Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Birding the far north of Aragon

15 July 2015

Nest of Crag Martins Ptyonoprogne rupestris;first Spanish bird
Better late than never they say but this even later than late!  All the good intentions of last week to write-up the account of our two days in the Pyrenees after crossing back into Spain as soon as we got back to Mezquitillia went by the board when I was struck down with debilitating stomach upset Sunday night which has left me completely useless, even more than usual, with no energy,simply pure lethargy.  Beginning to feel a little better but seem to still suffer chronic stomach pains at times, maybe the side-effect of the tablets I started taking this morning.  So what happened last week?

Thursday 9 July

Away reasonably early on Thursday for the climb to the top and, avoiding the long tunnel, took the high road over the Somport Pass and into Spain where we stopped for a coffee and admire the view - along with a pair of nesting Crag Martins and a single female Black Redstart.  Then the "wander" down and a stop at Canfranc having by then also recorded House Martins and Barn Swallows.  This was a most fortunate stop as no sooner had we opened the doors we could hear Carrion Crows calling. Sure enough, there was at least one family feeding in the neighbouring trees and, looking up the flowing stream at the back, not only did we see another couple of Crows drinking but there, happily posing in the shade was my first Dipper of the year.  Unsurprisingly, we also encountered our first House Sparrows here.  What a welcome back home.

Calling Carrion Crow Corvus corone
As we made our way down to Jaca, in retrospect so close to the frontier, we quickly added both Rock and Collared Dove, Common Swift, White Wagtail and Spotless Starling.  A short stop at Jaca enabled us to get an early preview of this lovely northern town and then on to our hotel, Hotel Aragaon, midway between Jaca and the start of the Hecho Valley.  Once settle in, we took the relatively short drive to the latter at Puenta la Reina where a walk along the river bank produced Grey Heron, Blackbird and Greenfinch.  Then it was back to the hotel for the evening and, by now, the Buzzards were making an appearance.  All promised well for our day exploring the Anso and Hecho valleys come the morning.

The lonely Dipper Cinclus cinclus

Friday 10 July

Off as soon as possible so we were able to count the many Buzzards resting on top of the telephone poles along with a number of Blackbirds and Barn Swallows.  A Great Spotted Woodpecker flew across the road in front of us yet only the single Kestrel, especially surprisingly as all the corn had been recently harvested.

Egyptian Vulture Neophron percnopterus
Leaving the Hecho for the return trip we drove to the start of the Anso Valley at Berdun and had soon picked up yet more Buzzards and a number of smaller birds including Corn Bunting, Crested Lark, Linnet and Greenfinch.  So on to the Foz de Bines where we hoped all the fun would start and we were not to be disappointed.  The first of many Griffon Vultures were seen and then a Grey Wagtail in the river below.  No sign of any Wallcreepers here but Jenny spotted the white "blob" on the cliff top above one of the short tunnels at this part of the road.  Yes, our first Egyptian Vulture which posed very nicely until it took off.  Now why would it be here?  We all know that vultures use their sense of smell to locate food and walking back along the road and into the tunnel I found the source of the smell (not that I could smell anything!)  A dead adult Wild Boar at the side of the road that we had missed completely as we drove through the tunnel.  Was this a coincidence and would a vulture even attempt to enter a couple of metres into the tunnel to find its meal?  And why was the animal here; had it been hit by a passing car or, possible, shot but not killed and simply made its way to somewhere dark to die/recover?  Certainly, the Boar looked freshly dead.

Wild Boar Sus scrofa;More than a light snack for the local vultures

Having also found another Black Redstart nearby we continued up the valley and across to Hecho to explore the northern end of that valley.  More Griffon Vultures and then, just before reaching the turn to the Gabardito Refuge a Lammergeier drifted over the car showing its distinctively long diamond-shaped tail.  Whilst I stopped the car as soon as safely possible we were unable to relocate the bird, just more Griffons.

One of many Griffon Vultures Gyps fulvus

Up the long and winding narrow road to the refuge in the hope that we might find a Wallcreeper but we were to be disappointed.  We did have both Chaffinches and a pair of Pied Flycatchers as we set of from the car park (we now know that we should have parked at the lower car park by the refuge itself) and on reaching the small open space found a single Melodious Warbler plus all the soaring Griffon Vultures opposite.  But not just Griffons, also a trio followed by a few more individual Alpine Choughs showing their longer tails and shorter "fingers."

Juvenile Alpine Accentor Prunella collaris
Also at these higher altitudes there was no shortage of Crag Martins and even the occasional Alpine Swift.  The opportunity to spend a little time in the Boca del Inferno produced the only Alpine Accentor, a juvenile, of our visit and just above the "recreation area" we had a Goshawk dart across the road and into the trees whilst a short stop at the start of the return journey also produced a pair of Robins.  Finally, almost at the bottom of the valley approaching Puenta la Reina, having passed on the wires ion the opposite side of the road what appeared to be Southern Grey Shrikes I finally stopped to take a closer look at the third individual.  Imagine my surprise as I focused my binoculars and saw the eye stripe.  This was no Woodchat let alone a southern Grey Shrike; I had just found my very first Red-backed Shrike.  What a fabulous way to end the day.

At last, my first Red-backed Shrike Lanius collurio
Saturday 11 July

Time to leave the far north and make our way back to Malaga province allowing at least one more stop on the journey.  But being so close there was no way we were going to miss out on a visit to that marvellous edifice, the Castillo de Loarre, the Loarre Castle in Huesco province.  Not only a fantastic site to visit but the pace was swarming with Common Swifts and even Black Redstarts to add to the many Black Kites, Grioffon Vulures and Buzzards that we had already seen in the previous hour.  Add on Ravens, Crag Martins, House Martins and Barn Swallows and you will also see that the journey was not free of birds.

Common Buzzard Buteo buteo; always plenty to be seen early morning.

Leaving the castle, and a passing Hoopoe, we then called in at the nearby Vulture Observation platform, a good twelve kms up a stony track.  What a sight.  Griffon Vultures abounded and, at one point, at least two dozen above us.  We were welcomed by a lovely male Stonechat posing on the sign post and then had a small flock of Linnets working the shrubs.  Regular passing of Alpine Swifts added to the experience however, the biggest surprise came when a pair of Quail took off in front of us.  What were these birds doing here, were they resting on migration as it was certainly not their usual habitat?

Griffon Vultures Gyps fulvus

Sunday 12 July

Alpine Swift Apus melba

A long last leg that brought us home bu late afternoon and a quick visit to the swimming pool to cool down.  Always something to add on a long journey and, avoiding the motorway for the first three hours we managed to add Jackdaw, Red-legged Partridge and Northern Wheatear.

Now if only I can shale off this stomach upset I shall be able to enjoy mt Ronda visit at the week-end!

Bird seen:
Red-legged Partridge, Quail, Grey Heron, White Stork, Lammergeier, Griffon Vulture, Egyptian Vulture, Black Kite, Buzzard, Goshawk, Kestrel, Rock Dove, Wood Pigeon, Collared Dove, Alpine Swift, Common Swift, Hoopoe, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Crested Lark, Crag Martin, Barn Swallow, House Martin, Grey Wagtail, White Wagtail, Dipper, Alpine Accentor, Robin, Black Redstart, Stonechat, Northern Wheatear, Blackbird, Melodious Warbler, Pied Flycatcher, Blue Tit, Red-backed Shrike, Jay, Magpie, Chough, Alpine Chough, Jackdaw, Carrion Crow, raven, Spotless Starling, House Sparrow, Chaffinch, Greenfinch, Linnet, Corn Bunting.

Check out the accompanying website at for the latest sightings, photographs and additional information.

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