The Catalan Pyrenees with Birdinginspain.com and Naturetrek

For the third year running Naturetrek are offering their excellent and well-researched trip to the Catalan Pyrenees. How could it be otherwise, seeing that they are relying on the intimate knowledge and expertise of BirdinginSpain.com to show their clients the very best of the region?

Highlights of the May 2007 tour are rather too numerous to describe here, but can be seen in detail in the trip report which is accessible at the following link:

Catalonia

We aim to repeat everything that made it a winning formula: the hotels, the sites and itineraries, and some wonderful encounters with an incredibly varied birdlife. Hopefully good weather will also be the name of the day!

Walking with Naturetrek in Montsec

For more details and the trip report click on the link above.

Put birding in Spain on the tourism map

This is a call from Birdinginspain.com to all fellow birders who may be planning a birding trip to Spain, not just northeast Spain, but anywhere in this bird-rich country.

Go birding and be seen. Bird and be proud, and in so doing give native Spaniards a little insight as to why you are in their country. “I’m here for the birds” is a valid statement, above all when they can see that you are a paying guest. And that the country’s natural heritage has value and pulling power.

If hoteliers, hire companies, shopkeepers and farmers can see you enjoying wildlife and in a way that may bring them some benefit without doing any harm to the environment, then your visit will have had a positive impact. Some of them may start to regard the steppes, mountains and wetlands that you visit as positive assets, as something worth protecting.

That doesn’t mean that you should blow trumpets when you arrive. Or wave huge flags from your hotel balcony. There are other more subtle but effective ways of being seen birding:

(i) Carry binoculars with you to hotel receptions, shops, restaurants etc.

(ii) If approached by curious onlookers, be polite. Explain what you are doing with the bird guide, gestures and even a little Spanish (or Catalan if in Catalonia).

“I’m watching birds”

= Spanish: “Estoy mirando pájaros” (es-toy-meer-an-do-pa-har-ohs)

= Catalan: “Estic mirant ocells” (es-tick-meer-an-oh-seylls)

(iii) Take some bird-related stickers with you and give them to hoteliers and the like. Or stick them on your car (not on rental cars though!)

(iv) If going to a very bird-oriented destination, such as a hotel near Belchite or the Ebro Delta you could even try to establish a birder’s logbook in the hotel. Take one or two with you and try it out.

Happy Birding!

Birdie about bats?

There are times when one must acknowledge, however reluctantly, that there’s more to life than birds and birding. There are also butterflies, orchids, flowers…even bats. Yes, bats. Those cute flying rodents that fly around when most birds have tucked down for the night. Just imagine if you were able to see in the dark, and had as much interest in watching bats as you do in watching birds. Then you’d have a perfect excuse for staying out all day and all night!

Wouldn’t that make the other half really happy!

Seriously though, bats are really fascinating creatures, and although I’ve seen quite a few here in Catalunya I’ve never got very far with their identification. I’ve been roaming around the web a bit and just found this very comprehensive site dedicated exclusively to bats. Basically it’s the fatbirder equivalent site for bats and incorporates all the links that the author, Jim Buzbee, has found relating to his personal passion for those widely misunderstood fluffy beings.

Follow this link to find out much more about bats.

Introduce a new angle to those exhausting 24 hour bird marathons.

A birder’s view of … Faió and the River Ebro.

It could be said that the village of Faió is twice hidden. Once when the construction of the Riba-Roja reservoir flooded the old village, which was relocated on higher ground nearby. And twice, even now in the 21st Century, when the solitude of the village is pierced more by the River Ebro than by the winding roads that lead to it.

A distant view of part of the old village of Faió half emerged in the River Ebro

This is a part of northeast Spain that is ideal for those who like birding at their own pace. Stop now and then to admire the lonely hermitages, bee-eaters, rocky crags perhaps inhabited by the Blue Rock Thrush or a shy pair of Black Wheatears.

Stroll among the scented pinewoods listening to Bonelli’s Warblers, Sardinian Warblers and Crested Tits, stand on top of a breezy hill to watch for the Short-toed Eagle, the Griffon Vulture, and maybe even a Golden Eagle. Then approach vertical riverside cliffs, domain of Peregrine Falcons, Alpine Swifts, Egyptian Vultures and more.

This was a site of intense fighting during the Spanish Civil War. Faió was an important piece of the aptly named Battle of the Ebro. It’s hard to believe that such a tranquil setting could have had such a turbulent 20th Century.

A birder’s view of … the Monegros.

The Monegros, Ebro Valley. The most arid part of northern Spain.

Birding in the Monegros, a haven for steppeland birds.

This is still one of the best birding areas in northeast Spain for dryland, or steppeland, birds. Calandra larks, Lesser Short Toed larks, Short Toed larks, Lesser kestrels, Black-bellied Sandgrouse, Little Bustard and even a relict population of Great Bustard inhabit this seemingly barren landscape.

Alas, apart from birders and a handful of naturalists, the Monegros are unloved. Most decision-makers would rather see thousands of hectares of transgenic maize, or better still, something like “Las VegasII” – a 2,000 ha leisure complex  with 32 hotels, golf courses, all in the middle of the semi-desert.

And they say the wildlife won’t be affected.

About giving up birding – part 2

So heed the warning all you would-be convertees! A pair of binoculars is not a toy – it’s a life-long companion. However, for those still intent on giving up in spite of all the good advice, here are some suggestions:

Don’t do it. Life’s too short. You only have one innings. You’ll regret it. Stop.

Find something else you’re reasonably good at and convert it into a profitable activity. This suggestion is only really suitable for a very select few, as 99% of birders are no good at anything at all other than birding, and many of them not even at that.

Write a book or set up a web page about birds. That’s probably the gentlest way of reducing your real birding activity to almost nothing. Something about “when it becomes a chore…”, or “I spend so much time writing about them that I rarely have enough time…” etc.

Sell the car, move to a remote farmstead on Exmoor and become self-sufficient, or set up a basket-making cottage industry.

DO NOT take up train-spotting as a substitute activity.

Any further suggestions would be welcomed.

About giving up birding – part 1

Have you ever been under pressure from the loved one to stop birding and dedicate yourself to something more productive?

If so, here are some reflections on the matter…

ABOUT GIVING UP – Part 1

So the long-suffering wife has apparently reaped her due rewards and converted her one-time birding companion into a fine, upstanding member of society; someone to be the father of her children; someone who, when’s she’s entertaining guests, isn’t afflicted by an overriding urge to sneak away now and then in the hope of adding to the bedroom window list or to puzzle over the “Monthly Marathon” in the British Birds magazine.

But how long can this state of affairs last? One year? Five? Ten? Sadly, statistics show that a converted birder’s return to the bosom of the birding world is a proven fact – there is almost the same possibility of a Willow Warbler not turning up somewhere on the south coast of England during spring migration as there is of a convert not picking up his binoculars ever again. To quote Keith, a fellow birder who I once coincided with at Dungeness, Kent “Birding’s in the blood”.

This, in my view, just about sums it up: birding is not a pleasant Sunday afternoon pursuit, a gentleman’s sport or a passing fad; it’s a totally addictive obsession, which once tried can never be entirely forgotten. You can leave it for a while but never for good. I myself have tried on several occasions, exclaiming things like “I really am giving up birding”, “After all, what’s the point of it?” or “It’s a waste of time”. And with what results? Just a flippin’ huge gap in my Norfolk list where Rhodostethia rosea should be. Aaaaaaaaaaagh! A beautiful summer-plumaged Ross’s Gull at Cley all afternoon! And I refused to go! And to think all I did was gaze out of the library window at panting dogs and student couples (also panting)!

Birdinginspain.com – our top 10 birds … continued

Birdinginspain.com – our top 10 … continued

Number 5: Black Woodpecker

The Black Woodpecker impresses by its size, its coloration and its powerful, far-carrying voice. The several encounters I’ve had with this species at its nest sites constitute some marvellous birding moments that I hope I will never forget.

You can find Black Woodpecker in Northeast Spain in this itinerary

Number 4: Pin-tailed Sandgrouse

Personally, I have a soft spot for sandgrouse, and luckily both species that can be seen in Europe are to be found here in northeast Spain.

If you ever get the chance to get close enough to this wary bird take a good long look at the wonderfully intricate designs on its plumage. As a ground nesting bird it is one of the masters of camouflage, but apart from that it’s a bird with a lot of character.

Not to be missed.


Number 3: Black-bellied Sandgrouse

The Black-bellied Sandgrouse is deservedly famous for its long flights to water pools and the male’s ability to soak his belly feathers with water and then fly back to the nest scrape to provide his chicks with precious droplets of water.

I’ve spent a lot of time scanning open fields in dryland areas for this emblematic species; I’ve been lucky at times, and at others the rocks I was staring at never moved.

Selected Black-bellied sandgrouse itinerary

Number 2: LammergeierThe Lammergeier is unique in many ways, not the least for its dietary habits seeing that it’s the only bird in the world that eats bones. It’s one of the biggest birds you can see in Spain, it’s majestic, silent, and inhabits some of the most remote and scenic areas in the country.

Excellent credentials that make it my number 2 bird in the region.

Here is a detailed itinerary with a high chance of seeing a Lammergeier, or even 10!

Number 1: Wallcreeper

I’m sure that I’m not alone in choosing the Wallcreeper as the number 1 bird of northeast Spain. It’s one of those birds that captivate both the imagination and the attention when it’s actually within sight. Or in other words, a bird that you really want to see and that when you do you actually spend a long time watching it.

A summer itinerary for Wallcreeper

A winter itinerary for Wallcreeper


That’s my own personal list, but what do you think? What are your top 10 favourites from the region? It could be a list of birds you have seen or else birds you want to see. If enough people send in their own lists we can really see what the most popular species are.

If you want to read more about these species and others then you would do well to get hold of a copy of my latest book “Flying over the Pyrenees, standing on the plains”. At the Birdinginspain.com website you can download a couple of free chapters, and you may also like to know that it was Subbuteo Natural History Book’s “Book of the month” in September 2007.

For full details about where to see these species and more in northeast Spain purchase a copy of my first book “Where the birds are in northeast Spain”.

Birdinginspain’s top 10 birds of northeast Spain

Birdinginspain.com – our top 10 birds

Here is our list of the most special 10 species of bird that occur regularly in northeast Spain. Of course the choice is entirely subjective, and depends on appreciation of things like attractiveness, rarity, behaviour or even habitat.

Below each species there is a link to a recommended itinerary from the Birdinginspain.com web page where it is possible to see the species.

Number 10: Red-backed Shrike

This species is one of the last summer migrants to reach its breeding grounds in Spain, and does so by migrating along the eastern Mediterranean and then following on through southern Europe before entering the Pyrenees.

Watch a Red-backed Shrike impaling an insect on a thorny bush in a green pasture with a beautiful mountain backdrop, take delight from the bird’s beautiful plumage and breathe the fresh air.

See the Red-backed Shrike here


Number 9: Hawfinch

The Hawfinch is a very localised breeder in this part of the world, so the easiest time to see it is in winter. Occasionally there are irruptions when groups of up to 50 birds can be seen, mostly in areas with a good number of Hackberries.

It’s a shy bird, often difficult to see well, but when you do it’s an experience to remember.

A winter itinerary for Hawfinch

Number 8: Bonelli’s Eagle

The Bonelli’s Eagle was SEO-Birdlife’s “bird of the year” in 2005. A magnificent and truly Mediterranean raptor, but unfortunately its range is shrinking and its population is declining. Electrocution, habitat fragmentation, disturbance at nest sites, even illegal shooting and poisoning are all taking their toll.

For me this is very much a “hiker’s bird”, a species which is best seen and appreciated when exploring an attractive Mediterranean massif on foot, as for example at els Ports or Montsant.

Bonelli’s Eagles may be seen here.

Number 7: Dupont’s Lark

Placing the much sought-after Dupont’s Lark at only number 7 seems rather contrived, but I’m a bit tired of trying to show decent views of this bird to tour groups. The lark rarely co-operates and is capable of keeping one waiting for hours before allowing itself to be glimpsed.

Nevertheless, Spain is the only country in Europe where the Dupont’s Lark can be seen, and the bird does have a beautiful song. It also manages to get me up and out on the steppes before dawn.

The place to look for Dupont’s Larks.

Number 6: Little Bustard

Listen out for this bird’s “prrrt” call, which sounds like it comes from a rather embarrassed raspberry blower. Accompanied by a backwards neck jerk, or even foot stamping and a little jump.

Locally known as the “dryland duck” in many ways the Little Bustard is a comical bird, but it always gives a little thrill when encountered on the drylands in spring, and is one of the essential elements of the steppeland chorus.

Look for Little Bustards here.

The top 5 will follow shortly…

…and then why not send your top 10?

Spanish Raptor Silhouette Competition

Spanish Raptor Silhouette Competition

Are you a Spanish Bird crack! Can you identify the following raptors just from the silhouettes? Have a go – 50% right at the first attempt is pretty good!

Download the full size raptor silhouetteslo image