A Day in Ordesa

James Orr

Hiking and bird watching in Ordesa National Park

Last month my girlfriend and I hired a car in Barcelona and drove up to the Spanish Pyrenees for a few days of hiking and bird watching. We stayed in a small campsite in Valle de Bujaruelo beside Ordesa y Monte Perdido National Park.

Ordesa-Pyrenees-Hiking-Photography-September-1-James-Orr-Bujaruelo
The view from our refuge window

We decided to spend one of our days in the mountains doing a long hike in the Ordesa valley. We got up early and drove the narrow mountain roads up into the national park.

Ordesa y Monte Perdido National Park was established in 1918 and is Spain’s oldest protected area. It was designated a UNESCO world heritage site in 1997 and is made up of two valleys, Ordesa and Anisclo.

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Overview of the Ordesa Valley

Our plan was to walk the “Faya de las Pelays”, which is a 22km long circuit in the Ordesa valley with about 1000 meters of elevation. The trail takes you from the visitor center up the “hunter’s path” and along the southern cliffs to the “Cola de Caballo” waterfall before descending back down along the valley floor to complete the loop.

We were hoping to see some incredible birds only the way. There are several species of vulture in the park including the spectacular and rare Lammergeier (bearded vulture). Five breeding pairs of Golden Eagles are also found in the valley.

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Beautiful oak, birch and beech woodland on the valley floor
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Taking a breather and keeping an eye out for birds

The first part of the morning involved a long climb up the southern side of the valley. From the bottom the cliffs looked impossible to climb but after two hours of zigzagging our way up through the different layers of forest we eventually made it to the mirador (viewpoint).

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Mirador at the top of the “hunter’s path”

For the next few hours we followed a narrow trail underneath the cliffs with a birds-eye view of the valley floor below. We spotted crested tits in the woods, alpine swifts and yellow-billed choughs soaring above our heads and wagtails bathing in mountain streams.

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Following the narrow trail under the cliffs
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Old pine trees in the sun

We arrived to the top of the trail in the early afternoon and had our lunch and relaxed by the waterfall for a couple of hours. We tried to spot some marmots and chamois but had no success.

Ordesa-Pyrenees-Hiking-Photography-September-8-James-Orr
Meadows at the top of the trail – we had just followed a trail along the cliffs on the left side of the image

With only a couple of hours of daylight left we started to make our way back down the valley following the Rio Arazas. We came across five or six beautiful waterfalls as we walked through the woods, which turned from pine to broadleaf as we descended.

Ordesa-Pyrenees-Hiking-Photography-September-9-James-Orr-waterfall
One of the many waterfalls along the valley floor

As the sun was just about to set we finally saw what we had been hoping to see all day. Hundreds of meters above our heads, floating on the warm air currents were about a dozen gigantic birds.

Through the binoculars we could see that most of them were vultures (probably Griffon) and we’re 99% sure we saw a golden eagle. The highlight of the day was definitely seeing a Lammergeier drifting along the cliffs as the sun was setting.

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Birds of prey hundreds of meters above us
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Lammergeier (on the right)!

After all the photography and bird watching we found ourselves a good 6 or 7km away from the car with the sun just about to set. We made our way back through the woods full of birdsong and enjoyed the beautiful light left over from the sunset.

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The afterglow of the sunset illuminating Ordesa’s northern cliffs

We eventually got back to our car, which we hadn’t seen in about 14 hours. The mountain roads leaving the park have some spectacular views and even though it was now almost pitch black we pulled over to get one last look at Ordesa.

Ordesa-Pyrenees-Hiking-Photography-September-13-James-Orr
Our final view of Ordesa Valley with the Milky Way arching over the limestone walls

 

If you have questions about the trip or if you’d be interested in buying a print of any of these images please feel free to get in touch.

This photo essay was originally posted on www.jamesorrphoto.com

 

 

 

 

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