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

Wednesday 11 May 2011

A Birding Holiday in Catalonia, Spain (May 2010)

Plus a few extra May days...

A hefty total of 217 species recorded in 24 birding days this month, including 21 raptors, 23 wading birds, 13 gulls and terns, and 18 warblers - so I'll wrap this attempted summary conveniently around Vicky and James King's birding break, and the amazing photos James took between 11th - 17th May 2010.  Many more of his photos, uncropped and much better quality, can be seen here: James King Gallery


Let's kick off with my own personal favourite that dropped in after some night-rain on the morning of 11th May.

The photo above is clearly a Western Yellow Wagtail but, even on first sighting I was captivated by the dark olive-green head that stood out in the low morning sunlight as it worked its way bobbing between the blades of grass outside the hide on The Llobregat Delta.  A black-headed, or feldegg sub-species, one would suppose - but their heads are usually, er, black.

For comparison, see this classic example of a Black-headed Wagtail (Motacilla flava feldegg) from our trip to The Pyrenees on 14th...

... and, quite remarkably, we had a second green-headed version by the car in The Aiguamolls de L'Emporda on 15th May and, again, it was so unusual that it took a long, long time before we could draw ourselves away from it.  Well, if anyone has any ideas... feel free to post a remark or send me an email.

Back in the real world at Llobregat, this Eurasian Coot scrap was a thriller, going on for more than some minutes with this assassin's repeated attempts to drown a presumed rival and it eventually involving four birds.

Two very late Garganey was an encouraging sign, even if they were both males, and indeed news later in the year confirmed Catalonia's first breeding pair for some time, although this was at Vilaut, Aiguamolls.

Little Bittern, Squacco Heron, Eurasian Spoonbill, Great Crested Grebe, Purple Swamphen, Collared Pratincole, Eurasian Oystercatcher (first time breeding!), Pied Avocet, Audouin's Gull, Great Spotted Cuckoo, Bee-eater, Hoopoe, Golden Oriole and this Great Reed Warbler, above, made up the regulars on Barcelona's Llobregat Delta, whilst the day's migrants included European Roller, Garden Warbler and Pied Flycatcher.

Other May Llobregat Birds: Northern Gannet, Temminck's Stint, Eurasian Nightjar, Caspian Tern, Red-rumped Swallow, Wood Warbler and Common Waxbill.

12th May 2010 - EBRO DELTA

Many of the same species as above, of course, including this Purple Heron below, can be seen on the Ebro Delta, where the Kings and I headed on the 12th, but it's not every time that you get to witness one in an almighty struggle with a highly resistant Ladder Snake (I think).  A full photo-series on James' link above.

A total of 8 species of heron can be seen easily at this time of year on the Ebro Delta, Europe's third most important wetland, including Little Bittern and this Squacco Heron, showing a blue-ish bill in breeding plumage ...

... with other high-priority target species being Caspian Tern, Greater Flamingo, Glossy Ibis, Purple Swamphen...

... Gull-billed Tern, Slender-billed Gull and this Audouin's Gull...

... not to forget land birds, including the very localised Savi's Warbler, and the rather enigmatic and somewhat unique Collared Pratincole (below), which for some reason didn't seem to have a good year on the Ebro Delta this year (but excelled at Delta de Llobregat) ...

Other May Ebro Delta Birds: similar to Llobregat Delta above.

13th May 2010 - STEPPES OF LLEIDA (Catalonia) and LOS MONEGROS (Aragon)

May is a good time for the speciality target species such as Little Bustard, Pin-tailed Sandgrouse, Black-bellied Sandgrouse and Stone-curlew, unfortunately good photos of them were not forthcoming today.

However, I did manage this Red-necked Nightjar taken in a regular spot a few days earlier [and now forms the back drop to this blog].

Males often have several day time roost spots, occupied when the female is sitting, so they can be hard to pick up.  But actually, its mate is sat close-by, just out of frame.

James' picture of this stubborn car-side adult Great Spotted Cuckoo that just wouldn't budge demonstrates quite typical behaviour for this species, which lays its eggs in Magpie nests, and photos like this are not too difficult to come by.

The same cannot be said for European Roller however with birds usually taking flight just before the camera shutter clicks.  To make up for it though, they are sometimes seen in pairs carrying out their 'rolling' display.

Another easy one, European Bee-eater.  Very common and often returns to the same perch.

This Iberian (or Southern) Grey Shrike, Lanius meridionalis, below, can be told from its European (Great Grey) counterpart with relative ease by the pink flush to the lower parts and a white eye-stripe that crosses and meets over the bill.

One of my all-time favourites turned out to be a May regular.  The ghostly Black-Shouldered Kite (still nesting!) flies like an owl and hovers like a kestrel.

Others worth a mention are:

Egyptian Vulture, Golden Eagle, Booted Eagle, Montagu's Harrier, Lesser Kestrel, Spectacled Warbler, Common Quail, Black Wheatear, Black-eared Wheatear and nest-building Penduline Tit.

Bonelli's Eagle
, European Honey-buzzard and Dupont's Lark only occasionally made the list, although the latter of course is to be expected without specialised early-morning trips, but Thekla Lark, Calandra Lark (below)...

Lesser Short-toed Lark and Short-toed Lark (below) were amongst those making sure the family were well-represented.

14th May 2010 - PYRENEES

Almost standard stock in May for the Catalan Pyrenees, in the province of Barcelona, include the almost mythical Lammergeier, as well as other raptors, and the much-asked-for flocks of Citril Finch, the somewhat contradictory (Rufous-tailed) Rock Thrush (they really don't seem to like the weather at altitude) and the hugely impressive Black Woodpecker.

But, although by nature there are less species in mountain woodlands, some, such as Firecrest, Crested Tit, Short-toed Treecreeper, Red Crossbill, Western Bonelli's Warbler (above) and Bullfinch (below), present enough challenges to easily fill in the day and so it proved on the 14th.

Typically, the charming Alpine Chough (poorly photographed by me below), are often to be found noisily mixing with their Red-billed Chough cousins, when you should listen out for the most un-corvid-like sound you're ever likely to hear. 

Along with Red-backed Shrike, (White-throated) Dipper, Rock Bunting and Nuthatch, they rarely disappoint but sightings of Wryneck, Ring Ouzel and Egyptian Vulture are less predictable.

Grey Partridge is quite rare for Catalunya and a small family group seen on the 24th proved to be the only May sighting.


The Kings decided not make the full Cap de Creus trip, all the way to the Cap itself, but on the 15th we did manage an early morning jaunt through some song-filled woodland within the park, picking up lots of passerines but especially targeting the noisy and characterful Western Orphean Warbler.

A steady stream of European Honey-buzzard passed overhead and, despite the usual confusion between it and the Common Buzzard, I defy anyone to have doubts over this classic example above.

A little higher up we added Pallid Swift and our next target, Ortolan Bunting, didn't prove too difficult either, with a belligerent singing male ignoring the wind with more success than we did.

Back at the Aiguamolls reserve in the lowlands, where many species are obviously similar to the other wetlands we'd already visited, we satisfied ourselves with better views and better photographs of some, such as these Eurasian Spoonbill above.

From other May trips to these north-eastern locations in the Emporda, Balearic Shearwater, Garganey and Northern Lapwing are all worth a mention.


The Kings spent the 16th and the morning of the 17th exploring deeper into the Garraf Hills where we enjoyed tracking down Bonelli's Eagle, Hobby, Dartford Warbler and Red-necked Nightjar, compared Pallid, Alpine and Common Swifts and watched a male Peregrine Falcon suddenly rise from his ocean-side perch, drop like a stone and, in a flash, grab a Crag Martin no more than one metre from the surface of the Mediterranean Sea.  His larger mate sauntered over momentarily but, unimpressed by the size of the catch, she returning condescendingly to her own perch.

A final quick-stop back at Llobregat, where we began the trip, proved to tie things up nicely with a little deja-vue - Western Yellow Wagtails, this time iberiae sub-species, drawing the attention again, and fighting in almost the same spot as the coots!

Other May GARRAF birds:

Temminck's Stint and Balearic Shearwater on and from Vilanova beach respectively.  My first Garraf Common Quail.  And evening trips to see displaying and singing Red-necked Nightjar and European Nightjar.

And finally, on 28th, a very rare vagrant to Catalonia, and not too far from the house - a Rook!

"It was well worth putting up with the nausea on the ferry to get the fantastic week's birding that you organised!!
Got home on Saturday and am now reading through my Spanish bird lists with a big grin on my face.
A big thank you again for the best introduction to European birding - I'm hooked now!  Simply cannot decide on the best day of the week; every trip offered something unique."

Sandra Davies, UK (April and May)

"What more could I add to what Sandra wrote!  My feelings were very similar.  If I had to pick two destinations it would be the Pyrenees and the Steppes, however the birding on the coast and elsewhere was brilliant!  So no favourite then."

John Maddock, UK (April and May)

"Thanks for all you did in making the trip a happy and memorable one - not only did you show us a lot of birds but it also gave us some background for the rest of our trip."

Vicky and James King, USA

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