Mysterious wetland near Lleida, Spain

Little Bittern, Squacco Heron, Night Heron, Purple Heron, Grey Heron, Cattle Egret – could all be nesting in a wetland near Lleida that used to be a rubbish tip. It was going cheap so Lleida City Council bought it, but they don’t really know what to do with it. While they’re sitting thinking about it at least the birds have shown enough initiative to use it as a nesting site.

So for the time being it’s just the odd poacher, the shepherd, the bird counter (me) and the birds. Until some rich, progressive-minded benefactor comes up with the cash to give it a facelift. As long as the birds keep coming, I don’t mind it too much as it is. I can listen to the Golden Orioles, the Melodious Warblers, and may even get a glimpse of the Kingfisher. There aren’t many places with more birds than people so close to Lleida city.

Hamsters and Red-necked Nightjars

That seems a rather unusual title for what is a photo of a Fritillary, but here is an extract from the chapter of the same name in the book “Flying over the Pyrenees, standing on the plains”.

From our position at the very top of Montsec we should have commanded spectacular views to the south, for miles and miles, over the sierras, the Ebro Valley steppes, and down to the mountains of Tarragona. And what did we have for our pains? Mist! And not even the single, damp Lusitanian Fritillary, which narrowly escaped trampling, was going to make up for it.


Photo courtesy of Chris Hardingham.

Audouin’s Gull: first for Navarra

On Friday the 20th June Gorka Gorospe, Byron Palacios and myself observed an adult Audouin’s Gull at the Laguna de Pitillas, in the east of Navarra,  in northern Spain.  According to Gorka, a local birder and the brain behind the Birding Navarra initiative, the species had never before been recorded in the region. In other words it was a first for Navarra. Congratulations, Gorka (he spotted it first!).

I should also say a thing or two about Pitillas itself. What a great birding site! It’s the largest and most important wetland site in Navarra, and just a stone’s throw from the semi-desert of the Bardenas Reales (that’s another story though). It has a reception area, a hide and marked trails and most important of all a lot of interesting birds. Apart from the Audouin’s Gull, which won’t be there when you visit, we also saw Bittern, Bearded Tit, 2 Ruddy Shelduck, Montagu’s Harrier, Red-crested Pochard, Calandra Lark, Short-toed Lark, Tawny Pipit, Little Ringed Plover, Bee-eater, Great Reed Warbler….

And with the San Fermines approaching, need I say more?

Citril Finch from Spain to Britain?

A Citril Finch has recently been found on Fair Isle, making it the latest “first” on the British list. Of course its finding has sparked a lot of interest, comments and hurried plane and ferry bookings!  Especially seeing  that it has been kind enough to stay  around and let the  twitchers catch up with it (is it still there?).

Naturally, conjectures fly about where it came from and how it got to the remote Fair Isle in the North Sea. It seems unlikely that we will ever know what strange mechanism was at work to make a Citril Finch, a short distance and vertical migrant with the nearest breeding areas located in Switzerland, to take flight, head northwards over Europe and then out over the North Sea to Fair Isle.

There is a possibility that the Citril Finch in question did not originate from Switzerland, but rather from even further afield, from the Spanish Pyrenees. I wouldn’t be surprised. When I was with the Naturetrek Catalonia tour on the edge of the Aigüestortes National Park on the 9th May we saw a good number of Citril Finches. And not at the normal altitudes of 1,800m or above, but rather around the nearby villages and at altitudes of 1,300m, and even less.

What’s more, at the beginning of June the Park’s guards had to postpone the traditional census of Ptarmigan and Capercaillie because of the inaccessibility of their mountain haunts. Apparently the north-facing slopes had 2 metres of snow!

Wouldn’t that be reason enough for a Citril Finch to get the wander lust?

Birding and sustainable tourism versus windfarms

It seems to be a debate that leaves no-one indifferent. Wind farms and the need for renewable energy in one corner and birding, sustainable tourism and conservation in the other.

The undeniable logic of renewable energy in times of increasing concern over global warming and oil wars is pounded into us. And most energetically (!) by interested parties who have the most to gain in the short term. Take off your masks and show us who you really are!

In the other corner are local residents concerned about the enormous visual impact of wind turbines (anyone been to Fuendetodos recently? The village widely signposted as Goya’s birthplace? Scenic, eh?), electricity pylons and lines, health aspects, and even the mortal effect they have on birds of prey. Rural tourism is going hand in hand with sustainability, and slowly gaining hard-won ground, here in Spain at least.

So should the inhabitants of Terra Alta, Montsià and Matarranya, with the great natural and scenic wealth of Els Ports, the serres of Pàndols and Cavalls, the wonderful via verda, the rivers Matarranya, Estrets, Algars (the cleanest in the Mediterranean basin)…should they let it all go and allow the hills to be plastered with wind turbines?  I don’t think so. And luckily, many of the local residents of those areas don’t think so either.

If wind turbines are necessary, let them first go up in the places where they will have the least impact: put them along the motorways, put them up next to industrial estates, on city outskirts, even at the top of those sierras which don’t have birds of prey and are not in the heart of what should be a protected landscape. That is the real logic of wind energy –  putting the turbines where they belong. And one day, when no such sites remain, then it will be time to sit down together and talk about the future.

Birding in Catalunya: something for the Catalans

Something I wrote last year, for any Catalan-speaking visitors there may be!

Escriure una petita introducció sobre l’observació dels ocells al Montsec? Com començar? No ho sabia. Així, un dia esplèndid de primavera vaig agafar els prismàtics i vaig fer una visita als camps, bosquets i cims airosos de Montsec, buscant inspiració en la seva solitud i majestuositat.

La veritat és que la cosa no comencava massa bé. Hi havien moltes distraccions: grupets d’abellerols melosos de colors llampants, una guatlla cantant “set-per-vuit”, la seva veu ondulant com el blat en la brisa lleugera. Un destell repentí de colors quan una puput aixecà el vol. La dolça melangia d’un parell de cotolius.

5 espècies de tallarols estaven en plena forma anunciant-se propietaris de les mates, les alzines i els roures. 5 espècies! Silenci!!. Tot aquell xibarri no em deixava pensar.

Així vaig rependre el camí. Lluny cantava un hortolà, orgullós d’haver tornat de l’Africa a la seva terra natal. Després una volada de gralles de bec-vermell van interrompre els meus pensaments amb les seves acrobàcies aèries.

A dalt de la serrelada el pas de voltors era continuo, però vaig fer un esforç sobrehumà per no fer-los cas, al igual que la merla roquera que cantava insistentment al meu darrere. Però, quan un trencalòs va planejar davant meu mirant-me de fit a fit als ulls, aleshores vaig adonar-me’n que els ocells m’havien guanyat la partida.

Swedish birders birding in eastern Spain

We are back from a four day tour in eastern Spain and I’d like to thank you for your excellent web site – very useful. We had several days with strong winds which made listening complicated and kept the birds down. At 24th we were at El Planeron; the larks were singing frequently and the main objective – Dupont’s Lark was ticked.

The strong winds were of course disturbing in the Ebro delta – we had e.g. no Savi’s or Great Reed Wabler. But we did get close views of a Little Crake at Riet Vell and a Spotted Crake at Canal Vell the 25th. At the latter site a Little Bittern showed up briefly and a Black Tern flew past. At El Garxal there were lots of waders including some Marsh Sandpipers and among the Black-headed Gulls a single Mediterranean.

In Els Ports at the 27th we had good views of Griffon Vulure and Short-toed Eagle but didn’t see Bonelli’s. A Montagu’s Harrier was interesting to see at this height. We usually have it in Sweden at lowland. A single Rock Bunting was all we managed but three Blue Rock Thrushes were more comforting. One species we missed in the mountains was Black Wheatear.

We were 8 participants and the other 7 had never been in Spain for birdwatching. But they got really excited about birding in Spain and will for sure go back.

Kent Öhrn
Värnamo, Sweden

Birding in Mallorca is birding in Spain too!

With a mixture of pride, apprehension and expectation can finally announce that the brand new section on Birding in Mallorca is now on-line.

Birders new to the charms of Mallorca should be pleasantly surprised to see that Mallorca is an important birding destination which has a good number of interesting birds such as Black Vulture, Eleonora’s Falcon, Balearic Warbler, Balearic Shearwater, Audouin’s Gull, Crested Coot and so many more. And that all the birding itineraries described in the eastern half of the island also take the birder through attractive and at times dramatic scenery.

Birders already versed in the birding delights of Mallorca, the largest of the Balearic Islands, can discover new itineraries, contemplate photographs of scenery and birds, look for the most suitable rural accommodation in the areas closest to the birds and download free maps. could not have brought this new section to the international birding public without the help of our webmasters, Pol and Marc Rué. Two professionals who know their business and to whom we are extremely grateful. Thanks guys!

Birding hotspots – a challenge

Visitors to the website may have noticed a section called “Hotspot Holidays” (if they haven’t how can they come to Spain and expect to find sandgrouse on the drylands?!). The underlying concept is that there are bird hotspots in northeast Spain where the visiting birder can expect to see a great diversity of birds in a small area (within a 25 kilometre radius of a given centre). The birding areas I have chosen for the web page are Montsec and the Ebro Delta and surrounding mountains.

I’ve been pretty busy over the last month or so leading trips, day excursions and doing bird counts, especially in the area between Lleida and Montsec. I’ve not got round to counting the number of species, but as an example last week in the space of 30 hours I did two bird counts in wetland areas near Lleida and then guided friends around the Alfés drylands. The diversity was quite exciting, with the wetlands yielding birds such as Squacco Heron, Little Bittern, Night Heron, Purple Heron, Kingfisher, Cattle Egret, Golden Oriole, Penduline Tit, Black-winged Stilt, Melodious Warbler, Wryneck, etc. Then on the drylands we saw Lesser Grey Shrike, Roller, Little Bustard, Red-footed Falcon, Bee-eater, Calandra Lark, Red-rumped Swallow, Black Wheatear and another etc.

That got me thinking: instead of a county list, year list or similar, why not start a birding hotspot challenge? The idea would be to draw a circle with a radius of 25 kilometres around the home/workplace and then count the bird species you see in that area over a course of 3 years.

The 3-year idea is so we oldies can take it easier, and don’t have to go into overdrive frantically looking for missing species or a lot of twitching just in case. Of course, there should be no law against twitching in the given area, or the amount of time that one spends birding. However the main focus of the birding hotspot list would be for birders to go about our abnormal lives, making a note of all the birds we see and then to compare lists after 3 years.

Who has the hottest birding hotspot? How many species are on that list? Will anyone take up the challenge?

Bird poison man gets prison sentence

This is a news item taken from the Spanish newspaper El Periódico, Friday 30/05/08:

On Thursday 29th May 2008 Carles Casas, ex-president of the basketball Club TDK Manresa, was sentenced to 14 months in prison by the courts of Lleida. He admitted to having used poison to kill animals on a game preserve near Tàrrega, Lleida. However, he can commute the sentence by paying a fine of 2,520 euros.

In 2005 the rural agents of Catalonia discovered that he had killed at least 7 animals using this illegal and indiscriminate method, including protected species such as Wildcat and a number of raptors.

It was not the first time that Casas had tried to poison fauna, as previously in 2003 he was caught in fraganti by the rural guards while in the process of preparing poisoned meat.

Personal comment: Well at last the judicial process has gone the whole way and taken the laws on the protection of fauna seriously enough to sentence someone. Many would have liked to see a harsher sentence, but at least the precedent has been set. So a word of warning to all potential wildlife-bashers: the law does have teeth and is prepared to use them at times.

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