|Trip progress - Fuentes de Nava (A), La Grajera (B), Jaca (C)|
|Grey Headed Woodpecker, La Grajera|
So then, the final leg of my journey - from the Fuentes de Nava in Castilla y Leon, via La Grajera and Jaca, then back through the Pyrenees and into France, though tinged with a bit of sadness at leaving Spain and a significant degree of anxiety over the noises emitting from my van (more later), was relatively tranquil and did in fact bring me 2 new 'lifers'. First of which was a splendid Grey Headed Woodpecker at the La Grajera reservoir, nr Logrono - a bit of a park with golf course attached, an empty car park and several suspicious looking blokes wandering around (never had I been so concerned about my vehicle!). By now of course I was on the hunt for new species and thought this place looked good for Crossbills. None seen sadly but the Grey Headed Woodpecker in a children's play area was a terrific bonus! Thought I might have had one of these a couple of years ago in France but after watching this one - the way it looked and behaved, totally different from a Green Woodpecker, I'm satisfied I didn't.
|Grey Headed Woodpecker, La Grajera|
|Red Squirrel, La Grajera, Castilla y Leon|
Such a bleak feel to this place ...bare trees, cold winds and stacks of berries in the bushes were a stark reminder that although my skin was brown and hair sun kissed, it was in fact winter and I was heading north and right into it! There were Blackbirds, Song Thrushes galore here plus 20 or so Redwings and a distant flock of 20 or so unidentified thrushes that looked suspiciously like Fieldfares to me but could just as easily have been Mistle Thrushes or Blackbirds. No Crossbills, but at least 5 Firecrest along with Coal & Long Tailed Tits, 10ish Blackcaps and several Red Squirrels busily foraging for nuts on the forest floor .. yep it was winter that day alright!
Onwards and upwards I pushed, trying to ignore the horrendous noise in the van ... by this time I was pretty sure it was a big bearing gone on the driveshaft - disconcerting to say the least and as I passed back into Aragon the frailty of my vehicle was such that I passed up on the opportunity to drive up to the deserted village of Esco, abandoned in the year I was born (1959) after the damming of a stretch of the Aragon river created the Yesa resevoir and ruined the livelihood's of the farming community there (all General Franco's work!). Got an awesome pic of the place though ... light was just right with the setting sun highlighting the mountain ridge behind which I think is called Sigues
|Esco (deserted village) at last light|
|Embalse de Yesa, Aragon|
Eventually I reached Jaca and the nearby birding hotspot of San Juan de Pena, high up in the pre Pyrenees, a place I commend and highly recommend ...
Jaca itself is a splendid place, although a popular destination for Spanish holiday makers and winter sports (the city was in the running to host the 2014 Winter Olympics), its well enough off the beaten track and not at all touristy, and thoroughly Basque! I stopped at a campsite here for a couple of days to explore the mountainous habitat up nr the monastaries of San Juan de Pena, primarily for a last chance of grabbing a Wallcreeper sighting .... I was lucky and got one, just one and sadly I wasn't savvy and alert enough to get a pic, but what a lasting image I will have in my mind's eye! Ok so why did I nearly wet my pants? Birdwatchers everywhere will understand this but to the non initiated a sighting of a Wallcreeper is a bit of a 'holy grail' experience ... its a bit like a treasure hunter discovering a Viking helmet on a beach, or an antique dealer coming across a piece of genuine Thomas Chippendale furniture .... it's just special!
Now I've searched and searched for a pic of Wallcreeper in the same aspect as I saw mine but couldn't find one so you will have to imagine. Here's the setting - I was looking out from a viewpoint nr the old monastery at San Juan de Pena - it was mid morning in bright sunlight and I'd stood there for an hour because the light and the view was so inspiring, didn't see much .. a couple of Jays and some distant finches flying through the trees that's all ...
|Viewpoint from San Juan de Pena|
|Wallcreeper, (google images)|
|Old monastery, San Juan de Pena|
I had a wonderfully invigorating stroll around up here, both the old and new monastaries were interesting .. here's the old one (circa 920) - in the shadow of the same cliff face it was built from (that's where my Wallcreeper was heading and you can maybe see why!)
Now look, I'm neither an architect or town planner but impressive as it is I wouldn't have passed this ......
|Old Monastary, San Juan de Pena|
... and this is the new one, not sure when this was built, less impressive than the old to my mind but higher up and surrounded by forest and mountain views I'd certainly consider giving up all my vices and accept a retreat there!
|New monastary, San Juan de Pena|
.... some nice seasonal Holly berries up here too
|Holly, San Juan de Pena|
.... and just about the weirdest image of a Treecreeper I've ever taken ... in the grounds of said monastery.
Back down in Jaca it was warmer and before I hit this bar and got a bit giddy with some of the locals with my limited Spanish, my last good birding moment in Spain was a Peregrine Falcon chasing a Lapwing over the town and towards those mountains and monasteries. Another awesome moment to go with the rest!
|My kind of bar, Jaca (nearly made an offer for one of those Strats!)|
It was a wrecked bearing on the driveshaft .... diagnosed and repaired within 48hrs at a Ford dealer in Chauvigny - 280 euros (could have been a lot worse!).
So that's that .... I did it, it was something I promised myself when I retired and planned for 6 months. Worth it? I'll say .... where next!!??
Post script and slightly amusing little anecdote ..... when I got back to Jane & Mark's in France, whilst I was doing a bit of sorting out in the van, I happened to be looking at the car stickers on the back window, attached by a previous owner of the van no doubt and things I'd only half looked at before, and blow me ... of the half a dozen stickers, 2 were from Jaca and 2 from Salamancar! That van's done this journey before!!!! True ... weird or what!!