TRAVELLING NATURALIST TRIP REPORT

French Pyrenees

Saturday 21 - Friday 27 June 2003


Leaders:
Mike Read




TRIP DIARY
Saturday 21st June
We met at the airport in good time and after the usual wait, we departed a little late on our southward bound flight. We arrived on time at Toulouse and as we walked off the plane, we were met by a wall of heat; the temperature was subsequently noted in a French newspaper as being 37.8 degrees Celsius which equates to just over 100 degrees in old money!!
As soon as we could we were en route towards the Pyrenees with the usual practice of counting raptors on the way. However, it seemed that the high temperature was not suiting them either as sightings were far fewer than on many of our previous journeys. In the end, our totals were:- 39 Black Kites, 5 Common Buzzards, at least 4 Common Kestrels and a couple of Honey Buzzards. We paused a couple of times during the journey, once at the Aire du Pic du Midi and again close to Argeles Gazost. At the first of these we saw a Song Thrush and a Green Woodpecker while at Argeles, an Egyptian Vulture was a good find along with the two species of Kites.
The journey was completed in good time and we were soon enjoying our first taste of Pyrenean hospitality.

Sunday 22nd June

Before breakfast, we walked the winding path up to the castle above the hotel. There was a Firecrest in the pines while, overhead, Common Swifts circled searching for insects. Blackbirds, Blackcaps, Wrens and a Serin all sang from the woods and group of Blue and Great Tits moved through nearby trees. Nearing the castle, the distinctive calls of a Nuthatch were heard and the bird was eventually seen. The views over Luz were spectacular and just a short distance along the trail a Green Woodpecker was seen in the trees on the slope below us. A Great Spotted Woodpecker was well seen as we began to retrace our steps and hasten back to the Montaigu for breakfast.
After a brief pause at a supermarket to purchase some vital supplies (wine for lunch!) we set off in the direction of Gavarnie and paused at a bridge. Two juvenile Peregrines flew along a cliff high above us while the local flora included Ramonda, Pyramidal Orchid and Pyrenean Saxifrage.
From Gavarnie, we took the road towards the Col des Especières and paused to admire flowers, waterfalls and much more besides. Occasional Griffon Vultures appeared high overhead and a Dipper dashed off down a river. In a more open, rocky, meadow area were Northern Wheatears and Black Redstart while the few juniper bushes provided suitable perches for a pair of Red-backed Shrikes. And was that a Ring Ouzel that dashed from beside a huge rock? Yes, it was, but not many of the group saw it unfortunately. Beyond the tumbling river, Alpine Marmots were calling in alarm as two walkers descended along a pathway and overhead, Red-billed Choughs called and alerted us to their presence.
After a brief walk at the Col, we began to trundle back towards Gavarnie and decided to pause for lunch where the Ring Ouzel had been glimpsed. As we sat devouring our picnics (and the vital supplies of course!) we were again seeing many of the birds that had been present earlier. The most pleasant sighting though was of a pair of Citril Finches, which perched on a twig and a rock for some while before beginning to feed amongst the ground cover. Eventually, we caught another glimpse of the Ouzel and we also started to look at the local flowers, which included Monkshood, Broad-leaved Marsh Orchid and Greater Butterwort.
We drove into the Ossoue Valley and made various stops along the bumpy track to the Barrage d’Ossoue. Birds seen in this wonderful flower-rich valley included Golden Eagle, an adult Lammergeier, House Martins and a Rufous-tailed Rock Thrush though finding anything was proving increasingly difficult in the hot sunshine! Flowers could not hide though and we saw many Black Vanilla Orchids, Alpine Asters and more Pyrenean Saxifrage, which was abundant. Apollo butterflies were also seen.
We began the return journey and saw a couple of Crag Martins at the power station in Pragnères and along the river was a Grey Wagtail or two.
As we headed into evening, a cooling beer on the patio seemed a good idea before the evening meal……………

Monday 23rd June
The day began somewhat cloudy due to temperature inversion but at least the pre breakfast walk was not too warm! We walked along the road and had to be a little wary of the Monday morning rush to work. Blackcaps and Wrens were singing from the wooded slope near the hotel and further along a pair of Great Tits crossed the road and flew off up the hill as a Green Woodpecker called. A family group of three juvenile Black Redstarts seemed to be keeping close company but typically there was some squabbling among the siblings. A male Common Kestrel was harassed by a Magpie and a couple of Carrion Crows while overhead Common Swifts carved huge arcs across the sky. Just before we turned back for breakfast a pair of Long-tailed Tits gave brief views and a Chiffchaff called from trees beside a cottage. During the return walk, a male Greenfinch perched well in full view and a pair of Cirl Buntings were found in a garden before they flew across the road; the female disappeared almost instantly but the male almost sat on someone's balcony and sang several times.
After breakfast we drove up to the Col du Tourmalet. We did not pause for much on the way, as we knew the day would soon be very hot but there was a useful cooling breeze across the high ground. The visit began well with a Snow Finch in the car park
As we began a walk, a pair of Red-billed Choughs flew past and during the first 500 yards or so we saw more Snow Finches many of them taking food to their growing young in the ski-tow pylons. Further up the slope, Alpine Choughs far outnumbered their cousins and we began to see the first one or two Griffon Vultures. A Rufous-tailed Rock Thrush was also seen during the walk. When we reached the ridge from where we would search unsuccessfully for Alpine Accentors, many more Griffons could be observed in all directions as they rose on the now-abundant thermals.
Flowers were quite numerous with Pyrenean Buttercup and Wild Thyme among the most abundant of blooms but it was the lovely scent of the Garland Flower that added an extra dimension to the walk. New modifications to the tracks on the return walk caused a few problems and so a well-earned drink at the Col Hotel was enjoyed by everyone.
During lunch beneath the telecabins there were numerous Linnets, Water Pipits and Northern Wheatears to be seen and a few raptors were circling above the valley mists. These included at least 8 Griffon Vultures, 2 Common Buzzards and a briefly seen Lammergeier.
From here we drove to near Argeles Gazost for a short walk along the River Pau. Despite the thinning cloud cover, it was much hotter than on the high ground and it was very humid. We therefore expended only a little energy (e.g. we did not walk very far!) but still managed to see a few good birds. These included a Dipper, which stayed on the rocky area beneath the dam, about 6 Black and 3 Red Kites plus the expected Barn Swallows, Common Swifts and 2 House Martins. The day's outing finished with a drive along some back roads which took us past the 'Donjon des Aigles' site where there were more Black Kites and an Egyptian Vulture flying around but it was obvious from their jesses that the vulture and at least one of the kites were part of the 'display team'
After dinner, we stayed up late putting the world to rights and talking about such monumental subjects as brakes on go-karts, Baden Powell and his toggle, duffel coats and the importance of the corset industry in getting Portsmouth F.C. promoted to the Premiership ......... or something like that. (If they get demoted at the end of next season, could it signify a rejuvenation of the Portsmouth branch of the Lammergeier society or just a cessation of the baleen whales sacrificing themselves in Portsmouth Harbour?!!)

Tuesday 24th June
The pre breakfast walk began with a male Serin singing from an unseen position in a tree but then it behaved more typically and flew to an open perch ...... on an aerial! Part of the way up to the castle a Firecrest was seen at close quarters among the trees, Blackcaps sang from numerous locations and a single Pheasant call alerted us to the presence of this species (but see the early walk of 26th). Green and Great Spotted Woodpeckers were both identified and we saw 2 Nuthatches and a Red Kite before getting back to the hotel.
After breakfast we drove to Gavarnie and began the walk to the Cirque Hotel. By keeping to the lesser footpaths at first, we avoided the majority of other people and were immediately seeing birds. A Griffon Vulture or two drifted along the ridge while Chaffinches and a Garden Warbler sang from the bushes then as we left the river itself, flowers and butterflies became more noticeable. Martagon Lilies and Round-headed Rampion were easily found as were four species of Orchid namely Black Vanilla, Broad-leaved Marsh, Fragrant and Lesser Butterfly.
Further along, 5 Alpine Choughs were very approachable as they fed near the main trail close to where we found Crested and Coal Tit for the first time. From this area, we could also see that up on the high slopes, Isards were finding it to be hot as some were already spending time on the remaining, high altitude snow fields; five were clearly enjoying the cooling effect of the 'white stuff'. Further on, a huge disappointment awaited us .... the Cirque Hotel was closed and we could not purchase any liquid refreshment! However, we did sit on some rocks a little further on and ate our picnic lunches. This enabled us to at least treble the quantity of Isards we saw.
The return walk went well as we knew there were refreshment establishments open back in Gavarnie! And afterwards we drove some of the way back up towards the Col des Especières. We went to where we had seen the Ring Ouzel the previous day and were soon rewarded with a brief view. Northern Wheatears were plentiful and there were a few Alpine Choughs about as well. Also seen here were Yellowhammer and a pair of Red-backed Shrikes. We drove back down a little way to scan the Ossoue Valley for raptors and although we failed to see any, a male Rock Bunting was singing its Dunnock-like song and we had really good views to compete the day's watching.
We returned to the hotel and after another fine dinner, we spent some time drinking coffee and laughing at numerous tales and jokes ....... until the Guernsey mafia arrived. (The wife of the couple could have fielded for both teams in a cricket match; she did, after all repeatedly refer to her two short legs!! But would she be able to predict Ray's orange googley?)

Wednesday 25th June
For our pre breakfast walk, we drove up the road (!) ...... and then walked to parts we had been unable to reach previously. (This report is beginning to sound like a Heineken advert!) To begin our walk, a Bullfinch was seen briefly, a Blackcap sang from the trees and a Jay dashed across the road. A Common Buzzard flew from a roadside tree and was soon lost to view as it headed towards the valley. Song Thrush, Long-tailed Tit and Green Woodpecker were all identified before a couple of juvenile Buntings caused a few identification doubts. However they turned out to be Cirl Buntings and as we made our way back towards the minibus, they were joined by presumably a third sibling which accompanied them along the roadside just ahead of us.
After breakfast at Ayzac-Ost, low cloud began to clear a little as we arrived. A Melodious Warbler sang but we did not manage to find it and a Nuthatch was seen briefly in the trees. Soon, a couple of Common Ravens were flying around near the cliffs and they were joined by a few Black Kites that drifted slowly past. An Egyptian Vulture came into view and was with us for much of the time we remained there and at one time, it flew past at very close range giving us excellent views just before a Peregrine came into view.
Obviously things were looking up as the weather warmed and more raptors became airborne. As we watched more Black Kites flying around with 3 or 4 Red Kites, a Short-toed Eagle came in to view and hovered in typical fashion with legs dangling. It remained in view for some time before disappearing over a wooded ridge.
We paused on the southern side of Argeles-Gazost for a few 'picnic extras' in what must be one of the best supermarket car parks for birdwatching. While Mike was inside, the group saw 2 Common Buzzards, 5 Black Kites, a Peregrine and the only 2 Booted Eagles of the tour.
Along the road towards the Pont d'Espagne we paused beside the river for lunch and found plenty of flowers in various stages of bloom but birds were in short supply with just a couple of Grey Wagtails feeding from rocks washed by rushing water. We left the car park; we headed for the chair lift towards the Lac de Gaube. Spectacular waterfalls slowed our already easy pace although we saw few birds.
Not all of the group headed up the chair lift but those that did were pleased to see some splendid 'Alpine' wild flower meadows full of blooming Scabious, Yellow Rattle, Black Vanilla Orchids and a host of other species. Coal Tits and Chaffinches were frequent and after refreshing drinks beside the lac, we began the walk back through pine woodlands down to the car park. High overhead, a Golden Eagle drifted along the ridge and disappeared from view. Then a second one followed a similar route but this one was indulging in a spectacular display flight. As this bird was lost from view, the first one reappeared carrying a small item of prey. It drifted across the valley and was presumably heading off to feed young in a nest. Our walk through the woodland had us looking at a couple of nest holes of Black Woodpeckers but sadly, of the birds themselves, there was no sign.
Jeffrey and Ann had, in the meantime, been walking a lower level route. They managed to find a few things that the rest of the group had not seen.
Back at the hotel, the after dinner discussions centred on treasury tags and their correct placement (both metric and imperial) and the locally rare woodpigeon population.

Thursday 26th June
The pre breakfast walk saw us heading up the road as overnight rain had made the fields very wet. Before we set out, a Pheasant was heard calling and at first we thought it confirmed the record from 24th. However, we then discovered that the sound was coming from the direction of the town; presumably it/they were in captivity!
A Firecrest was in the woods on the hill by the hotel where many Blackcaps sang unseen. Due to the dull start to the day, some of the street lighting was still on and a Great Tit would have made a nice picture as it investigated the inside of the lamp for insects. A Kestrel flew past as Barn Swallows hawked for food and further on a Black Redstart was well seen. Close to a cottage set among trees, a Bonelli's Warbler sang but unfortunately we could not see it while a little further along the road we saw a juvenile Common Chiffchaff. As we headed back towards the hotel, we added Mistle Thrush, Serin and Cirl Bunting to the day's sightings.
Our morning destination was the Cirque de Troumouse and as we made our way up through the Heas Valley, a group of 8 Griffon Vultures circled above a ridge that was just clear of the valley cloud. They disappeared but we relocated them as we began the climb round the various hairpin bends above the toll booth; the birds were on the ground and, typical of vultures, looked somewhat incongruous as they made their way up the skyline in a loafing gait.
We reached the high-level car park at the Cirque and were soon heading off on a relatively easy walk. Another Rufous-tailed Rock Thrush was seen by one member of the group and then everyone saw the Lammergeier that flew from the cliffs high above us dwarfing the Alpine and Red-billed Choughs that were in the same air space.
Flowers coloured our route with blue Globularias and Gentians featuring strongly. Northern Wheatears and Water Pipits were frequent and Alpine Marmot calls echoed around the walls of the Cirque. We frequently checked for raptors overhead but only saw more Griffon Vultures and the same Lammergeier drifting around. As the day got hotter, at least 4 Isards could be seen lying down on the snow to keep themselves cool. We reached an area of rocks that produced an even greater range of Alpine flora but the highlight here turned out to be a species that we had failed to find earlier in the week, Alpine Accentor. In fact, we saw 2, perhaps 3 of these increasingly-difficult-to-find birds. They gave us ample time for excellent views before we left them feeding among the jumble of rocks. During the return walk, we found a few more Orchids, including Black Vanilla, and were surprised to see that Trumpet Gentians were still not yet blooming.
We dropped down (via the road of course!) to a waterfall for our lunch stop and as we wined and dined, we continued to see birds flowers and a couple of new Isards. The birds included more Black Redstarts, 2 Dippers and 2 Grey Wagtails along the stream, a Wren among the shrubs and boulders and high overhead were more Griffons, probably the same Lammergeier and a Common Kestrel.
During the drive to the Barrage des Gloriettes, a male Red-backed Shrike perched close to the road. One small area beside the Barrage held numerous flowers including 4 species of orchids and during our walk we saw English/Spanish Iris blooming in profusion; one was even hosting a Black-veined White Butterfly, which was resting on one of the blooms. Birds were in short supply except for Black Redstarts, which seemed to be quite numerous.
We arrived back at the minibus just as a shower of rain began and as we make our way back down to the Heas Valley it rains harder .... and then stops. We arrived back at the hotel by 5 p.m. and just 10 minutes later; the heavens open as a mighty thunderstorm begins. For three quarters of an hour, lightening flashed, thunder rumbled as if someone upstairs was moving heavy furniture and then it all went quiet and cleared up.
Another fine evening meal followed as did much more good humour of course

Friday 27th June
There was no pre breakfast walk to allow plenty of time for packing prior to our journey homewards. As we left after breakfast, most of the group were asking if we could stay for another week!
Just north of Luz we paused to see if there were any birds and immediately we found a Dipper and a coupe of Grey Wagtails. (And was that really a melanistic Woodpigeon in the field opposite?)
Soon we were heading up Hautacam with light rain falling steadily. Being in the clouds meant that progress was somewhat slow and birds were few and far between. Eventually, a bedraggled Common Buzzard took off from a road side telegraph pole took flight as we approached and a little further on we saw our first Tree Pipit. Water Pipits were numerous on the high ground and there were a couple of Red-backed Shrikes, 4 Linnets and a Yellowhammer among the juniper bushes. However, we were unable to get above the clouds and it seemed sensible to descend to a lower elevation.
At the Champion car park just north of Argeles-Gazost, a group of at least 100 hirundines (swallows & martins) moved off northwards and were no doubt trying to avoid the worst of the weather. A pair of Common Ravens and a passing Grey Heron seemed a little less affected and as the rain stopped, 2 Black Kites and 2 Peregrines brought admiring looks from the group. In turn, the group drew quizzical glances from the shoppers heading for the supermarket!
Soon we were heading for the péage which would lead us to Toulouse and it seemed sensible to pause for lunch quite early on. The Aire de Bordes seemed as good a stopping place as any but in the end, it probably turned out to be better than most. As we pulled in, a pair of Red-backed Shrikes were on the wire fence surrounding the 'Aire' and it seemed likely that they were feeding young. During the course of our picnic, at least 5 Black Kites, 2 Red Kites, 2 Common Buzzards, 2 Kestrels and the first Eurasian Hobby of the tour were seen. Bu,t just before we boarded the minibus, a Eurasian Hoopoe flew past at fairly close range and then perched briefly in a tree before continuing on its way.
We followed suit and continued our journey and were happy to be seeing many more raptors than on the rather hot outward drive. By the time we reached the airport at Toulouse, we had seen 1 Griffon Vulture, 228 Black Kites, 9 Red Kites, 24 Common Buzzards, 5 Common Kestrels and 2 Eurasian Hobbies (these totals were from Argeles Gazost to Toulouse airport and included the birds at the Aire de Bordes). In one location it was obvious that a field of hay or something was being cut as in the distance we could see well over 100 Black Kites circling over this one area!
Other birds of note during the journey included a few Common Stonechats on the roadside fence, a couple of Cattle Egrets, strangely enough in a field with some cattle, and a pair of Crested Larks. We arrived at the airport the allotted two hours ahead of departure time but unfortunately, the incoming flight was late and so we took off 45 minutes late. As we made our final turn out on to the runway for take off, our final French bird is a Common Buzzard sat on a low perch just a few feet from the end of the runway. As the engines roared to commence our headlong dash towards take off, I wondered if the buzzard had any feathers left and if not, was it medium rare?!!
We bade our farewells at the Gatwick baggage reclaim and were soon heading for the M25 traffic jams!

SPECIES ACCOUNTS
BIRDS
Grey Heron:
Just a single bird flying past the Champion car park at Argeles Gazost on 27th
Cattle Egret:
2 seen near cattle during the journeys from and to the airport on 21st and 27th
European Honey Buzzard:
2 seen briefly during the outward journey from Toulouse on 21st
Black Kite:
Commonly seen on most days though not noted on 22nd or 24th. During the journey from Argeles to Toulouse, we saw at least 228 individuals with a staggering 130 or more circling over one field where the crop was presumably being cut
Red Kite:
Small numbers seen every day including a lone bird over Luzon 3 or 4 occasions
Eurasian Griffon Vulture:
Seen in small numbers every day from 22nd in the mountains. It is likely that the mostly clear, hot weather was enabling this species to 'hunt' from a higher elevation than normal thus making them more difficult to see.
Egyptian Vulture:
1 near Argeles Gazost on 21st and 2 in the same area on 25th
Lammergeier:
1 in the Ossoue Valley on 22nd, 1 to the east of the Col du Tourmalet on 23rd and 1 (three times) at the Cirque de Troumouse on 26th
Short-toed Eagle:
Just a single sighting near Ayzac-Ost on 25th
Common Buzzard:
Seen on 5 days with 24 during the journey to Toulouse on 27th being by far the most
Golden Eagle:
2 in the Ossoue Valley on 22nd and 2 above the Pont d'Espagne on 25th
Booted Eagle:
2 from the Champion supermarket car park at Argeles Gazost on 25th ... while the leader was inside and unable to see them!
Common Kestrel:
The only raptor to be seen every day of the tour
Eurasian Hobby:
1 well seen and another 'glimpsed' during the journey to Toulouse on 27th
Peregrine:
2 juveniles seen on 22nd near the Pont d'Esdouroucats then 2 near Ayzac-Ost on 25th and two from the famous supermarket car park on 27th
Eurasian Coot:
3 during the journey from Toulouse on 21st and another during the return on 27th
Yellow-legged Gull:
Seen near Toulouse and on the River Garonne near Martres-Tolosane during the journeys to and from the Pyrenees
Black-headed Gull:
Seen during the outward journey on 21st
Rock Dove (Feral Pigeon):
Seen every day
Wood Pigeon:
Seen on 21st, 23rd and 24th in small numbers
Eurasian Collared Dove:
Seen every day
Common Swift:
Seen every day
Eurasian Hoopoe:
One fly-by seen at the Aire de Bordes on 27th
Great Spotted Woodpecker:
Noted on 4 days with a red-capped juvenile causing some discussion on 22nd
Green Woodpecker:
Seen or heard on 5 days mostly during the pre breakfast walks
Crested Lark:
2 seen during the journey to Toulouse on 27th
Eurasian Crag Martin:
Seen in small numbers every day from 22nd
Barn Swallow:
Seen every day
Common House Martin:
Noted on 22nd, 23rd and 27th with the most being 4 on the first of these days
Yellow Wagtail:
A single bird seen on Hautacam on 27th
White Wagtail:
Seen every day
Grey Wagtail:
Noted on 5 days with the most being 4 on 25th near Pont d'Espagne
Tree Pipit:
Just a couple seen in thick mist on Hautacam on 27th
Water Pipit:
Noted on high grassy slopes on 22nd, 23rd, 26th and 27th
Red-backed Shrike:
Seen on 5 days with some really good views of them in the highest scrub near Gavarnie
White-throated Dipper:
Singles seen on22nd, 23rd and 27th but on 26th we saw 5 including 2 or 3 during lunch just below the Cirque de Troumouse
Winter Wren:
More frequently heard than seen; noted every day from 22nd
Alpine Accentor:
Not found in their usual haunts near the Col du Tourmalet but to make up for that, we had really good views of 2 or perhaps 3 at the Cirque de Troumouse on 26th
Hedge Accentor (Dunnock):
Noted on 5 days often on high ground amongst juniper scrub
Rufous-tailed Rock Thrush:
A male was well seen in the Ossoue valley on 22nd and then the species was also glimpsed at Tourmalet on 23rd and at Troumouse on 26th
Ring Ouzel:
A air were nesting in high juniper scrub between Gavarnie and the Col des Especières and we saw the female on 22nd and the male on 24th
Common Blackbird:
Seen every day
Song Thrush:
Seen on the way to the Pyrenees on 21st and during the pre breakfast walks on 25th and 26th
Mistle Thrush:
Seen on 5 days including during some of the pre breakfast walks
European Robin:
Seen on 5 days
Black Redstart:
Seen every day except 21st
Common Redstart:
1 during the journey to the Pyrenees on 21st and another seen the following day
Common Stonechat:
At least 3 seen on road side fences on the way to Toulouse on 27th
Northern Wheatear:
Seen on high ground on 4 days
Melodious Warbler:
1 heard near Ayzac-Ost on 25th
Common Chiffchaff: Heard on 4 days during the pre breakfast walks and also seen near Ayzac-Ost on 25th
Bonelli's Warbler:
Heard during the pre breakfast walk on 26th
Blackcap: Noted every day; usually identified by its tuneful, sweet song
Garden Warbler:
1 seen near Gavarnie on 24th with others being heard during the same walk
Firecrest:
Frequently seen from the Hotel Montaigu as they collected food for young
Long-tailed Tit:
Seen on 23rd and 25th during the pre breakfast walk and heard on 27th
Marsh Tit:
3 seen by those on the lower walk at Pont d'Espagne on 25th
Coal Tit:
At least 10 seen during the Gavarnie walk on 24th then seen on the following 2 days
Crested Tit:
About 7 seen during the Gavarnie walk on 24th and also at least 6 seen by those on the lower walk at Pont d'Espagne the following day
Great Tit:
Seen on at least 4 days
Blue Tit:
Seen on 5 days
Eurasian Nuthatch:
Seen close to the castle above the hotel on 22nd, 24th and 25th and also seen at the Champion car park at Argeles Gazost on 27th
Eurasian Treecreeper:
Just a single sighting by those on the lower level walk at Pont d'Espagne on 25th
Eurasian Jay:
Seen every day
Black-billed Magpie:
Seen every day
Red-billed Chough:
Small numbers seen on 4 days
Alpine Chough:
Seen in larger numbers than the previous species on 5 consecutive days from 22nd
Carrion Crow:
Seen every day
Common Raven:
5 seen in the Ossoue Valley on 22nd and also seen on 25th, 26th and 27th
Common Starling:
Seen close to Argeles Gazost on 23rd and also seen during the journeys from and to Toulouse on 21st and 27th
Yellowhammer:
A male above Gavarnie on 22nd was the first and then seen in 1s and 2s on 4 consecutive days from 24th
Rock Bunting:
A male well seen above Gavarnie on 24th (not during the Gavarnie walk)
Cirl Bunting:
Mostly seen during the pre breakfast walks of 23rd, 25th and 26th with 3 juveniles on the middle of these dates proving to be the most entertaining
Common Chaffinch:
Seen every day
European Serin:
Heard or seen on the first 6 days
Citril Finch:
A pair was well seen during lunch on 22nd between Gavarnie and the Col des Especières
European Greenfinch:
Seen on 23rd, 24th and 26th
European Goldfinch:
Seen every day from 22nd
Common Linnet:
Usually seen on high ground and noted on 5 days
Eurasian Bullfinch:
1 seen during the pre breakfast walk on 25th with another at Pont d'Espagne later that day
House Sparrow:
Seen every day
Eurasian Snowfinch:
About a dozen seen at the Col du Tourmalet on 23rd where they were nesting in the ski tow pylons

MAMMALS
Roe Deer:
A single animal seen running for cover as we headed for Toulouse on 27th
Isard:
15 on snow-covered slopes above the Cirque de Gavarnie on 24th and 6 at the Cirque de Troumouse a couple of days later
Alpine Marmot:
Seen on 5 consecutive days from 22nd on high ground in various locations
Brown Hare:
1 seen close to the Col des Especières on 22nd


AMPHIBIANS
Common Frog:
Tadpoles, presumably of this species seen in puddles at the Lac d'Ossoue on 22nd and then an adult at the Cirque de Troumouse on 26th
Newt Species: 1 seen in a stream at the Cirque de Troumouse on 26th

REPTILES
Wall Lizard species:
Seen on 3 days but not identified to exact species
Green Lizard:
1 seen on 22nd was probably of this species
Western Whip Snake:
A smallish snake seen beside the Lac des Gloriettes was probably of this species


BUTTERFLIES
The following species were definitely seen
Swallowtail
Apollo
Black-veined White
Large White
Orange Tip
Clouded Yellow
Chalkhill Blue
Common Blue
Red Admiral
Painted Lady
Small Tortoiseshell
Niobe Fritillary
Meadow Fritillary ?
Marbled White
Piedmont Ringlet
Meadow Brown
Speckled Wood
Wall Brown
Grizzled Skipper
Small Skipper

OTHER GROUPS
Stag Beetle:
Frequently seen from the hotel patio in the evenings as we watched the sun go down over the mountains
Silver Y moth: Seen on 3 days
Hummingbird Hawk Moth: Seen on 3 days in various locations


PLANTS

*& hybrids of these two
Alpenrose
Alpine Sow Thistle
Arnica
Asphodel, White
Aster, Alpine
Astrantia Major
Avens, Pyrenean
Bellflower, Clustered
Bellflower, Nettle-leaved
Bog Cotton
Bramble
Broom
Broomrape spp.
Buddleia
Buttercup, Pyrenean
Butterwort, Common
Campion, Bladder
Campion, Moss
Catchfly, Nottingham
Clover, Red
Columbine, Pyrenean
Cornflower, Mountain
Cranesbill, Bloody
Cranesbill, Dusky
Daisy
Daisy, Oxeye
Dandelion
Dodder, Common
Dogwood, Common
Eryngo, Pyrenean
Evening Primrose
Figwort
Forget-me-not
Foxglove, Fairy,
Foxglove, Yellow
Garland Flower
Gentian, Gt. Yellow
Gentian, Spring
Gentian, Trumpet
Globeflower
Globularia
Globularia, Matted (repens)
Harebell
Hellebore, Green
Herb Bennet
Herb Robert
Horned Pansy
Houseleek spp.
Iris, English/Spanish
Juniper, Common
Lady’s Mantle, Alpine
Lady’s Mantle, Cut-leaved
Leek, Wild
Lily, Martagon
Lily, St Bruno’s
Marjoram
Masterwort, Lesser
Mezereon
Monkshood, Common
Monkshood, Yellow
Mountain Everlasting
Mullein, Orange
Nettle, Common
Orchid, Black Vanilla
Orchid, Broad-leaved Marsh
Orchid, Burnt
Orchid, Common Spotted *
Orchid, Common Twayblade
Orchid, Fragrant*
Orchid, Lesser Butterfly
Orchid, Pyramidal
Orchid, Small White
Pennywort, Wall
Pink, Fringed
Poppy, Corn
Poppy, Welsh
Primrose, Birds Eye
Quaking Grass
Ramonda
Rampion, Round-headed
Rock Rose, Common
Rock Rose, Hoary
Rose, Apple
Rose, Cinnamon
Saxifrage, Pyrenean
Saxifrage, Wood
Self Heal
Sanicle, Mountain
Soapwort
Speedwell, Thyme-leaved
Thistle, Acanthus-leaved Carline
Thistle, Pyrenean
Thyme, Wild
Toadflax, Alpine
Travellers’ Joy
Valerian, Pyrenean
Vetch, False
Violet, Heath Dog
Violet, Yellow Wood
Vipers Bugloss
Wild Strawberry
Wintergreen, Lesser
Woundwort, Hedge
Yellow Archangel
Yellow Ox-eye
Yellow Rattle




Yet another super visit to these fascinating mountains. Many of the special flowers of the area were in full bloom, the birds performed well and everything went swimmingly ..... especially at the height of the thunderstorm that we had on the Thursday! This was, of course, exceptionally well-organised by the Travelling Naturalist, as the rain did not begin until 10 minutes after we arrived back at the hotel in the evening........
The weather was surprisingly hot with record temperatures for June greeting us as we arrived at Toulouse airport. If my calculations are correct, we walked off the plane and hit over 100 degrees 'in old money'. Even with the vehicle windows open during the journey, it was difficult to stay cool but we managed it. The outward journey produced far fewer raptor sightings than normal but the Pyrenees and also the return journey on 27th fully making up for this.
We did very well and ended up with a grand total of 82 species of birds and 4 mammals. But when the mountains are so fabulous, this is one location where the quantity of species is a little less important.
There was much laughter, perhaps more than I have known on any previous tour! At times it was difficult to stop laughing long enough to head off to get a night's sleep though there was one exception as members of the group will remember.
But to sum it up, it was a fabulous tour with great wildlife, food and wine, and exceptionally good company. Let's do it again sometime ........
Mike Read


© The Travelling Naturalist 2003