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.

New and cool! Midsummer Central Spain Tour

We think you may have missed this the first time round, so…

NEW! From Birding In Spain…

An exciting new Midsummer tour in Spain, with …

Wallcreeper Tichodroma muraria

Wallcreepers are one of the star attractions

Alpine or Yellow-billed Chough

Alpine or Yellow-billed Chough. Photo by Franck Renard

Imagine those high altitude species – Wallcreeper, Alpine Chough, Alpine Accentor and Snow Finch – almost at your feet!

Spanish Imperial Eagle

Spanish Imperial Eagle. Photo by Dirk van de Peer.

Raptors include Spanish Imperial Eagle, Black Vulture and European Honey Buzzard.

The sierra de Gredos has dehesa, rock slopes, forests, valleys and mountain passes, and lots of birds!

Red-backed Shrike Lanius collurio

Red-backed Shrike. Photo by Colin Bradshaw

Ortolan Bunting

Ortolan Bunting Emberiza hortulana

Rock Bunting Emberiza cia

Rock Bunting. Photo by Colin

Western bonelli's Warbler Phylloscopus bonelli

Western bonelli’s Warbler. Photo by Colin

And down on the plains…

Great Bustard Otis tarda

Great Bustard. Photo by Johan

Bustards, sandgrouse, larks, Montagu’s Harriers and more.
… and Butterflies

Western Marbled White

Western Marbled White. Photo by Susan Hengeveld.

On our trial tour in June 2022 we identified over 50 species of butterfly without trying too hard. There’ll be no rest for butterfly enthusiasts!
… and Stunning Scenery

Picos de Europa view

Picos de Europa view

Picos de Europa view

Picos de Europa view

Here you will enjoy some of the best mountain scenery in Spain

And all the rest that goes to make for an unforgettable tour…

  • Good hotels with local flavour
    Good food and wine
    The right pace
    Well-planned logistics
    Professional guiding
    Good weather? (please!)

Central Spain tour map

Central Spain tour map

A thoroughly enjoyable holiday in very capable hands. Because we’re serious about your free time.

** Bear in mind that we can also tailor any tour we offer to suit private tours for couples or group tours of 4 people or more. The main benefit to you of having more people in your group is, well, being with your friends!

Dates: 14th to 21st June

Tour price – 1775 euros

It’s hard to believe, but there are still places available on this unique bird, butterfly and nature tour! Contact us to find out more.

Last spring was busy (unlike the previous two)

We shared the birds last spring, with people like you …

Birding with Birding In Spain

Birding together, Birding In Spain

· Vreni from Switzerland: 4 days based near Lleida in early March

· Len and Lucy from North Carolina USA: 12-day Spring across Spain tour in March, with almost 200 species, from the Ebro Delta, to the Pyrenees, to Doñana and Tarifa, linked by the fast train.

· Michiel and two friends from the Netherlands: five days guided birding from Lleida. They were amazed at the variety of birds they saw, 174 species in all.

Kath and Mick from the UK: two-week northeast Spain tour in late April. Plains and mountains, orchids galore. Theirs was the last Wallcreeper before they ascended to their breeding haunts high up the mountains.

· North Staffs RSPB group, UK: the long-awaited tour of Catalonia, based at two centres – Lleida and Cambrils. Their hotel at Cambrils had Golden Orioles and Red-necked Nightjars from the balcony!

· Indiana University, USA: In mid-May the weather spiked at 38ºC near Seville for the first day of our Spring across Spain Tour with 6 participants from Indiana! Nevertheless, the southern leg of the tour was a huge success, and in all over 200 species of birds and around 50 species of butterflies were recorded.

Cliff and Judith, UK: In late June we did our first Central Spain Tour together. Great birds of the mountains, plains and dehesas and unbeatable scenery.


Birding tour in Spain? Have you thought about the train?

Think again, take the train?

Most birders arriving in Spain from other countries arrive by plane. This is through flights to Barcelona or Madrid airport usually, although some may arrive at Málaga, Sevilla, Bilbao, or one of the smaller airports, depending on where they hail from.

Then, they either hire a car, or wait to be picked up by their guide or tour leader. Very few visiting birders ever think about getting the train.

To get to Spain can pass through from France by train, but this article is aimed more at travelling around the fast train network within mainland Spain.

AVE Fast train

AVE Fast train in Spain

The Spanish national railway network is run by the national company, Renfe. Their website is the one to consult to get train prices, schedules and to plan and book your journeys. Have a look at to see how it works. You can see the web in English if you desire.

One disadvantage of this easy to navigate site is that you can’t book trains for more than 3 months in advance, so bear that in mind.

There’s another thing too: the different types of trains may be confusing to the travelling birder. That’s easily remedied …

AVE – This stands for “Alta Velocidad Española” and coincidentally “ave” is also “bird” in Spanish! How about that, eh? A good omen, surely.

AVE trains are the fastest and most modern, and usually the most expensive too. The AVE can reach speeds of just over 300km/h, which means it can do the trajectory Barcelona – Madrid in 2hours 30 minutes (500km) or Lleida (where we live) to Sevilla in around 4hours 30 minutes (735km, or approximately 10 hours by road).

It’s a challenge to identify birds at that speed, but even so I always try to book a window seat and give it a go …

Black Kite at 300km/h

One advantage of the AVE trains is their punctuality compromise, which I have benefitted from on two occasions, once when my train was late by 40 minutes, and another by just over an hour (full money back on both occasions). Then they usually have a cafeteria carriage, and if you don’t mind the slightly higher prices for beverages in paper cups you can be sure to get the caffeine hit you may need to continue your journey once you get to the station.

Spanish intercity train network

Then there’s also Alvia and Avant. These are essentially cheaper versions of the AVE. Alvia uses both the high speed and the normal network, while Avant uses only the high speed one. Both are usually lower priced than the AVE, but that may depend on demand and the timing. Worth checking out when available. There are also Intercity and regional express trains, but that’s another story …

Our Spring across Spain tour (you can find it in our brochure here) is unique in that it connects the northeast and the southwest of Spain birding areas with the fast train between Sevilla and Zaragoza. Check it out …enjoy the birds AND the journey. 

Grit and Cranes II

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

Even before I had reached him I heard the calls ringing out in the clear blue sky, and so I realized what he had seen. I lifted him in my arms so the little guy could get a better look at what he had so astutely observed: a flock of about one hundred Common Cranes approaching from the south in their typical V-formation, emitting loud, trumpeting and bugling calls. We watched in silence as they circled around, gaining height, and then straightened their course to continue northwards over the roof of our block of flats.

Common Crane

Snakes in the grass and Short-toed Eagles

Of toes and eagles

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

And what did the English come up with? Puffed with pride as possessors of a language with the richest vocabulary in the world, unrestrained by the anachronistic dictates of a fogy old Royal Language Academy, doted with the flexibility and hybrid vigour resulting from close contact with hundreds of different cultures, they produced … wait for it … Short-toed Eagle. How inspired! What an incredibly poetic, evocative name! Images of a stately pale bird sailing effortlessly over the mountain tops jump to my mind every time I pick up the nail-clippers.

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