Autumn Iceland Tour 2018? Yeah!

When planning this Iceland Tour for 2018 and 2019, I was asked why the autumn? Everybody knows that the best time for visiting Iceland is in the short summer, when the days are long and the birds are frantically set on their breeding activities and on raising their young. By September most of the migrants (those that there are!) have already gone, the weather can suddenly turn,…

Skogafoss Waterfall, Iceland

                          Skogafoss waterfall, Iceland

All that is true. So at the time I was less eloquent in my answer, babbling something about the Northern Lights (which are not seen in June, but there’s a reasonable chance in September), about Glaucous and Iceland Gulls everywhere, wintering and passage geese flocks, and the chance of some lovely autumn days. I don’t think I was that convincing.

White-tailed Eagle, Iceland

                            Immature White-tailed Eagle in northern Iceland

So now, after our first Iceland autumn tour I’ll let the photos do the talking – well, most of it! For the record though:

Humpback Whale

                                                   Humpback Whale spouting

  • We came close to Humpback Whales on a beautifully calm day, on a lovely old fishing boat, and with snow-capped mountains framing the photos
  • The Ptarmigans we encountered all had white “trousers” and were in different stages of donning their snowy winter plumage
  • We had flocks of geese: Greylag, Pink-footed, Greenland White-fronted, Brent and the vagrant Canada Goose.
  • On one day we saw 5 merlins and 2 White-tailed Eagles, among other things
Whale-watching boat and fjord, Iceland

                                   Whale-watching in northern Iceland

  • We had days when the scenery and the weather were aligned just perfectly (we also had days when it was windy and downright freezing!)
  • Glaucous and Iceland gulls were indeed all around, as were Common Seals
  • Gyrfalcon, Arctic Fox, Grey Seal, Barrow’s Goldeneye, Harlequin Duck, Purple Sandpiper, Black Guillemot, divers, scoters and more were all memorable features and moments
  • Good food, hotels in great locations, easy-going Icelanders and a really lovely group of participants made us just so content that everybody was going home happy
Iceland tour participants

                                    Autumn Iceland Tour participants 2018

All things permitting, we’ll be doing another Iceland autumn tour in 2019. Oh yes, and a summer tour as well.

Birder’s house for sale in southern France: the photos

Birder’s house for sale in France: the house, the photos.

Birder’s house for sale in southern France: the photos

A charming sun deck and birdwatching spot!

 Birder’s house for sale in southern France: the photos

The house front: but what lies beyond?

 Birder’s house for sale in southern France: the photos

Comfort and homeliness, and plenty of natural light

 Birder’s house for sale in southern France: the photos

A room with a view

Birder’s house for sale in southern France: the photos

The green touch, the natural look.

Birder’s house for sale in southern France: the photos

Tea on the terrace, anyone? 

 Birder’s house for sale in southern France: the photos

To the south: the Pyrenees

Birder’s house for sale in southern France: the photos

Wildlife galore in the grounds and surrounds: a Bee Orchid

Birders house for sale in southern France

House for sale in France

Early retirement gave us the opportunity to pursue our dream of living in France. Tipped off by a French friend I met in Kuala Lumpur, we started our search for somewhere to live in the lovely city of Toulouse.  We would drive into the countryside exploring the surrounding areas and, to cut the story short, after 3 months we started renting a cottage near the town of Lavaur. Just over a year later we moved into the house which has been our home for 15 years. Being nature lovers we had found paradise!

Facing due south, situated at just over 300m, we have a magnificent view over the Agout valley and on clear days on to the Pyrenees. We have almost 1ha of land, with mature oaks and pine trees, a natural habitat for lots of wildlife. Roe deer and wild boar pass through, and we’ve also enjoyed pine martens and red squirrels, bats, lots of birds and wild flowers, particularly wild orchids. It’s a delight to sit on the large deck in spring and listen to the cuckoo, and then a bit later to hear that the Golden Orioles have arrived.  Hen Harriers, buzzards, Short-toed Eagles and kites often fly overhead, and we even saw Griffon Vultures one time. Nuthatches visit the bird tables in winter ,along with the usual robins, tits, etc.  Black Redstarts return in the spring and are a joy to watch, and we have had an occasional Hoopoe.

Now it is time for us to embark on another adventure and we are selling En Mimosa. Conveniently situated in a small community, only 6 kms from the nearest villages with shops, schools, market, Mairie and railway station, for easy access to Toulouse.  With lots of activities locally – golf, riding, etc., walks in the woods straight from the house, it is an ideal holiday location.

Centrally heated accommodation (170 m2) comprises 4 bedrooms, two en-suite, bathroom, fitted kitchen, large double height lounge/diner with wood-burning stove (self-sufficient in wood) and mezzanine. There are covered north and south facing terraces, each room has access to the outside, plus the large deck for entertaining or just sitting soaking up the tranquility and beauty of the surroundings.  We also have a full sized basement (150m2) with windows at one end, suitable as a studio, workshop or garage.

Mary Davis 

For further information please contact us as follows:-

En Mimosa


81220 Damiatte


+33 563421528

Mary and Clive in the Pyrenees

* Steve’s note: Mary and Clive are long-standing clients of Birding In Spain, and we wish them all the best in their new life venture.

First International Meeting on Raptor Conservation, Photography and Responsible Tourism

At Montsonís

International meeting on Raptor Conservation at Montsonís

The First International Meeting on Raptor Conservation, Photography and Responsible Tourism was held at Montsonís, Catalonia, between the 16th and 19th March 2015. For a first of its kind it was undoubtedly a resounding success.

First International Meeting on Raptor Conservation, Photography and Responsible Tourism

The meeting itself was held at Montsonís castle and reception area on Thursday 19th March, and featured talks by photography and nature tourism wizard Staffan Widstrand from Sweden, Norwegian photographer and nature entrepreneur Espen Lie Dahl, and two Catalan raptor researchers, Joan Real from the University of Barcelona and Àngel Bonada of the Lammergeier Research and Study Group.

Among the rapt audience were representatives from the Generalitat de Catalunya, Diputació de Lleida, local mayors, barons of L’Albi, members of La Sabina, the organizers, and others. The baron and baroness very kindly contributed to the act by allowing it to take place in their home, the castle of Montsonís.

During the two days leading up to the meeting, special guests made good use of different raptor photography hides. The invitees included bird and wildlife tour operators from the UK, the editor of the digital magazine Wild Planet Photo Magazine, a photo tour operator from Slovenia, and the sales representative from a major camera and optics retailer in the UK. In the course of their visits they enjoyed encounters with birds such as Goshawk, Lammergeier, Bonelli’s Eagle, Wallcreeper, Griffon Vulture, Egyptian Vulture, Red Kite, Black Kite, White Stork and more.

La Sabina’s reason for organizing the meeting was to promote good practices in development and promotion of nature tourism products, especially raptor photography, as well as to involve the local community and administrations by demonstrating the benefits of this kind of tourism for the environment and the local economy.

First International Meeting on Raptor Conservation, Photography and Responsible Tourism

According to speaker Staffan Widstrand the number of people enjoying nature tourism in the USA is greater than the sum of sports fishermen and hunters, and nature-oriented tourism is growing rapidly in other countries too.

Lammergeiers in the Pyrenees

Here is the second part of Ian Montgomery’s report on his recent trip with us to photograph raptors from our hides.

Now, at last, here is the one that I wanted to photograph above all else when in the Pyrenees: the Lammergeier, or Bearded Vulture.

Lammergeier, Bearded Vulture, Gypaetus barbatus.

As with other species that have featured in the bird of the week such as the Black Woodpecker and Cream-coloured Courser, my interest or perhaps obsession was stimulated by my Petersen et al. Field Guide to the Birds of Britain and Europe in the early 1960s. Unlike the woodpecker and the coursers, the European vultures were represented not on the coloured plates but in monochrome drawings. If anything, that made them more mysterious and elusive though two of them came spectacularly to life in 1963 when I saw Griffon and Egyptian Vultures during a family holiday in the Pyrenees. The Lammergeier, the mythical bone-breaker seemed destined to remain just that, as I knew it was very rare in Europe, extinct in the Alps, and found only over the highest mountain ranges. Even the name seemed straight out of Wagner’s Ring Cycle along with the Valkyries.

Lammergeier, Bearded Vulture, Gypaetus barbatus.

I had been warned by the reserve rangers that the Lammergeiers would appear, if at all, in the afternoon after the Griffons had had their fill and I also knew that they were shy, would initially cruise over the area without landing and could easily be put off by the movement of a large telephoto lens. So the suspense was great, and it was a thrill when the first immature bird landed some distance away just before midday. They kept on the fringes and it wasn’t until about 2:30pm they came close enough for decent photos. The bird in the second and third photo is an older immature bird – they take six or seven years to mature – and the feathers of the breast and legs are getting paler. It also has the red eye-ring of the adult.

Lammergeier, Bearded Vulture, Gypaetus barbatus.

In flight, fourth photo, they look quite different to other vultures with their back-swept rather pointed wings and long paddle-shaped tail. The thick plumage on the crown and neck sets them apart from typical vultures too, and when perched they hold their bodies in a horizontal eagle-like stance, presumably to keep their tails off the ground.

Lammergeier, Bearded Vulture, Gypaetus barbatus.

Their shape plus the whitish head of the adult is quite distinctive so it was an exciting moment when I saw the first one soaring in the distance over the mountain range that overlooked the feeding station. Much later, they started checking out the feeding area without landing. I was too wary of alerting them by movement so I took the fourth photo of an adult in flight much later.

Lammergeier, Bearded Vulture, Gypaetus barbatus.

Eventually, just before 3pm, the first adult landed, though like the juveniles, the adults stayed on the fringes as well and it wasn’t until 4:30pm that they came closer pick over the remains of the food carcasses and the real photography began.

 Lammergeier, Bearded Vulture, Gypaetus barbatus.

The black bird on the left of the fifth photo is a Common Raven and it seems to be imitating the stance of the larger bird and saying ‘I’m a champion too’. It’s much closer to the camera which makes it look larger than it actually is. Thirteen seconds later the Lammergeier took flight right over the Raven’s head – it had to duck – as if to say ‘we’ll see who’s boss’, and the relative proportions are more obvious. The wing-span – to 280cm/110in – is similar to that of Griffon and Cinereous Vultures, but the tail makes it much longer – to 125cm/49in. Females are heavier than males, to 7kg/15lb, but both sexes are lighter than the other vultures.

Lammergeier, Bearded Vulture, Gypaetus barbatus.

The Lammergeiers wait until the others have finished because their food of choice is bones and bone marrow. In fact these make up 85% of the diet making them unique among birds and probably also vertebrates. The one in the sixth photo has found the favourite morsel, the digits of a cloven-hoof herbivore such as sheep and goats. Smaller bones ones are swallowed whole, larger ones – up to 4kg in weight – are dropped onto regularly used rocky areas called ossuaries to smash the bones. The usual pattern of the birds here was to scout around for suitable food, carry it off and then return perhaps 20 minutes later. They’re called ‘quebrando huesos’ (breaking bones) in Spanish. They’ll also take live prey such as tortoises, which get the same treatment. Legend has it that the Greek playwright Aeschylus was killed around 456 BC by an eagle – clearly a Lammergeier – dropping a tortoise on his bald head, mistaking it for a rock.

Lammergeier, Bearded Vulture, Gypaetus barbatus.

Conservation efforts have seen the Pyrenean population grow from 75 pairs in 1993 to 125 pairs in 2008 and the species has been successfully re-introduced to the Alps. It also occurs in eastern Africa, South Africa and Central Asia. Estimates of the global population range from 2000 to 10,000 individuals. Until recently, it was not considered globally threatened until recent declines outside Europe and it is now classified as near threatened. The greatest concern is the veterinary use of the anti-inflammatory and pain-killing drug Diclosfenac. Highly toxic to vultures, causing kidney failure, it has been solely responsible for the 99% decline in vulture populations in India, where it is now banned.

Horrifyingly, this drug has recently been approved for veterinary use in Spain and Italy. This insanity jeopardises the wonderful conservation efforts being carried out. BirdLife International has rallied to the cause, see, and funds are being raised here

Lammergeier, Bearded Vulture, Gypaetus barbatus.

I’m going to donate. If we think that because there are no vultures in Australia, it’s someone else’s problem, it’s not unfortunately quite so simple. There is recent evidence that Diclofenac is toxic to Aquila eagles too. That includes the Wedge-tailed Eagle and this drug is approved for veterinary use here (e.g. ‘Voltaren’ for horses) and widely prescribed for human use. Studies have shown that it increases the risk of strokes in humans Photographing Lammergeiers is a personal missió complerta (Catalan for misión completa). A much more important mission accomplished will be the global banning of this completely unnecessary and dangerous drug – there are safe alternatives.

Can Jan – the House!

Can Jan – the House!

Can Jan - the House!

We at Birding In Spain are delighted to announce that Can Jan now features as the main focus of attention for our recommended accommodation links. Birding-oriented visitors and nature lovers seeking quality accommodation for groups and for special celebrations in an idyllic setting need look no further!

Can Jan - the House!

Can Jan is a unique experience of luxury accommodation for up to 24 people.Here you can relax in complete serenity, or party as hard as you like within 500 acres of private woodland.

Can Jan - the House!

Whether it’s mountain biking, bird-watching, hiking, canoeing, horse riding or golf, Can Jan is the perfect base. See the sights of the charming, medieval town of Besalú only 10 minutes away, or simply relax by the pool.

Can Jan - the House!

Can Jan - the House!

Can Jan is situated in over 500 acres of private woodland including a great many hiking trails to explore on foot or two wheels, and these adjoin the extensive La Garroxta Natural Park. You will discover an extraordinary habitat full of birds (including nightingales and birds of prey), butterflies, amphibians, reptiles, deer, wild boar, polecats, weasels and wild mink. 

Can Jan - the House!

The Aiguamolls de l’Empordà nature reserve is a short drive away, and a visit here can be complimented with birding around the Cap de Creus or the Montgrí massif.

Can Jan – who wouldn’t?

Birding Pyrenees Trip Report: some images

Birding northeast Spain

Here are some images to accompany the trip report we posted in the last blog entry:

Birding trip report images from Pyrenees and northeast Spain

 Birding trip report images from Pyrenees and northeast Spain

Birding trip report images from Pyrenees and northeast Spain

Birding trip report images from Pyrenees and northeast Spain

Trip Report: Images from Late Winter Birding in Northeast Spain

A birding trip report kindly reproduced by permission of its author Steve Lane. We invite you to read this amiable report about how his group encountered Wallcreepers, Lammergeiers, Pin-tailed Sandgrouse, Black Wheatears and more in February last year.


The wonderful Wallcreeper

Birding in Spain: the Wallcreeper

It’s December. Imagine you’re walking along the base of a steep rock face somewhere in the Pre-Pyrenees. You detect a movement and look up. There’s a bird, and it’s close enough for you to see its long, slender down-curved bill and its slate-grey and black plumage. A moment later the bird flutters, and on its open, butterfly-like wings you see a dazzling flash of deep crimson.

Wallcreeper, Tichodroma muraria.

Wallcreeper photo by Cezary Pióro 

Rejoice! You are now among the lucky few that have set eyes on one of nature’s jewels: the Wallcreeper. An amazing bird that is at home clinging to vertical rock faces in order to probe into nooks and crannies and pry out spiders and insects with that slender bill. Little wonder then that when foreign birders visit this country this is usually the bird they most want to see, or that even the pragmatic Chinese have baptised it with the graceful name of “rock flower”.

In the breeding season the Wallcreeper inhabits sheer cliff faces in the Pyrenees at altitudes of between 2,000 and 3,000m. That means that between May and September the Wallcreeper is rarely an easy bird to see – first of all one has to reach its secluded, mountain haunts and then one has to strain the neck muscles, and often the patience too, in order to spot it among towering mountains of naked rock. That’s one reason why winter is not all bad: by then Wallcreepers have left their high mountains to occupy more accessible terrain in the pre-Pyrenees, Montsant, el Ports…even cliffs by the sea at Cap de Creus.

One day last winter I made a personal pilgrimage to the sunny rock faces of Montsec and I received my reward. I took home the Wallcreeper’s colours and a little of its wing-flashing warmth, clutching onto the vision as I descended once more into the blanket of fog enshrouding Lleida and the surrounding plains. And I hadn’t even strained my neck muscles.

Happy Wallcreeper watchers in Spain

Happy Wallcreeper watchers

There’s more about the Wallcreeper and many more birds in Flying over the Pyrenees, standing on the plains” 

Flying over the Pyrenees, standing on the plains

Walking the Wallcreeper Route

Birding and walking


The Wallcreeper walk of Montsec.The Wallcreeper walk of Montsec.

The Wallcreeper, Tichodroma muraria, is a special bird. It clings to vertical walls, it inhabits some of the most breathtaking spots, its wings flash black, white and crimson, like the wings of a butterfly. So we’re very lucky to have Wallcreepers as a breeding and wintering bird in northeast Spain. In Lleida and Catalonia.

Some years ago now the Montsec consortium asked us to design some birding routes. We got down to the task with enthusiasm and came up with a birding map divided into two main routes: the Eagle route (Bonelli’s Eagle) and the Lammergeier route.

Each route could be followed by car, and then the occupants were invited to walk one of 6 itineraries in search of birds, intimate contact with the surroundings, and a healthy occupation. OF course, one of the routes just had to be dedicated to the Wallcreeper!

Wallcreeper. Tichodroma muraria.

The Wallcreeper Route


The Wallcreeper text reads as follows:


Length: 7 km, 3 hours.

Characteristics: Relatively flat and easy, although the narrow path may provoke vertigo in some.

Access: Pont de Montanyana. A secondary approach also exists from Alsamora.

Starting point: 3098204663537. Congost de Montrebei reserve car park (wardened).

Indications: Follow the lower path alongside the reservoir, cross over the suspension bridge and continue on into the gorge. It is recommended to  follow on at least to the Cave of Colomera before turning back along the same path. This is a popular area for visitors in the summer.

Main species:

(i) Griffon Vulture, Golden Eagle, Orphean Warbler (S), Subalpine Warbler (S), Nuthatch, Red-billed Chough, Rock Bunting.

(ii) Lammergeier,Wallcreeper (W).

So if you happen to be in the neighbourhood of Montsec between November and March it could be something to bear in mind.

Happy Birding! invites you to show your own bird photos is a community-based website aimed at…bla…bla…bla…STOP! Cut it! Just answer these questions in your head, or out loud if that is your preference:

  • Do you like looking at quality bird photos taken by some of Europe’s best bird photographers?
  • Do you think that giving these photos your rating using a 5-star system is worthwhile and engaging?
  • Do you ever feel tempted to comment on the photos you are looking at?
  • Do you consider yourself to be a good bird photographer, with photos of European birds of your own that you would like to upload to
  • Have you got your own photography website to which you would like to attract more visitors?
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Do you answer yes to any of these questions, but you refuse to look at out of pure bloody-mindedness?, a growing bird photography community. Even for the bloody-minded.

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