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The Spanish Pyrenees and the Ebro Delta : 11th - 18th September, 2004.,
Participants: John Barnes, David Ellis, Buckley Wyn Jones. Gareth Jones, Rhion Pritchard.
Day 1 11th September
We took the early morning Easyjet flight from Liverpool to Barcelona, where we collected our hire car, a Fiat Ulysse, from Europcar and set off for the Pyrenees. Red Kite and Black Kite were noted on the way, together with numerous Griffon Vultures.
On arriving in Jaca we checked in at the Hostal Paris. This is very centrally located, opposite the cathedral, and is clean and very good value for money. From the balcony, large numbers of Crag Martin and Barn Swallow could be watched going in and out of holes in the cathedral, with some actually on the hostal itself.
Jaca is a very pleasant town, with the cathedral and the citadel the main points of interest. There are plenty of restaurants; most days we took the 9 euro Menu del Dia at the Hotel Mur, just round the corner from the Hostal Paris.
Day 2 12th September
Since the main target species for the trip was Wallcreeper, we got up at 6:30 and headed for Gabardito, which seemed from recent trip reports to be the most likely site for this species. The instructions said to park by the Refugio, face it and take the path on the right hand side. We did so, but saw later that there were two car parks at the Refugio, one on the right just before reaching it (where we parked) and one by the Refugio building itself. However, the two paths join further up, so this did not matter.
The instructions then said to continue along the path until we came out of the trees with a cliff in front. We did so, picking up Whinchat and Pied and Spotted Flycatcher on the way, and as we arrived under the crag heard the distinctive call of a Wallcreeper. However half an hour of watching the cliff here produced no sign of movement, so we decided to move up a little. Just round the corner we were able to look back at a long narrow crack on the cliff face, and here Gareth saw a bird flying into the crack. We watched and waited, and in a few minutes John spotted it emerging from the crack and perching on the rock nearby - Wallcreeper, and probably a female judging by the white chin. After a few minutes the bird flew across the valley, a beautiful sight as the sun caught it, showing the red in the wings.
Incidentally we later met Josele Sainz of Boletas leading a group at the Ebro Delta. Josele said that we had been lucky to see it at this site in September, and thought that the birds must have had a second brood.
We were now able to start thinking about other birds. A Goshawk flew over, and later a Short-toed Eagle showed well. Griffon Vultures were very numerous, with 120+ distantly visible in the air in the direction of the Anso valley. Alpine Chough were also present in force, with a flock of 120+ around the crags on the far side of the valley. We returned to the car park to look for Citril Finch, but although they could be heard calling I was the only one to actually get a view of a bird. A Lammergeier then flew over, a lifer for several of the group.
On the way down from Gabardito we saw several Red Kites, then on the road leading over into the Anso valley a dark-phase Booted Eagle was seen. The Anso valley did not produce much however, and we returned to Jaca for a quick look at the park. The highlight here was a very tame Red Squirrel, with a Rock Sparrow heard but not seen at the Citadel.
Day 3 13th September
The first stop was the Mirador de Oroel, a few kilometres south of Jaca, to look for Black Woodpecker. As we headed up towards the Mirador two Wild Boar emerged from the undergrowth to cross the road in front of the car. Another interesting mammal sighting here was a Genet, which came walking up the track as we sat watching for the woodpecker, saw us when about 20 yards away, whirled round and fled.
Some powerful knocking at intervals indicated the presence of Black Woodpecker, but the only view was a glimpse of a probable in flight by John. Other birds were more obliging, and we recorded Great Spotted Woodpecker, Crested Tit, Firecrest and Common Crossbill among other species.
We now headed up towards the ski resorts of Candachu and Astun. We had been hoping that the ski lifts would be operating here, enabling us to get up to higher ground for Alpine Accentor and particularly Snowfinch. However, we had found out at the hostal that the Astun ski lift had closed on 31st August, and the Candachu ski lifts turned out to be closed as well. It seems that if you want to use the ski lifts outside the ski season, you have to come in July or August. Both resorts were deserted apart from builders and maintenance workers preparing for the ski season. The first stop was at Astun, where Water Pipit and Black Redstart were common, and a juvenile Rock Thrush was seen. The highlight here was a view of three Lammergeiers in the air together, with one coming very close and giving superb views.
We then stopped at Candachu, where a mixed flock of birds at the top end of the resort included Goldfinch and Serin, with Northern Wheatear nearby and a Honey Buzzard over. Climbing up a little way we recorded another Lammergeier, a Lesser Kestrel as well as several Common Kestrels, a flock of 22 Citril Finches, several Bonelli's Warblers and a Ring Ouzel. Two Chamois provided good telescope views a little higher up the slopes, and Marmot were present in good numbers.
Day 4 14th September
We headed south today, in the direction of Riglos. The first stop was at the Embalse de la Pena, just where the river widens into the reservoir as described in Crozier. A few water birds were in evidence, such as Mallard, Grey Heron and Yellow-legged Gull, and crossing a footbridge over the river produced reasonable numbers of birds in the scrub on the far side. Female-type Pied Flycatchers and Chaffinches were the most numerous, but we also picked up Spectacled Warbler, Common Redstart and Wood Lark.
We then moved on towards Riglos, where the strangely shaped rock formations were worth a visit in themselves. We parked at a large layby on the left when approaching the village, but then found that there were other, closer car parks - just continue until you come to a sign that says, in effect, that only resident's cars are allowed to go further, and park in the car park on the right. The village itself held large numbers of Spotless Starling. We took the path by the church to the foot of the cliffs and scanned for Black Wheatear, but failed to find any. We did have good views of Dartford Warbler however, along with Blue Rock Thrush.
The next stop was Aguero, where there was a similar rock formation. It was now mid day and getting rather hot, with bird activity correspondingly reduced, though we did get one more Dartford Warbler and the inevitable Griffons.
Next on the list was the new monastery of San Juan de la Pena. The monastery itself is still under reconstruction and covered in scaffolding, but there were quite a few people around. We walked through the woods to the edge of the cliff, but the only birds recorded were Griffons and one Goshawk. On the way back to Jaca we stopped by the Hotel Aragon and recorded Booted and Short-toed Eagle in the air together, along with a Red Kite.
Day 5 15th September.
We started the day by returning to Oroel in the hope of catching up with Black Woodpecker. The woods were considerably quieter this morning compared with our previous visits, but after a while Dafydd and Buckley had a brief flight view of a probable flying between the trees. Shortly afterwards I had a similar view, but that was the best we were going to get, with nobody quite being 100% certain about it.
We then headed up the valley towards Portalet and the French border. Immediately by the frontier, a flock of around 20 Yellowhammers were an unexpected sight, with Black Redstart again common around the buildings. A Fox appeared near the back of a restaurant, and a walk along a track starting near the border check point produced three Sky Larks. The track 200m further down as described by Crozier appeared to have been buried by extensive road works, and a new road was being built near the border, leading upwards to what was presumably going to be a new ski resort. This could turn out to be useful in years to come for the high altitude species. We then put in a bit of time around the shops here, which had some good stuff at very competitive prices.
On the way back down, we saw a ringtail Harrier from the car; probably Hen Harrier but the bird had vanished by the time we could stop for a better look.
Day 6 16th September
We made an early start for the trip south-west to the Ebro Delta, with the intention of having a quick look at the area around Candasnos and Ballobar, as described in Crozier (23a). Travelling north from Candasnos in the direction of Ontinena, we soon saw good numbers of Stone Curlew, including one flock of 22. Red-legged Partridge was also common, and there were lots of larks. However every lark that we managed to pin down turned out to be Crested, though no doubt other species would have turned up had we been able to devote more time to the area. A Tawny Pipit gave good views, as did a Great Grey Shrike after turning off towards Ballobar, but we found no Sandgrouse - Pin-tailed Sandgrouse remains one of my bogey birds. It was in any case time to head for Deltebre, though a lunch stop on the way next to an irrigation canal added Cetti's Warbler to the trip list, and a flock of 20+ White Storks had been attracted to one field.
On arrival at Deltrebre, we quickly found the Hotel Rull where we had booked accommodation, as Deltebre has particularly good signposting. Having checked in at the hotel, we called at the nearby visitor centre for a free map of the area then headed for the nearest pool, El Garxal. There appeared to have been quite a bit of rain here recently, as there was a pool of water a foot or so deep in front of the hide. Wading through it proved well worthwhile, with an impressive flock of Greater Flamingoes, two Purple Gallinules, Kingfisher, lots of Black Terns with one Caspian Tern, good numbers of duck, with Red Crested Pochard particularly numerous and a variety of waders including large numbers of Spotted Redshank and Black-tailed Godwit, with Black-winged Stilt, Ruff and Common Snipe among other species present. Great White Egrtes were also in good numbers, and gulls in the nearby fields included Slender-billed as well as the more numerous Yellow-legged and Black-headed. We took the Menu del Dia at the Hotel, again a good bargain at 9 euros, though we also noted a good selection of restaurants at Riumar.
Day 7 17th September
We crossed the Ebro on the ferry and headed for l'Encanyissada, the largest of the pools around the Ebro delta area. A good number of birds were visible in the rice fields on the way, with Egrets much in evidence and Black and Whiskered Terns common and Gull-billed Tern also seen. Temminck' Stint was probably the most common wader in the fields, with good numbers seen. At l'Encanyissada there were again large numbers of ducks and waders, the latter including Kentish Plover, Little Stint, Common, Green and Wood Sandpipers, Ruff and Avocet. More Purple Gallinules were seen, and Reed Warbler was added to the trip list, but the most remarkable sight was a flock of 900+ Greater Flamingoes, including many young birds. Marsh Harriers were so common that we were soon no longer bothering to call them. Fan-tailed Warblers were also numerous, though we had only one sighting of Bearded Tit. We then birded la Tancada which held similar species, with Tree Sparrow being added to the trip list.
One species we had not encountered so far was Audouin's Gull, so we drove on towards the beach at Platja dels Eucaliptus, where we quickly found a very obliging specimen, which came to bread and gave excellent photo opportunities. Four adult Mediterranean Gulls alongside were nearly as decorative.
Day 8 18th September
The first stop today was the northern part of the Ebro delta area, starting at the les Olles pool, where there were again good numbers of birds. A few new species were added to the trip list, notably Purple and Squacco Heron, which we were rather surprised not to have seen previously, although Grey Herons were very numerous. The explanation was probably the height of the vegetation; birds would be easier to see in spring. A Spanish Sparrow was picked out in a flock of House Sparrows, and one of the highlights was an excellent close-range view of an Osprey. We then moved east along the edge of the Port del Fangar, and added several waders which we had not seen before, including Bar-tailed Godwit, Whimbrel and Turnstone.
We now headed towards Barcelona, arriving there in early afternoon. As the flight did not leave until evening, we intended to bird the Llobregat area near the airport. We found a road leading down to the beach then parallel to the beach past the golf course as described in "Where to watch birds in Northern an d Eastern Spain", but on arrival at the car park at the end found that there was no access to this part of the reserve from here. The day before, a news item in El Pais had said that work to move the river channel in the Llobregat area had just been completed, and that this would open up a larger area for "development". It seems that visitors to this area need to check what the current situation is on the ground. We did not have the time to do this, so the trip ended on a note of anticlimax as we decided to head back to the airport, eventually arriving back at Liverpool airport around 11:30 p.m..
There were a few gaps in the bird list, some species obviously having already departed, notably the swifts. We recorded no bunting species, and only a single shrike. A visit in May would no doubt have produced a longer species list. However, the main aim of the trip was to see Wallcreeper, and as we did see it, we returned home well satisfied.
We used "A birdwatching guide to the Pyrenees" by Jacquie Crozier (Arlequin, 1998) and "Where to watch birds in North & East Spain" by Michael Rebane (Helm).
A bit of Spanish is important, as outside Barcelona we met hardly anyone who spoke any English. Some people in Jaca spoke French.
Little Grebe (Tachybaptus ruficollis) : common at the Ebro delta.
Great Crested Grebe (Podiceps cristatus)
Great Cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo)
Squacco Heron (Ardeola ralloides): only one seen on the Ebro.
Cattle Egret (Bubulcus ibis): common at the Ebro delta.
Little Egret (Egretta garzeta)
Great Egret (Egretta alba) : fairly common at the Ebro delta.
Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea): common.
Purple Heron (Ardea purpurea): only one seen, at les Olles.
White Stork (Ciconia ciconia): A flock of 20+ in a field S of Zaragoza.
Greater Flamingo (Phoenicopterus ruber) : present in excellent numbers in the Ebro Delta, the largest flock one of 900+ at l'Encanyissada. Good numbers of juveniles present.
Common Shelduck (Tadorna tadorna) : small numbers at the Ebro delta.
Gadwall (Anas strepera)
Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos)
Northern Shoveler (Anas clypeata)
Red-crested Pochard (Netta rufina): very common at the Ebro delta, where several hundred were present.
European Honey-buzzard (Pernis apivorus) : rather surprisingly only one seen, at Astun.
Black Kite (Milvus migrans): common.
Red Kite (Milvus milvus): seen at several sites around Jaca, including one over the hotel.
Lammergeier (Gypaetus barbatus): one seen at Gabardito, three at Astun and one at Candachu.
Griffon Vulture (Gyps fulvus): very common in the Pyrenees, including 120+ in the air at once over the Anso Valley.
Short-toed Eagle (Circaetus gallicus) : several seen in the Pyreneees.
Marsh Harrier (Circus aeruginosus: ubiquitous in the Ebro Delta.
Harrier sp. : one ringtail at Portalet was thought to be a Hen Harrier, but a brief view from the car meant that Montague's Harrier could not be eliminated.
Northern Goshawk (Accipiter gentilis): one was seen at Gabardito and another at San Juan de la Pena.
Common Buzzard (Buteo buteo): fairly common.
Booted Eagle (Hieraaetus pennatus): several seen.
Osprey (Pandion haliaetus) : two seen in the Ebro Delta.
Lesser Kestrel (Falco naumanni) : one seen at Candachu.
Common Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus) : common.
Red-legged Partridge (Alectoris rufa): common around Candasnos and Ballobar.
Moorhen (Gallinula chloropus)
Purple Gallinule (Porphyrio porphyrio) : several seen at the Ebro Delta, with possibly 11 different individuals.
Black-winged Stilt (Himantopus himantopus)
Avocet (Recurvirostra avosetta)
Stone Curlew (Burhinus oedicnemus) : surpisingly common in the Candasnos area, including one flock of 22.
Great Ringed Plover (Charadrius hiaticula)
Kentish Plover (Charadrius alexandrinus)
Little Stint (Calidris minuta)
Temminck's Stint (Calidris temminckii): one of the most common waders in the Ebro delta.
Curlew Sandpiper (Calidris ferruginea)
Dunlin (Calidris alpina)
Ruff (Philomachus pugnax)
Common Snipe (Gallinago gallinago)
Black-tailed Godwit (Limosa limosa)
Bar-tailed Godwit (Limosa lapponica)
Whimbrel (Numenius phaeopus) : 4-5 birds at Port del Fangar, Ebro Delta.
Spotted Redshank (Tringa erythropus) : very common in the Ebro delta.
Common Redshank (Tringa totanus): one at Port del Fangar
Greenshank (Tringa nebularia): present in small numbers at the Ebro Delta.
Green Sandpiper (Tringa ochropus) : fairly common
Wood Sandpiper (Tringa glareola): one at les Olles, Ebro D.
Common Sandpiper (Actitis hypoleucos)
Turnstone (Arenaria interpres)
Mediterranean Gull (Larus melanocephalus) : several on the beach at Platja dels Eucaliptus
Black-headed Gull (Larus ridibundus): very common at the Ebro Delta, particularly in the rice fields.
Slender-billed Gull (Larus genei) : several seen in the Ebro Delta.
Audouin's Gull (Larus audouinii) : one coming to bread at Platja dels Eucaliptus
Yellow-legged Gull (Larus cachinnans) : fairly common.
Gull-billed Tern (Sterna nilotica): several seen in the Ebro Delta.
Common Tern (Sterna hirundo)
Caspian Tern (Sterna caspia): one seen at el Garxal.
Whiskered Tern (Childonias hybridus) : common in the Ebro Delta.
Black Tern (Childonias niger) : very common in the Ebro Delta.
Wood Pigeon (Columda palumbus)
Collared Dove (Streptopelia decaoto)
Common Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis)
Hoopoe (Upupa epops)
[Black Woodpecker (Dryocopus martius)] : several brief flight views of probables at Oroel.
Great Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos major) : seen at Oroel.
Crested Lark (Galerida cristata)
Wood Lark (Lullula arborea) : several at the Embalse de la Pena
Sky Lark (Alauda arvensis) : three at Portalet.
Sand Martin (Riparia riparia)
Crag Martin (Ptyonoprogne rupestris) : very common, particularly on the cathedral at Jaca.
Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica)
House Martin (Delichon urbica)
Tawny Pipit (Anthus campestris) : one near Candasnos.
Water Pipit (Anthus spinoletta) : common around the ski resorts.
White Wagtail (Motacilla alba)
Grey Wagtail (Motacilla cinerea)
Wren (Troglodytes troglodytes)
Dunnock (Prunella modularis)
Robin (Erithacus rubecula)
Black Redstart (Phoenicurus ochruros) : common around the ski resorts.
Common Redstart (Phoenicurus phoenicurus): seen at the Embalse de la Pena
Common Stonechat (Saxicola torquatus)
Whinchat (Saxicola rubetra) : fairly common.
Northern Wheatear (Oenanthe oenanthe): common, particularly at higher altitudes.
Rock Thrush (Monticola saxatilis) : an immature bird seen at Astun.
Blue Rock Thrush (Monticola solitarius) : several seen around the Riglos area.
Ring Ouzel (Turdus torquatus) : one at Candachu.
Blackbird (Turdus merula) : common.
Song Thrush (Turdus philomelos) : one at Riglos.
(H) Cetti's Warbler (Cettia cetti)
Zitting Cisticola (Cisticola juncidis) : common around the Ebro Delta.
Reed Warbler (Acrocephalus scirpaceus) : several at the Ebro Delta.
Dartford Warbler (Sylvia undata) : 2-3 at Riglos and one at Aguero.
Spectacled Warbler (Sylvia conspicillata): one at Embalse de la Pena.
Western Bonelli's Warbler (Phylloscopus bonellii) : several above Candachu.
Common Chiffchaff (Phylloscopus collybita)
Willow Warbler (Phylloscopus trochilus)
Firecrest (Regulus ignicapillus) : fairly common.
Spotted Flycatcher (Muscicapa striata)
Pied Flycatcher (Ficedula hypoleuca) : encountered almost everywhere in ones and twos, presumably on migration.
Bearded Tit (Panurus biarmicus): one at l'Encanyissada.
Crested Tit (Parus cristatus) : fairly common at Oroel.
Coal Tit (Parus ater) : very common.
Blue Tit (Parus caeruleus)
Great Tit (Parus major)
European Nuthatch (Sitta europaea)
Wallcreeper (Tichodroma muraria) : one, probably a female, at Gabardito.
Great Grey Shrike (Lanius excubitor) : one near Candasnos.
Eurasian Jay (Garrulus glandarius)
Magpie (Pica pica)
Yellow-billed Chough (Purthocorax graculus) : seen in good numbers, most notably a flock of 120+ at Gabardito and a flock of 74 at Portalet.
Carrion Crow (Corvis corone)
Common Raven (Corvus corax)
Spotless Starling (Sturnus unicolor)
House Sparrow (Passer domesticus)
Tree Sparrow (Passer montanus) : seen at la Tancada.
Spanish Sparrow (Passer hispaniolensis) : one at les Olles.
(H) Rock Sparrow (Petronia petronia) : one heard at the Citadel, Jaca.
Common Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs)
European Serin (Serinus serinus)
Citril Finch (Serinus citrinella) : a flock of 22 at Candachu, also seen at Gabardito.
Greenfinch (Carduelis chloris)
Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis )
Linnet (Acanthis cannaina)
Common Crossbill (Loxia curvirostra) : seen and heard at Oroel.
Yellowhammer (Emberiza citrinella) : 25+ birds at Portalet
Rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus)
Red Squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris) : in the park at Jaca.
Alpine Marmot (Marmota marmota)
Wild Boar (Sus scrofula) : two at Oroel.
Izard (Chamois) (Rupicapra pyrenaica) : several seen around the ski resorts.
Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes)
Badger (Meles meles)
Genet (Genetta genetta) : one seen at Oroel.