Pirineos 15 - 22 junio
Pyrenees 15 - 22 June

Del 15 al 22 de junio estuve con tres clientes en el Pirineo aragonés. Éste es el resumen del viaje por Leonard Clark:

REPORT - Spanish Pyrenees and Belchite Steppes 15 to 22 June 2009

After an overnight stay in Madrid, three members of BOC were collected Monday morning by our guide, Santiago Villa of Spainbirds who drove us northwards towards the Pyrenees. White Storks, Marsh Harrier, Red Kites and numerous Black Kites were noted before we stopped in Quara Natural Park. Here, in a mountainous area, with a ravine and scrub directly in front of us (plus an excellent packed lunch!) we had some superb close up views of Egyptian and Griffon Vultures, then a Lammergeier and a Golden Eagle were spotted and we also had good views of Rufous-tailed Rock Thrush and Short-toed Eagle. A Red-rumped Swallow plus an Alpine Swift were added to our list together with Bee-eaters, Turtle Dove, Woodchat Shrike, Melodious Warbler and Black Redstart.

Progressing northwards, we saw both dark and light morph Booted Eagles, a coffee stop yielded Crested Lark plus a Short-toed Lark in song and later, at one point, we passed close to a flock of 30+ Red Kites. We arrived in Hecho Valley at the edge of the Pyrenees with 49 species on our list including some really cracking birds - and we had only just arrived! Surely it couldn’t get much better – but it did!

The rural hotel we stayed at was just off a quiet road 7 km. from the village of Hecho, at a height of 1000 m. with magnificent views of the surrounding mountains and a quick walk close to the hotel on Tuesday before breakfast gave views of Firecrests and Bonelli’s Warblers. We then drove up to the nearby Gabardito Refuge where a forest walk gave great views of mountain meadows, ravines, and steep cliffs which towered above us.

Crested Tits were in the trees as we set off, Short-toed Treecreepers called and sang from the forest edges while Red-billed Choughs circled and called overhead, Griffon and Egyptian Vultures cruised above them, and a couple of distant Lammergeiers were also spotted. Iberian Green Woodpeckers (picus sharpie) called, obviously in Spanish as their calls were different from English Green Woodies. Black Woodpeckers could also be heard and we were treated to a brief but close flypast of one bird, its pale bill showing clearly against its black head and body.

At the foot of a vertical cliff face we searched for a bird that nested in that location. The Wallcreeper is about the size of a Chaffinch and very hard to see - until it flew, when we could see the glorious red, black and white markings of its broad, rounded wings and then follow it more easily as it moved over the rock face.

So we watched the Wallcreeper (a male), with the vultures continuing to cruise overhead, Red-billed Choughs flying and calling along the edge of the cliff face together with Crag Martins and a party of some 15+ Alpine Swifts, which were giving their twittering calls as they rocketed around the ravine and cliffs. Not an unpleasant morning’s walk!

We moved then into another attractive valley where we walked gently upwards following a stream as it flowed down from its waterfall starting point at the foot of steep cliffs. A Dipper was seen on the stream and a Grey Wagtail flew nearby. A Garden Warbler came very close to us on the path, giving excellent views. The alarm calls of Marmots echoed across the quiet valley and we could see these mammals below us on the rocks. Frequent Griffon Vultures soared over the cliffs and they were briefly joined by a Golden Eagle.

Then suddenly a Lammergeier came into view, flying along the cliff face on the other side of the valley, which had narrowed at this stage. We had great views as it slowly cruised in front of us – then it landed, allowing us an excellent sight of its black wings, white face and rufous-buff head and breast. This latter colouring, Santiago explained, is acquired by bathing in mineral rich puddles in the higher mountains.

Driving back to our hotel, and noting on the way a Red-backed Shrike in the sunshine, it was difficult to decide a bird highlight of the day and in the end we had to settle for more than one!

On Wednesday, we drove up into the mountains and stopped at the Aztaparreta Forest on the road to the French border but, apart from some good views of Red Squirrel, this was fairly quiet except for the calls of Black Woodpecker and Marsh Tit. A search in a different area for the very rare White-backed Woodpecker, where breeding was suspected, proved unsuccessful but Santiago did manage to entice a Firecrest to come very close to us, giving excellent views. Moving to different valleys and missing most of the rain showers occurring that day, we had some good views of Egyptian Vulture, three Lammergeiers (2 adults and 1 juvenile), two Short-toed Eagles, several Ravens and a Common Buzzard. A couple of Chamois were spotted high on a mountainside, Griffon Vultures constantly appeared above us, a male and a juvenile Red-backed Shrike were on some wires, Cirl Buntings and Yellow Hammers showed their distinctive colours, Nightingales sang and Black Restarts seemed to pop up everywhere.

Thursday saw us heading eastwards up to one of the mountain Ski Resorts. Leaving the hotel, we noted a pair of Bullfinches, and then an Orphean Warbler in song plus a couple of Red-backed Shrikes on the telephone wires. Driving past fields, there were several Egyptian Vultures and Red Kites and, at one point, a series of Black Kites perched on telegraph poles close to the road giving us good views.

Candanchu Ski Resort was quiet and deserted in the absence of winter skiers but it was full of birds. Singing Water Pipits were numerous and, as we were probably walking near their nest sites, they came very close to us with their alarm calls.
Black Restarts continued to pop up everywhere and there were also a number of Yellow Hammers and Northern Wheatears. Egyptian and Griffon Vultures, a gently cruising Lammergeier, a Common Buzzard and a hovering Short-toed Eagle all gave great views, whilst 20+ Red-billed and 5 Alpine Choughs fed on the grass slopes. A Bee-eater was briefly seen, Alpine Marmots called and we had glimpses of Citril Finch as a small flock flew nearby calling. Moving on, we visited San Juan de la Peña with its monastery dating from the 10th Century and, from a viewpoint on the edge of the surrounding woods, we had great views of the plains and mountains that make up this region. We had some close-up views of Crested Tits, circling Egyptian and Griffon Vultures were flying sometimes below us, Great Spotted Woodpeckers were noted together with Nuthatch and Short-toed Treecreepers.

On Friday we started in the lower Hecho valleys, where we watched singing Bonelli’s Warblers, had good views of Nightingales and Cirl Bunting, some really close views of a pair of Subalpine Warblers with the male in glorious colouring, and added Cetti’s Warbler to our lists. An Orphean Warbler was heard and, with a little encouragement from Santiago, then gave us some brief views.

We then drove up to the El Portelet mountain pass next to the French border where Booted and Short-toed Eagles showed well, Quail called, Ortolan Bunting were watched singing, and a Rufous–tailed Rock Thrush was briefly seen. Griffon Vultures together with Red and Black Kites continued to appear from time to time, as well as Red-billed Choughs, Water Pipits and Ravens.

Saturday was our last chance for views of Citril Finch and a very strong wind was a concern. However a fairly sheltered meadow by the Gabardito Refuge gave us some excellent views of several Citril Finches, plus a Sparrow Hawk which whizzed by as we were having our coffee.

Then off to one of Santiago’s favourite valleys where again we were sheltered from the wind. Over lunch by a quiet country road we had views of Red Kites and Griffon Vultures, whilst being serenaded by two competing Garden Warblers from either side of the narrow road. Walking along the road we had good views of Cirl Bunting and Bonelli’s Warbler, watched a Rock Bunting as it sang from a nearby tree, noted a Turtle Dove and then, to Santiago’s surprise, heard a Dartford Warbler’s song (first time in this valley, according to Santiago). A quick search revealed at least two birds, one carrying food so breeding seemed likely. A Rock Sparrow showed well, as did a Common Cuckoo, there were frequent Ortolan Buntings to be seen, whilst from a narrow ravine, the only slightly wooded area in this otherwise dry, rocky valley, we could hear a Golden Oriole. We admired several Bee-eaters, listened to a distant Woodlark and noted Stonechats and Woodchat Shrike as we returned to our car.

As we then worked our way back to the hotel, we located a Melodious Warbler by its song and managed some views, and we finished the day in a deep ravine watching Egyptian Vultures and a Lammergeier cruise overhead whilst several Griffon Vultures were coming down to land along the cliff face, presumably to their roosting sites.

In spite of the high winds during this day, Santiago had managed to pick out several sheltered places and a mention must be made of the range and colour of the many butterflies that we saw. These included Southern White Admirals, several types of Marbled White, Spanish Gatekeepers, different Heaths and Ringlets plus numerous Fritillaries both large and small.

Sunday was the day we left the Pyrenees and, as we walked out of our hotel, we were greeted by Crested Tits plus an Orphean Warbler in full song. Travelling southwards we stopped at Mallos de Riglos where a beautiful pale morph Booted Eagle greeted us as we neared the village. The dominating features here are the strange vertical rock columns that tower above the village, and it was from these that Rock Sparrows called as they flew to and from their nest sites, plus there were Black Redstarts everywhere. Crag Martin chicks could also be seen peering at us from ledges in these columns.

Circling above us were Egyptian and Griffon Vultures, Red-billed Choughs and Alpine Swifts. A female Peregrine Falcon called as it soared in the blue sky, whilst in the scrub and almond groves below the rock columns there were Sardinian and Dartford Warblers flitting in and out of view, and an Orphean Warbler in song. As we were leaving to the songs of Nightingale and Garden Warbler, a Black Stork joined the Griffon Vultures circling above us.

Continuing our drive southwards we stopped at a large reservoir near Mezalocha. Strong winds made this a brief visit, but we did see a number of Rock Sparrows including one young bird sitting on the concrete steps leading down to the reservoir dam wall – we had to walk carefully to avoid treading on it! As we left, we saw two really beautiful Black-eared Wheatears, both males of the pale throated type.

Late afternoon we arrived at our next overnight stop just in time for a short visit to El Planeron, a nature reserve in the Belchite Steppes and owned by SEO Birdlife, the much smaller Spanish version of the RSPB. We quickly noted Short-toed and Lesser Short-toed Larks, Calandra Larks as well as Skylarks. A Montagu’s Harrier was spotted plus a Great Reed Warbler in some reeds of a small muddy pool in the midst of these dry plains. A flock of Pin-tailed Sandgrouse completed our visit before we booked into our hotel for the night.

At 6.30 am Monday morning we were back in these Belchite Steppes hoping for sight or even just sound of the rare Dupont’s Lark. The Steppes were full of larks but unfortunately no sign of the elusive Dupont’s. However we did have good close views of numerous Short-toed, Lesser Short-toed, Calandra, Crested and Skylarks.

The scenery in these Steppes seems straight out of a Western Film but, instead of smoke signals from the distant flat topped mountains and Apache Indians appearing from behind nearby mounds and gulleys, we had instead sudden appearances and close views of Black-bellied and, in particular, Pin-tailed Sandgrouse. A Southern Grey Shrike showed well, a Short-toed Eagle drifted low over our car and a Marsh Harrier appeared nearby. The Great Reed Warbler was still in the ‘oasis’ and a Green Sandpiper flew up as we approached. A juvenile Montagu’s Harrier was spotted and a pair of Hoopoes flew up as we headed back to the hotel for our breakfast.
We then moved into the old town of Belchite, which was destroyed in 1937 during the Spanish Civil War. The ruins of churches, houses and other buildings are preserved as a ‘live’ monument of war and are now a breeding area for Blue Rock Thrushes which we saw as we walked around.

Our tour almost over and our homeward flights beckoning, we stopped briefly just outside Madrid by the Henares River for some final packing of suitcases, plus some final birding. It was very hot now (around 37º C) and Santiago positioned us in the shade from where we saw Tree Sparrow, Golden Oriole, Reed, Great Reed and Cetti’s Warblers and, whilst noting Stock Dove, Jackdaw and Kestrel, we also could just pick out the fine whistled calls of a Penduline Tit.

8 days birding, wonderful scenery, and a total of 113 species including many splendid close-up views. A very enjoyable tour.

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