Just got back from a great trip to Catalunya and Aragon in NE Spain. It’s fun to get lifers again … :-)
Highlights were Dupont’s Lark, Lammergeier, Wallcreeper and Moustached Warbler (first find one singing in November!). And, I officially declare Bonelli’s Eagle extinct …
Some bird pix are here: https://picasaweb.google.com/110120855087524730000/SpainKeepers#. Other pix from the trip are there: https://picasaweb.google.com/110120855087524730000/SpainNonBirds#.
Here the trip report in full detail:
NE Spain (Catalunya and Aragon) from 11-19 to 11-30, 2011:
Hillsboro, OR, USA
- 11-19: Flight from Portland, OR, USA, to Amsterdam
- 11-20: Flight from Amsterdam to Barcelona, pick-up by guide Stephen Christopher at 3:30pm; minimal birding until sunset; overnight at Stephen’s place
- 11-21: Day trip with Stephen to the steppes near Lleida including Alfes, Los Monegros and Mas de Melons; overnight at Stephen’s place
- 11-22: Day trip with Stephen to Cadi-Moxeiro, overnight at Stephen’s place
11-23: Drive to Amposta in the morning and bird Ebro Delta North; overnight at Hotel Carlos III in Sant Carles de la Rapida
- 11-24: Bird Ebro Delta South most of the day, then drive up Mt Caro at Els Ports Nature Park; overnight at Hotel Carlos III in Sant Carles de la Rapida
11-25: Drive to Belchite and bird steppes; make a side trip to Sierra de Arcos between Albalate del Arzobispo and Anino for Bonelli’s Eagle; overnight at Monestario de Rueda in Sastago
11-26: Bird Los Monegros south of Bujaraloz in the morning, then drive to Benasque in the Pyrennees and bird Cerler Ski Resort and valley locations in Posets-Maladeta Nature Park; overnight at Casa Prades in Pont de Suert
- 11-27: Bird the Vall de Boi north of Pont de Suert all day; overnight at Hotel Terradets in Cellers
- 11-28: Drive all the way to Aiguamolls d’Emporda in the early morning and bird there all day; overnight at Prestige Goya Park in Roses
- 11-29: Bird Cap the Creus most of the day; later briefly stop by at El Cortalet (Aiguamolls); overnight at a friend’s in Barcelona
- 11-30: Fly out of Barcelona in the morning
2. References used
- “Northern & Eastern Spain” by Rebane & Garcia (less useful)
- “Where the birds are in northeast Spain” by Steve West (http://www.birdinginspain.com). This book was VERY useful, including the 20 some site maps in the back.
- Stephen Christopher’s website: http://www.catalanbirdtours.com
- “Birds of Europe”, 2nd edition, by Svenson, Mullarney and Zetterstrom
- Michelin 574 Regional: Map for Catalunya and Aragon
3. General stuff
- Car rental was though Sixt at BCN; VW Polo; no complaints
- On the highways: The APs are toll roads (I paid about €10 from Barcelona to Figueres, so it’s not too bad). At the toll stations, do not use lanes labeled T with a circle around, those are the automatic lanes. Stick with manual or credit card lanes. The Ns and Cs can have a lot of trucks, so may be slow. Lots of speed traps have recently been added (they are low gray boxes), so it’s worth being careful
- I hired Stephen Christopher (firstname.lastname@example.org) as a guide for the first two days to make sure that I would get Dupont’s Lark and Lammergeier, my main 2 targets. While his services weren’t cheap, staying at his comfortable apartment was easy and relaxing. He also was very sharp and well organized. I can really recommend him. [I likely would not have gotten Dupont’s Lark without his knowledge and tips]
- It looks like most hotels have restaurants attached to them. The opening hours (8:30-10:30am) and (8:30pm-10:30pm) are most inconvenient for serious birders, so I opted for cookies and sandwiches during the day.
- On my hotels: The only place I can’t recommend was Casa Prades just north of Pont de Suert. Seems like when you are the only customer (and it is fall or winter), they are reluctant to turn on the heat. I was freezing … My one night at Monestario de Rueda was phantastic: It really is a monastery! From inside it looks more like a museum and I had to get through 5-6 halls to get to my room. There were no hotel signs visible from outside, so that was confusing initially, but I eventually found an unmarked wooden gate which was the access to the very modern hotel lobby. The room itself was very nice also. Hotels Terradets in Cellers and Carlos III in Alcanar both had free internet, so that was a plus.
- Some pix: https://picasaweb.google.com/110120855087524730000/SpainKeepers#
4. Day-by-day highlights and comments
11/19 and 11/20: My flight from Amsterdam to Barcelona got delayed several times due to thick fog and by the time I actually made it to BCN we couldn’t get any quality birding in any more late on 11/20.
11/21: Stephen and I got an early start to be in position at around sunrise at the field for Pin-tailed Sandgrouse. About 50 some birds were present. This area is close to the aerodrome near Alfes. Shortly after, in another field, we also had Black-bellieds mixed in and heard both call and saw them take flight together.
Stephen then took me to his secret little spot for Dupont’s Lark north of Candasnos in the eastern Los Monegros. We soon heard a bird sing in the distance and were finally able to get the scope on it. It was magical to see this bird sing in November (!) on this calm, sunny and warm morning. A Little Owl in the same area was a treat and the first of many Red-billed Choughs were first heard then seen. En route to another lark spot we had a soaring Golden Eagle. At the lark spot proper a Lesser Short-toed Lark was displaying.
On the way home, we drove through the dirt roads of Mas de Melons and another one of Stephen’s secret spots produced a pair of Black Wheatears. They would be my only ones for the trip. This was also where I had my first large Red-billed Chough flock. Actually, there were also a lot of Jackdaws in with them.
We ended the day at a field of ~200 Stone Curlews right at a highway ramp.
11/22: We picked a somewhat iffy day with lots of clouds and some drizzle to go up into the high county of Cadi-Moxeiro National Park. We had to wait for an opening in the sky. It would eventually come and we did get the magnificent Lammergeier to cruise by. The bird even dropped down to feed on something, but it wasn’t clear to us what it was. This spot was above treeline, just below the Coll de Pal. A couple of Alpine Chough circled around a couple of times near the ski resort. Chamois were seen easily above treeline.
I was not able to get on a Citril Finch at the refuge near treeline in the fog, even though there were a few of them present. There was a big feeding flock of finches, tits and thrushes though including Ring Ouzel and Redwing which was a lot of fun to sort through.
On the return, we briefly stopped at Garraf Nature Park to look for Bonelli’s Eagle, but came up empty. We did get a distant look at Rock Sparrow and Goshawk. Spotless Starlings seem to be common in the Garraf.
Stephen then dropped me at the Sitges train station and I took the train in to BCN where I picked up my rental car from Sixt.
11/23: Now I was on my own … Rather than chasing an out-of-the-way Desert Wheatear at Aiguamolls d’Emporda, I decided to head south to the northern part of the Ebro Delta continuing with my original plan.
I had high hopes in Les Olles just outside of Amposta, but there had been a lot of flooding a few days prior, so the area was hard to access. And there were not many birds. Lots of Glossy Ibis there though which are shown as rare and local in winter in NE Spain (see West).
So, I moved on to the Canal Vell area. About 1.7km from the turnoff from the main road out to Canal Vell, there is a row of palms and a foot trail headed to the right. It was there that I had 2 singing Moustached Warblers and Penduline Tit only about 40m in. From the Canal Vell tower there were a female Greater Scaup (I only later found out that they are rare in Spain), Spoonbills and in general a good variety of water birds.
Good numbers of shorebirds were hard to find anywhere actually, so I was pleased to discover a great flooded rice field with 25 Ruffs and 40 Spotted Redshanks near Riumar.
At El Garxal I had a young male Red-breasted Merganser. Not much else out there … A large, tantalizing gull flock was in the distance, too far away for identification purposes.
11/24: The southern part of the Ebro Delta was easily accessible from my hotel at the south side of Sant Carles de la Rapida. The hides at L’Encanyissada had lots of birds including many Red-crested Pochards and Flamingos. A canal near the visitor center held my only Squacco Heron for the trip. An Audouin’s Gull flew over that same canal a few minutes later. The Tancada again was loaded with flamingos, water fowl and grebes. At the beach in direction Punta de la Banya was a small shorebird flock containing Kentish Plover, Little Stint and Sanderling.
I skipped Riet Vell in favor for another attempt at Bonelli’s Eagle, this time at Els Ports Nature Park. I took the main road up to the summit of Mt. Caro, accessed via the town of Roquetes. While I dipped on the Bonelli’s, I was elated to find an adult Spanish Ibex while scanning the ridge lines. I witnessed through the scope that the beast used its large horns to scratch his back. Also seen en route up to the top were many Griffon Vultures, Red-billed Chough, Alpine Accentor and only 0.5km from the top at a small overlook facing north, a Wallcreeper. There were 3 young Ibexes at the summit waiting for handouts.
11/25: Today I got an early start and made into the town of Belchite at about 9am where I located a Blue Rock Thrush in the ruins. This is a pretty cool site and you can walk around everywhere. The old town had been destroyed in the Spanish Civil War in 1937 and was set aside as a “live” monument by general Franco. A new town was built right next to it.
The steppes around El Planeron below Belchite were submerged in thick fog and the birds were inactive, except for 2 nicely showing Lesser Short-toed Larks that I almost got pictures of, that’s how close they were.
So I decided to head back up and made my way over to a site in the Sierra de Arcos for Bonelli’s Eagle (see West) along the road between Albalate del Arzobispo and Anino. No dice on the Bonelli’s, but it was warm and sunny. And there were Crag Martins, lots of Griffon Vultures and a Blue Rock Thrush.
Mid-afternoon I found myself back at El Planeron and the fog had burned off. At marker 1 very close to the car park to the “lark trail” (there is a big sign labeled “Parado 2” just beyond) I had a skulking lark with bill pointing upward. It should have flushed, but just scuttled on. It was a Dupont’s! Also at the same site were 6 perched-up Rock Sparrows on one of the few tamarisks in the area. Red-billed Choughs were again around. On my way out I ran into a cluster of 3-4 excited Dartford Warblers.
That night I spent at Monestario de Rueda and it was most memorable. See above for some details.
11/26: It was foggy again this morning, but sort of cleared up when I got to the Laguna de Playa area (Los Monegros, south of Bujaraloz). I proceeded making my way around the lake by taking some dirt road (they were decent enough). The highlight was 2 Great Bustards to the east of the lake. The saline lake actually carried some water because of the rains earlier in the month. There were 2 Greater Flamingos, 7 Shelduck, 2 Lesser Black-backed Gulls and a shorebird flock containing Dunlin, Kentish Plover and some stints. I also heard and saw more Pin-tailed Sandgrouse, a Merlin and another Little Owl. Overall I really enjoyed the area and wanted to stay longer, but I had to make my way towards the Pyrenees.
An enormous Linnet flock was just south of Bujaraloz.
A Rock Bunting was at the shore of the Panta d’Escale reservoir south of Pont de Suert.
With just over 2 hours of sunlight left, I drove up the Cerler ski resort (1900m) hoping for Snowfinch, but there just wasn’t enough snow. There were 2 Golden Eagles, both choughs and a small number of assorted woodland birds along a dirt road to a small hut popular with trekkers. Just back on the main road at around 1750m I found myself my own Lammergeier! How exciting that was!
With light running out I drove towards the end of the road in the Valle de Benasque and saw yet another Lammergeier! Might have been the same one from before (the pictures show no significant difference). It got real cold real quick, so I decided to head for the warm hotel. Well, not so fast. It was barely 60F in my room and, yeah, I was freezing …
11/27: Having missed Citril Finch so far, I was going to put more effort into finding suitable habitat for them. I picked the Vall de Boi north of Pont de Suert for this attempt. I started early in the valley and quickly picked up Dipper and Rock Bunting. I then proceeded to the end of the road past Caldes de Boi to the dam of the Cavallers revervoir. This area is at about 1750m and looked promising. There were good numbers of woodland birds, but no Citril Finch yet.
I then double-backed and checked out the Boi-Taüll ski area. The road goes all the way to 2000m and I hiked up a little further to about 2200m. While I was at the snow line, there still were no snowfinches.
Back at the Cavallers dam in the afternoon, I finally got lucky and picked up 4 Citril Finches. I was surprised that my pishing worked perfectly at this location and I had Coal Tits and a Goldcrest practically land on my head.
West mentions a site for Black Woodpecker to the west of the small town of Durro, but I ran out of light. So I made my way back to the hotel south of Tremp.
When I got out of my car about 1hr past sunset, it was 3C. A small playground area just by the car park of the hotel was scantly lit. I couldn’t believe my eyes and ears when I first heard a Robin sing and then located him on top of a park bench. Very neat!
11/28: Stephen had left me a message about the Desert Wheatear still being seen at La Rubina beach at Aiguamolls D’Emporda, so I left super early to chase it. Well, I didn’t find it. Monk Parakeets were in the tamarisks by the beach, otherwise it was pretty dead. So I went to El Cortalet, the main part of the preserve. The bill-clapping of several pairs of White Stork could be heard in the parking lot. Another Robin put up a show for me (and later another photographer) perching a mere 3ft away. Otherwise there were good numbers of the more common birds. A perched young adult Goshawk was fun to see. He was going after some lapwings and snipes in a flooded field bordered by a row of trees, but came up empty.
At the estuary at the south side of the Fluvia river was an Osprey.
11/29: I started the day early at Cap de Creus proper for a brief seawatch. It had been raining up to my arrival, but then the rain suddenly stopped. I immediately saw 2 Gannets rounding the cape, then further out were streams of shearwaters. I didn’t think I would be able to distinguish Balearic and Yelkouan, but then at one point I had one each in the scope for a long time and the differences became pretty obvious. Crag Martins started to be very numerous by the time I left the cape.
Then came a few more agonizing hours of searching for Bonelli’s Eagle at the western part of the park. With the higher elevations in the clouds, I focused on the area around Vilajuiga and the road from Vilajuiga to the monestary San Pere de Rodes. 2 Booted Eagles, uncommon in winter in the area, were near Quermanca castle just outside Vilajuiga. The silhouette of a feathered raptor on a ridgetop in poor lighting left me puzzled. As much as I wanted to make it into a Bonelli’s (what the heck else could it have been?), it was just too far.
Back at El Cortalet, my last stop of the trip, I saw good numbers of flamingos and waterfowl, 2 Red-legged Partridge, 4 Common Greenshank, 2 Spotted Redshank and 4 Shelduck.
Then I was off to Barcelona. [Do not take your car into Barcelona, especially without a map and during evening rush hour. That’s what I did and it was hell! Make arrangements to take public transportation.]
5. Species Accounts (140 total)
Great Crested Grebe
Balearic Shearwater (1 at Cap de Creus on 11/29)
Yelkouan Shearwater (~200 at Cap de Creus on 11/29)
Northern Gannet (2 at Cap de Creus on 11/29)
Squacco Heron (1 near L’Encanyissada, Ebro Delta South on 11/24)
Great White Egret
White Stork (Alfes, El Cortalet – Aiguamolls)
Glossy Ibis (~200 at Les Olles, Ebro Delta North on 11/23)
Spoonbill (1+ at Canal Vell, Ebro Delta North on 11/23)
Greater Flamingo (Ebro Delta South, Aiguamolls, 2 at Laguna de Playa – Los Monegros)
Mute Swan (Aiguamolls)
Common Shelduck (Aiguamolls, 7 at Laguna de Playa – Los Monegros)
Red-crested Pochard (many at various locations at Ebro Delta South)
Scaup (1 at Canal Vell, Ebro Delta North on 11/23)
Red-breasted Merganser (1 at El Garxal on 11/23)
Red Kite (steppes and foothills)
Lammergeier (1 at Cadi-Moxeiro on 11/22 and 1-2 near Cerler on 11/26)
Goshawk (1 at Garraf Nature Park, 1 at Aiguamolls)
Sparrowhawk (1 at Garraf Nature Park)
Golden Eagle (1 at Los Monegros, 2 at Cerler Ski Resort)
Booted Eagle (2 near Vilajuiga, Cap de Creus, 11/29)
Osprey (1 near mouth of Fluvia river, 11/28)
Red-legged Partridge (several locations including Pyrenees)
Water Rail (Ebro Delta North)
Great Bustard (2 on east side of Laguna de Playa – Los Monegros on 11/26)
Stone Curlew (~200 in field near Castelldans)
Kentish Plover (Playa de Laguna – Los Monegros, Ebro Delta South)
Dunlin (Playa de Laguna – Los Monegros)
Eurasian Curlew (1 at Ebro Delta South)
Spotted Redshank (common)
Greenshank (4 at El Cortalet – Aiguamolls on 11/29)
Green Sandpiper (1 near Las Olles, Ebro Delta North on 11/23)
Audouin’s Gull (1 near L’Encanyissada, Ebro Delta South on 11/24)
Lesser Black-backed Gull
Sandwich Tern (Roses Bay on 11/28 and 11/29)
Black-bellied Sandgrouse (several at Los Monegros on 11/21)
Pin-tailed Sandgrouse (several at Alfes and Los Mongros on 11/21, a few at El Planeron on 11/25)
Monk Parakeet (La Rubina beach – Aiguamolls and Roses on 11/28)
Little Owl (4 total at Los Monegros, Mas de Melons and El Planeron)
Great Spotted Woodpecker (2 near town of Durro, Pyrenees, 11/26)
Dupont’s Lark (1 singing bird at Los Monegros on 11/21, 1 at El Planeron on 11/25)
Lesser Short-toed Lark (1 displaying at Los Monegros on 11/21, 2 at El Planeron in 11/25)
Wood Lark (1 at Mas de Melons, 11/21)
Crag Martin (a few near town of Albalate; many at Cap de Creus proper)
Dipper (2 in Valle de Benasque)
Alpine Accentor (~10 at Cadi-Moxeiro on 11/22, 1 at Mt Caro on 11/24)
Black Wheatear (2 at Mas de Melons on 11/21)
Blue Rock Thrush (1 at ruins in Belchite, one near Anino, 1 at Cap de Creus)
Ring Ouzel (1 at Cadi-Moxeiro on 11/22)
Redwing (2 at Cadi-Moxeiro on 11/22)
Moustached Warbler (2 near Canal Vell – Ebro Delta North on 11/23)
Wallcreeper (1 at top of Mt Caro – Els Ports, 11/24)
Penduline Tit (2 near Canal Vell – Ebro Delta North on 11/23)
Lesser Gray Shrike (1 at Los Monegros on 11/21)
Alpine Chough (2 at Cadi-Moxeiro on 11/22, 4 at Cerler Ski Resort on 11/26)
Red-billed Chough (a few at Los Monegros both on 11/21 and 11/26, more at El Planeron on 11/25; large flocks at Mas de Melons on 11/21, the top of Mt. Caro on 11/24 and near Cerler Ski Resort on 11/26)
Spotless Starling (common at Garraf Nature Park)
Rock Sparrow (several at Garraf Nature Park on 11/22; 6 at El Planeron on 11/25)
Citril Finch (4 at end of the road at Vall de Boi on 11/27)
Siskin (Vall de Boi on 11/27)
Rock Bunting (in valleys of Pyrenees; near the rocky shoreline of reservoirs)
6. Other Notes
- It was my umpteenth attempt for Bonelli’s Eagle. I now officially declare this species to be extinct!
- I missed Eurasian Golden-Plover even though I was looking for them. Of the more common birds, I should have had a Blackcap. Also no Nuthatch or treecreepers, neither Greylag Goose or Pintail. Oh well …
- Misses in terms of targets: Snowfinch (not enough snow) and Eagle Owl (no stakeout)
- Compared to a somewhat shorter Thanksgiving trip to Southern Portugal in ‘08, I had very few shorebirds.