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?

-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.

Spanish translations for the Wild Wonders of Europe blog

BirdingInSpain.com have reached an agreement with the good people of the Wild Wonders of Europe project to translate some of the blog articles into Spanish. In fact we’ve already started with the translation of Magnus Elander’s recent blog entries on his visit to Spain to photograph the Lammergeier and the Griffon Vulture.

Lammergeiers

Photo by Magnus Elander

Magnus and his assistant Stefan came in early November and spent 3 days in the hide photographing Lammergeiers at Boumort before moving on to Ordesa for a week to continue the task in different surroundings. His blog entries outline the places he went to and the people he met in Spain, and also give us a sneak preview to some of his excellent work.

Magnus Elander

We won’t be translating every blog entry, as there are more than 50 photographers involved in the Wild Wonders project! But there will certainly be more translations of some exciting blog entries in the near future. It is rumoured that we have a soft spot for polar bears!

Viaje ornitológico a Bulgaria

Viaje ornitológico a Bulgaria para disfrutar, y también ayudar en la conservación del águila imperial oriental Aquila heliaca

Entre el 20 y 30 de mayo del 2009 podrías estar observando aves en Bulgaria, un país qua ha emergido en la última década como destino ornitológico de primero orden. En la compañía de uno de los mejores guías de Bulgaria y Steve West pasaremos 10 días disfrutando de montañas, cabos, humedales, bosques y una insospechada cantidad de aves muy interesantes. También estaremos contribuyendo directamente a la conservación del águila imperial oriental en Bulgaria.

Baja el pdf para ver todos los detalles y después contacta con Steve West :

steve@BirdingInSpain.com

Balearic Shearwater in Spain: did you know?

Did you know?

The Balearic Shearwater Puffinus mauretanicus is a species endemic to the Balearic Islands?

The Balearic Shearwater was regularly captured for human consumption until the late 1970’s? And that an estimated 2,400 to 2,700 Balearic Shearwaters were caught annually on Formentera alone? 

Predation by cats or genets is one of the main problems faced by the species, and is the reason why this shearwater disappeared from the interior of Cabrera?

There are only an estimated 2,000 pairs of Balearic Shearwater in the world, and that at the current rate of regression the species is likely to become extinct in about 40 years? 

Balearic Shearwater Puffinus mauretanicus

The photo of this Balearic Shearwater is by my friend Eva Solanes. To see more follow this link to Eva’s photo website.

After breeding on the Balearic Islands the Balearic Shearwater spends the summer in the Bay of Biscay? 

Much of the world population of this bird regularly winters along the coast of Catalonia?  

More information on the Balearic Shearwater, especially about where and when to see it in northeast Spain, can be seen on page 37 of “Where the birds are in northeast Spain”.

These itineraries from the BirdingInSpain.com main site offer good chances of observing Balearic Shearwater at the right time of the year:

Ebro Delta South 

Llobregat Delta and Garraf

Cap de Creus Natural park

And get everything right if planning a visit to the region – check out the recommended accommodation in the area where you plan to be. It’s recommended because it’s the best for birders, birdwatchers, nature lovers, families…. 

Birds in the Monegros?

“Blah!” is the name of a new category in the BirdingInSpain.com web scene.

Everybody knows that “Blah, blah, blah” means someone is talking too much. So “Blah!” is mostly images, and just a few words.

The first “Blah!” post:

Birds in the Monegros?

Drinking pool in the Monegros, Spain

Water in the Monegros used to be a precious thing. In the long hot summer it would look something like the above – a drinking pool.

Monegros tracks: old and new

Oh, look! A sandgrouse track! But what’s that next to it? A euro? Perhaps we can follow its trail around the Monegros.

European funding for transforming the remainig drylands in the Monegros

3 million euros. Not bad for a start….

European funding for transforming the remainig drylands in the Monegros

There’s 12 million euros. That’s more like it!

European funding for transforming the remainig drylands in the Monegros

And there’s 22 million euros. Those pesky dryland birds won’t know what hit them!

Bulldozers in the Monegros

Thanks guys! Couldn’t do any of this without you!

Irrigating the Monegros drylands

Sure signs that this is a humanitary mission. And that all those euros are being well spent.

Now don’t get me wrong, I like nature. Flowers and birds are very pretty. But no-one’s going to get rich by trying to make sure that sandgrouse and bustards don’t go extinct, are they? Just how much money do you think you can scrounge off the European Union for biodiversity conservation? Be serious!

Irrigating the Monegros drylands

One day all the Monegros will be like this.

Birding with the family

Birding with the family or rather getting in some birding while on a family holiday is a hard-earned skill. Early rises, minor detours, games and distractions for the kids…on the one hand we could talk about some of the tried and tested techniques that most birding parents are already familiar with, while on the other this is a subject matter that is essentially incomprehensible for birders with no offspring of their own.

One basic rule that is recognised by beginner and expert family birder alike is the importance of choosing the right holiday destination.

Julian Bell, author of the Natural Born Birder website, has had his own experiences of birding with the family, and has expressed an opinion which I wholly agree with:

The island of Mallorca is one of the best spots in Western Europe for combining a family holiday with a spot of very good birding.

Follow this link to his site to see his photos, trip reports and comments on birding in Mallorca:

http://www.naturalbornbirder.com/gallery/mallorca.html

However, there’s a whole lot more that could be said about birding with the family, especially in a country like Spain.

Flying over the Pyrenees

And what did the English come up with? Puffed with pride as possessors of a language with the richest vocabulary in the world, unrestrained by the anachronistic dictates of a fogy old Royal Language Academy, doted with the flexibility and hybrid vigour resulting from close contact with hundreds of different cultures, they produced…Short-toed Eagle. How inspired! What an incredibly poetic, evocative name! Images of a large, pale bird sailing effortlessly over the mountain tops jump to my mind every time I reach for the nail-clippers.

A short excerpt from “Flying over the Pyrenees, standing on the plains”. Subbuteo Natural History Book’s “Book of the month” in September 2007.

Flying over the Pyrenees, standing on the plains

See more details at the book’s very own web page.

Raptor silhouettes solutions

If you have tried the Raptor Silhouettes II Challenge and have come a little unstuck then I have the solutions for you!

However, I will not release them unless somebody out there actually asks me to.

Bird trip report northeast Spain September 2008

(Part 2)

We traveled west to the Belchite area.  The land was clearly more arid and olive tree groves gave way to grasslands and other low vegetation.  We sought out the El Planerón refuge outside of Belchite.  Using directions from the website, we traveled the refuge roads for short distances and found Booted Eagles.  At the trail site, in good lark habitat, we walked around a bit and heard at least 2 Dupont’s Larks calling and later picked up one.  Two flocks of Black-bellied Sandgrouse flew nearby; we tallied 20.  In addition, the arid habitat produced Greater and Lesser Short-toed, Crested and Thekla Larks. Along the main road we found a pair of Lesser Kestrels. We also found a Southern Gray Shrike near the Lesser Kestrel area. After lunch we visited the ruins of old Belchite – the original town that was destroyed by Franco.  It is a must see location.

Dupont’s Lark

Dupont’s Lark, Belchite, Spain

Before crossing the Ebro River near Quinto, we stopped at a riparian area next to planted fields and found a Hobby, a few Common Buzzards, Purple Heron, Kingfishers and various passerines, including Hoopoe and Corn Bunting.  At Lleida, we headed north to our destination where we stayed at Montsonís, near the Montsec Range.  This was a wonderful, very picturesque rural valley with a small castle. Breakfast the next morning at our accommodation was fantastic!  Here we got lucky and encountered Steve West (who was meeting a client) and he kindly gave us a Montsec Birding Trail map and a few pointers. Thanks Steve!

A view of Montsonís

Montsonís near the Montsec Range

The next morning we followed Lleida birding routes near Balaguer followed by a trip to the Alfés drylands, both suggested by the web site, and we were not disappointed. We quickly found a flock of 55 Stone Curlews and near by were 20 Red-legged Partridges. Another location yielded up two Honey Buzzards and two beautiful Black-winged Kites. Also noted were our first Red Kite, a few Bee-eaters hawking insects over the forest, Short-toed Eagle (the latter near Aspa), more Green Woodpeckers, our only Tawny Pipit for the trip, our only Black Wheatear, Reed Warbler, Lesser Gray Shrike (ID by plumage and call note), and Woodchat Shrike.

Bee-eater

Bee-eater

We headed north to the Pyrenees.  Our next stop was a small hotel in a small village known as Arseguel which is about 10 km east of La Seu d’Urgell.  Upon arrival, we saw our first Cirl and Rock Buntings, Citril Finch and Orphean Warbler and heard a calling juvenile Scops Owl at night after dinner. The food at our hotel was amazing – with yet more excellent vino tinto.  We stayed two nights.

After visiting a few locations, we headed up to the Coll de Pal outside of Baga hoping for a few alpine species late in the afternoon. We were not disappointed!  The alpine meadows near the rock wall produced an Alpine Accentor, and two Lammergeiers!  The latter are amazing birds with huge wingspans – over 8 feet – are quite long – almost 4 feet – and have foot-long tails.  Beautiful!

Our last day was short for birding as we needed to depart for the Barcelona airport. We packed our bags and loaded the car and we were off. The most noteworthy thing was the slow traffic through Barcelona.

This trip was better than originally envisioned, although several common species were never found.  This was mainly due to a time deficit – we did not have time to visit several great sites for birds like Blue Rock Thrush or Bonelli’s Eagle or Slender-billed Gull.  But, since we would like to return, I can only say that next time we will get them!