Pyrenees - long weekend
Great birding on this short break in Spain.
This long weekend break covers much of the territory featured in our summer 'Pyrenees, Steppes and Ebro Delta' holiday, but is especially designed to provide great views of two cracking birds, Wallcreeper and Lammergeier. Delightful Wallcreeper breeds in places difficult to access, but this time of year is ideal, as birds are found at much lower altitudes. Lammergeier can be found local to our accommodation, and we may even see them bone-breaking at favoured wintering spots.
There is also a stunning supporting cast, and key birds which are very possible include Little Bustard, Black-bellied and Pin-tailed Sandgrouse, Eagle Owl, Bonelli’s Eagle, Common Crane, Alpine Accentor, Black Woodpecker, Black Wheatear, White Stork and raptor species perhaps including Egyptian Vulture, Lesser Kestrel, Black Kite, Red Kite, and Golden Eagle. We also have a chance of Great Bustard, Citril Finch and Dupont's Lark.
Conducted at a relaxed pace with generally easy walking, and with excellent local cuisine and wine throughout, this is a relaxing and rewarding short European adventure! Great birding at a price offering excellent value!
Day 1 Friday 21 February
We meet at Gatwick and fly to Barcelona, arriving late morning. The drive north takes around three/four hours, and soon after arrival we will be looking for Eagle Owl, Black Wheatear and Blue Rock Thrush, and may also have our first sightings of raptors, sandgrouse and larks. Local Heatherlea guide Josele is a tip-top birder who fits into the 'Heatherlea Way' of doing things extremely well - expect lots of laughs as well as top birding on this holiday. Our first base is in comfortable en-suite accommodation near Huesca for three nights, where you will enjoy good food and local wine.
Days 2 and 3 Sat 22 and Sun 23 February
We expect great birding amongst spectacular scenery where sheer cliffs pierce the sky, as we head for the Sierra de Guara and Mallos de Riglos. There is a varied and exciting range of species here, and as we get used to the sight of massive Griffon Vulture wheeling around the high tops searching for lifting thermals, we are soon looking for smaller Egyptian Vulture and Golden Eagle. Bonelli’s Eagle is beautiful but rare, and we will seek out views in carefully chosen locations. This is a great chance to watch Spanish raptors in temperatures akin to early spring in the UK.
Our top priority is of course the two special species of this trip, and both should be readily found. Wallcreeper winter at conveniently low altitudes, and you should enjoy several sightings of this beautiful gem at close quarters. Brilliant red wings flicker as the bird makes its way across the rockface, bringing colour to an otherwise fairly plain grey bird, and wonder to our guests' faces! Majestic Lammergeier is a bird everyone wants to see, and good views should be obtained of birds both in flight and at rest. We may even be fortunate enough to see them carry and drop bones, a feature of previous holidays at this time of year. Depending on our fortunes in the pre-Pyrenees, we may visit a Lammergeier feeding station, where we hope to see the birds on carcasses provided to help them survive the winter.
Flocks of perhaps thousands of wintering Common Crane are located on the plains to the south, and we may be able to see these birds migrate across the sandstone pinnacles in huge numbers - unforgettable.
Alpine birds including Red-billed Chough and Alpine Accentor are in the foothills of the Pyrenees in winter, much more convenient and with better views than in summer. Other birds of interest include Southern Grey Shrike, Spotless Starling, Rock Sparrow, Firecrest, Crested Tit, Dartford and Sardinian Warblers, Penduline Tit, Serin and Rock, Cirl and Corn Bunting. Citril Finch are possible, White Stork and Marsh Harrier can be expected, Woodlark are local and Water Pipit are returning. We are located throughout to the south of the main Pyrennean massif, and the air is usually warm.
Day 4 Monday 24 February
In the morning we travel to Los Monegros, where we hope to see Pin-tailed and Black-bellied Sandgrouse in good numbers. We also hope to locate Great-spotted Cuckoo, and will try for the small population of Great Bustard still found in north-east Spain. This bird is increasingly rare in this corner of Spain, but once seen is never forgotten – in fact we always marvel at how difficult it is to see such massive birds in open habitat – the answer is that there is a lot of plain in Spain, and not many bustards! Other species might include Little Bustard, Stone Curlew, and Lesser Short-toed, Calandra and Thekla Lark. Overnight Fonolleres, north-east of Barcelona.
Day 5 Tuesday 25 February
Time permitting we will visit some of the wetlands south of Barcelona to maximise our birding before we catch our flight back to Gatwick.
Leaders: Kevin Shaw joined by another from the Heatherlea team with more than 6 clients. Maximum group size: 12 clients.
Return flight from Gatwick to Barcelona, comfortable en-suite accommodation, all meals including packed lunches, transport throughout the tour and services of the leader(s).
Insurance, and items of a personal nature. Meals begin with dinner on Friday and end with breakfast on Tuesday, so lunches not included on days one and five.
Please note: all itineraries are given as a guide only. Actual holiday content may vary according to the judgement of your guide, and elements beyond our control (eg weather). Our thanks to Josele Saiz for the pics of Lammergeier and Wallcreeper at the top of this page.