Wildflower Walks in the Picos de Europa

John & Jo Morris

April 10, 2018

“…there is a lot for the naturalist to discover and enjoy in the Picos, and we look forward to finding more interesting species next year” – John & Jo Morris

We were delighted to be invited by Collett’s to lead ten wild flower walks in May 2016. We stayed in the very comfortable Posada El Corcal in Tama run by the Soberon family, with meals in their friendly restaurant just nearby. It was our second visit to the Picos, having been shown a number of good flower sites by David Charlton during our stay the year before. However this year we started a couple of weeks earlier in mid May. It had been a cold winter with quite a bit of snow, so some flowers were later to appear than we had expected.

David suggested we visit Lebena early on to see the wild peonies. We found them in full flower during our first walk, along with lots of sword-leaved white helleborines and tall violet limodores in the woodland. All had finished flowering when we went back just a week later, but we were then treated to flower rich meadows with pink butterfly orchids, robust marsh orchids, so many serapias, and my first ever bug orchid.

A similar story of rapid flowering was seen elsewhere. We went up by cable car to the heights of Fuente Dé twice during our stay and the first time there was still lots of snow so few species of flowers to be seen. But we did see numerous tiny Asturias daffodils flowering in the melt areas and we had great views of rebecco, a local form of the chamois, and of choughs and griffon vultures. When we went back to Fuente Dé for our last flower walk at the end of May, the bright blue spring gentians and various pasque flowers all opened during the day. We also found the yellow Saxifraga fellineri , Saxifraga conifera and a tiny Daphne shrub Thymelaea dioica.

There are some spectacular mountain views from the high passes, making the windy drive up to Puerto de San Glorio with its impressive bear statue worthwhile. Here a pine plantation, thinned since our visit the year before, had a carpet of dogs tooth violets Erythronium dens-canis in full flower, along with Hepatica nobilis, to be almost completely replaced by wood anemones by our second visit. Other highlights of this area were the delicate forms of numerous white angel’s tears daffodils Narcisuss triandrus and of the beautiful sand crocus Romulea bulbocodium. There were also good numbers of Pyrenean fritillary and elder-flowered orchids in both pale yellow and purple forms. During our lunch break on this walk we enjoyed a thrilling view of a hovering short toed eagle and later saw red backed shrikes in the scrub.

In the beech woods below Fuente Dé were many plants that I am familiar with from the Chilterns where I work, but with plenty of extra species. These included large pale blue Scilla and other plants which are rare back home but growing in good numbers here, such as red helleborine, herb Paris and Solomon’s seal. In the lower meadows we found a good mix of showy orchids including sawfly and very fresh dull orchids, only to find on a second visit that cattle had been allowed in to one flower rich area, including a sizeable bull, so our exploration was more limited than expected! Nearby, Bartons and Man orchids were in full flower. In wet flushes were colourful masses of purple insectivorous large flowered butterwort, golden marsh marigolds and the tight yellow heads of globe flowers.

In the fields around the fascinating old town of Potes just up the valley from the Posada, where Collett’s is based, there were many other species to see, including lizard, green winged, bee and woodcock orchids. Birds such as swifts, redstarts and black redstarts can be seen flying around the old buildings from the cafes in the centre of town.

In this part of Spain as well as an amazing range of alpine and lowland flowers, birds, butterflies, and amphibians can all be seen in good numbers. We found reptiles such as the spectacular blue headed Shreiber’s green lizard, grass snake and slow worm. Walking the mountain paths we were lucky to come across a rare fire salamander and a spiny toad sitting in a perfectly clear mountain stream. We enjoyed a drive to Vanes to see white storks on their nests on the roof tops of the village by the lake, their comical displays of clacking bills contrasting with their beautiful soaring grace in flight. At a mirador viewpoint overlooking the spectacular Hermida gorge we shared our packed lunch with an abundance of swallowtail, scarce swallowtail and other butterflies, with close views of Griffon and Egyptian vultures.
So there is lots for the naturalist to discover and enjoy in the Picos, and we look forward to finding more interesting species next year.

John & Jo Morris

For next year’s dates – see Flower Walks in the Picos de Europa for more information.