Julian Sykes Wildlife Holidays

Picos de Europa & N/W Spain

5th - 12th July 2008

Report by Julian Sykes

Saturday 5th July :- Jan & I met Ron, Harry & Val, Michael & Wendy on time at Madrid's Barajas Airport, loaded the minibus and set off north to Valdetorres where we met my very good friend Mick Vivian. We then headed out of town to an area of agricultural land with some small pools where Ron found some odonata including Common Winter Damselfly Emperor Dragonfly, Southern Skimmer and White legged Damselfly. Although very hot we did manage to find some good birds here also including 2 Montagu's Harriers, Marsh Harrier, 2 Black bellied Sandgrouse, several Bee-eaters, Rock Sparrows, Woodchat Shrikes, Cattle Egret, Moorhen House & Sand Martins. It had been a very good start to the holiday so we went for lunch before continuing north to Sepulveda seeing White Storks, Black Kites and Griffon Vultures en-route. We checked into the Villa de Sepulveda and soon after we went for a walk from the hotel which provided a flyover Black Stork, Griffon & Egyptian Vultures, Booted Eagles, Common Buzzards, Bee-eaters, Tree Pipit, Robin, Stonechats, Garden, Bonelli's & Melodious Warbler, Blackcaps, Spotted Flycatcher, Golden Oriole, Rock Sparrows, Chaffinches, Serins, Goldfinches, Linnets and Corn Buntings. We completed our first day with an excellent meal and soon after we retired early to bed for a well earned sleep-

Sunday 6th July :- This morning a pre-breakfast walk from the hotel provided a Grey Heron, Great Spotted Woodpeckers, Black Redstarts, Blackbird, Song Thrush, Melodious & Garden Warblers, Blackcaps, Great & Blue Tits, Golden Orioles, Jay, Magpie, Greenfinches, Goldfinches and a male Cirl Bunting. Later we head out to the Hoces del Rio Duraton Nature Reserve en-route finding Griffon Vultures, Short toed Eagle, Montagu's Harrier, Common Buzzard, Kestrels, Woodpigeons, Crag & House Martins, Southern Grey & Woodchat Shrikes, an Iberian Magpie was a good find, Rock Sparrows, Linnets and Corn Buntings. The reserve is an extensive area of plains vegetation (White Asphodel, Thyme, Rosemary, Juniper) strewn with limestone boulders and ravines, which is excellent for many species of bird especially raptors and larks. During the morning here we had a great time despite the weather with lots of birds including White Storks, Black Kites, Egyptian & Griffon Vultures, Montagu's Harriers, Booted Eagles, Peregrine and a Hobby flew through. We also saw Red legged Partridges, Bee-eaters, Hoopoes, Calandra, Short toed, Crested, Thekla Wood & Skylarks, White Wagtails, Stonechats, Northern & Black eared Wheatears, we good views of Western Orphean, Spectacled & Dartford Warblers, Southern Grey Shrike, and Red billed Choughs. Ron worked hard finding a few butterflies such as Great Banded Grayling, False Ilex Hairstreak, Southern & Spanish Gatekeepers, Knapweed Fritillary Pale Clouded Yellow and a very interesting Long-horn Beetle. The weather had greatly improved so we returned to Sepulveda for lunch followed by a walk by the stream where we found lots of Beautiful Demoiselles and White legged Damselflies. Shortly after we set off north to the foothills of the Cordillera Cantabria mountain range where at Cervera de Pisguera we stopped for refreshments followed by a walk along the Rio Pisguera with our looks at Dipper, Grey & White Wagtails, Sparrowhawk, Raven and Long tailed Tits. The journey to the Picos de Europa contined through the foothills where Great Crested Grebes on the reservoir, a male Red back Shrike, and a few Turtle Doves en-route were a very nice distraction. As we climbed up to the Piedrasluengas Watchpoint the weather closed in and drizzle started to fall so we continued on to Potes seeing a couple of Rock Buntings at the roadside. We reached Casa Gustavo early evening and checked into our rooms before we joined everyone for the evening meal, which as usual at this guesthouse was superb. Sleep came easy with an expectancy of the next few days.

Monday 7th July :- After the previous days travels we decided to have an easy day although we did have a short pre-breakfast walk in the vicinity of the hostel, we were also a little restricted with Jan sporting a twisted ankle and Wendy having serious back problems (however they both coped incredibly well - ed). Bird-wise it was definitely quieter than two weeks earlier when I had been here, but we still saw 2 Great Spotted Woodpeckers, Wren, Robin, Garden Warbler, Blackcap, Great & Blue Tit, a Goldcrest was seen by Jan, Jay and Ravens, Once breakfast was out of the way we embarked on a walk in the sunshine to Potes through the fields, orchards and woodlands surrounding the accommodation. Ron was keeping a careful eye out for butterflies especially Spanish Purple Hairstreak one he had never seen before, during the walk we not only found this but also Wood White, Blue spot & Ilex Hairstreaks, Knapweed Fritillary, Spanish Gatekeeper, Sooty Copper, Long tailed & Lang's Short tailed Blues. The highlight of the walk bird-wise was finding a Middle Spotted Woodpecker in a small orchard, which initially proved difficult to see but eventually showed quite well. The other notable species seen on our way to Potes were Black Kites, Short toed & Booted Eagles, Peregrine Falcon, Short toed Treecreeper, a family party of Red backed Shrikes, Black & Common Redstarts. In Potes we enjoyed a very relaxed drink while sat outside watching the world go by, and then we split up as I ran back to Aliezo for the mini-bus and a few decided to walk.  Those who walked back were lucky enough to see a Sparrowhawk, Song Thrush, Blackcaps, another Red backed Shrike, Serins, Greenfinches and Goldfinches. Our picnic lunch was taken in the garden associated with the hostel, which was brilliant as we got a chance to use the garden furniture in the heat of the afternoon. During the lunch period we got fantastic views of a Booted Eagle that flew right over the garden plus a Cirl Bunting was calling from the adjacent field. After lunch we ventured out to the mightily impressive Hermida Gorge stopping at one or two lay-bys in the hope of finding (or hearing) an Iberian Chiffchaff but unfortunately none were forthcoming although we did see Short toed Eagles, Griffon Vultures and Red billed Choughs. Just outside the village of La Hermida, a place that doesn't receive sunshine for two thirds of the year due to the steep sided cliffs of the gorge we embarked on a walk along the river. From next to the car park Michael & Wendy found our first of several adult & juvenile Dippers feeding in the river along with Grey & White Wagtails, we spent a lot of time photographing these birds with everyone getting some fantastic images. The walk produced a few things with Sparrowhawk, Spotted Flycatchers, Long tailed Tit, Crag & House Martins being seen plus Clouded Yellow, Speckled Wood, Red Admiral and Marbled White. At Potes we stopped for more refreshments during which I checked the crag tops where I found a few Alpine Swifts flying back & forth with their commoner cousins and the ever-present Griffon Vultures. It was now time to return to the Casa Gustavo again stopping on the way to listen for Iberian Chiffchaffs without success (again), then back at the hotel we spent some time sat on the balcony watching the world go by. Although we also managed to see yet another Short toed Eagle, Kestrel, Woodpigeons, and Ravens before another excellent al-fresco meal prepared by Lisa.

Tuesday 8th July :- Today we were going to high mountains via the cable car at Fuente De but first we had an early morning walk around Aliezo. It was another fine day and the short walk produced a Great Spotted Woodpecker, Robin, Black Redstart, Blackbird, Song Thrushes, Blackcaps, Wren, Goldfinches and a Cirl Bunting. After we had seen Ron  empty his moth trap we (including our hostess Lisa wanting to see a Wallcreeper?) headed through Potes and up to Fuente De where we took the cable car (an 800m ascent) to the top of the mountain. At the top we walked took the track almost immediately finding Alpine Accentors and Alpine Choughs just outside the cable car building, a little further and Jan found our first of several Snowfinches seen this day. Things were going very well even though most of the flora had 'gone over' we did find Trumpet Gentians, Alpine Squill, Alpine Campion and Scrambling Gromwell. Ron pitched in by finding a lovely Silky Ringlet butterfly and along the track we found a few Rebeco (Chamois) feeding on the scree plus Egyptian & Griffon Vultures, Water Pipits, Northern Wheatears and Black Redstarts. At the small quarry we relaxed for a while before Harry saw a Wallcreeper fly on to the rock face just above where we were standing, and it stayed there for several minutes. We all managed to get great views of this male bird as worked it's way along the crevices and ledges looking for spiders his young much to Lisa's delight. Eventually the Wallcreeper flew off out of sight then soon after Jan found a 1st Winter Golden Eagle high above the crags being joined by a small group of Griffon Vultures. It was now lunchtime so I found a suitable rock, and we all settled down and enjoyed our picnic in the bright sunshine with a few Snowfinches and lots of Alpine Choughs to keep us company. After lunch we slowly made our way back to the cable car station on the way a few of us visited one of the remaining pools looking for anything interesting and hit the jackpot by finding the Asturian endemic butterfly - Gavarnie Blue (ssp asturiensis) plus Large Grizzle Skippers, Mid-wife Toad and Common Rock Lizards. We also got very close views of a Snowfinch feeding on the short grass close to where we were standing. We all met up at the cable car and took the return journey, which is very impressive as you look down over the hamlet of Fuente De and at the bottom we decided to sit at one of the outside tables and have a drink. While we were sitting there we found several bird species such as Nuthatch, Chaffinches, Jay, Crested & Coal Tits, but the highlight was the magnificent views we had of a Firecrest right above our heads showing it's crazy punk-flame hairdo. Before long we drove back to the Casa Gustavo where we adopted our routine of sitting on the balcony watching the birds go by during which we saw a Red backed Shrike in the garden below, Short toed & Booted Eagles, Common Buzzards and the usual big numbers of Ravens.

Wednesday 9th July :-The morning walk produced much the same species as previous days although a Nuthatch and Red Squirrel seen by Michael & Wendy were notable finds. Once again Ron had been successful with his moth trap (see below for species list) and once he had completed his identifications and photographs (with the rest of us looking on with immense interest) we took the winding mountain road back to the viewpoint at Piedrasluengas. This had previously been very good for raptor-watching but today it was a little quiet with only Sparrowhawk, Short toed Eagle, Common Buzzard and Griffon Vulture being seen. A short walk around the oak woods and broom produced a couple of Woodlarks, Mistle Thrushes, Common Whitethroat, Linnets, Yellowhammers and Rock Buntings, but again the highlight was Ron finding another endemic butterfly - Chapman's Ringlet along with De Prunner's Ringlet, Pearly Heath, Wood White, Black veined White, Large Wall Brown, Heath & Marsh Fritillaries. We now craved a coffee stop so instead of returning to Potes we continued south to the village of San Salvador where we sat outside in the warm sunshine seeing White Storks, Egyptian Vultures and Black Kites. We started back towards the Picos de Europa stopping at a roadside lay-by for our lunch complete with stream, areas of Spanish Broom and karst limestone crags. The stream produced a few 'odonata' such as Beautiful Demoiselle, Keeled Skimmer, Southern & Large Red Damselflies and the shrubs held a few Garden Warblers, Stonechats and a Cirl Bunting with several Crag Martins hawking insects above our heads. It was a shame to leave such a lovely and tranquil place but we needed to go to Potes to allow Jan to visit a Pharmacia as her ankle was causing a little trouble. As it turned out this was a good move as it allowed us to take the easy river walk back to the accommodation and have see some interesting wildlife. The highlight was seeing a Goshawk fly over and alight in a dead to allow us to get (brief) telescope views before it disappeared over the ridge. We also saw family party of Red backed Shrikes with the parents feeding their young and there were a couple of Dippers, Grey & White Wagtails on the river. Ron was in heaven as the continued good weather brought out plenty of butterflies such as Green veined White, Cleopatra, Brimstone, Turquoise Blue, Brown Argus, Queen of Spain Fritillary, Large, Red Underwing, Lulworth & Small Skippers. Again we finished the day with a glass of wine or a cold beer on the veranda before our evening meal under the stars.

Thursday 10th July :- Before breakfast we enjoyed views of 2 Iberian Green Woodpeckers, Nightingale, Common & Black Redstarts, Blackbirds, Song Thrush, Wren, and a male Cirl Bunting. Today we were primarily after a specific target - Iberian Chiffchaff, so after breakfast and once the moths had been processed we set off through the Hermida Gorge to Casa Julian a hotel/restaurant next to the river. The journey was quiet but as we parked I could hear our target bird singing from the trees across the road and soon enough we were watching the 'phyloscophus warbler' singing just above where we stood. Interestingly Iberian Chiffchaff is almost impossible to identify from Common Chiffchaff on views alone but it's song is very different (chiff, chiff, chiff, followed by a short rattle) and necessary to successfully finding this recently 'split' species. It was smiles all round and we celebrated with a drink on the terrace of the restaurant overlooking the river. Next we drove back in to the Hermida Gorge and then up to Bejes followed by a walk along the road behind the village, which winds up the mountain. It was now very hot and a few raptors were patrolling the hill-top such as Egyptian & Griffon Vultures, Short toed Eagle, Kestrel and Sparrowhawk. The land birds were quiet although we did find a couple of Rock Buntings, Dunnocks, Stonechats, Spotted Flycatchers, Jay, Magpie, Red billed Choughs, Crag Martins, Serins and Yellowhammers. Although Jan did incredibly well finding a Wryneck, which started out being quite elusive but she persevered and got her due rewards with good views as it looked for insects on the dry-stone walls. We were all very pleased as I thought it might be a species we were going to miss, unlike the June trip when we found them on several occasions. Once back at the mini-bus we drove back down to La Hermida for another refreshment stop at the same place as before seeing pretty much the same species -Griffon Vultures, Kestrels, Alpine & Common Swifts, Grey Wagtails, Dipper and Red billed Choughs. Eventually we returned to the hostel to do 'our own thing', which for Val and Wendy involved lying on their backs trying to get a decent shot of the juvenile Barn Swallows that were nesting just above the door of the accommodation - who said photography was easy!!!. The rest of us sat on the balcony witnessing the swirl of 100+ Ravens congregating over the hillside plus Short toed & Booted Eagles, which was a great spectacle and continued until it was time for our last evening meal at the Casa Gustavo.

Friday 11th July :- Our final full day of the week was going to prove a good one as we returned south to Sepulveda, and our pre-breakfast walk produced an Iberian Green & 2 Great Spotted Woodpeckers, Nuthatch, Jay, Raven, Chaffinches and a Cirl Bunting. The moth trapping was a great success with Ron hitting the jackpot with a gorgeous Pine Hawkmoth, which he put on display one of the many wooden posts. After breakfast we loaded the mini-buses and said our "goodbyes" to Lisa & Mike before heading back over the mountains to  our first stop at the village of Camasobres. This stop was quite impromptu for a couple of raptors circling over the fields, one of which turned out to be a Honey Buzzard and it luckily drifted right over our heads. This was then followed by Wendy shouting "Wallcreeper", and after I had picked myself off the ground there was in fact a Short toed Treecreeper looking for insects from the wall of a house. What a fantastic identification and perfectly correct!. More raptors started to appear with Egyptian & Griffon Vultures, 2 Short toed Eagles and Kestrels then Val found a pipit that was identified as a Tree Pipit (and not because it was actually sat in a tree!) What a great stop, but we continued south towards the flat lands beyond, seeing White Storks, Red Kite, Bee-eaters, Southern Grey Shrikes, Crested Larks and a lovely male Montagu's Harrier was found by Michael as we neared the Laguna de la Nava. These freshwater lagoons are boarded with phragmites, marsh grass and tamarisk then surrounded by agricultural land are a hotspot for birds of the area. Lunch was taken at the bird hide where we found Great Crested Grebes, Grey & Purple Herons, Mallard, Common Pochards, Marsh Harriers, Booted Eagle, Moorhen, Coot, Black winged Stilts, Lapwings, Common Sandpiper, 20+ Spanish Yellow Wagtails, Zitting Cisticolas, Reed & Great Reed Warblers. After lunch we made our way round to the walkway from where we managed to find a couple of Water Rails skulking in the reeds, Wendy did very well finding a Gull billed Tern amongst the Black headed Gulls and there were lots of Tree Sparrows around the car park. We could have spent more time here but we wanted to get back to Sepulveda for another try for the Dupont's Lark. The journey was a good one with the new road system and as we got close to the hotel we saw a couple more Montagu's Harriers. Once we had checked in we drove back out to the Rio del Duraton Nature Reserve seeing Rock Sparrows, Woodchat Shrikes, Northern & Black eared Wheatears en-route. At the reserve I saw a pipit fly up from beside the road and stopped immediately, refound the bird and identified it as an adult Tawny Pipit, then things got exciting as I then found a 1st winter Rufous tailed Rock Thrush sat on top of a juniper tree. This was then joined by an adult bird, which continued to show well as it too perched in prominent positions, Quail called from the long grass and we saw several Red legged Partridges. The evening was coming to a close so we quickly visited the steppe area for Dupont's Lark, unfortunately we failed again in this quest but we did see Griffon Vultures, Montagu's Harrier, Booted Eagle, Calandra, Short toed & Thekla Larks, Stonechats and Linnets. It was now time to leave so we drove the short journey back to Sepulveda seeing a couple of Azure winged Magpies fly over the road just before we reached the accommodation. That night we had an excellent final evening meal followed by a great discussion on the week's events and everyone's 'bird of the week'.

Saturday 12th July :- Due to the flight times we  had to leave early from the hotel and make out way south to Madrid were we were in good time for the flights back to Britain, en-route we managed to see a few Griffon Vultures, Black Kites, and a Montagu's Harrier. A nice way to finish what was a tremendous week in this wonderful area.

Many thanks to Ron Waters for his expertise in identifying the species mentioned below - it was a great experience for all of us.

Peppered Moth
L Album Wainscott
Flame Shoulder
Ruby Tiger
Eyed Hawkmoth
Heart & Dart
Satatious Hebrew Character
Essex Emerald
Small Emerald
Blood Vein
Pine Hawkmoth
Guernsey Underwing
Pyrausta Aurata
Nut tree Tussock
Pale Prominent
Spurge Hawkmoth
True Lovers Knot
Scarce Footman
Tawny barred Angle
False Mocha
Portland Ribbon Wave
Clay Triplelines
Hummingbird Hawkmoth
Marbled Coronet
Orange Footman
Black Mountain Moth
Lidd Beauty
Lute String (sp)
Bright Line Brown Eye
Common Footman
Sharp angled Peacock
Wood Tiger
Chinese Character
Silver Y
Beautiful Hooktip
Light Arches
Four Spotted Footman
Angle Shades
Great Prominent
Dun Bar
Small Renuculus
Marbled Miner
Dark Arches
Willow Beauty
Pale Oak Beauty
Broad bordered Yellow Underwing
Black Arches
Pot Moth
Limespeck Pug
Beautiful Brocade
Green Pug
Shallow Prominent
Scarce bordered Straw
Yellow Shell
Orange Tip
Ilex Hairstreak
Lang's Short tailed blue
Knapweed Fritillary
De Prunner's Ringlet
Large Wall Brown
Black veined White
Clouded Yellow
Small Copper
Common Blue
Marsh Fritillary
Piedmont Ringlet
Large Grizzled Skipper
Green veined White
Pale Clouded Yellow
Sooty Copper
Short tailed Blue
Heath Fritillary
Chapman's Ringlet
Lulworth Skipper
Western Dappled White
Purple Shot Copper
Red Admiral
Great Banded Grayling
Silky Ringlet
Small Skipper
Large White
Wood White
Silver studded Blue
Painted Lady
Meadow Brown
Large Skipper
Small White
Spanish Purple Hairstreak
Gavarnie Blue (asturiensis)
Small Tortoiseshell
Southern Gatekeeper
Small Heath
Mallow Skipper
Esper's Marbled White
Green Hairstreak
Holly Blue
Pearly Heath
Red underwing Skipper
Marbled White
Blue Spot Hairstreak
Long tailed Blue
Silver washed Fritillary
Spanish Gatekeeper
Speckled Wood
Bath White
False Ilex Hairstreak
Turquiose Blue
Queen of Spain Fritillary
Brown Argus
Wall Brown
Dragonflies & Damsels
Emperor Dragonfly
Keeled Skimmer
Southern Skimmer
Red veined Darter
Beautiful Demoiselle
Southern Damsel
White legged Damsel
Large Red Damsel
Common Winter Damsel

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