Pyrenees, trip report, June 2016

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This was a walking holiday, to recce the area for a future long linear walk. My first trip to the Pyrenees.


Friday 24th June – 13 mile Walk with 950m ascent, Refuge du Clot - Vallee du Marcadau - Refuge Wallon - Lac du Portet - Refuge du Clot – On the drive to the walk from Pau, a superb male Hen Harrier was hovering right next to the main road, near Lourdes ! Within the first mile of the walk, along the valley floor from Refuge du Clot ('Refuge' = YHA-type accommodation), a Citril Finch flew down from some trees onto the floor to feed, giving excellent views. And a Hoopoe in flight. A couple of Egyptian Vulture and Bearded Vulture circled over the cliffs along the side of the valley.

In the valley from the Refuge du Clot - the scale is breathtaking !

Pyrenean Rock Lizards are pretty common.

An adult Short-toed Treecreeper was feeding 2 juvs. in trees further on. The 'alpine' meadows are full of wonderful flowers (e.g. Trumpet Gentians) and insects (e.g. Heath Fritillary).


The snow-line was particularly low (the locals advised) for the end of June, and as we hit the highest point on the walk (after walking the first 4 hours ALL uphill !) the fog descended (something that happened daily). But this seemed to bring out 10+ Fire Salamanders. (Earlier, it had been very strange to be walking on snow in bright sun and t-shirts !)


We also spotted a couple of Alpine Marmot. Driving along the road on our way out of the car park in the evening, a Black Woodpecker flew at tree-top height across the road ! On the way back to the hotel in the car, a Short-toed Eagle hovered over a hillside.



Saturday 25th June – Drove to Lourdes, to recover from yesterday's exersions. A Peregrine flew low over as we left Pau in the morning. The 30km from Pau to Lourdes produced 22 Black Kite ! They really are very common in the flat lands of this area. Also 2+ Red Kite. Walking around the cemetry in the town, our fist 3 Griffon Vulture circled low over.

From the top of the chateaux at Lourdes (well worth a visit) there were some Crag Martin (seen every day at various places) and a family of Kestrel.


We then drove over the Col du Tourmalet in thick fog, but there was still a Snow Finch at the top.


Sunday 26th June – Ordessa, Spain, Grand Canyon Walk - c10 miles, 450m ascent.


Driving to the start, a few Griffon Vulture came off a mountain. Stopping, I picked out a group of 9 sat on the hillside. We saw a total of 23 on this one day ! Also here, was an adult Egyptian Vulture circling low.

One of the highlights was seeing 2 adult Bearded Vulture (photo below) soaring for a long time over the 1km high valley wall. (The photo shows the scale and distance, and inset are the 2 dots zoomed-in so you can see them !) Also 4 Griffon Vulture seen here, another Short-toed Eagle and 2 Alpine Swift.

This is a popular walk as it is not too strenuous, but the valley floor produced: Black Woodpecker (heard only), 1+ Crested Tit, 6 Nuthatch, 1 Treecreeper and Great Spotted Woodpecker. And on the drive to our new Hotel in Gavarnie, a Subalpine Warbler.

It was also excellent for flowers, including: Greater Butterfly Orchid, Leafy Lousewort, St. Bruno's Lily and Globeflower.





Monday 27th June – c13 mile Walk with c900m ascent, Cirque de Gavarnie, France. Gavarnie - Plateau de Bellevue - Col de Boucharo (aka Port de Gavarnie) - and back.

Gavarnie is a brilliant place to stay - it is right in the heart of the mountains. The views are truly spectacular. And there is a Black Redstart singing from every other rooftop.

The Cirque de Gavarnie - with the Hotel du Cirque arrowed - it is so small you cannot see it !

However, our first morning (having arrived in dark the night before) saw low cloud shroud the highest mountains. The walk starts with a tough winding climb, but as we approached the top and hit the Plateau - a most memorable view hit us as the cloud began to lift. Through a small clearing in the cloud one of the highest peaks could be seen - it was about 3 times what we were expecting the highest point to be, at an impossibly high angle in the sky ! And then the first Griffon Vulture came off the mountain side right near us. It was followed by another, and another, . . . until a total of 19 were circling just 200m above our heads. It was THE most amazing sight, with a stunning back-drop. I took a video to try and capture it all. And here are the best of the photos:


We headed up a valley to the Col de Boucharo, and encountered 10+ Alpine Chough and a few Chough. Also a Raven and 3 Alpine Accentor picking insects off the snow. A Snow Finch gave great views above the snow-line. We were trying to get to the Refuge de Roland and then the Breche de Roland, but the snow was too deep without crampons. So, turned back the way we had come.

On the way back we found a singing Garden Warbler, 6+ Marmot and a flushed a Grey Partridge.


Tuesday 28th June – c10 mile Walk with c450m ascent, Gavarnie - Cirque de Gavarnie, via Hotel du Cirque and Grande Cascade (Waterfall) - Plateau de Pailla - Gavarnie.

I was woken early in the morning by a Capercaillie calling up on the side of the wooded valley near the hotel !

This is a popular walk, which follows the donkey trail to start with. Right next to the huge waterfall (one of the tallest in Europe) we finally saw the local Chamois (called 'Izards'). 3 of them, pointed out by some nice French people.


The only bird of any note was another singing Garden Warbler. But there were many flowers - as there are all over the Pyrenees, including Large-flowered Butterwort, which is a carnivorous plant with sticky leaves (as can be seen in photo) and White Alpine Pasque Flower.


And Ashy Cranesbill.


Wednesday 29th June – On drive to Toulouse airport: a White Stork stood on a hay bail, and 3 Cattle Egret in a cow field.


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Last revised: 6 July 2016.