Four magic Pyrenean moments that´ll knock your woolly socks off!

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The Pyrenees in winter…stunning!  © Inglorious Bustards

The Pyrenees area in winter is beautiful, exciting, adventurous and fun!  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 to see them how you’ve never seen them before!

This is an area all about the specialists, and spending quality time with star species that you probably won’t see elsewhere.  An area where Black Woodpecker, Citril Finch, White-winged Snowfinch, White-backed Woodpecker and Western Capercaillie are all possible.

Couple this with a visit to Aragòn’s sweeping steppe landscape near Gallocanta, winter home to Black-bellied and Pin-tailed Sandgrouse, Dupont’s Lark and thousands of Common Cranes, and you’ve certainly got yourself a trip to remember!

So there are many reasons to join us on the Spanish peaks and plains next winter! Here are just four of them!

1. Lammergeiers!

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Lammergeier © Inglorious Bustards

After a hot coffee and some freshly baked pastries, spirits were high as our intrepid recce team donned gloves hats and scarves and set off up the Serra del Cadi for our first day´s mountain birding.

Hawfinches and Rock Buntings were feeding in the streets of the frozen villages.  As we headed up from the valley floor, we passed through hushed frozen forests and streams and waterfalls caught in ice.  We picked our way carefully up the frosty roads, feeling a little bit lame every time a local raced past us at speed, but preferring not to take a short cut back to the valley bottom!

A stop outside a mountain refuge hut brought us to conifers full of Common Crossbills and Crested Tits.  As the road climbed higher up the mountainside, the forested slopes gave way to a rocky moonscape, where flocks of wild Chamois grazed.  Taking a walk, it wasn’t long before we heard the characteristic call of a Rock Ptarmigan, which we later got a glimpse of.

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Rock Ptarmigan © Inglorious Bustards

The morning air was starting to warm, and as it did, it filled with Griffon Vultures leaving their roosts.  Then suddenly, below us, there it was – our first Lammergeier!!  What a stunner!  This adult was flying along the valley below us – a rare view indeed!  It was soon joined by another adult and a juvenile bird, as well as a Golden Eagle!  A lifer for some in the group, this impressive eagle was pretty much blanked in favour of our circling Bone-breakers!  We must have spent a good hour admiring these magnificent scavengers, of which we counted a total of at least four in the area, being drawn in by a carcass just over the hill from where we stood.

On the way down we encountered a flock of thirteen Alpine Accentors – what a bonus!  We took an exploratory detour up a track and found ourselves surrounded by a massive tit flock, mostly Coal Tits but also Crested, Long-tailed and Great Tits, with a handful of Goldcrests and Firecrests chucked in for good measure – a magical end to a superb day’s birding!

2. Wallcreepers!

Our search for this much-coveted, flashy little gem of a bird took us to some of the most beautiful places in Spain, as we wandered through haw-frost covered forests to search the walls of dramatic gorges like Mont Rebei, encountering Hawfinches, Black Redstarts, Golden Eagles, Blue Rock Thrush, Northern Ravens and Red-billed Chough as we went.

But in the end it was in the streets of an unprepossessing Pyrenean village that we found our prize!

 

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Wallcreeper © Inglorious Bustards

The afternoon sun was by now warming the golden walls of the sandstone church.  We scanned for a moment and there it was, sat under the eaves just metres above our heads!This incredibly confiding little bird hung out with us for a while, before disappearing under the church roof.  On a hunch we checked a neighbouring street and sure enough it had emerged!

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This cheeky little chappie showed off for us, flitting in and out of people’s houses and dragging helpless Hummingbird Hawk-moths out of crevices in the walls!  It even flitted right through the midst of the group to retrieve one that it had dropped!

We watched its antics and snapped away until our memory cards were pretty much full, by which point it had flown back to the church.  As luck would have it there was a café opposite, so we were able to have a beer with our stunning little

Wallcreeper before heading off back to our comfortable apartment to really celebrate!

 3. Things beginning with ´Alpine´!

A heavy snowfall overnight was starting to abate by mid-morning, so after a relaxed start we explored some woodlands near Jaca, enjoying Crested Tits feeding round our feet and calling Red-billed Chough overhead.  After a warming second breakfast back in town, we headed up the high slopes to a ski station at Astùn, where the clouds were lifting to reveal gorgeous blue skies and pristine white slopes.  Birds gravitate to these man-made oases in the snow, and we enjoyed the novelty of seeing Great Tits and Blackbirds at 2000m! Wandering round the complex, it wasn´t long before we found an Alpine Accentor!  Another ridiculously friendly bird, it perched on railings and walls just feet away allowing us all to get some great photos.

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Alpine Accentor © Inglorious Bustards

 

Carrying on out of the village we stopped just at the French border, where suddenly the characteristic call of Alpine Choughs filled the air!  At first we could only see three, but soon we spotted a nearby area where dozens were swirling overhead and feeding near a meltwater stream.  We got superb views of this hard-to-see high altitude corvid!

Just below the snowline as we headed home, we stopped at an area of riverside pastureland.  We hit the raptor jackpot, and for a while it was hard to look!  Within minutes we had seen Lammergeiers, Bonelli’s Eagle, Golden Eagle, Peregrine Falcon, Sparrowhawk, Red Kite, Common Kestrel, and Griffon Vultures, all making use of the late afternoon thermals, along with a great spinning ‘chough-nado’ of Red-billed Chough, more than the team had ever seen together!

4. The sounds of the plains!

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Common Cranes © Inglorious Bustards

For lovers of birdsong (and who isn’t?!) there’s something incredibly special about the otherworldly steppe habitat of the Aragonese plains.  At dawn, as the sun rises over the sweeping, empty landscape, the air fills with the bugling of thousands of Common Cranes, the bubbles of Black-bellied Sandgrouse, and a cacophony of larksong including Skylarks, Lesser Short-toed, Calandra, Thekla and Crested – and in the right spot, with luck, the eerie song of the elusive Dupont’s Lark.  We had an early start on the last day of our trip, with many miles to cover to reach our home in the Straits, but we couldn’t have wished for a better start to the day!

Does this snowy adventure send excited shivers down your spine?! We’ve out together a new tour to show you this magical place, with dates available next winter.  Check it out here…

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The team!

What a year!

Sitting atop the cliffs outside of Tarifa today, we happily wiled away the final daylight hours of 2017 pretty much as we began, gazing out over the narrow stretch of water that separates Europe from Africa, at the epicentre of the East Atlantic Flyway!

We were there in the hope of grabbing an extra couple of species to add to our Spanish year list, but between waves of Balearic Shearwaters and Northern Gannets, we also grabbed the time to reflect on a truly brilliant birding year!

Here, in no particular order, are our highlights! Were you there..? If not, why not?!

  1. Migration, migration, migration!
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Short-toed Eagle © Inglorious Bustards

As a destination to see the sky dark with many thousands of soaring birds, The Straits of Gibraltar is hard to beat!  The movement never really stops, but twice a year we get to enjoy this spectacle at its peak, and share it with you!  Here‘s how we got on this year! And if that whets your appetite, we still have a couple of places left for our Spring migration tour

2.  Wallcreepers, Lammergeiers and more in the Pyrenees.

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Wallcreeper © Inglorious Bustards

A fabulous trip, exploring the wintery Spanish Pyrenees for some truly breath-taking mountain birding and a whole bunch of laughs!  This tour will feature as part of our new Brassic Birding range, for adventurous birders on a budget – watch this space and sign up to our newsletter to keep up to date!

3.  Birding on Two Continents!

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Moussier’s Redstart © Inglorious Bustards

With only 14km between us and Africa, it’d be rude not to go now and again!  This Spring we showed some lovely folk the best of migration from both sides of the Straits, as well as superb resident species like Northern Bald Ibis, Moussier’s Redstart and Moroccan Marsh Owl.  Read our adventures here, and check out the dates and itinerary for 2018 here!

4.  Field Trip fun

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We love catering for large field trip groups, because the conservationists of the future deserve a field trip somewhere both fascinating and sunny!  This year was no exception and we had a great time with the excellent students of Bangor Uni and the University of South Wales.  If you are looking for a well-organised good value trip for a large group, please contact us!

5.  Vulture extravaganza

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Rüppell’s Vulture © Inglorious Bustards

Our group was treated to fabulous scenery, top notch cuisine by an award-winning chef, and star birds like Black Wheatear, Rock Bunting and Alpine Accentor, against a backdrop of thousands of migrating Griffon Vultures – just wow! More here! And check out the plan for next year’s trip here!

6.  Birdfair

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Conservation hero and giver of geat hugs, Mark Avery stopped by

Always lovely to catch up with friends old and new at the UK’s annual ‘Birder’s Glastonbury’! Here‘s how we got on!

7.  Dovestep 3

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We were proud to host Turtle Dove conservation warrior and legend Jonny Rankin and his crew in The Straits in February, as he embarked on his third epic journey, walking across Spain – more here

8.  Eleonoras Falcons, Cream-coloured Coursers and more in Northern Morocco

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Eleonora’s Falcon © Inglorious Bustards

Taking wildlife photography artist Tony Mills around Essaouira and Oualidia in search of some star Moroccan species was a great adventure, full of wildlife, culture and food!  Read about our adventure here, and check out the tour itinerary for next June!

9.  The Gambia

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Egyptian Plover © Inglorious Bustards

Another of our favourite places on Earth, this year we got to travel the whole length of the Gambia river, bringing our clients up close and personal with such delights as Egyptian Plover, Bearded Barbet, Adamawa Turtle Dove, Carmine Bee-eater and a rainbow of other species!  Have a look at our exploits here, and remember there’s still chance to join us in February and avoid those winter blues!

To all our friends old and new, we’d like to wish you a very happy new year, and we hope to see you in person at the centre of the world in 2018!