Thursday, 2 June 2011

Spanish Fiesta, Part II. The High Pyrenees

On the way to Hecho is a place called San Juan de la Pena. There are two monasteries here, the old one built into the side of a cliff. Next to the new monastery, which is now a hotel and restaurant, is some productive woodland.

A walk through the woodland track yielded Crested Tit, Firecrest, Short-toed Treecreeper. Eventually, the track leads to a viewpoint, giving a magnificent view of the Pyrenees.

Down the bottom of the view here, a Black Woodpecker flew past and Bonelli's Warblers were singing. Bonelli's Warbler has an interesting song actually, like a shortened Wood Warbler.

Before carrying on west to Hecho, I drove back through Jaca and north to a couple of ski resorts way up in the mountains, Astun and Candanchu. As you can see, the scenery on a sunny day is magnificent.

There were a few birds around, like Linnet, Black Redstart, Water Pipit, 2 Dippers and a Grey Wagtail, and Citril Finches. But unfortunately I couldn't stay up here that long, I did feel perculiar and being over 2 kilometres above sea level, I can only put it down to the altitude. Thankfully the Hecho valley is at a much lower altitude.

Next morning, a first try for Wallcreeper at the Gabardito area of the Hecho valley. A walk eventually takes you through to this area of cliff.

A birding group were already here, and had already seen both a male and female Wallcreeper. After a short wait, the male popped his head round the corner for a while, then took flight. What a brilliant sight a Wallcreeper in flight is, part Hoopoe, part butterfly! Also in the Gabardito area were Citril Finches, Alpine Swifts, both Alpine and Red-billed Choughs, a Golden Eagle and a Chamois.

After the Wallcreeper had flew off, I got talking to the birding guide, who was also staying at the same hotel in Hecho. "You've got time to get over the Pierre St. Martin, for Alpine Accentor!". What a good idea. It's about a two hour drive away to the north-west, and just over the border into France. The altitude wasn't a problem here either, even though you're above the clouds!

Well I say above the clouds, after about an hour and a half, the clouds came in and it became impossible to see anything. But before then there were Ring Ouzel, more Citril Finches, another Lammergeier and excellent views of Alpine Choughs.

But no Alpine Accentor or Rock Thrush. Never mind, worth a try, but Rock Thrush was still possible back towards the Wallcreeper site at Gabardito and carrying on along the path. So the plan was to go back there in the evening, when cooler to walk. In meantime lets explore further up in the Hecho valley.

I really wished I hadn't bothered. That's because along the mountain road, I really thought I had cleared a large rock in the road. I didn't, and it caused a huge puncture in the tyre wall, and no spare was supplied! Luckily for me, very lucky in fact, the birding group staying in my hotel were only a short distance away, looking at Marmots. Many thanks to Cristian Jensen Marcet of Audouin Birding Tours for giving me a lift back to the hotel, and helping out with the emergency breakdown phone line, in Spanish!

Thankfully it didn't take too long for the breakdown truck to arrive, the car was taken to a garage in Hecho and a taxi was arranged for me to pick up a new car in Pamplona the next morning. So at least I wasn't going to lose too much time in getting to the plains the next day, but it did scupper trying to see Rock Thrush that evening. Oh well, worse things happen I suppose.

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