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Spanish Pyrenees
Wallcreepers & Cranes
24th 28th February 2011

Leaders Dave Read & Andy Shooter
Participants Keith & Louise Tinworth, Huw Wilding and Steve Robins.

Day 1
The day got off to a good start with a trouble free direct flight to Barcelona, where we collected the hire vehicle and were soon on our way. The first part of the journey was pretty uneventful though a few Cattle Egrets, White Storks and Red Kites were noted. A stop at a roadside café for a coffee produced Serin and Black Redstart, as well as a nice male Green Woodpecker of the Iberian race P. v. sharpei.

Later we arrived at our first base in the beautiful medieval town of Alquezar, where we checked into our very comfortable hotel. After a short break we ventured back out, where just a short walk through the narrow cobbled streets saw us reach the promenade overlooking the Gorge and cliff top Colegiata for which the village is famous. It wasn't long before our first target a stunning Wallcreeper was found on the gorge wall, where it gave prolonged good views.

Moving around to the other side of the Colegiata gave a spectacular view over the Rio Vero as well as good views of a fine male Hen Harrier which flew across the gorge directly towards us. Other birds of note here included Griffon Vulture, Crag Martin, Red-billed Chough and Cirl Bunting. As the light began to fade we headed back to the hotel but not before finding another target as up to 3 Alpine Accentors were found.


Day 2
Today we visited some of the best sites within The Sierra de Guara national park, starting with an impressive cliff-face between the villages of Bierge & Morrano . Here we enjoyed good views of the many Griffon Vultures, which were joined by a pair of Golden Eagle. Other birds here included Peregrine, Woodlark and Sardinian Warbler. Next we visited a vulture feeding station at Santa Cilla, where poor views of an adult Lammergeier over a distant ridge was a little disappointing though up to 15 Red Kites gave exceptional views. We then moved to another known cliff face for wintering Wallcreeper but not before stopping to admire our first flock of migrating Cranes which showed very well overhead. Once there we walked down to view the cliff though sadly on this occasion none could be found. We were however rewarded with exceptional views of Crag Martin and another Peregrine.

It was now fast approaching lunch time so we moved the short distance to a nearby reservoir, which is a favourite of ours and a reliable site for wintering Wallcreeper. On arrival we drove to a small car park where we could have our picnics in peace, however within minutes of getting out of the van a Wallcreeper was found which went on to give crippling views down to just a few yards. Meanwhile a stunning male Firecrest began to sing right by our sides and a Lammergeier drifted slowly overhead, so much for the peaceful picnic. Afterwards we walked further around the reservoir where again we were immediately rewarded with another Wallcreeper, our third peregrine of the day, a pair of Rock Bunting and another sighting of the Lammergeier.

The Castillo de Montearagón was our next destination where on arrival we quickly found a pair of Black Wheatear and with a little searching Rock Sparrow, Blue Rock Thrush and another Golden Eagle. We then visited a nearby café for a quick drink before heading out to look for Eagle Owl. Sadly however despite hearing a male calling, we were unable to locate any before the light had completly faded.


Day 3
After an early breakfast we headed out for the long drive to the high tops, stopping on the way at an area of pine woodlands, where we were quickly rewarded with a pair of Black Woodpecker. While further searching also produced Goldcrest, several Firecrest, Crested Tit and a pair of Crossbill.

Once at the Ski resort of Astun it was a while before we managed to find anything other than skiers but eventually an Alpine Accentor was found on top of the chalet roof. Moments later 4 Alpine Chough flew in and also landed on the rooftops, where over the next 30 minutes or so their numbers grow to 30 plus. A walk through the car park produced another Alpine Accentor and this time it showed amazingly well down to just a few yards.

We then headed back south in time to visit a large lake, home to one of the greatest spectacles the region has to offer. On arrival we immediately found a female Merlin perched in a low bush, though sadly this was chased off by a Sparrowhawk before we could fully appreciate it. A short drive further up the track revealed what we had come for, with c2500 Common Cranes in front of us, with even more still arriving to roost.


Day 4
Today we left the foothills behind and headed south to the plains, but not before taking the opportunity for one last walk through Alquezar and a visit to the Colegiata. Once again this proved very rewarding with another sighting of Wallcreeper. Travelling south several flocks of Cranes were noted, while a little further on a small flooded field was checked and found to hold both Green Sandpiper and Water Pipit.

Before long the landscape began to change and we were soon on the p lains, though by now the weather had deteriorated and it was now very windy, making walking never mind birding difficult. With this in mind we moved to try and find a more sheltered area and was rewarded with a flock of c40 Pin-tailed Sandgrouse and 12 Black-bellied Sandgrouse, while other highlights included a pair of Theckla Lark and a Southern Grey Shrike.

We then moved to a nearby lagoon where we ate our lunches, highlights here included Great White Egret, Red-crested Pochard, Black-necked Grebe and several Marsh Harriers. Afterwards further exploration of the plains rewarded us with 21 Great Bustard, 7 more black-bellied Sandgrouse and another flock of c45 Pin-tailed Sandgrouse.


Day 5
As we arrived at El Planeron it was still dark but we didn't have long to wait before we started to hear the song of a nearby Dupont's Lark. The light was slow coming but as it did more larks were heard with at least 3, probably more birds singing around us, though typically they couldn't be seen. Andy did find one high in a song flight which he managed to point out but sadly this was the only sighting. Other species here included one of each Thekla and Short-toed Lark as well as several Crested, Calandra and Lesser Short-toed Larks.

After breakfast it was decided that because of the strong wind we would abandon the idea of further birding on the plains in favour of heading straight back to Barcelona where we could do a little birding at the Llobregat Delta, a coastal wetland bordering the airport. Once there it wasn't long before we started finding some interesting birds with Greater Flamingo, Monk Parakeet, Audouins Gull and Penduline Tit amongst the highlights.

 

This proved to be a very enjoyable tour with an abundance of stunning scenery, good company and after the dreadful winter this year in the UK plenty of warm winter sunshine. The Birds were also first rate with 116 species recorded, an impressive total for just five days in late winter. We would like to thank everyone involved in this tour for their contribution.

 

CHECKLIST

Species Name Number of days recorded Max daily count
When no counts were made
x = small numbers noted
X = large numbers noted
H = heard only
Little Grebe 1 X
Black-necked Grebe 1 2
Great Crested Grebe 1 2
Cormorant 3 x
Grey Heron 4 x
Cattle Egret 3 x
Little Egret 1 1
Great White Egret 1 1
White Stork 5 X
Greater Flamingo 1 1
Shelduck 1 x
Mallard 5 X
Gadwall 2 X
Pintail 1 4
Shoveler 2 X
Teal 2 x
Pochard 1 X
Red-crested Pochard 1 44
Red Kite 5 X
Lammergeier 1 2
Griffon Vulture 5 X
Hen Harrier 1 1
Marsh Harrier 3 X
Sparrowhawk 2 1
Common Buzzard 5 x
Golden Eagle 1 3
Kestrel 5 x
Merlin 2 2
Peregrine 1 3
Red-legged Partridge 4 x
Moorhen 3 x
Coot 3 x
Purple Gallinule 1 x
Common Crane 3 c3240
Great Bustard 1 21
Lapwing 4 x
Golden Plover 1 1
Snipe 1 1
Black-headed Gull 2 X
Yellow-legged Gull 3 x
Audouins Gull 1 5
Lesser Black-backed Gull 1 x
Pin-tailed Sandgrouse 1 c85
Black-bellied Sandgrouse 1 15
Rock Dove 1 x
Wood Pigeon 5 x
Collared Dove 5 X
Eagle Owl 1 H
Common Kingfisher 1 1
Monk Parakeet 1 c15
Green Woodpecker 1 1
Black Woodpecker 1 2
Great Spotted Woodpecker 1 1
Dupont's Lark 1 1 + 4H
Woodlark 1 1
Skylark 1 1
Crag Martin 4 X
Sand Martin 5 x
House Martin 1 1
Swallow 1 1
Meadow Pipit 2 x
Water Pipit 1 2
Grey Wagtail 2 x
White Wagtail 5 X
Wren 5 x
Dunnock 1 1
Alpine Accentor 2 4
Robin 4 x
Black Redstart 5 x
Stonechat 4 x
Whinchat 1 1
Black Wheatear 1 2
Blue Rock Thrush 1 1
Blackbird 5 X
Song Thrush 4 x
Redwing 4 x
Mistle Thrush 4 X
Cetti's Warbler 2 H
Fan-tailed Warbler 1 1
Sardinian Warbler 1 1
Blackcap 5 X
Chiffchaff 4 x
Firecrest 2 3
Goldcrest 1 3
Crested Tit 1 x
Coal Tit 1 x
Blue Tit 5 x
Great Tit 5 x
Nuthatch 1 2
Wallcreeper 3 2
Penduline Tit 1 1
Southern Grey Shrike 1 1
Jay 1 x
Magpie 5 X
Alpine Chough 1 c70
Red-billed Chough 3 c50
Raven 4 x
Spotless Starling 5 X
House Sparrow 5 X
Tree Sparrow 1 x
Rock Sparrow 1 2
Chaffinch 4 X
Serin 4 X
Greenfinch 4 X
Goldfinch 4 X
Linnet 2 x
Crossbill 1 2
Cirl Bunting 2 1
Reed Bunting 1 1
Rock Bunting 1 2
Corn Bunting 5 X

 

 

 

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