Birding in Spain: unseen, unexpected, unforgettable?

Magnus Elander and Stefan Strandberg on their November visit to Catalonia to photograph the Lammergeier.
Swedish photographers in northeast Spain

Really nice guys.

I’m sure the creators of the wild wonders of Europe project won’t mind if I use their own words “unseen, unexpected, unforgettable”. After all Magnus Elander was very pleased with the results after spending 3 days in our Lammergeier hide (thanks to the birds and not the hide itself, which is a far cry from the Ritz).

Unexpected: the experience was certainly so, in Magnus’s own words. He didn’t know what to expect, but neither he nor Stefan (his assistant) were disappointed.

Unforgettable: it’s hard to talk for someone who has dedicated most of his time to photographing many of the world’s natural wonders, although surely the vision of 11 Lammergeiers in one place is not something he will forget overnight!

Unseen? Almost so for 3 days, apart from a small party with a couple of birders from Barcelona who stumbled upon Magnus and Stefan as they were packing up to leave.

Before departing I presented them both with signed copies of my two books (“Where the Birds are in Northeast Spain” and “Flying over the Pyrenees, standing on the plains”), which they received with enthusiasm. Then a short interview, photos, handshakes and farewells. Their next destination was Ordesa National Park (see itinerary), while I was going home, the long way round.

What is the “Wild Wonders of Europe” project?

Magnus: “It was started by three photographers: from Sweden, Germany and Scotland. The basic idea is that more than 50 European photographers are to travel to another European country with an assignment to photograph some aspect of the natural world: it could be a species, landscapes or other. The final results will include books, a website, an exhibition, a special issue of National Geographic…

What did you like most about your time here?

Magnus: “The scenery is breathtaking, we don’t have places like this in Sweden. The solitude too. In all it feels like being at home, but better.”

Thank you Magnus and Stefan, and bon voyage.

Wallcreepers and Accentors – for whom the bell tolls

Somewhere in the Pyrenees of Navarra a church bell rang. But for whom?

Wallcreeper on church

For the intrepid Wallcreeper clinging to its stone and mortar?

Alpine Accentor

Or for the discreet but confiding Alpine Acccentor on the cobblestones below?

Or for the Hawfinches or Marsh Tits down by the river?

Or for the poor soul who really should buy a decent camera?

Going bird crazy on Cabrera, Mallorca

The little island of Cabrera lies just off the southeast coast of Mallorca. The island gets its name from “cabra” which means goat in Spanish. “Está como una cabra” is a Spanish expression meaning someone is crazy/crackers (literally “like a goat”).

Well, I’ve just gone a little crazy after reading what the ringers (especially Eduardo Amengual) have caught there this autumn:

3 Olive-backed Pipits (2 ringed, 1 observed)

1 Eastern Common Redstart (Phoenicurus phoenicurus samamisicus – for those, like myself, who were not in the know)

1 male Moussier’s Redstart (3rd for Spain)

1 Lesser Whitethroat

1 Yellow-browed Warbler

Birding has that: it’s much more fun actually getting out and seeing the birds than sitting at home and writing about them.

I wonder when I’ll be able to get to the coast…

Birding in Mallorca 6 months ago

Here in Lleida we’re going through a bit of cold weather, or rather it is going through us. The radiators are on, and so are the vests. From my office window I can see white icing on the mountains of Montsec. Grey Wagtails, Chiffchaffs and Black Redstarts are the birds that visit the square and gardens behind our flat every winter. I wonder how many Wallcreepers are actually clinging to the rock faces of Montsec as I write this, and whether Hawfinches will turn up in any number along the River Set, on the edge of the drylands of Alfés.

Just over 6 months ago I was birding on Mallorca. Warm sun, long evenings, clear skies and marine blue seas were the backdrop for the birds I saw then.

View from Formentor peninsula, Mallorca

That’s warmed things up a little, any more?

Birding in southern Mallorca

Now I remember: Black Vulture, Booted Eagle, Balearic Shearwater, Audouin’s Gull, Balearic Warbler….

Phew! If I do this every day I’ll be able to lower the heating by one degree and reduce my carbon emissions.

Want to know more about birding in Mallorca? Check out the Mallorca section on the website, and don’t forget about the recommended accommodation either.

Birding in Navarra, again

Navarra has no coast, so let’s not talk about birds on the steps to the beach, but rather birds from the steppes to the beech.

Firstly, the Bardenas Reales Natural Park.

Bardenas Reales Natural Park

Check out the circuit around the firing range, preferably when the fighter jets are not actually firing at anything, and look for some of these birds:

Dupont’s Lark, Calandra Lark, Lesser Short-toed Lark, Short-toed Lark, Black Wheatear, Black-eared Wheatear, Spectacled Warbler, Egyptian Vulture, Pin-tailed Sandgrouse

And some whacky scenery!

From here your acute birding sense should point you in the direction of the Pyrenees. Unless you have a train to catch, though, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to stop somewhere along the way. There are lots of places to choose from, but it would be a thick-skinned birder who could resist the lure of the foces of e.g. Arbayún and Lumbier.

Foz, or gorge, of Arbayún

Birds to be seen here include superb views of Griffon Vultures, Egyptian Vulture, Booted Eagle, Peregrine Falcon, Blue Rock Thrush, Bee-eater, Wallcreeper in the winter, and a lot of those warblers (including Iberian Chiffchaff) and buntings that are typical of a Mediterranean type landscape.

Continue northwards.

“So these are the Pyrenees? I thought they were higher.”

They are in Aragón and Catalunya, but how high do you need them to be? Navarra has the westernmost 2,000m peak, and the more Atlantic influence has given rise to some of the best deciduous forests in the Pyrenees. That means Woodpeckers: Black Woodpecker, Lesser Spotted Woodpecker and the prized White-backed Woodpecker. If you want to see the latter in Spain then you had better come to Navarra.

Irati forest

If yours is not a single-track mind you could always spend a little time contemplating the Lammergeier, Alpine Chough, Dipper, Water Pipit and other great birds too.

Right, the birds are great, and the landscapes too. But what about the logistics? Well, to find a lovely rural hotel or guesthouse, at an affordable price and close to the birds you really should follow this link to CR Listen

Check out the Irati itinerary on the website, or go east young man, and check out the Pyrenees at the Rincón de Belagua.

What’s on in Barcelona? Birding all month.

Barcelona‘s Llobregat Delta theatre kicked off the month of October with a gala performance. Lesser Whitethroat, Marsh Sandpiper and the Temminck’s Stint twins were the special guest stars, with quite a select supporting cast including the likes of Spoonbill, Booted Eagle, Goshawk, Osprey and much more.

Birding around Barcelona

Meanwhile at Cal Tet it was work as usual for Penduline Tit, Audouin’s Gull, Black-necked Grebe, Garganey and the regular crowd, although the Great Bittern was conspicuous by its absence. Rumours are that the Bittern is on a strict work to rule regime in protest at the noise from overflying aircraft. Nevertheless Common Waxbill and even Eider put in extra time just to keep birders ticking.

The Black Wheatear and Blue Rock Thrush will be upholding the tradition by hopping on their rocks at Garraf throughout the month. Mediterranean Shags will be on the coast too, although we regret to inform the public that after being requested by the authorities to “clean up” their act they will no longer regurgitate half-digested fish on request. After last winter’s unexpected visit by the Wallcreeper hard-pressed Garraf theatre management have assured the birding public that the Wallcreeper will return, adding that “although it might not be this winter, it will certainly be before the return of Halley’s Comet”.

On the provincial scene the Bonelli’s Eagle will be touring the massifs, with regular appearances at the Garraf Natural Park. Sharing the billing, although not the lights, will be the regal Eagle Owl. The staff at the Garraf Natural Park have managed to negotiate a number of open door rehearsals in preparation for Eagle Owl duetting which, weather permitting, will start in earnest next month. Lastly, Honey Buzzards will be passing through until the end of the month, but according to the Garraf Natural Park hygiene technicians “better get ‘ere quick before they take off for good”.

For more details of birding theatres and open air shows around Barcelona see the Llobregat Delta and Garraf itinerary

This page was brought to you in collaboration with Rural Verd  and Ca l’Helena .

The places to stay when birding around Barcelona.

Where dem sandgrouse gone?

Looking for Pin-tailed Sandgrouse at Alfés, the only remaining breeding site for the species in Catalonia, has almost become a full-time job in the last couple of years.

Looking for Pin-tailed Sandgrouse

Not too long ago you went to Alfés drylands and you saw Pin-tailed Sandgrouse, it was as easy as that. In fact my birding notebooks from a few years back and beyond reflect that fact, as sometimes I didn’t even write down “Pin-tailed Sandgrouse”, taking it for granted that that was one species that the birder never missed, certainly not the birder who knew his way round.

Now it seems that the Pin-tailed Sandgrouse is a forerunner for the next bird to go extinct in Catalonia.

After the demise of the Dupont’s Lark just a few years ago.

Although it could be pipped at the post by either the Lesser Grey Shrike (will the species return next year?), or the Black-bellied Sandgrouse (the latter has been hanging on for years now despite the odds stacked against it).

And they want to promote birding tourism to the area.

“Can’t have birders without the key birds” I keep telling them.  They look at me as if I was speaking Japanese.

Raptor massacre continues on Malta

Don’t visit Malta.

The above is a message to all migratory birds.

The small island of Malta, between Sicily and Tunisia, happens to be located on a major European flyway of migratory birds. In civilized Europe such a fact would be a cause for at least some celebration, and would have enough pulling power to attract foreign birders to witness part of this exciting natural phenomenon.

In Malta, however, things work differently, despite its recent adhesion to the European Union. There bird migration is celebrated by the a crazed shooting spree, with a large number of the island’s hunters shooting at any bird that comes within their sights. This is in direct contravention to the European Union’s Birds Directive, among others.

Have a quick look at theRSPB article for more information and read the recent thread on Bird forum.

Fortunately, there are some voices on the island that dare to speak out against this slaughter. See the Birdlife Malta page to see what this brave group are up against and what they are doing for the birds of Malta.

If you are unmoved, then do nothing. Alternatively you could sign the online petition against this Maltese madness.

Birding in Catalonia in September

Birding in Catalonia

Above is a photo of the participants of the birding famtrip to Catalonia organized by the Catalan Tourist Board. Participants included bird tour operators and the birding press from the UK and Finland. I’m in there too somewhere.

Why are they smiling? I’ve interpreted their smiles in my own words:

We’ve just seen a flock of 18 Dotterel on the drylands of Lleida.

I have a feeling that we’re going to come across a Lammergeier before we leave.

What superb views of Bonelli’s Eagles we had at Mont…Mont…Montsec!

I’ve just found out that ther are some very good rural hotels around here – much better than the ones I’ve been using until now.

We thrashed them at table football!

It’s my birthday.

That picnic site is just right for us: tables, drinking water, impressive scenery and even a Lammergeier or two!

I’m so glad the fog lifted so that we could enjoy the splendid scenery.

That was nice wine we had last night, I wonder what we’ll get this evening.

These Catalans are a friendly and professional bunch.

Marbled Duck and Pectoral Sandpiper in the Ebro Delta in addition to all the usual stuff, and we even won the mini bird race!

Thanks to all those who participated in this year’s famtrip, and to the Catalonia tourism team and Keith Betton for making it work. Happy Birding!

Birding through the car window

Here’s a photo I took towards the end of last winter:

birding from the car

How very uninteresting, right? However, there are birds in the photo. Take my word for it and have a closer look:

birds from the car in Spain

Now we’ve established that those dark smudges are birds, and probably of the same species, we may begin to ask ourselves: what species? You’d have to be a megacrack or just extremely fluky to correctly identify the species from this photo, so let’s get within a reasonable working distance:

Birding from the car with digital zoom

Mmm. we still haven’t got much to go on, but I’m afraid there’s no more – if I had attempted to approach the birds they would probably have flown away, or the farmer would rightly have insulted me for trampling his alfalfa. One of these days I’ll buy a decent camera. In the meantime, let’s get back to the main question:

What’s the make of the car?