More green taxes, please!

Another thing. They tell us that nature conservation is all very well, but that it doesn’t pay. Then make it pay!

Establish a taxing system to replace rates or poll taxes or even VAT that awards value to the quality of the environment where people live, produce or consume. Every municipality could have its own biodiversity ranking, depending on the quality of the surrounding environment, the gains or losses of habitats and species in recent years, the rarity/uniqueness of its fauna and flora (including birds of course). The basic premise is that those areas which do most for the environment pay less, and those area which rely on industry or other types of production without considering the protection of biodiversity pay more. After all they are getting rich by producing, unless they’re doing it in the wrong way.

The principle is simple enough, but of course it would take a lot of goodwill and imagination to put it into practice. Maybe it’s Utopia. Maybe it’s sustainability.

Belchite: home of the Dupont’s Lark

It should be known to anyone about to come birding in Spain that the SEO reserve of Belchite is a stronghold for the prized Dupont’s lark. The two reserves of la Lomaza and el Planerón both hold enough Dupont’s Larks to sustain a healthy population, and to attract a large number of birders to this part of Spain in early spring.

Dupont’s Lark country

But there’s more to birding in Spain than just larks, you know. There are sandgrouse too, and Stone Curlews, Little Owls, Golden Eagles, Dotterel, Lesser Short-toed Lark. Ok that’s a lark too, but there are so many around Belchite that I just had to mention it!

And then there are those early morning rises to get to the reserve before the crack of dawn, before the Dupont’s Lark bursts into song. You stand there shivering, swatting mosquitoes and wondering what you are doing here. Then slowly the sun rises and the rocky horizon glows red just as the first Dupont’s Lark starts to sing.

Yep! There’s gold in them thar hills!

Welcome Back Great Spotted Cuckoo!

Spring is in the air in northeast Spain (feels more like summer). The almond trees are in full bloom on the drylands near Lleida and Great Spotted Cuckoos are vociferously proclaiming their arrival.

Today a group of 3 or 4 of these early migrants begraced the tops of a small almond grove, watched suspiciously by an unusually serene party of Magpies. Perched on rocks and watching from a distance.

Saturday afternoon is probably not the best time to be out on these particular Spanish steppes as the birds are obviously flustered by the intense human leisure activity: light planes flying in wide circles around the aerodrome, a couple of model planes out and around their own particular aerodrome, the motocross youths riding inanely around the dirt tracks, the weekend farmers…

I prefer a bit more peace and quiet. I’ll have to come back during the week and see what the Great Spotted Cuckoo, Little Bustard and Pin-tailed Sandgrouse are up to.

Birding in Spain new photo galleries

The birding in Spain web page has just incorporated two new photo galleries. One corresponds to the Montsec Hotspot, an inland area of sierras, rivers and steppes; and the other to the well known birding area of the Ebro Delta, the second most important wetland in Spain.

Have a glance at the galleries to see landscapes which include mountain ranges, panoramas, lakes, wetlands, olive groves, dryland landscapes and more. Of course ther are photos of some of the birds of the Ebro Delta and the surrounding sierras including Audouin’s Gull, Collared Pratincole, Little Bittern, Squacco Heron, Bonelli’s Eagle and Red-rumped Swallow. There is even a photo of the Red-necked Nightjar, another speciality of Spain.

The Montsec bird photos include Lammergeier, Bonelli’s Eagle, Eagle Owl, Calandra Lark and Scop’s Owl. But there’s more than just some of the birds of Spain: orchids, butterflies, fritillaries, castles, people, and some of the fabulous landscapes of this relatively unknown birding region.

Have a look – it’s free!

Just taking it easy

The meeting finished early, I had a couple of hours at my disposal, what could I do? What a stupid question! Go birding of course.

I was on the edge of Montsec, I had my binoculars and a large scale map to enable me to investigate the most out of the way tracks…the sun was shining…nothing to rush home for…heaven on earth!

So I drove here and there stopping to listen or watch, or take a photo now and then. It’s still too early in the year for there to be much in the way of breeding activity, or so I thought. However, my first stop had me listening to no less than 3 Dartford Warblers on a dry, scrubby hillside, caught in the throes of a competition which could determine the outcome of their breeding attempts, and perhaps even the continuation of their line. On a facing slope, just the other side of a sprouting wheat field, Thekla Larks were similarly engaged.

I drove on, stopping shortly after to admire the wide panorama of the Pre-pyrenees which had opened up before me. The first sound that came to my ears were was made up of a series of tinny, disjointed, whistles, clicks and chimes – a Southern Grey Shrike. Perched at the top of an almond tree and with no sense of ridicule.

A  few false turnings, as expected, and a slow but well-timed pace of unexpected encounters made for real therapeutic birding. A female Hen Harrier crossing the valley, songbirds shrieking and scattering this way and that; a Goshawk circling over a rocky outcrop and disappearing beyond the pinewoods; a Golden Eagle approaching and skirting past me, flying too low for its own safety. Fields of Calandra Larks, a solitary Hoopoe flying against the sun, 5 Griffon Vultures on a thermal updraft.

Now I was ready to go back to the fray.

Ideas for birds: a new category for the Birding In Spain blog

It’s been bugging me for some time now, so I’ve decided to take the plunge…As from today this blog will have a new category called “Ideas for birds”.

And what exactly is “ideas for birds” I hear you ask? (I only hear that in my head as nobody ever makes any comment on this blog!). Well it’s basically a mish-mash of ideas that at one time or other have occured to me; ideas that would make things better for birds, the environment and most people if someone powerful and influential enough were to take them to heart. Failing that they will float around cyberspace until the Birding in Spain.com blog domain is stolen, lost or neglected, or until an internet virus blows us all back into harsh reality.

Could I give an example? Of course…

Every municipality with a minimum number of animal farms should have its own co-operative biogas plant. If the capital outlay is too much for the individual farmer then let them come together as they did for olives, almonds and other crops and form a co-operative. Biogas plants on this scale would produce electricity to meet part of the village’s electricity demands, fertilizer, heat for greenhouse production and would also do away with the problem of pig slurry disposal.

ANother one, also related to a question of scale:

Why are fields being swallowed up by acres of solar panels before plastering roofs with them in our villages, towns and cities?

Put wind turbines along motorways and not on the tops of the sierras. This would reduce raptor collision problems and visual impact.

More uncomfortable truths to follow…

Top 50 birds of Spain: the Dupont’s Lark

Dupont’s Lark Chersophilus duponti

Photo of a Dupont’s Lark in Spain

The Dupont’s Lark is scarce and localised in northeast Spain, where it is now restricted to Aragón after its recent extinction at the last site in Catalonia. The Dupont’s Lark breeds in open, dry lowland habitats and plateaux up to 1,200m.
Some birding itineraries in northeast Spain where the Dupont’s Lark may be found: Belchite steppes, Monegros Bujaraloz, Monegros Alcolea and Candasnos.

Dupont’s Lark distribution map

Birding in Spain: Wintering Little Bustards

Got the Little Bustards!

After an evening and a morning search around alfafa fields near Lleida, following fellow birders’ last-minute reports of “more than 500 Little Bustards“, or “a flock of up to 700 birds” I finally managed to pin down a smaller, but still respectable flock of about 250 Little Bustard. Parked near a busy roundabout I stayed in the car so as not to worry the little darlings, took a photo which I knew to be of no use at all, and just enjoyed the thought that large numbers of these birds still frequent this part of Spain in the winter.

A few years ago a Little Bustard flock of about 1,300 birds was found near here, certainly the largest flock ever recorded in Catalonia, if not in Spain. This flock will have dispersed by late March or early April, but then hopefully a good number of these Little Bustards will stay around to breed on the remaining drylands of Lleida.

Top 50 birds of northeast Spain: Wallcreeper

Wallcreeper Tichodroma muraria

Birds in Spain: Wallcreeper Photo
The Wallcreeper breeds in the Pyrenees of Spain on high mountain rock walls at an average altitude of 1,930 m. Between October and April most of the Wallcreeper population of northeast Spain descends to lower levels. At such times it can be found well to the south of the Pyrenees.

BirdingInSpain.com itineraries where the Wallcreeper may be found: Hecho and Ansó valleys, Benasque, Serra del Cadí, Sierra de Guara west (winter), Montsec (winter), Cap de Creus (winter).

Wallcreeper distribution map in northeast Spain

Top 50 birds of northeast Spain: the Snowfinch

Snowfinch Montifringilla nivalis

Snowfinch in the Pyrenees, Spain

The Snowfinch breeds around alpine pastures and snowfields on rocky mountain tops at altitudes of more than 2,000m in the Pyrenees. It forms largish flocks in the winter when it can be seen out of its normal breeding range, but rarely at less than 1,400m.

Birding itineraries in the Pyrenees where the Snowfinch can be seen: Selva de Iratí and Ori, Ordesa National Park, Benasque, Serra del Cadí (winter).

Snowfinch distribution in the Pyrenees, Spain

Snowfinch distribution in the Pyrenees, Spain