Picos de Europa
Spain's Green Mountains

22 - 29 May 2004

Teresa Farino

Our week in the Picos de Europa, despite some unkind weather, gave us an excellent insight into the traditional farming system and associated wealth of wildlife to be found in this corner of Spain (see Appendix 1). We positively identified 91 species of bird during the trip, including those observed on the journeys to and from the Picos, plus a couple of possible Lammergeiers at Urdón on the 24th May, and several 'almost-certain' Common Ringed Plovers flying along the shore at Liencres on the 22nd. Among the highlights were the many Eurasian Griffon Vultures, several Egyptian Vultures at close quarters, and the Eurasian Snowfinches and Alpine Accentors at the top of the cable car, although we were disappointed not to see Wallcreepers a little closer.

Only five mammals were recorded - 'live' Snow Vole, Red Squirrel, Isard (Pyrenean Chamois) and Roe Deer, plus a Pine Marten roadkill in the La Hermida gorge - but then a non-specialist group like ourselves wouldn't expect much more, given our essentially diurnal habits and in the absence of Longworth traps and bat detector! A much-photographed male Schreiber's Green Lizard, endemic to northwestern Iberia, was probably the reptilian highlight, resplendent with bright blue head and lime-green body, with the Alpine and Marbled Newts jostling for pride of place among the amphibians.

The cool weather and late spring was rather a disappointment for the butterfly enthusiasts, with only 45 species recorded during the week (about one third of the total Picos fauna, but - numerically - almost equivalent to the whole British list!), with the pristine, newly emerged Marsh Fritillaries on the last day topping the bill for Noor. Similarly, only 18 species of moth were found in the Skinner trap (see Appendices 2 & 3).

As birds and butterflies were the main interests of the group, although we saw and enjoyed swathes of colourful haymeadow plants, we limited ourselves to checking off the Liliaceae, daffodils and orchids. Because of the very late snows, with the season around 2-3 weeks behind, we found three species of Narcissus still in flower, as well as some of the early-flowering lilies, notably Dog's-tooth-violet Erythronium dens-canis and Pyrenean Squill Scilla lilio-hyacinthus. Among the 29 species of orchid recorded, our most notable find was a small colony of Bug Orchids Orchis coriophora in the meadows at Lebeña: only the third record for the Picos in Teresa's 20 years' botanising here. The 'herd' of Lizard Orchids Himantoglossum hircinum near Frama was also a sight to remember.

Daily Diary

Saturday 22 May

Bilbao-Espinama via Liencres dunes

Having found each other without problems at Bilbao airport, we loaded into the minibus and drove swiftly out of Bilbao to commence our westwards journey towards the Picos. We paused for lunch at the Liencres sand-dunes, where a quick postprandial foray turned up a number of orchids in the dune slacks: Bee Orchid Ophrys apifera, the rather similar Early Spider Ophrys O. sphegodes, two species of Serapias - Tongue S. lingua and Small-flowered Serapias S. parviflora - and Lesser Butterfly Orchid Platanthera bifolia.

John T was the only member of the group to spot Tawny Pipit here (for which Liencres is a renowned site), and Teresa saw several Western Three-toed Skinks, although given the cool weather, they had not ventured far from their 'lairs', instantly diving for cover in the long grass as we passed. Noor found the only butterfly of the day: a solitary Painted Lady. As we returned to the vehicle, several large groups of waders moved swiftly eastwards along the coast; we agreed that the majority were Dunlin, but John S held out for a few Common Ringed Plovers among them.

Sunday 23 May

Espinama to Fuente Dé

We set off on foot from the hotel, and headed towards the village of Pido, with typical vernacular architecture, including a rat-proof 'granary-on-legs' called an hórreo. The village was rich in passerines, and we had good views of Spotted Flycatcher, Common Redstart (both males and female), a female Black Redstart and many European Serins. Just after the village, we were thrilled by an extremely close Egyptian Vulture, wheeling over the surrounding fields, and also caught sight of a passing Eurasian Sparrowhawk and several Common Buzzards.

Along the track towards the cheese 'factory', a few butterflies started to put in an appearance, including Orange-tip, Green Hairstreak, Black-eyed, Holly and Small Blues (males attracted by a series of dung heaps) and Sooty Copper. These few were excelled, however, by the wealth of butterflies which we encountered as we climbed the glacial moraine towards Fuente Dé, through a mosaic of Pyrenean Oak and scrubby pasture, where we added our first Scarce Swallowtails, Brimstones, Red-underwing and Dingy Skippers, and Common Blues to our list, as well as spotting solitary individuals of Duke of Burgundy Fritillary, Moroccan Orange-tip, de Prunner's Ringlet and Glanville Fritillary.

Among the plants of interest along this ascent were Grass-leaved Buttercup Ranunculus gramineus, cushions of the saxifrage Saxifraga canaliculata, Bloody Crane's-bill Geranium sanguineum, Tuberous Comfrey Symphytum tuberosum, Tassel Hyacinth Muscari comosum, Bluebell Hyacinthoides non-scripta and a fair few orchids: Man Aceras anthropophorum, Early Purple Orchis mascula, Burnt O. ustulata, Dull Ophrys Ophrys fusca and Sawfly Ophrys O. tenthredinifera. A Red Squirrel was seen briefly, Yellowhammers and Garden Warblers were heard, and a magnificent male Schreiber's Green Lizard was spotted by John S, basking in the sunshine atop a clump of Spanish Gorse Genista hispanica ssp. occidentalis.

After lunch, during which we were serenaded by a trilling Western Bonelli's Warbler, we headed across to an area of damp meadows, which rewarded us with Globeflower Trollius europaeus, Greater Cuckoo-flower Cardamine raphanifolia, Spring Gentian Gentiana verna, Whorled Lousewort Pedicularis verticillata, Spring Squill Scilla verna, Common Spotted Orchid Dactylorhiza maculata ssp. meyeri and Early Marsh Orchid D. incarnata. Drier slopes nearby yielded Rock Cinquefoil Potentilla rupestris, which is extremely rare in the UK, plus a host of Tongue Orchids Serapias lingua. An investigation of an area of beechwoods turned up Solomon's-seal Polygonatum multiflorum and a single plant of Herb-Paris Paris quadrifolia. We then spent a frustrating half-hour trying to catch one of the fritillaries whizzing around in the meadow opposite, and were eventually successful, finding that they were Pearl-bordered.

As we wandered back down the northern flank of the moraine, the shady banks of our trail turned by Angel's-tears Narcissus triandrus and three yellow-flowered species of Dactylorhiza: Barton's Orchid D. insularis, Sicilian Orchid D. markusii and Elder-flowered Orchid D. sambucina. Once we emerged into the sunshine again, we turned up a female Iberian Wall Lizard and a female Broad-bodies Chaser, before retracing our steps to the hotel, well-satisfied with our first day's 'naturalising'.

Monday 24 May

Urdón Gorge; Tudes-Valmeo

A cool night meant that very few moths were on the wing, with the trap only containing 14 individuals of 9 species (see Appendix 3a). The most eye-catching was a male Pale Tussock, but perhaps of most interest to British naturalists was a single Silver Cloud, a species in the category Nationally Scarce A in Great Britain (recorded from just 16-30 10km squares since 1980).

As the cloud was hanging low over the mountains at Espinama, we decided to head down the valley as far as the Urdón river gorge, where much warmer and sunnier weather was on offer on this occasion. Amid stunning scenery we strolled upstream for a kilometre of so, adding new butterflies such as Swallowtail, Brimstone, a stunning male Cleopatra, Red Admiral, Large Wall Brown and Wall Brown to our list. Noor and John S spotted what they thought was a Queen of Spain Fritillary, and we also saw a female Green-veined White laying eggs on a species of Arabis by the side of the track. Perhaps the most amazing invertebrate of the morning, however, was a lone Gyas titanus - Europe's largest harvest-spider, with a 'leg-span' of about 15cm! - which Teresa found sheltering under a rocky ledge just at the point where we turned to retrace our steps. The sunny rock outcrops were home to both Iberian and Common Wall Lizards (the latter with distinctive reticulated throats), and we also had another sighting of a male Schreiber's Green Lizard.

The limestone outcrops along the way were teeming with colourful plants, not least of which were huge clumps of the naturalised Mexican Fleabane Erigeron karvinskianus, especially at the start of the walk. Later on we came across the Picos endemic toadflax Linaria faucicola, and Blue-leaved Petrocoptis Petrocoptis pyrenaica ssp. glaucifolia, whose world distribution is limited to the Picos and immediately adjacent limestone ranges. Other eye-catching plants were Kidney Saxifrage Saxifraga hirsuta, growing under a wet overhang together with Large-flowered Butterwort Pinguicula grandiflora, with drier areas hosting Nottingham Catchfly Silene nutans, Swallow-wort Vincetoxicum hirundinaria, Alpine Calamint Acinos alpinus, Daisy-leaved Toadflax Anarrhinum bellidifolium and Woodcock Ophrys Ophrys scolopax. The ferns were also of interest here, including Maidenhair Adiantum capillus-veneris, Hart's-tongue Phyllitis scolopendrium and - best of all - the massive fronds of the semi-tropical Woodwardia radicans, growing here at one of just a handful of sites in mainland Iberia.

Eurasian Griffon Vultures cruised constantly overhead, and some diligent scanning by John T turned up a group of Alpine Swifts circling round the crags at great altitude. Red-billed Choughs were also abundant, while nearer at hand we encountered Grey Wagtails along the river margin, although the White-throated Dippers that Teresa had promised failed to make an appearance on this occasion. John T also though he saw a Blue Rock Thrush, as we neared the vehicle on our return trip, but our attention was quickly diverted by the sight of two huge raptors cruising along the ridge on the far side of the La Hermida gorge. They weren't Griffons, although about the same size, and the wings were too long and narrow to be Golden Eagles, which didn't leave much else apart from Lammergeiers, although they were just too far away to be certain.

Eventually we dragged ourselves away and headed back up towards and beyond Potes towards the village of Tudes for lunch, stopping briefly en route near Naroba for some stunning clumps of Pink Butterfly Orchid Orchis papilionacea, where we also tracked down Meadow Fritillary and the Burnet Moth Zygaena sarpedon, sporting red stripes rather than spots. We were then obliged to further ignore our rumbling stomachs to spend several minutes observing a dark-phase Booted Eagle soaring over the valley, but all agreed that it was worth it!

Eventually we lunched to the accompaniment of singing Tree Pipits and calling Green Woodpeckers and Red-backed Shrikes, after which we had a quick foray to examine yet more Pink Butterfly Orchids, this time accompanied by Green-winged Orchids Orchis morio and a stand of Tongue Orchids. The Marbled Newts in the water trough in Tudes were then duly admired by all, before setting off on our descent to Valmeo. The only new butterfly of the afternoon was a lone Small Tortoiseshell, but our route through dry evergreen forest (mostly Western Holm Oak Quercus ilex ssp. ballota, but with a few Cork Oaks Q. suber mixed in) turned up several plants of interest, including Winged Broom Chamaespartium sagittale, Rock Soapwort Saponaria ocymoides, Round-headed Thyme Thymus mastichina, Strawberry-tree Arbutus unedo and St Dabeoc's Heath Daboecia cantabrica. Firecrests abounded throughout the afternoon; although very vocal, they were difficult to observe in the dense tree canopy.

Tuesday 25 May

Puerto de Piedrasluengas

Another rather dull start sent us in a south-easterly direction in search of some sunshine, to the Puerto de Piedrasluengas. A stroll up through pastures dotted with enormous outcrops of limestone turned up Wood Lark, hedge Accentor, Water Pipit, Yellowhammer, Rock Bunting, Common Stonechat, Common Linnet, Red-backed Shrike and Northern Wheatear, as well as good views of a perched Egyptian Vulture. We then spent some considerable time watching a splendid male Rufous-tailed Rock Thrush, initially spotted by Noor, although it was rather more distant than we would have liked.

Of the flora, most interest surrounded the limestone itself, which boasted some splendid cushions of the white-flowered crucifer Draba dedeana (endemic to Spain) and clumps of Anemone pavoniana (unique to the Picos and immediately adjacent limestone), while the return trip to the 'bus shelter' for lunch was enlivened by some superb Pale-flowered Orchids Orchis pallens and a few Elder-flowered Orchids for comparison.

After lunch we drove down to a small stream running through damp meadows on the south side of the pass, where we were delighted to find a few daffodils Narcissus pseudonarcissus ssp. nobilis still in bloom, accompanied by a completely new suite of plants: Irish Spurge Euphorbia hyberna, Water Avens Geum rivale, Oxlip Primula elatior, Marsh Marigold Caltha palustris, Aconite-leaved Buttercup Ranunculus aconitifolius and Gouan's Buttercup R. gouanii. A nearby sunny crag was carpeted with the lovely mat-forming Globularia repens, while an examination of the adjacent beechwoods turned up Pyrenean Squill Scilla lilio-hyacinthus, Green Hellebore Helleborus viridis ssp. occidentalis and Hollowroot Corydalis cava ssp. cava. Of the day's invertebrates, perhaps the most eye-catching were the Queen of Spain Fritillaries, seen by all on this occasion.

The day was not yet over, however, as we paused briefly on our way back to the hotel at a roadside meadow near Frama, which turned up a good collection of butterflies, including Clouded Yellow, Brown Argus, Short-tailed, Common and Turquoise Blues, Knapweed and Meadow Fritillaries and Small Heath. A smart pale-phase Booted Eagle gave splendid views, then John T spotted a pair of Short-toed Eagles perched in a tree on the far side of the valley. Plantwise, over a hundred spikes of Lizard Orchid Himantoglossum hircinum here was undoubtedly one of the highlights of the week for the group, but for Teresa it was Martin's discovery of a most peculiar, evil-smelling fungus - like fleshy black-and-red starfish some 20cm in diameter - which John S confidently pronounced to be Clathrus archeri.

Wednesday 26 June

above Lebeña

Another cloudy start to the day saw us climbing up to some wonderfully diverse meadows above the village of Lebeña, where no less than fifteen species of orchid awaited us. Not least among them was a fine stand of Bug Orchids Orchis coriophora, recorded today for just the third time in the Picos de Europa (the other two citations also from these meadows, but consisting of just one individual each). Other new orchids for the week encountered during the day were Sword-leaved Helleborine Cephalanthera longifolia, Robust Marsh Orchid Dactylorhiza elata, Fragrant Orchid Gymnadenia conopsea, Violet Limodore Limodorum abortivum and Twayblade Listera ovata. Together with the abundant stands of Green-winged, Pink butterfly, Burnt, Tongue, Early Purple, Sicilian, Man and Early Spider Ophrys, this was indeed a feast for orchid lovers.

Other new plants which caught our collective eye during the day were Adder's-tongue Ophioglossum vulgatum, Spotted Rock-rose Xolantha guttata (Vulnerable in the UK), Dropwort Filipendula vulgaris, Ground-pine Ajuga chamaepitys (Vulnerable and protected by law in the UK), Viper's-grass Scorzonera humilis (ditto) and Rosy Garlic Allium roseum.

We also had excellent views of a Roe Deer buck, which we snuck up on as it browsed peacefully in the first meadow, and once in a patch of Pyrenean Oak Quercus pyrenaica forest which separated the two meadow areas, most of us had good views of Middle Spotted Woodpecker, Short-toed Treecreeper, Iberian Chiffchaff, Eurasian Nuthatch and Spotted Flycatcher.

Lunch was a much interrupted affair, as a succession of raptors appeared over the valley below: European Honey Buzzard, pale-phase Booted Eagle, Egyptian Vulture, Eurasian Griffon Vulture, Short-toed Eagle, Common Kestrel and Common Buzzard! As we descended through more meadows back to the village, the sun came out briefly, bringing with it a few butterflies and day-flying moths, including Short-tailed and Small Blues, Orange-tip, Painted Lady, Brown Silver-line, Yellow Shell, Common Heath, Silver Y and Burnet Companion, as well as an Eurasian Sparrowhawk chasing Red-billed Choughs across the hillside. Our last find of the day, as we approached the 10th-century church, was a dead Grass Snake on the track.

Thursday 27 June

Cable-car from Fuente Dé; Tama-Ojedo-Tama

Another sparse catch in the moth trap nevertheless included several interesting species, namely Lobster Moth and Coxcomb and Pale Prominents, but as the morning was clear, for a change, we wasted no time in heading up to Fuente Dé, for our much-vaunted trip up in the cable-car, into the heart of the Central Massif at close to 2000 metres. No sooner had we emerged at the top than we were rewarded by an Alpine Accentor singing lustily from a perch on the corner of the upper cable-car station, a small flock of Eurasian Snowfinches 'white-winging' across in front of us, and not-so-distant views of Isard (Pyrenean Chamois) on the skyline.

As we wandered across the rocky pastures, soon leaving the honey-pot of day-trippers behind, we encountered drifts of Spring Gentians and tiny Narcissus asturiensis, and a host of boldly marked black and yellow moths called Eurranthis plummistraria. Northern Wheatears, Black Redstarts and Water Pipits were much in evidence as we made our way, through several lingering snow-patches, to a small pool, where we were delighted to find dozens of spectacularly orange-bellies Alpine Newts and a dead Common Toad.

In this sheltered corner, a few more plants were in flower, including Spring Squill, Chamois-cress Pritzelago alpina, Anemone pavoniana, Draba dedeana and Cone Saxifrage Saxifraga conifera, but the effect of the late and heavy snow this spring was all too apparent. Nevertheless, we did find some stunning yellow-flowered clumps of the Picos endemic saxifrage Saxifraga felineri on a nearby sunny rock-face.

Two Alpine Choughs joined us for elevenses by the pool, before we set off across screes and snow-patches towards 'Wallcreeper Corner'. It was with some dismay, however, that we found the way blocked by thick drifts of snow, such that we couldn't access our usual (99% successful) spot, and had to be content with scanning the huge cliff-face in front of us. It was like looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack, but suddenly Sheila spotted a Wallcreeper flying in to the cliff from behind us, and while some tracked it with their binoculars as it ascended to almost invisible heights, a second bird was seen on the far cliff. Not the best of views, we all agreed, but better than nothing.

As we retraced our steps to the cable-car, we had more views of Alpine Accentor at close quarters, and John S and Sheila spotted a Snow Vole as it disappeared into a pile of rocks, while a clump of the spectacular Trumpet Gentian Gentiana acaulis provided a fitting end to the morning.

Having descended from the rarefied atmosphere of the high Picos, we lunched at Fuente Dé and then made our way down to the warm, Mediterranean lands just north of Potes, in search of butterflies, completing a rather hot and sticky circuit between Tama. and Ojedo. New species for the tour here included Small and Mallow Skippers, Small and Wood Whites, Meadow Brown and Green-underside Blue, while Cetti's Warblers 'sang' explosively from the riverside vegetation, and Jane spotted a Red Squirrel.

Friday 28 May

Puerto de San Glorio/Arroyo de Mostajal

For our last day in the Picos we decided to venture a little further afield, taking the route over the Puerto de San Glorio (1609 metres) and on to the Arroyo de Mostajal. The diverse meadows at the top of the pass provided us with both pin and yellow forms of Elder-flowered Orchid, Large-flowered Butterwort, Horned Pansy Viola cornuta and Pyrenean Snakeshead Fritillaria pyrenaica, but failed to turn up the much-hoped-for Vanilla Orchid Nigritella nigra, once again a victim of the late season. Hedge Accentors, Yellowhammers and Common Stonechats perched atop the Genista bushes here, and Martin encountered a fat female Viviparous Lizard in the marshy meadow.

A quick detour up to the Llesba viewpoint gave us a splendid panorama of the Central and Eastern Massifs of the Picos de Europa to the north, as well as singing Skylarks overhead and Common Whitethroats in the bushes. Plant-wise, we searched for - and found! - Dogs-tooth-violets Erythronium dens-canis, Amplexicaule Buttercups Ranunculus amplexicaulis, Wood Anemone Anemone nemorosa and Pyramidal Bugle Ajuga pyramidalis, before heading down the west side of the pass to the village of Llánaves. Here we had excellent close-up views of a hunting Short-toed Eagle, spotted initially by Martin, plus Rock Bunting and distant Isard on a snow patch, as well as finding a delightful crucifer known as Teesdaliopsis conferta, which is endemic to siliceous screes in the Cordillera Cantábrica.

Lunch was eaten in the delightful setting of the Arroyo de Mostajal, where we turned up more Angel's-tears, Pale-flowered Orchids, Pyrenean Snakesheads and some delicate Wild Tulips Tulipa sylvestris ssp. australis, as well as a wealth of butterflies, not least of which was John T's sighting of a Camberwell Beauty. We also encountered and enormous Common Toad and had good views of Rock Bunting and Common Whitethroat. The bird highlight of the day, however, was undoubtedly an immature Golden Eagle.

On the way back to Potes, we paused a couple of time in some lower-level meadows in a last-ditch effort to locate some butterflies for Noor, and were rewarded with Whorled Solomon's-seal Polygonatum verticillatum and Star-of-Bethlehem Ornithogalum umbellatum, as well as some amazingly fresh Small Pearl-bordered and Marsh Fritillaries.

Saturday 29 May

return to Bilbao

We set off bright and early to return to Bilbao for the flight home, finding that the Picos had one last 'reward' up its sleeve for us: several White-throated Dippers in the La Hermida gorge, to everyone's delight. We made such good time on the coastal motorway that we found time to stop briefly at the small SEO-Cantabria reserve of Marismas Blancas, in the Bahía de Santander where we encountered a pair of Little Grebes, several Mute Swans, a handful of Eurasian Coot, a couple of Common Terns and Reed Warblers and Spotless Starlings galore, none of which we had seen during our week in the Picos (quite understandably!), and which made an interesting change. And then, on to the airport, where we said our farewells and went our separate ways.

Thanks to you all for being such splendid company during our week's exploration of the Picos de Europa÷.¡Hasta la próxima!

© Teresa Farino; September 2004



Little Grebe : two seen at the Marismas Blancas in Santander on 29th.

Grey Heron Ardea cinerea : one seen in flight on the return trip to Bilbao on 29th.

Little Egret Egretta garzetta : two seen near Unquera, en route from Bilbao to Espinama on 22nd.

Mute Swan Cygnus olor : two seen at the Marismas Blancas in Santander on both 22nd and 29th.

Mallard Anas platyrhynchos : group of three seen near Unquera, en route to Espinama on 22nd, and several at the Marismas Blancas in Santander on 29th.

European Honey Buzzard Pernis apivorus : one seen on 26th during lunch above Lebeña, and 4+ on 27th between Tama and Ojedo.

Black Kite Milvus migrans : about a dozen birds seen along the coast between Bilbao and Unquera on both 22nd and 29th, with individual birds seen in the Picos on 24th, 25th and 27th.

Lammergeier Gypaetus barbatus : two distant but very possible Lammergeiers were seen high above the La Hermida gorge from Urdón on 24th.

Eurasian Griffon Vulture Gyps fulvus : a few seen above Monte Candina on 22nd, with many birds seen in the Picos on subsequent days; undoubtedly the commonest raptor here.

Egyptian Vulture Neophron percnopterus : one very close bird seen on 23rd near Pido, with another good sighting on 25th, of a perched bird at Piedrasluengas. Two further individuals on 26th near Lebeña, and a lone bird on 27th near Tama.

Short-toed Eagle Circaetus gallicus : one bird seen on 22nd, with a perched pair spotted by John T near Frama on 25th, plus another bird on 26th, a pair on 27th and an extremely close bird near Llánaves on 28th.

Eurasian Sparrowhawk Accipiter nisus : one spotted by John T on 22nd, 2 seen between Espinama and Fuente Dé on 23rd, and a further sighting on 26th near Lebeña.

Common Buzzard Buteo buteo : a few individuals seen every day.

Golden Eagle Aquila chrysaetos : just the one immature bird, at Arroyo de Mostajal on 28th.

Booted Eagle Hieraaetus pennatus : a dark-phase seen at fairly close quarters near Tudes on 24th, with smart pale-phase birds seen on 25th near Frama and 26th during lunch above Lebeña.

Common Kestrel Falco tinnunculus : a few birds seen most days.

Eurasian Coot Fulica atra : small numbers at Marismas Blancas on 29th.

Common Ringed Plover Charadrias hiaticula : a couple of possibles seen in flight at Liencres on 22nd, identified by John S.

Dunlin Calidris alpina : several flocks of several hundred birds in total flying east-west along the shore at Liencres on 22nd.

Yellow-legged Gull Larus cachinnans : seen in some numbers along the coast on both transfer days.

Common Tern Sterna hirundo : two individuals over the Marismas Blancas near Santander on 29th.

Rock Dove/Feral Pigeon Columba livia : feral pigeons seen only on the transfers to and from Bilbao on 22nd and 29th.

Wood Pigeon Columba palumbus : seen every day in the Picos in small numbers.

Eurasian Collared Dove Streptopelia decaocto : seen only around Potes in the Picos, and also on the return journey to Bilbao on 29th.

Common Cuckoo Cuculus canorus : heard every day in the Picos, with a possible sighting on 28th.

Tawny Owl Strix aluco : John T heard one calling every night in Espinama.

Alpine Swift Apus melba : only seen very high above the Urdón gorge on 24th.

Common Swift Apus apus : seen in some numbers almost every day.

(Eurasian) Wryneck Jynx torquilla : heard only, on two days: 24th and 28th.

Middle Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos medius : several birds heard and seen above Lebeña on 26th.

Great Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos major : heard only, on 27th between Tama and Ojedo.

Green Woodpecker Picus viridis : seen on 24th near Tudes, and heard on 26th near Lebeña.

Wood Lark Lullula arborea : seen and heard only at Piedrasluengas on 25th.

(Eurasian) Sky Lark Alauda arvensis : only recorded at the Mirador de Llesba, above San Glorio, on 28th.

Eurasian Crag Martin Hirundo rupestris : seen every day in some numbers.

Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica : recorded every day, again in some numbers.

Common House Martin Delichon urbica : seen every day, especially in the villages.

White Wagtail Motacilla alba : small numbers seen every day, especially in the villages.

Grey Wagtail Motacilla cinerea : recorded on 24th, 25th, 26th and 29th, usually near running water.

Tawny Pipit Anthus campestris : one bird seen by John T at Liencres on 22nd.

Tree Pipit Anthus trivialis : seen on 24th, near Tudes, and also on 28th.

Water Pipit Anthus spinoletta : seen at Piedrasluengas on 25th and in good numbers at the top of the cable car on 27th.

Red-backed Shrike Lanius collurio : some good views were had during the week, with at least two pairs near Tudes on 24th, several birds at Piedrasluengas on 25th, excellent close-up views above Lebeña on 25th, and also around San Glorio on 28th.

White-throated Dipper Cinclus cinclus : this species eluded us until the very last day, when we were driving back down the La Hermida gorge en route to the airport.

Winter Wren Troglodytes troglodytes : one of the most vociferous of the Picos passerines, heard every day and seen on 23rd and 26th.

Alpine Accentor Prunella collaris : excellent views whilst looking for Wallcreeper at the top of the cable-car on 27th; we reckon we saw at least 10 individuals during the day.

Hedge Accentor [Dunnock] Prunella modularis : rather curiously confined to the higher montane scrub in the Picos, with sightings on 24th near Tudes, 25th at Piedrasluengas, 26th above Lebeña and 28th around San Glorio.

Rufous-tailed Rock Thrush Monticola saxatilis : only one bird seen during the week: a female at Piedrasluengas on 25th.

Blue Rock Thrush Monticola solitarius : again, just the one sighting, by John T in the Urdón gorge on 24th.

Common Blackbird Turdus merula : seen every day.

Song Thrush Turdus philomelos : heard but not seen almost every day in the Picos.

European Robin Erithacus rubecula : seen and heard almost every day.

Black Redstart Phoenicurus ochruros : very common in the Picos villages, but also breeding at over 2,000 metres; seen every day.

Common Redstart Phoenicurus phoenicurus : both male and female birds seen on 23rd in Pido, and again on 24th in Tudes.

Common Stonechat Saxicola torquata : a male seen at Piedrasluengas on 25th, and several birds around San Glorio on 28th.

Northern Wheatear Oenanthe oenanthe : seen only at altitude: at Piedrasluengas on 25th and at the top of the cable-car on 27th, in good numbers in both cases.

Cetti's Warbler Cettia cetti : heard on 27th, along the river between Tama and Ojedo, and also at the Marismas Blancas on 29th.

Reed Warbler Acrocephalus scirpaceus : new for our trip list, this species was both seen and heard at the Marismas Blancas near Santander, on 29th.

Common Chiffchaff Phylloscopus collybita : heard singing and seen in the Pyrenean oak woods above Lebeña on 26th.

Iberian Chiffchaff Phylloscopus ibericus : a much more abundant species in the Picos than the Common Chiffchaff, this species was nevertheless also recorded only from the Lebeña area on this trip.

Western Bonelli's Warbler Phylloscopus bonelli : heard on 23rd, 24th and 28th, but also seen on 26th in the Lebeña oakwoods.

Blackcap Sylvia atricapilla : seen and heard every day in the Picos.

Garden Warbler Sylvia borin : heard but not seen on this trip, on 23rd, 27th and 28th.

Common Whitethroat Sylvia communis : seen only at the Mirador de Llesba and Arroyo de Mostajal on 28th.

Firecrest Regulus ignicapillus : a fairly common bird in the Picos, heard almost every day and seen on 23rd, 25th and 26th.

Spotted Flycatcher Muscicapa striata : like the Black Redstart, a commonplace village bird in the Picos, but also seen in more natural habitats such as the Lebeña oakwoods.

Coal Tit Parus ater : surprisingly scarce during the trip, heard only on 23rd and 28th, in thickly wooded habitats.

Great Tit Parus major : seen almost every day in the Picos.

Blue Tit Parus caeruleus : seen only from 23rd to 26th May on this trip.

Eurasian Nuthatch Sitta europaea : recorded only on two days: 24th near Tudes, and 26th in the Lebeña oakwoods.

Wallcreeper Tichodroma muraria : two distant birds only on this occasion, owing to the extensive snow patches still lying at the top of the cable-car, which meant that we couldn't reach our usual site; the first, and best, was spotted flying overhead by Sheila.

Short-toed Treecreeper Certhia brachydactyla : unusually, just the one sighting during the trip, in the Lebeña oakwoods on 26th.

Eurasian Jay Garrulus glandarius : seen and heard almost every day in the Picos.

Black-billed Magpie Pica pica : curiously absent from the Liébana valley, so seen only during the transfers to and from Bilbao airport.

Red-billed Chough Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax : seen in some numbers above the Urdón gorge on 24th, above Lebeña on 26th, and at the top of the cable-car on 27th.

Alpine Chough Pyrrhocorax graculus : only seen at the top of the cable-car on 27th, when a couple of smart birds joined us for elevenses!

Carrion Crow Corvus corone : seen and heard almost every day on the Picos in small numbers.

Common Raven Corvus corax : seen in ones and twos almost every day, often at close quarters.

Spotless Starling Sturnus unicolor : seen only during the transfers to and from the airport, with close-up views at the Marismas Blancas on 29th.

Corn Bunting Miliaria calandra : seen only near Tudes on 24th.

Yellowhammer Emberiza citrinella : seen and heard almost every day in the Picos, but particularly in the higher montane scrub at Piedrasluengas and around San Glorio.

Rock Bunting Emberiza cia : seen on 3 occasions, with a splendid pair above Lebeña on 26th, and an excellent view at the Arroyo de Mostajal on 28th.

Cirl Bunting Emberiza cirlus : good pair on 25th near Frama, and seen also between Tama and Ojedo on 27th and below San Glorio on 28th.

Common Chaffinch Fringilla coelebs : seen and heard almost every day.

European Serin Serinus serinus : extremely abundant in the Picos villages; seen every day.

European Greenfinch Carduelis chloris : heard and/or seen every day, in small numbers.

European Goldfinch Carduelis carduelis : more abundant than European Greenfinch, and seen every day.

Common Linnet Carduelis cannabina : particularly common in more upland habitats, and seen in some numbers at Piedrasluengas during lunch on 25th, and at Llesba on 28th.

Eurasian Bullfinch Pyrrhula pyrrhula : just one sighting during the trip, by John T before breakfast in Espinama on 28th.

House Sparrow Passer domesticus : extremely abundant in the Picos villages; seen every day.

Eurasian Snowfinch Montifringilla nivalis : ten or so individuals seen at the top of the cable car on 27th, some foraging at close quarters.


Pine Marten Martes martes : a road-kill in the La Hermida gorge on 24th.

Roe Deer Capreolus capreolus : a few seen and heard on 26th above Lebeña, and also on 28th,, including a fine male.

Isard [Pyrenean Chamois] Rupicapra pyrenaica parva : seen at the top of the cable-car on 27th and also distantly on snow patches from Llánaves on 28th.

Red Squirrel Sciurus vulgaris : one seen between Espinama and Fuente Dé on 23rd, and also by Jane on the afternoon of 27th near Tama.

Snow Vole Microtus nivalis : one seen by John S and Sheila at the top of the cable-car on 27th.


Schreiber's Green Lizard Lacerta schreiberi : a smart male spotted by John S basking atop a Genista bush near Pido on 23rd, and a juvenile male on 24th in the Urdón gorge.

Common Wall Lizard Podarcis muralis : a female was seen by John S on 24th in the Urdón gorge.

Iberian Wall Lizard Podarcis hispanica : a female seen between Espinama and Fuente Dé n 23rd, and both males and females in the Urdón gorge on 24th.

Viviparous (Common) Lizard Lacerta vivipara : a female spotted by Martin at San Glorio on 28th.

Western Three-toed Skink Chalcides striatus : several seen by Teresa at Liencres on 22nd, but she wasn't able to catch one!

Grass Snake Natrix natrix : one found dead near Lebeña on 26th.

Marbled Newt Triturus marmoratus : several magnificent specimens, both male and female, in the water trough at Tudes on 24th.

Alpine Newt Triturus alpestris : dozens of males and females in the pool at the top of the cable-car on 27th.

Midwife Toad Alytes obstetricans : tadpoles seen in the Lebeña water troughs on 26th; heard at the top of the cable-car on 27th, and an adult found dead here.

Common Toad Bufo bufo : one dead in the pool at the top of the cable-car on 27th, plus a live one at the Arroyo de Mostajal on 28th.

Common Frog Rana temporaria : Sheila spotted one at Piedrasluengas on 25th.

Iberian Frog : Rana iberica : also at Piedrasluengas on 25th.












Carline Skipper

      X     X

Red-underwing Skipper


Mallow Skipper


Dingy Skipper

  X         X

Small Skipper





    X       X

Scarce Swallowtail

  X X        



Small White


Green-veined White

  X X     X X


  X X X X X X

Moroccan Orange-tip


Clouded Yellow

      X   X X


  X X X   X X


    X     X  

Wood White

          X X



Camberwell Beauty


Red Admiral


Painted Lady


Small Tortoiseshell

    X X     X

Queen of Spain Fritillary

    X X      

Pearl-bordered Fritillary

  X         X

Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary


Glanville Fritillary


Knapweed Fritillary


Meadow Fritillary

    X X   X  

Marsh Fritillary




de Prunner's Ringlet

  X X       X

Meadow Brown


Small Heath

      X X X X

Speckled Wood

  X X   X X X

Wall Brown

  X X   X    

Large Wall Brown




Green Hairstreak

  X X X   X X

Sooty Copper

  X X X   X X

Short-tailed Blue

    X X X   X

Small Blue

  X X   X   X

Holly Blue

  X X X     X

Green-underside Blue


Black-eyed Blue

  X X     X X

Brown Argus


Turquoise Blue


Common Blue

  X   X   X X



Duke of Burgundy Fritillary


Total no. species per day








Cumulative species total














Chinese Character

Cilix glaucata





Common Carpet

Epirrhoe alternata




Red-green Carpet

Chloroclysta siterata




Chesias rufata





Lobster moth

Stauropus fagi




Great prominent

Peridea anceps



Lunar Marbled Brown

Drymonia ruficornis



Pale Prominent

Pterostoma palpinum




Coxcomb prominent

Ptilodon capucina






Pale Tussock

Calliteara pudibunda






Orange Footman

Eilema sororcula



Muslin Moth

Diaphora mendica






Pale-shouldered Brocade

Lacanobia thalassina



The Delicate

Mythimna vitellina



Common Quaker

Orthosia cerasi




Hebrew Character

Orthosia gothica




Silver Cloud

Egira conspicillaris



Flame Shoulder

Ochropleura plecta




Total no. species per night




Cumulative species total





Zygaena sarpedon : a Burnet Moth recorded on 24th (Naroba) and 25th at low levels.

Latticed Heath Semiothisa clathrata : seen only on the moraine above Pido on 23rd.

Eurranthis plummistraria : hundreds of this beautiful black and yellow moth seen fluttering near the ground at the top of the cable-car on 27th.

Common Heath Ematurga atomaria : quite common in the haymeadows, recorded on 23rd, 26th, 27th, plus a pair seen copulating on 28th.

Brown Silver-line Petrophora chlorosata : recorded only from the Lebeña area on 26th.

Speckled Yellow Pseudopanthera macularia : typically seen along woodland margins, recorded on 23rd, 24th, 26th, 28th.

Yellow Belle Aspitates ochrearius : seen only at Lebeña on 26th.

Yellow Shell Camptogramma bilineatum : like Speckled Yellow, a species of woodland/meadow mosaic, seen on 24th, 25th, 26th, 27th.

Burnet Companion Euclidia glyphica : a common species of flowery meadows, recorded on 23rd, 25th, 26th, 28th.

Silver Y Autographa gamma : as per Burnet Companion, and seen in the same places on 23rd, 25th, 26th, 28th.

Small Yellow Underwing Panemeria tenebrata : a Local species in Great Britain, flying in sunshine and feeding at flowers; recorded only on 23rd.


Broad-bodied Chaser Libellula depressa : a female on the 23rd near Pido.

Field Cricket Gryllus campestris : seen and/or heard in the meadows every day.

Libelloides longicornis (ascalaphid) : a common sight zooming over the haymeadows in the Picos in early summer, spotted on 24th and 25th.

Tipula maxima (crane-fly) : seen at Piedrasluengas on 25th

Green Tiger Beetle Cicindela campestris : seen near Pido on 23rd and near Tudes on 24th,

Brown tiger beetle Cicindela hybrida : recorded from the Liencres sand-dunes on 22nd.

Emus hirtus (rove beetle) : seen hunting in the dung heap near Pido on 23rd.

Cockchafer Melolontha melolontha : seen only on 24th

Trichodes alvearius (Cleridae) : commonly seen feeding on flowers, especially umbellifers; spotted by Sheila at Piedrasluengas on 25th.

Colorado Beetle Leptinotarsa decemlineata : both larvae and adults on the potato crop in Tudes on 24th.

Gyas titanus (harvestman) : a lone individual found under an overhang in the Urdón gorge on 24th.

© The Travelling Naturalist 2004