculata, again restricted to the Cordillera Cantabrica and Pyrenees.
The stretch between Pido and the 'cheese factory' turned up a number of butterflies making the most of the warm summer sunshine, most notably Clouded Yellow, Western Dappled and Black-veined Whites, Orange-tip, Red Admiral, De Prunner's Ringlet and Holly and Adonis Blues, but will be remembered by most for the superb specimen of a Man Orchid Aceras anthropophorum growing by the water trough; it was at least 30cm tall!
Nearby we also found our first individuals of Bloody Cranesbill Geranium sanguineum - a common plant of limestone meadows in the Picos, but becoming increasingly rare in the UK, Pyrenean Eryngo Eryngium bourgatii, a blue-flushed spiny umbellifer, closely related to Sea Holly E. maritimum, Nottingham Catchfly Silene nutans, also rather scarce in the UK today, and Greater Yellow Rattle Rhinanthus serotinus - the ubiquitous Picos haymeadow plant - here represented by the northern Spanish subspecies asturicus.
We eventually arrived at the meadows proper, where dry limestone soils provide a perfect habitat for orchids. This year our diligent search was rewarded with Sawfly and Early Spider ( Ophrys tenthredinifera and O. sphegodes, the latter so rare in the UK that it is protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act [WCA] (1981), as well as being listed in the RDB), and Burnt-tip Orchis ustulata, growing amid a wealth of other exciting plants: the stemless, lilac-flowered 'thistle' Carduncellus mitissimus, Pale and Pyrenean Flaxes ( Linum bienne and L. suffruticosum ssp. salsoloides), Hoary Rock-rose Helianthemum canum, Perennial Yellow Woundwort Stachys recta and Tassel Hyacinth Muscari comosum.
These sun-drenched meadows held almost no birds, though rough edges harboured at least two singing Garden Warblers. Of greater interest here were the large number of the yellow-and-black winged ascalaphid Libelloides longicornis, a highly predatory, dragonfly-like lacewing relative, plus numerous butterflies, notably Mallow Skipper, Scarce Swallowtail, Queen of Spain and Knapweed Fritillaries, Painted Lady, Wall Brown, Sooty Copper and Black-eyed and Small Blues, as well as several day-flying moths: Speckled Yellow, Latticed Heath, Chimney Sweeper and Burnet Companion.
As we pushed on uphill through the Beech Fagus sylvatica forest, the sunnier edges of the rides provided us with our first encounters with Martagon Lilies Lilium martagon (still tightly furled in bud, unfortunately), Masterwort, or Mountain Sanicle Astrantia major, recognised by most owing to its popularity as a garden plant, Columbines Aquilegia vulgaris, Solomon's Seal Polygonatum multiflorum, and Rampion Bellflower Campanula rapunculus, a UK Red Data Book species, despite having been introduced there as a winter salad vegetable
Our lunch meadow held the best of the day's flora, the damper habitat contributing a new array of orchids - Common Tongue Serapias lingua, Heath Spotted and Early Marsh ( Dactylorhiza maculata and D. incarnata) - but perhaps these were overshadowed by the magnificence of the 'bog' flora: sheets of Globeflowers Trollius europaeus, Marsh Marigold Caltha palustris, Cotton-grass Eriophorum latifolium, Radish-leaved Bittercress Cardamine raphanifolia, Ragged Robin Lychnis flos-cuculi, Whorled and Common Louseworts ( Pedicularis verticillata and P. sylvatica) and Marsh Ragwort Senecio aquaticus. Here too Jenny came across a small Roe Deer fawn crouched motionless in long grass - a delightful find - while Alison caught a chocolate brown Field Cricket, and John M located a magnificent specimen of Pink Butterfly Orchid ( Orchis papilionacea).
Continuing up through the beechwood, we searched without success for the saprophytic Bird's-nest Orchid Neottia nidus-avis then, after a brief stop at the much heralded gushing spring, we started down towards the natural amphitheatre of Fuente Dé. On the way we took a detour to a fine patch of Herb Paris Paris quadrifolia, where we found that not all had four leaves and petals, as the Latin name suggests; some had five of each, while others had five leaves and four petals.
Birdwise, the beechwoods were a little different, with singing Coal Tits and a Song Thrush new for the day, while the meadows under the spectacular amphitheatre cliffs held a foraging group of 30 Red-billed Choughs, much admired by all. A water trough here was inhabited by dozens of Midwife Toad tadpoles and at least three Fire Salamander efts, while a little further up we encountered a few spikes of Fly and Brown Bee Orchid (Ophrys insectifera & O. fusca).
We took a pre-breakfast walk in and around Espinama. A fine male Common Redstart sang from a TV aerial whilst being admired through the scope and Greenfinches flitted through the trees by the hotel. Walking through the village, we took a track along a small valley where the local species were reminiscent of woodland England with Wood Pigeon, Blackcap, Dunnock, Great and Blue Tit, a few Eurasian Jays and Common Chaffinches. The return was a little more productive, with a singing Western Bonelli's Warbler and, in the village, Black Redstart, Spotted Flycatcher, a Raven, two Grey Wagtails on a rooftop and a Firecrest in an ash tree by the hotel.
After breakfast we headed down to Potes for a wander round and the chance to buy a few bits and pieces in the market before taking a short diversion to Frama and a dry meadow beside a stream gully, home to a large colony of Lizard Orchids. Unfortunately the meadow had obviously been grazed during the past week, such that only a few of the Lizard Orchids were still standing, but we made the best of a bad job and turned our attention to the surrounding Mediterranean-type vegetation. Western Holm Oak Quercus ilex ssp. ballota and Mediterranean Buckthorn Rhamnus alaternus were the basic hedgerow species here, accompanied by Turpentine Tree Pistacia terebinthus, while the dry cliffs opposite supported Round-headed Thyme Thymus mastichina, Sad Stock Matthiola fruticulosa, the composite Phagnalon saxatile and the white -flowered legume Dorycnium pentaphyllum.
In the meadow itself we found Deptford Pink Dianthus armeria, Narrow-leaved Clover Trifolium angustifolium, Blue Pimpernel Anagallis foemina, Yellow-wort Blackstonia perfoliata, Large Wild Clary Salvia verbenaca, Purple Viper's-bugloss Echium lycopsis, the yellow-flowered composite Pallenis spinosa, with spiny bracts below the flower-heads, Red Star-thistle Centaurea calcitrapa and Stinking Iris Iris foetidissima, all of which would have looked more at home in Extremadura than in the Picos! On the butterfly front, just a few Clouded Yellows, Knapweed Fritillaries and our first Marbled Whites and Spotted Fritillaries were seen here, together with a Feathered Footman and a pink-striped geometrid moth called Rhodostrophia vibicaria.
A Short-toed Eagle circling over an adjacent hillside heralded our arrival, soon followed by a small group of Griffon Vultures, while another Firecrest was audible from trees by the stream above where a Cetti's Warbler sang just twice, predictably invisibly as usual. Back at the minibuses, a Cirl Bunting sang from the roadside wires, although just too far away to give a really good view.
By the minibuses were dense stands of Milk-thistle Silybum marianum, Galactites tomentosa, Bristly Ox-tongue Picris echioides Pitch Trefoil Psoralea bituminosa, Bugloss Anchusa arvensis and Chicory Cichorium intybus. Elevenses taken here was protracted by the appearance of a ferocious-looking (but harmless) Horn-tail, which hovered around the wood-pile, possibly looking for somewhere to lay its eggs, and then by a superb male Schreiber's Green Lizard, which John M teased for some time with a poppy petal attached to a long grass-stem!
Our main goal, however, was the tiny village of Tudes, just before which we parked and settled down to enjoy lunch (fresh asparagus and strawberries) by a water trough full of Midwife Toad tadpoles (siphon underneath the belly). Before we started, however, a male Yellowhammer perched on top of a bush was joined by a Woodlark, while a couple of Stonechats flitted through the scrub behind, but it wasn't until we were all juggling our plates that a beautiful male Red-backed Shrike came out and perched in full view for all to admire, only to disappear when a Sparrowhawk circled up in front. Sadly, we just couldn't locate either a calling Wryneck or a singing Rock Bunting in the trees and scrub about 100m above us.
After lunch we walked towards Tudes, from where we had super views of an adult Egyptian Vulture circling below us, while the roadside flowers turned up our first Wood White. The walnut trees in the village harboured a Nuthatch, with the TV aerials proving more attractive to a male Common Redstart in fine voice and a roof apex sporting a fine Black Redstart, also in song. An examination of the first water-trough in the village produced a rather unexpected Fox Moth in the surrounding vegetation, the potato fields a little further on were providing a feast for Colorado Beetle larvae, and Teresa and John have a protracted discussion about the identity of a large but very dead serpent hanging from a tree before finally pronouncing it to be an Aesculapian Snake (and John S reminded us that this beast is named after Asklepios, the Greek God of Medicine, although none of us were quite sure why.)
After delving in a second old stone trough for several stunning lime-green-and-black Marbled Newts and a few smaller Palmate Newts, we were treated to a couple more Nuthatches feeding on a nearby dung-heap. Despite the rather windy conditions a few birds were audible, with Common Cuckoo, Western Bonelli's Warbler and Green Woodpecker heard, though only the latter came out to show itself in a cut haymeadow. A Wryneck sat quietly in an ash tree, but disappeared into thick scrub before good views could be had, eluding all but Pamela, while the scrubby woodland was also attractive to several Tree Pipits, which fluttered up before parachuting down in their display-flights.
More dry meadows along the way turned up Field Eryngo Eryngium campestre (one of the rarest plants in the British Isles, but a common wayside weed on the continent), the umbellifer Thapsia villosa, with large spherical yellow flower-heads, Etruscan Honeysuckle Lonicera etrusca, the white-flowered Cut-leaved Self-heal Prunella laciniata and a number of composites, including the curry-scented everlasting flower Helichrysum stoechas, the lemon-flowered Andryala integrifolia and Tanacetum corymbosum, while the dry banks in the woods housed Sage-leaved Cistus Cistus salviifolius, Bell Heather Erica cinerea and the white-flowered stonecrop Sedum hirsutum.
We were descending through Western Holm Oak woodland, inhabited by several Firecrests, when Teresa heard a nest-full of young woodpeckers in a tree calling for food. We sat quietly in a nearby meadow watching the presumed nest-hole and struck lucky almost immediately as a pair of Middle Spotted Woodpeckers came in on several occasions to feed their young, providing prolonged views for all and even some photos for Ted. We also encountered our first Provençal Fritillaries of the trip nearby, distinguished by the characteristic dumbbell-shaped mark on the bottom edge of the upper forewing.
As we continued down to Valmeo, through evergreen scrub dominated by Prickly Juniper Juniperus oxycedrus, Phillyrea latifolia and Strawberry-tree Arbutus unedo, we spotted a few new plants for the trip, including Musk Mallow Malva moschata, Wall Germander Teucrium chamaedrys, Weasel-snout Misopates orontium, Grass-leaved Viper's-grass Scorzonera graminifolia, Cone Knapweed Leuzia conifera and Rosy Garlic Allium roseum, as well as both Bee and Woodcock Orchids (Ophrys apifera & O. scolopax). This habitat also provided a surprise in the form of a number of Large Psammodromus (lizards), as this essentially Mediterranean species had not previously been recorded in the Picos de Europa.
The walk down to Valmeo was rather quiet birdwise, though a couple of Ravens and a small flock of Crag Martins graced a nearby cliff, while down in the valley bottom by Valmeo, John M's shout for a passing Booted Eagle saw the rest of the group look in totally the opposite direction - at a Honey Buzzard! A couple of Black Kites wheeled around for good measure while Teresa and John M hopped in a taxi to go and pick up the minibuses.
A day way up in the mountains, though the decision on whether to go up or not was complicated by the weather conditions, as well as the sight of a man on top of the pulley-wheel system of the cable-car wielding a spanner. However, after a few minutes of tinkering and wry jokes, most of the group started off, only to stop, suspended considerably above the group some 30m out. Luckily the cable-car soon moved off again, disappearing seemingly vertically into the cloud shrouding the rockface. The second group got on the returning car, noting Serin and Firecrest in the pines as we pulled out. A swift three minute/800m ascent was all it took to whisk us up into the rarefied atmosphere of the Central Massif of the Picos de Europa, at 1,800m.
Although the cable-car ride attracts a lot of people, inevitably most just admire the view for a few minutes, have a drink in the cafeteria at the top and then go down again. If you walk away from the upper station you quickly find yourself with an alpine rockscape all to yourself, and the only people you see are those trudging along the main track down to the hotel in Aliva. The two groups were reunited on top and we started out across the limestone-pasture mosaic in moderate cloud, taking in the atmosphere and searching for plants and animals as we went.
The cloud suddenly began to clear, revealing towering peaks forming a sort of semicircle ahead. A few Northern Wheatears and Water Pipits provided bird interest, a couple of Chamois peered down from a ridgetop and a few distant Red-billed and closer Alpine Choughs were observed.
As soon as we left the main track, some of the typical high-altitude plants of northern Spain started to put in an appearance, most of which are either mat- or cushion-forming, as defence against the harsh climatic conditions, both in summer and winter. Most notably we were regaled with the Picos endemic saxifrage Saxifraga felineri, whose large yellow flowers emerge from the tightest cushion of leaves possible, but we took equal pleasure from the veritable carpet of the rock-jasmine Androsace villosa and Hoary Rock-rose Helianthemum canum which spread between mats of the Picos endemic greenweed Genista legionensis.
Other species which were new to us here included Moss Campion Silene acaulis, the delicate white-flowered crucifer called Chamois-cress Hutchinsia alpina ssp. auerswaldi, Spring Gentians Gentiana verna (protected by Schedule 8 of the WCA in the UK) and Trumpet Gentians G. acaulis, as well as Alpine Forget-me-not Myosotis alpestris, a UK RDB plant. Here too were Amplexicaule Buttercups Ranunculus amplexicaulis, confined to the Cordillera Cantabrica and Pyrenees and identified by their grey-green, strap-shaped leaves and lovely paper-thin white petals, and Pyrenean Toadflax Linaria supina, with lemon-yellow flowers.
A section of limestone pavement, with its characteristic clints and grikes, provided an accumulation of soil in the crevices for deeper-rooted species requiring more shelter and higher humidity, in particular Holly Fern Polystichum lonchitis, Brittle Bladder-fern Cystopteris fragilis and Green Spleenwort Asplenium viride, as well as, rather surprisingly for UK botanists, Spurge Laurel Daphne laureola, which in Britain is usually an indicator of ancient woodlands!
Other attractive 'rock-garden' species here included such botanical gems as Teesdale Violet Viola rupestris, a UK RDB species, Alpine Lady's mantle Alchemilla alpina, with silky-hairy leaves divided into 'fingers' almost to the base, Pyrenean Spurge Euphorbia chamaebuxus, Malling Toadflax Chaenorhinum origanifolium and the diminutive Cone Saxifrage Saxifraga conifera, unique to the Cordillera Cantabrica and the Pyrenees, whose vegetative shoots do indeed bring to mind tiny pine cones. The pastures in between were dotted with thousands of the pale-blue heads of Spring Squill Scilla verna, although we searched in vain for some late-flowering Narcissus asturiensis, whose tiny flowers are only a couple of centimetres long.
Shortly we arrived at a small pool, where we encountered a host of Alpine Newts and several half-grown Midwife Toads. Around and about we also located the insectivorous Large-flowered Butterwort Pinguicula grandiflora, Leafless-stemmed Globularia Globularia nudicaulis and a few clumps of Chives Allium schoenoprasum. Some of the snow-fields in the distance revealed more Chamois chilling-out on the ice, but closer at hand, as we wandered over the grass, John H called us over to look at a bird at short range, which revealed not one, but three superb Alpine Accentors walking around and feeding only a few metres from our feet.
We then climbed up to a flat track across scree, vainly searching the vast expanse of rock faces above for Wallcreeper. A few Griffon Vultures and Ravens punctuated the skies, though a paler bird being harried by two choughs turned out to be a fine Honey Buzzard. A large boulder attracted Alison's attention for being encrusted with the lovely Matted Globularia Globularia repens and the white-flowered, cushion-forming Draba dedeana, a crucifer which is unique to northern Spain, and her sharp eyes then picked out a clump of another northern Spanish endemic: the white-flowered anemone Anemone pavoniana. The scree plants along the track included Alpine Toadflax Linaria alpina (here the Picos endemic subspecies filicaulis), Dark Stonecrop Sedum atratum and the grey-green leaves of the Pygmy Hawk's-beard Crepis pygmaea.
Just as we reached a region of jumbled boulders, a small bird flying across caught Teresa's eye, which turned out to be a superb male Wallcreeper, perched in full view for all to admire which we duly did, and for some time too. Eventually it flew off, chasing another male, and we sat down to prepare lunch, but it reappeared on several occasions as we ate, during which the Alpine Choughs came in to very short range to scavenge a few crusts.
While we'd planned to walk on, the appearance of more cloud suggested we returned via the scree-slope path to look for one last bird, and this proved to be a key decision. A few minutes later, a small bird flashed its large white wing patches as it flew past and then pitched for all to view in the scope: a Snowfinch. We moved to get views below it, though finally, just as it was being swallowed in the cloud rolling over, it flew off, giving its somewhat metallic calls. Another short break saw us watching singing male and female Black Redstarts, before the cloud finally clamped down, and we were left in thick but not overly cold mist. Not all was lost however, as a couple of Crag Martins and a small group of House Martins flew around, presumably picking-off the insects carried up by the breezes and chilled in the higher altitudes.
Rather despondent, we followed the main track back to the upper cable-car station, adding Pyrenean Mignonette Reseda glauca, Fairy Foxglove Erinus alpinus, Hairy Woodruff Asperula hirta and Pink Sandwort Arenaria purpurascens to our list. As we came out of the cable car and headed for the minibuses, Barry noted a Green Woodpecker flying by, while Nuthatches called and Coal Tits sang from the pine trees.
Following a restorative coffee or hot chocolate with brandy, we made a quick trip down to the Monasterio de Santo Toribio and then briefly on to Potes to post letters etc., noting two Black Kites over the road on the way and flocks of Common Swifts over the town, and also stopping en route to observe a particularly fine Lizard Orchid and some elegant spikes of Bath Asparagus Ornithogalum pyrenaicum on the roadside.
Low cloud at night, providing temperatures aren't too low, can give excellent conditions for setting a moth trap, but on this occasion the cloud cleared during the night revealing a full moon and causing the thermometer to drop sharply. As a result our catch was rather small (no doubt also due to the considerable light pollution in the village in the form of multiple street-lamps), with the most notable species being the rust-coloured tiger moth known as Hyphoraia dejeani (full details of catch in the appendices).
AS the cloud rolled in once more, we set off for the Puerto de San Glorio in a quest for sunnier conditions. The first stop was a slightly impromptu one as we spotted several raptors over the road at Vada. In a short space of time, two Black Kites, several Common Buzzards, two Short-toed Eagles, a Common Kestrel and a Peregrine were all watched as they passed by, while a Red-backed Shrike vied for attention in nearby bushes, a Grey Wagtail graced a rooftop and a Cirl Bunting sang from a roadside wire.
We climbed up through meadows and genista/broom scrub to a steep roadside meadow close to the Puerto de San Glorio (1,609m), which produced lots of butterflies and plants, although a few singing Garden Warblers were the only birds of note here. Plantwise we encountered the red-flowered form of Elder-flowered Orchid Dactylorhiza sambucina and more Burnt-tips and Early Marsh Orchids, but the stars of the show were undoubtedly the dozens of spikes of Black Vanilla Orchid Nigritella nigra and a few rather gone-over Pyrenean Snakesheads Fritillaria pyrenaica and Lent Lilies Narcissus pseudonarcissus. Also here were Pyrenean Rampions Phyteuma pyrenaica, Horned Pansy Viola cornuta, Irish Spurge Euphorbia hyberna, the lousewort Pedicularis mixta, Upright Vetch Vicia orobus and Bistort Polygonum bistorta.
The meadow was also alive with butterflies, just waking up as we were on the very edge of the cloud, the partly sunny conditions being ideal for butterfly photography, much to Ted's delight. Species new to us for the week included Red-underwing and Rosy Grizzled Skippers, Mountain Dappled White, Marsh Fritillary, Small Heath, Purple-edged Copper and Mazarine Blue. Here too we found a few Viviparous Lizards in the damper meadows, while a Common Frog tried in vain to escape our eagle eyes.
We continued up the track to the Collado de Llesba, past Linnet and a Mistle Thrush, where a gradually clearing view of the whole Central and Eastern massifs of the Picos was laid out in front of us. Closer at hand, attention was aimed primarily to a singing Whitethroat, though Stonechat, several Water Pipits, Dunnock and a singing Skylark were also noted. We also encountered a small black moth with prominent white patches on both wings, which turned out to be the pyralid Titanio pollinalis.
A half-hour drive separated us from our lunch spot on the Arroyo de Mostajal, during which we paused briefly to watch a Short-toed Eagle. Once replete, to the accompaniment of the sound of the stream and a few Field Crickets, we set about exploring the surrounding meadows. Notable plants here included the cornflower-like Centaurea triumfetti, Mountain Alyssum Alyssum montanum, the celery-scented Spignel Meum athamanticum, Sweet Cicely Myrrhis odorata, Wood Cranesbill Geranium sylvaticum, Ashy Cranesbill G. cinereum ssp. subargenteum, Tozzia Tozzia alpina, Star-of-Bethlehem Ornithogalum umbellatum and the yellow-flowered variety of Elder-flowered Orchid, although we found neither hide nor hair of the Wild Tulips Tulipa sylvestris ssp. australis which are usually in flower at this time of year.
We had climbed a low bluff at the end of the meadows in order to examine - albeit through binoculars - large clumps of the Iberian endemic saxifrage Saxifraga continentalis hanging over the edge of the stream, when a large bird soared over the hilltop opposite: a sub-adult Golden Eagle, which was seen by all, some even in the scope as it circled around.
Many butterflies graced the meadows and streamside willow thickets, but only Ted was able to track down a solitary Camberwell Beauty, patrolling along a sheltered stretch of river (and he had the photos to prove it!). The rest of us had to be content with our first Moroccan Orange-tips, Heath, Meadow and Pearl-bordered Fritillaries, Small Coppers and Turquoise Blues, although by far commoner were Clouded Yellows, Orange-tips, Small Heaths, De Prunner's Ringlets, Green Hairstreaks and Mazarine Blues.
Other creatures which caught our attention here included a river full of caddis larvae, plus bagworm (psychid moths) larvae occupying the equivalent terrestrial niche, as well as Broad-bodied Chasers and a single steel-blue oil beetle (Meloe sp.). Just prior to departure, a large shadow passing over revealed a young Golden Eagle at close range which circled up and disappeared, while back at the minibuses two birds over the opposite hillside also turned out to be Golden Eagles, this time an adult female and a different young bird! We finally tore ourselves away and headed for home, stopping only briefly to examine a bird on a wire which unexpectedly turned out to be a Long-tailed Tit, from which vantage point Lance spotted a Chamois watching us from the crest of the gorge overhead.
We returned along the road through the La Hermida gorge, which forms the eastern boundary of the Picos, then turned off west and started climbing, stopping at a viewpoint across to cliffs with open Western Holm Oak woodland on the slopes around. Western Bonelli's Warbler and Iberian Chiffchaff sang around us, while a Griffon Vulture perched on a rock-face opposite, its now large chick lying in a nest a few yards to one side. The brambles adjacent to the viewpoint gave us our first - and extremely good - views of False Ilex Hairstreak.
We parked in the rural village of Beges and after distributing lunch between the rucksacks started climbing up the old mining track. A small number of Egyptian Vultures were circling with the Griffons and closer to hand Black Redstarts were on the roofs, although a singing Rock Bunting disappeared before it could be viewed properly. John H then pointed out to two birds soaring over the nearby ridge, one being the 'usual' Griffon but the other was a very black (and hence young) Black Vulture, well to the north of its habitual range and Teresa's first in the Picos in 15 years! As we climbed further, so a Red-backed Shrike, Stonechats and Tree and Water Pipits were all noted, though an extremely mobile Marsh Tit was more of a challenge as it went through the tree-tops.
Plantwise we were regaled with more Bee and Man Orchids, plus clumps of the showy, dandelion-like Crepis albida sprouting from the bare limestone which lined the track. The meadows produced stands of Spreading Bellflower Campanula patula (a rare species in the UK, listed in the RDB), Large Self-heal Prunella grandiflora and Fragrant Orchids Gymnadenia conopsea, as well as the cream-coloured snapdragon Antirrhinum braun-blanquetii, which many of the group had trouble believing was a wild plant. Butterflies seen along the way included Marsh Fritillary, our first Large Wall Browns and an abundance of de Prunner's Ringlets.
Elevenses was taken in a meadow on the ridge-top, after which another Egyptian Vulture circled over, followed by three Short-toed Eagles. Small-bird sounds led to the discovery of a group of Alpine Choughs circling as they passed high over a nearby peak, calling as they went. As we crossed the plateau meadows many butterflies were on the wing in the warm summer sunshine, particularly abundant among which were Clouded Yellows, whizzing past at speed, and we also added Pearly Heath and Short-tailed Blue to our list here.
Lunch was taken in a splendid scrubby meadow overlooking the Beges valley, where the outstanding plants were undoubtedly a host of almost-black pasque-flowers Pulsatilla rubra ssp. hispanica, Pink Butterfly Orchids and our first Large Tongue Orchids Serapias cordigera. After a spectacularly unsuccessful attempt by John M to catch a male Cleopatra during lunch, a twittering in the skies behind the group revealed the presence of several Alpine Swifts passing overhead.
A 'sit-in' in the woods proved productive as a Short-toed Treecreeper landed directly in front for all to see, although another singing Western Bonelli's Warbler stayed in the canopy and out of sight. A small group of noisy young birds in a tree-top included Long-tailed, Blue and Coal Tits. The understorey of this forest included such eye-catching herbs as Yellow Pea Lathyrus laevigatus, Great Meadow-rue Thalictrum aquilegifolium and a stand of not-out Pyrenean Lilies Lilium pyrenaicum which promised to look great later in the year, despite having being attacked by lily beetles. We emerged onto a small knoll which Teresa knows is ideal for hill-topping butterflies, and sure enough we encountered both Swallowtail and Scarce Swallowtail here.
As we made our way round to the north side of the spur we encountered more singing treecreepers, this time including two Eurasian Treecreepers, while the surprisingly acid soils here were host to a number of calcifuge ferns, including Hard Blechnum spicant, Lady Athyrium filix-femina, Scaly Male Dryopteris affinis and Lemon-scented Thelypteris limbosperma. A pause by a water trough turned up Hairy Saxifrage Saxifraga hirsuta and the extremely rare Whorled Solomon's Seal Polygonatum verticillatum.
The prospect of a long, hot walk down produced the sight of a near-sprinting, rucksack-laden Teresa haring off down the track to fetch a minibus for part of the route, despite some half-hearted howls of protest, while in the meantime we had close-up views of Stonechats, Dunnocks and a singing male Rock Bunting which finally 'performed' and was much admired in the scope.
We stopped in the village for a drink, and amidst the jokes and banter outside on the terrace, a fine singing Goldfinch perched for all to enjoy. The day wasn't quite over for some, however, who opted to visit the pre-Romanesque (910 AD) church of Santa María de Lebeña, compete with 4,000-year-old Celtic altar stone, and during the bus change-over, a Great Spotted Woodpecker called from riverside poplars. Some members of the group also had luck noting Dippers in the river en route back.
A keen group came out at 7am for a pre-breakfast walk which we took at Fuente Dé. Though quiet, the common woodland birds were singing well, and a Short-toed Treecreeper just overhead was close enough to look at the primary tip markings (well, John M saw them at least!). A strange barking sound caught our attention, though a Red Squirrel rushing off through the mid-storey took precedence. Heading towards the source of the sound, we noted a nearby Raven digging through horse dung for beetles, and though the sound stopped, we eventually located the source: a distant Roe Deer crossing a meadow. The return produced several Nuthatches at close range and a still-flowering Cowslip Primula veris.
Time was running short so we moved just round the corner by the cable-car station and quickly located a singing Firecrest and several more Coal Tits in the conifers. Back at the Nevandi, Teresa and co. had examined the contents of the moth trap, which produced a marginally better catch that on the previous occasion, including both male and female Pale Tussocks, a Great Prominent and a Figure of Eighty.
The main part of the day was spent strolling through a valley above Lebeña. After a 4WD-taxi ride in two groups up the first stage, we had a fine walk through a mixture of habitats, ranging from flower-rich meadows to mature, open Pyrenean Oak woodland. The 'second' group at the bottom saw Spotted Flycatcher, Cirl Bunting and distant Griffon and Egyptian Vultures perched almost side-by-side, while the first was also regaled by singing Cirl Bunting.
Climbing gently up through the meadows and woods we heard a Common Cuckoo and a 'blipping' Common Quail, though singing Song Thrushes and Blackcaps were the order of the day. The flora was typical of dry, fairly acid habitats, including Spotted Rock-rose Tuberaria guttata, the pale-lilac-flowered wall lettuce Lactuca tenerrima, the composite Tolpis barbata and the leguminous shrub Adenocarpus complicatus, distinguished by its warty fruits, as well as Fringed Pink Dianthus monspessulanus.
We traversed an area of more mature woodland, where plaintive calls finally revealed the close presence of a pair of Western Bonelli's Warblers, so much so that a somewhat out-of-range Common Chiffchaff singing behind us was practically ignored! Birds were generally more visible from hereon, with several Nuthatches and Short-toed Treecreepers, a fly-by Middle Spotted Woodpecker and Great and Blue Tits noted. Just before a stop by a tiny stream, Jenny found a pair of Middle Spotted Woodpeckers and we had another chance to admire this very uncommon species.
This stream was also the site of our most notable butterfly sightings for the morning, producing a superb Green-underside Blue, as well as Short-tailed Blue, Wood and Black-veined Whites and Lulworth and Dingy Skippers. We lunched in a very pleasant meadow, trying to avoid flattening the numerous Bee and Woodcock Orchids in the process, although Teresa was disappointed that the Twayblades Listera ovata had either finished flowering or failed to flower in this very dry spring: the only evidence was dozens of paired basal leaves. A light shower accompanied us for a short while as we descended through these incredibly rich, terraced meadows, during which we still managed to spot Marsh and Pearl-bordered Fritillaries, a lovely male Green-underside Blue and both Adonis and Common Blues (again both males).
Plantwise the highlights of the afternoon were the eye-catching Broad-leaved Everlasting Pea Lathyrus latifolius (sadly unscented), the shrubby Black Pea Lathyrus niger, Ground-pine Ajuga chamaepitys (rather rare in southern England today) and a few rather gone-over Small Tongue Orchids Serapias parviflora and Violet Limodores Limodorum abortivum. The dry, shaly cliffs just above the village turned up Annual Bellflower Campanula erinus and a small, prostrate plant that Teresa had seen before and been unable to identify; back at camp, John M put her to shame by keying it out as Telephium imperati: a new species for the Picos.
After a last simple but scrumptious breakfast at Espinama (John M said he was going to miss those frisuelos!) we loaded-up without more ado and bade farewell to the staff who'd attended us so well. In Potes we stopped for cheeses and other local products, with an impromptu coffee break as John M went back to the hotel to pick up Brenda's camera, though on his return a Peregrine wheeled over a nearby mountainside almost as a parting salute to the group.
Several Grey Wagtails and another Dipper for a lucky few graced the River Deva in the Desfiladero de la Hermida, though a slightly longer stop was in order to look at a meadow in Peñarrubia, to the east of La Hermida itself. This was studded with a impressive array of robust Pyramidal Orchids Anacamptis pyramidalis, with a few Large-flowered Serapias for added interest, while numerous Marbled Whites fluttered through the grass-tops.
Despite this floral interest, birds tried to steal the show once more as a pair of Short-toed Eagles circled around, joined briefly by a Booted Eagle, despite all three playing hide-and-seek behind a large tree. Just as these disappeared an Iberian Chiffchaff came out to sing in a bare tree-top for a short while, though long enough for scope views. As this went and hid in a dense canopy, so attention turned to a raptor planing down the valley which 'turned into' an Egyptian Vulture, while among more raptors over the opposite hillside, an adult Golden Eagle spiralled up slowly, before being chased briefly by a Peregrine as it finally drifted off across the valley.
We wound our way down towards the coast, noting a complete change in scenery and flora, with a flock of 25+ Cattle Egrets spotted by Teresa in a field ahead, and despite trying to hide in alfalfa, leaving Yellow-legged Gulls to catch the eye instead, the orange heads and yellow beaks of some breeding-plumaged birds were well visible as we stopped opposite on a roadside.
Further on, so we passed various coastal creeks and estuaries, with ever more Yellow-legged Gulls, our first Magpies for nearly a week, and even a few starlings, most of which (at least all those identified) were of the Spotless ilk. A couple of Little Egrets were spotted by Barry, while the two Mute Swans at one point were probably escaped birds, though a group of small cygnets with them rather confused the issue. Sadly, John M's attempt to spend a week birdwatching without seeing a Mallard failed, but only just, with three near the swans, though once more he had doubts as to their origin. A couple of Collared Doves were further 'list padders', while 'zip, zip, zipping' Zitting Cisticolas were heard from the first bus, though John M was the only one to hear them in the second, with just one 'zit' noted!
We ended our tour with lunch in the carpark of the Parque Natural de las Dunas de Liencres; although sadly we had no time to explore to coastal dunes, we sat in the warm sunshine and sea breeze beside a fine display of delightful flowering Jersey Pink Dianthus gallicus. The rain started to come down as we neared Bilbao, but didn't succeed in dampening the cheerful parting smiles of those catching the flight home to the UK.
Teresa Farino & John Muddeman; July 2001
This is the combined list for the whole group. R. = río (river).
Cattle Egret ( Bubulcus ibis) : A flock of 25-30 in an alfalfa field by the R. Deva en route near El Mazo on 9th.
Little Egret ( Egretta garzetta) : Two - three seen in estuary areas en route to Liencres on 9th.
White Stork ( Ciconia ciconia): One in a field en route near Santander en route on 2nd, and two there on return on 9th.
Mute Swan ( Cygnus olor): A pair plus small brood in a coastal estuary (La Rabia) on 9th, though probably captive birds or escapes from captivity.
Mallard ( Anas platyrhynchos) : Three on a raft by the Mute Swans above, plus one+ near El Astillero en route on 9th.
(European) Honey Buzzard (Pernis apivorus) : A pair over the hillside above Espinama on 3rd, one at Valmeo on 4th and one high over the Fuente Dé massif mobbed by Alpine Choughs on 5th.
Black Kite ( Milvus migrans) : 5+ en route on 2nd, 2+ at Valmeo on 4th, 2 near Potes on 5th, 2 over Vada on 6th and 5+ en route on 9th.
Eurasian Black / Monk Vulture (Aegypius monachus) : A young bird (2nd-3rd cal. year), and the first for Teresa in 15 years in the Picos, over Beges on 7th.
[Eurasian] Griffon Vulture (Gyps fulvus) : Seen daily from 3rd, with max. 8 at Frama on 4th, 15+ around Beges on 7th, 15+ above Lebeña on 8th and 10+ in the Desfiladero de La Hermida on 9th.
Egyptian Vulture ( Neophron percnopterus) : Single adults noted en route on 2nd and at Tudes on 4th, 5+ above Beges on 7th, 2 near Lebeña on 8th and one in the Desfiladero de La Hermida on 9th.
Short-toed Eagle ( Circaetus gallicus) : Ones and twos seen on 6 days, with max. of 2 over Vada on 6th, 3+ over the Sierra de Beges on 7th and 2 in the Desfiladero de La Hermida on 9th.
Hen Harrier ( Circus cyaneus) : A lone male disappearing high to the north as we came out of the bar near Unquera en route on 2nd.
Eurasian Sparrowhawk ( Accpiter nisus) : A male over Pido on 3rd, 3 singles near Frama and Tudes on 4th, and 2 over the Sierra de Beges on 7th.
Common Buzzard ( Buteo buteo) : Moderate numbers seen daily and widely, with max. 10+ en route on 2nd.
Golden Eagle ( Aquila chrysaetos) : A subadult male, followed by a juvenile, then an adult female and a different juvenile over hills by the Arroyo de Mostajal on 6th, and a distant adult in the Desfiladero de La Hermida on 9th.
Booted Eagle ( Hieraeetus pennatus) : 2 over the road en route on 2nd, a dark phase bird over Valmeo on 4th and 1 circling with Short-toed Eagles in the Desfiladero de La Hermida on 9th.
Common Kestrel ( Falco tinnunculus) : Noted in ones and twos on 6 days, but with max. 5+ en route on 2nd.
Peregrine Falcon ( Falco peregrinus): One, probably a female, over Vada on 6th and another, an adult over Potes on 9th.
[Common] Quail ( Coturnix coturnix) : One, 'wetting its lips' in a meadow above Lebeña on 8th.
Common Coot ( Fulica atra) : An adult plus a chick in pools by the road near El Astillero en route on 9th.
Yellow-legged Gull ( Larus cachinnans) : Good numbers seen from the vehicle during both outward and return leg from/to Bilbao on 2nd & 9th, but not penetrating into mountains.
Rock Dove/Feral Pigeon ( Columba livia) : Noted almost daily (mostly in Potes) in small number from 4th; all were Feral Pigeons.
Wood Pigeon ( Columba palumbus) : Noted in small number on 5 days in widely scattered localities.
[Eurasian] Collared Dove (S. decaocto) : 5+ in coastal towns/villages en route to Bilbao on 9th.
Common [Eurasian] Cuckoo (Cuculus canorus) : Singles heard at Espinama and Tudes on 4th, and two calling at Lebeña on 8th.
Alpine Swift ( Apus melba) : 4+ calling and briefly seen over the Sierra de Beges on 7th.
Common Swift ( Apus apus) : Seen daily in variable number including high over the mountains; max. 50+ Potes on 4th.
Wryneck ( Jynx torquilla) : One calling during lunch, then a different bird seen briefly near Tudes on 4th.
Middle Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos medius) : A pair watching feeding young near Tudes on 4th, and a brief single plus another pair carrying food for young near Lebeña on 8th.
Great Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos major) : Just a single calling from poplars by the Lebeña turn-off on 7th.
*Black Woodpecker ( Dryocopus martius) : Single birds seen flying over the main valley at Espinama early on 3rd (Brenda) and over the side-valley at Espinama early on 4th (Barry) were probably this species.
Green Woodpecker ( Picus viridis) : Singles were seen at Tudes on 4th and Fuente Dé on 5th, with singles 'yaffling' at the Sierra de Beges on 7th and at Lebeña on 8th.
Woodlark ( Lullula arborea) : Just one, sat on a bushtop beside a Yellowhammer at Tudes on 4th.
[Eurasian] Sky Lark ( Alauda arvensis) : Just one heard singing (distantly!) at the Collado de Llesba on 6th.
[Eurasian] Crag Martin ( Hirundo rupestris) : Notably local: 6 by crags above Valmeo on 4th, 5+ over the central massif, Fuente Dé on 5th, and a total of 15+ at Espinama and the Sierra de Beges on 7th.
Barn Swallow ( Hirundo rustica) : Noted daily and widely in generally small number.
[Common] House Martin ( Delichon urbica) : Noted daily and widely, generally in small number around towns, but a flock over the central massif, Fuente Dé on 5th, and 150+ that evening over Espinama were especially notable.
White Wagtail ( Motacilla alba) : Noted daily and widely in small-moderate number. All were ssp. alba.
Grey Wagtail ( Motacilla cinerea) : A pair noted almost daily in the early morning in Espinama, plus 2 at Vada on 6th and occasional birds along the R. Deva on 7th - 9th.
Tree Pipit ( Anthus trivialis) : 5+ in the Tudes area on 4th, 3+ at the Sierra de Beges on 7th and several near Lebeña on 8th.
Water Pipit ( Anthus spinoletta) : 3+ on the central massif, Fuente Dé on 5th, 3+ at the Collado de Llesba and Puerto de San Glorio area on 6th and 1 at the Sierra de Beges on 7th.
Red-backed Shrike ( Lanius collurio) : A male near Tudes on 4th, 4+ at different sites on 6th, 2+ at the Sierra de Beges on 7th and 1 at Espinama on 9th.
[White-throated] Dipper (Cinclus cinclus) : 1 in the R. Deva en route on 2nd, 3+ there on 7th and 1 there en route to Bilbao on 9th.
[Winter] Wren ( Troglodytes troglodytes) : Small numbers heard and occasional ones seen at widely scattered localities on 3rd, 4th, and 6th - 8th.
Alpine Accentor ( Prunella collaris) : 4 on the central massif, Fuente Dé on 5th, with 2 down to just a few yards.
Hedge Accentor [Dunnock] (Prunella modularis) : Small numbers, especially in higher scrub areas: 1 at Espinama on 4th, 3+ on 6th and 2+ at Sierra de Beges on 7th.
[Common] Blackbird ( Turdus merula) : Noted on all full days in small-moderate number.
Song Thrush ( Turdus philomelos) : Noted on all full days in small-moderate number, though only seen from 6th.
Mistle Thrush ( Turdus viscivorus) : 1 near the Collado de Llesba on 6th and a pair flying at the Sierra de Beges on 7th.
[European] Robin ( Erithacus rubecula) : Small-moderate numbers seen and/or heard on 5 days.
Black Redstart ( Phoenicurus ochruros) : Noted on all full days with max. 10+ on the central massif, Fuente Dé on 5th.
Common Redstart ( Phoenicurus phoenicurus) : A male at Espinama and 3+ near Tudes on 4th, and the male again noted at Espinama on 8th.
[Common] Stonechat ( Saxicola torquata) : 4 in the Tudes area on 4th, 2 at the Collado de Llesba and 2 en route on 6th, and 5+ Sierra de Beges on 7th.
Northern Wheatear ( Oenanthe oenanthe) : 6+ on the central massif, Fuente Dé on 5th.
Cetti's Warbler ( Cettia cetti) : 1 heard singing twice in the scrub-filled stream-gorge at Frama on 4th.
Common Chiffchaff ( Phylloscopus collybita) : One heard singing above Lebeña on 8th.
Iberian Chiffchaff ( Phylloscopus brehmii) : 3+ singing by the lower road approaching Beges on 7th, and 1 singing from an exposed tree-top above La Hermida on 9th.
Western Bonelli's Warbler (Phylloscopus bonelli) : One heard singing Espinama and 3+ singing Tudes on 4th, 3+ heard in Sierra de Beges on 7th and a pair finally seen well above Lebeña on 8th.
Blackcap ( Sylvia atricapilla) : Noted widely and in good number on 4 days, with max. 10+ on 3rd and 15+ on 8th.
Garden Warbler ( Sylvia borin) : 2 heard on 3rd, lots in high scrub and riverside vegetation on 6th, and 1 singing Sierra de Beges on 7th.
Common Whitethroat ( Sylvia communis) : Notably scarce: one singing and another watched song-flighting Collado de Llesba on 6th.
Firecrest ( Regulus ignicapillus) : Singles at Espinama and Frama plus 3+ singing Tudes area on 4th, 2 Fuente Dé cable-car station on 5th, and one there on 8th.
Spotted Flycatcher ( Muscicapa striata) : 1-2 almost daily at Espinama, plus singles at Pido on 3rd, Frama and Tudes on 4th, and Lebeña on 8th.
Long-tailed Tit ( Aegithalus caudatus) : 2 birds on wires in the gorge near Llánaves de la Reina on 6th, and 2+ in the Sierra de Beges on 7th.
Marsh Tit ( Parus palustris) : 2+ in the Sierra de Beges on 7th.
Coal Tit ( Parus ater) : Several singing between Espinama and Fuente Dé on 3rd, at Fuente Dé on 5th and 8th, 4 at the Sierra de Beges on 7th.
Great Tit ( Parus major) : A few heard and seen on 5 days at various sites.
Blue Tit ( Parus caeruleus) : Only noted in small numbers on three days at various sites.
[Eurasian] Nuthatch ( Sitta europaea) : 3+ in woods near Tudes and Valmeo on 4th, 2 at Fuente Dé on 5th, several in Sierra de Beges woods on 7th and 6+ Lebeña woods on 8th.
Wallcreeper ( Tichodroma muraria) : 2 superb males in the central massif, Fuente Dé on 5th.
Short-toed Treecreeper ( Certhia brachydactyla) : 3+ in the Sierra de Beges woods on 7th, and 1 at Fuente Dé and 3+ in the Lebeña woods on 8th.
Eurasian Treecreeper ( Certhia familiaris) : 2+ singing in the Sierra de Beges woods (N side) on 7th.
Eurasian Jay ( Garrulus glandarius) : 3 at Espinama, 1 at Frama and 2+ in Tudes area on 4th, 2+ heard in the Sierra de Beges woods on 7th, and 3+ en route on 9th.
[Black-billed] Magpie ( Pica pica) : Only seen en route to/from the Picos on 2nd and 9th.
[Red-billed] Chough ( Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax) : 31+ at Fuente Dé on 3rd, 4 on the central massif, Fuente Dé on 5th, 6+ over the Sierra de Beges on 7th and 1 en route on 8th.
Alpine Chough ( Pyrrhocorax graculus) : 7+ down to a few yards on the central massif, Fuente Dé on 5th, a flock of 17 over the Sierra de Beges on 7th.
Carrion Crow ( Corvus corone) : Noted daily (except 5th) in moderate number.
Common Raven ( Corvus corax) : Seen daily from 4th - 8th, with ones and twos seen widely, except for 4+ near Tudes on 4th and 3+ over the central massif, Fuente Dé on 5th.
Spotless Starling ( Sturnus unicolor) : One noted en route on 2nd, but 6+ en route back on the 9th. Although more starlings were seen from the vehicle en route back on 9th, some may have been Eurasian Starlings (S. vulgaris) which also breeds in this area of Spain.
Rock Bunting ( Emberiza cia) : One singing above Tudes lunch site on 4th, 2 singing males in the Sierra de Beges on 7th.
Yellowhammer ( Emberiza citrinella) : 3+ in the Tudes area on 4th, and 2+ at different sites on 6th.
Cirl Bunting ( Emberiza cirlus) : A male at Frama and 2 at Tudes on 4th, a male at Vada on 6th and 2 Lebeña on 8th.
[Common] Chaffinch ( Fringilla coelebs) : Only noted on 4 days, but with moderate numbers on 3rd, 4th, 7th and 8th.
[European] Serin ( Serinus serinus) : Small to moderate numbers on all full days, especially in and around Espinama.
[European] Greenfinch ( Carduelis chloris) : Seen on 4 days, with a pair + 2+ young in Espinama on various dates from 4th.
[European] Goldfinch ( Carduelis carduelis) : Only noted on 2 days: 2+ at Frama on 4th and 2+ Beges on 7th.
[Common] Linnet ( Carduelis cannabina) : 2 pairs at the Collado de Llesba on 6th and 1 at Sierra de Beges on 7th.
Hawfinch ( Coccothaustes coccothaustes) : Remarkably, 2+ heard calling closeby in woodland near Pido on 3rd. This is apparently a rare bird in Cantabria.
House Sparrow ( Passer domesticus) : Noted almost every day in moderate number around villages.
[Eurasian] Snowfinch ( Montifringilla nivalis) : Just one, but well-watched on the central massif, Fuente Dé on 5th.
Western Hedgehog: Singles dead on road en route on 2nd, on 4th and on 9th.
Badger: One dead beside road at Tudes on 4th.
Roe Deer: A fawn in meadows near Fuente Dé on 3rd, 1 at Tudes area on 4th and 1 seen and 3+ heard Fuente Dé on 8th.
Chamois: 10+ on the central massif, Fuente Dé on 5th, and one over the gorge near Llánaves de la Reina on 6th.
Red Squirrel: One in the Fuente Dé woods early on 8th.
REPTILES & AMPHIBIANS:
Common Wall Lizard (Podarcis muralis) was the common small lizard of rocks and walls in many places, and was seen on 5 days.
Iberian Wall Lizard (Podarcis hispanica) was much less common, though 1+ were noted on 3rd and several in the Sierra de Beges on 7th and near Lebeña on 8th.
Large Psammodromus (Psammodromus algirus) 4+ were in the Tudes to Valmeo area on 4th; this is a new record for the area.
Schreiber's Green Lizard ( Lacerta schreiberi) a beautiful blue-headed, green-bodied male was at Frama on 4th, though ignored attempts to 'lure' it...
Viviparous Lizard (Lacerta vivipara) 3+ were in the meadow at the Puerto de San Glorio and 1 was by the Arroyo de Mostajal on 6th.
Aesculapian Snake (Elaphe longissima) a dead one hung in a tree in Tudes was the only record.
Fire Salamander (Salamandra salamandra) 3 efts were in a drinking trough at Fuente Dé on 3rd.
Marbled Newt (Triturus marmoratus) 3+ lime-green and black adult near Tudes on 4th.
Alpine Newt (Triturus alpestris) 10+ in a pool on the central massif, Fuente Dé on 5th, and 20+ in several water troughs in the Sierra de Beges on 7th.
Palmate Newt (Triturus helveticus) 2 near Tudes on 4th and 20+ in several water troughs in the Sierra de Beges on 7th.
Midwife Toad (Alytes obstetricans) huge numbers of tadpoles were found in most water troughs on most days; 2+ adults and several smaller toads by the pool above Fuente Dé on 5th.
Common Toad (Bufo bufo) a dead adult by the pool above Fuente Dé on 5th, 1 at the Puerto de San Glorio on 6th, 1 in the Sierra de Beges on 7th and 1 adult in the old washing room in Lebeña on 8th. The true number present only became visible on 9th after overnight rain, when 500+ were dead on the roads the following morning.
Common Frog (Rana temporaria) 1 was at the Puerto de San Glorio on 6th.
TRAPPED MOTHS, ESPINAMA:
6-spot Burnet( Zygaena filipendulae) several on 4th.
5-spot burnet sp.( Zygaena sp.) several on both 4th and 8th.
Forester moth spp.( Procridinae sp.) several on various dates; all unidentified.
Bagworm spp.( Psychidae spp.) several, possibly different, bagworm larva in their cases were found.
Titanio pollinalis (Pyralidae) singles on 6th and 7th.
Fox Moth( Macrothylacia rubi) singles on the 4th and 8th.
Rhodostrophia vibicaria(Geometridae) one on 4th.
Chimney Sweeper( Odezia atrata) 2-3 on both 3rd and 7th.
Latticed Heath( Semiothisa clathrata) 2 seen on 3rd.
Speckled Yellow( Pseudopanthera maculata) small numbers on 3rd and 6th.
Eurranthis plummistaria (Geometridae) plenty on the central massif, Fuente Dé on 5th.
Black-veined Moth( Siona lineata) 2+ on 3rd and 1 on 7th.
Hummingbird Hawk-moth ( Macroglossum stellatarum) singles on 5th, 7th and 8th.
Common Heath( Ematurga atomaria) a single on 6th.
Dew Moth( Setina sp.) one on 7th.
Feathered Footman( Spiris striata) 3+ at Frama on 4th and 1+ on 8th.
Large Yellow Underwing ( Noctua pronuba) 1 on 7th.
Burnet Companion( Euclidia glyphica) numerous individuals seen on 3rd and 6th - 8th.
Silver Y( Autographa gamma) seen on 3rd and 7th.
identified & ordered using Chinery
Broad-bodied Chaser( Libellula depressa) a male by the Arroyo de Mostajal on 7th.
Field Cricket( Gryllus campestris) commonly heard trilling in fields and occ. seen.
Praying Mantis sp.( Mantis ?religiosa) a nymph on 4th.
Ascalaphid ('giant lacewing') ( Libelloides longicornis) lots on 3rd, and 8th.
Horntail( Urocerus gigas) a female around the cut logs at Frama 4th.
Hornet( Vespa crabro) a queen by the stream near Lebeña on 8th.
Glow-worm( Lampyris noctiluca) 1 at Frama on 4th.
Oil beetle sp.( Meloe sp.) 1+ by the Arroyo de Mostajal on 7th.
Longhorn beetle sp.( Cerambycidae sp.) 1 at Frama on 4th.
Wasp Beetle( Clytus arietis) singles on 3rd and 4th.
Colorado Beetle( Leptinotarsa decemlineata) lots on a potato patch at Tudes on 4th.