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
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.
|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
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
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