The next few days whizzed past without many stops and hardly any raptors being seen from the car window - Kessys, Sprawks and Common buzzards. We were nearing the end of France and I was pretty pleased with what lifers I had seen ( Pied fly being a bogey ). Soon we would be crossing the border into Spain and into Unknown territory for me, Northern Spain to be exact: A pretty good birding destination!!
We spent our last day in France, walking around a Beautiful old town ( whose name I cant remember, as usual... ), eating loads of pastries like Chocolate Croissants at the numerous cafes inside it and taking lots of pictures of the truly lovely looking Architecture and surrounding country side scenery. A non birding experience I know but still good fun ( God, I sound obsessive! ). My parents had a great time as well, which they definately deserved after all the long driving Dad did ( while Mum kept him on course with the map ). After the break there, we set off again for the final few hours journey to the border. After a while the scenery changed from fields and sparse woodland to towering mountains with thick woodland and rocky crags perfect for my main target bird: Griffon Vulture. We arrived at the border very fast and quickly ( after sorting out passports and stuff... ) and finally crossed into Northern Spain. Within 30 minutes of driving in Spain a Red kite flew over! only my second one ever ( my first was a flyover bird in Yorkshire ). What a fantastic bird so early I thought, Maybe this was a sign of things to come, a good omen in fact! Several hours in we began to steadly climb some mountains which we had to pass through. The light was beginning to fade so we would soon have to stop for safety purposes ( Sleep, plus Dad was not massively comfortable driving in the dark on the opposite side of the road, let alone doing it the mountains... ). According to our map a local town called ( if I remember correctly ) Lukenberry was coming up where we could stop...
I remember starting to nod off when I heard Mum say "What are those birds up there Taylor?"I opened my eyes and looked at the window "Where abouts?" I said, "Up there, above us, flying around the mountain, theres lots of them" Mum replied. I looked out again and craned my neck so I could see directly above us. I let out a gasp of surprise as my eyes locked onto them. Sillhouetted in the setting sun was the umistakeable shapes of my target birds! SH"T! GRIFFON VULTURES!!! I shouted out ( I couldnt help myself this time, honestly ). There was no where on the way down the road to pull in and all in all it was too brief a view but I was still ecstatic. There and then I knew I would never get bored of seeing Griffon vultures no matter how many times I did, they were just fantastic to me and definately one of the most brilliant birds Id ever seen.
We finally entered Lukenberry about 5 mins later and I noted happily that the mountain directly behind the town was where the vultures were. We quickly found a pub with free acommodation, booked in for a night and decided to take a look around the quaint little town. Lukenberry in itself was a beautiful location, the buildings looked more like they belonged somewhere in a country such as Austria or Switzerland and not typically spanish, Maybe it was due to the fact that we were still kinda high up and it was colder than any bits of Spain I had been to ( It looked as if they got snow quite annualy in fact ). I got yet another surprise when a lovely Black redstart dropped down from a church roof and landed pretty close to us, allowing me to get a good look at this little black and red wonder. I had seen them the previous year in southern Spain while on holiday so this one wasnt a lifer but It was still awesome. Leaving the redstart ( who had been joined by a party Pied wagtails ) we headed back to the bar to have some dinner and to get some sleep.
The following day we all agreed for my last proper birding on the journey that we would all go back up the Griffon mountain and spend a few hours up there watching out for em if we could find a pull in. We set off very early in the morning and unfortunately I noted the conditions were not great for raptor watching, it very was misty.... But we did ( after a long search ) find a pull in. Quite a good viewing point just a tiny bit below the road we had came down when we had seen the vultures. We were positioned In a good place I thought, so now it was just crucial to wait for the mist to clear and to hope the Griffs would show themselves. Half an hour later the mist had cleared but there was no sign yet. Another 10 mins went by and I was beginning to doubt they were going to show... but I was wrong! one after the other they finally appeared over the side of the mountain and began their slow rise on the thermals. I watched in amazement as more and more appeared. At one point I was hurridly getting the scope set up to get a better look when Dad shouted "Taylor, above you!" I couldnt believe my eyes when I looked up! a Griffon vulture had appeared and flown only a few feet above my head giving me the best views imaginable!! I was gobsmaked! Watching the Griffs I also spotted two Red kites, a Kessy and a big group of Ravens. After about two hours more of watching this spectacle Mum gave the go ahead that it was about time to leave. I took one more quick look through my scope at the soaring birds then packed it up and walked back to car.
That was as predicted my last proper birding of the journey, Although in the car we managed to see plenty more Griffon vultures and Red kites on the way down. We had made good time by the time we got to Altea where I was going to be based and would be living in from now on.... Altea is located in southern Spain and is quite a touristy town to be honested (although I have found some good bird related places next to it recently ;) ) Its one of those towns typical of the Costa Blanca with long beaches and numerous Cafes and Restaurants, none the less it is beautiful in my opinion and I am very lucky to be living here. All in all I didnt see loads but it was well worth it for the couple of lifers I got and the fantastic places I visited on the way! :)
Next up: my latest birding exploits around Spain and accounts of what ive found at the beginning of 2010. Plus: a full list of what birds I saw on the journey through France and Spain....