© Teresa Farino
Autumn Moth Weekend in the
Picos de Europa
A five-night stay in a superb locality for nocturnal lepidoptera, with daily excursions in search of autumn butterflies, flowers and other wildlife
From top, clockwise: Catocala optata,
Red Underwing (Catocala nupta) and
French Red Underwing (Catocala elocata)
© Teresa Farino
This tour is timed to coincide with the dark of the moon and thus the best of the autumn macromoth fauna of the Picos de Europa, which is the primary focus of these trips. Since Teresa launched the Picos de Europa Lepidoptera Study in 1989, she and her team of recorders have cited more than 820 species of macromoths in the region, with new ones coming to light every year. We started participating in European Moth Nights in its third edition, in 2006, with Teresa's terrace in Pesaguero consistently placed among the top localities right across Europe in terms of the diversity of macromoths recorded, most notably coming second in 2010, fourth in 2011 and (provisionally), first in 2012. As this trip overlaps for the most part with the 13th European Moth Nights, we’re hoping to maintain our good record in 2017.
Previously at this time of year we have recorded many species of Catocala, including the magnificent Clifden Nonpareil (see image in box), Oak Yellow Underwing, Red, French Red and Rosy Underwings, Minsmere, Dark and Light Crimson Underwings, and the very distinctive Catocala optata, with the more southerly Catocala dilecta an addition to our list in 2013. Other autumn noctuids of note that we should encounter include Figure of Eight, Oak Rustic, Merveille du Jour, Dewick's Plusia, Golden Twin-spot, Great Dart, Dumeril's and Sandhill Rustics, Orache Moth, The Satellite, Beautiful Arches, Flame Brocade and many chestnuts, quakers, wainscots and sallows. Eye-catching non-British noctuids often found in the Picos in September and October include Cleoceris scoriacea, Ammoconia caecimacula, Olivenebula xanthochloris, Thalpophila vitalba and Allophyes alfaroi.
Convolvulus Hawkmoth Agrius convolvuli© Teresa Farino
Among the more attractive and notable autumn-flying geometrids are White-line Blush (see image at the top of the page), Smoky Bloom, Jersey Emerald, Cloaked Carpet, Weaver's and Portland Ribbon Waves, Feathered Thorn, The Streak, Lace Border and The Vestal, with Plum Lappet, Grass Eggar and Castilian, Autumnal and Eastern Eggars – the latter an extremely rare moth in Spain (click here for more information) – of interest among the lasiocampids. Convolvulus Hawkmoths are often seen nectaring at dusk around the village, and sometimes come to light too. Not surprisingly, photographic opportunities abound!
We will be based at El Hoyal, a friendly family-run hotel in Pesaguero, just 50 metres from Teresa's home, so we can run the principal moth trap and congregate for pre-dinner drinks and discussion of the day's findings on her terrace. Additional traps can be set in different habitats nearby (riverine forest, limestone screes, etc,) according to the energy levels of the participants!
Great Banded Grayling
Brintesia circe© Teresa Farino
During the day, we will explore the forests, haymeadows and subalpine habitats of the valley of Liébana, on the southeastern flank of the Picos de Europa, in search of butterflies, of which there are about 40 species on the wing at this time of year. Given good weather we should encounter Brown and Purple Hairstreaks, Sooty and Scarce Coppers, Adonis, Long-tailed and Lang's Short-tailed Blues, Great Banded and Tree Graylings, Cleopatra, Berger's Clouded Yellow, Mallow, Oberthür's Grizzled and Red-underwing Skippers, and even a few Swallowtails, Scarce Swallowtails and Camberwell Beauties. Autumnal day-flying moths include the spectacular Jersey Tiger and the ubiquitous Hummingbird Hawk-moth.
Autumn is also a great time to locate a wealth of mature crickets in the meadows and forested habitats of the Picos, among which we might encounter Great Green, Southern Sickle-bearing, Speckled, Asturian and Lusitanian Bush-crickets, as well as an abundance of grasshoppers (which are rather more difficult to identify!). These are complemented by dragonflies and damselflies such as Blue Hawker, Western Spectre, Beautiful Demoiselle and Common Winter Damsel.
Male Asturian Bush-cricket
Steropleurus asturiensis© Teresa Farino
Characteristic autumn-flowering plants of the Picos de Europa include Fringed Gentian, Grass-of-Parnassus, Crocus nudiflorus, Merendera, Meadow Saffron and Autumn Lady's-tresses, as well as many 'left over' from the summer. And, of course, we'll also be keeping an eye out for any reptiles, birds or mammals that might cross our path.
NB For the duration of the tour, you will be covered by Teresa's permits both to catch butterflies and trap moths (a legal requirement for Spain). All the lepidoptera records we collect will be submitted to the Cantabrian and Castilla y León regional governments, as well as to the Picos de Europa national park authorities, as part of the Picos de Europa Lepidoptera Study, initiated by Teresa in 1989.
"Thank you so much for showing us so much of the wonderful scenery and varied habitats around Pesaguero this last long weekend: we really packed in so much. The hotel was lovely and the food excellent-and then there were the moths and other insects as well! // Many thanks for a great weekend: the moths were great, with many new species for me. Having recently started doing orthoptera, the wide variety of grasshoppers and crickets was most impressive. Identifying them all will keep me busy over the next few months. The wildcat sighting had to be the highlight, though, and quite amazing that we were able to see it from such short range. Although you told us of their presence in the area 2 years ago, I never imagined I would ever have the opportunity to photograph one!"
Helen B. / Chris P.; September 2014