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.

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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.

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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.

gypaetus

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.

ursus4

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.

ursus1

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.





Quality time

3 08 2014

 “We were right we were giving, and this is how we kept what we gave away.”

– Comes a time, Neil Young

It’s been already a month since all these events happened, but I’ve kept them in my mind since they are gonna be one of the best memories I’d preserve from 2014. After a busy spring  coming and going from Barcelona to elsewhere, it happened that Stephen suddenly came to visit us and I had not got the time to plan the trip properly. Neither had Marc and Martí, and hence we ended up in Vall d’Aran looking for some nice birds/butterflies/orchids but basically spending some quality time together. It was the first time that Marc, Martí, Stephen and me were at the same time in the same spot but I’m pretty sure it’s not gonna be the last one.

The first thing we did was to ring a Rock bunting. Stephen had fallen in love with the species in the very first time he came to Catalonia. Now he is not in a hurry to see everything, we can spend some time to actually look at the birds. As expected, when we caught it and realized it was a boring adult (3+, Euring 6, 2nd cycle, …) Stephen recognized it was not that nice and claimed for a 2nd year. After we had politely suggested him to go and screw himself, we left the area and finally faced the Pyrenees.

The first stop was at a very nice place Marc knew was plenty of Pyrenean brook salamander Calotriton asper. Nice to see them but once you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all. In case you wonder, it’s Stephen holding the newt in front of his brand new t-shirt he had bought in London airport.

calotriton asper

In Vall d’Aran we saw some Lammergeiers, a Cinereous vulture, Citril finches and quite a lot of orchids. Since Martí is been very into orchids lately, it was nice to learn from him. As I can’t be arsed to make the usual collage that usually ilustrates this kind of paragraphs, I will just post a photo of the one I liked the most: Sword-leaved Helleborine Cephalanthera longifolia.

cephalanthera longifolia

But the best was this Black hairstreak Satyrium pruni: the first record for Catalonia! More on that soon…

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After some Black-bellied sandgrouses, whiterby Reed buntings and displaying Red-necked nightjars in Lleida steppes, we came back to Barcelona to target Pekin robin (currently Red-billed leiothrix or something like that). We failed despite there were several singing around. However, we caught a couple of Sardinian warblers and some baby Firecrest that made Stephen happy. So did the omelette and the Iberian ham we got for dinner.

We still had a day to fill up some lagoons: we still needed to see a male Roch thrush. We went to a place near Marc’s area where they used to breed. Nowadays they don’t, but it’s still an interesting Mediterranean bushland area good for Ortolan bunting, Western orphan warbler, Red-rumped swallow, blue rock thrush… We put up the nets and managed to catch a 2cy male Western Orphean, an Iberian subalpine wabler (currently inornata iberiae) and a Red-legged partridge. To finally see a male Rock thrush we had to go up to Turó de l’Home, the highest peak in Montseny mountains. Fortunately, we found one almost immediately and it ended up being the last bird of the trip.

sylvia hortensis

Almost one month later, and just before coming to Sweden, I came back to Vall d’Aran, this time with Laura. The air, the wildlife and the landscapes of this area is perfect for a reset in life. We didn’t look for anything in particular, our only purpose was to be there and forget about the stressful city, without cell phone signal, using electricity only for listening to music. We managed, and now I feel ready for the start of a new ringing season in Falsterbo.

Lycaena virgaureae





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.





Vall d’Aran

26 07 2012

“AIR, n. A nutritious substance supplied by a bountiful Providence for the fattening of the poor.”

– Devil’s Dictionary, Ambrose Bierce

Again in the Pyrenees, but this time in the northeastern corner of Catalonia. The Vall d’Aran is the only north face of the Pyrenees we have and it’s easy to notice that just by looking at either the vegetation or the butterflies. In conclusion, we are talking about one of the best places to forget about city noises and feel happy just by looking around.

I wouldn’t like to repeat myself posting another set of butterfly pictures. The purpose of that post is to show the beauty of Vall d’Aran’ landscapes and let you feel as if you were there for a minute. To give some advice, I specially recommend the route from Honeria to the Liat mines. You start walking throw a wet forest of fir trees, one of the few places known in Catalonia where you can see the Middle spotted woodpecker Dendrocopos medius. Then you leave the forest to enter in the alpine meadows, good for some localized butterflies such as Glandon blue Agriades glandon. Finally you reach the mines where you can enjoy an impressive landscape composed by stony slopes and the Liat pond in the bottom of the valley. Alpine accentores, Water pipits and Alpine choughs are breeding here, while Ring ouzels do breed in the last layer of trees (Mountain pines Pinus uncinata) but also feed in the alpine meadows, just as Citril finches do.

If you are looking for butterflies, it’s worth to make a stop in the middle heights, specially in an opened forest area. It’s not hard to find Large blue Maculinea arion and the always nice to see Apollo Parnassius apollo. If weather conditions are not suitable to the butterflies, you could enjoy some other images, like the water of the mist in the spider webs.

If you have energy enough when you come back to the refuge, there are some nice village around that deserves a visit. Sant Joan de Toran, el Pedret and Canejan are all little villages that have no more than 10 residents living in each one. The buildings are mainly wood-made but they resist the cold and the snow of the hard winter.





Altitude, butterflies

17 07 2012

“Literature and butterflies are the sweetest passions known to man.”

– Vladimir Nabokob; see image here

Migration is probably my favorite natural phenomenon and, in that aspect, Barcelona is a better place to live than Tenerife. Even though, I must admit that after 6 months living in a city surrounded by well-conserved habitats and stunning landspaces, only a week after leaving it my eyes are already missing that kind of images. Ebro Delta is too hot those days, so the solution was on the Pyrenes.

I had already talked about a weekend in the Pyrenees with Martí something like a month ago, when Tenerife was suffering the efects of a Saharian hot wave and I thought about the green and fresh top of the Catalan mountains. Birds there are not so diverse, and you know what you are going to see as soon as you decide to go there, but in the other hand the diversity of plants and butterflies is the highest of Catalonia. The main purpose of our weekend in the Pyrenees was to enjoy learning about butterflies, seeing as many species as possible in a superb environment.

We first prospected a flowered field surrounded by oak trees. It was partially clouded and it seemed there were not butterflies, but as soon as the sun started to heat up they suddenly appeared. We identified more than 30 species in the same field, but I must underline Map butterfly Araschnia levana, Sooty copper Lycaena tityrus and Purple emperor Apatura ilia, all of them lifers for me. We had some problems with the always hard to recognize Fritillaries, but we managed to identify Spotted Melitaea didyma, Heath Melitaea athalia, False heath Melithaea diamina, Knapweed Melitaea phoebe and Meadow Melitaea parthenoides. Of course some individuals were discouraging impossible…

When we arrived to Fontalba (near Queralbs), the fog was at the same time depressing and impressive. We were not able to see anything so we took some pictures and set up the tent while hearing (not seeing) some Citril finches Carduelis citrinella.

The day after started foggy again but the wheather forecast indicated it would get better soon. We descended the valley looking for a warmer area, were butterflies would be already active. The meadows surrounding the stream, in the bottom of the valley, seemed perfect but it was still cold. After a couple of hours of quite intensive search, we found some interesting species such as Large ringlet Erebia euryale and Shepherd’s fritillary Boloria pales. Also some nice flowers like the Moorland spotted orchid Dactylorhiza maculata below.

When the fog vanished, we go up crossing the slope composed by a mixture of Rhododendron and Juniperus communis nana. Again, we noticed some nice species such as Spanish brassy ringlet Erebia hispania and Marbled skipper Carcharodus lavatherae. A brownish (probably a juvenile) Ring ouzel Turdus torquatus flushed into a pine. The landscape from there was stunning and we confirmed the Norther weathear Oenanthe oenanthe success in its breeding season.

In the way back, already in the lowlands, we detected some Scarce coppers Lycaena virgaureae and Dark green fritillaries Argynnis aglaja while a male Red-backed shrike Lanius collurio was calling from a nearby bush.

I want to finish this post with something like “In conclusion”, but there’s no conclusion. It has been an extremely nice weekend, with lots of things learned and all of them in a great company, but I know I will need another one soon.








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