Dates: September 28th-October 4th
After having breakfast, we decide to visit a couple of local marshes in Santander while we wait the arrival of Jo and Tim from Majorca. In our first stop we see some waders, mainly Dunlins and Black-tailed Godwits. A solitary Spoonbill stands out in the middle of the mudflats along with Little Egrets. Then, we move to our second locations near the bay of Santander where we find an Osprey and more waders: Bar-tailed Godwits, Whimbrels and Oystercatchers among others. On the walk back to the van, our guide spots some small birds perched on a bush which turn out to be a mix of Whinchats, a Whitethroat and Stonechats.
After picking up the two guests from the airport, we set off towards our hotel in Boca de Húergano. One hour later, we stop to have lunch in Alguilar del Campoo. Later, we continue the journey following different roads and finding a gorgeous Wildcat! That is a good start!
After checking-in the hotel and rest for one hour, we all get into the van and drive around different track to look for Wildcat. Soon, we find one which as we approach, decides to head to the forest . Then, we see a second one, and this one allows us fantastic views. We are doing very well! Our guide Pau says that is quite unusual to have three good wildcat sightings the same afternoon!
We start the morning early, before the sun rise and are driven in two 4 x 4 vehicles. After parking, we walk the last 350 meters to reach the top of a steep hill. Slowly we made our way and enjoy stunning views of the valleys and mountains. A couple of days before a pack of Iberian wolves was in the area so we set up the scopes and start searching for them. Skylarks and Water pipits are seen. Later, we see our first Reed deer which suddenly runs away, might it have been a wolf? Probably the deer smell the scent of a wolf which was previously in the area as we cannot see any wolves. Around 11:00 we decide to call it a day and get back to the hotel.
Before lunch, we take a stroll and spot some birds including Dipper, Crag martin and Griffon’s vultures. Besides, there are still some butterflies: Yellow clouded, Wall Brown, Long-tailed and Lang’s short-tailed Blues.
At 4:30 we meet again to try to see the Iberian wolves but in a different location which is more accessible. After patiently waiting, we find an adult and 2 young wolves which stay briefly on view. Superb! We have seen the elusive Iberian Wolf!
The large tropical storm “Alex” is approaching so we change plans and decide to visit today the highest part of the park to search for alpine birds. After driving 1:40 minutes we get to the cable car and soon are on the way. During our first hour the birding is quiet, only spotting Red and Yellow-billed Choughs. We walk towards Pau’s spot where we have lunch while we keep searching the walls and rocks for Wallcreepers. Pau calls out “Wallcreeper” but unfortunately the bird flies off and not everyone sees it. Jo walks around and find another Wallcreeper but when we get there is gone. However, from the same place we get nice views of three Southern Chamois.
On the way back, Linda, Ewan and Pau stay behind. First, they see a juvenile Golden Eagle and a Lammergeier flying around the peaks. Then, half-way to the cable car Pau finds three approachable Alpine accentors followed by a close Wallcreeper spotted by Ewan. Lovely! After having some drinks to celebrate such a wonderful day, we set off to the hotel.
Before dinner, we decide to try again for Wildcats, hoping to get again good views and some photos, and so we did. We spend half an hour watching a beautiful male wildcat hunting voles in the meadows.
Today we visit the same spot for Iberian Wolves. The morning is quiet with only a quick sighting so around 11:00 we decide to move to other area where we might see Spanish ibex. Once we arrive, we get a nice view of an adult Golden Eagle and soon we find a female Spanish ibex followed by another.
After lunch and a quick “power nap” we get back to the wolf spot and get this time great views. First Pau spots a Wild boar and then Bernardo sees 2 young Iberian wolves. We have seen before this behaviour. It seems that large male Wild boars follow small wolf packs to make the most of the leftovers. The adult wolves bring food every day and what is not eaten by the youngest is done by the Wild boar. After that, we watch 4 youngsters Iberian wolves chasing one another and playing peacefully. Fantastic!
The storm has arrived in full power. It has been raining all night and still does during the morning, so we decide to change plans and to go to a photography hide where we might get close views of Griffon vultures, and be sheltered from the rain and wind. At the beginning it looks promising with the arrival of corvids and Common buzzard. Unfortunately the weather seems to put off the vultures and they wait patiently in the rocky slopes to dry out the wings. So, after two hours, we move to a rural hotel to have some hot drinks and then drive towards Somiedo. We encounter sleet and snow all the way, are we really in early October?
After having a warm lunch in the hotel, we drive to a local viewpoint to search for Cantabrian brown bear in the mountain slopes. This time of the year they are seen in the open areas feeding on berries and nuts. However, this bad weather will push them to the forest where they are more sheltered. We spend the afternoon watching Southern chamois, Red deer and passerines such as Rock Bunting and Serin.
We try different locations, but the weather seems to be worst that yesterday. On the way to the village of Gua we find a Red squirrel. Around 10:30, we split in two groups: Tim, Ewan and Jesús stay in the viewpoint and the rest of the group go for a walk in Valle del Lago. We take a stroll between the foggy and snowed-capped mountains. We keep busy identifying the numerous passerines that feed in the farmyards: Linnets, Black redstarts, Water pipits and a Marsh tit among others.
After a delicious lunch (fabada asturiana and potes de berzas), we visit a couple more locations where a Bear was spotted by a farmer a couple of days ago. The weather is not helpful, so we only add a Short-toed Eagle to our list.
After breakfast we set off towards Santander which takes us a bit more of 3 hours. We encounter rain and strong winds on the way. Jo, Tim, Linda and Ewan will stay one night in Santander before going home. Malcom, Barbara and Pau will continue their journey south.
Acknowledgements. Birdwatching Spain would like to thank all their guests on this trip for their convivial company throughout the week. The tour was undertaken during very uncertain times, with many Covid 19 restrictions in place, and the fact that it DID run is thanks to the determination of those who participated. Although we fail to find the Cantabrian Brown Bear, partially because of a very bad weather, we did very well in the first part of the trip. The sightings of Wild cat were some of my best; close and long. The Iberian wolf also performed very well with sightings of youngest playing. In addition, we saw some extra mammals such as Spanish Ibex and sought-after bird: Wallcreeper, Lammergeier and Alpine accentor.
The stunning landscape was once again a delight, and was practically bereft of tourists, allowing the group to enjoy a particularly peaceful stay. No doubt we will be back next September! More info in our tour calendar. Check-list available here.
I am regular visitor of the Cantabrian mountains and Picos de Europa. As a result, I have spent many summers searching for its wonderful wildlife. Here you can read my last wildlife trip report in the Cantabrian Mountains.
We usually run two types of wildlife tours. In June, we start leading natural history tours mainly consisting of orchids, butterflies, birds, etc. and during September, the itineraries are more focus on mammals: wildcat, Iberian wolf and brown bear.
Dates: June 25-July 1st
The group arrives on time to Santander airport and soon we are in the minibus heading to our accommodation in Boca de Húergamo. After 2 h 40 min journey, everyone is willing to stretch the legs before dinner. We walk around the surroundings of the hotel watching Serins, Black redstarts and two White storks in the nest. Mike finds a Hummingbird-hawk moth in a honeysuckle. After that, we stroll down to the river when Pau finds an adult Dipper feeding three grown-up chicks. On the way back, we take another path to see the beautiful Lilium martagon.
We set off at 9:00 driving South to the village of Crémenes. Soon we see the first orchids: Lizzard, Pyramidal and Woodcock orchids. Sadly, the Sawfly orchids are almost over. Black kites, Griffon vultures and Common buzzard patrol the sky and the nearby farms looking for some carcass. As the temperature warms up, we start finding the first butterflies: Clouded yellow and Berger’s clouded yellow, Spotted fritillary, Small tortoiseshell and a Heath fritillary which finds Edward’s T-shirt a good place to land.
Just few of us, manage to see an Iberian chiffchaff which keeps jumping from branch to branch. After that, we continue walking along a small stream watching a Beautiful damselfly and few more species of butterflies: Green-vein white, Adoni’s blue, Essex and Small skippers. Not far from there, we add two more species of orchids: Small-tongue orchid and Green-winged orchid, the last one almost over.
We get back to the vehicles and drive a short distance to a picnic area. As we are enjoying our salads and local cheese, Jenny gets her eyes in two birds which turn to be an Egyptian vulture and a Peregrine falcon. The grass in the picnic area hasn’t been cut yet and therefore, there are lots of gorgeous butterflies such as Iberian Marbled white, Dark-green and Cardinal fritillaries.
Once we have finished lunch, we drive for 20 minutes to our next location. Here the landscape is a bit more Mediterranean, and so are the birds! We enjoy great views of the colourful Bee-eaters and a Red-back shrike. Sadly, just Pau see a Short-toed eagle after it vanishes behind the hill. In addition, we all see a Melodious warbler singing on the top of a bush and an Iberian green woodpecker flying from tree to tree. Some new butterflies include Silver-studded, Long-tailed and Little blue, Large and Oberthür’s grizzled skipper.
Today we have a long drive (1 h 40 min) to Fuente Dé. Once we get there, Pau rushes to get the tickets so the waiting time is just 30 min. Meanwhile, we wander around watching a beautiful Firecrest and a Coal tit. In addition, there are large numbers of Painted lady which have been pushed to Europe as a result of the heat wave a few days ago.
Once we get out of the cable car, we soon find some alpine plants. For instance, Trumpet gentian and the Pyrenean toadflax. We continue walking and taking photos of “cheeky” Alpine chough and we are rewarded with the sight of a Lammergeier. That is fantastic! It is even possible to see the numbers in the wing tags as most of the birds in this area are part of a restocking programme. During the winter 2020, a pair of Lammergueiers have mate and laid an egg. This is the first breeding attempt in many decades. Let’s hope they succed!
We keep moving as we have more birds to see, but before we get to the spot, Pau sees a Southern Chamois resting among the boulders. Once we get to the “wall”, we wait for 30 min until two Snow finches show up. After that, we stop in another area to scan the walls, finding a Wallcreeper, that is great! It keeps hiding just showing for seconds.
While we wait to get better views of the Wallcreeper, Pau finds two approachable Alpine accentors. Finally, the Wallcreeper remains on view and all the group gets good sight of this stunning bird. The breeze carries the butterflies away and makes difficult to spot any of them, just finding a Common blue and a Common Brassy ringlet.
After some refreshments in the bar, we take the cable car back and set off to the hotel.
Our first stop today is to add an interesting bird to our list, the Citril finch. In the same spot, we add two more species of orchids: Heath spotted orchid and Dactylorhiza incarnata. After that, we continue driving along the beautiful Valdeón valley and stop near a stream. As we get off the vehicle, we get a nicely perched Yellowhammer and a Linnet. The meadows are packed with flowers such as the endemic Digitalis parviflora, the beautiful Linaria elegans, Trollius europaeus and the purple Jasione laevis just to name few. The hillsides are pink as the heath (Calluna vulgaris) is in full bloom. There are some interesting butterflies like the Scarce Swallowtail, Scarce copper and Turquoise blue.
We keep driving admiring the stunning views from Pandetrave pass, the towering Picos mountains are right in front of us. Our next stop is in Posada de Valedón, where we have coffee and take a stroll along the village. We watch a family of Marsh tits picking insects in the dung and not far from there a beautiful male Common redstart stands out. In a hillside we find a nice Flax (Linum narbonense).
After eating the picnic, we spend the rest of the afternoon wandering around the meadows and we add a new species of orchid, the Dark red Helleborine. There were also Man orchids but already in seedpods. The meadows are full of butterflies: Pearly and Chestnut heath, Iberian marbled white, Glanville fritillary and Short-tailed blue to name few. John and Pau find in different corners of the meadows two Owl flies (Ascalaphidae) which turn to be two different species.
Today, we head South to visit the valley where Pau lives. Our first stop is by the road to see a group of blooming Butterfly orchids and some Robust marsh orchids that were starting to come into flower.
We take a stroll along the river finding the path covered by Butterworts and Heath-spotted orchids. Soon we see the first species of butterflies: Ringlet, a Southern brown argus and a sunbathing Spanish purple hairstreak. Suddenly, a large butterfly catches our eyes, an Apollo butterfly! It lands on a Cephalaria allowing us fantastic views! On the way back to the minibus we add Chalk-hill blue and Spanish gatekeeper.
A short stop in the town of Crémenes reveals Common twayblade and Marsh helleborine. The surprise comes when we see a Black vulture, an uncommon species around here.
We set off to Lois where we have a coffee stop before visiting the “smoking house” and the cathedral. The smoking house is a remarkable building from a traditional and cultural point of view. Until the 90’s it was inhabited. The way locals used to isolate the straw roof and to warm the house was by burning wood inside the building and allowing the smoke to get out through the roof and walls. As there were no chimneys in the facilities, the houses used to have a thick layer of soot covering both, walls and roof. Living in the Cantabrian mountains used to be tough!
The cathedral is also worth visiting it. It is a pretty large cathedral considering the tiny size of the village. Moreover, this extraordinary building is a sign of a past when the rights of grazing and the cattle transhumance meant an important income for the villagers.
After lunch, we spend a couple of hours looking for butterflies in the meadows. Amanda’s blue, Champman’s ringlet and White admiral are added to the list. It is getting a bit too hot, so we decide to drive back to the hotel. On the way back, we make a short detour to see a roosting Tawny owl.
In our last full day, we set toward Asturias. We visit a couple of lagoons hoping to find some Odonata and amphibians. Soon, we find a Four-spotted chaser, Common bluet, Ruddy darter and quite a lot of Western willow spreadwing. In terms of plants, we find a single Dactylorhiza insularis, the lovely Viola cornuta, Arctostaphylos uva-ursi, Valeriana montana and Yellow gentians which are starting to flower. A Booted Eagle and a Tree pipit in full song are seeing. Pau does well when he finds two different amphibians: Stripless tree frog and an Iberian frog. We also see some day flying moths like the Speckled footman and Isturgia flamula.
Our next stop is to have lunch. It is a beautiful sunny day, so we take a stroll and find a worn-out Camberwell beauty. In a nearby meadow, Pau shows us a boggy area where we see the scarce Dusky large blue, one of the rarest and more threatened butterflies in Spain. Other butterflies seen include Cleopatra, Meadow fritillary and Sooty copper among others.
As the departure is in the afternoon, Pau has planned a couple of stops on the way to the airport. The first one is South of Guardo in an open plateau. Our first birds of the day are Spotless starlings and a couple of Cirl buntings. In addition, Black-veined whites, Great banded graylings and Gatekeepers seems to be everywhere! Mick finds a pair of Whinchats perched. Pau spots a Tawny Pipit and later we see a Hopooe looking for grubs near a dung pile.
Our picnic and last stop are in the marshes of Santander. A fantastic restoration project and a nice area to walk around. Here we see some rafts where Common Terns are breeding and a large colony of Cattle egrets.
Whit no more time, we drive the short distance to the airport and say goodbye to the group, what a beautiful wildlife holiday!
Wildlife report to the Cantabrian Mountains. Pau Lucio
Welcome to our wildlife report to Valencia, La Mancha, Madrid and Pyrenees. We planned this itinerary to cover most of the habitats found in mainland Spain in order to get a good diversity of birds. May 2018
At 8:45 sharp, Deidre, Karmela and Rod are picked up by Pau from their hotel in Valencia. They drive west through a busy traffic in Valencia, and about 1:10 h later arrive to Fuenterrobles, close to the border with La Mancha. After a short walk in the scrubland, Pau finds a Thekla Lark and a stunning male Black-eared Wheatear perched on a telephone wire. Pau ears a familiar call and after few minutes searching they get their reward, a beautiful Spectacled warbler. On a nearby field, Greater short toed larks delight the group with their full song in a beautiful morning.
They continue driving along the A3 for 1:30 h to a local bar to have lunch. Their next stop is in the lagoons of “La Mancha Húmeda”. By the road, there is a small pond packed with birds, including 40+ Black terns, numerous species of waders and a pair of the most wished Bearded tits. They drive along the track and find the colourful Bee-eaters and distant Lesser Kestrels.
Finally, the afternoon is spent in Alcázar enjoying close views of White-headed Ducks, Black-necked Grebes and Red-crested Pochards.
Dinner is in a local restaurant in Belmonte: Ajoarriero (cod and potato), Patatas bravas, Pisto manchego (ratatouille with egg) and a salad, all washed down with a good bottle of red wine.
After driving through gorgeous fields of poppies, they arrive to a private state where Rock sparrows thrive in the ruins of what were the facilities of a quarry. Soon after that, they bump into a small patch of Woodcock orchids. This well managed state is a wonderful place for birds. It just take them few minutes to find Subalpine and Melodious warblers, however these birds are no the main reason why Pau take the group here. After searching for few more minutes, they hit the jackpot!! A cracking Eagle Owl takes off from about 12-15 m from where the group is standing. Smiling faces after seen this wonderful raptor.
The rest of the day is spent in the National Park of Tablas de Daimiel and the surrounding area. From the blind they get fantastic views of a Penduline Tit as well as Cetti’s and Savi’s warblers. After a most wanted coffee, they take a stroll to get some of the targets. Soon, they are rewarded with great views of a pair of European rollers mating and Deidre finds a Purple heron carrying a snake in its bill. They keep postponing lunch as there is a lot going on! Rod enjoys watching a pair of Golden orioles chasing one another from tree to tree and Pau finally gets in its scope some Spanish sparrows.
After lunch, they take a stroll around the reeds finding Spoonbills, a Greenshank and a Common coot with chicks which are photographed by Karmela from many different angles. Finally, we stop in the souvenir shop before driving back to our 18th century Hotel.
After loading the car they set off to the near farmland. Before reaching the first stop of the day, Pau has to pull over so everyone can get excellent views of a Black vulture. From a nearby almond tree, a stunning Great spotted cuckoo can be seen! That’s a good start! They continue driving but Pau stops again as Deidre spots a Stone curlew followed by another one.
Later, Pau takes them to the magic track where everyone gets excellent views of a male Little bustard displaying. Pau says it is his best view ever! Good to see Little bustards, since there has been a huge decline of these magnificent birds in the last decades. They drive to the following village to locate the elusive Great bustards with no luck. Pau decides to move towards Madrid hoping to find them in another area and bingo! They find 5 stunning males feeding in the arable land. After pleasant views, they drive for 1:30 h to make a stop for coffee and facilities in a petrol station near Madrid.
The group continue the journey towards the north of Madrid and make a stop near Tres Cantos. While they have the picnics lunch there, a Spanish Imperial Eagles display in the air. Fantastic! The air is quite warm, so the butterflies are very active: Marbled White, Kidnapped Fritillary, and Yellow Clouded are seen among others butterflies.
Their final destination is in the steppes close to the hotel in Torrelaguna, where they get close views of a group of 15-20 male Great bustards and a distant male Montagu’s Harrier.
Today the group set off to the snow-capped mountains of the National Park of Guadarrrama. The first stop in the mountain pass is rewarded with a group of very confident Citril finches. Everyone enjoys this beautiful bird displaying. Later, after lunch, they visit the woods adding Garden warbler and the Iberian subspecies of Pied flycatcher. The sun is warming up and butterflies start to fly around: Orange tip, De Prunner’s ringlet, Brimstone and Marsh fritillary. Reptiles also seem more than happy with the weather, especially the half meter Ocellated lizard that Pau finds in a wall. Later we enjoy great views of Tree pipit displaying and raptors such as both kites and Black vultures.
The party leaves the park and head off to the oak forest near el Escorial. Sadly start raining as soon as they find a Cirl bunting. On the way back to the hotel, a flock of Iberian magpies fly right across in front of the car.
After dinner, Deidre and Pau try to locate some of the Red-necked nightjars that Pau saw the previous night. After the rain, the tracks are too muddy to drive with the car so they decide to go for a walk. The night is filled with the sound of Scops owls and Red-necked nightjars. On the walk back to the car, we bump into a Natterjack and a Midwife toad.
Pau suggests having breakfast today at 6:00 am. He would like to try a spot for Dupont’s lark on the way to the Pyrenees. Once they get to the spot, the weather is not the best for finding this elusive bird, with wind and showers in a cold morning. However, they do get other interesting birds like Common cuckoo, Montagu’s harrier and Rock thrush. On the way back to the motorway, Pau see a Iberian green woodpecker flying to a poplar tree so pulls over to allow everyone views of this woodpecker. At the same time, a Golden oriole pops up in the top of a tree.
After a welcome stop in a local bakery, they set off to Zaragoza for a stop near el Pilar to see Pallid swifts.
The group arrives to Valle de Hecho around 3:30 pm and decide to explore for a couple of hours the surroundings before going to the hotel. In a farm, they get fantastic views of 5 Egyptian vultures displaying and chasing one to another. Karmela keeps pressing the button of her camera. It is just amazing! Later, along the river, we get long views of a Dipper diving and Pau finds Green-winged and Marsh orchids. In a meadow close to the car, we find 3 gorgeous male Bullfinches and a pair of Red-backed shrikes.
After a long day, we all soon go to bed.
The morning is spent locally. After 30 minutes hike the party get to the cliffs where the Wallcreeper have been breeding during the last years. After waiting about 40 minutes, they get a glimpse of this stunning bird quite high up in the cliff. Suddenly, another one arrives and both fly off showing their distinctive red patch on their wings. The group decides to wait hoping to get another view and their patience pays off but not with a Wallcreeper but with a Lammergeier.
On route, Pau stops for a coffee in Hecho before visiting the next valley for lunch. In the near meadows everyone gets nice views of Rock bunting and Red kites. Few minutes later, Deidre spots a Griffon’s vulture perched in the ground just few meters from the road. They stop the car to watch the vultures circling around, there must be a carcass. They spend the rest of the day in Ansó, where the group get nice views of a Red Fox and a Crested Tit among other common birds.
Deidre and Karmela are woken up during the night by a loudly Tawny Owl, calling from a small patch of forest near the garden.
Today, the group sets off to Navarra to look for some alpine birds. On route, Deidre finds an Egyptian vulture perched on a telephone post. It is nice to see that this threatened bird still remains fairly common in the area. Once they get into the valley, they find Alpine chough and lots of Northern wheatears displaying in the meadows. The group carry on towards France enjoying wonderful views of the snowy mountains. The snow still remains in many areas which is quite unusual at this time of the year. Later, Deidre finds a Ring ouzel perched in a pine and Pau quickly focuses the telescope so everyone enjoy fantastic views of a male of the subspecies alpestris. Citril finches chirp and fly in small flocks in front of the vehicle.
On the way down the valley they spot a flock of 4 raptors which turn out to be 3 Red kites and a Booted eagle. Near the road, Pau locates a Water pipit with its distinctive pinkie chest. However, the big surprise comes when Pau finds a friendly Marmot which looks to us hidden in a pile of rocks.
Once they get to the hotel, Karmela, Deidre and Pau walk around the forest and meadows looking for other species. A Firecrest shows well in a nearby Scots pine and Short-toed treecreeper flies every minute to its nest located under a tile on the roof. The rest of the evening is spent drinking some of the local beer and chatting with a group of Swedish birders.
Today is the final day of this wildlife adventure around Spain. After passing through Siresa, Pau pulls over to one side as he hears two Wrynecks calling. Everyone see this nice bird. The group continue the long journey ahead, making a couple of quick stops for photographing Common buzzard, Melodious warbler and other common birds.
After a couple of stops for facilities and lunch, they get near Valencia where they spend few hours birding in the coastal wetland of Marjal del Moro. Audouin’s gulls, Little and Sandwich terns fly around while the group stays in one of the hides. While the group waits patiently to see some Little Bitterns, Pau and Deidre get a glimpse of a Purple swamp-hen walking along the shore. Rod also enjoys great views of a Great reed warbler perched up on the reeds. Before they leave the hide, a pair of Turtle doves land on a nearby tamarisk. The final surprise comes when Pau finds in the colony of Sandwich terns, an Elegant tern incubating its nest. Therefore, this pair will be the second breeding in Valencia region this season!
Finally, we drive to the hotel and say goodbye. Thanks to Deidre, Rod and Karmela for making this trip so enjoyable.
To download the complete check-list of the Wildlife trip report to Valencia, La Mancha, Madrid and the Pyrenees, please click here.
Welcome to our Sierra de Guara trip report, in search of stunning birds like the Wallcreepers and Lammergeier
Notice that this was a tailor made tour in early April and therefore too late to watch Wallcreepers in Guara or Cranes in Gallocanta, so we combined Sierra de Guara with the Aragón Valley in the Pyrenees. It is worth to mention that neither Wallcreepers or Cranes were in our target list. However, this itinerary in Autumn an Winter ofers a great chance to see Wallcreepers as well as other wintering birds: Brambling, Ring Ouzel, Hawfinches, etc
Our two full days at Sierra de Guara gave us a fantastic sightings of raptors, both resident and migrants. Numerous Black and Red Kites, Short-toed Eagles, Egyptian Vultures, Sparrowhawks, a Lammergeier and a pair of Golden Eagles were seen. In addition, the five of us were flabbergasted (I will never get used to it) to see tens of Griffon Vultures feeding and flying just few meters form us. Our hotel in Alquézar gave us the chance to make the most of this stunning village, certainly one of the most beautiful of all Spain.
The second part of the tour in the Pyrenees was fantastic with 3 more sights of Lammergeier, one of them landing in the nest were the other one was in the nest incubating! Superb! We also managed to see a Golden Eagle, Yellow-billed Chough, Ring Ouzel, Dipper, Water Pipit and mammals such as Chamois. Not to mention the breathtaking views of the snow-capped Pyrenees.
I arrived at midday to Zaragoza airport to pick Sally, Simon, Dorothy and Mary on time. After greetings, we set up to Huesca and then to Alcázar. Our first birds during the transfer were White Storks, Black and Red Kite, Common Buzzard and Starlings. After check-in, we went for a walk around the village and nearby countryside seeing our first Black redstar, Crag Martins, Corn Buntings, Linnets, Barn Swallows, Crested, Sky and Wood Larks and a Little Owl calling. Then, we returned along the cobbled streets to our hotel to enjoy our first traditional Spanish dinner.
Our first stop by the old Moorish bridge revealed Short-toed Trecreeper, Sardenian Warbler, a male Stonechat, Grey Wagtail, Black Caps and in the sky a pair of Egyptian Vultures flying among tens of Griffons’. After a short stroll along the river, we continued driving up the valley until I pulled over the car so everyone can see our first Short-toed Eagle and Sparrowhawk. Our next stop was in the Mirador del Vero, where soon a familiar silhouette turns up, our first Lammergeier! It turned upside down to grab with its claws a Griffon Vulture, but finally it didn’t. It was just a manoeuvre to show who was the boss! Nice sight!
After having lunch, we drove back to Alcázar making a stop to find the endangered European freshwater crayfish. It is fantastic that Sierra de Guara still holds a healthy population of this threaten specie. We spent the afternoon walking the Vero Gorge near Alquézar, enjoying carpets of lilies and birds such as Crag Martins, Grey and White Wagtails, Red Billed Choughs, Wrens, Blackcaps and a Firecrest. Before we walked up back to Alcázar I found an Otter scat.
On the third day we visited the Vultures’ feeding station near Santa Cilia. During the walk to access to the feeding station, tens of Vultures chased us as if they already knew we were going to feed them. It was impressive to see these huge birds soaring so close to us!
Once the food was unloaded from the wheelbarrow, the show started, the Vultures fought each other to grab the butcher’s waste.
We had a brilliant close views of approx. 100 Griffon’s, Ravens, Egyptian Vultures and Red Kites. Once the meal was finished, we retreated few meters hoping to see a Lammergier coming down to grab some bones. Around noon, we set off back to the car and found an impressive Golden Eagle soaring high up! We had lunch while we searched through the scopes the feeding station and watched a Red Fox feeding on the scraps. A Dartford Warbler was also seeing from the bushes besides us.
Later we move to the west of the park visiting impressive gorges and finding a beautiful male of Blue-Rock Thrush singing from the rocks. In the nearby cliffs, there was a colony of Griffons’ incubating. As we were looking down the gorge, I spotted a gorgeous male Cirl Bunting singing from the top of bush and Sardenian Warbler flying.
In the evening we set off to our accommodation in valley of the river Aragón, in the Pyrenees.
We had fantastic warm and sunny weather during the trip. However, on the fourth day the sky was slightly overcast and do to the altitude we could feel the cold during the early morning! After breakfast, we walked along a path behind our Hotel and found a breeding pair of Dippers, one of them was carrying lots of insects in the bill to the hole where thee nest was. On the way back to the car, I heard a Firecrest calling from the garden besides the car park. Dorothy was very glad to see one of her favourites birds!
After a short drive we stopped in Canfranc. While we where visiting the impressive old train station, we saw a Golden Eagle, Great Spotted Woodpecker, a Jay and a flock of 30 Yellowhammers. Besides, Peacock butterflies where around. The shade of the huge mountains made us to fell the damp and the cold wind, so we went to have warm drinks and cakes. Once we were recovered, we continued driving up through the border of France. We stopped in the surroundings of the ski resort where we saw the first Yellow-billed Coughs, Water Pipits and Citril Finches. The wind was a bit cold, so we decided to drive back to lower altitudes. There we spot Chiffchaffs, a Golcrest, Song and Mistle Thrushes and our second Lammergeier!
Time to go back to the hotel to enjoy the dinner: fighting bull as main dish and a tasty sheep milk yoghurt for dessert.
Our last day started in a quite side valley. In the hillside, a group of 8 Chamois grazed peacefully and a Ring Ozuel was spotted by Simon. Dunnocks, Water Pipits, Black Redstarts, Red and Black Kites and a two Lammergeier were seeing! One of them was carrying in the bill something which leaved to the second one in the nest. Just superb! There were also tracks of Ptarmigan, but no sight of them.
After lunch, we set off to Valencia where my guests would stay overnight to catch an early flight the following morning. After drive 3 h, we stopped in a gorge 20 km passing Teruel in order to see an Eagle Owl. It took nearly two hours to find it, but we did it. On Easter Sunday there were people everywhere and the pair of Eagle Owls became much more elusive. This top predator was still in a rock behind a bush 50 m away from the nest. From the gorge we also watched a dark morph Booted Eagle. As it was getting dark, we drove the final stretch to Valencia where I dropped them off in a Hotel near the airport.
All in all, a very interesting trip with good birding. Many thanks to Sally, Simon, Dorothy and Mary. Please, visit our tour calendar or contact us for the next winter Sierra de Guara tour. It will be focus on spotting Wallcreepers and Lammergeiers.
We hope you find this Sierra de Guara Trip report useful.
Have a nice day
At 6:30 a.m. Lee, Lauren and I are leaving from Gandia to Valencia to drop off Lauren in the Ave train station. At 9:00 we are birding in “La Sierra del Toro”. This open Mediterranean woodland forest mix with traditional farmland holds a good number of interesting species.
Our first observations in the area are Rock Sparrow and Black-eared Wheatear which welcome us from a hut roof. Then, we park the car to walk around the countryside. Woodlarks and Northern Wheatears fly in display. Iberian Green Woodpecker is spotted by Lee. That is great! Woodpeckers are her favourite birds! After that, we move to the other side of the road watching Great Spotted Woodpecker,3 Subalpine Warblers, Cirl Bunting, Serin, 3 majestic Short-toed Eagle, an Egyptian Vulture and an Orphean Warbler! What a place! The area is also full of butterflies such us Eastern Dappled White, Cleopatra, Large and Small Whites.
Thirty minutes later we stop near the Mijares River, in the province of Teruel. There, Skylarks, Ortolan Bunting, Melodious Warbler, Booted Eagle, Bee-eater, Grey Wagtail and Stock Doves are quickly spotted.
Around 2:00 p.m. we leave to our next destination, the steppes of Belchite. Once we arrive there, a great number of Lesser Short-toed Larks are observed along with Thekla and Calandra Larks. Later, while I drive back to the main road to leave the reserve, I spot a Pin-tailed Sandgrouse hidden less than 10 m from the car; quickly I share my finding with Lee. What a gorgeous bird! Few minutes after that, a pair of Black-bellied Sandgrouse fly in front of us. That has been a great end for the first day! Now it is time to rest and have dinner after this intense and pleasant birding day.
At 9:00 we head off to the western Pyrenees. In route we observe Red Kites and White Storks in their nest.
As we drive through the Foz de Bienés, Lee says “there is a Fox”. Quickly I drive backwards and there it is, a beautiful Red Fox in the middle of the meadow looking at us. After that, we continue driving for 20 minutes to reach a viewing point. As I park, a Hare runs to hide in the bushes. We stay for 40 minutes watching Griffon Vultures, a pair of Subalpine Warblers, a Bonelli’s Warbler and a Peregrine Falcon. Then, we move to the Ansó Valley where we enjoy a pair of Egyptian Vultures, Red-backed Shrikes, Red-billed Choughs and Grey Wagtails. Suddenly, a large raptor soars along the valley, I pull over and I shout: it’s a Lammergeier-Lee replies:”You’re Kidding”. There it is, a superb adult Lammergeier in our first day in the Spanish Pyrenees!
As the weather get worst and it rains, we decide to move to the Roncal Valley. There we enjoy watching Water Pipits, Yellow-billed Choughs, Black Redstarts, and other common birds.
Today we focus on the Hecho Valley. In route we manage to see Iberian Chiffchaff, Dunnock, Subalpine Warblers, Grey Wagtails, Red-backed Shrikes, Yellowhammer, Bullfinches and a Roe Deer. After parking the car in the middle of the valley, we find 2 Red squirrels playing in a beech tree. Then, we walk for 30 minutes through the forest to reach an excellent point to observe the star of the day “the Wallcreepeer”. During the walk we watch Coal, Citril Finch, Long-tailed and Crested Tits, Nuthatch, Firecrest, Griffon Vultures, Yellow-billed Choughs, Crag Martins and Chamois grazing high in the meadows. Black-veined White and Dark Green Fritillary Butterflies are seen too.
Once we arrive to the right spot, it doesn’t take more than 10 minutes to find the superb Wallcreepeer, excellent! As we feel hungry, we walk back to the car to have lunch. Then, we continue up to the valley seeing Iberian Green Woodpecker, Egyptian Vulture, Common Buzzard, Linnets, Yellowhammer and a Marmot which sadly is missed by Lee. As showers are back, we decide to drive back to the hotel.
Showers are the forecast for today. Being today our last full day in the Pyrenees, we will focus on the species we haven’t seen yet. First we stop near Isaba, in reliable point to observe the Dipper. After just five minutes waiting, a Dipper flies right up the river. Lee misses it, so I suggest her staying in the same point while I walk along the river to relocate it. Ten minutes later I turn my head towards Lee and I see her thumb up. She got a fantastic close view of the Dipper catching insects. Great!
Then, I drive to another place where we expect to find the star of the day “the Rock Thrush”. We look out to the rocky slopes, but nothing, the weather is not helping at all. We decide to try a bit further up in the hillside and after few minutes walking I spot this magnificent bird in the top of the rock. Lee is like a dog with two tails! After that, we move to next place where we have great views of Water Pipits, Ring Ouzels, Citril Finches, Goldcrest and Crossbills.
We decide to move down the valley in search of better weather. While we have lunch, we watch a pair of Egyptian Vultures, a Blue Rock Thrush, Red-backed Shrikes, Peregrine Falcons, a Red Kite and a Booted Eagle.
Today we leave the Pyrenees to continue bird watching in La Mancha. As we drive close to Bianés, a Roe Deer crosses the road and a Golden Eagle and an Egyptian Vulture are seen. Later, we stop in the Sierra de Guara to have lunch. There, Tawny Pipit, Bee-eater, Sardenian Warbler, Egyptian Vulture, Red-billed Chough and 2 Lammergeiers are seen. Excellent!
It has been a fantastic tour with lots of interesting birds. It has been a great pleasure to guide Lee. Thanks.
Have a nice day
This is a trip report about a bird watching tour in the Pyrenees. It is widely known that the Pyrenees are one of the best places in Europe to observe dazzling birds such as the Lammergeier, Citril Finch and the Wallcreeper. I am guiding Steve who has been after this three species for years. Following there is a description of one of our birding tour in the Pyrenees “Belchite and the Pyrenees tour“.
It is 11:30 and I am picking Steve up from Valencia airport. His flight from London has been on time and 1:30 h later we are birding in Sierra del Toro (The Bull Mountain). I stop the car as there is something gliding on the sky, they are a high flying Booted Eagle and three Griffon Vultures. That is a good start!!. After that, we continue driving up the hill and we are approximately 1.500 meters above sea level. I pull over the car near a small Scots pine forest and we take a stroll around. First, a large flock of inquisitive Coal and Crested Tits along with a Firecrest and a Short-toed Treecreeper feed intensively around us. Moreover, Crossbills fly pass close to us.
We retrace our steppes and on the way down the mountain we see Rock Buntings feeding in the bushes.
Finally, two and a half hours later we get to the steppes of Belchite. I check that there is no water in the main pond, so I think that is going to be tough to find the two species of Sandgrouses. Birds such as Wood, Crested, Thekla and Short-toed Lark chirp constantly as I drive the car. The winter is coming and large flocks of Corn Bunting are forming. In addition, we enjoy watching an Iberian Grey Shrike perch on the top of a tamarisk while a Dupont’s Lark sings its sweet melody.
An early visit to Belchite to look for the sandgrouses pays off. A group of 8 Black-bellied Sandgrouses feed in a recently harvested wheat field. Now, it is time to continue the bird watching tour in the Pyrenees. An hour and a half later, we are in the castle of Loarre in the Pre-Pyrenees enjoying magnificent views of Crag martins and Red Kites. In addition, Black Redstart and Dunnock move from bush to bush.
After that, we get into the car and drive to the Hecho Valley. After check-in, we drive up to the valley. The views are breathtaking. A walk around reveals Water Pipit, Ring Ouzel, Yellowhammer and Black Redstart.
After breakfast we head for the West of the Hecho Valley. We walk for 35 minutes across the forest in order to reach a cliff where Wallcreeper are often seen. There is none, so we continue walking to the next area. A Black Woodpecker flies in front of us as we reach the second cliff. Chiffchaffs are all over, Redwings fly in small groups and a Iberian Green Woodpecker calls. As we reach the second cliff, a Wallcreeper lands in it, then two more join it. What a spectacle!! Three Wallcreepers all together. While we are enjoying the view, a Sparrowhawk flies over us. Then, we return to the car and have lunch.
During the afternoon we visit Biniés Gorge to watch Rock Buntings, Sardenian and Darford Warblers. Then, after 30 minutes we are in Ansó Valley where we walk for 1,30 h in a steady path watching Marsh Tit, Nuthatch, Alpine Accentor, Common Buzzard, Red-billed Chough, and mammals as the Red Squirrel and Red Deer. Steve looks up and sees a Sparrowhawk being under the attack of tens of Martins.
Today we continue our birding tours in the Pyrenees but in Navarra, to be more precise in the Roncal Valley. Our first stop in a viewing point reveals the familiar silhouette of the Lammergeier. His first for Steve!! What an elegant bird! We move to the highest area in Navarra and despite the cold weather we manage to see Yellow-billed Choughs, Crossbills and Citril Finches. The Pyrenees holds half of the world population of Citril Finch, so there it is the place to watch them.
To finish the day, we move down to the Biniés gorge where we can enjoy the fly of a Golden Eagle.
Time to drive back to Valencia. We stop near Puente de la Reina, in arable fields surrounded by woodland where we find Skylarks, Cirl Buntings and a Great Spotted Woodpecker. We continue driving until we stop to have our picnic in Sierra de Guara. Steve is amazed of seeing the Griffon Vultures so close, we even can hear the sound of their wings cutting the air!. A Peregrine Falcon flies close to the cliffs, and as we are walking to the car, a Wallcreper flies off the cliff, which means that they are already moving to winter in the area.
Rock Buntings hide in the bushes, Dunnocks sing and Red-billed Choughs gather together in the crags.
We spend half morning birding in the Albufera de Valencia before Steve takes the plane. We watch Little and Cattle Egret, Glossy Ibis, Spoonbill, Marsh Harrier, Black-winged Stilt, Dunlin, Yellow-legged Gull and Purple-swamp Hen.
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