Nature Photographer Brutus Östling in Catalonia

 Little Owl, Athene noctua

 Little Owl by Brutus Östling

The renowned Swedish nature photographer Brutus Östling was with us recently. He came for a few days to photograph Lammergeiers and vultures from the hide and also found time to take this splendid shot of a Little Owl from one of our hides on the plains of Lleida, in Catalonia.

See more about him and his work at Brutus Östling’s website here.

Brutus Östling is the only nature photographer to have won the World Wildlife Fund’s Panda Book of the Year prize twice.

The first prize was for “Life on the Wing

 Life on the Wing

And more recently he won the prize the second time with “The Kingdom of the Eagle” 

Kingdom of the Eagle

He was also Nature Photographer of the year in 2006.

Hopefully he’ll be thinking about how to portray some of the birds of northeast Spain in his next work of art. 

Need your ears tested?

Listening is an intrinsic part of birding – hearing is one of the senses that should not be ignored. The listening birder can often make interesting discoveries: try doing a nighttime census, and you’ll be surprised at how far a dog’s bark will carry, how noisy the local motorway really is, and what strange sounds the Long-eared Owl makes!

Eloïsa Matheu has dedicated decades to listening to and recording wildlife sounds, mostly birds but not exlusively so. She has recordings of most of the bird species of the Iberian Peninsula as well as others from both the European and African continents. Hers are the CDs that the Catalan Institute for Ornithology (ICO) distributes to its members to help them identify the calls of the birds they may encounter while doing their Common Bird Counts. Hers are the wonderfully atmospheric wildlife sounds that grace the best pages of the website. I could go on, but I’m sure most of you get the idea…Eloïsa is THE bird sound recorder in Spain.

Paisajes Ibericos

Eloïsa and I met up recently on a rather hopeful mission: I had heard the Wallcreeper singing at a wintering site in Montsec, a nice quiet spot, with no traffic, loud running water or barking dogs. It was a long shot, but Eloïsa was willing to give it a go.  Luckily she knows that birds have wings and don’t always use them to our convenience: no Wallcreeper this time, but she did manage to get Peregrine Falcon for the records.

Practical guide to the bird songs of Spain

Eloïsa’s CDs can be purchased from most major wildlife publication outlets, and from her directly at her website Alosa.

Birding with the family

Birding with the family or rather getting in some birding while on a family holiday is a hard-earned skill. Early rises, minor detours, games and distractions for the kids…on the one hand we could talk about some of the tried and tested techniques that most birding parents are already familiar with, while on the other this is a subject matter that is essentially incomprehensible for birders with no offspring of their own.

One basic rule that is recognised by beginner and expert family birder alike is the importance of choosing the right holiday destination.

Julian Bell, author of the Natural Born Birder website, has had his own experiences of birding with the family, and has expressed an opinion which I wholly agree with:

The island of Mallorca is one of the best spots in Western Europe for combining a family holiday with a spot of very good birding.

Follow this link to his site to see his photos, trip reports and comments on birding in Mallorca:

However, there’s a whole lot more that could be said about birding with the family, especially in a country like Spain.

Flying over the Pyrenees

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…Short-toed Eagle. How inspired! What an incredibly poetic, evocative name! Images of a large, pale bird sailing effortlessly over the mountain tops jump to my mind every time I reach for the nail-clippers.

A short excerpt from “Flying over the Pyrenees, standing on the plains”. Subbuteo Natural History Book’s “Book of the month” in September 2007.

Flying over the Pyrenees, standing on the plains

See more details at the book’s very own web page.

Bird photography: a homage to an Italian master

Birders taking a glance at the website will see a good number of photos, including scenery (mostly Steve West’s), plants, insects and, of course, birds. Notably, none of the bird photos were taken by the author of the website. Why not? Well, the most concise explanation would be that there is so much to see when birding in Spain that I just cannot arm myself with the buckets of patience that are needed to take good bird photos.

Here I’m not talking about snapshots, but rather the very accomplished bird photography of  my neighbour Joan Manel Puig, and in particular (and in my opinion) the unrivalled camera work of the Italian master Daniele Occhiato.  Here we have two dedicated bird photographers, experts in their field, with all the  equipment, imagination and necessary knowhow to get the very best out of their art.

The results should speak for themselves, but if there is too much noise for them to be heard then listen to me and take a look at some of Daniele Occhiato’s bird photos by clicking on this link.

Keep it coming Daniele!

Birdie about bats?

There are times when one must acknowledge, however reluctantly, that there’s more to life than birds and birding. There are also butterflies, orchids, flowers…even bats. Yes, bats. Those cute flying rodents that fly around when most birds have tucked down for the night. Just imagine if you were able to see in the dark, and had as much interest in watching bats as you do in watching birds. Then you’d have a perfect excuse for staying out all day and all night!

Wouldn’t that make the other half really happy!

Seriously though, bats are really fascinating creatures, and although I’ve seen quite a few here in Catalunya I’ve never got very far with their identification. I’ve been roaming around the web a bit and just found this very comprehensive site dedicated exclusively to bats. Basically it’s the fatbirder equivalent site for bats and incorporates all the links that the author, Jim Buzbee, has found relating to his personal passion for those widely misunderstood fluffy beings.

Follow this link to find out much more about bats.

Introduce a new angle to those exhausting 24 hour bird marathons. – our top 10 birds … continued – our top 10 … continued

Number 5: Black Woodpecker

The Black Woodpecker impresses by its size, its coloration and its powerful, far-carrying voice. The several encounters I’ve had with this species at its nest sites constitute some marvellous birding moments that I hope I will never forget.

You can find Black Woodpecker in Northeast Spain in this itinerary

Number 4: Pin-tailed Sandgrouse

Personally, I have a soft spot for sandgrouse, and luckily both species that can be seen in Europe are to be found here in northeast Spain.

If you ever get the chance to get close enough to this wary bird take a good long look at the wonderfully intricate designs on its plumage. As a ground nesting bird it is one of the masters of camouflage, but apart from that it’s a bird with a lot of character.

Not to be missed.

Number 3: Black-bellied Sandgrouse

The Black-bellied Sandgrouse is deservedly famous for its long flights to water pools and the male’s ability to soak his belly feathers with water and then fly back to the nest scrape to provide his chicks with precious droplets of water.

I’ve spent a lot of time scanning open fields in dryland areas for this emblematic species; I’ve been lucky at times, and at others the rocks I was staring at never moved.

Selected Black-bellied sandgrouse itinerary

Number 2: LammergeierThe Lammergeier is unique in many ways, not the least for its dietary habits seeing that it’s the only bird in the world that eats bones. It’s one of the biggest birds you can see in Spain, it’s majestic, silent, and inhabits some of the most remote and scenic areas in the country.

Excellent credentials that make it my number 2 bird in the region.

Here is a detailed itinerary with a high chance of seeing a Lammergeier, or even 10!

Number 1: Wallcreeper

I’m sure that I’m not alone in choosing the Wallcreeper as the number 1 bird of northeast Spain. It’s one of those birds that captivate both the imagination and the attention when it’s actually within sight. Or in other words, a bird that you really want to see and that when you do you actually spend a long time watching it.

A summer itinerary for Wallcreeper

A winter itinerary for Wallcreeper

That’s my own personal list, but what do you think? What are your top 10 favourites from the region? It could be a list of birds you have seen or else birds you want to see. If enough people send in their own lists we can really see what the most popular species are.

If you want to read more about these species and others then you would do well to get hold of a copy of my latest book “Flying over the Pyrenees, standing on the plains”. At the website you can download a couple of free chapters, and you may also like to know that it was Subbuteo Natural History Book’s “Book of the month” in September 2007.

For full details about where to see these species and more in northeast Spain purchase a copy of my first book “Where the birds are in northeast Spain”.

Birdinginspain’s top 10 birds of northeast Spain – our top 10 birds

Here is our list of the most special 10 species of bird that occur regularly in northeast Spain. Of course the choice is entirely subjective, and depends on appreciation of things like attractiveness, rarity, behaviour or even habitat.

Below each species there is a link to a recommended itinerary from the web page where it is possible to see the species.

Number 10: Red-backed Shrike

This species is one of the last summer migrants to reach its breeding grounds in Spain, and does so by migrating along the eastern Mediterranean and then following on through southern Europe before entering the Pyrenees.

Watch a Red-backed Shrike impaling an insect on a thorny bush in a green pasture with a beautiful mountain backdrop, take delight from the bird’s beautiful plumage and breathe the fresh air.

See the Red-backed Shrike here

Number 9: Hawfinch

The Hawfinch is a very localised breeder in this part of the world, so the easiest time to see it is in winter. Occasionally there are irruptions when groups of up to 50 birds can be seen, mostly in areas with a good number of Hackberries.

It’s a shy bird, often difficult to see well, but when you do it’s an experience to remember.

A winter itinerary for Hawfinch

Number 8: Bonelli’s Eagle

The Bonelli’s Eagle was SEO-Birdlife’s “bird of the year” in 2005. A magnificent and truly Mediterranean raptor, but unfortunately its range is shrinking and its population is declining. Electrocution, habitat fragmentation, disturbance at nest sites, even illegal shooting and poisoning are all taking their toll.

For me this is very much a “hiker’s bird”, a species which is best seen and appreciated when exploring an attractive Mediterranean massif on foot, as for example at els Ports or Montsant.

Bonelli’s Eagles may be seen here.

Number 7: Dupont’s Lark

Placing the much sought-after Dupont’s Lark at only number 7 seems rather contrived, but I’m a bit tired of trying to show decent views of this bird to tour groups. The lark rarely co-operates and is capable of keeping one waiting for hours before allowing itself to be glimpsed.

Nevertheless, Spain is the only country in Europe where the Dupont’s Lark can be seen, and the bird does have a beautiful song. It also manages to get me up and out on the steppes before dawn.

The place to look for Dupont’s Larks.

Number 6: Little Bustard

Listen out for this bird’s “prrrt” call, which sounds like it comes from a rather embarrassed raspberry blower. Accompanied by a backwards neck jerk, or even foot stamping and a little jump.

Locally known as the “dryland duck” in many ways the Little Bustard is a comical bird, but it always gives a little thrill when encountered on the drylands in spring, and is one of the essential elements of the steppeland chorus.

Look for Little Bustards here.

The top 5 will follow shortly…

…and then why not send your top 10?

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