Rivers of life

The Portuguese nature photographer and remote friend Joao Cosme has just published a book of his photos of the wildlife and landscapes of his native Portugal. “Rios de vida” (Rivers of Life) is the title, as it is a visual account of the rivers that run through his native land, from the hills and mountains down to the Atlantic Ocean. Those rivers are so often the life blood to the surrounding land and to biodiversity itself. Joao’s camera has skillfully captured a great variety of these rivers’ natural elements, from butterflies, dragonflies, reptiles and amphibians to birds, mammals, trees and landscapes.

Rios de Vida

The photos that most caught my attention were the Grey Heron in the corner of a seemingly blank, whitened-out landscape, a flock of Black-tailed Godwits in flight, bathed in sunset red, and the more abstract treescapes.

The accompanying text in both Portuguese and English is brief and concise and plays a secondary role to the images.  

You can see more details about “Rios de Vida” on Joao’s blog:


I was particularly pleased, although not surprised, that one of Joao’s stunning images of the spectacular Bonelli’s Eagle was chosen for double-spread treatment. Those who possess a copy of the Montsec Birding Routes Map can also see an equally stunning image of the Bonelli’s Eagle, also taken by Joao.  

With birding, possible is everything

Possible is everything    

I was driving my car in the sierras of Tarragona the other day, on the way home after a bird census. It was then that I came up with this catch phrase “Possible is everything”. Attention now – that is not the same as “Everything is possible”. For one thing, I don’t believe that the Dodo will ever fly, for example.

The Pine Bunting that has been kicking around with the wintering Yellowhammers at Aspa (near Lleida) since early in the New Year was the catalyst for this far-reaching reflection. I said to myself,
“If a visiting birder came across a Pine Bunting near Aspa (which is in the middle of nowhere in particular), why couldn’t that bunting I’ve just passed while in my car be a Rustic Bunting, and not a Cirl Bunting? I’ve just told myself that it was a Cirl Bunting even though I haven’t really seen the bird well enough to know for sure. However unlikely it may seem, couldn’t that bird be a Rustic Bunting?”

The thought rang out so loud that I had to stop the car and back around a sharp bend (Hey! It’s a very quiet road!), to come to a halt opposite the bush where the bunting in question had landed. I groped for my binoculars on the passenger seat and I clinched the identification – Cirl Bunting.

But it’s not the fact that it was indeed a Cirl Bunting that matters. After all the Cirl Bunting is the bunting one is most likely to see in these parts. No, what carries real weight is that I actually stopped, reversed and took a good look at the bird in the bush.

Because it could have been something else.

It could have been a Rustic Bunting, for example.

Where birds and birders meet “possible” is everything.

A view of Riglos in the province of Huesca.

Personally, I feel closer to the possibility of finding Spain’s first Radde’s Accentor than scaling the vertical rock faces of Riglos.

Birding Hotspot Challenge 2009

Birding Hotspot Challenge 2009

It’s been there sizzling in my brain for some time, then it went cold…..now it’s started to boil! The Hotspot Challenge! That’s it – the gauntlet has been thrown down, will it be taken up or will it be swept up and carted away by the municipal cleaning brigade?

Birding Hotring northeast Spain

“What is this Hotspot Challenge then?”, I hear you all clamour. Patience, and I will explain.

I have just drawn a circle with a radius of 25km on the map of northeast Spain, centred on Balaguer, just 25km or so from my home. I have chosen this area as my promising “Hotspot”. Around that I have drawn a larger circle, with the same centre but with a radius of 50 km, the “Hot ring”.

 Birding Hotspot for 2009 is centred around Balaguer

In the course of 2009 I am going to go about my business as usual, birding on my own, with friends, individual clients or tour groups. Maybe the odd twitch for something really close to home, but without any obsession factor involved. The only extra activity that the Hotspot Challenge will imply is taking note of the species I encounter within each area in the course of the year. And of course, making sure that the observations are within the designated areas. Then writing gripping reports about what I have seen on the BirdingInSpain blog (ie. here).

In order for hotspots to compete against each other there are just a couple of restrictions:

(i) No coastal areas can be included as Hotspots. It wouldn’t be fair.

(ii) Hotspots to be chosen in the temperate (not tropical/subtropical) zones of the continent. 

And that’s all! So the Hotspot challenge is simplicity itself. Too simple for all those words really. And an innocent pursuit which will add no carbon to that nasty carbon footprint we all hear so much about (not counting the writing bit of course).

The only thing remaining is to announce the challenge: who is willing to take up the gauntlet? Who thinks they can find a hotspot near them to rival or surpass the one I have chosen here near Lleida in northeast Spain?

Tell us about it, and may the migration be with you!

By the way: I’ve already started and got a couple of goodies for my hot ring. But I’m not revealing their identity just yet – you’ll have to wait for the next Hotspot post.

Brown Bears in Finland

Staffan Widstrand 

Staffan Widstrand

The Swedish photographer Staffan Widstrand was in Finland photographing Brown Bears in 2008, on one of his assignments as part of the Wild Wonders of Europe project. Now the Spanish audience can read about his experience thanks to the translation that BirdingInSpain.com have recently completed for the Wild Wonders blog.   

Brown Bear in Finland

Brown Bear by Staffan Widstrand

Cranes in Spain flock over mountain and plain

Did you know? – Cranes in northeast Spain

Cranes at Gallocanta

Cranes at Gallocanta lagoon. Photo by Marten van DijlVisit his website here

The spring passage of Cranes in northeast Spain takes place from the latter half of February to the end of March, or more rarely into early April.

In autumn the largest influx of Cranes is from the end of October and in November, with the last birds passing through in early December.

In Catalunya flocks of more than 100 birds are uncommon.

Gallocanta in Aragón channels the passage of virtually the whole of the Western European population of the Common Crane, with up to 60,000 birds recorded together in late October and a pre-nuptial maximum of some 30,000 birds in mid-February.

Birds heading northwards in the spring often stop off at Sotonera before crossing the Pyrenees. Gatherings of more than 14,000 Cranes have been recorded here, principally between mid-February and mid-March.

Gurelur Bird migration centre, at the Alto de Ibañeta (1,057m), is situated at one of the most popular mountain passes in the Pyrenees for watching the autumn passage of Cranes. The centre is open from July 1st to the end of November.

Reference and further information: Where the birds are in northeast Spain

Where to stay and watch the Cranes:
Gallocanta – Allucant
Sotonera – Hospedería de Loarre
Alto de Ibañeta – Navarra Selección

Dutchman meets the Flying Pelican

I met up with Marten van Dijl from the Netherlands recently. We did a spot of birding around Montsec and then the drylands of Alfés, before going our own ways.

Marten was back in Holland for the New Year, but still found the time to send an e-mail with some of his photos.

The following are his photos of the White Pelican that’s been loitering with the local White Storks. Check out some of Marten’s work at his website.

 White Pelican with storks near Lleida

Preening is a very important task for any Stork, sorry, Pelican.

White Pelican on church roof with Storks

Can’t think why they’re ignoring me.

“I had a great time again, seeing some friends, birding and coming back with some good photos. I’ll tell you what I saw after I met with you at Alfes – first of all the white pelican, which was roosting at the church in Torres de Segre, until it flew off. You don’t have to be a psychic to predict it went to the rubbish dump, and there it was.

 White Pelican at rubbish dump

Oh! The promised land!

“Later, at the same spot the three little bustards were still there, in exactly the same spot, still not moving. There was also a flock of pin-tailed sandgrouse, I counted 70! Other good birds included a perched golden eagle at Bellmunt.

The next day I went to Laguna de Gallocanta – lots of cranes, hard to photograph, and after that I decided to spend my last day in the Ebro Delta. I was surprised by the number of chiffchaffs (everywhere, along the shores and canals) and kingfisher (10+). I had good photos of a circling booted eagle after a short chase in the car.

Like you suggested, I started reading your book during my flight back, I’ve now just finished the chapter about the Bewick’s Swan at Buda Island. I enjoy reading it, it’s a good read, recognizable stories and interesting because it deals with an area of Spain I’ve come to know. At the same time, it’s useful to refresh my English.”

BirdingInSpain wish you all a Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas

Swiss birders in Spain

Elisabeth and Mathias Danuser are a couple from Switzerland who came birding in northeast Spain with Beat Ruegger in April 2008. In fact they have been with me on 3 trips now: twice to Spain and once to Scotland.

They sent me the following photos of their last trip, which started in the Ebro Delta, passed through the steppes and ended in the high Pyrenees. The photos are theirs, the comments mine.

 Slender-billed Gull

Slender-billed Gull in one of the bays in the Ebro Delta. One of the special gulls of the region. Was this after or before we spotted the Baillon’s Crake?

Black-winged Stilts

Black-winged Stilts at the Estany d’Ivars near Lleida. We were lucky that day, as we managed to catch up with the Red-necked Phalarope at the same site the last day it was there.

Lammergeier, or Bearded Vulture

This Lammergeier came in for a closer look! We were up near Ordesa National Park and we didn’t know whether it was going to rain or snow. The sight of a dozen or so Lammergeiers against the spectacular backdrop of the Ordesa mountains was one of the last in a line of memorable experiences on this trip. 

Snow, shearwaters and stunning bluethroats

This is part of the description of Neal Warnock’s last few days birding in northeast Spain. I hope he took back some fond memories, because the trip started disastrously for him: all his possessions and money (except his optics) were stolen from his hire car in the Ebro Delta. Then he had to contend with fog, snow and strong winds.

Heavy snow overnight meant that only up to km14 of the road to Coll de Pal was passable.  This meant no lammergeier, citril finch or snowfinch.  But I did manage to see nuthatch and short-toed treecreeper in the lower pine forests.  From the lookout at km11 I saw 1 griffon vulture, and 3 alpine accentor and a few alpine chough.  I managed to walk up to the crossbill sign area (in the snow!) and got great views of crested tit.

The next day at Cap de Creus a strong NE wind brought large numbers of balearic shearwaters close to shore.  I managed to pick out 2 Yelkouan amongst them and then managed excellent scope views of a bird sitting in the water in the cove to the south of the headland.

 Stunning male Bluethroat

Male Bluethroat. Photo by Neal Warnock.

On my last day at Llobregat, the surprise bird of the trip I had mentioned turned up in the form of a juv goshawk over the main lagoon.  And finally, on my way towards another hide a stunning male bluethroat appeared (see photo) from nowhere.

Thanks for sharing the photo with us all Neal. And for not giving up on Spain after your unpleasant surprise!

Where in Spain are these birds? Or, “Yes, we Pelican!”

I’ve just come back from a spot of birding and of course I’ve seen a few birds.

So I thought we’d play a little birding guessing game: I tell you the birds I saw at a certain site, and you tell me where I was. The earlier you guess, the more points you get. OK?


Here goes with the first clue (5 points):

1) 100’s of Black-headed Gulls, about 20 Yellow-legged Gulls and one or two Lesser Black-backed Gulls.

– Er, the Ebro Delta?

No. Next clue (4 points):

2) About 20 Grey Herons and 1,000 or so Cattle Egrets.

– Still sounds like the Ebro Delta. What about the Llobregat Delta?

No! You’d never see that many Cattle Egrets in the Llobregat Delta. Well, I never have anyway.  Next clue for 3 points:

3) A Griffon Vulture, 12 Red Kites, 2 Marsh Harriers and a Common Buzzard.

– Somewhere inland near Lleida I expect. But don’t ask me where.

OK. You’re getting close, but I’m sure you can be a bit more specific than that. Next clue (2 points):

4) About 350 White Storks and a White Pelican.

– 350 storks! Are you pulling my leg?! I thought White Storks were supposed to migrate to Africa in the winter. And a White Pelican! Wait a minute, this sounds familiar… storks, gulls, egrets and a vagrant/escaped Pelican. Wouldn’t be a rubbish tip would it?

Correct! Well done! Indeed, the Lleida landfill site. The Pelican’s been knocking around with the White Storks for more than a month now. The Griffon Vulture was a surprise though.