Friday 16 October 2015

Pyrenean Adventure Part One

Back in September we were lucky enough to have the best part of a week searching the Basque Pyrenees for amongst other things the elusive local woodpeckers... Now, as you know I am prone to being quite wordy once I get going so I shall try and post my report in sections to give you a chance to read them and skip through the multitude of pictures from this most scenic part of Europe..

Oh and do not forget to click on the pictures to see them in hi res... they look much better and you can scroll through them if the words get a bit too much!

The Basque Pyrenees – 12th – 18th September 2015 

A short tale to get us started... over a year ago at the Rutland Bird Fair David Hutley bid for and won (for an incredibly bargainous £55 a head) a holiday for six of us on a Woodpecker Workshop in the Pyrenees hosted by Julen Gayarre and Gerard Gorman.

12th September

Fast forward just over a year and David, Mike Dent, Neil Murphy and myself were at Stansted boarding a early flight to Bilbao. Roy and Ian Woodward were going by ferry and would take all our luggage to cut down on costs even further.

We did wonder what the Woodies  would say if stopped by port customs and asked if they had packed all the bags themselves and likewise what airport security would say to me with a bag with a scope, bins, camera and a pair of cleans pants for a week away...

No sooner were we in the sky than we were back down again in northern Spain and very swiftly on our way to the Holiday Inn just beyond the airport limits. Julen was not collecting us till the following lunchtime so we dumped our gear and having had a butchers at Google Maps before we came away, headed through a tunnel under the main road and off into the still lush rolling, wooded countryside dotted with houses (each with the ubiquitous barking dog).

Over the next few hours we trawled the lanes, woods and grassy paths and notched up a very healthy 54 species. There had obviously been a good fall of birds with Pied Flycatchers quite literally everywhere and we reckoned on about 60 in the immediate area feeding from wires, fences and any tree. 

Lovely Pied Flys

They were not along and we also found both Redstarts, Stone and Whinchats, Spotted Flycatchers and a bucket full of Willow Warblers.  Short-toed Treecreepers, Crested Tits and Firecrests were seen and heard and among the other warblers we found several Reeds and a single calling Bonelli’s.  The skies were fairly quiet but we did pick up both Common and Honey Buzzard, Hobby and our first distant Griffons.

Black Redstarts
Holly Blue, White Admiral, Speckled Wood, Small White and very large local race Meadow Browns were seen along with ride patrolling Southern Hawkers and one or two Eristalis tenax hoverflies...

Speckled Wood

Meadow Brown

A pulse of Swallows headed through (including a completely tailess bat-like individual!) with a solitary swift for company.

Pleased with our foot slogging Urban Birding efforts we returned to the hotel where a fine dinner of Iberico Ham, Eggs and Chips was washed down with a nice bottle of local Rioja.

13th September

Up early after a very good night’s sleep and after a nice breakfast we headed up through the tunnel to explore in the other direction.  There were still plenty of Pied Flys around but things were quieter although we were very pleased to find a Wryneck perched on the other side of a paddock before it bounded off into cover.  Great Spot made it two Woodpecker species for the trip and a the odd jingly jangly Serin added a splash of colour along with my favourite bird – the Grey Wagtail.   

Willow Warbler

As yet unidentified Grasshopper

Roy and Ian arrived at about the same time a Julen with the minibus so we all bundled in and headed out of town for the coast and the reserve at Urdaibai passing our first Red Kite on the journey.

The visitors centre looked small and unassuming from the outside but opened up like some astonishing relative of the TARDIS once through the glass front doors. It was a VC like any other in some ways... reception, shop, toilets but then turned that completely on its head with state of the art glass walled meeting and conference rooms, similar classrooms, crèche area and sit down booths in which to watch video looped information films about the reserve, ringing and migration. Simply stunning and that was before we got to the viewing windows out of the marshland lagoon that nestles beyond the big meander of the Mundakako Itsasadarra. 

It was chock full of birds and we quickly added about 30 species to the trip list with all the normal dabbling ducks along with Coots, Little Grebes, Pochard and Water Rail. A Kingfisher posed on a distant log and 53 Greenshank were roosting up along with three gingery juvenile Black-tailed Godwits, seven Redshank, three Wood, one Green and five tettering Common Sandpipers. Marsh Harriers quartered and a large flock of Spoonbills were seen flying in the distance but more of those later.  It was suggested that we went upstairs to the next platform. A meeting was taking place so we were advised to head higher and up it went to the top of a huge tower with open windows overlooking the marsh and environs beyond.  A breathtaking view from a structure that you never even noticed from the car park!

Greenshank and Blackwits...

Anyway, more birding was required so we headed back out, following the river towards the sea.  Several stop afforded us good views of the estuary and mudflats where flocks of Little Egret, Grey Heron, Curlew and Dunlin were found along with a solitary Ringed Plover and two peachy fronted juvenile Knot. The Spoonbill flock was also relocated and 55 were counted feeding in the shallow waters before a fine fly by while two Sandwich Terns were contesting a perch in mid channel.  It looked quite Welsh or Lake District like in aspect and even the imminent rain and dashing Peregrine helped the image until you looked up and huge Griffon would drift into view on door sized wings. 



With some time still to kill before meeting Gerard back at the airport we gave the centre one more look and added 14 Cattle Egrets and another dashing Peregrine to the tally. 


Cattle Egrets

Gerard landed on time from Hungary and were soon out on the road again and heading east towards Pamplona (of Bull run infamy) and then up into the Pyrenees to the village of Burgui where we would be ensconced for the week.  The journey was uneventful with only some Spotless Starlings, a Red Kite, Kestrels and some Corn Buntings for all the window staring. 

We arrived well after dark at El Almadiero to be warmly welcomed with a fine three course dinner and more Rioja to ease the accessibility of sleep...

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