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....

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Hudsonian Godwit - Meare Heath, Somerset!

Hoping to catch up with the Blue-winged Teal at Donna Nook for Zac and Alex, I was awake bright and early on the Saturday morning, ready to make the 3 hour journey over to Lincolnshire with them. However, checking my phone after breakfast, I was stunned to see a MEGA alert at 7:30am telling me there was a Hudsonian Godwit present down at Meare Heath in Somerset!!! What on earth?!! All thoughts of the teal were hastily forgotten, and by 9am just after the report was confirmed again on Birdguides we were on our way down the M6 hoping to connect with this special American mega!

Making good time and luckily not becoming ensnared in any of the previous night’s congestion, we arrived on site just after 12, buoyed by the stream of reports coming through twitter and on RBA to reassure us of the birds presence and thankful that there were enough car parking spaces in the newly built car park to hold the masses that would be arriving throughout the day. Special thanks to Alex who got us there in good time, complete with dodgy overtaking moves along the way!

Arriving at the small flash just a short walk down the path from the car park, the birds location was soon betrayed by the absolutely HUGE line of birders assembled along the path watching it – one of the biggest twitches I’ve been at to date – perhaps only behind the Short-toed Eagle in Dorset on the first morning and the Little Bustard at Fraisthorpe on New Year’s Day.  
Hudsonian Godwit Twitch 2015
The crowds stretched all down the path...
Hudsonian Godwit Twitch 2015
....and down the other side!
We joined the 400 or so others and soon locked on to the bird, looking extremely settled and roosting happily with the Black-tailed Godwits just over the bank. It was immediately recognisable though the scope – much darker than the accompanying Godwits with a more dusky coloured plumage due to the heavy barring -  a lot more distinctive than I’d anticipated and easily distinguishable! Occasionally it awoke, showing the long two toned bill briefly, before tucking it away underneath the wing again. It was EXTREMELY fortunate that this hadn’t turned up where viewing was only from a hide – I can only imagine the sheer chaos and pandemonium a scenario like that would have caused!
Hudsonian Godwit - Somerset
Eventually, our rare visitor awoke, and wading through the flock the differences in comparison to the Black-tailed Godwits were even more striking. The fractionally smaller body and longer bill were evident, the latter of which was distinctly orange toned, completely different to the pinkish wash of the Black-tailed Godwits. 
Hudsonian Godwit - Somerset
Hudsonian Godwit - Somerset
Hudsonian Godwit - Somerset
Every now and again the Hudsonian would flap and flick it’s wings revealing the jet black colouration underneath– the key identifying feature – and the crowd reacted with admiring “ooohs” every time! An aberrant Black-tailed Godwit with a particularly well marked white head got pulses racing back in 2012 at the local Frodsham Marsh, although after some speculation, the white underwing covets seen the next day completely ruled out Hudsonian even though the head and bill looked spot on – proving just how vital getting good views of the underwings is in nailing this species.
Hudsonian Godwit - Somerset
Alex's video grab of the black underwings!
Hudsonian Godwit - Somerset
The barring on the plumage was really apparent
The Hudsonian departed from the reserve shortly after 4pm with a third of the flock of Godwits, and flying off high to the west there was no sign since that day – a great surprise for the weekend. This mega American wader was definitely NOT on my radar and was most certainly not a bird that I was expecting to see any time soon – it just goes to show in the world of birding that all it takes is one bird to unexpectedly unblock a species not seen in Britain for nearly 30 years. Thankfully the stars aligned this weekend to provide the perfect twitch – if it had turned up on a weekday then it would have been an entirely different scenario for many filled with stress and panic! The bird had actually previously been spotted the evening before roosting with the Godwit flock, but it wasn’t until early the next morning that the observer clinched the ID and alerted the masses!
Hudsonian Godwit - Somerset
The darker colouration stood out even from a distance
There have only been two previous records of Hudsonian Godwit accepted in the UK, usually found in Central America on migration and only occasionally making it over this side of the Atlantic.  With the most recent being a flyover record in Aberdeenshire back in 1988, the only other bird was a well twitched individual that was first found at Blacktoft Sands in Yorkshire in the autumn of 1981, before being relocated down in Devon where it subsequently spent the winter. Remarkably, the same individual was seen again back at Blacktoft a year later in the spring of 1983! With this in mind, there is every chance that the Godwit could get refound elsewhere in the country.
Godwit Flock - Somerset
The reserve itself was a great place to spend the afternoon, with a calling Wood Warbler near the car park and brief views of a skulky Garden Warbler in the Hawthorns lining the path – its location given away by the beautiful melodious song coming from between the leaves. A Bittern booming in the reeds behind us provided the perfect soundtrack, and the soaring Marsh Harriers, Hobbies and chattering Cetti’s Warblers were my first of the year. We also caught sight of two Cranes circling high overhead -  a reminder of the success of the Great Crane Reintroduction Project in the levels, as well as numerous flyover Great White Egrets – surely a sign of breeding on the reserve again this year. With the breeding Little Bitterns at Ham Wall, it will be great to return to this fantastic little reserve again in the summer months.

Blue-winged Teal at Donna Nook

Sunday saw us head over to Donna Nook on the east coast in Lincolnshire so Alex could catch up with the drake Blue-winged Teal that had been present there for a couple of weeks now. Arriving at the main car park we were met with considerable negativity, with a group of birders telling us the bird wasn’t about that morning, that the pond was extremely hard to find (with us needing to wade through thick reeds and quick sand to get to) and that the walk was horrific with the pool miles away from the car park! Not fancying our chances, we made the walk over to the pool, which in all honesty was no way near as bad as everyone made out – merely a 30 minute journey along the beach!

After following the directions we had been given, we tracked down the pool the teal had been favouring, and we joined the 4 or 5 assembled birders on the large grassy bank who had already located the bird on the island in the middle of the water just in front of us, well hidden and camouflaged in the vegetation.

Blue-winged Teal, Donna Nook
Spot the teal!
Blue-winged Teal, Donna Nook
After a while, this attractive American visitor swam out on to the open water where it proceeded to feed around the other side, venturing to the left and right of the trees and giving good views as it dabbled in the small reeds.
Blue-winged Teal, Donna Nook
Blue-winged Teal, Donna Nook
Blue-winged Teal, Donna Nook
Having seen a drake already at Inner Marsh Farm in Cheshire back in 2013, it was nice to catch up with a second, and with a cast of gorgeous showy Yellow Wagtails and my first Lesser Whitethroats of the season trilling happily and flitting around in the scrub, a good day’s birding was had.
Yellow Wagtail
Yellow Wagtail
For anyone going, the pool has seemed quite hard to find for some – see directions below:
Blue-winged Teal map at Donna Nook, Lincolnshire
Blue-winged Teal map at Donna Nook
Parking at Donna Nook car park (LN11 7PD) off Marsh Lane, take the walk to the right on the boardwalk and follow the gravel track past the salt marsh to Point A. Once the track runs out, turn left through the wooden fence and onto the sand, following the beach right. MOD debris and a broken down helicopter will be on your right, with a dead seal further up the beach to the left. Continue along the beach and follow the path where stated on the signs due to the MOD Firing Range. You will need to count the tall brown Quad Towers on the right hand side in the dunes – once you reach the third one at Point B, turn right in to the dunes and immediately left there is a large, rusty gate to stop the cattle leaving the field (Point C). Enter this field walking along the flat grass, then head right at Point D through the small dune scrub until you reach a large grassy bank, with a large pool and several smaller pools adjacent. The Blue-winged Teal can be found on either the large flat pool on the right, or one of the smaller pools to the left with the small shrubby islands, where it can hide in the vegetation on either side. If wanting a close approach and to cross over to the other bank on the seaward side of the pools, wellies is advisable as the surrounding mud can be quite sticky!

Monday, 27 April 2015

Pied-billed Grebe in Gloucestershire

With news of a Pied-billed Grebe breaking in Gloucestershire early on the Friday morning, I left work an hour early and made the journey down to the South West in the hope of connecting that evening. The bird had been spotted floating on the Severn Estuary near Berkeley Powerstation where it had remained loyal to the spot for the whole day, relatively close to the shore and showing exceptionally well to onlookers during the high tide at midday.

After a walk of about a mile or so down the winding public footpath through the fields, I eventually arrived at the spot. Unfortunately, the now low tide meant the bird wasn’t as close as it had been previously, although I was just pleased that the grebe had stayed and I was able to connect! Initially difficult to pick out, the bird had actually left the water before I arrived and was sat resting on a sandbank, effectively camouflaged with the surrounding boulders and looking like a large pebble!
Pied-billed Grebe, Gloucestershire
Phonescoped record shot of the Pied-billed Grebe
It eventually perked up and waddled over to the water shuffling comically – it’s legs more suited to swimming and diving than for walking on land! The grebe then pottered around for the rest of my stay, diving occasionally and favouring the shelter of the seaweed and rocks around the sandbank.
Pied-billed Grebe, Gloucestershire
Looking fine in its spring plumage, the black band on the thick bill and the white circle around the eye were really distinctive through the scope, and it was great to finally catch up with a Pied-billed Grebe in the UK after not going for the long-staying Ham Wall male in 2013 or the local Manchester bird back in 2010 – despite going to Uni nearby!

With individuals found nearly every 2-3 years between 1975 and 2002, there was a relatively long gap of 8 years before the Manchester bird, although records annually every year since may indicate that this American vagrant is becoming more predicable again in its frequency of making it over to Britain.
Pied-billed Grebe, Gloucestershire
Looking exceptionally lost and out of place in the estuary on the Friday evening, it was no surprise that there was no sign the following morning, although I don’t think anyone could have predicted it would be refound from Lower Hide at Leighton Moss in Lancashire late on the Saturday afternoon! Night time migrants, the grebe had evidently undertaken a journey of nearly 170 miles from Gloucestershire to Lancashire during the night, following a straight line directly north and making landfall at the RSPB reserve – remarkable to imagine a small grebe completing such a feat!
Pied-billed Grebe flight map
Map showing the route taken by the grebe! (red line)
With a reputation of staying considerable amounts of time at a suitable site, and with great habitat and pools available at Leighton Moss, hopefully the grebe will stick around up north and enjoy its new home!

For anyone visiting, the grebe is reportedly favouring Lower Hide, which is accessed from the public footpath leading down from the road – although it occasionally ventures closer to Public Hide.

Special thanks to my mum for driving to Gloucestershire – we didn’t get back until gone half 12 due to the excessive roadworks that now seem to plague our motorways – although she did enjoy a delicious Beefeater tea of Gammon and Apple Crumble for her trouble!  

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Northern Spain Trip Report (13th-17th April 2014) - Species List and Locations

Day 1 – Barcelona to Zaragoza


Monk Parakeet – 13th AprilBarcelona city centre (Placa de les Heroines de Girona)

Purple Heron –13th April Route from Barcelona to Zaragoza (two flying over)

White Stork – 13th AprilRoute from Barcelona to Zaragoza (flying over)

Fan-Tailed Warbler – 13th AprilSmall track off roundabout off LL11, Lleida (displaying in fields by the side of the track)

Spotless Starling – 13th AprilSmall track off LL11, Lleida (In trees by small building by the side of the track)

Crested Lark – 13th AprilSmall track off roundabout off LL11, Lleida (on the wall by the side of the track)

Serin – 13th AprilN240, Lleida (in small courtyard by abandoned warehouse)

Penduline Tit – 13th AprilAvinguda President Josep, Tarradellas, off the N240, Lleida (in small reedbed by the side of the road)

Bee-eater – 13th April - N211, opposite Calle la Via, Torrente de Cinca, Huesca, near the Rio Cinca (flying overhead and on wires)

Griffon Vulture – 13th AprilRoute from Barcelona to Zaragoza, around Mequinenza (circling overhead)

Sardinian Warbler – 13th AprilN211, Mequinenza, Zaragoza, near the Rio Segre (in shrubs by the side of the road)

Crag Martin – 13th AprilN211, Mequinenza, Zaragoza, near the Rio Segre (flying along mountains by side of the road)

Red-rumped Swallow – 13th April - N211, Mequinenza, Zaragoza, near the Rio Segre (flying over the river)

Short-toed Treecreeper – 13th AprilCar park off N211 overlooking the Rio Segre near Mequinenza (in trees off footpath by the river)

Southern Grey Shrike – 13th AprilN211 on the way to Caspe from Lleida (sitting in a shrub by the side of the road)

Calandra Lark – 13th AprilN232, Zaragoza (flying by the side of road in fields)

Montagu’s Harrier – 13th AprilRoad from Belchite to Codo (flying across ridge by side of the road)

Bee-eaters, Northern Spain

Day 2 – Zaragoza to Loporzano


Dupont’s Lark – 14th AprilNear Codo and Belchite, Zaragoza (8 individuals showing well and singing)

Lesser Short-toed Lark – 14th April - Near Codo and Belchite, Zaragoza (in muddy field at the side of path)

Thekla Lark – 14th April - Near Codo and Belchite, Zaragoza (numerous individuals showing well)

Black-eared Wheatear – 14th April - Near Codo and Belchite, Zaragoza (two flying and perching in large muddy fields down the track)

Pin-Tailed Sandgrouse – 14th April - Near Codo and Belchite, Zaragoza (three walking in the fields down the track)

Black-bellied Sandgrouse –14th April - Near Codo and Belchite, Zaragoza (two flying and walking in the fields down the track)

Rock Sparrow – 14th AprilAntiguo Belchite off the A-222 Belchite, Zaragoza (on bombed church ruins)

Blue Rock Thrush – 14th April - Antiguo Belchite off the A-222 Belchite, Zaragoza (on bombed church ruins)

Black Wheatear – 14th April - Antiguo Belchite off the A-222 Belchite, Zaragoza (on bombed church ruins)

Black Kite – 14th April - Route from Zaragoza to Loporzano – A23 Zaragoza

Booted Eagle – 14th AprilRoute from Zaragoza to Loporzano – A23 Zaragoza (circling by the side of the road)

Western Bonelli’s Warbler – 14th April - Embalse de la Sotonera, Huesca (In shrubby trees by the side of the lake)

Cirl Bunting – 14th AprilEmbalse de la Sotonera, Huesca (In shrubby trees by the side of the lake)

Duponts Lark - Northern Spain

Day 3 – Valle de Hecho - Pyranees


Egyptian Vulture – 15th AprilRoute from Loporzano to Valle de Hecho – A132 (soaring over mountains)

Alpine Chough – 15th April - Parque Natural de los Valles Occidentales - Valle de Hecho, Huesca (Flying overhead over the mountains)

Crested Tit – 15th April - Parque Natural de los Valles Occidentales - Valle de Hecho, Huesca (in trees by cliff face)

Lammergeier – 15th AprilParque Natural de los Valles Occidentales - Valle de Hecho, Huesca (Flying overhead on trail)

Wallcreeper – 15th April - Parque Natural de los Valles Occidentales - Valle de Hecho, Huesca (On cliff face, calling and showing well)

Rock Bunting – 15th April - Parque Natural de los Valles Occidentales - Valle de Hecho, Huesca (On rocks on trail down to waterfall)

Scops Owl – 15th AprilIn trees in the park off Calle Rioja, Huesca city centre (showing in tree near gates)

Wallcreeper - Northern Spain

Day 4 – Loporzano to Zaragoza


Subalpine Warbler – 16th April - Viewpoint on A1603 near Santa Cruz de la Seros (showing well in trees by the side of the road)

Black Woodpecker – 16th AprilViewpoint at Monasterio de San Juan de la Pena (Monestario alto)

Citril Finch – 16th AprilOn the road up to the car park at Monasterio de San Juan de la Pena (feeding on the road)

Citril Finch - Northern Spain

Day 5 – Zaragoza to Barcelona


Greater Flamingo – 17th AprilTwo on the lake at Laguna de Gallocanta


 

Additional Birds


Great Crested Grebe
Cormorant
Little Egret
Great White Egret
Grey Heron
Mute Swan
Shelduck
Mallard
Golden Eagle
Red Kite
Marsh Harrier
Common Buzzard
Kestrel
Peregrine
Merlin
Red-Legged Partridge
Coot
Common Crane
Avocet
Black-winged Stilt
Little Ringed Plover
Lapwing
Common Sandpiper
Redshank
Common Snipe
Black-headed Gull
Yellow-legged Gull
Feral Pigeon
Wood Pigeon
Collared Dove
Great-spotted Cuckoo
Common Swift
Hoopoe
Green Woodpecker - (sharpei)
Great Spotted Woodpecker
Skylark
Sand Martin
Barn Swallow
House martin
Water pipit
Pied wagtail
Yellow wagtail - (iberiae)
Grey Wagtail
Dunnock
Robin
Black Redstart
Wheatear
Whinchat
Stonechat
Song Thrush
Mistle Thrush
Blackbird
Blackcap
Lesser Whitethroat
Cetti’s Warbler
Willow Warbler
Firecrest
Pied Flycatcher
Great Tit
Blue Tit
Coal Tit
Long-tailed Tit
Woodchat Shrike
Magpie
Jay
Chough
Carrion Crow
Raven
Starling
House Sparrow
Tree Sparrow
Chaffinch
Linnet
Goldfinch
Greenfinch
Bullfinch
Yellowhammer
Corn Bunting

Birds that were heard only:


Orphean Warbler – 14th April - Embalse de la Sotonera, Huesca (In shrubby trees by the side of the lake)
  
Quail
Chiffchaff

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Northern Spain Trip Report - Day 5

Day 5 - Thursday 17th April 2014

Our last day in Spain dawned, along with the daunting prospect of a mammoth 300km journey back from Zaragoza to Barcelona ready to catch our evening flight back to the UK. Arriving back at the car, we spotted a flock of swifts screaming and performing their acrobatic flight high above our heads, but they were just too far up to positively nail down to a species. 

Having cleaned up on all our key target species, but still lacking any Bustard sightings, we headed towards a site near the Laguna de Gallocanta to see if we could strike it lucky with these impressive birds. A Griffon Vulture perched on one of the telegraph poles on route gave absolutely amazing views, allowing a close approach and a great photo opportunity.
Griffon Vulture - Northern Spain
Upon arrival and scoping the huge lake, I was thrilled when Alex found two stonking Greater Flamingos in the middle of the water, surprisingly far north and showing just how far up Spain this species can occur. I wasn’t expecting to have flamingos on my trip list at all, so this was a great final lifer to add on the very last day.
Laguna de Gallocanta - Northern Spain
The many terns flitting around proved just too distant to ID, as did the majority of birds on the lake, although several Black-winged Stilts could be picked out feeding in the shallows. A local informed us that we had just missed a Black Stork that had circled round and dropped by on the lake briefly – another of our wanted species – but a search around the area unfortunately provided no further sightings of this majestic and huge winged bird.

There was no sign of the bustards either, and a check in Alex’s site guide told us this was only a wintering site for the two species – the birds would be back on their breeding grounds now and would have more than likely left the area. A small gathering of European Swallowtails, the same species we get back in Britain, was a nice consolation (I’m yet to see the ones in Norfolk) and we watched around 5 or 6 of these large butterflies busy drinking from the muddy puddles on the track.
Swallowtail Butterfly - Northern Spain
A Rock Sparrow on one of the stone huts provided great views for several minutes, especially after our earlier more fleeting glimpses of this species, and an incident in one of the fields involved a true “leg it!” moment which resulted in Alex driving us off at high speed from a seemingly disgruntled local!
Rock Sparrow - Northern Spain
Leg it!
It was soon time to head back to Barcelona however, although despite the long drive (including a 30 toll charge that we had no idea about!), no more species were added to our final trip tally. A stop off at a service station provided some likely Roller habitat in the middle of the Spanish Countryside, but to no avail.

With our three main species tracked down – Wallcreeper, Dupont’s Lark and Lammergeier – the trip had been a resounding success for all 3 of us, with tonnes of laughter and memories made along the way, complete with a bucket load of new birds. 
Massive thanks to Chris who planned the entire trip and was effectively mine and Alex’s guide for the week, his quick off the mark ID skills were second to none and we simply couldn’t have done it without him. Alex also did a sterling job doing the majority of driving throughout the trip - the car certainly had an eventful time as can be seen by the state of it at the end of it's journey, absolutely covered in layers of mud and sand!
The incredible Pyrenean landscapes that engulf northern Spain are simply fantastic, and one of the most beautiful areas I have visited – rich in bird life and highly recommended to everyone. The breath-taking mountain landscapes with the roaring crystal clear rivers gouging out the mountainsides, complete with the fresh alpine air just can’t be beaten in terms of beauty, although the incredible mix of snowy mountaintops, warm open plains, dry grassland and winding forest trails were all simply stunning in their own right – a truly magical place indeed.
Northern Spain

Monday, 20 April 2015

Northern Spain Trip Report - Day 4

Day 4 - Wednesday 16th April 2014

The next morning saw us head further north still through the beautiful alpine villages to reach our destination of the Astun Ski resort, where Snow Finch and Alpine Accentor are regular visitors throughout the winter months. 
Astun - Northern Spain
Astun - Northern Spain
A walk around produced several Crag Martins nesting underneath the rooftops of the buildings, and they provided great views as they swooped along the banks collecting mud and returning to the nest sites. 
Crag Martin - Northern Spain
A cracking summer plumaged Water Pipit was great to watch foraging on the banks heading towards the slope – colours I’m not used to seeing them in being just a winter visitor to the UK. April was slightly too late to observe any Snow Finches or Alpine Accentors in the car parking area however, so a trip up the mountain was on the cards. A slightly hairy moment when me and Alex didn’t realise we had to put the ski-lift safety barrier down on the way up the slope was in all in vain however, as there was no sign of either species at the halfway cafĂ©.
Astun - Northern Spain
Astun - Northern Spain
The trip back down resulted in us having to then climb all the way back up the snowy slope by foot after Chris thought he had picked up the song of an Alpine Accentor whilst in the ski-lift on the journey back. Closer reflection and it turned that what he had actually heard was the squeaking of the ski-lift as the chairs passed over a joint.
Astun - Northern Spain
Later in the afternoon we headed off to a site I found through google whilst waiting on the mountainside, the Monasterio de San Juan de la Pena, which has a good reputation for Black Woodpecker sightings.
Northern Spain
Stopping off to admire the simply amazing views the twisting roads offered, a warbler singing in the surrounding trees eventually revealed itself to be a fine male Subalpine Warbler. Flitting from branch to branch, despite its close proximity, it took a good ten minutes to nail the ID of this skulking individual, the white moustachial stripe and red eye separating it from the similar Spectacled Warbler.

Driving up the heavily pine forested road to the monastery, we noticed several small birds feeding on the tarmac, mostly Chaffinches and Greenfinches, before a small yellow bird on its own caught our eye. Excited exclamations from the back of the car and shouts of “It’s a Citril Finch!” from Chris confirmed that it was indeed this hard to come by Alpine finch – completely unexpectedly and totally out of the blue. 
Citril Finch - Northern Spain
We watched it busy feeding before it flitted up and away in to the canopy – magical. We had spent some time earlier in the week searching at another location for these charismatic finches, but after drawing a blank we had resigned ourselves to not catching up with one on the trip!
Monasterio de San Juan de la Pena - Spain
Testing out my long buried Spanish skills at the monastery’s visitor shop (Donde estan los picos negros por favour?!) we headed up the steep slope to the viewpoint where I was told they could be found. Here more Griffon Vultures soared overhead, framed by the brilliant, cloudless blue skies and some individuals flying exceptionally low around us – our elevated position putting us at their level. Soon the shout went up of Lammergeier, and our second individual of the trip made its way over our heads, showing the distinctive diamond shaped tail and orangey belly that separates it from the other vultures.
Monasterio de San Juan de la Pena - Spain
In the distance, we could hear the call of a Black Woodpecker that came steadily closer as the time went by, leading to an absolutely phenomenal spot by Chris as he located it half hidden behind a trunk and completely obscured by branches in the valley below – whether this was by eagle eyed eyesight or by pure luck, I was still blown away that he had managed to locate it.

A tense few seconds ensued when despite the scope pointing directly at the bird, I just couldn’t see it, showing just how completely camouflaged it really was! I eventually caught sight of a large yellow eye peering back at me framed by jet black feathers, with that vibrant vermillion red crest on the top of the head standing out against the foliage. 
Monasterio de San Juan de la Pena - Spain
The three of us after woodpecker success
Europe’s largest woodpecker species, this was one of the highlights of the trip for me, and even though we only saw the top half of the birds body as it clung silently to the trunk, it was a truly amazing thing to be watching this magnificent woodpecker. Incredibly still and clinging close to the trunk, I appreciated just how lucky we were to see it – a Black Woodpecker needle-in-a-haystack amongst hundreds and hundreds of trees!
Monasterio de San Juan de la Pena - Spain
Panoramic view of the area
Completely satisfied with our day and two tricky targets seen, we headed back to Zaragoza, thankfully avoiding the drums and cloaked figures of our previous stay!
Zaragoza - Spain

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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