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A Report from

North-East Spain, 23rd to 30th May 1999,

Keith Shepherd

Sunday 23rd May

Gerona to Lleida

After a delay of about an hour leaving Gatwick, we touched down at Gerona, quickly picked up our luggage, all 16 of us, having spotted Common Swift, Barn Swallow and House Martin on the short walk from the plane across to the terminal building.

A short wait had us sorting out the car and minibuses for the trip, and whilst waiting for the drivers to complete the necessary documentation, House Sparrow, Greenfinch and Magpie were added; not much of a Mediterranean flavour so far!

Several attempts at leaving the car park added Green Woodpecker and then the drive towards Gerona began with species being added along the route to our unscheduled lunch stop at Manresa; Woodpigeon, Jay, White Wagtail, Feral Pigeon, Starling, Carrion Crow and a single Pallid Swift amongst their more common cousins.

Manresa proved to be a town you could get into, but not park or get out of all that easily, but we eventually managed to stop and added Serin and Alpine Swift whilst devouring an assortment of foods, including whole roast chicken!

We headed on to Gerona adding species regularly, Crested Lark, Common Kestrel, Grey Heron, Spotless Starling, much commoner than its northern European counterpart, White Stork and Collared Dove, the latter being seen during our exploits to find our hotel in Gerona, for which a local taxi driver restored my faith in human nature; driving me, with two minibuses and a car in tow for a couple of miles, and charging me absolutely nothing!

After settling into the fairly impressive hotel  most of the group decided to go to Candasnos, some 30 miles towards Zaragosa; and taking several wrong turns we finally arrived, having had good, if not brief views of several specialities en-route; Hoopoe, Bee-eater and Lesser Kestrel.

Candasnos did not appear particularly inspiring, but we were pleasantly surprised at the range of species found here.

Starting with singing Calandra Lark, of which there were several, then a male Black-eared Wheatear, a fairly elusive Tawny Pipit, and then a stunning Thekla Lark. These were followed by Common Whitethroat, Great Grey Shrike, Short-toed Lark, Chough and Cuckoo, as well as a very large raptor that only much later in the week was finally identified as an adult Golden Eagle.

Then, undoubtedly the bird of the day was found, when an adult male Little Bustard was located strolling around in the undergrowth.

Then followed Red-legged Partridge, Goldfinch and Mistle Thrush, and so ended our first day in Spain.

Overnight              : Hotel Pireneos, Lleida

Monday 24th May

Lleida to Jaca,

We decided on an early morning visit to a site a few miles out of town at Artesa de Lleida, and we saw three Little Owl's en-route along with several other species seen yesterday.

On arriving we were soon getting stunning views of Little Bustard, of which at least three separate individuals were seen, including males giving their famous 'phantom raspberry blower' calls.

Also seen here was Stone Curlew, Stock Dove, Mallard and Corn Bunting, the latter top become a very familiar site and sound of the whole trip.

Then, as we headed back to the hotel for breakfast, a brief view was had, unfortunately only by a couple of the group of a Nightjar; something of a surprise in daylight!

After a very substantial breakfast we took leave of Lleida and headed towards Zaragosa and Jaca via the Bajaraloz and Sarsosa areas. A brief roadside stop on the main road added several species to the trip list, Sparrowhawk, Jackdaw, Little Grebe, Moorhen and Marsh Harrier.

Then, just outside Bujaraloz some pools caused us to stop, and here we saw Black-winged Stilt, Little Ringed Plover and Black Kite, whilst at the Laguna la Playa, a few miles down the road we added Raven, plus better views of Bee-eater, as well as Turtle Dove, a elusive but nonetheless fabulous male Black Wheatear and Northern Wheatear.

Heading to Sarsosa saw the first of what became regular daily sightings of Griffon Vulture.

The drive up into the Pyrenees and Jaca provided a taste of some of the wonderful scenery we would be exploring during the next few days, and a short stop to admire the scenery also added Chaffinch and Stonechat to our list.

We arrived at Jaca late in the afternoon and saw several other species in and around the hotel and local park; Blackbird, Red Kite and Linnet.

Overnight              : Gran Hotel, Jaca

Tuesday 25th May
Itinerary: Jaca,
San Juan de la Pena

We had a pre-breakfast walk through the park onto the nearby scrub and farmland area and saw a number of species, many of which we had seen on the previous two days, but also new species were seen including Short-toed Treecreeper, Great Tit, Blue Tit, A very low flying Booted Eagle, Garden Warbler, Blackcap, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Nightingale, Crested Tit and many Red Kite's.

Our walk took us to the Citadel, where Tree Sparrow, Rock Sparrow and Rock Dove were seen; whilst back at the hotel Black Redstart was found in the grounds and Firecrest just outside.

The trip to Riglos was quite a trek, along sometimes quite narrow mountain roads, but we arrived, not before yet several stop off where a mixture of species were seen, Crag Martin, Black Kite and Egyptian Vulture at the first, Yellow-legged Gull and Great Crested Grebe at the second, Red-backed Shrike at the third and Bee-eater, Woodchat Shrike, Cirl Bunting, Bonelli's Eagle, Hoopoe and Honey Buzzard at the last.

There was a very steep walk through the village of Riglos to the church from where the impressive cliffs could be viewed. Stiff necks were the order of the day, but several species were seen here, Alpine Swifts were swirling around in small numbers, along with parties of Chough, but amongst the large numbers of Griffon Vultures we also added a Peregrine and much lower down, Black Wheatear and Blue Rock Thrush.

Dining in the village car park we saw Short-toed Eagle fly over and also saw Lesser Kestrel and Sardinian Warbler.

The route from Riglos to San Juan de la Pena proved even more harrowing but fairly event free, adding only Common Buzzard to our list.

At the monastery we added several more species, with some of the group adding more than others, amongst those seen by most were Spotted Flycatcher, Long-tailed Tit, Coal Tit and Citril Finch, plus a number of close Griffon Vultures.

Then on the way down, we stopped for close views of many Griffon Vultures, and a single Lammergeier came into view, but disappeared again far too quickly.

Nevertheless, our first full day in the Pyrenees was a great success, and we could only hope that tomorrow would be as good.

Overnight              : Gran Hotel, Jaca

Wednesday 26th May

Puente la Reina,
Hecho Valley,

Today started with another pre-breakfast walk through the local park and nearby countryside above the river, with many of yesterday's species again being present, although a very vocal and visible Melodious Warbler and our first good sightings of up to three Golden Oriole's added a Mediterranean flavour to the walk, which ended with a Robin, a bird seen by many of the group the previous morning.

We drove towards the Hecho Valley crossing the bridge at Punta la Reina where a brief stop gave good views of Crag Martin and singing Cetti's Warbler.

Midway between here and our primary destination we stopped at a likely spot along the river and quickly added Grey Wagtail to the trip list, and a fortunate few also saw Common Sandpiper.

Our visit to the gorge at Hecho was best forgotten, the hopeful parties expectations of seeing Wallcreeper gradually disappeared, and, on speaking to numerous birders it was clear that this particular site, and all other known accessible sites had been vacated by this particular species this year.

Nevertheless, we pressed on after a couple of hours anticipation and stopped shortly afterwards to have brief views of a Dipper and a Camberwell Beauty butterfly.

We headed up towards Siresa collecting a large flock of Citril Finch near the top, and also saw Red Squirrel and, at our highest point a couple of Yellowhammer, several Chough and three Chamois.

We returned to Jaca somewhat deflated but hopeful that tomorrow might prove more successful. Although what the day lacked in birds was certainly improved by the magnificent scenery.

Overnight              : Gran Hotel, Jaca

Thursday 27th May

Puente la Reina,
Hecho Valley,

Again a pre-breakfast walk, this time down as far as the river with the same birds as previously, although Golden Oriole was again seen, a Rock Sparrow seen so well we tried to make into a bunting and a couple of Bee-eater's were the highlights.

In fact today produced no new birds personally, even if we did try to string a Great Spotted Woodpecker into a Middle Spotted, or was it White-backed!, some of the party did have excellent sightings of a Wryneck.

Nevertheless the scenery was superb, and the birds we did see were seen well, including Egyptian Vulture, brief views of another Lammergeier and Black Redstart.

We ended the day at the Oriel, a high point above Jaca and being wooded it had possibilities, we saw only Coal Tit and Jay of note during this visit, but decided it might be worth a pre-breakfast sortie.

Overnight              : Gran Hotel, Jaca

Friday 28th May                                 

French Pyrenees

Early start up to Oriel, some fifteen minutes drive from the hotel, and although still a rather quiet place, with no sight or sound of the resident Black Woodpecker, we did see Tree Pipit, Crossbill and Common Treecreeper to add to our list for the trip.

After breakfast we headed north to the border with France but turned right just on the Spanish side to the ski resort of Astun.

We had finally reached the snow line, even if it was only patchy, and amongst the ordinary Chough we finally, but only briefly added two Alpine Chough, and also here saw Dunnock and a magnificent Rock Thrush.

Walking up the slopes by the side of the ski resort we had splendid views of some of the orchids covering the hillside, and also saw Water Pipit and Black-eared Wheatear.

Heading into France the scenery changed and everything became much greener.

As you would expect the species seen were very similar to those on the Spanish side, although this did include a spectacular scene with about 80 Griffon Vultures and 2 Egyptians tumbling down a hillside squabbling over the carcass of a sheep.

We had one scheduled stop which only produced Nuthatch and Wren, both of which had been seen by others at Oriel earlier.

The final bird of the day, in France as it happened, turned out to be the most contentious identification of the entire trip, when a stunning male Goshawk was seen sitting in the road directly in front of the fist vehicle. Unfortunately, the other vehicles believed they only saw a Common Buzzard, another bird which was also in the vicinity.

Overnight              : Gran Hotel, Jaca

Saturday 29th May

Jaca - Vic, Barbastro

Today was to be mainly a travelling day, from Jaca through to our last overnight stop at Vic, but another pre-breakfast walk provided similar species as in previous mornings with especially good views of Red Kite, Golden Oriole and Bee-eater.

During the drive to Barbastro, where we would be breaking for lunch, and some birding, we added Sand Martin to the trip list.

The drive along the dirt tracks close to Barbastro provided excellent views of Bee-eater, and finally at our rest stop birds started to appear at regular intervals, several Rollers were followed by Great Grey Shrike and Calandra Lark, Stone Curlew and Hoopoe.

Continuing around the area we added Montagu's Harrier, and then at one of two short stops by inland lakes, Purple Heron, Reed Warbler, our best sighting of Bonelli's Eagle of the trip, Cirl Bunting, Blue Rock Thrush and lastly a singing Great Reed Warbler.

Overnight              : Can Pamplona, Vic

Sunday 30th May

Vic - Gerona,
Castello del Aiguamolls

So the trip had come to an end and we arrived at Gerona airport at 08:00 for our 10:30 flight back to Gatwick to find ourselves with a six hour delay!

Many of the group decided to make the most of the delay and after agreeing with the hire company to retain the vehicles for a few hours more headed of to the cost to Castello del Aiguamolls hoping to add a few more species.

Arriving after a 45 minute drive, we saw European Cuckoo on the telegraph wires before adding several new species in quick succession, Coot, Purple Gallinule with young, Cattle Egret, Yellow Wagtail, Fan-tailed Warbler, Cetti's Warbler, Little Egret, Dunlin, Gadwall, Greenshank, Kentish Plover, and finally Black-headed Gull. This turned out to be a rather splendid finale to the trip.


The trip had a total of 143 species seen, with 2 additional species only heard, and some of the sightings were superb, the scenery was breathtaking, and a trip I thoroughly enjoyed throughout.

Thank you all for your wonderful company.

Where to Watch Birds in North and East Spain
Michael Rebane, Stephen Message: Buy from or

  • North and east Spain embraces an impressive range of habitats from the Pyrenees to the sun-drenched Catalan coast. As a consequence the area is rich in birdlife and full of potential for visiting birders. The 189 sites are described in terms of habitat, access and the species to be seen. The 104 major sites are accompanied by a map as well as maps of the region to show the location of each site.


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