I love our wildlife in the Highlands but let’s be frank, there isn’t really that much of it, both in terms of diversity and numbers, with the obvious exception of deer. Make the relatively short crossing to mainland Europe however and one enters a very different world. France is eternally gorgeous and boy do they know about trees. They really have some wonderful areas of mature woodland, but then I suppose they didn’t have to cut theirs down to fight the French. But a lot of it is quite a bit like Britain. Cross the Pyrenees though and you are in a very different place. It starts pretty much straight away too. There are Lammergeyers around the border. Huge bone breaking vultures, impressive at rest, incredible in flight but they are not the only vulture to be seen. From the smaller white Egyptian, through the Griffon to the Black, the whole set is here. Not in paltry numbers either. There are a lot of them. See them perched on piggery roofs, nesting on the cliffs at Riglos or most impressively a mixed species group circling on a thermal.
It is certainly the birds which impress the most in Iberia. This meeting point between Africa and Europe has points of interest from both directions. Swallows, martins and swifts abound, indeed one wonders why they bother to carry on to the misty, dripping, chilly north of Scotland. There are insects here in profusion thanks to low intensity agriculture and this must have a direct effect on the numbers of swifts here. Their young bomb around in screaming, reckless flocks showing complete mastery of the air. For me they are truly ‘the bird’ so airborne are their lives.
A short walk can yield amazing treasures and a pair of binoculars is essential. Black kites are not unusual, stork’s nests adorn most churches and many electric poles. The birds themselves can be seen in great numbers in the rice paddies. A covey of partridges occupy every corner of stubble and LBJs of every shade flutter away in amazing numbers. Among them are rare jewels. Bee eaters cruise the sandy cliffs in search of their quarry and occasionally one is rewarded by the sight of a golden oriole. This dove sized bird is so improbably bright yellow that it delights the eye even in the brightest sunlight.
There are mammals too, though rarely seen. A night drive will reveal more in a few minutes than all of the poking around in rough areas. Foxes are plentiful, presumably making use of the rather sketchy waste disposal arrangements which exist hereabouts. The major difference from home are the boar of course. Huge, black and rarely seen without the aid of dogs but there, most definitely there. The rivers are lined with dense bush and there are countless areas of rough scrub land for them to vanish into. Towards the mountains huge areas of scrub grows and the cultivated land shrinks until it eventually peters out in favour of pine woods which in this part of the word yield prodigious numbers of delicious pine nuts, favoured by both boar and humans. Higher still montane vegetation takes over and I am told that chamois inhabit the high tops but it is another story that I’d like to find out more about. The mysterious extinction of the Pyrenean Ibex.