Pyrenean stars

12 06 2015

“I am prepared to go anywhere, provided it be forward”

– David Livingstone

Probably the best way to escape Barcelona’s crazy hot temperatures is going to the Pyrenees and, among all the nice Pyrenean areas, the best is probably Val d’Aran, the only Catalan region in the north face of the cordillera. Apart from exclusive species (not only birds) restricted to this area, to be in the north face has of course advantages and disadvantages: in one hand, the weather: it’s fresh and nice and you don’t sweat as in Barcelona’s underground. In the other hand, the weather: it can start raining at any time and the fog can turn up surprisingly quick.


During the last three days, Martí and I have got both feelings, but all in all we’ve managed to have a good time. Maybe for the first time, we had 2 main targets: the first visit to our UTM square for the new Catalan Breeding Bird Atlas and a new search for the Black hairstreak Satyrium pruni, a new butterfly for Catalonia we found last year.


We started with the UTM. As usual in early summer, the track was still full of snow, so we had to walk all the way up to Liat Mines. Snowfields, showers and a hole in my boots made it hard, but an unexpected prize awaited in the top. Almost the first bird we saw in our square, however, was a nice adult Lammergeier flying over.


Apart from that, the area was packed with Water pipits and Northern wheatears, but nothing else. We had just sit and were taking a breathe when a lizard showed up nearby. We had found a still unidentified dead lizard some metres away and we knew we were in the exact location where Aran rock lizard occurs. Therefore, we were already paying attention to the rocks. And yeah, there it was. To be honest, we didn’t know how to identify it. Martí was sure it didn’t look like anything we regularly see. I agreed, but, despite I was not updated in terms of lizard taxonomy, I knew there had been several changes, with some new species described.

iberolacerta aranica1

This species is restricted to the Mauberme massif, right in the Spanish and French borders. It was not until 1993 that it was formally described, together with its close relative Aurelio rock lizard, which inhabits similar habitats 100km east.

iberolacerta aranica2

After such an unexpected lifer, we came down to Bagergue to take the car and spend the afternoon looking for butterflies. Sadly, it was cloudy and raining at any time so we ended up having nothing to do. After a couple of cups of coffee (each) that brought us back to life, we decided to visit the area where a Brown bear is usually seen. It spends the early summer there, and goes into the beech forest when it gets too hot. In the area, we came across Marc Gálvez, nice chat while waiting for the Bear. However, time went on and the sun suddenly showed up. Martí and I were already considering to actually look for some butterflies in our way to have a proper dinner in a bar when I spotted the Bear sat on a rock, apparently sleeping.


After a while, it woke up and started feeding on plants, branches and all sort of vegetables. I’ve been asked if I was not scared while looking at the bear. The ones who have seen one know this is just a very stupid question.


The same meadow from which we were looking at the bear was full of orchids, mainly pink morph Elder-flowered orchid Orchis sambucina. While looking at their refined dessign, I saw an ant whatching out for a spider. I’m new in the “macro world”, but it looks like I’ll spend some hours sat on the ground in a nearby future… No clue about the name of the ant or the spider [yet]

dactylorhiza majalis

It was sunny in the morning so, after a walk through the last 1×1 UTM square we had to check, we finally looked for butterflies. Despite the usual high diversity in most of flowered Val d’Aran meadows, we didn’t manage to find the hairstreak. However, we found a surprisingly high density of both Sooty Lycaena tityrus and Purple-edged Lycaena hippothoe coppers instead.

lycaena hippothoe

And a Sombre goldenring Cordulegaster bidentata was hunting in the edge of the meadow. Another nice life of a dragonfly only found in the high Pyrenees.

cordulegaster bidentata

Time to come back home, to the hot and sweaty Barcelona, but it’s only a month until we’ll be back in Val d’Aran to the second round of the breeding bird survey. What a nice excuse for another 3 days in paradise.


Sunny again

29 12 2012

“Nicer than the bird up in the tree top
Cheaper than the chip inside my lap top
All the variations you could do with me
Nicer than the girl up in your mind you’re free”

– Risingsong, Massive Attack

After some looong days with a few birds (apart from the always nice blue rock thrushes  at Garraf mountains), I needed something very good to cheer myself up. There is almost nothing at Llobregat Delta and it’s always hard to find something interesting along Barcelona coast during these soft winters. Of course, we could always move to Ebro Delta or Aiguamolls de l’Empordà, where there is plenty of birds, but sometimes it’s worth to look at the mountains and not to forget the Pyrenees are one of the most diverse mountains in Europe. It takes only around one hour and a half to drive to some of the best places, where many localized and too often forgotten species are wintering.

Robert, Helena, Andrea, Martí and me, encouraged by the flock of snow finches supposed to be wintering in an approachable area, had decided (already 10 days ago) to visit some of the closest places in order to reconcile with these species. Our first stop has been at Montgrony Monastery, a must-visit spot if you are looking for a wintering wallcreeper. Firstly, we checked the cliffs above the park-site, but without success. The road goes to the other side of the valley, where you can get overall views of almost all the cliffs of the area. Therefore, the chances of finding a wallcreeper from there are higher than from the park-site, but the views are usually poorer. Even we managed to find a distant wallcreeper at a glance, we felt we deserved something better… Suddenly, the bird flew over our heads and landed in a nearby cliff so we were able to enjoy good views of this stunning bird. For sure, one of the jewels of the Pyrenees.

Tichodroma muraria

Tichodroma muraria4

We let the wallcreeper busy with its never-ending climbing activity and keep our way up to Coll de la Creueta, where the snow finches are supposed to be. A few minutes later, and still driving inside of the forest, Robert spotted a raptor that he had identified as a lammergeier. I must admit I got off the car expecting a goshawk, but the bird was indeed an adult lammergeier flying over a pine forest. This kind of surprises are always welcome!

Gypaetus barbatus

Already around Castellar de n’Hug, in the bocage area surrounding this nice village, lots of fieldfares fed on rose bushes, together with many bullfinches, some redwings and a hawfinch. Helena enjoyed a colorful nuthatch while Martí and me checked the thrushes in the hope that there was a black-throated thrush among them. Not this time, but the fieldfares were pretty enough.

Turdus pilaris

The day was a total success, but as soon as we reached Coll de la Creueta we realized the snow had gone and the finches may had gone with it. The area was plenty of noisy choughs and brightening yellowhammers. Some red-legged (red-legged?) partridges flew away, but nothing else.

Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax

After having lunch while hearing to siskins and crossbills, the only we could do was to go down the valley and look for the rest-less black-bellied dippers. The taxonomy of that species in Catalonia probably deserves another look, but the individuals from the Pyrenees are more likely Black-bellied. Anyway, we got very good views of a dipper diving, swimming and doing quite a lot of different things in the Freser river, just in the middle of Ribes de Freser, a village famous because of its bottled water.

Cinclus cinclus3

Cinclus cinclus

Cinclus cinclus2

To sum up, a very good day, with good views of different birds and, as always, excellent company. It was a bit disappointing to leave the area without seeing the snow finches, but, on second thought, it’s a perfect excuse to come back.

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