Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Monday, 29 August 2016

Cirque de Gavarnie

We left it late to visit the principle attraction. The weather forecast wasn't great but we wanted to avoid the weekend so Friday it was.
We left Saint Savin (post festival) at 6.30am. As planned it took us around an hour to reach Gavarnie. We'd passed through the Village before on our way to other sites, so we knew it had plenty of facilities. Unfortunately they all appeared to be closed at this early hour. We were hoping to have breakfast here before undertaking the significant hike. We drove down the main street and turned at the end on the one way system. One place had lights on. Louise practised her excellent French and within 5 minutes we were having an excellent breakfast in the dining room of the hotel!
This was a major stroke of luck and set us up nicely for the day.
After breakfast we parked the car and I had another futile look for Wallcreeper. A car park attendant informed me that there had been a sighting near the Cirque Hotel...10 days ago? While Louise sorted herself out I had a mooch around the car park. I managed to find a Dipper along the stream...
It was very overcast and looked like rain but we set off on the track nonetheless...
It took us around an hour to reach the hotel. It was tough going in the humid conditions but thankfully it didn't rain. We then had our first partial view of the Cirque and the magnificent waterfall (Grande Cascade)...
We had a drink at the hotel and it was then that Louise realised she'd forgotten her book. After a brief discussion she decided to return to the village for the afternoon and I carried on. I took a good look at the waterfall and said to myself...I'm going to make that...or at least give it a damn good try. I wouldn't be breaking any records but...with views like this ...who cares...
It's hard to convey the scale of this glaciated Corrie. The waterfall is 422 metres and the highest in France. Fortunately it started to brighten up and there was a fresh breeze...
The path was steep and uneven so I took my time with plenty of stops. It took me around 45 minutes to get to the last section...which was the steepest and loosest!
As I started the final section I could feel the waterfall and the wet stones. It seemed wise to move away. I eventually made it to the top. It felt good post-op!
The view from the top...
I scanned the rocks for 2 hours but I couldn't find a Wallcreeper and I didn't note any raptors? I downed a couple of bananas and enjoyed the atmosphere with the sound of the waterfall and the comings and goings of hikers...
Again plenty of Alpines...
As already mentioned (on probably more than one occasion) I was disappointed at the lack of birds. By now it was obvious that many breeding species had either re-located or started their migration. No matter.
Many people had their lunch by the waterfall...and that meant scraps...I wonder?
It seemed my bird of the trip was to be Alpine Accentor...

Road to Port de Boucharo

Almost forgot!
On our way up to the car park we were very fortunate to obtain great views of an adult Marmot...

Sunday, 28 August 2016

Port de Boucharo/Breche de Roland

I'd visited this area some 25 years ago when my lads were young. We Euro-camped in Luz-saint-sauveur. I was fortunate to receive information about a family of Wallcreepers on the start of the BdR path and connected with great views of them (4) on the scree slopes. Great days.
Could I be so lucky again? No!
We enjoyed the walk and the spectacular views over into Spain.
View through the Port de Boucharo into Spain from the Breche de Roland path
I stumbled on an Alpine Chough nest. We could hear the young below through a hole in the rock strata and a parent guarded well...
We set off on the BdR path which was a good challenge for yours truly After about an hour I decided discretion was the better part of valour...and we turned about. I certainly didn't want any issues at this location. We stopped and had lunch. It turned out to be a good decision.
Unbeknown to me we were sharing the area with a family of Alpine Accentors!
They fed completely unconcerned by the constant procession of Sunday walkers...
A superb species...

Friday, 26 August 2016

Col du Tourmalet

We visited this site twice during our enforced re-location at Bareges. It accommodation wasn't to the same standard...but it was quiet...far quieter than the four day festival in Saint Savin which went on each night till 5am!!! At least we were tipped off about this by the owner, which was more than honest.
The Col du Tourmalet is world famous in cycling circles as it's one of the toughest climbs on the Tour-de-France. It's also a prime site for Snowfinch. Not for me. I tried ALL car parks and associated areas during both visits...no sign.
A view from the top...
I took the track towards the Pic du Midi after setting Louise up in a decent spot to read her novel. I hadn't gone more than 50 yards when I noticed a single bird on the path...
Louise had popped back to use the facilities. When she returned...the bird had disappeared. I continued along the track.
After around an hour I returned having seen nothing. The or a bird was back on the path...
Alpine Accentor
It was a hot day and the bird is backlit...but you get the idea. I realise I've already posted a pic during the trip but I thought one or two more wouldn't hurt. Top bird and not always easy to pin down, so I counted myself fortunate this time.
One more...
The only raptor seen was Kestrel...and there were plenty, as there were at most sites visited. I'll just default the "No Lammergeier sighting".
The mountains were carpeted with wild flowers...
Wild Iris
While we were there we enjoyed the atmosphere as numerous cyclists made the pilgrimage to the pass to have their photos taken with the iconic statue...
So, the CdT was generally disappointing bird wise but it was a fabulous and interesting spot to visit and the views were spectacular...
Locally I added Ringed Plover 4 (H.88) and Turnstone 15 (H.89) to the Village year list in a brief visit to the cliff this afternoon. Nice!

Thursday, 25 August 2016

Pyrenees reflections

There doesn't seem to be much point repeating events in a summary regarding my trip. So I thought I'd do a general summary followed by some thoughts on certain sites.
You probably gathered that I was impressed by the scenery! It's a great little area with plenty of places to visit within an "hour or so" drive.
Birding was light and generally disappointing. The choice and range of services was impressive, which makes for a far better experience...compared to Spain!
Our digs in the lovely village of Saint Savin at Les Rochers were superb. It was a great base from which to explore and the English owners helped with logistics...
The Village...
...and a bird...An early morning Black Redstart...a very common species...
Col du Tormoulet tomorrow...

Giant bird comes to the Giant State!

"For the continent, it also has the second largest wingspan, after the Andean condor (that is, excluding the great albatross occasionally found off the coast of southern South America).[2] The adult jabiru is 120–140 cm (47–55 in) long, 2.3–2.8 m (7.5–9.2 ft) across the wings, and can weigh 4.3–9 kg (9.5–19.8 lb)"

Sunday, 21 August 2016

Pyrenees 16 - Day 12...Soulor start and finish

I decided to try the site I'd seen the most birds at again today. The forecast was for improving conditions as the day wore on. It did brighten up slightly but remained a cool 13c at 1474m.

Embarrassingly the hoped for Lammergeier never materialized. Quite a feat, not to log one in 12 days in the French Pyrenees! lol.

I DID see c200 Black Kites, 5 Red and c20 Honey Buzzards, which was nice.

So that's it! We're off to Carcassonne early tomorrow. A treat for Louise. On the way though there will be a stop at Ouveillan for a chance of Rock Sparrow...another bird I seem to struggle with!

I'd love to return one day...but it will definitely be in June...

Saturday, 20 August 2016

Pyrenees 16 - Day 11...perseverance pays off

After a washout morning (our first) I decided to stay low in the Valley and spend some time at Pibeste near Argeles Gazost.

On the way I finally got my anticipated (brief) fly-by Black Woodpecker sighting!

The rain thankfully abated and I set my chair and scope up and scanned the cliffs.

After around 45 minutes and numerous Griffon circles, an adult Egyptian Vulture came into view and was watched for some 10 minutes. Huzzah!!!

Pyrenees 16 - Day 10...loyal to the plan

Continuing my strategy to cover as many sites in the area as possible I checked out north-west of Gedre yesterday.
Four hours was spent at the Cirque du Troumouse, another glaciated marvel in the high Pyrenees. I DID actually view a pair of Golden Eagles but they were ridiculously high above the 10,000ft plus mountains! Still, a notable sighting.
We then returned to the Lac des Gloriettes to check once again for Wallcreeper on the dam and Rock Thrush below it. A blank was drawn.
Finally, I tried a site at Haus were Wallcreeper had previously been seen by a waterfall. I finally found access and enjoyed a good hour searching in vain?
Saturday has brought our first poor morning weather wise with not much promise of improvement. So, I'm dropping the boss off at Argeles-Gazost for a shopping fix while I head for the Col de Soulor with everything crossed...

Friday, 19 August 2016

Pyrenees 16 - Day 8/9...more high spots

Mountains that is!
Wednesday we did the Luz ski slopes were Charles had seen Lammergeier and Golden Eagle. No luck for yours truly.
Yesterday we finally got round to making the trip to the Cirque de Garvanie a truly spectacular area and a World Heritage site. The forecast was dodgy but it worked out great as it was cool and cloudy for our ascent and then cleared as we reached the Cirque. It took us an hour to reach the Hotel were Wallcreeper had been reported 10 days ago. You guessed it...no sign!
Louise decided to return to the Valley and I continued to the waterfall (Grande Cascade). It took me a long time but I made it...eventually. I'm not a fell walker but I can understand the sense of achievement it gives you...and the fitness. Hardest thing I've done for many a year and the leg obviously held out!
My reward was another encounter with Alpine Accentor. I had brief but close views right by the waterfall...the highest point! I scanned many a cliff for the 'creeper but couldn't find one. The only raptor I saw, apart from the ever present Kestrels, was a lone Griffon Vulture.
Today we're off to the Cirque du Troumouse, yet another "guaranteed" Lammergeier site? Later we'll drop down to the Lac des Gloriettes and Haus for a chance of Wallcreeper and Rock Thrush.
Fingers crossed...

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Pyrenees 16 - Day 7...Too much excitement?

Half time report

This was always going to be a low key Birding holiday (although maybe not this low key)! No charging around (not that I could anyway). The plan was to visit as many sites as possible and see what turns up. It’s a stunning area of outstanding natural beauty with some much sought after species, as already mentioned. Our visit was obviously not at the prime time for obvious reasons.

To be honest I’m just glad to be here…mobile. I’ve used it to try and get as much exercise as possible and try to keep up with Louise! Our walk to the Port du Boucharo and beyond in 28c was a fair effort.

The most “birdy”  site so far was perhaps unsurprisingly (raptor watchpoint) the Col de Soulor. It will definitely be re-visited…probably tomorrow (as I sit writing this at lunchtime at the birdless Col de Tournament).

I tried for another three hours this morning at Leitz nr Bareges for Black Woodpecker. No luck again but I did add Bullfinch, Goldcrest, Wren, Willow Warbler and Chiffchaff to the trip list.

We ate at my contact Charles’s restaurant last night in Luz’. Nice Pizza. He said he’d had Lammergeier and Golden Eagle locally yesterday! I’ve asked him for details.

We’ve both agreed it’s an area we’d visit again but probably in June (not possible this year) when things are more lively bird wise. No sulking of course.

The French Pyrenees definitely gets the thumbs up over the Spanish side logistically. Many more facilities, a far superior infrastructure, better scenery with the same key species…mainly.

So, into the second half after a right good team talk. Things not going well apart from the perky Alpine Accentors. Things can change quickly however with one key sighting.
Better get out there and notch it…whatever it is?


Monday, 15 August 2016

Pyrenees 16 - Day 6...Vallee d'Ossoue

Tried hard this am for Black Woodpecker just east of Barages at Lienz around Chez Louisette. I realize this is a long, long shot but the scenery is simply stunning, the weather superb and it's worth a try.

After picking Louise up in Luz' we headed for the Vallee d'Ossoue near Gavarnie...another classic Lammergeier site. We drove the whole length to the lake and spent 5 hours there (it reached 35c) but the only raptor seen was Kestrel. A beautiful valley though.

Our last day at Barages tomorrow before retuning to Saint Savin, post festival!

I hope to have more positive news tomorrow and might even be able to post a pic or two?

Sunday, 14 August 2016

Pyrenees 16 - Day 5...Port du Boucharo

Unfortunately things are not firing regarding the downloading of pics at the moment, so it's just brief highlights of the day for now.

We made the trek to the above spot from the Col de Tentes car park. I reckon it took us around an hour with frequent stops. Great view through into Spain but no birds of significance seen. We continued on the path to the Breche de Roland passing scree were I'd seen a family of Wallcreepers over 20 years ago with my 2 sons (not that they were interested!). No luck today and no Snowfinch or Lammy.

However, around half a mile along this second track I found a family of Alpine Accentors feeding completely unconcerned by the busy path. I enjoyed a wonderful 30 minutes with these little gems over lunch and obtained some good pics, which I'll post on return.

Tomorrow morning I try for Black Woodpecker again around Bareges while Louise goes shopping in Luz-Saint-Sauveur. Everyone's happy!

Saturday, 13 August 2016

Pyrennes 16 - Day 3/4...ALPINE ACCENTOR

I was hoping to do a proper report tonight but there are still gremlins about in the French internet!
So, Saturday found us climbing up to the spectacular Col du Tourmalet. Target birds were Lammergeier, Snowfinch and Alpine Accentor.
Only found one...but I got great views...

Friday, 12 August 2016

Pyrenees 16 - Day 2...Lac des Gloriettes

Brief one tonight as late back and slow internet.

Early morning was spent below Saint Savin by the Lac des Gaves. Expected birds turned up...Dipper (2), Kingfisher, Grey and White Wagtail, Common Sandpiper, Mallard and Heron. Bonus being S.T.Treecreeper (pics to follow).
The afternoon was spent up at the wonderfully scenic Lac des Gloriettes. A fantastic spectacle! I looked in vain for Wallcreeper and Rock Thrush...again. No matter...it was a great place to be.
Change of plan!
We've just been informed there's a 3 day festival in Saint Savin starting tonight. Festivities go on till 5am each evening/morning!!! So, we're out of here. I've managed to get a cheap ski cabin for three days in Bareges. Just co-incidentally it's in a prime Birding area! Just up the road is the Col de Tourmalet which is part of the tour de France.

Maybe I'll catch up with one of these there...

Afficher l'image d'origine
Black Woodpecker
*I almost certainly won't have internet access until Monday evening

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Pyrenees 16 - Day 1...Col du Soulor

After a late breakfast and a few logistical issues we headed up to the Col du Soulor for a leisurely day. I also hoped to meet Charles my contact at the Raptor watchpoint. It might have helped if I'd given him a rough description of what I looked like! Anyway we sorted it out and had a lengthy chat in between scanning the skies.
Black Kites through the clouds...hundreds of them...
A distant Short-toed Eagle along the hillside...
There were large numbers of Griffon Vultures overhead but they were very high over the Col. As we were leaving Louise shouted..."What's that"...
I spent the afternoon looking for Wallcreeper and Rock Thrush to no avail. No matter...we enjoyed the weather and the magnificent scenery...


Possibly the smoothest journey we've ever had! Completely hassle free?

Internet connection isn't brilliant, but will do. Not sure if I'll be able to post pics, but I'll give it a go. Weather set fair for the foreseeable...so it's up and away...

Monday, 8 August 2016

We're OFF!

Over at "the Mother's" on the eve of our trip.

I received a message off my contact today...

"There was a good movement of Black Kites 2000 in 20 minutes, 3400 in just over 2 hours"

Prep' completed now...so time to get on with it...and enjoy! I hope to post regularly and provide some interest for you...

Saturday, 6 August 2016


In the quest for fitness I've pulled my back! Not good when I'm 3 days away from my Pyrenees trip. Never mind still time to recover. Pity as we were going to go down to the Spurn barbecue this evening. Would have been nice to see some familiar faces. I'll make a contribution next time I'm down. It's looking like that'll be post trip now.

Preparation is more or less complete...I think! This holiday is definitely firmly in the relaxed category, especially adding in the back issue. All Birding will be within a relatively small area but there's some real quality here...as already stated. The weather looks to be set fair and I've a good local contact, so bring it on!

Now then, where's that back ointment...

Thursday, 4 August 2016

Mixed results

I spent 3 hours down at Beacon Ponds this morning...granted I didn't set up till 7.30! Still the tide was high and there were plenty of Waders...almost all Dunlin (c3000). I didn't take Bud for obvious reasons and set up my scope over the wall out of the strong, yet warm, Westerly.
My Leica APO 62 scope like me has taken some knocks over the years but still gives me all I need with it's wonderful zoom. I've dropped it and it's fell over on numerous occasions, it's even got a scratch on the objective (gained while trying to clamber over scree to see a Wallcreeper...not a bad scalp) but it's still fine. Also the eyepiece adjustment is no longer attached! It doesn't bother me, in fact without it, it gives the impression of a wider field of view? You might want to try it? I know many birders do the same thing with their bins, although for me this doesn't suit.
Anyway, onto the birds. I scanned and scanned the sea of Dunlin but couldn't turn any of them into a Curlew Sandpiper. They created wonderful vistas of grey, black and brown tightly huddled together but constantly on the move. Wonderful. They were mainly adults but there were some juveniles present to raise hopes momentarily! There were also some smart Knot and Grey Plover still in summer plumage.
Four species of tern were present and I had a smart Black-tailed Godwit fly over the flood bank as I left. Very enjoyable.
After doing my exercises I took Buddy a walk, watched some of the Test Match and had lunch. Then I had to confess I dropped off!
Around 4 I took him down to the cliff and had a quick scan. You never know...do you?
Moulting adult Mediterranean Gull (P.153, H.85)
It was the only bird on the beach! As usual no big deal down the road but nice to have a smart adult at the end of the road in bright sunshine.

Wednesday, 3 August 2016

Wood Sandpiper

News came through mid-afternoon of a Wood Sand' at Canal Scrape, Spurn. Ten minutes later I was enjoying reasonable views with Steve Exley and Ian Smith. The bird fed at the rear of the pool and was difficult to see well through the vegetation...
Always a good bird to catch up with during the year, they can easily slip by. I stayed around half an hour and we were joined by John Hewitt. During our chat he told me he'd also been down for the WPS on Monday. His group travelled down through East Anglia but he also commented on how long it takes to get to Minsmere. Worth it though. We swapped numbers and maybe we'll do one together in the future.
One more of the dapper Wood Sandpiper (P.152, S.134)...

P.S. Had an hour on the cliff this morning and added some way overdue Terns to the Village year list. I also had a couple of Whimbrel. This evening I heard then saw 4 more heading south offshore on the dog walk. Nice!

6 Curlew Sandpipers at Beacon Ponds this evening. Guess where I'm heading first thing...



Tuesday, 2 August 2016


After a few initial hiccups with logistics Trevor and Tony arrived at the Cottage just after 7am. We picked Erich Hediger up at the Humber bridge and headed South. I've not been to Minsmere many times and after yesterday I know why. It's a real drag to get too...so it had to be something...GOOD...didn't it?
The company was first class though which helped the journey. The roads were VERY busy and we hit a couple of jams. Trevor used to be the Warden there so his local knowledge helped negotiate the last few miles quickly....thankfully.
There were plenty of cars in the car park but we found a spot, gathered our gear and headed for reception. Trevor had reminded me to bring my RSPB card, I'm glad he did as it was an extortionate £9 entry!!
The site was around 800 yds away and I told the chaps I'd catch them up...they walked with me...top lads.
We could soon see the admirers in the distance, we joined them and found a spot. The bird was out of view. After around 30 minutes, movement was noticed in the far reeds (c.80yds)...
The haze was strong but at least it was there!  
We spent around 3 hours on site enjoying views of the bird working it's way around the edge of the pool in and out of the vegetation...
It disappeared on occasions but with patience it was possible to get good views. It never came close (as it had done early morning) but the views were fine...
Heavy crop to show the feet and toes...
BLUE Bird!
So now it will be up to the Committee to decide. As stated many times I will adhere to the eventual decision whether I agree with it or not. Personally I feel the credentials of this bird are good...far better than the Chinese Pond Heron which I thought was the wrong decision...as was the Mugimaki Flycatcher.
Time will tell if it was worth the trip? Pending!