Northeast Spain 22 - 26 March 2003

Account written by J.Thomas

Paul Bowyer and I decided to do a (hastily arranged) short trip to try to see some of the more special birds of the Pyrenees and north-east Spanish steppes. The "big four" targets were Wallcreeper, Lammergeier, Dupont's Lark and Great Bustard, with Snow Finch a close fifth. In the end we saw the first three of these. overall I had 9 lifers and Paul had 15+ lifers, and we recorded 108 species in only 3'/z days birding, so we were pleased with the trip. Another couple of days would have given us more time at some other sites, but we saw most of the species we really wanted.


We got cheap flights from Ryanair from Stansted to Girona (£65 return), although Bristol - Barcelona on easyJet would have been better for us in terms of time, if not money. Car hire was from Rega via the web. We were originally going to stay 2 nights at Boletas birdwatching centre in Loporzano (which came recommended and whom we thank for site information freely given), but a lost e-mail scuppered those plans, so we stayed at the Hotel Montearagon on the edge of Huesca - relatively cheap and with excellent food. In Zaragoza we finally found a room in the rather soulless NH Orus hotel by the railway station, and for the final night we stayed in a cheap and cheerful pension/bar at Belchite. Food poor and organisation chaotic there, but what can you expect for 15 euros a night?


Itinerary: Day 1: early afternoon flight to Girona, then drive to Huesca for overnight stop. Brief birding stop near Lleida towards dusk. Day 2: Embalse de Vadiello dam, Riglos, Gabardito, Oroel Day 3: PortaletlValle de Tena, Embalse de la Sotonera. Embalse de Vadiello, Loporzano cemetery Day 4: La Planeron, Laguna de la Playa, back to La Planeron Day 5: La Planeron, then Llobregat Delta on way back to Girona. Late afternoon flight back to Stansted.


Day 1 Essentially a day travelling: driving up to Stansted, flying to Girona airport, picking up the hire car and driving to Huesca. We arrived in the Lleida area in time to have half an hour or so birding at the inlet end of Embalse de Utxesa before dark, the main species seen being Moustached Warbler.


Day 2 A pre-breakfast visit to Embalse de Vadiello did not produce the hoped-for Wallcreeper on the dam, but gave good views of Griffon Vulture, Egyptian Vulture, Crag Martin and Serin. The first few of many Spotless Starlings were identified on the way back to Huesca. After breakfast we headed to Riglos, seeing White Stork, Crested Lark, Hoopoe. and both Black and Red Kites on the way. The cliffs of Los Mallos de Riglos are spectacular, but most of the interest was on the scrubby scree slopes below them, including several Black Wheatears. Sardinian and Dartford Warblers. We met another group of British birders who had had success with several target species at Gabardito in the Hecho valley, so we spent most of the afternoon there. Perseverance finally gave us a single adult Lammergeier and good views of several Citril Finches, plus lots more vultures and various other species new for the trip. Another try for Wallcreeper at Boca de Infierno failed, as did an attempt late on at Oroel for Black Woodpecker.


Day 3 We knew that Snow Finch had been looked for and not seen around Astun ski resort, so we tried the other high valley, Valle de Tena. A Rock Bunting and 2 sharpei race Green Woodpeckers (potential split) showed well by the roadside about 2km before Formigal village. At the border post at Col de Portalet we had good views of Alpine Chough. Red-billed Chough, Rock Sparrow and Water

Pipit and the ski stations of Formigal produced a few species including Ring Ouzel, but no Snow Finches, unfortunately.


On the way down we tried the dam and its flanking rock walls at Embalse de Lanuza and after only 20 minutes or so it happened -Wallcreeper! A male in full breeding plumage, it flew in and landed on the reservoir side of the dam wall, showed well for a couple of minutes, then flew again right past us at less than 20m range. Stunning! It didn't show again in the next hour, but we still had a Short-toed Eagle, Black Kites, Jays and Crag Martins to watch.


We headed down out of the high Pyrenees to Embalse de la Sotonera near Huesca for a different range of birds. Not much on the reservoir itself, but species seen in the area included Lesser Kestrel, White Stork, Rock Sparrow, Marsh Harrier and lots of Serins and Corn Buntings.


It was now late afternoon and we headed back to Embalse de Vadiello. After a hour or so's wait, the usual good views of Griffon and Egyptian Vultures and Crag Martins keeping us amused, Paul found our second Wallcreeper of the day, flicking amongst the moss on the dam wall. This one showed for a lot longer (about 15 minutes) and allowed Paul to get some good video footage. We finished off the day at Loporzano cemetery (up a dirt track opposite the southern entrance to the village) listening to an Eurasian Eagle Owl (unfortunately distant and unseen) and watching Thekla Larks.


Day 4 We got out of Zaragoza as fast as we could, but still didn't arrive at La Planeron reserve, near Belchite, until Sam. Nonetheless, with perseverance and no doubt some luck by I 1 am we had seen at least 3 Dupont's Larks in a flat area of steppe about l km SW of the car park, tracking them down by the rather unlark-like song (which I likened to the five-note tune from the film Close Encounters). Plenty of other larks too, including Calandra, Lesser Short-toed, Crested and Thekla, though the last two were as ever a pain to separate. Several small groups of both Pin-tailed Sandgrouse and Blackbellied Sandgrouse flew overhead, and other notable birds included Black-eared Wheatear and Spectacled Warbler.


In the area around Laguna de la Playa, SW of Bujaraloz, we failed to find any bustards, but did see more of both sandgrouse, 2 Little Owls and a selection of waders on a small salina - Black-winged Stilts, Ruff and Spotted Redshanks. Paul was particularly keen to try to get video or photos of the larks and sandgrouse, so we headed back to La Planeron and more of the same there, but without much photographic success. We did get excellent views of 4 Marsh Harriers and a Short-toed Eagle though, and 2 Golden Eagles near Gelsa.


Day 5 Out at dawn at La Planeron again, and Paul had more success with the camera, getting some shots of Dupont's Lark (though they are generally too wary to approach close enough for good shots) and excellent shots of Lesser Short-toed and Calandra Larks. Other species seen included Hoopoe, Marsh Harrier, both sandgrouse again, Red-legged Partridge, and the by now obligatory Griffon Vultures. By l oam we had to leave.


A couple of minor delays and a brush with the complicated and inconsistently-signed road network around Barcelona meant that we only had a very short time at the Llobregat Delta reserve, which would deserve at least half a day itself. Nonetheless, along the access road and on the lagoon we picked up several new species for the trip, including Monk Parakeet, Little Ringed Plover and Wood Sandpiper, before dashing to Girona airport for our flight home.



Species List


1. Little Grebe (Tachybaptus ruficollis) Llobregat Delta

2. Great Cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo) Embalse de Vadiello, Llobregat Delta

3. Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea) A few seen in various places

4. Little Egret (Egretta garzetta) Llobregat Delta

5. Spoonbill (Platalea leucorodia) 1, Embalse de Utxesa

6. White Stork (Ciconia ciconia) 1-3 seen in several places

7. Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) A few on the steppes and at Llobregat Delta NR

8. Shoveler (Anas clypeata) Llobregat Delta

9. Eurasian Teal (Anas crecca) Llobregat Delta

l O.Pochard (Aythya ferina) Llobregat Delta

11.Griffon Vulture (Gyps fulvus) A daily sight, usually in good numbers. Magnificent.

12.Egyptian Vulture (Neophron percnopterus) Embalse de Vadiello, Gabardito, odd ones elsewhere

13.Lammergeier (Gypaetus barbatus) A fine adult at Gabardito

14.Short-toed Eagle (Circaetus gallicus) 1, Embalse de Lanuza; 1, La Planeron

15.Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos) 1, Gabardito; 2, near Gelsa 16.Buzzard (Buteo buteo) A few seen, including at Formigal

17.Sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus) Odd ones, including at Gabardito

18.Red Kite (Milvus milvus) A few seen daily

19.Black Kite (Milvus migrans) A few seen daily

20.Marsh Harrier (Circus aeruginosus) 1, Embalse de la Sotonera; at least 4, La Planeron

21.Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus) 1, Riglos

22.Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus) Common

23.Lesser Kestrel (Falco naumanni) Singles near Embalse de la Sotonera and near Lleida

24.Red-legged Partridge (Alectoris rufa) Ones and twos in various places 25.Water Rail (Rallus aquaticus) Heard at Embalse de Utxesa

26.Moorhen (Gallinula chloropus) Llobregat Delta

27.Coot (Fulica atra) Llobregat Delta

28.Black-winged Stilt (Himantopus himantopus) Laguna de la Playa area, Llobregat Delta

29.Little Ringed Plover (Charadrius dubius) Llobregat Delta

30.Snipe (Gallinago gallinago) Llobregat Delta

31.Spotted Redshank (Tringa erythropus) Laguna de la Playa area

32.Wood Sandpiper (Tringa glareola) Llobregat Delta

33.Ruff (Philomachus pugnax) Laguna de la Playa area

34.Lesser Black-backed Gull (Larus fuscus graellsii) Llobregat Delta

35.Yellow-legged Gull (Larus (cachinnans) michahellis) 2, Puente de la Reina

36.Black-headed Gull (Larus ridibundus) 1, Barcelona

37.Black-bellied Sandgrouse (Pterocles orientalis) La Planeron and Laguna de la Playa area 38.Pin-tailed Sandgrouse (Pterocles alchata) La Planeron and Laguna de la Playa area

39.Rock Dove (Columba livia) Wild ones eg at Riglos; domestic strains in some towns

40.Woodpigeon (Columba palumbus) Common

41. Collared Dove (Streptopelia decaocto) Common in towns

42.Cuckoo (Cuculus canorus) One calling at Gabardito

43.Monk Parakeet (Myiopsitta monachus) Noisy and obvious at Llobregat Delta

44.Eagle Owl (Bubo bubo) Heard behind Loporzano cemetery

45.Little Owl (Athene noctua) 1 nr Loporzano; 2 nr Laguna de la Playa

46.Hoopoe (Upupa epops) A few seen in various places

47.Green Woodpecker (Picus viridis sharpei) 2 of this distinctive race, Formigal

48.Skylark (Alauda arvensis) A few at high altitude above Formigal

49.Lesser Short-toed Lark (Calandrella rufescens) Common and easy at La Planeron

50.Dupont's Lark (Chersophilus duponti) Relatively (!) easy to see early to mid am at La Planeron

51.Crested Lark (Galerida cristata) A few seen at La Planeron and elsewhere

52.Thekla Lark (Galerida theklae) Loporzano cemetery, La Planeron

53.Calandra Lark (Melanocorypha calandra) Lots at La Planeron

54.Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica) A few seen in various places

55.Crag Martin (Ptyonoprogne rupestris) Common in the mountainous areas

56.House Martin (Delichon urbica) Girona airport

57.Meadow Pipit (Anthus pratensis) A few in various places

58.Water Pipit (Anthus spinoletta) Common at high altitude

59.White Wagtail (Motacill alba alba) Common

60.Grey Wagtail (Motacilla cinerea) Boca de Infierno. Puente de la Reina

61.Yellow Wagtail (Motacilla fava) La Planeron, in flight only (so not assignable to race)

62.Starling (Sturnus vulgaris) Seen around Barcelona, and a few inland

63.Spotless Starling (Sturnus unicolor) The common starling in the steppes and pre-Pyrenees

64.Eurasian Jay (Garrulus glandarius) Seen in Valle de Tena, including 2 at Embalse de Lanuza

65.Magpie (Pica pica) Common

66.Red-billed Chough (Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax) Regular in mountain and steppe areas

67.Alpine Chough (Pyrrhocorax graculus) Good views at Col de Portalet, more distant at Gabardito

68.Jackdaw (Corvus monedula) 2, Embalse de la Sotonera area

69.Raven (Corvus corax) Regular in the mountains

70.Carrion Crow (Corvus corone) Odd pairs seen occasionally

71.Blue Tit (Parus caeruleus) Common

72.Great Tit (Parus major) Common

73.Crested Tit (Parus cristatus) 2 or 3, Oroel

74.Long-tailed Tit (Aegithalos caudatus) Only odd ones seen

75.Wallcreeper (Tichodroma muraria). THE target. Single males at both Lanuza and Vadiello dams.

76.Nuthatch (Sitta europaea) Heard at Gabardito

77.Wren (Troglodytes troglodytes) Common

78.Dunnock (Prunella modularis) Only one seen!

79.Northern Wheatear (Oenanthe oenanthe) 2 males. Laguna de la Playa area

80.Black-eared Wheatear (Oenanthe hispanica) A male, La Planeron

81.Black Wheatear (Oenanthe leucura) 4, Riglos

82.Stonechat (Saxicola torquata) Odd ones in the mountains

83.Black Redstart (Phoenicurus ochruros aterrimus) Plentiful at many sites, especially rocky areas

84.Robin (Erithacus rubecula) Common

85.Blackbird (Turdus merula) Common. One near Formigal was a surprise though.

86.Ring Ouzel (Turdus torquatus) A male at the higher Formigal ski station

87.Mistle Thrush (Turdus viscivorus) Heard singing below Formigal

88.Cetti's Warbler (Cettia cetti) Embalse de Utxesa. Llobregat Delta

89.Fan-tailed Warbler (Cisticola juncidis) Seen at Azaila and Llobregat Delta; a few others heard.

90.Moustached Warbler (Acrocephalus melanopogon) Noisy and active at Embalse de Utxesa.

91.Sardinian Warbler (Sylvia melanocephala) Common at Riglos

92.Blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla) Heard singing few times in the mountains

93.Dartford Warbler (Sylvia undata) Common at Riglos

94.Spectacled Warbler (Sylvia conspicillata) Singing male at La Planeron

95.Chiffchaff (Phylloscopus collybita) Common; all songs heard were collybita

96.Goldcrest (Regulus regulus) Heard regularly; not looked for hard

97.Firecrest (Regulus ignicapilla) 2, Gabardito; more heard in various places

98.House Sparrow (Passer domesticus) Common as ever in towns

99.Rock Sparrow (Petronia petronia) 2, Portalet; 1, nr Embalse de la Sotonera

100.Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs) Common

lO1.Greenfinch (Carduelis chloris) Seen occasionally

102.European Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis) Llobregat Delta

103.Linnet (Carduelis cannabina) A few small groups in the mountains

104.Serin (Serinus serinus) Very common in agricultural areas (eg Canal de Monegros)

105.Citril Finch (Serinus citrinella) 6+ birds seen well near the cafe at Gabardito

106.Corn Bunting (Miliaria calandra) Common in agricultural areas

107.Yellowhammer (Emberiza citrinella) A few seen between Formigal and Col de Portalet

108.Rock Bunting (Emberiza cia) A male seen briefly twice about l km before Formigal