Trip to Pyrenees for Wallcreeper

Long weekend trip to Pyrenees for Wallcreeper

27th – 30th April 2007

Paul Riley & Ian Brittain

Having heard of the alpine birds the Pyrenees can offer and the fact Ian had been there in 2004 but failed on Wallcreeper, we decided to make this our target bird for a short visit.

A flight was booked with Ryanair, Stansted to Zaragoza. Arriving in Zaragoza 13.00 on the Friday and departing 13.25 the next Monday, £65 return.

Accommodation was booked in advance via email (in Spanish) at the Hotel Aragon ( €100 each for 3 nights. This turned out to be central for our needs and is located on the N240 near Santa Cruz 7miles West of Jaca.

Car hire was with Avis £68.50 for the duration.


On arrival at Zaragoza first bird seen when walking from the plane was a Griffon gliding behind the terminal buildings, White Wagtail and House Martin quickly followed. Avis were located in the main hall where they upgraded us from a Clio to a Megane at no extra cost.

We drove North towards Jaca seeing several Griffons, nesting White Stork and at least 5 Black and 2 Red Kite before stopping just outside Jaca for a quick scan. 15 mins here revealed Crested Tit, Chaffinch, Blackcap, Magpie, Kestrel, Booted Eagle and our first Lammergeier, an immature bird low over. Driving through Jaca, Kites were everywhere forcing us to stop and watch. 16 Red and 4 Black Kite were all low down and showing superbly as did a Swallowtail butterfly.

We then drove to the hotel, dropped off the luggage and started birding along the minor road behind the hotel which ascended to the Monasterio de San Juan. A layby midway gave excellent views over wooded slopes towards the Pyrenean peaks. Here we looked down on several Griffons and 2 Egyptian Vultures. An Egyptian Vulture glided to a rocky outcrop close by and Griffons were gliding to and from ledges to the side of us.

We carried on, up to the Monastery and flushed a Citril Finch from a roadside puddle and in the open area in front of the Monastery we watched another 5 of them. Over the pine trees an adult Lammergeier flew low enough to get views of its beard. Many Griffons were flying the same route over the pine wood which led us to believe there must be a cliff the other side. Sure enough we walked a track higher up where the ground dropped away sharply either side of us, we were on a ridge and could feel the updraught which brought Griffons low overhead and another Lammergeier. Alpine Accentor, Dunnock, Crested Tit, Subalpine Warbler, Firecrest, Blue Tit, Long-tailed Tit, Peregrine, Kestrel, Wren, Hoopoe and Cuckoo were also along this ridge.


Nightingale was singing through the night in a small gulley next to the hotel swimming pool. From the balcony Kites were already on the wing, and a Golden Oriole was heard singing from poplars on the opposite side of the road. Time to head up to the Hecho valley for our target bird.

At the start of the valley many Black Kites were in flight and perched up. We stopped at the first tunnel after Hecho. It didn’t have much cliff around it and didn’t look like the breeding site we were led to believe. Cirl Bunting and Crag Martin were the only birds of note. We then drove a little further up the road and took a right turning to Gabardito, crossed the river then turned right and zig zagged all the way up to the mountain refuge. Here we parked the car and took the path further uphill through the wood. After about 1km a vertical rock face came into view on the right hand side of the path and high cliffs across the valley on the left hand side. We scrutinised the rock faces to the right, they looked good. Red-billed Chough, Crag Martin, Black Redstart, Kestrel were all seen and Peregrine heard. A flock of 300 Alpine Chough passed overhead, attracting us by there electric type calls. Still scanning the rock face, red flashes sent the heart racing many times were turning out to be Black Redstarts. Other movement turned out to be passing Crag Martins. We turned our attention to cliffs on the left hand side but a passing Griffon looking the size of an insect rather than its usual aeroplane size made us realize how far away those cliffs actually were. Deceived we were back looking at the near cliff.Then a bird was seen tumbling down the rock face but then clinging to it. My jaw dropped as a flick of the wings revealed crimson. Wallcreeper!! we had done it!! Then another appeared and followed it. There was a pair, chasing each other up and down a vertical crevice fairly low on the cliff just above the scree.

Next, the clanking sound of sheep bells meant we only had a few more seconds to scope the birds before being stampeded by a shepherd leading his flock up the narrow path. I managed to rescue the scopes and rucksacks just after seeing the male perch, facing me straight on, appearing all dark underneath and pointing its slender curved bill upwards towards the female which was still climbing and wing flicking – brilliant!

We went closer and managed another brief glimpse, but despite the neck ache and another hour of searching, we didn’t see them anymore. Beaming all over we set off back to the car.

On the way back and by the alpine meadow were Golden Oriole, Crossbill, Bonnelli’s Warbler, Jay, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Bullfinch and Crested Tit.

Descending from Gabardito, Chiffchaff, Red Squirrel and Brown Hare were seen from the zig zag road.

We carried on, further up the valley towards the Boca de Infierno. The quarry just after the tunnel has had Wallcreepers in the past, but we could not find any today or around the tunnel area. Golden Eagle was seen from here and many Griffons. Further up the valley Grey Wagtail was seen at the fast flowing waters edge.

Early evening we were birding the scrub behind our hotel and saw Serin, Corn Bunting, Stonechat, Whinchat, Subalpine Warbler, 100 mixed Kites circling overhead, Starling, House Sparrow, Carrion Crow, Swallow, Crag Martin, Chaffinch, Goldfinch, Turtle Dove, Collared Dove and a Rock Sparrow.


With Wallcreeper in the bag, we were now birding less frantically and decided to check out the high ski resort of Astun close to the French border.

A Chough and Black Kites were again on the wing as we drove off from the hotel.

A stop at a quarry/rubbish dump by km post 662 just after Villanua brought us Black Redstart, Bonnelli’s Warbler, Crested Tit, Nightingale, Red and Black Kites, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Crag Martin, a perched Egyptian Vulture and an immature Golden Eagle. No sign of past reports of wintering? Wallcreeper.

There wasn’t much snow on the ski slopes at Astun, although some skiers were making the most of what was left. From the car park were Water Pipit, Chough, House Martin, Black Redstart, Linnet, White Wagtail, Yellowhammer and a Dipper.

Hiking uphill from the car park we saw Wheatear, nest building Alpine Accentor and a stunning male Rock Thrush singing from the top of a small conifer. I was watching 3 Raven fly over when Ian saw a Ptarmigan flying further up the slope.

No sign of the hoped for Snow Finch.

Black Woodpecker

Back on the road, we headed again to the Monasterio de San Juan and took photos of the Griffons perched on the ledge. At the monastery we parked the car this time in the car park, which is located in a mature pine wood. As we were getting the scopes from the boot of the car we were both alerted to the loud call of a Woodpecker close by, and then saw a mighty Black Woodpecker fly to the opposite side of a close tree. It was then joined by another. Splinters and sawdust were flying everywhere as they chiselled away at a gigantic nest hole. Fantastic views were had and we even managed a few photos of the birds at the nest hole. In the wood we also added Nuthatch and Song Thrush to the birds we had seen here Friday. We took another peek at the Citril Finches whilst listening to Golden Oriole and Cuckoo. A spiral of 35 Griffons were in the distance.Back down to the scrub behind our hotel we added Cirl Bunting, Tree Sparrow, Spotless Starling and Swift to the birds seen here yesterday.

It was now approaching dusk and left to check a site where Eagle Owl had once been regular. We stopped at a bridge 1km South of the N240 towards Alastuey.

Only Owl here were 4 Scops Owls which were calling and a Nightjar was churring from near the main road.

Back at the hotel another Nightjar was churring.


Time to go home. Decided to bird around Riglos (another famed Wallcreeper site). Time was running short, but saw several Red and Black Kites, Nightingale, Serin, Corn Bunting, Woodlark, Griffon, Woodlark, Kestrel, 3 Yellow-legged Gulls and a Woodchat Shrike. Took a few photos of the pinnacles which were mostly shrouded in mist as was the village, then headed to the airport at Zaragoza.

Griffon Vulture

A Fan-tailed Warbler flew over the road. A huge, clumsy Griffon perched on a telegraph pole at the roadside brought us to a screeching halt and we took several photos from the car window. Here we also had another Woodchat, Crested Larks and Hoopoe. A little further up the road was a rubbish tip which attracted a row of Griffons on the road bank.

Common Buzzard, Wood Pigeon, White Stork and 2 Marsh Harriers were seen while driving and a flock of 17 Bee-eaters were seen flying over the airport terminal when parking up the hire car.

This was my first trip to the Pyrenees and I feel privileged to have seen Wallcreeper. I shall not forget the number of Kites and Griffons or the nesting Black Woodpecker.

Probably due to our timing, we did not see Snow Finch, Alpine Swift, Honey Buzzard to mention a few, or even another birder.

Although this trip was done quickly and fairly cheaply (living on bread and cheese, biscuits and Madeleine buns) we had a terrific time, achieved our aim and much appreciated the Pyrenean landscape (a lot different from our resident Norfolk).

A little more time would have enabled a visit to the Zaragoza Plains for possible Dupont’s Lark, Black-bellied and Pin-tailed Sandgrouse … perhaps another time.

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