This blog entry comes with a couple of warnings. Firstly, if you read my blog from last year’s visit to The Pyrenees this one will be quite similar. Secondly, it is not all about the birds for us as we also enjoy the fantastic mountain scenery and do not go out of our way to find all the birds.
Day 1 – Home to Monreal de Campo – Not really birding. We set off on Saturday morning and ate our lunch at the San Augustin picnic area, joined by House Sparrows, Crows and a couple of Northern Wheatears. Later, after settling in at the Hotel Molino Bajo we had a walk round the allotments and fields where we saw Great Spotted Woodpecker, Yellow Wagtail, Stonechat, Tree Sparrow, Nightingale Common Swift and a Golden Oriole which flew out of a Poplar tree and away into some more Poplars further away. I was jumping up and down as usual so that the ‘old boys’ working in their allotments must have thought I was a nutter! I didn’t sleep well that night which might have been due to the Cetti’s Warbler which was singing loudly outside our bedroom window for most of the night!
Day 2 – Monreal de Campo to Riglos to Isaba – Vultures Galore! We set off North and as we approached Zaragoza the first Black Kite and White Stork appeared, and just like last year they were the first of many of both species. A Sand Martin flew by as we crossed the bridge over the River Ebro and several Griffon Vultures were seen in the air. Passing Huesca we headed towards Riglos seeing plenty of Corn Buntings on the wires. At Riglos we met up with Dave and Linda who had travelled via the Belchite area, and we all watched the Griffons and a few Red billed Chough on and around the Mallos de Riglos pinacles. We left Riglos and moved on to a layby on the road side overlooking the river where we ate our picnic. While we were there we enjoyed flyovers from Black Kites, Egyptian Vultures and best of all a Lammergeier, an unexpected treat and a great start! Being a cautious person it took me a while to accept this identification, but after much scrutiny of several blurry photos I was happily convinced by the long wedge tail, the pale body and the dark wings, that we had hit the jackpot early with this top bird. We continued our journey and spent the evening settling in to our accomodation at Metsola Apartments in Isaba.
Day 3 – Bellegua Valley – A Trip to France. Today we headed out of Isaba up over the high pass towards the snow line and France. When we stopped to admire the amazing views a few Griffon Vultures and Black Kites treated us to a fly past at eye level. We drove as far as the ski station, which is just inside France, where we spent a couple of hours watching Wheatears and Alpine Chough and catching the occasional glimpse of Alpine Accentorwhich, being a little shy, were a bit harder to watch. A Mistle Thrush, Black Redstarts and Linnets were also seen and on the way back we stopped to look at two Ring Ouzels and a few Citril Finches. There were plenty of Alpine Chough around, including a group which were nesting in a cave just below the road. A stop by the bridge found us looking at a mystery bird which we eventually identified as a Crossbill, an unexpected surprise. We stopped again at the viewpoint above the refugio to eat our lunch and were entertained by Griffon Vultures, Egyptian Vultures and Black Kites, along with another possible Lammergeier which arrived and flew away again at speed before we could get a good look at it. We all agreed it had been a great day.
Day 4 – Arbayan, Lumbier and Minxate – A Tale of Three Gorges. We set off towards Lumbier stopping on the way to admire the amazing Arbayan Gorge from the viewpoint above it. We had not been out of the car long when a large bird came flying towards us from the direction of the gorge and over our heads. This time there was no doubt. We all got a good look at the bird through bins and even got a few dodgy photos, it was another Lammergeier, brilliant! It flew away again quite quickly but we were all pretty pleased! We moved on to the Lumbier Vulture feeding station but this seemed to be deserted and possibly not in use. After a short coffee stop we headed on to the Lumbier Gorge and walked the track along the side of the river enjoying views of many Griffon Vultures, Egyptian Vultures, numerous Red billed Chough, a Rock Dove on a ledge and a single Alpine Swift. We had a very pleasant walk to the end of the gorge and out through the second tunnel, seeing many interesting flowers and butterflies along the way. After returning to the car park and eating our customary picnic we re-visited the Arbayan Gorge for another look. Would you believe it? Another Lammergeier or possibly the same one, flew over again, amazing!! Before going back to our accomodation we had a short visit to another small gorge where Dave thought he might have seen a Wallcreeper the day before when we were not there, but sadly, there was no sign of the mystery bird today. Despite this we all agreed it had been a ‘gorgeous’ day (sorry!)
Day 5 – Anso, Hecho and Zarifa – Valleys, Gorges and Alpine Meadows. We set off from Isaba across the winding mountain road to Anso, where we had a short stop to look at this pretty little village. A good road took us to Hecho which we passed through and on to Siresa for a coffee stop at Archer’s Hotel. Next we headed along the Hecho Valley and stopped at the Boca de Infierno to look for Wallcreeper but still no luck with this hard to see bird. We continued along to the alpine meadows where we found lots of beautiful Orchids and other flowers and a flock of about 30 Red billed Chough dropped in to feed on a grassy hillside. John spotted a Yellowhammer which we all managed to see and a Red backed Shrike which we didn’t! Later at the picnic area we all separately caught sight of a Dipper as it flew up and down the river. We saw several White Wagtails and Grey Wagtails and some of us saw a Bullfinch and a Crossbill. On the way back we stopped for a quick look at Hecho village and all agreed we could happilly live there given the chance! As we drove the valley towards the main Pamplona road I spotted a Short toed Eagle but couldn’t get everbody onto it as there was nowhere to stop and it flew off in the opposite direction to us. We found a place to stop by the river where we saw another two raptors which turned out to be Booted Eagles, a bird we are more used to seeing in the Alicante area in the winter. Next we travelled along the main road and back up the Anso Valley where a stop to look at the cliffs gave us good views of more Griffon Vultures which nest there. We passed through Anso and on to Zarifa, stopping to look for Lammergeier where we had seen one last year, but sadly it was not around today. Moving on to the alpine meadows we had good views of firstly a Black Kite and then a Red Kite both hunting over the grassy hillside and the edge of the woods. John spotted a Crested Tit in the pines at the campsite, which I eventually got a look at. Another great day with spectacular scenery and a few more good birds to add to our trip list.
Day 6 – Ochagavia and Bellegua Valley – A non birding day. We decided to pay a visit to the village of Ochagavia where we enjoyed looking at this pretty place and watching many White and Grey Wagtails, some feeding their young on the rocks in the river. We had a coffee in the hotel and explored the village before heading back to Isaba for lunch and a rest at our apartment. In the afternoon, Dave and Linda went for a walk in the Minxate Gorge and John and I drove back up the Bellagua Valley for another look around. We saw many of the birds we had seen on our previous visit, including Alpine Chough, Citril Finch, Crossbill, Griffon and Egyptian Vulture. A mystery raptor flew overhead giving us quite a good view but presenting us with quite an identification challenge. After careful scrutiny of field guides and our photos, we came to the conclusion it was a Honey Buzzard, a great bird for us as we have only seen them once before, when we went to see the autumn migration at Tarifa. So much for a non biding day!
Day 7 – Isaba to Monreal de Campo – On our way home. Dave and Linda set off early as they were driving the whole journey home in one day. We had a little more time as we were having another overnight stay at Monreal. We called briefly at San Juan de la Pena and then followed the minor road from there along a winding but quiet road towards Riglos. Near the end of this road we found our first Bee eaters of the trip in the same place as we had seen them last year and a Hoopoe was also a new bird for the trip. We had lunch near Riglos once again and added Serin and Subalpine Warbler to our list while we were eating! Black and Red Kites and White Storks were seen again during the journey back to Monreal. Later at the hotel we had a sunny evening walk seeing most of the same birds we had seen last week, apart from the Golden Oriole which didn’t show. On the plus side we did hear and see a Nightingale and plenty of Tree Sparrows were around. The Cetti’s Warbler was singling loudly once again in the night and our final bird was a Common Sandpiper seen from the window of our room as it fed at the edge of the mill stream. Next day we headed home adding no more birds to our list but feeling tired but happy after a fantastic trip.