Now Birding in Spain sounds great!

As of December 2007 the website has incorporated a range of wonderful natural sounds to many of its most outstanding birding itineraries of northeast Spain. Thanks to a generous understanding with Eloïsa Matheu, the creator of Alosa – Sonidos de la Naturaleza, you can now read the birding itineraries, and look at the maps and photos while you listen to real sounds of nature.

The different ambients reproduced are representative of high mountain, Mediterranean scrubland, rocky gorges, coastal wetlands, woodland and steppes. Gallocanta has its own particular sound. We suggest that you go to the website and listen to them now, and that you then visit the Alosa website to find out more about these recordings and the many others that are on offer.

Birder’s Library Review of “Flying over the Pyrenees…”

There’s nothing like a bit of self-promotion for inviting the critics to have their say. Especially those who have never had to lift a finger for themselves.

Flying over the pyrenees standing on the plains

Well, all you indolent nit-pickers, now’s your chance, as I’m going to mention two independent reviews that treat my last book “Flying over the Pyrenees, standing on the plains” in a most favourable light.

First of all is the Birder’s Library:

“…along the way we get glimpses into the author’s past, insight into our shared pastime, and information about Spanish birds, history, and culture.”

“…much of what he shares will resonate with all birders, no matter how old they are, or where they are from.”

To summarise all the good things that Grant McCreary says about “Flying over the Pyrenees…”

“Simply put, this book was a delight.”

“This is highly recommended to anyone who can get their hands on a copy.”

The original article can be seen at this link.

Colin Wright from Subbuteo Natural History Books reviewed the book in August and liked it so much that “Flying over the Pyrenees, standing on the plains” was made their “book of the month” in September 2007. Here is how Colin concludes his appraisal:

“This is an ideal book for the bedside, a wet day on holiday or whilst travelling, especially if you are heading for Spain. …Steve’s infectious enthusiasm for the birds will draw you towards this sometimes overlooked part of Spain.”

If you want to see Colin Wright’s full review follow this link.

Details about the book in question can be seen in the books section of the website, or at it’s own special website

Get it in time for Christmas!

The Catalan Pyrenees with and Naturetrek

For the third year running Naturetrek are offering their excellent and well-researched trip to the Catalan Pyrenees. How could it be otherwise, seeing that they are relying on the intimate knowledge and expertise of to show their clients the very best of the region?

Highlights of the May 2007 tour are rather too numerous to describe here, but can be seen in detail in the trip report which is accessible at the following link:


We aim to repeat everything that made it a winning formula: the hotels, the sites and itineraries, and some wonderful encounters with an incredibly varied birdlife. Hopefully good weather will also be the name of the day!

Walking with Naturetrek in Montsec

For more details and the trip report click on the link above.

Put birding in Spain on the tourism map

This is a call from to all fellow birders who may be planning a birding trip to Spain, not just northeast Spain, but anywhere in this bird-rich country.

Go birding and be seen. Bird and be proud, and in so doing give native Spaniards a little insight as to why you are in their country. “I’m here for the birds” is a valid statement, above all when they can see that you are a paying guest. And that the country’s natural heritage has value and pulling power.

If hoteliers, hire companies, shopkeepers and farmers can see you enjoying wildlife and in a way that may bring them some benefit without doing any harm to the environment, then your visit will have had a positive impact. Some of them may start to regard the steppes, mountains and wetlands that you visit as positive assets, as something worth protecting.

That doesn’t mean that you should blow trumpets when you arrive. Or wave huge flags from your hotel balcony. There are other more subtle but effective ways of being seen birding:

(i) Carry binoculars with you to hotel receptions, shops, restaurants etc.

(ii) If approached by curious onlookers, be polite. Explain what you are doing with the bird guide, gestures and even a little Spanish (or Catalan if in Catalonia).

“I’m watching birds”

= Spanish: “Estoy mirando pájaros” (es-toy-meer-an-do-pa-har-ohs)

= Catalan: “Estic mirant ocells” (es-tick-meer-an-oh-seylls)

(iii) Take some bird-related stickers with you and give them to hoteliers and the like. Or stick them on your car (not on rental cars though!)

(iv) If going to a very bird-oriented destination, such as a hotel near Belchite or the Ebro Delta you could even try to establish a birder’s logbook in the hotel. Take one or two with you and try it out.

Happy Birding!

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.

A birder’s view of … Faió and the River Ebro.

It could be said that the village of Faió is twice hidden. Once when the construction of the Riba-Roja reservoir flooded the old village, which was relocated on higher ground nearby. And twice, even now in the 21st Century, when the solitude of the village is pierced more by the River Ebro than by the winding roads that lead to it.

A distant view of part of the old village of Faió half emerged in the River Ebro

This is a part of northeast Spain that is ideal for those who like birding at their own pace. Stop now and then to admire the lonely hermitages, bee-eaters, rocky crags perhaps inhabited by the Blue Rock Thrush or a shy pair of Black Wheatears.

Stroll among the scented pinewoods listening to Bonelli’s Warblers, Sardinian Warblers and Crested Tits, stand on top of a breezy hill to watch for the Short-toed Eagle, the Griffon Vulture, and maybe even a Golden Eagle. Then approach vertical riverside cliffs, domain of Peregrine Falcons, Alpine Swifts, Egyptian Vultures and more.

This was a site of intense fighting during the Spanish Civil War. Faió was an important piece of the aptly named Battle of the Ebro. It’s hard to believe that such a tranquil setting could have had such a turbulent 20th Century.

A birder’s view of … the Monegros.

The Monegros, Ebro Valley. The most arid part of northern Spain.

Birding in the Monegros, a haven for steppeland birds.

This is still one of the best birding areas in northeast Spain for dryland, or steppeland, birds. Calandra larks, Lesser Short Toed larks, Short Toed larks, Lesser kestrels, Black-bellied Sandgrouse, Little Bustard and even a relict population of Great Bustard inhabit this seemingly barren landscape.

Alas, apart from birders and a handful of naturalists, the Monegros are unloved. Most decision-makers would rather see thousands of hectares of transgenic maize, or better still, something like “Las VegasII” – a 2,000 ha leisure complex  with 32 hotels, golf courses, all in the middle of the semi-desert.

And they say the wildlife won’t be affected.

About giving up birding – part 2

So heed the warning all you would-be convertees! A pair of binoculars is not a toy – it’s a life-long companion. However, for those still intent on giving up in spite of all the good advice, here are some suggestions:

Don’t do it. Life’s too short. You only have one innings. You’ll regret it. Stop.

Find something else you’re reasonably good at and convert it into a profitable activity. This suggestion is only really suitable for a very select few, as 99% of birders are no good at anything at all other than birding, and many of them not even at that.

Write a book or set up a web page about birds. That’s probably the gentlest way of reducing your real birding activity to almost nothing. Something about “when it becomes a chore…”, or “I spend so much time writing about them that I rarely have enough time…” etc.

Sell the car, move to a remote farmstead on Exmoor and become self-sufficient, or set up a basket-making cottage industry.

DO NOT take up train-spotting as a substitute activity.

Any further suggestions would be welcomed.

About giving up birding – part 1

Have you ever been under pressure from the loved one to stop birding and dedicate yourself to something more productive?

If so, here are some reflections on the matter…


So the long-suffering wife has apparently reaped her due rewards and converted her one-time birding companion into a fine, upstanding member of society; someone to be the father of her children; someone who, when’s she’s entertaining guests, isn’t afflicted by an overriding urge to sneak away now and then in the hope of adding to the bedroom window list or to puzzle over the “Monthly Marathon” in the British Birds magazine.

But how long can this state of affairs last? One year? Five? Ten? Sadly, statistics show that a converted birder’s return to the bosom of the birding world is a proven fact – there is almost the same possibility of a Willow Warbler not turning up somewhere on the south coast of England during spring migration as there is of a convert not picking up his binoculars ever again. To quote Keith, a fellow birder who I once coincided with at Dungeness, Kent “Birding’s in the blood”.

This, in my view, just about sums it up: birding is not a pleasant Sunday afternoon pursuit, a gentleman’s sport or a passing fad; it’s a totally addictive obsession, which once tried can never be entirely forgotten. You can leave it for a while but never for good. I myself have tried on several occasions, exclaiming things like “I really am giving up birding”, “After all, what’s the point of it?” or “It’s a waste of time”. And with what results? Just a flippin’ huge gap in my Norfolk list where Rhodostethia rosea should be. Aaaaaaaaaaagh! A beautiful summer-plumaged Ross’s Gull at Cley all afternoon! And I refused to go! And to think all I did was gaze out of the library window at panting dogs and student couples (also panting)! – 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”.

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