SPANISH PYRENEES - DELIGHTS OF ARAGONThursday 16th April
Thursday 16th - Sunday 19th April 2015
We met at Stansted Airport ready for our early afternoon flight down to Zaragoza in Northern Spain. We took off on time and just over two hours later touched down to find warm and dry conditions.
After sorting out the formalities of car-hire and baggage we were quickly on our way around the ring road and off northwards. Large numbers of WOODPIGEONS were seen feeding in Alfafa fields and three YELLOW-LEGGED GULLS sat in a flooded field. A short while later we picked up two BLACK KITES and a single RED KITE which drifted over the motorway.
COMMON KESTRELS and the occasional CRESTED LARK were noted and as we passed an area of reedy pools, we had brief views of a PURPLE HERON as it took off.
SPOTLESS STARLINGS were very numerous in towns and across fields, as were WHITE STORKS of which many nests were noted. We arrived at our base in the sleepy village of Loporzano in the Spanish Pyrenees. After settling in, we met for a pre-dinner drink to discuss our plans for the next few days. Whilst on the veranda we saw some of the local birdlife including lots of SPOTLESS STARLINGS, HOUSE SPARROWS, BLACK REDSTART, SARDINIAN WARBLER, SERIN, WHITE WAGTAIL, COMMON SWIFT and both HOUSE MARTIN and SWALLOW.
After our lovely evening meal which really hit the spot, several of the group took a wander round the village where they heard SCOPS OWL calling and saw a BARN OWL close to the church.
Friday 17th April
We awoke to find a lovely morning across the Pyrenees with just a little cloud, ideal conditions for our first early morning walk. Although cold it soon started to warm up once the sun rose from behind distant hills.
CORN BUNTINGS songs were a constant sound and along the path we had good views of both BLACKCAP and SARDINIAN WARBLER in scrub. A ZITTING CISTICOLA perched up in brambles and from the river we could hear NIGHTINGALE and distant BEE-EATERS. Bird of the morning had to go to a male GOSHAWK that flew slowly through the village.
Down at the river we found two calling WRYNECKS, WOOD WARBLER and a male PIED FLYCATCHER in trees, whilst overhead flew COMMON SWIFTS and HOUSE MARTINS.
Time ran out so we headed back for a hearty breakfast which went down well. Afterwards we loaded up the van and drove out of the village. At the road junction, we found a cracking TURTLE DOVE in a weedy field which showed well. A few minutes later we arrived at the area bordering the local cemetery which was alive with birds.
A small flock of ROCK SPARROWS perched on overhead wires and a lone GRIFFON VULTURE perched on top of a pylon. Several stunning BLACK-EARED WHEATEARS were seen along with a TAWNY PIPIT. BLACK KITES were very much in evidence and with some careful scanning we soon picked up a female MONTAGU'S HARRIER, PEREGRINE and HOBBY all of which powered through to the north.
On the rocks down below we watched a male BLACK WHEATEAR flicking from boulder to boulder, whilst around us we enjoyed good views of several singing SERINS and GREENFINCHES. A WOODLARK sang nearby and CRESTED LARKS were seen on the road.
With the weather warming up nicely, we drove up to the Embalse de Vadiello where quite a few GRIFFON VULTURES were seen plus EGYPTIAN VULTURE for good comparison. CRAG MARTINS flew around us and we had good views of a pair perched on a ridge. We scanned the dam for Wallcreepers but assumed that the birds had moved higher in altitude to their breeding grounds in the High Pyrenees.
With lots of searching, we soon picked up a cracking LAMMERGEIER as it drifted through the valley before disappearing from view. We then found RAVEN and SHORT-TOED EAGLE along with brief views of a WESTERN BONELLI'S WARBLER and WESTERN SUBALPINE WARBLER in scrub bordering the reservoir.
With our stomachs rumbling, we walked back down to the van and as usual, as soon as we had a sandwich in our hands, two stunning LAMMERGEIER'S flew over. They proceeded to land on the cliffs where we had great scope views. Whilst watching these, a pale-phase BOOTED EAGLE flew over and a female BLACK REDSTART fed on the road.
In pine trees next to the van, we enjoyed exquisite views of a male FIRECREST as it sang away. After lunch we left the site but didn't get far when another PIED FLYCATCHER was spotted close to the roadside.
After a brief stop at our accommodation for facilities, we carried on south to the Castillo de Montearagon, where we watched several BLACK-EARED and BLACK WHEATEARS on rocks above us. A pair of BLUE ROCK THRUSH were seen on the castle and after we drove to the top we had reasonable views of a THEKLA LARK running around on the open ground. Overhead, a GOLDEN EAGLE circled round and was eventually joined by a GRIFFON VULTURE where the size difference was noticeable.
We then drove westwards stopping at a fuel station where we tucked into a cold drink or ice cream! Our last port of call was the Embalse de Sotonera and we could see from a distance that the water levels were much higher than in previous visits.
Despite this we had a great few hours here with many highlights that included seven GARGANEY, nine BLACK-WINGED STILTS, REDSHANKS, BLUE-HEADED YELLOW WAGTAILS, PURPLE HERON, GREAT EGRET, RED-CRESTED POCHARD and three COMMON CRANES that seemed to be left over from the wintering flock.
The rough agricultural fields around us held SHORT-TOED, CRESTED and SKYLARKS plus MISTLE THRUSH, HOOPOE and STONE CURLEWS that were heard calling.
It was great to see so many birds using the reservoir and with Laurence spotting five CURLEW dropping in, this led us to part of the reservoir we had not been to before. This produced LITTLE EGRET, GREY HERON, MARSH HARRIERS, COMMON CUCKOO and more BLACK KITES.
Our time had run out so we drove back to the accommodation where we arrived slightly later than planned, but still with time to enjoy a hot shower after a good day.
The evening meal was fantastic and afterwards we completed the birds list and took a stroll around the local village, which rewarded us with flight views of a BARN OWL plus we found a MOORISH GECKO on a house.
It was then back to the guesthouse and we went to bed in anticipation of the following day!
Saturday 18th April
A few hardy souls made it for the early morning walk along the local lanes, which produced the sound of a singing QUAIL plus flight views of a male GOLDEN ORIOLE and a pair of WHINCHAT which perched on small bushes.
The usual suspects of CORN BUNTINGS, EGYPTIAN VULTURE, BLACK KITES, ROCK SPARROWS plus more were seen also. After a good breakfast we drove southwards, making a stop to photograph WHTE STORKS at a nesting colony. We then moved on to a riverside location where WRYNECK was heard and NIGHTINGALE and PIED FLYCATCHER were spotted.
Small numbers of PALLID SWIFT flew overhead before we carried on our journey. We took a track off which found us good numbers of CALANDRA LARKS plus SHORT-TOED and THEKLA LARKS for good measure. A female MONTAGU'S HARRIER flew north and a mighty GRIFFON VULTURE sat on a ruined building.
Driving further along, we saw a superb pair of SPECTACLED WARBLERS flitting around the scrub and further along also had good views of BLACK-EARED WHEATEARS and another WHINCHAT.
As we slowly drove along the tracks, a BLACK-BELLIED SANDGROUSE flew past and away which was so frustrating! Back down at the main road we had excellent sightings of an adult GREAT SPOTTED CUCKOO perched in a bush and in the area we found up to four IBERIAN GREY SHRIKES.
On a ruined building we watched a LITTLE OWL perched up and further down, a LESSER SHORT-TOED LARK was seen running around an open area of ground. Just before we tucked into lunch, a pair of HOOPOE perched up and a pair of CHOUGH flew around calling.
Lunch was very enjoyable and afterwards we took a walk where we had three BLACK-BELLIED SANDGROUSE flypast plus HOBBY and a multitude of wildflowers.
Taking another random track proved fruitful with a male GOLDEN ORIOLE flying into a tree and yet more BLACK-EARED WHEATEARS with the added bonus of several NORTHERN WHEATEAR.
We decided for a change of scenery and drove down to an irrigation lagoon where two pairs of RED-CRESTED POCHARD were seen, plus PURPLE HERON, GREAT REED WARBLER, BEARDED TIT which is a scarce bird in Aragon. We also saw TREE SPARROW, REED BUNTING and lots of MALLARDS and POCHARD.
By now the sky was looking very dark in the distance with rumbles of thunder, so we spent some time nearby and saw around 20 BEE-EATERS which glowed in the late afternoon sun.
On our way back to base we started with a male MONTAGU'S HARRIER before the heavens opened and torrential rain fell. Luckily it only lasted for 30 minutes or so and to the north it was quite dry.
After a stop for a cold drink or ice cream, we arrived back at around 6.45 with enough time for a shower and a cold beer whilst completing the bird list.
After dinner there was another thunderstorm overhead with some spectacular lightning which rounded off a great day.
Sunday 19th April
There was no official pre-breakfast walk today although some of the group wandered out and found SPARROWHAWK, a small flock of BLACK REDSTARTS and WOOD WARBLER. After a good breakfast we sorted our bags out and headed to the local cemetery for a walk.
A WOODLARK sang from above us and further down the track we found a male WOODCHAT SHRIKE perched on top of an Almond tree. After the previous night’s storm we found the path a little sticky in places but whilst traversing a wet patch we watched a male SUBALPINE WARBLER flitting about and singing from scrub.
A pair of pale-phase BOOTED EAGLES drifted over and a squadron of GRIFFON VULTURES drifted off to the south. As we wandered back to the van, Emma spotted a lovely flock of five BLACK STORKS circling overhead giving good views of this scarce bird.
From here we drove a short distance and took a walk in the local river valley which is a migrant trap in spring. We were not disappointed with quite a few BLACKCAPS, female COMMON REDSTART and then Laurence did well to pick out a perched WRYNECK on top of an apple tree! Further along the path we had good views of several WESTERN BONELLI'S WARBLERS, plus a rather grey looking northern race WILLOW WARBLER that had us stumped for a bit.
A male PIED FLYCATCHER flitted about and was pretty elusive whilst the rainbow-coloured BEE-EATERS were easier to see. A pale-phase BOOTED EAGLE circled above us along with EGYPTIAN VULTURE, RAVEN, CHOUGH and lots of GRIFFON VULTURES.
With time at a premium, we retraced our steps back up the road noting CRAG MARTINS along the way, before heading back into Loporzano to finish packing our bags and to have lunch in the garden.
Afterwards we loaded up and said our goodbyes to Esther who had looked after us so well and then headed south to Zaragoza. Bird-wise it was pretty quiet except for an adult GOLDEN EAGLE close to the road, which was mobbed by a COMMON BUZZARD plus BLACK KITE, MARSH HARRIER and COMMON KESTREL.
At the airport, we dropped off the van and said our goodbyes to Marion and Tony who were staying in Spain and France for the next couple of weeks and after checking in we relaxed before our flight. It took off slightly later than planned due to air traffic restrictions in the Barcelona area but with a slight tailwind, we landed pretty much on time.
After collecting our luggage we said our goodbyes to the remainder of the group after what had been a most enjoyable tour with good birds, good fun, good food and some great weather thrown in good measure!