"Thank you for a wonderful week. Great birds, great lunches and a beautiful area. We liked staying in one place and not having to pack up every night."
Younga Hennesey, Edwin Mayer, USA
17th March 2008 - The Llobregat Delta
A couple of hours at The Llobregat Delta after the hotel pick-up saw the now usual Black-winged Stilts, Garganey, Greater Flamingoes and a host of waders on the thankfully exposed muddy borders to the reserve's lagoons. A close flock of about 40 Balearic Shearwaters and a floating Audouin's Gull from Cal Frances beach were quite superb but a single brand-new, brightly coloured male Common Redstart near the entrance barrier took some beating.
18th March 2008 - The Ebro Delta
From an early welcome by a male Peregrine as we made our way to L'Encanyissada, on The Ebro Delta, a flood of tireless Sand Martins and Barn Swallows provided a backdrop throughout the day. Other spring arrivals included Garganey, Purple Heron, Willow Warbler and a handful of Spanish iberiae Yellow Wagtail with one particularly yellow individual really standing out against a bank of dark sticky mud.
Thankfully there was enough of this stuff about to attract 16 species of waders, all in good numbers, with even a single pink Water Pipit stepping between the toes of a small gathering of Little Ringed Pover and Green and Common Sandpipers.
The light phase Booted Eagle that stayed over winter made a few appearances during the day including hovering over Riet Vell where, for the day's highlight, two ABSOLUTELY SUPERB Little Crakes tip-toed lightly over floating vegetation for repeated viewings and photo calls.
A small flock of Lesser Short-toed Larks, the resident and presumed Western Reef Heron x Little Egret and a solitary Red-breasted Merganser all provided a little excitement around La Tancada.
At Les Olles, about 40 Whiskered Tern, all in winter plumage, hawked over the lagoon with a soon-to-depart still-bluey Bluethroat making us work for a decent view in the reeds there and a singing Moustached Warbler eventually doing likewise. The nearby Golero hosted Glossy Ibis, both Slender-billed and Audouin's Gulls and a small group of very showy Caspian Tern finally settled down for a snooze.
19th March 2008 - The Pyrenees (plus Garraf)
In The Pyrenees, relentless rainfall and heavy snow scuppered our chances of bagging a few Pyrenean species to add to our growing list but we did use the occasional breaks to watch the bird life around a tributary of the river Llobregat. Rock Bunting, Blackcap, Wren, Grey and White Wagtail and Willow Warbler all did their best to cheer us up but we were more than happy watching the comings and goings of no less than three (White-throated) Dippers apparently nest-building under the eaves of a bridge.
A Red Kite sailed over the car en route home to The Garraf where we enjoyed the local Red-legged Partridges and watched the Siskin and Crested Tits on the garden feeders.
20th March 2008 - Garraf Massif, Llobregat Delta
The morning couldn't have started better with the year's first gleaming black-throated form of the Black-eared Wheatear perched on top of a pruned grape vine. Nearby Cirl Bunting, Spotless Starling, Rock Sparrow and a host of finches, wagtails and other passerines kept us busy until we headed off to the newest addition to the chain of birding spots in the Llobregat Delta.
After being welcomed by a streaky Squacco Heron - Ed's bird of the week - we discovered that the long-staying White-fronted Goose was staying a little longer, along with two male Wigeon. A pinkish Water Pipit joined a small school of waders (Ringed Plover, Wood Sandpiper, Black-winged Stilt and a gloriously close Black-tailed Godwit) picking morsels from the water's edge.
In the centre of the lagoon both Common and Red-crested Pochard dived for dinner whilst a Kingfisher did likewise from a overhanging reed on the border. A stunning golden-lined Purple Heron then landed right in front of us - with a wriggling terrapin in its bill!
At another nearby spot a blood-red crab similarly fell victim to a Glossy Ibis which proceded to peel off its legs before gulping the rest down in one go! Meanwhile, another first for the year apparently struggled on to find a snake or two as a Short-toed Eagle hovered over almost every section of the reserve.
21st March 2008 - The Steppes of Lleida
Where to start? From the moment we arrived in The Steppes and stopped next to a Calandra lark, perched singing a few feet away, we never stopped. A few worried moments ensued after discovering the three key steppe species were not in 'their usual places' but a handful of Stone-curlew, a few small flocks of Pin-tailed Sandgrouse and a gathering of 14 Little Bustard all thrilled - at very close range - after a little improvisation.
In the meantime we added a good number of cackling Great Spotted Cuckoo, a couple of Southern Grey Shrike, an Alpine Swift and re-located three of the wintering Dotterel in the area. A Little Owl watched on as a flock of Jackdaws saw off a Common Buzzard and nearby both forms of Black-eared Wheatear mixed it with many of their Northern Wheatear cousins. After a brief chase, we even added a pair of Black Wheatear to complete the set. All the larks including Thekla and Lesser Short-toed Larks were plentiful for comparisons and, yet again, the local dump provided a theatrical display, with one Red Kite in particular refusing to give up its lunch despite the dive-bombing attentions of two of the dozens and dozens of Black Kites dispersed across the waste site.
My moment of the day though was driving through several hundred Cattle Egret that rose up simultaneously to float along side the car before a handful of Lesser Kestrels were finally found towards Los Monegros.
22nd March 2008 - The Aiguamolls de L'Emporda
I have often called The Aiguamolls de L'Emporda a mini-Catalunya all in itself and so it proved, with almost all habitats represented. Two steppe-land Stone-curlew stared at us from a fallow field as we arrived and, at the end of the day, a quite superb Great Spotted Cuckoo sat out in an open leafless tree.
Many species we'd seen at the other wetland sites were of course here too but one particular rice-field in the heart of the Cortalet resort allowed us views of many wader species close enough to do without binoculars. A Red Knot trying to hide its relative bulk amongst a flock of twenty Dunlin that swooped in late in the day was the highlight. With such a good week behind us, it proved to be one of only four new species for the day, the others being Tufted Duck, Mute Swan and Cetti's Warbler (which we had only heard). Although we did find two marvellous cinerocapilla Yellow Wagtails among the parties of the local iberiae race.
Seeing everything again gave my American clients the chance for plenty of ID practice of course but even better was watching the birds do new things. A crab-eating Yellow-legged Gull hoarding its prize, nest-building White Storks, tap-dancing Little Ringed Plover and two immature Great Cormorants playing tug-of-war with a stick were amongst those that entertained us until the threat of rain eventually sent us packing just in time to avoid the deluge.
23rd March 2008 - The Garraf
So few species were left on my clients' wish list after a great week that they decided to take the afternoon off but we began the morning looking for one that had avoided us, the Dartford Warbler. We were rewarded almost immediately with sunlit choristers on the bankside of the Puig d'Aliga on the edge of the Foix park.
After adding Sparrowhawk to the weeks' list, we stumbled upon a stunning male Sub-alpine Warbler making no attempt to hide amongst the brambles outside a local farm house. Nearby a usual stop produced a reliable but, on this occasion, distant Bonelli's Eagle soaring through the white clouds above the Garraf's peaks. It was close enough at least to see that it was an adult though.
Three Hoopoe, a flock of Alpine Swift and a steady flow of tits, finches and thrushes kept the morning rolling until a pair of Long-tailed Tit earned the weeks' trip a final total of 158 species, a very pleasing reward for a birding holiday in early Spring.