Feel free to post questions or comments on this new blog about Birding in and around Barcelona and Catalonia, Spain. Although currently still in progress, I have uploaded Trip Reports up until November 2010... with videos and month-by-month 'quick look' summaries still to come. Stephen Christopher

Sunday 27 November 2011

Client Trip Report: Winter Break, November 2010

27 - 29 November 2010: Trip and Photo Report by John Fox (Birdwatch Ireland)

"Thanks very much for such a splendid three days birding.  We saw almost all the target species, also a few excellent unexpected ones.  It's difficult to imagine a guide being so keen, hard-working and efficient, and such good company."
Chris Evans, Birdwatch Ireland

Eight members of the Tolka Branch of Birdwatch Ireland travelled with Ryanair from Dublin to Barcelona on 26th November 2010 and a ninth member joined us the next day from Brussels.

At Barcelona airport, while we collected a people-carrier at a cost of €260 for 5 days, the group had Monk Parakeet, White Wagtail, Common Buzzard, Kestrel, Magpie and Wood Pigeon.

We made our way to a villa in Olivella (€995 for 5 days), about 15 minutes from Sitges, but stopped before reaching it at a small wooded area where we had views of Crested Tit, a lifer for many of us.  We also had good views of Firecrest, Robin, Dunnock, Coal Tit, Goldcrest, Chaffinch, Long-tailed Tit and a pair of Common Crossbill flew over, calling as they went.

We travelled into Sitges for dinner that evening and a couple of Tawny Owl were calling on our return.

27th November - The Garraf Natural Park

Our guide Stephen Christopher of Catalan Bird Tours [click for Winter itineraries and birding tours available - SC] had been contacted a few months earlier and engaged for three full days for nine people.

We arrived in the Garraf Natural Park, located on the Mediterranean coast between Barcelona and Sitges, and positioned ourselves quietly at the foot of a cliff to await the arrival of our first target bird.  Stephen was quite confident that our bird would show up and about five minutes later, as predicted, he spotted our quarry, a stunning Wallcreeper (below).

The bird, which was a lifer for everyone, moved about the rock face for 30 minutes as the sun rose and flooded the cliff with light and eventually slipped out of sight as it moved south.

Crag Martin glided above the cliff as Black Redstarts foraged on the rock below, a Blue Rock Thrush perched at the top while a pair of Peregrine headed out to see.  Great Cormorant, Northern Gannet, Black-headed and Yellow-legged Gulls were seen over the sea while Serin and Rock Dove were also present in the area.

Finally we had lovely views of a single Audouin's Gull (below) at a local marina.

From there we headed up into the park, a beautiful area of mountainous heath.  We spent a few hours walking, as much of it is restricted to vehicles, and had good views of Red-legged Partidge, Thekla Lark, Spotless Starling, Southern Grey Shrike with Dartford Warbler popping in and out of view regularly.  Other new birds seen were Stonechat, Blackcap, Greenfinch and Linnet.

Later in the day [after locating the Wallcreeper a second time for the late arrival in the group - SC] we drove further into the Parc Natural de Garraf where we saw Rock Sparrow, Woodlark, Rock Bunting and a Sparrowhawk.  As the light began to fade our eagle-eyed guide Stephen spotted a pair of flying Bonelli's Eagle, one of which perched within scope range.  We studied the majestic eagle for a while as Stephen explained some of the bird's key identification features to those of us for whom the bird was unfamiliar.

We returned to the villa happy that we'd had a great first day with many new ticks under our belts.

28th November - Los Monegros and The Steppes of Lleida

We arrived just after dawn to a precise location selected by Stephen.  A hard frost still clung to the vegetation as we scoured the area for sandgrouse.  As we searched we had views of flying Red-billed Chough, Hen Harrier, Carrion Crow, Jackdaw, Marsh Harrier and a Merlin, while in the scrub Corn Bunting, Lesser Short-toed Lark and Thekla Lark (above) foraged.

Scanning the middle distance eventually revealed the elusive Black-bellied Sandgrouse and Pin-tailed Sandgrouse.  A small flock made up of both species was on the highest ground, presumably taking advantage of the earliest rays of sunshine to warm themselves after the cold night.  Its was great to see both species side by side enabling good comparisons to be made.

As the day warmed more species became active such as Dartford Warbler, Stock Dove, Red Kite, Hoopoe and small flocks of Calandra Lark rose in the sky revealing their diagnostic dark under wings (see photo below).

Elsewhere in Los Monegros, it was not long before we had distant views of a small flock of Great Bustard, some sheltering behind bushes to keep out of the icy wind.  We drove around and eventually were rewarded with closer views of three more (pictured below).  We hoped to connect with Little Bustard too but unfortunately that species eluded us.  We did however find another flock of Black-bellied Sandgrouse out in the open.

En route to The Steppes of Lleida we had lovely views of three Griffon Vultures that glided effortlessly across the road.  On arrival, Stephen guided us to a landfill site where, feeding on the contents of the dump, we had superb and most spectacular views of hundreds of White Stork, Cattle Egrets and Black-headed Gulls together with 20 Red Kite, several Grey Heron, Northern Lapwing and a thousand European Starling.  A Common Buzzard was also perched in the area.

Via a flock of 70 Pin-tailed Sandgrouse (photo above), which were quite approachable due to the absence of the more skittish Black-bellied Sandgrouse, and several Green Woodpceker seen in a small orchard, Stephen took us to another of his well-researched locations, this time for Black Wheatear (photo below with Calandra Lark).  And we were not disappointed.  We connected quickly with a family party and good views were had by all of both male and female.

Also in the area, after a short walk from the car, we had wonderful views of a flock of 50 Stone-curlew (below) resting in a ploughed field.  A few flew up as we tried to approach unseen but they quickly settled back into the flock. I had seen Stone-curlew before but never so well or in such numbers.

It was an unexpected treat and a lovely finish to our second guided day.

29th November - The Catalan Pyrenees (and The Llobregat Delta)

We drove to the Parc Natural Cadi-Moixero where, at an altitude of 2000m with a little snow on the ground, we began our trek up the mountain road hoping the sun would break through.  Jay, Mistle Thrush, Goldfinch and Ring Ouzel were seen before we had our first views of Alpine Chough, with flocks of thirty or more seen wheeling over the cliffs above, their yellow bills clearly visible.

Several Chamois stared down at us from the mountain side and, rounding a corner which overlooked a small stream, one of our party spotted a (White-throated) Dipper working its way upstream.

This was quickly followed by great views of five Alpine Accentor (below), another of our target birds which delighted everyone and once more confirmed our guide's knowledge of the area.  We had found the birds within a few metres of where Stephen suggested a sighting was possible.

With the sun failing to break through we started back towards the cars to warm up and were treated to close views of two Griffon Vulture that soared out over the cliffs above.  They were followed almost immediately by another bird, one that we all had at the top of our list - Lammegergeier (top photos).

The views we had of this wonderful vulture was superb, let down only by the dull grey sky. We watched it for a minute or so as it passed directly overhead before it silently glided down the valley and out of sight.

With snow starting to fall we happily got into the cars and headed down the mountain.  As we descended we had a brief view of another Wallcreeper that flew out from a cliff face over the cars. We stopped for a few minutes in a village some way down where we had another Dipper, Long-tailed Tit, Blue Tit and Crested Tit together with a Firecrest.

Returning to Barcelona, we entered the Llobregat wetland reserve, a managed area with many hides and a good range of species.  Water birds seen included Northern Shovelor, Common Teal, Great Crested Grebe, Common Kingfisher, Pheasant, Moorhen, Gadwall, Eurasian Coot, Dunlin, Green Sandpiper and Sandwich Tern.

A brief Moustached Warbler was followed by Golden Plover, Skylark, Meadow Pipit, Zitting Cisticola, Cetti's Warbler and Water Pipit and gulls present were Black-headed, Yellow-legged and two Mediterranean Gull.

The best bird for me from this area was Purple Swamphen (above) and we had great views of two from one of the hides.  We had hoped for Penduline Tit but dipped on that species.

As the light was fading, we said goodbye to Stephen our superb guide for three days.

He had been everything we had hoped for and more.  He knew the birds we were after and out in the time to locate them prior to our arrival. He found most of them for us in the short time we were there.  He was happy to answer all our questions, no matter how obvious or obtuse, with a breadth of knowledge that only comes with years of experience and time in the field.

I would have no hesitation in recommending him to others interested in birding the area, a view which I believe would be endorsed by all of our group.

We returned to our villa that evening very satisfied with our trip and the birds we had seen.
Our group included the following members of the Tolka Branch of Birdwatch Ireland: Dermot McCabe, Lorraine Benson, Heather Quinn, Bill Quinn (additional photos), Gerald Franck, Philip Clancy, Chris Evans, Darragh Hogg and myself John Fox.

"It was a great trip.  Stephen was so efficient at getting the list out as well as getting us such a terrific array of birds.  Well done to Dermot in arranging to have such a good bird guide and for organising such an exciting trip so well."
Billy Quinn, Birdwatch Ireland

"Thank you for all your wonderful guiding and your expertise.  You really made the trip fantastic for me and I think for everyone else too.  A big thank you to all involved in our fantastic trip to Catalunya, particularly Stephen our brilliant guide who got us all the birds that I hoped to see together with many more that were unexpected and a great bonus."
John Fox, Birdwatc Ireland
"This was an excellent trip!"
Lorraine Benson, Birdwatch Ireland

  [Southern 'Iberian' Grey Shrike]

Sunday 13 November 2011

November Wallcreeper, Bustards and Lammergeier

13th November 2007 – Garraf and Llobregat

It's strange how so many great birding moments can be traced back to an event at the beginning of the day, without which the hands of time and fortune would have written a different story. If Andris and Inita’s train hadn’t arrived ten minutes late, later we may have spent a few minutes watching a birdless cliff-face in The Garraf Massis instead of the spectacle of their first ever Wallcreeper.

We were greeted by a Sandwich Tern dipping and diving in the bay and the song and sight of three or four Blue Rock Thrush spaced along the cliff-face bordering it. A few Crag Martin flapped their way across the jagged edges of the rocks whilst the ground was shared out amongst Meadow Pipit, Robin, Black Redstart, White Wagtail, finches and both Cirl and Rock Bunting.

As I scanned the ocean and rocks beyond the footpath and crashing waves, I was given the briefest of views of a wave-skimming Eurasian Shag (Mediterranean sub-species, desmarestii) before Andris interrupted with a cry of ‘Wallcreeper!’ just in time for us all to see it descend through the ‘V’ of the cliff’s peaks and flap red-and-black, ‘like a butterfly’ as he described it, out into the open. In fact, it circled and flapped out and back to the same spot twice like a flycatcher – rather tempting fate given the presence of resident Peregrine Falcon – before returning to the safety of the rocks just behind a bush. It had actually seemed to be hawking for food mid-air, perhaps even chasing an individual insect, something that I hadn't witnessed before.

In the wait for its return, during which time we were happy like children, excitedly stating the obvious such as ‘you could see the red clearly!’ and ‘it was like a little Hoopoe’, a pair of Black Wheatear joined us, the female along the rocky beach and the male just beside us. Once we had calmed down though, we thanked fortune for the view we had had and moved on to The Llobregat Delta.

We headed for a group of around twenty Night Herons we could see roosting out in the open by the first hide and they proved to be easily close enough for Andris to take photos. The sight of a small party of Eurasian Spoonbill scything through the waters of the other lagoon lured us on to the second hide though, where blankets of Lapwing and ducks, including Shelduck, Wigeon and Gadwall, impressed greatly and we wiled away our time picking out Common Snipe, Golden Plover, Reed Bunting, up to three Common Buzzard and a Sparrowhawk flap-flap-gliding overhead.

We made the short trip over to the other Llobregat reserve after lunch where Black-necked Grebe, Mediterranean Gull, Greylag Goose, Pied Avocet, Purple Swamphen and countless Common Waxbill provided the backdrop for the highlights of a sub-adult male Marsh Harrier skirting the reed-tops, a handful of Firecrest, two Hoopoe in a tizzy and a Kingfisher that landed on the lip of the hide window!

14th November 2007 – Steppes of Lleida and Los Monegros

During the journey to The Steppes of Lleida I recounted that, according to an overnight conversation with Ricard Gutierrez (Rare Birds in Spain), Wallcreeper hadn’t been seen in the Garraf since possibly 1984 and we were both excited at the prospect of it over-wintering again after such a gap. I also ominously declared, under pressure I might add, that Great Bustard was probably the most likely of the four ‘biggies’ today. In turn, Andris and Inita, lecturers from Latvia here researching bird tourism, filled me in on their projects.

As usual, within five minutes of our arrival we were staring at a small group of Pin-tailed Sandgrouse crouched down in a nearby field. Later we were to come across an even closer group right next to the car but for now we marvelled at their plumage detail, as if painted by Chinese artists, before they stood up wary and we took our cue to move on.

Of course Little Bustard was the other main target bird here and we went in search amusing ourselves with large flocks of Jackdaw, three coveys of waddling Red-legged Partridge and the startlingly red cap of a Green Woodpecker, sub-species sharpei.

Two Hen Harrier dog-fighting over a small orchard diverted our attention whilst many Corn Bunting and a full set of larks (although surprisingly few Calandra Larks) kept us honed on any small movement until, just as we were admiring the pink flush of a Southern Grey Shrike, the white flash of a Little Bustard rose up in front of us and wing-whistled its way over a couple of fields to land dead centre of the telescope.

A quick stop off at the municipal dump to spy on the numerous Cattle Egret and (less now) White Stork provided a welcome bonus of a remarkably colourful Red Kite quartering its lunchtime options.

En route to Los Monegros, a site just outside Catalonia but worth the trip for the (almost certain!) wintering Great Bustard lining the roads, we picked up a Great White Egret and another, this time mature, male Marsh Harrier.

But! Sandstorms the like I have never seen before and quirky enough to make the evening news, all but ruined our chances here although they didn’t build up quite strong enough before we had chance to add a pair of Red-billed Chough and a couple of fleeing Black-bellied Sandgrouse from the area around a ruined farmhouse.

A quick questionnaire to my guests then inspired a ‘re-route for a lifer’ and a while later we were enjoying a flock of over fifty Rock Sparrows, not to mention a host of other passerines, in the farmland of the Garraf.

15th November – The Pyrenees

The wind in The Pyrenees today threatened to push many passerines down to root level and out of sight but not before we gratefully foot-followed and photographed a flock of around twenty Alpine Accentor, being prised away from the detail of their beautifully under-stated plumage only after some work with a metaphorical chisel. What a great bird. And so confiding.

We did miss out on a few passerines, namely and unusually Citril Finch, and Common Crossbill were similarly out of character in their near-absence but a steady flow of Griffon Vultures at least kept our hopes up for the desired bird of the day.

The meantime was spent in the company of a lone Sparrowhawk and a lone Great-spotted Woodpecker chipping away at us until we finally spotted its hiding place on the blindside of a pine tree. A lone Red-billed Chough was especially odd given that they usually far outnumber their yellow-billed cousins at this time of year. We had already spotted two pairs of Alpine Chough but one of the moments of the day was the swirling descent of a flock of forty, chirping like happy passerines, as they fell onto the juniper bushes growing on the bank alongside the road and feasted noisily on their berries.

This experience though, it has to be said and however privileged one felt to be there, was beaten into second place by the simply awesome weight of a Lammergeier, caught with seeping expectation after a whole morning’s hunt, gliding directly over our heads at the height of a double-decker bus (or two). It was a young-ish bird, still pale overall but showing signs of accumulating the orange glow so typical of adult birds.

The journey back was spent in reflection - and may be a little tiredness after walking through mountain meadows. In three days we had seen Lammergeier, Wallcreeper, Black-bellied Sandgrouse, Pin-tailed Sandgrouse and Little Bustard and only missed out on Great Bustard through a stroke of freakish bad luck. And Winter wasn't supposed to be a good time. ‘But that’s birding’, said Andris rather philosophically.

Tuesday 11 October 2011

Client Trip Report: Autumn Break, October 2010

11th - 17th October 2010: Autumn in Catalonia - a Trip Report by Frank Mawby

Aside from three quick for-the-record mentions for my first ever Long-billed Dowitcher in some ricefields near Lleida on the 21st, a wintering Purple Heron in the same place on 28th and this winter's first Great Bittern on the Ebro Delta on 27th, I'll just say a very big thank you to Frank for the trip report below (and to John Dingemans for additional photos from his trip from 25th-28th) and let him get on with it...


Our trip to the Rutland Bird Fair this year resulted in a late decision to take a birding holiday in Spain - to be specific, to Catalonia, the region around Barcelona.  I scanned the internet for birding guides and quickly hit on the Catalan Bird Tours website of Stephen Christopher.  Contact was quickly established, the price was right and included 7 days birding, self-catering accommodation and splendid picnic lunches.

The only other cost was for evening meals and flights.  Monarch Airlines fly to Barcelona from Manchester and were the cheapest. Stephen collected and dropped us off at the airport and took us to the supermarket to obtain food. We provided him with our species wish list.

Catalonia has a diversity of landscapes.  Estuaries, cliffs, rocky shores and beaches make up a short coastline.  Inland are the high mountains of the Pyrenees down to the vast agricultural plains around Lleida with a whole range of landforms in between. Such a diversity of habitats inevitably mean there is a wide diversity of bird life.  Our target species included the Lammergeier and Griffon vultures, the Great and Little Bustards, Eagles and other raptors.

[A wintering Black-necked Grebe on the Llobregat Delta, taken on 25th.]


Barcelona Airport is built on the estuarine marshes of the Llobregat River and birding commenced within an hour of getting off the plane. Entering the Llobregat Reserve, Stephen soon lived up to his website reputation spotting a Little Bittern landing a short distance away in the reeds and quickly finding it.  We had excellent views of our first lifer for the trip.

Green Woodpecker, Black Redstart, Sardinian Warbler and Common Waxbills were seen as we strolled along the paths lined with reeds over 4 m tall. Stephen heard a Penduline Tit but it only gave a brief glimpse as it flew away and was to elude us for a good view until the final afternoon.

We visited hides overlooking large lagoons holding many ducks and waders, including Shoveler, Common Teal, Eurasian Wigeon, Redshank, Snipe, Greenshank, Spotted Redshank and Spoonbill.  A Marsh Harrier circled in the distance and horses were grazing the marsh with attendant Little Egret and Cattle Egret but the star bird was a Booted Eagle.

After lunch we drove down the coast, south of Sitges, where a Blue Rock Thrush came to inspect us and the local Black Wheatear appeared.  A lone Audouin's Gull circled the nearby harbour.  Our drive to Stephen’s place was through the Garraf Natural Park, a hilly region of maritime scrub where he hoped to find some of the specialities like Dartford Warbler and Bonelli’s Eagle on a later visit.

12th October 2010

Tuesday’s weather forecast for the whole region was not good, so our destination was not decided until we met Stephen at 0600 hrs.  It was raining and it continued to rain as we drove west towards Aragon.  He had found a possible hole in the weather and the target species was Great Bustard.

Sure enough it brightened up as we drove into a vast agricultural plain, a mix of tilled land and stubble with a number of uncultivated weedy fields. We started well with a lone Stone Curlew but the Bustards were not to be seen. The weedy stubbles were more promising and gave us a nice variety of larks including Thekla Lark [photo below], some very late Short-toed Lark and, from one field, well over 500 Calandra Larks with their distinctive calls.

A real surprise was locating a group of 17 Dotterel. The scattered stone barns almost all had a Little Owl perched on the roof and a flock of Jackdaw also included Red- billed Chough.

Stephen eventually spotted something large and brown and we were soon looking at a flock of 14 Great Bustards [top photo] at a distance of less than 100 m.  Nearby, we disturbed another four.  What a remarkable sight to see such a large bird flying so gracefully with the broad white wing bars flashing.  Target species ticked, what next?

A short drive to a new location and we were soon looking at over 50 Stone Curlew and caught a glimpse of the elusive Black-bellied Sandgrouse.  Eventually Stephen pinned them down and we got excellent views as we took lunch.  Two large flocks of Pin-tailed Sandgrouse flew over and to our delight three Hobbies suddenly appeared close-by and then a perched Golden Eagle gave good views [Photo below].

On the way back we were attracted to a large gathering of Marsh Harrier and Common Buzzard and this area also gave Spotless Starling, Southern Grey Shrike, Tree Sparrows and Corn Bunting.  At our final stop, another part of the vast agricultural steppe area, Merlin, more Stone Curlew, Yellow Wagtails and lots of Red-legged Partridge were seen but we failed to find Little Bustard; quite a day with at least 6 new lifers. There were some good butterflies too including Swallowtail and Clouded Yellow.

13th October 2010 - THE EBRO DELTA

Wednesday, out at 6.00 a.m. again and heading south to the Ebro Delta, a vast area of mainly rice paddy fields teeming with birds. From a viewing platform over-looking a large lagoon we watched Osprey, innumerable Marsh Harriers, and thousands of duck whilst Reed and Cetti's Warbler were just below us.

Another platform gave us many Red-crested Pochards and a solitary Night Heron amongst several Great Cormorants. A small flight of Spoonbill and then Glossy Ibis passed overhead and another Osprey gave an excellent show followed by a Caspian Tern. We toured around the flooded fields and amongst the many waders and gulls were Audouin’s and Slender-billed Gull, Black Tern and Whiskered Tern, lots of herons, Greater Flamingo, Glossy Ibis, Pied Avocets, Curlew Sandpiper and Little Stint; but a special wader for us was a Wood Sandpiper [Photo below].

Fan-tailed Warbler (Zitting Cisticola)
, Whinchat and Stonechat were common and a single Spotted Flycatcher was a nice surprise. There were several Robins, a bird that Stephen said was just coming in for the winter.

Lunch was taken in a hide with Willow Warbler and Chiffchaff passing through and a few yards below us a Reed Warbler quickly followed by a Savi’s Warbler gave us a nice comparison of these similar species.

As we prepared to leave, the star bird of the day was spotted and even Stephen could not contain his excitement on seeing a (rare vagrant) Yellow-browed Warbler.

14th October 2010 - THE PYRENEES

Thursday saw us heading north for the Pyrenees. On arrival, there was low cloud as we started to drive uphill but we passed through it into bright sunshine and looking over a wonderful cloudscape.

Small flocks of birds were feeding through the trees including Crested Tit, Coal Tit, Blue Tit and Great Tit - I did not realise that species like this were found at this altitude.  Stephen picked up the call of a Short-toed Treecreeper, a call too high pitched for my deteriorating hearing, and it gave but a fleeting glimpse. Bullfinch was also seen up here.

High overhead we observed large numbers of House Martin and a regular passage of thrushes – the silhouettes and flight pattern suggested some were Mistle Thrush and others Ring Ouzel. A Black Woodpecker called in the distance, a Peregrine briefly showed and small flocks of the yellow-billed Alpine Chough and Red-billed Chough gave a good display at one point.

Late morning and it was time to scan the highest tops and sure enough Stephen soon had Griffon Vultures for us, at least a dozen at one point. We moved around the mountain finding Citril Finch and Rock Bunting on the way to the lunch spot where we settled down.

Sure enough, as Stephen predicted, the first Lammergeier appeared cruising along the mountainside.  Then another was located much closer this time, a dark immature bird, and as we watched, it dropped something then descended to the ground and began to eat. It was joined by an adult and the two were up and down a number of times. In the air they were harried by Ravens and Griffon Vultures.

We left them and began the long descent, picking up Dunnock, Long-tailed Tit and later (White-throated) Dipper.

15th October 2010 - THE LLEIDA STEPPES

Stephen expressed his concern that recent changes in E.C. agricultural policies that have ended set-aside could see large areas of marginal land put back into production.  He pointed out several areas that had been ploughed recently and which he had never seen cultivated over the years he has been birding there. The only nature reserve in this vast agricultural area was a tiny area of rough grassland.

The plan, as last time, was to work the fields area by area. Shelagh spotted our main target species, the Little Bustard - five of them feeding in a rough strip of ground. Eventually we moved on and the track went close enough to move them and a flock of Stone Curlew.  The systematic searching then gave us Rock Sparrows [photo below] with lots of Corn Bunting.

As we drove towards a small pool a superb male
Hen Harrier dropped in to give a brilliant show at less than 50 metres, bathing, flying out, shaking himself then returning to bathe again before flying off to dry [Photo-collage above].

As the search continued, a large flock of Red-billed Chough were found feeding and then took to the air with a brilliant display.  Stephen then spotted a distant speck and hurried towards it.  Stopping the car, we watched a Black-shouldered Kite hunting for several minutes.

We then saw Red Kite for which the main attraction was a refuse tip where I was amazed to see not only lots of Yellow-legged and Black-headed Gulls but hundreds of White Storks, Cattle Egret, and European and Spotless Starling.  A Blue Rock Thrush was on a nearby cliff and the area also held Skylark, Thekla Lark, Meadow Pipit, Common Redstart, Merlin, Buzzard and much more - a truly rich area for birds.  Driving through an area of scrub another Black-shouldered Kite [Photo below] posed for us on a power line pole and shortly after a Southern Grey Shrike.

By late afternoon we were back close to Stephen’s home in the Garraf where he took us into a shrubby, wooded gorge teeming with birds including many Black Redstarts, Sardinian Warblers, a Cirl Bunting and a Sparrowhawk.


Saturday, our penultimate day, and we headed northwards along the coast towards the French border.

The view from the first hide over a large reed-fringed lagoon was teeming with duck and waders, including Shoveler, Geenshank, Spotted Redshank, Dunlin and Snipe - a great sight with Fallow Deer grazing amongst the birds and a nice White Stork colony.

The drive out to the Cap de Creus was spectacular, made more so by the narrow roads and steep drop offs.  It was very windy and few birds were braving the elements, least of all the Levantine Shearwaters [seen by SC only]. Well worth the drive for the scenery but unproductive bird wise other than a Peregrine, Yellow-legged Gulls, Northern Gannet and Eurasian Shag.

Back to Aiguamolls and here we picked up Water Pipit before the first star bird of the day when not one but five Honey-buzzards passed overhead with many Pallid Swifts. One Honey-buzzard came low and gave a clear outline and good views of its main features. Leaving the area along country lanes we had a splendid view of a Goshawk, the best I have ever had of this species.


Another reason for choosing the Monarch flight was the 2000 hrs departure to give us a whole day birding on Sunday. The plan was to do Stephen’s home area of the Garraf Natural Park; a hilly landscape of low Mediterranean maritime scrub and pine, which is steadily invading.

The area was regularly fired in the past slowing the pine and maintaining the valuable scrub habitat. However, fires are a hazard to human settlements, to such an extent that even managed burns are avoided. Nor is there interest in grazing the area so succession to pine woodland seems inevitable with consequential changes to the flora and fauna.

At our first stop, a small settlement by a stream, our first Firecrest soon presented itself for close observation. A mixed flock of tits and other species passed through and we had a good view of a Cirl Bunting. Many Serins were seen but this is a common bird of the area. As we drove through the park Dartford Warbler gave good views.

Sunday lunch was a leisurely affair in Sitges where we treated Stephen to a well-earned break.  After lunch, driving along the coast road, we stopped for views of Crag Martin before arriving at the northern area of the Llobregat Reserve.

On the river we saw several Mediterranean Gulls and we had good views of Penduline Tit. As we came out of the last hide our attention was drawn to the sky where several Alpine Swifts were passing over.

It was time to leave and the Bluethroat had eluded us but a Monk Parakeet flew by as we left for the nearby airport.

Our list for the week, including birds only heard, was 181 species, although truly we could only claim 178 of them due to failing eyesight and hearing which became painfully obvious at times compared to our guide, whose great knowledge of the area and its birds combined with his keen eyesight and hearing had given us an exceptional week of birding in mid-October.

There are so many birds in Catalonia that make it a great region to visit at any time of the year. Stephen is an excellent birding guide and very popular.  He books up quickly at peak times.  His tours range from a day up to a week, his self-catering accommodation is very comfortable and sleeps up to four people in two double bedrooms and he will pick up from other accommodation, including Barcelona.


The full Autumn birding itineraries can be seen here.

[dark-phase Booted Eagle, Ebro Delta, 27th]


“Our time in Barcelona was limited so we required someone with excellent local knowledge - this Stephen has in bucketfuls. We began birding within minutes of leaving the city and he took us to areas we would not have found on our own.  We concluded a great day out with seven lifers and also saw our first Swallowtail butterfly - a great bonus.
We enjoyed our day so much and were so impressed by Stephen’s knowledge and amiability that we are going back for four days in May 2011.

Neil and Joan Foster, U.K.

“Fantastic.  All the different habitats, different birds, brilliant. Thank you very much for all your hard work and enthusiasm which made it a very successful and enjoyable break.  We both enjoyed it very much.”

“Thank you for the list of birds seen.  Also for the knowledge passed on. My four days was thoroughly enjoyed."

John Dingemans and Alan Beale, U.K.

Thursday 15 September 2011

Client Trip Report: Autumn Break, September 2010

15th - 20th September 2010: Birding in Catalonia, Spain: A Trip report by Jonathan Prochera

"We really had a brilliant time birding in this part of Spain and cannot recommend it enough.  We had birded in Spain several times before, but after our trip I think we would only return to Catalonia."
Jonathan and Robert Prochera, UK

DAY 1: Barcelona -  The Llobregat Delta

We arrived at Barcelona airport early afternoon, after a smooth two hour flight from Stansted airport and met up with Stephen Christopher.  It was beautifully sunny and warm but there was a strong breeze coming in off of the sea.

[Wood Sandpiper from the Ebro Delta]

The first birds we picked up upon entering the Llobregat Wetlands reserve, near to the airport, were the abundant Zitting Cisticolas, of which we managed to find a non-shy individual and were awarded lovely scope views.  As we progressed through the reserve towards the viewing towers, we recorded Mediterranean and Black-headed Gulls in good numbers mixed in with a small flock of Sandwich TernsMallard, Gadwall, Common Teal and a pair of rather shabby looking Red-crested Pochard were noted as well as a few more common water birds that we were used to back home in Norfolk.
Upon reaching the first of the towers we had spectacularly close views of a pair of Ospreys (photo is from the Ebro Delta) soaring together and being harassed by the odd black-headed gull - not bad having been here for only 20 minutes!

The wind had really begun to pick up now and scope viewing a top the tower was less than favorable.  Despite the wind we recorded: Little Stint, Greenshank, Redshank, Western Marsh Harrier, Spoonbill, Black-tailed and Bar-tailed Godwits and [after some assistance from Ferran, the reserve warden, who generously took us into the protected area in his landrover - SC] a vagrant Buff-breasted Sandpiper, a lifer for myself.

We spent the rest of the afternoon at the Llobregat reserve and recorded a few more common species of wader before returning to our apartment and getting some rest in preparation for an early start the following morning.

DAY 2:  The Pyrenees (Site One)

Our second day lead us to the Pyrenees.  We had only birded the French side before and so were excited to see what the Spanish side offered not only in respect to wildlife but also in scenery.  We picked up Blackcap, Pied Flycatcher, the common tits and Firecrest at our early morning and much-needed coffee and biscuit stop, shortly adding several Rock Bunting and Black Redstart.

As we gained height we began to notice small flocks of both Red-Billed and Alpine Choughs flying to and fro from the peaks, their harsh calls piercing the empty landscape.  The weather was cooler today and remained mostly grey throughout.  The larger raptors seemed to be hunkered down waiting for the sun with only a few Griffon Vultures seen, but two distant Golden Eagle were a nice treat in the late afternoon.

Apart from the cloud we had a good day in the mountains with a nice selection of birds being seen.  Other highlights included Cirl Bunting, Crested Tit, Alpine Swift, Woodlark, Black Woodpecker and a Peregrine feeding on what we thought must have been one of the fleeing Mistle Thrushes.

[Glossy Ibis, very common on the Ebro Delta]

DAY 3:  The Ebro Delta

Our third day in Catalonia lead us to the rice fields and waterways of the Ebro Delta and we were up and ready to go before dawn.  The weather forecast was less than promising but we managed to stay dry throughout the day, managing to escape the midday rain by retreating to a well-placed hide.

We spent the morning checking the freshly cut rice paddies for wintering and passage waders and water birds picking up Wood, Green and Common sandpiper, Black-winged Stilt, Little Stint, Purple Swamphen, Water Rail, Glossy Ibis, Greater Flamingo and scores of Grey and Night heron.

[Wood Sandpiper, Ruff, juvenile Little Ringed Plover, Ruff, Red Knot]

Mid-morning, we were treated to some warm Spanish sunshine and enjoyed watching a flock of Little Tern fishing between the thousands of Mallard, Gadwall and Red-crested Pochard.  A lone Common Pochard was recorded from a tower-hide. Bluethroat was also seen if only for a few seconds, as were Cetti's, Reed and Great Reed Warbler and another Osprey patrolling the waterways. A pair of Great Egret and a fleeting glimpse of a juvenile Little bittern added to our list also.

[Squacco Heron]

During the afternoon we circulated the agricultural areas of the delta some more and recorded Temminck's Stint, Dotterel, another [vagrant - it was a good year, SC] Buff-breasted Sandpiper, Booted Eagle (next photo), Lapwing and some juvenile Collared Pratincole, as well as scores of Yellow Wagtail with which we had fun determining which subspecies they were and thus, which had made the longest journey to get here.

On our return journey we headed to the coast and managed to pick up Caspian Tern - another lifer for me, an Osprey (making a total of 6 today) fishing and Slender-billed Gull, as well as Turnstone, Spotted Redshank and a pair of Whinchat.

[Black Tern photos, above and top photo (with a Whiskered Tern), taken on 23rd September in the Ebro Delta.  Little Bustard, next photo and two below.  SC]

DAY 4: The Steppes of LLEIDA and LOS MONEGROS

An even earlier start today as we set off to the remaining steppe areas of Catalonia and neighbouring Aragón.  We were in search of bustards and sandgrouse and by lunchtime had managed to see both Great Bustard and Little bustard and a flock of Pin-tailed Sandgrouse.  All species were seen in double figures, although the Little Bustard were unfortunately flying quite high and away from us - I managed to identify them as geese until we had gained a better view. . .

Rain during the night had brought down flocks of migrating Turtle Dove, one which managed to fight off the clutches of a female Sparrowhawk right next to our vehicle.  Growing flocks of Corn Bunting, Linnet and Goldfinch added to the early morning count, as did Sardinian warbler and a beautiful Black-shouldered Kite sitting in an old olive tree, alert and watching for prey.

As the day warmed, raptor numbers grew.  A pair of first year Golden Eagle were first up, as were multiple Common Buzzard, Red Kite, Western Marsh Harrier and Booted Eagles, then to be joined by Griffon Vultures and a solitary Short-toed Eagle.

The afternoon was spent in Aragón and a huge bloom of insects brought flocks of roving Common Kestrel and migrating Hobby above our heads.  As we travelled past isolated farmhouses we picked up Little Owl and a flock of 20+ Stone-curlew (above) a few meters from our vehicle, which was a brilliant sight!  Tawny Pipit, Honey-buzzard and Southern Grey Shrike and Woodchat shrike were also ticked.

DAY 5: The Pyrenees (Site Two)

This time around the weather was perfect and, as we approached this magnificant range, we began picking up more species. The first birds of the day were Firecrest, Blackcap and a flock of feeding Citril Finch mere meters from the car and oblivious to us snapping away at them with our cameras.

As the morning progressed we left the mountain roads and spent some time on the alpine meadows searching for ring ouzel.  No luck, but Stonechat and Dunnock were added.  As mentioned the weather was a lot better in the mountains on this day and birds of prey were in much more evidence. Several Griffon Vultures took off from nearby to us and we managed fabulous views of them no more than 5m above of us, they looked fabulous in the light and at such a close distance, but of course... my camera was in the boot of the car.

As we progressed through the alpine meadow I spotted our first Lammergeier of the day sailing across the top of a ridge.  It was lit up perfectly and we could see that it was young-ish bird due to the lightness of its breast-colouring.  2 other Lammergeier were seen that morning, one shadowing a flock of griffons.  Other highlights included a golden eagle being mobbed by a Raven, many hundreds of chough and our third wagtail of the trip - a Grey Wagtail by a pristine Pyrenean stream.

On our return trip we spotted a falcon shaped bird in a tree but unfortunately were moving too fast to get a good look or stop, however we both thought straight away that it looked like a red-footed falcon! I shan't count it though..

Day 6:  The Garraf Massis and The Llobregat Delta

Our final day was spent on the coast and in the Costa Garraf where we picked up several new species for the trip including: Shag, Rock Sparrow, Common Redstart, Spotted flycatcher, Sub-alpine, Dartford and Spectacled Warblers, Whitethoat and small flocks of honey-buzzard lazily soaring south.

We had fabulous views of a Peregrine soaring out at sea and returning to the cliffs, a family of kestrels play-fighting in the wind and abruptly disappearing at the sight of the aforementioned Peregrine and a Hobby perched in full view on a Pylon.

As our trip neared to its close we had one final stop at the wetlands on the other side of Barcelona Airport, the only new bird was a fabulously close Eurasian Wryneck, maybe just two meters away and we had some comical views of Iberian Green Woodpeckers scaling palm trees as well.

We had a more than impressive 170+ bird species in our five full days birding with Stephen.

The range of habitats and scenery is worth the trip alone, not to mention the great number of such impressive birds availableStephen managed to find all our target birds for the trip and provided us with great views of Great Bustard, Lammergeier and "off-course" Buff-breasted Sandpiper.

Our trip not only let us experience this wonderful corner of Spain and its great wildlife but increased our identification skills when birding - especially when identifying waders and for which I cannot give enough thanks.
A wonderful trip.  I'm sure we'll be back.
Jonathan and Robert Prochera, Norfolk, U.K.

The Autumn itineraries can be views here.

[This Two-tailed Pasha, rare in Spain apparently, was seen in the Garraf throughout September.  SC]

Sunday 31 July 2011

June / July 2010: Is Summer a bad time to come?

"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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

JULY 2010

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

"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