Trip reports

York Group Trip to Picos de Europa 22-29 May with Bird Holidays

York Group Trip to Picos de Europa 22-29 May with Bird Holidays
Keith Reynolds

Sunday, 9 September 2018

Firstly the "Woe".... Don't you hate it when your pre booked taxi arrives late at the start of your holiday? Only a few minutes, but then the train due to take us to Manchester Airport only went as far as Piccadilly. Going to another platform via an escalator, two of our group fell backwards taking another innocent party with them. Fortunately no injuries.
Our plane to Bilbao was delayed, then further delayed and eventually CANCELLED. Our two Bird Holiday guides were magnificent - queuing for ages and we were rewarded with flights the following day plus just enough overnight rooms for us all.
Meeting in reception at 5am (yuk!) our flight was again slightly delayed, but then on to Bilbao and, two people were missing their luggage! This did arrive in time for our second hotel transfer but still not good.
Fuente De, what a fantastic place, and the scene of one unfortunate trip -ouch - and one attempt at the Luge! So grateful to the young man from the Basque Country who came down the slippery slope to my rescue!
Our thanks to Paul and Phil for a) managing to get us to Spain and b) giving us such a great holiday thereafter, so here is the "Wonder"...
On Wednesday 23 May, we arrived in Bilbao and our party of 16 plus leaders, Paul and Phil took us in two minibuses and a taxi to Riano in the Picos, our base for the first few days. There we enjoyed the first of several excellent meals at the Hotel Presa. Riano is a newly built village, the old one being submerged when the valley was flooded to create a reservoir. A feature here was the church from the valley which had been reconstructed with the original stone in the new location of Riano. Black redstarts were nesting quite close to the church.
On Thursday, our first real birding day took us to Puerto San Glorio in all-terrain vehicles where we met Bernado Canal Rubio of "Wildwatching Spain", partners with Bird Holidays for this trip. Bernado spoke little English but was charming and had an unerring way of finding our target birds. Rock thrush, rock bunting, ring ouzel and a pair of choughs were found before a stunning bluethroat performed for us on top of a rock. On the way down a pair of golden eagles were seen when we stopped to photograph a waterfall. After lunch at the hotel we travelled to Mirador Piedrashitas. The group in Paul's minibus saw a wild cat hunting in a field adjacent to the road, fortunately the group in Phil's minibus spotted it on the return journey.
On Friday morning we went to Cremenes and Bernado took us to see the nest site of black woodpecker, where we had fantastic views of both male and female feeding their young at the nest. Later as we waited for the vehicles, many screeching swifts, house martins and swallows flew around the church tower. Bernado took us to a raptor feeding area where he provided "lunch" for the waiting vultures etc. We were able to get close up views of griffon vultures and ravens attempting to get a share of the feast. The rest of the group viewed this activity from higher up the hillside whilst being serenaded by a Western Bonelli's warbler.
We then travelled to Almanza to search for ortolan bunting and on our way we stopped by some poplar trees where, with some persuasion, the presence of golden oriole revealed. The bunting wasn't found today but excellent views of hunting male hen harrier and a pair of bee eaters were more than adequate compensation. Returning to Cremenes we visited "Bernardo's" reserve and found wryneck, whinchat, nuthatch, serin and a pair of nesting pied flycatchers.
Saturday was our day for ascending into the upper reaches of the mountains at Fuente De and on the way 13 spoonbills were seen at the side of a reservoir. We were surprised to find that snow still covered the footpaths taken to walk up from the cable car terminal. Our efforts proved to be fruitful if not a bit hazardous, particularly so on our descent. From the path upward we were enjoying good views of alpine accentors when John Strangeway spotted our main target bird - wallcreeper! It was great to see this colourful bird just a few feet below us. Above and over a ridge we settled down to enjoy our lunch and the spectacular view whilst being entertained by alpine choughs and snow finches. Shortly afterwards we had to retreat rapidly and with care as wind and horizontal rain hindered our descent. We then travelled on to Fuentes Cariones for the first night of our stay in El Parador.
A very early start on Day 4, Sunday, took us up into the mountains again to look for Cantabrian Brown Bear. Sadly they could not be found today but a couple of wolves was an exciting find in the valley below us and we had good views of Dartford warbler, rock bunting and common whitethroat. After a riverside walk which yielded views of otter and Iberian chiff chaff, lunch was enjoyed in an excellent local hostelry. Our evening meal in the Parador was embellished by the appearance of champagne on the table. This was courtesy of Lyn and Eric who were celebrating their Ruby Wedding Anniversary.
Monday was an early start to set off for various distant wetland areas to add waders, ducks and terns etc. to our list. At Laguna Nava we saw Savi's warbler, melodious warbler and corn bunting. We had lunch by the river at Capillas where white storks were nesting on the top of pylons clapping their bills as they returned to their young. Great reed warblers were singing and nearby we saw the strange display of great bustards.
On Tuesday, our last day, the early risers in the group went up the mountain again for brown bear. Amongst the birds seen were Dartford warbler, rock bunting and whitethroat but sadly, no bears. We then had the long drive back to Bilbao airport and a cattle egret spotted from the bus was our last new bird for the trip.
Report by Helen and Ken Searstone and Liz Reynolds