Spain - Gallocanta 2008

...with Cristian Jensen

November 22nd - 29th

November 23rd: Barcelona, Gallocanta.

We had our rendezvous in the centre of Barcelona, as most of the participants spent the previous days visiting this beautiful city. We started our drive towards Gallocanta; inside Barcelona Monk Parakeets, and near Lleida White Storks and Common Buzzards flying over us. At lunch time we stopped at a restaurant, and after eating all we could, we visited the dry lands of Monegros to do some bird watching. Lorna spotted six Great Bustards, and later a flock of twenty-four Pin-tailed Sandgrouse was found on the ground. From inside the car we had good views of the birds without disturbing them. Then seven Black-bellied Sandgrouse came into our view, flying by quite close to us, but unfortunately they were impossible to see after they landed. Calandra and Crested Larks were seen, and a male Hen Harrier. Our first group of wintering Common Cranes observed flying towards the south-west and Gallocanta. We kept driving, and more groups of cranes were spotted in the air. Obviously the cold winds and bad weather had made them move. When we arrived at our hotel it was already dark, and we went to have dinner after the check-in and a short break. We had a nice local dinner that everyone enjoyed.

November 24th: Gallocanta.

We had planned an optional morning watch before sunrise, and everyone decided to join. All the cranes were flying out of their roost in the Gallocanta lagoon and going into the surrounding fields where they spend the days feeding. Thousands and thousands of cranes flew over us. This magic moment with the sunrise and all the calling cranes flying over moved us all. Red Kite and Carrion Crow were added to our list. The latter species has suffered a decline in many parts of Spain and is getting much more difficult to get to see. We started to feel hungry and cold, so we went back to the hotel to have a nice breakfast. Following a short break, we drove around the lagoon. Just coming out of the hotel, the massive silhouette of some Griffon Vultures appeared in the sky. The weather was not really obliging; it was windy, rainy, and we even had a bit of snow falling from the sky. Despite the weather, we managed to see some birds. Grey Heron, Shelduck, Mallard, Common Teal, Northern Pintail, and Northern Shoveler, were seen in the lagoons among the omnipresent cranes covering each little piece of land. The week before, the crane team at the lagoon had counted 19.000 Cranes, but obviously the bad weather had increased this number. Gallocanta is an inland lagoon with no output of water to the sea (an endorheic basin), so the waters are brackish and the water level in winter depends very much on the precipitation during the previous autumn. During summer it generally dries up completely. We managed to spot several raptors, among them Common Buzzards, a Eurasian Sparrowhawk, some Marsh Harriers, a good number of Hen Harriers, and several Red Kites and Eurasian Kestrels. Even though Gallocanta is quite far away from the sea, we saw some gulls, including Black-headed and Lesser Black-backed Gulls.

We had brought some picnic lunches with us, but we chose to stop in a restaurant where we could have hot soup and a coffee or tea to warm up. Big groups of passerines were feeding in the fields; Calandra Lark, Eurasian Skylark, Crested Lark, Spotless Starling, Tree Sparrow, Chaffinch, Eurasian Linnet, European Goldfinch, European Serin, Rock Petronia and Corn Bunting were among the species trying to find bugs or seeds on the ground. By the end of the day, a few Red-legged Partridges and a couple of Little Owls were spotted. The sunset ended the bird watching, so we headed to the hotel for a hot shower and some rest in the nice and warm rooms. Once again, a nice dinner was served, and the options included several local dishes like pork feet or cheek, and rabbit, but also some more conventional dishes like soups or salads for people feeling less adventurous.

November 25th: Gallocanta, Els Ports, Bot.

Today we had our transfer to the Nature Park of Els Ports; the more Mediterranean end of the Iberian system of mountain chains. Like the day before, we went to watch the cranes as they were coming out of their roost, and then we went back to have breakfast. After breakfast and with everything packed in the minibus, we drove towards the village of Bot at the feet of Ports. On our way we passed through some very nice landscape, and we saw several good birds like Thekla Lark, Red Kite, Griffon Vulture, Mistle Thrush, and Rock Bunting. A Merlin spotted by Lorna allowed us all some very good views from the minibus, making this small falcon the bird of the day for everyone. Lorna caught a nasty cold, so we went to the hotel where she could rest and get some food in bed while she was recovering. The rest of us went for a walk on the Green Way/Via Verde behind our hotel. Cirl Bunting, Eurasian Crag Martin, Chaffinch, European Serin, European Goldfinch, Eurasian Greenfinch, Eurasian Linnet, Black Redstart, Meadow Pipit, White Wagtail, Blackcap, Common Chiffchaff, Song Thrush, Blackbird, Long-tailed Tit, Raven, and Magpie, all went on the daily list. Sardinian Warblers and Siskins were calling from the bushes and trees, but we didn't manage to see any of them. Dinner at our hotel was excellent, and all prepared by our chef and host, Josep. The local wine from the Terra Alta region was also excellent.

November 26th: Bot, Els Ports.

We had our breakfast with wonderful views of the mountains surrounding Bot. Iben joined the group this morning and stayed with us for the rest of the tour. After breakfast we drove to the vulture feeding station where we met José Ramón, the man in charge of this incredible place. José Ramón is doing a great job of showing people the vultures up close and telling hundreds of people about the wonderful creatures that the vultures really are. At the same time he is doing conservational work in feeding the vultures. In the EU it is now forbidden to leave dead domestic animals in the fields, so after thousands of years cleaning our fields the vultures are suddenly left to starve – many of them to death. Hundreds of Griffon Vultures came down to eat; completely surrounding José Ramón at one point, and Ravens and Foxes joined the feast. A White Wagtail was walking around the Griffon Vultures like a little fly around a group of cows. From the new observatory with panoramic windows, we read the colour rings of three vultures and took some pictures of the vultures doing their hierarchical displays. When all the birds had flown off, José Ramon joined us and we went to a local bar for a small snack before heading to one of the most spectacular places of Ports. On our way we spotted a pair of Bonelli's Eagles hunting above the fields. We had very good views; we could even see that the female had a radio transmitter fitted on her back. From the same spot we also saw a Southern Grey Shrike spotted by Mike. We went to the massive cliffs where we had a walk, and then Lorna spotted a Wallcreeper just above us. We had good views and could watch this little and beautiful bird for a while. The red colour of the wings was visible as the bird flew around and climbed the cliff much in the style of a large butterfly. This was a very special moment for everyone. Two Golden Eagles were found perched very scenically on some rocks, while a compact group of Red-billed Chough were playing in the air. On our way back to the van, we saw several Spanish Ibex, one of the endemic mammals to Spain; Ports being a very reliable place for seeing them. Some of the group members headed towards the van and some others moved more slowly and were able to find an Alpine Accentor that stayed extremely close to us and allowed us to have very good views. Mike and Lorna were especially happy with this bird as they had never seen it before. The sunset was spectacular with the sun setting behind the mountains. Dinner was once more excellent in the hands our chef, Josep.

November 27th: Bot, Ebro Delta.

Today we did our transfer to the Ebro Delta. We did a stop by the river and produced our first Little Egret and Common Kingfisher. We also got extremely good views of Firecrest and Goldcrest. The entire group enjoyed these tiny birds – the smallest birds of Europe - fly catching and pulling little insects out from under the leaves. Then we went to Freginals in the Montsià Mountains, where we picked up Iben and drove to the higher areas to see some birds. The first bird was a very obliging Red-legged Partridge. We stopped at a view point where we could see the Ebro Delta, and at the same time we were watching a Blue Rock Thrush on the rocks. We then went down to the delta where we found a group of more than seventy Stone Curlews; Lorna was especially happy to see this strange wader. Black-headed, Yellow-legged and Lesser Black-backed Gulls, Great, Little and Cattle Egrets, Grey Heron, Northern Lapwing, Marsh Harrier, Meadow Pipit, White Wagtail, and Reed Bunting were popping up everywhere in the rice fields. We drove to the reserve owned by the Spanish Ornithological Society SEO/Birdlife, where the shelter of the observatory was much appreciated in the strong wind. Purple Swamphens were seen in large numbers at very close range. We had a late lunch and then went to the Tancada lagoon where a group of 4000 Greater Flamingos made a great show for us. We all fell in love with this magic moment. In the Tancada lagoon and surroundings we were also able to see Great Crested and Little Grebes, Great Cormorant, Mallard, Gadwall, Eurasian Teal, Northern Pintail, Northern Shoveler, Common Pochard, Kentish Plover, Ruddy Turnstone, Sanderling, Greenshank, Common Sandpiper, Common Snipe, Mediterranean and Audouin's Gulls, Sandwich Tern, Eurasian Hoopoe, Zitting Cisticola, Common Stonechat, Black Redstart, Eurasian Skylark and Crested Lark. Richard’s Pipit was probably the rarest bird of the day, with one individual appearing particularly close to us. A Jack Snipe that flew up from right in front of us on two occasions was also a very good bird to see.

November 28th: Ebro Delta, Montsia Mou.

This day was to be spent in the Ebro Delta. We started around the Canal Vell lagoon, where Wood and Green Sandpipers, Common and Spotted Redshanks, Greenshank, Dunlin, and Little Stint were added to our list. Glossy Ibis were seen feeding in the rice fields, and we spotted a Mute Swan - a very rare bird for Spain. Iben found a Peregrine Falcon perched on a post, letting us all admire this beautiful falcon through the scopes. We had a snack, and later we went to a spot where Squacco Herons were wintering. Then we went on to the Bay of Fangar, where shorebirds were seen everywhere. Among many other species, we saw thousands of Dunlins, Grey Plovers, Common Ringed Plovers, Eurasian Curlews, Bar-tailed Godwits, Osprey, and lots of ducks. We were hungry and cold, so we went to a restaurant in L’Ampolla to have something to eat after seeing some Audouin's Gulls by the small harbour. The hot soup and the salad were delicious. After lunch we went to the southern hemidelta. We went to a roost of Black-crowned Night Herons that overwinter in the Delta, and then we went towards Buda Island where a Booted Eagle was spotted on the ground while eating its prey. Some Ruffs and European Golden Plovers, and many other waders, were also present. We visited Migjorn with its extraordinary views of the delta, the sea, and the mountains. By the end of the day we went back to Montsià Mountains to give the Eurasian Eagle Owl a chance to show itself. We waited, and it got darker and colder, but then there it was! Flying over us as if though we’d had an appointment, to land on the cliffs on the opposite side of the valley. We then drove back to the hotel to have dinner.

November 29th: Ebro Delta, Barcelona.

Our last day... We had prepared a bird ringing/banding session for the group, which gave us a chance to see and even touch some of the skulkiest birds of the reed beds. Joanet, the ringer, was waiting for us with a number of good birds. Moustached Warbler, Cetti's Warbler, Reed Bunting, and Chiffchaff were all caught and ringed; Joanet explained in detail about ringing, and the group was particularly interested in the ageing and sexing of the birds. We still had some time before going back to Barcelona, so we went to try and see the Lesser Short-toed Larks. The wind picked up and made it impossible to get good looks of this species we heard them several times and caught glimpses. We also saw a Dartford Warbler in this place, thanks to the good spotting of Iben and Lorna. Then suddenly two Black-throated Divers flew over us. All the diver species are scarce in the Spanish Mediterranean coast so we were very happy, especially Mike since it was one of the target species for him.

We went back to the ringing site and then we drove towards Barcelona where we said our goodbyes and hasta la vista.

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