Birdfreak review of Where the Birds are in northeast Spain

We at invite you to read the Birdfreak review of “Where the birds are in northeast Spain”

“…an excellent resource for birders wishing to explore an exciting part of Europe”

                                                                                           The Birdfreak Team, Jan 6th 2009

And if you haven’t read the Birder’s Library review of “Flying over the Pyrenees, standing on the plains” what are you waiting for?

“This is highly recommended to anyone who can get their hands on a copy.”

                                                                             Grant McReary, The Birder’s Library

Nature Photographer Brutus Östling in Catalonia

 Little Owl, Athene noctua

 Little Owl by Brutus Östling

The renowned Swedish nature photographer Brutus Östling was with us recently. He came for a few days to photograph Lammergeiers and vultures from the hide and also found time to take this splendid shot of a Little Owl from one of our hides on the plains of Lleida, in Catalonia.

See more about him and his work at Brutus Östling’s website here.

Brutus Östling is the only nature photographer to have won the World Wildlife Fund’s Panda Book of the Year prize twice.

The first prize was for “Life on the Wing

 Life on the Wing

And more recently he won the prize the second time with “The Kingdom of the Eagle” 

Kingdom of the Eagle

He was also Nature Photographer of the year in 2006.

Hopefully he’ll be thinking about how to portray some of the birds of northeast Spain in his next work of art. 

Whose four Great Spotted Cuckoos?

Great Spotted Cuckoo   Clamator glandarius

Great Spotted Cuckoos, Clamator glandarius

Great Spotted Cuckoos: image taken from “Where the birds are in northeast Spain

The Great Spotted Cuckoo is a summer visitor to northeast Spain, with the first arrivals often occurring in February, although the species becomes more conspicuous in March and April. The Great Spotted Cuckoo is patchily distributed in lowland areas, with some important local declines in recent years.

Distribution map of Great Spotted Cuckoo, Clamator glandarius

Birding itineraries where it is possible to see the Great Spotted Cuckoo: Llobregat delta, Drylands of Lleida, Aiguamolls de l’Empordà, Monegros Alcolea and Candasnos.

Interestingly, we spotted no fewer than 4 juvenile Great Spotted Cuckoos, Clamator glandarius, following a single Magpie, Pica pica, foster parent on the drylands of Lleida this June. According to the BWP concise edition it is normal for the Great Spotted Cuckoo to place one egg in a particular Magpie’s nest. Similarly, there are a number of observations of 2 juveniles with a Magpie foster parent, while the BWP states that 3 is rare. So has anyone else seen 4 juvenile Great Spotted Cuckoos with a single Magpie, or is this a unique observation?

Would these young birds have originated from the same cuckoo mother or two or more different ones? Was that particular magpie a soft touch? Would all those birds survive until independence? If these more vulnerable Magpies are not able to raise their own offspring what are the implications for the dynamics of the Magpie and Great Spotted Cuckoo relationship?

Pin-tailed Sandgrouse nest find

Birding Montsec, Catalonia, Spain

Birding together near Lleida

Martin’s main targets for our second day of birding together were to get a good look at Orphean and Subalpine Warblers in the morning and then Pin-tailed Sandgrouse on the plains in the afternoon. It wasn’t an easy task, given the weather conditions and the time of the year. However, we managed to do it all, even the Pin-tailed Sandgrouse in the scorching afternoon heat of 36ºC (Fahrenheit anybody?).  

 We took a couple of short walks in the lovely Sierra de Guara. Fruit of our efforts was a generous dose of fine scenery – impressive rock faces, ancient olive groves, near abandoned solitary villages, breathtaking gorges. The birds were in no short supply either, and we encountered numerous Egyptian Vultures, Griffon Vultures, a pair of Peregrines, both light and dark morph Booted Eagles, a Short-toed Eagle, Rock Sparrows, Alpine Swifts, Cirl Buntings, Wrynecks, etc. Then the Warblers, with no fewer than 5 Sylvia warbler species (Orphean, Subalpine, Sardinian, Dartford Warbler and Blackcap) as well as Bonelli’s Warbler.

Alquezar in the Sierra de Guara.

Alquezar in the Sierra de Guara

We had a relaxed lunch on a verandah overlooking the walled town of Alquezar before rather ambitiously setting off to the plains to coincide with the warmest – no, hottest -part of the day. But birders do things like that when there is a bird at stake. And Martin was keen enough to want to have a shot at the grouse, and his wife Carol was resigned to the discomfort that accompanying her husband often involved.

C’est la vie, especially the birding vie, I said as we crossed the last few metres back to the car parked on the edge of a dry dusty and stony field. The next stop was to be a petrol station and then the dropoff at their Lleida hotel. We had followed the dustiest route across the plains and had stopped in all the right places to scan, but the Pin-tailed Sandgrouse had eluded us.

Well, I thought we were rather optimistic looking for this inconspicuous species at the time of day when it is most inactive, Martin pronounced.

Just then a female Pin-tailed Sandgrouse launched itself into the air from under our feet, and emitted an accusing “gahGAH!”.

Pin-tailed sandgrouse nest with three eggs

Pin-tailed Sandgrouse nest with 3 eggs

Photographing the wild wonders of northeast Spain

Darek Giej linked up with us at and Jerome, an accomplished and applied bird photographer from France, for a three-day bird photography trip based to the north of Lleida.

Both visiting bird photographers shared the common targets of Little Bustard, Bee-eaterLittle Owl and Griffon Vulture. So we organised everything for them, and just hoped that the birds would co-operate on the day. Although we can’t control the whims and fancies of our feathered friends, it certainly helps if all the aspects are well planned and organised.

We needn’t have worried, as both Darek and Jerome left for home after photographing the species they had come for. And more: in just three days they managed close to a dozen species, including Woodchat Shrike, Southern Grey Shrike and Roller.

And the best thing of all: they’re both really keen on coming back!

Here’s what Darek wrote:

Indeed, it was a great time!  Lots of great photos and species I had never seen before. I do hope I will visit Catalunya again. I am open to any new ideas, I am sure you have lots of them, if you are ready to go on with anything new just let me know, I will be there. Many thanks to Jordi, he did a great job! I attached some of my photos to prove I did not waste the time. I am very proud of a couple of the rollers…


I had a very good time and all was very nice in Catalunya! The guide (Jordi) was great and the lodge was very nice! 

Darek kindly agreed to share some of his photos with us and the Internet community. Enjoy!

Little Owl, Athene noctua.

Little Owl by Darek Giej

Woodchat Shrike

Woodchat Shrike by Darek Giej

Southern Grey Shrike, Lanius meridionalis.

Southern Grey Shrike by Darek Giej

Birding Barcelona: the Lleida connection

Did you know that Lleida is just an hour by train from the centre of Barcelona?

That you can arrive early in the morning, bird all day, and go back to the metropolis in the evening, if you so desire?

That the nearest steppes and their birds are on the edge of Lleida?

Not sure I’m telling you the truth? Let’s look at a case example:

June 12th, 2009

Kevin from the USA got the train from Barcelona, arriving at Lleida station at 07:20 hours. I was waiting for him at the station, so the first bird were just a short drive away, literally on the edge of town.

We spent the whole day birding within a 50km radius of Lleida, after which Kevin took the train back to Barcelona at about 8 o’clock in the evening.

It was a long, hot and brilliant birding day. Here’s some of what we saw:

Little Bustard – 4 males

Male Little Bustard

Little Bustard: photo by Jan-Michael Breider

3 Pin-tailed Sandgrouse

Shrikes: Lesser Grey, Southern Grey and Woodchat Shrikes

Great Spotted Cuckoo – 1 adult, probably the last one we’ll see this year

Great Spotted Cuckoo, Lleida, Spain

Great Spotted Cuckoo: photo by Jan-Michael Breider

Lesser Kestrel – at least 6

Montagu’s Harrier – 4 males

Vultures: 2 Egyptian Vultures and about 10 Griffon Vultures

Eagles:  2 Bonelli’s Eagles, 3 Short-toed Eagles and 1 Golden Eagle

2 Red-necked Nightjars

1 Penduline Tit buiding a nest

Wheatears: 1 Black Wheatear and 1 Black-eared Wheatear

Larks: Short-toed, Lesser Short-toed, Calandra, Thekla and Crested Larks

Rollers: I lost count of the Rollers we saw 

Miscellany: 1 Little Owl, 1 Blue Rock Thrush, 1 Orphean Warbler, 1 Golden Oriole, Sardinian Warblers, Cirl Buntings, Bee-eaters, Iberian Green Woodpeckers, Red Kite, Western Bonelli’s Warblers, Stone Curlews ….

Stone Curlew

Stone Curlew: photo by Beat Rüegger

Check out the train timetables between Barcelona and Lleida with Renfe

Some scenes from Spain

Sometimes I get the impression that people think that is about birds, and only birds. I hope that the following images will dispell that myth.

Little house on the prairie.

Construction in Spain has suffered a downturn as a result of the credit crunch.

Pre-pyrenees in Spain in spring.

Photo by Beat Rüegger

In these difficult times is the grass really greener on the other side of the Pyrenees?

Almond trees in Spain.

Reconstruction of what many “properties in Spain” used to look like.

Who knows? Maybe every cloud has a silver lining. Rampant, uncontrollable urbanisation may have met its match at last.

Black Stork in Spain. 

Photo by Beat RüeggerWhite stork in Spain.

Some people see things as Black (Stork) or White (stork). Others say everything is shades of Grey (Plover?).

In search of the world’s rarest cat: the Iberian Lynx

Pete Oxford

 Pete Oxford, wildlife photographer

The man who was sent to photograph the Iberian Lynx. That is just as daunting as it sounds, considering that the Iberian Lynx, or if you like the Spanish Lynx, is the world’s rarest cat, and only occurs in two isolated populations in Andalusia, in southern Spain.

How did Pete Oxford go about photographing the Iberian Lynx? Read about his mission here.

O bien, nosotros en hemos traducido el artículo al castellano.

Iberian Lynx. Spanish Lynx. Lince Ibérico.

Was Pete Oxford successful in his Iberian Lynx quest? Well, where do you think the above photo comes from?

Black Grouse

Male Black Grouse 

There are no Black Grouse in Spain, as this is a bird that inhabits the moors, bogs and forests of central and northern Europe. The Black Grouse is a sedenteray species, in decline over much of its range. Fortunate are those who have seen this handsome bird, or heard its far-carrying, bubbling song. More fortunate still is Erlend Haarberg: his mission for the Wild Wonders of Europe was to photograph Black Grouse on a lek in Sweden

 Erlend Haarberg, wildlife photographer

Of course he succeeded, and admirably. But don’t take our word for it, read the original article here.

O si prefieres, puedes leer el artículo en castellano.