Pyrenees

July 22nd – August 5th

 

Brian and myself flew from Leeds Bradford airport to Toulouse, with Jet2, where we collected a hire car and drove South to the Pyrenees.  As the road started to climb the Black Kites were joined by Griffon Vultures and the riverside mountain villages had Crag Martins swooping low over the road. We headed over the border into Spain to Vielha, and the Aparthotel Nou which was to be our base for the next week.

     

Crag Martin                                                                Rock Bunting

Wed 23rd - Saw us taking the “taxi” from Arties into the Aiguestortes National Park and walking up through the forest to the refuge and dam. There were a few birds to be seen the most notable being Crested Tit and Rock Bunting, but the scenery, and flowers were spectacular with vast numbers of butterflies proving far to active for photography! This certainly set the theme for the holiday so no attempts were made to identify the many blues, ringlets and fritillaries which we saw, sorry Mark and Nicola!!

Thurs 24th - The birding highlights of a day spent to the West of  Pont de Suert were fly over Lammergeier and Hoopoe, with brief views of a “pale headed raptor” proving frustrating.  Many Red-backed Shrikes were seen as well as a Corn Bunting with a grasshopper almost as big as itself!

 

Fri 25th – An early start saw us heading through the Vielha tunnel again and down to the area around Sierra de Boumort. A roadside stop produced Woodlark and Tawny Pipit with a smart 'Iberian' Stonechat singing from the top of a bush. An orchard on the side of Talarn Lake was the next stop with Rock Sparrows and Spotless Starlings dropping out of the trees to bathe and drink in the lake as well as Golden Orioles and a Bee-eater flying past.  

   

Rock Sparrow                                                                                        Stonechat

   

Tawny Pipit

Further along the lake we stopped to check a flock of gulls and were amazed to find two Egyptian Vultures in the midst of the Yellow-legged Gulls.  There were Woodchat Shrikes on the road to the Sierra de Boumort as well as more Bee-eaters on the wires. The cliffs themselves were very quiet with just 2 juvenile Griffons on the cliffs while up to 6 floated along the ridge, Raven were seen. The temperature had now risen to the mid thirties so shade and ice cream were the order of the day before heading back to the higher mountains grateful foe air conditioning.

Egyptian Vulture

Sat 26th – The day was spent in the Aiguestortes National Park in the area around Caldes de Boi, again with stunning scenery and flowers including Pyrenean lily and our first Pyrenean irises as well as several obliging Linnet “babies” and less cooperative Serin.  

   

Sun 27th - Aiguestortes National Park again this time from Espot where we took the “ taxi” for a most amazing journey up to the Amitges lake at 2400m, it’s safe to say that there is no way Brian would have been prepared to drive up that “road” and it only cost 15 euros each.  At the top we had Rock Thrush, Mistle Thrush and Rock Bunting as well as the ubiquitous Water Pipit while the biggest surprise was a Mallard with six well grown young on a small reed fringed lake. A stop at the ski station near Port de la Bonalgua produced fly over Lammergeier as well as Red-billed Chough. The “reservoir” by the car park was buzzing with dragonflies including White-faced Darters.   

   

Water Pipit

   

Mon 28th – Another day of butterflies, flowers and stunning scenery in the Aiguestortes National Park, this time around the Tauli ski area with numerous Water Pipit, Black Redstart, Wheatear and Linnet, lower down were Yellowhammers, Red-backed Shrike  and yet more Wheatears. A stop at the bottom of the valley produced flight views of Egyptian Vultures and a small stream with Beautiful Demoiselles arguing over their territories as well as clouds of butterflies on the damp patches at the edge.

    

Linnet                                                                                                    Wheatear

   

Beautiful Demoiselle                                                                                                    

Tues 29th  -  Leaving Vielha we soon realised that we were following the route of the Tour de France most of the way to Luz-Saint-Sauveur and the  Pyrenees Zenith Residence. A roadside pull in produced singing Melodious Warbler and a super garden feeding station with Red Squirrel, Blue, Coal, Great and Marsh Tit as well as Nuthatch and Bullfinch. A detour up the narrow winding road to Lac de Cap de Long gave us our only Citril Finch of the Holiday with two feeding on seeds on the banking below the snack bars and others flying around. Then it was back round to Luz over the Col du Tourmalet and our first view of the massed ranks of Pyrenean Irises – WOW!  

    

Citril Finch      

   

Citril Finch                                                                                                                                            

   

Red Squirrel                                                                Bullfinch

Wed 30th - Today was spent at Port de Boucharo where the Alpine Accentor was very obliging and over 400 photos were taken of which 7 were kept ………….. There were Alpine Chough around the area and as we sat and ate our lunch we noticed a very excited little boy, later investigation revealed a deep hole in the rocks with an Alpine Chough sat on its nest 8 feet below our feet.

    

Alpine Accentor

   

Alpine Accentor                                                                                            Alpine Chough

The path towards La Breche cut through the most amazing show of Alpine Flowers that we have seen, but there were few butterflies probably due to the consistent wind. The lower slopes echoed with the calls of marmots.  

Thurs 31st – A  morning trip up the gondola and chairlift at Cauterets proved rather disappointing due to the continual strong wind whipping up the dust from the mountainside. Many Griffon Vultures were seen and choughs played on the wind. The afternoon was spent at Donjon des Aigles a falconry centre near Beaucens, where we arrived in time to claim the last bit of wall in the shade and wait for the start of the “show. A Scarce Swallowtail floated over the assembled crowds and just as the show was about to begin we noticed several kites circling over the castle, hopes of wild birds joining the show were soon dashed as they circled higher and higher with numbers increasing to well over a hundred before they suddenly broke ranks and all headed due south and out of sight, next stop Africa? The flying display at  Donjon des Aigles was spectacular with impressive numbers of birds flying at any one time, Kites, Falcons, Eagles, Owls, Vultures, a Condor and finally dozens of Parrots to the delight of  the assembled children, then a whistle blew and all the birds flew off into the castle.

   

Griffon Vulture                                                                                    Kites

Fri 1st – Following over-night thunder the valley was full of mist however we decided to head up to the Cirque de Gavarnie arriving in time to park in the village we headed up the valley with the mist rising in front of us and few other people around we saw lots of small birds including our first Common Crossbill as well as marmot and chamois high on the cirque walls. The mist finally lifted as we walked further revealing the mountain peaks and full extent of the waterfalls. However it wasn’t long before the mist started to drop in again and we set of back but not before Brian spotted a lone edelweiss flower. Back at the entrance to the cirque the Alpine Choughs that had eluded me all day suddenly dropped in to where several people were eating their picnics and allowed close approach. In the evening we spent over an hour watching a Melodious Warbler foraging in a conifer tree from our hotel balcony.

   

Alpine Chough

   

Melodious Warbler

Sat 2nd – We drove up to the Cirque de Troumouse with lots of Water Pipits, Wheatear and Black Redstart as well as a confiding young marmot. Following the path from the car park we discovered a wet area interlaced with small pools and streams, in which we found several Pyrenean Brook Salamanders (Newts). The Melodious Warbler was again in its tree together with Serin, Goldfinch and Black Redstarts.

   

Pyrenean Brook Salamander

   

Marmot

Sun 3rd – Back over the Col du Tourmalet and up to the Pic du Midi de Bigorre, by gondola, at over 9000 feet the views were certainly spectacular. Griffons floated past but always kept their distance  

   

Griffon Vulture                                                                                        Common Kestrel

When eventually we caught a glimpse of a small bird, which was finally nailed as it flew up into the top, cable car, pylon a few minutes later it returned and then as it left the nest swooped down before swinging round to fly straight towards us dropping onto the terrace  within 10 feet of us, Snow Finch at last!! We also saw an Alpine Accentor feeding just below the platform.  

   

Snow Finch

Returning to the Col du Tourmalet time was spent admiring the swathes of Pyrenean Irises as well as the rather pale Kestrels. Another stop down the other side of the hill, again to look at the flowers, gave us our best views of Lammergeier as one quartered the hillside above us, landed briefly, out of sight, and then flew off down the valley

   

   

Lammergeier

   

Mon 4th – Back to Gavarnie and this time up the narrow road along the Ossoue river where good views of a Short-toed Eagle where had as well as a distant Rock Thrush. Six Alpine Swifts were seen soaring high above the valley and as always the flowers were magnificent with lots of very mobile butterflies. Our final Lammergeier sighting was a brief view as one circled round the end of the cliff at the bottom of the valley.

   

Short-toed Eagle

Tues 5th – An early departure produced hunting Tawny and Barn Owls as we drove through Lourdes.

 

We had a trip total of 82 species of birds, all in spectacular scenery with a stunning support cast of butterflies and flowers. The above report only picks out the highlights as Griffon, Black Redstart, Water Pipit, and Wheatear were common and Crag Martins and Common Swifts were seen in big numbers every morning and evening over both Luz and Vielha.

Margaret Breaks


All Images taken by Margaret and Brian Breaks, Copyright - © Breaks Bird Photography