Birds and Butterflies of Asturias Part 2 of 2

Before arriving in Asturias on August 27, 2013, I sent John Muddeman a list of about 15 birds that (a) were included on the list of Birds of Somiedo furnished to us for the trip, and (b) that I had never seen before, and would therefore be life birds.   My list was so short because I had seen many of the Spanish (and European) birds during my two prior trips with John.  One of my targets, the Capercaillie, is probably extinct in the Somiedo area, so it was included only because it was listed for the area.  Others are summer residents, and may have migrated south before my arrival.  These included Scops Owl, Nightjar, Water Pipit and Spotted Flycatcher.  Fortunately, we found a good number of Water Pipits and at least one Spotted Flycatcher.  John saw a couple of Nightjars from his van early one morning, but I was in the other van and missed them.

Several others that I listed are rare and difficult to find in Somiedo.  These included Middle Spotted Woodpeckers, Treecreepers and Ring Ouzels, and we in fact did not find any of these.  Several others are generally only found at higher elevations than we achieved, and so we missed those too:  Snowfinches, Alpine Accentors and Alpine Choughs.  Redwings are winter residents and had not yet arrived.  Of the remaining three species on my list Woodcocks are quite scarce and difficult to find under any circumstances, (and we did not); Tawny Owls were briefly spotted and heard very well just outside my hotel window; and Marsh Tits showed up a few feet from me as I rested beside the trail on our last day in the mountains.  That was a nice treat.

Unfortunately, none of these four new bird species offered good photographic opportunities, (Barbara was not with me when the Marsh Tits appeared), so we have no pictures.  Several other species, however did give Barbara a good target and here they are:

Red-backed Shrike;


Robin (the famous “Robin Red-breast” of English nursery rhyme fame);


Griffin Vultures soaring overhead.


On the other hand, I was introduced to the world of butterfly identification, and they were much more cooperative for photographic purposes.  



There were many dragonflies and lizards.  We saw goats being herded along a bog that we visited.

One of the special attractions of the trip was a visit to the remote, and now abandoned, Brana de Munial, which Barbara hiked to while I lingered back on the trail.  These are among the remaining traditional barns and dwellings in the Somiedo area with a circular or oval floor plan and thatched broom roofs.


Our picturesque village of Somiedo


One of many scenic views


A Hummingbird Moth


Great Astrakhan horses, with bobbing heads (shaking off flies) and ringing bells


We were very fortunate to enjoy beautiful weather each day of our trip.  Once again we found Spain to have such a variety of landscapes.  Each time we visit a part of the country we come home with the hope that we will return to yet another part of this fascinating country.





Bears of Asturias, Spain (plus butterflies, birds and botanicals) 1 of 2

In February, 2013 we received an invitation from John Muddeman of Madrid to join him and his co-leader in a search for the “Littlest Grizzlies” in the mountains of Somiedo, Asturias, Spain.  Having had two prior birding excursions in Spain with John we were sure this also would be fun, so we signed up right away.

The tour began on 27 August and ended on 3 September.  The group met at the Oviedo Airport on the afternoon of 27 August, and we boarded our 2 vans for the hour or so drive to our destination in the village of Somiedo.  We were the only Americans in the group, which consisted of three other couples and six women, all but one of whom, an Irish nurse, were from the UK.  It took us a while to become accustomed to the “accents”, which were not all the same, but with a bit of effort, we got the hang of it and enjoyed our time with everyone.

Asturias is on the north coast of Spain, facing the Bay of Biscay.


Galicia borders to the west and Cantabria to the east.  The large province of Castilla y Leon lies to the south.  The village of Somiedo is within the large Parque Natural de Somiedo, which straddles the mountains bordering Leon, to the south.    The mountains gain altitude from north to south, to a height of about 2,200 meters.  Small villages dot the valleys, with many cinnamon colored Asturian cattle ranging freely, cowbells tinkling incessantly, creating a lovely ambiance for our mountain hikes.  Small farms constitute the bulk of the valleys.


The Park is a sanctuary for Spain’s remaining brown bears and wolves.  This tour was tightly coordinated with the Fundacion Oso Prado, the Brown Bear Foundation.  The Foundation is a wildlife NGO created in 1992 for the purpose of conserving the brown bear as a wild inhabitant of northern Spain.  We were greatly impressed by the knowledge, skills, friendliness and dedication of the young men and women who work for this NGO.  They were most helpful to us during our week in Somiedo.  As a result of their work, the brown bears of Somiedo are gradually increasing, and prospects for their survival appear good.

Brown bears were the primary focus of our trip.  We saw them on many occasions, but to do so required that we be on the road by 6:00 a.m. every morning and back out in the evenings until 9:00 p.m. or so, because the bears come out of the forests to feed on the mountain sides during these dawn and twilight hours.  Unfortunately for the photographers among us, the bears were seen only at a considerable distance.  So, here is a Brown Bear (Ursus Arctos-pyrenaicus); it was the best we could do.


Interestingly, there was always a crowd of people lined up to try to spot the bears as they came out for their breakfast or dinner.


The tour was not limited to bear viewing.  Indeed, we spent more time identifying butterflies, birds and plants than we spent looking for bears.  Some members of our group were experts on butterflies, some on botany, and a few of us kept our eyes out for birds.  More on that will be presented in the next blog.