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Picos de Europa 15 — 22 June 2020

Mountain wildlife in stunning scenery

Imagine stepping back in time when meadows were full of flowers and butterflies, with traditional management for hay and livestock. Picture this with a backdrop of jagged limestone mountains and you have a feel for the glorious wildlife and landscape in this corner of northwest Spain.

Variety starts with the range of habitats, with a Mediterranean feel at lower levels to alpine rock-gardens, but dominated in between these by hay meadows known as some of the most diverse in Europe. Many of the 150 species of butterflies and 1500 plant species are strongly linked to the limestone, and high altitude acid peat bogs add to the variety.

San Glorio pass
San Glorio pass

Flowers

Orchids are often the first flowers studied – 20 species on Honeyguide’s previous Picos visits. These orchids include burnt-tip, frog, lizard, woodcock, two colour forms of elder-flowered orchid and the unusual Orchis langei. There is, of course, so much more: asphodels, rock-roses, pinks, saxifrages, globularias, gentians, large-flowered butterwort. the lovely ‘three-birds’ toadflax Linaria triornithophora – the list could go on.

Gentiana angustifolia subsp occidentalis-trumpet gentian
A trumpet gentian Gentiana angustifolia subsp occidentalis plus supporting cast.

Birds

Griffon vultures are the most numerous bird of prey, plus a few Egyptian vultures and an outside chance of seeing one of the reintroduced lammergeiers. Short-toed eagles are possible and black kites likely on most days. Higher areas have easy to see alpine choughs and a fair chance of finding alpine accentors, snowfinches and that most intriguing of birds, the wallcreeper. In 2019, our home village of Boca de Huérgano had a regular wryneck, nesting white storks, common redstarts and the Iberian subspecies of pied flycatcher, plus dippers on the river. Rock bunting, red-backed and Iberian grey shrikes, rock sparrow, crag martin, Bonelli’s warbler and bee-eater are more birds you wouldn’t expect to see in the UK.


Snowfinch and rock bunting (Kevin Simmonds)

Butterflies and other insects

If you like butterflies, the Picos de Europa will appeal. Glanville, dark green and spotted are among the fritillaries. Chapman’s ringlet is found only in this area. There’s a good range of skippers, heaths, blues and others, given fine weather and a little patience. There’s a huge range of moths, day- and night-flying, for anyone with interest and expertise, plus various interesting looking beetles, spiders and more.

spotted fritillary Oberthurs grizzled skipper
Spotted fritillary, Oberthur's grizzled skipper.

Other wildlife

The Cantabrian chamois Rupicapra pyrenaica parva is the local subspecies of the Pyrenean chamois or isard, and is widespread, though not common, in craggy areas. Brown bears are present in the Picos but secretive and we do not expect to see them. Midwife toads call in the village. Tree frog and wall lizards are likely.

Pretty towns, rushing mountain rivers and some of the finest scenery in Europe give a charming context for the wildlife.

Holiday details

Our base is the Hotel Tierra de la Reina in the small town of Boca de Huérgano, where a Roman bridge over the River Esla is within walking distance. Excursions are a mix of local trips and drives to farther afield, including Puerto de las Señales mountain pass, Valle de Valdeón, a Spanish juniper forest, and by cable car to the high plateau at Fuente De.

FULLY BOOKED FOR 2020

Price: £1,450 per person in twin room fora full week (Wednesday to Wednesday).

Single room supplement: £100

En suite facilities

Flights: Scheduled Ryanair flights Stansted to Santander
15 June: FR2612 depart London Stansted 13:15 arrive Santander 16:15.
22 June: FR2613 depart Santander 16:40 arrive Stansted 17:35. 

Deposit: £300

Maximum number (two leaders): 14

Leaders

Pau Lucio lives near Valencia and runs a wildlife tour company Birdwatching Spain. Locally he is involved in conservation projects on bird migration and the importance of Spanish coastal wetlands for species such as the moustached and Savi’s warblers. He is our regular guide in Valencia and La Mancha but also spends time every year in the Picos de Europa.

Chris Durdin is the driving force behind Honeyguide, running holidays since 1991. For many years he combined this with his work for the RSPB in Eastern England, often the Society’s spokesman, but has been concentrating on Honeyguide full-time since 2009. Chris is the co-author of a book about Norfolk’s cranes and leads regular walks on his local wildlife trust nature reserve, Norfolk Wildlife Trust's Thorpe Marshes. He’s also a barbershop singer. As a naturalist, Chris is an all rounder.

Conservation project

This year's donation will be shared between two organisations. Asociación Zerynthia is a small Spanish NGO dedicated to the study and conservation of butterflies and the places where they live and to promoting public interest in them. A current project in northern Spain is habitat restoration to encourage white-letter hairstreaks, including planting disease resistant elms, the larval food plant. SEO Santander (Spanish Ornithological Society / BirdLife Spain) runs a coastal yet urban nature reserve in Santander, which we visit on the way back to the airport.

SUPPORTING

SUPPORTING
SEO logo

Picos de Europa map
FULLY BOOKED FOR 2020

For prices, see Holiday Details at the bottom of the page.

travel aware logo

FCO travel advice for Spain here.

Linaria triornithophora

Linaria triornithophora - '3 birds' toadflax

Griffon vulture (Ivan Nethercoat)

Griffon vulture (Ivan Nethercoat)

Holiday report

Picos de Europa holiday report, June 2019

Picos de Europe holiday report, June 2012

Alpine choughs

Alpine choughs can be tame

frog orchid

Frog orchid

dark green fritillary

Dark green fritillary

Alpine toadflax

Tre frog

Tree frog

Matthiola perennis

Matthiola perennis, a stock

chamois

Cantabrian chamois Rupicapra pyrenaica parva

Holiday leaders

Pau Lucio

Pau Lucio

Chris in Valencia

Chris Durdin in Valencia, 2016.

Photos on this page by Pau Lucio or Chris Durdin unless otherwise noted.

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