22 December 2015

Wallcreeper action at Chateau des Baux

Wallcreeper - a name that puts a dreamy face on every birder. It is after all one of the most iconic bird species in Europe. The non-birding reader of this blog should note that this is an alpine species that is often tricky to find, unless you know exactly where to look. It is a bird unlike any other species in Europe. Being northern birders we have an affinity for extreme species which seem capable of thriving in the harshest conditions.
The Wallcreeper is such a species. In summer it prefers vertical cliffs from 1000-3000 meters above the sea. In winter however it often decends to lower altitudes, and is more easily found. Wallcreepers live in the Pyrenees, the Alps and onwards to Kaukasus and Himalaya. It is a true mountaineer. In addition to its extreme lifestyle it got killer looks! 

Alongside other top birds like Steller´s Eider (just randomly choosing that as an example), the Wallcreeper is sure to be on top of most birders wish list. Ours too. It is one of those birds you will happily travel to experience, and we are dedicating the Christmas 2015 to seeing Wallcreeper! We being myself, partner and Biotope co-founder, Elin and our 7 year old daughter Lila (already a skilled birder and tester of bird hides). Running a family birding architecture business takes us to a few cool places. Earlier this year I hosted a tour in Varanger for Swarovski Optik. On this trip I met with spanish birder Gorka Gorospe, who invited us to Navarra and the Spanish Pyrenees to check out some sites and look at potentials for birding architecture projects. Having (unsucessfully) tried to connect with Wallcreeper in Spain before we decided to make this Christmas a chase for ultimate mountaineering bird, starting in France, then continuing along the Pyrenees to Navarra in Spain.

Our chosen starting point of this Christmas Biotope tour was Camargue and Provence in France. In particular we set out to see the Chateau des Baux, a 1000+ year old fortress. The steep walls of the fortress and the surrounding cliffs are well known for having a few wintering Wallcreepers. A brilliant combination for a birder architect. The Chateau is very impressive with all of its intricate stone architecture, however the main attraction for us has evolved through thousands of years to become one of the most epic bird species of Europe. And we got lucky on the second day! The following is a short blogpost, with a few photos of both architecture and nature. Stay tuned for more from the mountainous parts of Europe. We still have more bird species to see and new places to be. But for now I hope you enjoy these Wallcreeper photos. By the way: click any photo for bigger slide show views of photos (for desktop).

Chateau des Baux, France - famous for wintering Wallcreepers + various people history..

The main attraction at the Chateau is often not so flashy. 

However when spreading its wings when flickering around the steep cliffs it reveals the striking butterfly-like, deep crimson coloured wing pattern. 

The ultimate architecture and birding combination. At one occasion we were lucky to be positioned well for some very nice views of the Wallcreeper as it searched the fortress wall for food.

Wallcreeper - with some serious climbing gear.

Keeping it tight

Top left: Chateau des Baux seen from a distance, in a beautiful scenery. Right: The steep cliffs of the west side of the Chateau seemed to be the favoured place for the Wallcreepers, of which we had 4, possibly 5 individuals! Also well worth a mention is the brilliant workings of the birding world on Twitter. After an unsuccessfull first day at the Chateau, we returned to our guesthouse in nearby town Saint Remy, tweeting about our lack of Wallcreepers. It did not take long before advice on specific sites and places at and near the Chateau to find Wallcreepers became the topic of a twitter conversation. Thanks especially to @Aminflitti and @JFDEcologist for input! Upon arriving the next day at the Chateau Elin got onto the birds imidiately when we arrived, Lila picked up a second bird in flight, and yours truly enjoyed being guided to the bird by Lila. The rest of the day was spent enjoying great views of Wallcreepers in very cool surroundings.

A great bonus experience (there always is that when birding) was seeing Alpine Accentors feeding on the cliffs. Another hard core species. I have never before seen them actually peel of pieces of rock from the cliff surface when searching for food. When food is scarce you learn to find it anywhere. A trait of a another tough alpine species. 

We truly enjoyed getting the opportunity to study this unique species, and getting close enough for some decent photos too. Stay tuned for more mountainous birding as we proceed to bird the Pyrenees. Follow us on twitter for regular news and views on tour: @BiotopeOffice

Best wishes Tormod, Elin & Lila - a Biotope team on tour