Tag Archives: Birds & Fauna

Pyrenees Lammergeier

Bearded Vultures in the Pyrenees

If you’re lucky when hiking in the Pyrenees you’ll see a huge bird flying by overhead with beautiful rusty coloured feathers. If you’re even luckier, you’ll see it carry a large bone high into the sky and drop it to smash it into pieces before landing and swallowing them. What is this bid and why is it eating bones?

Bearded-Vulture-Pyrenees

Bearded vulture or Lammergeier in the Pyrenees

With a wing span of nearly three metres, the enormous bearded vulture or lammergeier is one of the emblematic species of the Pyrenees. They live in the high mountains of Europe, Asia and Africa but the Pyrenees has the highest concentration in Europe of these magnificent birds.

Bearded-Vulture-Pyrenees-1

The Bonebreaker

The bearded vulture is the only bird in the world to live almost entirely on a diet of bones. It makes it’s spanish name of ‘Quebrantahusos’ – the bonebreaker – very appropriate! The vultures swallow bones of up to 20cm. Powerful acids in their stomachs then dissolve the bones and they digest the marrow.

Pyrenees Lammergeier

For large bones the bearded vulture circles high in the air above stony sites called ‘rompederos’ – breaking places. They drop the bones breaking them on the stones below and then swallow the broken pieces. There are various feeding sites n the central Pyrenees where the vultures are left bones such as pigs spines by park rangers as part of the conservation program.

Read more about the bearded vulture…

 

 

 

Wild boar at La Cuniacha

Wild boar in the Pyrenees

Rarely seen but never far away whilst out hiking are the wild boar or as the locals would call them -’Jabali’.

Much to my delight at the beginning of September this year I had a guiding ‘first’ whilst hiking with Tom, George, Clare and Cynthia high above the Ordesa canyon. Spotted initially by Tom was a single large male wild boar running across the hill side in front of us! We all quickly tried to take some photo’s of him and here’s the best picture we took.

Wild boar caught on camera above Ordesa

Wild boar caught on camera above Ordesa

 

Abundant through the Pyrenees, the wild boar live in the wooded areas of the mountains and particularly the box and oak woodlands.

We often see quite large sections of meadows we hike through dug up and turned over where they have been rooting around looking for tubers and bulbs to eat but never the boar itself.

Wild boar are quite shy and are fairly nocturnal in their habits but occasionally we do see boar on the side of the road when driving late in the evening. One year we even saw some stripey piglets late at night. They are stripey for about the first 10 months of their life.

Boar are quite large with the adults growing up to about 1.5 meters in length and both males and females have a set of 4 sharp tusks. Despite being Spanish hunters favorite prey, wild boar numbers have soared since the 1950ies. It is believed this is due to the fact that many villages and therefore terraced areas have been abandoned since the 50ies. The wolf also became extinct in the region during this time and was the boars only natural predator.

The official hunting season for the boar is September and it is worth keeping an eye out for the ‘Jabali’ on the menus then as it is delicious!

 

New route option on our Village to Village holiday

At the Cucuraza viewpoint looking south

A great new viewpoint has been constructed above Panticosa which has allowed us to add a new option on day 3 of our Village to Village walking holiday. Cucuraza (1758m) sits high above Panticosa and gives fantastic views down onto the village and across the southern and western sides of the Valle de Tena.

From the viewpoint you link up with a footpath that passes into the northern end of the valley before descending into the village of Sallent de Gallego (the next stop on the village to village tour). It’s a fantastic option with great views throughout the day.

Views from the Cucuraza viewpoint

Views from the Cucuraza viewpoint

A good path heads fairly steeply up through the woods north of Panticosa. You initially pass through oak, box and beech before getting to some beautiful Scots Pine in the higher reaches. As you leave the woods the views are just fantastic and you take a short side trip to the viewpoint for birds eye views down onto Panticosa.

Looking down onto Panticosa

Looking down onto Panticosa

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Pyrenean newt and other sightings

pyrenean newt or pyrenean salamander

The Pyrenean Newt or Pyrenean Brook Salamander found in the Anisclo canyon

Whilst out and about recently we’ve come across quite a few interesting creatures, some of which we’ve never had the privilege of seeing before!

In the past 2 weeks we’ve found this shy creature in the Anisclo Canyon and in the Gargantas de Escuain. The Pyrenean newt also known as the Brook Pyrenean salamander (Calotriton Asper) is endemic to the Pyrenees.  Found at altitudes between 700m and 2,500m in shallow slow moving waters favoring water temperatures of about 15 degrees celsius. They are very sensitive creatures and therefore if found are a good indicator of clean water.

The Pyrenean Newt found in the Gargantas de Escuain

Our next find was a pair of courting Green Whip Snakes (Hierophis Viridiflavus) in the valley of La Ripera.

A pair of courting Green Whip snakes

A pair of courting Green Whip snakes

These snakes are most common in the Pyrenees between the valleys of Hecho and Ordesa. They can grow up to 2 metres in length but generally are not found much bigger than 1.5 meters, they also move really fast which is why they are called ‘Whip’ snake. These two snakes were found wound tightly around each other and paid very little attention to us, they are also not poisonous and were really interesting to watch.

Willowherb Hawkmoth

Finally, we have been lucky enough to also find the rare Willowherb Hawkmoth (Proserpinus proserpina) on the GR11 from La Sarra to Refugio Respomuso. They are found in the Pyrenees up to about 2000m and have a hugely variable wingspan between 36 and 60mm.

We’ll keep you posted on any more interesting finds!

Private group walking holiday in the Pyrenees

Enjoying the views from Punta Del Pacino

This weekend saw the end of a fantastic bespoke trip for Elaine and friends from California and Hawaii. We often get groups who are keen for  longer trips with us and for Elaine we put together a 10 day itinerary which took in 3 contrasting places in the Pyrenees; the Valle de Tena, Bestue to the west of Ordesa and Torla situated at the mouth of the Ordesa Canyon we also included a night in a refugio high in the mountains.

Starting in the Valle de Tena we first hiked up Punta Del Pacino 1965m which had great views in all directions whilst the ground was carpeted with wild flowers. Next we walked into the valley of La Ripera and under the impressive cliffs of the Sierra de Tendenera.

Cloudless skies whilst hiking along the La Ripera valley

Refugio Respomuso situated in the scenic Circo de Piedrafita

Next came our refugio trip. We set off from La Sarra and followed the GR11 arriving at Refugio Respomuso, our home for the night. with snowy views, great company and some good beer and wine available to all, the evening flew by in a cloud of laughter! The following day saw the team split, with one group heading off towards Collado de la Fecha on the French /Spanish border equipped with axe and crampons and the other half heading back down to the valley to rest their tired legs. Continue reading

First Lakes & Valleys guided holiday this season

Lakes & Valleys Walking Holiday

Walking beneath the Sierra de la Partacua

It’s all go, go, go here in the Spanish Pyrenees!  We’ve had plenty of self-guided guests exploring the Valle de Tena, and last week saw the first of the guided guests arrive, on a Lakes & Valleys holiday.  The Pyrenees, along with much of Europe, has experienced a remarkably late finish to winter, which has allowed the guests to enjoy some wonderful vistas of snow capped mountains, and down in the valleys, see many flowers, such as the  Elder Flowered Orchid, that may have otherwise finished flowering by now.

Lakes & Valleys Walking Holidays

Griffon Vulture up-close

We’ve been very fortunate with wildlife sightings this week, with the above griffon vulture standing proud, just before taking off, spotted on our descent from Ibon de Piedrafita.

Lakes & Valleys Walking Holidays

Clear views across the Ibon de Piedrafita, over to Garma Negro

Lakes & Valleys Trekking Holidays

Asp viper at Llano Cheto

At Llano Cheto, alongside the Rio de Aguas Limpias, we came across an asp viper, basking in the sunshine.  The asp viper, which is venomous, grows to an average length of 60-65cm, with males reaching a maximum of 85cm, and females 75cm and can be found up to altitudes of 2600m.

Lakes & Valleys Walking Holidays

Pena Foratata in the background

One of the most popular walks during the Lakes and Valleys Holidays is the circuit of Punta Del Pacino, as it offers fantastic panoramic views.  Many guests also choose the optional ascent of the ‘punta’ itself, at 1965m, and makes for a 40 minutes or so round trip from the Collado del Pacino.

An optional ascent of Punta Del Pacino 1965m

First Egyptian vultures of the year

Egyptian vulture in the PyreneesSaw my first pair of Egyptian Vultures this year while out cycling near Biescas. Lucky enough to get a couple of good pictures of them strutting around a field.

Seems very early in the season to see them – they migrate to north Africa and the Middle East in the winter. Egyptian vultures specialise on feeding on the placenta form cowbirth and this pair was attracted by a field of cows that were calfing in the next field. Think they are a youngish pair as the black colour hasn’t fully developed on the back half of the wings. They’ve fabulous yellow heads.

Egyptian Vulture

Pair of Egyptian Vultures

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Workshop on animal tracks

animal track workshopThere’s a workshop and excurison on identifying animal tracks, birds nests, feathers and lots of other interesting stuff this Wednesday at 6pm in Riglos – you need to call and put your name on.

It’s a beautiful area with beautiful high red conglomerate cliffs and a wealth of wildlife including a huge colony of griffin vultures. With the Rio Gallego flowing under the cliffs water birds are also common and I’ve seen kingfishers and herons here lots of times.

Cliffs of Riglos

The red conglomerate cliffs of Riglos

Walking near Panticosa

La Ripera lies just outside of Panticosa and this week I’ve been investigating a new route in this lovely valley. Found a superb circular walk with great views across the Valle de Tena and to the impressive cliffs at the end of the Valle La Ripera. It’s a perfect walk straight from the hotel door if you’re on a self guided holiday in Panticosa or our Village to Village holiday.

Roman bridge and the Panticosa chairlift!

The walk starts at the ski station in Panticosa where you cross this beautiful old bridge that looks a little strange with the chailift crossing above it.

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Walking between Pyrenean villages

The tranquil village of Sandinies

Took advantage of the fantastic weather and hiked between the villages of Sandinies and Piedrafita passing by Ibon de Piedrafita under the cliffs of the Sierra de Partacua. This is actually the final day of our Village to Village walking holiday and a beautiful days walk.

I started at Sandinies – a tiny tranquil village that time has forgotten. The route passes by the narrow canyon of Gorgol which is a popular canyoning venue.

Canyon Gorgol

After the canyon I entered the beautiful beech woods of Betato. There are lots of local legends that these woods are haunted by witches. The woods looked beautiful with the sunlight filtering through the beech trees.

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Ibon de la Sierra

Rincon de Balsera

The cirque of Rincon de Balsera

Explored the remote Ibon de la Sierra and was rewarded with great views and wildlife including a lammergeier, chamois, kestrels and my first marmots of the season.

It’s an area of the Valle de Tena that I’d wanted to hike in for ages but never seemed to get round to it. It’s a long walk in but really worth it as you get to some really wild valleys lying under the imposing peak of Punta Escarra.

Stemless Gentians

Stemless Gentians – one of my favourite early flowers

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The Iberian Lynx

European Lynx at Parque Faunistico in the Valle de Tena

European Lynx at La Cuniacha animal park in the Valle de Tena

The Iberian Lynx (Lynx pardinus) once roamed over most of Spain but has recently had the unfortunate label of the world’s most endangered feline. Numbers began falling at the start of the 20th century but in the last few decades numbers have fallen dramatically from an estimated 1100 in 1988 to just 120 in 2005. Continue reading