The Sept of Baelor (aka the Girona Cathedral)

Girona is a Great Town

After several pleasant days in Barcelona, we rented a car and drove 100 kilometers northeast to Girona. It’s a charming city with a beautiful medieval section. Several different scenes in Games of Thrones were filmed there. Girona has a famous red iron bridge designed and built by Eiffel–the Pont de les Peixateries Velles–that ran directly underneath our airbnb. We did some nice people-watching (and bird watching) from the window above the bridge. In the mornings and evenings, Alpine and Common Swifts, Barn Swallow,s and Common House-Martins swooped above the river. During the day, Mallards, a Little Egret, an Egyptian Goose, and an Eurasian Moorhen worked the shallow River Onyar. We enjoyed a balcony-view of the Roman soldier-dominated Good Friday procession (a Girona tradition since 1751). We also had a great time wandering the area around the cathedral, and the old (9th century!) city wall. Girona is a wonderful mid-sized city to visit. 

Parc de la Devesa and Riu Ter

Girona also had some pretty good birding. It was better than the city birding in Barcelona. From our airbnb, it was a short walk across the Eiffel bridge to Parc de la Devesa. This big park was full of birds. There’s a garden area in the southeast corner with a variety of bushes and trees. There was good action here, including a pair of lifer Eurasian Jackdaws and some Eurasian Tree Sparrows. As in Barcelona, Monk Parakeets and Rose-ringed Parakeets were around, as well.

Most of the rest of Parc de la Devesa is covered with rows and rows of very tall trees. Working these trees were Iberian Green Woodpeckers, Great Tits, Eurasian Blue Tits, and Starlings. Twice, while walking through the rows of trees, I found a pair of Eurasian Hoopoe feeding. They were pretty chill as long as I stayed 25 feet away. Get closer and they’d flush. Thus ended my long, globe-trotting hunt for good looks and a photograph of this distinct bird.

At long last, I got eyes and camera on a spectacular hoopoe

The River Ter runs along the northern edge of the park. Along the banks is some nice riparian habitat that was super productive each time I walked by. Loudly calling from the riverside bushes were a couple of Cetti’s Warblers and Eurasian Wren. A small flock of Common Waxbills flushed some reeds. Perched in a tree above the river were some Great Cormorants, a bird I’ve failed to see in a decade of summer visits to Maine. Moving around the tall trees were some barky and subtly brilliant Eurasian Jays. A few shorebirds were in a sandbar in the middle of the river: Little Ringed Plover, Common Sandpiper, and Green Sandpiper.

Just under the bridge that takes you from the park to a convention center called Fontajau is a mini-waterfall with a jumble of boulders. There were two different wagtails here – the more common White Wagtail and a less common (and somewhat confusingly named) Gray Wagtail (it’s yellow underparts really stand out). A Little Egret stood on an exposed. Up river I saw a couple of Black-winged Stilts. Off in the distance a Common Kingfisher flew low across the river. A Purple Heron flew by overhead. The north end of the bridge offers good looks into a canopy of trees, which were buzzing with activity.

There is a vast open area on the north side of the River Ter with trails meandering through it. One morning I briefly wandered around. I added a trio of Willow Warblers and a lifer Common Redstart in this area. I would have liked to spend a little more time here, but I was creeping further from home and needed to get back to the family.

John Lennon Gardens

Back behind the Girona Cathedral are a set of hilly gardens that were a delight to explore. There were cobblestone paths, crumbling stairs, bridges, plazas, and tall medieval stone walls. Especially for an American like me residing on the West Coast (“some of these buildings are over 20 years old”), the age of everything was a little flabbergasting. No matter which we you turn, you should eventually come upon an access point to the old city wall. You can walk atop it for over a mile and enjoy grand vistas of the city and distant Pyrenees mountains. On the slope of one of the hills is a quiet green space called Jardins de John Lennon. This was a great spot for birding and quiet contemplation. Bird calls came from every direction. In addition to the usual songbird suspects, I finally got my lifer Common Buzzard here (there were surprisingly few hawks in the skies during our visit). My only look at a Great Spotted Woodpecker happened here. 

I’m so glad we spent a few days in Girona. It’s a wonderful city, and gave us the old European experience we were hoping to get (and I haven’t even mentioned our visit to the 1st century B.C. Greco-Roman seaside ruin of Empuries a half an hour away). In my next post, I’ll detail a couple of day trips we took nearby (Empuries, and a hike into the crater of a volcano). Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to drive up high into the Pyrenees, where the legendary Lammergeier resides. But like I always say – that’s gives us a reason to go back.