Monday, 17 June 2013

Northwards to the coast

Left Albarracin and drove via outskirts of Zaragoza to Sos Rey de Catolico one of the Cinca Villas southeast of Pamplona. Along the course of the Ebro river which was in full spate having caused flooding further down the plains in recent days. Weather very wet in the Pyrenees.
Stayed at the Parador in Sos Rey which was in a beautiful setting with wonderful views from the terrace out over the surrounding countryside towards the distant mountains. Had late lunch then relaxed and read, explored the town later when temperature cooler.....more winding streets ! Slept well and after a leisurely breakfast set off for Bilbao.
Arrived about 2pm and found the Ibis hotel after a wrong turning to start with off A8 trying to follow not very good Google directions. Checked in and then caught bus into city centre for a stroll around and a visit to the Guggenheim gallery. Were  impressed by the building both outside and in but not much art inside for the space available. Hope they get Picasso's Guernica eventually as it would sit well there.
Today spent in Castro Urdiales just up the coast sampling pinchos and vino blanco whilst the rain came down.
Catching the boat in the morning for trip back to Portsmouth and home.

were pleased with all our accomodation choices
Hotel San Roque      Reinosa
Hotel Recoletos        Salamanca     on the outskirts so good parking and easy walk into town
La casa rural de las canteras   Trujillo      great place for a birding group to stay
Hospederia Real Monasterio      Guadalupe      lovely historic building
La Renta                      Cuenca       on  edge of town but easy drive in
Hotel Albarran            Albarracin   secure, shaded parking
Parador Sos de Rey Catolico
Ibis Barakaldo                              Bilbao    handy for the ferry port and bus into the city

Thursday, 13 June 2013

cultural highlights

Loved Salamanca for it's gentle sandstone colours and fabulous Plaza Major. On to Trujillo, as visited before ,still wonderful sitting in the main square surrounded by mansions of the conquistadors and looking at the storks nesting on the church and the kestrels sweeping by.
Guadalupe, fantastic art treasures in the monastery would probably go some way to paying off the national debt !
Cuenca cathedral suggested a modest building from the outside but once inside is a huge place with gothic pillars and various chapels dating from 13th to 16th centuries. Very good audio guide for thre visit. Great views over the Jucar river gorge and I managed to walk the footbridge linking the Parador with the town to get good view of the hanging houses.
Then a wonderful drive through the mountains on empty roads to Albarracin which proved to be the icing on the cake. An atmospheric town of winding streets and enclosed alleyways, lovingly restored in the middle of nowhere surrounded by limestone cliffs and pastures. Visit soon before it becomes "big" on the tourist trail.
Had a meal and bottle of wine in one of the winding streets whilst choughs and swifts flew overhead.

Somewhere in the hills

Those hoping for some cultural insights will be disappointed as Cath is busy reading so it is time for a bird catch up after the technical glitches at Guadalupe and the backwater which is Cuenca. Still managing to add birds to the list despite bypassing known birding hotspots. Managed a couple of Golden Eagles on route, the one outside Cuenca was quite low and showed well enough to see it was about a year old. Again in Cuenca had a bit of a tit fest on a walk before the evening meal and then two birds of the night afterwards. Long-tailed, Coal and Crested were the former and Scop's and European Nightjar the latter. Amazingly yesterday's family party of Robins was the first of the trip; a bit more exotic were the Cirl Bunting and the Short-toed Treecreeper.
Today en route to Abbaracin managed a couple of Northern Wheatears and this lizard stayed still long enough to take it's portrait despite the wing mirror being in the way!

The limestone scenery on today's journey has been stunning; hopefully there wont be too much to see in the town and we can do some walking in the hills tomorrow.

Saturday, 8 June 2013

Last Last Day

With Ken sitting on 49 lifers for the trip it would have been churlish not trying to find him another new bird to add to the list. A quick trip round the back of Arrocampo failed to locate a Black-shouldered Kite so back to the marsh alongside the road. The Great White Egrets were flying over the road as were the other egrets, a lucky few saw a male Little Bittern flying over the reeds((but not Ken) but then the singing Savi's was seen clearly at the top of a reed so Ken was made up!! Next task was to get them all to the airport, on time which I'm fairly sure I did.
On the way back Cath and I managed to equal Pete's claim of Ring-necked Parakeet from the M25 when 5 flew over the road just outside Madrid. To put some icing on the cake just outside Navalmoral a Black-shouldered Kite hovered alongside the motorway and then just up the road a make Golden Oriole flew over the road dfrom one wood to another. Was it luck or just good timing, you decide.

One of the many roadside Black Kites

One of the Azure-winged Magpies finishing off Lesley's biscuits.

If anyone is thinking of visiting this area, which i highly recommend, then you'd be hard pressed to get better value accommodation than we enjoyed at Casa Las Canteras; just see their website. 

Friday, 7 June 2013

Last full day

Cool, windy with the threat of rain not what you might expect at this time in Spain. In fact it was much like a normal summer's bird watching in England. We set off for the Castille and vulture crag and despite the occasional rain drop the little birds performed well while the vultures dried off before they set out for their food search. We had great views of Black Redstarts, Blue Rock Thrushes and for the first time this week Rock Sparrow and Rock Bunting. A coffee stop whilst the heavens opened and then back to the birding. Persuaded Lesley to part with some biscuits and 4 Azure-winged Magpies came in for a feast. Then spent time trying to persuade Golden Oriole and Turtle Dove to come into view, succeeded with the latter quite splendidly but failed with the former and also with Firecrest who could not be brought down from the tree tops.
The last stop was at the 'Eagle Owl' crags which are totally misnamed BUT we did see Red Kites harrying a Spanish Imperial Eagle, Egyptian Vultures mating and then one still feeling frisky chasing off a Short-toed Eagle. Quite a way to finish off the week; we are dropping off the seven amigos at Madrid airport tomorrow and then we start our week trip around the south of Madrid and up to Bilbao. Hopefully more to follow as we make progress; plus some photos.

Thursday, 6 June 2013

Too many good birds

It comes to something when the cdry from the back of the bus is for 'just another Roller'!! Woodchats, Hoopoes and Azure-winged Magpies are hardly mentioned. Today's trip was to the rice fields and with a bit of advice from a fellow guest found the fields with a nesting group of Collared Pratincoles who duly put on a spectacular show of chasing insects to take back to the nest.The Gull-billed Terns were nowhere near as acrobatic. In nearby hedges we found the foreign interlopers, Waxbill and Red Avadavats who provided a gaudy sideshow. This evening went looking for Nightjars who were calling but not sitting on the roads due to the cool day, 22C. In the town beforehand finally got the group to differentiate between Pallid and Common Swifts. It is late so I'll finish this and my nightcap and get to bed.

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Another hot day in the field

After breakfast and tearing ourselves away fom the local Great Grey Shrikes, Hoopoes, Larks and Spanish Sparrows we set ourselves the task of sorting out some local warblers. Not easy at this time of the year as they were spending all their time feeding youngsters instead of singing. Arrived on site and we were drowned out by Nightingales but with a little perseverence we found Melodious, Dartford, Sardinian and, to a select group of 4, a pair of Orphean warblers. Flushed with success and heat, it was now 29C, we set off to the Arrocampo Reservoirs. A splendid wetland reserve which holds a huge Purple Heron population. Bird activity was not as great as we had hoped, not really surprising  considering the time and heat but we did manage good views of Egrets, Purple Gallinule, Spoonbills, Marsh harriers and Night |Herons. Savi's, Great Reed and Fan-tailed completed the warbler total for the day .
Back at base we rounded off the day with a plate of cooked thistles, much better than they sound, in fact the food at this rural hostal has been excellent and warmly recommended by the whole party