Friday, 5 June 2015

Field Trip To The Picos de Europa

For a while now I have wanted to go to the Picos de Europa in Northern Spain, an area of outstanding scenery and some great wildlife watching. So together with my usual fieldtrip stalwart Matthew Wilson and friends Kevin and Suzanne Byrnes we planned to go at the end of May 2015. Kev and Suzanne sorted us a great cottage just below the mountains. Cheap flights from the dreaded Stanstead and all was set. Ideally for this trip we didn't want full on sunshine all day but a bit of a mix to ensure we connected with a good number of amphibians. This is essentially what we got. We rustled up 22 species, 5 snakes, 7 lizards, 4 newts, 2 salamanders and 4 frogs/toads. 6 of these were new species for me.
The only down side to this trip was TICKS I removed about, 8 luckily I had a removal device most were tiny black dots, so check yourself after each day out.

We collected our car and off we headed to the first stop a place between the airport and digs composed of dunes, scrub and pine woods. Unfortunately it was drizzling so after a quick search we decided to get some dinner and hope the sun emerged. Sure enough out came the sun and with it the lizards, firstly Western 3 Toed Skink a species ive seen before but not managed to photographed. However the star lizards were next a pair of gorgeous Schreibers Green Lizards (lifer). A few Common Wall Lizards and Common Toad. A great first stop and we set off to the cottage. After settling in we headed out to get some supplies, BOOM a rock sticking out of a narrow track popped a tyre (I shan't say who was driving) We then had a palarva because there was no spare and we had to go to Oviedo the next day to get a replacement car. In the evening we found Common Midwife Toads and Salamander near the cottage.

Western 3 Toed Skink

Melodius Warbler
Midwife Toad
Salamandra s berandezi
View behind cottage
Schreiber's green lizards

Day 2
A dull start to the day and we had an extended wait at Balmori waiting for the taxi to turn up to take us to Oviedo to pick up the new car. A bit of birding whilst waiting revealed Serin, Spotless Starling and a Male Redstart. From Oviedo we headed for a valley looking for Golden Striped Salamander (lifer) Matt found the first down by a stream we then found a few more between us. Kev found a Common Frog.

Wheres that Chuffing taxi?

Golden Striped Salamander

Beautiful Demoiselle

Think these are Mediterranean Horseshoe Bats


Later in the evening the owners of the cottage took us to a spot where her son likes to catch newts, it was nice to see that the whole family had an interest in wildlife and were knowledgeable of the species. At the spot we found Palmate and Alpine Newts plus more Salamanders of varying patterns plus a Midwife Toad and a Slow Worm.

Alpine Newt

Various Common Wall Lizards

Midwife toad
Various Salamanders

Slow Worm

Day 3 Into The Mountains

Today we headed into the mountains to a popular finish in The Vuelta (cycle tour of Spain). Here we had a possibility of finding Iberian Rock Lizard. It was certainly a climb. Part of the way up we stopped at a water trough with Palmate newt and Midwife toad tadpoles and a Common Wall Lizard. At the top it was sunny so we quickly headed off, a large flock of Alpine choughs, a few Red Billed Chough and Griffon Vultures were scouring the cliffs. First herps were Common wall Lizard a male Midwife carrying eggs. Suzanne then said " are these lizards green" "cos there is one here". Sure enough a beautiful male was shining in the sun. Later we saw quite a few more including the duller females, plus a couple of Slow Worms, great!. On the way down we had a few close encounters with Griffon Vultures.

Alpine Choughs


Iberian Rock Lizards

 Midwife Toad
 Red Billed Chough

Day 4 The Viper Triangle

Today we had a longish drive to an area where we could possibly find 3 species of viper. We set off in lovely weather but as we closed in on the first search area it started to cloud over. Anyroad not to be put off Kev set off a quick look back and the glove was out, only one thing that means a dodgy snake and sure enough a lovely Asp Viper. 5 minutes later I found another slightly more orange female. What a start, however things rapidly slowed down, Matt flipped a rock to reveal a large male Ocellated Lizard but couldn't get to grips with it.

Asp Viper 1

Asp Viper 2

We moved on to the next spot the sun was now in but Kev quickly found a Viperine Snake and a Marbled Newt than another Viperine Snake swam across a small pond dived and vanished. The sun came out and we did an extensive search for a Lataste Viper but to no avail. On the drive back we stopped at a water cistern full of Palmate and Alpine Newts, plus a couple of Spanish Water Frogs and Western Green Lizard. Next to a spot for Seones Viper but it was way too hot, but we were compensated with 4 Red Footed Falcons.
 Juv Western green lizard
 Kev Newting
 Marbled Newt

 Iberian Water Frog
 Male Red Footed Falcon
 Viperine Snake
White Stork
Day 5 Fuente De
Undoubtedly the best scenery of the trip in the high mountains of the Picos. We set off early but realised it was getting hot and a slow drive behind coaches and the chance of finding a Seoanes Viper was slipping away. We didn't hang about, a few wall lizards then a shout from Matt who had a Smooth Snake. I then heard a snake in some shrubs a rummage around and a lovely Seoanes Viper of the brown un-patterned type. We then went up in the cable car into the areas with snow, we had great fun photographing vultures including a bonus Egyptian Vulture, loads of tame Alpine Choughs a few Alpine Accentors and my only new bird of the trip a Snowfinch.
 Alpine Accentor

 Alpine Chough




 Viper time

 Female Seoanes Viper

 Smooth Snake

Very pale Northern Wheatear

Last Day
Initially the plan was for a coastal Seoanes but it was drizzling, ideal for a search for another subspecies of Salamander the plainly marked S alfredschmidti . Suzanne was looking forward to some coastal sun so sat this one out. Anyway it didn't take long with Matt quickly finding 2 and Kev another, we wanted to make the most of our time so headed back we stopped off at a roadside ditch and spotted some newts, Kev needs Bosca's but disappointment Palmates. Further down the road another stop Kev made a grab and then looked up like a cat that had got the cream 3 Bosca's in one grab, super!. We picked Suzanne up and headed to the beach again it got hot quickly but luckily Kev enhanced the day further with a Grass Snake of the unmarked Natrix n astreptophora . A few wall lizards and 3 toed skinks and some nicely marked Western Green Lizards lead to celebratory drink.
 Bosca's Newt
Copper Demoiselle
 Grass Snake

 Western Green Lizard

 Hummingbird Hawk Moth


Common Wall and friend a Green tiger beetle
Many thanks to Kev Suzanne and Matt for great company and an enjoyable trip. Thanks to Bobby and Gert Jan from who Matt got some last minute localities.
Species Lists
Grass snake Natrix n astreptophora
Viperine Snake Natrix Maura
Smooth Snake Coronella austriaca
Seoane's viper Vipera seoanei. (Lifer)
Asp Viper Vipera aspis (Lifer)
Western Green Lizard Lacerta bilineata
Schreibers Green Lizard Lacerta schreiberi (Lifer)
Ocellated Lizard Timon lepidus
Slow Worm Anguis Fragilis
Common Wall Lizard Podarcis muralis
Iberian rock lizard Iberolacerta monticola (Lifer)
Western Three toed skink Chalcides striatus
Bosca's newt Lissotriton boscai
Alpine Newt Icthyosaura alpestris (first time seen in natural range)
Palmate Newt Lissotriton helveticus
Marbled Newt Triturus marmaratus (Lifer)
Fire Salamander Salamandra s alfredschmidti and bernadezi
Golden Striped Salamander Chioglossa lusitanica (Lifer)
Midwife Toad Alytes obstetricans (first time seen in natural range)
Common Toad Bufo bufo
Iberian Water Frog Pelophylax Perezi
Common Frog Rana temporaria
GC Grebe
Little Grebe
White Stork
Griffon Vulture
Egyptian Vulture
Booted Eagle
Black Kite
Marsh Harrier
Common Buzzard
Peregrine Falcon
Red footed Falcon
Y L Gull
Ringed Plover
Alpine Accentor
Water Pipit
White Wagtail
Black Redstart
Black Eared Wheatear
Song Thrush
Mistle Thrush
G S Woodpecker
Blue Tit
L T Tit
Alpine Chough
C Crow
House Sparrow
Spotless Starling
House Martin
Crag Martin
Cettis Warbler
Willow Warbler
Melodius Warbler
Sardinian Warbler
Grasshopper Warbler
Sedge Warbler
Zitting Cisticola
Snowfinch (Lifer)
Corn Bunting
Total 69
Brown Hare
Red Squirrel


  1. What a fantastic trip Carl - stunning photos too. Great stuff.

  2. Surprised you didn't add that photo of a snow finch.

  3. Cheers folks. I think that snowfinch pic could be a competition winner so I'm holding it back :-)

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