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!

Trip report birding in northeast Spain

Northeast Spain, September 6-19, 2008 (Edited for brevity version; photos added by BirdingInSpain.com)

Here is the birding summary of our (Cheryl and Kurt Gaskill and Molly and Peter Ross) September trip to Spain, centered about 200 km on Barcelona.

In total, we birded for an estimated 51.5 hours in about 8 days.  Notes indicate 167 species and over 8800 individuals were observed and Kurt tallied about 45 lifers and Peter 68.

References we used were the excellent book by Steve West, “Where the Birds are in Northeast Spain”. We found Palmer and Fidel’s “A Birdwatching Guide to Eastern Spain,” Arlequin Press, Chelmsford, 2001 of some value.  Of great value was the website “Birding in Spain,” (http://www.birdinginspain.com/ mainly by Steve West) which was consulted extensively before the trip. Overnight accommodations at the key sites of Barcelona, Ebro Delta, Alcaniz, Montsonis, Arseguel (west of La Seu d’Urgell in the Pyrenees), and Siurana were secured before the trip began.

Where the birds are in northeast Spain

We drove down to the Ebro Delta late Thursday Sept 11 and the next day we began birding.  Despite the strong NW winds this day and the next, it was one of the best birding sites for the trip!  The majority (ca. 80%) of the Ebro Delta is cultivated for rice, but it still has many wetlands plus beach/shore areas; it is a well-known breeding area for Andouin’s Gull.

We began birding and quickly saw many shorebirds such as Black-tailed Godwits and Curlew Sandpipers; there were lots of dark-winged terns plus the occasional Zitting Cisticola.  All 3 of the dark-winged terns were spotted that first morning:  Black, White-winged and Whiskered Terns.  We birded throughout the day on the north side of the Ebro River, ending at a large hide near our hotel that overlooked a brackish pond filled with waterfowl and coots (including the Red-knobbed Coot).

Crested Coot

Crested Coot (or Red-knobbed Coot if you prefer)

The next morning we concentrated on the south side of the Ebro River.  The best location was the Riet Vell wetland which consisted of about 4 man-made cells, each about 2 acres, with various levels of water.  We tallied 18 species of shorebird at Riet Vell and the total included the only Temminck’s Stint of the trip.

Overall, the Ebro Delta added 82 trip species to our list, sometimes in impressive numbers, and the species found only here were: Great Crested Grebe, European Shag, Black-crowned Night Heron, Squacco Heron, Great (White) Egret, Glossy Ibis (ca. 365), Greater Flamingo (ca. 260), Common Shelduck, Gadwall, Northern Pintail, Red-crested Pochard, Common Pochard, Merlin, Common Moorhen, Purple Swamphen, Eurasian Coot (ca. 500), Red-knobbed (or Crested) Coot, Black-winged Stilt, Pied Avocet, Common Ringed Plover, Kentish Plover, Sanderling, Little Stint, Temminck’s Stint, Curlew Sandpiper, Black-tailed Godwit, Spotted Redshank, Marsh Sandpiper, Green Sandpiper, Mediterranean Gull (a beautiful gull), Andouin’s Gull (another beautiful gull), Gull-billed, Caspian, Sandwich, Common, Whiskered, Black and White-winged Terns, Lesser Short-toed Lark, Northern Wheatear, Savi’s Warbler, Sedge Warbler, and Eurasian Tree Sparrow.  In addition, the Little Egret numbers (ca. 220) were wonderful.

Birding in the Ebro Delta

Purple Gallinule and Red-crested Pochard

Part 2 soon…

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 BirdingInSpain.com 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 BirdingInSpain.com 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.