Julian Sykes Wildlife Holidays

Pyrenees & N/E Spain

26th Sept - 3rd Oct 2007

Report by Julian Sykes

26th September :- We met yesterday afternoon & after a lovely evening meal found 4 Red necked Nightjars around Oliva. This morning we set off north & started logging our first raptors just south of Teruel with a Short toed Eagle, Griffon Vultures, Common Buzzards & Kestrels. At Monreal del Campo we headed off the main road to Blancas & a slow drive to Bello produced a Marsh Harrier, more Griffons, 3 Hobby’s, Sparrowhawk (taking a Rock Sparrow), Cattle Egrets, Northern Wheatears, House & Rock Sparrows, Black Redstarts, Crested & Thekla Larks, Linnets, Carrion Crows, Magpies, Corn Buntings & a Raven. Just beyond Bello is Gallacanta Lake & during a drive around this fantastic area we found no less than 5 Golden Eagles (2 ad, 3 1cy), one of which was being mobbed by a Hobby. Other raptors included a female Hen Harrier & more Marsh Harriers, Peregrine Falcon and lots of Eurasian Kestrels. Our other big find here (by Keith) was a flock of 18 Great Bustards along with Tree Sparrows, Stonechats, Northern Wheatear & Linnets. It was time to leave & drive further north to our accommodation within the steppe area of Campo de Belchite. We checked into our rooms, freshened up & early evening made the short journey to El Planeron reserve. The high winds made things a little difficult but we still managed to find 2 Dupont’s Larks, Lesser short toed & Crested Larks, a single Black bellied Sandgrouse, Red legged Partridges and a group of Barn Swallows. An excellent to our first full day out.

27th September :- An early start and we were again out on El Planeron reserve for just after dawn. The wind was still a problem but we were quite confident of finding another Dupont’s Lark for Alan & Val who had sadly missed the ones the previous day. As always we slowly drove the tracks and soon found both Crested & Lesser Short toed Larks, Red legged Partridges, Corn Buntings & Linnets. Our first real success was 3 Pin tailed Sandgrouse just at the side of the track and showing every feather detail as they walked away. A little further & Frank said, “Look at this bird running” and sure enough there was a Dupont’s Lark running alongside the mini-bus, and thankfully we all got good close views of this enigmatic species as it dodged between the mesquit grass. It was now time for breakfast and as we left the reserve we found our first Calandra Larks, yet another welcome addition to the list. After breakfast we loaded the mini-bus and headed out over the plains towards Belchite spending an hour walking around it's ‘old town’ sadly raised to the ground by Franco’s forces during the Civil War. While we were there we added 2 Black Wheatears, 2 Blue Rock Thrushes, Black Redstarts, Griffon Vultures and Eurasian Kestrel. Next we headed out towards Quinto, again through some excellent agricultural land, which produced 2 Lesser Kestrels near their breeding area, 6 Black bellied Sandgrouse, Calandra, Crested & Lesser Short toed Larks, Marsh Harrier, Griffon Vultures, Linnets & Corn Buntings. Now we struck north and visited a site in the Pre-Pyrenees near Huesca, the dam at Vadiello. Here we had our picnic lunch and during this time we saw 2 adult Lammergeiers, lots of Griffon Vultures, Crag Martins, Black Redstarts plus a Firecrest seen down to two metres. It was now time to head for our hotel further north and our journey was punctuated with lots of Red Kites, Common Buzzards and Ravens along this fantastically scenic route. Once we arrived at the sublime Hotel Uson and settled in, we had a gentle stroll around the general area. Although the weather was grey with some light rain we still managed to find Dipper, Grey Wagtails, Crested, Coal, Great, Long tailed & Blue Tits, Chaffinches, Blackcap, Dunnock, Black Redstart, Sparrowhawk and a Robin. We had completed another excellent day and a fine meal was enjoyed by all that evening.

28th September :- We woke to a very cold fresh morning with little or no wind and gathered for a pre-breakfast walk that produced Griffon Vultures, Crested, Coal, Great & Blue Tits, Firecrest, Short toed Treecreeper, Dunnock, Wren, Robin and a Red Squirrel. After breakfast we drove up the mountain seeing a Roe Deer en-route to the Garbardito Refuge and almost immediately after we got out of the vehicle 10 Citril Finches flew in and landed in the Refugio's garden getting fantastic scoped views of these montane finches. As we set off long the forest track we found our first Marsh Tits feeding on the thistle heads but the walk through the rock face was fairly quiet just seeing more Crested & Coal Tits, Short toed Treecreeper, Chaffinches, Robins & Nuthatch. At the now ‘famous’ rock face we waited to see if we could locate a Wallcreeper but unfortunately not, however while we were there we did see 2 Lammergeiers, more Marsh Tits, Black Redstart & Red billed Choughs. Very sadly we left and walked slowly back to the refuge, Keith & Val had gone on ahead & seen an Iberian Green Woodpecker flying through the forest in front of them. After our picnic lunch I heard a Black Woodpecker near by and with a little persuasion we located a male clinging to the side of a dead pine tree and got good scoped views. This was then followed by the female Black Woodpecker flying over where we were calling as she bounded across the top of the pine forest. Just as we were about to leave, Alan found a Mistle Thrush and the Citril Finches returned to the garden to afford us one last look. Back near the Uson we stopped as Ron and I saw a Rock Bunting fly up from the side of the road but unfortunately failed to re-locate it for the others, although half an hour of watching the skies produced an adult & 1st winter Golden Eagles, Sparrowhawk, Peregrine, 2 Red Kites, 2 Lammergeiers and the usual mass of Griffon Vultures. We made our way slowly up the winding road marvelling at the spectacular scenery of the Upper Hecho Valley and again here we saw 2 more Lammergeiers, Common Buzzards, Red Kites, Sparrowhawk, Peregrine, Kestrel, Meadow Pipits, Blackbird, Northern Wheatears, Yellowhammers, Goldfinches, Serins and along the river we saw lot’s of Grey Wagtails and a few Dippers. Our final destination was the famous Boca de Infierno and yet another site of spectacular beauty, and birds included Jay, Peregrine, Sparrowhawk, and a Marsh Harrier migrating south. It was getting late and our hopes of finding a Wallcreeper seemed to have gone but one final look over the gorge produced a female for both Frank & I. Unfortunately it flew off before the others got to see it and careful searching produced nothing, we would need to return the next morning and try and re-locate it. 

29th September :- Our first stop this morning was back at the Boca de Infierno in the hope of finding the Wallcreeper we had seen briefly the evening before, unfortunately a cold wind with some rain blew through the narrow gorge. After a while Keith, Val, Alan & Frank left to get a coffee at a new café situated close to the Boca. Ron & I waited and continued to search the rock face, eventually got our just rewards as I found a Wallcreeper feeding below us. We both had magical views of this enigmatic bird as it made it's way nearer to where we were standing picking insects from the narrow crevices. While we were watching Frank arrived and also enjoyed excellent close views, Ron was elated, being the only member of the group not to have seen one before. We walked back to the mini-bus and met the others who had seen an Iberian Green Woodpecker amongst other commoner species. We now left and made our way down the Hecho Valley seeing plenty of Common Buzzards and Red Kites along the roadside, soon after we reached the monastaries of San Juan de la Peña. A walk around the woods of this beautiful site produced a few Citril Finches, Whinchat, Black Redstarts, Short toed Treecreepers, Nuthatches, Goldcrest, Crested, Coal, Long tailed, Great & Blue Tits, Chiffchaff, Blackcap, Wren and Crag Martins. We had our lunch in the picnic area and then left for the ‘Badlands of Berdun’ an area of agricultural land and shale hills. Here we had a walk along the roadside checking the cereal fields and hedgerows, which were very productive with lot’s of Stonechats, House Sparrows, Cirl & Corn Buntings plus we also found 2 Short toed Eagles, Hobby, Kestrels, 4 Wood Larks, 10+ Rock Sparrows, Whinchat, Dartford & Sardinian Warblers, and Alan found a lovely (1st winter) Common Redstart. Our return to the hotel was interrupted with a quick visit to a small valley near Siresa but this was fairly quiet with just Common Buzzard, Jay, Magpie, Robin, Wren, Blackcap, Chiffchaff, Dunnock and Blackbirds to be seen.

 30th September :- A quiet day birdwise but that morning Ron had done well with his moth-trap getting catching about 100 moths of 28 species including the impressive Red Underwing, Portland Riband Wave, Bordered Gothic, Setaceous Hebrew Character, Shuttle Shaped Dart, Square Spot & Autumnal Rustics. While we were learning about the moths Alan went for a pre-breakfast walk and saw Jay, Nuthatch, Blackbird, Blue Tit plus heard 2 Black Woodpeckers. After breakfast we drove through to San Martin on the French Border seeing Griffon Vultures, Red Kite, Common Buzzard, Crag Martins, Chaffinches and Carrion Crows. At the San Martin Pass we searched the area found some visible migration taking place with small flocks of finches and hirundines moving south, but a Black Stork was our best find. We also saw Sand Martin, Barn Swallows, Black Redstarts, 2 Citril Finches, Serins, Chaffinches, Great Tits, Water & Meadow Pipits, Alpine & Red billed Choughs, Kestrel and the ubiquitous Griffon Vultures. It was now lunchtime so we drove back down the mountain and stopped at Belagua for a walk through the ancient Beech Forest where the rotting trees held some fantastic fungi's of various shapes and sizes. The birds were fairly scarce but we did manage to see Nuthatch, Coal & Marsh Tit, Mistle Thrush, Linnet and Goldfinches. We headed back to Hecho and en-route stopped at a roadside pull-in near Isaba where we heard Black & Great Spotted Woodpeckers plus saw 10+ Jays, Blackbird, Griffon Vultures and a Hobby. Our final stop was once more at the Boca de Infierno to try to see the Wallcreeper again but unfortunately not, however, we did see a Lammergeier, Marsh, Crested & Blue Tits, Jays, Crag Martins and a Chiffchaff. Although it was quiet today, it was very memorable for the fantastic scenery & diverse wildlife.

1st October :- This morning we were sadly leaving the Hotel Uson so after breakfast we loaded the mini-bus and began our journey south. At Riglos we stopped for a photo opportunity that paid dividends, as while we were there we saw our first Great Spotted Woodpecker plus Sparrowhawk, Woodlarks, Tree Sparrow, Serin, Goldfinch, Sardinian Warbler, Chiffchaff and Corn Buntings. We continued south and as ever the telegraph poles along the route held plenty of Red Kites and Common Buzzards with Alan also seeing a White Stork. The road to Sarineña was also productive with several Marsh Harriers, Raven and at one flooded field we found 30+ Cattle Egrets, Yellow & White Wagtails, Whinchats, Stonechats, Zitting Cisticolas, a Cetti’s Warbler, House & Tree Sparrows, Southern Grey Shrike, Crested larks & Corn Buntings. At Sarineña Lagoon we visited the Information Centre before driving around it’s perimeter, stopping at the watchpoints to view the reeds and lagoon. During this time we saw Great Crested & Little Grebes, Little Egrets, Grey Herons, Cormorants, Mallard, Gadwall, Teal, Shoveler, Coot, Marsh Harriers, Griffon Vultures, Sparrowhawk, 3 Penduline Tits, Barn Swallows, House Martins, Eurasian & Spotless Starlings, Northern Wheatear, Whinchat and Black Headed Gulls. Once again we continued east, just south of Lleida we stopped at Alfás a good area of agricultural land noted for it's steppe species. Here we had our best find of the holiday, as a small pool produced a North American wader and genuine Spanish rarity; a juvenile Buff Breasted Sandpiper. We spent the next hour watching it, taking careful notes & digi-scoped photographs that will be sent to the Spanish Rarities Committee for their ratification. Eventually we had to leave and made our way through to Sant Carles de Rapita on the edge of the Ebro Delta for our last two nights.

2nd October :- After breakfast we set out on to the south side of the Delta starting at the excellent new reserve of Riet Vell before moving to the nearby Tancada area. The two sites produced Little Grebes, Cormorants, Grey & Purple Herons, Great White, Little & Cattle Egrets, 2000+ Greater Flamingos, Gadwall. Mallard, Shoveler, Red Crested Pochard, Eurasian Teal, 2 Ospreys, Marsh Harriers, Purple Gallinules, Moorhens, Common Coots, Grey Plover, Bar tailed Godwits, Spotted & Common Redshanks, Greenshanks, Knot, Common Sandpipers, Little Stints, Curlew Sandpiper, Dunlin, Yellow legged, Lesser Black backed Black headed, & Slender billed Gulls, 23 Caspian, Sandwich & Little Terns, Woodpigeon, Kingfishers, Crested Larks, Barn Swallows, Blackbird, Son Thrush, Zitting Cisticolas, Cetti's & Reed Warblers, a Pied Flycatcher, a male Bluethroat, Black Redstarts, Northern Wheatear, Magpies, House & Tree Sparrows, Greenfinches and Goldfinches, in addition to these species we got our only Squacco Heron and Whiskered Terns in the rice fields. After lunch we headed over the river to the Buda de Illa, El Garxal & Canal Vell areas where we found many of the species seen earlier plus Great Crested Grebes, Night Herons, Pintail, Wigeon, Common Pochard, Booted Eagle sat in a tree, and a Hoopoe. We then crossed back over the River Ebro on one of the car transporters finishing our day at L’Alfacada & the Platja de Miguel finding more Great White Egrets, 20+ Glossy Ibis, a Spoonbill, Greylag Geese, Shelducks, Marsh Harriers, Purple Gallinules, Black winged Stilts, Avocets, Lapwing, Common Snipe, Black tailed Godwits, Green Sandpiper, Sanderlings, an Arctic Skua and Gannets out to sea, Mediterranean & Audouin's Gulls, Barn Swallows, and a few more Kingfishers. Today, as always had been a fantastic day with literally thousands of birds of many species and an excellent last full day to the week.

3rd October :-  Straight after breakfast we loaded the vehicle and set off on our final journey south and as we had some time to spare before the flights we called in at Moro Marsh in hope of finding our last target. It took a little time but eventually we found a Crested Coot amongst it's commoner cousins and also a Hobby, Purple Gallinules, Avocet, Mallard, Shovelers, Gadwall and Eurasian Teal.


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