Wallcreeper in the Sierra de Guara in Northern Spain

MauerläuferMy first attempts were not successful. The very reliable Wallcreeper wall in the town of Alquezar in Aragon revealed a Sparrowhawk instead. In search of this elusive high mountain dweller I payed attention to an article by Dave Gosney from 19th of find March 2008  on ” Birding abroad“. The article is titled: “Finding Wallcreepers in the Sierra de Guara“. The Sierra de Guara is a mountain range south of the famous Ordesa National Park in northern Spain. The peaks reach up to 2000 meters and are divided by rivers, which form a series of deep canyons. This makes the area perfect for Wallcreeper that migrate from the highest peaks of the Pyrenees down to spend the winter on vertical rock walls at lower altitudes. Dave Gosney mentions that these wintering birds can be seen until early April. In the Sierra de Guara in Aragon Gosney recommends especially “El Huevo de Morrano”, the “Embalse de Calcon” the Vadiello Dam, the Canyon de Mascun, Rodellar and finally in and around Alquezar. His words  “…..the area has so many sites for wintering Wallcreeper (Tichodroma muraria) that really you can’t go wrong – if you fail at one site, there’s always plenty more to try…” really impressed me. The area is excellent for other birds – especially vultures (Lammergeier (Gypaetus barbatus), Egyptian Vulture (Neophron percnopterus) and Eurasian Griffon (Gyps fulvus)), too, but the Wallcreeper was my target bird no. 1!

So after spending the 1st morning without Wallcreeper-results on the miradores of Alquezar, I tried the first destination, Gosney mentions. El Huevo de Morrano is easy to find if you drive north from Bierge to the next village of Morrano. Just after the second turn off to Morrano the track to the right, where a yellow sign says “Espacio Natural Protegido” and a white sign says “Coto Deportivo de Casa” is still there. But now, you can drive in for some 100 meters and can park on a plateau with a view to the impressive cliff-face. I suppose that the walk on the track to the Huevo de Morrano will take for much more but 10 minutes until you are beneath the cliff. Leaving the car alone in no-man-land was not really thrilling me. So I decided to head for the 2nd destination.

For the sake of completeness I must say, that there is another – I suppose the “official” – entry to El Huevo de Morrano. It is even easier to find if you drive north from the turn-off at the village of Morrano. Just after 1km there is a turn off in front of a sharp bend where the track to the right leads to a parking spot. After some hundred meters there is a barrier and you have to walk. The distance seems to be not shorter as on the alternative hike. At this point, I highly recommend buying a map of the area before you travel. More information of maps for the Parque Natural de la Sierra y los Cañones de Guara you will find below…

Ok, now the 2nd destination, the Embalse de Calcon, which is also called Embalse de Guara. Here the Calcon Valley has been dammed to create a reservoir. By driving north from near Aguas you reach a track signposted to Embalse de Guara. You can park – as Gosney mentions – at a barrier and walk to the dam or you can drive up to a Mirador approx. 20 meters above the dam, which might have the advantage of a better overview. Wallcreepers are supposed to be seen in the gorge below the dam but the cliff face on the east side of the reservoir seems to be good, too. I did not see anything of a Wallcreeper. But anyway I had great views of Lammergeier circling beneath the cliffs.

Now to the 3rd location, the Vadiello dam. Again a construction to create a reservoir. The road across the dam is for authorized vehicles only so you have to park nearby, at a car park. Here you pass a barrier and walk to the dam. Just follow the noise of the water. Birds are apparently seen on the dam itself or on the cliffs of the gorge below the dam. Right away I saw Eurasian Crag-Martin (Ptyonoprogne rupestris) and Gray Wagtail (Motacilla cinerea) only. This was my last choice, so I spend at least 4 hours there and scanned upwards and downwards the dam itself and along the cliffs of the gorge below and above the dam. After 2 fruitless hours, I almost turned to go, when a bird that was sitting just in front of me on the flagstones of the dam wall. Obviously the bird was searching for food. Yes, this was the Wallcreeper. When it realized me, it flies to the opposite wall immediately. Right after arrival on the crag, it inspected the wet spots where the water runs off over the crag. The vegetation on the steep slopes is hardly influenced by higher plants. The most striking growth here is some mosses and lichens and extensive carpets of cyanobacteria, which produce characteristic “ink strokes” which occur particularly in moist rock outcrops. I had already heard that the Wallcreeper likes staying on the moss-covered parts in rock walls to hunt insects and other invertebrates here. Then – as I get closer – he flies down to the eastern mountain wall next to the dam. Unfortunately, he is now in the shade. With time passing he is fluttering the rock wall up. How beautiful he spreads the wings. I’m really charmed by its beauty. More images of the Wallcreeper on the walls you see in the gallery. With the sudden spreading of the crimson-colored, broad wings he imitates a butterfly. He really is not much larger than a nuthatch, but has remarkably broad wings. The overly long toes are clearly visible in the images. He finally flies to the opposite side of the dam. Here I can observe the bird on the western dam wall not too far below the railing. Again the Wallcreeper starts looking for food. Unfortunately, the perspective is not very favorable. After nearly 1 minute – in which I shot almost 100 photos the Wallcreeper flies and never returns. Probably in one of the surrounding rock cliffs. I go to be better prepared the next time the Wallcreeper approaches. Unfortunately, the bird does not show-up again, even although I remain at the reservoir standing on the dam for 2 more hours until the sun disappears behind the mountain chain.

The next day, was the last option, the Canyon de Mascun north of Rodellar. To make it short: very beautiful scenery, no tourists and beautiful trails, but no Wallcreeper.

Wow, I was really lucky. Only one Wallcreepers (Tichodroma muraria) in the 3 days I spend in the Sierra de Guara. The time – beginning of March – was excellent.  A tripreport by David Bowman for the Sierra de Guara Northern Spain 9th – 13th March 2009 showed, that not only Gosney was successful. But until I eventually found the bird, I was almost desperate. Maybe the calm and mild weather this winter drove these mountain birds back to their breeding grounds already.

For long I have been looking for Wallcreepers (Tichodroma muraria). Photos – or even observations – from Wallcreeper were my dream. I’ve been days walking in the Alps in the Karwendel mountains, in the Tien Shan in Kyrgyzstan, in the Carpathian Mountains. I was hiking in many places, but up to that point I missed this high mountain bird.

The Sierra de Guara is a mountain massif in the province of Huesca. This is the most northerly province in Aragon. The mountains start around 25km northeast of the city of Huesca. Much of the massif is now included within a natural park known as the Parque de la Sierra y Cañones de Guara. A number of rivers flow north-south through the area, the principal ones having their sources to the north of the massif and cutting through the massif by way of spectacular gorges. The massif is formed mainly from limestone, which is good news for the Wallcreeper (Tichodroma muraria). Highly recommended is to buy a map of the area before you travel. A good bet is a map from Mapas Excursionista for “Parque Natural de la Sierra y los Cañones de Guara”. Editorial Alpina published mapping of the Park in 1:40,000, and does so with two maps, one of the western sector of the park and another the eastern sector. The tow maps reflect the entire network of trails, roads and climbs in the park.

In order to meet the growing demand for top shots of the rarer species of the Palearctic Bird-Lens is keen to enrich the range of pictures of birds you can find in the western Palearctic.  Trips to remote places like this one to capture images of rare birds of western Palearctic were very successful. The nice image of the blog is only a first impression, what you will find in the gallery in the “Picture- Shop”  very soon. Just give me a message, if I could serve you with an image needed before the new pictures are online.

Other successful shootings you can see in the gallery under: www.bird-lens.com in the pictures shop.

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