Blog Site by Appointment to His Regal Majesty the Maalie King

He who would be a Leader, let him be a Bridge

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Tuesday, January 09, 2007


As a change from my January trips to the Camargue in 2005 and 2006, I decided this year on the Mediterranean side of Northern Spain and to venture as far into the Pyrenees as time and conditions would allow. My evening flight from Liverpool on January 4th meant it was dark on arrival at Girona but I woke next morning to a bright clear frosty morning. I set off north-west to Olot and then tok the mountain road to Ripoll. My bird list got off the ground with several common species but I was getting concerned that my hire car was overheating. When the temperature gauge hit the red zone at 1090 m at the Coll of Merolla, it was time to abort any notion of climbing higher and to free-wheel as much as possible to the airport to change the car.
The Pyrenees, view from Coll of Merolla
The next morning was an early start for the coast at Cap de Creus, up near the border with France, where the Pyrenees meet the sea. The whole Cap de Creus peninsula is designated as a nature reserve, comprising mainly of dry maritime heath, host to Sardinian and Dartford Warblers, and Black Redstarts. It must be one of the few remaining unspoiled parts of the Costa Brava.

Yellow-legged Gull, a congener of our Herring Gull

The Cape itself provided a couple of hour’s quality sea-watching with numbers of Balearic Shearwaters (a lifer!) feeding with Gannets, Razorbills and Cormorants on a shoal of sardines offshore. And a single Cory's Shearwater drifted past the headland.
This certainly warranted a glass of Spanish beer in the sunshine at the Cape Lighthouse bar!

Balearic Shearwater
Cap de Creus, where the Pyrenees meet the Sea

Sunday was my last full day, so with the day dawning its sharpest and clearest yet I decided to go for bust and see just how far I could get up into the mountains. I retraced Friday's route to the Coll of Merolla, turned north at La Pobla de Lillet and up the windy mountain road through the alpine mountain town of Castellar de N'Hug. I stopped there for a coffee and then carried on upwards and upwards, the road seemed to go up for ever! Well above the tree line, the road eventually arrived at the Coll de la Crueta at 1900 m (over 6200 feet). From there I climbed a small summit, probably taking me to 2000m.
Forbidding January environment at the Coll de la Crueta
In such a harsh environment, birds were not plentiful, but a flock of some 40 Choughs (red-billed) flew over and I saw a couple of Griffon Vultures and a Golden Eagle. And, just as important, filled my lungs with some fresh cold alpine air!

The birding trump card arrived on the last day. With an evening flight I didn't want to go too far afield so headed towards the coast near Platja de la Fonollera. Here there is a "mini-Camargue" river delta system with quite large areas of farmland submerged as rice fields. The focus was a small nature reserve Les Basses d'en Coll (car park at 41°59.94N, 03°11.36E) with footpaths and even a birdwatching screen or two. Whilst mostly agricultural, the stubble fields held large numbers of House and Tree Sparrows, Chaffinch, the odd Brambling, Greenfinch, Goldfinch, with Sky, Crested and Wood Larks. Reedy creeks and rice paddies had Lapwing and Curlew, Cetti's and Fan-tailed Warblers, Chiffchaff, Kingfisher, Water Rail, Grey Heron, Little and Cattle Egrets, Marsh Harrier, Pied and Grey Wagtails. Scrub and bushy bits had Jay, Green Woodpecker, Robin, Stonechat and Black Redstart. So a couple of productive hours were spent there.

Birders who might feel trapped in a family holiday getting bored sitting on beaches in the Costa Brava might bear this little gem in mind!
Les Basses d'en Coll - a little gem of a nature reserve

Moving on to a mirror-calm sea, I founds Shag and Great Northern Diver, this must have been at the limit of the wintering range of this species.

With light starting to fade, there was time left for a stroll out to the lighthouse at Cap de Sant Sebastià and a to take last lingering look at the Mediterranean before turning for Girona airport.
Cap de Sant Sebastià, farewell to the Mediterranean (for now). Note encroaching altocumulus/altostratus, the first real clouds of my trip.

My final bird list was 69 species which I consider very satisfactory for this time of year.


Blogger Estelle des Chevaliers said...

Oooh, Your Majesty does have some exciting adventures! Welcome home to Le Pays de Mintcake!

7:51 pm  
Blogger simon said...

mate! this has certainly wetted my appetite for May! looks fantastic

11:18 pm  
Blogger Ju's little sister said...

I agree with both - a fascinating read. I'll be sure to keep this one from Plumpy - he might book flights over on my credit card!

5:26 am  
Blogger lorenzothellama said...

Did you take the photo of the shearwater?

12:38 pm  
Anonymous Ellee said...

How beautiful and stunning. I did my scuba diving course in that area too, I know how lovely it is. Simon certainly has a lot to look forward to.

8:37 pm  
Blogger TCA said...

What about the return flight!? I was looking forwrd to reading tales of p*ssed-up chavs!


3:57 pm  
Anonymous Ellee said...

I do envy you being able to identify all those species. What's the most you've spotted in one trip?

4:14 pm  
Blogger Maalie said...

Hi Ellee, the biggest total for a European trip was two short of 200 when I went to Romania in May 2006.

7:04 pm  
Blogger simon said...

what about 214 for Australia? ( or don't we count.. being on the other side of the world...I know it took us 10,000km to find them...)!!

Ju's send plumpy over ! ha ah!

9:47 pm  
Blogger Maalie said...

Yes, of course you count but I didn't think it was fair to campare my usual week-long trips into Europe with a whole month sold birding in Australia.

7:25 am  
Blogger simon said...

well, I agree BUT we are in hardship here AND what we did was "solid" birding...

I AM very ecited for spain!

10:54 am  
Anonymous Ellee said...

Maalie, Romania too, you are well travelled. And 200 species is very impressive.

5:56 pm  
Blogger Kiwi Nomad 2006 said...

And while we are onto spelling, simon, I presume you are 'excited' about Spain!
I will have to work hard in 2007, but 2008 might see me in a bit of these Pyrenees if my dream of doing some of the St James pilgrimage comes to fruition. Your photographs are wonderful, and I am excited about Spain too!!!

4:11 am  
Blogger simon said...

kiwi.. I cannot spell AND I cannot type, :o(

10:00 am  
Blogger lorenzothellama said...

Kiwi Nomad: Do you really want to do the full Pyranees to San Tiago pilgrimage? I've always wanted to do that but am a bit wimpish about doing it by myself. Any chance of joining you on part or all of the route? Have you read Paulo Coelho's book 'The Pilgrimage'. Bit weird, but very good. Maalie would absolutely hate it as it is too spiritual for him!

11:48 am  
Anonymous Ellee said...

I'm sure Maalie is deeply spiritual too.

12:29 am  
Blogger lorenzothellama said...

Of course Maalie is deeply spiritual. Oh ha ha ha! I dare you to ask him what a 'soul' is!

10:21 am  
Anonymous Ellee said...

Does our warmer winter make a difference to the birds you are seeing right now?

9:26 pm  
Blogger simon said...

I think we are just a bag of carbon with chemicals....

9:48 pm  
Blogger Estelle des Chevaliers said...

I think His Majesty's spirituality lies within the rhythm of the seasons...

10:26 pm  
Blogger simon said...

do you mean he is a tree hugging pagan?

4:21 am  
Blogger Estelle des Chevaliers said...

I know that he went all the way up to the north of Norway just to see the bloomin' midnight sun on the Solstice, and his Winter Solstice rituals defy imagination...

6:56 am  
Blogger Kiwi Nomad 2006 said...

lorenzo... I am thinking of starting on one of the French sections at Le Puy en Velay. I am not sure I will even try to do the Spanish section the same year, as it will be getting quite hot by the time I have done the French bit.
I dipped into Paul Coelho's book but it was a bit weird for me. There are a few great blogs out there about the pilgrimage that I am reading though.
I don't think you have to be at all religious to do this pilgrimage and people do it with many motivations. I would be largely doing it because I love being in the outdoors in various landscapes. But the lapsed Catholic part of me is interested in the Catholic history that will lie along the way.
simon, having told you off for one spelling mistake I am almost scared to post here anymore!!!!

9:52 am  
Blogger lorenzothellama said...

Kiwi: I told you the book was a bit weird, but I did really enjoy it. I feel the same as you about the pilgrimage. I want to do it as it is such a challenge, and also when I was in Northern Spain a few years back, I criss-crossed the route a few times and saw loads of pilgrims trudging along carrying their scallops. The scenery was lovely and it just seemed to be such a nice thing to do. While I was there, I visted the monastry at Silos, where the monks made the first popular Gregorian chant CD, called Canto Gregoriano. It was one of those places I just stumbled on. Maalie would only have noticed the eagles and vultures, and completely missed the monks hanging around in their black habits.

4:08 pm  
Blogger Big Dave said...

Sounds pretty good to me. Can you promise me a Dartford or Sardinian Warbler? Roll on May!



5:44 pm  
Blogger Kiwi Nomad 2006 said...

lorenzo, I know what you mean about stumbling on pilgrims! I stayed at Cahors in France for three nights: it is on the Le Puy route. It was a bit embarrassing really - I was about the only person in the hostel who was not a pilgrim and I felt almost ashamed at having to admit I was just a tourist!!!

Cycling in the Loire alrea I also saw several signs for the route, as there is a path from Tours and Orleans that also is a pilgrimage route.

6:36 pm  
Blogger simon said...

don't wuuri kiwee... its usually my typing thats corzes me grreeff

10:01 pm  
Blogger Tortoiseshell said...

28 Comments! Blimey you're becoming a semi-pro blogger!!!

12:22 am  
Anonymous Ellee said...

29 now, he's dragging it out to hit 30.

4:27 pm  
Blogger Kiwi Nomad 2006 said...

Yeah... and where is he? Off birding somewhere exotic I guess, and doesn't even realise how momementously busy his comment box has become!

6:13 pm  
Blogger Maalie said...

You're right Kiwi, just back from adventures in the local mountains! What a lot of comments, but still a long way to go before I get anywhere near Petite Anglaise!

8:03 pm  
Blogger TCA said...

31 comments?! Is this a chat page?


9:45 pm  
Blogger Ju's little sister said...

It may as well be at this point TCA - and the host is barely here!

Maalie - is the kokako as beautiful in the feather as it is in the pictures? I would be content with just hearing its fabled song!

1:54 am  
Blogger TCA said...

looks like a chat page to me! On the earlier subject of Cahors, the Lot valley wine region produces a stunning red wine, very dark, rich and bold in stature. I recommend it to all pilgrims :O)


6:08 am  
Blogger Kiwi Nomad 2006 said...

lorenzo, I have just put on the Gregorian CD that I have had from way back. Never knew I was likely to ever cross the path of its monks though! I am listening to the CD while I read the manual for my new digital camera so I can use it better. Seems a bit incongruous really!

7:40 am  
Blogger lorenzothellama said...

This certainly is a chat page now. 35 comments so far. Thanks for the tip for wine in the Lot valley. I didn't know the pilgrimage started at Tours. Is this the same San Tiego pilgrimage, or another one. Maybe we could make one of our own, all the way through Europe to China, in the footsteps of Marco Polo.
Kiwi: did you enjoy the chanting? The monastry is actually way off the pilgrimage route. I was staying in Burgos at the time, which was not a very nice place, in spite of the Cathedral. To get away from the town we just drove into the wilds and while reading a guide book, I discovered that we were getting fairly near the monastry, so had to go for a look. The eagles and vultures came later.

12:56 pm  
Blogger Maalie said...

Did you see the colony of Lesser Kestrels that breed in the cathedral tower in Burgos?

2:38 pm  
Anonymous Ellee said...

It seems like all the bloggers here have been on some wonderful trips, I have lots of catching up to do.

4:12 pm  
Blogger lorenzothellama said...

Don't know about Lesser Kestrels. There were lots of birds flying around, the most interesting being the Stork (ciguella, in Spanish). The storks were amazing, with their big raggedy nests perched precariously on any tall rod, pole or perch. If you were lucky you could see a baby peeping over the edge watching what was going on beneath it, and then late afternoon the parent storks would return in their hundreds after flying all the way to the sea in the morning, just to get fish for their little ones. I assume they feed their babies by regurgitation. Anyway I liked them and I asked a nun what they were called and she said 'ciguella'. That's how I know what they are called.

6:10 pm  
Blogger Maalie said...

Yes, storks are good, they bring good things and are looked after throughout Europe. Yes, fish, frogs, eels, creepie-crawlies, almost anything.

This is Comment No. 40, I better put up a new post. Trouble is I haven;t been anywhere since last week...

6:54 pm  
Blogger Kiwi Nomad 2006 said...

lorenzo, there are routes all over Europe that lead into the St James pilgrimage. If you check this website, and go down to the map on the sidebar, you can see the four main routes through France:
(I could just see Silos near Burgos on this map.) And here is another map showing a lot more routes:

Maalie, I had an interesting experience in Selcuk (near the ruins of Ephesus) in Turkey. It was such a cold winter, and the local people were getting concerned about a nesting stork that wasn't eating, on top of the ruins of St jean's church. Someone had gone out and found a snake, and they had the local fire engine out with its ladder, and they took the snake up to the stork's nest!

7:09 pm  
Blogger lorenzothellama said...

Thanks Kiwi for the www sites. I have googled 'compestello' and words like that and got quite a few good sites, but I will try these too.
Has anyone been to Leon in Northern Spain. I really liked that town a lot. We stayed there a few days. There was a really slimy green river running through the town, and as I stood on the bridge looking in sheer amazement at the state of the water, a huge water-snake sort of sidled sideways across the river. I couldn't work out if it was swimming or just balancing on the crud. The river reminded me of the river in Ankh Morpork.
All this because Kiwi mentioned a snake!

9:40 pm  
Blogger Kiwi Nomad 2006 said...

Yep, and we all know we kiwis are paranoid about snakes, not being used to them and all. One hot hot day in France I came across a very small snake on the road. And another hot hot day I saw a small, dead snake in a grass verge. I Never Never went in a grass verge again in France!

1:29 am  
Blogger Ju's little sister said...

A snake in the river Ankh wouldn't survive! Only zombies come out of there again!
Interesting all the same :-)

6:34 am  
Blogger simon said...

you should have seen the snake maalie moved of the road, whilts on our trip. HUGE!

10:23 am  
Blogger simon said...

oFF and WHILST ( grrrrrr)

10:24 am  
Blogger lorenzothellama said...

I once saw an adder on the cliff path between Caswell and Langland Bay. It was a surprise, as I know they are all around that area, but you don't expect to see one unless you go tramping around in the undergrowth and bracken.

Take your point about the River Ankh. I think a golem would probably survive the river though.

3:57 pm  
Anonymous Ellee said...

I've NEVER had 47 comments, great work here.

4:36 pm  
Blogger Kiwi Nomad 2006 said...

I reckon we can make it to 50. Whaddya reckon?

6:11 pm  
Blogger Ju's little sister said...

Maalie - if you're wondering about what to write your next post about, would you tell us of the time you saw a kokako coaxed out of the fauna by playing recordings of its song?
(He left a brief comment about it to Plumpy's blog and I'm dying to hear about it!)

6:26 pm  
Blogger Maalie said...

Ju's Little Sister: You're on! Give me a day or two to do the research!

7:09 pm  
Blogger Ju's little sister said...



11:03 pm  
Blogger lorenzothellama said...

Does playing music to a kokako work a bit like a charmer playing his pipe to a snake, to make it come out of it's basket?

10:38 am  
Anonymous Ellee said...

I'm going to have to look up kokako in the dictionary.

9:58 pm  
Blogger simon said...

54 comments! are you sure you are not trying to compete with petite? If you are you had better start waffling on about the neighbours and getting drunk at parties.... and talk about ms frog...and your primal urges ;o)

Perhaps you could start with a chapter on Mildura!! ( btw.. it received 50mm of rain in an hour and the town went underwater!)

Instead of all this travel and birding and stuff....

On 2nd thoughts stick to your blog... its MUCH better!

10:04 pm  

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