Calming the beast within

Calming “the beast”

All photos courtesy of Dr Roger Buchanan. Roger calls his large telephoto lens “the beast”, which strikes me as a good leading line to show some of his photos taken during the last Ornitholiday’s Southern Catalonia Tour which we happily spent together. Along with his long-suffering wife, Jane, aka “the boss”. But that’s quite another subject…

Bee-eater, Merops apiaster, on a birding tour in Spain

A beautiful Bee-eater. What is man without the beasts? For if all the beasts were gone man would die of a great loneliness of the spirit. Chief Seattle.

Bee-eater’s lucky day, on a birding tour in Spain

The Bee-eater’s lucky day. The beast appears to be calmed.

Blue-spot Hairstreak, on a birding tour in Spain

Blue-spot Hairstreak. Whosoever is delighted in solitude is either a wild beast or a god. Aristotle. Maybe not “delighted” and maybe not real “solitude” but it’s surely a pleasing thing to get away from the crowds and to contemplate some of nature’s beauties, don’t you think?

Great Crested Grebe, on a birding tour in Spain

A Great Crested Grebe on nest. Every man has a wild beast within him. Frederick the Great.

 Glossy Ibis, on a birding tour in Spain

A Glossy Ibis in the Ebro Delta. I think the healthy way to live is to make friends with the beast inside oneself, and that means not the beast but the shadow. The dark side of one’s nature. Anthony Hopkins.

Moroccan Orange Tip, on a birding tour in Spain

Moroccan Orange Tip. The beast, once calmed, can be harnessed as a force for good. Steve West.

Birder’s house for sale in southern France: the photos

Birder’s house for sale in France: the house, the photos.

Birder’s house for sale in southern France: the photos

A charming sun deck and birdwatching spot!

 Birder’s house for sale in southern France: the photos

The house front: but what lies beyond?

 Birder’s house for sale in southern France: the photos

Comfort and homeliness, and plenty of natural light

 Birder’s house for sale in southern France: the photos

A room with a view

Birder’s house for sale in southern France: the photos

The green touch, the natural look.

Birder’s house for sale in southern France: the photos

Tea on the terrace, anyone? 

 Birder’s house for sale in southern France: the photos

To the south: the Pyrenees

Birder’s house for sale in southern France: the photos

Wildlife galore in the grounds and surrounds: a Bee Orchid

Birders house for sale in southern France

House for sale in France

Early retirement gave us the opportunity to pursue our dream of living in France. Tipped off by a French friend I met in Kuala Lumpur, we started our search for somewhere to live in the lovely city of Toulouse.  We would drive into the countryside exploring the surrounding areas and, to cut the story short, after 3 months we started renting a cottage near the town of Lavaur. Just over a year later we moved into the house which has been our home for 15 years. Being nature lovers we had found paradise!

Facing due south, situated at just over 300m, we have a magnificent view over the Agout valley and on clear days on to the Pyrenees. We have almost 1ha of land, with mature oaks and pine trees, a natural habitat for lots of wildlife. Roe deer and wild boar pass through, and we’ve also enjoyed pine martens and red squirrels, bats, lots of birds and wild flowers, particularly wild orchids. It’s a delight to sit on the large deck in spring and listen to the cuckoo, and then a bit later to hear that the Golden Orioles have arrived.  Hen Harriers, buzzards, Short-toed Eagles and kites often fly overhead, and we even saw Griffon Vultures one time. Nuthatches visit the bird tables in winter ,along with the usual robins, tits, etc.  Black Redstarts return in the spring and are a joy to watch, and we have had an occasional Hoopoe.

Now it is time for us to embark on another adventure and we are selling En Mimosa. Conveniently situated in a small community, only 6 kms from the nearest villages with shops, schools, market, Mairie and railway station, for easy access to Toulouse.  With lots of activities locally – golf, riding, etc., walks in the woods straight from the house, it is an ideal holiday location.

Centrally heated accommodation (170 m2) comprises 4 bedrooms, two en-suite, bathroom, fitted kitchen, large double height lounge/diner with wood-burning stove (self-sufficient in wood) and mezzanine. There are covered north and south facing terraces, each room has access to the outside, plus the large deck for entertaining or just sitting soaking up the tranquility and beauty of the surroundings.  We also have a full sized basement (150m2) with windows at one end, suitable as a studio, workshop or garage.

Mary Davis 

For further information please contact us as follows:-

En Mimosa


81220 Damiatte


+33 563421528

Mary and Clive in the Pyrenees

* Steve’s note: Mary and Clive are long-standing clients of Birding In Spain, and we wish them all the best in their new life venture.

First International Meeting on Raptor Conservation, Photography and Responsible Tourism

At Montsonís

International meeting on Raptor Conservation at Montsonís

The First International Meeting on Raptor Conservation, Photography and Responsible Tourism was held at Montsonís, Catalonia, between the 16th and 19th March 2015. For a first of its kind it was undoubtedly a resounding success.

First International Meeting on Raptor Conservation, Photography and Responsible Tourism

The meeting itself was held at Montsonís castle and reception area on Thursday 19th March, and featured talks by photography and nature tourism wizard Staffan Widstrand from Sweden, Norwegian photographer and nature entrepreneur Espen Lie Dahl, and two Catalan raptor researchers, Joan Real from the University of Barcelona and Àngel Bonada of the Lammergeier Research and Study Group.

Among the rapt audience were representatives from the Generalitat de Catalunya, Diputació de Lleida, local mayors, barons of L’Albi, members of La Sabina, the organizers, and others. The baron and baroness very kindly contributed to the act by allowing it to take place in their home, the castle of Montsonís.

During the two days leading up to the meeting, special guests made good use of different raptor photography hides. The invitees included bird and wildlife tour operators from the UK, the editor of the digital magazine Wild Planet Photo Magazine, a photo tour operator from Slovenia, and the sales representative from a major camera and optics retailer in the UK. In the course of their visits they enjoyed encounters with birds such as Goshawk, Lammergeier, Bonelli’s Eagle, Wallcreeper, Griffon Vulture, Egyptian Vulture, Red Kite, Black Kite, White Stork and more.

La Sabina’s reason for organizing the meeting was to promote good practices in development and promotion of nature tourism products, especially raptor photography, as well as to involve the local community and administrations by demonstrating the benefits of this kind of tourism for the environment and the local economy.

First International Meeting on Raptor Conservation, Photography and Responsible Tourism

According to speaker Staffan Widstrand the number of people enjoying nature tourism in the USA is greater than the sum of sports fishermen and hunters, and nature-oriented tourism is growing rapidly in other countries too.

Biased about birding in Navarra

I’m biased about birding in Navarra, it’s true…


Birding in Navarra: The Bardenas Reales

 The Bardenas Reales 

… and perhaps that’s a good enough reason for me to answer the question put to me recently “Where would you go birding in Navarra?”

Navarra is a small part of Spain, and to give you a very rough idea it houses the westernmost parts of the Pyrenees and the Ebro valley.  I lead birding tours to Navarra and quite surprisingly those birding tours haven’t been fully booked for the last two years. If after reading this short piece you are half as surprised as I am at this situation then I’ll be satisfied. 

In my mind’s eye I can draw a line transect from the Bardenas in the south of Navarra to the Pyrenees in the north. Now the remarkable thing revealed by such an exercise is that the drive between one and the other can be done in less than two hours and takes me from sun-baked dusty plains, past gorges and lakes, to lush deciduous forest and snow-covered peaks.

The Bardenas Reales, when not being used for military manouevres, is an excellent place to concentrate a patient search for larks (personally I’ve seen 7 species here, including the much-vaunted Dupont’s Lark), as well as both species of European sandgrouse. With a bit of luck you could also expect Black Wheatear, Black-eared Wheatear, Spectacled Warbler, and a few species of raptor at least.

Birding in Navarra: Pitillas lagoon, an inland lake good for birds.

Birding at Pitillas lagoon 

The second point on my carefully-selected transect would be Pitillas lagoon.  Once away from the road one of the most striking things about Pitillas is its placid, scenic setting. I often feel that this is one of those places where the birds now and then take second place to the sensation of just being there, especially if the sun is shining, as it should be. Of course there are interesting birds: the sheer din kicked up by singing Skylarks and Calandra Larks is at times overbearing; small parties of Bearded Reedlings often ping enough to attract my attention to the surrounding reedbeds; then on or next to the water itself I would expect to find a good variety of water birds, including Red Crested Pochard, Black-necked Grebe, Purple Heron, ducks and a few waders perhaps.

Leaving Pitillas but before going too far I would set my sights on birding through a patch of Mediterranean scrub: this is often good for warblers like Sardinian and Subalpine Warblers, Cirl Buntings, Quails in the cereal fields, and maybe a Woodchat Shrike or two, a hovering Short-toed Eagle and the music of the lonely-sounding Woodlark.

Then comes Lumbier gorge. Easy birding on a flat, level walk with the promise of views of Red-billed Chough, Rock Sparrow, Alpine Swift, Blue Rock Thrush and plenty of Griffon Vultures at very close range; in the winter months there is always the lure of looking for, and hopefully finding, a Wallcreeper.

Birding in Navarra: Enjoy birding the Pyrenees of Spain and France

The Pyrenees are green green green in June

The Pyrenees now beckon, and probably with two main bird departments in mind: alpine species and woodpeckers. At the forefront of the former are species such as Lammergeier, Alpine Chough, Alpine Accentor, Citril Finch, Ring Ouzel and possibly even Snowfinch; for the latter I’d be very content to see Wryneck and both Black Woodpecker and the rare White-backed Woodpecker on the same trip.

Then for a fuller picture of the naturalist in Navarra I really should mention Great and Little Bustard on the plains, the meanders and gallery woodland of the lowland rivers, tributaries of the River Ebro, and the 50 species of butterflies we casually identified on our Ornitholidays tour last year, and without trying too hard. Hopefully it won’t be necessary to go into that kind of detail just yet, because I’m sure you already have the idea.

Sunday birding? Give it a rest!

 Sunday birding? Give it a rest!

Sunday birding? Give it a rest!

February ends and with it the Spanish hunting season is finally over. Now, once again, I should be able to approach a bird-rich lake to the north of Lleida and watch its birds without them flying into each other in a panic to get as far from me as possible. This panic effect is really dramatic in early October at the beginning of the hunting season: one day the Coots are almost eating from your hands and the next they’re cowering behind a reed 2 lakes away from you.

So, it’s a sunny weekend in March, the hunting is over, let the fun begin.

Fun, indeed!

I pulled up beside the lake and stayed in the car, to give the birds a chance to assess the situation as a relatively low risk one. Sure enough, a male Merlin which took off on my arrival returned almost to the same spot before ten minutes had passed. Then the cyclists arrived: just a middle-aged couple, well kitted out of course with all the skin-clasping gear, matching helmets and goggles. They were out for a ride, and rode past me, stopping by the lakeside to take a photo or two. Click, click! Post on Facebook, and off we go again. About 5 minutes later they were on the other side of the lake at the viewing area, inadvertently scaring off the birds they had previously scared to that side. Then to my annoyance they took to circumscribing the lake along non-existing paths.

I moved on to the viewing area myself. Within minutes a family arrived in a car, 3 children and 2 adults jumped out and merrily made a bee-line straight for the most secluded part of the lakeshore. Just as a flock of 120 Common Cranes were coming in to land. I left quickly so as not to hear my own grumbling.

Back on the other side I paused on my way out to gaze at the cranes from inside the car, and within a minute another car passed me, made directly for the cranes, which flew up, and then it just as quickly turned and left the scene. I decided it was time to do the same, but in the other direction. Sunday should be a day of rest.

The Birding In Spain butterfly list of 2014

100 butterflies

The Birding In Spain butterfly list of 2014

The Birding In Spain butterfly list of 2014

 Common name

  1. Swallowtail
  2. Scarce Swallowtail
  3. Spanish Festoon
  4. Apollo*
  5. Black-veined White
  6. Large White
  7. Small White
  8. Green-veined White
  9. Bath White
  10. Orange-tip
  11. Moroccan Orange Tip
  12. Clouded Yellow
  13. Berger’s Clouded Yellow
  14. Brimstone
  15. Cleopatra
  16. Wood White
  17. Provence Hairstreak
  18. Green Hairstreak
  19. Sloe Hairstreak
  20. False Ilex Hairstreak
  21. Ilex Hairstreak
  22. Blue Spot Hairstreak
  23. Small Copper
  24. Scarce Copper*
  25. Long-tailed Blue
  26. Lang’s Short-tailed Blue
  27. Holly Blue
  28. Little Blue
  29. Osiris Blue
  30. Green-underside Blue
  31. Black-eyed Blue
  32. Panoptes Blue
  33. Silver-studded Blue
  34. Brown Argus
  35. Mother-of-Pearl Blue
  36. Chalk-hill Blue
  37. Adonis Blue
  38. Common Blue
  39. Duke of Burgundy Fritillary
  40. Nettle-tree Butterfly
  41. Monarch
  42. Plain Tiger*
  43. Southern White Admiral
  44. Camberwell Beauty
  45. Peacock Butterfly
  46. Small Tortoiseshell
  47. Large Tortoiseshell
  48. Red Admiral
  49. Painted Lady
  50. Queen of Spain Fritillary
  51. Comma Butterfly
  52. Cardinal Fritillary
  53. Silver-washed Fritillary
  54. High Brown Fritillary
  55. Dark Green Fritillary
  56. Twin-spot Fritillary
  57. Marbled Fritillary
  58. Glanville Fritillary
  59. Knapweed Fritillary
  60. Spotted Fritillary
  61. Meadow Fritillary
  62. Provençal Fritillary*
  63. Heath Fritillary
  64. Marsh Fritillary
  65. Spanish Fritillary
  66. Marbled White
  67. Iberian Marbled White
  68. Esper’s Marbled White
  69. Western Marbled White
  70. Spanish Marbled White
  71. Grayling
  72. Tree Grayling*
  73. Striped Grayling*
  74. Black Satyr
  75. Great Banded Grayling
  76. False Grayling*
  77. Piedmont Ringlet
  78. Autumn Ringlet*
  79. Meadow Brown
  80. Dusky Meadow Brown*
  81. Gatekeeper
  82. Southern Gatekeeper
  83. Spanish Gatekeeper
  84. Small Heath
  85. Dusky Heath
  86. Pearly Heath
  87. Chestnut Heath
  88. Speckled Wood
  89. Wall Brown
  90. Large Wall Brown
  91. Grizzled Skipper
  92. Oberthür’s Grizzled Skipper
  93. Safflower Skipper
  94. Red Underwing Skipper
  95. Marbled Skipper
  96. Mallow Skipper
  97. Dingy Skipper
  98. Large Skipper
  99. Small Skipper
  100. Silver-spotted Skipper*

* Denotes a butterfly seen in 2014 but not with clients present.

Bearing in mind that it’s not always a given thing to get birders to look at butterflies we consider that there are some interesting insects on this list.

The targets for 2015 are to fill in a few of the gaps, especially as far as the later species are concerned. It would also be great to gain some more confidence with some of those challenging “blues”.

Our kind of travellers

Birding In Spain’s Traveller’s Code of Conduct

General guidelines

1. As a nature lover and traveller we believe you should stand up and be noticed. But just make sure it’s for the right reasons…

2.Be sensible with water use, spare it when possible.

3. Accept advice and guidelines on how to minimize your carbon footprint when travelling.

4. Accept that some things are done differently in other places, and try to enjoy the difference.

5. Remember that a smile can go a long way, with very little energy expenditure!

6. Think about how your acts could disturb wildlife, and if and how that disturbance can be avoided.

7. Although not an Encyclopaedia your local guide should be a good source of information about local nature, geography, traditions, etc.

8. Sharing information about sites and species on forums etc. is a free choice, but one which could have negative consequences – the guide’s livelihood, the wildlife and habitat and, in the end, the value of the experience for other people could all suffer.

9. Small rural or family run hotels will notice your passing and usually be grateful for it. City hotels and hotel chains will probably not. If you go where you make a difference and the local people know you go there for nature that in itself will help to create positive attitudes towards the protection of nature.

10. Be aware that not everybody speaks English! Sometimes a few words or phrases in the local language can go a very long way, and the will to communicate even further.

11.Trust in your guide’s judgement about how close to get to wildlife, and what techniques should or shouldn’t be used to enhance your observation experience. One major difference between a guide and a one-time visitor is that the guide expects to return to a site.

12. If possible, look into the possibilities of public transport (bus, train, underground) before jumping into a taxi or going for a rental car.

13. Do not obstruct the daily activities or circulation of local people, or access to fields, homes, etc.

14. What’s the better souvenir, artisan foods or produce bought in a village or town shop where they are produced, or something whipped up at the airport Duty Free?

15.Try to make a difference to conservation. Contribute to a local cause, patronize information centre shops and cafés, stay close to the places you have come to visit.

 Responsible birding, responsible travel.


What we mean in point 1 here is that we believe nature conservation will reap more benefits if the right people and reasons come under the spotlight of local people’s and regional stakeholders’ gazes. Responsible tourism can sow and reap part of its own harvest, by contributing to the continued existence of what travellers are there to see or to experience.

Responsible tourists and nature travellers can influence their public profile by their own behaviour and choices, which in turn influences the general public’s perception of them and their influence. In most developed countries it is almost impossible for responsible tourism and nature travel to compete on economic impact terms with mass tourism (beach holidays, skiing, etc) but it has many good possibilities to outdo mass tourism on the grounds of perceived costs and benefits to the local inhabitants and small-scale tourist infrastructures.

So for example a respectful foreigner carrying binoculars or a camera who enters a bar to drink a coffee, or a shop to buy some groceries, or who passes through reception at a small rural hotel is someone who stands out from the crowd. And that can be turned to the benefit of nature conservation. They are there to see the birds, to enjoy the natural landscapes, etc. and their presence makes a difference, no matter how small a difference. Perhaps their stay coincides with the tourist low season (as the period immediately after Easter usually is), perhaps local café owners can boast of the people of different nationalities who stop for a drink or a snack in their café; perhaps a farmer can be made to feel proud that his land holds populations of birds which are considered internationally important or attractive. That’s what we mean by being noticed for the right reasons. 

An Introduction to Birdwatching

Introduction to Birdwatching

The optics company based in Germany have released a pdf aimed at helping beginner birdwatchers to take their first steps into this engrossing hobby of ours.

Essentially the pdf is a FAQs answer sheet focusing on the choice and use of birding optics (binoculars and spotting scopes), and how and where you can start watching birds and get the most out of it right from the beginning.

An Introduction to Birdwatching

Reading through the file we found some sound advice for beginner birders, and on some aspects which are often neglected:

You should also learn bird calls, which can sound totally different to the singing.

About the importance of learning bird song and calls, couldn’t agree more. On the other hand, we’re not sure how much “fun” there really is in this proposal:

Scanning extensive rock walls for golden eagles or wallcreepers is a lot more fun with a powerful spotting scope and is also far more successful than with some simple binoculars.

Scanning extensive rock walls for Golden Eagles with a scope is one thing, but for Wallcreepers…well. Then there are also some “googled translations”, such as:

Drawing ruff often rest on dry fields

Possibly because of the effort of wielding a pencil for hours on end?

Joking aside, the authors have made an honest and open attempt to address the birdwatching fraternity on its own terms. And if you are curious to find out how travelling salesmen are related to the price of a good spotting scope you really should have a look at the document for yourself!

Interested? Just follow this link below to the page and then press the download button

An introduction to Birdwatching

Can Jan – the House!

Can Jan – the House!

Can Jan - the House!

We at Birding In Spain are delighted to announce that Can Jan now features as the main focus of attention for our recommended accommodation links. Birding-oriented visitors and nature lovers seeking quality accommodation for groups and for special celebrations in an idyllic setting need look no further!

Can Jan - the House!

Can Jan is a unique experience of luxury accommodation for up to 24 people.Here you can relax in complete serenity, or party as hard as you like within 500 acres of private woodland.

Can Jan - the House!

Whether it’s mountain biking, bird-watching, hiking, canoeing, horse riding or golf, Can Jan is the perfect base. See the sights of the charming, medieval town of Besalú only 10 minutes away, or simply relax by the pool.

Can Jan - the House!

Can Jan - the House!

Can Jan is situated in over 500 acres of private woodland including a great many hiking trails to explore on foot or two wheels, and these adjoin the extensive La Garroxta Natural Park. You will discover an extraordinary habitat full of birds (including nightingales and birds of prey), butterflies, amphibians, reptiles, deer, wild boar, polecats, weasels and wild mink. 

Can Jan - the House!

The Aiguamolls de l’Empordà nature reserve is a short drive away, and a visit here can be complimented with birding around the Cap de Creus or the Montgrí massif.

Can Jan – who wouldn’t?

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