Grit and Cranes

Taken from Flying over the Pyrenees, standing on the plains

Common Cranes in flight over Balaguer

Cranes were strong fliers but even so this group was struggling to maintain its course against the force of the wind. Constantly buffeted by the fierce side wind their leader was tilted to the left with every other wing beat and the rest of the group, amid loud trumpeting and clanging, dutifully followed the course he or she set. Yet the river lay there below them and, like a plane guided in the night by the runway’s landing lights, the leader continually veered back to the right so as to follow the waters that would keep the group on their southbound course. In this way I watched their zig-zagging progress until they were dots in the sky. Strangely, though, the trumpeting returned to my ears with renewed vigour. I turned my head and saw another larger group following on behind them, weaving the same determined route.

The best birder’s hotel in northeast Spain

The best birding hotel? Really? Yes. Read on …

I’m not one of those people who can’t keep a secret. You know when someone tells you something and asks you not to tell anyone else, perhaps secretly hoping that you will tell somebody? Well, I’m one of those people who promises not to tell and who keeps his promise.

I’ve also told my sons – great lovers of the outdoors, rock-climbers, skiers, mountain-goers, wild swimmers – that if they love a place then not to spread the news on social media, because the next time they’ll have to share it with insensitive hordes. They’ve come round to my way of thinking.

So, what I’m about to do now grates a little with my way of doing things. I’m going to tell you all about the very best birder’s hotel in northeast Spain, one which I have been staying at when guiding in the region for at least 12 years now. Why? I can’t say that it’s because you deserve to know, because I don’t know who you are. I get no personal benefit from telling you either. No, it’s because the owners deserve it – the recognition – and much more, for their truly professional and personal work in running such an excellent hotel.

Hosteria de Guara – the best birding hotel

The Hosteria de Guara is located on the edge of the small village of Bierge, in the Sierra de Guara Natural Park, Huesca, Aragón. It’s an attractive building on the outside, set among olive and almond groves, fields of cereal and pastoral land, bordered by a vegetable garden and with a pool out back.

Within a ten-minute walk from the front door of the Hosteria de Guara the birds that I can recall having seen are many: Hawfinch, Cirl Bunting, Raven, Rock Sparrow, Red-rumped Swallow, Woodlark, Turtle Dove, Corn Bunting, Spotless Starling, Egyptian Vulture, Red Kite, Osprey, Lammergeier, Short-toed Eagle, and even Wallcreeper on one memorable occasion.

This delightful hotel is a family-run establishment, led by sisters Ana and Eva. The interior around the reception area is cool and spacious. There’s a separate lounge full with armchairs and sofas, coffee tables and cabinets replete with birding books and items of local natural history interest.

There’s also a self-contained bar/café on the ground floor which is open to the general public, where you can order your drinks to enjoy there, or just carry them to the quiet and comfortable hotel lounge for clients only, if you prefer.

There’s a definite feeling that there was an eye for detail overseeing the design and decor of the Hosteria de Guara. The interior decoration gives considerable weight to images of local birds and scenes from nature. The local touch is also there in the produce that you can buy as a souvenir: these include locally produced sheep’s cheese, olive oil and honey.

The hotel restaurant is thoughtfully furnished with both round and rectangular tables; the latter suitable for those larger birding groups. It is spacious, tastefully decorated, with cabinets full of whisky, brandy and a range of liquours and liquers for the “after dinner” session which some may want to indulge in.

Birders in the Sierra de Guara

Birders in the Sierra de Guara – after a long day in the field …

Somontano red wine

Food. Don’t get me started! The starters, main course and desserts selection are varied and of such quality that it’s never an easy choice. The local lamb chops, barbecued sausage, roast lamb, chicken and prawns in an almond sauce, fish dishes … after a generous starter which could have been the house salad, grilled vegetables, purés … All that accompanied by a bottle of the local Somontano red or white wine.



Then there are still desserts to come. This is my personal challenge: I try to skip desserts as my meagre contribution to the battle of the bulge, even though it’s a lost cause. When confronted with the local cream cheese dessert topped with a delicious raspberry sauce I come face to face with my own weakness and faltering resolve.

The cream cheese dessert – unforgiveable!

The rooms are stylish and comfortable, and all of them have exterior views, many with walk-out balconies. Very comfortable mattresses and spotless duvets.

One of Hosteria de Guara’s comfortable rooms

There’s so much more that could be said but it would be unforgiveable to sign off without mentioning the human touch that Ana and Eva bring to your stay. Would you like an early breakfast? At what time? Would you like an “early” dinner (early in Spain is rarely before 8.30 pm)? 7.30pm? Yes, I’m sure we can manage that. How was your day? Did you see the Wallcreeper? Where are you going today?  Would you like a fried egg with your breakfast? Smiles, and a good feeling that before too long we’ll be back. 

More Gekko Art

Here’s some more …


Dupont’s Lark, by Javier

The shy and elusive Dupont’s Lark sings mostly at dawn. It gets you up before the sunrise, when your world is still unsure of what the day will bring.

Javier managed to capture the perfect pose. The Dupont’s Lark that we’d all like to see when we look for it, and which is so hard to come by. My focus was mostly on the background, and a sunny glow.

Great Crested Grebes, by Colin

Here I focused in on the birds. You can see that they’re on water, but the background is unnatural. They only have eyes for each other at this moment. Witnessing birds dancing for each other is just sublime.

Little Egret, by Adam.

A white bird in the water, enshrouded in mist but with a strange golden reflection on its plumage. The mist has cleared for us for a moment, and maybe for the egret too, as it readies to stab at a little fish.

Visions of Bee-eaters

For a long time in my middle childhood and through to the end of my teenage years, from the moment I came into possession of my first colour guide to the birds of Britain and Europe, I would pass many an hour perusing through its pages, seeking out my ten “most wanted” birds. Under those all-too-often grey skies and the winter twilight of my semi-suburban southern England I was comforted in my personal quest for the exuberant forms, but mostly for the colour, that many of the exotic-looking birds therein had to offer their beholder.

Bee-eaters Merops apiaster

There, in the bedroom I shared with my younger brother, while he lay on his back sifting through the back issues of our joint collection of Marvel comics, I was busy drawing up a mental list of the species that I just had to see at some time in my life. The Wrneck- just look at that intricate plumage pattern! The Redstart and the Pied Flycatcher – what combinations of colours! The Bearded Tit – that sleek, blue-grey head with the Fu Manch moustache, wow! It would be an insult to nature not to try and see these birds. And then there was the assemblage of birds which inhabited what seemed to me at the time to be the far-flung corners of the Old Continent: the Roller, the Hoopoe and, of course, the brilliant Bee-eater.