On the rocks: high altitude fauna in the eastern Pyrenees

Written by Lucy Brzoska

silhouette of mouflon in Vall de Nuria

Early on an October morning, the light among the ski installations of the Nuria valley was grey, and the sky overhead a cold blue.  As we walked up the steep Noucreus path, an invisible sun ignited the tall grass on the mountain crest. Stars flew in the firmament – seeds blown by a wind we couldn’t feel.

wind sends grass seeds soaring

On the crest of La Olla, where strong gusts sent vapours whirling, butterflies were on the wing, at 2,800 metres: Clouded yellow, Red admiral and Painted lady. Some males were waiting there to pick up a mate on migration.

The turn-off point was the Coll de l’Eina, and the low sun illuminated the herds of mouflon in the valley below.  It was their rutting season, and rams were gathering in large numbers, pursuing the ewes with gaping mouths.

a ram for each ewe

mouflon ram in the rutting season

On the way down, we startled some chamois – a young one ran after its mother.

young pyrenean chamois

Marmots were still whistling above ground, though they were layered up in fat and thick coats, ready for hibernation.

fat marmot with thick winter coat ready for hibernation

The most common birds still active in the mountains were Water pipits and Black redstarts. A flock of Citril finches foraged near the cremallera station. Among the vulture traffic were a pair of Lammergeiers, swooping close together. One clutched what looked like a jaw bone with teeth.

bearded vultures in the eastern pyrenees