Arxiu de la categoria: Stone Curlew

Is April the best month for birding in North-East Spain?

Every little time we got requests of birdwatchers that, interested about coming to do some birdwatching in Catalonia, ask us about what it is the best time to come.

Well, this is always depending on what do you want to see… But it is not wrong to think on spring as being probably the best time for birdwatching. In the Mediterranean this means a combination of excellent, sunny weather with pleasant temperatures, high activity of the nesting species (resident or not) and tones of migratory birds in their way to Northernmost nesting grounds.

I personally love April. It is just because of the really good general birding. This is probably one of the best moments in the year for Crakes. And not talking about listen them, but talking on seeing them! Migration goes in excellent numbers along Mediterranean wetlands and, along with warblers, waders and raptors, it is always possible to enjoy Spotted Crakes (Porzana porzana) or Little Crakes (Porzana parva). Early April is also a good time to look for Iberian Chiffchaffs (Phylloscopus ibericus) as they hang around in their way to their nesting grounds. Along the month waves of Short-toed Eagles (Circaetus gallicus), Black Kites (Milvus migrans) and Montagu’s Harriers (Circus pygargus) are to arrive to their nesting grounds. Egyptian Vultures (Neophron percnopterus) are already defending their territories as they arrive as early as early-mid February.

 

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Spotted Crakes (Porzana porzana) show up all along March and April in all kind of wetlands. Numbers are highly variable depending on the year. Image: Carles Olive

 

 

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Egyptian Vultures keep expanding in Catalonia. They arrive as early as February. Image: Carles Oliver

 

By mid April Woodchat Shrikes (Lanius senator),  Spectacleds (Sylvia conspicillata), Subalpines (Sylvia cantillans) and Orphean Warblers (Sylvia hortensis) will be all at their nesting grounds, but it is mandatory to keep searching for not-that-common birds in migration that can easily include Wood Warbler (Phylloscopus sibilatrix), Garden Warbler (Sylvia borin), Lesser Whitethroat (Sylvia curruca) along with some Balearic Flycatchers (Muscicapa tyrrhenica) to be discovered among the many Spotted Flycatchers (Muscicapa striata).

 

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Western Subalpine Warblers (Sylvia cantillans) are a common migratory bird all along April. From 10th onwards they can also be found at their nesting grounds around. Image: Carles Oliver

 

 

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Wood Warblers (Phylloscopus sibilatrix) are exclusivelly migratory birds in Catalonia, an rather scarce! They normally are to be found in mixed migratory warblers flocks. Image: Carles Oliver

 

But probably the best is that all of that can be done while still enjoying on Wallcreepers (Tichodroma muraria) in the Pyrenees as they still goes up. They are not that “easy” to find as in winter but still is mandatory to check some spots! And now, while looking for them, it is likely yo see superb Common Rock Thrush (Monticola saxatilis) or Rock Buntings (Emberiza cia) singing around!

In the wetlands, Bluethroats (Luscinia svecica) keep going North and more active as never before so it gets easier to locate them, and Iberian Reed Buntings (Emberiza s. whiterby) are also showing well within its tiny range! Small flocks of waders and beautiful ducks such as Garganeys (Anas querquedula) can be seen in every wetland and you can enjoy male Ruffs (Philomachus pugnax) going up with their splendid spring plomages. Few days ago we just got a mixed flock of Black-winged Stilts (Himantopus himantopus) along with Pied Avocets (Recurvirostra avosetta), Ruffs and Black-tailed Godwits (Limosa limosa) only 30 minutes after enjoying a Dupont’s Lark (Chersophilus duponti) singing right in front of us…

 

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Garganeys (Anas querquedula) show up in good numbers all along April. Image: Carles Oliver

 

 

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Dupont’s Lark (Chersophilus duponti) in flowering steppe vegetation. April at its best. Image: Carles Oliver

 

No mention to the steppes… they are never as beautiful as are in April. And are really productive! Many areas are carpeted by yellow, red and white flowers and Little Bustards (Tetrax tetrax) sing in the middle of the flowers while flocks of Sandgrouses (Pterocles sp.) and Stone Curlews (Burhinus oedicnemus) feed around. You will listen some 100s of Calandra Larks (Melonacorypha calandra) and Corn Buntings (Emberiza calandra)… you may think; “it would not be 100s!”. Yes, 100s

In the fields, flocks of Yellow Wagtails (Motacilla flava spp.) feed along with Pipits (meadow, tree, red-throated?), Great Spotted Cuckoos (Clamator glandarius) will always be really busy and noisy at this time while small parties of tiny Lesser Kestrels (Falco naumanii) move up and down in the air…

 

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Great Spotted Cuckoos (Clamator glandarius) are superb birds! Arriving along March, they are especially active in early April. Image: Carles Oliver

 

Yes, spring is here and, maybe is not that important whether April is the best moment to enjoy birds in Catalonia or not. It is still a wonderful time to come and enjoy!

Check out our birding trips at barcelonabirdingpoint.com our contact us to design your birding adventure at info@barcelonabirdingpoint.com

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Fuerteventura Birding Tour 2016. Trip report

Dates: December 6th to 10th, 2016

Number of participants: 3

Weather conditions: Sunny all long. We had, as usual, early morning clouds but breaking after 10am. A soft brise was also present most of the days. Temperatures; 18ºC to 24ºC.

Day 1. December 7th. After our late afternoon arrival to Fuerteventura from our Barcelona flight we woke up early in our seaside hotel in El Cotillo to enjoy a good breakfast before starting birding. Still, in the gardens of our hotel a first of many, many Spanish Sparrows (Passer hispanoliensis) was spotted doing its typical call. This is the only one species of Sparrow living in the island being really common in every single garden! After breakfast we did the short transfer to our first location. El Cotillo-La Oliva area is a well known area for steppe birds, hosting most (if not all) the especialities living in the island. In our first stop we soon located some Berthelot’s Pipits (Anthus berthelotii), the first Canary Islands endemic of the trip, along with several very vocal Lesser Short-toed Lark (Calandrella rufescens).

Some scanning around produced 2 Hoopoes (Upupa epops) landing on some rocks, one of them doing its wonderful song. A male European Stonechat (Saxicola rubicola) was spotted in the steppe and broke some hearts as a close relative of it was expected instead… still, this was the only European Stonechat of trip!

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Berthelot’s Pipit (Anthus berthelotii) is probably the commonest passerine in Fuerteventura.

In our way to our very first important stop we enjoyed views on Canary Islands Ravens (Corvus corax tingitanus), a superb and very different bird from European race due to their shorter tail, more rounded wings, smaller head and very distinctive (rather crow-like) calls. This a good candidate for a future split… In the distance, some Stone Curlews were calling but we could not locate them…

Once we stopped we immediatly spotted a magnificient Houbara Bustard (Chlamidotis undulata) preening about 100 metres away from us. The bird was really concentrated in cleaning its plomage so we could enjoy it as long as necessary to have excellent views. At the same time we kept scouting looking for some females but we had no luck… Instead we had some really confiding Canary Islands Shrikes (Lanius (elegans) koenigi) around. The status of this bird is still controversial. Nowadays there are two main theories; the first arguing to be a different species (Lanius koenigi), the second (and more accepted) arguing to be conspecific with Desert & Algerian Shrikes (Lanius elegans koenigi), and still some other theories. Wherever these birds were really cooperative and photographers appreciated very much really close views on them.

We kept scanning ditches around and our work proved not to be unhelpful since we had 2 Barbary Partridges (Alectoris barbara) feeding in one of the ditches. It was a great spot since this can be a difficult bird to spot so it was great to have so early in the trip!

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Canary Island Shrike (Lanius (elegans) koenigi) is a splitable endemic easy to find in Fuerteventura.

 

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Barbary Partridges (Alectoris barbara) can be difficult to spot but we had several good sights on them.

After such a good start we decided to explore a small canyon (barranco) close by. Several Berthelot’s Pipits were around and here we had very good views on some really confiding Spectacled Warblers (Sylvia conspicillata orbitalis). We decided to walk a bit up the “barranco” and, after only 100 metres of walk we found an extremelly close Fuerteventura Chat (Saxicola dacotiae) male on a Cactus. Soon after we found the beautiful female around and enjoyed of very long and close views on them. This is the only endemic bird of Fuerteventura and one of the main target birds for any single birdwatcher visiting the island…

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Fuerteventura Chat (Saxicola dacotiae) is restringed to this island and a must for any birdwatcher visiting it!

While enjoying the chats we also had another good encounter since a small flock of about 6 Trumpeter Finches (Bucanetes githagineus) came to stop only 20 metres from us! Again, we could enjoy them quite long while feeding on seeds in tiny bush. A few after a Common Buzzard (Buteo buteo insularum) appeared in the sky. This is again an endemic race of the Canaries, and a bird that looks like quite different from continental forms! In this barranco we also had our firsts Greenish Black-tips (Elphinstonia charlonia) moving around along with Painted Ladys (Vanessa cardui) and 1-2 Red Admirall (Vanessa atalanta).

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Trumpeter Finch (Bucanetes githagineus) is the commonest finch in Fuerteventura.

After such a wonderful mid-morning we decided to have a change and go to Los Molinos reservoir, the main wetland in the island. In our way to the reservoir we stopped a pair of times to enjoy some flocks of Spanish Sparrows. Linnet (Carduelis cannabina), Eurasian Collared Dove (Streptopelia decaocto) and Robin (Erithacus rubecula) were also seen. Our last stop produced also 2 Laughing Dove (Streptopelia senegalensis) but, unfortunately I was the only one to see them…

Even before arriving to Los Molinos reservoir we started to enjoy the visit. Birding in this location is highly variable depending on water level but this time we were lucky, as water level was high and the whole “barranco” beyond the dump was having water running down. 1 Common Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus dacotiae) was gliding over and allowed us excellent views on this (again) endemic race! Ruddy Shelducks (Tadorna ferruginea) we common this year as we count no less than 60 of them in the lake! When approaching the reservoir we had really close views on them. Some of the birds around included Eurasian Coot (Fulica atra) +70, Common Sandpiper (Actitis hypoleucos) 2, Greenshank (Tringa nebularia) 3, Little Ringed Plover (Charadrius dubius) 1, Black-headed Gull (Chroicocephalus ridibundus) 1, Tufted Duck (Aythya fuligula) 6, Eurasian Teal (Anas crecca) 2, Common Snipe (Gallinago gallinago) 2 and 3 Little Egret (Egretta Garzetta).

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Lesser Short-toed Larks (Calandrella rufescens) are good imitating other birds. This bird imitated Fuerteventura Chat, Stone Curlew and Berthelot’s Pipit amongst other birds.

The best birds in the wetland this time were +15 Black-winged Stilts (Himantopus himantopus) and one unexpected Garganey (Anas querquedula). Here we also had our only one Northern Wheatear (Oenanthe oenanthe) of trip, perched on a wall along with Canary Islands Shrike & Hoopoe, good combination of birds! It was lunch time so we head to a close place to enjoy some food and, why not, some shade! Before that we had to do an emergency stop since a Egyptian Vulture (Neophron percnopterus majorensis) was spotted perched in one slope. Despite the bird was quite far away, we enjoy good views on the bird while feeding around joined by a pair of Ravens… This was a good spot and, surprisingly, our only Egyptian Vulture in this trip!

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Spanish Sparrows (Passer hispanoliensis) are the only sparrows in Fuerteventura.

After lunch we came to the semi-desert area around El Cotillo. Here we spent some time scanning some farming areas, where we had 2 Barbary Partridges and our only one Song Thrush (Turdus philomelos) of trip. A short drive around the area produced our main target that afternoon since 3 obliging Cream-coloured Coursers (Cursorior cursor bannermani) were located, doing their typical short runs. They were really cooperative and delighted the whole group! Nevertheless it was considered one of the birds of the trip!! corredor-sahariano-071216-1-copy   img_9876

We hept moving in this area, having always confiding Berthelot’s Pipit around. Not long after we had a flock of 5 Black-bellied Sandgrouses (Pterocles orientalis) flying not far away from us… They stopped in a hill but, as we had not so much light left, we decided to move.

We still had to have a last stop. After a short transfer we arrive to an area were one of the main targets of the trip is normally moving. A short wait was done in late afternoon light and then, with the very last light, it was appearing a wonderful Barbary Falcon (Falco peregrinoides) with a prey, flying fast around the valley! We were lucky as the bird decided to do a pair of rolls in the air so we could have good views on the falcon before desappeared! We were all really happy of having such a view on a bird that many birdwatchers visiting the island are missing!! The population here is tiny, probably only 2-3 pairs!! Happy after such a successful day, we head back to our hotel for some rest (& good food!).

Day 2. December 8th. After the success of the day before, we decided to do a pre-dawn start and go to the same place where we had our first Houbara Bustard the day before. When we arrived to the place the bird was immediatly located and we were delighted to see it in full display! It was evident that that place was his lek this year. Displays of Houbara Bustard are really spectacular and even funny. Males place the head rear on their back and then open and show all white feathers in their breast and along the neck. Once in this position, the bird starts running in small, 5-6 metres of diameter cercles. Like this, the bird looks like having no neck, neither head. It looks like a running snow ball, actually! We enjoyed very much of such a exhibition, that was repeated several times. Unfortunately the bird was a bit far away to take any proper photo… After such a good start in our second day we decided to do some further exploration in the same area, that was soon producing to more distant males displaying in different corners, in the semi-arid countryside. No females were spotted, suprisingly!

When we were about to leave the area we had a wonderful Stone Curlew (Burhinus oedicnemus insularum) sat down some meters away from our car! This was a wonderful spot and photographers in the group (once again) really appreciated it! Stone Curlews living in Canary Islands are, in average, darker and more contrasted than those living in Africa and are good candidates for a future split.

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Stone Curlews (Burhinus oedicnemus insularum) are not uncommon in Fuerteventurs, but always challenging to find.

After leaving the semi-desertic area we headed towards maybe the only one reliable spot for Atlantic Canary (Serinus canaria) in Fuerteventura. We arrived quite at midday to the place and soon after parking we had a male Sardinian Warbler (Sylvia melanocephala) singing close by. This sight was followed by our only one seen Blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla) of the trip. After some meters of exploration we listened some Canaries moving up the slope, at the other side of the barranco, so we headed to that area and soon we were enjoying a wonderful, 4-5 metres away male singing and calling from its perch. As an interesting point, this male looked like being imitating the calls of African Blue Tits… never listened thst before. This finch is also an endemic bird but this time shared by Canary Islands, Maderia and Açores.

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Atlantic Canary (Serinus canaria) is Macaronesian endemic having a tiny population in Fuerteventura.

We counted up to 4 Atlantic Canaries in the slope, not a big number but enough for the small group! Several obliging Spectacled Warblers were also very active in that slope, singing from the bush land but also performing song flights so we invested some time in having even better views than the previous day!  Even before being back to the village we had our last target bird in this location, as 1 African Blue Tit (Cyanistes teneriffae ultramarinus) was seen flying over our heads. We followed this bird to have better views and soon were enjoying really close views on two individuals in a dense tree, joined by 2 Chiffchaffs (Phylloscopus collybita).

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African Blue Tits (Cyanistes teneriffae ultramarinus) are conspecific with those living in Morocco.

We also had some wonderful butterflies here, including the first Plain Tiger (Danaus chrysippus) of the trip, Geranium Bronze (Cacyreus marshallii) and +5 Bath White (Pontia daplidice). A Blue butterfflie was also flying around but couldn’t have proper views on it…

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Bath White (Pontia daplidice) is probably the commonest butterfly in the mountainous orchads in Fuerteventura.

We leaved Betancuria for our next stop, this time in the South part of the island. After lunch we arrived to the area around Oasis Park Fuerteventura, where so scaped birdlife can be seen. Just a few miles before arriving a new Laughing Dove was spotted crossing the road in flight. Again I was the only one in having the bird our efforts in recolate the bird were useless. Once we arrived to the are around Oasis Park we had some good views on impressive Monarch (Danaus  plexippus) joined by some Plain Tigers (Danaus chrysippus). These butterflies were really celebrated by the group! We did some walks around but only had 3 Chiffchaffs, +2 Blackcaps singing from some bush, 1 Robin and the omnipresent Spanish Sparrows & Collared Doves… A bit more of effort was done and we finally got something as 1 Red-vented Bulbul (Pycnonotus cafer) was appearing and showing well (although distant) in the top of one tree. It looks like there is a small population breeding around this zoo. We still had some more time around but only produced a small Common Waxbill (Estrilda astrild) flock calling inside a fenced area…

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Red-vented Bubul (Pycnonotus cafer), an scaped that is probably having a tiny self-sustained population.

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We decided to change our location and explore the urban “forest” at Costa Calma. We found the place really quiet and for 10-15 minutes we only had 2 Chiffchaffs… and Spanish Sparrows. But when thinking about leaving the area we spotted a wonderful Yellow-browed Warbler (Phylloscopus inornatus). We approached the bird until we could have really good views (and shots) and then is when we realised a second YB was calling deeper inside the canopies! That was a really good bird a quite celebrated. We still had some more time is this spot, hoping for something different but we only got a flock of 7-8 Eurasian Goldfinches (Carduelis carduelis).

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One of the two self-found Yellow-browed Warblers (Phylloscopus inornatus) at Costa Blanca.

It was only one hour left until dark so we decided to explore some semi-desert areas around Costa Calma. Right when arriving to the designated place we had a wonderful flock of 13 Black-bellied Sandgrouses that allowed a long sight while feeding on ground in the afternoon light. A short drive after this encounteer we also had really good views on 2 close Cream-coloured Coursers showing really well! We still had time for a further exploration and got what we were looking for… 2 magnificient females Houbara Bustards feeding close by, in lovely sunset light. This time we really enjoy the way they delicatelly feeding on the bush around and how they were running around in the middle of the steppe land!

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Houbara Bustard (Chlamidotis undulata) was showing really well almost daily along our trip!

An amazing view to end a wonderful second day of the trip!!

Day 3. December 9th. This day we were supposed to “jump” to Gran Canaria to add some different species and, especially, the really scarce Gran Canaria Blue Chaffinch (Fringilla polatzeki). Unfortunately this option was finally not possible and we had to stay in Fuerteventura. We invested the morning in scan the shore around El Cotillo. Here we spotted Eurasian Whimbrels (Numenius phaeopus) in several spots as well as Common Ringed Plover (Charadrius hiaticula). Along the coast several Yellow-legged Gulls (Larus michahellis atlantis), a slightly smaller and less powerful race if compared with the nominal race living in the Mediterranean. Other birds appearing here include 2 Sandwich Terns (Sterna sandvicensis), 3 Lesser Black-backed Gull (Larus fuscus) and my first ever Trumpeter Finch by the sea! The best birds along the morning, still, were located around El Cotillo, where we had +13 Kentish Plover (Charadrius alexandrinus), 3 Dunlin (Calidris alpina), 1 Little Stint (Calidris minuta) and 1 Grey Plover (Pluvialis squatarola).

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Kentish Plovers (Charadrius alexandrinus) is a good resident bird along Fuerteventura beaches.

Several stops were done to scan the sea, looking for Shearwaters or other sea birds but, unfortunately, nothing of interest was spotted along the whole morning… After lunch we came back to the semi-desert area, trying to have a second look on Barbary Falcon. We explored the same area where we had the bird a pair of days before but we had no luck. Instead we got a new flock of 4 Black-bellied Sandgrouses, really close views this time, as well as a lovely view on a pair of Barbary Partridges that, this time, was allowing good shots.

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Barbary Partridge (Alectoris barbara), always a good bird!

Day 4. December 10th. Last morning in the island. We decided to have a last look to the semi-desert specialities. 3 Houbara Bustards were located again easily but the best of that visit was 1 Stone Curlew close by the dart road. After this good start we decided to go for Laughing Dove (Streptopelia senegalensis), a species that had been escaping from us, so far. We stopped in the same area I spotted two individuals a pair of days ago and we were lucky since we had a really good view on a bird perched in a wire even before leaving the car!

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Laughing Dove (Streptopelia senegalensis) is a pretty scarce dove in the Canary Islands, and beautiful bird!

As we were close to Los Molinos reservoir we spent some time there, as well. New and excellent views on Fuerteventura Chats and Trumpeter Finches were done and allowed good photos. We also added some new species to the tour list. 5 Mallards (Anas platyrhynchos) were seen along with 2 Pintails (Anas acuta), 2 Eurasian Wigeons (Anas penelope) and 4 Grey Herons (Ardea cinerea) but the best birds in this stop were the flocks of at least 18 Black-bellied Sandgrouses flying really low all around and stopping to drink water around the reservoir! It was a lovely view and quite unexpected, actually! img_0187

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Female & male Fuerteventura Chats (Saxicola dacotiae), personally the besg bird living in Fuerteventura!

Right before arriving to the airport we still had time to do some exploration in some Golf courses nearby. 2 Ruddy Shelducks were walking along the greens, a very different sight! 2 Common Sandpipers, 3 Common Ringed Plovers and 1 Common Redshank (Tringa totanus) were also seen as well as 2 White Wagtails (Motacilla alba), 2 Grey Wagtails (Motacilla cinerea), 1 Chiffchaff and a pair of Greenfinches (Chloris chloris) flying around…

And this was the end of a really successful trip, expecting to have a even better trip in 2017 or early 2018, when we will look for the very scarce Gran Canaria Blue Chaffinch!

Join us for more fun & birds!!!

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Morocco: from Atlas to Sahara tour. 2016 issue

 

Dates: from April 1st to April 10th, 2016

Number of participants: 5

Number of species: 189 + 4 races

This is the official report of the 2016 issue Moroccan early spring trip by Barcelona Birding Point led by Carles Oliver. Our trip started this year in 1st April, some weeks later than in previous issues but having more or less the same itinerary.

Day 1. After a good breakfast in our hotel in Marrakech we head to the Atlas. Here the landscape becomes more wet than around the city and the valleys start to show river side forests along every single stream while the slopes around are covered by juniper scrub lands.

Our first stop in this ambient fastly produced the first birds of the trip. A pair of Great Spotted Woodpeckers (Dendrocopos major numidus) showed really well in the popplars. Right behind us we had 5 Hawfinches (Coccothraustes coccothraustes buvryi) showed out in the top of a close orchad tree. Some other birds around included African Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs africana), Chiffchaff (Phylloscopus collybita), Blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla), European Serin (Serinus serinus), Greenfinch (Chloris chloris) and African Blue Tit (Cyanistes teneriffae ultramarinus), what a beauty!

Common Nightingales (Luscinia megarhychos) were singing around but we could not get any view on them, yet! Cattle Egrets (Bubulcus ibis) and White Storks (Ciconia ciconia) were all the time flying around while the firsts Red-rumped Swallows (Cecropis daurica) of many during the trip showed well flying over the orchads. Andreas spot also the first Grey Wagtail (Motacilla cinerea) of the trip calling from the top of a roof!

The main goal of the stop was, still, not hard to find out as a male Levaillant’s Woodpecker (Picus vallantii) was appearing along the tree line and showing really close. We all got excellent views on the bird moving along the tree and even drumming! What a bird!!

The African Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs africana) is a common view in the Moroccan forests and it is also a possible future split. Image: Carles Oliver tmp_P11104861704765193

Levaillant’s Woodpecker (Picus vallantii), a scarce near-endemic living in the Atlas Northern slope. Image: Bauke Kortleve tmp_162995014.opV1uoPM20175606

Our second stop of the day produced also a really good list of birds. Only after getting out of the car we got +4 Sardinian Warblers (Sylvia melanocephala) along with 5 migratory European Bee-eaters (Merops apiaster). Soon after we got excellent views on the local race of Subalpine Warbler (Sylvia cantillans inornata) singing and hiding, as tipically, really well, in the scrublands. A short walk in the area produced a Common Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus), a briefly seen pack of Barbary Partridges (Alectoris barbara), a male Cirl Bunting (Emberiza cirlus) singing from a perch,+4 Red-rumped Swallows (Cecropis daurica) and one wonderful Common Cuckoo (Cuculus canorus) singing from a really tall perch and flying away. But the best of the stop were the awesome views on Tristam’s Warbler (Sylvia deserticola) when a male came out from the bush land around. We were lucky as we could follow the bird among the vegetation for some minutes!!! This bird is also a Moroccan near-endemic and, well, sometimes not easy to spot.

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Tristam’s Warbler (Sylvia deserticola), a tricky near-endemic warbler living in mountanious open scrubs. Image: Carles Oliver

After that we just head to Oukaïmeden, the main stop of the day, since it is the best place for high mountain birds in Morocco. Still, even before arriving to Oukaïmeden we had to stop three times. The first spot to enjoy a flock of +8 Lesser Kestrels (Falco naumanii). The second stop produced a wonderful combination of raptors in the sky with both Long-legged Buzzard (Buteo rufinus cirtensis) and Booted Eagle (Aquila pennata) soaring over the slopes and a wonderful flock of over 40 Red-billed Chough (Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax). In the last stop we enjoyed a pair of light forms Booted Eagles (Aquila pennata) disturbed by Ravens (Corvus corax).

Once in Oukaïmeden we promptly had our first Common Rock Sparrow (Petronia petronia) and the near-endemic Seebohm’s Wheatear (Oenanthe seebohmi), counting over 20 of each of them at the end of our stay in Oukaïmeden. A flock of over 200 Alpine Choughs (Pyrrhocorax graculus) were flying over the opositte slope, impressive! A short walk around produced a good flock of Common Rock Sparrow and, alomg with them, Linnets (Acanthis cannabina), 2 Mistle Thrush (Turdus viscivorus deichleri) and our 3 Common Chaffinches (Fringilla coelebs) along the trip. Soon after Bauke spot the first Atlas Horned Lark (Eremophila alpestris atlas) of the day! Walking around we spot about 30 of them and didn’t have to wonder more to have our 2 firsts African Crimson-winged Finches (Rhodopechys alienus) showing close but briefly!! Still expecting a better views we walk a bit more further when Bauke spot, in a private moment, wonderful flock of 5 finches perched on a rock. What a view! This was to rank among the highlights of the trip!

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Seebohm’s Wheatear (Oenanthe seehbomi), again a near-endemic living in the high mountain grass lands in Morocco and Algeria. Image: Bauke Kortleve

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Atlas Horned Lark (Eremophila alpestris atlas), an endemic race (and possible future split) endemic of NW African high mountains. Image: Carles Oliver

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African Crimson-winged Finches (Rhodopechys alienus) has been recently split from Asian Crimson-winged Finch. This was, of course, one of the highlights of the trip! Image: Carles Oliver

After a good lunch around we still enjoyed of the beautiful view of over 100 Choughs feeding on the grasslands around. They were mainly Alpine but some Red-billeds were providing really close views! A little walk further away still produced some really good birds. 1 Blue Rock Thrush (Monticola solitarius) was singing from the top of a ridge. Below, 4 Water Pipits (Anthus spinolleta) were feeding along the stream along with a pair of Grey Wagtails (Motacilla cinerea), Winter Wren (Troglodytes troglodytes) and Mistle Thrush. A wondwerful Rock Bunting (Emberiza cia) male was really celebrated in the group and gave us excellents while moving on ground. The last bird in appear up here was a distant but good view on a Dipper (Cinclus cinclus), a bird which has here its southermost population. Before coming back in our car, we still had 1 Booted Eagle in the sky.

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Booted Eagle (Aquila pennata) light form flying. This species nest in good numbers around Marrakech. Image: Bauke Kortleve

A new stop in a phantastic Spanish Fear (Abies pinsapo) spot produced some birds regarded to canopies. Coal Tits (Periparus ater) and Firecrests (Regulus ignicapilla) showed really well. A flock of 4 Siskins (Spinus spinus) was a really good bonus!

Lanner Falcon (Falco biarmicus), a gorgeous bird that we could enjoy up to 4 times along the tour. Image:Bauke Kortleve tmp_162989808.9rq534VV524274501

Day 2. An early morning start for our transfer to the area around Agadir. In our way we could see some flocks of European Bee-eaters in their migratory way and both Woodchat (Lanius senator) and Algerian Shrikes (this last a probable future split from Northern Grey Shrike).

Once arrived there we did a stop in the Tamri Stuary. From here we could see our 2 firsts Northern Bald Ibises (Geronthicus eremita) preening by the water. It was a far but really intense view because all the extremely delicated situation of this species worldwide! A fast view on the stuary produced a flock of 5 Eurasian Spoonbills (Platalea leucorodia), Grey Herons (Ardea cinerea), Little Egret (Egretta garzetta), 2 Ruddy Shelducks (Tadorna ferruginea) and a good flock of gulls and terns roosting on the beach.

We decided to do along the beach to have better views on the Ibises. Soon we discovered a pair of Kentish Plover (Charadrius alexandrinus) that provided excellent views along with Moroccan Wagtails moving on the beach while several Lesser Black-backed Gulls (Larus fuscus) were moving over us. During the walk we had at least 2 Subalpine Warblers (Sylvia cantillans) in the scrubs along the sandy area. When arrived closer to the stuary we had excellent views on the Ibises but also good views on +20 Audouin’s Gulls (Larus audouinii) sleeping on the beach along with +20 Sandwich Terns (Sterna sandvicensis) along with Yellow-legged Gulls (Larus michahellis), 2 Great Cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo), 2 Common Ringed Plovers (Charadrius hiaticula) and Eurasian Coots (Fulica atra). In the way back to the car we had more views on Subalpine Warblers and a pair of flocks of Spanish Sparrows that had wonderful views on some males showing full summer plumage.

Not satisfied with the views we had on Northern Bald Ibises we went to explore the fields around expecting to find any group feeding on the sandy areas or going for water somewhere. After a short exploration we had some individuals flying around. Finally, we had at least 7 individuals moving on the slopes, feeding on ground and enjoyed of really close views of birds flying around us!!!

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Above & below Northern Bald Ibises (Geronthicus eremita) flying in some of the really close views we enjoyed in Tamri. Images: Bauke Kortleve

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These slopes are also great for other birds as we had at least 2 Spectacled Warblers (Sylvia conscipillata), Thekla Larks (Galerida theklae) and wonderful views on at least two pairs of Black-eared Wheatears (Oenanthe hispanica). Before leaving the area we had to stop again since a Long-legged Buzzard was soaring really close of the car, along with 1 Common Kestrel. Close by we also enjoyed 1 Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus brookei).

Our next stop was in Cape Tamri, expecting to have some migratory sea birds. We did not do a long stay because of the strong (and cold) wind but still we had +100 Northern Gannets (Morus bassanus) flying North along with +3 Manx Shearwaters (Puffinus puffinus) and, the best, 1 Razorbill (Alca torda). This bird was my first Razorbill so far South, despite during this winter it had been some sights along this coast.

Last stop of the day was to explore the Souss River just beside Agadir. This really well known site is excellent to locate gull, terns and waders that cannot be located anywhere else during the trip! Before arriving we had some beautiful views on Laughing Dove (Streptopelia senegalensis) and Moroccan Magpie (Pica pica mauretanicus). The mudflats along the river had +30 Grey Plovers (Pluvialis squatarola), 1 Common Redshank (Tringa totanus), Curlew (Numenius arquata), 2 Whimbrels (Numenius phaeopus), several Eurasian Oystecatchers (Haematopus ostralegus), Common Ringed Plovers and good views on 5 Bar-tailed Godwits (Limosa lapponica), a pair of them showing a wonderful summer plomage.

There were several flocks of gulls in the mudflats. Scanning them we had 5 Mediterranean Gulls (Larus melanocephalus), 2nd year all of them, +15 Slender-billed Gulls (Chroicocephalus genei) and Black-headed Gulls (Chroicocephalus ridibundus) along with Yellow-legged and Lesser Black-backed Gulls. A big flock of over 50 Gull-billed Terns (Gelochelidon nilotica), some of them offering great views all around. Here we also had our firsts Zitting Cisticolas (Cisticola juncidis) of the trip. When arriving to our hotel we still had a wonderful view on a flock of over 40 Glossy Ibises (Plegadis falcinellus) flying over the area. Without doubt was an incredible end for our second day of the trip!

Day 3. Even before getting inside the car we already had a pair of really good birds. A pair of Moussier’s Redstart (Phoenicurus moussieri) was showing really well (and close) and, beyonf them, a pair of wonderful Stone Curlews (Burhinus oedicnemus) were sleepping in the bare slope. After a good view from the scope we just got inside the car and approached the birds, getting excellent views on them without disturbing them!

During the trip we had estremely close views on a pair of Stone Curlews (Burhinus oedicnemus) roosting just by one of our accommodations. Image: Carles Oliver tmp_P1110474874202186

Our first stop in the morning produced an amazing range of birds. A small pond in the river Massa produced our Savi’s Warbler (Locustella naevia) and Little Crake (Porzana parva) listened in the reeds around. Here we also had good views on +3 Isabelline Warblers (Iduna opaca), Iberian Yellow Wagtail (Motacilla flava iberiae), 2 Cetti’s Warblers (Cettia cetti), 2 Western Bonelli’s Warbler (Phylloscopus bonelli), Sedge Warbler (Acrocephalus schoenobaenus), several Subalpine Warblers (Sylvia cantillans) and Blackcaps (Sylvia atricapilla) as well as commoner birds including Moorhen (Gallinula chloropus), Little Grebe (Tachybaptus ruficallis), African Chaffinch, Sardinian Warbler, Common Bulbul and several Laughing Doves (Streptopelia senegalensis). The area around was being highly productive and we could wish to do not move from there in the whole week!! We came out of the vegetation to have a better view on the pond when a Little Bittern (Ixobrychus minutus) appeared flying over the small pond. The bird was really celebrated although the best bird in the stop were two wonderful Black-crowned Tchagras (Tchagra senegalensis) appearing really close to us. We could enjoy of really close views on the birds while moving on ground and around us. What a start for the day!

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The Black-crowned Tchagra (Tchagra senegalensis) has in Morocco its most Northern population and the only one in the whole Western Palearctic. Image: Carles Oliver

Moussier’s Redstart (Phoenicurus moussieri), a wonderful near-endemic that can be surprisingly common in some areas. Image: Carles Oliver tmp_P1110574-597447472

 

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This was our only one Marbled Duck (Marmaronetta angustirostris) during the trip. A bird that was highly celebrated by the group. Image: Bauke Kortleve

The transfer to our next stop produced wonderful views on a group of 4 European Bee-eaters (Merops apiaster) in the wires along the road. New stop, new pond. First sight here were two beautiful Black-crowned Night Heron (Nycticorax nycticorax) sleeping in a tamarisk with a wonderful Turtle Dove (Streptopelia turtur) singing right beside them. What a good combiation of birds! Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea) and Little Grebe were also present here.

In the fields around we spotted a pair of European Stonechat (Saxicola rubicola) and Corn Buntings (Miliaria calandra) while both Black-crowned Tchagras and more Turtle Doves were singing around us. A new Little Bittern was appearing from the reeds and flying over the pond but unfortunately we couldn’t relocated when stopping again among the vegetation. At the same time a Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis) joined the pond, stopping close to the Grey Heron. Again some Isabelline & Subalpine Warblers were moving by the edge of the reeds and our only one Purple Heron (Ardea purpurea) of the trip flew over us moving to the West…

Last stop of the morning. A tiny pond that was really productive for migratory birds. Again Subalpine Warblers and Blackcaps were moving here as well as Western Bonelli’s Warbler. A carefully scan of the area produced Isabelline Warbler, European Reed Warbler (Acrocephalus scirpaceus), Sedge Warbler, Willow Warblers (Phylloscopus trochilus), Cetti’s Warbler as well as 3 Squacco Herons (Ardeola ralloides), 1 Great White Egret (Chasmerodius albus), Common Sandpiper (Actitis hypoleucos) and Italian Yellow Wagtail (Motacilla flava cinereocapilla). The third Little Bittern (this time, a male) appeared from the lush vegetation! Here we also had the “rarity” of the trip; a Lesser Whitethroat (Sylvia curruca) showing really well, but rather shortly, in a tamarisk along with other warblers. This is a quite scarce bird in migration in West Europe and NW Africa so we can considered as the “best” bird of the trip! After such a successful morning we just came back to our accommodation for a good lunch and a bit of rest! During the afternoon we just travelled back to Marrakech after enjoying a bit of the dunes in the National Park.

Day 3. This day we were just crossing the Atlas to start exploring the Southern slope of this huge mountain range. But before and during the crossing we had some good stops.

First stop of the morning we did some birding in the olive orchads immediatly around Marrakech. Here we had some of the near-endemic Spotless Starlings (Sturnus unicolor) as well as several Common Bulbuls (Pycnonotus barbatus). Sardinian Warblers, African Chaffinches and Greenfinches we also present along with Africcan Magpies. Flocks of Little (Apus affinis) and Pallid Swifts (Apus pallidus) were flying over us. Here we had a good selection of migratory birds. Subalpine & Willow Warblers were common and we had also 2 Common Whitethroats (Sylvia communis) and Western Bonelli’s Warbler. The first of many Common Redstarts (Phoenicurus phoenicurus) were also showing out here and we also enjoyed the first Melodious Warbler (Hippolais polyglotta) of the trip showing really well in the out and even allowing good comparitions with both Willow and Isabelline Warblers!

Common Redstart (Phoenicurus phoenicurus) is a common (and beautiful) migratory bird in Morocco. Image: Bauke Kortleve tmp_163012942.08mAHsr0957271599

 

The second stop of the trip was even more interesting. While driving the road up to Ourika Valley Bauke was having a new pack of Barbary Partridges by the road and a Black-shouldered Kite (Elanus caeruleus) was appearing in the sky. We stop, of course. We all had excellent, but short, views on the Kite flying around. Scanning the fields around we had a Short-toed Eagle (Circaetus gallicus) on a post. Also a really good bird. There, European Stonechats (Saxicola rubicola), Cirl BuntingsZitting Cisticolas and Corn Buntings were all showing well.

A bird calling not far from us decided us to explore a bit further away, just at the moment that 2 Great Spotted Cuckoos (Clamator glandarius) were appearing, calling both of them, from the olive trees! We had great views on the birds flying and, after some wait, we had them also on a tree top, calling, preening and giving us a really good show!!

Great Spotted Cuckoo (Clamator glandarius), sometimes a tricky bird, gave us an excellent view and was considered as one of the highlitghs of trip by some members of the group. Image: Bauke Kortleve tmp_163013527.9VbkDwtG-1955674302

 

While driving up the Atlas we still had to stop a pair of time. The first because of a really close Short-toed Eagle flying over the car and the second because Andreas spot 2 European Rollers (Coracias garrulus) on a wire just by the road. Those birds gave us excellent views (and shots) during a pair of minutes. After they were living we just came out of the car to enjoy the landscape and at this moment a small flock of 6 migratory? Lesser Kestrels (Falco naumanii) passed over us, flying North!

European Roller (Coracias garrulus) was an unexpected (and very wellcome) bird while crossing the Atlas. Image: Bauke Kortleve tmp_162991385.KQmAv8yO-235324741

 

Moment to have lunch, and some birds. 2 Booted Eagles were flying over the terrace while waiting to be served. Around the restaurant 1 Common Nightingale (Luscinia megarhynchos) was singing quite close so we decided to try to have a look on the bird. And what a look!! We could see the bird calling and singing during 5 minutes, extremely close (4 metres?). Not bad for be waiting in a restaurant!

This Common Nightingale (Luscinia megarhynchos) was the first of many of them during the trip. Image: Carles Oliver tmp_P1110591244564080

Our driving along the Atlas still gave us some more birds. Louise spot 2 Ravens and 1 Long-legged Buzzards. We did a pair of stops expecting to have, soon or later, some migratory raptors. Unfortunately we had nothing and our only migratory success were over 25 European Bee-eaters and a big flock of +100 Western House Martins (Delichon urbicum).

Once in the Northern slope we did a first stop in a typical migratory area. Here we had close views on common migratory birds such as Subalpine Warblers (Sylvia cantillans), Western Bonelli’s Warblers, Woodchat Shrike and great views on 2 Western Orphean Warblers (Sylvia hortensis) skulking inside a tiny almond tree along with Great Tit. The bird was also really celebrated! This place also offered our first of many Maghreb Larks (Galerida macrorrhyncha), a recent split from Crested Lark.

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After some minutes of scanning a tiny almod tree this Western Orphean Warbler (Sylvia hortensis) was finally giving us wonderful views! Image: Bauke Kortleve

A last stop of the day was done along the road to look for the near-endemic, and very scarce, Maghreb Wheatear (Oenanthe lugens). After some scanning of the slopes around we got a really nice male up in the ridge of the cliff, moving in and out of some big hollows. What a bird! A probable female was also moving down in the slope but couldn’t be confirmed because of the wind and because the bird was disappering in the slope. We still had some more scanning trying to have better views but was impossible to relocate the birds and only got White-crowneds

Stream in the Atlas Northern slope. This kind of ambients can be really productive. Image: Bauke Kortleve tmp_163035790.Y1nud5AF182175417

 

After such a good day we just did the short transfer to our accommodation, located in a wonderful oasis-like area. During the short transfer we still had a Common Redshank (Tringa totanus) and 1 British Yellow Wagtail (Motacilla flava flavissima) in some fields being irrigated as well as several Maghreb Larks and some family groups of White-crowned Black Wheatears were spotted as well as a pair of migratory Northern Wheatears (Oenanthe oenanthe) as well as our firsts Fat Sand Rats (Psammomys sp.).

Day 5. Early morning start and first scanning of the area around our accommodation. In the stream nearby we found 2 Little Ringed Plovers (Charadrius dubius) and 1 Green Sandpiper (Tringa ochropus) along with Grey Heron. A first stop in the steppes around produced 2 Desert Larks (Ammomanes deserti) and a first look on Desert Grey Shrike (Lanius excubitor elegans) despite the really, really strong wind…

The day before, by passing with the car, we just saw a good place with some water so we decided to do a stop there and enjoy the birds moving around. We had a good flock of over 20 Yellow Wagtails (mainly Iberian), 3 Little Ringed Plover, +4 Common Sandpipers and one pair of Ruddy Shelducks being this the first close view on this species so far.

After that we just went to the big dam immediatly South of Ouarzazate. Here, as always, there were tones of birds. Andreas spot 5 Eurasian Spoonbills roosting in the edge of the water while +100 Greater Flamingoes and +60 Glossy Ibises were feeding around. Here we also had our firsts Black-winged Stilt (Himantopus himantopus) as well as +15 Collared Pratincoles (Glareola pratincola) roosting in the mudflats. Other birds here include 1 Common Ringed Plover (Charadrius hiaticula) and our only one Dunlin (Calidris alpina) of the trip. Our only Calidris, actually…

Great White Egret, Little Egret, Grey Heron and Cattle Egret were all around the dam and 1 Gull-billed Tern (Gelochelidon nilotica) was also flying over.

Maghreb Lark (Galerida macrorhyncha), a recent split and a common bird in farm land ambients South of the Atlas. Image:Bauke Kortleve

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Also in the mud around, several Yellow Wagtails were feeding… and along with them were pipits… I think the very first pipit we had that day was a meritory Red-throated Pipit (Anthus cervinus), being this species a scarce migratory bird in Morocco. At least 3 Water Pipits (Anthus spinolleta) were there along with the wagtails along with 2 Meadow Pipits (Anthus pratensis), a rather late birds.

Migratory birds were moving around and Bauke spotted the first Blue-checkeed Bee-eater (Merops periscus) of the trip and the unfortunately only sight on Montagu’s Harrier (Circus pygargus), a female. A small flock of Common Swift (Apus apus) was also moving here along with several House Martins and Sand Martins (Riparia riparia) and some beautiful Red-rumped Swallows (Cecropis daurica).

On the water, huge flock of +200 Red-knobbed Coot (Fulica cristata) gave us good views and a distant Great Crested Grebe (Podiceps cristatus) was a good bird to add to the bird list of the trip. Around the water, in the tiny riparian vegetation we had a Chiffchaff moving on ground as well as the most strange sight on Savi’s Warbler (Locustella luscinioides) I’ve ever had. The bird was clearly nervous and moving in the open, showing really well despite the really strong light. It was moving also on ground for a while, a behaviour quite common, but normally impossible to see in the field.

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During the trip we also enjoyed other wildlife, like this wonderful and impressive Bell’s Dabb Lizzard (Uromastyx nigriventris). Image: Bauke Kortleve

After arrived to our accommodation in Boulmane du Dades, we still had the afternoon to enjoy the famous Tahdild Road. That afternoon we had our firsts sights of many Temminck’s Lark (Eremophila bilopha), a wonderful, beautiful bird for me. We had also our only 2 Cream-coloured Coursers (Cursorior cursor) in a long, wonderful sight of the birds running in the steppe-lands. 1 Thekla Lark (Galerida theklae) was also showing well and we had our firsts 2 Thick-billed Larks (Rhamphocoris clotbei) flying over the steppes. Unfortunately only Gerda had them along with me so the next day our goal was to find a better ones!

Day 6. Full day in the steppe-lands around Boulmane and also some time to enjoy the Gorge du Dades. A first stop in the steppe land immediatly around Boulmane produced 3 Red-rumped Wheatears (Oenanthe moesta) and wonderful views on +6 Trumpeter Finches (Bucanetes githagineus) along with with Thekla, Temminck’s and our only one Greater Short-toed Lark (Calandrella brachydactyla) of the trip. 2 Seehbom’s Wheatears and 2 Woodchat Shrikes were a nice bonus, especially the wheatears!

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Temminck’s Lark (Eremophila bilopha) a wonderful beauty living in the highland steppes. Image: Carles Oliver

A second stop around produced +3 Desert Wheatears (Oenanthe deserti) and wonderful views on Lesser Short-toed Larks (Calandrella rufescens) & Fat Sand Rats. 1 Long-legged Buzzard was moving around and he had good views on the bird while perched in the steppe. 4 more Trumpeter Finches were also a good bonus here.

Third stop, this time in a good corner for larks and sandgrouses. We walked along one “stream” and got really nice views on Desert Wheatears and a favolous male of Thick-billed Lark (Ramphocori clotbei) that Andreas spot moving on the sand. We all enjoyed really good views on the bird while typically moving in the open areas, looking for food. As always, several Temminck’s Larks were also around and, when coming back to car, we still had a wonderful Wryneck (Jynx torquilla) moving on ground and providing us with really good views while following it!!

In this issue we have had, again, wonderful views on Thick-billed Larks ( Ramphocoris clotbei) being this male the first we had on ground. Image: Bauke Kortleve tmp_163002769.naPwKCbi859924125

After lunch and some rest we just went around to explore one gorge just by Boulmane. Here we start to scan around when, suddenly, the impressive call of a Pharaon Eagle Owl (Bubo ascalaphus) came to our ears. The bird was really, really close so we just ketp slowly moving and scanning around until Bauke was finding the bird in a hollow in the cliffs! We all enjoyed the bird while sleeping and calling every 4-5 minutes… What a view!!

Pharaon Eagle Owl (Bubo ascalaphus) at its roosting place. It is wonderful to remember it singing among the rock while sleeping! Image: Bauke Kortleve tmp_162999255.FM967Sc9634381549

In the gorge around we also had some other birds including Common Kestrel, White-crowned Black Wheatears, Crag Martins (Ptynoprogne rupestris) and Desert Larks that showed really well and allowed really close views! An impressive Bell’s Dab Lizzard (Uromastyx nigriventris) was also a good bonus for all the group.

Desert Lark (Ammomanes deserti), a common bird living in semi-desertic areas. Image: Carles Oliver tmp_P1110741356951003

After that we still had some time to explore the Gorge du Dades. A first stop here looking for a better view on Barbary Partridge produced nothing at all… Despite this and along the road, we had some Blue Rock Thrushes and Black Wheatears as well as +10 Crag Martins (Ptynoprogne rupestris).

The next stop provided us with a distant but good view on a Barbary Falcon (Falco peregrinoides) right in the top of a cliff. The bird didn’t stole the show and after a pair of minutes just left the cliff to directly fly towards a really distant Booted Eagle that was on ground! After some fight in the air, the Falcon just left the area a second Booted appeared in the sky, stopping both of them on a dead tree up in the top of the cliff. A really different view from those I’m more used in the Pyrenees!

Still in our way back to the hotel we had to do a stop in the road since another Barbary Falcon was flying just over the car and did an incredible flight down chasing a small bird and losing itself in the palm orchards around the Dades River…

Black Wheatear (Oenanthe leucura) is a near-endemic bird living in cliffs and bare slopes. Image: Carles Oliver tmp_P1110361-2024504895

Day 7. Early morning start with the main goal to locate some Sandgrouses, a bird that was scaping us, so far. A pair of stops during the morning provide us with good looks to many interesting birds including +8 Red-rumped Wheatears, Desert Wheatears, Trumpeter Finches, Temminck’s Lark, Greater Short-toed Larks, 4 Long-legged Buzzards (including 2 juveniles) and 4 migratory Black Kites (Milvus migrans) but so signal of Sandgrouses any where…

Typical semi-arid countryside at the Southern slope of the Atlas mountains. Image: Bauke Kortleve tmp_163035764.KotVvjuH-770739485

Finally we arrived to one place with some water… we didn’t have to wait for long until the first flock of Sandgrouses was appearing flying around! 4 Black-bellied Sandgrouses (Pterocles orientalis) showed their great way of flying! We decided to go closer to the water and had really close, wonderful views, on a pair of Black-bellieds, great! After some waiting there we could determine that at least 25 Black-bellied Sandgrouses were moving there in different flocks and we enjoyed of great views on some big flocks in the slopes around the water. Unfortunately we had to leave the area without signal of Crowned Sandgrouses (Pterocles coronatus), a bird that we finally missed during the trip, despite the many efforts to find one!

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Black-bellied Sandgrouse (Pterocles orientalis). This year we enjoyed of extremely close views on this bird. Always a wonderful experience! Image: Carles Oliver

Male (left) and female (right) Black-bellied Sandgrouse approaching to a pool in the morning light. Image: Carles Oliver tmp_P1110790-461008862

After such a wonderful encounter we just drove some mile East to explore a point where in 2015 we had Scrub Warbler. Unfortunately, a walk around only produced Spectacled Warblers, Woodchat Shrike, Maghreb Lark and a distant Lanner Falcon.

After lunch, we explore a second location for Scrub Warbler. A walk around was extremely productive. Along the ouadi (local name for the dry river beds in the desert and semi-desert) we had some flocks of Trumpeter Finch, Woodchat Shrike, 2 pairs of Spectacled Warbler, several Temminck’s Lark and one wonderful Thick-billed Lark moving around us!!

The scanning of the many scrubs around was not producing the desired bird until Bauke spot 3 Scrub Warblers (Scotocerca inquieta saharae) about 50 metres from us. It was probably a family group and the birds showed out for some seconds. We fastly moved there to re-scan all the area but unfortunately we couldn’t have again the birds. Still, when looking for them, we got again a distant Lanner Falcon and a  really unexpected Bar-tailed Lark (Ammomanes cinctura) moving in the sandy area!! A good bonus, anyway!

This Bar-tailed Lark (Ammomanes cinctura) was a great surprise while scanning for Scrub Warblers. Image: Bauke Kortleve tmp_163002617.48BUvk1R1540056097

In our way down to our hotel in Merzouga we still had time to admire some of the many flocks of Blue-checkeed Bee-eaters moving in the oases along the road including some really close views!

Definately not a bad view on Blue-checkeed Bee-eaters (Merops persicus). Male and female that were also maiting by the car. Image: Carles Oliver tmp_P11108091577880534

Day 8. Our day in the desert started in an excellent way. While waiting for some of the group, Gerda and I had a wonderful Lanner Falcon perched on ground directly in front of our hotel!! The bird just flew off and came to us, flying really close to the main building, going behind it and reappearing soon after joined by… a second Lanner!! Amazing!

The first stop of the day produced some typical migratory birds such as Common Redstart, Subalpine Warbler, Willow Warbler and European Bee-eater. Still, the main sight here was a phantastic pair of Desert Sparrow (Passer simplex) showing out really well while perched along with House Sparrows (Passer domesticus) or while looking for food in the dunes around… what a beauty!

Desert Sparrow (Passer simplex) was one of the highlights of the trip and we enjoyed of walk-away views on them. Image: Bauke Kortleve tmp_163002416.lzGjpXr798094972

In our second stop that day we explore a “ouadi”. Here we had our first of many (+8) Greater Hoopoe Larks (Alaemon alaudipes) that day. The birds were singing and displaying in a wonderful view, despite being a bit far away. Other birds here include Desert Grey Shrike, 3 Black Kites migrating North, Woodchat Shrike and 1 Greater Short-toed Lark. Still, no signal of the main goal in this stop… Some minutes later we had one of them calling and, finally, our local guide spot 1 African Desert Warbler (Sylvia deserti) about 200 metres “down” the ouadi. After a fast run towards the bird (and after a second running, actually…) we finally had really good views on one of the warblers (there were two moving around).

African Desert Warbler (Sylvia deserti) was finally appearing, despite required a long scanning (and some running!). Image: Bauke Kortleve tmp_163040525.JSQhrLFN-1391371798

Happy for the good bird and the good exercise we came to the car. In the transfer we had some Brown-necked Ravens (Corvus ruficollis) flying here and there as well as several Barn Swallows (Hirundo rustica) flying North.

In our next stop we had 2 Egyptian Nightjars (Caprimulgus aegyptius) roosting on ground under the scarce vegetation of another ouadi. We, of course, had really long views on them and observed how they were oppening the eyes every minute or so, to check the area around… Other birds here included African Desert Warbler and Hoopoe Larks singing around and 3 Bar-tailed Larks! After some driving we also got 2 Spotted Sandgrouses (Pterocles senegalus) showing really close. It was also an excellent sight and very good for photographers in the group. After some more driving we had up to 8 Spotted Sandgrouses in different locations… Still, we didn’t get any Crowned, that was again the main goal of the driving.

Egyptian Nightjar (Caprimulgus aegyptius), again one of the highlights of the trip. This year we enjoy two birds while roosting. Below, Spotted Sandgrouses (Pterocles senegalensis), a “common” sandgrouse living in the desert. Images: Carles Oliver   tmp_P1110870-1473069912

 

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After a good lunch we just kept looking for birds. In the oasis-like areas we had several Maghreb Larks, Blue-checkeed Bee-eaters, Turtle Doves, Greenfinches, White-crowned Black Wheatears, House Buntings, Laughing Doves and Common Kestrels but probably the best birds there were 1 Little Owl (Athene noctua) roosting in a tiny cliff and two family groups of Fulvous Blabblers (Turdoides fulva) skulking really low and inside the low palm trees, moving on ground and performing their really characterystic calls. Again a wonderful bird! We just finished the day with some relax in our hotel and, who wanted, enjoyed also the Common Nightingale and even Orphean Warbler showing in the grounds of the hotel.

Day 9. Just when opening the door of my room that day I could see a good day was waiting for us since a Grasshoper Warbler (Locustella naevia) was right in front of me, 5 metres to me, moving in the open! Unfortunately I didn’t have my bins ready… well, I was not expecting such a sight!!! I have to say that it was the first of the day, but not the last. The first stop of the day was in an oasis-like area, just following a small stream surrounded by large tamarisks. Here we soon listened our first Saharan Olivaceous Warbler (Iduna pallida reiseri), a race that some argue as being a different species from Eastern Olivaceous. A minimum of 5 individuals were singing around and, after some carefully scanning of the canopies, we all had good views on the birds! Other birds moving here included also Isabelline, Willow, Subalpine & (many) Western Bonelli’s Warblers. Blue-checkeed Bee-eaters were flying around along with European Bee-eaters, a nice combination!

Rufous Bush Robin (Cercotrichas galactotes) was again one of the highlitghs of the trip and a bit unexpected sight due to the dates of the trip. Image: Carles Oliver tmp_P1110938 copy1137287082

After spending quite a long time enjoying the birds in the stream we spent the rest of the morning trying to locate Crowned Sandgrouse around. Unfortunately we had no contact with this species althought we still got 2 Trumpeter Finches and really close view on 2 Hoopoe Larks and +30 Brown-necked Ravens, many of them really close.

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Brown-necked Raven (Corvus ruficollis) can be common around the desert. Image: Bauke Kortleve

Even before having lunch we had time to take a look into a pool in the desert. Here we had no big surprises out of Sedge & Eurasian Reed Warblers singing in the reeds, Little Ringed Plover and Little Grebe enjoying the water and 1 Marsh Harrier flying over…

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Greater Hoopoe Lark (Alaemon alaudipes), a quite common bird in the desert that gave us great views on its wonderful display flights. Image:Carles Oliver

During the afternoon we just did a walk in a forested land close to our hotel. This was probably one of the best spots in the trip… here we had +6 Common Redstarts moving along with both +2 Spotted (Muscicapa striata) and +5 Pied Flycatchers (Ficedula hypoleuca). We spent some time enjoying really close views on both Savi’s (Locustella luscinioides) and Grasshoper Warblers (Locustella naevia), both of them skulking in the vegetation and showing really close! Bauke spot two new Scrub Bush Robins moving on ground! Willow, Western Bonelli’s and Subalpine Warblers were all around us and we also got Turtle Dove and Eurasian Reed Warbler in the orchads. While walking in the area Louise spot a Golden Oriole (Oriolus oriolus) moving in the canopy. After several scanning we finally managed to have the birds (there were two!), first in a short flight and finally both of them flying up in the sky and moving to the North, hopefully expecting to arrive to South-West Europe in the next days!!

Laughing Dove (Streptopelia senegalensis), a common bird in the oases-like areas. Image: Bauke Kortleve tmp_163035084.a2k58pWH256717357

This was a really wonderful end of our really last birding day in the trip… I could personally be there for weeks but it was already dark so we came to our accommodation to have a good dinner and rest!

Day 10. The very last day of the trip was a long, but good, transfer from Merzouga to Marrakech. In the way up we still had some good surprises, like a wonderful Egyptian Vulture (Neophron percnopterus) flying really low over the car around Rissani! It is always nice to see them in Morocco, since there are really few left of them in the country…

White-crowned Black Wheatear (Oenanthe leucopyga) becomes a common view immediatly South of the Atlas mountains. Image: Bauke Kortleve tmp_163002691.I9YQHCrV-1320209401

One stop after lunch produced several warblers. Out of the “normal” migratory birds down here we got again nice views on Western Orphean Warbler, Goldfinch and Saharan Olivaceous Warbler.

While crossing the Atlas we had a pair of stops to try to find some raptors. Again we were not really lucky and we only got a really distant eagle moving East. It was a Bonelli’s Eagle (Aquila fasciata) but unfortunately nobody in the group had good views on the bird. A second stop in the Atlas was more productive. Here we had African Chaffinch, Grey Wagtail, +5 Nightingale, Blackcap, Winter Wren, Great Tit, European Robin (Erithacus rubecula) and our only one Garden Warbler (Sylvia borin) of the trip! Probably the best birds in this stop were a gorgeous Booted Eagle, dark form, hunting in the fields around and 3 Hawfinches showing really well just by the road. Excellent!

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The very last stop of the trip was in some open fields, no very far away from Marrakech. Here we had good views on Stonechat, Woodchat Shrike and a new Western Orphean Warbler was showing a bit far, but well, good views after all. The best bird was, still, the 4 Barbary Partridges enjoyed while moving on ground in the fields. This bird didn’t offer any good view during the trip so far so it was a wonderful end for the trip!!

When we finally arrived to our hotel we were a bit tired of the long trip but we really satisfied of the wonderful trip we had. Weather this year was perfect all the days and we all enjoyed a good group of birdwatchers with really interesting chatings about the natural and human history of Morocco…

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Sunset in Ourika Valley, in our very last stop of the trip… Image: Carles Oliver

Well, this was the trip… 2017 issue of the trip will run from 21st March to 30th March. Do you really wan to miss it?

You can have more images of the trip by following this LINK Many thanks to Bauke Kortleve for sharing his excellent images!!

To see the report of the 2015 issue please follow this LINK

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

Gallocanta; the crane spectacular (2014 February tour)

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

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

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

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Main specialities included:

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

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

Mammals: Iberian Hare & Roe Deer (4).

otistarda2

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

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?