Photographing birds in Spain

Not a bird photographer myself. Would like to be (who wouldn’t?) but just haven’t got the patience. Sitting quietly in the same spot and waiting for that precious moment is rather too much like fishing for me.

But I admire the people who do it, especially if they achieve excellent results.  Right now two very accomplished bird photographers, Joan Gil from Valencia and Jan-Michael Breider from Sweden (see their respective websites) are in the drylands of Lleida capturing some great images of displaying Little Bustards and other avian gems.

A few days ago they were with me couped up in little hides (them, not me) and busy photographing Lammergeier (Bearded Vulture if you prefer), Griffon Vulture and Black Vulture (3 different birds – nice surprise!) in the Pre-Pyrenees of Lleida.

They are the first participants of a specialist’s photographic trip to these parts organised by, Jordi Bas (a renowned bird photographer) and CastellsdeLleida (a local travel agent) in order to photograph these difficult and emblematic species. And anything else that falls within the reach of their lenses (like Orphean Warbler, Subalpine Warbler, Bonelli’s Warbler and others).

In view of this year’s success we’ll be looking to make this tour a regular fixture. I look forward to seeing the results shortly, and if the photographers let me I will try to show the birding public some of their results.

Spring arrivals part 2

Here is the second part of the first arrival dates for migrant birds arriving in the Lleida area this spring:

  • Alpine Swift Apus melba 16-Mar
  • Purple Heron Ardea purpurea 16-Mar
  • Black-eared Wheatear Oenanthe hispanica 16-Mar
  • Little Stint Calidris minuta 17-Mar
  • Wood Sandpiper Tringa glareola 17-Mar
  • Willow Warbler Phylloscopus trochilus 17-Mar
  • Short-toed Lark Calandrella brachydactyla 19-Mar
  • Spotted Redshank Tringa erythropus 21-Mar
  • Ringed Plover Charadrius hiaticula 21-Mar
  • Cuckoo 29-Mar
  • Savi’s Warbler Locustella luscinoides 29-Mar
  • Bonelli’s Warbler Phylloscopus bonelli 30-Mar
  • Swift Apus apus 31-Mar
  • Dunlin Calidris alpina 01-Apr
  • Turtle Dove Streptopelia turtur 01-Apr
  • Wryneck Jynx torquilla 03-Apr
  • Great Reed Warbler Acr. arundinaceus 03-Apr
  • Temminck’s Stint Calidris temminckii 04-Apr
  • Montagu’s Harrier Circus pygargus 04-Apr
  • Spectacled Warbler Sylvia conspicillata 04-Apr
  • Tawny Pipit Anthus campestris 06-Apr
  • Nightingale Luscinia megarhynchos 06-Apr
  • Quail Coturnix coturnix 06-Apr
  • Golden Oriole Oriolus oriolus 06-Apr
  • Red-footed Falcon Falco vespertinus 07-Apr
  • Black Tern Chlidonias niger 08-Apr
  • Whiskered Tern Chlidonias hybridus 08-Apr

Of these the only bird that seems to be “offtime” is the Red-footed Falcon, which in my experience normally makes its appearance at the beginning of May, virtually a month later than the date recorded here for this species.

The Biggest Twitch visits Spain

During my recent northeast Spain birding trip with a Swiss group we stayed at the Rincón del Cierzo, Lécera (only 20 minutes from the Dupont’s Larks). The location is ideal, the hotel was good, clean and the food just right. And the service was friendly – with real smiles.

Just before we left Olga, the proprietor, handed me a card which she had been given the week before by a couple of British birders. On it I read “The Biggest Twitch” and the names Alan Davies and Ruth Miller. When I got home I checked them out. See their story for yourselves at  (I wonder if they have problems with that double “t”).

It would have been nice to bump into them, but alas it could not be. Apparently they lucked upon the hotel. There’s no reason for you to do the same, as the website has a direct link to the hotel’s website where you can see the details for yourself.

It’s there, use it!

Birding in Spain: a land of surprises

A quick breather between tours. And so a quick note on some of the birds just seen on a birding tour organised by for Beat Ruegger, a well-known Swiss birder and tour leader for Liberty Bird.

The route: Barcelona – Ebro Delta – Lleida – Belchite – Plan in the Pyrenees of Aragón. All in northeast Spain.

The dates: from 12th to 20th April

The tour participants: a total of 14 birders, including myself and Beat Ruegger as the bird guides.

The numbers: 196 bird species detected, in spite of 2 days strong winds and 2 days of rain (we really need rain here in Catalonia so I won’t complain!).

What’s behind the numbers: we managed to see all of the special target birds the group was interested in seeing. And there were quite a few pleasant surprises along the way. And quality encounters all through.

Some of the birds:

No fewer than 6 Dupont’s larks were seen (yes, seen!) on the Belchite steppes, including 2 parent larks with 2 young Dupont Lark offspring. Additionally, two singing Dupont’s Larks allowed themselves to be watched at leisure by all in the birding group.

16 Lammergeiers (not a total, but all at once!) in the sky in the Ordesa National Park. And scenery to remember for a long time.

A last-minute Wallcreeper on the edge of the village of Plan, after we were turned back by the snow when trying to reach a known site for this incredible bird. In the same place as two Alpine Accentors the previous day!

About a dozen male Little Bustards fighting, chasing and displaying on the drylands of Lleida on a pre-breakfast outing.

A pair of Bonelli’s Eagles drifting over our heads in Montsec.

Then the surprises: a Baillon’s Crake watched at leisure in the Ebro Delta on the 12th April (what a way to start! Could we keep it up?).

A Red-necked Nightjar on the second day, again in the Ebro Delta. This time while we were eating our picnic lunches!

A Broad-billed Sandpiper in the Ebro Delta just before we made our way inland towards Lleida.

A Ring Ouzel in the Montsec range in the morning (only the third I’ve seen in the area after more than 15 years of regular birding around Lleida). Then a Red-necked Phalarope at an inland lake in the afternoon. Too much!

Two days later there was a late Crane by the River Ebro to the south of Zaragoza. And on the last day an early Ortolan Bunting on the edge of Plan.

One day all birding trips will be made this way!

Birds in Spain: spring arrivals

Spring has been around here in Lleida for some time now. According to weather reports from the UK it’s difficult to echo that statement further north.

So just for a bit of fun, let’s compare notes. The good (native and naturalized) birders from the general area around Lleida have been collecting observations of first spring arrivals of migratory bird species for the last few years. And rather than keeping them to ourselves, I thought “Why not share them with the international birding community?”. Someone out there might find this information useful or at least interesting.

Of course observations of first arrivals of migratory birds are not much use for scientifc purposes. Personally I think that such records should be extended to at least second and third observations, mostly in order to help to iron out anomalies, either in the bird world or in their human recorders.

But let’s be content with what there is, rather than gripe on about what there isn’t.

Below then are the first arrival dates for the migratory birds recorded in the Lleida area (northeast Spain) up until the 15th March. Birds recorded on later dates to follow.

SPECIES                                                                     DATE
Black Stork Ciconia nigra 19-Feb
Little Ringed Plover Charadrius dubius 19-Feb
Great Spotted Cuckoo Clamator glandarius 21-Feb
House Martin Delichon urbicum 23-Feb
Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica 23-Feb
Garganey Anas querquedula 27-Feb
Black Kite Milvus migrans 01-Mar
Red-rumped Swallow Hirundo daurica 01-Mar
Ruff Philomaxus pugnax 02-Mar
Egyptian Vulture Neophron percnopterus 04-Mar
Short-toed Eagle Circaetus gallicus 06-Mar
Lesser Kestrel Falco naumanni 08-Mar
Ring Ouzel Turdus torquatus 09-Mar
Sand Martin Riparia riparia 09-Mar
Osprey Pandion haliaetus 12-Mar
Black-winged Stilt Himantopus himantopus 13-Mar
Reed Warbler Acrocephalus scirpaceus 13-Mar
Booted Eagle Hieraaetus pennatus 13-Mar
Yellow Wagtail Motacilla flava 13-Mar
Tree Pipit Anthus trivialis 13-Mar
Redstart Phoenicurus phoenicurus 14-Mar
Whinchat Saxicola rubetra 14-Mar

Flying over the Pyrenees, standing on the plains

Extract from the review by André J van Loon in Dutch Birding vol 30, nº1, 2008:


This second book is a personal account of his life in Catalunya. It is divided into chapters with a story on a particular local species as a starting point, which triggers thoughts about a wide variety of subjects, such as hunting, conservation, the migration strategy of shrikes, the dancing displays of cranes in relation to finding a partner in the human world, going out birding with young children (“never, never forget the wet wipes”), memories of birding trips with his friends or as a tour leader, the Spanish Civil War, or observations of the same species as a vagrant or rare breeding bird back in England or elsewhere. ….

The book is a good, pleasant, humoristic and at times even emotional read. Since he also explains certain features or behaviour of birds (or behaviour of birdwatchers!), this book is not only fun for birdwatchers (especially those with a hunch for birds and birding in Spain) but also for their non-birding friends and partners.

Thanks André!