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.