Monday, 27 February 2012

Birds and Scenery of Aragon

Wallcreeper was one bird that I really wanted to photograph and I was really pleased with some flight shots after failing to see the bird at the canyons of Alquézar, north-east of Huesca, I finally caught up with it at one of the dam walls on the Río Guara

Northeastern Spain's autonomous Aragon region, borders France and has a variety of stunning habitats which include Alpine peaks and meadows, Mediterranean forest mixed with spectacular limestone rock cliffs, semi-arid steppes and inland lakes. It's a huge area covering nearly 48,000 km2. Having only been to this area a couple of time before, I decided that a visit to seek out some of the key birds and stunning scenery. I certainly wasn't disappointed with either...

Tapas at the famous Bar Marpy, Zaragoza - a must for any traveller to the city

Lammergeier over Las Peñas de Riglos 42º 21' 8.87'' N 0º 43' 25.85'' W

Black Wheatears are also present around the village of Riglos

Alpine Accentors are particularly confiding on the edge of town

Alpine Accentor on the church roof

The town of Riglos with such an impressive backdrop

Lammergeier hugs the updraught close to the rock face on one of the massive pillars

Lammergeiers are such huge birds with a wingspan larger than a Griffon Vulture!

Riglos nestling under the rock face

Red Kites are a very common bird of prey in Aragon

The Church of the Alpine Accentor

Riglos streets

There are many dams on the Río Guara and winter is a good time to search for Wallcreeper

Wallcreepers are more closely related to Nuthatches and their body colour when pressed against the rock face, searching for insects and spiders, blends in perfectly. It's not until they open their wings and flit from one part of the cliff to the other that you see this amazing flash of bright red on their wings.

You can see here the length of the birds legs and the structure of their quite dumpy body

Here on the dam face, they were easier to photograph as the lighter colour of the concrete lit up the bird in the open sunlight.

Wing length is also quite impressive. Again you can see that the long legs and claws make it a real specialist feeder

Gripping onto an almost clean surface

...then off again this time descending right down the face to the shadow of the rocks

Typical wintering habitat

High speed setting on the camera was almost good enough to freeze the bird's wing tip movement, although the eye and shadow cast on the wall was pin-sharp

Some photographers prefer a little bit of blur in the photograph of the wing as this gives the impression of incredible speed and shows that instance where captured speed is frozen. I probably should have cranked the speed up to a 6,oooth of a second to eliminate the movement, but then again perhaps it all works quite well at 2,000.

The butterfly effect

The lovely Wallcreeper (Tichodroma muraria)

A Green Hairstreak active in the winter's sun

To the south of Zaragoza you can quickly reach the Laguna de Gallocanta, a Natural Reserve on an ancient naturally depressed plain that began to form over 2 million years ago and lies about 1,000 meters above sea level. The laguna is an important wintering ground for thousands of Common Cranes, duck and other birds and has a depth of only 40-50cms

Above you can see a wintering Hen Harrier hunting along the reed-fringed water

Common Cranes

The town of Gallocanta across the 2.8 km breadth of the almost 8km long lake

An adult Common Crane at Gallocanta

The south end of the lake where there's a visitor center and viewing platform

All along the Huesca foothills there are some beautiful areas with old villages, dramatic scenery and some wonderful birding areas

Arid plains full of salts and minerals give way to rolling countryside with strip cereal farming and lots of sheep, goats and pig farms

Alquézar has some secret places to stay

I would thoroughly recommend a short break to Aragon with David Boyer of Aragon Birding. He's an excellent companion and guide to organise your visit and take you to all the key birds of the area

Friday, 24 February 2012

Hoopoes and Lesser Kestrels

The cold wind from the north has ended thank goodness and the steady flow of birds arriving back in Europe brings many of my own early favourites. Hoopoes have been seen along the coast with this week being especially good for many birders.

Hoopoes are really special birds and have evolved a bit like a mini-bald ibis with long beak for probing into the soil in search of grubs and other insects as well as having a wacky haircut!

Short-toed Larks have been singing this week and Calandra Larks have been pairing up

Shrubby-Pimpernell (Anagallis monelii)

Spanish Festoon. Early reports of them moving in Portugal

Male Ostrich... yes we have one here, two actually down near the Sierra de La Plata

Northern Bald Ibis looking ready to breed again. I wonder if they'll nest again this spring at La Barca de Vejer. I was having breakfast this morning and one flew over the house from the La Barca direction

There are still a few Short-eared Owls here and they can be seen on the northern end close to La Mediana

The Great Spotted Cuckos have been increasing in numbers and becoming extremely vocal as they chase the few pairs of Common Magpies around our area. The magpies seem to be increasing in numbers down this way and this will encourage more Great Spotted Cuckoos to remain in the area and themselves pair up, mate and lay their eggs in the magpies nests

and lots of Purple Swamphens feeding in the open fields around La Janda

The carrot harvest in underway with extra employment for some

Black Kites continue to cross in big numbers. I watched another group of three hundred come in the other morning

Blue Rock Thrush are gathering nesting material which seemed a bit early. The males are looking extremely splendid right now

Lesser Kestrels at Vejer de La Frontera