Thursday, 2 June 2016

Spain road trip week 3 - Picos de Europa and Cantabria

We're now back in the UK, safe n sound, not as sun kissed as we'd like but that's another road trip under the belt - its been good to check out some familiar locations later in the year and also to check out a few areas neither of us have been before in a birding capacity. Northern Spain and the Picos de Europa is the main focus of this post and I'm pleased to report we had the sun shining for most of it!

For those that are interested in such things we ended up with a grand tally of 216 bird species for the 3 week trip, not too shabby! There's a link at the end of this posting with a full list.

Picos de Europa foothills from Potes

Anyone who's flown to Spain will doubtless have gazed down upon the Picos De Europa and marvelled at those jagged snow topped spurs, I know I have many a time, and often promised myself an explore there. Some of the scenery in and around the 'Picos' is truly jaw dropping with many peaks well over 2,000m and equally impressive gorges and caves. This was just the view from the campsite we stayed at nr Potes (pic right)

The wildlife was non too shabby too with Redstart, Firecrest, Hobby, Northern Bullfinch, Dipper and Wryneck all around the campsite with the last 3 all new species for the trip. I thought I had my first live snake of the trip whilst I was bumbling along a forest trail but it turned out to be one these little fellahs ... a Slow Worm or if you like a Legless Lizard

Slow Worm, Potes, 15/05/16
Cable car, Picos de Europa
By my reckoning those last three new birds took us to 199 species with still 4 or 5  days to go ...get in! Still,  if you want to tick off birds like Wallcreeper, Rock Thrush, Alpine Accentor and Snow Finch you have to get up high and in amongst those snow topped peaks and the only way to do that in the Picos is to take the car!

Snow Finch, Fuente De, 16/05/16

Sadly no Wallcreeper .. it was always gonna be tough on the tourist trail, no Rufous Rock Trush either but we sailed past the 200 mark with another 4 new species for the list .. Water Pipit, Alpine Chough, Alpine Accentor and a 'lifer' for the both of us - Snow Finch. Surprisingly big for a finch, we had a pair immediately we were up there and then Mark was lucky enough to have c25 fly right past him. In flight, the pure white patches in their wings was nothing short of dazzling!

The Alpine Accentors were confiding, relatively numerous and a few were ringed as were some of the Alpine Choughs

Snow Finch, Fuente De, 16/05/16


Alpine Accentors, Fuente De, 16/05/16

Water Pipit, Fuente De, 16/05/16

Alpine Chough, Fuente De, 16/05/16

Northern Wheatear, Fuente De, 16/05/16
Northern Wheatears have been almost ever present wherever we've been so I shouldn't have been surprised to see a few up here, however incongruous they seemed surrounded by all that snow!

A nice male Black Redstart, one of several, topped off a cracking couple of hours birding above the tree line and up amongst the clouds and, as expected, the landscapes were simply breath taking!

Black Redstart, Fuente De, 16/05/16


Fuente De, 16/05/16

Fuente De, 16/05/16

Fuente De (view from), 16/05/16

Long Lipped Tongue Orchid, Cantabria, 17/05/16
From the Picos we headed back towards journey's end and Bilbao, but not before a couple of days chilling out on the Cantabrian coast near the fishing town of Santona. En route there we stopped at a lay by for some lunch and spotted these amazingly shaped orchids in with red clover.

They're 'Long Lipped' Tongue Orchids, fairly widespread around Iberia but a first for me. Weird looking aren't they?

Long Lipped Tongue Orchid, Cantabria, 17/05/16

Peregrine Falcon fledglings, Montehano, 18/05/16
We camped out across the bay from Santona at Montehano, an historical mound, where there's an old quarry and a monestary, La Convento de Montehano. The weather had turned sour again and the bay held precious few of the many wading birds we'd been expecting here but the distinctive shrill 'kee-ark' call of a Peregrine hinted at a nest site and something to look at. Took a wee while but finally we located 3 fledglings high up on a grassy ledge.

Very average 'record' pics in poor light and at distance, but you can clearly see that they're all well developed and I would say almost ready for the off. We watched the site for a couple of hours or so hoping for one of the adults to return with food but it never happened so we withdrew in case they were spooked.

Peregrine Falcon fledglings, Montehano, 18/05/16

A few small flocks of Whimbrel turned up the same day, incredibly our first of the trip, and we also had Ringed Plover, Curlew, Redshank in small numbers plus a Black Necked Grebe on one of the many water courses around the marismas here. I walked around the monastery snapping a few more wild flowers then climbed the Montehano hill and got some landscape pics of the area.

Mountain Kidney Vetch, Montehano, 18/05/16

Fairy Foxglove, Montehano, 18/05/16

Ivy Leafed Toadflax, Montehano, 18/05/16

Santona (from Montehano)
Escalante (from Montehano)

Marismas de Santona (from Montehano)
Convento de Montehano

With a ferry to catch the next day it certainly felt like journey's end but what a journey - from the North to the South of Spain and back again, a distance of appx 2,500 kilometres in 3 weeks and in total 214 bird species recorded. It was non stop, even the ferry back brought us 3 more birds - Guillemot, Turnstone (on the ferry itself!)and Arctic Skua and just off the ferry at Southsea I had a fabulous photographic finale with a summer plumaged adult Mediterranean Gull feeding on the beach with common Black Headed Gulls.
Mediterranean Gull, Southsea, 20/05/16

Mediterranean Gull, Southsea, 20/05/16
Mediterranean Gull (Left), Southsea, 20/05/16

Mediterranean Gull, Southsea, 20/05/16
What a beauty!
As promised then here's the final species list for the whole trip - just click on the link