Pyrenees Trip June 2014
This was by no means a birding trip as such; however some days were set aside for some exploration to find some of the specialities of the area. The two big days out are detailed below with maps and a few photos.The town in which we were staying was called Navarrenx some 25km to the north of Oloron, regularly we would pop out for a walk to see what could be found locally. Serin, Black Redstart, Cirl Bunting, Tree Sparrow, Firecrest, Lesser-spotted Woodpecker, Short-toed Treecreeper were all relatively easy to find, Cattle Egret, Booted Eagle, Black Kite and Griffon Vulture were seen daily from the campsite. We also stopped at a campsite in a place called Pons just north of Bordeaux. We were able to add Hoopoe, Golden Oriole and Crested Lark while we overnighted here.
Le Col Du Somport 19th June
Starting out mid-morning probably wasn’t our best decision on a hot day but a big breakfast and a fuel stop was necessary for a long day. Heading south towards the Pyrenees, you start climbing fairly soon after leaving Oloron, immediately taking you into Le Vallee de Aspe, Black and Red Kite, Honey Buzzard and Booted Eagle were all seen from the car, as was Crag Martin and a likely Bonelli’s Warbler flew across the road. Turning left onto the small road leading over the Col Du Somport you enter a forested area, it’s pretty cool here even in the height of summer so a jumper is advisable, Crested Tit, Bonelli’s Warbler, Black Redstart and Chiffchaff were all seen from a small layby next to the green lake, the first Short-toed Eagle of the day flew overhead. Arriving into the village of Pyrenere we made a slow drive, through and were rewarded with a flyby male Rock Thrush, it allowed for some photographs to be taken before dropping out of sight, the village was alive with birds, Serin, Black Redstart, Bonelli’s Warbler, Yellowhammer were all very vocal although not so easy to see from the roadside. Once at the Col itself we took a left towards the ski village of Astun, parking along the road we birded the river valley for an hour or so, Red-backed Shrike, Siskin, Grey Wagtail, Rock Thrush, Linnet and Water Pipit were all easily seen here, most just a few meters from the roadside. From Astun there is a mountain track heading back across you, this is probably the best area for Rock Bunting and 2 birds were seen in quick succession, another Rock Thrush, Firecrest, Water Pipit and Crested Tit were after just a short walk. Leaving Somport and heading into Spain takes you past the Ski town of Candacachu, in June it is completely deserted however Alpine Chough, Northern Wheatear, Water Pipit and Griffon Vulture are all very easy to see here.
Jaca and Asieso 19th June
A surprisingly busy town on the Spanish side of the Pyrenees, however it holds a very nice population of Rock Sparrow so for us it was worth the drive, parking along a street facing the citadel it was very easy to pick out our target species. The birds could be heard calling from quite a distance, their call quite reminiscent of Brambling. At least 20 birds were seen at close range, this was also the only time we observed Pallid Swift. We only paid a short visit to Asieso as the temperature was in the mid-thirties upon arrival, Corn Bunting, Subalpine Warbler, Melodious Warbler and Short-toed Lark were all seen within 5 minutes of the village, by this time though it was too hot and time to start heading back to the campsite.
La Pierre Saint Martin 22nd June
This was a solitary trip undertaken by myself; I wanted to get out early and needed to do some serious climbing if I were to connect with my primary target of Alpine Accentor. The decision was made that I would visit the high pass of La-Pierre-Saint-Martin, although I couldn’t find any reference to this really being a destination for birding, It looked high enough with the right habitat with a bit of walking. The route up was stunning, following the D132 I drove up through the Foret D’issaux, hairpin bend after hairpin bend, I really wished I was on a road bike and not a car! Stopping off at various locations Red-backed Shrike, Crested Tit, Short-toed Treecreeper, Serin, Rock Thrush, Alpine Chough and Firecrest were all easily seen from the road, a Bonelli’s Warbler called at one stop but I couldn’t locate it. Once I arrived at the ski resort I knew I made the right decision, Citril Finch was a common bird, it told me that I was going to be high enough to find my target should it be in residence. Common Crossbill, Black Redstart and Serin were all abundant, as were Citril Finch in places, Alpine Choughs regularly passed overhead as I made my way up the ski slope. I didn’t have a site, I didn’t really know where to look or even where to go but as I turned a corner some 2km from the resort a breath-taking view of Mountain valley, snow and a little hut lay in front of me. Upon entering the valley I was greeted by the sound of Ring Ouzel, which was numerous, Water Pipit, Northern Wheatear and Black Redstart all sang in this hidden beauty. As I was photographing a Ring Ouzel an unfamiliar call buzzed overhead, I looked up and immediately noticed a long winged finch/bunting with pure white trailing edge… SNOWFINCH! It took a moment or two for it to sink in, not only had I stumbled upon some beautiful scenery but also one of my biggest target species, not one I envisaged encountering on this trip. Continuing further up the mountain track I paused for water, although it isn’t particularly warm up there you sure do dry out very quickly, as I did this I could hear singing the bird I had come all this way for, just a little further up the track was an Alpine Accentor. Deciding to have breakfast now I had connected was a very good idea, as I did so 2 more birds joined me, disporting themselves wonderfully before disappearing across the other side of the valley.