Sunday, April 19, 2009

Easter in Spain - Day 4

Sunday started with a later alarm, 05:30 for an 06:30 departure to the Pyrenees, one of the days I’ve most been looking forward to this holiday.

The weather forecast for the region had been poor thus far but improved for today, with just a low chance of rain. On the way up we stopped in a small town for early morning views of Hawfinch, Short-toed Treecreeper and a Dipper:

and Crag Martins, all huddled together against the penetrating cold and, ominously, light drizzle:

From the village we headed further up into the mountains, aiming to get above the tree-line. Considering the forecast the cloud looked rather low and quite thick but we were all optimistic.

Opposite a small field with cows grazing we saw a small group of Rock Buntings, though they remained shy, I only managed this record:

As we gained elevation it started to rain and the temperature fell away. Sure enough the rain became sleet and then quickly snow. The snow was settling and we decided to turn around. Just before turning however Stephen noticed three Common Crossbills (one male, two female), feeding on snow on the road:

I took some photos from a reasonable distance and then we headed past then, turned round and headed back. One bird had gone but a male remained on the road, being chastised continuously by a female in a nearby tree. The oblivious male continued to feed, even though we’d pulled parallel with him on the other side of the road, enabling me to get some much better photographs, I adjusted the light setting to increase the light both to improve the snow ‘colour’ and the visible plumage on the bird and then fired a few more quick shots, and I am delighted with the results:

We headed back down and away from the snow to the local town, and towards the café for a warming cuppa. On the way down Stephen pointed out a pair of Cirl Bunting, another new species. Closer to the town Helen spotted a male Black Redstart perched on a wire:

After the tea we drove to another point on the mountain, where Helen took this landscape view:

and then we tried again to head up to the mountain, hoping the lighter cloud above meant we’d be able to get higher, alas the snow had increased in tempo and with a wind behind the conditions were even less suited to driving so with less than a kilometer to go to the summit we had to turn around and head down, chased on by the rain. We decided to head to the reserve by Llobregat Airport, South-West of Barcelona. En route there were literally hundreds, probably thousands, of Hirundines in the air, including Common Swifts and a new species for us, Alpine Swifts. We got to the reserve around 2pm and promptly took lunch before walking out to the first hide. The reserve had plenty of birds, especially to our bird starved eyes, including Wood Sandpiper, Cetti’s Warblers, Black-winged Stilts:

Little Ringed Plovers:

and from the second hide our last new species of the day, a pair of very cold and miserable looking Collared Pratincoles:

We were also treated to a flock of migrant Yellow Wagtails alighting on the reserve including two subspecies, the nominate flava, which is the Central European species together with the local iberiae:

We enjoyed watching the wagtails, which were joined by a single ‘White Wagtail’, a subspecies of the Pied Wagtail, told by the lack of black on the back of the adult bird:

The afternoon drew on, the rain continued to fall, the wind continued to blow, we continued to get colder so it was time to head back to the house for wine and food. Heading out of the reserve Stephen spotted a drake Garganey, which I flushed in my enthusiasm to locate it, but managed a reasonable flight shot:

The Garganey turned out to be the last bird of the day in what was a very mixed day. We missed out on a lot of species we’d hoped to see as the weather forced us to abort the day in the Pyrenees, which was a real shame, however that self-same snow gave us the opportunity to see Common Crossbill for the first time and to take a picture the like of which I’ll probably never get to do again.

New species:

Crag Martin
Cirl Bunting
Rock Bunting
(Common) Crossbill
Short-toed Treecreeper
Alpine SwiftCollared Pratincole

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