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(10 Days ) 141 Species of Birds seen, 47 Species of Butterfly plus much more!

Steve Bird, Nick Bray

Day 1 29th July

We all met on time at Plymouth Ferry Port and once we had loaded our luggage onto the minibus, we joined the queue to board the huge Val de Loire. While waiting, we watched an immature Peregrine Falcon pursuing an adult, which was carrying a pigeon. We set sail on a smooth flat sea and soon after leaving Plymouth Sound we saw our first Manx Shearwaters, later followed by a Balearic Shearwater. Fulmars and Gannets were always on show and after a few hours our first Storm Petrels and Harbour Porpoises were seen. Conditions became even better with cloud cover and a very flat grey sea. Great Skuas were seen well and then we started seeing Great Shearwaters and a couple of Sooty Shearwaters. The views of the Greats were superb and we soon added a Puffin, Common Terns and 2 Black Terns. Harbour porpoises peaked at an amazing 42 for the day, a Sunfish was seen well, Common and Bottle-nosed Dolphins and a fantastic Minke Whale literally a few feet in front of the boat. Towards the end of the day we started to get good views of Cory's Shearwater and good numbers of unidentified dolphins. This was an excellent day with good views and a good variety of seabird and cetaceans.

Day 2 30th July

Some of the group were up early and sea-watching in the two hours before our arrival in Santander. Only 2 Great Shearwaters were seen until we got into the harbour and saw Yellow-legged Gulls and a Sandwich Tern. We were almost last to disembark, but once off we collected our second vehicle and in the rain we set off on our journey to the Pyrenean mountain range. After  a couple of hours we made a stop for drinks and a snack, beside a White Storks nest. Unfortunately the birds were out feeding somewhere and we never saw them. Continuing on, the weather eventually cleared up and became sunny and warm, although there was still a strong wind. Many raptors were spotted from the vehicles including Griffon Vultures, Red and Black Kites and Common Buzzard. We made a stop looking into the Foz de Lumbier and here the skies just filled with Griffon Vultures and although difficult to estimate there must have been up to 500 birds! A Booted Eagle was then spotted, followed by Short-toed Eagle and several Egyptian Vultures. We carried on and eventually reached our perfectly placed hotel at the base of some impressive mountains. We unpacked and had a pot of tea, after which we took a short walk outside our new home for the week. We hadn't gone more than 20 yards when a Lammergeier was spotted drifting low over the distant mountains. We all scoped it and then shortly after it had disappeared, another scruffy individual flew out from behind our hotel and gave us much closer looks at its very distinctive shape. What a super start!

Red-backed Shrike

Further down the road we watched a family of Red-backed Shrikes and got some wonderful views. Moving along to a road tunnel, we could watch the nesting Crag Martins and in a nearby field, a Fox was sleeping and on the river below a Dipper was seen. We made our way back to the hotel and got ready for our first evening meal and checklist call of the tour.

Day 3 31st July

Foz de Binies.

After breakfast we set off in the vehicles and drove down the valley away from the wind. We then crossed over to the Anso valley making our first stop to look at some Griffon Vultures sat on top of a line of pointed rocks. The light was perfect and while looking at these, we then found a male Blue Rock Thrush sat on the very top. Distracted as normal in this wonderful mountain range we were soon looking at a Club-tailed Dragonfly and then several Butterflies which included Black Satyr, Marbled Whites, Clouded Yellow and Common Blue. Moving on we drove down this valley and stopped a few hundred yards from the lovely deep gorge of Foz de Binies. There were lots of butterflies along the roadside and we soon got to see Scarce Swallowtails, Silver-washed Fritillary, Spanish Chalk-hill Blue and Silver-spotted Skipper. Above us soared Griffons and a lone Alpine Swift. Two Lammergeiers then appeared and we got great views as they flew in front of the hillside and then away. From here we walked to a field beside the river where a Dipper was spotted. As some of us checked through the many Gatekeeper Butterflies, a shout went up and there only 50ft above us was a Lammergeier carrying a bone. We had the closest and most fantastic views you could ever have hoped for as it slowly circled us. A second bird then did a repeat performance before flying to the gorge. Here we watched it carry and drop a large stick - as it would a bone.

Griffon Vulture


Absolutely brilliant! We then took a slow walk through the gorge. Adult and juvenile Griffon Vultures were seen sat on rocky ledges, Crag Martins flew around and a Spotted Flycatcher was seen. Great Banded and Striped Grayling were also seen well. Leaving the gorge, we drove to the nearby Veral River where we stopped and had our picnic lunch. Two Southern White Admirals were seen and some Bee-eaters gave their liquid calls as they flew low over a field. After eating, we took a short walk seeing the Bee-eaters again and then finding a nice Melodious Warbler. Beside a bridge we managed to get brief views of a Bonelli's Warbler while Red Kites flew above.


Moving on, we made a quick stop where we watched Tree Grayling and Berger's Clouded Yellow plus had poor views of another Melodious Warbler, Cirl Bunting and a small group of Spotless Starlings flew by. We then drove to the river Aragon and here beside the river we saw a Blue-headed Wagtail, both Red and Black Kites and a few more Bee-eaters. A bit more searching and Keith got a view of a Wryneck which we eventually got really close to and had superb views. We then watched a Rock Sparrow carrying food to its nest, after which we walked back to the vehicles. As we returned another brief stop had us watching several Woodchat Shrikes and Nick's van got to see a close Booted Eagle before getting back to the hotel.

Day 4 1st Aug

Short-toed Eagle

views of the surrounding mountains

This morning with breakfast over, we headed to a nearby ski refuge. We hadn't walked more than a couple of paces when two Citril Finches were spotted sat on a fence. The pair, including a bright male then dropped down and fed in some thistles for all of us to see. We then set off on a walk through the wood and up to a sheer rock face where we had fantastic views of the surrounding mountains. We spent all morning here and got to see a Lammergeier, very good views of Alpine Swift, and both Crested Tit and Rock Bunting. We could look down on Griffon Vultures flying below us and several of the group also saw a Black Woodpecker. A few butterflies were found here and on the way back, including Autumn Ringlet, Mountain Ringlet, Comma and stunning Scarce Coppers. Amongst the flowers were English Iris and a few Mirendra. We left here and then drove up the Hecho Valley to Selva de Oza. Our picnic lunch was soon consumed as we relaxed beside a stream where several new butterflies and flowers were seen. Driving to the top of the valley we then took a short walk and here we saw a Marmot sat on a rock and then we had great views of a Short-toed Eagle, which hovered many times fairly close to us allowing every detail to be seen. John then spotted a Pyrenean Brook Salamander which I caught and showed everyone before releasing him back into his pool. Chalkhill Blues were seen and even a Mountain Clouded Yellow and Common Swallowtail. As we headed back we also got to see some Yellowhammers, Red-backed Shrikes, Dippers and Grey Wagtail.

Pyrenean Brook Salamander

Day 5   2nd Aug

White Stork

Los Mallos de Riglos

It was cloudy and looked like rain on the mountains today, so after breakfast we headed south. Our first stop was at the bottom of our valley, in order to check a small bushy hillside. We soon found Corn Buntings, a brief Cirl Bunting and Dartford Warbler and then everyone got to see a family of Subalpine Warblers. Bee-eaters sat on the telegraph wires, a Tawny Pipit was found and then a few people saw Wryneck and Melodious Warbler. Moving on we drove to Los Mallos de Riglos with its huge red pinnacle rocks. A Golden Oriole was spotted from the front bus, but it was too dangerous to stop. At Riglos, we walked through the village to the little church and from here we searched the base of these huge, towering red sandstone cliffs. Black Redstarts were seen, as well as Melodious and Sardinian Warbler, before we got a brief view of our target bird: Black Wheatear.

Black Wheatear.

We waited and saw genuine Rock Doves in a cave and later I relocated three Black Wheatears and we all got to see them well. Moving on from here we continued south towards Huesca. Along the way we made an emergency stop when a European Roller was spotted on a wire. As we got out to have a look, it flew off and away but nearly everyone got to see it in flight. Further along and we stopped to look at a group of Spotless Starlings and then a very obliging White Stork stood on a TV arial. At Huesca, we turned off and after a while drove into the dry steppes. We had our picnic lunch in the shade of a tree beside an irrigation channel full of water. We then drove slowly around the area. A Little Owl looked superb as it watched us from a hole in a rocky bank and Crested Larks, Red-backed Shrike, Bee-eater, Turtle Doves and several Common Sandpipers were spotted. A dark phase Booted Eagle was then seen being mobbed by the local Kestrels and a Green Woodpecker was spotted. Driving over the barren steppe area we saw very little, a Harrier was too far away in the haze to be identified and a few Black-eared Wheatears gave brief views. We then got to see an adult male and a juvenile Black-eared Wheatear really well sat on a rock. From here we continued to the edge of Lake Sotonera. Our first small pool of water held a Little Egret so we got out to scope it. We then saw a couple of Black-headed Gulls and up to 8 Common Sandpipers. Just as we were about to leave Geoff saw a wader fly in and land. I looked in his scope and was amazed to see a vagrant American Pectoral Sandpiper. What a find! We all set our scopes on this, the first record ever for Aragon and then after getting some initial record photos we slowly approached it. As with most American vagrant waders I knew it would be rather tame and after some time we were watching it at about 40ft away. We got some good photos, had fantastic close views and then left the bird feeding where we had found it. Excellent! We then made our way back via a cross country route. On a canal were several Little Egrets, a Cattle Egret flew off and then in a field beside us a lovely male Montagu's Harrier was watched. A little later, we saw a Marsh Harrier and then drove straight back to our hotel arriving just in time for a quick shower and then the evening meal. After which we toasted Geoff and the Pectoral Sandpiper, plus anything else we could think of!

Pectoral Sandpiper

Day 6   3rd Aug

Snow Finch


After breakfast we set off on the drive to Candanchu, a ski resort at the base of some 6,000ft mountains. A stop was made just before we got there, when a Lammergeier was spotted flying low around a hillside. Once there we loaded our picnic into our rucksacks and then took the chair lift to the top of the mountain. We were the only people up there and it was a fantastic place to be with incredible views all around. A few flowers such as Eidelweiss started off the day, and carpets of English Iris beckoned the cameras. We walked on and soon scoped an Alpine Chough sat on a rock and then almost immediately a Snow Finch was seen to fly across and land on the grass. A couple of birds were then seen flying back and forth and landing amongst the rocks. We had lots of time and this enabled us all to see this species very well. Butterflies in the area included Lefebre's and Piedmont Ringlet, Mountain Clouded Yellow, Spanish Brassy Ringlet and an obvious southerly movement of Large Whites.

Hills near Candanchu

A good selection of Alpine flowers was seen and after eating our picnic we walked higher and saw both Pyrenean Saxifrage and Pyrenean Agualega. A frog was also seen in a small pool and sat precariously on a small ledge on a sheer cliff face, we scoped a Chamois. After spending all day here we then returned back down the chair lift, seeing a Marmot on the way, and had a welcome drink in a nearby cafe. Afterwards we headed back to the hotel and an early evening meal. We quickly completed the log and then drove down to the bottom of the valley where we positioned ourselves between two hillsides and waited until dusk. On cue at about 10.00pm a huge Eagle Owl flew in and landed on the ridge. We moved position slightly and could then scope it with the sky behind. A great success! We then returned back to our hotel, where the stars this evening were really clear. We saw several shooting stars and even a couple of satellites before going to bed.

Day 7   4th Aug

This morning was misty and cloudy after the rain and storms during the night. After breakfast we decided to head down the valley where it should be warmer. We stopped just outside the hotel as there seemed to be a lot of birds around. It was obvious that the rains had dropped in many migrants. A Pied Flycatcher was seen, then several Melodious Warblers, Garden Warblers, Dunnock and tits. We drove down the valley and checked the road to Arres. On the scrubby hillside we soon found a lovely male Ortolan Bunting, lots of Corn Buntings and even several Cirl Buntings. Behind us on a small bush was a Southern Grey Shrike, a good bird for this area. We then had brief views of two Dartford Warblers, but longer and better views of Whitethroat, Subalpine and Garden Warblers. Several Orphean Warblers typically kept in cover but most of the group managed to get reasonable views. It was now getting hot so we drove up the Anso valley which was now clearing. Half way up we made a quick stop when a Hoopoe was seen. After a short wait we all got to see it walking around the short grass. Our next impromptu stop was along the road where hundreds of butterflies could be seen. Every plant held a good selection of different species including Small, Large and Silver-spotted Skipper, Striped Grayling, Gatekeepers, Marbled Whites and Mazarine Blue to name a few.

Silver-spotted Skipper

Red-backed Shrikes were also seen and then a Goshawk circled high over the forest. We continued driving until Zuriza where we stopped for our picnic lunch beside a stream and open meadows. A Lammergeier was seen well and several Honey Buzzards were spotted. After lunch we drove across to the Roncal valley and drove right up to the French border at St Martin. Very good views were had of Yellow-billed Chough and Griffon Vulture flying just below us. At the very top we saw Citril Finches and Water Pipit and then after a long hike Nick found an Alpine Accentor, but it flew and we could not relocate it. It was getting late, so we headed back towards the hotel. A stop was made at a small famous pottery and then we drove the last leg back to the hotel.  Nick's vehicle stopped briefly to look at a perched Short-toed Eagle.

Day 8   5th Aug


English Iris

Sadly, this was our last day in the beautiful Pyrenees. We still had to get 2 target birds today, so most of the group returned to Candanchu. A few of the group decided to spend the day in the town of Jaca, which apart from some good shops and nice little bars also has a park and some other good `birdy' areas. So off we went, up the chairlift once again. The peace and tranquillity as you ascend to the top is something you will never forget. So, we retraced our steps of the previous day and headed along the path to the open grassy area below the first big scree slope. Betty spotted some movement in the grass, just below a patch of English Iris, and there was our first Alpine Accentor of the trip - wow!! It showed really well before flying away onto the hillside, where we could still see it through the scopes. I walked back down the path with Doug and Dave and we got incredibly stunning views as it fed right above us on the hillside. Over the next hour or so, it flew back and forth in front of us all, showing really well. We also had crippling views of the Snowfinch as well. The pair were seen carrying food to their nest high up on the scree slope and regularly came very close to where we were sat. They seemed oblivious to our presence and were determined to feed in close proximity to our picnic site! So, all we needed was the elusive Wallcreeper. So we all walked up higher and higher, searching the scree slopes and rock faces as we went. But we would have no success with this bird today. Some of us decided to go higher up, leaving Nick and Margaret to scan one big scree and cliff area. Keith was in two minds what to do, but eventually he decided to climb the steep path with the rest of us and to his eternal credit brought the jam tarts with him!  We all managed to see a big movement of Black Kites, numbering well in excess of 350, moving south. Other birds seen up here today included both species of Chough, another Lammergeier, many Black Redstarts and a few Water pipits. Time was now pressing, so we eventually regrouped and headed back to the chair lift. On the way down, we saw several Chamois and a nice little Marmot. As we descended in the chair lift, dark clouds above the mountains threatened some heavy rain. So we had timed it just right and made it to the bar before the rain and hail arrived. After some refreshing drinks we drove into Jaca to pick the others up. They had a good day, seeing Tree and Rock Sparrows, Little Owl, Melodius Warbler, Firecrest and Serin. So we then all stopped off at a nice little bar in Hecho Village for some drinks and sat outside in the little cobbled street enjoying the sunshine. That evening we had quite a storm but still managed to get our luggage onto the minibus in preparation for tomorrow's early departure.

Day 9   6th Aug

Leaving very early in the morning, we headed back to the coast in what you could only describe as typical British weather; rain, drizzle and mist! Still, we did see some Griffon Vultures near the Spanish Coast and had a couple of welcome coffee breaks. After dropping the hire car off we were soon boarding the ferry for our return journey. Meeting on the front deck again, we had a nice Mediterranean Gull flying around the harbour before we got to the open sea. The journey across the Bay of Biscay was pretty good, with several Cory's and Great Shearwaters being seen really well, but only one Balearic Shearwater. Cetaceans were more in evidence this time, with 6 Fin Whales being seen, several of which were clearly seen `blowing' - a magical sight. We also saw Bottle-nosed and Striped Dolphins as well.  

Day 10   7th Aug

Some of us were up early and eagerly scanning the sea for some last minute sightings as we neared the coast of Cornwall. A couple of Balearic Shearwaters followed a line of Manx Shearwaters and several Storm Petrels were seen. But apart from the usual Gannets and a few Common Terns it was pretty quiet. All too soon we were docking and saying our final farewells in the car park.

On behalf of Nick and myself, we would like to thank everybody for making it such an enjoyable trip and it was a real pleasure and delight to lead.

Full trip list - Other Birdseekers reports from the Pyrenees


birdseekers photos