We stayed in the Hecho Valley for three nights. This was because we might need that time to look for two of the seminal birds of this area: the lammergeier and wallcreeper. We had been very lucky to get lammergeier on our very first day of the tour. So that left us to find the little pink-winged gray moth-like cliff dweller.
We left our dwellings in the Hecho Valley and within 20 minutes we were at Boca del Infierno, a known hotspot for the wallcreeper.
A sketch from my room balcony in the Hecho Valley.
Boca del Infierno, one of the hotspots for the sometimes elusive wallcreeper.
Bird life was just starting to become active in the cold early morning and we looked at an avian world that was just stirring from the roadside. We had not been at the pullout for more than ten minutes when our guide spotted a wallcreeper, working the cliff on the opposite side of the road!
The cryptic-colored wallcreeper at Boca del Infierno.
Here was a bird that I thought, if I were lucky, might see on a distant rock face, only with the aid of a scope. But here was the prize of the Pyrenees no more that 30 yards up a rock face! What a lifer! The wallcreeper was easily observed with the naked eye. It was really that close!
We headed down the road in search of dipper, which we didn’t dip on and when we returned to the van, we spotted another wallcreeper on the opposite side of the gorge. A two wallcreeper day is not a bad haul!
A few days later, while birding at Mallos de Riglos, sight of our first lammergeier, we found an unexpected avian delight. Another wallcreeper which we assumed would be up at elevation in April but here was the bird standing out against the burnt Sienna cliffs of Mallos de Riglos.
A wallcreeper showing up a bit better on the cliffs of Mallos de Riglos.
One bird stood out for me when I was flipping through the pages of Birds of Europe about eight years ago. It was the first bird featured in the Birds of Prey section which featured vultures, hawks, kites, eagles, and falcons. This showed the bird and it’s shadow as it cruised the hight mountains, another illustration showed the bird picking through the bones of a former animal as two ravens look on. This was the oddly named lammergeier (lamb vulture in German), a bird I associated with Africa or even Asia but not Europe. And the tiny smudge on the range map indicated that that they occupied a small area near the Spanish-French border and the purple color told me that this large vulture, also known as the bearded vulture, was a year round resident.
At the time, I never thought I would be looking at a free flying lammergeier bit a few years layer, one our first stop on a North Spain tour, we stood before the amazing rock formations of Mallos de Riglos, looking at the Eurasian griffon vulture soaring above.
The peaks of the Mallos de Riglos.
About 90 percent of the griffons in Europe are to be found in Spain and the bird we where watching above us were probably born on the cliffs above.
A griffon vulture flying by the Mallos de Riglos.
Griffon were impressive, large vultures with their feathered “fingers” reading out into the clear blue sky. I turned my attention to another griffon but something didn’t say “griffon” to me. This bird had a tawny breast, long, pointed wings, and a long diamond shaped tail. The field marks were in alignment, this was not a griffon that I was looking at but the much sought after lammergeier! I got the rest of the group on the bird and our guide confirmed it’s existence.
This was not just a lifer for me but an iconic bird. A bird seen in many BBC nature documentaries, a bird that would make Sir David Attenborough burble with excitement. I can just hear him now, “Indeed, the lammergeier, a bird made for the air. A grand vulture of the high rocks of Europe!”