Blog Archives: Overseas Tours – Pyrenees

Lockdown: time to remember the Pyrenees…

Aisa Valley, Spain

Wonderful wildlife of the Pyrenees

from Naturetrek e-news May 2020

By Chris Gibson
Tour Leader
16th May 2020

The Pyrenees have been my wildlife tour-guiding destination of choice now for almost 30 years, with more than 25 tours under my belt to both the Spanish and French sides of the range. What explains its consistent pull on me, when there are so many other magnificent wildlife areas in Europe and the rest of the world? I think it is the intimate mix of the familiar, the unusual, the abundance and the unique that nails it for me, all set amidst outstanding scenery and dramatic geology, along with the unfailingly warm welcome my groups get from the places we stay in and visit.

Stretching for some 400km between the Atlantic and the Mediterranean, and up to 100km wide when the flanking pre-Pyrenean ranges are included, the Pyrenees are border, barrier and island all in one. They are a border between counties and climatic and biogeographic zones – cooler and wetter to the north, hotter and drier to the south, with an additional rainfall gradient running from higher in the west to lower in the east. They constitute a barrier to movement, such that pairs of closely related, and often very similar, species are essentially separated by the range – witness Scarce and Spanish Swallowtails, Pine and Spanish Pine Hawk-Moths, Green and Iberian Green Woodpeckers to name just three. The lower passes through the mountains are also a place to watch the twice-yearly ebb and flow of migratory birds and insects between France and Spain. Furthermore, the massif, rising in several places to more than 3300m, is a more-or-less isolated island of high ground that supports plants and animals unique to the Pyrenees; indeed, the deep valleys that cut between individual mountains are themselves sufficient to isolate populations, especially of invertebrates and plants, and have led to the radiative evolution of myriad local endemics. In short, the Pyrenees are a true centre of biodiversity, on a European and global scale.

My tours have been based in two centres, both in the central part of the chain. On the French side, we are in the hands of Odile and Philippe at Gèdre, staying in the wonderfully situated Hôtel Brèche de Roland, looking up the Cirque de Gavarnie to the eponymous ‘brèche’. My most recent visit there was my only venture into the area in autumn, and gave me a very different perspective. Gone were the snowscapes I am used to in spring and early summer, and access to some of the areas above 2000m was easy, without the risk of finding a snowdrift round the next corner. This was also when I started to appreciate migration across the mountains, through the Col de Boucharo above Gavarnie into the upper Ordesa valley in Aragón. Small birds – hirundines, pipits, wagtails and finches – were obvious flying through and calling. The insect migration – of hoverflies and dragonflies in particular –  was striking too; this phenomenon may be less apparent, and little known perhaps, but it was fascinating nonetheless.


Spanish Swallowtail (Chris Gibson)


Ordesa Valley from Boucharo (Chris Gibson)

At those heights, we were also seeing some of the specialities, including the Pyrenean endemic Merendera, Thistle and Eryngo, widespread across the chain, and super-specialities, like the Pyrenean Rock Lizard, known only from areas between 1700m and 3000m in a 40km stretch of the central parts of the range.

During that tour we also had several sightings of the avian icon of the Pyrenees, the Lammergeier, a species emblematic of these mountains, despite its broad distribution across Africa, Europe and Asia. Now there’s a success story of my time in the Pyrenees – the breeding population has increased from 40 to 130 pairs, despite the increase in recreational visitors and its notorious susceptibility to disturbance. This is a success for which we can take some credit, as ecotourism has encouraged a great deal of local conservation effort.

Most of my Pyrenean adventures, however, have been on the warmer side, in Aragón, based in the picturesque hilltop village of Berdún. Here I have seen children born and grow up to have their own families while village life goes on around them almost unchanged, save for the loss of breeding Tree Sparrows and Scops Owls, and the gain of Rock Sparrows. Originally, we were based in the village centre (all cobbled streets, echoing with chattering Swallows, and Griffon Vultures overhead) at the Painting School, run by Viv and John, and fed and watered at El Rincón de Emilio. But since the Painting School closed, we have moved down the hill, into the very capable hands of Peter and Mel at Casa Sarasa, for unfailingly outstanding food and facilities, great company and an excellent co-leader, and a garden managed for wildlife, the lawn studded with orchids in spring and thronged with butterflies in summer – as many as 25 species a day at the peak. They also have a moth trap and a licence to use it, as required in Spain; many a happy hour has been spent sitting by the trap, and sorting through the contents the following morning, especially during my early July moth and butterfly themed tours there, seeking out the goodies from among the sometimes thousands of Pine Processionaries. And what goodies they are – hawks, tigers, red-underwings and, especially a little earlier in the season, the really big game: the hand-sized Giant Peacocks (sometimes in multiple occurrences) and, just occasionally, a Spanish Moon Moth, another icon of the Pyrenees, the Lammergeier of the moth world, a veritable flying Art Nouveau brooch … or a monster caterpillar for the midsummer visits.

In fact, it would be possible to spend a full week walking out from the base at Casa Sarasa. As well as the garden, there is wildlife-rich scrub and grassland, riverine woodland and marsh, and rocky gorge habitat all within a few kilometres. Bee-eaters and Golden Orioles, kites and vultures, hordes of Common Swifts, and in April and May, more singing Nightingales than I have ever heard anywhere else – this is just a small selection of the breeding birds on offer. In July, the butterflies come into their own: Common and Spanish Swallowtails, Marbled Whites, Spanish Gatekeepers, Spanish Chalkhill Blues, Clouded Yellows and Great-banded Graylings are often especially numerous, together with a frantic band of pollinators working the Scabious, Knapweed and Chicory flowers from dawn ’til dusk. And finding a flowering patch of Dwarf Elder of Hogweed can mean that no walking is needed; just standing and looking at the dinner-plate-sized floral banquet, source of nectar and pollen for all-comers, can provide a continual stream of insect visitors, from hairstreaks to green-eyed monstrous horseflies, longhorn beetles to iridescent chafers, and often as not, a crab spider taking its pick of the goodies on offer.


Casa Sarasa (Chris Gibson)


Lammergeier (Chris Gibson)


Spanish Moon Moth (Chris Gibson)

Having said that, to overlook the range of habitats and associated wildlife available within an hour’s drive would be unthinkable. From the hot, dry Ebro Valley, through the conglomerate pre-Pyrenees, to the montane heights at and above 1700m, there is excitement to be found year-round. Some of the most overwhelming sights are the drifts of mountain flowers – daffodils, gentians, Oxlips, hellebores and orchids, and many, many more – which are nowhere better than in the remote valley of Aísa. This has to be one of my favourite spots on the surface of the Earth – almost unimaginably scenic, the haunt of Golden Eagle, Alpine Marmot and Southern Chamois (or Izard). It’s the sort of place where nature and landscape merge so wholly, without any significant human intrusion, that you just want to sit and stare and sink into life in the mountains.

And if the weather is right (which it isn’t always!), the butterflies in high summer are outstanding – diverse (a typical week in July will produce 110-120 species) and abundant, with puddling multi-species throngs of male blues, skippers, fritillaries and whites. It’s the perfect situation in which to compare often difficult to separate species, excellent for photography, and difficult to lift one’s eyes from… except when the sky is darkened by a majestic, almost soaring, Apollo.

Of course, it isn’t just about the butterflies, and the trap is not the sole window into the world of moths. There is a range of day-flying moths too, many of which are ultra-charismatic and much sought after, including clearwings, foresters and especially red-and-black burnets, of which we have recorded nearly twenty different species over the years.

With all this going on, it is almost impossible to single out individual highlights of my Pyrenean adventures. When asked to name my favourite tour, I almost invariably pick the one I have most recently led, and actually, the process of continual discovery gives considerable truth to that. Highlights are created through a unique combination of wildlife, place, weather, people and happenstance, and one of those high spots was indeed on last year’s tour, towards the end of a very hot, dry week, when temperatures at Casa Sarasa peaked in the mid to high thirties. As I wrote at the time:

On the penultimate full day, the weather was breaking down. Torrential rain was forecast, so we remained close to home, in a meadow at the top of Biniés Gorge, just 5km away. In overwhelming humidity, the Brambles, Dwarf Elder, Scabious and Knapweed were almost literally dripping with butterflies, burnets, beetles, bugs and flies of every description; such diversity and abundance gives hope for the planet once the malign curses of pollution and pesticide drenching are consigned to history. It was a cornucopia at every turn, everything seemingly feeding voraciously in advance of the coming deluge. And what a deluge it was when it came that evening – 70mm or more of rain, so intense it caused a major cliff fall, blocking the road to our Garden of Eden.

The sights and sounds, smells and memories of that meadow will remain with me always, the beating heart of the wild Pyrenees at their best.


Knapweed Fritillary (Chris Gibson)


Chalk Burnet (Chris Gibson)


Mediterranean Burnet (Chris Gibson)

Of course, highlights can equally coalesce around something less all-encompassing. Returning in my mind to Aísa, and specifically to our usual picnic site a little way down from the top of the road, a fellow traveller came back excitedly from a lunchtime potter having found a flowering Pyrenean Lily, the only one I have ever seen. It is such a dramatic, and iconic, flower! Nearby, we know of a couple of small patches of Cross Gentian, and experience has shown that if we wait close by for a few minutes, in most years we will see Mountain Alcon Blues coming to lay eggs on them. It is always a highlight for the clients, and for me, that in the vastness of this landscape, the butterfly, which we never come across elsewhere, can be almost relied upon to put in an appearance.

Another butterfly that is always high on the wish list is Two-tailed Pasha. While not uncommon on the Spanish side where its food plant, Strawberry-tree, is found, the timing of our July tour misses its second-brood abundance peak of late summer, though we have found its dragon-masked larvae and seen the occasional early adult, including on one memorable (anti-highlight) occasion, supping from a ‘fragrant’ dog turd…

Returning again to last year, another highlight was waiting for us on our journey home. On the way back to the airport, we took lunch at Agüero, among the Strawberry-trees. Sadly, as I ruefully explained after lunch, this looked like being for no purpose, given that the object of our desires had not appeared. However, no sooner had I said ‘Two-tai….’ than Peter shouted ‘Two-tailed Pasha’ as one sailed around us, up into the treetops and away. There was no chance of photos but, our passion for pashas somewhat sated, we headed home blessed by serendipity that no amount of planning could have ensured.

That just leaves my own personal highlight of highlights. For forty years I have scoured the beechwoods of Europe for a plant so mysterious and unpredictable its presence is usually spoken about in hushed tones and generalities. I have always failed to find it. One lunch break a couple of years ago, while others visited the café, I strolled through a dense, dark beechwood, when a serendipitous shaft of sunlight lit up the woodland floor about five metres from me. Illuminated out of the darkness was the characteristic, colourless, enigmatic (it’s no looker, so it needs to be bigged up!) form of a Ghost Orchid – the botanist’s Holy Grail! Perhaps against all odds, I managed to relocate it to show the group, who willingly set aside the artificial constraints of a moth and butterfly tour for a few minutes.


Cross Gentian (Chris Gibson)


Mountain Alcon Blue (Chris Gibson)


Ghost Orchid (Chris Gibson)

As always, the Pyrenees had come up with surprises from across the wildlife spectrum. Whatever we go to see, whatever we hope to see, there’s always more. And the advantage of multi-layered interest is that a Pyrenean adventure can be responsive to the weather: when hot and sunny, the insects, flowers and landscape take centre-stage; when cloudy, at least the birds keep on showing; and even in rain, the geology is always there.

Furthermore, as we move into a new era of environmental consciousness, increasingly there are calls to travel without flying. With the efficiency and comfort of the French high-speed rail system, the Pyrenees could well be firmly on that map once the world settles into its new normal.


High summer butterflies & moths (and much else!) of the Spanish Pyrenees

Another successful Naturetrek tour to my ‘second home’, Berdún in the Spanish Pyrenees, with again the main focus being the lepidopteran delights, both by day and by night. While the number of butterfly species may have been a little lower than in previous years (see here), perhaps a legacy of the 40-degree plus inferno the week before we arrived, and the fact that we had a thundery breakdown towards the end of our stay, the abundance of many species was as high, if not higher, than in previous years. And anyway, who can complain at 105 species and counting, as the images of puzzling puddling blues, skippers and fritillaries are worked through?

As ever, the garden meadow at Casa Sarasa was heaving with butterflies – probably 25 species over the week – with Marbled Whites, Spanish Gatekeepers, Clouded Yellows and Great-banded Graylings especially numerous – together with a frantic band of pollinators working the Scabious, Knapweed and Chicory from dawn ’til dusk.

[click any image to enlarge to full size]

By night as well: five nights’ trapping, when weather conditions permitted, produced a very respectable list, with some stand-out highlight moths and other denizens of the night. And for the first time in four years we were not ‘plagued’ by thousands of Pine Processionaries. Either we missed the peak emergence, or local control schemes are having an effect.

It would almost have been possible to fill the week effectively without leaving Berdún. But as daytime temperatures peaked at 37°C, the prospect of ten degrees or more cooler at higher altitudes was a good enough reason in itself to chase up the higher mountain specialities.

Not just butterflies, but also those ultra-charismatic day-flying moths, such as burnets, foresters and clearwings…

…and a vast range of other exciting and entrancing invertebrates…

…with a wonderful floral supporting cast.

I could go on. Birds and other vertebrates. The food and wine. The views, weather and good company. All will feature in the comprehensive report to come. So I shall close with tales of serendipity, when the holiday was drawing to a close and circumstances conspired to give us three of the most hoped-for but unexpected and unplannable times of the tour.

On the penultimate full day, the weather was breaking down. Torrential rain was forecast, so we remained close to home, in a meadow at the top of Biniés Gorge, just 5km away. In drenching humidity, the Brambles, Dwarf Elder, Scabious and Knapweed were almost literally dripping with butterflies, burnets, beetles, bugs and flies of every description, such biodiversity and bioabundance it gives hope for the planet once the malign curses of pollution and pesticide drenching are consigned to history.  A cornucopia at every turn, everything seemingly feeding voraciously in advance of the coming deluge. And what a deluge that evening, 70mm or more of rain, so intense it caused a major cliff fall, blocking the road to our Garden of Eden …

The following day, after the storm, the air was fresher and fewer insects ventured out. We ended the final full day at Berdún Marsh, where our last gasp reward, as the butterflies tentatively came back to life, was our one and only, much hoped-for, but never expected Algarve Burnet, almost completing the set of possible Zygaenas.

And then on the way back to the airport, lunch at Agüero, among the Strawberry-trees. For a purpose, as I ruefully explained after lunch, given that the object of our desires had not appeared. But no sooner had I said ‘Two-tai….’ than Peter shouted ‘Two-tailed Pasha’ as one sailed around us, up into the treetops and away. No chance of photos, but our passion for pashas somewhat sated, we headed home blessed by happenstance that no amount of planning could have ensured.




Late Summer in the French Pyrénées

Last week I was lucky enough to be leading a tour for Naturetrek to the French Pyrénées. It was especially interesting for me as the first time I have led a trip to that area for more than a decade, and all my previous tours there have been in May and June. How would it have changed, over the years and between seasons?

Firstly, it’s great to report that overall the area looks pretty much the same as when I last saw it: the magnificent mountain scenery, like the Brèche de Roland, is of course still there, and the scars of ‘civilisation’ (ski development and the like) are no more intrusive than before. Like rural settlements all across our continent, though, our base of Gèdre seems to be in decline, many properties boarded up, even falling into disrepair, and services closing down. But our hotel at least seems to be bucking the trend, no doubt supported by its unique view up the valley to the eponymous Brèche.

Comparing the seasons produces more marked differences, a landscape of snow beds almost continuous above 2000m in some years being replaced by cliffs, rocks, screes and sparse vegetation. Bird-wise, many of the summer visitors had departed already – no swifts and shrikes, and few warblers aside from Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps. And arguably the latter may well have been southbound migrants, along with Pied Flycatchers, Whinchats, Tree Pipits and a lone White Stork, standing incongruously amongst cattle high up in the Ossoue Valley.

Grounded migrants are always exciting, but nothing quite compares with the thrill of migration actually happening before ones eyes and ears. For us it was 20 minutes before lunch at the Col de Boucharo, one of the low ways (only 2200m up!) into Spain: under cobalt skies, we were treated to flickering parties of Swallows, hugging the turf, some 60 in total, along with a Sand Martin, five Meadow Pipits, two Linnets and 20 Yellow Wagtails.

And just prior to that we had bumped into a party of scientists from the University of Exeter who have deployed themselves there for two months to record the details of insect migration, especially hoverflies, over the pass. Just as remarkable as these feats of migration was that  one of the researchers was someone from my rather short list of ‘Twitter friends’….

The ‘big bird’ stars of the show – vultures and eagles – were also in good numbers, seemingly more than on my past visits, good news for the conservation efforts that these birds benefit. We even saw a Lammergeier, that icon of the Pyrénées, demonstrating its prowess at traversing the skies with barely a twitch of the wings over our base in Gèdre, well away from its core breeding areas. Potentially worrying though, the suite of high mountain passerine specialities – Alpine Accentor, Wallcreeper and Snow Finch – could not be found in previously expected locations: this may well represent a genuine change over the years, climate change having moved them up and out of easy reach.

My previous late Spring visits normally coincide with the transhumance of grazing stock to the high pastures, some of it still on foot, and the first hay cut. So not surprisingly, after a summer of munching and two hay cuts, the flowers were much less showy this year. But what was there was sometimes spectactular: damp, flushed hillsides swathed in Devil’s-bit Scabious and Grass-of-Parnassus, and high mountain tracksides with patches of two Pyrenean endemics, the Thistle and Eryngo, sustaining resident and migrating insects alike. Best of all, dry, cropped turf studded with pink stars of Merendera, opening wide on the sunnier days.


And then there were the insects, admittedly past their peak but at least as good as in late May, as numerous and often larger as in the case of the bush-crickets and grasshoppers. it was especially exciting to see three Camberwell Beauties, two very confiding, and an equally pristine Map, along with fading summer species such as Swallowtail and Apollo.


One of the best insect attractants was Buddleia in the towns. Contrary to often-quoted views that non-natural colour forms are less attractive than the wild type, one white-flowered bush close to Gèdre swimming pool clearly hasn’t read the books. Numerous Large Whites, Silver-Washed and Dark Green Fritillaries, Swallowtail, as many as 30 Hummingbird Hawk-moths at a time, Jersey Tiger and Hornet Hoverfly: a constant roll-call, even in overcast and blustery conditions.

Taking advantage of late-season nectar, pollen and warmth, the best of the rest included a range of tachinid flies, wasps, longhorn and chrysomelid beetles, Saddlebacks, and Great Green Bush crickets which serenaded the setting sun every day in the valleys.


Not forgetting those unexpected moments always encountered on a trip such as this, like the dead Asp Viper being ‘dealt with’ by Sexton Beetles, and the Alpine Marmots, ever alert, acting as our eyes and ears for passing Golden Eagles….

A wonderful, diverse week in a simply stunning part of the world.

A full tour report with lists can be found on the Naturetrek website: click here.

Butterflies and Moths of the Spanish Pyrenees

Butterflies and moths took star billing on my latest tour for Naturetrek to my old stamping grounds of the Spanish Pyrenees, and both groups lived up to hopes and expectations. Around 110 species of butterfly were recorded by the group over the week, a good number especially given the somewhat late summer after a cold winter, and also given the very intense hail storm which had moved through the high mountain areas just before our visit, giving landscape, plants and insects alike a battering. Spectacular species like Swallowtail and Spanish Swallowtail vied for our attention with a sometimes confusing array of fritillaries, brown and blues, and in places (including even the floriferous garden of our accommodation at Casa Sarasa in Berdun) the numbers of the commoner species such as Marbled White, Great Banded Grayling and Cleopatra were simply overwhelming.


Moths were represented by day-fliers such as Burnets, of which we encountered at least ten species, Foresters, Clearwings and of course Hummingbird Hawk-moths, together with the much larger number of night-fliers which visited our moth traps.

Moth trapping requires a licence in Spain, but Casa Sarasa has one (and a trap), and this covered the two additional traps brought over by tour participants. The final tally of moths will take some while to compile, but the ‘big game’ highlights included Privet, Lime, Oak, Spurge, Spanish Pine, Elephant, Small Elephant and Striped Hawks; several Goat Moths, Leopard Moth, a selection of Catocala Red and Yellow Underwings, and numerous Passengers.  Add to that moths unknown or very rare to us in the UK, including ‘counterpart species’ to ours, such as Spanish Character and Spanish Least Carpet, which have evolved into unique local species isolated from the rest of Europe by the formidable barrier of the Pyrenees.

But the tour delivered in so many other ways as well. Other insects – beetles (longhorns, jewels, rhinoceros, stags, chafers and magnificent oil beetles to highlight just a few groups); flies (including horseflies with eyes shining like green beacons, and parasitic tachinids scuttling around on many a Hogweed umbel); bees and wasps; bugs in a variety of forms including the unusual predatory Flattened Assassin-bug; dragonflies, cicadas and ant-lions… the list is almost endless, but will be as complete as possible for the tour report in due course.


Spiders too were reaping the rewards of this insect bonanza, many was the time we spotted an insect incongruously still on a flower, only to see on closer examination it had been captured and killed by a crab-spider, themselves in a range of colours from white to yellow and pink, lending camouflage to the killer-in-waiting.

Lower down, the flowers were well past their best, but in the high-level meadows and pastures, 1500m or more up, the displays where simply outstanding. Along with the scenery, geology, food, weather and company!


What were the highlights from such a cornucopia of delights? Well, birds have not yet been mentioned and indeed were probably overlooked (maybe even underlooked?) as we concentrated on the creatures around our feet. But occasionally lifting eyes skyward did almost always produce Griffon Vultures, and often Short-toed Eagles and Red and Black Kites. But on our first full day, one flypast assumed a very different shape, the cruciform, giant-falcon outline of a Lammergeier, the vulture with the biggest wingspan, reaching as much as 3m. It drifted over us, effortlessly, with never even a twitch of the wings, and was in my recent experience at least a rather unusual sighting down at Berdun.

Lammergeier is one natural icon of the Pyrenees. Another is the Spanish Moon Moth, which was a highlight of my May trip there. Too late for them in July, or at least the adults: but the huge, colourful, finger-sized caterpillar we located presumably searching for somewhere to pupate was just as good.

High on most peoples’ wish list for this trip is one of the largest European butterflies, a double-strength swallowtail, the Two-tailed Pasha. We usually visit the areas with its food-plant Strawberry-tree, and almost invariably fail to find it. Or if we do find it, usually ‘only’ the admittedly spectacular caterpillar. But on the way back to the airport, a final highlight was awaiting us in the Pre-Pyrenees, an adult Pasha, sitting proud on a pile of dog-poo….

That just leaves my own personal highlight of highlights. For forty years I have scoured the beechwoods of Europe for a plant so mysterious and unpredictable its presence is usually spoken about in hushed tones and generalities. And failed always to find it. One lunch-break, while others visited the café, I strolled through a dense dark beechwood, when a serendipitous shaft of sunlight lit up the woodland floor about five metres from me. And with it the characteristic, colourless, enigmatic (it’s no looker, so it needs to be bigged up!) form of a Ghost Orchid. Botanists’ Holy Grail!

Next challenge of course was refinding it for the anticipatory throng…just a hundred metres from where they were taking coffee, but densely-grown beech trees do all tend to look the same. However, I managed, and I think even the hardened lepidopterists felt privileged to have seen such an unexpected delight. And even found for themselves a second even more diminutive specimen close to the original.


Spring in the Spanish Pyrenees: a cornucopia of biodiversity

Despite rather inclement weather, with a strong, cold, northerly wind in the first few days, following on from a generally cold and late spring, the Spanish Pyrenees certainly lived up to its reputation as a European wildlife hotspot with Honeyguide Wildlife Holidays last week.

The day we arrived saw significant snowfalls above 1700m, so we kept low in the Canal de Berdún and the more southerly Pre-Pyrenees in the first half of the week, seeking some shelter from the wind. But the latter half was spent in the heart of the mountain, reaching 1600m in the glorious Aísa valley, where the floral displays rendered outstanding glacial landscape the best I have ever seen.

Bird migration was still under way, with Redstarts, Honey Buzzards, flycatchers and Common Swifts heading north, and the Rock Thrushes, Bee-eaters and Golden Orioles were just setting up home, lending drama to the resident Griffon Vultures and Lammergeiers…as if any further drama was needed! The gory Griffon feeding frenzy on a recently-dead horse by the roadside showed nature’s recyclers at their best (and worst), but at least it was a free-range event, not a staged feeding opportunity.

Low down, around our base at Casa Sarasa in Berdún, the Badlands were blooming with a rich array of flowers, brightening the arid, marly landscape; these included a good range of orchids, including Lady, Military, Burnt, Champagne and several Ophrys species and hybrids.

Higher up, the flowers were if anything even more showy, with Elder-flowered Orchids, Spring and Trumpet Gentians, primulas, buttercups and a host of other delights, studding the turf with splashes of intense colour.

Late spring should be a good time for reptiles, amphibians, insects and other invertebrates, although this year certainly lacked the volume of warmer springs. But some provided other highlights of the trip, including a couple of confiding, pristine Spanish Festoons and an equally confiding smart male Green Lizard.

And then there was the moth trap, a great feature of Casa Sarasa over the past couple of years, which benefits from the appropriate licence as required in Spain. We managed three nights’ trapping, although the first was very unproductive. The second also had few moths, but three of these were Giant Peacocks – quality not quantity!

And then the third night surpassed all expectations: two more Giant Peacocks, two Tigers (Cream-spot and Chaste Pellicle), and three Hawks (Small Elephant, Privet and Spurge).

And topping the lot, a Spanish Moon Moth, an icon of the Pyrenees, the Lammergeier of the moth world, a veritable flying Art Nouveau brooch. My third ever, and made me a very happy man!

As always with Honeyguide, a contribution is made by every participant on every tour to a conservation project in the places we visit. The recipient on this tour is SEO Aragon, the Birdlife Partner in the region, which does so much to protect and manage habitats for birds and other wildlife. I am proud to help support this work. But why is it not industry standard to put something back into the places a tour company visits. Honeyguide may only be a small company, but I like to hope it is leading the way, and that eventually all others will follow suit. Given that tourism is essentially exploitative, isn’t it right that every provider should do what they can to safeguard its most important assets: its destinations?