Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Birding in France, Part 6: Farewell to the Pyrenees and Tarbes

For our final morning in the Pyrenees we circled back to some of the hotspots we visited with our guide, Charles, a few days earlier. We had unfinished business, in that we were still missing some birds we’d hoped to pick up earlier. Not necessarily Pyrenean specialties, but certainly species on our European wish list, since who knows when we’ll be back? We were running out of time now, and hungry for some last-minute trip birds. Our first stop was Lac de Gaves, where we’d had a fleeting glimpse of White-throated Dippers that had left us wanting more.

White-throated Dipper

Not only were the dippers out, we picked up Common Kingfisher, which we had wanted to see oh-so-badly. The dippers and the kingfisher were fairly cooperative, in that they stuck around for long stretches of time, although they stayed mostly along the opposite shore, so these digiscoped shots will have to do.

Common Kingfisher

Gray Wagtails. Can I adequately convey how great they are? Probably not, so I’ll let the photos do the persuading for me. Among wagtails, their tails are the longest, which was super apparent compared with the nearby White Wagtails. They also have the shortest legs, which gives them a low, horizontal look. As with the other location we’d seen them, they were exploring the exposed rocks down in the riverbed, as opposed to the White Wagtails, which we’d seen in a greater variety of habitat types, including road signs.

Gray Wagtail

We were hoping to turn up the Whinchats we saw on our earlier visit for better looks, or maybe pish something new and exciting out of the tall grasses, but the mowers, bane of my existence, had other plans. At least I had the Leps to keep me company. The Peacock is a butterfly I had desperately hoped to see. They’re widespread, from Europe all the way to Japan, but this was our first of the trip, and by the way, they’re gorgeous. The Painted Ladies were also vying for my attention, which I granted them, since I wasn’t totally sure if it was the same species we have here (they are).


Painted Lady

Hummingbird Hawk-moth

Next, we headed to the hawkwatch site at Le Pibeste, where we’d spent an hour with Charles. We had quite an adventure trying to find it on our own, navigating by way of landmarks on the distant cliff face. Eventually we found it by accident, approaching from the exact opposite direction than we’d meant to. Sometimes the birding gods smile on ignorant American tourists. This time around we only had six species, none of them new, but I’m getting teary-eyed just thinking about them: 21 Honey Buzzards, 16 Eurasian Griffons, 1 Short-toed Eagle, 3 Red Kites, 2 Common Buzzards, and 2 Egyptian Vultures. Our only other sighting of Short-toed Eagle was on our earlier visit to this same spot, but never came anywhere near close enough for photos. The Egyptian Vultures, on the other hand, were glorious. Back and forth, they drifted along the cliff, close enough to easily make out their wedge-shaped tails and fleshy yellow faces.

Egyptian Vulture

Grayling sp.

Heavy hearted, but glad to have reconnected with some amazing raptors, we bed farewell to the Pyrenees. Rather than head straight back to Maureen’s aunt and uncle’s place in Boudrac, we set a course for Tarbes, where we could take our lunch sitting in the botanical gardens. The locals were amused to see us laden with our gear, and several stopped to ask if we were looking for “oiseaux”. We were moderately scolded once, but not knowing French, I’m not sure if we ever stopped doing whatever we weren’t supposed to be doing. The birds, however, refused to judge us.

View from Jardin Massey - the Tarbes botanical garden

Here, we had our best looks yet at Long-tailed Tit, Great Tit, Blue Tit, Firecrest, and Red Squirrel (a rare mammal sighting for this trip!). We did happen to find a treecreeper – although no photo, apparently – which was either a Eurasian or a Short-toed, nearly identical to one another. I think they can separated by elevation, in which case this was probably Short-toed, but I think we’ll have to call this one the lifer-that-got-away.

Blue Tit

Blue Tit with a feather twice its size. I don't think he molted that


Great Tit

Fortunately, there was one Tarbes lifer that didn’t get away: Eurasian Nuthatch. I had actually spotted it at the exact moment Maureen had found the treecreeper, which led to several rounds of “Nuthatch!” “No, it’s a treecreeper!” “No, it’s a Nuthatch!” Eventually we both got on both birds. They each quickly vanished somewhere along the tangles of branches, but luckily we were able to re-find the Nuthatch out in the open. 

Eurasian Nuthatch

Long-tailed Tit

And with that, we closed the book on our French birding adventure. We tallied 91 bird species (including 73 lifers), 2 mammals (both lifers), loads of great butterflies and moths, along with various other miscellanea. Awesome. We haven’t any plans for traveling abroad in 2017, but who can say for sure what the year will bring?

Spotted Flycatcher

Red Squirrel

European Robin


  1. Another jealousy-inducing blog post! Such weird and cool birds!

    1. Thanks, Sarah! I'm making myself jealous, and want to go on another adventure, posthaste!