Arxiu de la categoria: Species

Red-footed Falcon & Icterine Warbler influx in Catalonia

Between 15th May and 25th May we have had a huge influx of both Red-footed Falcons and Icterine Warblers in Catalonia. Both species are scarce migratory birds in spring, mainly in mid May. Influxes of both species are likely to occur when West winds dominate the Mediterranean, diverting some birds from their natural migratory routes throughout Italy.

Still, these days we haven’t had any special West winds in the Mediterranean but a rather dominant North wind that has been unusually strong, specially in mid spring.

Red-footed Falcon & Icterine Warbler irruption

The different Ornitho networks have ellaborated these maps showing the influx of both RF Falcons & Icterine Warblers. Source: ornitho.cat

Numbers of Red-footed Falcon kept more or less into normal parameters until 15th May, when some big flocks started to appeared in the country, especially in the North (near the French border) and in the West (steppe lands). Still, after 17th some really big flocks have been recorded in the steppes (over 100 individuals in Plans de Sió, Lleida) and several individuals and even small flocks have been recorded out of the normal localities for them (Llobregat Delta and other localities around Barcelona itself).

At the same time, a big influx of Icterine Warbler was noticable from 19th May, with tens of individuals singing along the Catalan coast, many of them inside Barcelona itself (over 16 males singing in Motnjuïc in 20th May) and Llobregat Delta (>6 males) as well as other localities around. Still yesterday a minimum of 3 males where singing in one of the Llobregat Delta Natural Reserves, allowing wonderful sights of the birds!

Icterine Warbler

Icterine Warbler (Hippolais icterina) at Montjuïc. Image: Daniel Roca

2015 Spain Bird Race, Barcelona Birding Point takes part!

For all those who don’t know so much about. The Bird Race or Big Day is a kind of competition where different teams of birdwatchers try to spot as much species as possible whitin 24 hours. This kind of competition is very popular in Catalonia, involving several teams, some of them including excellent, long experienced birdwatchers. The course is organized by the Catalan office of the SEO (Spanish RSPB equivalent), deciding the dates to participate (normally you can choose among two different week ends) as well as managing the datas.

The past 2nd May Carles Oliver, main birding guide in Barcelona Birding Point, participated in this race along with Victor Sanz and Eva Galofré. We all were the members of the Cames Llargues Team (Cames Llargues is the Catalan name of the Black-winged Stilt).

We scored 175 species of birds and got 4th position in Spain, 3rd in Catalonia! This is the resume of a wonderful birding day:

Far before the raising all the members of the team met in Barcelona. Right beside the city we had our first spot in an area of open land and pine woods. Here we had our first birds of the trip: Tawny Owl, Scops Owl, European Nightjar, Nightingale and Cetti’s Warbler.

After this short first stop we drove up to the Pyrenees. Until about 8:00am we visited some spots in a  shire called Cerdanya. Here the landscape of open farm lands and small woodlands allowed us to spot a long list of birds including Wryneck, Iberian Green Woodpecker, Southern Iberian Shrike, Tree Pipit, Western Bonelli’s Warbler, Skylark, Dunnock, Woodlark, Quail, Blackcap, Little Grebe, Cirl Bunting, Mistle Thrush, White Wagtail, Iberian Yellow Wagtail, Northern Wheatear, Great Tit, Blue Tit, Short-toed Treecreeper, Rock Sparrow, Egyptian Vulture, Black Redstart, Red Kite and Griffon Vulture among other.

Montagu's Harrier (Circus pygargus) male. A locally common species in Lleida Steppes. Photo: Carles Oliver

Montagu’s Harrier (Circus pygargus) male. We got 2 individuals, male & female in our participation in the 2015 Spain Bird Race. Image: Carles Oliver

We were really early morning but still had to look for a long list of species up in the mountains. We drove by a small lane leading us to the grass lands in the top of the mountains, over 2000 metres. Here we could add several species to our list including Golden Eagle, Alpine & Red-billed Choughs, Citril Finch, Raven, Common Rock Thrush, Firecrest, Goldcrest, Tawny Pipit, Water Pipit, Rock Bunting, Common Crossbill, Common Treecreeper, Chiffchaff, Dipper, Subalpine Warbler, Crag Martin, Crested Tit, Coal Tit and Stonechat among other species.

About 10:00am we started to move towards Ebro Delta. In the way down from the mountains we still could spot Alpine Swift, Monk Parakeet and Turtle Dove. We arrived to Ebro Delta about 12:20. Our first stop was to spot a Purple Sandpiper that has been wintering inside a town from December (not a regular bird at all in Catalonia). Then, we drove inside the wetlands to spot several waders including Collared Pratincole, Kentish Plover, Great Ringed Plover, Black-winged Stilt, Greenshank, Redshank, Dunlin, Little Stint, Curlew Sandpiper, Turnstone, Bar-tailed Godwit and Grey Plover. Squacco Heron, Grey Heron, Great Cormorant, Red-crested Pochard, Gadwall, Greater Flamingo, Glossy Ibis and Red-throated Pipit were also easily added to our list along with Little, Sandwich, Gull-billed, Common & Whiskered Terns. Audouin’s, Slender-billed, Black-headed & Mediterranean Gulls also appeared! A good stop in l’Alfacada provided us with Pied Avocet, Great Reed Warbler, Sedge Warbler, Purple Swamphen, Garden Warbler, Zitting Cisticola, Willow Warbler and Moussier’s Redstart!! Moussier’s Redstart is a rarity in Catalonia. This individual (a male) was the second record for the country and was found three days before for a birding trip from the USA.

Moussier's Redstart at Ebro Delta, 2nd record for Catalonia. Image: Victor Sanz

Moussier’s Redstart at Ebro Delta, 2nd record for Catalonia. Image: Victor Sanz

We were quite satisfied with our visit to Ebro Delta. Still, we would like to be longer as we were missing some birds but the timing was hard and we had to leave to Los Monegros steppe land. At 17:20 we were arriving there and soon we got some birds to add to our list. Little Ringed Plover, Honey Buzzard, Stock Dove, Black Kite and Melodious Warbler. In the plains, a selection of stops allowed us to spot Blue Rock Thrush, Black Wheatear, Little Owl, Western Orphean Warbler, Spectacled Warbler, Dartford Warbler, Lesser Kestrel, Short-toed Lark, Lesser Short-toed Lark, Calandra Lark, Thekla Lark, Crested Lark and Dupont’s Lark. Great Spotted Cuckoo, Pin-tailed Sandgrouse, Bee-eater, Hoopoe, Black-eared Wheatear, Short-toed Eagle and Montagu’s Harrier were added in a final stop in the steppes. We were leaving the steppes about 20:00pm.

Afterthat we drove the short distance until Candasnos lagoon. Here we could add some more birds such as Purple Heron, Little Bittern, Great Crested Grebe and Common Pochard. Still, we were disapointed about this location as we were expecting to find some Black-necked Grebe…

It was also the moment to eat something and to take energy for the very final spot. We drove for 30 minutes until Zaidín, a small village in the Catalan border. It was already dark and we were really tired. Still, only 5 minutes were necesssary to add Red-necked Nightjar, Barn Owl and Long-eared Owl to our day account!

Red-necked Nightjar

Red-necked Nightjars (Caprimulgus ruficollis) was one of the last birds to be detected for the team this year.

It was the moment to come back to Barcelona. We were arriving to the city at 00:20, absolutely tired but really satisfied for the amount of species we had along the day. 175 species is a wonderful success. We are already thinking how to improve the 2016 issue!

Some of the species we have to work to add them in next years include: Nuthatch, Lammergeier (appearing in 2014), Red-backed Shrike, Yellowhammer (appearing in 2014), Common Waxbill, Peregrine Falcon, Hooby, Black Woodpecker, Mute Swan, Bullfinch, Night Heron & Penduline Tit among other.

Next year, more information about this awesome bird race!!

Catalonia-Pyrenees Grand Tour, 2014 Trip Report

DATES: 4th to 11th, May 2014

NUMBER OF PARTICIPANTS: 7 costumers + 2 guides

SPECIES OF BIRDS: 196

Our 2014 Catalonia Grand Tour issue enjoyed a really good weather and a really wonderful birding was possible in all main locations. These lines will be an approach of what we got those days.

Day 1. Cadí-Moixeró Natural Park. After the arrival of all costumers to Barcelona International Airport the two cars involved in the tour left the facilities. This first day (afternoon as costumers were arriving 14:00pm) we drove directly to Cadí-Moixeró Natural Park, placed right in the centre of Catalan Pyrenees.

We arrived to the alpine forests at an altitude of 1.950 metres about 17:00pm and the really first bird we could spot around was a 2nd year male of Ring Ouzel (Turdus torquatus). A good spot that was just the beginning of a wonde range of good birds. Walking a little bit around our cars was easy to find a gorgeous male of Rock Bunting (Emberiza cia) singing on a branch as well as some Common Crosbills (Loxia curvirostra) feeding on Mountain Pines (Pinus uncinata). This area of open high mountain forest provided also good views on Mistle Thrush (Turdus viscivorus), Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs), Crested Tit (Lophophanes cristatus) and Coal Tit (Periparus ater).

Rock Bunting

Rock Bunting (Emberiza cia), a widespread breeder in the Pyrenees.

The ambient around was fresh and clear and as we walked along the lane some other birds were also appearing: Black Redstarts (Phoenicurus ochruros), Blackbird (Turdus merula) & Hedge Sparrows (Prunella modularis). A small flock of Red-billed Choughs (Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax) flew over us while Linnets (Carduelis cannabina) constantly moved around in small flocks.

Some raptors were moving in the sky: impressive Griffon Vultures (Gyps fulvus), a small Eurasian Sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus) and a pair of Honey Buzzards (Pernis apivorus), perhaps in migration to Northern nesting sites, but may be some of the pairs nesting around. Over a slope, the unmistakable shape of 3 Bearded Vultures (Gypaetos barbatus) appeared to us as a wonderful view. All 3 birds were flying really slowly, taking advantage of the small termals over the grassy slope and then soaring over the grass lands in its typical and ellegant flight. The first sight on “Lamm” of the tour could not be better!

Other birds were appearing as walking the small lane: Stonechat (Saxicola torquatus), European Serin (Serinus serinus), Northern Wheatears (Oenanthe oenanthe). Several songbirds were still singing in the canopies around: Goldcrest (Regulus regulus), Short-toed Treecreeper (Certhia brachydactyla), Woodlark (Lullula arborea) while the unmistakable voice of one Black Woodpecker (Dryocopus martius) arrived to us from the valley.

All the group was happy with this very first contact of the Pyrenees and the good sights on some of the most characterystic of its wildlife. After such a good sensations we came back to the hotel to enjoy a home-made dinner and a wonderful sleep time. However, in the way back we still spot Eurasian Jay (Garrulus glandarius) and several Song Thrushes (Turdus philomelos).

Day 2. Cadí Moixeró Natural Park – Boumort Game Reserve.  After a nice breakfast we start our day by coming back to the same area that we visited the day before. A further exploration of it reported some other interesting birds. In the alpine grasslands both Tawny (Anthus campestris) and Water Pipits (Anthus spinolleta) were seen both feeding on ground and singing in flight.

Lammergeier

Lammergeier (Gypaetos barbatus) adult is not any more an uncommon view in some Pyrenean valleys.

Alpine Choughs (Pyrrhocorax graculus) were also feeding on the grassland as we could easily count 6 of them. In the barren slopes we listened the beautiful song of a Common Rock Thrush (Monticola saxatilis) and, after a rather long reseach, we found the gorgeous male singing from a pine top. Raptors flying around included some Griffon Vultures, 1 Honey Buzzard and 1 Goshawk (Accipiter gentilis). Other birds to be added to our list were Alpine Swift (Apus melba), Crag Martin (Ptyprodogne rupestris) and Grey Wagtail (Motacilla cinerea).

After such a wonderful start we then move to a different massif, but always inside the Pyrenees. In our way we still do a fast stop to scan the Segre River looking for Dipper (Cinclus cinclus) -actually not appearing- and Common Sandpiper (Actitis hypoleucos). Once we arrive to our next spot (Boumort Game Reserve) different flocks of Griffon Vultures were already flying over the area. It was midday and we enjoyed our pic-nic while enjoying such a great view and scanning the sky for more raptors.

We didn’t have to wait so much to get the first Lammergeier (Gypaetos barbatus) of the day as two of them were flying over the barren slopes. We saw them for 20 minutes, chasing each other in a really gorgeous view. One of them a full adult, the second one probably a very old individual. From our view point we also got nice views of 2 Cinereous Vultures on ground, near a feeding station as well as tens of Griffons that were showing really well, flying over us all the time in an endless spectacle. Some minutes later we saw a different Lammergeier, probably a third to fourth year individual, showing really well the dark grey general coloration as well as the darker flight feathers in comparition with undercoverts. This bird show us well as it was actually “busy” by chasing a fourth Lammergeier, a third year by the way (darker and not so slimmer as the bird described before).

After enjoying such a gorgeous sight we continued our way. The small forests of Eurasian Black Pine (Pinus nigra) combined with the rocky, open slopes configures a really unique landscape in the upperparts of Boumort and allowed us to spot a good variety of good birds including a gorgeous pair of Common Rock Thrushes (Monticola saxatilis) as do so Western Bonelli’s Warbler (Phylloscopus bonelli), Woodlark (Lullula arborea), Firecrest (Regulus ignacapillus) and Northen Wheatear. All the time having an eye in the sky to prevent any other interesting raptor soaring around. In fact, we hadn’t have to wait so much to spot 2 Cinereous Vultures (Aegypius monachus) flying low over the valley in our left. The birds were probably the same that we saw some minutes ago on ground but this time much closer. They were young birds showing the characteristic black colour in their immense wings.

In our way out of the massif, the track was heading a long, green valley. This is a good place to spot some Lammergeiers as sometimes sleep in the cliffs around. It was 5pm so the moment was nice. Immediatly after stopping the car 2 Lamms were soaring really low over the pines (probably 3rd year individuals) and fastly dissapearing over the trees. That view was short but probably the most exciting of all of them! Still in our way to the lodge we spot 1 Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos). It was flying quite high but still was a nice first view of a bird that some days later was gonna give us unforgettable sights!

Subalpine Warbler

Subalpine Warbler (Sylvia cantillans) female can be really common in garrigues and open forests

Day 3. Boumort Game Reserve – Lleida Steppes – Los Monegros. After a good start we all were delighted to spend some more time in the outbreaks of the Massís de Boumort. Today we were going to spend the morning here and go to spend the afternoon in the steppes… The goal this morning was not so much the raptors but the variety of small birds living in the scrublands & forests of the massif. Here the landscape is really Mediterranean with several olive groves, almond trees and orchards combined with scrubby slopes and impressive cliffs. An early morning short walk produced some good birds: Crested (Galerida cristata) & Wood Larks (Lululla arborea) were giving us really nice sights and providing a future useful experience in identification of Larks to all those members of the group less experienced in such a difficult family of birds. Other good birds showing really well were Common Rock Sparrow (Petronia petronia) 6, Subalpine Warbler (Sylvia cantillans) +4 and Woodchat Shrike (Lanius senator)Western Orphean Warbler (Sylvia hortensis) is common here and we listened them singing several times in the canopies but it showed poorly to us. Golden Oriole (Oriolus oriolus) was, by contrast, an excellent sight of a minimum of 3 individuals (2 males) flying around. Other good birds showing that morning included European Bee-eater (Merops apiaster), Red-billed Chough +12, Cirl Bunting (Emberiza cirlus), Sardinian Warbler (Sylvia melanocephala), Greenfinch (Carduelis chloris), Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis), Blue Tit (Parus caeruleus), Willow Warbler (Phylloscopus trochilus) and Winchat (Saxicola rubetra). Raptors that morning were poor but still included Honey Buzzard, Sparrowhawk and Griffon Vultures sleeping on their nesting sites, an unforgettable view for most of the costumers!

It was time to head to the steppes. But before we still had time to visit a really special corner. Here we spot some interesting raptors, specially 2 Egyptian Vultures (Neophron percnopterus) preening on a electrical tower close to Boumort. We enjoyed this wonderful sight for quite long and, while scanning the sky, we spot a good range of raptors including 1 Short-toed Eagle (Circaetus gallicus) and 3 Booted Eagles (Aquila pennata) that were both new for the tour as well as over 30 Griffons and 1 Common Buzzard (Buteo buteo).

It was time to leave the Pyrenees behind so we drove South to our next location. Lleida Steppes is a huge area of more or less plain terrain scattered with some low, rounded hills. Here the natural vegetation is a low garrigue with sparse Juniperus and Pines. However, most of the plain is a farm land, being wheat the main crop. Wheat croplands are highly important for steppe living birds since these fields have become the most important nesting and roosting site for several of the most endangered birds living here. The first stop in the steppes was already producing really good birds: 2 Hoopoes (Upupa epops) flew from the road and this made us stop there. A fast scan of the sky produced a close view of 1 Booted Eagle (Aquila pennata) -light phorm- as well as 1 Common Buzzard. Crested Lark was also there as well as Eurasian Tree Sparrow (Passer montanus). The next stop keeped producing really interesting birds such as Melodious Warbler (Hippolais polyglotta), Bee-eaters (Merops apiaster) +8, Subalpine Warbler (Sylvia cantillans), Cirl Bunting, Woodchat Shrike and 1 Roller (Coracias garrulus), a bird really desired by most of our costumers. This stop also produced an excellent view of a Quail (Coturnix coturnix) singing in a wheat field and the first sight of a party of Red-legged Partridge (Alectoris rufa), 6.

Black-winged Kite

Black-shouldered Kite (Elanus caeruleus) is a really scarce nesting bird in Lleida Steppes. Photo: Carles Oliver

Raptors here were common: Western Marsh Harrier (Circus aeruginosus), Common Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus), Short-toed Eagle (Circaetus gallicus) 2 & Montagu’s Harrier (Circus pygargus) male were all present there. But the main reason to visit that spot was the beautiful and really scarce Black-shouldered Kite (Elanus caeruleus). Me and Frantisek spent quite a lot of time scanning for this bird.  I was personally seeing the bird here for the last two seasons and some days before  the tour I saw them again on their tree. At the last moment a pair was appearing, perched in an old tree. We all enjoyed the bird for 30 minutes and we could see several matings, with the male doing several exhibitional flights… It was a really special moment and one of the highlitghs of the tour!

I was personally really happy and satisfied. But the day was not off yet! We went to sleep to Los Monegros, the biggest and probably more famous steppe land in Western Europe. Due to long reseach and the longer view of the BW Kite we arrived later than planned to our guest house. Despite we all were tired, half of the costumers enjoyed our nocturnal tour. Long-eared Owl (Asio otus), Scops Owl (Otus scops), Little Owl (Athene noctua) and Barn Owl (Tyto alba) as well as several Stone Curlews (Burhinus oedicnemus) were all appearing, showing in an excellent way and allowing great photos. But the star of the night was the Red-necked Nightjar (Caprimulgus ruficollis), not only the 7 of them that we saw flying thanks to our light but especially the one we saw on ground 2 metres away from the car and that was providing perfect images!

Day 4. Los Monegros. New early start to explore some steppe lands immediatly around our lodge. Here we are in a flat land, trees are really scarce out of some almond and olive groves here and there and the natural vegetation is limited to some low and sparse scrubs. We directly drove to one special (and secret) location in the steppes. Our first stop produced several Thekla Larks (Galerida theklae), Southern Grey Shrike (Lanius meridionalis) 2, Black-eared Wheatear (Oenanthe hispanica) 3, Calandra Larks (Melanocorypha calandra) flying and singing all the time, Red-billed Choughs, Little Owl (Athene noctua) 2, a brief view of Great Spotted Cuckoo (Clamator glandarius) and some flocks of Black-bellied Sandgrouses (Pterocles orientalis) flying over us. But the most interesting sight was 2 beautiful males of Little Bustard (Tetrax tetrax) singing in a field, 80 metres from us. Again a bird really desired and that was delighting us in a Green, flowered field.

Little Bustard

A typical view of a singing male of Little Bustard (Tetrax tetrax). Photo: Carles Oliver

After enjoying such a wonderful start we stop in a second spot. A fast scan allow us to find 3 Stone Curlews (Burhinus oedicnemus), a pair of Black-eared Wheatear (Oenanthe hispanica), +10 Short-toed Larks (Calandrella brachydactyla) & 1 Tawny Pipit. Here were also appearing some interesting migratory birds; Winchat 2 & Pied Flycatcher (Ficedula hypoleuca) 3 and a fast Hooby (Falco subbuteo) trying to catch some birds from the fields.

But the most interesting birds in this stop were two flocks of Black-bellied Sandgrouses (Pterocles orientalis) flying really close, 1 Little Bustard (Tetrax tetrax) that flew from one field and 1 Dupont’s Lark (Chersophilus duponti) singing in the steppe. I decided to don’t get inside the field where the Dupont’s was singing to don’t disturb this really endangered bird. Some Lesser Short-toed Larks (Calandrella rufescens) were also singing in this field but unfortunately most of the costumers didn’t get nice views on them. Then we went back to our lodge to have some midday rest but still we got some good birds in our village itself as Spotless Starlings (Sturnus unicolor) and White Storks (Ciconia ciconia) are common here.

After our midday break we continue our tour by looking for some birds living in rocky slopes. We first spot a pair of Blue Rock Thrushes (Monticola solitarius) and then a pair of gorgeous Black  Wheatears (Oenanthe leucura). In this same spot we got 1 Short-toed Eagle perched surprisingly close to us, several Bee-eaters nesting around and 1 Montagu’s Harrier (Circus pygargus) female flying around the cliffs.

Back to the plains we started to scan for Sandgrouses. After a short scan we spot a flock of 5 Pin-tailed Sandgrouses (Pterocles alchata) feeding on ground along with some Stone Curlews. We could aproach them until 80 metres, a distance that was providing an excellent view of the birds feeding for 20 minutes long. Despite of my interest to try a further approach the costumers decided to left and don’t disturb the birds. Good choice! Other birds here include good sights on Calandra Lark, Little Owl, Montagu’s Harrier and +10 Lesser Kestrels (Falco naumanni) hunting around us. After dinner the other half of the costumers went to the nocturnal tour with similar sights as the night before.

Red-necked Nightjar

Red-necked Nightjars (Caprimulgus ruficollis) nest on dry, low bush land and tree crops

Day 5. Los Monegros – Ebro Delta. After our breakfast we start the day by visiting a colony of Lesser Kestrels. Here at least 20 pairs nest along with Jackdaws, Spotless Starlings and a pair of pairs of Red-billed Choughs. Then we started to scan the fields around. Prontly I found a male Little Bustard singing in one of the fields. The bird was not so close as those we got the day before but still gave us a nice and long sight as the bird slowly walked on the flowered field. Not far from him, 4 Stone Curlews were resting on the field, although they steadely moved away because of our presence. As most of the costumers wanted to try a better photo on Roller, we decided to do a small drive around looking for some pairs moving in the steppes.

This short drive produced several good sights on Little Bustard (1 more male), Little Owl, Hoopoes (several), Black-eared Wheatears, Spectacled Warbler (briefly) and a pair of Black-bellied Sandgrouses resting just beside our track.

Once arrived to the area where Rollers live we fastly found three of them but, despite our attemps to get a little bit closer, the birds were really nervous and was impossible to get good images. Other birds here included Stone Curlew 3, Common Buzzard, Woodchat Shrikes and 1 Hooby & 1 Great Spotted Cuckoo flying through.

Before living Los Monegros we still decided to explore some sedimentary cliffs around our lodge. Here, the cliffs join a small river and the shadows of the trees along it are an excellent view point to scan the area. Here we found several interesting species including Spotted Flycatcher (Muscicapa striata), Penduline Tit (Remiz pendulinus), Cirl Bunting, Stock Dove (Columba oenas), Nightingale (Luscinia megarhynchos) and Alpine Swifts (Apus melba) but the best sight was that of an incredible Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos) resting on the cliffs, giving unforgettable sights to our costumers via scope. Many photos were taken providing a phantastic end to our stay in the steppes…

Golden Eagle

Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos) resting on its cliff at Los Monegros

The transfer to Ebro Delta from Los Monegros was also interesting. One of the costumers spot some Turtle Doves (Streptopelia turtur) from the car adding a new species to the tour list. Some miles ahead we had to stop the cars in the road itself. Some raptors were flying over the Ebro River, including a gorgeous Bonelli’s Eagle (Aquila fasciata), adult. This bird was not without controversia as most of the costumers fail to spot it as were confussed with 1 Short-toed Eagle (Circaetus gallicus) flying over the Bonelli’s… Some minutes later 1 Egyptian Vulture (Neophron percnopterus) was flying also over us.

Once arrived to Ebro Delta we begun to see some of the common birds inside this huge wetland. Purple (Ardea purpurea) & Squacco Herons (Ardeola ralloides) can be here really common and despite the unnormal cold early spring most of them were already back from their African winter grounds. Along with them tens of Whiskered Terns (Chlidonias hybridus) and many Gull-billed Terns (Gelochelidon nilotica) were flying over the fields, looking for fish or crabs. Among the young rice plants, Black-winged Stilts (Himantopus himantopus) were also looking for food. After leaving our package in our new lodge we went to look for some Flamingoes (Phoenicopterus ruber). We found tens of them roosting in one of the many salt lakes in Ebro Delta.

Day 6. Ebro Delta. Our first raising in Ebro Delta gave us some special birds. Flocks of Glossy Ibises (Plegadis falcinellus) and Flamingoes were flying over l’Encanyissada, the main fresh water lagoon in Ebro Delta. Other good birds here included our firsts Purple Swamphens (Porphyrio porphyrio), Night Herons (Nycticorax nycticorax), Red-crested Pochards (Netta rufina), Great Crested Grebes (Podiceps cristatus), Fan-tailed Warblers (Cisticola juncidis)Great Reed Warblers (Acrocephalus arundinaceus) and European Reed Warblers (Acrocephalus scirpaceus). Water Rails (Rallus aquaticus) were calling from the reeds and Little (Sterna albifrons) and Common Terns (Sterna hirundo) were all the time flying up and down, capturing fish here and there.

After some more birding here we moved to the salt marshes. Here we found several waders such as Turstones (Arenaria interpress), Oystercatchers (Haematopus ostralegus), Redshanks (Tringa totanus), Common Ringed Plovers (Charadrius hiaticula), Grey Plovers (Pluvialis squatarola), Green Sandpipers (Tringa ochropus) and 2 Wimbrels (Numenius phaeopus). With them we found one of the surprises along our tour, 1 Terek Sandpiper (Xenus cinereus) that we could enjoy as long as necessary!! Terek Sandpiper is an Asian bird with closest nesting grounds in Eastern Ukraine. In Catalonia it is considered as a rarity since we only get one bird every two or three years.

Terek Sandpiper

Terek Sandpiper (Xenus cinereus) was the most unexpected bird along the tour. Photo: Frantisek Pochmon

We all were really satisfied because of this bird but we didn’t forget to pair attention to the bunch of birds in front of us. There were +20 Slender-billed Gulls (Croicocephalus genei) feeding on the salt lagoons as well as Little, Common, Gull-billed & Sandwich Terns (Sterna sandvicensis). A small group of gorgeous Caspian Terns (Hydroprogne caspia) were resting on ground and allowed us to enjoy its bulky body, specially when compared with the tiny Little Tern, which was side by side for long time. A drive along the dunes and beaches of Ebro Delta reported some interesting birds such as Sanderling (Calidris alba), Kentish Plover (Charadrius alexandrinus), Lesser Black-backed Gull (Larus fuscus) and the smart Audouin’s Gull (Larus audouinii) being this one the commonest gull in all the area -11.000 pairs in 2012.

It was lunch time, time to enjoy a wonderful paella from the Delta’s paddy fields and also time to discuss all the birds of the morning and the lasts days!!! To much stuff to do!

Early afternoon was to time to enjoy some grasslands. Here is the perfect place to look for scarcer birds. Iberian Wagtails (Motacilla iberiae) were common here and we could also spot Yellow wagtail (Motacilla flava), 3 Italian Wagtails (Motacilla cinereocapilla), 2 Red-throated Pipits (Anthus cervinus) & 7 Collared Pratincoles (Glareola pratincola) feeding on the grass along the wagtails. We then moved to an observation tower, a good view point to explore some of the most productive marshes in Ebro Delta. Purple Swamphens were common here as do so Glossy Ibises, Pied Avocets (Recurvirostra avossetta) & Shelducks (Tadorna tadorna). Other birds here included Curlew (Numenius arquata), Grey Plover (including one male in complete summer plumage), Wood Sandpiper (Tringa glareola) and a gorgeous pair of Little Bittern (Ixobrychus minutus) that were moving all the time in a channel beside our tower. A flock of over 23 Red Knot (Calidris canutus) flew over us, but most of our group was trying to discover the shy Little Bitterns among the reeds…

Squacco Heron

Squacco Heron (Ardeola ralloides) a beautiful commonview at Ebro Delta

Day 7. Ebro Delta – Llobregat Delta – Garraf Natural Park. Big flocks of Herons oversleep in most of the main fresh water lagoons in Ebro Delta. During the raising we could see several Squacco, Purple, Night, Grey (Ardea cinerea) flying around as well as Cattle Egrets (Bubulcus ibis), Little Egrets (Egretta garzetta) and White Great Egrets (Egretta alba). One Savi’s Warbler (Locustella naevia) was calling from the reeds and a pair of Little Bittern was climbing the reeds. One of the most interesting birds that morning was 1 Reed Bunting (Emberiza schoeniclus witherbyi) female. This race is one of the most endangered of Reed Bunting (less than 50 pairs left). We then moved to explore the Northern half of the delta. Despite the sabotage of an ironman course that was making more difficult the access to the whole area we still could spot a good mixed flock of tens of Dunlins (Calidris alpina), Curlew Sandpipers (Calidris ferruginea) and Sanderlings as well as 8 Bar-tailed Godwits (Limosa lapponica).

It was time to leave the Delta behind us. Sadly we drove North and had lunch in our new lodge, close to Barcelona. After lunch we went to explore Llobregat Delta Natural Reserve. Here we could still find some new birds for the tour such as Sedge Warbler (Acrocephalus schoenobaenus), Common Pochard (Aythya ferina), Shoveler (Anas clypeata), Bean Goose (Anser anser) and Cetti’s Warbler (Cettia cetti). Other species we that we enjoyed in other spots we showing well. This was the case of Purple Heron (Ardea purpurea), Little Bittern (Ixobrychus minutus) & Audouin Gull (Larus audouinii). The nesting population of Collared Pratincole was even allowing excellent images for all keen photographers in the group.

Our afternoon ended by visiting some sea cliffs in the Massís del Garraf Natural Park. Here the sedimentary karstic rocks meet the Mediterranean Sea in a dramatic landscape that is excellent for some birds. Blue Rock Thrushes (Monticola solitarius) are common here and provided us with excellent sights (at least 3 males). Sardinian Warbler (Sylvia melanocephala), Spotless Starling (Sturnus unicolor) and Crag Martin (Ptynoprogne rupestris) ere also present here. When arriving was quite late afternoon and flocks of Pallid Swifts (Apus pallidus) were frenetically flying around, chasing each other in small flocks or getting inside the cavities that host their clunches. There were also some Common (Apus apus) and Alpine Swifts (Apus melba) but 90% of birds were Pallid! Here a pair of Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus) is nesting and we could enjoy the pair flying along the cliff and even attacking a young Shag (Phalacrocorax aristotelis) that was peacefully resting on a rock at the base of the cliff. To scape from the fast attack the Cormorant had to do a fast dive! After this stressing encounter, the young Cormorant decided to change the cliff and flew South.

Day 8. Garraf Natural Park – Sea Trip – Barcelona Airport. In our last morning we explored the scrubby slopes inside Garraf Natural Park. Here the landscape is really Mediterranean since many areas are covered by  low, dense scrub lands but with several barren slopes and small cliffs. Here we found some very interesting birds such as the common Dartford Warbler (Sylvia undata) and specially the delicious sight on 1 Ortolan Bunting (Emberiza hortulana) male singing from a tree top. Other birds of interest here included Thekla Lark (Galerida theklae), Pallid Swift  (Apus pallidus), Woodchat Shrike (Lanius senator), Southern Grey Shrike (Lanius excubitor), Black-eared Wheatear (Oenanthe hispanica) and Stonechat (Saxicola torquata).

Scopoli's Shearwater

Scopoli’s Shearwater (Calonectris diomedea diomedea) off shore Barcelona. Photo: Jan Legner

At mid-morning we moved to Badalona harbour. Badalona is a big town inside Barcelona Metropolitan Area. Here we got in a gorgeous 100-years-old ship to enjoy the sea inmediatly in front of Barcelona. We went 4 miles off and was enough to get some interesting birds such as 8 Cory’s Shearwater (Calonectris diomedea), +20 Yelkouan Shearwater (Puffinus yelkouan) and at least 6 of the really endangered (less than 2500 pairs left) Balearic Shearwater (Puffinus mauretanicus) with good chances for photos! A Great Skua (Stercorarius skua) was also appearing but too far for most of the people joining us. Closer to the coastline commoner birds here were appearing such as Audouin’s Gull and Sandwinch Tern.

Back to the harbour we enjoyed a good lunch while commenting the busy morning, comparing the images and getting some final impressions of the whole tour. For me, I have to say that it was a gorgeous week and I’m proud and happy to be guiding a so gentle, funny, polite and passionate group of birdwatchers!!

I expect to see them again, here or there and enjoy some more birds together!

birdwatchers

How to find out Sandgrouses?

Sandgrouses are sometimes defined “desert Partridges”. However, the enigmatic Pterocles genus is much more than Partridges. All Sandgrouses present incredible specific morphological adaptations to survive in adverse, dry countryside. The most famous one is this that allow them to transport water supplies to their chicks from ponds or rivers placed kilometres away from their nesting sites. This incredible habit is possible thanks to special feathers in their breast and allow them to colonize breeding areas without any water supplies during the nesting season.

Black-bellied Sandgrouse (Pterocles orientalis) male in a trip in 2018. Image by Carles Oliver

Sandgrouses live throughout semi-deserts, steppe lands and deserts of Asia, Africa and Europe. In Europe there are two species; Black-bellied Sandgrouse (Pterocles orientalis) and Pin-tailed Sandgrouse (Pterocles alchata).

This two species are famous because they can be very striking birds to find out. This post will help you in the difficult work of finding out some Pterocles.

Well, let’s say you are in a supposed good area for Sandgrouses. It is for several weeks you have read and reread the articles talking about where to find that birds. And finally you are there. Let’s suppose it is the first time that you’re visiting any steppe land. Around you it is a endless stretch of more or less plain, uniform terrain. How to find them out? What to look for?

SELECTING THE STREGHT

The first you have to think is that the terrain you have around is not homogeneous. Steppe lands, as any other ecosystem, have multiple variables acting on it. Some important variables to our purpose of finding Sandgrouses are: presence/absence of farm lands, vegetation cover, presence/absence of cattle (goats or sheep), presence/absence of water supplies and soil irregularity (more or less broken terrain).

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Original steppe land vegetation like this at Los Monegros is every time more scarce in European steppe lands.

All of these items have an important influence about the presence and density of Sandgrouses. We have finally to be aware that Pin-tailed & Black-bellied Sandgrouses have different preferences in order to use the soil as well as different ecological requirements.

Let see one by one these terrain variables:

Presence/absence of farm lands. In Europe there is really few original steppe land left and thus most of it has been reconverted into farm land and prairies for cattle graze. However there are some places where you still can see the original steppe as it used to be until some centuries ago. Thus you are likely to be surrounded by a endless area of farm land. The first you have look for is for non crop fields. Due to the poor soil fields cannot be crop every year and thus some of them are resting. These fields are full of plants and they really likely to attrack Sandgrouses as they produce big amounts of seeds.

Vegetation cover. Avoid any field with really dense vegetation cover, especially if being bushered. No way to be Sandgrouses on them. Even if being there you may have almost none chances to find them out.

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This kind of terrain is likely to attrack both Pin-tailed & Black-bellied Sandgrouses. Los Monegros, North-east Spain. Photo: Carles Oliver

Presence/absence of cattle. Cattle has a really important rule in Sandgrouses densities, especially about Pin-tailed Sandgrouse. This species is really likely to be immediatly around small courts and buildings where cattle (goats and sheeps) are sheltered. The reason is simple; as much the plants around are cattle as more plants are able to grow and thus, produce more seeds than average fields. One point; be aware of dogs!

Presence/absence of water points. Water points are really central items in Sandgrouses’ daily movements. However, not every single pool in the steppe is likely to attrack them. This is depending on the cover vegetation of the pool it self, its size, the number of pools around and, most important, the habits of the birds living immediatly around and natural history of the pond. However, to wait around a water pond can be good strategy in summer months in order to see some Sandgrouses, at least flying around while deciding if  landing down or not.

Soil irregularity. Sandgrouses are good flyers, able to cover quite long distances. However, as any other bird living in the steppe lands, favours open, plain terrain. It means that they normally avoid to feed on canyons, small or medium-sized canyons as well as slopes. No matter how wonderful a steppe land can be, if being a in a slope +20º, it is 95% sure that there are no Sandgrouses around and it is better to look for them in a different location.

 

STRATEGY

Well, know you are in the area famous for its Sandgrouses and once you have identified what fields can be more interesting for them is the moment to start exploring them. But, how?

By car. It is no point to go by food since Sandgrouses (as Bustards and many other birds living in open spaces) will start to fly as far away as 300-400 metres from you! Sandgrouses really scare about people walking around but not so much about cars moving. So, the best strategy is to drive slowly by the dart roads, looking every single field likely to have them on ground.

It takes no point to go to “some special fields”, since the farm land is changing every year and the field that used to be resting two or three years ago now can be a wonderful croop with no chance for hosting any Sandgrouse.

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This is an average sight on Pin-tailed Sandgrouses resting on a non cropped field at Lleida Steppes. Photo: Carles Oliver

The “car strategy” has to be combined with some stops to scan specially attractive fields or bigger fields. It is also the proper momment to be aware about their characterystic calls of the flocks moving around.

During summer we can select a good pond a wait there. Sandgrouses use to come drink water during the morning so a two-three hours long wait should produce good views. If birds are not appearing the wait can be really frustating, thought.

 

SEASONAL VARIATIONS

Not all seasons are the same to look for Sandgrouses, and thus strategy has to change depending on it.

During winter Sandgrouses flock. As any other bird living on the steppes, this is a system to fight agaisnt predators and it is also helpful for all individuals involved in the flock to find food suplies. Big flocks can be really easy to find when flying but, as birds are more concentrated, you have less chances to find THE flock, actually.

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Pools like this one attrack Sandgrouses living around almost daily from June to September.

From mid March onwards flocks start to be smaller and smaller as different pairs start to come to their nesting grounds. March to June is probably the best time explore the steppes as small flocks are likely to fly around, seed production is the highest and the heat, unexistent.

From mid-July Sandgrouses start to move in family groups, sometimes involving two-three pairs or even more. They are likely to appear around ponds and sometimes up to 20 individuals arrive to drink water in such a places.

 

If you still have doubts about how to find them or prefer to be guided, please contact with professional guides: info@barcelonabirdingpoint.com

As a end, here you have another inhabitant of the steppes; Red-necked Nightjar (Caprimulgus ruficollis)

Caprimulgus ruficollis

Gallocanta; the crane spectacular (2014 February tour)

In late February, 2014, Barcelona Birding Point set up a three days long tour to explore the Gallocanta lagoon, at SouthWest of Aragón. The tour reported unforgettable sights on Cranes and a short visit to Los Monegros allowed us to add to our list most steppe birds specialities such as Great Bustard, Little Bustard, Black Wheatear and Pin-tailed Sandgrouse!

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The first and second we mainly explored the main Gallocanta salty lagoon as well as the farm land around. At winter time this area hosts interesting specialities while huge flocks of Cranes feed on the farm land around. The tour enjoyed mild temperatures that were always over 0ºc.

The last day of our tour, after enjoyed the massive flocks of Cranes facing North, we visited some interesting steppe spots in Los Monegros. The main goal was to find both species of Sandgrouses and both species of Bustards living there. Even before lunch we had already got really nice sights on three of them, and fourth (Black-bellied Sandgrouse) was appearing few after lunch.

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Main specialities included:

+50.000 Common Cranes, 33 Pin-tailed Sandgrouses, 5 Black-bellied Sandgrouses, 29 Great Bustards, 4 Little Bustards, 1 Dupont’s Lark, 2 Golden Eagle, 2 Short-eared Owls, +7 Hen Harriers

, 12 Choughs, 2 Merlins, +70 Pintails, +10 Lesser Short-toed Larks, 2 Blue Rock Thrushes, 1 Black Wheatear as well as several Calandra Larks and Rock Sparrows.

Mammals: Iberian Hare & Roe Deer (4).

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Great Bustards (Otis tarda) winter flock taking off from the steppes in Los Monegros.

Winter birding break in Ebro Delta

From 13th to 15th January, 2014 we were exploring Ebro Delta with some costumers from Check Republic. It was a really successful tour with great sights to several specialities involving 113 species of birds!

Ebro Delta itself was providing great sights to Greater Bittern (Botaurus stellaris), Bluethroat (Luscinia svecica), Squacco Heron (Ardeola ralloides), Mediterranean & Slender Billed Gulls (Larus melanocephalus & genei), Red-breasted Merganser (Mergus serrator), Penduline Tit (Remiz pendulinus), Booted Eagle (Aquila pennata), Glossy Ibis (Plegadis falcinellus), Little Stint (Calidris minuta) and many other species such as Golden & Grey Plovers, Great Egrets and a wide variety of waders, ducks and passerines.

Imatge

An afternoon in the neighbouring Tortosa-Beseït NP provided excellent sights to both Alpine Accentor & Wallcreeper as well as to other interesting birds such as Red-billed Choughs and Blue Rock Thrushes!

Here you can see a sample recorded by Frantisek Pochmon, one of our costumers. Unfortunately no images of Bittern neither Wallcreeper were done but still our costumer managed to get great images to Bluethroat, Squacco Heron and many other birds!

Climate debt; is European wildlife living in its prime habitat?

A recent paper published by Nature Climate Change points out the relation between climate change and range variations in several species of birds and butterflies.

It was already known that climate change was affecting distribution parameters in many species of wildlife. This is study is the first attempt to quantify these chances in wildlife’s range and results have been surprising. The study have been made calculating the habitat average temperature for a number of species of birds and butterflies and the average temperature for every community (betweetn 1990-2010), which is named CTI (Community Temperature Index). By studding CTI values of over 10.000 wildlife areas, from Scandinavia to Mediterranean coast, it is clear that CTI index has steadily increased. Thus investigators have realised that bird communities would moved an average of 37 km North while butterflies communities do so 114 km North. Thus nowadays we can find species of birds and butterflies similar to those we found twenty years ago in Southern areas.

Two-tailed Pasha, one of the species affected by climate debt.

Two-tailed Pasha, one of the species affected by climate debt. Photo: Carles Oliver

By reeding the paragraph above one can assume that both birds and butterflies are doing well against climate chance challenge. Unfortunately this far away to be truth. While birds and butterflies have moved North their populations for 37kms and 114kms during the last twenty years, the average temperatures in Europe have moved North 249 km, far more then wildlife. Thus there is a difference of 212 km for birds and 135 km for butterflies. This index shows how bird and butterfly species are not moving fast enough North to occupy their best ecological ambient and, thus, there is an important percentage of wildlife living in sub-prime areas. This situation can heavily affect to the whole ecosystem not only because of the effects today but also because of that trend will increase in future years.

This investigation has been made in Finland, Sweden, United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Check Republic, France and Catalonia. CTI increase has been detected in all countries but it is more accused in Northern countries where climate chance effects would be more deep than in Southern ones.

According to this investigation both butterflies and birds are moving North their ranges but unfortunately they are not moving fast enough and thus are living in sub-prime climate areas. This situation afford a “climate debt”, a new concept regarding the distance between their range and the optimal climate conditions where they are adapted to live in.

This study assume the link between climate change and nature as well as point how difficult would be the management of our ecosystems in next decades.

Pyrenees Winter Break, 2012 Trip Report

This is the report Barcelona Birding Point’s Ebro Basin in Winter Tour (2012 issue) which started in December, 10th and ended in December, 16th. During the tour we spot 158 species of birds despite two windy/rainy days.

Cetti's Warbler (Cettia cetti) is a common bird along Catalan reedbeds and it is easier to spot during winter.

Cetti’s Warbler (Cettia cetti) is a common bird along Catalan reedbeds and it is easier to spot during winter.

Day 1. Once we picked up all costumers from their hotels in Barcelona we start the birding week expecting to find most of the more delighted specialities of Mediterranean, high mountain & steppe areas. Our first spot was in Llobregat Delta, a small wetland only ten kilometres South of Barcelona. A short-walk allowed us to find some interesting birds. First we encountered two Common Waxbill (Estrilda astrild) small flocks. Common Waxbill is a small, funny bird living along small rivers and channels in Catalonian coastline. Despite its scaped conditionit, this African speciality have steadily increase its populations since XX 80’s. It was also interesting our first Sardinian Wabler (Sylvia melanocephala), a small warbler related to coastal garrigas but also to thickets, farm lands and even gardens. European Serin (Serinus serinus) was also singing on a dead tree. Despite it is a fairly common bird, Serin is mostly a coastal species during winter. Other interesting species appearing included Fieldfare (Turdus pilaris), a scarce winter visitor, especially along the coast; Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus), Green Sandpiper (Tringa ochropus), the elusive Cetti’s Warbler (Cettia cetti), Tufted Duck (Aythya fuligula), Gadwall (Anas strepera) and Monk Parakeet (Psittacula krameri).

We then moved to Pyrenees, where we first stopped in some open fields looking for some birds flocking around farm lands. Here we discovered beautiful Rock & Cirl Buntings (Emberiza cia & Emberiza cirlus) moving with large amounts of Chaffinches (Fringilla coelebs), Goldfinches (Carduelis carduelis), Tree Sparrows (Passer montanus) and Stonechats (Saxicola rubetra). We moved then to the upper areas of Cadí-Moixeró Natural Park, where we expected to find some high mountain birds. A short walk allowed us to encounteer  small groups of Chamoises (Rupicabra rupicabra) roasting on the alpine grasslands. These beautiful wild coat are one of the most common herbivorous in high mountain grasslands. Birds began to appear, first a small flock of three Alpine Accentor (Prunella collaris) moving on barren slopes, its favourite winter ground. At the same moment a gorgeous Lammergeier (Gypaetus barbatus) was appearing flying over us, its light orange body shinning and reflecting on the snowed slopes and its slow, low flight as a dance over the forest edge. We spend some more time walking around and those forest edges provided Coal, Long-tailed and Crested Tits, Treecreeper (Certhia familiaris), Mistle Thrush (Turdus viscivorus) and some gorgeous Griffon Vultures (Gyps fulvus). A latter riberine short-walk provided nice views of Siskin (Carduelis spinus), Brambling (Fringilla montifringilla) and more Rock Buntings as well as lovely a Dipper (Cinclus cinclus) with its characteristic “jump-dance” among the rocks of a high mountain stream.

Lammergeier (Gypaetos barbatus) adult is not any more an uncommon view in some Pyrenean valleys.

Lammergeier (Gypaetos barbatus) adult is not any more an uncommon view in some Pyrenean valleys.

Day 2. An early start was required to explore the huge Boumort National Game Reserve. A small stop in the road reported some forest species and fastly arrived to the most productive points. We found our first crowd of Griffon Vultures  flying around. The sunny (but cold) day was important to get nice views of those huge birds of prey. Before midday some massive Cinereous Vultures (Aegypius monachus) were appearing. A total of four of them were spotted along the day, including both juveniles (2) and adults (2). There are only about 30 of them in those massifs, being the only population on both Catalonia and the whole of the Pyrenees. Opositte to Griffon Vultures, Black Vultures use to move in pairs or small (4-5) flocks looking for small carrions. Lammergeier was also appearing. Once again we could enjoy the flight of the Eurasian most elegant vulture. A beautiful adult moving over Scots Pine forests and, later, two more (immatures). Other raptors flying over the wild valley included an adult Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos) as well as Northern Goshawk (Accipiter gentilis).

Wallcreeper (Tichodroma muraria), one of the most strikking birds living in high mountains.

Wallcreeper (Tichodroma muraria), one of the most strikking birds living in high mountains.

A lovely small walk leaded us to impressive cliffs that hosts numbers of nesting Griffon Vultures, Golden Eagles, Lammergeiers and, in summer, Egyptian Vulture. This location provided one of the prime targets and most delighted birds for European birders: Wallcreeper (Tichodroma muraria). Wallcreepers nest in inaccessible high mountain cliffs and ravines. In winter they come to lower altitudes searching for warmer areas. They are solitary birds due to the low productiveness of the habitat where they live. We counted to be lucky as we got a two-minutes-long-view of one of these incredible birds just at the moment of arriving to our view point in the cliffs. Other highlights of the cliffs included a male Hen Harrier (Circus cyaneus) our first record of Red-billed Chough (Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax), Rock Sparrow (Petronia petronia) as well as unforgettable sights of both Griffon Vulture and Lammergeier. Here was also the place to find Blue and Great Tits, Song Thrush (Turdus philomelos) and Short-toed Treecreeper (Certhia brachydactyla), a fairly common resident in all kinds of forests in Catalonia.

Day 3. Last day in the Pyrenees. From our hotel, and while having breakfast, we found Great Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos major) and, few meters away, both Hawfinches (Coccothraustes coccothraustes) and Bullfinches (Pyrrhula pyrrhula) moving along a wooded stream. These species are somehow scarce and thus they are always appreciated by all birders. Our first stop that day was the cliffs and riberines North of Camarasa. Here we found the striking Blue Rock Thrush (Monticola solitarius) in the sedimentary cliffs. A pair moving around the cliff, being very active in with the midday sun. Some other specialities appearing here included Firecrest (Regulus ignicapillia), Dunnock (Prunella modularis), Siskin, Rock Bunting and a nice couple of Sardinian Warblers moving in the bushed cliffs. But before we spent some time in the firsts plains we encountered in our way. Even from the road we found an important amount of birds including our first Iberian Grey Shrike (Lanius meridionalis), Corn Bunting (Miliaria calandra) and a juvenile male of Yellowhammer (Emberiza citrinella), a scarce species only living in Northern Catalonia. A further short-walk reported us a glimpse onto a Red-legged Partridge (Alectorix rufa) flock.

Boumort is an unique view-point over the Pyrenees and its valleys.

Boumort is an unique view-point over the Pyrenees and its valleys.

After lunch we visited  the huge Estany d’Ivars i Vila-Sana, a 60 hectarees wetland in the middle of the plains that reported our first beautiful Purple Swamphen (Porphyrio porphyrio) in the reeds, a nice pair of the recently split Iberian Green Woodpecker (Picus sharpei) along with Penduline Tit (Remiz pendulinus) –after an intense reseach-, White Stork (Ciconia ciconia), Reed Bunting (Emberiza schoneiclus), Great Egret (Egretta alba) as well as nice sights of Cattle Egrets (Bubulcus ibis) and a intense activity in the Marsh Harriers (Circus aeruginosus) roosting site.

Day 4. Time to explore to lonely plains of Los Monegros. This huge cereal-steppe provided some of the best birding moments in the tour. It was nine o’clock in the morning when we approach those immense fields and we surprisingly fast found our first flock of Great Bustards (Otis tarda). After several counts we finally decided that there were 23 individuals in the flock. Number of birds was highly important as this is a really endangered species in Los Monegros with about 30 individuals left. After enjoy long enough watching those giant birds peacefully eating on the fields we moved a bit to scan some fields around in order to locate some of the numerous larks living here. Along the next minutes we got nice views of Crested Lark (Galerida cristata), Calandra Lark (Melanocorypha calandra), Skylark and some minutes later the scarce Lesser Short-toed Lark (Calandrella rufescens), heavily linked to small spots of primary Thyme and steppe-like vegetation.

The morning was still going on when we found several flocks of birds roasting in a huge field. Apart from a large flock of finches (mainly Linnets –Carduelis cannabina– but also Goldfinches –Carduelis carduelis-) there were at least 52 Red-billed Choughs roasting along with Starlings (among them some Spotless StarlingsSturnus unicolor-), Lapwings and Calandra Larks. We were just trying to find the Calandra Larks when a female Merlin (Falco columbarius) appeared attacking some of the birds… All birds on the field fastly flew off. It was the moment to find out a new field…

Some kilometers ahead we listened a pair of Black-bellied Sandgrouse (Pterocles orientalis) flying over the area. These birds can be extremely difficult to locate on the fields so we didn’t miss the chance to try an approach. The pair stopped some 1,5 kilometres from us so we didn’t lose time and drove as close as possible. Our determination gain for us a beautiful ten minutes long view of both male and female roasting on ground!!

Just a few minutes latter a big flock of over 30 Sandgrouses flew over us. There were both species Black-bellied and also the slighter Pin-tailed Sandgrouse (Pterocles alchata) flying East in an awesome chorus of calls. It was about midday and we began to go for lunch, a bit silent and sad because Little Bustard (Tetrax tetrax) was not appearing yet. But a last trial in some open fields of their liking produced a nice (although a bit far) sight of a flock of eight of them!! Little Bustard, as all steppe-living specialities, can be highly striking, but we got a not-so-bad sight of them.

Black-bellied Sandgrouses (Pterocles orientalis), a wonderful bird living in cereal-steppes, Los Monegros.

Black-bellied Sandgrouses (Pterocles orientalis), a wonderful bird living in cereal-steppes, Los Monegros.

In the afternoon it was time to visit a lagoon close to Candasnos, which provided nice sights of several ducks (including Red-crested PochardNetta rufina– and Ferruginous Duck (2) –Aythya nyroca-) as well as Common Crane (Grus grus). Before in our way to the lagoon we found some beautiful Thekla Larks (Galerida theklae), maybe the most delighted Iberian lark (apart from Dupont’s) for most European birders.

Day 5. This day weather was not a good mate and from early morning we didn’t have good sensations about. We explored some steppe areas in Western Monegros. This spot is noted for several steppe-living specialities. We encountered here some specialities including Little Owl (Athene noctua), Iberian Grey Shrike (Lanius meridionalis), Red-legged Partridge (Alectoris rufa), Hoppoe (Upupa epops) and Dartford Warbler (Sylvia undata). Special mention to the beautiful and absolutely unexpected pair of Spectacled Warbler (Sylvia conspicillata) that we found in perfect summer plumage (male) and actively moving around. This warbler is supposed to be a summer speciality in both Aragón and Catalunya, leaving their nesting areas in early September!! There are some sedentary populations in South-east Spain but there are only three records for winter individuals in Catalonia (related to coastal areas) and no records have been found in Monegros in winter.

In the afternoon was the time to search for both Eurasian Eagle Owl (Bubo bubo) and Black Wheatear (Oenanthe leucura), two delighted specialities living in cliffs and barren slopes. Black Wheatear was appearing quite fast as they favours small rocky areas facing South as winter grounds. Eurasian Eagle Owl was more difficult but finally its impressive silouhette was emerging from the cliffs…

Amazing winter raising time in Ebro Delta...

Amazing winter raising in l’Encanyissada, the main fresh water lagoon in  Ebro Delta.

Day 6. Our first morning in Ebro Delta. This huge delta host troops of gulls, herons, ducks and seabirds. Almost the first bird we found in our way was an Audouin’s Gull (Larus audouinii), an elegant gull mostly wintering in South Spain with only a few winter birds in Ebro Delta (thought Ebro Delta concentrates over 65% of world’s population between February-March and September-October). After such a good start we stopped several times along the road to have views of some common birds in Ebro Delta including Great Egret and huge flocks of both Greater Flamingo (Phoenicopterus roseus) and Glossy Ibis (Plegadis falcinellus). We then decided to visit one of the main fresh water lagoons to search for more birds and that spot offered us nice views of Water Rail (Rallus aquaticus), Purple Swamphen (Porpyrhio porpyrhio) -+20-, Common Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis), Cetti’s Warbler (Cettia cetti) and Squacco Heron (Ardeola ralloides), another summer visitor that is becoming a normal winter bird last years. Number of ducks, grebes and Marsh Harriers were also appearing.

We continued the day visiting paddy fields around the lagoon that were full of Egrets and Herons, including a small flock of eight White Storks (Ciconia ciconia) (again a former only-summer-bird) and over 10 Curlews (Numenius arquata). We spent a pair of hours checking flowed fields having nice views of Water Pipit (Anthus spinolleta), Spotless Starling, Glossy Ibis, Redshank, Greenshank and 3 Marsh Sandpiper (Tringa stagnatilis), a very scarce winter species in Ebro Delta. By exploring those areas we also got incredible sights of singing Bluethroat (Luscinia svecica) and some gorgeous Penduline Tits (Remiz pendulinus).

Sanderlings (Calidris alba) and Dunlins (Calidris alpina) are common winter visitors along Ebro Delta coastline.

Sanderlings (Calidris alba) and Dunlins (Calidris alpina) are common winter visitors along Ebro Delta coastline.

After exploring some fresh water marshes we started to search for the species living in the salt plats and salt marshes. In La Tancada, one of the main salt plats in Ebro Delta, we found several Grey Plovers as well as some beautiful Slender-billed Gulls (Larus genei) feeding on the small salty lagoons along with Common Shelducks (Tadorna tadorna) and Greater Flamingos. Along the coast line we found several flocks of Dunlin (Calidris alpina) and Saderling (Calidris alba) along with some Kentish Plovers (Charadrius alexandrinus), Common Ringed Plovers (Charadrius hiaticula) and Little Stilts (Caladris minuta).  At the same time we were checking the bay looking for sea ducks. Over fourteen Red-breasted Mergansers (Mergus merganser) were spotted in the bay along with numbers of Black-necked Grebes (Podiceps nigricollis). Among them one Slavonian Grebe (Podiceps auritus) was discovered, which was a really nice unexpected species as it is a really scarce winter bird in Catalonia (0-5 birds per winter). Some hundred meters ahead eight Common Scoters (Melanitta fusca) were sleeping in a big flock of Mallards, Teals, Red-crested Pochards and Northern Shovelers. Some meters beyond a gorgeous Black-throated Loon (Gavia arctica) was also fishing in the never-ending bay.

It was already half afternoon and a perfect moment to check for one of prime targets in the tour. The elusive and secretive Moustached Warbler (Acrocephalus melanopogon). We found it out in a gorgeous, two-minutes long sight, moving really low along the reedbed edge. Greater Bittern (Botaurus stellaris) was not appearing but a male Little Bittern (Ixobrychus minutus) made a nice flight over the lagoon with the sunset light.

This Osprey (Pandion haliaetos) was one of the last surprises during our time in Ebro Delta. It allowed some excellent images from all keen photographers in the group. Regarding to plastic rings was released in France.

This Osprey (Pandion haliaetos) was one of the last surprises during our time in Ebro Delta. It allowed some excellent images from all keen photographers in the group. Regarding to plastic rings was released in France.

Day 7. The final day started with some re-checking in the salty marshes to locate new species. Here we found several Dunlins and Sanderlings along with Turstone and one beautiful Osprey (Pandion haliaetos) with a morning fish as a prey.

Taking advantage that Ebro Delta is close to really interesting garrigas we took a walk over some slopes trying to locate the scarce Bonelli’s Eagle (Aquila fasciata). Although the large Eagle was not appearing we had some nice views of Sardinian Warbler, Goldcrest (Regulus regulus) and Eurasian Crag Martin (Ptynoprogne rupestris).

The last stop in our tour was in some small cliffs immediately South of Tarragona. This small cape gave us gorgeous views of Sardinian Warbler, Hoopoe, Mediterranean Gull (Larus melanocephalus), Northern Gannet (Sula bassana) and Arctic Skua (Stercorarius parasiticus) chasing a gull in the sunset light. Various flocks of Mediterranean Shearwaters (Puffinus mauretanicus) were also appearing as well as Shag (Phalacrocorax aristotelis) even when their view was not so spectacular as expected.

It was a great final spot for a incredible birding tour. We then went to drink a warm coffee. It was the end of an intense seven days birding, a great time that provided incredible sights and allow to all of us to know make new friendships!!!

The point is what surprises are waiting for us in 2013 edition?

 

Velvet Scoter (Melanitta fusca) shot down in Ebro Delta

Ebro Delta is a huge wetland in South Catalonia. It holds a wide variety of waterfowl all year round, including over 100.000 waterfowls in winter.

Despite Ebro Delta’s main lagoons and marshes are protected by a Natural Park and some Natural Reserves hunting is still allowed during winter time. Coot (Fulica atra) is one of the species to be hunted within the Ebro Delta Natural Park. Every winter a pack of over 30.000 is wintering within its fresh water lagoons and a 10% of this number of Coots is allowed to be hunted.

On past 2012 December 16, 500 Coots were hunted in l’Encanyissada, the main fresh water lagoon in Ebro Delta. But along with the Coots a Velvet Scoter (Melanitta fusca) was also shot down. According with Ebro Delta’s Wildlife Rangers, ducks are few likely to be hunted along with Coots as they fastly flow off of the lagoon as soon as they see the small boats where hunters approach the massive flock of Coots. All Mallards, Teals, Gadwalls, Pintails, Shovelers and Pochards in the lagoon fastly disappear and only Coots (which absolutely dislike to fly) prefer to slowly swim until the flock is closed agaisnt an artifical small wall in the middle of the lagoon. This is the place where hunter wait for them.

Velvet Scoter (Melanitta fusca) is a rare winter species (5-10 individuals per year) in Catalonia favouring big, calm bays and deltas along the coastline. There are really few records of birds in fresh water lagoons. The Scoter maybe was not scared of people as this species, nesting in North Scandinavia and Russia, has little contact with human beings. Or maybe was too tired to fly and preferred to don’t move until it was absolutely necessary. This second option could answer the question; why was this duck in a fresh water lagoon?

Ebro Delta’s Wildlife Rangers have opened an investigation, but other protected or endangered species will be dead as long as hunting is allowed inside this Important Bird Area.

Lleida Steppes one-day Itinerary (April 2012)

Montagu’s Harrier (Circus pygargus) male. A locally common species in Lleida Steppes. Photo: Carles Oliver

Bruce  mailed me on early-March. He was coming from New York to spend some days with his family in Barcelona and, as any birder in any trip, he wanted to explore the wild around the city he was about to visit. He chose our 1-day Lleida Steppes itinerary in order to get as much nice views as possible of new/European birds. I picked him up in his hotel at 6:00 am, expecting to have a really nice birding day. In our way I was explaining him about the countryside and history around Barcelona both were chating about nature, conservation issues in our countries, and way to understand life in both sides of the Ocean.

Our first spot was some kilometers North of Tàrrega. In few minutes we found the first male of Little Bustard (Tetrax tetrax). It was standing up in the middle of a wheat field, a hundred metres from us. We could see how it was singing in the middle of the green and how its neck was moving with the rythm of its sounds, showing the beatiful neck black-and-white pattern. Some minutes later a second male was arriving to this same wheat field. They both stand beside, only few metres from each other. Every ten-twenty seconds one of them was moving towards its opponent. Males are strongly territorial in spring, defending some fields that they prefer to sing from and where they try to attrack females. Every male arriving to those points is just push it out. It is quite usual to see pursuits of three-four males trying to push out any single male that is appearing inside their headquarter.

It was only eight and a half but some raptors were already moving over the mild scenery; Marsh Harrier (Circus aeruginosus), Black Kite (Milvus migrans) and Goshwak (Accipiter gentilis) were all pratolling over the steppes, looking for mice or so. Some metres from the Bustards there were a pair of Stone Curlews (Burhinus oedicnemus) moving in an open field and beside them a Little Owl (Athene noctua) was watching us from a small, old wall.

Over the fields both Calandra (Melaconorypha calandra) and Crested Larks (Galerida cristata) were singing and flying around. There were also a good number of passerines (Subalpine Warbler –Sylvia cantillans, Northern Wheatear –Oenanthe oenanthe-, Winchat –Saxicola rubetra- Southern Grey Shrike –Lanius meridionalis). I guided Bruce to a corner were a pair  Great Spotted Cuckoo (Clamator glandarius) is moving year after year. This is a perfect place to locate them as the area supports a big number of Magpies (Pica pica). Great Spotted Cuckoos prefer to put their eggs on the nests of Magpies.

It had been a nice spot!! I decide to change our location as Bruce was quite interested about birds living in cliffs. Few kilometers West there is a lonely and productive limestone cliff, a nice place to locate some interesting species. In our way we found time to see some species living around villages as Tree Sparrow (Passer montanus), Spotless Starling (Sturnus unicolor) and Common Kestrel (Falcon tinnunculus). We arrived to the cliffs. A pair of Blue Rock Thrush (Monticola solitarius) was moving in the area, quite close to our car. Some minutes later was the time of the jewel of these cliffs as a Black Wheatear (Oenanthe leucura) was moving on the top of the cliffs. It was still time to Stonechat (Saxicola torquata) moving in the shrubs around. Back to the plains I lead Bruce until a nice view-point, an incredible place to locate raptors: we invested twenty minutes and we got an amazing raptors list including Lesser Kestrel (Falco naumanni), Montagu’s Harrier (Circus pygargus), Griffon Vulture (Gyps fulvus), Short-toed Eagle (Circaetus gallicus), Black Kite and Booted Eagle (Hieraaetus pennatus) along with nice views of smaller birds such as Cirl Bunting (Emberiza cirlus), Dartford Warbler (Sylvia undata), Black-eared Wheatear (Oenanthe hispanica) and Calandra Lark.

Stone-curlew (Burhinus oedicnemus) is a common species in the cultivated steppes in Lleida. Photo: Carles Oliver

Mid-day was getting close. It was time to move to our next location, a huge wetland in the middle of the plains, a restored paradise after it was drained in the fifties. It was time to lunch and we both enjoyed the Iberian pic-nic that is Barcelona Birding Point offers to its costumer when enjoying a 1-day Itinerary. Taking advantage of the hides, we both had lunch and easily find some birds around this large lagoon. From that first hyde we located Little Grebe (Tachybaptus ruficollis), Great Reed Warbler (Acrocephalus arundinaceus), Shoveler (Anas clypeata) and Cetti’s Warbler (Cettia cetti) aling with Marsh Harrier and Great Crested Grebe (Podiceps cristatus).

Once we end our splendid food it was time to explore some marshes around the lagoon. The flooded open redbeeds were really productive as they allowed us to locate a good number of waders on passage; the smart and delicate Black-winged Stilt (Himantopus himantopus), Redshank (Tringa totanus), Wood Sandpiper (Tringa glareola), Greenshank (Tringa nebularia), Ruuf (Philomachus pugnax), Ringed Plover (Charadrius hiaticula), Common Sandpiper (Actitis hypoleucos), Green Sandpiper (Tringa ochropus) and Common Snipe (Gallinago gallinago) along with passerines such as Iberian Yellow Wagtail (Motacilla flava iberiae) and Water Pipit (Anthus spinolleta).

But the most interesting was still to come. Thirty meters South from “waderworld” the reedbed becomes dense and impossible to explore. I stopped there looking for something special. At March and early April Little Crakes (Porzana parva) move North to their nesting sites in Central Europe…

Great Spotted Cuckoo (Clamator glandarius) juvenile is a rather secretive species living in the steppes and areas around. Photo: Carles Oliver

We waited for five, ten minutes.. and was appearing. First we listenned its song. A Little Crake was singing in the middle of the reedbed. Astonishing as these birds use to sing at dusk and never use to sing at two o’clock!! Five, ten minutes more searching inside the reeds and finally the Crake was getting out. We both enjoyed a beatiful, long view of the bird, moving along the edge of the dense vegetation.

About two and a half was time to change our location. A second hide was allowing us to discover waterfowls such as White Stork (Ciconia ciconia), Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea), Little Egret (Egretta garzetta), Purple Heron (Ardea purpurea), Whiskered Tern (Chlidonias hybridus), Great Cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo), Black-headed Gull (Larus ridibundus), Yellow-legged Gull (Larus cachinnans) and Greylag Goose (Anser anser).

The birch forest and reedbeds around the lagoon was also quite productive. Nightingales (Luscinia megarhynchos) and Blackcaps (Sylvia atricapilla) were singing at every corner and we got nice views of Great Reed Warbler (Acrocephalus arundinaceus), Penduline Tit (Remiz pendulinus) and Willow Warbler (Phylloscopus trochilus).

It was time to come back to Barcelona. We arrived to the city about six o’clock. Bruce was really happy as we had got about 80 species of birds in less far less than a day. The weather was also perfect as we enjoyed a sunny day and about 20-22ºc.

I left him in his hotel. You never know, maybe next time we’ll meet in New York.