North-east Spain ______________________________________________
Birdwatching Breaks specialises in small group birding trips and this tour covering north-eastern Spain was operated for just two clients. Here our guide Gorka Goropse reports...
April 18th: Barcelona, Ebro Delta.
Valerie and Milan arrived at Barcelona El Prat airport at around midday. From there we travelled to the Ebro Delta, stopping briefly to eat on the way. After checking into the hotel we had some time for some birding during the afternoon.
We first visited l’Encanyissada, an interior lake that has recently experienced an increase in the area of surface water. Large numbers of Red-crested Pochards and Whiskered Terns were present, with Greater Flamingos, Purple Herons, Little Egrets, Glossy Ibis, two Gull-billed Terns, Purple Swamphens and the first Great Reed Warblers also noted.
At l’Alfacada, a marsh close to the Ebro River, we also saw many of the same species, whilst adding Eurasian Spoonbill, Wood Sandpiper, many Black-winged Stilts and Avocets. In the beach near this wetland we also saw two Kentish Plovers and several Audouin’s Gulls at fairly close range. Back to the hotel we discovered that two Little Bitterns and a Black-crowned Night Heron were present at the hotel’s pond.
April 19th: Ebro Delta (Tancada, Trabucador, Goleró)
Our first stop was at the Tancada saltpans, an area which is very good for waders. Here we found Little Stint, Dunlin, Ruddy Turnstone, Grey Plover, Kentish Plover, Ringed Plover, Whimbrel, Avocets and Black-winged Stilts. Gull-billed Terns, Caspian Terns and our first Slender-billed Gulls were also seen and we especially enjoyed the Audouin’s Gull colony in the area and also the many Flamingos that were feeding there.
After that we drove through the Trabucador isthmus, that connects the Banya Peninsula with the mainland. The Trabucador isthmus is the first landfall for many migrant passerines after crossing the Mediterranean during their migration northwards to Europe. Here we found migrant species that included Turtle Dove, Spotted Flycatcher, Subalpine Warbler, Common Whitethroat, Woodchat Shrike, Common Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler and a Wood Warbler, among others. We also found two Collared Pratincoles, the first of the year in the Ebro Delta area.
We ate our picnics at the SEO/BirdLife’s hide in the Riet Vell reserve watching Purple Swamphen, Black-winged Stilts, and Common Terns at close range. In the afternoon we visited the Garxal and Goleró wetlands again seeing many species we had already encountere, whilst also adding some new species like Squacco Heron, Eurasian Curlew, Bar-tailed Godwit and Curlew Sandpiper.
April 20th: Ebro Delta - Navarra (Pas de l’Ase, Monegros, Lumbier).
Today we travelled from the Ebro Delta to Navarra, a journey of nearly five hours. We made two stops along the way. The first stop was at Pas de l’Ase, still in Catalonia. This is a low mountain area with some cliffs and a typical Mediterranean vegetation and forest. Here we found several Mediterranean passerines, including Sardinian Warbler, Western Bonelli’s Warbler, Crag Martin and Cirl Bunting, and we also managed to find our principle target species, a pair of displaying Bonelli’s Eagles.
We also made a stop at Los Monegros, a steppe area in the middle of the Ebro Valley in Aragón. Here we enjoyed watching a colony of Lesser Kestrels and an Eagle Owl chick.
We arrived at the Ekai Hotel, in Ekai de Longuida (Navarra) early in the afternoon. After leaving our luggage at the hotel we had time to visit the Lumbier Gorge. This is a small gorge where during a walk inside it is possible to get amazing views of the birds that occur there. We had excellent views of Griffon Vultures, two Egyptian Vultures, Red-billed Choughs, Rock Sparrows and a pair of Blue Rock Thrushes making their nest. We also had less rewarding views of an Alpine Swift, which was one of Milan’s target species.
April 21st: Navarra (Peñadil, Bardenas Reales).
With perfect weather (no rain and no wind) today was a ‘steppe day’ in Southern Navarra. Windy days can ruin birdwatching in the steppes, as these are flat and the wind can blow strongly for many days. In the Montecillo area we were lucky and at the first stop we heard many singing Dupont’s Larks and saw them perfectly in less than 15 minutes after our start!! Fantastic! Other lark species present were Thekla Lark, Greater Short-toed Lark, Eurasian Skylark, Calandra Lark and Crested Lark. We also saw Stone Curlews, a pair of Spectacled Warblers, several Northern Wheatears and some Black-eared Wheatears. Before we left this site we were lucky to find two Golden Eagles soaring above us. Yet another memorable sight.
The Bardenas Reales Nature Park is the largest protected area in Navarra (more than 40.000 hectares). Its stunning landscape with eroded soil, vertical cliffs and flat hilltops make this one of the most special places in Europe. As the day was becoming hot we didn’t see many birds, but we enjoyed the scenery very much. Golden Eagle, Egyptian Vulture, Alpine Swift and Black-eared Wheatear were some of the more interesting species encountered here.
April 22nd: Navarra (Irati, Belagua, Burgi, Arbaiun).
We had a complete change of landscape today and headed north to the humid beech forests and high mountains. The weather forecast suggested that it could rain, but fortunately it arraived at the end of the day when we were already back in the hotel for the evening.
First we visited the Irati forest, one of the largest in Europe, mainly comprised of beech, but also fir and other tree species. The area is well known for woodpeckers, but as it was a Little bit late in the season they were already shy and we didn’t see any. However we did hear two different White-backed Woodpeckers, a Black Woodpecker and a Great Spotted Woodpecker. Nuthatch, Short-toed Treecreeper, Coal Tit, Crested Tit among the species we did see though.
the afternoon we went to the Belagua area, where there was a moderate
wind blowing in the higher points of the road. We managed to visit
the Alpine Chough colony at one of the many caves that can be found
in the area. As it was still snowy many of the birds that are usually
found here were not on their breeding grounds, so we had to make do
with several Ring Ouzels and a group of Pyrenean Chamois. However,
there was a final surprise for the afternoon when, whilst driving
Burgi gorge we saw the big and unmistakeble silhouette of a Lammergeier
that had come down to take a bone in the ground! Brilliant.
April 23rd: Navarra (Falces, Pitillas).
The Central Area of Navarra is a steppe area that has been transformed by the irrigation of crops over the past few years. However, some dry crops remain and they are remarkable for steppe birds. Near Falces we visited some good areas and we were really lucky to find Little and Great Bustard in the same spot and, although they were a little distant, the views were great through the telescope.
Also in Falces we spent some time near the Arga river, where its copses harbour a rich variety of wildlife. The highlights here were Eurasian Wryneck, Melodious Warbler and Penduline Tit. After a picnic we spent some time having a coffee in Olite, an old medieval town.
afternoon was spent at the Pitillas Lagoon Nature Reserve, a natural
lake thet is one of the birding hotspots in Navarra. Several migrants
were seen here and included Garganey, Whiskered Tern, Black Tern,
Avocet and Whinchat among others. We also heard two Great Bitterns
booming and several Black-necked Grebes in their fantastic breeding
plumage. Montagu’s Harrier, Hen Harrier, Stone Curlew, Rufous-tailed
Rock Thrush, Black-eared Wheatear and Tawny Pipit were other of the
interesting species we found here.
April 24th: Navarra – Huesca (Arangoiti, San Juan de la Peña, Riglos).
Today we travelled from the Ekai Hotel in Navarra to Bierge village, in Huesca province, making stops along the way. Our first stop was the Arangoiti mountain (1353 m high), which affords excellent views of the surrounding area, including a large part of the Western Pyrenees. Here we enjoyed seeing Griffon Vultures at eye-level and a displaying Short-toed Eagle. We also heard the Black Woodpecker, but there was no opportunity to see it.
At the small town of Riglos, the cliffs are called ‘Mallos’ and are spectaular enough to make it worth a visit just to see them. The birding was also good here, with plenty of Griffon Vultures, a pair of Egyptian Vultures, a Bonelli’s Eagle and many Alpine Swifts hunting insects in the sky. Later we arrived at the Hostería de Guara Hotel, in Bierge. After dinner we had the opportunity to hear an European Nightjar singing in the dark.
April 25th: Huesca - Sierra de Guara (Montearagón, Vadiello, Santa Cilia).
Our first stop this morning was the Montearagón Castle, were we saw three wheatear species: Northern Wheatear, Black-eared Wheatear and an active male Black Wheatear. On the way to Vadiello we made a stop to find warblers near the road. Unfortunately the results were not exactly what we wanted and although we recorded Melodious , Sardinian, Dartford and Western Orphean Warblers, most of them were just heard or we had to make do with poor views.
We stopped at Vadiello for picnic time and when we were getting out of the car an adult Lammergeier flew over us a mere 30 metres above us! Other good birds here were Blue Rock Thrush, many Crag Martins, Pied Flycatcher, Firecrest, Alpine Swift, Red-billed Chough, Golden Eagle. A final surprise was a group of 3 Black Storks that passed over flying northwards on their migration.
finish the day we went to Santa Cilia where we spent nearly two hours
watching three or four Lammergeiers with some of them flying close
to us for much of the time affording fantastic views! We also got
excellent sightings of Golden Eagle, Short-toed Eagle and Egyptian
April 26th: Huesca – Lleida – Barcelona (Bellmunt)
Final species total: 195.
had little time to spend birdwatching before we had to head to Barcelona
Airport. However, a stop on the way near Bellmunt produced three different
Little Bustards two colourful European Rollers, plus Stone Curlew,
Lesser Kestrel, Hobby and Montagu’s Harrier were also seen quite
well. By midday we were in Barcelona ready to take the flight back
For details of the full species list or to request further information about the next time we will be offering this trip. Contact us at email@example.com.
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