Aragonese Pyrenees

Articles in ‘Aragonese Pyrenees’

Lammergeyer continues recovery in Aragón

May 5th, 2017

The lammergeyer or bearded vulture is continuing to recover in Aragón, its Iberian stronghold, with 90 pairs recorded in 2017, up from less than 40 in the 1980s. More here

Chicks from Aragón are to be taken to teh Picos de Europa to help in the reintroduction project there. Here

Origin of the Pyrenees 

May 3rd, 2017

The Pyrenees, according to Greek mythology at least, take their name from Pyrene, daughter of King Bebrycius who was raped by Hercules, after which she gave birth to a serpent. Terrified by how her father would react, Pyrene fled to these hills, where she was torn apart by wild animals. Hercules later came upon her lacerated remains, and overcome with grief, commanded the surrounding mountains help create a tomb for her by piling up rocks. Thus, the Pyrenees were created. 

A more likely explanation is that the Iberian microcontinent began to crash into Europe some 55 million years ago causing a massive uplift and slowly and powerfully forming the range.

Disappearance of glaciers in the Pyrenees

February 24th, 2009

Another study has highlighted the likely disappearance of the glaciers in the Pyrenees in the next 40-50 years.

Since the first study by French geographer Franz Schrader in 1894, the Pyrenean glaciers have lost 88 percent of their 1,779-hectare surface area, according to a report by the Spanish Ministry of the Environment. Low rainfall and the rise in temperatures is leading to their rapid melting, and it is estimated that by the middle of the century, they will have vanished altogether. This has accelerated in recent years with the glaciers losing 72 hectares between 2002 and 2008. One of the most striking examples is that of La Madaleta glacier, one of the largest in the Pyrenees, whose thickness has shrunk by 180 metres since 1991 at an average rate of 11 metes a year. The absence of snowfall in summer in recent years has exacerbated this regression. Lower snowfall is also likely to spell long-ter, disaster for the skiing industry.

See also:

The Legend of Monte Perdido

October 2nd, 2008

Monte Perdido, the Lost Mountain, (3355m) is the third highest peak in the Pyrenees but until the early 19th century it was thought that to be the highest. It does, however, boast the highest waterfall (400m) in Europe and the second largest glacier in the Pyrenees. The mountain is home to many legends, perhaps the most evocative of which is this one:

A palace was built at the beginning of time by the mythical Enchanter of the Peaks, Atland, who put a spell on the palace so that only certain people could enter it. Polished walls and towers protected it and hid behind them vast gardens and meadows that were like an earthly paradise. The palace is still bound by Atland’s spell and can only be entered if you are riding on the back of a flying horse. More legends from Aragon

Glaciers to disappear in the Pyrenees by 2050

September 6th, 2008

Glaciar de Monteperdido in the Aragonese Pyrenees (El País)

A Spanish study published in The Holocene has concluded that the progressive rise in temperatures since 1890 will lead to the total disappearance of the Pyrenean glaciers by 2050.

Glaciers advanced during the Little Ice Age (LIA) between 1300 and 1860 in the Pyrenees, Picos de Europa and Sierra Nevada. These were most extensive in the Pyrenees (because of altitude and latitude) but today glaciers remain only in the highest peaks. There were six glaciers in the Picos de Europa Massif during the LIA, and one glacier, the southernmost of Europe, in the Sierra Nevada (Pico de Veleta). All of these glaciers have been in continuous retreat since the end of the nineteenth century, 94 have disappeared completely (Veleta in 1913), leaving 29 glaciers in the Pyrenees (10 in Spain, 11 in France), four buried icepatches in the Picos de Europa and one buried icepatch in the Sierra Nevada. The last 15 years has seen a 50-60% reduction in surface area of the largest glaciers.

The Little Ice Age was not a continuous period of cold. These Iberian glaciers expanded most rapidly between 1645 and 1710, and then shrunk between 1750 and the early 19th century but then recovered after a new cold period. Since the end of the 19th century temperatures have risen more sharply by 0.7ºC and 0.9ºC in the mountains in northern Spain in line with global warming. El País

See also

  • Climate guide to Spain
  • The Little Ice Age in Spain
  • Glaciers in Spain (2004) Spanish glaciers melting fast Greenpeace has released a report on the state of Spain’s glaciers. The glaciers on the Spanish side of the Pyrenees are melting fast.. Total surface area has dropped from 1779 hectares in 1894 to 290 in 2000, representing a fall of 85% in of surface area. 52% of this has occurred in the last 20 years, and 30% between 1991 and 2001.

Brown bear population in the Pyrenees

May 18th, 2008

oso pardo Photo El País

Another update on brown bears in the Pyrenees. The population of bears in the range has “stabilised” at 20 individuals, of which only two (old) males and one cub belong to the autocthonous “group of Pyrenean bears. The remaining bears are those introduced from Eastern Europe in 1996, 1997 and 2006, or are cubs of these animals.

In Catalonia, in the last year at least 12 bears have been recorded passing some time here, and as some of these are now cubs, we can now begin to talk about a second generation growing up since the reintroductions began. A sign of the increased activity of bears is the first recording of a bear In the Vall d’Arán for a number of years. Watch the video of a female bear being followed by a male here. Both have recently awoken from hibernation.

The latest DNA evidence suggests that the genetic difference between Spanish bears and those from the rest of Europe is small, and therefore there should be no reason to oppose transfers from other areas on biological grounds. See Wikipedia for more on links on this. In 2007, brown bears in the Catalan Pyrenees killed 20 sheep, 1 cow and 1 horse, which the Catalan Government compensated to a tune of 6,640 euros. A small price to pay. See pirineos.com

See also Pyrenean bear news

Innovative breeding techniques for Lammergeier

March 30th, 2008

Lammergeier

Using a technique for the first time with this species, the Foundation for the Reintroduction of the Lammergeier hope to release a bird bred completely isolated from human contact. They’ve built a 6x6m platform at 1,500m in Ordesa which includes a heated nest with a “puppet” adult bird to feed the chick and, next to it, a cage which the chick will be moved into after 80 days to continue the natural imprinting process as in this area of the Pyrenees there is the largest population of the species in Europe. A feeding station next to the cage will provide opportunity for the chick (born in Feb.) to observe and learn natural adult behaviour. After 120 days the young bird will fly for the first time.
They say that this tecnique will be used in the “near future” for the release of three birds in the Picos de Europa, from which I guess will be next year, the only difference being that the birds will be relocated from the Pyrenees two weeks before their first flights in the Picos.

The conservation group are already using another technique of strategically placing caged adult birds in areas in which they hope to encourage the Lammergeier to return.

For more info go to the discussion on Iberianature forum

Posted by Lisa

Monte Perdido glacier

September 4th, 2007

What remains of the glacier of Monte Perdido, the second largest in the Pyrenees and covering in 2001, 44 ha down from 556 in 1894, has just been declared a National Monument by the Aragonese government. This will presumably save it from climate change. (El Mundo)

monte perdido glacier

Wallcreepers in Aragon

February 22nd, 2007

Wallcreepers in Los Mallos de Riglos

21/01/2007 These photos of wallcreepers were sent to me by bird guide Johan Bos of Natura Aragon -don’t be put put off by the Dutch- he also runs trips for English people. Johan notes:

Wallcreepers in spring or summer: a difficult species for every birdwatcher. Annoying even. They can be anywere high up in the mountains. But in winter: they are sometimes very easy to see, like at Los Mallos de Riglos in Aragon. Just scan the sunny walls and, especially, look in the shady parts: they’ll be there searching for slow insects and caterpillars hiding in the cracks. Wallcreepers migrate vertically: from the high mountains to the lower region, were the climate is much milder. Sometimes you’ll even find them on ancient churches. Taking pictures is always difficult because they move around so quickly. On the other hand: they aren’t particularly shy and are even used to climbers”. Thanks Johan, Nick. Note, in Spanish there known as trepariscos (crag-climbers, if you like)

Â

Lammergeyers in the Sierra de Guara

February 21st, 2007

I’ve been invited by Josele J. Saiz to stay a couple of day at his Boletas Birdwatching Centre in the Sierra de Guara in Huesca. More on him soon. While there I hope to talk to Oscar Dí­az of the Fundación Quebrantahuesos (English) as part of research for the book. FCQ, one of the most active wildlife groups in the Pyrenees, works in the conservation of lammergeyers, but also in the conservation of the Pyrenees in general. I’ve been doing a bit of background reading on the lammergeyer or bearded vulture. What an utterly remarkable bird this is.

Photo by F. Marquez.

This is the world’s only bone-eater. They feed on marrow which they get by dropping bones repeatedly onto rocks, as their Spanish name, quebrantahuesos, aptly suggests. They’ll come back again and again to their favourite rocky areas known in English as ossuaries.
The evocative English Lammergeier or Lammergeyer (both correct) comes from the German, lammergeier, meaning “lamb-vulture“. This was apparently coined by 19th century naturalists due to the mistaken and incredibly widespread belief across Central Europe that they would take young lambs.
They are also known in English as bearded vultures. This is in reference to the ochre ruff of quills they sport around their necks. They are not born with this colour, but acquire the colour by actively seeking out iron-rich muds and rubbing their feathers in them. One theory goes that in a stand-off, the redder the feather, the tougher the lammergeyer, though I need to check this.
The female lammergeyer lays one egg, and then a few days later, lays another. The second chick plays the role of a substitute if the first egg fails to hatch. In most cases, the second chick dies, despite the efforts of its parents to feed it: the older sibling is stronger and takes its food. And then, when the right moment arrives it will kill its brother or sister. This is known by biologists as Cainism, the advantage being that if the first chick fails to hatch or dies young the second chick is at hand. Some of these second chicks are now being rescued are used as part of a captive breeding programme in Andalucia.
• The most serious problem for the bird is poisoning. Some 40% of unnatural deaths of lammergeyers in Spain are from poisoned meat put out principally, these days, to kill foxes, though in the past the bird also suffered from more direct persecution
• Unusally, reproductive units can be comprised of two or three adults. Groups of three appear to be more common that thought. In the latter case there usually are two males and one female, although exceptionally reproductive units made up of four specimens have been observed. The members of the group mount each other as part of a bizarre mating simulation, male on male and female on male.
Currently the Spanish Pyrenean population is comprised of around 125 occupied territories (2004) with an estimated pre-adult population of 156-162 specimens distributed in an area of 21,000 km2. Perhaps the best site to them is the Sierra de Guara with 12 bearded vulture territories, the densest population in Europe. ,
There really is so much more. Just about the only live prey they take are tortoises, which they also dash on the rocks, though as they have been pushed out of low-lying areas this may no longer occur, and certainly not in Spain. Legends abound across Eurasia and Africa. There are for instance strong associations with the pheonix and the bearded vulture. More on this soon. More on lammergeyers in Spain and here on lammergeyer around the world