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Teresa's 2011 wildlife holidays with expert birdwatcher and all-round naturalist Jeff Clarke

Teresa Farino
22/01/2011 08:35:19

Natural history of the Picos de Europa and Catalan Pyrenees: a fabulous wealth of wildflowers, butterflies, birds and other wildlife.

Posted in: Flora, Butterflies and Moths, Amphibians, Reptiles, Birds, Mammals | Cantabria, Castile-Leon, Catalonia | Mainland Spain, Northern Spain


Picos de Europa: 15 – 26 May 2011

Jeff Clarke photographing Alpine Choughs at the <br />top of the cable car © Val MarshallJeff Clarke photographing Alpine Choughs at the
top of the cable car
© Val Marshall

In 2010, Teresa teamed up with Jeff Clarke to offer a week-long natural history holiday in the Picos de Europa, topped and tailed by two crossings of the Bay of Biscay to observe seabirds and cetaceans. As it was an extremely successful trip (click here to see the full report), we are offering a similar tour this year, travelling from Plymouth to Santander with Brittany Ferries, then spending nine nights exploring the south-eastern sector of the Picos de Europa.

Red Helleborine - Cephalanthera rubra © Teresa FarinoRed Helleborine
Cephalanthera rubra
© Teresa Farino
More than twenty species of orchids can be expected on this tour, lurking amid a rich hay-meadow flora, with notable high-altitude gems including a range of gentians and saxifrages as well as the delightful little Narcissus asturiensis.

Among the butterflies we are likely to encounter are Swallowail, Scarce Swallowtail, Moroccan Orange Tip, Duke of Burgundy Fritillary, Sooty Copper, Adonis, Green-underside and Black-eyed Blues, Marsh and Queen of Spain Fritillaries and Chequered Skipper, as well as the renowned Cordillera Cantábrica endemic, Chapman’s Ringlet: the largest member of the genus Erebia. An examination of Teresa's moth trap every morning will almost certainly bring us the spectacular Giant Peacock, plus Cream-spot Tiger, Tawny Prominent, Elephant, Small Elephant, Lime and Poplar Hawkmoths and Iberian endemic species such as Spanish Tiger and Spanish Puss-moth.
Duke of Burgundy Fritillary - Hamearis lucina © Teresa FarinoDuke of Burgundy Fritillary
Hamearis lucina
© Teresa Farino

Avian highlights include Griffon and Egyptian Vultures, Wallcreeper, Alpine Accentor, Snow Finch, Red-backed Shrike, Middle Spotted Woodpecker and Rock Thrush. We should also be able to get quite close to Southern Chamois at the top of the cable car, and our hotel lies with the Brown Bear protection area; although we don’t expect to see one, footprints and other signs of passage are commonplace in the surrounding countryside.

Egyptian Vulture - Neophron percnopterus © Jeff ClarkeEgyptian Vulture
Neophron percnopterus
© Jeff Clarke
A good selection of reptiles is also on offer, including Slow-worm, several species of wall lizards and the fabulous Ocellated Lizard, while amphibians of note include Alpine and Marbled Newts and Midwife Toad.

For more details of this tour, please visit Jeff’s website or contact Teresa for the pre-departure information.



Catalan Pyrenees: 28 June – 5 July


Pyrenean Gentian - Gentiana pyrenaica © Teresa FarinoPyrenean Gentian
Gentiana pyrenaica
© Teresa Farino
This year Jeff and Teresa are also offering a week-long trip to La Cerdanya, in the Catalan Pyrenees: an area renowed for its spectacular scenery and diverse flora and fauna. For the botanist, the main attraction lies in the superb floral assemblages on the limestone of the Cadí ridge. High-level rock-gardens and screes here are studded with Narcissus-flowered Anemones, Parnassus-leaved Buttercups, Mountain Avens, the exquisite Ramonda, Pyrenean and Southern Gentians, Pyrenean Bellflowers, several species of rock-jasmine and a host of saxifrages, notably Reddish, Blue and Pyrenean.

By contrast, the damp, acid haymeadows and mountain pine woodlands of the northern flank of the valley are home to gems such as the pale-yellow pasque flower Pulsatilla alpina ssp. apiifolia, Alpenrose, Great Yellow Gentian and its congener Gentiana burseri, Spiked Rampion and White False Helleborine. Peatbogs here literally teem with Pyrenean Buttercups, Woodchat Shrike - Lanius senator © Teresa FarinoWoodchat Shrike
Lanius senator
© Teresa Farino
Large-flowered Butterwort, Starry Saxifrage and Alpine Bartsia, while rocky granite outcrops harbour Mountain Houseleeks, Pyrenean Lilies and a different suite of rock-jasmines and saxifrages, including the exceedingly rare Saxifraga aspera.

Lammergeiers and Golden Eagles soar above the sheer mountain crags, while Alpine Accentor, Wheatear, Rock Thrush, Water Pipit and Alpine Chough are the commonest passerines of the high-level rock-gardens and pastures. The conifer forests harbour Ring Ouzel, Goldcrest, Treecreeper, Crested Tit, Citril Finch and Crossbill, while the mosaic of mixed woodland, pastures and meadows at middle altitudes provides a perfect habitat for Red-backed and Woodchat Shrikes, Whinchat and Rock and Ortolan Buntings. The valley bottom, by contrast, hosts Stone Curlews, Bee-eaters and Golden Orioles. Small groups of Isard (Pyrenean chamois) inhabit crags above the tree-line in the limestone massifs, while aSouthern White Admiral - Limenitis reducta © Teresa FarinoSouthern White Admiral
Limenitis reducta
© Teresa Farino
noisy Alpine Marmots occur mainly among the granite boulder chokes on the north side of the valley.

A staggering variety of butterflies can be found in La Cerdanya in early summer, when it is perfectly possible to see over 60 species in a single day. Of the 130-plus species that have been recorded here, over thirty are lycaenids, including such striking creatures as White-letter, Blue-spot and Sloe Hairstreaks, Scarce, Purple-shot and Purple-edged Coppers, and Large, Provençal short-tailed, Glandon, Amanda’s, Chapman’s, Eros, Damon and Ripart’s Anomalous blues. More than 20 species of fritillaries grace the haymeadows and alpine pastures of the park, notably rarities such as Shepherd’s, Mountain and Bog Fritillaries, with eleven species of ringlet (Erebia spp.) also known to occur here. Other eye-catching butterflies on the wing in late June include Apollo, Clouded Apollo, Map and Nettle-tree Butterflies, Camberwell Beauty, Large Sloe Hairstreak - Satyrium acaciae © Teresa FarinoSloe Hairstreak
Satyrium acaciae
© Teresa Farino
Tortoiseshell, Lesser Purple Emperor, White and Southern White Admirals, Great Banded Grayling and Black Satyr. Perhaps of greatest significance, however, are the highly localized colonies of the Mountain Alcon Blue, whose caterpillars feed exclusively on the flowers and young fruits of the Cross Gentian.


Further details are available on Jeff's website, or by contacting Teresa for the pre-departure information.



There are also still a few places available on Teresa's tour to Almería in April, to the Sierra de Grazalema in May, and for her dedicated botanical tour of the Picos de Europa in June.


Ephippigerida diluta © Teresa FarinoEphippigerida diluta© Teresa Farino

Tailor-made tours


Just to remind you that you can contact Teresa , John or Mike at Iberian Wildlife Tours at any time should you wish to discuss options for a tailor-made natural history tour in Spain or Portugal. These can range from just half a day to several weeks, and can be adapted to the needs of those travelling alone, with family or as a group. We will be delighted to hear from you.



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