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

Thursday, 31 March 2011

March on Barcelona! City of Crakes & other migrants

March 2010 - Early Spring Migrants in Catalonia, Spain

Of course, the Spring had already started back in mid-February with the arrival of Great Spotted Cuckoo, Black-winged Stilts (see below) - incidentally both my earliest ever sightings - and Little Ringed Plover, along with the first wave of hirundines such as House Martin, Sand Martin and Barn Swallow.

But it still didn't feel like summer was on its way though until March strode into Catalonia, flanked on either side by warmer temperatures and a little-boy excitement at the impending invasion.

The Llobregat Delta

Common Chiffchaff were singing everywhere.  A stunning male Common Redstart flicked in front of me as I arrived breathless on 2nd March, giving me another 'earliest record' but, more importantly, reuniting me with a childhood friend once again.

Yet another earliest record, this Yellow Wagtail almost did likewise but for the fact that I grew up in the UK, where my youth was spent with it's yellow-headed cousin, flavissima.  Above is a male iberiae subspecies of course and was one of four, discovered skipping in front of me with glee along with two females and a male cinereocapilla, which looks similar but lacks the eye-stripe (photo below taken on 29th).

I skipped off with equal amounts of glee, but with added anticipation, and came across six Black-winged Stilt, the first for the reserve, if not for me, this season.

The lagoons were carpeted with migrants, either waiting to head off - like Common Snipe, a half-dozen remnant Lapwing, Common Teal, five Northern Pintail, a lone Tufted Duck and a good handful of Eurasian Wigeon - or getting their bearings from a recently-completed journey from Africa.

Criss-crossing across the shallows were waders such as Black-tailed Godwit, Spotted Redshank and this Wood Sandpiper above, which counted as the first migrant as the birds I'd seen in The Ebro Delta earlier in the year were from a small wintering population.  But I must have been the only person in Catalonia not to have seen a Garganey yet.

Still, after listening to and watching Moustached Warbler, Penduline Tit and Short-toed Treecreeper, I was absolutely thrilled to jam the breaks on barely two minutes after leaving the reserve and hold my excited binoculars up to my eyes to welcome back the sight of a particular circling raptor - the whole area's first Spring 2010 record for Short-toed Eagle and, again, the earliest sighting of my ten-years-plus in Catalonia.

The Garraf Massis

Back in my garden, the Siskin (above) numbers went up to ten birds, low for the year, to remind me that winter wasn't quite over and a Common Minah (below) flew across my bonnet, en route back to Llobregat (where else would you want to be at this time of year?) on the 5th, to remind me that some things never seem to change.  Every time I think that this small family near my house has succumbed they contrive to show up again to prove me wrong.

This photo above was taken in February but sometimes months go by before I see them.

I finally caught up with Garganey (above) on The Llobregat on the 5th, with five males and a couple of females there by the 8th March.

But a morning spent beforehand brought up two Slender-billed Gull, with the needle-bills of one adult and a first winter mixed in with a haystack of Yellow-legged, Black-headed, Audouin's and summer-headed Mediterrranean Gulls and were only needled out with patience - or was it merely that we hadn't finished the chocolate-chip cookies yet?

In any case, we were fortunate as a wonderful winter-plumaged Little Gull suddenly bounced and dipped in front of the hide and encouraged us to stay even longer, during which time we also picked out two Black-necked Grebe diving together and enjoyed being swarmed by an invading flock of hirundines and Alpine Swift (below).

Although this was my first sighting of the year, word had already got out about the incredible and increasing numbers of hundreds of early birds that had been around Barcelona for a few days.  What was going on down there in Africa?

Red-rumped Swallow
(above, with Barn Swallows, and below), was the last of the hirundines to be recorded for 2010 but, yet again, I got my earliest record on the 5th.  One of my top two sights of the Spring is watching all five European hirundines simultaneously filling the skies and my wishes were granted on 8th and 10th too.

Willow Warbler was the next year-tick but what a day the 8th was...  After being warned of the presence of a male Little Crake (top photo by Ferran Lopez-sanz), I waited in the rain - in the mean time entertained by Moustached Warbler, Grey Wagtail, of course Red-rumped Swallows and this Cetti's Warbler behind me -

- to get quite stunning views of the male at less than two metres.  And then after a slight lull, it suddenly ran from a dense patch of reeds chasing a female (below), who skulked away but was eventually relocated...

And I'd been impressed with my close-on views of Water Rail when I'd first arrived!

Strangely, my records show that this annual passage visitor had been first reported on The Llobregat Delta on more or less the same date for the past three years.

By the 10th March, after a freakish day of snow!, only the female was to be seen it seemed but again she ignored my feet and went about her business.

The 10th was probably going to be my last trip of the month, given that I was to be away for the last two weeks, and so I just sat in the hides all morning and watched March march by...

where there was always something different to keep me company.  Alpine Swifts (above), hirundines and even Monk Parakeets filled the skies...

the usual suspects such as these Northern Shoveler above and Northern Pintail below joined hundreds of other ducks, gulls and waders on the water...

occasionally heading for the skies as a Marsh Harrier or Peregrine swooped through.  And occasionally too, being joined by some special guests, like these Greater Flamingo, passing by...

I finally caught up with Night Heron today and, with a nice-surprise of a 2nd winter Common Gull on Vilanova beach whilst taking my son for a walk, currently stand on 192 species for 2010.  What a country this is!

Thankfully, with a little birding in the UK and a trip to Andujar in southern Spain to keep me excited in the mean time, I'll be back soon.

UPDATE: 31 March 2010

The highlights of two quick irresistible birding forays on 29th and 31st March after I got back from Andujar and the UK, included year-first Western Bonelli's Warbler in The Garraf en route to Purple Heron, Temminck's Stint, Marsh Sandpiper and Common Whitethroat on The Llobregat Delta, where Little Gull, Ruff, Whiskered Tern, Common Swift and a thunbergi Yellow Wagtail were also present and remnant Wigeon, Northern Pintail and a couple of Lapwing still remained.

However, the main attraction on both days was yet another crake, this time a long-staying Spotted Crake which spent much of its time, despite the impression given by my rubbish photos, out in the open...

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