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Spanish Pyrenees
Wallcreepers & Cranes
23rd 27th February 2012

Leader              Dave Read
Participants    Jill Sharland, Denise Howe, Doreen Marsh, Richard Ness and Arthur Read .

 

Day 1
The day got off to a good start with a trouble free direct flight to Barcelona, where we met with Jill and Denise who had flown in from Bristol the night before. We collected the hire vehicle and were soon on our way out of Barcelona. 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 our first of many Griffon Vultures.

Later we arrived at our first base in the beautiful medieval town of Alquezar, a small village which has grown around the castle and the Colegiata de Alquézar first constructed in 1099. Here we checked into the very comfortable Villa de Alquezar, our base for three nights. 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 male Wallcreeper, was found on the gorge wall though it quickly flew across to the village where it was seen briefly on a house before being lost to view.

Moving around to the other side of the Colegiata gave a spectacular view over the Rio Vero as well as many sightings of Crag Martin, while a small play area nearby held 4 feeding Alpine Accentor and a Rock Bunting. Returning to the promenade we quickly relocated the Wallcreeper which was now feeding on the wall of the gorge giving prolonged good views. Overhead c120 Griffon Vultures were circling on thermals, a flock of c60 Red-billed Chough moved through and a ringtail Hen Harrier passed over.

 

Day 2
After a substantial breakfast and our caffeine boost for the day we headed straight to the Embalse de la Sotonera, enjoying a pair of Little Owl and a fine male Hen Harrier near Montmesa on the way. On arrival we immediately found a group of c600 feeding Common Cranes just north of the reservoir. While to the south we could hear many more cranes calling though we had no idea how many, however this was soon to change as over the next hour or so an estimated 15,000 cranes moved low north, many of them directly over our heads. This was truly an amazing spectacle and one of the highlights of the trip.

It was now fast approaching lunch time so we moved a short distance to a suitable spot where on arrival we quickly found a nice male Dartford Warbler, followed by a pair of Black Wheatear. While eating lunch Blue Rock Thrush was added and two immature Golden Eagles drifted slowly by at close range.

Next we headed to a nearby reservoir and a favourite of ours, being a reliable site for both Lammergeier and wintering Wallcreeper. On arrival an adult Lammergeier immediately moved over though not everyone could get out of the car quick enough to see it. Nearby, careful searching of the numerous cliff faces soon paid when our second Wallcreeper of the trip was found. Later we walked to the dam where we waited and scanned, hoping the Lammergeier would reappear. Many Griffon Vultures and an Egyptian Vulture later it did just that and this time it was enjoyed by all.

 

Day 3
After a slightly earlier breakfast we headed out for the long drive to the high tops, where we visited the Ski resort of Astun. The scenery was stunning and the weather rather balmy with snow all around, we all had to shed various layers until we were down to T shirts. It was a while before we managed to find anything other than skiers but eventually a few Alpine Chough were noted on the top of a chalet roof along with at least two Alpine Accentors. Both showed reasonably well, though neither could be enticed down for the crumbs we provided. However the star bird was surely this stunning adult Lammergeier which cruised slowly down the valley.

Next we moved to the Monasterio de San Juan de la Pena, where we ate our lunches. Afterwards a walk though the mature woodlands to the viewpoint produced Firecrest, Crested Tit, Common Crossbill and Great Spotted Woodpecker but sadly not the Black Woodpeckers which also frequent the area. The view from the viewpoint was spectacular but raptors were few and far between, with just the odd Griffon Vulture passing distantly by.

Back in Alquezar we enjoyed the walk down into the village with the Colegiata and church lit up looking just as impressive as they do in the day. Yet again we enjoyed a beautiful meal and a very nice local wine as we reflected on the days highlights, while on the way back to the hotel Venus and Jupiter were both very bright in the dark sky.

 

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 enjoyable with our only Merlin of the tour added to the list. Richard was lucky enough to glimpse a Wallcreeper disappear behind a crag; where unfortunately for the rest of the group it stayed.

Heading south it wasn't long before the landscape began to change and we were soon on the Plains. A quick walk to stretch our legs produced our first Calandra Larks, but little else so we opted to drive some of the myriad of tracks that crisscross the area. It wasn't long before we had found both Black-bellied and Pin-tailed Sandgrouse, while further explorations also provided Thekla Lark, our first Lesser Short-toed Larks and Southern Grey Shrike.

We then visited Candasnos Lagoon where we ate our lunches while enjoying the sight of several Marsh Harriers over the reedbeds. Other highlights included Great White Egret and Penduline Tit, though it was the wildfowl that stole the show with 8 species of ducks present including several Red-crested Pochard. Careful searching through these bumped the tally up to 9 species when Dave found a nice drake Ferruginous Duck, though the excitement caused by this was short lived when Denise found a bird she was unfamiliar with. Pointing it out to Dave he immediately recognised the bird as a drake Blue-winged Teal, which took the total to 10. As in the UK this was a great find and represents only the second ever record for Aragon.

Afterwards a short journey onto the Plains further south rewarded us with up to ten Great Bustard before continuing to Lecera, where we checked into the Rincón del Cierzo for the night.

 

Day 5
As we arrived at El Planeron it was just starting to get light, but once in position we didn't have long to wait before we started to hear the song of a nearby Dupont's Lark. Though typically for this species none were seen despite much searching of the area. Other species here included several Crested and Lesser Short-toed Larks, 3 Southern Grey Shrikes and a flock of c100 Common Cranes moving north in the distance.

After breakfast we headed back to Barcelona where we could do a little birding at the Llobregat Delta, a coastal wetland bordering the airport. A few stops were made along way, producing another male Hen Harrier and a few Water Pipits. Once there we added Glossy Ibis, Purple Gallinule and Sardinian Warbler amongst others.

 

This proved to be a very enjoyable tour with an abundance of stunning scenery, good company and plenty of warm winter sunshine. The Birds were also first rate with 112 species recorded, an impressive total in just five days. We would like to thank everyone involved in this tour for their contribution.


SYSTEMATIC SPECIES LIST

Little Grebe
Great Crested Grebe
Cormorant
Grey Heron
Cattle Egret
Little Egret
Great White Egret
White Stork
Glossy Ibis
Shelduck
Mallard
Gadwall
Wigeon
Shoveler
Blue-winged Teal
Teal
Tufted Duck
Ferruginous Duck
Pochard
Red-crested Pochard
Red Kite
Egyptian Vulture
Lammergeier
Griffon Vulture
Hen Harrier
Marsh Harrier
Common Buzzard
Golden Eagle
Kestrel
Merlin
Peregrine
Red-legged Partridge
Moorhen
Coot
Purple Gallinule
Common Crane
Great Bustard
Lapwing
Ruff
Green Sandpiper
Curlew
Snipe
Black-headed Gull
Yellow-legged Gull
Pin-tailed Sandgrouse
Black-bellied Sandgrouse
Rock / Feral Dove
Wood Pigeon
Collared Dove
Little Owl
Common Kingfisher
Green Woodpecker
Great Spotted Woodpecker
Dupont's Lark
Calandra Lark
Lesser Short-toed Lark
Crested Lark
Thekla Lark
Skylark
Crag Martin
Meadow Pipit
Water Pipit
Grey Wagtail
White Wagtail
Wren
Dunnock
Alpine Accentor
Robin
Black Redstart
Stonechat
Black Wheatear
Blue Rock Thrush
Blackbird
Song Thrush
Fieldfare
Mistle Thrush
Cetti's Warbler
Dartford Warbler
Sardinian Warbler
Blackcap
Chiffchaff
Firecrest
Long-tailed Tit
Crested Tit
Coal Tit
Blue Tit
Great Tit
Nuthatch
Wallcreeper
Short-toed Treecreeper
Penduline Tit
Southern Grey Shrike
Magpie
Alpine Chough
Red-billed Chough
Jackdaw
Carrion Crow
Raven
Spotless Starling
House Sparrow
Tree Sparrow
Rock Sparrow
Chaffinch
Serin
Greenfinch
Goldfinch
Linnet
Crossbill
Hawfinch
Reed Bunting
Rock Bunting
Corn Bunting

 




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