Tuesday, 5 August 2014

France and Spain July 2014

Trip Report
The Pyrenees of France and Spain
11 July – 27 July 2014

11/12 July 2014
Waterloo -Toronto – Frankfurt – London - Toulouse

John picked us up at 13:00 and we set off on an uneventful drive to the airport with no delays along the way.
We tried to check in at one of the automated stations, but even with the help of an Air Canada employee the machine rejected our attempt. So we lined up and proceeded to a check in counter and did it the old fashioned way. We keep hearing of additional delays caused by ever more rigorous security procedures, but we breezed through speedily and without any issues at all. We didn't even have to take our shoes off!
We boarded at 16:00 and finally took off at 16:58. Our vegetarian dinner featured tofu, vegetables and rice, a salad of quinoa and mixed vegetables, a brownie, a cookie and a small bottle of water. I had red wine, La Petite Forge Merlot-Syrah, Miriam white, La Petite Forge Grenache Sauvignon Blanc.
It was a smooth flight and just before landing we were given a cinnamon raisin bagel, which was stale, and neither of us ate it. Miriam had a coffee but I declined. We touched down in Frankfurt at 05:45 local time
Everything so far had been tranquil but a nightmare was about to begin.
The process of getting through immigration and customs was incredibly slow, with everyone's bag being opened and searched. The official who handled mine wanted to have a chat about my scope and told me that he had a similar one and that he liked to watch birds. This was all very well, except for the fact that we did not have any time to spare to make our connecting flight with Lufthansa. The other thing that puzzled us was that everyone had to go through passport control, even passengers in transit, and it was our luck to get stuck behind a couple of people who were subjected to prolonged and vigorous questioning, for whatever reason. Finally we made it to the wicket, had our passports stamped and made a mad dash to our gate, arriving only ten minutes before scheduled departure. We were then told that boarding had closed and we were too late to make the flight. As we shortly learned this line of communication was a little disingenuous to say the least. The flight had in fact been oversold and fifteen passengers had been bumped. It was not a happy group of people in that boarding lounge, especially when Lufthansa provided only one official to handle the process of getting all these people assigned to new flights. We were first in line and he took at least forty-five minutes with us, so heaven only knows how long it must have taken for everyone to get reassigned.
We were booked on a flight to London Heathrow scheduled for departure about five hours later and we were told that we would connect with a British Airways flight to take us on to Toulouse. However, even that was not simple. The official told us that he could issue our ticket for the Lufthansa flight from Frankfurt, but that he had to give us a voucher to present to the British Airways ticketing desk on arrival for them to issue our ticket for the flight to Toulouse. We asked him whether we had sufficient time to make the connection in London and he assured us that we had ample time and – “Don't worry!” He provided us with a voucher for €30 so that we could get something to eat and we settled in for the long wait.
We used our voucher to get some food. Miriam had a croissant, fruit salad and a coffee; I was a little more decadent and had nuremburger sausages with sauerkraut, and a cappucino. The food was actually quite good.
When it was time to head for our boarding gate we had to go through the whole infuriating passport control for a second time; Frankfurt is the only airport where I have had my passport stamped twice on the same day. Take off was delayed by a half hour and when we finally took to the skies at 12:30 we were already starting to have misgivings about our chances of making the connection in London. When we got into the airspace above Heathrow we were placed in a holding pattern for twenty minutes so we had now lost fifty minutes already. We landed at 14:00 and it was about a ten minute walk for us to get to Terminal 1. We inquired as to where we could locate the British Airways ticketing desk, and a pleasant young man told us to wait while he went to check on it for us. He returned to tell us that since our destination was Toulouse, we would have to take a shuttle bus to Terminal 5 and check with BA ticketing there. It took us about five minutes to get to the shuttle and another fifteen minutes to travel to Terminal 5. After disembarking from the shuttle it took us another five minutes to get upstairs to the departures level and find a British Airways ticketing desk. As soon as the agent looked at our projected departure flight she told us that it had already left! In fact, she told us that she was surprised that Lufthansa in Frankfurt had even attempted to get us on that flight; she said it would have been touch and go under optimal circumstances, and with even the slightest of hitches was pretty much doomed from the start. She said that she could book us on a flight to Toulouse leaving at 20:35, arriving in Toulouse at 23:00, but suggested that we decline that offer, go back to Lufthansa and insist that they book us into a hotel in London for the night and leave the next day. We didn't even consider this option; we wanted no more uncertainty, and if BA could book us on a flight we would take it, whatever the hour.
And so, we were faced with another six hour wait in an airport. Obviously we had now lost our entire first day in France and we called everyone to let them know of our dilemma. We also booked a room at a hotel near the airport since the car rental company told us that we could not pick up our car at midnight and that they would be open for business only at 09:00 on Sunday morning.
After a wait that seemed at least twice as long as it really was, we left the gate right on time and were airborne by 20:54. We had not eaten during our wait at Heathrow and were glad when they served us a Bombay chicken wrap which was really quite good. We both had a Spanish white wine – Heredad de Val de Los Frailes Verdejo – and touched down in Toulouse at 23:08, about sixteen hours later than we should have. All was not quite right, however. We waited until every piece of luggage had made its way to the carousel and our two suitcases were not there.
We then found an agent who advised us to follow her. On the way I described our bags to her and she said that she was pretty sure that they had arrived on an earlier flight. In fact, this was the case. In fact they came on the flight from Heathrow that we had been unable to connect with. And I thought that in this era of security verging on paranoia, baggage was not supposed to travel on a plane without its owner being on the same flight.
Happy to have our bags, we called the hotel to arrange for the shuttle to collect us and this happened very quickly. We were given a splendid room, a substantial upgrade from what we had booked, and Miriam immediately climbed into the tub to soak off some of the day's ills, to say nothing of getting a few of the kinks out of her back.
We climbed into a very comfortable bed and were asleep in no time at all. Never were we so relieved to come to the end of a day.

Accommodation: Radisson Blu Hotel Rating: 5 stars

13 July 2014
Toulouse – Loubens - Crampagna

We woke at 07:00. It was not a long night's sleep but we had both slept well and felt well refreshed. The water in the shower was hot, with great pressure, and it was exactly the right way to start the day. Our outlook had improved considerably.
Breakfast was taken in the hotel dining room and there was an appealing selection. We had juice, coffee, an assortment of cold meats and cheeses, and a peach compote, juice and wonderful coffee. And kudos to the hotel, the Radisson Blu, for serving everything on real dishes, with real flatware, glasses, cups etc., not a trace of a disposal item anywhere. If hotels in Europe can do this, why not in North America? Not only is it so much more environmentally responsible, it is infinitely more agreeable than cutting into a styrofoam plate with a plastic knife.
The shuttle from the hotel took us right to the car rental area and we quickly found the office of the rental agency. I had ordered an automatic and prepaid accordingly, since I have never in my life driven a stick shift, but the fellow behind the desk promptly announced they had no vehicles with automatic transmission! Our spirits started to sag again. Could nothing on this trip go right?
Finally, he told us that he could upgrade us but that we would have to pay extra. Needless to say, this did not sit well, for the problem was theirs, not mine. In any event he would not budge. Finally, he said that he could give me an upgrade that had just been returned and had not been cleaned and would only charge me an increase of €35. Reluctantly, I agreed to this, if only to get a vehicle and get out of there.
We called Simon, the owner of the gîte where we would be staying to let him know that we were finally on our way, and he advised that we should stop for groceries at a supermarket close to the highway, since most stores in France are closed on Sundays, with just a few locations opening until noon. It was an easy drive, although we got introduced to the appallingly high tolls on European highways, and shopped at a Super U supermarket.
We were greeted at our gîte by Simon Armstrong, the owner, who gave us our key and showed us all the amenities. Simon is a very pleasant fellow indeed and his properties are ideal tourist destinations set in a lovely pastoral area. The only disadvantage we encountered was the fact that they are hard up against the road and the traffic at times is almost non stop so there is a lot of background noise both when inside the unit with the windows open, or sitting outside on the patio. Since parking is across the road from the unit, it's a bit of a hazard dodging across during a break in the flow of vehicles, and it requires a good deal of vigilance backing into or out of the parking space.

Gîte inside

Gîte inside

Gîte outside

We ate lunch outside on our patio and were joined by birds! Eurasian Jay was quite common, much to our surprise, and we were very happy when a male Eurasian Blackcap popped up on the wall. A White Wagtail poked around the grass and a Common Redstart adult was feeding a fledgling. Common Blackbirds were never far from sight.

Eurasian Jay

Common Blackbird
Common Redstart

It was such a pleasant experience to simply relax and unwind after such a harrowing start to our European odyssey.

White Wagtail

We remembered crossing a bridge on the way in from the highway, in a small town called Crampagna, with several fishermen wearing hip waders casting their lines in rapidly flowing water. 

Bridge at Crampagna

I had commented to Miriam as we passed by that it looked like a good birding spot, and we decided to return there. It seemed to be an ideal Dipper stream, but we were unable to locate one – at least not on that day. White Wagtails were common and we counted at least seven. While wagtails of various species are not rare in suitable habitat, in regions where they occur, they always seem quite special to me since we have none at all in North America, other than in Alaska and Newfoundland. There was a very old church across the road from the bank of the river and we strolled through the cemetery; an interesting foray indeed. There were large trees alongside the pathways and we were very happy to spot a European Serin atop one of them.

Church Bells at Crampagna

We crossed over the bridge and meandered along a country road where we saw no less than three Hoopoes and four Eurasian Jays. Magpies were commonly seen too. As it would turn out, each time we walked this road we were able to locate more species and it came to be a favourite jaunt.
Returning “home” we poured ourselves a glass of Bordeaux and enjoyed it with pâté and crackers on the patio. Later when we added some chicken to the mix, this comprised our dinner. We met our neighbours who barbecued and kindly gave us a couple of very tasty kebobs.
When it was time to turn in for the night we slept well in a comfortable bed.

Accommodation: Gîte Petite Catinelle Ménezil Rating: 4.5 stars

All species 13 July: Mallard, Common Buzzard, Rock Dove, Eurasian Hoopoe, Eurasian Jay, Eurasian Magpie, Carrion Crow, Eurasian Blackcap, Common Blackbird, Common Redstart, House Sparrow, White Wagtail, European Goldfinch, European Serin.

14 July 2014
Our Gîte – Varilhes – Foix - Crampagna

We awoke around 06:00; Miriam had cereal for breakfast, I had watermelon. We both had coffee.
Simon had told us that today was France's national holiday and that most stores would be closed for the day, but that some locations would be open for a few hours in the morning in nearby Varilhes. We didn't really need anything, having stocked up at the supermarket the previous day, but we decided to go into town anyway, and left at 09:30. We saw little evidence of the national holiday, no bunting, no fireworks, no festivities – and it was raining, at times quite heavily. Nevertheless, after driving around for a while we found a parking spot and took a stroll through the town. The streets were narrow and there were many ancient buildings. The entire look is so totally different from North America, and we enjoyed our walk very much.



We returned to our gîte to have lunch, making a sandwich of mortadella and tomato, with fresh peaches for dessert, and a cup of tea.
The rain was by now easing off and we headed for Foix, famed for its castle whose origins date back almost a thousand years. As was the case in Varilhes we were hard pressed to know it was a national holiday, but the town was packed with people and we had a hard time finding a parking spot. Many of the streets of Foix are incredibly narrow, with barely enough room for a car. Thankfully, many of these streets are one way. We finally secured parking up by the castle and paid our entry fee. We didn't complete the entire tour since everything involved ascending many steep, narrow steps that were almost vertical in places. It was great to visit the castle nonetheless and we were glad not to have missed the opportunity.

Path up to the Castle

The Castle at Foix

We went back to the gîte and relaxed for a while and then set off for Crampagna. This time we found our Dipper! We birded both the immediate area of the river, and again set off along the road in search of other species. It was a productive walk which included two European Green Woodpeckers, and incredibly a Red-billed Chough. At first, it seemed that this species was far out of its habitat, but on further reflection it didn't seem so improbable. There was meadowland quite typical of the feeding habitat of Red-billed Chough, and the Pyrenees were close as a bird flies. In any event, it was an exciting, albeit unexpected, find.
Our dinner that evening consisted of a delicious chicken stir fry made from the provisions we had bought in the grocery store a day earlier, accompanied by a fine Sauvignon Blanc. We had watermelon for dessert.

All species 14 July: Black Kite, Common Buzzard, Common Sandpiper, Rock Dove, Eurasian Collared Dove, Common Swift, European Green Woodpecker, Eurasian Jay, Eurasian Magpie, Red-billed Chough, Carrion Crow, Coal Tit, Eurasian Blue Tit, Great Tit, Barn Swallow, Common House Martin, Common Blackbird, European Robin, Common Redstart, White-throated Dipper, House Sparrow, White Wagtail, European Goldfinch, European Serin.

15 July 2015
Our Gîte – Varilhes – Foix – Varilhes – Crampagna

We awoke early and had cereal for breakfast. Afterwards, we decided to go into Varilhes to explore a little. It was a great pleasure to meander through the old streets and we stopped for a leisurely coffee at a sidewalk café.
Then we headed off to Foix since we felt that with the weekend over and people back to work, both traffic flow and parking would be a little easier than on our previous visit, and this indeed turned out to be the case. We quickly found a parking spot in a metered area and walked up and down the main boulevard checking the various restaurants to see where we would have lunch. We chose a location close to the castle, with Common Swifts wheeling around overhead, and an artisans' market in full swing at the centre of the boulevard. The sun was shining and we were very happy to take lunch in so agreeable a location. We each had a salad, Miriam's an Italian pasta salad and mine a chèvre. Both were delicious and we opted for the house white wine which was a fine accompaniment to our meal.
By mid afternoon we left to return to our gîte via Varilhes, where we intended to visit a boulangerie we had spotted during our morning stroll, to buy a baguette. We totally forgot that most places close between 14:00 and 16:00, but it was only about a ten minute drive for us to get from the gîte to Varilhes, so we came back later and bought bread and a bottle of wine for dinner.
On the way back, we stopped at Crampagna and birded the route we were now claiming as our own. We had excellent view of the White-throated Dipper, and as always, many White Wagtails were present.
Back home for dinner, we had bread, pâté, tomatoes and chicken noodle soup – all very fine. I forgot to record the kind of wine we bought but it was very pleasant indeed.

All species 15 July: Black Kite, Common Buzzard, Common Sandpiper, Rock Dove, Eurasian Collared Dove, Common Swift, Eurasian Jay, Eurasian Magpie, Carrion Crow, Great Tit, Barn Swallow, Common House Martin, Common Blackbird, White-throated Dipper, House Sparrow, White Wagtail, European Serin.

16 July 2014
Our Gîte – Saint Marcet – Bassa d'Oles – Saint Marcet

This was a day we had looked forward to since long before our departure.
Many of you will be familiar with the fabulous blog of a woman known as Noushka. She and I had started to communicate before our trip, culminating in a wonderful offer to visit Noushka and her husband, Patrick, at their home, and to go with them on excursions into nature.
We got up early and hit the road in order to make our rendez-vous with Noushka at 08:30. Our drive took us through many pastoral areas, along winding lanes, but we made good time nevertheless, and arrived on schedule. How delighted we were to finally meet Noushka, and to be escorted to her wonderful home where we would be spending the night.
Having settled into our room, we left shortly afterwards to cross over into Spain to visit Bassa d'Oles, above Vielha, one of the favourite spots for Patrick and Noushka to search the alpine meadows of the Pyrenees for their beloved dragonflies. It is pristine and lovely, with alpine lakes and rugged mountainous terrain – and lots of dragonflies. We saw first hand the amount of work and dedication that goes into the pictures you see on Noushka's blog. Excellent work of that calibre is not won easily.
Bassa d'Oles

Bassa d'Oles

Birds were relatively sparse and it was tough to get good looks at them, but we enjoyed every moment of the time we spent there. For the first time ever, after many visits to Bassa d'Oles, Noushka and Patrick encountered a group of Spanish dragonfly experts, and were happy to make their acquaintance, share their knowledge and exchange email addresses. I did the same too and I will look forward to maintaining a relationship with these naturalists.
For lunch Noushka had made sandwiches for all of us, of Italian ham and cheese on a crusty baguette, and how good they tasted when enjoyed al fresco in that beautiful habitat. The cold water we carried with us washed them down well. When we returned to our car we enjoyed fresh fruit – peaches and apricots – to complete a fine repast indeed.
Around mid afternoon we returned home and relaxed for a while, following which Patrick and Noushka walked part of their property with us. We caught a fleeting glimpse of a deer and a Eurasian Coot on their pond was the first sighting of this species for our trip.

Eurasian Coot

Before dinner Patrick introduced us to the delights of Pastis, an anise-based drink to which a little water is added and it is sipped as an apéritif before dinner. It was really quite delicious and how pleasant it was to sit on the patio overlooking their gardens, enjoying the waning hours of sunlight. Earlier we had met Alex, the youngest son of Patrick and Noushka, a charming young man, and he took charge of the barbecue upon which he grilled tender beef to perfection. This was accompanied by potatoes, salad, bread, wine, all followed by a mouth watering selection of cheeses and figs from their own tree. It was all quite fabulous to say the least. Patrick and Noushka were disappointed with the figs, considering them not to be of high quality, but we had no basis of comparison, and Miriam and I thought they were exquisite.
I think you can imagine how well we slept that night!

All species 16 July: Black Kite, Common Buzzard, Eurasian Coot, Eurasian Collared Dove, Common Swift, European Green Woodpecker, Eurasian Magpie, Carrion Crow, Coal Tit, Barn Swallow, Common House Martin, Common Blackbird, House Sparrow.

17 July 2014
Noushka's House – Our Gîte – Noushka's House – Local Lake

Patrick and Noushka had great plans for us so we decided to return to our gîte, collect our belongings, and stay another night with them, following which we would all journey to the coast together, to visit Le Teich Ornithological Reserve near Bordeaux.
Our trip back the gîte went smoothly and we quickly gathered all our stuff, bade farewell to Simon, sorry in some respects that we had not been able to enjoy our stay with him more fully, but excited at the prospect of the time ahead to be spent with Patrick and Noushka. The return journey also went without a hitch and before noon we were back with our hosts. Along the way we saw our first Cattle Egrets and a flock of White Storks flew high overhead.

View from the back of Noushka's House

The Tools of the Trade for a Dragonfly Photographer

Noushka's House

Noushka had prepared a traditional French salad for us; the name unfortunately eludes me and I cannot find it by searching the internet, but it was an incredible treat. It featured authentic foie gras, a kind of thin ham, greens of course and was accompanied by bread and potatoes. We enjoyed a little wine, and had cheese and fruit. It was really all quite wonderful, and I cannot adequately express how much we appreciated the fact that Noushka had carefully ensured that we would enjoy the traditional cuisine of that part of France.
We rested for a while, or at least most of us did, the exception being the indefatigable Noushka who donned her rubber boots and went off in search of dragonfly photographs.
Around 16:00 we all left together to visit a local lake to do a little birding. It was a great spot and there was a family of Great Crested Grebes, along with many Cattle Egrets and Little Egrets and even a few Mallards! Barn Swallows hawked for insects over the water. Some of the fields we passed had been recently cut and Black Kites were all over the ground, in search of prey recently exposed and readily avaialble.
We then went to a farm structure well known to Patrick and Noushka, where a pair of Eurasian Hoopes had their second brood of the year. Pictures of this event are the subject of an earlier blog post. This visit remains perhaps the birding highlight of the entire trip. We certainly would never have located the nest without having someone show it to us, and it delighted us to watch the youngster peering out of the hole in the wall for as long as we cared to. It was a great experience.
When we returned home for dinner Patrick again served us Pastis which we sipped together and chatted about all things under the sun. The gastronomic delights we were experiencing continued with dinner. Carine had prepared a duck confit, served with potatoes and carrots, followed by a variety of cheeses and for dessert a sort of ice cream popsicle.
It is our sincere hope that one day Patrick and Noushka will visit us in Ontario and permit us to repay their hospitality. They provided us with nothing but the very best.

All species 17 July: Mallard, Great Crested Grebe, White Stork, Western Cattle Egret, Grey Heron, Little Egret, Black Kite, Common Buzzard, Eurasian Coot, Common Sandpiper, Eurasian Collared Dove, Common Swift, Eurasian Hoopoe, Eurasian Magpie, Carrion Crow, Barn Swallow, Eurasian Blackcap, Common Starling, Common Blackbird, Common Redstart, House Sparrow, European Goldfinch.

18 July 2014
Saint Marcet – Réserve Ornithologique du Teich - Biganos

Today we all needed to get an early start since we would be visiting Le Réserve du Teich together, a first experience even for Patrick and Noushka. We would be driving two vehicles since Patrick and Noushka would be returning home the following day while we would be moving on to start our vacation in Spain. We made good time on a first class highway but were shocked when the toll charge was €32 (about $50) and we would be paying the same amount on the return journey the next day, apart from other sundry tolls on stretches of highway in both countries, and tolls levied at tunnels.
We arrived at the reserve, on the coast near Bordeaux at 10:00, and were delighted to find a network of wooded areas, reed beds, saltmarsh and water. The bird life was prolific from the very start. I immediately thought that I would love to be able to spend two or three days there to do it justice, and my mind began to conjecture the sheer numbers and variety of species of waterfowl that would be present in the fall.
How fortunate we were that Noushka had researched it all so thoroughly and found this gem.
Almost as soon as we embarked on the trails we saw White Storks nesting on platforms constructed for that very purpose, much in the same way structures are erected for Ospreys in North America (and in other parts of the world too). A flock of Greylag Geese caught my eye and a couple of Spotted Redshanks still partly in breeding plumage were on a patch of mud not far away.

White Stork

Juvenile Black-crowned Night heron

Greylag Geese

Spotted Redshank

Patrick and Noushka were anxious to get to the far end of the trails to certain hides where photographic opportunities were known to be excellent, but as birders, Miriam and I were dawdling along looking at everything we saw. And there was lots to be seen!
Patrick and Noushka surged ahead and we said that we would catch up to them later. Sometimes the concentration of shorebirds was nothing short of spectacular, with large aggregations of Eurasian Curlew, with many other species interspersed within the flocks, including handsome Black-tailed and Bar-tailed Godwits, and Northern Lapwings.

Eurasian Curlews

A pair of Common Shelduck had young and we spotted one Ruddy Shelduck. Whether the latter was a genuine vagrant or an escape from a waterfowl collection is hard to determine, but the bird kept its distance and made no attempt to approach humans as a previously captive bird, habituated to people, might have done.

Common Shelduck

Black-winged Stilt

When we finally met Patrick and Noushka again, they mentioned that a Bluethroat had been flitting around in the marshes right outside their hide and after a while it returned, furnishing great looks, and we were very happy indeed that it had returned.

Black-headed Gull


Noushka had kindly purchased sandwiches for all of us, and together with cookies and water she had brought for everyone in insulated containers so that it stayed cold we enjoyed a fine lunch. I tell you, when you travel with this couple everything is taken care of!
We slowly meandered back towards the entrance, stopping many times along the way to observe and to photograph birds, including some very handsome Great Crested Grebes at close range.

Great Crested Grebe

We left the reserve at around 17:00 and drove into Biganos to find our hotel for the night. It was called Hôtel du Delta and served our purposes very well. We took a little time to freshen up and left for a seafood restaurant in Le Teich where we enjoyed a delicious dinner. Miriam and I shared a salad similar to the one Noushka had prepared for us, salmon carpaccio and a dozen shrimps apiece. More than enough! Patrick chose a bottle of white wine which proved to be a perfect accompaniment to our meal, and we chatted and ate and laughed and had a fine time together!
With dinner over we returned to our hotel, showered, climbed into bed at 23:00 and slept the sleep of innocents!

Accommodation: Hôtel du Delta, Biganos Rating: Four stars

All species 18 July: Greylag Goose, Mute Swan, Common Shelduck, Ruddy Shelduck, Mallard, Northern Shoveler, Eurasian Teal, Great Crested Grebe, White Stork, Eurasian Spoonbill, Black-crowned Night Heron, Western Cattle Egret, Grey Heron, Great Egret, Little Egret, Great Cormorant, Black Kite, Common Buzzard, Water Rail, Common Moorhen, Eurasian Coot, Black-winged Stilt, Northern Lapwing, Common Ringed Plover, Black-tailed Godwit, Bar-tailed Godwit, Eurasian Curlew, Spotted Redshank, Common Redshank, Green Sandpiper, Common Sandpiper, Dunlin, Ruff, Black-headed Gull, Mediterranean Gull, Yellow-legged Gull, Common Tern, Whiskered Tern, Rock Dove, Eurasian Collared Dove, Common Swift, Eurasian Magpie, Carrion Crow, Barn Swallow, Common House Martin, Common Starling, Common Blackbird, Bluethroat, House Sparrow, Western Yellow Wagtail, White Wagtail, Common Chaffinch.

19 July 2014
Biganos – Bagà

Breakfast in the hotel restaurant was served at 08:00 and not a minute before! The table was loaded with croissants and bread and there was a good range of items at the buffet. As had been the case at our first hotel, everything was served on real dishes with nary an item of styrofoam or plastic in sight. Wake up North America!
We enjoyed our final petit déjeuner with Patrick and Noushka and bid them farewell so that we could get on the road towards Spain. We were sad to leave them, having spent such a fine time together, but I am sure that it will not be the last time we will enjoy each other's company.
We made good progress on the highways until we got close to Toulouse, where many lanes of traffic filtered into a few toll booths, and we slowed down appreciably. Once again the toll charges were staggering- €25 today and counting! Once through the toll barrier we resumed highway speed and were soon at the supermarket near Varilhes where we had shopped on our first day. Since we were familiar with it, we decided to buy groceries there, to take care of our first few days in Spain. It was not nearly as busy as it had been that first Sunday morning and it didn't take long to get what we needed.
As we got high into the Pyrenees on the Spanish side of the border our GPS signal was intermittent and at times we were a little confused as to our direction, especially since the main tunnel through the mountains was closed until September and the detour signs were far from clear. In any event we made it to Bagà only to find it in the middle of a medieval festival and many streets were closed. Furthermore the GPS was acting up again, so we had some difficulty finding our street. However with help from a local couple we found it, and were in fact just two streets over from it when we asked.

View in the Pyrenees

I had not realized just how much Catalan is the default language in this part of Spain. We never heard anything else spoken on the street and all of the signage, billboards, shop banners etc are in Catalan. Once I spoke Spanish to people I had no trouble having them reply in Spanish, but Catalan is pervasive, and everywhere we went we saw the flag of Catalonia (Cataluynia) displayed and messages exhorting Indepencia.

The apartment we had rented was on a narrow, dead end street, and when we called Xavier, the owner, he was there within minutes with his girlfriend, and they helped us with our luggage. It was a great place to stay – two levels, three bedrooms, two bathrooms. The kitchen was tiny but we didn't plan on cooking any gourmet meals so it didn't matter!

Our Apartment

Our apartment

We were happy just to relax for the day so we made tea and got accustomed to the apartment.
At 18:00 we opened a bottle of Bordeaux and had a glass of wine with crackers and pâté, and brie cheese. For dinner a little later we had bread, tabouli salad, shredded carrot salad and potato salad, all purchased at the Super U supermarket on the way down. Everything tasted very good.
We were in bed early and soon asleep.

All species 19 July: Eurasian magpie, Carrion Crow, Barn Swallow, Common House Martin, Common Blackbird, House Sparrow

20 July 2014

We were awake a little after 06:00 after a good night's sleep. We had cereal and coffee for breakfast and Miriam washed out socks and underwear.
The weather was beautiful and we threw open our windows to let some air into the apartment. The people in the apartment opposite had a really yappy little dog which barked at everything and everyone that moved on the street below.
We then spent a very pleasant hour and a quarter walking around the village and a short way along a trail that meandered off into the countryside. Many people were dressed in medieval costume, obviously part of the festival. Merchants were set up in the square, selling a variety of goods, but other than for cafés and restaurants, and bakeries selling breads and pastries, little else was open. We noted that the pastry shops carried a huge selection of mouth-watering items and a whole range of bread.



We returned to our apartment at about 10:30 and made tea. Miriam decided that one of those pastries from heaven would go perfectly with our tea, so I went out to purchase a couple. And you know, she was right. They were scrumptious!
At noon we made sandwiches of tomato and Brie on a baguette and then had tea on our tiny balcony in the shade, for the sun was by now beating down.
A while later we went for another walk, this time taking binoculars. We walked along the path where we had walked earlier, sat on a bench for a while and watched a couple of Yellow Wagtails feeding in a field. We walked by the hotel where we would meet the bird guide we had hired for two days the following morning. There was a picnic area close by with a really fast flowing rocky stream. It looked like ideal Dipper habitat, but the picnic area was busy and children were fishing in the stream, so no Dipper was found that day. We left there and sat on a bench on the boulevard for a while, content just to watch the world go by.



We returned to our apartment and collected our Ipad and walked back down the street to a restaurant with tables on the street. We had noticed they had WIFI, so we enjoyed a glass of red wine, and checked emails and Miriam her Facebook page. It was very pleasant just sitting there, deep in the heart of that lovely old village.
A little after 16:00 we returned to the apartment to relax and I had a little snooze on the sofa, while Miriam lay on the bed reading. Soon after 17:00 we had some pâté and Brie with a baguette and opened a bottle of cold white wine (Sauvignon Blanc). The weather had changed and there were ominous booms of thunder in the background. Soon it started to rain very heavily and we were thankful not to have been caught out in it.
For dinner we had the salads left over from last night as well as half a barbecued chicken bought in France the previous day.
The storm passed quickly, and we read and played Scrabble. Just before 21:00 we made a cup of Lemon Ginger tea and went to bed.

All species 20 July: Rock Dove, Eurasian Collared Dove, Common Swift, Barn Swallow, Common House Martin, House Sparrow, Western Yellow Wagtail, White Wagtail, Cirl Bunting.

21 July 2014
Moixero Cadi National Park

We had booked two days with Stephen Christopher the owner/operator of Catalan Bird Tours and had arranged to meet him at 08:00 near the Cal Batista hotel close to the main highway to Barcelona. We had breakfast of cereal and coffee and Miriam also had a small container of yoghurt.
We had to put together our own lunch and take water with us since Stephen had advised, rather curiously I thought, that “I normally offer a picnic lunch to my clients but in this case it will not be possible so you will need to bring your own food and water.” Why this should have been the case, I have no idea, since he brought food and water for himself, but we filled our water bottles and packed a couple of power bars, cherry tomatoes, a hunk of baguette, some almonds, a banana each and an apple each.
He was about twelve minutes late arriving, but that was no big deal and we were soon on our way into the high reaches of the national park. There was a strong wind blowing most of the time and this inhibited our birding somewhat and certainly impeded the ability to hear bird sound,
but we nevertheless had a decent day's birding. The highlight was probably a couple of Bearded Vultures (Lammergeiers) but there were other delights also. My personal favourite was flocks of both Red-billed and Alpine Choughs wheeling around in the wind, seeming to risk impact with the cliffs at times, and then landing en masse to feed in alpine meadows. I had seen Red-billed Choughs with Miriam at Anglesey in Wales, and also in Ethiopia, but Alpine Chough was a lifer for both of us. Their yellow bill is very distinctive. Several Griffon Vultures soared across the sky and a lone Golden Eagle thrilled us all. Early on we had stopped at an area of woodland with a little water and our first bird there was a Marsh Tit. What a great find!
Red-backed Shrike

Juvenile European Robin
When we were at high elevations Alpine Swifts soared effortlessly and it was easy to appreciate just how large a swift this is, and it was easy to see the white throat and belly patch. It was not a lifer, but neither Miriam nor I had ever seen them quite so well.
Several Common Kestrels showed us their mastery of flight and provided a classic study of hovering, or more precisely “static gliding into the wind.”

High Elevation Scenery

Shepherd's Cabin

We were back in town by 15:00 and stopped at an old bridge which Stephen advised was an excellent place to see White-throated Dipper early in the morning. He also mentioned that the nearby row of evergreens was a good place for Firecrest, a bird high on my wish list, but a species I was not to see unfortunately.
We walked to our apartment from the bridge and changed our clothes and washed up. After that we went to the same bar as yesterday to have a glass of wine and use WIFI. The street was pretty much deserted since everything was closed until after 17:00, but we enjoyed the ambiance of the old town, and spent some time sipping and chatting.
Back to our apartment to rest up for a while before dinner. We had a bit of Brie and crackers, then made a stir fry of onions, mushrooms, red pepper and zucchini, to which we added the rest of the barbecued chicken. We made a sauce for the stir fry, of fish sauce with herbes de Provence. A little unconventional to be sure, but it added great flavour. We shared a can of Coke which Xavier had left behind, and later had some cold watermelon slices.
We hadn't realized how tiring the day had been, but we had walked quite a bit at high elevations in windy conditions, and suddenly we both felt quite sleepy. We turned in early and it was not long before we were sound asleep.

All species 21 July: Bearded Vulture, Griffon Vulture, Golden Eagle, Alpine Swift, Common Swift, Great Spotted Woodpecker (heard by Stephen), Common Kestrel, red-backed Shrike, Eurasian Jay, Eurasian Magpie, Red-billed Chough, Alpine Chough, Carrion Crow, Coal Tit, Marsh Tit, Eurasian Blue Tit, Barn Swallow, Eurasian Crag Martin, Common House Martin, Western Bonelli's Warbler, Eurasian Blackcap, Eurasian Wren (heard), Ring Ouzel (heard by Stephen), Common Blackbird, Song Thrush, Mistle Thrush, European Robin, Black Redstart, Common Rock Thrush, European Stonechat, Northern Wheatear, Dunnock, White Wagtail, Common Chaffinch, European Greenfinch, Common Linnet, Red Crossbill, European Goldfinch, European Serin, Rock Bunting, Cirl Bunting.

22 July 2014
Moixero Cadi National Park

Miriam was awake in time to hear the church bell strike the hour at 05:00 so she got up, showered and had breakfast. I was up shortly afterwards and followed suit.
We met Stephen at the bridge in the village at 07:00 and in no time at all had the Dipper in view. A Song Thrush was in full voice from the top of an evergreen, in plain view, filling the air with its melody.
The morning air was decidedly cool as we headed up into the national park to continue birding. This was a day when we would do substantially more walking than we had the previous day, often up some rather steep inclines, with the wind always a factor. One of our target birds, and high on my list, was Black Woodpecker but we failed to locate it.


Scenic View

At one location we observed numerous Water Pipits in a rock strewn pasture, and a male Linnet posed for us nicely. A couple of Northern Ravens seemed to accentuate the nature of the remote mountainous terrain in which we found ourselves. A Peregrine Falcon was seen zooming in on a chough, but we did not see the outcome of the chase.

Water Pipit

Lunch comprised the same ingredients as yesterday save for the bread.
We were back in town before 15:00 and did a brief walk around the area adjacent to the bridge. We then bade farewell to Stephen and walked back to our apartment. By now the sun was burning down quite fiercely and we were glad to be inside. We both needed a rest so I had a short nap and Miriam reclined and read. A few crackers with pâté seemed pretty agreeable to both of us.
We had decided to treat ourselves to dinner our tonight since we had depleted the groceries we had brought with us. We knew that the Spanish eat late, but we left the apartment at 18:45 thinking that restaurants would start to open at 19:00. How wrong we were! There was not a sign of life anywhere, so we sat in the town square for a while taking advantage of the WIFI
there, then headed off to a restaurant we had seen on an earlier walk through town. It was closed as were all the other restaurants we saw. We even walked to the far end of town to the hotel where Stephen had stayed, because he had said that dinner there was served at 20:00. It was locked up tight. So on the way back we stopped at a grocery store and picked up a baguette, a tetra pack of soup, ham and cheese and had dinner at home. We opened the last bottle of Bordeaux we had brought from France!
After dinner, we crawled into bed and slept like babies.

All species 22 July: Bearded Vulture, Griffon Vulture, Common Wood Pigeon, Eurasian Collared Dove, Alpine Swift, Common Swift, Eurasian Hoopoe, Iberian Green Woodpecker, Common Kestrel, Peregrine Falcon, Red-bakced Shrike, Eurasian jay, Red-billed Chough, Carrion Crow, Northern Raven, Coal Tit, European Crested Tit, Marsh Tit, Eurasian Blue Tit, Great Tit, Woodlark, Eurasian Crag Martin, Common House Martin, Western Bonelli's Warbler, Eurasian Blackcap, Subalpine Warbler, Common Blackbird, Song Thrush, Mistle Thrush, European Robin, Black Redstart, Northen Wheatear, White-throated Dipper, House Sparrow, Dunnock, Grey Wagtail, White Wagtail, Water Pipit, Common Chaffinch, Common Linnet, Red Crossbill, European Goldfinch, Citril Finch, Rock Bunting, Cirl Bunting.

23 July 2014
Bagà – Montserrat – Bagà

I got up before Miriam and by 07:00 I was down at the old bridge in the village and the White-breasted Dipper was there right on cue. The Song Thrush was singing from its perch and I added two Spotted Flycatchers for the trip. Common House Martins and Crag Martins filled the sky and hundreds of them were clinging to the walls of the church clock tower. I searched along a mossy stone wall where Stephen had said Wrynecks sometimes foraged, but there was nothing; similarly the coniferous trees failed to deliver a Firecrest.
After about forty-five minutes I returned to the apartment and had breakfast, showered and got ready for our planned visit to the monastery at Montserrat. We had been informed that it was an interesting place to visit, and that a choir performed each day at 13:00. I had visions of monks singing Gregorian chants, or music of that ilk, and I was looking forward to it.
We knew that the monastery was just north of Barcelona so we headed down the highway in that direction and even though the GPS was acting up a little we arrived there without difficulty. Free indoor parking was available and we purchased tickets to ride up to the monastery on a funicular train. We arrived at the monastery at 11:15 and were amazed that it was like a small city up there. In addition to the monastery there were restaurants, a museum, hotel, apartments, gift shops and even a farmer's market. And there were trails to walk for the fit and adventurous. Entry into the monastery was free, but other than that everything seemed designed to separate a tourist from his money! There were even other funiculars to carry you higher to promontories and other places of interest, but we were quite happy to wander around the monastery and surrounding area.

We inquired as to where the choir sang and were informed that the choir was on vacation. Bummer! I may have come regardless, but that was certainly the main lure for me. We went to the basilica but found that the church was closed because a mass was taking place. It is, of course, principally a place for religious observance. There were long lines waiting for for the mass to end, thereby permitting entry into the main part of the church, so we decided to go and have lunch. Most of the restaurants were cafeteria style with a fairly limited menu, but we finally found one that had a decent selection of food. We shared a small appetizer plate of vegetables containing eggplant, zucchini, bell pepper and half a potato with melted cheese; very tasty. Miriam had chicken with roasted potatoes and I had a sausage with roasted potatoes. We each had a small bottle of cold, delicious white wine.
After lunch we opted to try again for the basilica, but if anything the lines were even longer. We decided to sit on a bench for a bit, and then we walked and mused about the financial take from the sale of candles alone, to say nothing of gift shops with schlock of every kind. When we walked through the shop the sound of the choir permeated the area and it was in fact a boys' choir, quite reminiscent of the Vienna Boys Choir I thought. As you might imagine CDs were available for sale but at prices that seemed to include a surcharge for entry into heaven. Our life will continue without the sound of the choir of Monsterrat.

It was hot and I bought a bottle of ice cold water and Miriam had an ice cream.
When we decided to go back down to the parking area our timing was perfect. The next train departed just a few minutes later.
By now it was no surprise, but we couldn't get a GPS signal and wound up somewhere we shouldn't have been, but we then reacquired the signal and were unerringly directed to the highway and drove home without further incident. Bagà is a small town (village?) but it features a confusing array of one way streets and streets that are blocked off at certain times of the day. We wandered around, mere streets away from our apartment, but couldn't seem to aim the car in the right direction to get there. We decided to park on the main boulevard and walk up to the town square to use WIFI. Miriam suggested, jokingly at first, that we just leave the car there overnight. Parking on the street seemed to be permitted everywhere unless it was specifically indicated that parking was not allowed and that is what we decided to do. I went back to the car and got the stuff we needed from the trunk, made sure the GPS was out of sight, and that is where the car stayed.
We shared a glass of Cola in the town square, checked emails and Miriam bought a fat quarter of fabric from the only store in town selling such items.
Back in our apartment, we opened a bottle of Spanish red wine we had purchased somewhere (very agreeable it was too) and dinner consisted of what was left over from last night – ham, cheese, baguette and part of a tomato from some previous meal. We also had a little of the pâté that we were rationing to last the week.
All in all, it been a good day!

All species 23 July: Rock Dove, Eurasian Collared Dove, Common Swift, Carrion Crow, Eurasian Blue Tit, Barn Swallow, Eurasian Crag Martin, Common House Martin, Common Blackbird, Song Thrush, Spotted Flycatcher, Black Redstart, White-throated Dipper, House Sparrow, White Wagtail, European Goldfinch.

24 July 2014
Bagà – Andorra – Bagà

We were both up fairly early and Miriam joined me to walk down to the bridge to do a little early morning birding. The Dipper was in its usual spot and there was the normal complement of species with nothing unusual. We again searched for Firecrest (the only species in the family Regulidae that I have not seen) but without success.

White-throated Dipper

Old Bridge

We went to the town square and bought two cafés con léche and since the tables were not yet set up we sat on a bench to enjoy them. I went to the pastry shop and bought a couple of decadent, mouth-watering offerings and we had them with our coffee.
Then, we returned to our apartment and got ready to go to Andorra. On the way to retrieve the car we stopped at the square to check Google Maps to try to mitigate the sporadic service from the GPS. Our car was exactly where we had left it and we headed off to the highway. We had to travel through the Tunel del Cadi at a cost of €12 and, of course, we would be paying the same amount on the way back. That's almost forty bucks in tolls just to go through the tunnel. I estimate that in total, in France and in Spain, we payed something like $300 in tolls.
The GPS functioned flawlessly all the way to Andorra but it got confused when we neared the capital of Andorra La Vella. However we followed signs to the historic centre and found our way without difficulty, even finding street parking fairly quickly. We visited the tourist office and they told us that we were right on the perimeter of the historic quarter, but other than for a couple of old buildings there seemed to be nothing historic about it. Andorra La Vella is in fact a giant shopping centre with stores selling everything from electronics to clothing to jewelry to furniture and so on. It is completely without appeal. It is sterile, commercial and could be anywhere in the world.

Andorra La Vella

We had a coffee in a modern restaurant and walked around for a while trying to find a decent restaurant with outdoor tables to have lunch. Even that was not easy. The Golden Arches beckoned but we shuddered and passed them by. Finally we located a place that seemed to have a certain degree of old world charm. Tables were set up on both sides of the street, adjacent to the establishment and across the road on a kind of island which traffic went around. We chose the restaurant side and sat and sat and sat, but no one indicated the slightest interest in serving us. So we moved across to the other tables where service seemed not to be an issue and were seated immediately and were served bread and two glasses of white wine. Paella seemed to be a bit of a speciality at this location and it was offered in myriad forms. Miriam chose a peeled seafood paella and I ordered the vegetarian paella. They were both excellent and we felt that at least we had chosen well for lunch.

Andorra La Vella

After eating we went back to get our car, and left Andorra La Vella without the merest tinge of regret. If I never go there again it will be too soon! The GPS worked perfectly from the moment we turned it on and took us back to Bagà without a hitch. We even managed to drive right to our street and parked there.
I took a little nap ( I could get used to this practice of siesta!) and Miriam lay on the bed for while reading and then moved to our tiny balcony to enjoy the late afternoon sunshine. I joined her there and soon our neighbour from the apartment across the narrow street struck up a conversation with us. We chatted for about ten minutes and it was great to use my Spanish for a continuous flow of conversation. Finally she said that she had to go and buy fish for dinner and blew kisses to us as she left. I felt that we had been accepted into the neighbourhood!
We went to the village square and each had a glass of cold white wine. We had little food left at the apartment so we went to buy provisions for dinner, having already bought a baguette at our favourite pastry shop. Good choice was not my strong suit on this occasion. We are still not sure what kind of meat Bisbe blanco del Bergueda is but we would certainly not buy it again. The chorizo sausage wasn't much better, unless you were into fat and gristle, in which case you would have been very happy!
At least we had a great lunch!
We spent the remainder of the evening reading, chatting, playing Scrabble and we ate the remainder of a watermelon that we had in the fridge. A cup of lemon ginger tea was our nightcap.
All species 24 July: Rock Dove, Eurasian Collared Dove, Common Swift, Eurasian Blue Tit, Great Tit, Eurasian Crag Martin, Common House Martin, Common Blackbird, Song Thrush, Spotted Flycatcher, European Robin, Black Redstart, White-throated Dipper, House Sparrow.

25 July 2014

Today, being the day before our departure, was a day to spend in town and make our final preparations.
We went down to the bridge as usual and the birding was pretty much the same as other days. It was quite overcast and thunder was rumbling in the distance. A light rain started to fall so we headed to the square to get our morning coffee. The rain stopped soon after it started but the coffee shop was late opening. We sat and waited, in the meantime getting a couple of pastries to enjoy with it. Finally someone showed up to open the doors and we had our hot, delicious coffee with our sinful pastries. The coffee was so good we had a second.

We returned home and did a little tidying up and relaxed for a while. We were just thinking about heading out for a walk when it really started to rain with hail mixed in. So, we waited until about 11:30 before going out by which time the rain had stopped, and moisture was evaporating off the pavement as the hot sun made its presence known. We found a very interesting part of town we had not previously discovered. In a courtyard that probably had not changed much in a couple of centuries we found a couple of restaurants and decided on L'englantina for lunch. We ordered two tapas: arros caldos amb calamarcets (hot rice with calamari) for €6, and albergenies escabetexades amb anxoves i minitosta (three servings of eggplant with an anchovy and an olive on toast) for €3.50. I know that tapas are small but these servings were minute and pretty expensive it seemed to us. We each had a glass of house red wine but it was very sweet and we didn't care for it much.
We found that an alley connected us to the square and since I wanted to reply to an email we went there to do so. After that we returned to the apartment where Miriam made herself a sandwich using part of the baguette from last night and one tomato which needed to be used up. She commented that it was the first time she had ever gone out for lunch and returned home to make a sandwich! I had what was rapidly becoming my regular afternoon nap while Miriam read. Later we took our cameras and headed back out to get some pictures of the area we had discovered this morning.

It seemed that every time we sallied forth in Bagà we ended up at the town square and this afternoon was no exception. Miriam noticed a sign for a restaurant and she went to check it out. She returned saying that it looked like a wonderful place and was a Michelin 2014 facility. We went back together and I inquired as to what time they opened for dinner. We were not surprised when they said it would be at 21:00 and we determined to have dinner there that night.
We went back to the square and sat playing Scrabble and bought a couple of coffees and a pastry to share from the pastry shop. When we got back to our apartment we started to sort and pack our belongings for the start of the journey home tomorrow.
We showered and changed to get ready for dinner. By 20:00 it was raining heavily but it had eased off somewhat as we left to walk to the restaurant under our umbrellas. We arrived right at 21:00 and were the only diners there, although others started to arrive shortly after. The restaurant was very nicely appointed, with original oil paintings of Bagà street scenes on the walls, but it was not at all pretentious. Our waitress was quite wonderful. We ordered two glasses of house red wine, but she brought the bottle to our table and said that if we considered having a second glass, we would be better off to buy the bottle, so that is what we did. As for the food, it was truly wonderful. Miriam started with a carpaccio of wild mushrooms with a pine nut vinaigrette and I had a cheese plate. Our main course was beef tenderloin with foie gras sauce for Miriam and roasted shoulder of lamb for me. Both came with a side order of potatoes and vegetables in a sauce which was exquisite. It was a really fine dinner for our last night in Spain.
It was close to 23:00 by the time we got home, the rain having stopped for our walk back from the restaurant. Sleep came easy!

All species 25 July: Rock Dove, Eurasian Collared Dove, Common Swift, Eurasian Jay, Carrion Crow, Great Tit, Barn Swallow, Eurasian Crag Martin, Common House Martin, Common Blackbird, Song Thrush, European Robin, Black Redstart, White-throated Dipper, House Sparrow, White Wagtail.

26 July 2014
Bagà – Foix – Toulouse

We were up a little before 07:00. We had cereal for breakfast and tea since we no longer had coffee. After packing the remainder of our belongings we walked to the square for coffee. There were no tables set up outside so we went inside, but didn't linger too long. The place was very warm and swarming with flies.
We walked back to our apartment and waited for Xavier, who arrived at 09:30. We turned over the keys to him, got our security deposit back, and were on our way fifteen minutes later.
The GPS seemed particularly temperamental this morning and we wound up making a long, circuitous route on narrow, winding roads before getting back onto the highway. We went through some interesting small towns but Miriam would have preferred a straight highway.
For lunch we stopped in Foix, a town which had provided happy memories for us in France. We ate at the same restaurant we had chosen on our previous visit and Miriam had a salad of lettuce, tomatoes, ham, hard boiled eggs and Roquefort cheese. I had a cassoulet with a side salad of greens. Miriam wanted only water to drink but I had a glass of white wine. For whatever reason, it seemed to take forever to get our bill, which is exactly what had happened before. It was around 14:00 when we left for Toulouse and we had a seamless drive there, driving right to the car rental return without missing a turn, and quickly turned in our car. It was a short walk to the airport and we called the Radisson Blu for the shuttle and it was not long before it arrived. In no time at all we were in our room and made ourselves a coffee.
At 21:00 we went down to La Vie en Rose restaurant for dinner. The main dining area was set up for what was obviously a very extravagant wedding and we were seated in a small dining room off to the side. Miriam had zander (a fish unfamiliar to us) which was served with shallots and mixed vegetables, and I had chicken with vegetables. I followed with a cheese plate with a sweet berry preserve. We both had a glass of red wine. The food was great, but quite expensive.
We returned to our room and got ready for bed in order to be up early to get to the airport in time for our early morning flight.

Accommodation: Radisson Blu Hotel Rating: Five Stars

All species 26 July: Rock Dove, Common Swift, Iberian Green Woodpecker, Eurasian Jay, Eurasian Magpie, Great Tit, Barn Swallow, Eurasian Crag Martin, Common House Martin, Common Blackbird, Black Redstart, White Wagtail.

27 July 2014
Toulouse – Frankfurt – Toronto - Waterloo
We were awake soon after 03:00 and up and about less than a half hour later. We had coffee in the room and Miriam had an apple. We quickly checked out of the hotel and were whisked to the airport in the hotel shuttle. Check in was quite slow but we got to our gate in plenty of time. We had a coffee while we waited.
Our flight took off about ten minutes late and we were served a croissant and coffee. Upon arrival in Frankfurt we were loaded onto a bus and driven to the terminal. Inside we couldn't find any information on our Air Canada flight and finally asked someone and were told that we needed to go downstairs, through a long tunnel and up in the elevator again. We found our gate and during the short wait I decided to get rid of most of the Euro coins I had and bought a couple of sandwiches, one chicken and one ham and cheese. Miriam wasn't especially hungry so she only ate some of the filling and left the bread.
We took off from Frankfurt about thirty-five minutes late. The meals and the service from the sky waitresses were less than memorable and warrant no coverage here but we had a smooth flight and landed in Toronto a little later than the scheduled arrival.
We went through Immigration quickly and proceeded to the baggage carousel. While waiting there a sniffer dog stopped at Miriam's tote bag and seemed quite excited. Turns out she had an apple in her bag, so we had to go through a whole second screening since we were bringing in prohibited goods! If only I had eaten the apple when Miriam ate hers in the morning!
Finally we were cleared to leave and Karen and John were waiting for us in the arrivals lounge. We quickly got to our car and drove home.

General Comments

Despite a truly awful start to our trip, it was for the most part a very enjoyable vacation. We had always planned this holiday as a mixed bag of tourism, culture and birding and it filled the bill admirably. Noushka and Patrick made the French leg of our trip especially rewarding and satisfying, with great birds and other experiences, wonderful food and friendship and we shall be forever in their debt. Our accommodation throughout was first class.

Our Birding Guide
A satisfactory guide. I thought he was a little expensive for what he delivered, but we had paid most of the money in advance and we have no regrets. There were some notable misses in species, however, principally Black Woodpecker, Firecrest and Eurasian Wryneck. Both Black Woodpecker and Firecrest were very high on my list of desirable birds to find.

Further Information

Contact David M. Gascoigne or Miriam Bauman, 519 725-0866, email:


  1. Rather like your actual holiday David, my reading of your travelogue took a little while so as to savour it in full. And then at 18th July Google was slowing too up so I returned later.

    Your early delays sounded so awful - not so bad on the way back when there’s time to revisit the holiday, but the last thing needed on the way out. I think you both survived it remarkably well and remained in control when I would have been beside myself.

    How wonderful meeting up with Noushka and Patrick like that. They certainly showed you wonderful hospitality with lots of birdy time and a great list of birds included!

    Spain certainly is wonderful as you describe, the food, the birds and every possible thing except the language. As you say, the Spanish eat late - very late, and the English the exact opposite - 6pm in our case. It’s something to do with the colder Northern Hemisphere.

    All those missed lifers - you will just have to revisit Europe again. P.S. There are very few toll roads in the UK, the food is not a patch on Spain and you don’t need GPS.

    Loved your tourist and bird photos too.

    1. I can become a little fatalistic about it but Miriam not so much. She gets really upset at stuff like the delays we encountered. But it's all over now and fortunately the good memories tend to stick and the bad ones fade away.

  2. Nice trip, great photos ;-)
    Céline & Philippe

  3. Hi David.

    White Wagtail (Motacilla alba) breeds in much of Europe (inc Iceland) and Asia and parts of north Africa. In the UK it is replaced by Pied Wagtail (M. a. yarrellii), althopugh the two species can occur as migrants at appropriate times of year.

    It is thought perhaps not surprisingly that the two species can interbreed making separation even more difficult but good examples of each are reasonably easy to ID.
    You will find much reference in the UK to "alba wags" when the observer can not separate - calls etc at visible migration time.

  4. Hi David!
    Ok, now I know why it took yu a while to publish!! LOL!
    My goodness, you are soooo thorough about your report!
    Indeed you had an awful start, but at least we met and hit a special friendship! :)
    We were both thrilled to meet both of you, and I can promise you one thing: we will definitely see each other again and hopefully in CR!!
    We are working hard on that one!!!
    Congratulations for all the interesting info and the sightings in Spain, we must try to see this Dipper!!
    We are leaving for Lerida again on the 12th for 5 days and spend 2 more days in the sites Juan Ramon gave us for interesting species of dragons and he will try to join us there.
    Hoping your weather is better than ours...
    Much love to you both!

  5. Hi David. For some strange reason, this post didn't show up on my side-bar connection to your blog, so I only noticed it through the reference to this post in your latest Dipper post.

    This is an awesome account of your July European visit! I'm impressed by your stoicism with the disasterous start to your trip, and so pleased that things picked up so well afterwards. How the heck do I follow that for 2015?

    1. I have not the slightest doubt, Richard, that we are going to have a grand adventure indeed with you. Usually there are direct flights from Toronto to Manchester and Miriam is looking forward to that!


  6. The next time you absolutely have to visit Poland :-)

    Greetings :-)

  7. It's a huge low post my friend but you leave very nice to know what have you been fantastic trip. Amazing beautiful pictures and amazing experiences. I hope you still here long after genirten can and should:-)

  8. Enjoyed reading your report on your trip to France and Spain. The start was indeed horrible and would have upset me as well. So nice you met up with Noushka and Patrick and being able to go birdwatching with them. Also that you saw many species of birds in Spain. As we never went to the US I was surprised to read that in restaurant/hotels you eat from plastic, I can not imagin not eating from a real dinner set. I try to reduce use of plastics of all sorts but it is still difficult as Packaged products are everywere in the stores. With result that the oceans are now filled with a plastic soup. O well I stop nagging about the invironment because it has nothing to do with your report wich I truly enjoyed.