Sunday, May 20, 2018

πŸ‡ͺπŸ‡Έ NE SPAIN 2018 ~ Days 7/8

After our amazing week in the Pyrenees, I urge any birder planning a trip to Spain to visit, we arrived Saturday afternoon after a 4-hour drive east at our new home for the coming week. We're now situated near the small town of Les Olivers, not far from the coast and around 20 miles or so from Girona. The difference in habitat as you would imagine is stark, although we can just about make out the snow-capped Pre-Pyrenees to the west.

Part of the villa grounds
The villa itself is stunning and set in its own grounds which includes woodland, scrub and many surrounding fields of various crops. Having unpacked and settled in we sat out for dinner and it wasn't long before I realised that Dazza (my travel agent) had done it again, the wife just never fails me! We enjoyed our dinner listening to Nightingales, Woodlarks, Quail, Scops Owl and at least three Nightjars, one extremely close by, plus several Bats around the villa pool and a night sky which was to die for.

Woodlark singing over the villa today
Today Sunday Dazza and I decided on a day of rest, just simply hang around the villa pool and recharge the batteries for the coming week. Of course, birders are like policemen, there never off duty and so we decided to see how many species we could see, either within the grounds or seen or heard from the grounds.

Bonelli's Warbler today
The final tally by the time we called it a night was 33 and here they are!

Quail, Honey Buzzard, Kestrel, Yellow-legged Gull, Turtle Dove, Collared Dove, Scops Owl, Nightjar, Swift, Hoopoe, Crested Lark, Woodlark, Barn Swallow, White Wagtail, Nightingale, Sardinian Warbler, Subalpine Warbler, Bonelli's Warbler, Firecrest, Great Tit (nesting), Crested Tit, Woodchat Shrike, Magpie, Jay, Bee-eater, Spotless Starling, House Sparrow, Linnet, Goldfinch, Greenfinch, Serin, Zitting Cisticola, Corn Bunting...

πŸ‡ͺπŸ‡Έ NE SPAIN 2018 ~ Pyrenees Day 6

πŸ‡ͺπŸ‡Έ☀️🌩21C Friday 18th May 2018 ~ On our final full day in the Pyrenees, we visited the monastery of San Juan de la PeΓ±a "Saint John of the Cliff", a religious complex in the town of Santa Cruz de la SerΓ³s, to the south-west of Jaca, Huesca. During the middle ages, this was one of the most important monasteries in Aragon. Its stunning two-level church is partially carved in the stone of the great cliff that overhangs the foundation. Legend has it that the chalice of the Last Supper (Holy Grail) was sent to the monastery for protection and prevention from being captured by the Muslim invaders of the Iberian Peninsula.

Monastery of San Juan de la PeΓ±a
Not only is the scenery spectacular here but it's also renown as a good place for birds. I'm not sure about the latter, as in recent years the monastery has been greatly modernised so isn't perhaps as attractive to hole-nesting species such as Rock Sparrow and Red-billed Chough, which were once found here.

Bonelli's Warbler ~ Common throughout our stay
We enjoyed the visit and did indeed get all the species you'd expect to find in the surrounding woodlands. Bonelli's Warbler, Chiffchaff, Firecrest, Crested Tit, Marsh Tit, Nuthatch, Short-toed Treecreeper and Great Spotted Woodpecker. The meadows held Yellowhammer and Linnet but as expected no Citril Finch, Rock Sparrow or Chough. It's also known for Black Woodpecker but again, no sight nor sound! A number of raptors overhead, which included the usual flow of Griffon Vultures, plus Booted Eagle, Red and Black Kite.

Crested Tit at the Monastery
For our final destination, we decided to give Refugio de Gabardito a second visit. If you remember we were hampered by bad weather during our visit on Monday and today the weather was a lot kinder. This area is renown by some to be 'the best-known breeding site for Wallcreeper in the Pyrenees'.

On arrival in the car park, where unlike Monday's visit there were no Citril Finch, we were today greeted by a drumming Black Woodpecker, which I'm happy to say we did thankfully get a brief glimpse of. We searched for a short while longer for a chance of better views but sadly the bird had moved on.

Red-billed Chough above Gabardito
It was late afternoon so we decided to head up to the cliff face without too many stops. Having found ourselves a good spot for scanning we began in earnest to look for the elusive Wallcreepers. Our best hope really was to find one in flight, to see one clinging to the cliff face at this distance would be difficult.

Dazza's turn on the scope
There were several Griffon Vultures nesting, two Lammergeier circling often over the tops, Red-billed Chough, Alpine Swift, Crag Martin and a high Golden Eagle but sadly after two hours, no Wallcreepers!πŸ˜’

Our quest goes on for this elusive of species. I'm still adamant about finding our own one in Spain and simply refuse to go on any tour offering that guarantee of seeing one at a known nesting site, were's the fun it that! Unfortunately, or search must continue another time as tomorrow we head down to the east coast. Our incredible week in the Pyrenees comes to an end, some stunning highlights, stunning scenery and a few hits and misses on the birding front, but WOW!

** A quick thank you for the emails and messages we've been receiving during the last week. Its good to know that we have such a keen group of followers πŸ‘

Thursday, May 17, 2018

πŸ‡ͺπŸ‡Έ NE SPAIN 2018 ~ Pyrenees Day 5

πŸ‡ͺπŸ‡Έ☀️⚡️🌩22C Thursday 17th May 2018 ~A later start today than normal on our penultimate day in the Pyrenees, catching up on a little sleep, processing a few images and getting to grips with some bug, butterfly and moth IDs. My thanks to Fred Stokes back in the UK who's a great knowledge base to rely on when you've forgotten a few of your Butterfly/Moth ID books. See below..

White-spotted Black, Eurrhypis pollinalis, moth basking in the sun
After breakfast and using Dave Gosney's 'Finding Birds In North Spain pamphlet', we set off on an hours drive to the outskirts of the municipality of SabiΓ±Γ‘nigo to an area known to be good for buntings, warblers and raptors.

Excellent habitat for Dartford Warbler
As recommended we began by searching the scrubland to the right along the access road to the Margas Golf Club and spent a good hour here. A couple of Bee-eaters perched up on the wires, Dartford Warbler, Wheatear, Linnet, Woodchat Shrike and a pair of Stonechat. We walked as far as the fairways with no sign of our target birds for the day, Ortolan Bunting and Rock Sparrow, the latter apparently breed here.

Cirl Bunting ~ Great camouflage
We then decided to walk the section on the opposite side of the road back to the car, stopping occasionally to sit and watch on some well-positioned benches. While here a couple of Cirl Buntings appeared, a male sitting well camouflaged in one of the birch trees.

Woodchat Shrike

Red-backed Shrike
On the fences and bushes looking down to the golf course both Woodchat and Red-backed Shrike were noted, plus two more Wheatear. The skies had begun to darken but overhead more Griffon Vultures and the ever-present Red Kites and then as we thought the distant rumble of a thunder.

Still using Dave Gosney's 'Finding Birds In North Spain pamphlet'. Our next stop just a short distance from the golf course was nicknamed 'Critchell's Road'. Graham Critchell, Dave tells us, apparently described it in one of his publications as 'one of the best places to go birding in the whole of Spain' a bold statement indeed!

However, before heading off along the roadside, which in places has excellent views across the mountains, we took a walk up to a nearby communication tower, perhaps not the best idea with a thunderstorm arriving! We made it up and down without being hit, although the lightning was spectacular and for our efforts managed Woodlark, Nightingale, more Dartford Warblers and overhead, Black Kite and Short-toed Eagle.

Impending Storm
The walk along 'Critchell's Road' did produce Orphean Warbler, Garden Warbler, Rock Bunting, Corn Bunting and Bonelli's Warbler and although an excellent haul: 'The best birding site in Spain'? Who knows, the thunderstorm certainly put paid to further investigation!

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

πŸ‡ͺπŸ‡Έ NE SPAIN 2018 ~ Pyrenees Day 4

πŸ‡ͺπŸ‡Έ☀️24C Wednesday 16th May 2018 ~A short and local morning walk before breakfast, mainly to listen to the wonderful Pyrenean dawn chorus: Nightingale, Cuckoo, Golden Oriole, Hoopoe, Bonelli's Warbler, Blackbird, Robin, Orphean Warbler, Great Tit but no Turtle Dove today! The find of the walk was an obliging Red-backed Shrike, which posed very briefly for a quick photo, not had one of these for a while and sadly a know declining species for the Pyrenees.

This morning Red-backed Shrike
Breakfast on the terrace was nicely interrupted once more by the regular morning passage of raptors: Griffon Vulture, Egyptian Vulture, Red Kite, Booted Eagle, Honey Buzzard and Sparrowhawk today, you simply can't be anything but in awe of this place!

The medieval town of Alquezar
Today Dazza and I celebrated our wedding anniversary and after breakfast headed for lunch at the medieval town of Alquezar, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Staying at reasonably lower levels (2500ft) for a change the weather was spectacular with clear skies and a comfortable 24C

Absolutely stunning El Grado
Naturally, on route to Alquezar, we stopped on many occasions including at the above stunning embalse (reservoir) El Grado, a huge reservoir fed by the Rio Cinca. Along the rock face Red-billed Chough and Crag Martin and over the tops Alpine Swift, screaming Common Swift and Griffon Vulture.

Clouded Yellow
We took a walk along the waterside meadows where a number of butterflies were on the wing and these included Common Blue, Scarce Swallowtail, European Swallowtail, Clouded Yellow and a few other species I'm still searching for ID on, forgot my book!

After lunch, we spent the remainder of the day enjoying the scenery and checking out various gorges and ravines. Some of the resulting observations below.

Alpine Swift 

Griffon Vulture

Egyptian Vulture


Tuesday, May 15, 2018

πŸ‡ͺπŸ‡Έ NE SPAIN 2018 ~ Pyrenees Day 3

πŸ‡ͺπŸ‡Έ☁️☀️4C/20C Tuesday 15th May 2018 ~ While Dazza continued her beauty sleep I was out and about locally just after sunrise, this time taking a five-minute drive down to the local Rio Lanata. Things here were particularly quiet, a flyby Dipper, a few Serin, the usual Bonelli's Warbler, which appears very common here and Black Redstart, which are even more abundant. Things got a little more lively just as I was leaving when a huge flock of (circa 50) Bee-eaters flew through, a  wonderfully colourful sight.

A small portion of a large flock of Bee-eaters (circa 50)
From the river, I drove back to the track which leads up to the cottage and decided to try a small area which consisted of rocky terrain, meadow, some small ravines and a tiny copse. A Nightingale was in full flow deep in cover and then another song caught the ear low in the scrub, a harsh twitter of squeaks and whistles, a Subalpine Warbler. I managed a few brief views before the bird moved on.

Orphean Warbler
While I was listening to a distant Cuckoo a Quail suddenly began calling from the meadow grass and then movement below alerted me to a couple of Orphean Warblers. Since arriving I've heard several Golden Oriole but up to this point I hadn't actually seen one, thankfully that was put right when a stunning male passed right in front of me. Finally, before heading back for breakfast three Woodchat Shrike, ending an excellent 90-minute outing!

One of three Woodchat Shrike
If you remember my first post on Sunday from our current trip to Spain you may remember that we were unable to get right up to the ski centre above Cerler due to the 2018 Vuelta Aragon cycle event. I did say at the time we'd return and today we did just that.

Thawing Ski Slope above Cerler
After Sunday's glorious blue skies the weather was quite changeable today and by the time we reached the 6000ft summit the cloud had descended and a light rain was falling, although not constantly. We paused once again on many occasions to check out the meadows and rock fields, finding several Wheatear, Crossbills and Black Redstarts. The usual Griffon Vultures were busy soaring above, a little lower today due to the low cloud. A single Blue Rock Thrush was also noted, surprisingly hard to find thus far during this visit!

Male Crossbill
Ski slopes at this time of the year are a birders paradise, you can pick up some well sort-after species by just edging your way around a thawing piste. After parking up we began to scan slowly around the slopes, immediately coming across a small group of Yellowhammer, a larger group of Cirl Buntings and seventeen of the sort after Citril Finch.

One of at least five Water Pipit
We counted five Water Pipit but I'm sure there were more, a half dozen Wheatear and a trio of Whinchat. Seeing the latter two species in a snowy background is a thing of beauty with the colours standing out vividly. Despite seeing Alpine Accentor during our disrupted visit on Sunday we sadly dipped today. Another species we had our sights set on Snow Finch is notoriously difficult in the spring and it would appear that they may well have moved on to their breeding areas!


One of three Whinchat

Monday, May 14, 2018

πŸ‡ͺπŸ‡Έ NE SPAIN 2018 ~ Pyrenees Day 2

πŸ‡ͺπŸ‡Έ ❄️☁️☀️4C/20C Monday 14th May 2018 ~Mountain weather is notoriously unpredictable and the Pyrenees are no exception! You can set off in glorious sunshine and end up with low cloud, rain and gusty winds. This was the case when we took the 2 1/2 drive north-west towards the Hecho Valley and in particular the Refugio de Garbardito.

Egyptian Vulture ~ Several around the Hecho Valley
Naturally, the drive took much longer, stopping at various points to investigate different habitats. I can say one thing, Red Kites are abundant here with many sightings today. In fact, there are few occasions when driving along any road where the sky is actually baron of any bird life. Griffon Vultures too seem to appear around every bend, sometimes in four and fives and this area also has a decent population of Egyptian Vultures.

Egyptian Vulture
Just prior to heading on up to the Refugio we paused for a while to check out around a half dozen raptors circling above. Within were at least two Egyptian Vultures, Black Kite, a high Booted Eagle, Lammergeier and naturally two Red Kites.

Citril Finch ~ typically taking on grit in the car park!
It's around a four-mile drive up to the car park at the Refugio through woodland and winding roads but well worth stopping occasionally to listen out, particularly for Black Woodpecker. We knew before we began our ascent that the weather would be an issue! Low cloud had already descended and the odd sleet/snow shower had begun to arrive. However, we were rewarded as we reached the car park with five Citril Finch, typically taking on grit! The meadow in front of the Refugio held six Wheatear and like the Red Kite, Black Redstarts seem to be everywhere.

This as actually a good view!
One of our main reasons for the visit was Wallcreeper and after parking, we headed off through a wooded area. Firecrest, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Crested Tit and the distant call of a Black Woodpecker, which was the closest we got to seeing one. There are also White-backed Woodpecker here but not today! As you continue on the canopy opens out offering stunning views of the cliff face, although seeing it was another matter. We spent a good while up here scanning when conditions allowed, eventually dipping on Wallcreeper but it was time well spent and rewarded with Golden Eagle, Alpine Chough, Alpine Swift and Crag Martin.

Black Stork ~ Way off range but migrating through!
On route home and back into blue skies a few more stops, one at the stunning Urdues Gorge. A very easily assessable site just 180 meters from the road up the Hecho Valley. We enjoyed a good hour here searching the river below for Dipper but it was all happening above with the addition of Honey Buzzard and  Goshawk to the day list. We ended the visit with a surprise when a Black Stork drifted through overhead, way off range until having referenced the Collins, apparently a typical migration route.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

πŸ‡ͺπŸ‡Έ NE SPAIN 2018 ~ Pyrenees Day 1

πŸ‡ͺπŸ‡Έ☀️-1C/17C Sunday 13th May 2018 ~ The wife and I arrived into Barcelona on Saturday evening and after picking up our rental car took the 3-hour drive north-east to Charo Northern Aragon, a small hamlet based in the Pre-Pyrenees mountain range (Population 36).

~ Our home for the next week ~
Here we'll be staying in our holiday cottage, around 3,000ft for the next seven days before spending a further nine days along the coast near Girona.

~ View from the cottage ~
Thunderstorms during the drive down and rain all evening but today Sunday we woke to crystal clear skies and a temperature of -1C. Before Dazza woke I decided to take an early morning stroll around the wooded areas of the cottage and along a dirt track, which at its apex has stunning views of the surrounding vista. Even this early in the morning I could make out several distant large raptors, presumably Griffon Vultures circling over the snow-capped tops. While watching these a Red Kite drifted by being mobbed by a persistent Raven.

Western Bonelli's Warbler 
There was a good amount of birdsong, mostly from the tracks below the cottages, Nightingale, Golden Oriole, Turtle Dove, Cuckoo and a very vocal Hoopoe. However, I decided to head up a dirt track and into the woodland to see what could be found. It wasn't long before I discovered a pair of nesting Short-toed Treecreeper, which had set up home in a pollarded cork oak tree, both constantly calling to each other I sat and watched intrigued for a while. Two Western Bonelli's Warblers prompted me for a photo but the low sun made things difficult. A few other species before I emerged back into the open which included: Firecrest, Crested Tit and Black Redstart.

Honey Buzzard over the cottage

Griffon Vulture 
Just before breakfast on the terrace, the sky seemed suddenly awash with birds. Firstly a group of noisy Bee-eaters, then a count of (8) Honey Buzzards, a Red Kite which swooped so low over the cottage I could have reached out and touched it and a constant stream of Griffon Vultures, which included a single Egyptian Vulture, and all this before breakfast!

Bee-eaters from the terrace
We decided on a leisurely first day taking a 90-minute drive to Benasque in the heart of the Pyrenees and then on up to around 6,000ft just beyond Cerler. Above the treeline here habitats include Alpine Meadows, rock fields and some glacial cirques so a good variety of species are possible.

Lammergeier (Bearded Vulture) over the Rio Lanata
Shortly after leaving the cottage a brief stop at the local Rio (river) Lanata to try for Dipper. Not only were we successful here but we connected with the first of four Lammergeier (Bearded Vulture) for the day. This bird drifting slowly overhead, offering a perfect photo opportunity of this iconic eaglelike vulture of the Old World (family Accipitridae)

Black Redstart at Elise
Before eventually reaching Benasque we naturally stopped several more times to investigate various habitat and indeed enjoy the stunning scenery. At Elise, we took a stroll around the Embalse (reservoir) de Linsoles but of course being Sunday it was reasonably busy. That said by the time we'd moved off after lunch we'd registered (2) Dipper along the Rio Elise, (4) Common Sandpiper, (3) Yellow Wagtail, (2) White Wagtail and a family of five Black Redstart (incl. adults). A bonus species of Tawny Pipit was found in amongst a small group of cows. Over the water, many Crag Martin and Barn Swallows were feeding.

Alpine Marmot ~ They were reintroduced with success in the Pyrenees in 1948
Despite a great day's birding we had to work hard for every species at Cerler. This due mainly to the major televised cycling event which was taking place, stage 3 of the 2018 Vuelta Aragon. In fact, we were marooned for an hour while the main race took place due to the road closure. That said we simply headed off across the meadows, rock fields and streams and did pretty well, despite the helicopters!

Wheatear ~ Seem look more vibrant in the Spanish light!
Wheatear, at least five Water Pipit, which breeds here, two Citril Finch, Alpine Accentor and among the many Griffon Vultures three more Lammergeier and a Golden Eagle. Today was certainly about quality and not quantity, with most birds either flyover or at distance but we'll be back here later in the week for a second visit!

Thursday, May 10, 2018

πŸ“– #35 ~ Staying Local

☀️☁️19C Thursday 10th May 2018 I stayed mainly local today starting at a very nippy and breezy Napton-on-the-Hill, although the sun was shining. Things were pretty quiet, the only saving grace was a Hawfinch, which flew over the church and down on towards Church Leys Farm. From here I headed on over to Napton Reservoir to meet up with Jim Timms but abandoned him a short time later for a reported Whinchat at Coventry Airfield, sorry Jim, Carol and Tony this was a year-tick.

Unfortunately, it was a fruitless effort, spending a good half hour searching along with Chris Mathews. That said as I pen this post I see the bird has just appeared on the Warwickshire Whatsapp Group, you can't win them all.

Green Hairstreak ~ Stockton Cutting

Hairy Dragonfly
The remainder of my time was spent once more at Stockton Cutting, this time in the sunshine. It was a decent visit recording my 1st Local Hairy Dragonflies (3) and Green Hairstreaks (4), plus more Dingy Skippers, a Holly Blue and a Four-spotted Chaser, which simply wouldn't settle.

Dingy Skipper

Holly Blue
Tomorrow I'll be putting the final touches to my itinerary in preparation for Saturdays departure for the Spanish Pyrenees and my quest for a self-found Wallcreeper goes on, simply can't wait.