April 9, 2021
A BIRD WALK ON MONTE NARANJO
By Rick Wright
Less than two miles from the historic center of Oviedo, Mount Naranco rises to an elevation of more than 2,000 feet. Atop the mountain stands the ruins of two ancient churches, Saint Mary’s and Saint Michael’s, the well-preserved remnants of a royal palace completed in AD 842, less than a century after the city was founded. The churches have been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1985, but contemporaries and chroniclers already recognized them as remarkable in their architectural style and their eclectic ornamentation of carved and painted birds, horses, and warriors. Today, no visitor to Oviedo is so foolish as to miss a visit to these extraordinary structures.
What most of those taking the ten-minute drive or the half-hour walk up the mountain do not realize is that Naranco is a monument to nature, too. While the city spreads out below and the sea sparkles in the distance, the churches are surrounded by lush green grass and woods; crystalline streams run down the hillside. And there are birds, real live feathered ones.
White Wagtails patrol the picnic areas, looking, appropriately enough, for all the world like tiny feathered nuns. September regularly features the visits of migrant chats—Northern Wheatears, Whinchats, or European Stonechats are all possible, and the handsome Black Redstart breeds in the stone walls of the churches. Shy European Robins and Eurasian Wrens can be seen and heard in the woods, along with nuthatches, Short-toed Treecreepers, and the full complement of colorful tits.
Those same woods provide nest sites in some years for Great Spotted and Iberian Green woodpeckers; neither species is abundant here, but the Iberian Green—a fairly recent “split” from the familiar Green Woodpecker of the rest of Europe—is occasionally seen feeding, flicker-like, on the ground in the open, lapping up ants with its long tongue. Aerial insects aren’t safe, either: swallows, including the large, somberly colored Crag-Martin, patrol the skies above the parking lot, while European Pied Flycatchers can be seen in pursuit of their prey through the foliage of the surrounding trees. A careful look at every blackbird is likely to turn up a classic Spanish specialty, the Spotless Starling.
Another prize, much less frequently seen than the beautiful starling, is the Dartford Warbler, a very uncommon and often furtive inhabitant of tangled brush on the mountainside. We are more likely to encounter two other members of the same genus, the Common Whitethroat and the Blackcap; if the weather is warm, we may be so fortunate to hear the song of the Blackcap, a loud whistled melody excelling even the nightingale among European songsters.
There really isn’t such a thing as a bad day of birding. But it’s hard to imagine one better than an excursion combining great art and fine birds—and ending with a plate of fabada and a glass of sidra.
Spain: Birds & Art in Asturias, with Rick Wright and Malte Beringer, September 8–17, 2021
Victor Emanuel Nature Tours | 2525 Wallingwood Drive, Suite 1003 | Austin, TX 78746
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