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?

Birding through the crisis: a swift response

The price of petrel has soared so that even spendthrifts quail at the thought of filling the tank.
At the same time high mortgages are forcing many to sell their residence in the house mart in the local paper.
Everyone knows we’re in for a ruff time. It’s so tempting to snipe at banks and investors for causing this crisis, but that is knot really going to help things much.
So before your life takes a serious tern and you start robin’ other people’s possessions, try following this simple advice:

·    Do by all means have a good grouse about the world economy if that makes you feel better
·    In practical terms it’s best to swallow hard, go to the pub, have a nightjar or two, followed by a good, long P.aristotelis.
·    And remember one essential thing: birding is for life, so never even think about ditching your hobby.

Can you spot the 14 birds in this text and its title?

Dotterel on the drylands of Catalonia

This is a typical autumn scene from the drylands of Lleida:

Dotterel in northeast Spain

No, not partridges or larks, they are Dotterel Charadrius morinellus.

This year the lucky participants on the famtrip organized by the Catalan Tourist Board were treated to the sight of a flock of 18 Dotterels on the drylands of Alfés, Lleida, Spain. We were watching Thekla Larks when the Dotterel literally flew over our heads and landed in the field in front of us. I had already told the famtrip participants that we were in a good area for migrating Dotterel, but also that due to the nature and brevity of our visit we were not going to look for them.

So it was very nice of the Dotterel to come looking for us!

The Alfés Dotterels already featured in my first book. Part of the text in “Where the birds are in northeast Spain” concerning the Dotterel reads as follows: “flocks that vary in size, but rarely in excess of 50 birds seek out and congregate in ploughed or stubble dryland cereal fields, alternating with smaller patches of fallow land.”

Their presence in the drylands around Lleida is common knowledge now, but not so back in September 1994.  Then I almost fell off my motorbike when they crossed the track in front of me on the edge of the thymefields of Alfés.

In the following years I compiled a modest list of personal observations of Dotterels at Alfés:

17 birds on 07/09/94

13 birds on 09/09/95

11 birds on 05/09/96

9 birds on 10/09/97

6 birds on 01/09/99

2 birds on 09/10/99

20 birds on 29/08/00

4 birds on 30/08/01

There’s more, but really all that you need to know to see Dotterels in northeast Spain can be read in “Where the birds are in Northeast Spain”. Detailed information about birding the drylands of Alfés can be found in the drylands of Lleida itinerary on the BirdingInSpain.com website.

Where to stay to be close to the Dotterels, Pin-tailed Sandgrouse, Black Wheatears, etc. of Alfés? La Garbinada.

Little Bustard in northeast Spain

Little Bustard   Tetrax tetrax
Little Bustard in northeast SpainThe Little Bustard is a localised resident bird in northeast Spain, breeding mostly in the Ebro valley drylands in Catalonia and Aragón. After breeding the Little Bustard gradually deserts dryland areas and disperses around the surrounding areas, with major concentrations preferring alfalfa fields. Large winter flocks sometimes in excess of 1,000 birds have been found in some years, particularly in the area between Balaguer and Tàrrega.
Birding in Spain: Little BustardBirdingInSpain.com birding itineraries where Little Bustards can be found in the breeding season: Drylands of Lleida, Monegros Alcolea and Candasnos, Monegros Bujaraloz.

Atlantic convergence:birders from America unite!

Montsonís is a tiny village in Montsec, Lleida, Spain, painstakingly and tastefully rebuilt from the depopulated ruins that existed no less than 30 years ago. Ramon and Carme, the directors of Castellsdelleida.com are the driving force that literally raised this village from its ruins.

Two birders from Washington state were booked in with me at Montsonís for a day’s guided birding around Montsec, but some confusion reigned momentarily, as no fewer than 6 birders, all from the USA, presented themselves at the same time! As it turned out the extra 4 were from the eastern seaboard, and had arrived at Montsonís by following my recommendations in “Where the birds are in northeast Spain”.

I turned up at 8 in the morning as the “Easterners” were tucking into a hearty breakfast. They briefly informed me that they had already been to Belchite and seen the Dupont’s Lark, and that their objective of the day was Little Bustard, before reaching the high Pyrenees that same evening.

My two “Westerners” on the other hand were taking things more slowly, and were keen to walk and bird in the general area. In the usual manner of this birding business we “missed” some possible bird species while being surprised by a number of unexpected observations.

In the first category our initial walk failed to reveal Bonelli’s Eagle (they’ve been playing hide and seek with me throughout the course of this year, “now you see me, now you don’t”). The surprises went a long way to make up for the misses though: a melanistic Montagu’s Harrier (the last of the year) out on the plains, along with a solitary Little Bustard which in theory should have been elsewhere. 4 Honey Buzzards circling over Mont-roig and then surely the same 4 over the plains a little later. Bee-eaters and an old male Marsh Harrier on migration through the high passes. A large flock of Rock Sparrows in the fields and none in their usual breeding haunts.

And Green and Great Spotted Woodpeckers (try to imagine your first visit to North America and how you would feel about seeing a Flicker or two).

We had great weather and a couple of fine walks. It would be nice to know what our “Easterners” managed to find that day.

Gallocanta lagoon: good winter birding

Located on a continental plateau at an altitude of around 1,000m Gallocanta lagoon is deservedly well-known for its role as a stopover and wintering site for thousands of Common Cranes Grus grus. The spectacle offered by these birds as they gather to roost on and around the lagoon, especially in February and March, is one that any visiting birder worth his binoculars could hardly fail to appreciate.

Common Cranes winter and migrate through Gallocanta

The first-time visitor should know a few things about this site when planning a winter visit. Firstly, it can get very cold here in the winter, so make sure you bring your woollies! Secondly, the level of water in the lagoon depends entirely on rainfall, and that has been scarce or intermittent in recent years, so don’t be surprised if the water in the “lagoon” is only a at a fraction of its capacity.

However, only the fickle and faint should be put off by the above. Apart from the Cranes and other waterbirds there may be on the lagoon itself, there are a lot of interesting birds that can be found on Gallocanta’s shores and in the surrounding area. These include a small but regular wintering population of Great Bustards, Black-bellied Sandgrouse, Calandra Lark, Thekla Lark, Golden Eagle, Hen Harrier, Red Kite, Griffon Vulture…there are even small numbers of Dupont’s Lark if you care to try and find them.

For more information see the Gallocanta itinerary in the sites and itineraries section of the BirdingInSpain.com website.

Oh yes! And don’t miss Eloïsa Matheu’s wonderfully atmospheric recording on the same page.