Julian Sykes Wildlife Holidays

Aragon - Plains & Pyrenees

Late Spring on the Plains & Pyrenees of Aragon are not only fabulous for the resident birds but also migrant breeders, mammals, reptiles, butterflies and of course alpine flowers such as orchids and gentians, which will be in bloom. We visit the incredible lunar landscape of the Belchite Steppes for the incredibly rare and elusive Dupont's Lark. We will certainly hear the evocative song of 'El Diablo' but we have a chance of seeing it too - Belchite holds the biggest density in Europe. The Aragonese Pre and High Pyrenees need no introduction having an undisputed reputation for superb scenery and wonderful wildlife. The snow-capped mountains are stunning and our wonderful rural accommodation in the Hecho Valley is surrounded by fabulous vistas. It is here we will be hoping to find many of the speciality mountain species which breed here such as Wallcreeper, Lammergeier, Citril Finch and Black Woodpecker. This will be a week of contrasts and every day will produce something new and special memory.

Day 1:- Flight into Barcelona and head off west towards the steppes of Belchite, stopping en-route at the excellent Ivars lagoon. This reed-fringed freshwater lake is very good for waterbirds including Purple Heron, Little Bittern, Yellow-legged and Mediterranean Gulls plus migrant Black Terns. It is also very good for Penduline Tit, Great Reed Warbler, Iberian Green Woodpecker, Nightingale and Golden Oriole. We will then continue through to our accommodation in Lecera before spending the evening in search for one of Spain's most rare and elusive species, the Dupont's Lark. We will drive around the tracks of the excellent El Planeron reserve listening for their distinctive call, and trying to locate one amongst the mesquite grass. We will also be looking out for Pin tailed & Black-bellied Sandgrouse, Stone Curlew, Calandra, Lesser Short toed & Crested Larks.

Day 2:- A pre breakfast visit to El Planeron will giving us another chance of finding the elusive Dupont's Lark should we have been unsuccessful the evening before. On the way back we shall stop at some lovely olive grove where we should find Western Orphean Warbler, Hoopoe, Golden Oriole, and possibly Wryneck. Then after breakfast we will make a quick visit to the ruined remnants of the 'old Belchite' a legacy of the civil war, with a chance of a visiting Lesser Kestrel or Egyptian Vulture. Leaving here we head north to Huesca with it's ever-changing scenery of the pre-Pyrenees, en-route we should see our first White Storks from the vehicle. Our next stop is the Castillo de Loare, which should give us a good introduction to species such as Griffon & Egyptian Vultures, Red Kite, Garden, Western Bonelli's, Sub-alpine & Melodious Warblers, Firecrest, Short toed Treecreeper, Rock & Cirl Buntings. We then drive north to the wonderful Hecho valley and our goreous hotel, which will be our base for the next six nights - making an ideal location.


Days 3-7:- Over the next five days we shall visit nearby valleys, swirls of tumbling Alpine & Red-billed Chough can be seen in a blue sky and parties of Alpine Swifts and Crag Martin join the throng. We're always watching out for raptors and along with Lammergeier and Griffon Vultures, Golden, Booted & Short-toed Eagles may be found hunting for their prey. Herds of Chamois graze high up on the herb rich slopes, where Trumpet Gentian, Elder-flowered & Early Purple Orchids bloom with some early butterflies on the wing. The rocky outcrops and screes amidst these high meadows are home to colourful Rock Bunting and Black Redstart, whilst Alpine Marmots amble amongst the boulders, giving their shrill whistles and looking like shaggy carpets!

One day we visit the high alpine pass of Roncal heading for France and once above the fabulous stunted krummholtz tree-line we should find Water Pipits and Ring Ouzel, but we shall be particularly seeking out montane birds such as Alpine Accentor and Citril Finch amongst the scree slopes and delightful alpine meadows.

There are extensive forests of beech and pine that have good populations of Black Woodpecker, which announce there presence with their distinctive calls. Here Honey Buzzard and Goshawk breed, Common Crossbill and Western Bonelli's Warbler are found, whilst the tumbling mountain streams have Dipper and Grey Wagtail. Along the Rio Aragon we should find Bee-eater, Hoopoe and Golden Oriole and some of the farmland meadows and arid escarpments have Ortolan Bunting, Rock Sparrow, Tawny Pipit and Woodchat Shrike, whilst in lush areas Nightingale sing from damp scrub and Cetti's Warbler can be heard too. With Black-veined White and Scarce Swallowtail amongst the masses of butterflies on the wing it's a little overwhelming after the sparse alpine meadows! We'll add to that still further with some optional evening excursions that will give us a chance to see Eagle Owl, where European Nightjar hawk in the dusk sky, and there may be Scop's Owl too. Griffon Vultures sail around San Juan de la Peña cliffs - sometimes so close that we can see their eyes checking us out and hear the wind whistling through their enormous flight feathers.

Here ancient monasteries peer out from the pines, here Great Spotted Woodpecker, Short-toed Treecreeper, Crested Tit and Firecrest forage, with always the chance of a Black Woodpecker. We may visit Riglos, a tiny white village at the foot of towering red sandstone pillars of rock, where Blue Rock Thrush can be seen. Griffon & Egyptian Vultures nest amidst the rock climbers, while down below the scrubby bushes harbour Subalpine, Dartford & Sardinian Warblers, plus Nightingale song fills the air and Melodious Warbler are possible in the higher bushes.

Day 7:- This morning we leave the hotel and drive back south to the steppes of Monegros whose breeding birds include Little Bustards, Stone Curlew, Short toed , Lesser Short toed & Calandra Larks. Night in Lecera.     

Day 8:- Our final  morning will be spent driving back to Barcelona through the drylands of Monegros. En-route we shall stop off at a hill-top castle looking to find Black & Black eared Wheatears, Rock Dove, Spectacled Warbler and Rock Sparrows. Depending on time we may visit the Laguna de Sarineña another inland freshwater lake for Purple Heron, Whiskered Terns, Marsh Harriers and Great Crested Grebe - an excellent way to complete the holiday.

ACCOMMODATION OVERVIEW:
Hotels in the Belchite regionare difficult to find but we have located the best yet with very clean, comfortable, en-suite rooms amid a well maintained courtyard, with meals being taken in the adjacent restaurant.

The Hotel Uson in the Hecho Valley is arguably one of the best positioned places in the Aragon Pyrenees, with sightings of Lammergeier being a daily event. We are also just round the corner from the best place to find Wallcreeper along with Citril Finch and Black Woodpecker. Our hosts Imanol and Lucia will make you feel at home as they provide very comfortable en-suite rooms and good traditional Spanish cuisine - they even brew their own beer!

What's been said...

I've been on more than a dozen birding trips since 1993 & this certainly was one of the most professional of them. As for the birds, luckily I've seen Black Woodpecker & Great Bustard before & I did get a view of the (Dupont's) Lark.  I think the Wallcreeper was probably the most important bird for all of us and that was fantastic. I certainly would not have a problem booking with you again, thanks and good luck for the future.

N. Penberthy

This is just to say thank you so much for a fantastic birding trip in the beautiful Pyrenees. We had a wonderful time and enjoyed your being in your company – I only hoped you enjoyed ours. Once again we had a fab time and thanks for teaching us so much, we have come back with bins-a-ready. If you want some feedback on the trip…I loved the Hotel Uson, the hotel and the area around there and would definitely travel back to that area. I personally think it was a bit chilly for picnics and would have preferred a quick stop for a bocadillo for lunch. But none of this really made any difference to our enjoyment of the holiday and we had a blast.

M. & S. Prior

Just a note of thanks for a great time last week, we all thoroughly enjoyed ourselves, I hope you did too: I personally have carried away a lot of great memories, topped of course by the Close Encounter of the Vulture Kind. We know we spend too much time eating and not enough birding, but we learnt a hell of a lot.

G & A Turner

I would like to thank you so much for the wonderful birding holiday to the Pyrenees which I enjoyed so very much. I felt that the holiday was wonderful value for money compared to most bird tour operators and having been on many of these trips in the past I can guarantee that your expertise in spotting and identifying birds is second to none. The friendly atmosphere that you create and the excellent hotels that we stay in, are further proof of an all round idyllic experience. We had wonderful views of some fantastic birds and I will never forget the moment that we all sat and gazed at the Dupont’s Lark from close quarters and whispered a sigh of relief at finding this most elusive bird. I will not hesitate to join you on further trips and to recommend you to my friends who I know will enjoy birding with such a small group and a friendly experienced leader.

J. Beever

 

Cost £1250
Based on sharing a twin/double room.

Single Supplement - £110
Deposit - £200
Maximum Group Size - 6

Price Includes:

  • 7 nights in local hotels with ensuite facilities.
  • All meals inc. some drinks
  • All transport costs
  • Potential trip list with daily check list.
  • Use of field guides covering the area

Price does not Include:

  • Flights into Barcelona
  • Travel and contents insurance.
  • Some alcoholic drinks
  • Extra food & drink to normal meal times.
  • Items of a personal nature.

Flights are not included in the prices quoted, however we are more than happy to help with finding suitable flights.

Train Travel - Train travel possible

1st - 7th June 2013
(see icon guide)







Target Species:

  • Little Bittern
  • Purple Heron
  • White-headed Duck
  • Lammergeier
  • Egyptian Vulture
  • Golden Eagle
  • Short-toed Eagle
  • Honey Buzzard
  • Montagu’s Harrier
  • Lesser Kestrel
  • Peregrine
  • Little Bustard
  • Collared Pratincole
  • Pin-tailed Sandgrouse
  • Black-bellied Sandgrouse
  • Great Spotted Cuckoo
  • Eagle Owl
  • Scop’s Owl
  • Black Woodpecker
  • Wryneck
  • Dupont’s Lark
  • Calandra Lark
  • Lesser Short-toed Lark
  • Alpine Accentor
  • Black Wheatear
  • Ring Ouzel
  • Rufous-tailed Rock Thrush
  • Western Orphean Warbler
  • Spectacled Warbler
  • Red-backed Shrike
  • Alpine Chough
  • Wallcreeper
  • Citril Finch
  • Ortolan Bunting
  • Chamois
  • Alpine Marmot


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