Dutch birders spring birding in Lleida

Michiel from the Netherlands had been with us before, the first time almost 10 years ago! This time he came to Lleida for five days with 2 friends.

Dutch birder on cliff edge

Dutch birder on cliff edge near Lleida

We spent one day on the nearby plains of Huesca, one day in the Ebro Delta, one day in the Pre-Pyrenees, one day around Lleida, and one day at and around Belchite.
174 species in all, here are the highlights of each day:

1. Black Stork, Egyptian Vulture, Golden Eagle, Lesser Kestrel, Stone Curlew, Alpine Swift, Hoopoe, Iberian Green Woodpecker, Calandra Lark, Black-eared Wheatear, Black Wheatear, Blue Rock Thrush, Rock Sparrow, Penduline Tit, Iberian Grey Shrike

2. Garganey, Little Bittern, Purple Heron, Spoonbill, Goshawk, Osprey, waders, Slender-billed Gull, Audouin’s Gull, Caspian Tern, Black Tern, Gull-billed Tern, Whiskered Tern, Water Pipit, Whinchat, Savi’s Warbler, Western Subalpine Warbler, Spotted Crake

3. Lammergeier, Black Vulture, Short-toed Eagle, Dipper, Rock Bunting, Firecrest, Crested Tit, Cirl Bunting.

4. Pallid Harrier, Booted Eagle, Bonelli’s Eagle, Merlin, Little Bustard, Great Spotted Cuckoo, Dupont’s Lark (h), Pin-tailed Sandgrouse (h), Red-rumped Swallow, Hawfinch.

Mediterranean Short-toed Lark

Mediterranean Short-toed Lark. Photo by Michele Mendi

5. Golden Eagle, Black-bellied Sandgrouse, Pin-tailed Sandgrouse, Dupont’s Lark, Mediterranean Short-toed Lark, Greater Short-toed Lark, Wryneck, Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, Golden Eagle, Hen Harrier, Little Bustard, Stone Curlew, Great Spotted Cuckoo, Spectacled Warbler, Dartford Warbler.

Birding with lots of birds, good company and good weather. What more could you ask for?

Northeast Spain spring tour report

Kathie and Mick Claydon from Norfolk, UK, joined us for a private tour of northeast Spain in April.

Yellow Bee Orchids

Yellow Bee Orchids Ophrys lutea

kathie among the orchids

Kathie among the orchids

scarce swallowtail

Scarce swallowtail

Here is Kathie’s meticulous and complete report.

NORTHERN SPAIN Navarra-Aragon 19 April – 2 May 2022
Kath & Mick Claydon kandm.claydon@gmail.com

A two-week trip arranged and guided by Steve West (Birding in Spain steve@birdinginspain.com) for just the two of us to explore Navarra, Aragon and a little of Catalonia. In 2017 we’d had a very successful trip with Steve to the Picos region, concentrating on bears and wolves, and we knew Steve would again give us exactly what we wanted (he did!) Our interests are wide and we took things at a relaxed pace in order to enjoy all wildlife rather than concentrating solely on birds. Steve knows these areas well and we built up impressive lists with 177 bird species (without much effort on our part!) at least 13 orchid species, 31 butterflies and plenty more. We opted for lunch ‘on the go’, happy to get by on cheese, ham, fruit, allowing us to spend more time out and about with just an occasional stop for coffee or tea. The weather wasn’t good with rain, lots of cloud and often a cold wind. Fresh snow fell on the higher ground and snowploughs were clearing passes into France; we also had a couple of foggy mornings, but slowly it improved towards the end of the trip although it remained very cool. We stayed in three areas, south of Pamplona, Roncal Valley and Sierra de Guara. All hotels were family-run and very good with comfortable rooms, excellent food and very friendly, accommodating staff. Everything worked well and we had a thoroughly enjoyable trip – roll on the next one!

19 April Steve met us at Barcelona airport late afternoon. Drove (4hrs) to Villafranca, south of Pamplona, Navarra, stopping on route for a light meal. Hospedería Alesves, Villafranca, Navarra
20 April Pitillas lagoon and Bird Observatory / scrub and rocky areas near Ujué / pseudo-steppe and cultivated drylands. “
21 April Steppe near Villafranca / Bárdenas Reales / riverine woodland by Ebro river. “
22 April Izki forest near Vitoria-Gasteiz, Álava / Sierra de Urbasa / drylands near Ujué / Arga riverside near Villafranca. “
23 April Steppe near Villafranca / another stretch of Arga river. “
24 April Checked out of hotel. Pitillas lagoon opposite side to previous visit / Arbaiun Gorge on route to Roncal valley (Pyrenees) and up to the French border / Isaba. Hostal Lola
Isaba, Navarra
25 April High mountains of Roncal Valley to Amarits in France / return to Isaba with detour to Anso Valley. “
26 April Irati forest, stops on route including Ochagavia village / high mountains into France at Puerto de Larrau / Roncal Valley. “
27 April Anso-Hecho-Fago valleys. “
28 April South Roncal Valley and west of Salvatierra de Esca. “
29 April Checked out of hotel. Headed SE towards Huesca, many stops on route / Montearagon Castle / Bierge. Hostería de Guara Bierge, Aragon
30 April Sierra de Guara and north towards Ainsa with many stops. “
1 May Drylands and riverine woodlands NW of Lleida. “
2 May Checked out of hotel. Headed towards Barcelona / frequent stops at gorges, rich farmland, woods and lakes / scrubby areas near Barcelona airport.


Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus
Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis
Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis
Great Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo
Squacco Heron Ardeola ralloides
Cattle Egret Bubulcus ibis
Little Egret Egretta garzetta
Great Egret Ardea alba
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea
Purple Heron Ardea purpurea
White Stork Ciconia ciconia
Mute Swan Cygnus olor
Greylag Goose Anser anser
Common Shelduck Tadorna tadorna
Gadwall Anas strepera
Mallard Anas platyrhynchos
Northern Shoveler Anas clypeata
Eurasian Teal Anas crecca
Garganey Anas querquedula
Common Pochard Aythya ferina
Red-crested Pochard Netta rufina
Bearded Vulture Gypaetus barbatus
Griffon Vulture Gyps fulvus
Egyptian Vulture Neophron percnopterus
Golden Eagle Aquila chrysaetos
Short-toed Eagle Circaetus gallicus
Booted Eagle Hieraaetus pennatus
Bonelli’s Eagle Hieraaetus fasciatus
Red Kite Milvus milvus
Black Kite Milvus migrans
Marsh Harrier Circus aeruginosus
Montagu’s Harrier Circus pygargus
Common Buzzard Buteo buteo
Sparrowhawk Accipiter nisus
Goshawk Accipiter gentilis
Common Kestrel Falco tinnunculus
Lesser Kestrel Falco naumanni
Hobby Falco subbuteo
Red-legged Partridge Alectoris rufa
Common Quail Coturnix coturnix HEARD ONLY
Water Rail Rallus aquaticus
Common Moorhen Gallinula chloropus
Eurasian Coot Fulica atra
Great Bustard Otis tarda
Little Bustard Tetrax tetrax
Black-winged Stilt Himantopus himantopus
Stone Curlew Burhinus oedicnemus
Little Ringed Plover Charadrius dubius
Common Ringed Plover Charadrius hiaticula
Northern Lapwing Vanellus vanellus
Dunlin Calidris alpina
Wood Sandpiper Tringa glaroela
Green Sandpiper Tringa ochropus
Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos
Common Redshank Tringa totanus
Common Greenshank Tringa nebularia
Spotted Redshank Tringa erythropus
Black-tailed Godwit Limosa limosa
Bar-tailed Godwit Limosa lapponica
Ruff Philomachus pugnax
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus
Mediterranean Gull Ichthyaetus melanocephalus
Yellow-legged Gull Larus michahellis
Whiskered Tern Chlidonias hybrida
Black Tern Chlidonias niger
Pin-tailed Sandgrouse Pterocles alchata
Black-bellied Sandgrouse Pterocles orientalis
Rock (Feral) Pigeon Columba livia var. domestica
Stock Dove Columba oenas
Common Wood Pigeon Columba palumbus
Collared Dove Streptopelia decaocto
European Turtle Dove Streptopelia turtur
Monk Parakeet Myiopsitta monachus
Rose-ringed Parakeet Psittacula krameri
Common Cuckoo Cuculus canorus
Alpine Swift Tachymarptis melba
Common Swift Apus apus
Eurasian Hoopoe Upupa epops
European Bee-eater Merops apiaster
European Roller Coracius garrulus
Black Woodpecker Dryocopus martius
Iberian Green Woodpecker Picus sharpei
Great Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos major
Middle Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos medius
White-backed Woodpecker D. leucotos HEARD only
Eurasian Wryneck Jynx torquilla
Common Skylark Alauda arvensis
Crested Lark Galerida cristata
Thekla Lark Galerida theklae
Woodlark Lullula arborea
Greater Short-toed Lark Calandrella brachydactyla
Lesser Short-toed Lark Calandrella rufescens
Calandra Lark Melanocorypha calandra
Dupont’s Lark Chersophilus duponti
Sand Martin Riparia riparia
Crag Martin Ptyonoprogne rupestris
Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica
Red-rumped Swallow Hirundo daurica
Common House Martin Delichon urbicum
Tawny Pipit Anthus campestris
Water Pipit Anthus spinoletta
Tree Pipit Anthus trivialis
White Wagtail Motacilla alba
Yellow Wagtail Motacilla flava
Grey Wagtail Motacilla cinerea
Eurasian Wren Troglodytes troglodytes
White-throated Dipper Cinclus cinclus
Dunnock Prunella modularis
Alpine Accentor Prunella collaris
European Robin Erithacus rubecula
Common Nightingale Luscinia megarhynchos
Black Redstart Phoenicurus ochruros
Common Redstart Phoenicurus phoenicurus
Northern Wheatear Oenanthe oenanthe
Western Black-eared Wheatear O. hispanica
Black Wheatear Oenanthe leucura
Whinchat Saxicola rubetra
Blue Rock Thrush Monticola solitarius
Song Thrush Turdus philomelos
Mistle Thrush Turdus viscivorus
Common Blackbird Turdus merula
Ring Ouzel Turdus torquatus
Eurasian Blackcap Sylvia atricapilla
Western Orphean Warbler Curruca hortensis
Sardinian Warbler Curruca melanocephala
Common Whitethroat Curruca communis
Spectacled Warbler Curruca conspicillata
Western Subalpine Warbler Curruca iberiae
Dartford Warbler Curruca undata
Zitting Cisticola Cisticola juncidis
Cetti’s Warbler Cettia cetti
Eurasian Reed Warbler Acrocephalus scirpaceus
Great Reed Warbler Acrocephalus arundinaceus
Melodious Warbler Hippolais polyglotta
Willow Warbler Phylloscopus trochilus
Western Bonelli’s Warbler Phylloscopus bonelli
Iberian Chiffchaff Phylloscopus ibericus
Common Chiffchaff Phylloscopus collybita
Firecrest Regulus ignicapillus
European Pied Flycatcher Ficedula hypoleuca
Great Tit Parus major
Coal Tit Periparus ater
Eurasian Blue Tit Cyanistes caeruleus
European Crested Tit Lophophanes cristatus
Marsh Tit Poecile palustris
Long-tailed Tit Aegithalos caudatus
Bearded Reedling Panurus biarmicus
Eurasian Penduline Tit Remiz pendulinus
Eurasian Nuthatch Sitta europaea
Wallcreeper Tichodroma muraria
Short-toed Treecreeper Certhia brachydactyla
Woodchat Shrike Lanius senator
Iberian Grey Shrike Lanius meridionalis
Eurasian Magpie Pica pica
Eurasian Jay Garrulus glandarius
Western Jackdaw Corvus monedula
Alpine Chough Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax
Red-billed Chough Pyrrhocorax graculus
Carrion Crow Corvus corone corone
Common Raven Corvus corax
Spotless Starling Sturnus unicolor
Eurasian Golden Oriole Oriolus oriolus
House Sparrow Passer domesticus
Rock Sparrow Petronia petronia
Common Chaffinch Fringilla coelebs
Common Linnet Carduelis cannabina
European Goldfinch Carduelis carduelis
European Greenfinch Chloris chloris
Citril Finch Serinus citrinella
European Serin Serinus serinus
Eurasian Bullfinch Pyrrhula pyrrhula
Common Crossbill Loxia curvirostra
Yellowhammer Emberiza citrinella
Cirl Bunting Emberiza cirlus
Corn Bunting Miliaria calandra

PLANTS all identifications are tentative
Orchid reference mainly http://www.orchidsofbritainandeurope.co.uk/Orchis%20mascula.html

Early Spider Orchid Ophrys sphegodes group.
Mirror Orchid Ophrys speculum
Yellow Bee Orchid Ophrys lutea
Woodcock Orchid Ophrys scolopax group
Dull or Sombre Bee Orchid Ophrys fusca group
Omega Bee Orchid Ophrys omegaifera group (? vasconica )
Early Purple Orchid Orchis
Painted Orchid Anacamptis picta
Champagne Orchid Anacamptis champagneuxii
Provence Orchid Orchis provincialis
Elder-flowered Orchid Dactylorhiza sambucina
Lady Orchid Orchis purpurea
Monkey Orchid Orchis simia
HYBRID simia x purpurea
Burnt-tip Orchid Neotinea ustulata

Birthwort Aristolochia pistolochia
Blue Flax Linum narbonense
Buckler Mustard Biscutella laevigata
Common Bugle Ajuga reptans
Common Globularia Globularia punctata
Common Lousewort Pedicularis sylvatica
Common Lungwort Pulmonaria officinalis
Cowslip Primula veris
Goosegrass Galium aparine
Grape Hyacinth Muscari neglectum
Greater Stitchwort Stellaria holostea
Green Hellebore Helleborus viridis
Hepatica Hepatica nobilis
Honeysuckle Lonicera periclymenum
Hoop Petticoat Narcissus Narcissus bulbocodium
Lady’s Smock Cardamine pratensis
Large Bittercress Cardamine amara
Large-flowered Butterwort Pinguicula grandiflora
Lords & Ladies Arum maculatum
Primrose Primula vulgaris
Purple Toothwort Lathraea clandestina
Pyrenean Avens Geum pyrenaicum
Pyrenean Catchfly Silene borderei
Pyrenean Golden Drop Onosma bubanii
Pyrenean Snake’s Head Fritillary Fritillaria pyrenaica
Pyrenean Squill Scilla liliohyacinthus
Pyrenean Violet Viola pyrenaica
Spanish Iris Iris xiphioides
Spring Gentian Gentiana verna
Star of Bethlehem Ornithogalum umbellatum
Stinking Hellebore Helleborus foetidus
Sweet Violet Viola odorata
Tassel Hyacinth Muscari comosum
Thalictrum tuberosum
Thyme Broomrape Orobanche alba
White Asphodel Asphodelus albus
Wild Clary sp. Salvia (verbanaca?)
Wild Daffodil Narcissus pseudonarcissus
Wild Tulip Tulipa sylvestris australis
Wood-sorrel Oxalis acetosella

Common Morel Morchella esculenta (Hecho Alley)


Red Fox Vulpes vulpes 2 Roncal Valley
European Rabbit Oryctolagus cuniculus frequent
Pyrenean Chamois Rupicapra pyrenaica 5 (three days: 1 + 3 + 1)
Roe Deer Capreolus capreolus 1 buck
Badger Meles meles footprints
Wild Boar Sus scrofa prints/signs

INVERTEBRATES all identifications are tentative
Mallow Skipper Carcharodus alceae
Dingy Skipper Erynnis tages
Spanish Festoon Zerynthia rumina
Scarce Swallowtail Iphiclides podalirius
Swallowtail Papilio machaon
Wood White Leptidea sinapis
Orange-tip Anthocharis cardamines
Provence Orange-tip Anthocharis euphenoides
Western Dappled White Euchloe crameri
Large White Pieris brassicae
Small White Pieris rapae
Green-veined White Pieris napi
Western Bath White Pontia daplidice
Clouded Yellow Colias croceus
Berger’s Clouded Yellow Colias alfacariensis
Brimstone Gonepteryx rhamni
Cleopatra Gonepteryx cleopatra
Small Copper Lycaena phlaeas
Green Hairstreak Callophrys rubi
Holly Blue Celastrina argiolus
Baton Blue Pseudophilotes baton
Panoptes Blue Pseudophilotes panoptes
Green-underside Blue Glaucopsyche alexis
Black-eyed Blue Glaucopsyche melanops
Chapman’s Blue Polyommatus thersites.
Common Blue Polyommatus icarus
Adonis Blue Lysandra bellargus
Weaver’s Fritillary Boloria dia
Red Admiral Vanessa atalanta
Small Tortoiseshell Aglais urticae
Wall Brown Pararge aegeria
Narrow-bordered Bee Hawkmoth Hemaris tityus
Hummingbird Hawkmoth Macroglossum stellatarum
Oak Eggar (caterpillar) Lasiocampa quercus
Scarlet Tiger (caterpillar) Callimorpha dominula
Fox Moth (caterpillar) Macrothylacia rubi
Eurranthis plummistaria
Silver Y Autographa gamma
Marbled Clover Heliothis viriplaca
Common Heath Moth Ematurga atomaria
Clearwing sp.
Broom Burnet Zygaena lavandulae
Striped Chafer sp. Anoxia (australis?)
Green Tiger Beetle Cicindela campestris


Palmate Newt Lissotriton helveticus
Iberian Water Frog Pelophylax perezi Common
? Iberian Painted Frog tadpoles Discoglossus jeanneae

Ocellated Lizard Timon Lepidus
Wall Lizard Podarcis sp.


Wednesday 20 April
Rain continued all night and into the morning, having started not long after we arrived at Barcelona yesterday afternoon. We had to abandon our plan to visit a DuPont’s Lark site at 07:00h and settled for a leisurely breakfast. The rain continued as we headed for Pitillas lagoon and we sought shelter from both rain and a cold wind at the Bird Observatory; amongst a wide range of species were Black-necked Grebe, Red-crested Pochard, Garganey and Purple Heron. When the rain eased we moved on to quiet roads around Ujué. Flowery roadsides, scrub, rocky areas and trees produced a good number of birds and at least three orchid species. We could see there had been recent snowfall on the distant Pyrenean peaks. The cold wind remained quite strong, particularly at our next stop in an area of ‘drylands’ and pseudo-steppe (a mosaic of cereal crops, recently ploughed areas and stretches of uncultivated stony ground) but all thoughts of putting on another layer of clothing were forgotten as we saw the 12 Great Bustards! It was hard to turn away from them in order to watch a single Little Bustard on the rough ground behind us. Despite the noise of the wind we could hear Larks singing non-stop. We planned to be back at the hotel by 18:00h but a rain-flooded field at the edge of Villafranca delayed us by at least half an hour: masses of waders, gulls and storks enjoying a feast and a Hobby flew overhead. Back at the hotel we enjoyed the first of many excellent evening meals – and a few drinks. An excellent start to the trip.

Thursday 21 April
A pre-breakfast walk to try for the DuPont’s Lark. It wasn’t ideal weather, still very windy, heavy cloud cover and a little light rain but at least we heard two and a Western Black-eared Wheatear and some Bee-eaters brightened the morning. After breakfast we went to the well-known semi-desert ‘badlands’ of Bárdenas Reales. Very busy! Hordes of mostly French tourists, many in big campervans. Steve disliked this even more than we did and quickly found us a quiet route that others didn’t seem to know. A flock of nine Pin-tailed Sandgrouse dropped down close to the car, then two small flocks of Black-bellied Sandgrouse came by. With Golden Eagle, Montagu’s Harrier, three Wheatear species, and ever-present larks singing, we couldn’t have asked for more even though it remained cool, cloudy and windy. To round off the day we had a leisurely stroll through riverine woodland with many mature Aspen trees beside the Ebro river, finding Pied Flycatchers, Grey Wagtails and Firecrests. A quick scan through the waders at the flooded field near our hotel turned up 15 Greenshank and a Booted Eagle was hunting low. It had been a very good day.

Friday 22 April
This morning we went to Izki woods, a Natural Park southeast of Vitoria Gasteiz, stopping on route in some open woodland where Iberian Chiffchaff was singing – good views, too. It was a peaceful walk at Izki and we saw no one apart from two workers at the start. The air was filled with the trill of Bonelli’s Warblers! A Middle Spotted Woodpecker was happy to show itself, as were Cuckoos, but the many Short-toed Treecreepers were less obliging. Although it was bright sunshine the air was cold and we needed fleeces and even gloves for a while. Cloud built up later when we went to explore an area new for Steve, Sierra de Urbasa. It’s a nice mix of woodland, carpeted with Hoop Petticoat Narcissus, Green Hellebore and Cowslip. Birds, however, were hard to find and the expected loop-road was blocked (perhaps a management disagreement between Navarra and Aragon as the park straddles the border) so having identified as many plants as we could, we turned back and returned to the Great Bustard area. Good decision. Immediately we saw a displaying male close to the car, then another three males and five females. Lots of display and marching back and forth with males flying after escaping females. A pair of Montagu’s Harriers were chasing around, too. After all that excitement we opted for a gentle stroll beside the Arga river west of Villafranca where we had brief but good views of Wryneck – we could also hear at least 3 calling. The hoped-for Penduline Tits weren’t showing but we were more than happy with our day.

Saturday 23 April
Rain again, which didn’t ease until 09.00h. The wind was still blowing but we decided it was time to try for a DuPont’s Lark again. We heard two as we arrived but it took ages to pinpoint them, hidden in sparse, low vegetation. One sounded so close but we didn’t see it until it shot up into the air, in full song, before plummeting back down towards us, still singing – a superb view! Thekla, Greater Short-toed and Calandra Larks were everywhere and further on, where the habitat changed a little, Lesser Short-toed, then Crested Larks were added to the list. A short watch by a rocky cliff turned up 7 or 8 Lesser Kestrels. Moving on we added Spectacled and Melodious Warblers then along a different stretch of the Arga river there were good numbers of Nightingales and Wrynecks. We’d covered less ground today but it was an interesting, fulfilling day.

Sunday 24 April
It was foggy last night and into this morning but had cleared by the time we checked out of the hotel. First stop was a different part of Pitillas lagoon. A single fly-by Bar-tailed Godwit was a good find for this area, which pleased Steve, but we were more interested in the Purple Heron and Stone Curlews (on this side the lagoon abuts pseudo-steppe). We had to be careful where we trod in order to avoid trampling the hundreds of Yellow Bee and Mirror Orchids and a few specimens of the weird-looking Birthwort . Heading for the Roncal Valley we stopped for a while at Arbaiun Gorge which together with Lumbier is part of the largest sanctuary for raptors in Navarre. Eye-to-eye views of Griffons here and Egyptian Vultures were close, too. A man came along, climbed over the barrier and put out salt licks for the semi-feral goats! It was then a scenic, interesting route to Roncal Valley. We stopped for coffee and tea in the valley and had a tantalizingly brief view of a Bearded Vulture. In a couple of grazing fields we noticed several Black Redstarts, then more and more, as well as many pipits and wagtails; had last night’s fog grounded them? There was a lot of fresh snow higher up and, fittingly, we encountered a flock of Alpine Chough. We drove across the pass a short way into France but it was getting foggy again and we decided to turn back and check in to Hostal Lola at Isaba. We ate far too much of the huge portions served to us this evening!

Monday 25 April
It was a clear, crisp morning and we had to scrape ice off the car windows before driving up to the pass again. We took it slowly, stopping often for birds along the valley; not so many passerines in the fields today. Higher up were Alpine Accentor and Dunnock, Alpine and Red-billed Choughs, Northern Wheatear, Ring Ouzel, Blackbird, Song and Mistle Thrushes – the only sounds we could hear were from the birds. We got as far as the French village of Amarits. In the fôret d’Issaux we heard White-backed Woodpeckers – Steve tried hard, but we couldn’t locate one. The mountains drop away much more gently on the French side and we lingered by lush meadows and small woods. Birds, however, were not numerous so we went back over the pass and took a turning towards Anso valley where we found plenty to keep us happy: we heard Wrynecks as well as distant Black Woodpeckers and a Pied Flycatcher showed well. We had several good views of Citril Finch and a flock of 40 Crossbills. Trying to identify the many plants, including orchids, kept us busy. We returned to the hotel a bit earlier today as there was so much still to identify and we needed a bit of time to catch up!

Tuesday 26 April
We planned to spend most of the day in another forested area, Irati (the second largest beech and fir forest in Europe after Germany’s Black Forest). We stopped frequently on the way, including a while at the picturesque riverside village of Ochagavia at the northern end of the Salavar valley with Griffon vultures soaring above us and Crag Martins around the buildings. We walked in the forest and found some nice plants such as the parasitic Purple Toothwort but struggled to find birds – Firecrests, Crested and Marsh Tits were heard more often than seen. Driving and stopping at suitable spots gave us more interesting sightings such as a pair of Nuthatches at a nest hole and foraging Short-toed Treecreepers and we spent ages photographing insects and plants. Steve found Palmate Newts in an old water trough then we drove to the high mountains into France at Puerto de Larrau and added Red Kite to the list along with another Golden Eagle. A Bee-eater at the pass was a bit of a surprise. To end an easy-going, very enjoyable day we slowly returned to Roncal valley, taking a detour to watch Griffon Vultures on cliffs.

Wednesday 27 April
After a rainy night and fine drizzle first thing, we weren’t sure what sort of day we were in for. We headed for the Anso-Hecho-Fago valleys hoping for the best and we got it: warm, sunny spells, good birding, orchids, fungi, butterflies and moths! In the Anso valley we enjoyed fabulous views of about 150 Crossbills, including many juveniles, with a Woodlark singing above us. Yet more orchids greeted us in Hecho valley, along with some impressive specimens of Common Morel fungi, a Weaver’s Fritillary butterfly and a reasonable, though distant, view of a Bearded Vulture plus two Egyptian Vultures and two Goshawks! Along the narrow gorge we met some British birders who were dead keen to see Wallcreeper; Steve explained this was a good place for them but it was now rather late in the year. Of course, just minutes after they left we struck lucky – one flew towards the rock face giving us great views as it investigated cracks and ledges. In Fago and then Roncal valleys there were more raptors and a Western Subalpine Warbler that was more obliging than usual. It was raining by the time we went for dinner this evening.

Thursday 28 April
Early rain turned to drizzle that eased off by mid-morning but it remained a dull, cloudy and cool day. We drove up Roncal valley and over the French border but again fog and mist meant we saw very little (Alpine and Red-billed Choughs, Crested Tit) so we returned to the lower Roncal and explored quiet roads to the west of Burgui. It turned into an ‘orchid day’ (Monkey Orchids and hybrid Monkey x Lady Orchid were perhaps the best) with occasional birds (Short-toed Eagle, Woodlarks, Western Orphean Warbler, a Melodious Warbler which gave us the run-around and only allowed glimpses).

Friday 29 April
Moving on this morning to our final base in Bierge, Huesca. We made a few roadside stops to walk in rough uncultivated patches which turned up a surprising number of orchids (hundreds in one small area – Lady, Mirror, Early Spider, Dull Ophrys and Yellow Bee Orchid), butterflies such as Baton Blue and a range of birds including Crested Larks, Booted Eagle, Woodchat Shrike, Cirl Bunting and warblers. An area of riverine woodland, predominantly poplars, was ‘full’ of Wrynecks (we saw three together and more were calling. Another stop was below Montearagon Castle – 2 Western Black-eared Wheatears, Tawny Pipit, Blue Rock Thrush and a striking specimen of Woodcock Orchid. Continuing our journey through fabulous scenery we were delighted to see two Bearded Vultures not far from where we would be staying. On reaching Bierge, there was time for some exploration of the surrounding habitats before checking in at Hostería de Guara.

Saturday 30 April
The day was spent exploring areas in the stunning surroundings of Sierra de Guara and NE as far as Ainsa. Birds were good: two Turtle Doves on roadside cables (the only ones seen), Nightingales were abundant, Wrynecks common, Alpine Swifts more frequent than previously and we saw another Blue Rock Thrush and the first Red-rumped Swallows of the trip. A bit more sunshine brought out the butterflies and we added Green-underside Blue to our list. Flowers, too, captured our attention, from Wild Tulips and Pyrenean Fritillaries to the beautiful blooms of Thalictrum tuberosum (sorry, no English name for this one). It was a lovely evening, although the fresh breeze kept things cool, so to end the day we sat in the garden watching Bee-eaters, a Hoopoe and a Woodchat Shrike. An invisible Golden Oriole called constantly.

Sunday 1 May
Not a cloud in the sky as we drove about an hour to some very impressive sandstone cliffs. The most numerous bird here was Jackdaw but there were about 10 Lesser Kestrels, at least 4 Red-billed Choughs, Black and Western Black-eared Wheatears, Crag Martins, Red-rumped Swallows and Tawny Pipits – so enough to keep us occupied for more than an hour. We moved on to nearby ‘drylands’ where the views stretched for miles; it was a familiar mix of cultivated and fallow field with rough and bare stretches. Immediately we saw a pair of Pin-tailed Sandgrouse and a Golden Eagle soared above us for several minutes, both Thekla and Crested Larks were here as well as Greater Short-toed Larks. As we watched a Marsh Harrier drifting by we noticed a Roller on a bush – then another in flight. It got quite hot (for a change) and we moved on to the dappled shade of a wooded riverside at Alcolea – Great Reed Warblers were in full song! Before dinner we walked near the hotel: Western Bonelli’s and Melodious Warblers were the most impressive species. Amongst the many Common Blues we found several Panoptes Blues. Yet another great day!

Monday 2 May
Up early to pack in preparation for tonight’s flight and soon we were on our way towards Lleida, stopping at a rugged rock face – 2 Bonelli’s Eagles! Rather a surprise as we hadn’t realised Steve would be bringing us here. It was dull and cool but the eagles were very active. Nearby a family of young Crested Tits was being fed by the parents. Another stop was in an area owned by a wildlife-friendly land owner – growing crops but mainly as sheep fodder, not spraying, allowing trees, shrubs and flowers to flourish as well as planting more trees. Brilliant – a great location. 3 pairs of Rollers, White Storks, Cattle Egrets, Black Kites, Western Orphean Warbler. A nearby nature reserve was our next stop: a large lake surrounded by varied habitats, trees, shrubs and open areas which seemed to be teeming with life: Black and Whiskered Terns, Red-crested Pochard, Greenshank, Common Sandpiper, Black-winged Stilt, Golden Orioles, Penduline Tit, Pied Flycatcher, Cetti’s, Eurasian Reed, Great Reed, Melodious and Willow Warblers, Nightingales, Hoopoes and more. Sadly, we had to move on and get nearer to the airport. Common Waxbills are known to frequent a car park by the airport but we failed to locate them; a Great Egret, two Ring-necked Parakeets and one Monk Parakeet were good enough compensation to round off what had been an excellent trip.

Nikon relinquishes first place

It’s happened.

After more than 25 years I’ve relegated my faithful Nikon Fieldscope EDII from first scope to supporting scope role. It feels a little bit like infidelity on my part, as I became fond of saying that the scope would retire when I did, and yet I just went out a bought a new Swarovski.

Nikon fieldscope ED

                          My Nikon fieldscope EDII, battered but alive

My Nikon slipped into and out of the backpack with ease, and could almost be carried in deep pockets. That’s a valuable quality when travelling by plane or train, or in a vehicle which is not one’s own. I have the 20-45x zoom lens, but soon neglected it in favour of the 30x wide-angle lens, which is perfectly adequate, and as a stand-alone no one who is reasonably objective has ever criticised it. Of course, when someone sets up a new Swarovski, or Zeiss or similar alongside it then my somewhat battered Nikon doesn’t shine its brightest when compared directly.

Nikon fieldscope ED

My Nikon fieldscope EDII, battered but alive

On my very first day as the leader of my very first bird tour my almost new Nikon flew out of its case that was strapped over my shoulder as I turned swiftly and it landed with a heavy clunk on the asphalt of the fishing port of Sant Carles de la Ràpita. It wasn’t supposed to be able to do that, and I felt indignant. Then, when I looked down the barrel through the far end of the scope and I saw the prism inside was cracked my heart really sank. I was convinced that my telescope was no more. However, when I set it up on the tripod and took a deep breath before looking down the objective and turning the focusing ring … the image I saw was surprisingly clear. Hurriedly, I focused on an Audouin’s Gull, and what I saw gave me hope for the future…

… Now the future is the present, a quarter of a century later. The Nikon fieldscope EDII has served me well, and it’s job isn’t over yet. I hope.


Any day with two Wallcreepers can’t be a bad day, can it?

Any day with two Wallcreepers can’t be a bad day, can it?

Monday 7th March – For our first day of birding it was off to the drylands of Monegros on a wild grouse chase. Well, no, we weren’t chasing, just driving, stopping, scanning and searching. But no grouse. Blame agricultural transformation or something closely related – it used to be a piece of cake finding sandgrouse in this area, both species.

Anyway, the day was a good one, so mustn’t grouse too much. It started off at some sandstone cliffs, surprising, unlikely. Lesser Kestrels had made it back after their winter sojourn somewhere south, with the early first two pairs kacking and making short surries from the ledges. Choughs, jackdaws and then a glimpse of what must have been a Wallcreeper before it flew behind a rocky bend, there must be a technical term for such things. Yes, obviously it was a Wallcreeper, as here it comes back into view being chased by another! Both jewels remain in the binocular view together for a few seconds before parting in different directions, leaving us with the difficult choice of deciding on which one to follow.

No Blue Rock Thrush or Black Wheatear as expected, the cold overcast weather seemed to be a good enough reason for that. We transferred to the plateau and started our quest for the sandgrouse. It was quiet, and drizzling, but that passed soon enough. Flocks of Linnets and Goldfinches, with some Serins thrown in. An Iberian Grey Shrike perched atop, Calandra Larks toying with song. Our first Black Kite of the year in among the steady flow of Red Kites and a Little Owl perched on a farm building, unperturbed by the cold weather, or hopeful for a ray of sun? Something large and white caught my eye as it landed in between some small trees. Couldn’t have been a White Stork, I really believed, and adolescent sheep don’t fly. So what was it? A change of angle revealed the answer: an adult Egyptian Vulture being pestered by a noisy crow, calling out for assistance in its unsolicited mission of badgering any large raptor which was big enough to want to ignore it.

There were the due signs of admiration from us both and then we moved on. I heard a single Pin-tailed Sandgrouse, but just one, and who knows where it was or where it was going. Not me. We came out to the road and was that a Golden Eagle soaring up there above the Red Kites? Indeed it was, a subadult with discreet patches of white and a swollen crop – one fewer baby rabbit; never mind, there were plenty more where that one came from. Well, there goes another, in the clutches of a Buzzard.

Raptor hour was in full swing now, as several Griffon Vultures sailed high with Red and Black Kites, Marsh Harriers, Buzzards and the memory of the Eagle. We filled our own crops standing by the car with Calandra, Lesser Short-toed and Thekla Larks for company, watched a flock of sheep, and then decided that there was more to the rest of the day than criss-crossing the countryside and hoping for a sandgrouse or two.

And there was. At least 3 more Golden Eagles. But not just any old Golden Eagles. She was standing provocatively on that lonely rocky outcrop so what was he expected to do but fly out from the heights of the sierra, and go and do his willing duty? Mating, in other words. It was over in a moment, and then he flew back. I guess it was an itch that just had to be scratched.

Meanwhile, a juvenile Golden Eagle vied for our attention using rare proximity as its lure. On raised wings and even more raised tips it sailed along the line of the sierra, tilting one way, tilting the other, this is what binoculars were made for.

A visit to the polluted lake – industrial farming again – where once Black-necked Grebes bred and kept the wetlands nearer Lleida supplied with regular sightings of non-breeding birds. Alas, memories, mine and not everyone else’s, so sad, melancholy and politically correct anger, if such a thing exists. Still, Red Crested Pochards, Teal and the ubiquitous Mallard, made for the modern day it seems.

A fifth Golden Eagle on the drive back east, which may be a personal record for a single day. A quick detour to ward off the spectre of a last minute grouse – but those things are less important than they used to be. My fortune wasn’t riding on it, fortunately.

A final stop en-route and our first Hoopoe of the year, crest raised, singing, feeding, doing all the right things. Then to a brackish lagoon and a wader appetizer: Ruff, Golden Plover, Little Ringed Plover, Black-winged Stilt, Little Stint, Green Sandpiper. Some ducks. Home.

Any day with two Wallcreepers can’t be a bad day, can it?

Another winter waterbird count

Winter waterbirds

This has been going on for more than 20 years now…

Another winter waterbird count organized by the Agenda 21 team of the Lleida City Council. Guide: yours truly. Weather: cold! We started at around -5ºC, so it kind of felt like winter, and it was good to know that I still have all my cold weather gear under control: gloves with finger flaps, woolly hat and neck gaiter, thick socks…

counting winter waterbirds

Steve and Esther: Yeah, same as last year…

Well armed there were 10 of us who braved the cold. First stop was the little Teal haven at La Mitjana, where it seems that every winter more and more Eurasian Teal (in double figures) rub shoulders with floating plastic and reeds, together with Mallard and the odd Moorhen and Grey Wagtail.
From there we hastened to the pier by the River Segre, which is usually the tour de force of la Mitjana. This time though only a couple of Little Grebes, a few Moorhens, and 70 or so Mallards, all distant and through the telescope misting over rapidly in the combination of masks and cold air.

As we strolled through what Esther claims is the largest gallery woodland site in Catalonia it was good to hear the three local woodpeckers making themselves noted: the Iberian Green, the Great Spotted, and the now regular but still uncommon Lesser Spotted Woodpecker.

Winter waterbird count Lleida

Esther wins the prize for dynamic posing

The Bassa Gran was as empty as predicted, and we hastened the round past a couple of Great White Herons to reach the other wetland site, the Rufea wetlands, in good time. It was a relaxed stroll, with around 30 Grey Herons already staking out their nesting sites among the reedbed, a small number of Cormorants in the trees, 3 Marsh Harriers patrolling, Little Grebe, Coot, Moorhen, Mallard, a couple of sleepy Shoveler and 4 even sleepier (not sure they weren’t frozen!) unidentified ducks. We watched them for 15 minutes but not even a flicker from them. Shoveler! Gadwall? Teal, even? No, just couldn’t tell.

Enjoying the new observation tower at Rufea. At this stage maybe more chatting than observing. 

Then a little adventure crossing the new floating walkway, slightly frozen over. Up to the top of the new observation tower, and a good place to recap before finalizing the count with a Kingfisher calling somewhere out of view.

Places left on our summer 2022 Iceland Tour

Summer Iceland Tour

Birds. Waterfalls. Volcanoes. Seals. Whales. Landscapes. Lava. Nice people. Good company.

Humpback Whale

June 2022. A superb 9-day tour of the best of summer Iceland – thriving seabird colonies, long days, striking landscapes, seals and whales and maybe an Arctic Fox or two. Iceland is a welcoming country, and this tour is ideal for couples, as even the non-birding companion will be moved by the waterfalls, cliffs, glaciers, lakes, volcanoes and lava fields that make Iceland a very special destination.

Harlequin Ducks – Iceland, of course

Let’s be honest – the potential bird list is a limited one. However, Iceland is the only place in Europe where the birder can see both Harlequin Duck and Barrow’s Goldeneye, and must be the easiest place to see the Gyrfalcon too. Then there’s White-tailed Eagle, roadside Ptarmigans, Snow Buntings, agressive Arctic Terns, breeding Pink-footed Goose, Brunnich’s Guillemot, summer-plumaged Golden Plovers, Red-necked Phalaropes, Grey Phalaropes, Atlantic Puffins, Slavonian Grebes, divers and more Eiders than you can ever hope to count or to make into eiderdowns (sorry, couldn’t resist!)

So, summer birding in Iceland? Absolutely! For a relaxed, well-paced and very enjoyable tour. In good company. Ask us for more information by sending an e-mail.

UEA Lammergeier tour 1984

UEA Lammergeier Tour 1984

UEA Lammergeier tour 1984

UEA Lammergeier tour t-shirt 1984

It was early April 1984. We drove through France and as we approached the south it was just a little bit like travelling in time. In Britain it was still cold and grey, but in France we saw pink blossoming trees, we heard Chiffchaffs and then screeched to a roadside halt and, paying little heed to the angry shouts of French motorists, we watched a flock of migrating Black Kites heading north.

We reached the Spanish border in the Pyrenees and once past the intimidating border control guards we had a whole new playground full of wonders to explore. John spotted the first Egyptian Vulture from the van, virtually quoting the text from his new Lars Johnson identification guide to convince us that that indeed was what he had seen.

There are blank pages my memory has jumped, but I do remember that we saw a Lammergeier at Riglos, and also at San Juan de la Peña, and that my impression was that we had most of the vast and stunning countryside to ourselves. Why can’t I remember where the first Lammergeier was? Never mind… I have other things to consider, like, what did the Lammergeier mean to me then, and what does it mean now?

For one thing, nowadays I no longer see nor expect to see Lammergeier at Riglos nor, sadly, do I at San Juan de la Peña. That’s a shame, because Riglos and San Juan de la Peña are the most marvellous backdrops to a marvellous bird. It’s a powerful combination. It’s an explosive cocktail, shaken or stirred. Birders have the ability to make a place “theirs” through the memories of the birds they have seen there at some time in their own past. The bird and the place, or the combination of the two, become uniquely personalised. “This is where I saw my first Lammergeier, on a sunny morning in early spring, when the snow still capped the mountains on the horizon”; or “this is where I was a 20 year old on his first ever foreign birding trip – there were so many marvellous things to see and to share with my travel mates, who were just as impressionable as I was”.

I have to say that I remember San Juan de la Peña more for the Short-toed Eagles than the Lammergeier. As we watched them grappling talons and plummeting head over heels towards the valley floor way below it was the feeling of spring; the fresh sap rising through our veins, warming our extremities to our finger tips and stimulating parts of us we didn’t know could be stimulated until that moment (eh, think clean!).

I can be saddened by the loss of that youth if I let it happen; melancholy lingers in the trail of the Lammergeiers where I first saw them almost 40 years ago; there are too many thoughts and impulses which can blemish my memory of those moments. But change is inevitable. Accept that, and also accept that you have an ambitious vision, and very limited means. Don’t be disappointed by that; that’s a fact of life. Instead take heart that you still have something to live for, because living means struggling for something better, always something better. For you, for the birds, for anyone who cares.

Lammergeier, Gypaetus barbatus

Lammergeier, Gypaetus barbatus. Photo by Chris Schenk

Thankfully, the Lammergeier still thrives in these mountains, in other places maybe, but the bird which lives and flourishes in silence is still here. And now, thanks to the years that have passed, I know where to find another Lammergeier or two when I really need to.

UEA Lammergeier tour 1984

UEA Lammergeier tour t-shirt 1984

Wallcreeper wanderings

So, you want to see a Wallcreeper, eh?

The pressure is on again: will we see the Wallcreeper at the first attempt, at the first location? If not, how much time should we allocate to searching for it at the first site? Can we get there before the rock climbers take over? Then, when we decide to search another area, how long will it take to get there? What if that fails too? Can we get a third site in on the same day?
As a bird guide the pressure is always on before you see the bird that people really want to see. And the bird that people most often want to see is the Wallcreeper. Apart from that, there’s another affliction that’s endemic to looking for this bird: Wallcreeper neck. If you want to know how that feels trying standing at the base of a vertical cliff and stare upwards, to about 50 metres directly overhead for as long as you can. Then try some more, because you haven’t spotted the bird yet. Tried it? Now you know what Wallcreeper neck is!

Wallcreeper photography

Two fresh candidates for Wallcreeper neck

Over the past two decades I’ve spent many a day exposing myself to the hazards of searching for Wallcreepers which, in addition to the above include keeping one eye out for falling rocks, puffing and scrambling up steep slopes and gazing forlornly at miles and miles of limestone crags stretching across the horizon and wondering how many Wallcreepers there must have been picking their way across them in the time that I have been staring at one single rock face vainly hoping for a flash of those beautiful wings.

Looking for Wallcreepers

That’s a lot of rock!

Some will say that that’s the beauty of birding. You just never know what the birds are going to do, what exactly you’re going to see (or not). Yeah, OK, but for me just being there is like planting the seed which in itself is not deeply satisfying. When the bird suddenly appears though, your flowers have bloomed, and that is the true beauty of birding. You and the Wallcreeper are both there at the same time and the same place because you made a conscious decision to try and get another glimpse of the bird in its world, and the Wallcreeper decided to play along. Magic!

Another Wallcreeper Autumn

Wallcreeper magic

The magic of the Wallcreeper needs little introduction to most European birders. The Wallcreeper clings and flits about vertical walls and rock faces, probing its long downcurved bill into nooks and crannies to fish out insects, arachnids and other small invertebrates that form its diet. The Wallcreeper is a very active little bird, that tumbles and climbs, edges along, flits this way and that, and then with for no apparent reason departs with a fluttery, butterfly flight that takes it around the corner and out of your view. Follow it if you can – you can’t.

Wallcreeper, Tichodroma muraria

Wallcreeper on rocks

The Wallcreeper inspires awe and admiration in part because of where it is and what it does to be there, but even so the Wallcreeper wouldn’t be quite the prize that it is without its striking wing markings – those carmine panels and clean white wing spots on a nitid black background – and also, in the relative effort that it takes for the average birder to see one. Wallcreepers don’t grow on trees, and not even on rocks!

In northeast Spain Wallcreepers breed only in the Pyrenees and at altitudes which deter all but the most determined – and fit – to find them. Hence, it is our immense good luck that come the autumn Wallcreepers all but abandon their high mountain haunts and start frequenting places the average birder isn’t so challenged to get to. We have an opportunity to see one, now let’s not waste it!

November is the month I feel most confident about when an eager client approaches me with the request to see a Wallcreeper. Followed by February and March. Why? By November virtually all the Wallcreepers have left their high mountains and descended to rock faces at lower altitudes. To places in the Pre-Pyrenees of Lleida, Huesca and Zaragoza, where they might decide to stay until the food runs out in the depths of winter and it’s time to move on. Then, move on to where? Further south, to another range? Or just around another part of the rock face, somewhere away from prying birders? Either way, the following deep winter period of late December and January corresponds to a time when I find it difficult to predict how reliable the usual wintering sites will be at giving our hungry eyes a feast of the Wallcreeper.

Wallcreeper, Tichodroma muraria

wallcreeper on rocks

But November? November has been generous with its Wallcreepers over the years. And this year has been no exception. With Adam and Daniela we saw no fewer than 5 Wallcreepers in two days, with a maximum of four at one site. Then, in mid-December (I know, but I had my doubts) Eirik and I hit the Wallcreeper jackpot again, this time with 3 Wallcreepers at the same site as the November 4.

What’s more, Adam, Daniela and Eirik were all bird photographers, and it’s my personal belief that bird photographers are never happy with what they have got. “Oh, yes, but the light,” “the background could be better”, “too much contrast,” “not close enough,” “too far away” “I was hoping for an adult bird”… and a long etcetera. So if they all went away happy with their Wallcreeper shots we all must have done something right!

WHere the birds are in northeast Spain

Where the birds are in northeast Spain

Check out the itineraries on the Birding In Spain website to see some of the places where you can find the dazzling Wallcreeper. Or go one step further and buy the book “Where the birds are in northeast Spain“. Or go for the ultimate time saver: ask us to lead you to a Wallcreeper or two in person. Fortunately the Wallcreeper still frequents most of the sites described therein. Then stay here for more to follow on this marvellous bird …

Welcome back to Birding In Spain

In mid-March 2020 we said goodbye to Vreni and her husband after birding together from Lleida for four days. Two days later all of Spain was under strict lockdown. Vreni was our last client for a period that extended to over a year and a half. Then, this October, we started guiding again, and who was our first guest? Yes, Vreni!

She was here for just two days this time, but it was so good to re-establish contact with our visitors and to be able to share time with them in the field. It was the most satisfying birding we’d done in a long time … at least in the last 18 months.

And the birds? Well, there’s usually a surprise or two… This time it came in the form of a Black Stork among a group of White Storks along the River Segre near Lleida, and an adult Spanish Imperial Eagle on the drylands of Alfés. 

Black Stork with some White friends
Vreni and Steve
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