Birding in Spain: Spot the Red-necked Nightjar!

This photo of a Red-necked Nightjar Caprimulgus ruficollis was taken somewhere in Spain. It doesn’t matter where right now, the job in hand is to actually spot the bird! In which square is the Red-necked Nightjar?

Spot the Red-necked Nightjar in Spain!

Good luck, because spotting a Red-necked Nightjar in such a low resoultion photo is almost as difficult as spotting the bird during the daytime in real life!

Recommended accommodation for birding in the Pyrenees

Anyone birding the Spanish Pyrenees should know what part of the mountains he or she will be birding: Navarra, Aragon or Catalonia? This apparently simplistic approach will help the birder choose the most suitable accommodation for his birding trip to the Pyrenees.

In other words, driving is not birding. If you are interested in getting to grips with the birds of the Pyrenees then look for rural accommodation in a valley where you can see most or all of the birds you are interested in. Otherwise choose a home base which is well situated for access to several birding sites in the Pyrenees.

My first birding trip abroad was to the Spanish Pyrenees, way back in the spring of 1983 (25 years already! Aaggh!). I was an ecology student on a shoestring budget and my now aching bones then made no complaints about sleeping in the minibus, tucked inside my sleeping bag on the dewy grass, on the tiled floor of a campsite shower-room, etc.

Luckily my personal finances have improved and in some way compensate for the deterioration in my physical and mental resistance to those conditions that I would no longer be willing to put up with! I can now afford to stay in hotels with beds, clean linen and showers and all that. I can even choose which kind of accommodation most suits my needs!

I also ended up living in northeast Spain, just a little to the south of the Pyrenees. And leading and designing bird tours, establishing birding itineraries and choosing the most suitable birding accommodation for my birding groups.

That’s why I feel qualified to give birders advice about birding accommodation in the Spanish Pyrenees. Firstly, look at the sites and itineraries section and decide what part of the Pyrenees you want to visit (probably dictated by birds and travel plans).

Want to see the White-backed Woodpecker? You have to go to Iratí in Navarra, and so why stay 100 kilometres away? Slow down, take it easy, enjoy the scenery and the birds and follow the accommodation links on the same page as the place you want to be birding.

If you’re dead keen on seeing the Wallcreeper then you’d probably choose the Hecho Valley. If so why stay in Jaca when you can stay in the Hecho Valley itself? Get out of the car! Walk! Breathe some fresh air, and stay at a local hotel in the Pyrenees themselves and not on the plains!

Do you want accommodation in the best part of the Pyrenees for Lammergeier? Look at the accommodation near the village of Aínsa in the Ordesa and Aínsa – Gistaín sections.

Are you planning a visit to the Catalan Pyrenees? Then your accommodation is waiting for you to find it in the Aigüestortes west and east itineraries. recommended accommodation is there to help you make the right choice, because we know how important your birding holiday is.

Dupont’s Lark in Spain: an uncertain future?

I stood on the edge of the aerodrome at Alfés, Catalonia, feeling slightly opressed by the growing darkness and the chill spring air. A dog was barking somewhere in the distance, but I couldn’t say where or how far. The noise of traffic was a soft but constant throb.

A few minutes of impatient vigil bore their fruit: a soft, mournful whistle rising and falling came to my ears. Tu-u-ee, wee-i-oo. The Dupont’s Lark. The enigmatic Dupont’s Lark singing and establishing its territory at the only known site left to the species in the whole of Catalonia.

That was several years ago now, and if my memory doesn’t fail me it was also the last time I heard the Dupont’s Lark at Alfés. In all probability it was the very last time I would ever hear the Dupont’s Lark in Catalunya. Two years ago field researchers revealed that the Dupont’s Lark was no longer breeding at Alfés. In other words it had become extinct in Catalonia.

Some local media sources spread the news with effusive, unrestrained joy. Now the small band of diehard ecologists in Lleida had one less argument to support the need for protection of the Alfés thyme fields.

Luckily, the Dupont’s Lark still breeds elsewhere in Spain. The species even has its “own” reserve at Belchite in Aragón, purchased by the Sociedad Española de Ornitología. There are also scattered populations of Dupont’s Lark in other parts of Aragón, in Guadalajara, in Almería…However, recent research has revealed gloomy findings: the population levels quoted in many sources a few years earlier were serious overestimates of the Dupont’s Lark’s real population. In reality there were probably fewer than a quarter of the previously quoted total actually living in Spain.

One February evening this year I sat inside my car, waiting for the growing darkness to spread its hold on the thyme fields of Alfés. I had my windows wound down, I could hear a Calandra Lark jingling restrainedly to itself. I waited a while and listened. I didn’t hear a Dupont’s Lark. More than likely it would have been a little too early in the season, even if the species had not disappeared from Catalonia forever.

Recommended accommodation when birding in the Ebro delta

SO you’re planning a birding trip or bird tour to the Ebro Delta and you’ve been searching the internet for some suitable accommodation?

You’re looking for en-suite rooms, in a clean, attractive, well-kept and efficiently run establishment, close to where the birds are?

Something with local character, as long as you don’t have to pay through the nose for it?

Somewhere with a relaxed atmosphere and in attractive settings?

What took you so long to find us? has been showing fellow birders around northeast Spain (Catalonia and Aragon) since 1996 and has enough experience of hotels to know which establishments offering accommodation are the ones that birders would choose if they knew about them.

If you look at the Ebro Delta itineraries on the website you’ll see our two choices for this great birding hotspot: the Delta Hotel and Lo Moli de Rosquilles.

The Delta Hotel is a family-run, single storey 3-star hotel on the northern side of the River Ebro. It’s ideal accommodation for birders with families (pool, lounge, nice grounds etc. – we stayed there with our kids in August 2006) and also for those who are keen to start birding within a short distance of the hotel. They also serve excellent fish and seafood-based local dishes (my wife’s favourite is the black rice).

Lo Moli de Rosquilles is not in the delta itself, but is ideally situated for birding both the Ebro Delta and els Ports massif (an unbeatable combination of birds and scenery). It’s rural accommodation at its best, its heart being a restored olive mill. If you’re birding, but also have a soft spot for local tradition and history, then this is the place for you.

Inland, a 45-minute drive more or less from the northern half of the Ebro Delta, is the Casa Ecológica in the remote and peaceful village of La Fatarella. It’s more of a hostal than a hotel, which makes it a more economical proposal for those who have to keep an eye on what they’re spending, although there are also 6 twin or double rooms available for more personal or intimate accommodation. The building is made of the local stone, and Black Wheatears can be found just down the road!

But don’t take my word for it, have a look for yourself.

Birding is popular among the famous


” Do be do be do ” Frank Sinatra, dumbstruck, after having stumbled across a mind-shattering rarity.

” Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo ? ” Juliet, desperately hoping that her boyfriend Romeo would return before the Rose Breasted Grosbeak that was hopping around in a bush only metres away (and that her loved one had trekked off 4 miles away to the headland to try and find) disappeared.

” We are not amused ” Queen Victoria on being regretfully informed that hers was not the biggest life list in the British Empire.

” We’ll find them on the beaches ” W.Churchill predicting an auk wreck on the east coast.

” I don’t remember ” R.Reagan when asked to describe the characteristics of the bird which he had claimed as the first Blue Rock Thrush for the American Continent.

” You’ve never had it so good ” Harold Macmillan addressing the nation’s birdwatchers to assert that it had been one of the best years on record for Nearctic passerines.

” To be or not to be, that is the question ” Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, deeply affected by his 15th successive dip. Wishing to avoid exposure to the ridicule of his birdwatching colleagues, he is caught up in an existentialist debate.

Birding the Ebro Delta: rarely what the birder imagines it to be

The prime wetland site on the coast of Catalonia (Catalunya), and perhaps the most sizzling birding hotspot in northeast Spain, is the Ebro Delta.

I’m sure it wouldn’t take me long to find the official statistics to inform those drawing up plans for a birding trip to the Ebro Delta, something like:

“The Ebro Delta covers an area of x km2, and has a human population of y,000. The Natural Park of the Ebro Delta includes z protected areas, totalling x hectares. y species of bird have been recorded in and around the Ebro Delta”

Very interesting, but that’s not my style anymore. However, one of the first things I would say to anyone thinking of a birding trip to the Ebro Delta would be “Do it. You won’t regret it, even though you should be prepared for a surprise or two.” And those surprises take on all kinds of forms. If you think the Ebro Delta is one giant unbroken nature reserve with turtles scuttling on the beaches and crocodiles sunning themselves on the banks of the rivers, then you are certainly in for a surprise.

The possibilities for birding offered by the Ebro Delta are never quite exhausted, as I can testify. My first visit here was in 1990, and since then I have made regular visits leading bird tours or to satisfy my own birding needs. In the early days a real danger was getting lost. Then came the realization that mosquitoes not only thrived in the summer but also seemed to survive well into the winter. In October birders have to try and bird the Ebro Delta while coexisting with hordes of hunters.

But then come the pleasant surprises: a short seawatch turns into a spectacle as you spot hundreds or even thousands of Balearic Shearwaters plying the waves at a short distance from the shore; a winter visit to the Alfacs bay produces three species of divers on mirror-like waters; you chance on a spring day where hundreds of migrant passerines are piling up in the few available bushes along the shoreline; a Short-eared Owl jumps up silently from almost under your feet; a strange gull flies over your head and you look more closely and see that it’s a Caspian Tern.

Those are the surprises that birders like best. And something similar could happen to you while birding in the Ebro Delta, in northeast Spain.

Birding accommodation in Spain: make it rural!

Birders planning a trip to Spain, either to northeast Spain or elsewhere in this large and varied country, don’t only want to know where the most interesting birds are, ie. the best birding sites, but also where to stay when they are looking for the birds.

If planning a birding trip to northeast Spain then the whereabouts of those most wanted birds are well explained in “Where the birds are in northeast Spain”. Now you have knowledge of the birds, but what’s the next step? Well, choose which birding site or area is most suitable for you and then look for some suitable accommodation. But what kind of accommodation (by the way accommodation is spelt with two c’s and two m’s, and not “accomodation”)?

I often receive or see requests from foreign birders about suitable campsites, or else on trip reports read how the group stayed in a hotel in the middle of this city or town or another. My experience of birding in Spain, and tour leading too, tells me that these birders are looking in the wrong direction.

Most interesting birds are in rural areas. So why stay in a city? The traffic, the hassle of finding the hotel, the surroundings…you usually can’t just get up in the morning and start birding around the hotel grounds if you are staying in a city hotel. I’ll admit some of these establishments can be quite plush, adding however that most of them lack in local character. They don’t give you a feeling for the place you are visiting.

Campsites? OK for students on a tight budget, is that what you are?

So for me the best birding hotel in Spain is a small rural hotel, within easy reach of the sites you want to bird, with charm and character, and at a price that is usually very affordable. If you bird with Swarovskis or Leicas then why are you looking for campsites?

If you don’t know how to find these small rural hotels, the recommended accommodation for birders coming to northeast Spain, then obviously you haven’t seen or paid attention to the recommended accommodation on the web page. Of course you are free to ignore this advice – after all it’s your holiday (and your pocket).

Birding in Catalonia – Part 2

… (continued)
Rocky headlands or massifs like Cap de Creus, the Serra de Montgrí, Garraf and the Ports de Beseit are within the coast-hugger`s easy reach, and may complement the visitor`s list with the likes of Bonelli`s Eagle, Pallid Swift, Black Wheatear, Orphean Warbler, Blue Rock Thrush or the more localised Ortolan Bunting or Red-rumped Swallow.
If we head inland following the course of the Ebro we will get to the Ebro Valley steppes, remainders of which still survive within the confines of Catalonia in the vicinity of the city of Lleida. Open flat terrain in this dry area with a continental type climate is home to Catalonia`s last Black-bellied and Pin-tailed Sandgrouse, Little Bustard (at surprisingly high densities), 6 species of lark, Montagu`s Harrier, Lesser Kestrel, Roller, Red-necked Nightjar, Great Spotted Cuckoo, Stone Curlew, etc. This is also the last stronghold of the Lesser Grey Shrike in the whole of Spain.

At barely an hour`s drive to the north of Lleida we will reach Montsec, a fine and impressive example of a pre-Pyrenean range with Griffon Vultures, Lammergeiers, Rock Thrush, Tawny Pipit and Ortolan Bunting among others. Like its cousin Boumort, this is a largely depopulated area which the unwary tourist will usually pass by in a rush to reach the high Pyrenees – don`t be an unwary tourist!
Nevertheless, the Catalan high Pyrenees are a worthy attraction, holding all the species that can be seen in the Pyrenees of neighbouring Aragón, some scarcer, some more common. Although finding a Snowfinch here in the breeding season is a real challenge, other species such as Capercaillie, Tengmalm`s Owl, Ptarmigan and Citril Finch are more numerous here than further west. In the Val d`Aran, the only Spanish valley with an Atlantic watershed, breeding Middle-spotted, Lesser-spotted and Black Woodpeckers are worthy of note. Plan a visit to the beautiful Aigüestortes National Park, the Serra del Cadí or the Núria Valley to see other mountain specialities such as Wallcreeper, Alpine Accentor, Lammergeier, Alpine Chough or Ring Ouzel. And don`t forget to relax now and then and smell the flowers!

Birding in the Pyrenees

The Spanish Pyrenees stretch from west to east from Navarra, through Aragon and on to the northeast corner of Catalonia.

Birding in the high Pyrenees of Aragon

Approaching from the Bay of Biscay the Pyrenees rise gently but steadily in Navarra to Orhi, the first 2,000 m peak near the region’s eastern border with Aragón. Navarra’s beechwoods and mixed forests are home to White-backed Woodpecker and Black Woodpecker, while the high sierras and mountain passes are the migratory flyways of birds of prey, cranes and other species. Navarra also has some spectacular gorges and the westernmost populations of Lammergeier, Snow Finch and Citril Finch in the Pyrenees.

Aragón is the wildest and perhaps most spectacular part of the Spanish Pyrenees. It can lay claim to Spain’s first and one of its finest National Parks, Ordesa, and many unspoilt tracts of high mountain. Birding the Pyrenees of Aragon is a delight for the large numbers of birds of prey, especially Lammergeier, Egyptian Vulture, Golden Eagle and Booted Eagle, and for it having some of the more accessible areas with high mountain species like Alpine Accentor, Wallcreeper and Snow Finch.

The Natural Park of Cadí in the Pyrenees of Catalonia

Capercaillie, Ptarmigan, Tengmalm’s Owl, Citril Finch, and Black Woodpecker are all species that can be less difficult to see when birding in the Pyrenees of Catalonia than in those further west. Catalonia also has its National Park, Aigüestortes, a land of lakes, peaks and black pine forests. The natural park of Cadí-Moixeró is one of the easternmost points of interest for the visiting birder, who with some luck can find a good variety of the mountain specialities, perhaps even a Wallcreeper.

Griffon Vultures vs Bonelli’s Eagles in els Ports, Catalonia

Recently I went to els Ports (Beseit/Tortosa) in Catalonia to do a Common Bird Census which I have been doing for the last 5 years or so for the Institut Català d’Ornitologia. It’s a wonderfully scenic 3 km transect following the course of a river gorge. Birds are not that abundant in the gorge itself although the surrounding olive groves and pine woods make up for that. Usual species include Firecrest (also Goldcrest in the winter), Coal Tit, Bonelli’s Warbler (summer), Sardinian Warbler, Blue Rock Thrush and more. For the last two transects I’ve seen a Peregrine Falcon sitting in exactly the same place, the ever-radiant Kingfisher and a dozen or so Griffon Vultures.

What I haven’t seen for the last couple of years is the Bonelli’s Eagle. Now that’s a surprise and a shame because a territorial pair has one of its known nests in view of my transect, and 2 years ago these birds used to offer wonderful views of synchronised flying in the breeding season. Last year I scanned the area around their nest but only saw two Griffon Vultures. The same happened yesterday.

It’s a known fact that the recent recovery of Griffon Vultures has been to the detriment of Bonelli’s Eagles in some places where the two species coincide. The Griffon Vultures oust the Bonelli’s Eagles and take over their nests. Apparently the same has happened, for example in Extremadura, with Golden Eagles ousting the Bonelli’s Eagles too.

This is not meant as a harangue against Griffon Vultures. Bonelli’s Eagles (less than 750 pairs in Spain of 1,000 in all of Europe) are under threat from other sources which have a greater impact on their populations than competition from other birds of prey: electrocution, habitat fragmentation and loss, shooting and disturbance.

But it does annoy me that I can no longer enjoy the double treat of the scenery of els Ports and the spectacle of Bonelli’s Eagles.

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