Trip Report: French Pyrenees, September 11-15, 1996

Tim Earl, Guernsey;

Day one we travelled from Toulouse Airport to Gedre in the Pyrenees stopping at a beautiful hill top near Ausseing where we ate al fresco lunch in an ancient meadow full of flowers and butterflies while watching for raptor migration.

A hobby obliged with stunning views and several buzzards drifted past. Four tree pipits sat on nearby wires showing their short hind claws and yellowish fronts while jays and great spotted woodpeckers called in the trees behind.

As we followed a river towards its source in the mountains an osprey flew backwards and forwards affording great views. Red-legged partridge crept into a maize field watched by whinchats perched on the tall stems. A stop close to the rubbish dump at Pibeste was circled by a flock of about 50 ravens out of which lolloped red kites, about 20 or so. Several hummingbird hawk moths were feeding in buddleia flowers. Highlight of the day was pulling up outside our hotel in Gedre - a la Brèche de Roland - and seeing an adult bearded vulture patrol one crag before returning to roost on another opposite.

Birds seen:

Mallard                       Anas platyrhynchos
Little egret                  Egretta garzetta
Osprey                        Pandion haliaetus
Red kite *                    Milvus milvus
Black kite                    Milvus migrans
Bearded vulture (Lammergeier) Gypaetus barbatus
Eurasian sparrowhawk          Accipiter nisus
Buzzard                       Buteo buteo
Eurasian kestrel              Falco tinnunculus
Eurasian hobby                Falco subbuteo
Red-legged partridge          Alectoris rufa
Pheasant                      Phasianus colchicus
Yellow-legged gull            Larus cachinnans
Common woodpigeon             Columba palumbus
Eurasian collared dove        Streptopelia decaocto
Common kingfisher             Alcedo atthis
Great spotted woodpecker      Dendrocopus major
Eurasian jay                  Garrulus glandarius
Black-billed magpie           Pica pica
Carrion crow                  Corvus corone
Northern raven                Corvus corax
Blackbird                     Turdus merula
Starling                      Sturnus vulgaris
European robin                Erithacus rebecula
Common redstart               Phoenicurus phoenicurus
Whinchat                      Saxicola rubetra
Common stonechat              Saxicola torquata
Eurasian nuthatch             Sitta europaea
Eurasian crag martin          Hirundo rupestris
Barn swallow                  Hirundo rustica
House martin                  Delichon urbica
Blackcap                      Sylvia atricapilla
Great tit                     Parus major
Blue tit                      Parus caeruleaus
House sparrow                 Passer domesticus
White wagtail                 Motacilla alba
Tree pipit                    Anthus trivialis
Chaffinch                     Fringilla coelebs
Cirl bunting                  Emberiza cirlus

We made our way up to the Cirque de Gavarnie after watching griffon vultures and two peregrines soaring over the bearded vulture roost site (no sign of the lammergeier, however).

The walk up to the Cirque was a constant succession of birds - Garden warblers, serins, a family of mistle thrushes, pied flycatcher, gold and firecrest, crested tit, and an adult bearded vulture which passed over our heads as if showing off. Among the migrants we saw were Bonelli's and willow warblers, redstarts, and chiffchaffs. Red-billed choughs and their alpine yellow-billed cousins tumbled down the mountain sides as golden eagles patrolled aloofly aloft.

At the old hotel overlooking the Cirque a shout went up as wallcreeper was spotted working the sides of a sheer gorge. It called frequently while flitting around the cliff face below us. Excited Frenchmen demanded a view and pronounced that it was a kingfisher, to be put right by those of us with educational leanings.

Later in the day at Endroit de Ossoue we watched short-toed eagle pass by demonstrating its favourite food with a snake's tail hanging out of its beak.

New birds for the day:

Eurasian griffon vulture      Gyps fulvus
Short-toed eagle              Circaetus gallicus
Golden eagle                  Aquila chrysaetos
Peregrine                     Falco peregrinus
Rock dove (feral pigeon)      Columba livia
Water pipit                   Anthus spinoletta
Grey wagtail                  Motacilla cinerea
Dipper                        Cinclus cinclus
Winter wren                   Troglodytes troglodytes
Hedge accentor (Dunnock)      Prunella modularis
Black redstart                Phoenicurus ochruros
Northern wheatear             Oenanthe oenanthe
Mistle thrush                 Turdus viscivorus
Garden warbler                Sylvia borin
Chiffchaff                    Phylloscopus collybita
Willow warbler                Phylloscopus trochilus
Goldcrest                     Regulus regulus
Firecrest                     Regulus ignicapillus
European pied flycatcher      Ficedula hypoleuca
Crested tit                   Parus cristatus
Coal tit                      Parus ater
Bonelli's warbler             Phylloscopus  bonelli
Wallcreeper                   Tichodroma muraria
Alpine (Yellow-billed) chough Pyrrhocorax graculus
Red-billed chough             Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax
European serin                Serinus serinus
Citril finch                  Serinus citrinella
Red crossbill                 Loxia curvirostra
Eurasian bullfinch            Pyrrhula pyrrhula
Yellowhammer                  Emberiza citrinella

Clear weather throughout the trip made sun-block necessary. And on day three it tempted us up onto the Pic du Midi.

Bearded vulture was again seen as were several golden eagles and griffon vultures on the way up. Water pipits were studied closely and the calls of marmots soon became familiar.

On reaching the top car park we walked along a contour path searching for snowfinch, but without success. When one was spotted on the walls of the observatory 1,000 feet up at the summit frustration really set in. My patience snapped after lunch and I trudged up the long path to the top, lungs hanging out of my mouth by the time I reached my goal. The reward was excellent views of snowfinches enjoyed by me and two other group members. An hour later the fittest of the remaining group came up slowly only to see the top disappear into mist, and with it the birds... We had great views of black woodpecker on the way back to the hotel.

New birds for the day:

Honey buzzard                 Pernis apivorus
Tawny owl (heard)             Strix aluco
Black woodpecker              Dryocopus martius
(White-winged) Snowfinch      Montifringilla nivalis
Alpine accentor               Prunella collaris
Eurasian linnet               Carduelis cannabina

Our last day in the mountains was spent high in the Vallee d'Ossoue where raptors put on a magnificent display. Up to 50 griffon vultures were in the air together at one moment, accompanied by three juvenile bearded vultures and two golden eagles. Altogether I saw seven different bearded and about 70 or more griffon vultures that day.

There were few migrants but we did see rufous-tailed rock thrush, northern wheatears and redstarts among the bushes close by.

A walk up to the Spanish border at Tourmelet later in the afternoon produced the tail end of a raptor passage with seven honey buzzards (one pale phase), two sparrowhawks and a marsh harrier passing at eye-level.

New birds for the day:

Western marsh harrier         Circus aeruginosus
Rufous-tailed rock-thrush     Montecola saxatlis
Rock bunting                  Emberiza cia

At the Barrage de Gloriette we saw several grounded migrants including blackcap, willow warbler, yellowhammer and robin. Golden eagle and griffon vulture were also seen.

The trip back to Toulouse was marked by an early morning bearded vulture from the hotel car park, a great start. At the rubbish dump a singing Cetti's warbler was added to the list while later we counted 49 buzzards along the 200 km route.

Our beautiful field produced swallow-tailed butterfly, Queen of Spain fritillary and many clouded yellows. In the woods behind we added long-tailed tit to the list.

New birds for the day:

Grey heron                    Ardea cinerea
Long-tailed tit               Aegithelos caudatus
Cetti's warbler               Cettia cetti
Eurasian tree sparrow         Passer montanus

Tim Earl

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This page served by Urs Geiser;; September 24, 1996