Trip report - north east Spain

17th November 2009
Dates: 7th to 16th November 2009

Destination: north east Spain

Purpose of trip:

The purpose of my trip was to see the coastal, steppe and mountain species of the north east regions of Spain, namely Catalunya and Aragon.

Primary target areas:

The primary target areas for wildlife watching were:

Catalunya: Aiguamolls de l'Emporda, Delta de l’Ebre, Els Ports and Delta de Llobregat

Aragon: Laguna de Gallocanta, Las Estepas de Belchite, Los Monegros, Castillo de Loarre, Los Mallos de Riglos, San Juan de la Pena, Sierra y de Canones de Guara, Astun and Candanchu in the High Pyrenees at the Spain/France border

Getting there:

I flew from London Gatwick to Barcelona with Easyjet for £63 return.

The outward flight departed on time and arrived on time but there was a short delay to the return flight. The flight time was just under 2 hours.

The outward flight provided excellent views of the “Seven Sisters” and Beachy Head as we left the UK over the East Sussex coast.

Even more memorable was flying over the dramatic snowy peaks of the Pyrenees before the descent in to Barcelona.

Getting around:

In Barcelona, I hired a VW Polo for 9 days from SIXT via ebookers. This proved to be a very reliable and economical vehicle returning somewhere between 50 and 60 mpg.

My trip involved around 3900 km (2400 miles) of driving and therefore fuel costs were significant. However, even with the poor exchange rate between the pound and the euro, the cost of petrol in Spain averaged about an equivalent 99p per litre, significantly less than in the UK.

Other than around Barcelona and some of the National Carretera “N” roads, rural country and mountain roads and autovias/autopistas (motorways) were extremely quiet and empty.

Accommodation:

Prior to my trip, I had pre-booked the following accommodation:

Prat de Llobregat – Sallés Hotel Ciutat del Prat

Siurana d'Empordà – Can Navata

Poble Nou del Delta – Lo Segador

Daroca – Hotel Cienbalcones

La Puebla de Alfinden – Hotel Alfinden

Loporzano – Boletas Birdwatching Centre

Whilst the hotels were clean and comfortable, the most memorable accommodation was the very old country house of Can Navata and the wonderful and highly recommended Boletas Birdwatching Centre.

Research and planning:

Prior to my trip, I had undertaken a significant amount of research and planning and therefore had a detailed itinerary which I largely kept to.

The following references proved to be particularly useful:

“Where to watch birds in northern and eastern Spain” – Michael Rebane and Ernest Garcia’s book providing detailed site information including habitat, access, species to be seen and location maps

“Where the birds are in north east Spain” – Steve West’s book providing details of the best sites on a species-by-species basis and location maps

Birding in Spain – Steve West’s website including very informative site details, itineraries and location maps for north east Spain

“A guide to birdwatching holidays” – an excellent free booklet published by Catalunya Tourism which I picked up at the British Birdwatching Fair at Rutland Water in August

I also used Michelin regional map 574 covering Catalunya, Aragon and Andorra to ensure that my hire car kept to the planned itinerary!

Impressions, experiences and memories:

The area of Spain that I visited provided an opportunity to experience a very diverse range of habitats from the vast wetlands and flooded rice paddies of Delta de l’Ebre, the mountains of Els Port, the largest natural saline lake in Spain at Laguna de Gallocanta, the arid and semi-desert steppe landscapes of Las Estepas de Belchite and Los Monegros, the woods, gorges and autumn colours of the pre-Pyrenees and the snowy mountains of the High Pyrenees.

This in turn enabled me to see the majority of target species that I had identified prior to my trip.

In addition to the wide variation in scenery and landscape, the fine weather also produced beautiful sunsets on a number of days.

With regard to bird species, it is very difficult to claim a “bird of the trip” given the number of new species that I managed to see but the following species were particularly memorable:

Wallcreeper – one of the most conspicuously coloured and most sought after birds of Europe. I saw one of these beautiful birds at the Vadiello dam in the pre-Pyrenees.

Lammergeier – one of the rarest raptors in Europe inhabiting high mountainous regions. I saw 2 of these huge vultures, also in the pre-Pyrenees.

Weather:

The majority of days were warm and sunny although the pre-Pyrenees were more cloudy and there was plenty of fallen snow in the High Pyrenees.

Daytime temperatures were around 20 degrees on the warm and sunny days, slightly cooler in the pre-Pyrenees and in single figures in the High Pyrenees.

For most of my trip a jacket over my T-shirt was not required and it certainly did not seem like mid-November.

Wildlife highlights:

During my trip, I was able to record 127 species of birds although this included a Treecreeper species where I was unable to confirm either Common Treecreeper or Short-toed Treecreeper from the brief view that I had.

Trip records - north east Spain

Of these, I saw 19 species that I had not seen before. In addition, I saw 14 notable species i.e. birds seen before either as a single UK vagrant or on a few occasions in the UK plus birds seen before in Spain and/or elsewhere in Europe.

The 19 “lifers” were:

Greater Flamingo
Lammergeier
Purple Swamphen
Great Bustard
Pin-tailed Sandgrouse
Black-bellied Sandgrouse
Calandra Lark
Thekla Lark
Lesser Short-toed Lark
Crag Martin
Southern Grey Shrike
Alpine Accentor
Zitting Cisticola
Blue Rock Thrush
Black Wheatear
Wallcreeper
Alpine Chough
Spotless Starling
Rock Sparrow

The 14 other notable species were:

Great White Egret
Cattle Egret
Glossy Ibis
White Stork
Red-crested Pochard
Griffon Vulture
Common Crane
Kentish Plover
Gull-billed Tern
Hoopoe
Sardinian Warbler
Bluethroat
Serin
Cirl Bunting

During my trip, I was also able to record 4 species of mammal:

Fox
Red Squirrel
Fallow Deer
Rabbit

In addition, the warm weather ensured that there were still large numbers of butterflies, dragonflies and damselflies on the wing but without my ID guides the only ones that I was able to confidently identify were Clouded Yellow, Red Admiral, Speckled Wood and Common Darter.

Disappointments:

Firstly, although I was able to record nearly all my target bird species, I was very disappointed not to be able to see Little Bustard despite extensive searching in suitable habitat in the steppe areas.

Secondly, I was unable to positively identify either Audouin's Gull or Slender-billed Gull in the Delta de l’Ebre. Very frustratingly a huge flock of gulls followed fishing boats back in to Santa Carles de la Rapita on one day but it was late afternoon with darkness falling and it was impossible to securely identify either of these target species.

Photos:

Photos from my trip can be found in the European trips gallery.


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