Arxiu d'etiquetes: Birding in Catalonia

Field ID: Thekla versus Crested Lark

Larks constitute a Family of birds normally living in open countryside with most of the species related to dry lands, grasslands and semi-arid countryside. Africa is the continent with the higher number of species of Larks, with a wide variety of them also living in Asia, Australia and Europe. Only a reduced number of Larks are present in the Nearctic.

Since most of Laks are adapted to live in semi-arid countryside, they are mostly terrestrial and normally have brown upperparts, often with stripes in both the upper side and the underside.

Chestnut-headed Sparrow-Lark (Eremopterix signatus) female in a lava field. Affar Region, Ethiopia. November 2016. Image by Carles Oliver.

It is because of this that Larks are often seen as one of the most difficult groups of passerines for many birdwatchers. In Europe, probably one of the most trikky species to tell apart are Thekla & Crested Larks. Even local birdwatchers with a long experience in the field, show evident problems to tell these two species apart from each other.

Here we will try to help a bit in this sense, remarking some interesting differences between both species.

Many, many field guides remark some general differences between Thekla & Crested Lark. Some of the most important field marks to point out a Thekla Lark from a Crested are its shorter crest, and its rather shorter, heavier bill. Well, despite these remarks can be useful in many cases, we should not try to identify these species only based on the length of the bill or the crest. This is not only because of young Crested Larks tend to show shorter bills and crests, but also because of intraspecific differences in the length of the bill inside the same species, gender differences and also because appreciation of these characters in the field can be difficult depending on the light, the distance to the bird and the angle of observation.

In the next lines we will try to point out some interesting tools for a correct field identification of the European races of these species:

COLORATION & STRUCTURE,

The general coloration of Thekla Lark is grey to dark brown, while Crested Larks are normally close to be sandy colorated. Always being light brown. Structurally, Thekla Lark is slightly smaller, but also more compact and shorter tailed than Crested Larks are. Its winds are also shorter, and the general sensation of the bird when flushed out is of a “large Woodlark”. Crested Lark shows longer “hands”, and the sensation of the bird in flight is “diffuse”. Still, these differences can be difficult to notice in the field when not used to dealing with Larks.

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Crested & Thekla Larks ringed by Sergi Sales in Lleida Steppes, Catalonia. Image by Josep Martínez Ortiz.

UNDERWING,

Underwing is one of the most useful remarks to tell apart both species. Crested Larks always show creamy, brownish underwing while Thekla Lark shows whitish underwing covers. This is useful in all plomages and all ages, at least for the European races of both species.

BREAST MARKINGS,

The most useful remarks to identify correctly these species in the field are, by far, the facial and breast markings. About the breast, Crested Larks show a fine streaked, and this delicate pattern clearly expands to the flanks in all plomages. The markings have a diffuse end in the breast. Compared with those in Cresteds, breast markings in Thekla Larks appear heavy, being more a dropping than a barring. In fact, many people compare the breast pattern of these two species with that in Eurasian Sparrowhawk versus Northern Goshawks, being Crested Lark the closer to the fine  streaked Sparrowhawk, and Thekla Lark the one with heavy dropping resembling Northern Goshawk. Moreover, breast markings in Thekla Larks show an abrupt end, and you easily can draw an imaginary line that separates the markings from the really white belly. This is not possible to do with Crested Larks since their diffuse barring does not show a clear border. Its extension to the flank makes this even more evident.

FACIAL MARKINGS,

One of the things we must think about when dealing with these species is to pair attention to the facial markings. Thekla Lark presents a really complex facial pattern if compared with those in Crested Lark. Thus, Thekla shows evident complete eye-ring; a well defined, long supercilium that; almost complete malar stripe and a even (but not always), with some barring in the ear covers (unstreaked in Crested), and a white dot just behind the submoustachial stripe. Most of these patterns are absent or are really diffuse in Crested Larks. Most Crested Larks show a supercilium, but are also not well defined and barely extend beyond the eye.

When looking at the head of a Thekla Lark, all of this produces the sensation of treasuring a lot of information, and thus it contrasts a lot with the head of a Crested Lark, giving the sensation of emptiness or lack of information.

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Crested Lark (Galerida cristata) in Lleida Steppes, Catalonia. May 2020. Image by Carles Oliver

BILL,

Crested Lark shows a longer, thinner bill than Thekla Lark, with a noticeable hooked tip in the upper mandible. Be aware about young Crested Larks, that often show shorter bills.  A close view with good light in a Crested Lark, it should be possible to see the darker tip of the bill (absent in Thekla Lark).

TAIL,

Thekla Lark’s tail is slightly shorter than Crested’s. Regarding ringing bibliography, tails in Thekla Lark males rank from 54 to 62mm, while in Crested Larks go from 59 to 69mm. This difference links perfectly with what was explained about the structure of both species, as Thekla Larks is clearly more compact in flight, and can recall a much shorter tailed species. The longer tail in Crested Larks tends to make this species somehow bigger.

But beyond the length, tail coloration can be also a good point to tell these species apart. Again Thekla Lark shows a more contrasted pattern, with brown to orangish outer tail feathers and upper-tail coverts. The tail also shows a strong contrast between these feathers and two blackish central bands. All of this is again reproduced in Crested Larks, but they lack the rusty tinge in the upper-tail covers. Moreover, the contrast between the outer feathers and the inner bands is poor, and in many worm birds it tends to disappear!

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Thekla Lark (Galerida theklae) in Lleida Steppes, Catalonia. March 2019. Image by Carles Oliver

HABITAT SELECTION,

In Europe, these two species coexist in Mediterranean areas, and many times we can find them in areas with a large fragmentation of habitat as a result of human activity or environmental factors. Thus, we often find both species living side by side whether because their habitats are mixed or because they touch each other. But even if in most cases we cannot trust only in habitat selection to identify these birds, is still a useful tool that can help us in the fields.

  • Thekla Lark is a specialist that can be only found in areas of natural steppe and semi-desert vegetation. The bird can be found in plains and ondulations as long covered by natural steppe or semi-desert vegetation. In addition, Thekla Lark is also found in hillsides with low scrubby vegetation (even if it is quite dense) with some sparse trees.
  • Crested Lark is a generalist species. It has successfully adapted to live in farming areas, but also in periurban and industrial soils, where they find excellent conditions based on bare soils. Crested Lark tends to avoid any hills or mountains, but in low densities can be found in small patches of proper habitat inside hilly areas (even tiny farmed valleys inside a large hilly area can support some Crested Larks).

As many hillsides and steppe areas are just surrounded by farming areas, both species can be detected in several locations almost at the same time. Moreover, Thekla Larks living in hillsides with dense scrubs, may use the surrounding farm lands to feed, even if they keep using the hillsides to nest.

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Crested & Thekla Larks complex spatial distribution due to habitat selection in a Los Monegros. Aragón, Spain. June 2016. Image by Carles Oliver

Last but not the least, both species are resident. However, they tend to do small winter movements. Crested Larks tend to associate with large mixed flocks of other Larks and Finches in winter, while Thekla Lark is less likely to do so.

As a general conclusion, the best way to tell apart Crested from Thekla Larks is to take in count different aspects including face patterns and general coloration. Tail & wing lenght are also important, but probably some experience is required for a correct identification if only using this features. Underwing and tail pattern are the best way to tell them apart, since they are constant in all ages and plomages, but many times to see these details is not easy in the field. Habitat selection can be also used, but it is necessary to be aware on how close both species can be found in the field.

I hope that these tips may help you on the trikky world of larks ID. Now it is time to test your new skills in the field!

Bibliography: Demongin L. (2016) Identification Guide to Birds in the Hand. Beauregard-Vendon.

Catalonia in winter Birding Tour, 2020 Trip Report

Number of days: 6

Tour participants: 5

Dates: February 6th to 11th, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunset is to arrive to the Pyrenean subboreal forest.

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

Crag Martin (Ptynoprogne rupestris) showinfg the tail markings.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wallcreeper (Tichodroma muraria), always a challenging bird!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bluethroat (Luscinia svecica) in typical winter habitat.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spanish Ibex (Capra hispanica) in a typical view.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do you want to join us?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Influx of Crakes (genus Porzana) in Catalonia

Late March and early April is normally one of the best moments to look for Crakes in Catalonia. Despite the migratory movements of all three species ocurring in the country (Spotted Crake, Little Crake and Baillon’s Crake) start along February and stretches well inside May, the last days of March and early April concentrates a good number of them.

This 2019 sightings of Crakes in Catalonia were low. Spring migration was rather late for some species and it looked like it was so for all Porzanas. Until the very last days of March there were only a handful of sights, mostly concentrated in typical areas for these species.

Little Crake (Porzana parva) male at Riu Besòs, Barcelona. The bird stayed some days in the same location. Seen during our tour on 29th March. Image by Carles Oliver

But this was to change fast as from March 28th there were reports some Little & Spotted Crakes (Porzana porzana) in diferent coastal wetlands along Catalan coastline. On March 30th-31st the increase on sights was huge, with several Spotteds reported in diferent areas, even in small ponds and other unusual locations. On March 31st up to 4 diferent Baillon’s Crake (Porzana pusilla) were seen in diferent locations (Aiguamolls de l’Empordà, Aiguamolls de Pals, Riu Besòs & Pantà del Foix). All birds out of one “joined” by Little or Spotted Crakes in the same spot.

This abrupt influx could be explained by a change in the weather conditions. A low press System was affecting SW Europe and combined with Eastern winds in the Mediterranean. Enough explanation? Probably not…

On 31st March we were leading a trip to Aiguamolls and enjoyed 4 Little Crakes (Porzana parva), 2 Spotted Crakes and 1 Baillon’s Crake only in two spots, 200 metres away from each other!

Please enjoy this small selection of images from these days. Several local birdwatchers have enjoy them. Today, 4th April, there were still 2 Baillon’s & several Spotteds around!

One of the 2 obliging Spotted Crakes (Porzana porzana) seen in Aiguamolls de l’Empordà during our tour. Image by Carles Oliver

Spotted Crake (Porzana porzana) in Corncrake-like action! Image by Carles Oliver

 

The spots can be really efficient to make Spotted Crakes disappear in the riparian vegetation. Image by Carles Oliver

One of the Baillon’s Crake (Porzana pusilla) in Catalonia during early April 2019. This one proved to be really cooperative at Riu Besòs. Images by Carles Oliver

 

Here a nice comparative of Baillon’s (above) versus Little Crake (below). Differences on coloration and structure are evident. Images by Carles Oliver

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

Tour Winter Birding Break in Catalonia, 2018 issue

Dates: 13th to 16th February, 2018

Number of participants: 5 

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

Day 1. February 13th

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

Day 2. February 14th

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

Day 3. February 15th

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

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

Day 4. February 16th

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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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!

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Gallocanta; the crane spectacular (2014 February tour)

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

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

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

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Main specialities included:

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

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

Mammals: Iberian Hare & Roe Deer (4).

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

New birding trip for Owls & Nightjars

From mid-2013 we have implemented a new nocturnal birding trip in Los Monegros renamed steppe land. This trip is 2 to 3 hours long and provides unforgettable views to some very striking nocturnal birds including huge specialities such as Red-necked Nightjar (Caprimulgus ruficollis) but also spread but difficult to spot owls such as Long-eared Owl (Asio otus).

The tour is lead by two different local guides on a special 4wds vehicle to explore a variety of landscapes in Finca Sant Miquel (Zaidín), a private land that is implementing a owl protection scheme within its territory, taking special care in the protection and preservation of Long-eared & Barn Owls.

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Long-eared Owl (Asio otus) at Finca Sant Miquel (Zaidín)

Some of the habitats that we run around include steppe lands, berry orchards and grass lands. Along them we will locate a wide variety of Owls including also Barn Owl (Tyto alba), Little Owl (Athene noctua), the very scarce Eagle Owl (Bubo bubo) and, in winter, Short-eared Owl (Asia flammeus). European Nightjar (Caprimulgus europaeus) it is far scarcer but still is sometimes appearing!

Although this nocturnal trip is a huge attraction by its own, we normally include it in our tours visiting the steppe lands. Those tours are two or four days long and provide excellent sights of all main steppe-living birds such as Sandgrouses (Black-bellied & Pin-tailed), Bustards (Great & Little), Roller, raptors & Larks (Calandra, Thekla, Dupont’s, Lesser Short-toed…)

Our nocturnal trip throughout Los Monegros is an unique and unforgettable opportunity to see Owls & Nightjars in their normal behaviour during the hours they are more active! And, of course, birds are not to be disturbed!!!

More info and booking at info@barcelonabirdingpoint.com

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Red-necked Nightjar (Caprimulgus ruficollis) at Fica Sant Miquel

Winter birding break in Ebro Delta

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

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

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

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

The Very Best of Barcelona Birding Point 2013 Birding Trips

2013 has left and thus it is time to look forward and do a list of what was of interest this year. This is the very best of our 2013 birding trip! Do you recognise yours??

March

Over 200 species in our ten-days long tour through Morocco. 

Our March tour through Morocco listed over 200 species inlcuding most top specialities to be found in this Northern Africa country. We got great sights to highly endangered or poor known species such as Marsh Owl, Double-spurred Francolin, Dupont’s Lark, Houbara Bustard and Thick-billed Lark!

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Cream-coloured Couser (Cursorior cursor) is always a prime target to anyway visting Morocco

April

Massive birding morning in Llobregat Delta.

Do you know any place in the world where you can see Spotted Crake, Greater Bittern, Collared Pratincole, Little Bittern, Stone Curlew and Squacco Heron in 25 minutes? That place exists and its name is Llobregat Delta. Of course, this is not happenning every day but in 11th April, 2013 we had great views of all of them in 25 minutes and those were only few species among the over 95 we scored along our Wetlands & Wheatears 1-day Itinerary visiting Llobregat Delta and Garraf Natural Park!! That day list was filled up with gorgeous sights to Common Rock Thrush, Short-toed Eagle, Thekla Lark, Purple Heron, Black-eared Wheatear and many other. 

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Spotted Crake (Porzana porzana) in Llobregat Delta

5 species of Owls in our nocturnal trip through the steppes.

Our noctunal trip in Los Monegros for owls and Nightjars did a massive feedback on 13th April when we saw five species of Owls: Barn Owl 3, Long-eared Owl +5, Little Owl 2, Eurasian Eagle Owl 2 and Scops Owl 3!!! Furthermore we encountered over 8 Red-necked Nightjars in our way, with incredible chances for photographers in the group. And still we missed Short-eared Owl that left the area in early April!!!

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Long-eared Owl (Asio otus) photographiated in one of our nocturnal trip in Los Monegros

May

East Europe passage birds in Catalan coast.

In early May a small cyclone over the Mediterranean (an extremely rare weather feature in that sea) produce an “invasion” of East Europe species along Catalan coast. On 5th May, during a tour in Aiguamolls de l’Empordà Natural Park we saw Collared Flycatcher 3, Icterine Warbler 1 and Wood Warbler +7, a scarce species during spring migration season.

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Collared Flycatcher (Ficedula albicollis) female

June

Rüppell’s Vulture in Pyrenees.

Rüppell’s Vulture 1 flying along with Griffon Vultures over Boumort cliffs. This is the incredible sight we did near La Pobla de Segur on 8th June, 2013. This species is every time less scarce in South Spain and it seems it keeps moving North! That day we saw five different species of vultures: Egyptian Vulture 4, Black Vulture 1, Lammegeier 2, Rüppell’s Vulture 1 and Griffon Vulture +200. The raptor feast was full that day with sights of Booted & Short-toed Eagles as well as Red & Black Kites… not so bad!!

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Rüppell’s Vulture (Gyps rueppelli) flying over Sanetti Plateau, Ethiopia.

July

Black-winged Kite nesting in Lleida Steppes.

It seems Black-winged Kite has arrived to stay in Lleida Steppes. Along the last decade some pairs have been nesting through this area but always in small numbers. In 2013 3 pairs were nesting and raised a minimum of 3 chicks!! Let’s see if 2014 is confirming this a small population as a definitive new nesting species in Catalonia.

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Black-winged Kite (Elanus caeruleus) arriving to its nest in Lleida Steppes.

August

Stone Curlew rescue!

Normally we get out to see birds but, unfortunately, you have to stop the trip because a bird is in danger. That is what was happening on 25th August during a tour in Los Monegros. We found a Stone Curlew just 20 metres to us in the middle of the steppe. Obviously the bird was injured so we decided to rescue it and bring it to the Environment authorities.

The story has a double happy end. The (female) Stone Curlew was released to the wild some weeks later after recovering of a severe nutritiousness and, despite the time lost, we manage to find all targets that day, including Roller, Black-bellied Sandgrouse, Spectacled Warbler, Lesser Kestrel, Cirl Bunting, Black Kite, Lesser Short-toed Lark, Crested Tit and, of course, Stone Curlew!

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Stone Curlew (Burhinus oedicnemus) female rescued in Los Monegros. Despite the bad sensation this bird was released after recovered.

September

Waders feast in Ebro Delta.

Early September brought us huge combination of rarities and megas in Ebro Delta. Along many days some really scarce waders were all present in a small area of this huge wetland. On 8th September we enjoyed an unforgettable birding day listing Pectoral Sandpiper 1, Dotterel 2, Pacific Golden Plover 1, Buff-breasted Sandpiper 1, Marsh Sandpiper 1 and Temminck’s Sandpiper +50. Other really interesting birds included Eleonora’s Falcon 1 (light phorm), Collared Pratincole +100 and flocks of both Squacco & Night Heron facing South at sunset!!!

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Dotterel (Charadrius morinellus) juvenile in Ebro Delta in September 2013.

October

Semipalmated Plover in Ebro Delta.

Back again in Ebro Delta on 19th October we listed a new mega. This time a juvenile Semipalmated Plover resting within a flock of Ringed Plovers resting in the marshy area known as La Tancada! This is one of the first records of this wader for Catalonia. Unfortunatelly no image of it was taken…

December

Greater Spotted Eagle winters in Catalonia.

Greater Spotted Eagles are summer visitors to East Europe and they fly back to Africa as soon as autumn seems to appear. As Eastern species they fly by Greece and Turkey in their ways up and down from their winter grounds. Although this is well known, some years ago some Greater Spotted Eagles started to appear during in winter along Spanish Mediterranean coast… After several reports of birds wintering around València and other Mediterranean provinces, this year it seems the time for Catalonia. From late November a 1st winter Greater Spotted Eagle has been reported in some Catalan wetlands. At the time of writing (2nd January) this bird is still present in Aiguamolls del Baix Empordà area, a small wetland placed in the heart of renamed Costa Brava. On 12th December we had the chance to show this bird to some of our costumers, that were really interested in getting a new and unexpected lifer. What is to be known is if this is the start of a new winter ground for Greater Spotted Eagles along Western Mediterranean coastline!

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Greater Spotted Eagle (Aquila clanga) flying over Llobregat Delta in late November.

Thanks to our costumers to make us go further!!!

Do you want to experience it?

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