Catalonia 2008

April 21st - 28th

This tour was organised by Birdwatching Breaks and Audouin Birding Tours for and on behalf of the East Grinstead RSPB Group. A final total of 189 species was well above average for Catalonia and a small part of Aragon. Several highlights during the tour included scarce passage migrants – Caspian Tern, Little Crake, Wood Warbler and Ortolan Bunting. In addition most of the regions specialties were observed included Black-bellied and Pin-tailed Sandgrouse, Audouin’s Gull, European Roller, European Bee-eater and a wide selection of larks on their breeding grounds. North bound migration was late this year resulting in some species being scarce. Towards the end of the week small falls of migrants started to appear. Probably the most memorable event of the tour was the incredible spectacle of watching Griffon Vultures at a feeding station in Aragon.

April 21st: Gatwick - Barcelona - Llobregat Delta - Ebro Delta.

Weather: Overcast with mist and light east winds 19 C

We met up at Gatwick Airport and checked in for the short flight down to Barcelona the main city of Catalonia. On arrival in Barcelona we were met by Cristian our guide. After loading the van we headed towards Barcelona and diverted to Llobregat Delta, a relatively new reserve. Along the main canal system Black-winged Stilts, Little Ringed Plover, Common Sandpiper and the Iberian race of Yellow Wagtail. Also of interest were Little Egret, Yellow-legged Gull, Willow Warbler and Spotless Starlings. After checking in at the reserve we walked along various dirt paths running through extensive reedbeds bordering shallow lagoons. In the first sector Gadwall and Red-crested Pochards, singing Great Reed Warblers and several sightings of Grey and Purple Herons. We walked to the first hide a splendid construction with excellent views over the lagoon. En route a party of northward bound Whimbrels and a lone Red-knobbed Coot. From the hide Little Grebe, Audouin's, Mediterranean and Little Gulls, Wood Sandpiper, Greenshank and the commoner ducks. We returned along the boardwalk noting Subalpine Warbler and a calling Green Woodpecker (Iberian sub-species). Towards the second hide a male Pied Flycatcher was observed in umbrella pines. From the second hide Black-necked Grebe, Eurasian Teal, Garganey, Shelduck and distant views of Collared Pratincoles. On the return walk we heard Eurasian Reed Warblers and a single Little Bittern. At 1800 we boarded the van and went south towards the Ebro Delta our base for the next three nights.

April 22nd: Ebro Delta.

Weather: Sunny with light north-east winds 26 C

Before breakfast a few members of the group wandered up the road to an area of rice fields with two birdwatching hides. On recently ploughed fields Common Moorhens and above average numbers of Purple Swawphens. From the hide Black-crowned Night Herons, Whiskered, Black and Common Terns, Squacco Herons, Northern Shoveler and Greater Flamingos. In addition we recorded late wintering Marsh Harriers and a single Little Tern. Returned to base for breakfast. At 0930 we were on the road exploring a wide selection of Ebro Delta birding sites. A return to the hide added a female Little Crake, Great Egret and Common Cuckoo. Walking towards another hide, reeds held Great Reed, Eurasian Reed and Sedge Warblers, Yellow Wagtails and a Common Starling (the latter being scarce in Catalonia). Next was an area of grassland and scrub the former being grazed by cattle. Fence lines attracted Woodchat Shrikes and Spotted Flycatchers. On the ground Short-toed, Crested and Eurasian Skylarks. Further up the road migrant Northern Wheatears and Whinchats. A muddy canal proved attractive to waders with Ruff, Curlew, Wood and Common Sandpipers, Little Stint, Greenshank, Common Redshank, Black-winged Stilts and Collared Pratincoles. Adjacent to the canal a large lagoon lured Great Crested Grebe, Greater Flamingo, Gadwall, Red-crested Pochard, Slender-billed Gulls, Caspian Terns and the first flocks of Kentish Plovers. On another lagoon Black-tailed Godwits, Ringed Plovers, Mediterranean Gulls and 'reeling' Savi's Warblers. Lunch taken at the information centre and onto another area this time dominated by a defunct fish farm. Close views of Collared Pratincoles, and nearby a good selection of migrant shorebirds including Temmink's and Little Stints and Green Sandpipers. We explored a section near the harbour of San Carlos de la Rapida recording Grey Plover and two newly (exhausted) European Turtle Doves from North Africa. We ended the day driving around various fields and looking into dry canals. Usual Ebro Delta birds plus Lesser Black-backed Gulls and a distant Mute Swan.

April 23rd: Ebro Delta – Montsia.

Weather: Sunny with light south-east winds 26 C

Pre-breakfast walk to the hide and surrounding rice fields produced similar birds to the previous two days. On returning to base we had the extraordinary sight of Woodchat Shrike, Willow Warbler, Eurasian Redstart and Tree Pipit all perched in one small tree. After breakfast we headed off to another sector of the Ebro Delta recording Ruddy Turnstones among other waders and gulls. Along the peninsula we stopped at an area of isolated bushes and scrub situated on a stretch of sandy beach. In the bushes Willow and Subalpine Warblers and a female Common Whitethroat. Towards the saltworks Sandwich Terns and large numbers of Slender-billed and Audouin's Gulls. We visited several other locations adding a lone Eurasian Oystercatcher and a few Short-toed Larks. Our journey took us to a ferry crossing of the Ebro River. In riverside scrub singing Common Nightingales, Cetti's Warblers and Eurasian Blackbirds. Lunch taken at a hide close to the mouth of the river. Usual birds around including several Great Egrets and summer-plumaged Spotted Redshanks. Another area of scrub attracted Common Nightingale, Pied Flycatcher and a Eurasian Wryneck the latter missing its tail. En route to an elevated hide our first European Bee-eaters of the tour. At the hide we watched and found roosting Black-crowned Night Herons, Eurasian Spoonbill, Avocet, Little Tern and the commoner ducks. Our last stop in the delta added Bar-tailed Godwit and Eurasian Curlew. After this we travelled inland to Montsia an area of low-lying cliffs, scrub, and orange and olive groves. At lower levels Sardinian Warblers, Serin, European Goldfinch and Great Tits. Further up the road the first of three Short-toed Eagles, Alpine Swifts and European Turtle Doves. At the 'summit' perched Bonelli's Eagles, and overhead, Red-rumped Swallows. Returned to the Ebro Delta for our last night. After dinner we explored the campground and surrounding roads hearing several European Scops Owls but little else. Tomorrow we head north into the vast interior of Catalonia.

April 24th: Ebro Delta - El Ports – Bot.

Weather: Sunny and warm, no winds 28 C

Checked out of the hotel and travelled inland to Tortosa and onto El Ports National Park. We stopped in an olive grove recording Sardinian Warblers, and over nearby cliffs Common Ravens and Red-billed Choughs. The roads winds its way up through a habitat of stunted pines and rocky escarpments. Overhead Marsh Harrier and Eurasian Sparrowhawk and the first Griffon Vultures. Other species present included Black Redstart and Blue Rock Thrush. In trees and bushes Common Stonechat, Northern Wren, Eurasian Linnet, Firecrest, European Robin and fleeting views of Western Bonelli's Warblers. Lunch taken in the shade of pines with calling Green and Great Spotted Woodpeckers and Crested Tits for company. High above our heads calling European Bee-eaters. After lunch we walked through the pine woods adding Coal and Long-tailed Tits, Eurasian Nuthatch and calling Short-toed Treecreepers. We then joined the road towards Montcaro the highest point of El Ports. At the summit a female Spanish Ibex and singing Dunnock. On the way down another stop for Rock Buntings, corvids and vultures. Transferred to Bot an agricultural town our base for two nights.

April 25th: Bot - Vall-de-Roures - Beceite - Arnes - El Ports.

Weather: Sunny and warm with freshening east winds 28 C

This morning we travelled in to the neighbouring region of Aragon. Our objective was to visit a farm and vulture feeding station. On arrival we walked through pine woods to a hide overlooking a field and pool. The owner of the farm walked down with a wheelbarrow full of dead rabbits. Griffon Vultures, Common Raven and one Egyptian Vulture attended this daily feast. Fantastic views obtained of vultures feeding, squabbling and bathing. Also in attendance were a female Red Fox and three feral cats. We left after an hour in awe of this spectacular event. On returning to the van we located a first year Golden Eagle, Booted Eagle, Peregrine Falcon, Black Kite and the commoner woodland species. In the centre of Vall-de-Roures a pair of Common Kingfishers and White Wagtail. Outside the town agricultural fields with almond trees attracted Corn and Cirl Buntings, singing Woodlarks and Mistle Thrushes. Lunch taken by a river with a pair of hunting Short-toed Eagles overhead. On the river Grey Wagtails, and on adjacent cliffs Eurasian Crag Martins. We joined a dirt road towards Arnes running by a stony river and farmland. Migrants here included Melodious Warbler, Pied Flycatcher and Whinchat. A concerted effort to find Western Bonelli's Warbler was successful plus a Wood Warbler the latter being a very scarce migrant in Aragon. The remainder of the day was spent in another area of El Ports with sightings of Eurasian Jay, Alpine Swift and a beautiful Western Black-eared Wheatear. Back to base after another enjoyable birding day.

April 26th: Bot - Flix - Monegros – Zaragoza.

Weather: Warm and sunny 29 C

It was sad to leave the delights of Bot and its excellent hotel and local food. We headed to Flix an industrial town bordering a river valley. En route a Little Owl perched on a disused farm building. Once in Flix we visited the old castle where we recorded Blue Rock Thrushes, Thekla Larks and Common Cuckoo. Next on the agenda was the reserve straddling the river, a prime area of willow trees, marsh and iris beds. In open areas European Bee-eaters, Woodchat Shrike and large numbers of Barn Swallows and House and Sand Martins. The first of two hides is reached along an elevated boardwalk with Great Reed and Cetti's Warblers for company. From the hide we observed Marsh Harriers, Purple Herons and migrant Willow Warblers. Further along the track another hide allowed us close and prolonged views of nesting White Storks. It was getting very hot as we started on the journey to Zaragoza the main city of Aragon. Common Buzzard a scarce breeding bird was noted hunting over a wooded hill. At Monegros the habitat became more 'steppe' like with isolated farms and ruined buildings being attractive to Stone Curlew, Red-billed Chough and Eurasian Jackdaw plus wandering flocks of Spotless Starlings. A short diversion added the increasingly scarce Black Wheatear. Our final stop before Zaragoza had localised species in Lesser Kestrel, European Roller and Calandra Lark. We then travelled onto Zaragoza along a lorry-laden route for the final two nights of the tour.

April 27th: Zaragoza – Belcheite.

Weather: Warm and sunny, 29 C

An early start to reach Belcheite an area of farmland and arid plains. We went straight to an area favoured by larks and other species of open-country habitats. Calandra, Short-toed and Lesser Short-toed Larks were in abundance singing and displaying. We heard Dupont’s Lark and had brief glimpses of this rare and elusive bird. Raptors included Black Kite, Marsh Harrier and superb views of a Golden Eagle perched upon a small ridge. After breakfast we headed out into the plains along dirt roads used mainly by farmers. Around farm buildings Little Owls, European Turtle Doves and the first Carrion Crows. Telegraph wires and posts attracted Northern and Black-eared Wheatears. Stopped by a wood where we located two juvenile Long-eared Owls sitting quietly in a pine. We quickly moved on adding Yellow Wagtail, Hoopoe, Red-legged Partridge, Thekla and Crested Larks and both kestrel species. It was warming up as we stopped and walked searching for birds. Luck was with us as a pair of Black-bellied Sandgrouse was located before flying off again. After a lot of searching a party of Pin-tailed Sandgrouse on the ground (100m) offered us long and prolonged views. In the afternoon outside a village Southern Grey Shrike, Golden Oriole plus the commoner species. We had one final search for the elusive Dupont’s Lark without success before going back to base. In the evening we had an excellent buffet meal in a nearby restaurant an enjoyable way to end the day.

April 28th: Zaragoza – Barcelona via an area of plains.

Weather: Overcast with rain showers 23 C.

Later start this morning as we headed back towards Catalonia. Our main objective was to explore an area of plains north-west of Lleida. Breakfast taken en route followed by a visit to a pond with migrant Black and Whiskered Terns. A short distance up the road we turned onto a track. Poor weather had forced many migrants down including Willow Warbler, Common Whitethroat and significant numbers of Whinchats. Our main target species – Spectacled Warbler was located singing and on bush tops. We were also fortunate to find Tawny Pipit a species in rapid decline within Aragon. Our interest for the remainder of the morning was extensive fields and a salt-lake. We heard Little Bustards and stumbled on an Ortolan Bunting another scarce species. Pin-tailed Sandgrouse, Red-billed Choughs and Little Owls were also noted. Returned to the motorway system and headed to Barcelona Airport with a male Montagu’s Harrier en route. Checked-in for the return flight to England. An enjoyable week in Catalonia and Aragon had come to an end.

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