"Thank you for a sensational trip - wonderful varied habitats, some great views and lots of new birds for me. I enjoyed every minute of it."
Peter Kemmis Betty, UK
After unexpected demand forced me to cancel my plans to watch the World Cup in peace and recuperate from an extremely busy Spring schedule, we finished on a rather respectable 190 species for June and the extra birding proved to be a welcome tonic - especially with encounters like this Stone-curlew, or Eurasian Thick-knee, above - given the events that unfolded in South Africa!
Thanks to David Linstead, who visited on a short birding break with Peter Kemmis-Betty from 6th to 10th June, for supplying all the best photos.
THE STEPPES OF LLEIDA and LOS MONEGROS
He took the pretty impressive photo above in the STEPPES OF LLEIDA on the 7th, where we also successfully sought out Pin-tailed Sandgrouse, including a small group feeding amongst the same poppies as this displaying and calling Little Bustard that I digiscoped...
Also from the same viewpoint, perched in a distant tree-top, we picked up the juvenile Black-shouldered Kite that we'd watched hunting earlier, apparently feasting on its success. A great moment for Catalunya, which has hosted up to three breeding pairs this year, and especially for me as this was, as far as I know anyway, my first Catalan-born bird. May the expansion continue.
As usual the Steppes, which also comprises Los Monegros just over the border in Aragon, offered up a whole mix of raptors with Griffon Vulture, Booted Eagle, Short-toed Eagle, Montagu's Harrier, Hobby, Lesser Kestrel and Peregrine all paying us a visit today.
But no sign today of any of the Egyptian Vultures I'd seen with Jean and Chris Cox, on their second trip after first sampling the birds of Catalunya back in September. We took this photo on the 4th.
And another of my digi-snaps, of this Black-eared Wheatear, was taken in the same area with Nathaniel Wanders on the 26th. A strange bird that has two male forms - this black-throated version and an alternative that shows just a zorro-mask around the eyes - that co-exist even in adjacent territories.
Of course, Red-necked Nightjar, Roller, Rock Sparrow, Penduline Tit and the rest of the region's speciality attractions continued to show, although the impending harvest reduced the chances of Common Quail even more than usual and Great Spotted Cuckoo, now mostly magnificent juveniles showing off their black heads and burnt orange wing-flashes, were also becoming harder to come-by.
AIGUAMOLLS DE L'EMPORDA and CAP DE CREUS
My first trip 'up north' for some time, on the 2nd, provided some reasonably nice views of all three regular shearwaters, with about 60 Balearic Shearwaters, 40 Yelkouan Shearwaters and a single, larger Cory's Shearwater diving in amongst the countless Yellow-legged Gulls.
We also had the reliable Ortolan Bunting and several Western Orphean Warblers in full song, a handful of migrating Honey-buzzard and a marvellous Bonelli's Eagle floating over the car.
BARCELONA: GARRAF MASSIF and LLOBREGAT DELTA
David captured this Wood Sandpiper almost as soon as he got off the plane, at Llobregat, on the 6th...
a site that, apart from the common wetland breeding species (e.g. see Ebro Delta), also provided an even-now steady stream of migrating wading birds. Yes, it is Summer!
And on the 5th, as we got back to the car, we witnessed almost a dozen Monk Parakeets painstakingly removing the seed heads from nearby weeds before flying up out of harms and arms reach to unpack their gifts in peace. Surprisingly after all that hard work, when one was accidentally dropped from the cable, birds chose to return to clip off a new head rather than pick up the old one from the floor.
And in the Garraf. Both Red-necked Nightjar and European Nightjar continued the evening-time entertainment, reliably at least until the middle of the month, and the usual Golden Oriole, Pallid Swift, Blue Rock Thrush, Western Bonelli's Warbler, Dartford Warbler, Rock Sparrow, Red-rumped Swallow and Bee-eater (another David pic below) never failed to make the trip list.
Also of note, an unusually good month for sightings of Northern Goshawk.
Lammergeier, Alpine Chough, Citril Finch, (Rufous-tailed) Rock Thrush, Red-backed Shrike, Rock Bunting, Tawny Pipit and a host of mountain woodland and meadow passerines... yet my favourite rain-soaked moment was Nathaniel rescuing this Fire Salamander on the 28th...
Apparently their body markings are as unique as finger prints.
And whilst we've strayed off the bird life, here's yet more of David's pictures.. of Chamois and Alpine Marmot.
Trips to the Ebro Delta on the 1st and 30th ensured that we finished as we started - with a high quality range and number of the best that any Mediterranean, or even European, wetland has to offer. And it stayed steadily spectacular through trips in between time too, with this superb shot of a Little Bittern from David taken on the 9th.
along with the its old dependable cousins, the (Black-crowned) Night Heron...
... Purple Heron...
and, after doubling back in the car to catch this bird hiding in the corner of a field near La Tancada, finally, Squacco Heron. I love the colours in this photo but David's original is far better than I have done justice to here.
Other dependables include many gulls and terns, including the world-rare but locally increasingly-expanding Audouin's Gull, with in excess of 10,000 pairs breeding on the delta, and this splendid Slender-Billed Gull, complete with pink belly-flush and blood-red bill...
and, of course, the Collared Pratincole. Although this particular shot took some work due to a bit of tourist disturbance...
And, although it may be not the best photo in the world, I was very grateful to David for this very-difficult-to-get Savi's Warbler... the only photo I have.
BUT. APPARENTLY THE SPRING ISN'T OVER!!
On the 25th, after searching high and low in vain since mid-April for one of my all-time favourite birds, I slammed the breaks hard on and hardly dared to glimpse back at what surely was, at long last and with some extreme fortune, a Red-footed Falcon perched on a cable near La Tancada.
It allowed us to reverse back, exit the car, set up the scope and watch it for some minutes before moving off to the next post down when, given that the record was very late in the season, I finally decided to grab a couple of digi-snaps to confirm the report with local doubters - oh, you have them too?
A miracle. After a (hopefully temporary) shift in the timing of the wheat harvest that now seemingly comes too late to supply migrating birds with the much-need glut in flying insects, I had only recently resigned myself to a no-show for the year.
As you might expect, the birding produced a similar range of species, with the slightly lower total of 183 perhaps reflecting the lesser number of days spent out in the field compared to June.
"I really enjoyed the trip and was highly impressed by the way you got around the dodgy weather, especially on the Ebro Delta day!"
David Linstead, UK
"Stephen's knowledge of Catalan birds is outstanding. If you're looking for a specific bird, Stephen can take you to it. If you want to know what birds are in a particular locale, he will show you. And if you want to learn how to identify a species by appearance or behaviour, he will teach you."
Nathaniel Wander, US/UK
Nathaniel Wander, US/UK
"We very much enjoyed both the birding and your company. We're saving the [Spanish Champagne] you gave us as a reminder of the wonderful time of our birding and our honeymoon."
Elaine and Barry Dancis, USA