Monday, 31 August 2015

Crags, Ruins & Apollo

We left our wonderful, secluded hotel high up in the Hecho Valley and headed down to pastures new, stopping amongst some arable fields to look for Ortolan Bunting again, but only hearing it this time. There were plenty of Corn Buntings, a few Cirl Buntings, and a fabulous Queen of Spain Fritillary. Moving on we paid a visit to a small craggy area where a fruiting bush held 2 Western Orphean Warblers, 2 Subalpine Warblers and a male Sardinian Warbler.  

A good place for warblers....!

A male Blue Rock Thrush was found on a cliff face, and 3 Peregrines, Eurasian Griffons and Egyptian Vultures soared in the clear blue sky. We’d already seen Short-toed and Booted Eagles, Common Buzzard, along with many Red and Black Kites so far today.

Castille de Loare

After some cold drinks and chips in a nearby restaurant we drove to Castille de Loare, a very scenic and picturesque setting where Rock Sparrow, Eurasian Hoopoe and Eurasian Crag Martins were present. 

Eurasian Crag Martin

Rock Sparrow was also breeding near the battlements

A very close Apollo Butterfly was also much appreciated here and was at a very low elevation than I would have expected. 

Amazing views of this Apollo today

After a short perusal of the ruins we had more cold drinks and ice-cream before driving to Loporzano and the wonderful Casa Boletas, our base for the next 2 nights. Along the ay we spotted several European Bee-eaters….… 38 degrees here this afternoon….!


Still Chillin in Spain.....!

Drove higher up the Hecho Valley at 6.30am and got to see a Black Woodpecker flying overhead several times, along with some nice looks at Crested Tit, Serin, Red Crossbill and a few other goodies. After breakfast drove down to the river and spent a leisurely morning’s birding seeing Rock Sparrow, Eurasian Golden Oriole, several Garden Warblers and even scoped a fine Eurasian Wryneck. Had our picnic lunch in the shade beside the cool river before driving for coffee in Berdun and then checking out a little site I know that didn’t really reveal anything new apart from an odd Marbled White. So we headed back up the valley and stopped for ice cream before getting back to the hotel at 4.45pm for a nice rest and cold beer!    

Thursday, 27 August 2015

Spanish Pyrenees Continued... Again...

I wasn’t surprised that it was negative news about the Candanchu chairlift being open and so there went our chance of seeing any snowfinches. However, Astun was open for business and we trundled over there after breakfast, stopping to watch a few Black Kites quartering the fields at the bottom of the Hecho Valley. We drove through Jaca and then up towards the French border at the Col du Somport and then the ski station of Astun. We called in to one of the restaurants for coffee and bacon baguettes (oh yes) before boarding the chairlift two at a time.

As always, it was a lovely serene and peaceful experience to do this and once at the top at around 2100m we walked past the lake and up into the hills. It’s just too green and ‘soft’ for snowfinches and to be honest it was rather quiet with only a flyover Lammergeier, some Water Pipits and a few Northern Wheatears


Great scenery at the top of the chairlift

So we spent some time enjoying the fantastic scenery and then returned to the chairlift, calling in to the café for some cold drinks. A lucky move as it turned out as I heard a Rufous-tailed Rock Thrush singing and then we picked it up perched on some boulders quite some distance away. Scope views were decent and I breathed a huge sigh of relief as this was a much-wanted lifer for the group.

Astun chairlift

Once down at the bottom we drove out and stopped for our very late (3pm) picnic lunch, only to be joined by a singing Rock Bunting – a huge bonus as they just don’t seem to be very numerous now.

Rock Bunting

We then drove to a pine forest where Western Bonelli’s Warbler was easily found by Roberta, and there was also Subalpine Warbler, Eurasian Nuthatch, Three-toed Treecreeper, Firecrest and Great Spotted woodpecker, plus a few Heath Fritillaries.


Nice view once again

Heath Fritillary

Friday, 14 August 2015

Finland & Arctic Norway 2016

We have another new tour for next year, this one to Finland & Arctic Norway. Yep it's an expensive tour but the quality of potential species reads like a "Who's Who" of most wanted European and Western Palearctic birds: Great Grey Owl, Eurasian Pygmy Owl, Eurasian Hawk Owl, Ural Owl, Tengmalm's Owl, Eurasian Eagle Owl, Siberian Tit, Siberian Jay, Capercaillie, Willow Grouse, Hazel Grouse, Eurasian Three-toed Woodpecker, Black Woodpecker, Pine Grosbeak, Two-barred Crossbill, White-billed Diver, King Eider, Steller's Eider, Brunnich's Guillemot, Long-tailed Skua, Gyr Falcon......... 

For the full tour itinerary - click here

We are very privileged to be able to showcase Jari Peltomaki's (Finnature) superb photos from this tour:

Black Grouse

Capercaillie

Dotterel


Hawk owl

Eurasian Pygmy Owl

Eurasian Three-toed Woodpecker

The boat to Hornoya Island



Great Grey Owl is the daddy...!

Hazel Grouse is always tricky to find but Finland gives you multiple chances....

King Eider

Lapland Bunting

Long-tailed Skua

Eurasian Hawk Owl

Northern Red-flanked Bluetail

Pine Grosbeak can sometimes be found at feeding stations

Atlantic Puffin - Hornoya Island

Displaying Ruff

Siberian Jay

Siberian Tit


Smew - one of the most beautiful ducks

Steller's Eider - this might just be better...?

Ural Owl should be staked out....

White-tailed Eagle usually provides great views.


Willow Grouse can be seen at a number of localities

Monday, 3 August 2015

Hecho Valley

Drove up to Selva de Oza in the picturesque Hecho Valley and quickly found a White-throated Dipper, along with an unidentified skipper and Black-veined White. We then proceeded to drive higher and walked up through the wide-open valley with Red-billed Choughs, Yellowhammers, Egyptian Vultures, and Apollo Butterfly being seen. 



Fantastic scenery of the upper Hecho Valley

We spent quite some time enjoying the fabulous scenery before driving back down to the forest for lunch. In the trees right overhead as we were munching our sandwiches we saw Short-toed Treecreeper and Crested Tit.

Then drove to Hecho village and a nice little bar for cold drinks, coffee and ice cream as it was just so hot. Afterwards we drove up towards Gabardito and searched for new butterflies with White-letter Hairstreak and Essex Skipper being added to our list.


White-letter Hairstreak

After dinner we drove to a new site and waited patiently for the sun to set and sure enough at the appointed time a huge Eurasian Eagle Owl flew in and landed on some trees to our right and began calling away for several minutes before soaring across the darkening sky right in front if us and disappearing over a hill. Wow!


Saturday, 25 July 2015

Roncal Valley

Well another 8am breakfast before heading out for another relaxing day in the Spanish Pyrenees. A male Red Crossbill calling from the conifers at the edge of the car park was a bit of a surprise before leaving and heading to the Anso Viewpoint. A calling Western Bonelli’s Warbler was only seen by a couple of us, but a flotilla of Eurasian Griffons overhead was quite a spectacle, and they were joined by a Booted Eagle, Red Kite and European Honey Buzzard in quite an impressive kettle. 

Eurasian Griffon

European Honey Buzzard

This open forest was superb for butterflies with Woodland, Great Banded and Rock Graylings, and a Ripart’s Anomalous Blue

Ripart's Anamolous Blue - great name huh..

Dark-Green Fritillary

Marbled White

We then crossed into the Anso Valley where a brief appearance by a Lammergeier left us a little frustrated before we set off up and over to the Roncal Valley. Great scenery continued as we headed up higher and higher, stopping for coffee and fries at a little restaurant.


Beautiful scenery high up in the Roncal Valley

Well I’m pleased to report we got Citril Finch at their usual spot very easily (the same place I last saw them 6 years ago!) , before searching for Alpine Accentor which took a little longer to find. But we eventually had 3 birds, one of which flew in and landed 3 metres away!! Wow! 


Alpine Choughs are common...

Alpine Choughs were common up here, and distracted us a little from the accentors, with a singing bird on top of a conifer being very obliging as well. 


Alpine Accentor

The Citril Finches were on view for ages, whilst a Common Quail was flushed from an alpine meadow and an awesome Lammergeier hunted right in front of us. 


A poor effort at phone-scoping a Citril Finch

Must admit this is one of my favourite spots with spectacular views, beautiful craggy habitat, nice weather and good birds. We even spotted a Pyrenean Aquilegia on the way down and then drove straight back to the Hecho Valley. More time for chilling, quaffing beer and relaxing. Ahhh this is the life!