This is classified as an Exceptional Heritage Site and is home to one of Europe’s rarest and most sought-after birds – the spectacular Lammergeier or Bearded Vulture. We will visit several favoured haunts in search of this immense bird, where all our previous groups have enjoyed marvellous views. A lucky few have even been treated to the dramatic sight of a Lammergeier ‘doing its thing’ by dropping bones from a great height to break these into pieces small enough to swallow.
Indeed, this is a fantastic tour for anyone with a penchant for birds of prey, for a good number of raptors breeding in these mountains with Griffon Vulture, Golden Eagle, Short-toed Eagle, Honey Buzzard, Black Kite and Hobby amongst the species we are likely to see.
Crag Martins float over the upland towns and villages, Dippers haunt the chill streams that tumble down the valleys and Crested Tits and Firecrests frequent the forests of pine and beech that cling to the slopes. Although June isn’t the best time of year to look for woodpeckers, we also sometimes find the impressive Black Woodpecker.
At higher elevations, specialities to watch for include Alpine and Red-billed Choughs, Rock Thrush, Alpine Accentor, Water Pipit, Snowfinch, Citril Finch and Rock Bunting. One of our recent tours even struck lucky with Wallcreeper, a species that has become increasingly hard to find here in recent years.
The Gavarnie area is a veritable mountain paradise but one that is only fully accessible during the summer months. Pyrenean Chamois and Alpine Marmot frequent the highest slopes, the latter’s distinctive bird-like whistles carrying far in the crystal air.
It is only at this season that we have an opportunity to enjoy both the frenzy of alpine plants that grace the uncut meadows and upland pastures and the bounty of montane butterflies that make their home in the High Pyrenees. Most trips produce upwards of 50 species of butterfly, weather permitting of course, with the slow-flying Apollo, Piedmont and Bright-eyed Ringlets, Purple Emperor and Little, Turquoise and Gavarnie Blues amongst the tally of more than 100 different species our groups have recorded over the years.
By travelling to the mountains via Toulouse we also have chances along the way to enjoy the fabulous, butterfly-rich woods and meadows of the pre-Pyrenean foothills, as well as gaining an opportunity to look for lowland birds. Possibilities include the scarce Black-winged Kite (a species that has only recently spread to Southwest France), Middle Spotted Woodpecker and Melodious Warbler.
If you are seeking to combine the joys of summer birding in Europe with good food and a comfortable hotel, rewarding wildlife walks and a wider appreciation of the natural world, this easy-going trip to the South of France is for you.
Limosa has been running holidays to France for more than 25 years. David Fairhurst has led Limosa’s tours to the French Pyrenees on four previous occasions and can’t wait to return again.
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