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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!!


  1. What great scenery, and what a beautiful bird

    1. Thanks Terry, the scenery was breath taking and the wallcreeper a bonus!!

  2. Have been following the blog and loved reading about your travels - well written and illustrated! Know exactly what you mean about the Wallcreeper - absolute star bird (my first and only Spanish one was also near Jaca). Think you may have erred a bit with the woodpecker - Grey Headed's have never been recorded in Spain but the local Green can look a bit dark about the head! Worth looking into - you may have a first for Spain without knowing it!
    All the best, Richard.

  3. Bugger! You're right of course ... just studied the pics and distribution maps .. its a Green Woodpecker (best pic of one though!) ... my less than perfect knowledge of birding in Spain and over eagerness to grab new species laid bare! It'll have to be an edit job on the blog. Really glad you've enjoyed reading about my travels in your adopted country, like I said before ... your own blog was very instructive in my planning for Eastern Spain. I'll be back for sure so will be looking at your patch on the blog for ideas for next time.