The Pyrenees

posted in: Mary's Blog | 0

Saturday 1st/Sunday 2nd June

We left Gran Alacant on Saturday and drove to Monreal de Campo for an overnight stop. On Sunday we set off again and the first good bird we saw was a Black Kite near Zaragoza, followed by a White Stork flying over the road in front of us. Soon Black Kites and Red Kites became a regular sight and a few more White Storks were seen nesting on pylons or on village church towers. By lunchtime we had arrived at Riglos, site of the fantastic Mallos de Riglos,’Mallos’ being the red stone rocky pinnacles that rise up above the village. This being Sunday, it was quite busy here with many rock climbers and a few tourists. For some reason the climbers kept letting off small explosions on the rock face and the noise echoed around the rocks causing Griffon Vultures and Red billed Chough to take to the sky. In the village lots of House Martins were building nests on the houses, Swifts flew overhead and at the viewpoint by the church a couple of Serin were singing in the trees. We ate our lunch here and then headed for our final destination at Isaba. We travelled up the Roncal valley seeing many Black Kites, Red Kites and Griffon Vultures, and enjoyed the spectacular scenery of the gorge and several small villages on the way. We arrived at Isaba just after 5pm and were shown into our attic apartment. The accomodation was very comfortable and light with great views up to the mountains beyond the village. In the evening Julian who owns the apartments, came to see us and gave us two very good hiking maps of the area and showed us exactly where to look for various birds. Julian clearly knows his local patch well and offers guided trips to people who want them. He offered to take us to see Snow Finches, but as this required us to hike across the mountains in snow shoes we politely declined. Visit Metsola Apartments for more information.

Monday 3rd June – Isaba – Roncal – Anso –  Zuriza – Isaba

Today we decided to look at the Anso valley and Zuriza, stopping in Roncal on the way for a quick look round this pretty village and to get bread for our picnic. From here we took the road to Anso, a scenic but winding road through woodland with great views of the snowy mountains in the distance. We stopped in Anso for a coffee and to look at the village, another very pretty place where we watched a Red Kite flying overhead. From here we took the road to Zuriza which passes through a gorge with very high cliffs on both sides. The river was rushing along, full of snow melt water from the mountains above. We stopped along the road to check the many birds in the air, most of which were Griffon Vultures. However, another large raptor appeared from above the cliffs and flew overhead giving us the chance to view it from below and letting us see it was our number one target bird, a Lammergeier, fantastic! It soon disappeared over the cliffs on the other side of the road but at least we had enjoyed a great view, if only for a short time, and it was only day 1! While we were here we also saw an Egyptian Vulture flying round in front of the cliffs for quite a while, another great bird. Near the Zuriza campsite I got a fleeting glimpse of a Rock Bunting and a Black Kite appeared from above some trees. From here we took another road back to Isaba and had a walk through a small gorge where many Griffon Vultures were nesting and giving us a great flying display as they moved around the gorge. Back at our apartment we spotted a Peregrine Falcon flying in front of the big rocky outcrop opposite our accomodation, which Julian had told us was nesting there. Not a bad first day.

Tuesday 4th June

Today we took Julian’s advice and set off up the Belagua valley road which leads over to the French border. Before we left Isaba we had a Cirl Bunting in a tree and male and female Black Redstarts were in the car park. Once on the road we saw some spectacular scenery and a large flock of black birds was in the air near one of the refuges. Some landed in the grassy fields next to the road and we enjoyed watching both Red billed and Alpine Chough. A bit further up the mountain we spotted two birds on top of a tree and could easily see they were Ring Ouzels, a bird I have been trying to see for some time and a lifer for us. Higher up the mountain road we came to the snow line and at a ski station (now closed) we found several Wheatear plus our first ever Alpine Accentor, in fact we saw a few of them in this area, brilliant! As we were about to leave a couple of small birds landed near the car giving us great views of another new bird for us Citril Finches. On the way back down the valley we stopped at a fantastic viewpoint which looks right down the valley, and from here we could see many Griffon Vultures taking to the skies and coming towards us. As we were at a high point, some of them were just above eye level. John and I looked at each bird to check their identity and we could both see one bird which looked a bit bigger and a slightly different shape, amazingly we had another Lammergeier and this time we were able to watch it for more than just a few seconds!! We returned to our apartment for lunch before heading out again . We decided not to travel further into the Irati forest to look for rare Woodpeckers. Instead we had a look round Ochagavia, yet another very pretty village, where we saw a White Wagtail and a couple of Goldfinches on the rocks in the river, before we headed back to Isaba where a baby Black Redstart was hopping about outside our accomodation. Later that night, I woke to hear Tawny Owls calling, at least I think that’s what they were.

Wednesday 5th June – John’s 60th Birthday!

Today we took a long drive round the valleys. Passing through Roncal we joined the road to Anso and immediately saw a Red backed Shrike which was a nice start to the day. We were delayed slightly along this road as a road surfacing crew were laying tarmac! We passed through Anso and on through Hecho, stopping in Siresa for our morning coffee break. Our next stop was at the Boca de Infierno (Hell’s Mouth) where Malcolm and Barry had seen a Wallcreeper in April. Sadly it did not appear and had probably moved up to it’s usual summer nesting area above Gabardito. We decided not to venture up the rough road to the refuge there which then also requires a 30 minute hike up a rocky and muddy path to get to the bottom of the cliffs from where the bird might be seen. We satisfied ourselves with the fact that we had seen the bird there back in 2007. We continued along the road into the valley and onto the track that leads to the alpine meadows. The scenery here is really beautiful and we found plenty of wild flowers and butterflies but very few birds. A Black Kite appeared hunting over the meadows but that was it. We made our way back to the picnic area and while we were there a Dipper shot past us, zooming along above the river towards a nearby bridge. We watched the Dipper while it continued to dive in the river and then bob up and down on the rocks, giving us enjoyable entertainment while we ate our lunch. When John headed off to try to get a closer view of the Dipper an Egyptian Vulture appeared flying low around the area. I was yelling to John to look at the Vulture, which he eventually did, managing to get a few good photos at the same time. Next we headed back up the valley and, just before we got to Hecho, we came across 2 Egyptian Vultures feeding on a dead rabbit on the road. Sadly they flew off as we approached but continued to fly around, along with a few Griffon Vultures and Kites. Past Hecho the road opens out with fields on both sides and John spotted two raptors in the air. I dived out of the car to look at them through the binoculars and we both confirmed that they were Short toed Eagles. From here we went along the main road and then back up the bottom of the Anso valley, which we hadn’t seen before. This was another lovely route, with a narrow gorge with Griffon Vultures nesting on the cliffs. We passed through Anso village again and headed back via the Zurifa road to avoid the road surfacers! I think it is fair to say that we had both enjoyed John’s special birthday!


Thursday 6th June

Today we drove through Roncal and on to Burgui to have a look at this pretty village and pick up some supplies. From here we took the very good road towards Lumbier, stopping initially at the viewpoint overlooking Arbayun Gorge. Here we could see a few vultures on the spectacluar walls of the gorge and in the air. John called out to say he thought he could hear a Firecrest and sure enough, two of these little birds were hopping about in a tree right next to the viewpoint. We watched these birds for quite a while and both agreed this was the best view we had ever had of this lovely little bird. Next we drove to Lumbier, stopping initially to look at the feeding station where a few Griffons and Egyptians were waiting to see if any food was going to arrive. Unfortunately for them and for us it didn’t! A few more Vultures and Kites were in the air as we left to visit Lumbier Gorge. We parked in the car park and walked through the long, dark tunnel that leads into the gorge. It was sunny and hot in the gorge so we didn’t stay long as there is very little shade. The usual Griffon Vultures and Egyptian Vultures were present along with a few Red billed Chough. Crag Martins and House Martins were numerous and the odd Rock Dove could be seen flying on and off the ledges at lower levels near the tunnel. Numerous House Sparrows were in evidence but I was pleased to see a couple of Rock sparrows nesting on a rocky pinnacle. On the way back to the tunnel I spotted an Alpine Swift, which I had been hoping to see, and 2 or 3 more soon joined them in the air. We headed back to the picnic area for lunch and then left on the road towards Jaca, an impressive new motorway, until it ran out (not quite finished) and we were diverted onto the old road which runs alongside the Yesa Reservoir. The only birds we saw on this massive body of water were 2 Great Crested Grebes, an odd addition to our list.

Our route took us back up the Roncal Valley to Isaba, but we decided to continue back up the Belegua Valley which we had enjoyed so much on Tuesday. We went as far as the ski lifts where we had great views of lots of Alpine Chough feeding on the short grass and an Alpine Accentor put in a brief appearance. Working our way back down we stopped to watch about 6 Ring Ouzels as they flew over and landed on a grassy bank. A couple of Citril Finch landed nearby and later, where the road loops round and goes over a bridge, we saw two more going into holes in the side of the ridge,  perhaps nesting there. Further down the road we stopped for a last look at the fantastic view down the valley before heading back to our apartment for our final night there. While we were sitting in the car a Raven flew alongside us, flipped over onto it’s back, flew along a bit then turned the right way up again and flew away! Why do they do that?

Friday/Saturday – We set off for home, down the Roncal Valley seeing a couple of Red backed Shrikes on the wires, along with the usual Griffon Vultures and Black and Red Kites along the way. We headed up to San Juan de la Pena, making a few stops on the way to look at the views and the birds on the cliffs and in the air. We stopped by the new monastery and took a short walk through the woods hoping we might see a Black Woodpecker as we had in 2007, but all we saw were Chaffinches and a Robin. We left here and followed a long and winding road down the other side of the mountain spotting a Mistle Thrush as it flew across the road. Before we eventually came to the main road we spotted our first Bee eater of the trip and stopped to have a look at it and heard a Cuckoo calling nearby. While there John called a Golden Oriole and we both saw two of them before they disappeared into some nearby trees, a nice surprise and always a great bird to see. We stopped to eat lunch near the Mallos de Riglos where a Black Kite flew up and down the river gorge. Our final stop was to look at a White Stork on a church tower in a small village and to take some photos. When we looked at the photos we saw there was a dead young stork hanging upside down from the nest, a sad sight. From here we continued to our overnight stop at Monreal de Campo and the next day returned home having had a brilliant trip to this beautiful part of Spain.

We had missed out on a few bird species, such as, Wallcreeper, Rock Thrush, Snow Finch, Black Woodpecker and White backed Woodpecker although all these species would have been possible if we had wanted to make a bit more effort. Maybe we will save them for another visit. We would certainly recommend a trip to the Pyrenees to anyone, and not just for the bird watching. Our base in Isaba was a good location and our rooms at Metsola Apartments were very clean, warm, comfortable and modern, with great views. Visit Metsola Apartments for more information.