Arxiu de la categoria: Cettis Warbler (Cettia cetti)

Morocco; from Atlas to Sahara Tour, 2015 issue report

Number of species: 173 Unexpected birds: Pallid Harrier (2), Eastern Subalpine Warbler, Aquatic Warbler

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Part of our small group birdwatching around Boulmane du Dades.

As every year, in 2015 we had our early spring Moroccan tour. This issue streght from March 21st to March, 30th. As usually the tour started and finished in Marrakesh, the legenday & wonderful town known as being the “gateway to the desert” in Morocco. Day 1. The tour started with a change in the planning since we were adviced by one of our costumers that his plane was delayed for 10 hours so we had to reorganise our planning and spend some time spotting birds immediatly around Marrakesh instead of going directly to Agadir, as originally planned. That morning was finally really productive since we had time to explore some interesting locations around the city. There we could spot our first Thekla Larks of many more along the trip as well as 1 Booted Eagle, 1 Barbary Partridge singing in the fresh air of the morning and the first Algerian Shrike (a probable future split from Great Grey Shrike). Zitting Cisticolas were singing in the air while a pair of Moroccan White Wagtails were chasing insects in the short grass lands. Cattle Egrets and White Storks were also moving on the grass, looking for some casual preys. First views on Common Bulbul, Spotless Starling and Moroccan Magpie were also made along the morning and the local race of Greenfinch was also spotted in the olive groves along the road.

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Algerian Shrike (Lanius excubitor algeriensis), a probable future split that will become a new near-endemic for Morocco.

After some birding in the open fields we moved close to a golf course were many times it is possible to see migratory birds. We spotted some Iberian Yellow Wagtails feeding on the grass. Over the grass there was a big flock of House Martins, Barn Swallows and Sand Martins hunting insects. Some Pallid Swifts joined them but the best were 2 Brown-throated Martins flying along with them! It was a wonderful view and we were really happy with it since I didn’t expected to have the bird that close of Marrakesh, becoming a nice bonus.

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The endemic Moroccan Wagtail (Motacilla subpersonata) in a stream near Marrakesh

The morning was still long so I decided to explore a small river some kilometers South of Marrakesh. Here small orchards are to be found both sides of the stream and a line of small cliffs face one of the side of the river. This is a place were sometimes Brown-throated Martins are nesting so we were expecting to find some of them. Well, soon after our arrival at least 3 of them were flying really low and being especially interested in some nests placed in a small afluent of the river. It was a really nice view!! Some minutes of birding around produced some other birds such as Serin, Sardinian Warbler, Common Kestrel, Blue Rock Thrush, White Wagtail, Common Linnet and Cetti’s Warbler nerviously singing in the reeds. After all costumers joined the group we finally left Marrakesh towards Agadir. After our arrival to Agadir and our check-in in the hotel(where we were wellcomed by a House Bunting singing in the roof of the hotel and some Little Swifts fluing around) still had time to enjoy a bit of nice birding. We went to the mouth of the River Souss, a superb birding spot which is inside the town itself. In the way to the mouth we spot some birds. A brief stop allowed us to see the first of many Laughing Dove as well as Great Tit, African Chaffinches and several Moroccan Magpies. In mudflats we could spot some waders: several Common Ringed Plovers, Curlews, Dunlins as well as our only one Spotted Redshank during the trip and a wonderful flock of over 40 Common Shelducks flying North over the see line. Day 2. The day start with a new change from the original planning. We were supposed to be visit the mouth of River Massa but, as it was no time in a single day to visit both River Massa and Tamri the group agreed to avoid River Massa and go for Tamri. In addition, we explore longer the mouth of River Souss that was so productive the afternoon before. We arrived to Souss River mouth’s quite early and enjoy some good staff. Flocks of Dunlins were feeding quite close from us and 2 Curlew Sandpipers were feeding along with them. At the other side of the river, an  Osprey was in a  pylon, quietly eating a fish while a superb flock of 7 Eurasian Spoonbills arrived to feed on the mud flats! Here and there there were Oystercatchers as there were also some Grey Plover, some of them showing already some of their beautiful summer plomage. Other shorebirds present there included Bar-tailed Godwit, Redshank, Greenshank, Green Sandpiper, Sanderling, our only one Little Ringed Plover of the trip and 2 Black-winged Stilts, the first of the year for me! There were also some Great Cormorants (nominal race) as well as Little Egrets, Grey Herons and 1 Great White Egret.

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African Blue Tit (Cyanistes ultramarinus) has darker blue and more constrasted head patterns than Eurasian Blue Tits.

Flocks of gulls were moving up and down the river and a good roosting site was located at the other side of the river. Along with the commoner Black-headed, Yellow-legged and LBB Gulls we could spot a minimum of 7 Mediterranean Gulls and 2nd year Slender-billed Gull. Always a nice bird to watch! We scan also for Audouin’s Gulls (one of my favourites, but without luck!) In the roosting place a small flock of Sandwich Terns were sleeping and we were glad to see how a Gull-billed Tern joined the roosting flock. We walked a little bit inside the bush land to get some migrating passerines. Soon we got the firsts birds since several Subalpine Warblers were moving in the bushes. After a short walk surrounded by Subalpine Warblers some Blackcaps were  appearing as well. Jerome spotted a favolous Nightingale moving in the open and flying away really fast. 4 Common Chiffchaffs and several Willow Warblers were also moving in the bushes. Along with them, some resident Sardinian Warblers were singing and it do so 2 Turtle Doves in the distant eucaliptus (we tried to find them out, but it was impossible). Finally, a female Marsh Harrier came out of the reeds to say good morning to the group and go for some hunting somewhere else. At this moment, a wonderful flock of over 90 Greater Flamingoes appeared from the sea and flought over the river mouth for a pair of minutes, looking for a place to stop. Finally, they decided to come the same way they came… After such good start we moved to some fields near the river’s mouth. There, a nice combination of salt marshes and cereal crops allows a good general birding. The area was full of Yellow Wagtails, mainly Iberian but at least 1 Italian Yellow Wagtail (cinereocapilla) was moving with them! In  the fields around we counted 4 Woodchat Shrike, several groups of Common Bulbul as well as Corn Bunting and Moroccan Magpie. In the salt marshes we spot a minimum of 25 Stone Curlews roosting in the mud flats, half hidden by the tall vegetation. Around them, a flock of 9 Ruffs feeding on ground along with Wood Sandpipers and Dunlins.

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Stone Curlews (Burhinus oedicnemus) in a winter ground in the Zäers, Northern Morocco.

After a wonderful time birding it was also time to have some nice meal. We stop in a hotel in our way to Tamri and, after having a good rest and meal, we followed our way to the top place for Northern Bald Ibises. Unfortunately, it was raining. After a quite cold morning, a small rain start to fall down about noon.

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Northern Bald Ibis (Geronticus eremita) looking for food in the plains around Cape Tamri. Image: Carles Oliver

We arrived to Tamri and, after some search, we could spot a small flock of 8 individuals feeding on ground. We carefully walked to them, having care of not disturbing the birds. We enjoyed the birds for several minutes, seeing how predated over sand beetles and larvaes. Several photos and videos could be recorded. After some minutes, a new flock arrived. There were already 25 individuals in front of us!! The scenery was awesome. The brown dunes, the gentle, green slope, such endangered bird quietly moving here and there… that I didn’t disturb the group of birdwatchers telling them about a Black-eared Wheatear just close to us… It was the only appearing in the tour and I was the only one watching the bird 😦 The rain made us move. It was getting cold and rainy so we came back to the Tamri. From the village itself we could spot 3 Peregrine Falcons. A little rain join us once more but a really short walk along fig and palm groves was really productive. A flock of Sand Martins flew off some reedbeds joined by >3 Red-rumped Swallows. In the groves around we spot several birds: 2 Cirl Buntings, 2 RavensSardinian Warblers, some Goldfinches, a fast Wryneck (briefly showing in a small branch) and a wonderful flock of over 30 Spanish Sparrows preening on a little tree!

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This Wryneck (Jynx torquilla) appeared near our group for just a few seconds and immediatly disappeared. Image: Carles Oliver

The rain became heavier so it was time to go to our hotel. That afternoon we came back to Marrakesh, having a good dinner in a fancy restaurant in Gueliz district, known as being the most attractive area of the Ville Nouveau of Marrakesh. Day 3. This day we were exploring the area around Oukaïemeden. This ski resort, placed right in the centre of the High Atlas, allows an approach to the high mountain specialties living in Morocco. Even before going inside the Atlas we had some nice birds. 2 Algerian Shrikes (a probable future split from Northern Grey Shrikes) were standing by the road showing the thin white supercilium and the buffy breast. Moroccan Magpies were all around and some Little Swifts were flying over. Not a bad start!

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Moroccan Magpie (Pica mauretanicus) shows a fancy looking and it is considered now a full species.

Along the road we could see some interesting birds. Anna spot what it was our already 4th Moroccan Wagtail (Motacilla subpersonata), a recent split. European Serin, Cattle Egret, Common Bulbul, African Blue Tit, Great Tit, Firecrest and Chiffchaff were also appearing. A Short-toed Treecreeper (endemic race in Morocco) was also singing around but despite our efforts to attrack it to the road, we could not properly see the bird! A second stop upper in the road was even more interesting. A flock of over 27 Red-billed Choughs were just by  the road and 1 female Black Redstart was standing in a building around. We were enjoying the Choughs when a quite distant Levaillant’s Woodpecker started to call! We looked for it and we finally could locate the bird at the top of a wood pylon, showing really well! At the same moment Anna called me as she had seen something really close in the road. We all went to take a look and saw a wonderful Moussier’s Redstart just by the road, showing first on a rock, then running up and down on the grass. We were enjoying three really good birds at the same time and at that moment we would prefer to have a pair of extra eyes!

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Moussier’s Redstart (Phoenicurus moussieri) is a near-endemic mostly living in the Atlas and in hilly areas around.

As the Levaillant’s was still calling from the same position we decided to go closer. We walked for over 200 metres and got a really better view. Then we pair attention that by the pylon a bird was standing at the top of pile of rocks. It was a male Blue Rock Thrush! It was showing briefly but still was a nice view. The Levaillant’s went away but the walk back to the car reported African Chaffinches, Serins, a female Moussier’s Redstart and House Bunting, 2. When arriving to Oukaïemeden weather conditions were quite bad. It was snowing and the fog was quite dense, with a poor light. Still, the birding was superbe! A flock of over 30 Alpine Choughs was easily located in the snow, providing really good views from the car. After a short-walk we could locate the two firsts Horned Larks feeding on ground. We kept walking for a while a good flock was located. It was, actually a mixed flock since 15 Crimson-winged Finches were with them! Despite the poor light and the cold, they allowed really wonderful views and images…

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Crimson-winged Finch in the Atlas. Despite the bad weather, they allowed wonderful images.

After a good time there we made a stop in the road by a stream. This area is one of the few in Morocco providing Dipper and one of our costumers from Canada really wanted to have one of this. In average conditions the bird it would appear. Unfortunately, we could not spot any of them and our efforts to find a Dipper only reported a Grey Wagtail and a Black Redstart… It was time for lunch and get some warm… the unnormally low temperatures and rainy weather we were having were challenging the tour but still we got nice views on all main birds so far!!

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Atlas Horned Lark feeds along with Crimson-winged Finches and other high mountain birds. Image: Carles Oliver

After lunch time a short walk in a scrub land was programmed but it had to be cancelled due to the heavy rain. It was 17:00 so we came to the hotel to have some rest and enjoy a dinner in Marrakesh famous central square later in the eve. Day 4. This day we crossed the Atlas to arrive to our first contact with the steppes and semi-deserts located immediatly South of this mountain range. A long, fascinating road leads you up by several mountain passes. Soon, weather conditions showed not as good as expected. It snowing  quite heavily and traffic was slow. For a while, I was considering to come back to Marrakesh and go ahead with any alternative planning. Finally and thanks to the several tracks going up and down the road was good enough to keep going, and we crossed to the South slope. As soon as crossing the main mountain pass, weather totally changed. It was sunny and quite warm, but really windy. Some short stops in road allowed us to count over 60 Black Kites migrating North despite the huge difficulties they had due to the strong wind. A minimum of 4 Marsh Harriers were also counted.

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Black Kite (Milvus migrans) migrating with the snow of the Atlas behind. Image: Carles Oliver

Our first long stop was near Ouarzazate, in a location were a pair of Maghreb Wheatear was nesting that season. I saw the birds some days before so we stop and started to scan around trying to locate the birds. It was really windy, time was passing and the birds were not appearing. We spot our 2 firsts Black-crowned Wheatears and the first Desert Wheatear for the tour, but it was impossible to locate the Maghreb ones… Finally this was the only good bird not appearing in the tour. A pitty! Still, a second stop reported some good birds. In a farm land close to the place were we first stop, several Yellow Wagtails (iberiae) were feeding on ground beside some Greenfinches. Raptors were still moving North by the valley so we spot a very nice Montagu’s Harrier male and a distant Short-toed Eagle circling in the sky. But the best was a wonderful male of Pallid Harrier flying really low over the fields while flying North to get to Europe!! We were all really excited for this bird, not a common view in Morocco since most of them migrate via Turkey and Greece! Good for us!

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Temminck’s Lark is my favourite lark living in Western Palearctic, Image: Carles Oliver

Still, the really windy conditions made really difficult to have a good birding so we continued the road to Boulmane du Dades, expecting to have a final stop in any non-windy spot along the road. A second stop was made before arriving to Boulmane, in a good area for Maghreb Wheatear. The really strong wind made really difficult to scan around so, from the car, we could see 2 Woodchat Shrikes and 2 Desert Grey Shrikes (again a future split from Northern Grey Shrike, really easy to tell apart from Algerian Shrike!) This was the end of the day so we arrived to our hotel and had a good rest! Day 5. Early start, good breakfast and go to steppe lands aroung Boulmane to have a great day of birding! Quite early in the morning we did some stops in the steppe lands. Well from the beggining several Greater Short-toed Larks were moving in the steppes. We had really wonderful views and had also the chance to compare it with 1 or 2 clear Lesser Short-toed Larks moving also in the area (two species than can be difficult to tell apart for many birders). Still, the main goal of this early stop in the steppes was to find out the beautiful Temminck’s Horned Lark, my favourite lark in Western Palearctic. It took about 10 minutes to have the first pair moving on ground and we could all observe the wonderful combination of its sandy upper coloration, the black mask, heavily contrasting with the pure white face and the two delicate black “antenas”… always a superb bird to me!

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House Buntings are a common view in Southern Morocco and have recently expand their range to Central and Northern Morocco.

I did a second stop in the steppe land, this time focusing on Sandgrouses (in our 2014 tour we had a flock of over 60 Black-bellied Sandgrouses plus 18 Crowned Sandgrouses here). This year we only got 2 Black Bellied Sands flying over the steppe. Still, the place reported a nice Collared Pratincole flying over the steppe vegetation moving North (migratory?), several Thekla Larks and 2 Short-toed Eagles circling in the sky and moving North. They were obviously migratory birds but still they were disturbed by a local Barbary Falcon that was trying to push them away!! The difference of sizes was spectacular to see up in the sky! A bit after we got our first flock of Cream-coloured Courser of the tour. 9 individuals quite close and showing well, running up and down in the open steppe vegetation. The strong wind from the previous day had stop but still the temperature was lower than average. Still, some migratory birds were moving. We had several Desert Wheatears as well as 1 Red-rumped Wheatear (male) and a migratory Northern Wheatear. Flocks of Common Swifts were passing by as well as Barn Swallows joined by Sand Martins. A group of 5 Black Kites was spot in the sky right before Jerome spot a bird of prey flying quite low over the steppe. After half a second it was clear that the bird was a male Pallid Harrier! The second in two days! The bird was moving quite fast (still a bit of wind…), really low and in a few seconds desappeared in an ondulation of the terrain. We all look all around trying to refind the bird, unsuccessfully!

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Cream-coloured Couser, a slender specialty ocurring in open desert-like areas.

So, we were again alone in the steppes, just joined by the group of Cream-coloured Coursers. Not a bad company, anyway! So, we enjoyed how they moved and feed on ground while (at least me) putting an eye in the sky (who knows what was next!) And the next was one Long-legged Buzzard appearing circling in the sky. It is always nice to see these raptors that, due to poissoning and hunting are scarcer year after year in Morocco. To end the morning we visited a small stream near there expecting to spot some migratory passerines. Right arriving there we got a Tree Pipit flying off the stream so I expected to find something else. No migratory birds were in the stream but a small flock of 3 Trumpeter Finch, including a beautiful male. We had excellent views on the birds drinking water and preening. In the while, 2 Red-rumped Swallows came to the stream and, after circling a bit, kept flying to somewhere else.

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Trumperter Finches favours Rape seeds due to its high water content.

In the afternoon we went to spend some time in the Gorge du Dades a wonderful setting of small villages, oasis, olive groves and sandy cliffs host there a good selection of birds. We didn’t have some much time. Still, around the river itself we had a good flock of Blackcaps joined by Western Bonelli’s Warbler. Anna spot 1 Hoopoe in the farm next-by and allowed nice views on it. A brief view on Cetti’s Warbler in the riberside vegetation was a nice bonus. African Chaffinch, African Blue Tit and Sardinian Warbler joined us as well. In the way back we stop by some cliffs and had a good Black Wheatear (later we had a really wonderful one in the hotel itself). It had been a long, complete day and now was time to have a good dinner and a good rest!

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Seebohm’s Wheatear has been recently split from Northern Wheatear and has become a new Moroccan near-endemic. Image: Carles Oliver

Day 6. Again in the morning in the steppes, this time with strong wind (again) and looking for Thick-billed Lark that has in this area some of the few nesting places in Southern Morocco. In the way to the steppes we had our only one Seebohm’s Wheatear of the trip, a wonderful male that for sure was waiting for better weather to go back to high mountain grasslands. In the steppes, we enjoyed a Red-rumped Wheatear male but soon we spot a pair of Thick-billed Larks. They were showing really well in a small stone hill in the steppe area and seemed to be collecting nesting material on ground.

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Thick-billed Lark is a rather nomadic species living in large steppe areas

We saw the birds moving up and down from a small area beyond the stone hills. So, we moved a little bit and wait for a while, trying to discover the area where the larks were building the nest. After a small waiting a female was arriving to that area, running among the short vegetation. It was carrying what looked to be some feathers from a chicken. After some running turn left, coming directly to us and, after about ten metres the bird was stopping and getting inside its nest. We could easily see how the bird was building the nest. Behind, some Lesser Short-toed Larks were moving around. One minute or so latter the male was also arriving to nest bringing some extra feathers. It was a really wonderful view. Some minutes later we withdraw to do not disturbe the birds. After such a wonderful sight all the group was really happy so it was decided to go to the place were the Cream-coloured Coursers were seen yesterday to try to get better images. Unfortunately only five of the nine seen the day before were relocated and they didn’t allow to improve the images we took the day. In before. In contrast all the place was full of Temminck’s Larks and Greater Short-toed Larks. It was time to go to Gorge du Dades to look for one striking bird; the near-endemic Tristam’s Warbler. Inside the mountains the wind was extremely strong. We stop in some places looking for the bird but no luck. It was really little movement of small birds. Still, we had a really nice Hoopoe, several Common Kestrels, Nightingale and Black Redstart while a small flock of Common Linnets passed by. Trying to keep the group in protected places against the wind we found 2 Blue Rock Thrush (male and female) that allowed wonderful sights and images as well as 2 Rock Buntings, 1 House Bunting and Black Wheatears.

Blue Rock Thrush in Dades Gorge.

Blue Rock Thrush in Dades Gorge.

We had a lunch in the mountains and taking advantage of terrase in the restaurant we could see a good number of Crag Martins as well as Blue Rock Thrush, Grey Wagtail and African Blue Tit. Once the lunch was delaited we came to the place for Tristam’s Warbler. Weather conditions had changed quite a lot with only a soft brise moving among the rocks so I was now optimistic about finding the bird. Soon, a male was listened singing really up in the slope. We waited for some minutes and finally the bird was moving down the slope to stop immediatly below us in a small tree. It was a wonderful male showing really well and even allowing a record shot. A walk around allow us to (briefly) see a female but didn’t allow any approach.

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Tristam’s Warbler in the best image that allowed in our 2015 tour. Pair attention in the fine brownish wing pannel to identificate the bird.

The rest of the afternoon we explored a small gorge down the mountains. The area presents a really low, scarce vegetation and it is a really good place for a number of birds. Just after a short walk we could listen a Spectacled Warbler singing up in the hills and, at the same time, a pair of Desert Larks moved in front of us, at the other side of the stream. We scoped the Desert Larks but in the meanwhile the Spectacled Warbler was lost. Soon after a pair Black Wheatears showed really well and a small pack of 3 Trumperter Finches appeared in the gorge to feed on ground around us. Some metres beyond that place a male Moussier’s Redstart appeared for a while showing its incredible plomage but was for short and it was not enjoyed for the whole group. It was time for last stop and the target was a small decidous forest by Dades River. Here we could see Blackbirds but also 1 Woodchat Shrike, 1 Western Bonelli’s Warbler, 1 Chiffchaff, Common Bulbul and European Serin. In the way back to the hotel we had to stop in the road as 1 superb Bonelli’s Eagle flow over us to say us good by and wishing us a good trip! Day 7. Early morning start and road to the East, towards Merzouga. Before, it was time to take a small look in a gorge to try to find the secretive Pharaon Eagle Owl… without luck. Still, we have some good birds;  1 female Thick-billed Lark showing really close, 2 Desert Larks, 1 Long-legged Buzzard and a pair of Red-rumped Swallows were all seen.

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Desert Larks life in semi-arid, hilly areas. Image: Carles Oliver

Once in the road we did some stops providing more Desert and Red-rumped Wheatears. After a pair of hours of drive we stopped in a dry river bed to look for Scrub Warbler. We hadn’t had to wait long until a gorgeous male was showing well. Singing from the top of some bush or feeding on ground around them. This is normally a really striking bird and it is sometimes not appearing when exploring the country by yourself or even in a bird trip. In the area was little movement so we came to the car as I wanted to stop in a place which is normally providing good birding on migratory passerines. We arrived there and it was really quiet. Flocks of House Sparrows were moving in the sandy palm tree orchad plus some Greenfinches here and there. There were only few birds moving in a tree just beside the path so we were there and spot 4 “Subalpine Warblers”, all of them males. Taxonomic treatment of this species has been changed in the very last years so it has been recently split into 3 different species (Western, Moltonii’s & Eastern). So, what it was my surprise to see in that bush a male  having all patterns of Eastern Subalpine Warbler (Sylvia albistriata). Light grey upperparts and rump, evident, well defined and wide white moustache along with strong reddish throat and breast as well as white belly and vental area. A great and unexpected sight that we could see for some minutes before but, unfortunately could not take any image of the bird!! No other birds were moving around and the heat was quite strong so we came to the car to follow the road until our hotel in Merzouga were we could have some rest, some chating about the exciting birding in the morning and to prepare ourselves for a small afternoon trip to Merzouga’s lake. That lake, placed in right beside one of the limits of Moroccan Sahara, acts as an iman for thousands of migratory birds as a mandatory stop after crossing the endless desert. Our one hour long visit to the lagoon that afternoon produced a fine selection of ducks including >50 Ruddy Shelduck showing their beauty along the shore of the lake. There were also 5 Northern Shovelers, 10 Marbled Ducks (really endangered ducks), 1 Garganey and a wonderful flock of at least 15 Ferruginous Ducks!! Small groups of Red-knobbed Coots were also feeding across the lagoon. The lake also reported some waders. We had 1 Stone Curlew, 4 Kentish Plovers and 4 Ruffs along with several Black-winged Stilts, Redshanks and Common Ringed Plovers. At least 10 Gull-billed Terns were over flying the lagoon and the Great Crested Grebes diving in. And all of this with the sandy dunes around the lagoon reflecting their colour in the flocks of Greater Flamingoes!!! The desert around the lagoon reported also 1 Nightingale, 1 Northern Wheatear, 1 Woodchat Shrike and Desert Wheatears moving along with some Greater Short-toed Larks… After such a nice selection of birds we came back to hotel to have a nice dinner a some rest! Day 8. This was our full day in the desert to look for desert specialties, some of them quite scarce or elusive. After having a good breakfast our 4×4 was waiting for us out of the hotel. Our first stop was to look for the scarce Desert Sparrow. After a short wait in a incredible setting of dunes and palm trees we spot one male arriving to the top of a small construction along with House Sparrows. It was there for some minutes, preening and showing in the wonderful morning light.

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Desert Sparrows (Passer simplex) live in the desert and are highly dependant on dromedaries to look for their food.

Our second stop reported us 2 Greater Hoopoe Lark, 1 Bar-tailed Lark, 1 Desert Lark, 1 Hoopoe and 1 African Desert Warbler singing in the top of a bush. We were enjoying for quite long of the bird moving up and down along the sparse bushy area while feeding on caterpillars. While enjoying the warbler a huge flock of 64 Pin-tailed Sandgrouses flew over us calling and flying towards Algeria, where they sometimes go to feed. In the meanwhile Anna spot 1 Cream-coloured Couser and a carefully scanning of the area produced 3 more to be add to our list.

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Bar-tailed Larks have become quite scarce in some areas in Southern Morocco. Image: Carles Oliver

The African Desert Warbler allowed excellent images but, despite our efforts, this time we could not get close enough to the Greater Hoopoe Lark to take any nice photo. With the help of a Lahce, our local guide, leaded us towards a place where a Egyptian Nightjar can be seen roosting in the desert. It is always an amazing to see their wonderful camouflage (thought they roost on ground in the middle of the desert!) We were there for a quarter or so and quietly leave the location to do not disturb the wondeful bird that, like a sphynx, was sleeping on the sand!

Egyptian Nightjar - Caprimulgus aegyptiacus

Egyptian Nightjar, a wonderful bird totally adapted spend the whole day under the sun of the desert.

After that we had a short stop in some “farm larnds”. Here we were expecting to find some migratory birds but was quite quiet. Still, 2 Maghreb Larks were appearing as well as 1 Winchat and 2 Norther Wheatears. Back to the desert a group of 4 Brown-necked Ravens showed well, but very briefly, by the road. In the “hammada” desert and after a short research we found our first pair of Spotted Sandgrouse of the trip, again allowing gorgeous views and good shots.

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Spotted Sandgrouse is a typical inhabitant in stony deserts

It was already midday so we went to Rissani to have some lunch and we kept going on to spot some more birds. The oasis and orchards around Rissani were this year extremely productive as we found a family group of at least >10 Fulvous Babblers, 2 Blue-checked Bee-eaters, >4 Maghreb Wheatears, 4 Desert Grey Shrikes and 2 Little Owls roosting along with several Laughing Doves and Common Bulbuls!!

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Fulvous Babblers can be surprisingly strikking to spot in the Palm groves where do they live

This was right before to explore a clay cliff hosting White-Crowned Wheatear and the impressive Pharaon Eagle Owl. It took us a little bit longer than expected (we enjoyed the White-Crowneds…) but we finally had really good views on a bird sleeping in a shade of a cavity. Unfortunably this time the bird was a little bit far away and we could not have really good shots on it! While watching the bird we had a unexpected visitor since a Barbary Falcon came and stop in the cliff where the Pharaon Eagle Owl was, just hundred metres from where the owl was!! A wonderful end for a wonderful day!

Barbary Falcon

Barbary Falcon (Falco peregrinoides) on a cliff around Merzouga

Day 9. This morning we wake up with a nice flock of over 20 European Bee-eaters flying over our hotel, right beside the Erg Chebbi. This day we explored some areas for migratory birds. In our first stop we got 2 Olivaceous Warblers calling but we couldn’t get any clear view of the birds. In addition we got 1 Chiffchaff, Willow Warblers, Subalpine Warblers, 1 Squacco Heron, 2 African Wagtails and 2 Ruddy Shelducks. Later in the morning we did a stop in a small river, one of the few places with good riparian vegetation all around the area. The reedbeds were full of Sedge Warblers and European Reed Warblers. 4 Blue-cheecked Bee-eaters and small flock of Little Swifts were flying over us, really close allowing incredible views on them. Among the riparian vegetation we got a second Squacco Heron for that morning. We were checking for Crakes as this location is quite good for them. Still, we had no luck this time!

cerceta-pardilla-2

Marbled Ducks favours shallow, often temporary, lakes.

In the river we also spot 1 African White Wagtail and many Yellow Wagtails (iberiae). We were about to live when a bird moved really close in the reedbeds. We all stop and carefully scan the reeds… some seconds later we were shocked to see 1 Aquatic Warbler moving quite close to us!!! It showed well for some 5-10 seconds and immediatly after it disappeared again in the reeds!! It was a great end of our visit to this small wetland!!! Before going back to our hotel for lunch we made a final stop to try to get better views on Saharan Olivaceous Warbler. I tryed this time a different location with bigger trees and some sparse branches to give us more chances. In the area it was 1 Turtle Dove singing as well as some Moroccan Magpies, European Serin, Spotless Starling, Laughing Dove and Blackbirds. After some research I spot a bird right in front of us, singing and showing well in the sparse branches. Got it! An excellent end to our morning! In the afternoon, new visit to the Merzouga lake. We got more or less the same birds than two days before (including the flock of 10 Marbled Ducks) but we could a gorgeous flock of >30 Garganeys as well as a flock of 12 Common Pochards. A minimum of 6 Black-crowned Night Herons were also sleeping in the reeds and Greenshank and Bar-tailed Godwit were spotted in the shore.

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Black-winged Stilt in the Merzouga Lake, a typical stop for several thousands of migratory birds.

Day 10. Last day of the tour and Merzouga-Marrakesh transfer. But before we had time to visit a small cliffy area around Rissani. We only had 1 hour before start our trip back but it was enough to have a wonderful Lanner Falcon on the cliff, preening in the early morning light. In the area, a pair of White-crowned Wheatears were moving at the foot of the cliff and 1 Desert Lark was moving also in the area. We started to go back to the car when a small flock of 4 Crowned Sandgrouses passed by us showing really well. Despite the flock was not enjoyed for the whole group, it was a fantastic end for our time in the desert.

IMG_4989

Bonelli’s Eagle is, despite a steadily decline, the commonest eagle in Morocco. Image: Carles Oliver

We stop a pair of times in the way back but we only got a pair of distant Bonelli’s Eagle… was during the afternoon in the Northern slope of the Atlas, in a small poplar forest. Here we spot 1 Great Spotted Woodpecker, Cirl Bunting, Common Bulbul, Hawfinch, Nightingale, Short-toed Treecreeper, African Chaffinch, African Blue Tit and Eurasian Robin. And this was the end of the tour. We are already excited about our next issue… do you feel like coming 😉

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 & Aragon Grand Birding Tour, 2014 issue

DATES: 4th to 11th, May 2014

NUMBER OF PARTICIPANTS: 7 costumers (Check Republic) + 2 guides (Carles Oliver & Frantisek Pochmon)

SPECIES OF BIRDS: 196

Our 2014 Catalonia & Aragon 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

2012 Ebro Basin in Winter Tour

This is the report Barcelona Birding Point’s Ebro Basin in Winter Tour (2012 edition) 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?

 

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.

Spring Common Birds Monitoring in Llobregat Delta

This spring I’ve done just one spring census in Llobregat Delta. This census is inside the Catalan Common Birds Monitoring that ICO (Institut Català d’Ornitologia) is coordinating for several years in the whole country. Catalan Common Birds is based in two census during winter and two spring census, following always the same itinerary in order to get information about the commoner bird species.

I’ve seen several changes between this census and 2010 records. First of all there have been few riverside breeding birds records in comparision with 2010 census:

COMMONER RIVERSIDE  BREEDING BIRDS

Cetti’s Warbler                  Zitting Cisticola                      Moorhen

2010                30                                          23                                    20

2011                19                                          11                                    10

Cetti's Warbler is a common bird in riversides and reedbeds of Llobregat Delta (Photo: Carles Oliver)

There have been no migrant passerines recorded this year while 8 species were detected in 2010 (Redstart –Phoenicurus phoenicurus, Whitethroat –Sylvia communis, Subalpine Warbler –Sylvia cantillans, Grassopper Warbler –Locustella naevia, Bonelli’s Warbler –Phylloscopus bonelli and Woodchat –Lanius senator as more noticeable).

Different date in every census is not enough explanation for such a different records. 2010 census was performed on 7th May and 2011’s on 13th May.