IberiaNature A guide to the natural history of Spain
By Nick Lloyd - Home - Contact
 

Picos de Europa: A guide to the geography and wildlife of the Picos de Europa

Written by Lisa and Mike Stuart. Lisa and Mike run a rather nice guesthouse in the Picos de Europa

www.picos-accommodation.co.uk

A great spot for birdwatching, climbing and walking.

 

The Picos de Europa, A General Description  

The Picos de Europa are a small but impressive range of karstic limestone mountains in the north of Spain just 20 kms from the Costa Cantábrica. Straddling three provinces, Cantabria , Asturias and León, they are split into three massifs, western (El Cornión), central (Los Urrielles) and eastern ( Andara), by the rivers Cares and Duje. (The walk along the Cares Gorge, via a track carved out of the mountains by an amazing feat of engineering during the construction of a hydro-electricity station in the1920s, is a featured route on most visitors' itineraries). Bordered by, in the east and south, the valleys of Liébana and the Deva river and in the west by the Sella river, the Picos de Europa enjoy a temperate climate with the valleys on the western, Asturian side bearing the brunt of the prevailing westerly weather fronts. More on the climate of Asturias and Cantabria here. + Cantabrian Mountains

The topography of the Picos makes them notoriously complicated to navigate, the karstification process having compounded the effects of glaciation by creating deep hollows (hoyos) and steep mountain walls. Water is scarce in the high Picos with only occasional, small springs. Among the highest peaks are Torre de Cerredo (2,648m), Torre de Llambrión (2,642m), Peña Vieja (2,613m) and Peña Santa de Castilla (2,596m), although the most well-known is probably El Naranjo de Bulnes (2,519m), aka Picu Urriellu in the local dialect. This peak rises like a thumb out of the central massif and along with the rest of the range can be seen, on a clear day, from the sea. According to legend, the Picos de Europa were so named by northern European sailors approaching the Costa Verde from the Bay of Biscay .

In 1918 the western massif was given national park status making it the oldest in Spain and in 1995 was joined by the rest of the area making The Picos de Europa National Park the largest in Spain , covering an area of 64,660 ha.

Tradition has it that Covadonga, in the western massif, was the sight of a battle in the year 711 in which an army led by Don Pelayo defeated the Moorish invasion, making it the first defeat of the Arabs and leading to the Christian Reconquest of Spain . The reality was in all certainly more of a mountain skirmish, without the quasi-religious-nationalistic tones it took on in later centuries. Above the cathedral at Covadonga, (the second most important religious site in Spain after Santiago de Compostela) lie the lakes Lago Enol and Lago de la Encina, very popular with visitors. The Monasterio de Santo Toribio, near the old market town of Potes, is the third most important religious site in Spain and said to house a piece of the cross on which Jesus was crucified.. The cable car at Fuente De, affording easy and fast access to the central massif, is 20 kms from Potes.

Lago de la Ercina and other photos on this page by www.picos-accommodation.co.uk

The Picos de Europa are particularly famous in Spain for their production of a very strong blue cheese made from the milk of cow, goat and sheep. Depending on the province it's called either Cabrales (Asturias) or Queso Picón (Cantabria). Other products worthy of note are cider (sidra) in Asturias and Orujo, a "firewater" distilled from the lees of grapes in Liébana, Cantabria

Vegetation and Flora of the Picos de Europa .

Just below the limestone in the drier areas, forests of beech and ancient holm oak predominate while lower down ash, lime and Pyrenean oak are the more common tree species. Hillsides of scrub or "monte"are crisscrossed by networks of ancient tracks A hugely varied and rich variety of flora is to be found in the Picos, many of which are endemic to Northern Spain . As the snows melt on the alpine pastures, the first spring flowers appear including three species of narcissi, Narcissus bulbocodium, Narcissus triandrus and Narcissus asturiensis along with spring gentians, Gentiana verna , later giving way to an abundance of alpine plants such as saxifrages, flaxes and stonecrops. The area is home to over forty species of orchid. Thanks to centuries-old land management practices, the lower hay meadows are awash with flowers in spring. In these are found the majority of orchid species such as the first early purples, Orchis mascula , and pyramidal orchids, Anacamptis pyramidalis. A subspecies of black vanilla orchid, Nigritella angustifolia and pasque flowers, in particular Pulsatilla rubra, are examples of rarer flowers to be found at high altitudes.

An excellent source for information on the flora of the Picos de Europa can be found on Teresa Farino's page of iberianwildlife.com . Author of the excellent Traveller's Nature Guide to Spain, Teresa runs interesting trips around the area from her Picos base.

Black vanilla orchid

Fauna of the Picos de Europa.

Mammals of Picos de Europa

Of the mammalian species found in these jagged limestone peaks, the most symbolic is the endemic sub species of chamois the Rebeco ( Rupicapra rupicapra parva ). In fact a bovine species, these agile goat-like athletes can be regularly seen leaping around the precipitous rock. Snow voles (Topillo nival ) are less obvious, though their mounds of earth left from tunnelling are evident in the high pastures. Brown bears still cross the Picos occasionally on their passage between the enclaves in the Cordillera Cantábrica, (see Ski station threat to brown bears). Grey wolves ( Canis lupus (signatus) ) continue to roam in search of prey including red and roe deer. Other noteworthy species found in the Picos include wildcat, Eurasian badger, genet, wild boar and various bats.

Birds of Picos de Europa

Over 160 species of bird have been recorded in the Picos. Raptors include large populations of Griffon vulture ( Gyps fulvus ), aided in their existence by feeding stations set up by conservation groups while lammergeier ( Gypaetus barbatus) are being encouraged to return from the Pyrenees . Egyptian vultures ( Neophron percnopterus ) are summer visitors. Of eagle species, there are a few pairs of resident Golden ( Aquila chrysaetus ) , joined by Bonellis' ( Hieraaetus fasciatus ), Booted ( Hieraaetus pennatus ) and Short-toed ( Circaetus gallicus ) in summer. Common buzzards are abundant. Among other species of interest are eagle owl ( Bubo bubo ), capercaillie ( Tetrao urogallus (cantabricus) ), black woodpecker ( Dryocopus martius ) and wallcreeper (Tichodroma muraria).

A note on Lammergeyer reintroduction A pair of lammergeyers appear to have established themsleves in the Cantabrian Picos de Europa in Liébana fifty years after the species disappeared from these mountains. According to Geraldo Báguena of the Fundación para la Conservación del Quebrantahuesos (FCQ), two ADULT individuals have been spotted together at different points in the national park over the last month, which may well mean they have moved in permenantly. They are thought to be a male and female, as two birds of the same sex would be unlikey to tolerate each other for so long, although this is not confirmed. Young lammergeyers are sporadically spotted in the Picos, with 38 sightings in the last three years, but this is the first time that adult birds have decided to stay. The birds have been spotted right next to life-size models of lammergeyers installed by FCQ precisely to attract the birds. It appears that they have been successful. This is a great encouragement for the reintroduction plan which aims to release birds here in 2007, as the sites chosen (feeding stations/life-size models) are being frequented by the couple. Birds are being raised from inviable eggs collected in the Pyrenees. See first hacked lammergeyers to be released in Picos de Europa in 2007. La primera suelta de quebrantahuesos en los Picos se llevará a cabo en 2007 (Comercio Digital) More on lammergeier here

Butterflies of Picos de Europa

The rich abundance of flora in the Picos de Europa attracts a host of butterfly species. Some of these, including Apollo ( Parnassius Apollo ) and Marsh fritillary ( Euphydryas aurinia ) are on European endangered lists. Many subspecies, apart from the 145+ distinct species, are found in the Picos area. Of the subspecies confined to the Picos de Europa are included the Gavarnie blue ( Agriades pyrenaicus ssp. asturiensis ) and Lefebvres' ringlet ( Erebia lefebvrei ssp. astur ).

Again have a butcher's at Teresa Farino's page of iberianwildlife.com .for detailed info on Picos butterflies

Marsh fritillary.

Reptiles and Amphibians of Picos de Europa

Alpine newts inhabit the pools above Fuente De. Various lizards including Oscillated and Schreibers' green, snakes, salamanders and skinks are also to be found in the Picos and surrounding valleys. Of the snakes, only 2 are poisonous - the Montpelier and the Cantabrian viper. Midwife toads are most noticeable around the villages on summer evenings with their distinctive "beeping"

Carlos de Haes ; Los Picos de Europa. (1860 )
Museo del Prado (167 x 123 cm.)

Facts about Picos de Europa, Facts and figures about Picos de Europa, Trivia Picos de Europa
Environment of Picos de Europa
Wildlife of Picos de Europa
Picos de Europa Environment
Picos de Europa climate
Picos de Europa geography
Picos de Europa nature
Picos de Europa wildlife
Environment of Picos de Europa
Geography of Picos de Europa
Climate of Picos de Europa
Natural history of Picos de Europa
Mountains of Picos de Europa
Relief of Picos de Europa
Mountains of Picos de Europa
Rivers of Picos de Europa
Temperatures of Picos de Europa
Picos de Europa birding
Rainfall of Picos de Europa
Birds in Picos de Europa
Environmental issues in Picos de Europa
Picos de Europa landscape paintings
Highest mountains in Picos de Europa
population in Picos de Europa
population density in Picos de Europa
birdwatching in Picos de Europa
birding in Picos de Europa
wildlife protection in Picos de Europa
hunting in Picos de Europa
countryside in Picos de Europa
trees in Picos de Europa
flowers in Picos de Europa
ecology in Picos de Europa
conservation issues in Picos de Europa
organic farming in Picos de Europa
photos of wildlife in Picos de Europa
national parks in Picos de Europa, natural parks in Picos de Europa, biosphere reserves in Picos de Europa, nature reserves in Picos de Europa, reserves in Picos de Europa,

native fauna in Picos de Europa, birdlife in Picos de Europa, wildlife tourism in Picos de Europa,

wildlife photography in Picos de Europa, bird photography in Picos de Europa, nature photography in Picos de Europa, photos of birds in Picos de Europa

temperatures in Picos de Europa in January - temperatures in Picos de Europa in February - temperatures in Picos de Europa in March - temperatures in Picos de Europa in April - temperatures in Picos de Europa in May - temperatures in Picos de Europa in June temperatures in Picos de Europa _ temperatures in Picos de Europa in July - temperatures in Picos de Europa in August - temperatures in Picos de Europa in September - temperatures in Picos de Europa in October - temperatures in Picos de Europa in November - temperatures in Picos de Europa in December

temperature in Picos de Europa in January - temperature in Picos de Europa in February - temperature in Picos de Europa in March - temperature in Picos de Europa in April - temperature in Picos de Europa in May - temperature in Picos de Europa in June temperature in Picos de Europa _ temperature in Picos de Europa in July - temperature in Picos de Europa in August - temperature in Picos de Europa in September - temperature in Picos de Europa in October - temperature in Picos de Europa in November - temperature in Picos de Europa in December

rainfall in Picos de Europa in January - rainfall in Picos de Europa in February - rainfall in Picos de Europa in March - rainfall in Picos de Europa in April - rainfall in Picos de Europa in May - rainfall in Picos de Europa in June rainfall in Picos de Europa _ rainfall in Picos de Europa in July - rainfall in Picos de Europa in August - rainfall in Picos de Europa in September - rainfall in Picos de Europa in October - rainfall in Picos de Europa in November - rainfall in Picos de Europa in December

precipitation in Picos de Europa in January - precipitation in Picos de Europa in February - precipitation in Picos de Europa in March - precipitation in Picos de Europa in April - precipitation in Picos de Europa in May - precipitation in Picos de Europa in June precipitation in Picos de Europa _ precipitation in Picos de Europa in July - precipitation in Picos de Europa in August - precipitation in Picos de Europa in September - precipitation in Picos de Europa in October - precipitation in Picos de Europa in November - precipitation in Picos de Europa in December

climate in Picos de Europa in January - climate in Picos de Europa in February - climate in Picos de Europa in March - climate in Picos de Europa in April - climate in Picos de Europa in May - climate in Picos de Europa in June climate in Picos de Europa _ climate in Picos de Europa in July - climate in Picos de Europa in August - climate in Picos de Europa in September - climate in Picos de Europa in October - climate in Picos de Europa in November - climate in Picos de Europa in December


 

 

Sites in Asturias

Rural accommodation in Asturias

Information on Asturias

Spain

 

-