Monday, 30 August 2010

Family camping holiday in Picos De Europa

This year we went camping in Spain during the school holidays. I chose the destination and I picked the Picos de Europa mountains, which apart from being great for camping happens to be stuffed with wildlife - what a coincidence!

We sailed on the Brittany Ferries, Pont Aven from Plymouth to Santander and back and the seawatching was largely fairly quiet compared to other trips I've had across the Bay of Biscay.
Despite being whale migration time, I only saw a few blows from probable Fin whales on both legs of the journey. On the outward leg we saw a few schools of common dolphins and on the return we got a stunning close-up of a pod of pilot whales numbering about 12 individuals. On the birding side, nothing more spectacular than a few Cory's and Manx Shearwaters. Not that I'm complaining - Cory's is probably my favourite seabird, effortless and elegant in flight and so at home in the wide-open ocean.

As this was a family holiday I was mindful to keep time on deck to a minimum, although Jeanette and Annie were very patient with me.

For the first part of the holiday we stayed in the Picos mountains near Potes on a superb campsite set in woodland. Getting up early I was rewarded with Red Squirrels around the campsite, and once the sun got up the butterflies were simply breathtaking. I got some great photos with very little effort by just wandering around the camp site with my camera.

Despite being August and crowded with holiday makers we headed for the cable car at Fuente De. This is well known as one of the easier locations to find wallcreepers in Europe due to the rapid ascent made possible by the cable car. We almost regreted our decision as the queue for the cable car was huge and we had to wait about three hours for our ride up the mountain. We were entertained with red squirrels in the grounds of the cable car station, many different butterfly species, Griffon vultures overhead and Alpine Choughs circling the top cable-car station.

The ride up the mountain was worth the wait and the views were truly spectacular. As a rule on family holidays I keep the birding to the early morning and don't let it interfere with the holiday - but we were at the mirador at the top of the cable car station and I was half a mile walk from a wallcreeper site for **** sake. I was excused for what turned out to be about an hour as I made my way around to the scree slope documented in the guide book where the wallcreepers hang out. I walked slowly along the bottom of the scree slope looking up at the cliff face when a small passerine flew along the cliff. I though it must be the wallcreeper but after getting a good view in the bins it looked like a snow bunting - white with black wing tips. Then it dawned on me - Snowfinch! I had heard they were here but almost impossible to find in summer so this was real bonus. I watched it for about 30 minutes make several journeys to and from a ledge on the cliff. I could not get a good view of the ledge but it looked like it was taking food back to a nest.

I didn't see any Wallcreepers or for that matter any Alpine Accentors which I expected, however I didn't have long and had to get back to the others who were relaxing at the cable car station.

The journey back down in the cable car was equally spectacular.

We spent the last 3 nights on the coast at a forgettable campsite full of young, loud Spaniards. However it was situated in a spectacular cove with a great beach where me and Annie spent a couple of days body-boarding. Regrettably the Daniel Craig-esque images of me walking out of the surf didn't make the final cut.

The campsite was on a headland and although I was resisting the urge to get the binoculars out there was a notable passage of Black Kites along the coast with few lingering overnight around the campsite.

All in all, not bad for a non-birding holiday.

Griffon Vulture, Fuente De

Jersey Tiger, at the Campsite near Potes

The spectacular cable car at Fuente De

Alpine Chough, at the Mirador, Fuente De

Brimstone at the campsite

Piedmont Ringlet?, the Mirador Fuente De

Large White, at the campsite

(Iberian?) Marbled White, at the campsite

Clouded Yellow, at the Campsite

Common Blue, at the campsite
A snail at the campsite

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