Masthead header

Spring wildlife in the Picos

Male alpine newt (Triturus alpestris) in breeding dress with orange belly and dark spots along flanks and tail.

Male alpine newt (Triturus alpestris) in breeding dress with orange belly and dark spots along flanks and tail.

Martin and I have never visited North Spain and we were eager to make a trip to explore the spring wildlife in the Picos.  We knew it would be more rewarding to have an experienced local guide. So in May 2015, we joined Teresa Farino of Iberian Wildlife Tours on her Spring Butterflies and Moths in the Picos de Europa trip.  Martin runs a moth trap to record Surrey moths, so he was eager to see what species came to Teresa’s traps, while I was on the lookout for any pollinators in floriferous meadows.

Teresa was one of many overseas guides who got me to the right place at the right time for finding specific pollinators for my book Pollination Power. She guided me in Tenerife for a few days in March 2013 to many Canary Island bellflowers and the sole Canary Island foxglove plant in flower. I was thrilled to achieve my target shot of the endemic Canary Island chiffchaff feeding on the endemic foxglove on the first day! It appears on page 131.

Left: Sea bindweed, (Calystegia soldanella) after rain. Right: Bee orchid (Ophrys apifera).

Left: Sea bindweed, (Calystegia soldanella) after rain. Right: Bee orchid (Ophrys apifera).

Our notable sightings started on the very first day with photogenic sea bindweed as well as bee and tongue orchids in dune slacks. Acidic meadows produced several fritillary butterflies roosting on flowers in the morning during an unusually cold snap. Each spring, bee-flies feed on primroses in our garden, so I was delighted to find another species roosting on ragged robin.

Left: Two male long-horned bees (Eucera longicornis) sleeping in buttercup. Right: Bee-fly resting on ragged robin.

Left: Male long-horned bees (Eucera longicornis) sleeping in buttercup. Right: A bee-fly rests on ragged robin.

The cold weather played to our advantage, making butterflies and the lovely owly sulphur much easier to photograph, thereby allowing all the group to get good images.

Left: Glanville fritillary (Melitaea cinxia) on salad burnet. Right: Owly sulphur (Libelloides coccajus) on tongue orchid.

Left: Glanville fritillary (Melitaea cinxia) on salad burnet. Right: Owly sulphur (Libelloides coccajus) on tongue orchid.

During the week, we enjoyed a feast of wild orchids; on a limestone plateau we found large lizard orchids and early spider orchidss. Elsewhere we saw woodcock orchids and magnificent red helleborine spikes.

Left: Red helleborine (Cephalanthera rubra). Right: Sawfly orchid (Ophrys tenthredinifera).

Left: Red helleborine (Cephalanthera rubra). Right: Sawfly orchid (Ophrys tenthredinifera).

Unlike our British crab spiders that build no web and simply lurk in flowers to grab an unsuspecting visitor; the black and red Napoleon spider makes a simple bivouac by bending over petals – notably on oxeye daisies – by anchoring them with silken strands. The black marking on the red (or yellow) female abdomen portrays a silhouette of Naopleon’s hat.

Female napoleon crab spider (Synema globosum) Left: outside oxeye daisy bivouac. Right: Grasping a hapless hoverfly on a white umbellifer.

Female napoleon crab spider (Synema globosum) Left: outside oxeye daisy bivouac. Right: Grasping a hapless hoverfly.

Martin was pleased to see many new moths in the light traps, including the Spanish endemic puss moth and tiger, plus several species that are rare visitors to the UK such as the Ni moth, Dewick’s plusia and three-humped prominents.

Left: Dewick

Left: Dewick’s plusia (Macdunnoughia confusa). Right: White spot (Hadena albimaculata).

A surprise discovery was finding alpine newts breeding in stock water troughs and a male in breeding dress is featured at the top of this blog.

Whether you enjoy searching for early wildflowers plus their visitors, photographing and recording butterflies or examining the rich array of moths attracted to the UV moth trap light, this tour will not disappoint. The scenery spectacular and Teresa is a mine of information.  If you cannot make early June next year, the complete list of the 2016 Iberian Wildlife tours can be found here. I was lucky to capture a chamois on camera when we took the cable car up to Fuente Dé.

Left: A chamois turned as I appeared over a ridge. Right: Spring gentians (Gentiana verna). Both on trip to Fuente Dé, Picos de Europa.

Left: A chamois turned as it spotted me.  Right: Spring gentians (Gentiana verna). Both on the trip to Fuente Dé, Picos de Europa.

Thanks for reading!

HA signature low Res

Your email is never published or shared. Required fields are marked *

*

*