Sierra Nevada in SE Spain is the highest mountain of the Iberian Peninsula, with picks exceeding 3400 meters above sea level. This is a wonderful place for enjoying wildlife, especially for butterflies and plants with a high proportion of endemics. In this impressive altitudinal range has been recorded no less than 127 species of butterflies.
During early July I got an enquire asking me for a couple of days looking for butterflies in Sierra Nevada. After making all the arrangement, I meet the small party on June 5th and we set off to Sierra Nevada ski resort. The wind is strong in the summit so we decide to walk along small gorge where we should be more sheltered from the wind. Our first sights are a group of Spanish Ibex, a solitary Griffon Vulture and a gorgeous male Rufous tailed rock thrush.
After searching for half an hour, we find the first of many stunning Nevada Blues. The morning is a bit cold, so they are half asleep. Lindsay, Peter and I take advantage of this and take some nice pictures of this endemic butterfly. Later, we carry out our search and find good number of Small Tortoishell, Adonis, Escher’s and Common Blue butterflies. Furthermore, we get views of Spanish brass ringlet which fly off as soon as we approach. Sadly, the strong wind make impossible to find the local race of Apollo butterfly.
After coffee and facilities in a near Kiosk, we drive down and park near a hotel. Pau wants to have a look in a wet meadow where he has seen in the pass Purple-shot cooper. The first thing we spot is a beautiful Robust marsh orchid and a common Swallowtail butterfly. Flying around there are dozens of Pallid Swifts, Black redstarts and Northern wheatear. John spots a Purple-shot cooper drinking in the ground and Pau finds a Rock Grayling and a Small skipper.
Our last stop is on the way to the Hotel, in a pond near Villanueva. Here we get 10 species of dragonflies and damselflies, including Blue-eye, Small redeye, White featherleg, Broad scarlet and Violet dropwing among others.
We arrive to the Hotel around 2:30. As it is already hot (31ºC), the rest of the day is spent by the Hotel’s swimming pool.
The following day, we set off again to look for more butterflies in Sierra Nevada. Pau suggests trying another location for Apollo butterfly. After driving for 1 hour, we get over 2200 meter high and park the vehicle. We start following a track finding Water Pipit and Dunnocks. Soon we find our first Apollo butterflies, followed for 30+ more. Other butterflies sightings include Queen of Spain Fritillary, Painted lady, Long-tailed Blue, Amanda’s blue, Wall Brown and Ida’s Blue.
On the way down, we have a quick visit to the Botanic garden. Here we find an adult and a caterpillar of Moroccan Orange Tip. In addition, we see a beautiful Iberian Marbled White and a Silver studded blue “drinking” nectar on a thistle. Regarding birds, a Golden Eagle is seen by Lindsay and John, and in the nearby pine forest a family of Rock buntings feeds on seeds. Pau finds a Crested tit picking insects from the bark.
We continue the trip looking for butterflies in Sierra Nevada and drive down to a much lower altitude towards Güejar-Sierra. In a meadow, we get Wall brown, Blue-spot hairstreak, Gatekeeper and Southern Gatekeeper. There are also Yellow Clouded, Southern Speckled Wood and Lulworth skipper. All flying around plants of the Eryngium genus.
Our final stop is in a path along the Genil river. Marbled White, Cleopatra and Meadow brown are everywhere. The river is patrol by Common Goldenring dragonflies and we also bump into a Large psammodromus which was enjoying a sunbath.
Finally, Pau drives to Granada where the group will remain the following days sightseeing this terrific city. All in all, an enjoyable couple of days in these wonderful mountains full of interesting butterflies. In total, we recorded 65 species of butterflies.
Today I have prepared for Jan and Robert an interesting itinerary which combines wetland birds, with butterflies and orchids in Costa Blanca. The last weeks has been very warm for March (max, temperature of 31ºC!) and butterflies are already very active. In addition, we are at the peak of the Mediterranean orchids so I expect to see a good number and variety of them.
After picking Jan and Robert up in Jávea we set off to Pego marshes. The paddy fields are being drying out and the number of birds is amazing. There are thousands of Little and Cattle Egret, White Wagtails, Pipits, Gulls, etc. Very soon we find 19 Common Cranes feeding in a field and Pau spots a couple of Little Ringed Plover and a Bluethroat popping out from the reeds. As we drive around, we find a stunning male Hen Harrier. It is probably the same bird seen last week by Pau. Other common birds seen include Hoopoe, Serins and Tree Sparrows.
In the North part of the park, we spot 2 Booted Eagles, several Marsh Harrier and 5 Common Buzzard migrating above the Montanyeta verda. Later, we find over 100 Audouin’s Gulls, joined by few Mediterranean Gulls feeding on the invasive american crayfish in a paddy field.
After a rewarding coffee stop in Pego, we continue driving to the near valleys to look for butterflies and orchids in Costa Blanca. In our fist stop, Pau show us 3 spikes of Mirror Orchid (Ophrys speculum) and a couple Sawfly Orchid (Ophrys tenthredinifera). Our next stop is on the shade of a stone oak to have lunch. Soon we have to stand up to see a nice Firecrest and a stunning Moroccan orange tip butterfly. Once we finish and pack up the picnic table and chairs back in the boot, we drive few km more. A short walk reveals few tens of Early purple orchids (Orchis olbiensis). We find from white ones to magenta, a nice variety of colours!
Later we drive to an area near Vall d’Ebo where Pau has found previously orchids and his favourite butterfly, the Spanish festoon. There, we see lots of spikes and basal rosettes of two species: Sombre-bee Orchid (Ophrys fusca) and the endemic Ophrys dianica. Regarding butterflies, we have superb views of Spanish festoon, Bath white and Provence Hairstreak among others. Along the road, we find a Cirl Bunting.
Finally, on the way back to Jávea we make a quick stop to add some cracking orchids: Giant Orchid (Himantoglossum robertianum) and Woodcock Orchid (Ophrys scolopax). Furthermore, we add two hybrids Ophrys x castroviejoi (O. scolopax x O. speculum) and Ophrys x pielteri (O. scolopax x O. tenthredinifera). Regarding butterflies, we add an extra 15 species more of butterflies, including Scarce Swallowtail, Cleopatra, Western Dappled White, Mallow Skipper and Holly Blue.
Please find a selection of our wildlife trip reports in Spain.
30 March – 5 April 2018 Wildlife trip to Tenerife and Fuerteventura NEW
Picos de Europa
30 August – 6 September 2016 Spanish Carnivorous (Iberian Wolf, Wildcat and Brown Bear)
Local Tours (Alicante, Valencia and Albacete)
10-14 May 2018. 5-birding days in East Spain check list NEW
15-19 November 2017 Birding in East Spain
January 2017 El Fondo, Santa Pola, Monnegre and Alicante mountains
17-18 November 2016 Genet and Steppes of Albacete
22 May 2016 Great Bustard tour-Steppes of Albacete
29 April-1 May 2016 Málaga and Granada
19 April Costa Blanca 2016-Alicante
July Costa Blanca 2015-Alicante
30 November 2015-Alicante
22 December 2015-Valencia
10 September 2014-Valencia
22-30 April 2018 Extremadura and Coto Doñana check list NEW
Granada and Tarifa
The Grand Tour
Sierra de Guara
Every butterfly lover knows how fantastic are Picos de Europa mountains for butterflies. The easiness to reach high altitudes and the variety of flower-filled meadows, deciduous woodlands and deep limestone gorges makes Picos the perfect place for a wildlife trip focus on butterflies.
Usually we organize two trips for year, (please have a look to our tour calendar) one in late June focus on butterflies, orchids, birds and alpine flowers and a second trip in late August-beginning of September when we spend more time in search of carnivours (Wildcat, Iberian Wolf and Cantabrian Bear). Nevertheless, we spend one day looking for Alpine birds and in the midday break there is always time to take a stroll for butterflies. We plan to spend more time in Picos during summer, so please contact us for a day out or for any information you need.
We make a stop for lunch before reaching the impressive gorge of el Desfiladero de la Hermida. Then continue our journey to the hotel in Boca seeing on the way Black and Red Kites, White Storks, Kestrels and Common Buzzard. After check-in we have a nice walk behind the hotel where we found Provençal, Knapweed and Heath Fritillary, Chestnut and Pearly heath, Large and Small white and plants such as Linaria triornithophora. Regarding birds, Bonelli’s Warbler, Raven, Rock Sparrow and Red-rumped Swallow are spotted for all, and Large Psammodromus is seeing as we walk back trough the town.
Dinner and red wine is served at 20:00. While we eat with appetite, we chat about the itinerary we plan to do the following days.
Our first stop is in a pool where soon we find Broad bellied chaser, Western willow spreadwing, Common bluetail damselfly, Large red damselfly and Common bluet. We also find Natherjack tadpoles, lots of tiny Common toads and an Alpine newt. Regarding butterflies, there are good numbers of Yellow Clouded, Common Blue, Knapweed and a Pearl-bordered Fritillary found by Hilary. Cuckoo, Quails, Tree Pipits and Skylarks sing from the nearby fields.
We drive for 10 minutes to reach a picnic area where we have our lunch. On the sky we are marvelled by a a Honey buzzard displaying. After coffee and facilities we walk the path in Ventaniella finding Swallowtail, Brown Argus, a fast flying Brimstone, Wood white and Meadow brown. Later a beautiful Purple-edged copper shows up and Math decides to chase it. The story ends when with Math falling in a ditch! Nothing serious, just trousers covers by mud, no photo of him allowed though!
The weather is changing and stars to drizzle, so we decide to go back to the hotel.
The weather looks miserable, still drizzling and thick fog. Anyway, we can’t do anything, so we carry on with the plan. As we drive towards Fuente Dé we see a Woodchat Shrike and a female Red-backed Shrike 200 meters away. Once we get there, the rain stops but the fog remains. That is a pity as we are going to miss the breathtaking views from the cable car. While we wait for it to take us, we see an Egyptian vulture flying low opposite us and a big flock of Common Swifts.
The astonishing 800m vertical ascent was enjoyed by the group. Once we are up in the mountains, Alpine Choughs fly and pick leftovers from the path left by tourist and Alpine accentors sing as if we were in a sunny summer day! Jim spots the only butterfly of the day a Red Underwing Skipper and Pau finds a party of Snow finches passing fast to our side. Water Pipits sing as it ‘parachuted’ past. Gorgeous alpine plants such as Trumpet Gentians, Leafless-stemmed Globularia, Arenaria purpurascens and Erinus alpinus are seeing for everyone. Northern wheatear and Black Redstar sing from the crags.
Seeing that the weather is not going to improve, we return to the van after lunch and go for sightseeing to Potes.
The sky is clear and the forecast expect 28 ºC, so it seems is going to be a great day for butterflies!!
First we stop in a stream where we find a good variety of butterflies: the endemic Chapman’s ringlet is seeing very well for everyone as it drinks from a muddy pool. Pau finds a cracking Damon Turquoise in a thistle. Adoni’s blue, Orange tip, Green hairstreak, Black-veined White, Mazarine Blue and Grizzled Skippers are seen in few minutes, what a display! Hilary finds an strange insect that turns to be a Owl-flie (Ascalaphidae). In the same path we also find interesting flowers: Digitalis parviflora, the endemic Erygnium bourgatii, Heath Spotted and Early marsh Orchids. In addition, Garden warblers and Black caps keep singing all morning and Pau spots an Iberian wall lizard sunbathing on a bush.
A few km following the road is located the view point of Pandetrave where we have a quick stop to witness the massive massif Central right in front of us. A quick look through the scope reveals a pair of Chamois and Griffon vultures in one far high hillside. In the meadows behind us there are numerous Small heath and Knapweed Fritillary, and at least 2 males Rock buntings.
Our next stop is for having lunch in Caín. Then, we follow the path of the Río Cares seeing large numbers of Cleopatra, Small Cooper and Iberian Grizzled Skipper along the path. Large Wall Brown, Wall brown, Speckled Wood, Painted Lady and a pair of Queen of Spain Fritillary feed on the abundant flowers. On the way back to the minibuses John does very well finding a Dipper bouncing in the river. White and Grey wagtails are also seen.
Today I am ready at 6:30. Yesterday while we had dinner, I was told by a local farmer that a Wildcat was seeing in the next town. I am not very optimistic as July is not the best month for Wildcat, but anyway I am trying as Hilary loves this animals and she is happy to join me. We get to the spot at the break of the day, not much happen the first half and hour but then a stunning male Wildcat crosses the field heading to the forest! Fantastic, but a bit far to get a sharp picture in a poor light conditions, though. After that, we join the rest for breakfast and everyone notices that we are in high spirits.
The first stop is in San Glorio where soon Pau spots a chirping Citril finch. The Cattle has eaten most of flowers so the diversity of butterflies is lower than we expected. However, we locate good numbers of Purpled-edged and Stooty Cooper, Silver-washed Fritillary, Black-veined White, Brown Argus, Short-tailed Blue and other common species.
We continue towards Piedraluengas stopping in a local bar for lunch and facilities. In Piedrasluengas, we can see a flock of 5 Red-Billed Chough and butterflies such as Chapman’s ringlet, De Prunner’s ringlet, Heath Washed Fritillary, Small heath, Glanville Fritillary, Provençal Fritillary, Red admiral, Spotted Fritillary and Meadow Fritillary. A good variety to finish the day!
Today is going to be our last full day in Pico. Temperatures of 30ºC are expected, so we all agree to spend the evening chilling out in the bar and having a cold bath in the river, no for me!!. So, first stop in the morning is a river located near Riaño. Math is amazed by the abundant and variety of Marled butterflies: Marbled White, Spanish and Iberian Marbled Whites. Along the river we find an inm. Black-tailed Skimmer and few Common blue damselfly. Common Chiffchaff and Firecrest sing from the deciduous forest. Butterflies include Chapman’s ringlet, Adoni’s blue, Turquoise blue, Idas blue, Mallow Skipper and Chequered Skipper are relatively common in the beautiful meadows of daisy wheel.
Later, we have our lunch in the hotel terrace and spend the evening at our leisure.
Once we are down in the coast the weather worsened. We head for the Dunes of Liencres to spend few hours before taking the plane. There we find numerous Sea Spurge with what seems Spurge Hawkmoth caterpillars. A young Cuckoo flies from the forest, Linnets feed on seeds and Crested Lark move up and down. On the shore there were Lesser Black-backed and Yellow legged Gull.
Finally, we get to the airport and say goodbyes.
We hope that this report about butterflies in Picos de Europa will bring back memories of a rewarding and enjoyable trip in NW Spain.