27th February Ė 6th March 2014
Winter was passing by whilst Jack and I fancied a spot of foreign birding and photographing, a bird high on our wish list for some time now has been the Lammergeier so we settled on a visit to northeast Spain.
Flying out to Barcelona on Thursday 27th February we arrived early afternoon and once we collected our hire car we made the short hop to Llobergat Delta reserve. Firstly we wandered out to the coast where we found Common Scoter, Sandwich Tern, Mediterranean Gull and two Shearwaters that were frustratingly too far out in the haze to identify. Back on the pools we ticked of the local wintering wetland species that included Pintail, Wigeon, Shoveler, Pochard, Teal, Tufted Duck, Spoonbill, Purple Swamphen, Cettiís Warbler while hundreds of Crag Martins whizzed overhead.
All too soon we had to get on the road as we headed out of town and towards the Pyrenees, on route Red Kite, Marsh Harrier and Griffon Vulture kept a watchful eye on us. Our destination was the small village of Conques where we were going to start a three day photography tour run by Steve West through http://www.birdinginspain.com. A quick stroll at dusk found Crested Lark and Cirl Bunting.
Rising at dawn our driver for the day wasnít due to arrive for a hour so we pottered along the road heading out into the country, the area was quiet and things took a while to stir starting off with Blackcap, Sardinian Warbler, Robin, Corn Bunting, Black Redstart, Linnet, Great Spotted Woodpecker whilst a few Rock Sparrows flitted around.
After breakfast our driver arrived and we were soon heading north into the hills and it was long before the clouds sank over us with rain turning to snow. We carried on up into the dense mist turning off onto a dirt road and carried on upwards, suddenly we turned a corner in the trees and several large objects appeared from the mist just over the car, we had arrived at our location as Griffon Vultures moved away. We positioned ourselves in a stone hide looking out over a carrion feeding site set up as part of a Black Vulture introduction scheme. Our driver dropped off some food out there somewhere and the left as the engine noise suggested.
We made ourselves comfortable as the snow continued to fall outside, peering out through the small gaps and within seconds the Ravens were down, an our later and still just Ravens were bouncing around but then a Red Fox appeared for a quick snack. Eventually the mist started to lift and fall before clearing to reveal a glorious sunshine filled surroundings.
Within minutes Griffon Vultures appeared circling over the mountain in front and then there in full view an immature Lammergeier drifted over the hide. As time quickly passed birds started dropping down to feed with Griffon Vultures being most bold.
Throughout a very enjoyable day we had a mind blowing minimum of 14 Lammergeiers featuring birds of all age ranges, twelve Black Vultures including the first successfully fledged wild birds accompanied some 300+ Griffon Vultures. Many thousand photographs were taken. A total of ten species were noted with a Golden Eagle perched high along the ridge and Crested Tit hopped from tree to tree.
After travelling down to Montsonis the previous evening, Steve West arrived before sunrise and we were soon sat in a small hide waiting for daylight to break with the promise of some raptor photography.† Thekla Larks were singing on arrival and it wasnít long before Magpies were hopping around. It wasnít long before a Buzzard appeared close to the hide, an hour or so later a few Red Kites started gliding along the low ridges with one bird enticed down.
As the hours passed it was surprising what could be seen moving around with Hoopoe, Green Woodpecker, Black Redstart, Sardinian Warbler, Iberian Grey Shrike and Chough being the highlights as well as a couple hunting Red Fox. Raptors proved tricky with a fly through Merlin, distantly perched Goshawk and three Griffon Vultures souring high.
Mid afternoon we headed back to Montsonis and had a walk down the gorge where hundreds of Crag Martins were feeding over the river with a couple House Martins whilst Kingfisher and Grey Wagtails moved below. Several Griffon Vultures sat at their nest sites whilst a male Bonelliís Eagle displayed overhead. Riverside bushes held many Blackcap, Cettiís Warbler, Short-toed Treecreeper, Siskin and Serin. Nearby farmland held two White Storks having an evening snack before heading to the local church.
Steve West picked us up again on an overcast morning and dropped us off in a small hide looking out over a wooded gorge. On arrival the target of the day could be seen perched on a rocky outcrop across the valley. We arranged our camera gear and waited eagerly as he flew from one perch to another all the time edging closer, then he dropped from his final perch and flew straight for us veering off at the last second landing in a dead tree to our left. Fingers pressed on our shutters he flew and landed right in front of the hide and started feeding. The views were absolutely fantastic of this powerful, stunning creature and we simple couldnít take our eyes off the male Bonelliís Eagle.
After 30 minutes had passed he flew off with the food to take it to his mate that will be incubating their eggs. Still elated from the experience, flicking through our photographs he suddenly appeared flying along the ridge in front and came straight back for the remaining food.
After an amazing morning we headed to the pool to chill out, it was quiet at first before the local Song Thrush, Robin, Chaffinch, Blue and Great Tits dropped in for a drink and food. Sardinian Warbler and Firecrest could be heard when a male Cirl Bunting came down for a wash.
Travelling south into the more open farmland we found ourselves watching two piles of rock which were home to a pair of Little Owls that enjoyed the afternoon sunshine moving between both hides. Trying to distract our attentions were Green Woodpecker, Iberian Grey Shrike, Red Kite and a juvenile Golden Eagle.
At dusk we had a drive around Montsonis and found a Wild Boar venturing out into farmland.
Our photography tour was over so we had planned to head east but first Steve West had kindly arranged to meet us in Lleida where he pointed us in the direction of a good place to look for Black-winged Kite. The weather was bright but the open country had allowed for a strong wind to build up, however after a little hunting we stumbled across a bird sheltering on the leeward side of some tall reeds. The bird showed well flying between bushes allowing good scope views. Also new for the trip were Black-headed Gull and c.20 Tree Sparrow.
Hitting the open road we headed to Huesca seeing Cattle Egret, White Stork, Yellow-legged Gull and many Red Kites. Stopping off at Quicena Castle the windswept slopes held a male Blue Rock Thrush, Dartford Warbler and Stonechat whilst a distant flock of Common Crane passed by.
Travelling north we headed for the famous Vadiello Dam known for its wintering Wallcreepers but unfortunately none could be found, just 40 Griffon Vultures circled overhead. We carried on and made our way to Salto de Roldan an impressive viewpoint over a valley with sheer cliffs on either side. Here we enjoyed views of Griffon Vulture as the glided past on the updrafts and we soon picked out two Lammergeiers and two Black Kites but we werenít ready for a flock of 17 Black Storks that appeared on the updraft, circled overhead before gliding off along the mountain range, a magical moment.
Driving through the small villages we soon picked out some Spotless Starlings among the hundreds of European Starlings present. The final destination of the day was Embalse de la Sotonera a large reservoir at the base of the Pyrenees. On arrival five newly arrived Black Kites glided over whilst the water held Great Crested Grebe, Little Grebe, Red-crested Pochard, Mallard, Coot, Great White Egret and Grey Heron. Nearby farmland held the sound of singing Calandra Lark, whilst Marsh and Hen Harriers hunted. As dusk approached the sound of Cranes could be heard all around as flocks came in from the south and north with a pre-roost gathering in farmland estimated to number 15,000 the spectacle built up and up until on the edge of darkness when the flock to the air and flew straight overhead out onto the reservoir for roost.
We awoke to snow this morning with a fresh dusting along the lower mountain range, undeterred we continued as planned and headed to Riglos, we soon found ourselves at the base of the cliffs trying to look upwards but the continued rain/snow showers made life difficult. A group of very confiding Alpine Accentors were soon located along with a male Blue Rock Thrush that soon vanished. After an hours searching we eventually saw a movement high up the cliffs, positioning the telescope was difficult but we confirmed that it was indeed a Wallcreeper. After enjoying distant views we worked our way back along the cliff face to find two more just meters from ground level giving fantastic views.
Wallcreeper††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† Alpine Accentor
Travelling south we stopped off at Embalse de la Solonera again where we found a flock of 24 Dunlin and a Redshank with a Water Pipit also feeding on the same flooded field. Continuing south we drove past Zaragoza seeing many Black Kites and White Storks before arriving at the famous site of Belchite for the remaining few hours of daylight. Despite the strong wind we soon enjoyed views of several Lesser Short-toed and Calandra Larks singing. Remaining in our vehicle it wasnít long before we heard the unmistakable song of the Dupontís Lark before to our amazement a bird ran across the track in front of us but it disappeared quickly into the vegetation. Singing birds could be heard at sporadically over the next couple hours and we eventually pinned do the sound of one bird as it sang from a grassy tussock.
An early start as we headed off to the drylands around Bujaraloz in search of Bustards and Sandgrouse, driving some of the many country tracks we manage to spot just two Black-bellied Sandgrouse amongst the tumbleweed blowing across the open country. Carrying on we headed to Monegros where we soon disturbed two Stone Curlew from the roadside, flitting around were Iberian Grey Shrike, Hoopoe and Thekla Larks. A Golden Eagle passed overhead but we could only manage a further four flyby Black-bellied Sandgrouse.
Needing a break from staring into empty drylands we made a stop along the N11 where we were treated to brief views of a male Lesser Kestrel fresh in from his migration. Back at Candasnos the pond was rammed with ducks including a single drake Ferruginous Duck amongst the Red Crested Pochard, Tufted Duck, Pochard, Shoveler, Gadwall, Mallard, Teal, Little Grebe and Coot. A Black-tailed Godwit flew over with three hunting Marsh Harriers.
Returning back to Bujaraloz we were surprised to find a road blockage of tumbleweed! After driving along many more country tracks around the farmland we tallied up 16 Black-bellied Sandgrouse, male Hen Harrier and 14 Black Kite but it wasnít until the last field just out of town that we eventually spotted a group of nine Great Bustards just as an Egyptian Vulture flew over.
At dusk a quick look around Azaila produced 10 Black-bellied Sandgrouse, Merlin and Peregrine.
Daybreak at Belchite with a dawn chorus of Dupontís, Lesser Short-toed and Calandra Larks. At least six singing male Dupontís were heard with just one seen. Back on the road we returned to Azaila were we bumped into a flock of 62 Pin-tailed Sandgrouse and eleven Black-bellied Sandgrouse.
The main aim of today was to make the journey east to the Mediterranean making a detour via El Ports in search of Ibex. Heading up the valley we came across Woodlark, Crested Tit, Firecrest, Rock Bunting, Cirl Bunting and a Wallcreeper. Scanning the rocky hilltops we were pleased to see a female Spanish Ibex with two young.
Arriving at the Ebro Delta we set out exploring the massive area of wetlands in the south with our trip list rocketing. Starting at LíEncanyissada we found flocks of c.2000 Greater Flamingos, 6 Black-necked Grebe, Purple Swamphen, Kingfisher, Zitting Cisticola and Penduline Tit.
Saltpans near La Tancada were alive with waders comprising of Ruff, Wood Sandpiper, Green Sandpiper, Common Sandpiper, Curlew, Black-tailed Godwit, Lapwing, Greenshank, Redshank, Dunlin, Snipe, Grey Plover and Ringed Plover. Driving down the sand bar towards Punta de la Banya we found c20 Slender-billed Gull and c80 Audouinís Gull along with Mediterranean Gulls, Sanderling, Caspian and Sandwich Terns. Offshore were a Great Skua, Arctic Skua, 4 Gannets and a Razorbill.
Ending the day at Gola del Migjorn we enjoyed an array of water birds from the platform tower with 150 Avocet, Spotted Redshank and 3 Glossy Ibis. Driving back to the hotel and a cracking Barn Owl popped up hunting the roadside verge.
Re tracing our steps we started the day back at the saltpans where the waders had been joined by many Little Stints and two Kentish Plovers whilst a Great Skua flew over the sand bar to the south. Moving on to Gola del Migjorn a group of circling Marsh Harriers were joined by a Booted Eagle.
Crossing the River Ebro we explored the large lagoon at Garxal where hundreds of Grey Herons, Great White Egrets and Coots feed, viewing from a hide a singing Moustached Warbler skulked around in the reeds. Further up the coast we located a couple flooded fields holding Glossy Ibis, Purple Swamphen, 30 Little Ringed Plover and some Ruff.
The large bay of El Fangar held yet more Greater Flamingos, Sandwich Terns, both Audouin's and Slender-billed Gulls and a Whiskered Tern was flying around the shallow waters which turned out to be our final new bird of the holiday.
As we were running out of time we had to make tracks and travelled back north to Barcelona where a quick look out to sea yielded 20 Gannets before dark.
With just a couple hours of daylight before our flight home we decided to have one last look out to sea with just ten Gannets seen, a pair of Audouinís Gulls rested on the beach as several Serin were in song flights over the car park.
Time was up so we made the short journey to the airport and was soon in the air heading back home. We had a wonderful trip with a total of 157 species with Jack seeing 46 lifers and I managed two.
All Images taken by Mark Breaks, Copyright - © Breaks Bird Photography