Spain Birding: 2011 update

Please browse ‘archives’ under the ‘links’ heading in the right hand column for date-ordered trip reports and monthly summaries.

Whilst I’m in the process of changing the way I use this blog, for the moment at least, please find new galleries and messages on my new Facebook page here:

Birding in Spain, Birding in Catalonia on Facebook

YOU DO NOT HAVE TO BE A MEMBER OR SIGN IN TO VIEW BUT CLICKING "LIKE IT" WILL MEAN YOU RECEIVE AUTOMATIC NOTICE OF NEW POSTS.

As well as providing an outlet for checking "sharers wanted" spaces on upcoming trips and leaving your own messages, there are also current higher quality photo galleries for 2011:

1. Feb / Mar – including great shots of Dupont’s Lark, Wallcreeper, Spotted Crake and Alpine Accentor.

2. Mar / Apr – inc. Lammergeier, Great Spotted Cuckoo and Pin-tailed Sandgrouse.

3. May 24 – 26 – inc. Little Bittern, Pin-tailed Sandgrouse, Southern Grey Shrike and a fabulous shot of a Grey Heron with a Moorhen chick.

With more to follow…

My apologies for any inconvenience.

Stephen Christopher

Spain Birding: Trip and Photo Report from Birdwatch Ireland (Tolka Branch)

Please browse ‘archives’ under the ‘links’ heading in the right hand column for date-ordered trip reports and monthly summaries.

Trip and photo report by John Fox (Birdwatch Ireland)

Eight members of the Tolka Branch of Birdwatch Ireland traveled with Ryanair from Dublin to Barcelona on 26th November 2010. Flight costs were about €106 inc. taxes. A 9th member of our party would join us later that morning, flying in from Brussels.

At Barcelona airport, while we collected a 9-seater VW people-carrier at a cost of €260 for 5 days, others in the group had Monk Parakeet, White Wagtail, Common Buzzard, Kestrel, Magpie and Wood Pigeon.

We made our way to a villa in Olivella, which we had rented at a cost of €995 for 5 days, about 30 minutes from Barcelona airport and 15 minutes north-west of Sitges. We stopped before reaching it to bird a small wooded area at Mas Mestre where we had our first views of Crested Tit, a lifer for many of us. We also had good views of Firecrest, Robin, Dunnock, Coal Tit, Goldcrest, Chaffinch and Long-tailed Tit. A pair of Common Crossbills also flew over head, calling as they went.

We traveled into Sitges for dinner that evening. A couple of Tawny Owls were calling on our return.

 

27th November 2010 – The Garraf Natural Park.

Our guide Stephen Christopher of Catalan Bird Tours (www.catalanbirdtours.com) had been contacted a few months earlier and engaged for 3 full days for 9 people.

We arrived in the Garraf Natural Park, located on the Mediterranean coast between Barcelona and Sitges, and positioned ourselves quietly at the foot of a cliff to await the arrival of our first target bird. Stephen had done much research in advance and was quite confident that our bird would show up. About five minutes later, as predicted, Stephen spotted our quarry, a stunning Wallcreeper (below).

The bird, which was a lifer for everyone, moved about on the rock face for 30 minutes as the sun rose and flooded the cliff with light and eventually slipped out of sight as it moved south along the cliff face.

Crag Martins glided about above the cliff as Black Redstarts foraged on the rocks below, a single Blue Rock Thrush perched at the cliff top for a few minutes while a pair of Peregrine headed out to sea. Cormorant, Northern Gannet, Black-headed and Yellow-legged Gulls were seen over the sea while Serin and Rock Dove were also present in the area.

Finally we had lovely views of a single Audouin’s Gull (below) at a local marina.

From there we headed up into the park, a beautiful area of mountainous heath. We spent a few hours walking, as much of it is restricted to vehicles, and had good views of Red-legged Partridge, Thekla Lark, Spotless Starling, Southern Grey Shrike with Dartford Warbler popping in and out of view regularly. Other new birds seen in the area were Stonechat, Blackcap, Greenfinch and Linnet.

Later in the day we drove further into the Parc Natural de Garraf where we saw Rock Sparrow, Woodlark, Rock Bunting and a Sparrowhawk. As the light began to fade our eagle-eyed guide Stephen spotted a pair of flying Bonelli’s Eagles, one of which perched within scope range of our vehicles. We studied the majestic eagle for a while as Stephen explained some of the bird’s key identification features to those of us for whom the bird was unfamiliar.

We returned to the villa happy that we’d had a great first day with many new ticks under our belts.

 

28th November 2010 – Los Monegros and The Steppes of Lleida.

We arrived just after dawn to a precise location selected by Stephen. A hard frost still clung to the vegetation as we scoured the area for sandgrouse. As we searched we had views of flying Red-billed Chough, Hen Harrier, Carrion Crow, Jackdaw, Marsh Harrier and a Merlin while in the scrub Corn Bunting, Lesser Short-toed Lark and Thekla Lark (above) foraged.

Scanning the middle distance eventually revealed the elusive Black-bellied and Pin-tailed Sandgrouse. A small flock made up of both species was on the highest ground, presumably taking advantage of the earliest rays of sunshine to warm themselves after the cold night. It was great to see both species side by side enabling good comparisons to be made.

As the day warmed more species became active such as Dartford Warbler, Stock Dove, Red Kite, Hoopoe and small flocks of Calandra Lark rose in the sky revealing their diagnostic dark underwings (see photo below).

Elsewhere in Los Monegros, it was not long before we had distant views of a small flock of Great Bustard, some sheltering behind bushes to keep out of the icy wind. We drove around and eventually were rewarded with closer views of three more (pictured below). We hoped to connect with Little Bustard too in the area but unfortunately that species eluded us. We did however find another flock of 20 Black-bellied Sandgrouse out in the open.

 

En route to the Steppes of Lleida we had lovely views of 3 Griffon Vultures that glided effortlessly across the road as we drove. On arrival, Stephen guided us to a landfill site where, feeding on the contents of the dump, we had superb and most spectacular views of hundreds of White Stork, Cattle Egrets and Black-headed Gulls together with 20 Red Kites, several Grey Herons, Lapwing and a thousand Starlings. A Common Buzzard was also perched in the area.

Via a flock of 70 Pin-tailed Sandgrouse (photo above), which were quite approachable due to the absence of the more skittish Black-bellied Sandgrouse in the flock, and several Green Woodpeckers seen in a small orchard close to the road, Stephen took us to another of his well-researched locations at Mas de Melons, this time for Black Wheatear (photo below with singing Calandra Lark). And we were not disappointed. We connected quickly with a family party of several birds and good views were had by all of both male and female.

 

Also in the Mas de Melons area, after a short walk from the car, we had wonderful views of a flock of 50 Stone Curlew (below) resting in a ploughed field. A few flew up as we tried to approach unseen but they quickly settled back into the flock. I had seen Stone Curlew before but never so well or in such numbers.

It was an unexpected treat and a lovely finish to our second guided day.

 

 




29th November 2010 – The Catalan Pyrenees (and the Llobregat Delta)

We drove to the Parc Natural Cadi-Moixero where, at an altitude of 2000m, with a little snow on the ground and in temperatures as low as minus 8 degrees, we began our trek up the mountain road hoping for the sun to break through.  Jay, Mistle Thrush, Greenfinch, Goldfinch, Coal Tit and Ring Ouzel were seen before we had our first views of Alpine Chough, with flocks of thirty or more seen wheeling over the cliffs above, their yellow bills clearly visible.

Several Chamois stared down at us from the mountain side briefly halting their foraging in the spartan vegetation to check us out. Rounding a corner which overlooked a small stream, one of our party spotted a (White-throated) Dipper working its way upstream.

This was quickly followed by great views of 5 Alpine Accentors (below), another of our target birds which delighted everyone and once more confirmed our guide’s knowledge of the area. We had found the birds within a few meters of where Stephen suggested that a sighting was possible.
 

With the sun failing to break through we started back towards the cars to warm up. We were treated to close views of two Griffon Vultures that soared out over the cliffs above. They were followed almost immediately by another bird, one that we all had at the top of our wish lists – Lammergeier (top photo).

The views we had of this wonderful vulture were superb, let down only by the dull grey sky. We watched it for a minute or so as it passed directly overhead before it silently glided down the valley and out of sight. Its sighting made us all forget how cold we were, though only briefly.

With snow starting to fall we happily got into the cars and headed down the mountain. As we decended we had a brief view of another Wallcreeper that flew out from a cliff face over the cars. We stopped for a few minutes in a village some way down the mountain where we had another Dipper, Long-tailed, Blue Tit and Crested Tit together with a Firecrest.
 

Returning to Barcelona, we entered the Llobregat wetland reserve, a managed/wardened area with many hides and a good range of species.

Water birds seen here included Shoveler, Common Teal, Gadwall, Great Crested Grebe, Black-necked Grebe, Common Kingfisher, Common Pheasant, Moorhen, Eurasian Coot, Dunlin, Green Sandpiper and Sandwich Tern.

And others included Moustached Warbler, Golden Plover, Skylark, Meadow Pipit, Zitting Cisticola, Cetti’s Warbler and Water Pipit. The gulls present were Black-headed, Yellow-legged and two Mediterranean Gulls.

The best bird for me from this area was Purple Swamphen (above) and we had great views of two of them from one of the hides. We had hoped to connect with Penduline Tit but dipped on that species.
 

As the light was fading, we said goodbye to Stephen our superb guide for the 3 days. He had been everything we had hoped for and more. He knew the birds we were after and put in the time to locate them prior to our arrival. He found most of them for us in the short time we were there. He was happy to answer all our questions, no matter how obvious or obtuse, with a breadth of knowledge that only comes with years of experience and time in the field.

I would have no hesitation in recommending him to others interested in birding the area, a view which I believe would be endorsed by all of our group. We returned to our Villa that evening very satisfied with our trip and the birds we had seen.

Our group included the following members of the Tolka Branch of Birdwatch Ireland.

Dermot McCabe, Lorraine Benson, Heather Quinn, Bill Quinn (additional photos), Gerald Franck, Philip Clancy, Chris Evans, Darragh Hogg and myself John Fox.

[Southern 'Iberian' Grey Shrike].

Spain Birding: Trip and Photo Report from Frank Mawby

Please browse ‘archives’ under the ‘links’ heading in the right hand column for date-ordered trip reports and monthly summaries.

It’s not often that clients’ promises to write up a report actually materialise so – aside from three quick for-the-record mentions for my first ever Long-billed Dowitcher in some ricefields near Lleida on the 21st, a wintering Purple Heron in the same place on 28th and this winter’s first Great Bittern on the Ebro Delta on 27th – I’ll just say a very big thank you to Frank Mawby for the trip report below (and to John Dingemans for additional photos from his trip from 25th-28th) and let him get on with it…

BIRDING IN CATALONIA by Frank Mawby

Our trip to the Rutland Bird Fair this year resulted in a late decision to take a birding holiday in Spain – to be specific, to Catalonia, the region around Barcelona. I scanned the Internet for birding guides and quickly hit on the Catalan Bird Tours website (see ‘Links’ in the right column) of Stephen Christopher. Contact was quickly established, the price was right and included 7 days birding, self-catering accommodation and splendid picnic lunches.

The only other cost was for evening meals and flights. Monarch Airlines fly to Barcelona from Manchester and were the cheapest. Stephen collected and dropped us off at the airport and took us to the supermarket to obtain food. We provided him with our species wish list.

Catalonia has a diversity of landscapes. Estuaries, cliffs, rocky shores and beaches make up a short coastline. Inland are the high mountains of the Pyrenees down to the vast agricultural plains around Lleida with a whole range of landforms in between. Such a diversity of habitats inevitably mean there is a wide diversity of bird life. Our target species included the Lammergeier and Griffon vultures, the Great and Little Bustards, Eagles and other raptors.

[A wintering Black-necked Grebe on the Llobregat Delta, taken on 25th.]

LLOBREGAT DELTA and GARRAF MASSIF, 11th October 2010

Barcelona Airport is built on the estuarine marshes of the Llobregat River and birding commenced within an hour of getting off the plane. Entering the Llobregat Reserve, Stephen soon lived up to his website reputation spotting a Little Bittern landing a short distance away in the reeds and quickly finding it. We had excellent views of our first lifer for the trip.

Green Woodpecker, Black Redstart, Sardinian Warbler and Common Waxbills were seen as we strolled along the paths lined with reeds over 4 m tall. Stephen heard a Penduline Tit but it only gave a brief glimpse as it flew away and was to elude us for a good view until the final afternoon.

We visited hides overlooking large lagoons holding many ducks and waders, including Shoveler, Common Teal, Eurasian Wigeon, Redshank, Snipe, Greenshank, Spotted Redshank and Spoonbill. A Marsh Harrier circled in the distance and horses were grazing the marsh with attendant Little Egret and Cattle Egret but the star bird was a Booted Eagle.

After lunch we drove down the coast, south of Sitges, where a Blue Rock Thrush came to inspect us and the local Black Wheatear appeared.  A lone Audouin’s Gull circled the nearby harbour.  Our drive to Stephen’s place was through the Garraf Natural Park, a hilly region of maritime scrub where he hoped to find some of the specialities like Dartford Warbler and Bonelli’s Eagle on a later visit.

LOS MONEGROS and THE STEPPES OF LLEIDA, 12th October 2010

Tuesday’s weather forecast for the whole region was not good, so our destination was not decided until we met Stephen at 0600 hrs. It was raining and it continued to rain as we drove west towards Aragon. He had found a possible hole in the weather and the target species was Great Bustard.

Sure enough it brightened up as we drove into a vast agricultural plain, a mix of tilled land and stubble with a number of uncultivated weedy fields. We started well with a lone Stone Curlew but the Bustards were not to be seen. The weedy stubbles were more promising and gave us a nice variety of larks including Thekla Lark [photo below], some very late Short-toed and, from one field, well over 500 Calandra Larks with their distinctive calls.

A real surprise was locating a group of 17 Dotterel. The scattered stone barns almost all had a Little Owl perched on the roof and a flock of Jackdaw also included Red- billed Chough.

Stephen eventually spotted something large and brown and we were soon looking at a flock of 14 Great Bustards [top photo] at a distance of less than 100 m.  Nearby, we disturbed another four.  What a remarkable sight to see such a large bird flying so gracefully with the broad white wing bars flashing.  Target species ticked, what next?

A short drive to a new location and we were soon looking at over 50 Stone Curlew and caught a glimpse of the elusive Black-bellied Sandgrouse.  Eventually Stephen pinned them down and we got excellent views as we took lunch.  Two large flocks of Pin-tailed Sandgrouse flew over and to our delight three Hobbies suddenly appeared close-by and then a Golden Eagle gave good views [Photo below].

On the way back we were attracted to a large gathering of Marsh Harriers and Buzzards and this area also gave Spotless Starling, Southern Grey Shrike, Tree Sparrows and Corn Bunting. At our final stop, another part of the vast agricultural steppe area, Merlin, more Stone Curlew, Yellow Wagtails and lots of Red-legged Partridge were seen but we failed to find Little Bustard; quite a day with at least 6 new lifers. There were some good butterflies too including Swallowtail and Clouded Yellow.

THE EBRO DELTA, 13th October 2010

Wednesday, out at 6.00 a.m. again and heading south to the Ebro Delta, a vast area of mainly rice paddy fields teeming with birds. From a viewing platform over-looking a large lagoon we watched Osprey, innumerable Marsh Harriers, and thousands of duck whilst Reed and Cetti’s Warbler were just below us.

Another platform gave us many Red-crested Pochards and a solitary Night Heron amongst several Great Cormorants. A small flight of Spoonbill and then Glossy Ibis passed overhead and another Osprey gave an excellent show followed by a Caspian Tern. We toured around the flooded fields and amongst the many waders and gulls were Audouin’s and Slender-billed Gull, Black and Whiskered Tern, lots of herons, Greater Flamingo, Glossy Ibis, Pied Avocets, Curlew Sandpiper and Little Stint; but a special wader for us was a Wood Sandpiper [Photo below].

Fan-tailed Warbler (Zitting Cisticola), Whinchat and Stonechat were common and a single Spotted Flycatcher was a nice surprise. There were several Robins, a bird that Stephen said was just coming in for the winter.

Lunch was taken in a hide with Willow Warbler and Chiffchaff passing through and a few yards below us a Reed Warbler quickly followed by a Savi’s Warbler gave us a nice comparison of these similar species.

As we prepared to leave, the star bird of the day was spotted and even Stephen could not contain his excitement on seeing a (rare vagrant) Yellow-browed Warbler.

THE PYRENEES, 14th October 2010

Thursday saw us heading north for the Pyrenees. On arrival, there was low cloud as we started to drive uphill but we passed through it into bright sunshine and looking over a wonderful cloudscape.

Small flocks of birds were feeding through the trees including Crested, Coal, Blue and Great Tit – I did not realise that species like this were found at this altitude. Stephen picked up the call of a Short-toed Treecreeper, a call too high pitched for my deteriorating hearing, and it gave but a fleeting glimpse. Bullfinch was also seen up here.

High overhead we observed large numbers of House Martins and a regular passage of thrushes – the silhouettes and flight pattern suggested some were Mistle Thrush and others Ring Ouzel. A Black Woodpecker called in the distance, a Peregrine briefly showed and small flocks of the yellow-billed Alpine Chough and Red-billed Chough gave a good display at one point.

Late morning and it was time to scan the highest tops and sure enough Stephen soon had Griffon Vultures for us, at least a dozen at one point. We moved around the mountain finding Citril Finch and Rock Bunting on the way to the lunch spot where we settled down.

Sure enough, as Stephen predicted, the first Lammergeier appeared cruising along the mountainside.  Then another was located much closer this time, a dark immature bird, and as we watched, it dropped something then descended to the ground and began to eat. It was joined by a male and the two were up and down a number of times. In the air they were harried by Ravens and Griffon Vultures.

We left them and began the long descent, picking up Dunnock, Long-tailed Tit and later (White-throated) Dipper.

THE LLEIDA STEPPES, 15th October 2010

Stephen expressed his concern that recent changes in E.C. agricultural policies that have ended set-aside could see large areas of marginal land put back into production. He pointed out several areas that had been ploughed recently and which he had never seen cultivated over the years he has been birding there. The only nature reserve in this vast agricultural area was a tiny area of rough grassland.

The plan, as last time, was to work the fields area by area. Shelagh spotted our main target species, the Little Bustard – five of them feeding in a rough strip of ground. Eventually we moved on and the track went close enough to move them and a flock of Stone Curlew.  The systematic searching then gave us Rock Sparrows [photo below] with lots of Corn Bunting.



As we drove towards a small pool a superb male
Hen Harrier dropped in to give a brilliant show at less than 50 metres, bathing, flying out, shaking himself then returning to bathe again before flying off to dry [Photo-collage above].

As the search continued, a large flock of Red-billed Chough were found feeding and then took to the air with a brilliant display. Stephen then spotted a distant speck and hurried towards it. Stopping the car we watched a Black-shouldered Kite hunting for several minutes.

We then saw Red Kite for which the main attraction was a refuse tip where I was amazed to see not only lots of Yellow-legged and Black-headed Gulls but hundreds of White Storks, Cattle Egret, and European and Spotless Starling. A Blue Rock Thrush was on a nearby cliff and the area also held Skylark, Thekla Lark, Meadow Pipit, Common Redstart, Merlin, Buzzard and much more – a truly rich area for birds. Driving through an area of scrub another Black-shouldered Kite [Photo below] posed for us on a power line pole and shortly after a Southern Grey Shrike.

By late afternoon we were back close to Stephen’s home where he took us into a shrubby, wooded gorge teeming with birds including many Black Redstarts, Sardinian Warblers, a Cirl Bunting and a Sparrowhawk.

CAP DE CREUS and AIGUAMOLLS DE L’EMPORDA, 16th October 2010

Saturday, our penultimate day, and we headed northwards along the coast towards the French border.

The view from the first hide over a large reed-fringed lagoon was teeming with duck and waders, including Shoveler, Geenshank, Spotted Redshank, Dunlin and Snipe – a great sight with Fallow Deer grazing amongst the birds and a nice White Stork colony.

The drive out to the Cap de Creus was spectacular, made more so by the narrow roads and steep drop offs. It was very windy and few birds were braving the elements, least of all the Levantine Shearwaters [seen by SC only]. Well worth the drive for the scenery but unproductive bird wise other than a Peregrine, Yellow-legged Gulls, Northern Gannet and Eurasian Shag.

Back to Aiguamolls and here we picked up Water Pipit before the first star bird of the day when not one but five Honey-buzzards passed overhead with many Pallid Swifts. One Honey-buzzard came low and gave a clear outline and good views of its main features. Leaving the area along country lanes we had a splendid view of a Goshawk, the best I have ever had of this species.

GARRAF MASSIF and LLOBREGAT DELTA, 17th October 2010

Another reason for choosing the Monarch flight was the 2000 hrs departure to give us a whole day birding on Sunday. The plan was to do Stephen’s home area of the Garraf Natural Park; a hilly landscape of low Mediterranean maritime scrub and pine, which is steadily invading.

The area was regularly fired in the past slowing the pine and maintaining the valuable scrub habitat. However, fires are a hazard to human settlements, to such an extent that even managed burns are avoided. Nor is there interest in grazing the area so succession to pine woodland seems inevitable with consequential changes to the flora and fauna.

At our first stop, a small settlement by a stream, our first Firecrest soon presented itself for close observation. A mixed flock of tits and other species passed through and we had a good view of a Cirl Bunting. Many Serins were seen but this is a common bird of the area. As we drove through the park Dartford Warbler gave good views.

Sunday lunch was a leisurely affair in Sitges where we treated Stephen to a well-earned break.  After lunch, driving along the coast road, we stopped for views of Crag Martin before arriving at the northern area of the Llobregat Reserve.

On the river we saw several Mediterranean Gulls and we had good views of Penduline Tit. As we came out of the last hide our attention was drawn to the sky where several Alpine Swifts were passing over.

It was time to leave and the Bluethroat had eluded us but a Monk Parakeet flew by as we left for the nearby airport.

Our list for the week including birds only heard was 181 species, although truly we could only claim 178 of them due to failing eyesight and hearing which became painfully obvious at times compared to our guide, whose great knowledge of the area and its birds combined with his keen eyesight and hearing had given us an exceptional week of birding in mid-October.

There are so many birds in Catalonia that make it a great region to visit at any time of the year. Stephen is an excellent birding guide and very popular. He books up quickly at peak times. His tours range from a day up to a week, his self-catering accommodation is very comfortable and sleeps up to four people in two double bedrooms and he will pick up from other accommodation, including Barcelona.

FRANK AND SHELAGH MAWBY, U.K.

[dark-phase Booted Eagle, Ebro Delta, 27th]

OTHER TESTIMONIALS:

“Our time in Barcelona was limited so we required someone with excellent local knowledge – this Stephen has in bucketfuls. We began birding within minutes of leaving the city and he took us to areas we would not have found on our own.  We concluded a great day out with seven lifers and also saw our first Swallowtail butterfly – a great bonus.

We enjoyed our day so much and were so impressed by Stephen’s knowledge and amiability that we are going back for four days in May 2011."


Neil and Joan Foster, U.K.

“Fantastic.  All the different habitats, different birds, brilliant. Thank you very much for all your hard work and enthusiasm which made it a very successful and enjoyable break.  We both enjoyed it very much.”

“Thank you for the list of birds seen.  Also for the knowledge passed on. My four days was thoroughly enjoyed."


John Dingemans and Alan Beale, U.K.


Spain Birding: Trip and Photo Report from Jonathan Prochera

Please browse ‘archives’ under the ‘links’ heading in the right hand column for date-ordered trip reports and monthly summaries.


15th – 20th September 2010: Birding in Catalonia, Spain: A Trip report by Jonathan Prochera

Day 1: Barcelona (LLOBREGAT DELTA)

We arrived at Barcelona airport early afternoon, after a smooth two hour flight from Stansted airport and met up with Stephen Christopher.  It was beautifully sunny and warm but there was a strong breeze coming in off of the sea.

[Wood Sandpiper from the Ebro Delta]

The first birds we picked up upon entering the Llobregat Wetlands reserve, near to the airport, were the abundant Zitting Cisticolas, of which we managed to find a non-shy individual and were awarded lovely scope views.  As we progressed through the reserve towards the viewing towers, we recorded Mediterranean and Black-headed Gulls in good numbers mixed in with a small flock of Sandwich TernsMallard, Gadwall, Common Teal and a pair of rather shabby looking Red-crested Pochard were noted as well as a few more common water birds that we were used to back home In Norfolk.
 
Upon reaching the first of the towers we had spectacularly close views of a pair of Ospreys (next photo, from the Ebro Delta) soaring together and being harassed by the odd black-headed gull – not bad having been here for only 20 minutes!

The wind had really begun to pick up now and scope viewing a top the tower was less than favorable.  Despite the wind we recorded: Little Stint, Greenshank, Redshank, Western Marsh Harrier, Spoonbill, Black-tailed and Bar-tailed Godwits and [after some assistance from Ferran, the reserve warden, who generously took us into the protected area in his landrover - SC] a vagrant Buff-breasted Sandpiper, a lifer for myself.

We spent the rest of the afternoon at the Llobregat reserve and recorded a few more common species of wader before returning to our apartment and getting some rest in preparation for an early start the following morning.

Day 2:  THE PYRENEES

Our second day lead us to the Pyrenees.  We had only birded the French side before and so were excited to see what the Spanish side offered not only in respect to wildlife but also in scenery.  We picked up Blackcap, Pied Flycatcher, the common tits and Firecrest at our early morning and much-needed coffee and biscuit stop, shortly adding several Rock Bunting and Black Redstart.

As we gained height we began to notice small flocks of both Red-Billed and Alpine Choughs flying to and fro from the peaks, their harsh calls piercing the empty landscape.  The weather was cooler today and remained mostly grey throughout.  The larger raptors seemed to be hunkered down waiting for the sun with only a few Griffon Vultures seen, but two distant Golden Eagle were a nice treat in the late afternoon.

Apart from the cloud we had a good day in the mountains with a nice selection of birds being seen.  Other highlights included Cirl Bunting, Crested Tit, Alpine Swift, Woodlark, Black Woodpecker and a Peregrine feeding on what we thought must have been one of the fleeing Mistle Thrushes.

[Glossy Ibis, very common on the Ebro Delta]

Day 3:  THE EBRO DELTA

Our third day in Catalonia lead us to the rice fields and waterways of the Ebro Delta and we were up and ready to go before dawn.  The weather forecast was less than promising but we managed to stay dry throughout the day, managing to escape the midday rain by retreating to a well-placed hide.

We spent the morning checking the freshly cut rice paddies for wintering and passage waders and water birds picking up Wood, Green and Common sandpiper, Black-winged Stilt, Little Stint, Purple Swamphen, Water Rail, Glossy Ibis, Greater Flamingo and scores of Grey and Night heron.

[Wood Sandpiper, Ruff, juvenile Little Ringed Plover, Ruff, Red Knot]

Mid-morning, we were treated to some warm Spanish sunshine and enjoyed watching a flock of Little Tern fishing between the thousands of Mallard, Gadwall and Red-crested Pochard.  A lone Common Pochard was recorded from a tower-hide. Bluethroat was also seen if only for a few seconds, as were Cetti’s, Reed and Great Reed Warbler and another Osprey patrolling the waterways. A pair of Great Egret and a fleeting glimpse of a juvenile Little bittern added to our list also.

[Squacco Heron]

During the afternoon we circulated the agricultural areas of the delta some more and recorded Temminck’s Stint, Dotterel, another [vagrant - it was a good year, SC] Buff-breasted Sandpiper, Booted Eagle (next photo), Lapwing and some juvenile Collared Pratincole, as well as scores of Yellow Wagtail with which we had fun determining which subspecies they were and thus, which had made the longest journey to get here.

On our return journey we headed to the coast and managed to pick up Caspian Tern – another lifer for me, an Osprey (making a total of 6 today) fishing and Slender-billed Gull, as well as Turnstone, Spotted Redshank and a pair of Whinchat.

[Black Tern photos, above and top photo (with a Whiskered Tern), taken on 23rd September in the Ebro Delta.  Little Bustard, next photo and two below.  SC]

Day 4: THE STEPPES OF LLEIDA and LOS MONEGROS

An even earlier start today as we set off to the remaining steppe areas of Catalonia and neighbouring Aragón.  We were in search of bustards and sandgrouse and by lunchtime had managed to see both Great and Little bustard and a flock of Pin-tailed Sandgrouse.  All species were seen in double figures, although the Little Bustard were unfortunately flying quite high and away from us – I managed to identify them as geese until we had gained a better view. . .

Rain during the night had brought down flocks of migrating Turtle Dove, one which managed to fight off the clutches of a female Sparrowhawk right next to our vehicle.  Growing flocks of Corn Bunting, Linnet and Goldfinch added to the early morning count, as did Sardinian warbler and a beautiful Black-shouldered Kite sitting in an old olive tree, alert and watching for prey.

As the day warmed, raptor numbers grew.  A pair of first year Golden Eagle were first up, as were multiple Common Buzzard, Red Kite, Western Marsh Harrier and Booted Eagles, then to be joined by Griffon Vultures and a solitary Short-toed Eagle.

The afternoon was spent in Aragón and a huge bloom of insects brought flocks of roving Common Kestrel and migrating Hobby above our heads.  As we travelled past isolated farmhouses we picked up Little Owl and a flock of 20+ Stone-curlew (above) a few meters from our vehicle, which was a brilliant sight!  Tawny Pipit, Honey-buzzard and Southern Grey and Woodchat shrike were also ticked.

Day 5: THE PYRENEES

This time around the weather was perfect and, as we approached this magnificant range, we began picking up more species. The first birds of the day were Firecrest, Blackcap and a flock of feeding Citril Finch mere meters from the car and oblivious to us snapping away at them with our cameras.

As the morning progressed we left the mountain roads and spent some time on the alpine meadows searching for ring ouzel.  No luck, but Stonechat and Dunnock were added.  As mentioned the weather was a lot better in the mountains on this day and birds of prey were in much more evidence. Several Griffon Vultures took off from nearby to us and we managed fabulous views of them no more than 5m above of us, they looked fabulous in the light and at such a close distance, but of course… my camera was in the boot of the car.

As we progressed through the alpine meadow I spotted our first Lammergeier of the day sailing across the top of a ridge.  It was lit up perfectly and we could see that it was young-ish bird due to the lightness of its breast-colouring.  2 other Lammergeier were seen that morning, one shadowing a flock of griffons.  Other highlights included a golden eagle being mobbed by a Raven, many hundreds of chough and our third wagtail of the trip – a Grey Wagtail by a pristine Pyrenean stream.

On our return trip we spotted a falcon shaped bird in a tree but unfortunately were moving too fast to get a good look or stop, however we both thought straight away that it looked like a red-footed falcon! I shan’t count it though..

Day 6:  THE GARRAF MASSIS and THE LLOBREGAT DELTA

Our final day was spent on the coast and in the Costa Garraf where we picked up several new species for the trip including: Shag, Rock Sparrow, Common Redstart, Spotted flycatcher, Sub-alpine, Dartford and Spectacled Warblers, Whitethoat and small flocks of honey-buzzard lazily soaring south.

We had fabulous views of a Peregrine soaring out at sea and returning to the cliffs, a family of kestrels play-fighting in the wind and abruptly disappearing at the sight of the aforementioned Peregrine and a Hobby perched in full view on a Pylon.

As our trip neared to its close we had one final stop at the wetlands on the other side of Barcelona Airport, the only new bird was a fabulously close Wryneck, maybe just two meters away and we had some comical views of Iberian Green Woodpeckers scaling palm trees as well.

I really had a brilliant time birding in this part of Spain and cannot recommend it enough.

We had a more than impressive 170+ bird species in our five full days birding with Stephen.  We had birded in Spain several times before, but after our trip I think we would only return to Catalonia.

The range of habitats and scenery is worth the trip alone, not to mention the great number of such impressive birds available.  Stephen managed to find all our target birds for the trip and provided us with great views of Lammergeier, Great Bustard and an "off-course" Buff-breasted Sandpiper.

Our trip not only let us experience this wonderful corner of Spain and its great wildlife but increased our identification skills when birding – especially when identifying waders and for which I cannot give enough thanks.

A wonderful trip.  I’m sure we’ll be back.

Jonathan Prochera, Robert Prochera, Norfolk, U.K.

[This Two-tailed Pasha, rare in Spain apparently, was seen in the Garraf throughout September.  SC]
.

Spain Birding: White-backed Woodpeckers and Eleonora's Falcons

Please browse ‘archives’ under the ‘links’ heading in the right hand column for date-ordered trip reports and monthly summaries.

This report is really for me to recall possibly the best moment of my birding year but of course feel free to read on.  There is a brief summary for Catalonia at the bottom of the page but… 

…above is a photo of the SIERRA DE ABODI in NAVARRA, in the north of SPAIN.  Taking advantage of a trip to visit family ‘up north’, I took a responsibility-free ‘my day’, on 16th August, and headed up and out in search of a lifer!

Not much chance, I was told, at this time of year but with no options come high hopes… and anyway I always feel that, with parent birds no longer sitting and a peak in numbers arising from recently-fledged juveniles before they start to succumb to life’s trials, summer birding has the odds in its favour, at least sometimes.

I’m not very good at focusing on target birds when I’m birding alone as I get too distracted by just about any other bird on offer but, driving through the photograph above, I resisted the temptation to give it the once over and, excited by the smell of mixed deciduous woodland the range and age of which I rarely see in Catalonia, I pressed on to my destination now just 20 km away, the Selva de Irati – and the White-backed Woodpecker.

As I kitted-up from the back of the car at the Hermita de la Virgen de las Nieves about 0800 a.m. I was welcomed by Black Redstart, (White-throated) Dipper and Nuthatch … and then a Black Woodpecker’s eerie tones pierced my left ear.  I turned instinctively but, no, too far to have any chance of seeing it – but a good start.

Capped and bincoculared and scoped and bagged, I turned to head off and almost immediately felt myself becoming frustrated by the plethora of forest tracks that all seemed to start or end at my feet.  ‘Take the track towards the Embalse,’ I had been pre-advised by a local birder.  But which track is that?!!

‘Woh, hang on a minute,’ I told myself, ‘you’re on holiday, chill out’ and, after forcing my self to relax with a fistful of chocolate-chip cookies and three cups of coffee (yes, I know, but they were small cups), during which time my ears and eyes were entertained by Blackcap, Goldcrest, Robin, Short-toed Treecreeper, Coal Tit and Grey Wagtail, I told my self it didn’t matter and just stepped forward and followed my nose.  Ahh, it’s good to have no responsibilities.

I knew next-to-nothing about White-backed Woodpecker before I started as, for various reasons, I’d barely had time to ask the Navarricos for location tips let alone read-up about the bird, and so I found my self scanning the areas where I might expect to see Great Spotted Woodpecker.  In doing this I came across Common Buzzard, Crested Tit, Chaffinch, Eurasian Sparrowhawk and a party of the always impressive Eurasian Bullfinch (unlike in the UK, not a garden bird here in Spain).

After about ninety minutes I settled at a ‘likely’ spot for Black Woodpecker – space between the trees and a good supply of dead wood – and hoped another particular woodpecker would like it too.  Almost as soon as I noticed some typical Pica negra attention on some of the dead tree trunks, I heard a much louder version of the call that had earlier pierced my ears and quite fortuitously picked out a female Black Woodpecker as she landed, tree-side and in full view through a gap between two old oaks, about 10 metres away.  Fan-tastic.

With much intent, she immediately began to study the bark before her, rather strangely seeming to draw little imaginary pentangles in the air with the tip of her bill.  Between this, and angling and shifting her head, ears and the one white-eye that I could see, she repeated very deliberate short bouts of drumming.  As she seemed occupied by the bark’s occupant I stealthily dared to set up my scope, at which point the red flame lighting only the back of her crown, indicating she was indeed a female, could be seen even more clearly.

Wrapped in her intentions for some time, I eventually became aware that a distinct woodpecker ‘kick’ was filtering into my brain from the woodland below, down the bank to my right.  I waited for it again, when I considered that it seemed somehow chunkier than a Great Spotted Woodpecker’s call.  But I’d been told White-backs were very quiet at this time of year.  Well, in any case, I was sure I’d never heard such a sound before and, in the same moment, became suddenly super-excited and down-right scared at the prospect of ultimately not being able to locate it.  Oh why hadn’t I followed my own rather obvious advice and learned its call before trying to track a new bird?

Leaving my scope behind, I did like the rat and the pied piper and followed it blindly, daring only one step between each ‘kick’.  Two if I was feeling brave.  But, despite nervously scanning all the tree trunks available and re-scanning with some systematic composure, I could not find it, even despite its rather obvious close-proximity.  I became even more torn between excitement and fear, now totally convinced that its source was indeed a White-back as surely a Great Spotted Woodpecker would have revealed itself by now.

And then it struck me.  The floor!  And there it was.  How…beautiful.  How close.

A White-backed Woodpecker.  Every detail seemed to rush at me at once, perhaps inspired by the fear of it flying off.  But not a chance.  What a confiding bird this is.  Looking black-and-white like a Great Spotted Woodpecker, feeding on the ground like a Green Woodpecker but moving along with such unique mannerisms that, to a more experienced eye, it would have given away its identity without need to study its plumage.

Almost an hour went by before it worked its way just beyond comfortable watching, during which time it was joined briefly by a second bird, a black-crowned female.  This bird actually has a partially red cap and a more pinkish vent than is shown in the Collins field guide, so I am assuming it’s a young male.  [Please forgive the awful photos by the way but between fighting a pledge to relax and enjoy the birds for the day and not take pictures and then discovering a dead digi-camera battery, it had moved some way off before it dawned on me that I could hold my tourist camera up to the scope's eyepiece].

Anyway, the White-backed Woodpeckers in the Spanish Pyrenees are of the sub-species lilfordi, that much I did know, so don’t in fact have much of a white-back, not that I’m complaining.  Instead the pattern is more ladder-like or barred.

I’ve since learned that the population in general is under threat from logging, as they need a lot of dead wood, and also that, not surprisingly now, they spend much of their time feeding on or near to the ground.  Aside from a few forays onto tree trunks, mostly near the base, my two birds foraged almost entirely amongst the dead trunks, branches, twigs and leaves on the forest floor.

And by way of a demonstration of their lack of shyness, when two separate walkers eventually strode past, the White-backed Woodpecker remained unperturbed at the first intruder and only flew briefly to a nearby tree-trunk as the second strode past before returning to feed close to the footpath.

In contrast, the still-present Black Woodpecker, which I had also been keeping an eye on, flushed immediately from its new-found position at the first walker (via landing momentarily on a tree three metres away from me!) before finally flying off.

I finally headed out and home at about noon, after observing one of several Marsh Tits playing inside one of the Black Woodpecker holes and capitalising on one or two opportunities to compare Short-toed Treecreepers with the relatively white-bellied and more brown-backed Common Treecreeper.

I did stop off back at the Sierra de Abodi by the way and ate lunch in the company of, amongst others, Red Kite, Griffon Vulture, Red-billed Chough and Water Pipit.

BACK IN CATALONIA

Following the cancellation/rescheduling of a week’s tour at the end of August and a lazy summer, some of it in the UK, I don’t have much to report from Catalonia.

An interesting local tour to the LLOBREGAT DELTA and THE GARRAF MASSIF on the 5th did throw up about ninety species, including a fine Eleanora’s Falcon, perched on a hilltop tree before dropping down out of sight.

The Garraf also produced Bonelli’s Eagle, Black Wheatear, Short-toed Eagle, Blue Rock Thrush, Dartford Warbler, European Shag, Turtle Dove, Pallid Swift, Alpine Swift, Red-rumped Swallow and Rock Sparrow.

Other highlights were a stunning summer-plumage Black-necked Grebe and an early returning Common Kingfisher at Llobregat as well as the usual gulls, terns, herons, shorebirds and warblers.  Migrant Pied Flycatcher, Western Bonelli’s Warbler and Willow Warbler joined the local Penduline Tit and Common Waxbill.

"Thanks very much for a very rewarding day out.  I admired your zeal and dedication and learned a lot about birding in the Garraf region.
The Pallid Swifts, Peregrine, Blue Rock Thrush and Black Wheatear stood out and so did the Llobregat Delta with the Bee-eaters, Hoopoe and the various raptors."

Mark Bovens, Holland

.

Spain Birding: Settled in for the summer – almost

Please browse ‘archives’ under the ‘links’ heading in the right hand column for date-ordered trip reports and monthly summaries.

JULY 2010

As you might expect, the birding produced a similar range of species to June, with the slightly lower total of 183 perhaps reflecting the lesser number of days spent out in the field compared to last month .

Please click here for:

June 2010 report and photos

I am happy to supply a full list in Microsoft Excel for any month if you send me an email.

July Testimonials:
 

“Thanks for a very enjoyable three days of birding around northern Spain.

I really appreciated the effort you put into each day and the depth of knowledge of sites and birds you have in your region. I realise how much effort it takes to build up such an impressive site/species list.

Your persistence in getting excellent views of the species was also greatly appreciated.

There were quite a few highlights for me, close up views of the Pin-tailed Sandgrouse, Little Bustard, Vultures, a Great Spotted Cuckoo close enough to touch, Little Owls, Lesser Kestrels and Greater Flamingos, to name but a few.

I certainly felt that I had seen a good selection of the habitats and birds of north eastern Spain by the end of the trip.

I enjoyed the birding and your company immensely.”

Stuart Dashper, Australia

 

“I really loved the trip!!  To recommend your service on your website what should I do – send a nice email?”  [Consider it done, Frank. Thanks.]

Frank Coenjaerts, Holland

 

“Thank you again for a wonderful day of birding!  I was just about overwhelmed by the end of our adventure.  I plan to write up the trip for our Baltimore Bird Club…”

Mary Chetelat, USA


"We very much enjoyed both the birding and your company.  We’re saving the [Spanish Champagne] you gave us as a reminder of the wonderful time of our birding and our honeymoon."

Elaine and Barry Dancis, USA (June and July)

.

Spain Birding: Settled in for the summer – almost

Please browse ‘archives’ under the ‘links’ heading in the right hand column for date-ordered trip reports and monthly summaries.

"Thank you for a sensational trip – wonderful varied habitats, some great views and lots of new birds for me.  I enjoyed every minute of it."

Peter Kemmis Betty, UK

After unexpected demand forced me to cancel my plans to watch the World Cup in peace and recuperate from an extremely busy Spring schedule, we finished on a rather respectable 190 species for June and the extra birding proved to be a welcome tonic – especially with encounters like this Stone-curlew, or Eurasian Thick-knee, above – given the events that unfolded in South Africa.

Thanks to David Linstead, who visited with Peter Kemmis-Betty from 6th to 10th June, for supplying all the best photos.

THE STEPPES OF LLEIDA and LOS MONEGROS

He took the pretty impressive photo above in the STEPPES OF LLEIDA on the 7th, where we also successfully sought out Pin-tailed Sandgrouse, including a small group feeding amongst the same poppies as this displaying and calling Little Bustard that I digiscoped…

Also from the same viewpoint, perched in a distant tree-top, we picked up the juvenile Black-shouldered Kite that we’d watched hunting earlier, apparently feasting on its success.  A great moment for Catalunya, which has hosted up to three breeding pairs this year, and especially for me as this was, as far as I know anyway, my first Catalan-born bird.  May the expansion continue.

As usual the Steppes, which also comprises Los Monegros just over the border in Aragon, offered up a whole mix of raptors with Griffon Vulture, Booted Eagle, Short-toed Eagle, Montagu’s Harrier, Hobby, Lesser Kestrel and Peregrine all paying us a visit today. 

But no sign of any of the Egyptian Vultures I’d seen with Jean and Chris Cox, on their second trip after first sampling the birds of Catalunya back in September.  We took this photo on the 4th.

And another of my digi-snaps, of this Black-eared Wheatear, was taken in the same area with Nathaniel Wanders on the 26th.  A strange bird that has two male forms – this black-throated version and an alternative that shows just a zorro-mask around the eyes – that co-exist even in adjacent territories.

Of course, Red-necked Nightjar, Roller, Rock Sparrow, Penduline Tit and the rest of the region’s speciality attractions continued to show, although the impending harvest reduced the chances of Common Quail even more than usual and Great Spotted Cuckoo, now mostly magnificent juveniles showing off their back heads and burnt orange wing-flashes, were also becoming harder to come-by.


AIGUAMOLLS DE L’EMPORDA and CAP DE CREUS

My first trip ‘up north’ for some time, on the 2nd, provided some reasonably nice views of all three regular shearwaters, with about 60 Balearic Shearwaters, 40 Yelkouan Shearwaters and a single, larger Cory’s Shearwater diving in amongst the countless Yellow-legged Gulls.

We also had the reliable Ortolan Bunting and several Western Orphean Warblers in full song, a handful of migrating Honey-buzzard and a marvellous Bonelli’s Eagle floating over the car.

BARCELONA: THE GARRAF MASSIF and THE LLOBREGAT DELTA

David captured this Wood Sandpiper almost as soon as he got off the plane, at Llobregat, on the 6th…

a site that, apart from the common wetland breeding species (e.g. see Ebro Delta), also provided an even-now steady stream of migrating wading birds.

And on the 5th, as we got back to the car, we witnessed almost a dozen Monk Parakeets painstakingly removing the seed heads from nearby weeds before flying up out of harms and arms reach to unpack their gifts in peace.  Surprisingly after all that hard work, when one was accidentally dropped from the cable, birds chose to return to clip off a new head rather than pick up the old one from the floor.

And in the Garraf.  Both Red-necked Nightjar and European Nightjar continued the evening-time entertainment, reliably at least until the middle of the month, and the usual Golden Oriole, Pallid Swift, Blue Rock Thrush, Western Bonelli’s Warbler, Dartford Warbler, Rock Sparrow, Red-rumped Swallow and Bee-eater (another David pic below) never failed to make the trip list.

Also of note, an unusually good month for sightings of Northern Goshawk.

THE PYRENEES

Lammergeier, Alpine Chough, Citril Finch, (Rufous-tailed) Rock Thrush, Red-backed Shrike, Rock Bunting, Tawny Pipit and a host of mountain woodland and meadow passerines… yet my favourite rain-soaked moment was Nathaniel rescuing this Fire Salamander on the 28th…

Apparently their body markings are as unique as finger prints.

And whilst we’ve strayed off the bird life, here’s yet more of David’s pictures.. of Chamois and Alpine Marmot.

THE EBRO DELTA

Trips to the Ebro Delta on the 1st and 30th ensured that we finished as we started – with a high quality range and number of the best that any Mediterranean, or even European, wetland has to offer.  And it stayed steadily spectacular through trips in between time too, with this superb shot of a Little Bittern from David taken on the 9th.

along with the its old dependable cousins, the (Black-crowned) Night Heron

… Purple Heron…

and, after doubling back in the car to catch this bird hiding in the corner of a field near La Tancada, finally, Squacco Heron.  I love the colours in this photo but David’s original is far better than I have done justice to here.

Other dependables include many gulls and terns, including the world-rare but locally increasingly-expanding Audouin’s Gull, with in excess of 10,000 pairs breeding on the delta, and this splendid Slender-Billed Gull, complete with pink belly-flush and blood-red bill…

and, of course, the Collared Pratincole.  Although this particular shot took some work due to a bit of tourist disturbance…

But, although may be not the best photo in the world, I was very grateful to David for this very-difficult-to-get Savi’s Warbler… the only photo I have.

BUT.  APPARENTLY THE SPRING ISN’T OVER!!  On the 25th, after searching high and low in vain since mid-April for one of my all-time favourite birds, I slammed the breaks hard on and hardly dared to glimpse back at what surely was, at long last and with some extreme fortune, a Red-footed Falcon perched on a cable near La Tancada.

It allowed us to reverse back, exit the car, set up the scope and watch it for some minutes before moving off to the next post down when, given that the record was very late in the season, I finally decided to grab a couple of digi-snaps to confirm the report.

A miracle.  After a (hopefully temporary) shift in the timing of the wheat harvest that now seemingly comes too late to supply migrating birds with the much-need glut in flying insects, I had only recently resigned myself to a no-show for the year.

JULY 2010

As you might expect, the birding produced a similar range of species, with the slightly lower total of 183 perhaps reflecting the lesser number of days spent out in the field compared to June.

I am happy to supply a full list in Microsoft Excel for any month if you send me an email.

"I really enjoyed the trip and was highly impressed by the way you got around the dodgy weather, especially on the Ebro Delta day!"

David Linstead, UK

"Stephen’s knowledge of Catalan birds is outstanding.  If you’re looking for a specific bird, Stephen can take you to it.  If you want to know what birds are in a particular locale, he will show you.  And if you want to learn how to identify a species by appearance or behaviour, he will teach you."

Nathaniel Wander, US/UK

"We very much enjoyed both the birding and your company.  We’re saving the [Spanish Champagne] you gave us as a reminder of the wonderful time of our birding and our honeymoon."

Elaine and Barry Dancis, USA

.

Spain Birding: Ladder Snakes, Rooks and other board games

Please browse ‘archives’ under the ‘links’ heading in the right hand column for date-ordered trip reports and monthly summaries.

A hefty total of 217 species recorded in 24 birding days this month, including 21 raptors, 23 wading birds, 13 gulls and terns, and 18 warblers – so I’ll wrap this attempted summary conveniently around Vicky and James King’s birding break, and the amazing photos James took between 11th – 17th May 2010.  Many more of his photos, uncropped and much better quality, can be seen here: James King Gallery

LLOBREGAT DELTA, BARCELONA

Let’s kick off with my own personal favourite that dropped in after some night-rain on the morning of 11th May.

The photo above is clearly a Western Yellow Wagtail but, even on first sighting I was captivated by the dark olive-green head that stood out in the low morning sunlight as it worked its way bobbing between the blades of grass outside the hide at LLOBREGAT.  A black-headed, or feldegg sub-species, one would suppose – but their heads are usually, er, black.

For comparison, see this classic example of a Black-headed Wagtail (Motacilla flava feldegg) from our trip to the PYRENEES on 14th…

… and, quite remarkably, we had a second green-headed version by the car in the AIGUAMOLLS DE L’EMPORDA on 15th May and, again, it was so unusual that it took a long, long time before we could draw ourselves away from it.  Well, if anyone has any ideas… feel free to post a remark or send me an email.

Back in the real world at LLOBREGAT, this Eurasian Coot scrap was a thriller, going on for more than some minutes with this assassin’s repeated attempts to drown a presumed rival and it eventually involving four birds.

Two very late Garganey was an encouraging sign, even if they were both males, and indeed news later in the year confirmed Catalonia’s first breeding pair for some time, although this was at Vilaut, Aiguamolls.

Little Bittern, Squacco Heron, Eurasian Spoonbill, Great Crested Grebe, Purple Swamphen, Collared Pratincole, Eurasian Oystercatcher (first time breeding!), Pied Avocet, Audouin’s Gull, Great Spotted Cuckoo, Bee-eater, Hoopoe, Golden Oriole and this Great Reed Warbler, above, made up the regulars on Barcelona’s Llobregat Delta, whilst the day’s migrants included European Roller, Garden Warbler and Pied Flycatcher.

OTHER MAY BIRDS: Northern Gannet, Temminck’s Stint, Eurasian Nightjar, Caspian Tern, Red-rumped Swallow, Wood Warbler and Common Waxbill.

EBRO DELTA

Actually many of the same species of course, including this Purple Heron below, can be seen on the Ebro Delta, where the Kings and I headed on the 12th, but it’s not every time that you get to witness one in an almighty struggle with a highly resistant Ladder Snake (I think).  A full photo-series on James’ link above.

A total of 8 species of heron can be seen easily at this time of year on the Ebro Delta, Europe’s third most important wetland, including Little Bittern and this Squacco Heron, showing a blue-ish bill in breeding plumage …

… with other high-priority target species being Caspian Tern, Greater Flamingo, Glossy Ibis, Purple Swamphen…

Gull-billed Tern, Slender-billed Gull and this Audouin’s Gull…

… not to forget land birds, including the very localised Savi’s Warbler, and the rather enigmatic and somewhat unique Collared Pratincole (below), which for some reason didn’t seem to have a good year on the Ebro Delta this year (but excelled itself at Delta de Llobregat) …

OTHER MAY BIRDS: similar to Llobregat Delta above.

THE STEPPES OF LLEIDA (Catalonia) and LOS MONEGROS (Aragon)

May is a good time for the speciality target species such as Little Bustard, Pin-tailed Sandgrouse, Black-bellied Sandgrouse and Stone-curlew, unfortunately good photos of them were not forthcoming on the King’s third trip, on the 13th. 

However, I did manage this Red-necked Nightjar taken in a regular spot a few days earlier.

Males often have several day time roost spots, occupied when the female is sitting, so they can be hard to pick up.  But actually, its mate is sat close-by, just out of frame.

James’ picture of this stubborn car-side adult Great Spotted Cuckoo that just wouldn’t budge demonstrates quite typical behaviour for this species, which lays its eggs in Magpie nests, and photos like this are not too difficult to come by.

The same cannot be said for European Roller however with birds usually taking flight just before the camera shutter clicks.  To make up for it though, they are sometimes seen in pairs carrying out their ‘rolling’ display.

Another easy one, European Bee-eater.  Very common and often returns to the same perch.

This Iberian (or Southern) Grey Shrike, Lanius meridionalis, below, can be told from its European (Great Grey) counterpart with relative ease by the pink flush to the lower parts and a white eye-stripe that crosses and meets over the bill.

One of my all-time favourites turned out to be a May regular.  The ghostly Black-Shouldered Kite (still nesting!) flies like an owl and hovers like a kestrel.  Others worth a mention are:

Egyptian Vulture, Golden Eagle, Booted Eagle, Montagu’s Harrier, Lesser Kestrel, Spectacled Warbler, Common Quail, Black Wheatear, Black-eared Wheatear and nest-building Penduline Tit.

Bonelli’s Eagle
, European Honey-buzzard and Dupont’s Lark only occasionally made the ‘seen’ list, the latter of course to be expected without specialised early-morning trips, but Thekla Lark, Calandra Lark (below)…

Lesser Short-toed Lark and Short-toed Lark (below) were amongst those making sure the family were well-represented.

THE PYRENEES

Almost standard stock in May for the Catalan Pyrenees, in the province of Barcelona, include the almost mythical Lammergeier, as well as other raptors, and the much-asked-for flocks of Citril Finch, the somewhat contradictory (Rufous-tailed) Rock Thrush (they really don’t seen to like the weather at altitude) and the hugely impressive Black Woodpecker.

But, although by nature there are less species in mountain woodlands, some, such as Firecrest, Crested Tit, Short-toed Treecreeper, Red Crossbill, Western Bonelli’s Warbler (above) and Bullfinch (below), present enough challenges to easily fill in the day and so it proved on the 14th.

Typically, the charming Alpine Chough (poorly photographed by me below), are often to be found noisily mixing with their Red-billed Chough cousins, when you should listen out for the most un-corvid-like sound you’re ever likely to hear. 

Along with Red-backed Shrike, (White-throated) Dipper, Rock Bunting and Nuthatch, they rarely disappoint but sightings of Wryneck, Ring Ouzel and Egyptian Vulture are less predictable.

Grey Partridge is quite rare for Catalunya and a small family group seen on the 24th proved to be the only May sighting.

AIGUAMOLLS DE L’EMPORDA and THE CAP DE CREUS

The Kings didn’t actually make the full Cap de Creus trip, all the way to the Cap itself, but on the 15th we did manage an early morning jaunt through some song-filled woodland on the edge of the park, picking up lots of passerines but especially targeting the noisy and characterful Western Orphean Warbler.

A steady stream of European Honey-buzzard passed overhead and, despite the usual confusion between it and the Common Buzzard, I defy anyone to have doubts over this classic example above.

A little higher up we added Pallid Swift and our next target, Ortolan Bunting, didn’t prove too difficult either, with a belligerent singing male ignoring the wind with more success than we did.

Back at the Aiguamolls reserve in the lowlands, where many species are obviously similar to the other wetlands we’d already visited, we satisfied ourselves with better views and better photographs of some, such as these Eurasian Spoonbill above.

From other trips to these north-eastern locations, however, Balearic Shearwater, Garganey and Northern Lapwing are all worth a mention.

GARRAF MASSIF, BARCELONA

The Kings spent the 16th and the morning of the 17th exploring deeper into the Garraf Hills where we enjoyed tracking down Bonelli’s Eagle, Hobby, Dartford Warbler and Red-necked Nightjar, compared Pallid, Alpine and Common Swifts and watched a male Peregrine Falcon suddenly rise from his ocean-side perch, drop like a stone and, in a flash, grab a Crag Martin no more than one metre from the surface of the Mediterranean Sea.  His larger mate sauntered over momentarily but, unimpressed by the size of the catch, she returning condescendingly to her own perch.

A final quick-stop back at Llobregat, where we began the trip, proved to tie things up nicely with a little deja-vue – Western Yellow Wagtails, this time iberiae sub-species, drawing the attention again, and fighting in almost the same spot as the coots!

Other May GARRAF birds:

Temminck’s Stint and Balearic Shearwater on and from Vilanova beach respectively.  My first Garraf Common Quail.  And evening trips to see displaying and singing Red-necked Nightjar and European Nightjar.

And finally, on 28th, a very rare vagrant to Catalonia, and not too far from the house – a Rook!

"It was well worth putting up with the nausea on the ferry to get the fantastic week’s birding that you organised!!
Got home on Saturday and am now reading through my Spanish bird lists with a big grin on my face.
A big thank you again for the best introduction to European birding – am hooked now!  Simply cannot decide on the best day of the week; every trip offered something unique."

Sandra Davies, UK (April and May)

"What more could I add to what Sandra wrote!  My feelings were very similar.  If I had to pick two destinations it would be the Pyrenees and the Steppes, however the birding on the coast and elsewhere was brilliant!  So no favourite then."

John Maddock, UK (April and May)

"Thanks for all you did in making the trip a happy and memorable one – not only did you show us a lot of birds but it also gave us some background for the rest of our trip."

Vicky and James King, USA

.

Spain Birding: More crakes and April migrants

Please browse ‘archives’ under the ‘links’ heading in the right hand column for date-ordered trip reports and monthly summaries.

"It was well worth putting up with the nausea on the ferry to get the fantastic week’s birding that you organised!!"  Sandra Davies, UK

April began where March left off with this Spotted Crake and at least one Little Crake still present on the LLOBREGAT DELTA as I write on the 13th.  And I also had three Little Crakes (one male) in the AIGUAMOLLS DE L’EMPORDA on the 12th.

I had my first local Common Cuckoo in the GARRAF on the 1st and, from that moment, the chain of first arrivals around Barcelona has brought Pied Flycatcher and Little Bittern (3rd), Collared Pratincole (6th, photo below), Great Reed Warbler and Wood Warbler (9th), and Bee-eater, Nightingale and an (unremarkable) Siberian Chiffchaff, sub-species tristis, singing on the 10th.  This photo was taken by Ferran Lopez Sanz, who discovered it the day before.

Garganey, Common Redstart, Northern Wheatear, various heads of Yellow Wagtail and thousands of waders including Temminck’s Stint and Marsh Sandpiper, have continued to hang around and pass through, with a high count of 600 Little Gull off the coast of Barcelona throughout the second week of April especially worth a mention.  As is the presumably last Gannet diving off the GARRAF coast on the 3rd.

The 17th proved to be the day of the year I always look forward to, when two year-first Ortolan Bunting fed a few metres away as I nibbled on a sandwich in the GARRAF.  And two days later, on the 19th, a late Chaffinch, a couple of Bonelli’s Eagles and finally, after searching the whole GARRAF, this lone Turtle Dove was found sat in a tree by my house!

 

This very approachable Great Spotted Cuckoo captured on the Llobregat on 9th, joins a host of species such as Purple Heron, Red-rumped Swallow, Bonelli’s Warbler, Woodchat Shrike and Whiskered Tern that have all settled themselves in by now.  Squacco Heron, Black-eared Wheatear and Sub-alpine Warbler, which always sets the blood racing, are still trickling into the region.

And a thrilling day on the 22nd, when I had to enlist the help of the local warden to fast-jeep me across the Ca L’Arana beach to a viewing tower where I watched in awe as more than 150 Yelkouan Shearwater were circling and feeding in two loose groups low over the Mediterranean.  They were joined on the fringes by a handful of Common Scoter and, amongst the throngs, a half-dozen Northern Gannets and a pirating Arctic Skua!  And all that just after a passing male Ferruginous Duck had been picked out through a gap in the reeds.  One of the best hour’s of the year so far!

Nest-building Penduline Tit, more Bonelli’s Eagle (including an immature), frisky Black Wheatear and Blue Rock Thrush competing for rock space and singing Moustached Warbler all fight not to be upstaged by the new arrivals whilst some, like the summer plumaged Black-necked Grebe below, merely change their outfit to attract attention.  A terrible photo but what a bird this is.

This Lesser Kestrel above, along with Black Kite, Short-toed Eagle, Great Spotted Cuckoo, Black-eared Wheatear and Spectacled Warbler, had all established themselves by the time I made my first spring visit to THE STEPPES on the 8th April, with a pair of the latter even nest-building.

But the highlight today was the real reason for my visit and a day-time singing (as they usually do at this site) Dupont’s Lark, walking along the path in front of me would have kept me smiling for the rest of the day even if I hadn’t also had the usual Little Bustard, Pin-tailed Sandgrouse and Black-belied Sandgrouse, all in the same field at one point, along with Stone-curlew and year-first Short-toed Lark and Whinchat.

However, a return trip on 15th April, besides a pair of year-first passing Tree Pipit, witnessed the remarkable scene of a pair of displaying Black-shouldered Kite with the birds even disappearing into a nearby tree!  Subsequent events were to reveal possibly three breeding pairs for the region and a very promising outlook for the future (see June).

 

A trip to the AIGUAMOLLS, on the 12th, saw six Collared Pratincole and three Egyptian Geese sitting out the rain on the Mata, where I also found 12 Whimbrel, a pair of Little Crake and, overhead, a constant string of hundreds and hundreds of Common Swifts headed north.  Along the edges, apparently uninterested in my soaking appearance standing before them, Sedge Warbler (below), Moustached Warbler, Sub-alpine Warbler and a solitary Linnet all sang their hearts out oblivious.

Two Nightingale were singing, or practicing at least, in other parts of the reserve, one at Cortalet, with a nearby year-first Melodious Warbler doing likewise and a Wryneck joined in briefly.  On the water, a pair of Northern Lapwing and a few Eurasian Wigeon put in a reminder for winter but a lone rare Ferruginous Duck stole the show.

Finally, a quick stop off at the Estany Europa produced yet another Little Crake and a single Marsh Sandpiper and a Rose-ringed Parakeet cawing.

But I wasn’t able to return, for the regular passage of Red-throated Pipit (below) in the north of Catalunya, until the 20th, when at least six birds were present around Mata, with the show continuing at least until the 26th.

The other main year-first target for the 20th was the Western Orphean Warbler, which was easily located on every trip through the summer in the CAP DE CREUS from this day forth.  Today, I was saved a bit of leg work with two competing birds singing close to the car.  And another highlight for the day was around 100 Balearic Shearwater active around the Cap itself.

Two end-of-the-month trips to THE PYRENEES, on the 28th and 30th, produced not only the usual bag of Lammergeier, Citril Finch, Alpine Chough, Black Woodpecker, Honey-buzzard, etc. but good numbers of year-first (Rufous-tailed) Rock Thrush.

And sandwiched between them, on the 29th in THE EBRO DELTA, quite remarkably my only White-winged Tern of the year!!  What’s going on?

"Thanks for a great day’s birding, especially the two Bonelli’s species.  We’ll be in touch again"

Derek Gifford and Janet Hale, UK

"Got home on Saturday and am now reading through my Spanish bird lists with a big grin on my face.
A big thank you again for the best introduction to European birding – am hooked now!  Simply cannot decide on the best day of the week; every trip offered something unique."

Sandra Davies, UK (April and May)

"What more could I add to what Sandra wrote!  My feelings were very similar.  If I had to pick two destinations it would be the Pyrenees and the Steppes, however the birding on the coast and elsewhere was brilliant!  So no favourite then."
 

John Maddock, UK (April and May)

.

Spain Birding: Trip Report from Derek Gifford and Janet Hale

Please browse ‘archives’ under the ‘links’ heading in the right hand column for date-ordered trip reports and monthly summaries.

3rd April 2010: Barcelona Day Trip Report by Derek Gifford & Janet Hale (UK)

This was a guided day’s birding with Stephen Christopher who runs Catalan Bird Tours. We began the day at the LLOBREGAT DELTA NATURE RESERVE which is a well-organised and designated wetland reserve.
 
Many of ‘our’ common UK species were present of course which aren’t mentioned here because I wanted to concentrate on some of the speciality birds and our first annual sightings of a number of common migrants.
One of the first birds heard was Cetti’s Warbler but here, instead of the usual ‘heard only’ status we had good sightings of a number of individuals. Serins were also much in evidence and seen and heard throughout the reserve.

The first migrant we recorded was a fine male Common Redstart followed by a number of Barn Swallows and Common Swifts. Other Redstarts were seen later. Sardinian Warblers were also noted although not in large numbers.

The first of the rarer species seen was a Little Crake which constituted an addition to my European list. Although a little elusive at first it eventually showed very well. More numerous were the Zitting Cisticolas (I still think that the old name of Fan-tailed Warbler is better!) which were singing and displaying giving excellent views.  Purple Swamphens were also much in evidence making a nice addition to the more common rails etc. that were present.
 
The next migrants to be noted were House Martins and White Wagtails followed by overflying Yellow Wagtails. We were able to study a variety of sub-species of the latter from one of the hides. These included the nominate Blue-headed flava race from central Europe, flavissima race for the UK and the iberiae for Spain. One of the Italian race cinereocapilla was also present although I wasn’t sure that I could identify it as well as Stephen did!

Black-winged Stilts were good to see here, as were a number of Garganey with them. The latter were much more obliging than the ones we see in Britain as they came out into the open water to feed and I was able to take a few ‘long shots’ of them with the camera. Other common duck species were noted as well as 2 Little Ringed Plovers and 2 Green Sandpipers both of which were year ticks for me, all viewed from the extensive hide.

Migrant warblers noted included a ‘heard only’ Reed Warbler as well as other common ones. On leaving the second hide Stephen spotted and heard a Bonelli’s Warbler which gave very good views of its very pale underside and a snatch of song reminiscent of the opening notes of wood warbler. Definite ID and a lifer for me!

The next lifer was found along the river estuary where a roost of Audouin’s Gulls was seen. These handsome gulls were a delight to see as the species was one of my ‘must see’ larus species. They didn’t disappoint.

On the long walk round to bring us back to the reserve reception area we had a brief view of a Little Bittern which was another addition to my European list. A couple of Spotless Starlings just outside the reserve were the last highlighted species seen. This is a superb reserve and we saw only a half of it!

We then drove to THE GARRAF MASSIF to look for Black Wheatear and it wasn’t long before we found both a male and female on the rocky cliffs. Also here was a pair of Blue Rock-thrushes making it 2 lifers in a matter of minutes. The male treated us to a quick sing too. More year ticks were obtained when we saw brief views of Northern Wheatear and Black Redstart. Another Sardinian Warbler and a Peregrine Falcon completed the list on this brief visit.

We finished off the day with a couple of short walks in the high sierras of the Garraf Natural Park looking for eagles and wheatears. On the way we noted Stonechats (another year tick!), Woodchat Shrike (we’d already seen one of these in Barcelona earlier), swallows including a Red-rumped Swallow and a Short-toed Treecreeper, the call of which I heard for the first time – very loud and very different from ‘our’ treecreeper. A female Pied Flycatcher was also noted during the drive up to the high tops.

It was the second of the walks that produced at least one of the target species in the form of Bonelli’s Eagle with a pair flying close enough to ‘scope. This meant that I’d seen both species named after the Italian ornithologist Bonelli on the same day!

Just to add to the list, while waiting for the eagles, we found a Thekla Lark which gave good views. The eagles were the most difficult of the species to find for the day and we weren’t able to find the hoped for black-eared wheatears but a Dartford Warbler gave me another year tick on the way back from the walk.

We recorded over 80 species in the day which, considering we visited only three habitats and were too early in the year (by a few days only) for a number of other interesting migrant species, was an excellent total which included 5 lifers and a few European ticks for me.

A red letter day’s birding. Thanks Stephen!

.