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....

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

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