Gekko Art is … getting noticed?

Thanks for the few but very encouraging comments we received about our arty offerings.

Now, without wanting to milk the cow dry, I’m going to publish one more batch of Gekko Art before moving on to something else. Hope you like it!

Goshawk, by Adam

The Goshawk is mean. You wouldn’t want to be that poor pigeon held captive under its claws looking up into that cruel orange eye as the beast plucks your feathers without a smear of pity for you in your death throes … but that’s nature too folks.

Lammergeier, by Jan

The original didn’t quite manage to get the whole bird in the frame, a fact which was scoffed at by other bird photographers, in part motivated by their jealousy of the photographer’s commercial success I daresay. I was a direct witness to that. On a different note there’s beauty all over the Lammergeier, and I don’t think that you need to see the wing tips to know that they are there, so I zoomed in on the bird even more.

Narcissi are not birds

Is it a coincidence that this, a work with flowers and not birds, is Florinda’s favourite? I like it too, mind you, as I fancifully imagine that it takes me closer to another being’s vision: perhaps that of an insect?

Tell me you want to see more, and I’ll keep them coming!

Spring 2023 reports 3: Citril Finches, Great Spotted Cuckoos and migrants galore

Little-Bustards-males and female, on the drylands of Lleida, by Dave Brassey

This was a Heatherlea tour led by Steve West and John Muddemann

Heatherlea-group-2023: Spain for birds and butterflies tour

Birds and butterflies was the focus

  • We got lots of birds, and some interesting butterflies too, despite the poor weather limiting “butterfly days” to a couple of mornings and an afternoon!
  • We spent 3 days near Puigcerdà, and 3 days in Birding In Spain’s home town, Lleida

Some birds from our Puigcerdà base were:

Citril Finch, Lammergeier, Ring Ouzel, Common Rock Thrush, Alpine Chough, Water Pipit, Common Crossbill, Yellowhammer, Red-backed Shrike, Iberian Green Woodpecker, Ortolan Bunting, Rock Bunting, Cirl Bunting, Grasshopper Warbler, Pied Flycatcher, Spotted Flycatcher, Quail, Common Redstart, Western Bonelli’s Warbler, Western Orphean Warbler, Short-toed Eagle, Booted Eagle, Egyptian Vulture …

Citril Finch in the Catalan Pyrenees, by Dave Brassey

Alpine-Chough-in the Pyrenees of Catalonia, by Dave Brassey

Despite the late dates there were tons of migrant songbirds in the gallery woodland near the first hotel: remarkable numbers of Pied Flycatchers and Spotted Flycatchers, as well as Common Redstarts, Nightingales, Common Whitethroats, Garden Warblers, and more. We had a group of 10 Whinchats in a field and a singing Grasshopper Warbler too. Great!

ON the first day the tour had started with a visit to the Llobregat Delta, and here we saw:

Balearic Shearwater, Northern Gannet, Audouin’s Gull, Kentish Plover, Common Ringed PLover, Little Ringed Plover, Collared Pratincole, Icterine Warbler, Squacco Heron, Purple Heron, Red-crested Pochard, Black-winged Stilt, Alpine Swift, Hoopoe, Bee-eater, Little Tern, Greater Flamingo, Spoonbill …

Audouin’s-Gulls on the beach near Barcelona, by Dave Brassey

Of course the Icterine Warbler was a pleasant and surprising find, as in this part of Catalonia it is a scarce to rare migrant.

En-route between Puigcerdà and Lleida we tracked down Red-rumped Swallow, Bonelli’s Eagle and Western Subalpine Warbler. It needed a little patience, but was worth it.

Then the birds around Lleida were almost too many to name…

Wetlands: Penduline Tit (at nest), Little Bittern, Night Heron, Turtle Dove, Kingfisher, Melodious Warbler, Great Reed Warbler, European Bee-eater, Eurasian Hoopoe, Golden Oriole …

Penduline-Tit-at nest near Lleida, by Dave Brassey

Drylands: Pin-tailed Sandgrouse, Little Owl, Eagle Owl (at 2 separate locations), Little Bustard, Montagu’s Harrier, Eurasian Hobby, Cinereous Vulture, Red-footed Falcon, Lesser Kestrel, Honey Buzzard, Osprey, European Roller, Stone Curlew, Mediterranean Short-toed Lark, Greater Short-toed Lark, Calandra Lark, Iberian Grey Shrike, and … Great Spotted Cuckoo.

I’ll never forget the Great Spotted Cuckoos! We had four together at one time, just after seeing another 3 at a different location. They allowed us to get close and watch them going about their business. Wonderful!

And the folks? A really nice bunch.

More? Well, you could probably ask for more from a birds and butterflies tour to Catalonia in May, although you’d risk appearing rather greedy if you did. The best way of getting more would be to come on next year’s tour!

Gorgeous Wallcreepers

Taken from Flying over the Pyrenees, standing on the plains

But let me assure you that if having made that inhuman effort to reach its favourite, almost inaccessible cliff, and after having craned your neck for half an hour staring up mindlessly at a huge, overpowering block of limestone, if then you are fortunate enough to actually set eyes on this bird with carmine butterfly flashing wings you won’t regret anything. As you stand there pressing your binoculars into your eye sockets, contemplating one of the milliard of nature’s true wonders, that tiny figure flickering and flitting across the face of that immense wall, you somehow manage to hold your breath; perhaps you fear that just in breathing you have the power to shatter that magical moment before it can be properly etched onto your memory.

As you stand there pressing your binoculars into your eye sockets, contemplating one of the milliard of nature’s true wonders, that tiny figure flickering and flitting across the face of that immense wall, you somehow manage to hold your breath;

Small talk and Great Bustards

Taken from Flying over the Pyrenees, standing on the plains

A loose group of females is standing nearby; they are idly pecking at the grass and feigning disinterest as only females can. Nevertheless, the Great Bustard’s hormones are doing their relentless work on his body and, incapable of ignoring their dictates the male prepares himself for action. First of all he makes use of a series of strange gulps and exhalations to inflate his gular pouch into a large, dangling balloon; then he forces his head back onto his mantle while aiming the whiskers on his chin directly up at the sky in front of his eyes; simultaneously he tilts his body upwards and cocks his fanned out tail forward to almost touch his back-thrusted head; then he stretches his wings downwards and backwards from the shoulders, twisting them to show much white, previously hidden from view. Possessed and drivenhe begins to trample his feet rhythmically and rotates his whole body from side to side, causing his oversized gular pouch to swing about wildly. In a matter of seconds this huge, respectable bird has ballooned itself into an enormous, streaky white marshmallow.

In a matter of seconds this huge, respectable bird has ballooned itself into an enormous, streaky white marshmallow.

Hamsters and Red-necked Nightjars

Taken from Flying over the Pyrenees, standing on the plains

It wasn’t long before a bird flew up from under someone’s feet and drifted silently to rest in the shade of a nearby pine tree. Duly beckoned with urgent gestures and whispers the clients all gathered round, Kevin at the forefront, and with raised binoculars we all stood in silent admiration of a Red-necked Nightjar’s beautiful, intricately patterned plumage. Perhaps it was a minute, perhaps two, as the bird sat stiller than a sentinel, surveying us with the merest slit of an opened eye before taking flight once more, aware that its cloak of invisibility had slipped from its mantle.

                           Red-necked nightjar

No-one could resist another look, and so we were all enticed to follow our reluctant star a little further. I strode forward with the rest, but then something halted me in my tracks: there concealed in the dip between two hummocks and the edge of the pinewood I saw a parked car, and two figures quickly separating. My first instinct was to display a knowing grin, but a flash of recognition wiped it instantly from my face. I knew both members of the couple, and also that both were married to partners other than the one they had obviously been embracing. They were parents of children who went to the same school as my sons. Out here! In the middle of my Red-necked Nightjar site! Who would have guessed? I crouched down and backed off as quickly and surreptitiously as I could, clenching my teeth and praying that they had not seen me.

Grit and Cranes

Taken from Flying over the Pyrenees, standing on the plains

Common Cranes in flight over Balaguer

Cranes were strong fliers but even so this group was struggling to maintain its course against the force of the wind. Constantly buffeted by the fierce side wind their leader was tilted to the left with every other wing beat and the rest of the group, amid loud trumpeting and clanging, dutifully followed the course he or she set. Yet the river lay there below them and, like a plane guided in the night by the runway’s landing lights, the leader continually veered back to the right so as to follow the waters that would keep the group on their southbound course. In this way I watched their zig-zagging progress until they were dots in the sky. Strangely, though, the trumpeting returned to my ears with renewed vigour. I turned my head and saw another larger group following on behind them, weaving the same determined route.

The best birder’s hotel in northeast Spain

The best birding hotel? Really? Yes. Read on …

I’m not one of those people who can’t keep a secret. You know when someone tells you something and asks you not to tell anyone else, perhaps secretly hoping that you will tell somebody? Well, I’m one of those people who promises not to tell and who keeps his promise.

I’ve also told my sons – great lovers of the outdoors, rock-climbers, skiers, mountain-goers, wild swimmers – that if they love a place then not to spread the news on social media, because the next time they’ll have to share it with insensitive hordes. They’ve come round to my way of thinking.

So, what I’m about to do now grates a little with my way of doing things. I’m going to tell you all about the very best birder’s hotel in northeast Spain, one which I have been staying at when guiding in the region for at least 12 years now. Why? I can’t say that it’s because you deserve to know, because I don’t know who you are. I get no personal benefit from telling you either. No, it’s because the owners deserve it – the recognition – and much more, for their truly professional and personal work in running such an excellent hotel.

Hosteria de Guara – the best birding hotel

The Hosteria de Guara is located on the edge of the small village of Bierge, in the Sierra de Guara Natural Park, Huesca, Aragón. It’s an attractive building on the outside, set among olive and almond groves, fields of cereal and pastoral land, bordered by a vegetable garden and with a pool out back.

Within a ten-minute walk from the front door of the Hosteria de Guara the birds that I can recall having seen are many: Hawfinch, Cirl Bunting, Raven, Rock Sparrow, Red-rumped Swallow, Woodlark, Turtle Dove, Corn Bunting, Spotless Starling, Egyptian Vulture, Red Kite, Osprey, Lammergeier, Short-toed Eagle, and even Wallcreeper on one memorable occasion.

This delightful hotel is a family-run establishment, led by sisters Ana and Eva. The interior around the reception area is cool and spacious. There’s a separate lounge full with armchairs and sofas, coffee tables and cabinets replete with birding books and items of local natural history interest.

There’s also a self-contained bar/café on the ground floor which is open to the general public, where you can order your drinks to enjoy there, or just carry them to the quiet and comfortable hotel lounge for clients only, if you prefer.

There’s a definite feeling that there was an eye for detail overseeing the design and decor of the Hosteria de Guara. The interior decoration gives considerable weight to images of local birds and scenes from nature. The local touch is also there in the produce that you can buy as a souvenir: these include locally produced sheep’s cheese, olive oil and honey.

The hotel restaurant is thoughtfully furnished with both round and rectangular tables; the latter suitable for those larger birding groups. It is spacious, tastefully decorated, with cabinets full of whisky, brandy and a range of liquours and liquers for the “after dinner” session which some may want to indulge in.

Birders in the Sierra de Guara

Birders in the Sierra de Guara – after a long day in the field …

Somontano red wine

Food. Don’t get me started! The starters, main course and desserts selection are varied and of such quality that it’s never an easy choice. The local lamb chops, barbecued sausage, roast lamb, chicken and prawns in an almond sauce, fish dishes … after a generous starter which could have been the house salad, grilled vegetables, purés … All that accompanied by a bottle of the local Somontano red or white wine.



Then there are still desserts to come. This is my personal challenge: I try to skip desserts as my meagre contribution to the battle of the bulge, even though it’s a lost cause. When confronted with the local cream cheese dessert topped with a delicious raspberry sauce I come face to face with my own weakness and faltering resolve.

The cream cheese dessert – unforgiveable!

The rooms are stylish and comfortable, and all of them have exterior views, many with walk-out balconies. Very comfortable mattresses and spotless duvets.

One of Hosteria de Guara’s comfortable rooms

There’s so much more that could be said but it would be unforgiveable to sign off without mentioning the human touch that Ana and Eva bring to your stay. Would you like an early breakfast? At what time? Would you like an “early” dinner (early in Spain is rarely before 8.30 pm)? 7.30pm? Yes, I’m sure we can manage that. How was your day? Did you see the Wallcreeper? Where are you going today?  Would you like a fried egg with your breakfast? Smiles, and a good feeling that before too long we’ll be back. 

More Gekko Art

Here’s some more …


Dupont’s Lark, by Javier

The shy and elusive Dupont’s Lark sings mostly at dawn. It gets you up before the sunrise, when your world is still unsure of what the day will bring.

Javier managed to capture the perfect pose. The Dupont’s Lark that we’d all like to see when we look for it, and which is so hard to come by. My focus was mostly on the background, and a sunny glow.

Great Crested Grebes, by Colin

Here I focused in on the birds. You can see that they’re on water, but the background is unnatural. They only have eyes for each other at this moment. Witnessing birds dancing for each other is just sublime.

Little Egret, by Adam.

A white bird in the water, enshrouded in mist but with a strange golden reflection on its plumage. The mist has cleared for us for a moment, and maybe for the egret too, as it readies to stab at a little fish.

Visions of Bee-eaters

For a long time in my middle childhood and through to the end of my teenage years, from the moment I came into possession of my first colour guide to the birds of Britain and Europe, I would pass many an hour perusing through its pages, seeking out my ten “most wanted” birds. Under those all-too-often grey skies and the winter twilight of my semi-suburban southern England I was comforted in my personal quest for the exuberant forms, but mostly for the colour, that many of the exotic-looking birds therein had to offer their beholder.

Bee-eaters Merops apiaster

There, in the bedroom I shared with my younger brother, while he lay on his back sifting through the back issues of our joint collection of Marvel comics, I was busy drawing up a mental list of the species that I just had to see at some time in my life. The Wrneck- just look at that intricate plumage pattern! The Redstart and the Pied Flycatcher – what combinations of colours! The Bearded Tit – that sleek, blue-grey head with the Fu Manch moustache, wow! It would be an insult to nature not to try and see these birds. And then there was the assemblage of birds which inhabited what seemed to me at the time to be the far-flung corners of the Old Continent: the Roller, the Hoopoe and, of course, the brilliant Bee-eater.

Gekko Art

What is art? What is Gekko Art?

Some photographers are gifted with both the vision and the technical craft needed to materialize that vision, along with the doses of luck and charm that often influence those key moments that they manage to capture.

They are few, however. Without going into names, of the dozens of wildlife photographers who I have met, I can think of half a dozen or so…

Others – most of the rest – have very good technical skills and knowledge; they can interpret the light and the way that it interacts with the bird and the landscape, but they don’t come with the clear image in their mind of the photograph that they want to take.

I’m not a photographer – I’ve never been able to afford the time or the expense. My forte is that I know the birds: how they move, how they behave, where they go, what they do, how they interact with sky, water, trees, grass, rocks and more. I have little technical know-how as far as photography is concerned, but I know when an image or a photograph really captures that ethereal conjuncture, elements which fleetingly resonate at just the right frequency to create a new whole.

That’s why I’ve dedicated some time to looking at many bird photos photographers have shared with me, and taken the liberty to “tinker” with them on Photoshop. Again, my technical know-how is limited; perhaps my only skill is in recognising the juxtaposition of the image that I am seeking when it suddenly appears before me after much rumaging around with filters and settings.

Anyway, these are some of the results. There is no spirit of apology for calling it art because I have uncovered a vision that would have otherwise gone unnoticed; a vision that only I have seen. There is no spirit of arrogance in it, because I make no attempt to hide the fact that my contribution is only a small part of the chain, and that my tinkerings would be impossible without the foundations first laid down by the very capable photographers.

Art or not, whatever you think, I’m sure that you must share at least a fraction of the sense of awe and admiration that I have for the beauty of birds.

Griffon Vultures by Ozlem

The wealth of social interactions that flocks of Griffon Vultures offer at feeding stations is quite unique. Get past the superficiality of “ugliness” and “vulgarity” and look them in the eye as they do the same to each other.

Bonelli’s Eagle by Jari

Bonelli’s Eagles stand alone, and often for a long time! I’ve watched these birds sitting in one place, seemingly doing nothing, for over an hour. However, when the vultures intrude on their territory they do not hesitate to launch a fierce aerial attack. I’ve seen these eagles do similar, although the stress showed by their breaking of their habitual silence, when a Golden Eagle flew into the heart of their territory. It didn’t stay long.

Sanderlings scurrying along the wave front.

What an intense way of life! Constantly scurrying between the breaking waves to pick up tiny morsels of food that only these birds can see, let alone catch. Their ceaseless to and froing follows the rhythm of the waves.

Pin-tailed sandgrouse take to flight in the Bárdenas Reales


Good night. I’ll be back with more.

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