This May I was lucky to escape my usual routine and enjoy three days out with Teresa Farino and Jeff Clarke on their Picos de Europa guided wildlife holiday. Between these two experts in their fields they have bases pretty much covered, Teresa looking after plants, butterflies and moths and Jeff birds, mammals and other invertebrates.
Meadows and Woodland around Fuente De
Dragging ourselves away from Swallowtails and various fritillaries we headed up an ancient track to the first orchid-rich meadow. On the way were the first of many owlflies (Ascalaphids) either flying or resting with wings open, like a cross between a butterfly and a dragonfly but with very long antennae. The species here is Libelloides coccajus.
Back to the orchids the first of sixteen or seventeen species of the day (to be honest I lost count before that) was Man orchid, now known as Orchis anthropophora. Among the Ophrys were sphegoides, Early spider, fusca, Sombre bee (seen below with accompanying and properly confused bee that I think is a Common mining bee, Andrena bicolor) and tenthredinifera, Sawfly, the latter pickling a slope at the top of our walk.
Alongside the myriad yellow forms of Elder-flowered orchids, Dactylorhiza sambucina, were a good number of Barton's orchid, Dactylorhiza insularis, with just the two remnant dark spots on the lip. On the way down to the lower wet part of the meadow a small patch of luminescent pink could be seen from a way away, Dianthus deltoides.
The last orchids of the day were found in beech woods; Bird's nest, Neottia nidus-avis, camouflaged among the dead leaves on the wood floor and Common twayblade, from old English meaning two-leaved, Listera ovata.
Also found in this venerable habitat were a few tiny Adder's tongue ferns, Ophioglossum vulgatum.
The lush meadows and warm, rocky hillsides were pulsating with invertebrate life.
(See the next page for the similar Heath fritillary caterpillar). Teresa found a wart biter, Decticus verrucivorus, but I found it hard to focus while at the same time expecting it to bite at any moment.........
The end of the afternoon and the owlflies were now resting with wings closed, preparing to roost for the night. Peter kindly helped me take my favourite photo of the day, Libelloides coccajus hiding behind a big, fat stalk.............
Around Vega de Liébana
My second day with the group was spent in meadows and crags of Vega de Liébana. First stop were some crags just below the village of Dobres where Jeff knew there were Crag martins nesting amid a resident Griffon vulture colony.
We watched and listened to the martins, Blue rock thrush, Black redstarts and Goldfinches as the vultures soared around us and after elevenses changed scenery for a nearby body of freshwater. Walking around the small lake I was stunned to see a large snake swimming, head held above the surface of the water, but forgot that snakes can hear so that it quickly dived before I could get the bins on it to find out whether it was Grass or Viperine.
We pottered here for a few hours enjoying the damselflies, butterflies and an autochthonous White-clawed crayfish. A lovely, fresh Black-veined white butterfly kept immobile for us, especially pleasing as every other species seemed to be a Small tortoiseshell. Not that I don't appreciate them, just that there were so many all week. I've heard that in Catalonia, and parts of the U.K. a similar thing is happening this spring with Marsh fritillaries.
Following the miraculous appearance of a luxurious lunch and resisting the urge to take a siesta we descended to another favourite meadow of Teresa's, threatening weather pushing us on.
Here butterflies were roosting (in preparation for the storm?) but nothing stops their offspring. This Marsh fritillary caterpillar below devoured its scabious snack while I watched. The other caterpillar, remarkably similar to the previous Spotted fritillary is a Heath fritillary, all of its lumpy spine being an ochre hue.
More "bichos" that day were an unusual Burnet moth that I think is Zygaena nevadensis and a pretty Crab spider, Thomisidae family, that is probably Misumena vatia.
Typical May weather here in the Picos, the storm didn't happen that day. In fact the sun came back out as I headed for home.
Up the Cable Car
De-ticked and undeterred I wasn't going to miss going up the cable car so for an unprecedented third day in a week I was again able to join Teresa, Jeff and co. on one of those magical days when the cable car lifts you through the cloud to emerge into another sphere.
The ground was blue with gentians as we made our way to a shallow pool of water that by summer will have dried up.
This Common wall lizard decided the best form of defense was to stay still and pretend it wasn't there.
A couple of Red-veined darters weren't keeping very still at the pool though. I just caught this one as it was coming in to land briefly.
All very lovely, but the main objective for the day was a certain bird. Not Snowfinch, particularly, nor Alpine accentor.........
...........but after another great picnic and a patient (ish) wait we hit the jackpot! We'd had the pleasure of the "usual" flight and calling overhead and distant views on rockfaces but luck hit Jeff as we wandered back as he spotted this lovely female out of the corner of his eye flitting among the boulders of the scree.
Thanks to all for having me tag along!