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Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The last leg ... a Wallcreeper moment in Jaca, vehicle worries but all done and back safe n sound!

Trip progress - Fuentes de Nava (A), La Grajera (B), Jaca (C)
Ok here's my last post from the Spain trip plus a bird report of all the birds I saw - the report took me ages to compile and not perfect but started to get a bit OCD about it so stopped, had a drink or 2 and decided it was 'good to go'! Here it is - Roadtrip (Spain, Nov / Dec 2013)- bird species - all comments welcome.

Grey Headed Woodpecker, La Grajera

So then, the final leg of my journey - from the Fuentes de Nava in Castilla y Leon, via La Grajera and Jaca, then back through the Pyrenees and into France, though tinged with a bit of sadness at leaving Spain and a significant degree of anxiety over the noises emitting from my van (more later), was relatively tranquil and did in fact bring me 2 new 'lifers'. First of which was a splendid Grey Headed Woodpecker at the  La Grajera reservoir, nr Logrono - a bit of a park with golf course attached, an empty car park and several suspicious looking blokes wandering around (never had I been so concerned about my vehicle!). By now of course I was on the hunt for new species and thought this place looked good for Crossbills. None seen sadly but the Grey Headed Woodpecker in a children's play area was a terrific bonus! Thought I might have had one of these a couple of years ago in France but after watching this one - the way it looked and behaved, totally different from a Green Woodpecker, I'm satisfied I didn't.

Grey Headed Woodpecker, La Grajera

Red Squirrel, La Grajera, Castilla y Leon

Such a bleak feel to this place ...bare trees, cold winds and stacks of berries in the bushes were a stark reminder that although my skin was brown and hair sun kissed, it was in fact winter and I was heading north and right into it! There were Blackbirds, Song Thrushes galore here plus 20 or so Redwings and a distant flock of 20 or so unidentified thrushes that looked suspiciously like Fieldfares to me but could just as easily have been Mistle Thrushes or Blackbirds. No Crossbills, but at least 5 Firecrest along with Coal & Long Tailed Tits, 10ish Blackcaps and several Red Squirrels busily foraging for nuts on the forest floor .. yep it was winter that day alright!

Onwards and upwards I pushed, trying to ignore the horrendous noise in the van ... by this time I was pretty sure it was a big bearing gone on the driveshaft - disconcerting to say the least and as I passed back into Aragon the frailty of my vehicle was such that I passed up on the opportunity to drive up to the deserted village of Esco, abandoned in the year I was born (1959) after the damming of a stretch of the Aragon river created the Yesa resevoir and ruined the livelihood's of the farming community there (all General Franco's work!). Got an awesome pic of the place though ... light was just right with the setting sun highlighting the mountain ridge behind which I think is called Sigues

Esco (deserted village) at last light

Embalse de Yesa, Aragon

Eventually I reached Jaca and the nearby birding hotspot of San Juan de Pena, high up in the pre Pyrenees, a place I commend and highly recommend ... 

Jaca itself is a splendid place, although a popular destination for Spanish holiday makers and winter sports (the city was in the running to host the 2014 Winter Olympics), its well enough off the beaten track and not at all touristy, and thoroughly Basque! I stopped at a campsite here for a couple of days to explore the mountainous habitat up nr the monastaries of San Juan de Pena, primarily for a last chance of grabbing a Wallcreeper sighting .... I was lucky and got one, just one and sadly I wasn't savvy and alert enough to get a pic, but what a lasting image I will have in my mind's eye! Ok so why did I nearly wet my pants? Birdwatchers everywhere will understand this but to the non initiated a sighting of a Wallcreeper is a bit of a 'holy grail' experience ... its a bit like a treasure hunter discovering a Viking helmet on a beach, or an antique dealer coming across a piece of genuine Thomas Chippendale furniture .... it's just special!

Now I've searched and searched for a pic of Wallcreeper in the same aspect as I saw mine but couldn't find one so you will have to imagine. Here's the setting - I was looking out from a viewpoint nr the old monastery at San Juan de Pena -  it was mid morning in bright sunlight and I'd stood there for an hour because the light and the view was so inspiring, didn't see much .. a couple of Jays and some distant finches flying through the trees that's all ...

Viewpoint from San Juan de Pena
Then I saw a bird that I initially took to be a Great Spotted Woodpecker floating across the valley, took a look through the bins and got an eyeful of red / pink colour that didn't look right, it's almost fluorescent pink for god's sake ... saw the same colours on flamenco dresses in a shop in El Rocio! Its a f****** Wallcreeper flying right across the valley right in front of me and backlit in the sun! Where's the camera? oh shit it's gone!  Just imagine this magnificent thing ....
Wallcreeper, (google images)
..... flying across that valley in the sun. I don't expect non birders to understand why I nearly wet myself but the sheer beauty of the bird and the setting made for magical moment. The way it was, it could even have been a bird migrating  down from the mountains into the warmer climes of the valley (as they do in the winter). Alongside the Great Bustards and the Lammergeiers that was just about my best birding moment of the whole trip and one of those memories that is permanently etched on the brain!

Old monastery, San Juan de Pena

I had a wonderfully invigorating stroll around up here, both the old and new monastaries were interesting .. here's the old one (circa 920) - in the shadow of the same cliff face it was built from (that's where my Wallcreeper was heading and you can maybe see why!)

Now look, I'm neither an architect or town planner but impressive as it is I wouldn't have passed this ......
Old Monastary, San Juan de Pena
... and this is the new one, not sure when this was built, less impressive than the old to my mind but higher up and surrounded by forest and mountain views I'd certainly consider giving up all my vices and accept a retreat there!
New monastary, San Juan de Pena

 .... some nice seasonal Holly berries up here too

Holly, San Juan de Pena

.... and just about the weirdest image of a Treecreeper I've ever taken ... in the grounds of said monastery.

Treecreeper in the snow, San Juan de Pena

Bar, Jaca


Back down in Jaca it was warmer and before I hit this bar and got a bit giddy with some of the locals with my limited Spanish, my last good birding moment in Spain was a Peregrine Falcon chasing a Lapwing over the town and towards those mountains and monasteries. Another awesome moment to go with the rest!

My kind of bar, Jaca (nearly made an offer for one of those Strats!)
By lunchtime the next day I was well into France and heading for my sister's place in the Poiteau Charente. Toyed with the idea of taking in a coastal site on the way to grab a couple of birds I hadn't yet seen - Oystercatcher (can you believe that!), Ruff & Balearic Shearwater but decided against. I was looking forward to some catch up time with my sis and Mark, a hot shower and the opportunity get drunk and play some music .... oh and a chance to get the van seen to. I got all that and it was great to spend some time again in France with my old musical comrades ... good times!!

It was a wrecked bearing on the driveshaft .... diagnosed and repaired within 48hrs at a Ford dealer in Chauvigny - 280 euros (could have been a lot worse!).

So that's that .... I did it, it was something I promised myself when I retired and planned for 6 months. Worth it? I'll say .... where next!!??

Post script and slightly amusing little anecdote ..... when I got back to Jane & Mark's in France, whilst I was doing a bit of sorting out in the van, I happened to be looking at the car stickers on the back window, attached by a previous owner of the van no doubt and things I'd only half looked at before, and blow me ... of the half a dozen stickers, 2 were from Jaca and 2 from Salamancar! That van's done this journey before!!!! True ... weird or what!!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The journey back pt1 ... Castilla y Leon, freezing fog around Madrid, a different goose and some sheep!

Road-trip progress: 8th - 9th Dec 2013
And so to my 10th and penultimate post from the late autumn/ early winter trip to Espagne, and what a trip it has been. Memorable in so many ways but I'll save the round up till I've knocked up some kind of report / species list and gathered together all the best pics on some kind of gallery ....I don't mind spending a chunk of my xmas day doing that, strange bod that I am!

Christmas in Seville

Talking of Christmas .... MERRY XMAS EVERYONE! and all that follow my little blog on here and on #bagginstim..... thank you for your time.

After the dramatic scenery of Extramadura and the relative calm of Sevilla, I encountered some horrendously inclement weather as I tracked up west of Madrid .... freezing fog and lots of it settling on my windscreen made for 'uncomfortable' driving, especially at night and with local cars on the tail of a dawdling Englishman in a slightly broken Transit van!

So in less than 1/2 a day's driving (albeit northwards) I went from this lovely sunshine in Northern Extramadura, and me enjoying it ....
Lovely autumn colours nr El Torno, Extramadura
Yes enjoy that son boy 'cos it ain't shining up north!

..... to this the next morning
Wake up call, it's Winter! 8.30am, Zamora car park.
.... I so wanted that shop in the pic above to be selling hot coffee! (it wasn't). Van started first time though and it was definitely time to move on. The forecast was for more of the same for the next 3 days around these parts which was a shame because I'd really wanted to take in Vilafafilla for my last chance of more Great Bustards and other steppe birds, and I did drop in but it was hopeless ... the whole area was in a deep freeze and cloaked with thick fog, so absolutely no chance of seeing another one of these. If your Christmas turkey could fly it might look a bit like this!

Great Bustard in flight ... so wish I could have seen one like this!

I hadn't seen much for the past couple of days, northern Extramadura was pleasant but quiet apart from large lark & finch flocks, including another Citril Finch and the curious site of c40 Meadow Pipits and c20 Chiff Chaffs feeding together whilst above them maybe 400 Starlings perched on telegraph wires, this was nr some unremarkable water course between Toril and Serrejon, but somehow synonymous as far as the density of these particular birds.

I was in going home mode for sure but I was still yearning for at least another couple of days of good weather and good birding ... and indeed I got them. Travelling up through Castilla y Leon, the fog suddenly lifted and somehow (no satnav remember!) I navigated myself to Fuentes de Nava, nr Palencia - a piece of reclaimed agricultural land and now one of the most important wetland sites in Northern Spain.

The omens were good, en route, stopping for break somewhere nr Palencia, a bird on a wire I'd initially taken for a Kestrel turned out to be a Merlin (one of several I've seen recently) but none as photographable as this one.... nice!
Merlin on the wire, nr Palencia
Fuentes de Nava with flying Teal in the foreground
De Nava itself isn't as picturesque and dramatic as some of the other wetland sites I've visited on this trip but oh man it was just nice to feel some warmth again and be able to get out and walk some distance.

Fuentes de Nava_9dec2013

Not quite the diversity and numbers of birds either but certainly plenty of wintering Greylag Geese that's for sure .... never easy to estimate such numbers but I guesstimated about 2500! There were maybe half a dozen Spanish birders / photographers knocking around and as I found further south, this annual invasion of tens of thousands of geese really seems to take their fancy ... are we in the UK missing something here or what?
Wintering Greylags at Fuentes de Nava
..... or maybe they were attracted by something a little more unusual because (and here's the thing and I think benefit of taking stacks of pics) when I was reviewing said pics later something caught my eye. Take a look at this initially discarded photo of the same flock of Greylags -
Greylags at Fuentes de Nava .... check out the goose extreme left!
.... here's said goose on the left and it's definitely a White Fronted .... and I'd scoured the whole flock on the day for a 'different goose'!!!
Half a White Fronted Goose .... havin it!
Fuentes de Nava .. sun was shining but there's ice in that dyke!

... hehe, i'll have to rummage through the rest of my geese pics for more or maybe even a stray Bean Goose!!

Nice place this was and just what I needed ... somewhere big and rangy to walk about in with the sun on my back .... after that dreadful freezing fog it was almost heaven!

Teal across Fuentes de Nava

The light was superb late on in the afternoon ... just look at the colour on these Teal flying across one of the lagoons there.

Marsh Harrier over Fuentes de Nava
Other notable sightings from around here were at least 8 Marsh Harriers, 1 Hen Harrier, another Merlin, 1 Black Kite, a Water Rail (heard), 30ish White Storks, good numbers of common ducks - Teal, Wigeon, Shoveller, Gadwall, 1 Green Sandpiper, 20 or Dunlin, 1 Common Sandpiper and a Jack Snipe amongst 10 or so Common Snipe, 1 Water Pipit, 20 or Skylarks amongst the many Crested Larks and a singing Blackcap (albeit sub song, it was nice to hear).

White Stork overhead, Fuentes de Nava
Later on, as I was sat outside my van enjoying the sun and a sandwich, and thinking about where to go the next day, a local herdsman with his dog and his sheep made their way across the field, flushing geese as they went. It made for a lovely picture ....
Sheep herding amongst the geese, Fuentes de Nava
Looking at that picture above and all it says to me, it feels slightly odd as I sit here back at home in the UK watching the Simpsons at Christmas (best tv I could find!), posting about events that even now, less than 2 weeks later, seem a world apart! One of my lodgers just told me about grown men staggering drunk around the streets of York wearing xmas tree and advent calendar costumes, singing crappy old Slade songs ..... reckon you'd catch the herdsman in the picture doing that?

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Into Extramadura... Great Bustards, Great Scenery and the Vultures of Monfrague

Extramadura bound!
Long past Extramadura now of course, in fact I'm now back in France, but as ever blogging on the road involves lots of catch up and the last few of my posts will be me looking back and reflecting on what has been a truly memorable trip. Not without its problems ... my vehicle for instance is now making some horrendous noises and I suspect a gearbox problem that I may need to get fixed here before I travel back.... eek, French repair costs are not cheap! Still, that's vehicles for you and that's life!

Lets forget about it and return to Extramadura!

I passed the Rio Tinto en route and was pretty impressed, gobstruck in fact, by how red it really did look, tainted with the abundance of mineral deposits hereabouts. Shame I couldn't stop and take a pic but it would have been a hard shoulder on a motorway jobbie and I just don't like that these days.

Rio Odiel

Nearly as reddish in hue is the Rio Odiel, a sister river to the Tinto ... and a pull off place.

Great Bustard, Extramadura

Destination reached by nightfall and I'm now a good 300k further North. far I've grabbed 5 'lifers' (birds I've never seen before) and although the pics are very indistinct here's one of them, my first Great Bustard .... it's nearly a kilometre away!!

So these were taken at a smallish local reserve nr the village of Nuevo Villanova and the Embalse de Cuncas, just a few kilometres from the Portuguese border. I kinda stumbled upon it as it was where I left the van the night before!

No better pic but if you look closely there are other birds there too which through the scope didn't look like females (which can be up to a third smaller than the giant, turkey sized males) ... they looked like Little Bustards to me.

As luck would have it, a chap called Alphonso drove up and in our respective woeful grasps of each other's languages he confirmed this for me. A wildlife photographer too and some kind of park ranger to boot he was such an enthusiast and we found a common language in our pictures of birds .... who needs Esperanto!

Ok, feel duty bound now after those pictures of fields with dots on, to post some kind of pic to show you the Great Bustard in all its glory... here's one in full breeding plumage lifted from google images.
Great Bustard in full breeding plumage

In retrospect this was a cracking little place, I had both Black Bellied and Pin Tailed Sandgrouse plus Calandra Lark,  none of which I saw again on the trip, Little Ringed Plover, Green Sandpiper, Jack Snipe, and a ridiculous number of Cormorants there but such was my eagerness to spend a wedge of time at Monfrague I saw that little haul as riches enough and pressed on.
Cormorant, Embalse de Cuncas
On the margins of the Embalse de Cuncas

Monfrague bound!

En route I stopped around Hornachos and picked up a solitary Ring Ouzel plus Lesser Kestrel, Dartford Warbler and en route I was seeing small flocks of Golden Plover along with bigger flocks of Lapwing, many Red Kites (just like travelling up and down the motorways in the UK!), and many big flocks of larks, finches and StarlingsGrey Partridge, several Southern Grey Shrikes, Marsh Harriers, Common Cranes, White Storks and Griffon Vultures and the occasional Hen Harrier.


Stacks of birds in other words and who knows what one could pick up if you had the luxury of stopping and scanning every time you come across such gatherings.

The Spanish love to get out and walk in such places, especially of a weekend, and of course they flock to their beloved Monfrague! Not complaining, not really ... I just cocked up my timings and, early mornings aside, really struggled to find the kind of tranquil environment in which this beautiful place and it's wildlife could reveal itself .... (sounds so much better than what I automatically wrote ... 'in which to pick up birds'!)

Castillo de Monfrague
The scenery there was stunning, really stunning, especially from the top of the Castillo de Monfrague, where I found myself on a cold and frosty morning on the 7th Dec.

Its high ... the car park here on the pic is already 1500m up! I had to walk to the top, 'by gum it wer cold though, but some of the early morning vistas were breath-taking ..... too cold to be swapping lenses all the time so most of this is me having fun with the Samsung!

Views from Castillo de Monfrague

Thank God for Health & Safety ... where would I have been without this helpful notice!
Views from Castillo de Monfrague ... yep that's frost on the boardwalks!
Views from Castillo de Monfrague

Views from Castillo de Monfrague

Views from Castillo de Monfrague
Views from Castillo de Monfrague

..... and as the mist began to clear over the damned rivers of the Tajo & Tietar

Views from Castillo de Monfrague

...... the Vultures that had previously been mysterious and slightly eerie shadows in the sky showed themselves in some majesty!

Griffons at dawn, Monfrague

Griffons at dawn, Monfrague

I'd noticed them swooping into the cliffs at a certain point and coming in quite close, so set myself up for one 'coming in' .... could have done with a tad more light but I like the sunrise effect!
Here's a few of the 30 or Griffon Vultures I was looking down on from the top of the Castillo... bit distant but smashing light and atmos!!

Griffon landing!

Black Vulture, Monfrague

Later on in the morning I managed a few reasonable shots of the half a dozen or so Black Vultures that were knocking about ..... flying beds they've been described as, and you can kinda see why!

Black Vultures with Griffons, Monfrague

Hawfinch, Monfrague

.... bagged the first Hawfinch of the trip here too, typically reclusive and never sitting proud, this was my best effort of an always tricky bird to photograph.

Rio Tietar

So I spent the best part of a week end from there on driving around trying to track down good birding possibilities but not really succeeding... if it wasn't walkers it was shooters and there was just as many of the latter! Not for one minute though am I suggesting that this isn't a haven for wildlife and countryside lovers (and ramblers!), it surely is... many a flora n for a tour bears testament to that and if you get the chance go go go! Just click on any of the Extramadura links for more info

I have a few more pics from here that I may get around to later, but for now .... its wine time in France and my guitar is calling me!!!!