The wonderful Wallcreeper

Birding in Spain: the Wallcreeper

It’s December. Imagine you’re walking along the base of a steep rock face somewhere in the Pre-Pyrenees. You detect a movement and look up. There’s a bird, and it’s close enough for you to see its long, slender down-curved bill and its slate-grey and black plumage. A moment later the bird flutters, and on its open, butterfly-like wings you see a dazzling flash of deep crimson.

Wallcreeper, Tichodroma muraria.

Wallcreeper photo by Cezary Pióro 

Rejoice! You are now among the lucky few that have set eyes on one of nature’s jewels: the Wallcreeper. An amazing bird that is at home clinging to vertical rock faces in order to probe into nooks and crannies and pry out spiders and insects with that slender bill. Little wonder then that when foreign birders visit this country this is usually the bird they most want to see, or that even the pragmatic Chinese have baptised it with the graceful name of “rock flower”.

In the breeding season the Wallcreeper inhabits sheer cliff faces in the Pyrenees at altitudes of between 2,000 and 3,000m. That means that between May and September the Wallcreeper is rarely an easy bird to see – first of all one has to reach its secluded, mountain haunts and then one has to strain the neck muscles, and often the patience too, in order to spot it among towering mountains of naked rock. That’s one reason why winter is not all bad: by then Wallcreepers have left their high mountains to occupy more accessible terrain in the pre-Pyrenees, Montsant, el Ports…even cliffs by the sea at Cap de Creus.

One day last winter I made a personal pilgrimage to the sunny rock faces of Montsec and I received my reward. I took home the Wallcreeper’s colours and a little of its wing-flashing warmth, clutching onto the vision as I descended once more into the blanket of fog enshrouding Lleida and the surrounding plains. And I hadn’t even strained my neck muscles.

Happy Wallcreeper watchers in Spain

Happy Wallcreeper watchers

There’s more about the Wallcreeper and many more birds in Flying over the Pyrenees, standing on the plains” 

Flying over the Pyrenees, standing on the plains

Walking the Wallcreeper Route

Birding and walking


The Wallcreeper walk of Montsec.The Wallcreeper walk of Montsec.

The Wallcreeper, Tichodroma muraria, is a special bird. It clings to vertical walls, it inhabits some of the most breathtaking spots, its wings flash black, white and crimson, like the wings of a butterfly. So we’re very lucky to have Wallcreepers as a breeding and wintering bird in northeast Spain. In Lleida and Catalonia.

Some years ago now the Montsec consortium asked us to design some birding routes. We got down to the task with enthusiasm and came up with a birding map divided into two main routes: the Eagle route (Bonelli’s Eagle) and the Lammergeier route.

Each route could be followed by car, and then the occupants were invited to walk one of 6 itineraries in search of birds, intimate contact with the surroundings, and a healthy occupation. OF course, one of the routes just had to be dedicated to the Wallcreeper!

Wallcreeper. Tichodroma muraria.

The Wallcreeper Route


The Wallcreeper text reads as follows:


Length: 7 km, 3 hours.

Characteristics: Relatively flat and easy, although the narrow path may provoke vertigo in some.

Access: Pont de Montanyana. A secondary approach also exists from Alsamora.

Starting point: 3098204663537. Congost de Montrebei reserve car park (wardened).

Indications: Follow the lower path alongside the reservoir, cross over the suspension bridge and continue on into the gorge. It is recommended to  follow on at least to the Cave of Colomera before turning back along the same path. This is a popular area for visitors in the summer.

Main species:

(i) Griffon Vulture, Golden Eagle, Orphean Warbler (S), Subalpine Warbler (S), Nuthatch, Red-billed Chough, Rock Bunting.

(ii) Lammergeier,Wallcreeper (W).

So if you happen to be in the neighbourhood of Montsec between November and March it could be something to bear in mind.

Happy Birding! invites you to show your own bird photos is a community-based website aimed at…bla…bla…bla…STOP! Cut it! Just answer these questions in your head, or out loud if that is your preference:

  • Do you like looking at quality bird photos taken by some of Europe’s best bird photographers?
  • Do you think that giving these photos your rating using a 5-star system is worthwhile and engaging?
  • Do you ever feel tempted to comment on the photos you are looking at?
  • Do you consider yourself to be a good bird photographer, with photos of European birds of your own that you would like to upload to
  • Have you got your own photography website to which you would like to attract more visitors?
  • Are you happy for people to know who you are, and to see what bird photos you are capable of taking?

Do you answer yes to any of these questions, but you refuse to look at out of pure bloody-mindedness?, a growing bird photography community. Even for the bloody-minded.

Wild Images comes to Lleida


the 8th to 15th May we received the first group of photographers from Wild Images. Wild Images, a daughter company of Birdquest, came with leader Mike Watson and 6 avid bird photographers from different parts of the UK. 

Little Owls, Athene noctua.

They followed the basic outline of our Great Photo Trip (see details here) with 3 days on the plains of Lleida and 2 in the Lammergeier hide in the Pre-Pyrenees.

Apart from Lammergeiers and the other 3 species of vulture they also managed to get excellent shots of a wide variety of birds on the steppes, in magnificent spring scenery. Jumping Little Bustards, Bee-eaters, Stone Curlews, Montagu’s Harriers, Iberian Grey Shrike, Corn Bunting and even a last minute Hoopoe! Still, in my opinion it was the Little Owls that really stole the show. 

Bee-eaters, Merops apiaster.

Did they leave with smiles on their faces and giving us the thumbs up? Well, yes. And if you want to see some of the great photos they took then you need do no more than click on these links to their own websites:

Mike Watson (Wild Images leader)

Eric McCabe (with wife Lesley hailing from Scotland)

David Mercer

Congratulations to all! We’re looking forward to next spring already.

Plain sailing


Quail, Coturnix coturnix.

A Quail sat in the track in my car headlights just before dawn


Bee-eater, Merops apiaster.

The Bee-eaters in front of the hide were bright and good afternoon entertainment

Little Owl

Little Owls, Athene noctua.

The Little Owl antics usually steal the show.

Thekla Lark

Thekla Lark, Galerida theklae

Singing Thekla Lark was an added bonus from the Hoopoe hide. 

Monty’s Harrier

Montagu’s Harrier, Circus pygargus.

Poppy landscape

Poppy Landscape, Lleida.

Now that’s not bad for a (very early) morning or two out on the plains of Lleida.

Lammergeiers and Black Vultures

A couple of flight sequences from some months back. In the Pre-pyrenees of Lleida.

Black Vulture, Aegypius monachus, in flight

Black Vulture, Aegypius monachus, in flight

Black Vulture, Aegypius monachus, in flight

Black Vultures have bred there now for the second consecutive year and seem to be on the way to repaying the efforts at re-establishing the species in this part of Spain.

Lammergeiers, Gypaetus barbatus, in flightLammergeiers, Gypaetus barbatus, in flight

In the last year or so some Lammergeiers have been observed outside their normal range in the Pyrenees. It is well known that vacant territories for this species in the Pyrenees are hard to come by, so perhaps this is a forced response by this normally sedentary species.

Lammergeiers, Gypaetus barbatus, in flight

One slightly worrying aspect about the latter species is that a couple of adult birds have been found dead, the cause of death having been lead poisoning. This fact is of great relevance to feeding stations: they are strongly advised not to put out animals that have been shot (boar, deer, etc), as if the bullet is not removed from the corpse within five minutes of entering the body the lead spreads around the body and can end up in Lammergeiers and other vultures.

Let’s hope they take note.

Shhh! Stone Curlews at nest

This is one of the pair of Stone Curlews that nested by the side of one of our Bee-eater hides on the plains of Lleida.

Stone Curlew, Burrhinus oedicnemus.

The nest was basically a small hollow lined with a bit of dry grass and gravel-sized stones. The eggs, two, were speckled and brown-beige. The adults were very discreet in their comings and goings, as you would expect from a ground-nesting bird. One of the adults would incubate while the other would stay around preening, dozing or stretching itself, although at times the incubating bird also got up and took a small rest from pre-parental responsibilities.

Stone Curlew, Burrhinus oedicnemus, eggs and nestStone Curlew, Burrhinus oedicnemus, nest and eggs

On Wednesday the female started making some strange noises, which Jordi Bas explained as the female making contact with young which were almost ready to hatch. Sure enough, the next day there were two tiny chicks, to the delight of all. Today all the birds have gone from the nest site.

Birds and contrasts

Spanish birds, Spanish skies.

Just enjoy the photos, taken at different places in northeast Spain while out looking for birds. Sometimes you get to see the birds you want to see, at others you don’t, but get a thrill from the places you go to all the same.

Maybe you know where these photos were taken?

Spanish landscapes


Spanish landscapes.

Spanish Landscapes.

Spanish landscapes.

Spanish landscapes.

Perhaps we should provide a list of the birds you can usually see at each site. Would that make it any easier?

The steppeland birds of Hotel Rincón del Cierzo

Are any of you birders planning a visit to Belchite? You know, Dupont’s Lark, Black-bellied Sandgrouse and associated company?

Here’s something for you to start familiarising yourself with the birds of this unique area:

Bird tiles at Rincón del Cierzo

And some of their local names too!

What a lovely detail this is for guests staying at the nearby Hotel Rincón del Cierzo.’s recommended accommodation for the Belchite steppes itinerary. We don’t recommend any old place you know, but rather the best-placed, well-regented and reasonably-priced establishments we know about. Do you get the picture?

If not, here it is again!

Bird tiles at Rincón del Cierzo

Free 2011 calendar for birders

2011 birding calendar from Catalonia

Dani Valverde and Joan Morales are the bird and nature photographers who have generously shared their work and love of nature with the international birding community.

Just click on this link and then follow through to download their 2011 calendar, illustrated with birds like the Yelkouan Shearwater, the Snow Finch, the Pectoral Sandpiper, and more. There’s more than just birds however, as the exuberant Apollo butterfly also manages to collar a month, as does a Red Fox. 

2011 birding calendar from Catalonia

The calendar is written in Catalan and English.

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