Explore north-east Spain´s spectacular wintery wonderlands in the quest for Wallcreeper, Lammergeier and Dupont´s Lark
Spanish Pyrenees and Plains trip report 2019
7 days – 27th January – 2nd February 2020
€1,700 for 7 days – price includes all accommodation, meals, guiding, transportation, taxes and entrances but excludes flights.
€240 single supplement.
Contact us for further information and to book your place on this tour.
The Pyrenees in winter are as beautiful as they are thrilling! It´s a challenging place to survive for wildlife, and the harsh conditions bring some star avian species within easy reach for the intrepid birder, allowing you to see them how you´ve never seen them before!
This is an area all about seeing specialist birds with restricted ranges, and spending quality time with star species that are hard to see elsewhere – especially breath-taking Lammergeiers and eye-popping Wallcreepers! Here, Black Woodpecker, Alpine Chough, Citril Finch, and even White-winged Snowfinch are possible.
Couple this with a visit to Aragòn’s sweeping steppe landscape near Gallocanta, where Dupont´s Lark sings its eerie song and Common Cranes bugle softly to each other in the dawn light, and you´ve certainly got yourself a trip to remember!
The erstwhile Kingdom of Aragon sweeps down from the Pyrenees, encompassing diverse terrains from permanent glaciers to verdant valleys, rich pasture lands and orchards, through to the arid steppe plains of the central lowlands. Aragon is home to many rivers—most notably, the river Ebro, Spain’s largest river in volume, which runs west-east across the entire region through the province of Zaragoza. It is also home to the Aneto, the highest mountain in the Pyrenees.
As well as it´s fast, spirited traditional dances, it is known for excellent mountain and riverine fare, such as wild boar, truffles and salmon.
This proud and spirited land has its own language and unique local customs, and is soon to be distinct from the rest of Spain. The cultural extravaganza that is Barcelona soon gives way to astounding natural splendour, where snow-capped peaks loom above meadows and pastureland, and medieval Moorish villages nestle by sparkling rivers.
Always hearty and tasty, Catalan cuisine takes its ingredients from both sea and mountain. Bacalao or cod, is often featured, alongside a hearty meat stew, or perhaps some of the prime ham or chorizo for which the area is rightly famed.
On the plains we´ll be looking for Dupont´s Lark amongst the Skylarks, Lesser Short-toed, Calandra, Thekla and Crested Larks, Meadow Pipits and Corn Buntings. Black-bellied and Pin-tailed Sandgrouse both occur, as do Great Bustards, Stone Curlews, Merlins, Hen Harriers, Little Owls and Golden Eagles.
Climbing the Pyrenees, the star species we will try to encounter are Wallcreeper, Lammergeier, Citril Finch, White-winged Snowfinch, Alpine Accentor, Griffon and Cinereous Vulture, Black Woodpecker, Common Crossbill, Hawfinch, Rock Bunting, Black Wheatear, Blue Rock Thrush, Alpine and Red-billed Chough, Black-bellied Dipper, Black Redstart, Crested, Marsh and Coal Tit, Bonelli´s and Golden Eagle.
We meet you at Zaragoza airport, and whisk you away across the stark landscapes of Spain´s meseta central to our accommodation right on the shores of the famous Gallocanta lagoon.
This birdwatcher´s paradise is a wintering site for tens of thousands of Common Cranes, and we should be able to hear their gentle bugling calls throughout the night from the hotel´s cosy, bird-themed bar and rooms.
Light permitting, we´ll take an evening stroll around the lagoon, where we´ll look out for Black-winged Stilts, Avocets, Little Ringed Plovers, and Hen Harriers as well as the very special sights and sounds of the Cranes.
The eerie steppe landscape of the local plains will form the backdrop for today´s birding. Here, we will be able to enjoy the spectacle of swirling flocks of huge numbers of wintering larks, pipits and buntings.
The songs of Skylarks, Lesser Short-toed, Crested, Thekla and Calandra Larks fill the air, as well as the calls of innumerable Corn Buntings and Meadow Pipits, and amongst them we will be searching for the scarce and elusive Dupont´s lark, whose tiny European population can only be found in a handful of sites on the Iberian Peninsula. A cold, pre-dawn start may be necessary to catch this mysterious lark, but the beauty of sunrise over the plains will make it worthwhile!
Other specialist plains species are also found here, such as Black-bellied and Pin-tailed Sandgrouse, Great Bustard and Stone Curlew, as well as Merlins, Hen Harriers, Little Owls and Golden Eagles.
In passerine flocks amongst the small orchards copses and reeds surrounding the lake, we can look for Tree Sparrows, Rock Petronias, and wintering Bluethroat.
Today we transfer to our second base in the Catalonian Pyrenees.
En route we´ll visit the stark wartorn ruins of Belchite, a village that found itself caught in the crossfire of the Spanish Civil War. The bullet-pocked walls of its destroyed houses and churches are now completely overtaken by Nature, including Black Wheatear and Blue Rock thrush – a post-apocalyptic yet uplifting place!
We´ll also explore the famous plains of El Planeron nature reserve, giving another perspective on the area´s fascinating steppe habitat. This is another fantastic stronghold for the DuPonts Lark, although even their strange song can be hard to pick out over the cacophony of Calandra and Lesser Short-toed lark! Here we´ll look again for the Sandgrouse species as well as the area´s resident Griffon Vultures, Golden Eagles and Red Kites.
From here we´ll make the two hour journey in stages, to our next base in the charming mountain town of Tremp, where we´ll settle in to our rooms before sampling some of the hotel restaurant´s superb Catalan fayre, such as breaded calçots (a type of scallion or green onion), and romesco sauce – a type of local pesto using almonds, hazelnuts and two varieties of red pepper!
Today our exploration of the foothills of the Pyrenees will take us to the spectacular forests and gorges of L´Argentería. As well as many engaging birds like Iberian Green Woodpecker, Hawfinch, Black Redstart, Golden Eagle, Blue Rock Thrush, Northern Raven and Red-billed Chough, we will be scouring the gorge walls for that much-coveted, flashy little gem of a bird, the Wallcreeper.
We´ll take a warming coffee in a nearby village, where by the babbling river we may be lucky enough to have views of Black-bellied Dipper and Rock Bunting.
Next we´ll head up a high mountain pass to keep our appointment with the Buseu Project, a conservation project whose aims include managing the land between the Parc Natural de l’Alt Pirineu and the Serra de Boumort-Collegats to be a conservation corridor.
High up in the Cork oak and conifer forests, we will be able to be part of one of their regular Vulture feeding sessions. Made in line with strict conservation objectives, this is a spectacular event at which we should be able to witness Griffon and Cinereous Vultures and glorious Lammergeiers circling overhead and tucking into the provided unspeakable titbits!
We´ll explore the picturesque sandstone streets of a nearby hilltop village in the afternoon, enjoying the typical medieval architecture, golden light and who knows, maybe some urban birding surprises…
Our journey to our next base high in the Catalonian Pyrenees will be at a leisurely pace, allowing us to take in all the beautiful scenery and winter birding the area has to offer.
We will take time to explore the farmland, orchards and crags on the outskirts of the Serra D´Aubenç, looking for typical farmland species like Cirl Bunting, and Tree Sparrow. With luck we may come across wintering Citril Finches. At this time of year, many high mountain species come down to seek shelter in quaint pyrenees villages, so we if we wrap up warm for al fresco elevenses at a local cafe, we may be able to enjoy roadside Rock Buntings and Hawfinches while we snack!
We will aim to arrive at our hotel with plenty of daylight left with which to explore the superb grounds and local area of Borredá. In this area, amongst the coniferous forests of the upper valley of the Margençol river, Lesser Spotted, Great Spotted and Iberian Green Woodpecker, Crested and Coal Tit, Golden and Bonelli´s Eagle, and Hawfinch are all present. Small farmed areas around the village edge host wintering finch flocks which can include Cirl Bunting, Brambling and even Citril Finch.
As darkness falls we´ll retire to comfy chairs around a cosy fireplace to recap our day´s birding with a warming drink, before enjoying a delicious gourmet dinner of local specialities courtesy of our hosts.
Today we reach for the heights! We head for the snow-capped peaks of Coll de Pal, some 2100m above sea level. Our winding route takes us through deciduous and coniferous forests permeated by gushing half-frozen streams.
Amongst this truly breath-taking scenery we will be searching for Common Crossbill, Hawfinch, Crested, Marsh and Coal Tit, Firecrest, Goldcrest, and Short-toed Treecreeper, all the while keeping an ear out for Black Woodpecker.
Overhead, Alpine Chough, Golden Eagle and Peregrine Falcon may drift and we can hope to see more Lammergeiers, scouring the slopes for any fallen Chamois.
As the trees give way to rocky scrubby slopes, the number of birds scraping a living in this desolate place dwindles still further! However those that tough it out are well worth searching for, and with luck we may pick up Alpine Accentor, Rock Ptarmigan and possibly even White-winged Snowfinch.
Whatever avian treasures the mountain throws our way, we´ll be sure to celebrate them in style with more of the hotel´s fabulous fayre for our final evening.
Today we must head to the airport, but with luck, an afternoon departure will give us chance for one final birding destination, exploring the coastal reedbeds of Barcelona´s Llobregat Marshes. Here, we will search for more shorebirds – such as Black-winged stilts, Kentish Plovers, and Little Ringed Plovers, as well as seeking a glimpse of a Great Bittern and maybe one of Spain´s very small number of Moustached Warblers.
Then it´s time to say goodbye to the dramatic scenery, spectacular birding and warm fireside welcomes of Aragòn and Catalonia.
Contact us for further information and to book your place on this tour.