7 reasons to visit the Picos de Europa: #4. The wild things
This article forms one of a seven-part series showcasing how we could share Spain's Picos de Europa with you and your walking boots. You can find an overview of all seven reasons here. Enjoy reading and if it inspires you to come and see it all for yourself, you'll find links to some trip ideas and a direct line to a team of people who'd love to help you plan a visit to somewhere so close to our hearts.
#4. The wild things
If there’s one thing to elevate the already searing beauty of the views, it’s a family of griffon vultures swooping into view above your suddenly upward-cranded head.
From the green valleys which sweep away from your feet, the pockets of terracotta-roofed houses far below and the channels of snow which tumble down the contoured limestone walls of far-off mountains, your gaze is instead directed to the intricate textures of a messy sandstone mantle, blending into coffee-coloured feathers stacked together on the wing, the extremes of which fan out like daggers in the wind. Its head in a permanent stoop, ready to make its move, its dark, serious eyes on a constant state of alert for carrion, of which its slate-grey clamp of a beak and thorny claws make light work.
Griffon vultures are one of several birds of prey you might encounter as you move through the Picos de Europa. Golden, Short-toed (April-September) and Booted eagles, Egyptian vultures, kites, kestrels and Peregrine falcons are all healthily represented in the skies. Perhaps the best ‘prize’ of all though, would be a Bearded vulture sighting.
These majestic yet endangered creatures, known in these rugged parts as quebrantahuesos (bone breakers) for their inventive habit of dropping bones of deceased animals from a great height to smash them up and shovel them down, are being steadily reintroduced to the Picos by our friends at the Bearded Vulture Foundation.
Pura co-founder Diego Martín releasing a young Bearded vulture into the wild
In March 2020, a Bearded vulture chick hatched in the national park for the first time since 1956, 10 years on from the start of a dedicated reintroduction programme. As of June 2020, there are believed to be 31 quebrantahuesos flying over the Picos de Europa and their hope - and our sincere hope - is that they’ll eventually spread out and form a connection with the growing population in the Spanish Pyrenees, off to the east. A Bearded vulture stronghold from Asturias to Aragón would be a remarkable achievement.
A small population of Iberian wolves still roam the remotest reaches
As well as introducing you to the brilliant brains repopulating the vultures, we could also dedicate some of your time to projects working to support the small populations of Cantabrian Brown bears and Iberian wolves.
For better or worse, you’re highly unlikely to bump into either on a leisurely stroll through the meadows and mountains, though if you do it’ll certainly add a dash of excitement, verging on panic, depending on how close they come. In reality, your best chance to see them is in the company of a local who knows where to look (and where to run?). If you’re interested, best to let us know and we’ll give you your options.