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.

Hecho-Room View

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.

Wallcreeper 2



The Ruins of Belchite

I took a little break from birding to take a tour of the old town of Belchite in Aragon Province, Spain. We where staying in the new town of Belchite, which was finished in the 1950s.

The original town of Belchite dates back to the 15th century. And it was the setting of a major clash during the Spanish Civil War. The battle took place between August 24 and September 7, 1937. The Republican and Nationalist armies fought an intense battle that included street fighting and house to house combat.

Americans took part in this battle as part of the International Brigade. About 4,000 lives were lost and the town of Belchite was destroyed.

The ruins of the town are only open to the public on a guided tour and at the local tourist office I found out that there was one today at noon. I was surprised at the large number of other people that had also signed up for the tour, it looked to be about 100 people. The guide led us through the ruined streets and squares and commented on the history and different buildings we were looking at. It was in Spanish of course but I picked up a few words like “Lincoln Brigade” and “Franco”.

While on the tour, I sketched a ruined shop front and the tower of San Martin’s of Tours church. I did all the line work in pencil and pen and planned to add words and watercolor later.

These ruins were certainly surreal and I could only imagine the horrifying scenes of bloodshed and destruction in August and September of 1937. The reason these ruins exist today is that Franco preserved the ruined town as a monument to the Nationalist dead.

IMG_1322The ruined main street in the old town of Belchite.

My sketch of the city gate as I waited for the guided tour to start.


The iron cross marks sight where many of the casualties of the Battle of Belchite were incinerated. The clock tower is all that remains of St. John’s church.

A quick sketch of the ruins of Saint Martin’s of Tours.

IMG_1354.JPGInside the roofless ruins of San Martin’s of Tours church. This church was featured in the beginning scenes of the film Pan’s Labyrinth.

Reporters covered this brutal battle, including Ernest Hemingway but one of the most vivid descriptions of the city after the battle was written by Cecil Eby:

“[the journalist] found a town so totally ruined that often one could not tell where the streets had been. People were digging under piles of mortar, bricks, and beams pulling out corpses. Mule carcasses, cooking pots, framed lithographs, sewing machines-all covered with flies – made a surreal collage. Belchite was less a town than a nasty smell.”


After the completion of the tour I adjured to the hotel cafe/bar to add some text and paint to my Belchite spread and have a mid afternoon caña.

Being a Saturday afternoon, the bar had a constant flow of locals. One was a man who spoke no English (and I not much Spanish) who noticed my drawings of old Belchite. His eyes lit up. He proclaimed the insightfulness and brilliance of my sketches (at least that is what I would like to believe) to anyone who was within the sound of his voice. We proceded to have a one way conversation where I gathered he was asking we what I did for a living (it was certainly not sketching!) and here I replied, “maestro”. A huge grin appeared on his face and he told me that his mother, sister, and grandmother were also teachers.

And it was here that I heard some Spanish that I truly understood and it came from an older woman who ran the bar. She looked at my sketch and smiled and then said, “Muy Bien!” It was music to my sunburnt ears.

The language of sketching transcends any language.


Extremadura and Las Canteras


Why Spain? You ask. The answer has been the same on recent trips both when boarding a plane or hitting the road. Birds, birds, birds.

Extremadura, the province southwest of Madrid, boasts an amazing array of avian riches in Europe, a high consentration of raptors and a handful of endemics which are birds that are found nowhere else in Europe.

Birders come from all over Europe to make a pilgrimage to this rural part of Spain to see Spainish imperial eagle (which once graced the flag of Franco’s Spain), Egyptian, griffon, and black vultures, black stork, Iberian magpie, bee-eater, lesser kestrel, great and little bustard. Many of the twitchers hailed from the mighty triad of birding nations of Northern Europe: the Netherlands, Germany, and Great Britain.

Extremadura sits on the flyway that bridges Northern Europe with Africa. This part of the Iberian Peninsula provides breeding habits for the colorful European bee-eater and roller as well as providing a year round habitat from many other species.

For this expedition I hired the services of a guide to take me to the birds, work as a translator and go-between with the locals, and help me navigate rural Spanish cuisine (which for me meant cheese, bread, and beer but sometimes augmented with wine.)

Las Canteras

My mastery of Castilian is clearly demonstrated by my different spelling of Las Canteras in this spread. It’s great to know that my spelling is appalling in any language!

My guide, Pau, chose Casa Rural Las Canteras Birdwatching Center as our base camp. From the front porch you could view the crumbling stone barn that had been reclaimed as a white stork rookery, containing at least eight active nests.  On the other side of the porch was a scope fixed on a little owl. No I mean that’s what the owl is called: Athene noctua ( odd name for a daylight owl). It seemed that no matter when you looked through the scope, the little owl is always perched on the stone wall. Uncanny! Well I had to sketch the owl on it’s permanent perch.

2016-03-31 18.55.26

So this is where babies are made! White stork nest at Las Canteras.

Las Canteras (or Carbones) is run by the innkeeper and his mother, whom I dubbed Doña Carbones. She looked at my white stork sketch and offered a little art criticism: “¡Muy bonito!” I’ll take it!



Sketches of Spain

For my two week spring break I headed to the Iberian Peninsula with two sketch books, paints, my Escoda Prado synthetic sable travel brushes, and binoculars. This is the first time I had sketched in a foreign country (no Texas jokes please). It took a little while to “shakes hands with the place” as Goldsworthy would say. A little while to warm up to Spain.

My travels took me to two of the greatest sporting venues in the world, two of the greatest art museums in the world, the top birding destination in Europe, and an art museum that is an architectural masterpiece. Madrid, Extremadura, and Bilbao.

Over the next series of posts I will share pages of my sketchbooks from the Corrida De Toros at the Plaza de Toros de Las Ventas, to the 107 species of birds I saw in Extremadura and the chameleon-silver flying fish that is the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao.

Enjoy the rich colors, traditions, and cuisine of Spain!


Care for a drink with your sketch?