The Pyrenees and Espanya Norte, June 12th - 17th 2003

Published by Surfbirds Admin (surfbirds AT


by John Bannon


Barry McCarthy, John Bannon, Paul Thomason, Simon Jackson, John Dempsey, Pete Allan, Mike Stocker and Matthew Bannon.


Barcelona Airport, Lleida, Fraga, Huesca, Las Penas de Riglos, Puerto de Oroel, Jaca (overnight Thursday), Valle de Echo, Refugio Garbadito, Hecho, Monasterio de San Juan de la Pena, Jaca (overnight Friday), Candanchu , Foret D'Issaux (overnight Saturday), Foret D'Issaux, Jaca, Embalse de la Sontenera, Huesca (overnight Sunday), Zaragoza Tour, Hijar - Restaurant Arse, Tortosa, Parc Natural del Delta de Ebro, Salou (overnight Monday), Panta de Riudecaynes, Barcelona Airport, Barcelona City, Barcelona Airport.



We all met up at John Lennon International, Liverpool, for the 0750 Easyjet flight to Barcelona, where we arrived spot on time at 1115. Whilst I went to sort out the pre-booked Mercedes Vito nine-seater minibus with Europcar, a search was conducted for Pete Allen, who had flown in from Heathrow on BA, incidentally at a cheaper fare than our supposedly low-cost flights. Some of our "smokers" had also vanished into thin air and the search party added them to their list too.

The minibus cost £454 for five full days and proved to be an excellent choice with plenty of room for eight plus luggage, reasonable engine power and being diesel powered, was very economical. Pity then about the totally bald tyres on the front, which made negotiating the Pyrenean hairpins interesting to say the least. The totally useless supposed air conditioning, just about wafted up your shorts if you were lucky enough to be the driver or navigator.

At 1215 pm we had cleared El Prat de LLobregat airport and were heading north-west on the N11, one of Spain's excellent EU-funded motorways, which because you have to pay for the distance you travel, the Spanish generally avoid like the plague. Excellent news for rich British birders like us, as we were virtually the only travellers using these modern-day turnpikes and within two hours we pulled in for our first stop at the ARS-operated Fraga services.

First birds for the trip included Spotless Starlings, Crested Lark and both Black and Red Kites. Suitably refreshed, we turned off soon after onto the 131 to Sarinena and Huesca and then the 132 towards the dramatic sandstone pinnacles of Los Mallos de Riglos, which towered over the village below. We were soon watching squadrons of Griffons, supported by a cast which included Egyptian Vultures, Short-toed Eagle, Booted Eagle, Alpine Swift, Chough and Crag Martin. We parked up in the lay-by just outside the village and walked up to the church, where MS and not for the first time on the trip, excellently got us on to a good bird, a superb Black Wheatear. Other birds recorded included Subalpine Warbler, Blue Rock Thrush and very confiding Black Redstarts and SJ was lucky enough to get onto a Lammergeyer.

Continuing northwards towards Jaca on the 1205, we ticked off Dipper on the river at Benues and wound our way around the huge limestone lump that is Pena Oroel (1703m). Stopping on an interesting hairpin added our first Garden Warbler, Treecreeper and Rock Bunting before dropping down into the Rio Aragon valley and our two nights stop at the Hostal Paris in the centre of Jaca. Another excellent choice, with basic simple double rooms, shared balcony, which was later to prove invaluable for observing the goings-on in the town square - of which more later and three superb bathrooms between us. The cost for eight people was only EU 60 per night.

Jaca is a historic university town of some 15,000 people and when we went out to eat at 9.30pm we were under the great misapprehension that this ex-capital of kingdom of Aragon, was a sleepy sort of place as everywhere appeared to be closed. It was. Jacanites don't come out to play until close to midnight and as we finished our excellent meal in an inexpensive local restaurante, multidudes of people appeared as if by magic, all heading in the general direction of the river. After tapas, menu del dia and one or two cervecas we sensibly decided to call it a day and headed back to our hostal for our well-earned night's rest.

FRIDAY JUNE 13th 2003

A momentous day dawned with the local Crag Martins noisily nesting outside our windows. Was Friday the 13th to be our lucky day ? The very friendly manager wished us bon voyage as we set off at 6.30am for our guaranteed rendezvous with breeding Wallcreepers, at the Gabardito Refuge site, off the Hecho Valley.

We stocked up with essential coffees and more of Thomason's tasty Tabnabs at the local garage and then took the 240 westwards for some 19 kms, before turning north up the 176 and the beautiful Hecho valley. The Refugio de Gabardito is well signposted once you are beyond the tunnel along the Rio Aragon Subordan some four kms past the major village of Echo (pop.670) and the tiny hamlet of Siresa (pop.130). Turning right to cross the river, the narrow road climbs steeply, seemingly forever, on tight hairpins, before reaching the unfeasibly huge car park, 200m from the Refugio building itself.

Previous evening's serious advice from some senior crew members to "all stay together as these high mountains are not to be trifled with" was soon disregarded, as the very same and obviously more genetically "mountain goated" individuals, set a blistering pace up the well marked track through the pinewoods.

Half an hour's steady progress at the rear of the field eventually brought us all together again, below some vertical cliffs and a definite chimney as was described in our latest gen. Linnet, Alpine Accentor, Serin, Citril Finch, Chough, Green Woodpecker and Crested Tit were soon added to our combined list, when after a somewhat tense 15 minutes or so, the distinctive whistling of a Wallcreeper was heard and one flew, butterfly-like along the top of the cliff face and totally disappeared from view.

Totally understandable but unnecessary panic gripped those who hadn't got onto its brief flight, as for the next two hours we were all treated to absolutely stunning views of both the male and female Wallcreeper, plus regular "whistling" and their wonderful nuptial display, pirouetting around each other in ascending spirals: there is a god and we were definitely nearer to his heaven than our earth. Afterwards, as we all lay prostrate in the warm sunshine, reflecting on our good fortune, the menacing shadows of Griffon Vultures passed across us and the loud "swish" of their wings was a dramatic reminder of just what fate lay in store for those who faltered on the return journey.

Close views were also had of a male Rock Bunting and a brilliantly close pair of Alpine Choughs, with their distinctive echoing contact calls, which sounds like a stone being thrown across an icy pond. A blue-sided Rock Lizard was found and multitudes of butterflies flew about us as we made our way down, adding Ortolan Bunting, immature Lammergeyer, Short-toed Eagle, Cuckoo and calling Crossbills and Black Woodpecker on the way.

Descending the steep hair-pinned road, we came across Tropical's flattened packet of Camels on one of the bends - needless to say and entirely in accordance with his no doubt unspokenly harsh childhood days in a broch on a deserted Scottish mountain, he still opted to recover them for future emergency use. Reaching the bottom we stopped for a while to search the beautiful river valley, with Cirl Bunting, Woodchat Shrike and Large Blue butterfly in attendance.

Coffee and superb ham and cheese bocadilloes were ordered and leisurely consumed in the metropolis of Hecho (Echo), before retracing our steps down the valley, stopping to paddle in the ice cold river and discovering an aquatic Viperine Snake. More singing Serins, a superb male Red-backed Shrike and two Egyptian Vultures sat in a roadside field, plus even more brilliant butterflies and a Hummingbird Hawkmoth finished off our all but brief but stunning visit to the magnificent Hecho valley.

Retracing our route, we headed east to the Monasterio de la San Juan de la Pena (Monastery of St.John of the Mountain). An ice-cold fresh water spring provided for pilgrims, quenched our thirst on yet another steep winding mountain road, before we reached the car park at the 18th century Upper Monastery, which was covered in scaffolding as it is being totally restored.

Walking through the pine woods to the viewpoint at the Mirador de Los Pireneos, we heard Golden Oriole and Goldcrest as well as Jay and more excellent butterflies, which appropriately included Queen of Spain Fritillary. At the viewpoint, the entire inspiring magnificence of Los Pireneos was laid out before us, with our chosen home town at their base.

Continuing down to Jaca in the late afternoon sunshine, we passed the same, probably stuffed Red-legged Partridge, at exactly the same spot by the roadside and in exactly the same pose, where we had seen it the day before. We ticked it off anyway as a fine example of Aragonese taxidermy, before finding the old cuidedala (citadel) in Jaca, which was no problem, once we had returned from the road halfway to France and we soon had easy and excellent views of half-a-dozen Rock Sparrows feeding young, amongst which was the odd Tree Sparrow.

After such an eventful day, the comforts of the Hostal Paris and the bright lights of downtown Jaca beckoned. We didn't need much convincing to return to our rooms and freshen-up for a much needed evening meal and god knows what night-time Jacanory entertainment, lay in store us. We started off in our favourite tapas bar and some hours later eventually ate outside in the same excellent local restaurant, as the previous evening.


We awoke at 7am and assembled ourselves into the mini-bus and set off up the Somport Valley road towards our appointment with Snowfinch and maybe Alpine Accentor, Rock Thrush and perhaps even White-backed Woodpecker, if we were very, lucky.

By 8am we arrived at the main car park at the deserted ski resort of Candanchu and decamped to study the straightforward 1,500 ft climb to the main plateau that lay ahead of us. The very helpful Mr and Mrs Bandanaman, who we had met the day before at the Wallcreeper site, had told us very good news as to the exact whereabouts of the resident Snowfinches, but also very bad news concerning the closure of the very convenient ski-lift up to the café and the alpine meadows behind it.

Apparently, Mr and Mrs Bandanaman, who where probably in the early 60's, had gone straight up the mountain, following the line of the ski-lift, but even our resident "mountain goats" sensibly decided to make a more measured ascent and within 30 minutes we had reached a large area of scree, cliffs and various wooden huts.

MJB alerted us to a magnificent Alpine Accentor, followed almost immediately by MS's alert to get onto an equally stunning male Rock Thrush. Both were lifers for Eric el Brick, who in generous bonhomme the previous evening, had offered to buy free beer for life, for anyone who managed to get him onto said two life-species.

Suitably adrenilalised, we pressed on up the track, encountering many Water Pipits, Northern Wheatears, Choughs and Alpine Choughs as we climbed higher in a seemingly, never ending series of hairpins and short straights, before eventually reaching the flower-carpeted meadows at the top. Needing to rest my woefully inadequate knee-joints, I told my colleagues to press on without me along the ridge and I would catch them up later. They had not gone more than 400 metres, when two hugely impressive Snowfinches flew up from the meadow below, not 50 metres away, right past my disbelieving eyes before disappearing over the ridge.

My avalanche-causing roar of SNOWFINCH ! was heard by the advance party, who all had distant yet tickable views. Over the next couple of hours we all managed to get gripping views of at least two pairs of Snowfinch, busy collecting food for their young in the pristine alpine meadows below us. One even flew just over our heads and diverting briefly, swooped down amongst the many thousands of butterflies, which included both Apollo and Clouded Apollo, to add yet another tasty morsel its already bulging crop.

Marmot, Alpine Choughs, adult Lammergeyer and a distant Golden Eagle added to the interest, before we decided to head back down to the car-park and set off for the Somport Pass into France and our rendezvous with the woodpecker. On the last lap down to the car park I decided to place my right foot into a Marmot's hole. Despite believing that both my knees had definitely snapped and simultaneously throttled by my binoculars wrapped double around my windpipe, I was in fact unhurt. Only my pride suffered, when four 80 year-old Spanish ramblers inquired if the unfortunate senor needed their assistance.

Suitably euphoric, we set off in the afternoon sunshine and in good spirits across the Somport Pass and into La Belle France which was shut. The small market town of Bedous was anyway and enquiries of the local mayoress confirmed that as they were preparing for a big "do" later that evening, no food was available, especially to the old enemy and that we should return to Londres forthwith.

It was extremely humid as we arrived in the Atlantic rain forest of the Fôret D'issaux in the late afternoon. Despite the narrow roads and twisting hairpins scrubbing the rest of the tread off our already bald tyres, we soon found the best site for the White-backed Woodpecker, which was actually drumming with its unique "ping-pong ball" flourish as we nosily decamped from the van.

Unfortunately that was as close as we ever got. As despite our best efforts over the next couple of hours and intensive searching from first light the next morning, all we ever managed was fairly regular and distinctive drumming and the odd probable call. The verdant rainforest and steep hills made bird "watching" extremely difficult but between us, we did somehow manage Wryneck, Woodcock, calling Scops Owl, Firecrest, Black Woodpecker, Green Woodpecker, Melodious, Bonelli's and Wood Warblers, Coal Tit, abundant Jays and scarce Song Thrushes.

SUNDAY JUNE 15th 2003

After building a traditional English "bommy", which we all sat round to get warm whilst drinking ice-cold lager and later several of the crew slept on various picnic tables and benches. Heavy rain in the middle of the night forced everyone back into the van however and a horrendously cramped night of little or no sleep was the result. All except for PA, who had somehow stretched out under the van; the sophorific effect of ten cans of lager obviously being greater than than that caused from very damp legs, as he was still there at first light. Good job then, we had not decided to decamp in the night, or he would have been well and truly "legless".

We heard the WBW"s distinctive drumming at least a dozen times from 0640, but none of us even managed a glimpse and about 1030 we decided that enough was definitely enough, when a calling Wryneck in the bushes next to the van, also cloaked itself in the Klingon's invisibility device and although we could smell it, we just couldn't see it.

The entire WBW "damp squid" saga was probably best forgotten as we called it a day and headed back from a sullen France into a gloriously sunny Spain through the fantastic Somport tunnel. This amazing new five-mile long EU construction, burrows right through the Pyrenees and quite how can it be free, when the pathetic Mersey tunnel costs a fortune, is one of life's great mysteries.

Stopping to refuel with "coffees con leches and croissants", we bid a fond farewell to Jaca and the Jacanories and set sail for Huesca via the Embalse de Sotonera, which looked a promising stop en-route. Bee-eaters, Golden Oriole, White Stork, Cattle Egret, Black-eared Wheatear, Marsh Harrier, Woodchat Shrike and several Lesser Short-toed Larks were added to the list and several of the crew took the opportunity to skinny-dip, including "Tropical Thompson", whereupon a superb Scarlet /Red-veined Darter attempted to lay eggs on his boulder-like bald head. Midwife Toads, Lesser Emperors and Norfolk Hawker types added fascinating non-avian interest, to our afternoon sojourn in the sun.

We reached the Hostal Lizana in downtown Huesca in the late afternoon and somehow managing to park the van in an underground car park measuring 6 feet by 10 feet, we snatched some sleep before searching a nearby river valley for Red-necked Nightjars. We were in the right place, as a passing Spanish birder inquired if we were "friends of Boletas" and thinking he might put us on to the RNN's we replied, that of course we were and we made him most welcome.

After three hours of false confidence, which was fostered by him showing us the rock by the track, upon which they had sat only a few evenings ago and despite our best efforts which included tapes and white hankie waving, they didn't appear or even "gedock" once. Turtle Doves, Bee-eaters and an Egyptian Vulture did show along with millions of mozzies.

After managing to somehow shoe-horn the van from the world"s smallest underground car park/shed we set off for the Ebro delta, with Simon driving and Eric the Brick (JD) navigating. After three interesting circuits of the not unpleasant city of Zaragoza, complete with the world's biggest station and a wonderful scrapyard full of rusting steam engines, we finally found the road to the south, along the valley of the mighty Ebro.

Continuing on, we headed south through Morella and Vinaros, passing mile after mile of flooded rice fields to L'Encanyissada and the prolific birdlife of the Ebro Delta, Spain's second most important wetland.

What a fabulous place it was, with literally thousands of breeding birds and never have we seen so many Squacco Herons and so easily. We toured the area stopping at L'Encanyissada and La Tancarda before driving along the beach road to view various salt pans.

Highlights included Audouins and Slender-billed Gulls, Whiskered, Gull-billed and Caspian Terns, over 500 Red-crested Pochard, several Little Bitterns, many Purple and Squacco Herons, Glossy Ibis, Great Reed and Fan-tailed Warblers and more Short-toed Larks.

Crossing over the Ebro, to the more developed north side of the delta, on the ferry, we finished off at the La Garxal reserve, where beautiful summer-plumaged Spotted Redshanks were amongst large flocks of Arctic-bound waders. These included Greenshanks, Curlew, Green, Wood and Common Sandpipers, Ruff and Little Stint. Chubby Purple Gallinules chased about among sleeping Spoonbills and flights of summer-plumaged Whiskered Terns, hawked for mosquitoes in the evening light. But when the "mozzies" turned their anger on to us we beat a hasty retreat to the van.

We speeded along some superb motorways to our overnight stop in the seaside resort of Salou, some 70 kms south of Barcelona and spent an enjoyable last evening, dining outside a decent restaurant overlooking the Mediterranean, reflecting upon the superb day's birding we had all just enjoyed. Last-minute accommodation was found in a back street Hostal at bargain rates, which somehow later disappeared as weariness set in amongst our older crew members.


Our last morning, started off with café con leche and croissants as usual and a last minute decision the previous evening to explore the nearby maquis-covered hills and reservoir of Pantà de Riudecaynes paid of handsomely. New birds for the trip included Peregrine, Stonechat and a very distant adult Bonelli's Eagle, whilst many of us had our best views of Cirl and Rock Buntings, Sardinian, Subalpine and Melodious Warblers, Golden Oriole, Red-rumped Swallows and Bee-eaters.

Sadly making our way back to Barcelona Airport we handed back our "mobile home" and after depositing our belongings in left luggage, we then took the train to sample the delights of downtown Barcelona, adding Monk Parakeet on the Spanish list of one "he who adores los parakeetos" (SJ).

Strolling down the Ramblas, admiring the Goudy architecture, was a very nice finish to our Catalonian and Aragonese adventure and I cannot recommend Barcelona too highly. The Nou Camp, home of FC Barcelona was amazing and their visitor facilities and superstore makes Liverpool FC's tacky museum and shop, look like the "local shop" in TV's Royston Vasey.

We recorded 173 species, dipping only on Red-necked Nightjar, as once more, god's own country (aka Spain) provided us with an unforgettable experience.


1. Little Grebe 2. Great Crested Grebe 3. Mediterranean Shearwater 4. Little Bittern 5. Night Heron 6. Cattle Egret 7. Squacco Heron 8. Little Egret 9. Great White Egret 10. Grey Heron 11. Purple Heron 12. White Stork 13. Glossy Ibis 14. Spoonbill 15. Greater Flamingo 16. Shelduck 17. Mallard 18. Teal 19. Red-crested Pochard 20. Lammergeier 21. Griffon Vulture 22. Egyptian Vulture 23. Golden Eagle 24. Short-toed Eagle 25. Booted Eagle 26. Bonelli's Eagle 27. Red Kite 28. Black Kite 29. Marsh Harrier 30. Common Buzzard 31. Sparrowhawk 32. Goshawk 33. Kestrel 34. Hobby 35. Peregrine 36. Red-legged Partridge 37. Quail 38. Moorhen 39. Coot 40. Purple Swamp-Hen 41. Oystercatcher 42. Avocet 43. Black-winged Stilt 44. Little Ringed Plover 45. Ringed Plover 46. Kentish Plover 47. Grey Plover 48. Dunlin 49. Curlew Sandpiper 50. Little Stint 51. Green Sandpiper 52. Common Sandpiper (heard only) 53. Redshank 54. Spotted Redshank 55. Greenshank 56. Black-tailed Godwit 57. Bar-tailed Godwit 58. Woodcock (heard) 59. Black-headed Gull 60. Slender-billed Gull 61. Yellow-legged Gull 62. Lesser Black-backed Gull 63. Audouin's Gull 64. Little Tern 65. Sandwich Tern 66. Gull-billed Tern 67. Common Tern 68. Caspian Tern 69. Whiskered Tern 70. Rock Dove 71. Stock Dove 72. Wood Pigeon 73. Collared Dove 74. Turtle Dove 75. Cuckoo (heard) 76. Tawny Owl (heard) 77. Scops Owl (heard) 78. Swift 79. Alpine Swift 80. Hoopoe 81. Bee-Eater 82. Rose-ringed Parakeet 83. Monk Parakeet 84. Black Woodpecker 85. Green Woodpecker (heard) 86. Great Spotted Woodpecker 87. White-Backed Woodpecker (heard only) 88. Wryneck 89. Skylark 90. Crested Lark 91. Short-toed Lark 92. Lesser Short-toed Lark 93. Sand Martin 94. Crag Martin 95. Swallow 96. Red-rumped Swallow 97. House Martin 98. Tawny Pipit 99. Water Pipit 100. White Wagtail 101. Yellow Wagtail 102. Grey Wagtail 103. Wren 104. Dipper 105. Dunnock 106. Alpine Accentor 107. Robin 108. Nightingale 109. Black Redstart 110. Redstart 111. Northern Wheatear 112. Black-Eared Wheatear 113. Black Wheatear 114. Stonechat 115. Blue Rock Thrush 116. Rock Thrush 117. Song Thrush 118. Mistle Thrush 119. Blackbird 120. Garden Warbler 121. Blackcap 122. Sardinian Warbler 123. Whitethroat 124. Subalpine Warbler 125. Zitting Zisticola 126. Cetti's Warbler 127. Reed Warbler 128. Great Reed Warbler 129. Melodious Warbler 130. Wood Warbler 131. Bonelli's Warbler 132. Chiffchaff 133. Goldcrest (heard) 134. Firecrest 135. Spotted Flycatcher 136. Great Tit 137. Coal Tit 138. Blue Tit 139. Long-tailed Tit 140. Crested Tit 141. Marsh Tit 142. Nuthatch 143. Treecreeper 144. Wallcreeper 145. Red-backed Shrike 146. Woodchat Shrike 147. Magpie 148. Jay 149. Jackdaw 150. Chough 151. Alpine Chough 152. Carrion Crow 153. Raven 154. Spotless Starling 155. Starling (Ebro Delta only) 156. Golden Oriole 157. House Sparrow 158. Tree Sparrow 159. Rock Sparrow 160. Snowfinch 161. Chaffinch 162. Linnet 163. Goldfinch 164. Siskin 165. Greenfinch 166. Citril Finch 167. Serin 168. Crossbill (heard) 169. Yellowhammer 170. Ortolan Bunting 171. Cirl Bunting 172. Corn Bunting 173. Rock Bunting


Montagu's Harrier, Honey Buzzard, Stone Curlew, Collared Pratincole, Mediterranean Gull, Red-necked Nightjar, Dartford Warbler, Spectacled Warbler, Orphean Warbler, Thekla lark, Calandra Lark and Short-toed Treecreeper.


1. Swallowtail 2. Scarce Swallowtail 3. Apollo 4. Clouded Apollo 5. Black-veined White 6. Large White 7. Small White 8. Green-veined White 9. Bath White 10. Western/ Mountain Dappled White 11. Orange Tip 12. Moroccan Orange Tip 13. Clouded Yellow 14. Berger's/Pale Clouded Yellow 15. Brimstone 16. Cleopatra 17. Wood White 18. Sooty Copper 19. Little Blue 20. Large Blue 21. Brown Argus 22. Mountain Argus 23. Escher's Blue 24. Adonis Blue 25. Common Blue 26. Large Tortoiseshell 27. Red Admiral 28. Painted Lady 29. Small Tortoiseshell 30. Comma 31. Queen of Spain Fritillary 32. Pearl-bordered Fritillary 33. Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary 34. Spotted Fritillary 35. Provencal Fritillary 36. Marsh Fritillary 37. Spanish Marbled White 38. Black Satyr 39. Mountain Ringlet 40. Meadow Brown 41. Small Heath 42. Southern Speckled Wood 43. Olive Skipper 44. Mallow Skipper 45. Large Skipper


Not comprehensively recorded but included :- Pipistrelle sp. Noctule Bat, Brown Hare, Rabbit, Red Squirrel, Alpine Marmot, Izard (Chamois), Spanish Ibex, Mouflon, Roe Deer, Lizard sp., Viperine Snake and Toad sp. Dragonflies identified as Lesser Emperor, Red-veined Darter, Norfolk Hawker? plus several UFO. Hummingbird Hawk Moths were regularly seen.


Friday 13th June. A displaying pair of Wallcreepers were located on the sheer cliffs on the right hand side above the path from the Garbardito Refuge, which is signposted from the Hecho (Echo) Valley. From the car park walk down towards the refuge and follow the obvious track to the right about 50 metres in front of the refuge building until it exits the main woodland and comes to a gate. The birds were about 250 metres past the gate, on the cliffs above the path. They were whistling frequently and chasing each other about, giving excellent views down to about 50 metres at times. Lammergeier, Alpine Chough, Rock Bunting and Alpine Accentor also present and report of nesting Grey-headed Woodpecker near the car park ?

Saturday 14th June. Up to four Snowfinch were collecting food in the beautiful alpine meadows below the wooden café at the Candanchu Ski lift, off the old the Somport Pass road. You may need to walk up some 1500 metres in height by the gravelled service road until it levels out on the meadows, as the ski lift to the café was not working when we were there. Alpine Accentor, Rock Thrush and many Water Pipits were seen well from this road. We also had Alpine Chough, Lammergeier, Golden Eagle, Goshawk, more Alpine Accentors, Rock Thrush and Marmot at the top.

Sunday 15th June. We camped out near the well-known White-backed Woodpecker site in the Foret D'Issaux as described in 'A Birdwatching Guide to the Pyrenees' and Gosney, et al. The distinctive 'ping-pong' ball drumming of White-backed was heard at least 20 times from 0640 hrs, sometimes very close to the road, but despite six hours searching nobody managed a sighting. Not surprising, as the steep-sided hills were clothed in impenetrable mature forest and the track mentioned in all of the guides is at least 1:4. Seeing any bird was an achievement and for example, a singing Wryneck, not two metres from our Mercedes Vito Minibus took 15 minutes of hard work for a brief two second view and then by only one person. Black Woodpecker, Green Woodpecker, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Melodious Warbler, Bonelli's Warbler and many Firecrest heard but very seldom seen, in the nearest thing to rainforest birding in Europe. Probably much better chances of White-backed views in March/April, but I for one would not fancy driving the narrow, almost vertical hairpin roads in anything more than a passing sleet shower.

John Bannon (For any further gen. please call me on 07968 404062 or email