A tale of nature, wildlife and birding from Cheshire, North Wales and across the globe....

A tale of nature, wildlife and birding from Cheshire, North Wales and across the globe....

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Northern Spain Trip Report - Day 1

Day 1 -  Sunday 13th April 2014

After getting the evening flight from Manchester to Barcelona, a late drive to our hostel (which proved terrifying with a left hand drive and no satnav!) left no time for birding, the lone call of a Black-winged Stilt at the hire car centre the only hint of the avian delights awaiting us in Spain.
Flight from Manchester to Barcelona
Departing from the hotel in the early hours of Sunday morning, our ears soon picked up the loud screeching of Monk Parakeets in the area. A quick stop in the small park directly opposite to where we had left the car overnight revealed a handful of individuals, enjoying the peace and quiet before Barcelona truly woke up, playfully grasping large chunks of bread that a kind local had left out.
Monk Parakeet - Barcelona

Monk Parakeet - Barcelona
Our long drive to our stopover point of Zaragoza began, and the next bird to hit our lists came in the form of two fine Purple Herons flying directly over the car, long necks outstretched, doubtlessly heading for the large lakes in the nearby parkland. White Storks were plentiful, and having never seen them before I was left awestruck by their sheer size and majesty, soaring effortlessly on the breeze.

White Stork - Spain
One of the many White Storks we saw on the trip
Nearing Lleida, a small track off road gave a perfect opportunity to seek out more bird life. A Fan-tailed Warbler sprung up, its chirruping song serenading us, while a flock of Spotless Starlings perched in a nearby conifer, chattering away. A drive a little further along the track revealed the Spanish race (sharpei) of the Green Woodpecker, slightly differently marked than our own UK birds, while Red-legged Partridges scuttled along in the grass. A Crested Lark gave excellent views, perched on a stone wall next to the track, crest erect, singing its heart out.
Crested Lark - Spain
Heading back to the main road, our journey seemed to be on course – that was until there was a loud bang, followed by severe rattling which brought the hire car to a stop. It seemed Alex couldn’t handle roundabouts on the opposite side of the road, and had taken out BOTH right hand tyres in an argument with the curb. Despite his protestations, there was NO brick in the road that had caused the damage, purely his driving skills…… 
Flat tyre....
Alex's massacre on the tyres....
An eventful few minutes followed, with hysterical laughter from myself, accidental phone calls from Chris all the way back to a very confused owner of the Manchester airport car park, more hysterical laughter, and a struggled translation to the Spanish hire car company trying to explain what had happened. Miraculously, they agreed to send a replacement over free of charge (I don’t know what Chris had promised them in order to achieve this…) although it did come at the price of a lengthy wait by the side of a busy road surrounded by nothing but an empty garage and abandoned warehouses – at first glance seemingly barren of bird life.

However, this was not to be the case. A pair of White Stork had set up a nest on a nearby lamppost across the road, and a small group of finches flitting amongst the trees in the warehouse courtyard revealed two Serin amongst them, their yellow rumps flashing in the sunlight. A walk further down the track surrounded by a small reedbed and bamboo patch looked promising, but sadly revealed nothing.

However, a sharp eared Chris soon picked up the distinctive call of Penduline Tits in the area. A walk along the main road to achieve a better angled view of the reedbed revealed a pair had set up territory there. The curious duo left the thicket of reeds and approached us, at one point feeding in the small tree directly next to us. These stunning views followed for at least ten minutes, the pair seemingly oblivious and unconcerned to our presence. A walk to the river in search of Red-rumped Swallow proved fruitless, although another Serin gave much better views, posing in the tree for us to admire.
Penduline Tit - Spain
The male Penduline Tit providing excellent views!
Penduline Tit - Spain
A quick exchange of cars later and we were back on the road. The habitat and landscapes on route to Zaragoza were stunning, with huge rivers carving through the hills and plains. A stop by the side of the road near suitable habitat revealed another Purple Heron staking out the reeds, while Great White and Little Egrets flew across the millpond calm water. The scratchy chatter of a Sardinian Warbler caught our ears, and five minutes of frustratingly brief views of this dark warbler flitting from shrub to shrub eventually gave way to a fine male singing exposed on the top of one of the bushes. This was again my first view of this species, and the red eye, complete with dark plumage was very striking, with the song particularly distinctive.
Northern Spain
A large bird of prey gliding over the hills looked suspiciously eagle-like, but the views were far too brief to nail an ID. Several Crag Martins swooped along the cliff face, a consolation for the unfortunate timing of the Flamborough bird’s arrival coinciding with our flight out of the UK! We grilled all the hirindines feeding over the river and a Red-rumped Swallow was quickly picked out, its pale rump distinctive compared to the dark rumps of the Barn Swallows. This insight proved handy, and hopefully I’ll be able to pick out this migrant on our UK shores in the near future.

Another brief stop further along the Rio Segre also produced another new bird in the form of a Short-toed Treecreeper. Similar to our native birds, Short-toed Treecreepers are the only species that reside in this area of Spain, so there was no doubt in separating an otherwise difficult pair of species.
Northern Spain
The Spanish sun was beating down at this point and our stupidly unprotected skin was starting to suffer, forcing us to resort to shelter and a well eared rest at the nearby town of Mequinenza. Polishing off ice creams, a Spotless Starling gave excellent views on a nearby aerial, allowing us to fully appreciate its much glossier plumage and brighter legs. A Hoopoe also made a brief appearance, a quick flash before flitting out of sight around the corner.
Spotless Starling - Spain
One of my main targets for this trip was to see a Bee-eater, and if I’m honest this was one of my key points in travelling to Spain. Having dipped a Shropshire bird last year, I was keen to see these brightly coloured beauties, having been on my birding wish list since I was a small child. So, it was with great excitement when Alex spotted a small group flitting around a little way down the road - we immediately headed further down in an attempt to get closer and parked up before walking a short way down the gravel slope to where the birds were flocking and calling. Dancing through the air and with their magical calls echoing throughout the sky, we counted over 30 birds swirling around our heads, taking it in turns to perch on the wires in front of us. 
Bee-eaters - Spain
Bee-eaters - Spain
Bee-eaters - Spain
With several Bee-eaters perched directly opposite, they provided absolutely amazing views and I really couldn’t have asked for more, it was fantastic to see the gorgeous electric blues and sunshine yellows of these amazing creatures – truly an iconic bird of the Mediterranean and an experience I’ll never forget!

Bee-eaters - Spain
The huge flock above our heads!
Bee-eaters - Spain
Managing to tear ourselves away from these winged wonders, we continued on with our journey, heading west on the long drive towards Zaragoza. Some dubious navigating saw us heading the long way round via Caspe that was disappointingly lacking in birds, although a Southern Grey Shrike provided a point of interest on route, perched in one of the many spiky shrubs at the side of the road and our only one of the trip.
Southern Grey Shrike - Spain
The sun-baked earthy fields on the approach to Zaragoza seemed the perfect habitat for Sandgrouse and Bustards, but countless searching from the car drew an unfortunate blank, with just a strange fox-like mammal seen hurtling across the road behind us. Calandra Larks, another new species for me, swooped and displayed in many of the fields, this large lark distinctive in its flight and great to watch as we kept an eye out for any Sandgrouse.
Calandra Lark - Spain
In flight record shot of a Calandra Lark
Continuing along the dusty tracks and passing through increasingly remote and abandoned villages on route to our next target site – the Dupont’s Lark location near Zaragoza - we enjoyed brief views of a female Montagu’s Harrier banking over the slopes whilst a Hoopoe flitted around several paces in front of the car for a good portion of the journey.

With VERY vague directions (understatement…) we drove around the dusty dirt tracks for at least an hour before Chris had to bite the bullet and make an expensive phone call back home to get clarification on exactly where we needed to be. Eventually on the right track, we travelled up the dust road before reaching the car park, taking in the beautiful Spanish plains scenery glowing red and gold in the now evening sunlight – a stunning backdrop and truly extraordinary environment.
Northern Spain
With the light beginning to fade, we simply listened, our ears taking in the amazing sounds of what could be described as the “dusk chorus”, a collaboration of the beautiful songs from the many larks in the area, all the while on high alert ready to pick out the sound of the Dupont’s interspersed within. Sure enough, we picked up snatches of the distinctive song – quite easy to hear and tantalisingly within our grasp. We were so close! Sadly, the light quickly faded to beyond the reaches of the human eye and the skies turned dark - we would have to make a return journey the next morning in search of our elusive quarry.

1 comment:

  1. Spain Trip Planner

    Fantastic history. I love the castle built right into the rock. The Roman bridge is amazing too. Just the fact that it’s still there!

    ReplyDelete

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