Spanish Steppes and Pyrenees

April 2011

After the stresses of moving house and missing our trip to central Spain at Christmas due to snow, we decided to have a relaxed Easter break in northern Spain this time.


We flew into Barcelona and true to form drove straight out of the city.


On the journey east we found a colony of Lesser Kestrels, and connected with Golden Eagle, Egyptian Vulture, Red-billed Chough, Montagu’s and Marsh Harriers, Black-eared and Northern Wheatears, Southern Grey Shrike and plenty of Griffon Vultures. Also we saw our first LarksCalandra, Short-toed and Crested – and heard Serin, Cetti’s Warbler and Nightingale.


Our first few nights were in Belchite, primarily to look for Dupont’s Lark.  This involved horrendously early starts and was incredibly frustrating and difficult. There were plenty around, singing very close by, but virtually impossible to see. Eventually we both managed very brief views after several morning and evening attempts. As a reward we did have several non-birding excursions to Zaragossa and the eerie ruined village of Belchite, which was bombed to virtual annihilation in the Spanish Civil War.


Off to the mountains via Riglos for the first of several unsuccessful attempts to find Wallcreeper. It seems that it was a bit early for them to be on their breeding grounds as yet, but we did see Black Wheatear, Black Redstart, Red-billed Chough and Woodchat Shrike. We stayed in the beautiful Santa Cruz de la Seros where our room overlooked a quaint 12th century church complete with resident Scops Owl.


Several walks in this area to the San Juan de la Pena monastery, Garbardito, Formigal, Candanchu and Astun ski resorts yielded Crested Tit, Crag Martin, Short-toed Tree-creeper, Subalpine Warbler. Boca del Infierno also proved unproductive for Wallcreeper but we did find several  Lammergeier, Peregrine, Raven, Water Pipit, Alpine Chough and the ubiquitous whistling Marmots. Sadly there were no Snowfinch, one of our prime targets, as apparently the snow had retreated a little early this year.


We stayed one night in Buesca, a really pretty little village still with some working farmers living there, and here we tackled a five hour walk in Ordesa National Park with spectacular mountain scenery. We saw plenty of Lammergeier and Golden Eagles, and also found our first Izards, a grazing herd and several males fighting. The drives round here was breathtaking, especially Anisclio Gorge.


Another feature of this trip was the flora. Our identification is a little sketchy but we think we found Lady Orchid, lots of wild Narcissi, Crocuses (Croci?), Saxifrages, Butterwort, Anemones, Daphnes, Antirrhinums, Primulas and Gentians.


The trip ended with a few nights at Casa Boletas in Loporzano with great food, friendly hosts and enough cats and dogs to make us feel at home. The area wasn’t brilliant for birding but we did add Blue Rock Thrush, Booted Eagle, Woodlark, Orphean and Melodious Warblers, Corn Bunting, Willow Warbler, Rock Sparrow, Wryneck, Rock Thrush, Cirl Bunting and a breeding colony of Bee-eaters to our trip list. We succeeded in our goal of having a relaxed semi-birding trip, and even managed to do one or two non-birding things this holiday. Does this mean we’re getting old?!!


A final quick visit to Barcelona city was interesting with excellent chocolate pastries, although it did affirm our dislike of cities in general with lots of tourists and Easter religious parades.






Ruins of Belchite
Black-eared Wheatear
Beech woods in Ordesa NP
Santa Cruz de la Seros
San Juan de la Pena monastery
Narcissi at altitude
Egyptian Vulture
Corn Bunting
Julia getting sniffy
Gentians at altitude
Golden Eagle
Buesca (Hobbiton)
Buesca (Hobbiton)
Anisclo Gorge
Bearded Irises
Lady Orchid
Julia at altitude
Griffon Vulture
Lesser Kestrel
Scarce Swallowtail
Simon at altitude
Simon above San Juan de la Pena
Short-toed Eagle
Rock Thrush
Budding orchid
Budding orchid
Pyrenean Snapdragon
Simon unconscious at Ordesa NP
The Hecho Valley
Tawny Pipit
Spotless Starling


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