Well, I was up at 3.30am (after only around 3hrs sleep) and then left at 4.15 for Standstead airport. The sky was showing the first signs of a sunrise over to the east as we drove up the M11. By now the roads were quite busy with lots of traffic heading for the airport.
Going to check-in, I was now wishing I had done it online as there was a very long queue. By the time I reached the desk it was(over half an hour)almost time to go to the boarding gate.
The flight was straight forward and arrived on time at around 10am local time. Quickly picking up the hire car, we were soon off north wards to the foothills of the Pyrenees.
Apart from only one deviation due to turning 100 meters too soon at an exit, we were soon heading up the final stretch of road from the village up into the hills through dense deciduous forest. It was this last stretch of around 5 or 6 kilometres of road that was the most nerve wracking for Liz who was driving - it was almost continuous hairpin bends with only just enough space for another vehicle to pass. We soon arrived at the house which by now was early afternoon.
Due to it being early August, there weren't any birds singing but lots were calling, the most obvious were Green and Great-spotted Woodpeckers and also Nuthatches. The region is well know for its bird migration (especially Woodpigeons, more of that later maybe) and in the Autumn it gets quite large numbers of raptors passing through. Within a very short space of time I'd seen my first BoP (bird of prey) and that was Griffon Vulture. This was soon followed by several more and in less than an hour I'd probably seen over 20 soaring over the house. Other raptors during the afternoon were - red kite, goshawk, honey buzzard, sparrowhawk, short-toed eagle (2). Nearby I also saw common buzzard, hobby and kestrel. By late afternoon it was now in the high 20s - too warm for me so it was time to take some shade and a cool beer.
Over the next few days we had a number of trips out including one to a nearby village in the evening for a traditional festival and another was to San Sebastian.
For the first part of the trip at least, there was very little or no wind. Possibly for this reason the raptors weren't seen soaring usually until mid morning or later until there were plenty of thermals.
This morning I had 5 species thermaling together ( honey and common buzzard, red kite and a pale phase booted eagle and Griffon Vulture ) not a huge number but good to see none the less.
Later on, we took a short drive of around a kilometer up to the French border for a walk. We were going on a up a nearby hill which is a local view point. It wasn't particularly steep - more of a long plod really - but in the heat of the day it was quite hard. On the way up, the only new bird was a family of Stonechats. Reaching the summit, the view was fantastic but for some reason I forgot to take any photographs. I took a walk to the edge and down below me several hundred feet away was a Griffon Vulture sitting on a rock -it looked huge ! I quickly grabbed some shots (I knew it would be worth lugging the 500 up the hill) and the others had good views of it through the bins' just in time before it launched itself off effortlessly high over the valley. It was soon joined by more and for 15 minutes or so, we were treated to over 20 soaring all around us giving everyone some cracking views.
Photographically, I was a little annoyed with myself for not bringing several pieces of kit. I was now wishing I brought my macro lens and the ball and socket tripod head as there were probably more opportunities for this type of photography than birds (I'd only used the wimberly as somewhere to put my beer can when having a drink at the house ! ) I also wished I'd have packed some filters, but overall I had most of what I needed. The sole reason for leaving stuff behind was that I was concerned about the weight of my carry-on camera bag. I mentioned previously that I'd stopped off in Aberdeen, well that was to pick up a new bag which I'd ordered from the States back earlier in the year. I could now pack more gear and still carry it on the plane - I still had my concerns about a weight limit, but then discovered when it was too late, that Easyjet had no weight restrictions for carry on as long as you could lift the bag yourself into the overhead lockers. Hey ho.
I must say that I'm very happy with the new bag (called a Kiboko 30L and made by Gura Gear) it will fit my needs just perfectly and is really comfortable to carry and great to use - I'll do more about in the future if anyone is interested.
The place we are staying at is high above the village of Extalar (pronounced Echalar) in the Navarre region of the western Spanish Pyrenese. The landscape is made up of high sided, long valleys covered in dense woodland. This is interspersed with small fields and at the top, bracken. Travelling around on anything but the main roads in the valleys means using the much smaller hill roads. These smaller roads are around the width of two cars - with a six inch gap between them - and virtually no verge at the side just a deep ditch. Combine this with a hairpin bend every hundred yards or so and cars and manic sports cyclists suddenly coming down around one of the bends, demands 100% concentration ( well done Liz for all of the driving). Most of the woodlands are managed by the community which has meant that the woods are in a good condition. Our friend Javier (where we are staying) has some woodland and recently had a note to say that some trees needed trimming along the road. If he doesn't do it within a certain period of time, then the council will do it and charge him for it, there is no choice and so the system works. Everyone is very aware of fire in the woods as if there was one, it would take generations for the area to recover due the the soil layer being so shallow.
The day after yesterday(ish)
4 months ago