Nappies and Lesser Grey Shrikes

Nappies and Lesser Grey Shrikes

An excerpt from “Flying over the Pyrenees, standing on the plains”

We drove on a little and, doing my best to ignore the smell, I made another short stop to look at a party of Bee-eaters, circling and gliding and effortlessly picking flying insects from the air. Back in the car though the atmosphere was choking. I had to relieve us of the worst of our load, and as I passed an empty sheep pen I saw an opportunity. As quickly and as casually as I could I raised the dark brown nappy with my fingertips and tossed it awkwardly into the pen, leaving the scene of the heinous crime with prudent speed.

More Wallcreeper wanderings

Wallcreepers and wall-clingers

I counted 40 rock climbers actually clinging to the rock faces at the Mallos de Riglos one Sunday morning in November. And 4 Wallcreepers, one per 10 rock-climbers. So, I have to admit it, it seems that the Wallcreepers are relatively unfazed by these rival rock-clingers.

Happy birders at riglos after seeing Wallcreepers

Riglos is the only place where I have seen 3 or 4 Wallcreepers in a single morning. I’ve even heard Wallcreepers singing here, and watched them make sullies from the safety of the rock face to trap a flying insect before returning to a ledge to dismember and swallow it. I’ve seen Wallcreepers  chasing each other in what I interpret as a struggle to assert their dominance over a temporary winter territory.

Riglos has been good to me over the last two decades. Nevertheless, I can’t help feeling nervous as we park in the car park and I raise my binoculars to survey the majesty and the extent of the rock faces here. And do I really believe that the Wallcreeper, with all that rock at its disposal, will hop and flit around just above our heads? Why should it bother?

Riglos cliffs and church

Fortunately, the birders and photographers that I escort here behave with the right sense of occasion. They too eagerly scan the rock faces up and down, left to right, and blessed be he or she who first calls out “Wallcreeper!” or “There’s one!”. I hurriedly raise my binoculars to check that it is indeed a Wallcreeper and not a Black Redstart or an Alpine Accentor and give my thumbs up and an almost audible sigh of relief. Yes, today I’m a believer! Again!

As a special treat you can click here Gorgeous Wallcreepers chapter  and download the free chapter on Wallcreepers from the book “Flying over the Pyrenees, standing on the plains”.

When to go birding in Spain

Right, so now we’ve focused on why birding in Spain is such a great idea, and also what areas of Spain are best for your bird tour to centre on, the next question arises: when to go birding in Spain?

Short-toed Eagle in flight

Well, spring birding is hard to beat anywhere, and that includes Spain. The weather, the flowers, the butterflies … Go on a spring birding tour to catch up with some of the summer migrant birds that may only be passing through, maybe a late winter visitor or two, and of course the migratory and resident birds of Spain, which are busy displaying and defending territories.

So, when is spring in Spain? That question is not as innocent as it may seem, as for one thing, early and peak migration in the south of Spain (Andalucía) can be between one and two weeks in advance of northeast Spain (Catalonia, Aragón and Navarra). That could be interesting to bear in mind if planning a longer tour to visit two separate regions, such as our Spring Across Spain tour.

So, generally speaking, the best spring period is throughout April and up to mid-May.

However, you can’t be everywhere in spring, so are there any other times suitable for your bird tour to Spain? Summer, for example?

Ordesa National Park in the Pyrenees of Spain

Hmmm, summer… Summer can be very hot, with temperatures reaching up to 40ºC in some parts. However, if you’re planning to spend most of your time in the mountains – the Pyrenees, the Sierra de Gredos, the Picos de Europa, etc – then you can usually escape the worst of the heat and get a good variety of birds, especially some of the high altitude birds such as Wallcreeper, Alpine Accentor, Snowfinch, Alpine Chough, Citril Finch and more.

The autumn means migration for most. While wildfowl, waders and songbirds migrate through Spain on a broad front soaring birds such as birds of prey (Egyptian Vulture, Booted Eagle, Short-toed Eagle and others) and Black and White Storks are funnelled through to the shortest sea crossing over to Africa, at the Straits of Gibraltar. The area around Tarifa then becomes the main focus of birders’ attention, from August until October.

Admiring the views over the Straits of Gibraltar

The short, colder days of winter may not appeal for a bird tour to Spain, at first sight. However, it is a good time to catch up with wintering species (flocks of Common Cranes, waders, wildfowl and gulls) and, above all, those altitude migrants, which descend from the high mountains, especially the Wallcreeper and Alpine Accentor. On the plains there are flocks of larks, sandgrouse and bustards too. In this period the best months would be November and February to March. So if you’re looking for a winter birding break this is an excellent option, above all to combine with an extension for a bit of culture in Barcelona or Madrid, for example.

Wallcreeper in flight

When to go on a birding tour in Spain? When it’s most convenient for you. 

 

Where to go birding in Spain

So, we’ve decided: we’re going on a bird tour to Spain. But where in Spain exactly?

There’s no easy answer to that! Let’s start by separating the Canary Islands (eg Tenerife), and the Balearic Islands (eg Mallorca), from mainland Spain, and focus on the latter.

Map of best birding regions in Spain

The most popular birding destinations in mainland Spain are Extremadura, Andalusia, northeast Spain (Catalonia, Aragon and Navarra), and the Cantabrian mountains, especially the Picos de Europa.

Why?

  • Extremadura has steppes, inland waterways, lots of raptors and above all the Monfragüe National Park.
  • Andalusia – has the Coto Doñana National Park (currently struggling with drought and lack of water due to agricultural activities), the south coast around Tarifa, and the Sierras north of Sevilla.
  • Northeast Spain has the Pyrenees mountains, the Ebro Delta wetlands, the Ebro valley plains and quite a lot of forest.
  • The Cantabrian mountains are best known for access to high mountain species, but also as the home of Brown Bears and Iberian Wolves.

So what are the special birds of each region?

Spanish Imperial Eagle

Extremadura – Spanish Imperial Eagle, Cinereous Vulture, Iberian Magpie, Black Stork, White-rumped Swift, Great Bustard, Black-winged Kite…

Andalusia – Northern Bald Ibis, Little Swift, Marbled Teal, White-headed Duck, Red-knobbed Coot, Collared Pratincole, Rüppell’s Vulture…

Northeast Spain – Wallcreeper, Bearded Vulture, Alpine Accentor, Citril Finch, Dupont’s Lark, Black-bellied Sandgrouse, Pin-tailed Sandgrouse, Audouin’s Gull…

Of course there are many interesting bird species common to two or more of these regions, and a birding tour of ten days or so at the peak period of early to mid-spring should take you to over 200 bird species.

AVE, the fast train service in Spain

It’s also worth thinking of doing a bird tour which includes two of these different regions say, for example, the south of Spain (Andalusia) connected with the northeast (Navarra, Aragón, Catalonia). It’s a long drive from Sevilla or Málaga to Barcelona, Lleida or Zaragoza, but it’s only several hours by the fast train service. Our Spring Across Spain tours offer the visiting birder that very possibility. Think about the possibilities.

Birding In Spain spring bird tour: Spring across Spain

Reasons why your next birding tour should be Birding In Spain

Birding In Spain, Europe?

Absolutely! Now, you’re not going to compete with the tropics for the number of bird species – European wildlife was the first to bear the brunt of industrialization after all, and the temperate climate zone can never be so productive in terms of bird species and variety.

So what’s special about Spain for a birding tour?

Well, Spain is well-known as a holiday destination – mostly due to its warm, sunny climate with little rain, reasonable prices, beaches …

However, as travelling birders we scratch well below the surface, don’t we? However, before we talk about the birds themselves…

Spain is the second most mountainous country in Europe – I bet many of you didn’t know that. There are mountain ranges all over the place, with peaks in the Pyrenees of over 3,000m, and the Sierra Nevada in the south at almost 3,500m.

Castles in Spain, are not just castles. There are Roman remains, medaieval walled cities, monuments such as the Alhambra in Granada, the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, cathedrals, romanic churches, and soooo much more.

Castles in Spain: Loarre castle

It’s easy to get to Spain, with international connections at major airports Madrid, Barcelona, Sevilla, Málaga. Then getting around Spain is easy and fast, with excellent road and rail links connecting cities and different regions.

Map of Barcelona city, Catalonia, Spain

Spain is a safe place to travel in, especially if you take commonsense precautions. Normal people don’t have guns, they drive more or less sensibly, they respect other people and their belongings.

Spain is well known for its good red wines – not enough so in our opinion – and almost every valley has its own cheeses, olive oil, wine, bread, regional dish, etc.

There are so many hotels and other accommodation types to choose from that you cannot possibly compare Spain disfavourably to any other European country.

Landscapes – mountains, valleys, plains, olive groves, wetlands, coastal headlands – landscapes and more landscapes.

The professional services of people engaged in making your stay as enjoyable as possible – hotel staff, transport workers, caterers, and of course professional birding guides. We at Birding In Spain have been leading, designing, and operating bird tours around all parts of Spain since 1996. That’s a long time to learn how best to deliver what the visiting birder needs to make his or her visit a successful one.

The Birding In Spain team – Florinda and Steve

Oh! We forgot to mention the birds! That’ll have to be in another blog entry. See you there!

Images: red wine, olive oil, cheese, barcelona, us

Highlights from two spring across Spain tours 2022

After two years of you know what …

… we were back in the field and leading birding tours around Spain. One in March, and one in May, we ran two almost identical nature tours but quite a lot of different birds, butterflies, weather and experiences!

Glossy ibis in flight

Tour 1 – March – Len and Lucy (see their review here)

Unsettled weather, I rarely took off my woolly hat! Strong winds, overcast, some rain and lots of rain at Tarifa. Despite that some marvellous birds with a very receptive couple, Len and Lucy from North Carolina.

In Catalonia and Aragón

Spotted Crake and “the gulls”, but above all Scops Owls, Little Owl and Great Spotted Cuckoo, Lesser Spotted Woodpecker and Black Wheatear, the only Blue Rock Thrush of the tour, Bearded Tit, Wallcreeper, Lammergeier, Egyptian Vulture, Rock Sparrow, Common Crane

In Navarra

Ferruginous Duck, Great Bustard, Little Bustard, Pin-tailed Sandgrouse, Dupont’s Lark, Mediterranean Short-toed Lark

In Andalucía

Baillon’s Crake, Little Swift, Northern Bald Ibis, Spanish Imperial Eagle, Black Vulture, White-headed Duck, Marbled Duck, Red-knobbed Coot …

USA birders with Birding In Spain

Tour 2 – May – 6 participants from Indiana, USA

Many of the above plus summer migrants …

White-rumped Swift, Pallid Swift, Collared Pratincole, Roller, European Bee-eater, Red-necked Nightjar, Black-eared Wheatear, Western Subalpine Warbler, Western Bonelli’s Warbler, Alpine Accentor, Ring Ouzel, Red-backed Shrike, Black Stork, … and then more than 50 species of butterfly.

Bee-eater Merops apiaster

What a busy spring! Once again, thanks to all those who placed their trust in Birding In Spain, and made me get out and travel with them around this marvellous country at the most enjoyable time of year.

Birding in spring in Spain – it’s hard to beat!

Vultures in Europe means vultures in Spain

Black or Cinereous or Monk Vultures in the snow

Lammergeier, or Bearded Vulture, in flight over the Pyrenees, Spain

Griffon Vultures in action

Egyptian Vulture in the Pyrenees, Spain

Rüppell’s Vulture, Tarifa, Spain

Spain is clearly the European stronghold for all of these species. Here’s a quick look at the essentials:

Bearded Vulture (times are tough when I feel obliged to phase out the use of Lammergeier, but, oh well…)

Spanish population = 163 breeding “pairs” (moderate increase)

Total European population = 465 breeding pairs (estimate)

The Spanish population represents   about 35% of the European total.

Black (oh, Cinereous) Vulture

Spanish population = 2550 breeding pairs approx. (moderate increase)

Total European population = 2750 breeding pairs

The Spanish population represents  about 93% of the European total

Egyptian Vulture (no name change here?)

Spanish population = 1400 to 1600 breeding pairs (stable)

Total European population =2688-2931 breeding pairs

The Spanish population represents about 55% of the European total

Griffon Vulture

Spanish population = 30100-36500 breeding pairs (large increase)

Total European population = 35000-42000

The Spanish population represents about 87% of the European total

 

Rüppell’s Vulture

Spanish population = up to 5 breeding pairs (mixed) but no confirmation of breeding. This is the total of the European population.

Click on this link to download the pdf  by the Vulture Conservation Foundation with a very interesting summary of the populations, distribution etc of all five European Vultures (Bearded Vulture, Black Vulture, Egyptian Vulture, Griffon Vulture and Rüppell’s Vulture).

New! Announcing the Birding In Spain Bird Sudokus!

Here’s another good reason for you to subscribe to our newsletter! Have you ever done a bird Sudoku before? Well, you can now.

Watch birds by Birding In Spain

Featuring some of the avian stars of our bird tours in Spain the sudoku principle is the same, but instead of numbers you have birds. Much more pleasing, we think, especially for those of us who are less “number-oriented”.

In future newsletters we will be including the occasional bird sudoku among the art, links to interesting articles, bird and tour news, etc.

Birding In Spain’s Winter Wallcreeper sudoku

Not a subscriber to our newsletter? What are you waiting for? It’s free and simple. Get news of sightings, tours, bird information, bird-related fun bits and more. Just fill in your details in the popup on our home page, or send us an e-mail.

Len and Lucy’s review of their time with Birding In Spain

Len and Lucy’s review of their time with Birding In Spain

Len and Lucy came to us in March 2022, after booking in late 2019, and then having to wait for more than two years because of the pandemic. Well, they made it from North Carolina and our 12 days together was a very pleasant and productive tour of some of the possibilities of Birding In Spain.

This is what their hand-written review reads:

Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! Those words seem hardly enough to express Lucy and my true satisfaction with our birding trip.

Your expert guiding and the friendship developed over the past 12 days has made this such a memorable experience for us. It has given us lots of stories to be retold with our friends, both birders and non-birders.

Your knowledge of the birds, their habitats, behaviour, calls, size, shape and overall gizz are amazing. While your up close eyesight is suspect (Ha!Ha!Ha!) your distance vision is outstanding. Many times you spotted our target through your bins when the bird was so far off we needed the scope to verify.

You helped fill the hours of driving by your knowledge about Spanish history (eg Civil War) or town vs city (it’s not a city unless it has a cathedral).

We have enjoyed hearing about your life (background, pre-Spain, pre-marriage, etc) plus learning about Florinda, Alex and David. We feel we know you much better for that.

Positive review on your driving too as Lucy often gets motion sick and needs to be a front seat rider.

The choices of lodgings were excellent. We enjoyed the unique features of each.

Rest assured that we will spread positive reviews of your services to our friends and on social media.

We want you to know that we truly appreciate all you did in the pre-planning of our trip so as to meet our expectations. In fact we can say you exceeded them!

We hope we can travel with you again should the occasion arise, such as another cycling trip next year.

Best wishes to you and all your family for health and prosperity.

Len and Lucy.

What can we say? People like Len and Lucy are what makes our job a pleasure.

Griffon Vultures and Bonelli’s Eagles

Griffon Vultures and Bonelli’s Eagles

Hunched up and scowling like old crones on their narrow, guano-carpeted ledges small numbers of Griffon Vultures watch the acrobatics of the Bonelli’s Eagle couple with ill-concealed envy, letting out derisory hisses and scornful squawks. There’s no love lost between these two species; the eagles look down on these cumbersome carrion-feeders with disdain, and the vultures in turn eye the eagles with wary distrust.

Griffon Vultures in a snow storm

That has always been the nature of their relationship, although the dynamics of eagle-vulture interactions have recently taken on a new turn: currently embarked on a roller-coaster recovery from an all-time population low in the 1970’s and 80’s Griffon Vultures are proving to be unwelcome rock mates in the places where they coincide with Bonelli’s Eagles. The latter have become the unsuspecting victims of the vultures’ recent success story in that, ever the opportunist, the Griffon Vultures have started occupying Bonelli’s Eagle nests. Rather than pretending to build their own nests, which at the best of times could be greatly improved by copying the layout of a half-finished game of Chinese Straws, some Griffon Vultures have discovered that it’s much easier to gang up and oust the Bonelli’s Eagles from theirs, to then claim ownership of what must feel like the equivalent of a stately home.

Bonelli’s Eagle

To their everlasting credit the eagles are no pushover; their aerial prowess, power and speed, and their aggressive nature mean that they are well-equipped to put up a good fight. However, in the end the eagles succumb to the overpowering odds stacked against them by the number game and must retreat; perhaps to better prepare the defence of the nests that are still left to them.

Hunched up and scowling like old crones on their narrow, guano-carpeted ledges small numbers of Griffon Vultures watch the acrobatics of the Bonelli’s Eagle couple with ill-concealed envy, letting out derisory hisses and scornful squawks.

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