Mammals of Picos d’Europa & Asturias, Northern Spain. Iberian Wolves, Brown Bears and Wild Cats. Cetaceans.
Laurie Lee’s evocative tale of his journey over the wild Asturias didn’t mention the Wolves that may well have been watching him saunter by, but certainly they would have been there. And so they are still, for Northern Cantabria, in the shape of the quiet ridges of the Picos d’Europa and the back country of the Asturias, sill holds one of the continents most important populations of these iconic creatures. They are though extremely rare and the chances of coming across them by chance is slim, even for the sharp-eyed and aware. We’ll need the help of those that know their habits and who study them on a daily basis to give us a chance of spending time observing them.
Iberian Wolves still live quietly within a few kilometres of our base at Boca de Huergano and each morning we’ll head up quiet (and rough) tracks in the 4wds before parking up and walking a short distance to vantage points where we can spend time observing their comings and goings. The watchpoints are a distance from the Wolves so as to avoid disturbing them, and this works well as evidenced by the Wolves themselves who just go about their business without taking any notice of us, that is until they seem to stare straight down the barrel of your telescope! A wonderful moment!
Afternoons will be spent in hay meadows watching Wild Cats. Found in generally low numbers through much of Europe, Wild Cats still manage to evade our eyes with ease and there are few areas where seeing them is deemed a reasonable prospect. However August in the Picos means freshly mown hay meadows and these not only provide a perfect dining table for the cats, they also help to make them rather visible. The Wild Cats materialise out of the thick cover surrounding the meadows intent on prey they can hear in the short grass, oblivious to the optics trained on them, or even the occasional car or motorbike that drives past not many metres from them! We’ll likely see these beautiful cats every afternoon we’re in the area.
We’ll explore two important National Parks, Somiedo and Fuentes del Narcea, Degaña and Ibias. The meadows and rocky peaks of the subalpine zone are dotted with tiny lakes and the whole region is dissected by deep thickly wooded valleys. A significant population of Brown Bears resides in these forests where they are of course very difficult to see. As luck would have it, in late summer the Bears emerge from the depths of the forests into the subalpine meadows where the feed avidly on the abundant blackberries and hazelnuts. This gives us a great chance of viewing one of the most elusive mammals in Spain, particularly during the first and last hours of the day.
During the trip we’ll see a range of other mammal species including both Red Deer and Roe Deer, and probably also the Cantabrian form of Chamois. Wild Boar are quite common and we might see a Pine Marten or two.
There are two ways of getting to this tour. By air to Oviedo. Or by ferry from Plymouth or Portsmouth to Santander. This route has the added attraction of allowing one to add considerably to the mammal list. For many years Brittany Ferries have sponsored a cetacean watching team aboard their vessel. Their work has helped to shed light on the distribution of what is a very diverse range of cetaceans in the Bay of Biscay. The Continental Shelf in the north of the bay and the deep Torrelavega Canyon north of Santander are fine whale-watching areas. Seen on most voyages are Fin Whales, sometimes in some numbers, and dolphins, mostly Bottlenose and Striped Dolphins. Long-finned Pilot Whales are frequently encountered too. Common Dolphins and Harbour Porpoises are common in the northern parts of the Bay. Though not seen on every crossings the Bay is recognised as being one of the best areas to see Cuvier’s Beaked Whales. Sei Whales, Sperm Whale and even Blue Whale are quite possible at this time of year. Being on a huge ferry might not seem like the best way to whale-watch but the boat gives you tremendous height and the amount of sea one can watch from the ‘whale-watching’ deck is phenomenal.
Mammals. Also Birds.
Fiona Dunbar, and Local leaders
Many of the observation points will be reached by a 4X4 vehicle or with a walk of up to but often less than 2km on almost flat terrain. During a typical day we’ll not spend so much time walking but total distances may still add up to several kilometres, and though much of the terrain is only gently sloping, you will encounter rocky, uneven or occasionally steep slopes.
Included in the Price
All flights. All transport, meals and accommodation in Spain. Services of your leaders. Please note: drinks, tips, and items of a personal nature including insurance, are not included.
The minimum is 4 and the maximum is 10.
We’ve three nights in the Hotel Tierra de la Reina, a pleasant modern little hotel in Boca de Huergano in the heart of the Picos de Europa. This is followed by three nights in the very comfortable Casa Miño in the fine surroundings of Pola de Somiedo. All rooms on this tour have en suite facilities. Those travelling on the ferry will have a cabin for the overnight voyage/s.
This tour has two (or more) options for travel. The first is by ferry* from Plymouth (outbound only) or Portsmouth (outbound and return) across the Bay of Biscay to Santander. Cetacean-watching on board. Otherwise you can fly direct to Santander returning from Oviedo. If flying the itinerary is 7 days in total, if by ferry 9 days in total. Places on the ferry are not guaranteed until you book and may not be available closer to the time of departure so book early if you want to ensure a place on the ferry (it’s a busy time of year for the ferries!). *Please note that the ferry option may incur a supplement.
Though it can reach 30°C or more in the valleys at this season it is often much cooler in the mountains, especially early morning and evenings. Rain is likely during the tour and is occasionally prolonged though thankfully it doesn’t seem so cool in such summer rain as when we experience it in the UK!
How to Book
Contact us to check there is availability for the number of places you require. Download a booking form or contact us and we will send one to you. Complete and send to us. You will receive confirmation of your place and then a detailed information pack will be dispatched to you about twelve weeks before departure. Mammal and bird checklists are available.