North West Spain
9th June 1997 - 16th June 1997 and 7th July 1997 - 23rd July 1997
I left Plymouth on the overnight ferry to Santander in northern Spain, I was starting a sound recording trip to the Picos de Europa, the eastern part of the Cantabrian Mountains, for a TV series of 8 programmes called 'Living Europe' made by Bristol based company Green Umbrella. It was raining with a calm sea, very little was seen only a few Gannets, Kittiwakes, Shags and Fulmars. As the boat neared Ousant there was a flock of Herring and Lesser Black-backed Gulls following a fishing boat, with them at least 25 Storm Petrels.
The ferry docked early, I then had to pick-up a hire car, which in fact was a van, load in all the recording equipment and drive west to Potes in the Picos de Europa. On the way seeing Buzzards, 3 Black Kites, a Blue Rock Thrush and 2 Griffon Vultures.
I found the hotel in Potes and waiting for me was film producer Dan Freeman, after taking my luggage and equipment to my room, we then drove south to La Vega then north on a minor road to the village of Campollo where cameraman Tony Allen, his assistant Chris and translator Fi from Green Umbrella, a girl with the loudest sneeze I have ever heard, were staying, in a little, run-down cottage near the edge of the village.
We were there to find out what Tony had filmed and what he was going to film, so as I could target those species as well as collect atmospheric sounds. I also had chance to look around the village seeing several Serins, Cirl Bunting, Black Redstart, a Black Kite, 2 Ravens, an Egyptian Vulture and a Chough.
Dan and I returned to the hotel in Potes for lunch, there were lots of Swifts above the town and lots of Serins around the hotel, also a Grey Wagtail and a Black Redstart.
Picos de Europa
Later we returned to Campollo where I went to explore the hill above the village, there were lots of Blackbirds, Song Thrushes, Jays, Dunnocks, Long-tailed Tits, Linnets, Goldfinches, Chaffinches, Yellowhammers, Skylarks,Blackcaps and Stonechats, also 2 Buzzards, 3 male Red-backed Shrikes, a Short-toed Eagle, 2 Iberian Woodpeckers, 3 Great Spotted Woodpeckers, a Tree Pipit, a Short-toed Treecreeper, several families of Nuthatches and several Iberian Chiffchaffs, now a separate species and a new bird for me.
We started back at Campollo, where Tony was preparing to film a Red-backed Shrike's nest, also in the area were a pair of Black Redstarts and Serins. As there was no sound to record at this time, Dan showed me the other site where they had been filming.
We took the road west of Potes towards the mountain of Fuente De, in the village of Espinama we turned onto a track which went up into the mountains leading to high pastures, which contained lots of sheep and cattle with bells. On the way up we passed a House Martins colony in the cliffs and in the high grassland the dominant sound was of Water Pipits, lots of them all doing their flight display songs, plus the sound of rushing water from the many streams.
We also saw 5 Griffon Vultures, 6 Black Redstarts, 3 Red-backed Shrikes, 4 Rock Buntings, 6 Ravens, a male Rock Thrush, a Buzzard, a Wren, 2 Grey Wagtails, lots of Wheatears and Linnets, 2 Kestrels, an Egyptian Vulture, around 16 Alpine Chough and 3 Chamois, a new mammal for me.
Flight display songs from several Water Pipits, then song from a perched bird, song from Wheatear, song and calls from Linnets, distant Chough, cattle calling and bells ringing in background, flies and distant stream.
Wheatear song, song and calls from Linnets, flight songs from Water Pipits, cow-bells and stream in background.
We all returned to the mountain pastures near Fuente De, while the others were setting up to film a Wheatears nest, I went further up to sound record, I saw two flocks of Chough of around 80 birds with a few calling on nearby rocks, lots of Water Pipits and Linnets, c15 Griffon Vultures, Black Redstarts, Rock Buntings, a Short-toed Eagle, 2 Grey Wagtails, Yellowhammers, an Egyptian Vulture, a pair of Rock Thrushes, White Wagtails, Serins, Wrens, 6 Ravens and House Martins.
Later, I joined the others and set up the tiny microphones by the Wheatears nest to record the chicks being fed.
Chough calls from a perched bird, Water Pipits singing, song and calls from Linnets, distant Raven, stream and cow-bells.
Wheatear chicks being fed, 3 times, adults arriving and leaving, stream in background, distant cow-bells, Chough and other birds.
Back in the high pastures near Fuente De, stopping to record in the meadows and woodland on the way up where the best bird was a Marsh Tit. I also saw 16 Griffon Vultures, about 50 Swifts rapidly moving from the peaks to the valley, 4 Black Redstarts, Yellowhammers, White Wagtails, House Martins, Linnets, Serins, Blackcaps, Chaffinches, 2 Grey Wagtails and several Stonechats. Later in the morning the cloud moved in and it began to rain, on the drive down to the main road I saw a Booted Eagle.
A very misty morning in Potes, I decided to drive north alongside the Deva River, stopping in places of interest, seeing several Grey Wagtails, a pair of Dippers that were still nest building, a Red-backed Shrike, lots of Blackcaps, Swifts, Jays, a Buzzard, 5 Griffon Vultures and a Peregrine. In the gorge just north of the village of La Hermida there were 20+ House Martins with several Crag Martins, a pair of Dippers with 4 juveniles, 2 Grey Wagtails, 5 Griffon Vultures and 2 Egyptian Vultures.
The weather had improved so after lunch back in Potes, I went to the high pastures near Fuente De again, as I got near the top I drove into fairly thick fog, but at least it wasn't raining, on the way up and at the top I saw Black Redstarts, Serins, Goldfinches, a Tree Pipit, Yellowhammers, a Buzzard, a Golden Eagle, a Ring Ouzel, a Black Kite, Rock Buntings, Water Pipits, Wheatears, Chough and 2 Great Spotted Woodpeckers.
Water Pipit, song from a perched bird, other Water Pipits, Linnets, Chough, stream and cow-bells in background.
Wheatear song and calls, Water Pipits in background, distant stream and Chough.
The day seemed brighter, we returned to the high pastures, up through the lower meadows, past the House Martin colony and onto the high grassland, this track eventually ended at the top of the cable car at Fuente De, the last mile or so was not an easy drive, over scree and then a narrow rocky track with a big drop on one side. During the day I saw Yellowhammers, one pair with juveniles, 2 Tree Pipits, lots of Black Redstarts, several Grey Wagtails, 3 Egyptian Vultures, 5 Griffon Vultures, a male Rock Thrush, several Rock Buntings, Serins, lots of Linnets, Wheatears and Water Pipits, 3 Ravens, about 100 Chough, 12 Alpine Chough, a Crag Martin, and lower down in the oak woods on the slopes a Wood Warbler also hearing another, in the meadows a Quail was calling.
Water Pipits, flight display songs from several, Wheatear song, Chough, cattle and cow-bells and stream in background.
The previous night had been wet and windy, the weather forecast was not good for at least a week, so Dan decided that we should leave and come back in a few weeks when hopefully the weather would be better, it turned out to be a good decision. Dan and I drove to Bilbao for a flight to Heathrow, while Tony and the others took the Land Rover on the ferry back to Plymouth.
Fuente De from near the start of the cable car, track and high pastures beyond the top these mountains.
Our second attempt to film and sound record in the Picos de Europa mountains. I was on board the Plymouth to Santander Ferry with cameraman Tony Allen which departed at 8.30 am. During the voyage south, I did several sessions of sea watching seeing Shags, gulls, 2 Common Scoters, 128 Gannets, 6 Fulmars, a Kittiwake, a Yellow-legged Gull and 2 Great Skuas.
We arrived in Santander early in the morning where we met producer Dan Freeman. Tony left in the Land Rover for Potes, while Dan and I went to pick up a vehicle for me. We then drove west to do a recce of the Sierra de Covadonga, on the northwest edge of the Picos de Europa.
Here, in the mountains above the town of Covadonga we found the dead animal dumping ground (they are not allowed to rot in the National Park and have to be transported here), which attracts lots of vultures. Even from the gates we could see 4 Griffon Vultures, 2 Egyptian Vultures and a Raven, also in the area were 2 Chough, 2 Buzzards, Blackcaps and Stonechats.
Later, we drove east to our hotel in Potes.
While the others were setting up for filming, I had a drive around to several areas, recording where I could. From Potes I travelled to Posada, then to Beyos and on to Riano, then back to Potes, most notably seeing Red-backed Shrikes, a Ring Ouzel, a Black Woodpecker, Serins, Iberian Chiffchaffs, a Middle Spotted Woodpecker, Crag Martins, 7 Griffon Vultures, a Bonelli's Eagle, 2 Golden Eagles, Crested and Marsh Tits, Nuthatches, Wheatears, an Egyptian Vulture, 3 Black Kites, 2 Ravens and a Short-toed Eagle.
Picos de Europa.
Today we spent all day at Bejes, reached by driving north from Potes to La Hermida, then west to the hamlet in an area of high hay meadows. Here, we were filming and recording the traditional and semi-traditional way of hay gathering, and also for me to record some atmospheres.
I saw 12+ Griffon Vultures, 70+ Chough, Goldfinches, Yellowhammers, Blackcaps, Red-backed Shrikes, Ravens, Great Spotted Woodpeckers, Iberian Green Woodpeckers which have a very different call, 8 Black Redstarts, Rock Buntings, 6+ Crag Martins, 2 Whinchats, a Peregrine, a Short-toed Eagle and a Golden Eagle.
Hay meadows at Bejes.
We returned to Bejes where there were lots of Robins and Wrens, Black Redstarts, Blackcaps, Firecrests, Blackbirds, Iberian Chiffchaffs, 8 Crag Martins, 2 Whinchats, a Stonechat, a pair of Peregrines, c40 Chough, Serins, 2 Dippers, 3 Grey Wagtails, White Wagtails, lots of Jays, a Red-backed Shrike, a Buzzard, Yellowhammers, Goldfinches and Swifts.
Above Serin calls & song with Crag and House Martins in background. Hay meadows at Bejes.
Later, we left Bejes and drove to Campollo, south of Potes, where Tony had been filming a Red-backed Shrikes nest. We found the pair of Red-backed Shrikes near the nest with fledged young, in this area I also saw Stonechats, a Wood Warbler, a Buzzard, 5 Ravens, 2 Yellowhammers, Iberian Chiffchaffs, a Garden Warbler, 3 Iberian Woodpeckers, 2 Great Spotted Woodpeckers, lots of Blackcaps, Jays and c20 Choughs.
We started the day back at Bejes, where I had to record one of the farmers hay cutting with a scythe and another using a primitive mower. Later, in other areas I saw a Dipper, 2 Whinchats, a Peregrine, a Rock Bunting, Iberian Woodpeckers, a Short-toed Eagle, 8 Ravens, 2 Chough, 3 Egyptian Vultures and 2 Griffon Vultures.
Hay cutting at Bejes.
After lunch, back in Potes, I drove south to La Vega then took the very windy mountain road to Pena de Dobres which passes through two tunnels, on one side of the road is a deep gorge, the other looking up to the peak. Here, I saw lots of House and Crag Martins, Black Redstarts, Swifts, Blackcaps, 3 Buzzards, an Iberian Woodpecker, Serins, a pair of Rock Thrushes, 10 Alpine Swifts, 42 Alpine Choughs, a Short-toed Eagle, a Green Lizard, heard 2 Wood Warblers and in one of the tunnels a Crag Martins nest with large chicks.
I returned to Pena de Dobres, where I found more Crag Martins nesting in the tunnels, most of them with well grown chicks. I also saw 4 Griffon Vultures, lots of Black Redstarts and Serins, 2 Blue Rock Thrushes, 2 Tree Pipits, 2 Rock Buntings, 2 Egyptian Vultures, 6 Ravens, c80 Alpine Chough, 6 Buzzards, lots of Swifts at times and a few Alpine Swifts. Then in the afternoon thunder storms moved in, which lasted into the evening.
Crag Martin nest in tunnel, adult calls at start, chick calls and being fed.
Calls from birds on the ground.
There was low cloud all day, in the mountains misty rain, I returned to Pena de Dobres, recording more of the Crag Martins in the tunnels, also seeing 3 Griffon Vultures, an Egyptian Vulture, a Kestrel, an Alpine Chough and Black Redstarts.
There was low cloud all morning which cleared later, once again I went back to Pena de Dobres, where there were 3 Griffon Vultures, 4 Buzzards, Crag and House Martins, Serins, Black Redstarts, a Kestrel, 2 Egyptian Vultures, 20 Alpine Chough, 2 Alpine Swifts, Blackcaps, Goldfinches, Nuthatches, Blackbirds and Song Thrushes. Also I watched several Chough as they returned to their nest holes in the rock-face, they would land close-by, call, then go in the holes to feed their chicks.
It rained all day, so we stayed in Potes.
Today I drove south of Potes to the mountain pass of Puerto de San Glorio, a very different habitat of moorland and peaks, although windy I was able to record a few atmospheres containing Yellowhammers, Linnets, Serins, Swifts, House Martins, Wrens, Skylarks and 2 Quails, one I saw the other heard. I continued to Portilla de la Reina where in the gorge I saw a male Rock Thrush, a Whitethroat and several Willow Warblers.
With the weather still being unsettled to the south, we returned north to Bejes, still filming and recording farming practices around the valley, seeing a Booted Eagle, a Griffon Vulture, c20 Chough, c70 Alpine Chough, Swifts, Swallows, Goldfinches, White Wagtails and Yellowhammers.
We returned to Bejes, where today I saw 3 Short-toed Eagles, a Booted Eagle, a Buzzard, a Kestrel, 21 Griffon Vultures, an Iberian Woodpecker, a Redstart, Black Redstarts, a pair of Red-backed Shrikes with 4 juveniles, a flock of c100 Chough and Alpine Chough, Ravens, Yellowhammers and more of the commoner birds.
Today a new area, driving south over Puerto de San Glorio, then south and west to Barreda on the southern edge of the Picos de Europa, here Tony had been filming Red-backed Shrikes and we saw a pair with chicks still in the nest, also another couple of pairs with juveniles which had left their nests. We concentrated on the fields and meadows not going as far as the gorge, where Griffon Vultures nest. Other birds of note were Iberian Woodpecker, Serins, Yellowhammers, Greenfinches, a Hoopoe and 5 Ravens.
Meadows near Barreda with irises.
An early morning drive back to Barreda, only to find the Red-backed Shrike's nest had been predated, but there were several other family groups around which were being fed away from their nests.
Calls from adult and feeding juveniles.
On the way back to Potes I visited Pena de Dobres again seeing 4 Chough, c40 Alpine Chough, Black Redstarts with a pair feeding chicks in a nest, Crag and House Martins, adult Kestrels feeding a juvenile, 2 Egyptian Vultures and 4 Griffon Vultures.
Later, Dan, Tony and I drove west to Covadonga for an overnight stay.
A pre-dawn start to film and record vultures, we arrived at the gates to the animal dumping area in darkness, then walked through the site to a low, concrete building, a bit like a WW2 bunker, which only had narrow window openings. The smell from the decaying carcasses was already strong. It took some time to set-up, as we didn't know which carcass the vultures would go for, I had to cable 2 fixed microphones and position the tripod and reflector so as I could reach it to change direction, using two DAT recorders. Then we waited for the first vultures to arrive, as the day got hotter, so did we and the smell increased, the vultures arrived, but not always in the places I wanted, but they did move around. At its peak there were 14 Griffon Vultures, an Egyptian Vulture and 8 Ravens, through the headphones I could hear the vultures walking and feeding on the bloated, taut bodies of the dead cattle, squabbling as they did. By late morning the birds had departed and we packed up, it started to rain which lasted the rest of the afternoon and we returned to Potes.
Vultures on carcass. Ravens near carcasses.
We left Potes, Tony drove the Land Rover back to Santander to catch the ferry, while Dan and I drove on to Bilbao Airport. Dan flew back home and I flew to Milan Airport and after collecting a hire van drove north to Bormio in Stelvio National Park, to continue recording for the mountains programme.
Me recording in the Picos de Europa.