Asturias, land of bears
Asturias is one of the best regions in Europe to observe bears in freedom. And the Somiedo Natural Park is a privileged place to do so. However, in high season it is probable if you have the help of specialized guides, the necessary observation equipment, some patience, and a bit of luck!
Something is moving! Look over there! A fellow Dutch traveler shouts excitedly. He’s seen something moving along the steep wall in front of us. The rest of us nervously pounce on our spotting scopes and binoculars. We have been doing “a wait” for almost an hour: scanning the terrain that Sofia, our local guide, has bet on us to accomplish our mission.
Bear in sight
Sofia helps us to locate, focus and chase the prey through the peephole, a task that is more challenging than it looks. I approach the scope, and there’s the bear! I am surprised by its sheer size and agility as it moves a few hundred meters away across the rough terrain. Neither my companions nor I can take our eyes off the scope. We are fascinated.
There’s the bear! I am amazed at its sheer size and the agility with it moves across the rough terrain a few hundred meters away.
And we are not the only happy observers: in the verges and meadows above and below us, several groups have gathered to hunt the Cantabrian plantigrade. So why is Somiedo such a special place to see bears? I ask Sofia: “Besides the fact that Somiedo is one of the areas with the highest density of bears in the entire Cantabrian Mountain Range, the orography and the territory’s characteristics in some areas allow observers to be arranged in specific points at an optimal distance for observation.”
Somiedo, bear territory
But it has not always been like this. Thanks to successful recovery policies, the brown bear population has gone from being endangered to numbering in the hundreds in the Cantabrian Mountains in just a few decades. The area surrounding the Somiedo Natural Park is the place in Spain with the highest concentration of brown bears, with a population of around 300.
The guides’ knowledge of the territory and experience are fundamental for a successful observation.
What are the best times of the year to see them? I ask Sofia, who continues to help the group as she answers our questions. “Spring is an excellent time for observation, specifically in May and the first half of June, since the bears with cubs are arranged on high and clear slopes to feed. In addition, at this time, jealousy occurs, and the bears are very active in the most open areas,” she answers us. “Another excellent time is the second half of August and the first half of September when the bears feed on the fruit of the “escuernacabra” (Rhamnus Alpina) and the hazelnut.”
Factors for success
I can’t stop smiling with excitement. It is the third time I have tried to see bears in Somiedo, and it is the first time I have succeeded, which makes me value the experience more than other people who follow it at first. A matter of luck? “There are several factors that influence,” Sofia tells me, “on the one hand, the knowledge that the guides have of the territory and the experience are fundamental to success in the observation. But, on the other hand, it is also essential to control the weather, good optical equipment, and a lot of patience”.
In any case, even in the observation routes where there is no luck in “waiting,” you always learn many things about the life of the brown bear in Somiedo while enjoying a beautiful mountain landscape: the values of the Park, other species of flora and fauna in the area, as well as the conservation work that has been followed and is being followed so that this species continues to inhabit Somiedo.
What do you expect from your clients? I ask Sofia as we collect the material before going to toast the success of our mission. “We hope that they are aware of the value of observing an endangered animal such as the brown bear in the middle of nature and that they are clear that the success of the observation can never be guaranteed.”