A tale of nature, wildlife and birding from Cheshire, North Wales and across the globe....

A tale of nature, wildlife and birding from Cheshire, North Wales and across the globe....

Friday, 17 April 2015

Northern Spain Trip Report - Day 3

Day 3 - Tuesday 15th April 2014

Day 3 saw us rise bright and early to begin our treck in to the Pyrenean mountains, heading north to Valle de Hecho to commence our search for the star species of the trip and the one I was most looking forward to connecting with – Wallcreeper. We’d been informed by the lady at Boletas Birdwatching Centre that a male had been regularly observed on a cliff face in the valley, so the journey began through the incredible mountain landscape, admiring the gushing crystal clear rivers on route that seemed to follow the road around and carved through the rocky terrain with ease. 
Pyrenees - Northern Spain
Pyrenees - Northern Spain
Griffon Vultures soared overhead, whilst a stop to admire a mountain lake revealed two Egyptian Vultures flying high over one of the ridges. Separated from the much more common Griffons by their bold white and black underwings, the differences were clear to see and we watched the pair gliding effortlessly over the trees until they disappeared out of view.
Egyptian Vulture - Spain
Pyrenees - Northern Spain
Heading through the quaint alpine villages, we stopped to scan over one of the larger mountains by the side of the road – towering over us with a clear thermal in action as large numbers of vultures used the warm air to their advantage. 
Pyrenees - Northern Spain
The mountain ridge the vultures were loving
Alpine Choughs joined them high above the mountains, while a pale looking eagle was just too distant to ID. No Lammergeiers had put in an appearance yet (another personal key target species) but this was ideal habitat and they were well known in the area, as the many accommodation residences with Lammergeiers adorning their signs would testify.

We soon arrived at the Wallcreeper site, and immediately headed off on the alpine trail towards the cliff in question, the abundance of dainty alpine plants and flowers surrounding the pathways creating a beautiful carpet to admire as we walked up. The air here was undeniably fresh, and as we climbed higher, patches of clean white snow started to appear on the trail – a real magical alpine environment to experience. 
Pyrenees - Northern Spain
Pyrenees - Northern Spain
Reaching the cliff that the Wallcreeper had been favouring, we were joined by a small group of Goldcrests and Firecrests, whilst several Crested Tits foraged in the pine needles for snacks of tiny spiders and insects.
Crested Tit - Spain
Before long, the shout of “Wallcreeper!” from Chris cut through the still air, and sure enough, a small grey bird flew along the length of the cliff, that characteristic fluttering butterfly flight and echoing “peeeweeeeee” call unmistakable. Vanishing round the side of the rocks, we followed suit, heading up the trail in the direction it had flown in. With no sign around the corner, we waited for it to make a reappearance as we ate lunch, enjoying much better views of Alpine Choughs as they played and tumbled above the mountains, their yellow bills clear to see.
Pyrenees - Northern Spain
The Wallcreeper cliff!
Then, “Lammergeier!” - Chris was pointing high above, and sure enough that most majestic of vultures was slowly drifting towards us from across the valley. Passing overhead before it disappeared over the ridge, we all had excellent views of this bearded wonder. Having always wanted to a Lammergeier after studying the pages in my Collins guide, it was surreal to actually see one in the flesh – an incredible moment and one of the star birds of the trip.
Lammergeier - Spain
Pyrenees - Northern Spain
After an hour or so of craning our necks, our ears pricked up as that familiar and almost eerie “Peeeweeee” call echoed across the cliff face. With a quick search of the rocks above us, sure enough, there was the Wallcreeper, busy probing amongst the rocks with that remarkable long bill and fluttering from crevice to crevice. 
Wallcreeper - Spain
Wallcreeper - Spain
Wallcreeper - Spain
The beautiful butterfly-like pattern of deep crimson red on the wings was mesmerising to watch as he flittered his wings hopping from perch to perch, and we viewed for a good while at a considerably close range as he fed in front of us, completely unaware of his captivated admirers, before we moved on and left him in peace.
Wallcreeper - Spain
Wallcreeper - Spain
Wallcreeper - Spain
The Crimson on the wings was stunning!
We continued further along the track, Chris and Alex deciding to ignore the possible bear scat they had discovered near the Wallcreeper cliff, following the trail along the river. Here a smart looking Rock Bunting gave great views, singing and dashing from rock to rock in front of us.
Rock Bunting - Spain
The waterfalls and landscape here was absolutely stunning, and it was incredibly relaxing to listen to the gushing of the waterfalls crashing over the huge boulders and the roar of the river flowing below.
Pyrenees - Northern Spain
We picked up the call of a Black Woodpecker on one of the slopes, and leaving Chris with all our gear, we scrambled up the steep bank in pursuit. Sadly the sound was heading further and further away from us quicker than we could climb, and we lost the trail. A loud crashing through the trees below us had us remembering the bear scat from earlier, and a sudden awareness that a large carnivore could be roaming towards us left us a little apprehensive! Turns out it was just Chris, climbing the impossibly steep and thick tree covered slope to join us, carrying not one but THREE sets of heavy rucksacks and scopes on his shoulders! No easy feat indeed.
Pyrenees - Northern Spain
Later that evening we made the drive in to Huesca to try and track down the Scops Owls that reside in the city centre. Still a little early in the year, we were a tad unsure if any would have returned yet. A walk around the streets drew a blank, but after around half an hour and near to one of the parks, we heard that distinctive “BONG!” - Scops Owl!

We hurried over to the park and eventually managed to pinpoint the group of trees that the owls were calling from – although actually spotting any of the birds was far easier said than done. Judging by the calls, it appeared that they were flying around in a circle, but in the pitch black of the park it was impossible to pick anything out – even with all the street lighting illuminating the buildings nearby.

Eventually I narrowed down a calling individual to one of the trees lining the path in front of the gates, and several minutes of craning our necks and squinting resulted in me picking out the small owl perched next to the trunk on one of the branches. Success!


We could just make out its tiny shape and features, with two beady eyes looking back down at us, and I must admit this was probably my best spot to date considering just how hard they were to pin down! After some time, the owl began to fly from branch to branch, making it far easier to pick out in the darkness. Never has one bird been so difficult to locate, and it felt that these tiny owls were most definitely giving us the run-around that evening!
Casa Boletas - Loporzano
Boletas Birdwatching Centre

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