Arxiu d'etiquetes: Wallcreeper

OrnitoRepte pela-roques (Tichodroma muraria), Novembre 2021

En un matí assolejat però freda, els participants en l’OrnitoRepte més agosarat ens vam trobar en un bar a prop de Balaguer per poder fer un cafè calent abans d’encetar la jornada.

Un cop en moviment, diferents rapinyaires van anar creuant la carretera, però no va ser fins arribar a prop dels espadats a on passaríem les primeres hores d’observació a on vam haver de fer una primera parada obligada. I és que una parella d’àguiles cuabarrades (Aquila fasciata) estaven volant força baix a la zona! Vam muntar telescopi i qui va voler va poder fins i tot gaudir d’una de les àguiles aturada al roquissar.

Una molt bona observació i una gran forma de començar la jornada ornitològica! Un cop vam aparcar els vehicles, el primer va ser fer un cop d’ull al riu que travessa la gorja en qüestió. Aquí un blauet (Alcedo atthis) va passsar fugiser, i una merla d’aigua (Cinclus cinclus) s’alimentava entre els còdols. Diferents voltors comuns (Gyps fulvus) volaven ja per la zona, i un xoriguer (Falco tinnunculus) va passar a tota velocitat per la cinglera, fent enmodir la corrua de pit-rojos, mallarengues, tallarols de casquest i cargolets que reclamaven als matollars i bosquines.

Part del grup gaudint del pela-roques. Imatge: Carles Oliver

Les mirades es van centrar ben d’hora en els espadats. Repassar les seves parets llises, forats, esquerdes i ondulacions a la cerca d’alguna forma o moviment sospitosos. Així vam trobar una llunyana merla blava (Monticola solitarius) que prenia els primers rajos de sol al capdamunt d’una cinglera. Passaven els minuts i el grup es disgregava per la gorja. Algun estol de mallarengues cuallargues (Aegithalos caudatus) i un parell de bruels (Regulus ignicapillus) van venir a saludar a una part del grup.

Al llarg de la propera hora van estar-nos en un parell de llocs estratègics, escorcollant les inmenses parets de roca al nostra voltants. Les àguiles cuabarrades, van tornar a aparèixer, i les seves voltes ens van fer entrar en escalfor! Al riu, una cuereta torrentera (Motacilla cinerea) va captar la nostra atenció per un moment quant de cop i volta algú advertí: “quin és aquest ocell que vola per sobre el riu?” Tothom mirada amunt per veure un pela-roques volant per sobre el meandre del riu!!! “Pela-roques, pela-roques”, va ressonar arreu! L’ocell va anar a aturar-se a dalt de tot d’un llunyà pollegó, però amb els telescopis el vam poder veure força bé!

Un minut després d’arribar un segon pela-roques va aparèixer al cel, i el primer Tichodroma va deixar el seu pollegó per fer fora el nou ocells, que va continuar riu amunt, sense aturar-se. Va ser el moment escollit per apropar-nos. Un dels pela-roques havia tornar al mateix pollegó, però força més baix. En atansar-nos el vam perdre vista, i al llarg de deu minuts ningú no va saber més del pela-roques… Però llavors uns quants afortunats el van veure sortir d’un forat a pocs metres de distància! L’ocell va volar al nostra voltant per finalment creuar el riu i aturar-se en una gran paret a on va romandre al llarg de ben bé mitja hora!

Pela-roques (Tichodroma muraria) en plena acció. Imatge de Begonya Torres

Allà tothom el va poder observar a plaer i treure força fotos (un xic desvirtuades per la distància), i observar el curiós comportament d’aquesta espècie d’hàbits tant extrems. Fins i tot el vam poder menjar, ja que en una de les seves excursions per dins de cavitats, va aparèixer amb una Macroglossum stellatarum al bec, el que va fer pujar l’exitació del grup a nivells estratosfèrics!!

Després de ben bé 20 minuts d’observació continuada del pela-roques, vam començar a desfilar cap als vehicles. Els voltors comuns ja volaven alt, com a per a dir adéu a tot el grup. A la sortida de la gorja, però , va ser necessari una nova parada. Desenes de tords ala-rojos (Turdus iliacus) reclamaven i voleiaven pels encontorns. Vam saltar dels vehicles i vam estar una bona estona mirant d’aconseguir una observació mínimament digna d’aquesta espècie. Grives (Turdus viscivorus) i algun tord comú (Turdus philomelos) es van deixar veure bé. Alguns afortunats sí que van poder gaudir d’una bona observació de tord ala-roig, però malauradament la majoria del grup es va haver de resignar a sentir-ne els reclams.

De tornada als vehicles, vam fer via cap al Sud, a la cerca d’una petita llacuna a on de feia unes setmanes s’estaven veient unes quantes Anàtides. Després d’un cafè recostituent, vam cobrir la petita distància que ens separava de la bassa en qüestió. Al poc d’arribar ja vam poder observar el principal atractiu de la bassa, un grupet de 3 morells xocolaters (Aythya nyroca) que nedaven amb la llum del migdia, oferint molt bones observacions. Aquesta és bàsicament una espècie de l’Est de l’Europa, que té a l’Europa Occidental petites poblacions reproductores. A la Península Ibèrica es calculen menys de 20 parelles anuals!

Fotges en primer terme, i morells xocolater en segon terme. Imatge: Carles Oliver

A la llacuna també vam poder gaudir d’una bona selecció d’espècies típiques d’aquestes zones com cabusset (Tachybaptus ruficollis), fotja comuna (Fulica atra), ànec coll-verd (Anas platythynchos), xarxet comú (Anas crecca), ànec cullerot (Spatula clypeata) i morell de cap roig (Aythya ferina). La bassa bullia de vida, i també ho feien els camps que l’envoltaven: Hi havien estols de cruixidells (Emberiza calandra) i aloses comunes (Alauda arvensis), cogullades comunes (Galerida cristata) i passerells (Liniaria cannabina) junt amb cornelles (Corvus corone) i grans estolls d’estornells (Sturnus sp.).

Les Arpelles comunes (Circus aeruginosus) i algun aligot comú (Buteo buteo) anaven repasant els estols d’ocells a la cerca d’alguna presa fàcil mentre els insectívors més petits, com els bitxacs comuns (Saxicola rubicola) no badaben davant l’oportunitat d’enxampar algun insecte. A la llunyania, algunes fredelugues (Vanellus vanellus) van assenyalar el camí per escrutar els camps més detingudament, i el nostre esforç va trobar la recompensa en un petit estol de daurades grosses (Pluvialis apricaria) que, si bé no es van deixar veure massa estona a terra, sí que ens van deixar gaudir amb els seu vol.

Amb aquesta última observació i alguns repicatalons (Emberiza schoeniclus) que ja passaven volant cap al canyissar des dels camps a on s’havien estat alimentant, vam acabar un matí ben profitós que va deixar a tothom ben content, i amb ganes de molts més OrnitoReptes!!!

Podeu consultar els propers OrnitoReptes ací: https://barcelonabirdingpoint.com/ornito-reptes/?lang=ca

Pyrenees Winter Break (+ Ebro Delta), 2020 Trip Report

Number of days: 6

Tour participants: 5

Dates: February 6th to 11th, 2020

All images along the tour by Brian Buffery, Giovanni Grieco and tour leader Carles Oliver.

The tour participants to the tour flew into Barcelona prior the tour started. We met the next morning in their hotel neat the airport for an early morning transfer to the Pyrenees. Temperature was high as a result of several days of high pressures, and temperatures escalating above 20C in the days before the tour started.

Day 1. Once in the Pyrenees, we drove up until 1600 metres high and spent some time in a rocky slope with small cliffs. There, we got good views on Rock Buntings, singing and showing up really well. European Crested Tits were also noted, but we didn’t have any other good bird. From there, the lovely lane brought us throught Mountain forests with small flocks of Mistle Thruses and Common Crossbills. Once the forests end, the lane crosses some alpine meadows show. Due to the long period of high temperatures, the snow was few, and concentrated in a certain slopes. We spent some time scanning, with little success. Only a few Eurasian Griffons were moving in the sky, joined by 1 Common Raven.

Black Redstart (Phoenicurus ochruros), a common but always wonderful flycatcher to see.

We spent some time scanning the snowed slopes with little luck, and we were about to leave when 3 Snowfinches flew from a spinned slope, really high up in the mountain. Despite teh birds were extremelly far away we decided to spend some time scanning the slope.  But nothing. Sowe drove half a mile, and scan again. And now we were more lucky as a nice flock of about 25 Snowfinches showed in the sky, flying from a close slope. The birds we actually doing some short flights to inmediatly reland in the slope, so we got excellent views on the birds walking on the snow, feeding and preening. Unfortunately all birds were a bit far up in the slope, so not really excellent chances for photography. We spent about half an hour waiting for the birds to eventually come down the slope and have closer views. Unfortunately the birds never came really closer.

Happy after the enjoying a species I was not expecting to find, we kept our way and came back to the mountain pass. There, there was a good number of Eurasian Griffons passing by, producing some really good views. Here we also got excellent views on a flock of Alpine Chough flying over, calling, and playing in the sky as only a Chough can do.

Only a pair of minutes after the Chough did its show, a large raptor was seen along with Eurasian Griffons. Moving slowly above the slope, an impressive adult Lammergeier was moving to our position. Everybody connected with the bird of prey way before the bird was close, so everybody enjoyed excellent views on the bird approaching us… The majestic bird just passed over us, the snow reflecting on the underwings so we all enjoyed the details of the axiles, the underwinds and its iconic moustache. The bird was around for some minutes, and we still had a second Lammergeier passing by before we moved to our accommodation for some rest.

We got our first views on Lammergeier (Gypaetos barbatus) in the first morning of the tour.

After some resting, we still had time to explore a wooded slope in search of some new species. The area was full of Common Crossbills, some of them singing. A lovely Iberian Green Woodpecker was a celebrated spot in the group. The area was full of birds: Eurasian Siskin, Mistle Thrush, Rock Bunting, Shorttoed Treecreeper and Crested Tit were also noted. Big flocks of migratory Common Chaffinches were around. We did a number of stops along the lane, and among them 2 Citril Finches passed over our heads, calling. Unfortunately only one tour participant had a view in these birds.

The afternoon was going away and as the night came we moved to a proper spot for the most difficult of the Owls in Europe. We didn’t have to wait long because soon after sunset we had a Tengmalm’s Owl singing quite close to our van! The bird started singing about 80 metres away so we just walked inside the open woodland, trying to find the small owl. We enjoyed a wonderful listening but despite our efforst, we never so this scarce owl!

Sunset is to arrive to the Pyrenean subboreal forest.

Day 2. After a good rest, we just started our second day by spending some time in the same lane where we were the last afternoon. Our goal was to have better views on Citril Finches. But that morning we were no lucky about them. After this we spent the rest of the morning in a mountain pass closeby. A huge flock of above 70 Red-billed Choughs was feeding on the greenish slopes that were supposed to be snowed. High temperatures for 15 days in a row right before the arrival of the group had been meltering the snow, and despite our efforts we were uncapable to find any Alpine Accentor, the main goal of the morning.

Crag Martin (Ptynoprogne rupestris) showinfg the tail markings.

After lunch we drove to the steppes for some afternoon birding. Our first stop was to check some corners looking for one of the most sought-after species in this habitat. Meanwhile, we enjoyed very much to find a large flock of over 150 Eurasian Tree Sparrows. Several other species were recorded around including Eurasian Reed Bunting, Corn Bunting, European Stonechat, Eurasian Skylark, Northern Lapwing, Common Kestrel, Crested Lark, Common Buzzard, Meadow Pipit and several more!

To spot Little Bustards (Tetrax tetrax) out of the nesting season can be difficult.

In our second stop we were more lucky, and after some scanning we found 12 Little Bustards in a nearby field. They were hiding in a filed with tall vegetation and we could only count them after a long wait and search of the small neck appearing above the grass. While enjoying them, we got other good birds around including 1 Great White Egret, Grey Heron , Mistle Thrush and Zitting Cisticola.

But a good surprise was to come. In a nearby field, a large flock of over 150 European Golden Plovers was resting. It look like the typcical large premigratory flock. While trying to count the Bustards, Gio was scanning the plovers and he was lucky enough to find out a 1st winter Eurasian Dotterel right in the center of the flock! What a nice spot!!!

Eurasian Dotterel (Charadrius morinellus) in a flock of Golden Plover close to Linyola.

After such a great spot we just moved to a nearby wetland for the last stop of the day. The large fresh water lagoon is placed in the middle of a large plain, and attracks good number os Western Marsh Harriers that roost in the reedbeds. We counted no less than 23 of them! Eurasian Teals, Northern Shovelers, Common Snipes, Reed Buntings, Water Rail, Northern Lapwings, Redcrested Pochards and big numbers of Great Cormorants and Western Jackdaws were all enjoyed, but probably the best birds for most of the tour participants were the Western Swamphens showing in the reedbeds, and noisily calling as the sunset approached. A wonderful end of the day!

During the afternoon we found this roosting place with +150 Eurasian Tree Sparrows (Passer montanus).

Day 3. This day we drove up a long valley, into the a Catalan shire called Pallars, to look for some Pyrenean especialities. Our first stop was in a huge gorge. There, we hope for the most wanted bird for many birdwatchers visting the Pyrenees in winter, the Wallcreeper. During a pair of hours we walked and scouted the rocks all around, hoping for any movement in the cliffs. Whitebellied Dippers were singing, very active in the river, and we counted 4 in single corner of the river! Some Eurasian Griffons were also moving in the sky, and didn’t take long until the massive silouhette of 1 Lammergeier appeared from the massive cliffs. Red Kite and Rock Bunting were also enjoyed.

After a long search, we finally found an extremelly distant Wallcreeper in a big, plain rock face. Only 1 tour participant saw the bird, so we all spent a lot of time trying to refind the bird. Some minutes passed away, and nobody was having the Wallcreeper…but suddenly a something moved in the rocks really close to us, inmediatly at the other side of the river: Wallcreeper!

Wallcreeper (Tichodroma muraria), always a challenging bird!

We were having a Wallcreeper right there, and this time everyone in the group found the bird without difficulties! We spent a pair of minutes enjoying of the bird moving in the rock face, beside a huge cavity. As always, it was great moment for anyone in the group!! After taking photos and recording videos we were enjoying the bird until it moved away from the rock face… and then came the typical question, was that the same bird that we were looking for extremely high up, or was it a different one? Who knows…

In this stop we still enjoyed a pair of other good birds before going for a coffee stop as Shorttoed Treecreeper and Eurasian Crag Martin showed really well in our way to the car.

After our pic-nic stop, we spent a pair of hours exploring a wooded lane, a wonderful spot for Citril Finches. Again, Common Crossbills were common and active. There were flocks of Eurasian Goldfinches and Common Chaffinches and, while scanning the flocks looking for something different, we enjoyed 2 superb Lammergeiers flying ove us in beautiful light. After a long, long scanning, 2 Citril Finches were seen when driving down the lane so we inmediatly stopped, with the finches calling around and moving in the trees for a some seconds before they moved away as they seemed associated to a huge flock of Common Chaffinches. We scanned over and over the flock but we were uncapable to refind them. Mistle Thrush, Fieldfare and Hawfinch were noted in the while.

One of the 4 Lammergeiers (Gypaetos barbatus) seen during that day.

The last stop of the day was to look for Eurasian Black Vulture. The Catalan Pyrenees holds a small population of about 50 individuals, concentrated in a pair of valleys but expanding in range and numbers. The whole day had been poor in raptor activity and, when we did arrive to the observation place, the raptor activity was minimal. Still, there were some Eurasian Griffons flying and after some hard scanning we found at least three distant Eurasian Black Vulture circling along with them. Another Lammergeier was also found, by the way. Here we also enjoyed some small birds including Cirl Bunting, Great Spotted Woodpecker and Sardinian Warblers. After this stop we drove back to our accommodation for a good dinner and rest.

Day 4. Early morning start to explore the steppes. After a transfer we did arrive to the dry lands where most of the specialities are to be found. Unfortunately the weather was not good at all, as it was extremelly windy… Windy days can be terrible in the steppes, being quite easy to miss most (or all) the good birds in such a conditions.

But we were confident so our first stop was in a corner were Sandgrouses use to feed in early morning. A first look to the area revealed no activity at all. Only 1 or 2 Calandra Larks were flying, almost no songs in the sky. A distant Red Kite was the most notiable… We moved slowly along the lane, carefully scanning the fields that were hurt by the wind. It took us a good while until we found the first Blackbellied Sandgrouse on the ground. A male. Did an effort to get the scopes out so everybody could enjoy despite the really strong wind. Some minutes later, a small flock of 5 Pintailed Sandgrouses moved from a nearby filed, coming closer to us. It took some time to put everybody in the birds as they mild so well even if it was so few grass! Our happiness was complete when we realised that there were also some Blackbellied Sandgrouses on the ground, only few metres away from the Pintailed’s!! So, at the end, we had both species together side by side, feeding, preening and enjoying the hard morning weather!

Due to very strong winds, this is the best image we got on a Pin-tailed Sandgrouse.

Black-bellied Sandgrouse (Pterocles orientalis) during one of the last tours to Morocco. No images during this tour…

A short drive in the area around provided us with good views on Thekla, Calandra & Sky Larks. Also Little Owl, Iberian Grey Shrike and Redbilled Chough. Due to the wind it was again little movement of raptors in the sky, or that is what it looked like until 4 Golden Eagles appeared in the sky at the same time! Two adults and 2 juveniles playing long time with the wind at short range.

This obliging Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos) was the first of the 5 seen during the day!

After a coffee stop we still had time to enjoy some good views on Lesser Shorttoed Larks before changing the habitat to explore some cliffs nearby.

The short drive to the clay cliffs produced several White Storks, some of them in their nests, Spotless Starlings, and Common Buzzards. Once arrived, we were suprised by a bird moving in the cliff.A Wallcreeper!!! Amazing. It is not normal to see a Wallcreeper so low, and it is even more strange to see it in a clay cliff which is not especially in the middle of the plains! Again everybody enjoyed the bird while moving up. Higher, a Blue Rock Thrush was also really showy. After a pair of minutes enjoying the bird we lost it and spent some time looking for the Black Wheatears living in this spot. After some minutes we had a pair of Black Wheatear moving in the broken slope. Here we also got the firsts Black Redstarts and Common Chiffchaffs of the tour.

This Wallcreeper (Tichodroma muraria) was totally unexpected, and shared cliff with Blue Rock Thrush and Black Wheatear.

After such a wonderful stop, we faced our transfer to Ebro Delta, a pair of hours of driving with several surprises in the way. The area between Lleida Steppes and Ebro Delta is a complex, hilly area crossed by Ebro river. It is good nautral border and a natural corridor that many birds use between the Mediterranean coast and the Pyrenees. The afternoon was sunny and calm and soon we realised that it was a good number of birds of prey migrating. After a pair of stops we had 1 Short-toed Snake Eagle, 1 Black Kite, 1 Northern Goshawk, several Common Buzzards and a few Eurasian Sparrowhawks moving North.

Once in Ebro Delta, we spent the rest of the afternoon in the Northern Bay, where we enjoyed good views on a long list of species. Slender-billed & Audouin’s Gull were the most celebrated but the list also included Whiskered, Caspian & Sandwich Terns, Black-necked Greve, Red-crested Pochard, Kentish Plover, Greenshank, Common Sandpiper, Knot, Eurasian Oystercatcher, Bar-tailed Godwit, Eurasian Curlew, Little Stint, Dunlin, Common Snipe, Common Redshank, big flocks of Greater Flamingoes and Mediterranean Gulls plus ruff views on a female Bluethroat that showed shortly due to the strong wind! After such a great end of the day, we drove to our accommodation for a good rest and plentiful dinner. 

Day 5. After enjoying our breakfast we went out to take a fast look to a small pond just by our hotel. There, we had a good surprise as a male Little Bittern moved in the reeds providing good looks. Cetti’s Warbler and Little Egret were also seen there!

But our first serious stop of the day was by the largest fresh water lagoon in the delta, called l’Encanyissada. A pair of stops were enough to catch with some of the most sought-after species. While flocks of Greater Flamingoes were passing over, we enjoyed wonderful views on Western Swamphens. In the lagoon there were flocks of Blacknecke Grebes but out attention was focused in the reedbeds. Cetti’s Warbler was showing well in some small plants by the reeds and 2 Water Pipits were seen in a nearby channel along with Green Sandpiper. But all alarms went on when a “tak-tak” came from the reeds. There was a Moustached Warbler just along the edge of the reedbed, calling and moving really low in the brown steems. It didn’t take long until all tour participants were enjoying good views on this shy species!

But the bird spectacled kept going. A flock of 5 Wood Sandpipers flew over right at the same time that 1 Whitespotted Bluethroat male called from the reedbed. A bit of scan was required before all tour participants enjoyed excellent views on this bird. The male was actually quite showy and it was calling a pair of times as it was moving along the shore of the channel. A further scan along different channels revealed at least 5 Bluethroats, 2 of them being males in full summer plomage.

Bluethroat (Luscinia svecica) in typical winter habitat.

After such a successful stop we decided to move on to explore some salt marshes. The area is an important nesting place for several species, including Audouin’s Gull, and we could see that many of them were already back in the area. At least 80 Audouins’s were there along with Caspian Terns, Grey Plovers, Kentish & Common Ringed Plovers, 100s of Dunlins and at least 7 Little Stints in the middle.

Audouin’s Gulls (Ichthyaetus audouinii) already busy in their colony.

From there we end the morning by exploring a sand bar facing South. This is a good place where to enjoy waders, Terns and Gulls. Several Great Crested Grebes were on the sea, as the sand bar protects a large inner bay. Along with them, 4 Blackthroated Divers were fishing and offering great views, but the best was to discover 1 Great Skua resting on the sea, far away but still offering a god view. Closer, flocks of Dunlins & Kentish Plovers were really appreciated by the group, along with the Slenderbilled Gulls side by side to Mediterranean Gull. A good way to walk the path of telling them apart. Northern Gannet and Ruddy Turnstone were also enjoyed in this stop.

Western Swamphen (Porphyrio porphyrio) has become a common view in Ebro Delta.

To enjoy our picnic we went inside a wooded hide. From the hide, it didn’t look like a lot of birds, but we were having a good fun with the nice views on Western Swamphens and Cetti’s Warbler while a Booted Eagle was circling. Suddenly, a Great Spotted Cuckoo crossed the lagoon to stop right beside the hide! Wonderful!! This species of cuckoo arrives really early in the season and by the end of February you can expect some of them moving around, but due to the few time we had in the steppes, I was not expecting to see them at all!

Slim numbers of Booted Eagles (Aquila pennata) overwinter in Ebro Delta.

Great Spotted Cuckoo (Clamator glandarius) is a scarce migratory bird in Ebro Delta itself.

During the afternoon we drove up along a lane to explore a mountainous areas some 30 miles away from Ebro Delta. It is extremelly windy and we had to drive up and down the lane a pair of times before we succeed, but finally we got what we were looking for and 2 Alpine Accentors were seen in the lane, right in front of the car!!! The birds were just feeding by the lane despite the extremelly strong wind but unfortunately they flew off down the slope before we could take any image of them…

Spanish Ibex (Capra hispanica) in a typical view.

Really happy about this spot, we moved to our final stop. A lovely Mediterranean gorge hosts some really good specialities. Weather conditions were hard so bird activity was really low. Still, we got good views in a female Spanish Ibex and we were about to leave when a call came from high up the cliff and a wonderful male Bonelli’s Eagle came down to inmediatly display over the valley. It called again just when dramatically dived in the sky to come back to the cliffs in a fast movement!!! What a incredible sight to end the day!!!

Bonelli’s Eagle (Aquila fasciata) displaying in late afternoon.

But this was not all. After dinner we just went out to the hotel grounds, were the tour participants enjoyed wonderful vews on 1 Eurasian Scops Owl that is actually nesting in a nest box right there!!!

Eurasian Scops Owl (Otus scops) already at nest at the end of February!

Day 6. Our last day of the tour we spent the morning in the delta. In our first stop we were scouting a large marshy area: big flocks of Blackwinged Stilts and Pied Avocets were resting there along with Northern Shovelers, Pintails, Blacktailed Godwits, Common Kingfishers, Shelducks and other goodies. Beyond this spot, the paddy fields around provided good birding and an accurate scan we enjoyed good views on 30 or more Ruffs but also Dunlins, European Golden Plovers, huge flocks of Glossy Ibises, obliging Lesser Shorttoed Larks and 1 Peregrine Falcon (probably a calidus race).

Young Greater Flamingoes (Phoenicopterus roseus) love to feed in the paddy fields.

It was time to head back to the airport but we still had time for a pair of fast stops around Barcelona. Our picnic stop by the airport reported Water Pipit. The afternoon was rainy and cold but we still tried to get the impressive Red-billed Leiothrix, an alien species living in some well forested areas in Greater Barcelona. By the time we did arrive, the temperature was low but we still managed good views on Firecrest as well as Monk Parakeet, Coal, Longtailed and European Crested Tits.

Ans this was the end of this wonderful tour to the Pyrenees, despite the really high temperatures!! Already ready for our next adventure, happening very soon.

Do you want to join us?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pyrenees Winter Break, 2018 Trip Report

Dates: 13th to 16th February, 2018

Number of participants: 5 

2019 dates: February 19th to 23rd. Join for great birding and good fun!

Day 1. February 13th

We start our tour by picking up the tour participants from their hotel and about 7:45 we were already out of the city. This time the first destination was the farmland plain of Llobregat Delta. This worked really well and it was done to allow some clients to join the trip as they were landing in Barcelona minutes before 9:00.

So, after a fast coffee we went out to have some birds. Temperature was 10ºC with clear sky. We explored a farming area extremely close to the airport combining small fields and patches of decidious forest. We soon had the first flocks of finches of the trip. Mainly Common Chaffinches (Fringilla coelebs), Eurasian Goldfinches (Carduelis carduelis) and Eurasian Greenfinches (Chloris chloris) but also several European Serins (Serinus serinus) feeding on ground. Our quest bird for the site was Iberian Green Woodpecker (Picus sharpei), a recently split species from European Green Woodpecker being endemic of the Iberian Peninsula.

 

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European Serin (Serinus serinus) is common bird in Catalan lowlands. Image: Carles Oliver

 

We soon had some birds calling around and it was not long until we got nice views on one individual perched in a tree for long. That was a really nice view followed for 2 more birds flying around and interacting.

The fields kept producing good birding as there were several Black Redstarts (Phoenicurus ochruros) and some Sardinian Warblers (Sylvia melanocephala) moving around. Also Common Chiffchaffs (Phylloscopus collybita) and the firsts of many Crested Larks (Galerida cristata) of the trip were appearing.

While moving in the area we had a distant male Hawfinch (Coccothraustes coccothraustes) perched in the top of a tree while some Eurasian Siskins (Carduelis spinus) flew over us with no change for a proper view. Was time to go to the airport but we still had time to enjoy 3-4 Hoopoes (Upupa epops) feeding on the ground and we could enjoy how the birds were digging on the sandy soil while looking for warms and small insects.

 

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Iberian Green Woodpecker (Picus sharpei) was the first quest bird showing nicely in the tour. Image: Carles Oliver

 

Hoopoes are mainly summer visitors in Catalonia but in the last 20 years more and more birds are staying all year round. Now, in Llobregat Delta, there are a pair of winter roosting places and they normally move in small flocks at the beggining of the day.

Soon after one of the members of the trip had 2 Red-legged Partridges (Alectoris rufa) and the whole group enjoyed the birds. That was a really good start of the trip but now was time to pick up the rest of participants and go up to the Pyrenees.

After a two hours long transfer from the coast we arrived to Catalan Pyrenees to explore the high mountain slopes. That afternoon we were cofused in a mountain pass about 2000 metres high to look for the main targets of that day; Snow Finch and Alpine Accentor. Weather was still okay but it was broadcasted a huge weather change for the afternoon including heavy snow and Siberian-like temperatures, and the extremely dark cloudes coming from our left were the prove that the broadcast was right, this time. So, we were not having a lot of time, probably 2 hours or so…

After some exploratory stops we just decided to walk a bit along the lonely road. Both species use to move in flocks in winter and the size of the flocks can be really variable, from 2-3 birds to 100 of them! We were lucky this time and didn’t have to wait much until we found some birds moving in the open, grassy slope. It was a small flock of 4 Alpine Accentors (Prunella collaris) feeding in the slope! We walked a bit up, and enjoyed extremelly close views on the birds that produced really good images! Unfortunately it was no signal of Snow Finches, which may be appearing along with Alpine Accentors, sometimes.

 

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Alpine Accentors (Prunella collaris) close up. A small flock allowed us really close views at our first attemp in Catalan Pyrenees. Image: Carles Oliver

 

Back to road we decided to keep exploring up the road. Weather was getting much and much worst and we were having some Snow and wind. A new stop some half a quilometre beyond produced lovely views in a herd of Pyrenean Chamoises (Rupicabra pyrenaica) while enjoying with the calls and moviments of a small flock of Red-billed Choughs (Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax). Here we also enjoyed the first raptor of the trip: a juvenile Lammergeier (Gypaetos barbatus)! The bird just appeared at the other side of the valley and we all had its majestic flight for some time before it became difficult to track due to the falling snow…

Lammergeiers are nesting not far from the place and a mininum of two juveniles plus the adults are likely to move in these slopes, and this despite the density of the bird is lower than in other areas of the Catalan Pyrenees!

Out of a pair of small flocks of Mistle Thrush (Turdus viscivorus) and 1 or 2 Fieldfares (Turdus pilaris) there was not much other activity in the mountain pass as the weather was turning really bad so we decided to start going down, always really slow to allow some scan around and try to get something else! And we got something else…. Suddenly, a big flock of about 80 Snow Finches (Montifringilla nivalis) came down from one of the slopes, and extremelly fast passed by the van! What a great view of the birds showing its really long, white-and-black wings and the interesting white pattern in their tails! We stopped and could enjoy the call of the birds in the snowy landscape. We were even luckier since some ten of them stopped in the snow for some seconds, some feeding on the teasels sticking up from the Snow. It took 20 seconds before the birds followed the whole flock moving down the slope. What a magical view!! And just in time!!

 

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This Snow Finch (Montifringilla nivalis) posed for about 10 seconds before following the whole flock down the slope! Image: Carles Oliver

 

Happy about our success we decided to stop in a coffee shop where we had a rather late lunch. This kind of places sometimes attrack high mountain birds and this time we got a Water Pipit (Anthus spinolleta) and 1 White Wagtail (Motacilla alba), nice combination.

After lunch we head down the valley where weather was better so we decided to explore the fields around the village where were going to sleep. One hour of exploring was enough to get a really nice set of species. We were in La Cerdanya, a lovely Pyrenean valley that is many times concentrating large flocks of finches and buntings.

We just visited an area where birds go to roost and found good number of Yellowhammers (Emberiza citrinella), Tree Sparrows (Passer montanus), Corn Buntings (Emberiza calandra) alongside 35+ Rock Buntings (Emberiza cia), a good number of Cirl Buntings (Emberiza cirlus) and 8+ Bramblings (Fringilla montifringilla). What a wonderful combination of birds! The trees nearby were hosting a small flock of 6 Hawfinches and we also listened the distant call of an Iberian Green Woodpecker

That was the end of the day and we just drove 10 minutes more until our accommodation, where we had a good rest and an excellent local cuisine dinner.

Day 2. February 14th

Our second day of the trip started with a massive snowfall in all the area around teh Pyrenees. We were actually lucky to leave our accommodation quite early in the morning since weather conditions kept getting worst and worst in La Cerdanya for the next hours and many people were incomunicated and even the village where we were staying was incomunicated for about 1 day!

But when the worst was coming we were already in the road and all roads we were passing by were clear enough to guarantee a fluent, although slow, traffic. This day we were explorig a diferent valley, called Pallars. The area is considered as the best for raptors in the whole Pyrenees, not only for the massive numbers of vultures but also because it hosts a healthy population of Eurasian Black Vultures.

Our first target bird was the famous and wonderful Wallcreeper (Tichodroma muraria). During previous trips this year we were having a bird showing quite well in a gorge about 11:00 to noon so about 11:00 in the morning we were already scanning the rocks. This is a bird that can be really difficult to find so a carefully scanning of the cliff faces is mandatory if you want to keep your changes on the bird high.

While scanning around we got 4-5 Dippers (Cinclus cinclus) singing and moving in the river crossing the gorge. Some tits were also showing well including Long-tailed Tit (Aegithalos caudatus rosaeus), Firecrest (Regulus ignicapilla) and Short-toed Treecreeper (Certhia brachydactyla). Raptors were not moving so much because of the snowfall and only a few Eurasian Griffons (Gyps fulvus) were showing in short views moving along the cliffs. The ambient was really cold (-6ºC) but, fortunately, with no wind. The scanning kept the same until we got a moviment high up in the cliffs. Only a brief glimpse in a bird moving in and out the rocky slope. We all stick together and scanned around but with no feedback for about 2 minutes, and then a wonderful Wallcreeper showed out, and flew down the cliff the emerge not far away from us!

The bird was moving for a while, getting in and out a pair of wholes and finally stopped in a rock, preening for about one minute. After that the bird just flew and crossed the gorge, getting to the opposite site and flying up the slope so we alll lost the bird. It was a really nice view of about a pair of minutes. Excellent.

Happy about this nice views in such a difficult conditions we decided to go to the closer village, get a coffee and scape the bad weather.

In the afternoon, and after a rest of a pair of hours in our accommodation, where we had our packed lunches, we decided to go out and try something else. Weather conditions were improving. No snowfall any more and small patches of blue sky were a good start to think that afternoon could be good for raptors.

So, about 15:00 we arrived around Boumort Game Reserve, where there was “some” activity. And that “some” activity included about 40 to 50 Griffons circling and try to get higher as well as 7 Red Kites (Milvus milvus) in our way up to the area. We parked around and started scanning the cliff faces and all around.

Soon, we found our first adult Lammergeier (Gypaetos barbatus) soaring along cliff Ridge and this bird was immediatly followed by a second adult, and by a juvenile! More and more Griffons were now in the sky and also 2 Eurasian Black Vultures (Aegypius monachus) joined them. Soon, more Blacks were coming from the far side of the cliff and we counted a mínimum of 8 individuals moving around. Mainly juveniles, showing really black but also some adult, with a dulkier coloration and a wing profile not as extremelly squared as the juveniles.

 

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Adult Lammergeier (Gypaetus barbatus), one of the at least 8 individuals we had along the tour. Image: Carles Oliver

 

The fields around were having a good moviment of birds including Woodlarks (Lullula arborea) singing out in the surprisingly sunny afternoon, Mistle Trush, European Serins, Cirl Buntings, Rock Sparrows, Sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus), Linnets (Carduelis cannabina), Eurasian Nuthatch (Sitta europaea), Great Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos major) and a fast-flying Citril Finch (Carduelis citrinella). This bird, a main target of the trip, was unfortunately not stopping at all and only a pair of the participants could notice it and get some details on the bird (larger than Serin, longer tailed and showing a clear wing bar). The bird flew pas us up the valley but it was no chance to follow it since the track was closed due to the snowfall…

Back to the cliffs we could still enjoy more and more vultures, with Lammergeiers passing every whiles and Black Vultures and Griffons circling above us. Small flocks of Red-billed Choughs were also moving around and 1 Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos) and 1 male Hen Harrier (Circus cyaneus) were both a good adding right before we started coming back to our accommodation

Day 3. February 15th

Early morning start, this time to explore some high mountains woodlands before going South to Lleida Steppes! Main quest bird of the morning was Black Woodpecker. Never easy! The original plan was to explore a really wonderful place north in the same shire but, due to the Snowfall, the track was probably block…So, we changed the plan and went to a tarmac lane leading to a sky resort that is was for sure clear.

We arrived there a bit before 10:00 with a cloudy but quiet weather (about 0ºC). The area to explore is about 1700 metres high and much warmer than in the valley due to the typical thermical inversion of the high mountains.

Some birds were moving around and we soon had good views on some Crested Tits (Lophophanes cristatus), Coal Tits (Periparus ater), Short-toed Treecreepers, Goldcrests (Regulus regulus) and one Firecrest. A small flock of Common Crossbills (Loxia curvirostra) were showing well in the top of some pines including a long-staying singing male!

We just kept searching for the main goody up the there and did a pair of walks, still having more small birds moving in the canopies but with no new addings to our list, out of some Mistle Thursh. It was taking a bit long with and the rather boring moment was broken by a Lammergeier soaring extremelly low over the slope in what it was propably the closest view we have had in the whole winter on the bird!

The group was still magnetised by the smart raptor when a clear call of a Black Woodpecker (Dryocopus martius) came up from the slope. The bird was quite close, actually. We stood there for a while and the bird came to us and perched some 50 metres away, high up in a tree so everybody had excellent views on the bird. The bird was still calling a pair of times more and then flew to our left and gave us excellent views on it in flight!

 

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Black Woodpecker (Dryocopus matrius) was showing surprisingly well despite an extremelly windy and snowy previous day! Image: Carles Oliver

 

We were all satisfied with such a good views on a bird that is famous for being shy and rather unobtrusive so we started moving South, and explore the plains known as Lleida Steppes and located inmediatly South of the Pyrenees. Less than 90 minutes of drive were enough to produce a massive change in the landscape, and to lead us to our accommodation for the last night of the trip.

Along the way we enjoyed of several Griffons and Red Kites flying around and we had a nice to stop to enjoy the two firsts Iberian Grey Shrike (Lanius meridionalis) of the trip. These birds are endemic of the Iberian Peninsula so they are always a must-see bird!

Iberian Grey Shrike are slightly smaller than Northern Grey Shrikes are, and show less powerful, more compact due to a slightly shorter tail, and clearly darker especially in the undersides, where it shows a pinkish buff which is not always easy no notice. It has also a shorter bill, plainer culmen on it and a thin supercillium if compared with Northern Grey. When flying, looks like smaller bird with smaller white patches in the wing coverts.

Our first movement in the steppes was Utxesa, a wetland surrounded by large reedbeds. Far before stopping the car we were having about 10-12 Marsh Harriers (Circus aeruginosus). Main quest birds here were all living in the reedbeds. The afternoon was a bit chilly but with no wind, something really important when exploring these kind of habitats. It didn’t take long until we listened the firsts calls of Western Penduline Tits (Remiz pendulinus) and Cetti’s Warblers (Cettia cetti) and a proper scanning of the reedbeds and riberside vegetation produced good views on them as well as Sardinian Warblers and several Chiffchaffs. A Cirl Bunting was moving in the crops nearby and it was even singing for a pair of times. A small walk in the area showed extremely productive, and a group of 8-10 Bearded Tits (Panurus biarmicus) showed up in the reeds. A further channel produced 1 Water Pipit (Anthus spinolleta) and 1 male Bluethroat (Luscinia svecica), white medal, running in the mud and showing well in the reeds around! That was one of the main targets of the trip and we really good views on this bird! Here we also had a Green Sandpiper (Tringa ochropus), maybe a overwintering bird or maybe an early migratory bird going back to their nesting sites in Northern Europe.

 

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Male white medal Bluethroat (Luscinia svecica) at Utxesa reservoir. A beautiful sight! Image: Carles Oliver

 

 

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Western Penduline Tit (Remiz pendulinus) at Utxesa reservoir, Lleida. Note this male is still not showing totally in full adult plumage, with not fully contrasted head-neck colours. Image: Carles Oliver

 

Next movement was to visit a small valley immediatly South of Lleida city. A road stop some kilometers before arriving to the main place was mandatory as we spotted 1 Little Owl (Athene noctua) perched on a tree. We all enjoy with this view and, as being some movement around, we got out the van to have a 5-minutes walk. This produced good views on Crested Larks, 2 lovely Hoopoes (Upupa epops) feeding on ground and 2 Dartford Warblers (Sylvia undata) skilking in the low, sparse vegetation. The only ones of the trip! Few metres beyond, already all back up in the van, we had a second Little Owl really close to the van, producing really good views on the bird!

 

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We just had this Little Owl (Athene noctua) in our way so we just had to stop and enjoy. Image: Carles Oliver

 

 

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And we were leaving we just found a 2nd Little Owl 80 metres beyond! Image: Carles Oliver

 

And we arrived to our main stop in the area! We were in a landscape totally diferent was the morning. Landscape South of Lleida is a dry, semi-arid traditional farming with plenty of wheat fields and almond orchards. Here there are almost no water courses and the few streams have some poplars and riberside vegetation while the slopes around are rocky, dry and covered by low, dense scrublands. It was 16:40 and a lovely light was bathing the valley.

Main quest here is a pair of Eagle Owl (Bubo bubo) nesting around in the cliffs. We carefully scanned the cliffs and finally found one adult sleeping deep inside the vegetation. It was a wonderful view despite the poor images we could get on the bird. We all kept an eye on the owl in the case it was moving while enjoying the birdlife around. The slopes around were full of Blackcaps (Sylvia atricapilla) and Song Thrush (Turdus philomelos) but we also got lovely and extremely close views on 8 Hawfinches (Coccothraustes coccothraustes). 2-3 Redwings were also around and a proper scanning in the slopes around was soon producing 2 wonderful Black Wheatears (Oenanthe leucura), again one of the main targets of the trip! The male was quite active and moving up and down in the slope, stopping the same in rocks but also in the top of well exposed branches. So, we were having at the same time Eagle Owl, Black Wheatears and Hawfinches!

 

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White Storks (Ciconia ciconia) are a common view around Lleida, also in winter. Image: Carles Oliver

 

In this place, a tiny stream is going down the valley so we decided to walk down for 400 metres until a crossroad nearby. Midway down, a small pond was attracting tones of Chaffinches and also more Hawfinches were coming down to drink. A short time there, waiting, produced a wonderful male Brambling but also 2 Cirl Buntings coming to drink water. Blue Tits and Long-tailed Tits were also around. Arrived to the crossroad we had the chance to scan at the other side of the valley. Here some Crag Martins (Ptynoprogne rupestris) were patrolling along the cliffs searching for insects and here we also had excellent views on a male Blue Rock Thrush (Monticola solitarius). An Iberian Green Woodpecker was calling around but we could not get any view on the bird. In the nearby village, loads of Spotless Starlings (Sturnus unicolor) were singing and performing, coming down to tha valley and many times stopping in the banks around so we could have really good views on them. Several Jackdaws (Corvus monedula) and 3 Red-billed Choughs were also present. Back to the cliffs, there were still more surprises since in the top of an old house we got 6 Rock Sparrows (Petronia patronia) in lovely light. Around the cliffs some Thekla Larks (Galerida theklae) were singing and callin and we got also good views on the birds. Still surprised how many birdwatchers consider this bird as being really scarce…In Catalonia and the Iberian Med coast is a common bird as long you look for them in the proper habitat: scrubby slopes and steppe lands.

 

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Male Hawfinch (Coccothraustes coccothraustes) in Lleida Steppes. A massive irruption of them has arrive this winter to Western Europe! Image: Carles Oliver

 

 

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Cracking Blue Rock Thrush (Monticola solitarius) in lovely afternoon light in Lleida Steppes. Image: Carles Oliver

 

Back to car we still had time to take a look on the Eagle Owl, still roosting in the same place so we just decided to start going to our accommodation…

But we still had time a for 5-minutes stop just before arriving to our accommodation in a farming area, where a flock of Little Bustards (Tetrax tetrax) was spending the winter. It didn’t take long to locate them and we could all enjoy great views on the birds while moving in the well-vegetated fields. The group was counting 37 individuals including males, females and juveniles, easy to tell apart by the design in the upperparts and other details.
A five minutes scan around allowed us to have other interesting birds including several White Storks (Ciconia ciconia) moving around, Grey Herons (Ardea cinerea) as well as a flock of Meadow Pipits (Anthus pratensis) and Eurasian Skylarks (Alauda arvensis). That was the end of a gorgeous day and time enjoy a good dinner and drinks!

Day 4. February 16th

Last morning of the this rather short version of our winter trip (normally it should run for 5 days) and time to explore some amazing spots looking for some top target birds. Early morning breakfast and transfer to the West, getting inside Aragón for some miles to explore a lovely patch of steppes. In our way, the highway was always full of Cattle Egrets (Bubulcus ibis), Red Kites and White Storks.

Arrived to the area to explore about 9:00 we just had a first stop in some fields concentrating Sandgrouses in winter. That morning was a bit quiet but our scanning was still producing a flock of 8 Pin-tailed Sandgrouses (Pterocles alchata) forraging on the ground. We all enjoyed of wonderful views on them and listened the typical “ga-ga” in our left so another flock was moving nearby.

The firsts Calandra Larks (Melanocorypha calandra) were starting singing here and there and soon we had several birds flying around, flying, singing and displaying along with Thekla Larks. We just drove 5 minutes to one of the places where Dupont’s Lark (Chersophilus duponti) is still to be found. All the way, Calandra, Thekla and also some Lesser Short-toed Larks (Calandra rufescens) joined with their songs. It was definately a good moment to go for Dupont’s Lark.

 

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Thekla Lark (Galerida theklae) in a previous tour. Note the well contrasted face markings, including a kind of “eye ring”. Also the “pure” whitish belly and flanks if compared with Crested Lark. Image: Carles Oliver

 

This Lark is a bit a mistery. It is reluctant to fly, and when do it, it normally flies short distances. It calls few times and spend most of its time running on the ground where it looks for insects, warms and spiders. Its rather dark coloration make the bird extremely difficult to find.

So, we drove really slowly, listening for any singing bird. As everything was quite we just arrived to one of the typical places and stop and stay inside the car for some minutes. Nothing singing but Calandra, Theklas and Lesser Short-toeds (not bad, anyway). 2 Black-bellied Sandgrouses (Pterocles orientalis) pass by us but unfortunately nobody in the group noticed the birds. 5-10 minutes and nothing. Scanning all around and nothing. Well, went out of the cars and prepared the scopes. Nothing. Plenty of Calandra singing and a distant, really distant Stone Curlew (Burhinus oedicnemus) calling. We just waited for half an hour, in silence and by the car, and nothing. But then a song came to us. Dunpont’s Lark singing. Difficult to listen because of the massive activity in Calandras and so on but still was there, in somewhere. Some more wait and got two males singing. One at our right, another at our left. Good! Everybody scanning and nothing. 2-3-4 minutes of wait and nothing, only Calandras and Theklas in an endless wave of songs and then a Dunpont’s again at our left, closer. Many times they just sing between run and run, every 2-3 minutes scan  really tricky! Again some wait, a really distant bird was singing, as well. More Calandras everywhere and then our Dupont’s started singing really, really close! It looked like being just-in-front-of-us! The bird went on singing of almost one minute, good. And then we found it, standing up quite in the open and singing about 35 metres from us!! What a view!!! Make sure that everybody in the group was having the bird (not easy to find) and try to get some images. Now there were 3-4 males singing but it is always difficult to say due to the Calandra & Thekla songs and, in fact, because the Dunpont’s song itself is designed to make the bird more difficult to spot. We all enjoyed a quite long view on the bird and then the lark was moving in the steppe vegetation so we could track the bird for some metres before it was disappearing…Wonderful!

 

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The always elusive Dunpont’s Lark (Chersophilus duponti) was giving superb views few metres away from the car. Image: Carles Oliver

 

Well, happy all the group for such a successful morning we then invested some time in enjoying good views on Lesser Short-toed Larks and trying to find a flock of Black-bellied Sandgrouse but we had no luck in this second species. We then decided to move to a nearby wetland where have our packed lunches. But before arriving we had a stop in the road, a Marsh Harrier was diving on a juvenile Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos), and attacking it in a really agressive way. We could not figure out was the goldie did to deserve such a treatment but Marsh Harrier was extremely ungry. Maybe starting to defend a nesting territory?

Once in the wetland, inmediatly South of Candasnos, we start having our lunch while scanning the diferent ducks around. Mallards (Anas platyrhynchos) were the most common by far but we also got Gadwalls (Anas strepera), Eurasian Teals (Anas crecca), Northern Shovelers (Anas clypeata) and 8 Common Pochards (Aythya ferina). Still, the best was a flock of 12 Red-crested Pochards (Netta rufina) including some drake ones.

After lunch, a short walk around produced Reed Buntings (Emberiza schoeniclus), 2 Penduline Tits (Remiz pendulinus), and a walk along a channel gave 1 female Bluethroat and 1 Jack Snipe (Lymnocriptes minimus) that flew out and circled us to dive at our back. This was a really nice surprise since is a fairly scarce bird down here! The corn fields around the lagoon where carpeted with Northern Lapwings (Vanellus vanellus) and 1 Merlin (Falco columbarius) came to this area in a really fast Flight when we were scanning around!

Last birding movement of the tour was to drive further West to look for Great Bustards (Otis tarda). A small populations lives in Los Monegros and a proper management is likely to do this population increase number in coming years. Nowadays, less than 80 individuals are left.

 

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Part of the flock of Great Bustards (Otis tarda) that we enjoyed in our last afternoon at Los Monegros. Note the central bird already having being “moustached”. Image: Carles Oliver

 

So, we just drove around a proper place to find them, always joined by Calandra Larks and huge flocks of Linnets (Carduelis cannabina) and Corn Buntings (Emberiza calandra) and we were lucky to find a flock of 14 males quite easily. It is always wonderful to enjoy such a magnificient birds in the endless farmed plains where do they live. Despite what many people thinks about these gorgeous birds, Great Bustards are not really steppe birds, but grassland birds, and their habitat selection is less exigent than Little Bustards or Pin-tailed Sandgrouses so are (technically) capable to live in a wider range of habitats.

We just ended the trip with the wondeful view of these giant birds in the cereal crops, hoping them the best in their fight for surviving and started coming back to Barcelona, where we arrived a bit after sunset!

A wonderful end for a really successful trip despite the extremely challenging weather conditions…

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From Wallcreeper to Yelkouan Shearwater; amazing 2-days winter trip

This is a short trip report about a 2-days birding trip from Barcelona on 26th and 27th February, 2016. Early in the morning I picked my costumer, Jon, from his hotel close to the airport. We firstly drove North of Barcelona, to the Sant Llorenç de Munt Natural Park, a medium-size natural park protecting low bushered hills, pine woods and rocky slopes. Here we explored the area around Talamanca, where impressive conglomerate formations are a good winter ground for Wallcreepers. We started to walk the path up, crossing evergreen forests and low scrublands. Some Ravens called around while distant Long-tailed Tits were calling in the forest. We walked directly to an area where I was having a Wallcreeper with other costumers just two days ago. The planning was to arrive to a view point where one Wallcreeper was appearing these weeks early in the morning, sometimes really close. Even far before arriving to this view point qe spotted a favolous Wallcreeper really close in the conglomerate rock. The bird was not really in a cliff but in a huge rock, offering exellent chances for photograph the bird. Jon was really fast in taking his camera and got beautiful shots on the bird in the rock skyline! The bird showed up for some minutes, slowly creeping and looking for invertebrates under the small rocks in the slope and flickering the wings (but not so much). After some minutes the bird just kept walking until it was disappearing to the opposite side of the rock.

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Wallcreeper (Tichodroma muraria) showing really well in the conglomerate landscape around Barcelona. Image by Jonathan Mercer

Very happy about this first sight we kept walking up to look for the flock of Alpine Accentors overwintering there. After some minutes looking for the birds we spot a minimum of 14 of them in barren slope. As usual in this species, we enjoyed close views on them, and great shots! We were having a really productive morning so far… The dense undergrowth immediatly around gave us excellent views on Firecrest, Crested Tit, Sardinian Warbler, Blue Tit and Short-toed Treecreeper. Woodlarks were singing around, really active.

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Alpine Accentor (Prunella collaris), the second top bird appearing in the morning, so far! Image by Jonathan Mercer

We were back in the car at 11:30 so I drove back to Barcelona. Now it was time to explore the Llobregat Delta, a small but awesome wetland immediatly around the Barcelona International Airport facilities. It was 12:30 when we get inside the Natural Reserve, expecting to have some good birds (and lunch) inside the hides. We were directly going to one of the hides where a male Moustached Warbler had been showing really well the last two weeks. After a pair of minutes scanning the reeds, we listened the calls of a Moustached and immediatly after that the warbler was appearing and started to sing. The bird was showing in a small patch of reeds showing extremelly well and being really territorial against any other birds moving in the reed; Chiffchaff, Great Tit & Reed Bunting were all chased by the warbler. A Cetti’s Warbler moving in the area ( and showing well) was surprisingly not disturbed by the Moustached.

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Moustached Warbler (Acrocephalus melanopogon) is probably one of the most tricky warblers in Europe.We enjoyed go-away views on the bird! Image by Jonathan Mercer

Well, the visit to the wetland was already a success but this was only the beginning! Just beside the patch of reeds where the Moustached Warbler was still singing and preening quite high in the reeds a Bluethroat was briefly showing in previous days so I invested some time checking this tiny spot expecting to have a Bluethroat. And we were again lucky because a wonderful male Bluethroat came out of the vegetation and showed out very well, but briefly. Other species appearing in this hide included Green Sandpiper, Common Pochard, Common Teal, Marsh Harrier, Little Egret, Shoveler, Little Grebe and Water Pipit. We then tried the second hide, which provided an excellent combination of waterfowl. An amazing combination of birds at close range that included 12 Greater Flamingoes, 2 Spoonbills (1 adult + 1 immature), 1 Glossy Ibis in summer plumage and 2 drake Garganeis! Some other really good birds were present as well. A minimum of 5 Purple Swamphens were out of the reeds, 2 Ruff were feeding on the marsh along with 2 Dunlin. Several Common Snipes were testing the mud looking for food while a pair Water Pipits walked around in the shallow water. In one of the islands in the marsh a Golden Plover and Northern Lapwing mixed flock was roosting. A good variety of ducks was also noticed, this time including also Shelduck and Eurasian Wigeon. In the mud, 2 Little Ringed Plovers ran up and down, the first of the year! Up in the air, a big flock of swallows was flying over the marsh. Crag Martin was the most common but we also counted at least 7 House Martins, some Barn Swallows and at least 2 Sand Martins, not bad! A pair of Kingfishers crossed in front the hide, but didn’t stop. In the reeds, another Moustached Warbler was singing but unfortunately didn’t show at all.

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Thousands of crake Mediterranean Gulls (Larus melanocephalus) like this one were showing during the weekend. Image by Jonathan Mercer

It had been a wonderful trip so far, but it was time to drive down to Ebro Delta. Our time in Llobregat Delta was longer than expected (because of the excellent birding there) but we still had time to spot a pair of interesting birds at Ebro Delta. As normally happening in Ebro Delta, birds were appearing just arriving. Cattle EgretsCommon Sandpipers and Kingfishers were everywhere. We did a first spot to check the Ebro Delta northern bay. There we enjoyed a huge flock of thousands of Mediterranean Gulls, many of them showing their lovely breeding plomage. On the sea we could see our first Balearic Shearwaters, being a good start for what it have to come the next day. About 20 Black-necked Grebe were in the bay along with several Great Crested Grebe and, among them, 1 Slavonian Grebe! a rather rare bird that South. Soon after Jon spotted 1 Razorbill, another good bonus!!! We then moved to a new location not far from there. Here we fast recorded a good number of waders: Greenshank, Curlew, Common Redshank, Common Ringed Plover, Sanderling, Bar-tailed Godwit, Grey Plover and even 2 Little Stints in only 10 minutes. Along with them in the shallow salt water there were various Slender-billed Gull and a good number of LBB Gull. Flocks of Glossy Ibises were flying over us going towards their roosting place while Greater Flamingoes (hundreds) were feeding around. Despite the poor light we still spent ten minutes in a fresh water lagoon, expecting to have a Greater Bittern flying over the reeds. Unfortunately no Bittern was appearing but tens of Purple Swamphens were seen (and heard) appearing from the reeds. In the edge of the water, really close, a pair of Bluethoats were calling and we enjoyed really close views of a female moving by the edge of the water. A wonderful end for an awesome day! When getting inside the car we still listened a distant Moustached Warbleer singing in the reeds…

The next morning we left Ebro Delta quite early in the morning. We had to be in Tarragona harbour at 9:00 in the morning since the sea trip run by GEPEC was leaving at this time. Unfortunately we had no time to enjoy a bit more the huge variety of birds living in Ebro Delta; next time! 

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Once out of the harbour we soon spotted some beautiful Audouin’s Gulls along with several Lesser Black-backed Gulls (intermedia and graellsi races) as well as many Black-headed Gulls. At least 4 Atlantic Gannets were also appearing (showing a good variety of plomages, by the way!). It was not long until we saw the first of many Balearic Shearwaters flying around or flying in the back of the boat along with the tens of gulls that were following us. After some minutes we had our first Skua. A Parasitic Jaeger (dark form) that showed well but shortly in our side of the boat. Soon after a Great Skua was also showing really well, attacking Mediterranean or Audouin’s Gulls. The flocks of Balearic Shearwaters flying around the boat were also producing at least a pair of the more scarce Yelkouan Shearwaters! Also a really good bird.

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Balearic Shearwater (Puffinus mauretanicus), critically endangered, has its main winter grounds in Southern Catalonia & València. Image by Jonathan Mercer


The last part of trip was probably the best as we still enjoyed gorgeous views on all good birds plus a wonderful Pomarine Skua, a really scarce bird during winter in Catalonia (thought we already had one in January on one of our trips!). Along with the Pomarine, at least another two Great Skuas were also showing well and had really good “bonxie” fights!!

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Great Skuas (Stercorarius skua) showed that well in the sea trip. Image by Jonathan Mercer

We still invested some time scanning for scarce species or early arrivals (thinking about Scolopi’s Shearwater or Mediterranean Storm Petrel). No any good bird was appearing but we were enthusiastic after a wonderful sea trip.  Not easy to have three species of Skuas in the Med, thought!! After having lunch we just enjoyed a pair of hours of birding in the Llobregat Delta, where we were having mostly the same species that we already had the day before. Well, two really close, summer plomaged, Black-tailed Godwits were also a good bonus A pair of minutes of car were invested to arrive to the airport…. and was the end of a wonderful 2-days trip!!!!

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Yelkouan Shearwater (Puffinus yelkouan), a scarce bird in winter around Tarragona harbour. Image by Jonathan Mercer

 

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This gorgeous Pomarine Skua (Stercorarius pomarinus) was a good bonus in the sea trip, being a rare winter bird in Catalonia. Image by Jonathan Mercer

Just want to thank Jon for sharing some of the many, many excellent shots we had during the weekend!

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.

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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!