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|A Report from birdtours.co.uk|
Spanish Pyrenees and Zaragoza Plains 6th to 16th March 2006,
This was a trip of great contrasts; contrasts in weather, contrasts in scenery and contrasts in the birds themselves, with memorable experiences ranging from watching Alpine Accentors and Snowfinches feeding at our feet in icy temperatures amid the snow-clad peaks of the high Pyrenees to listening to the melancholy whistling of Dupont’s Larks by moonlight on the arid steppes of Los Monegros. Though three of us had birded this area previously, none had been at this time of year. Our hope was that a visit in late winter/early spring would enable us to find Wallcreeper, Alpine Accentor and Snowfinch at more easily accessible, lower altitude sites than later in the year. We were not disappointed. Timing was more crucial than we’d anticipated however; other birders visiting the same sites just two weeks later found that Vadiello was devoid of Wallcreepers and both the Snowfinches and Alpine Accentors had departed Astun. For our priority species, we’d got the timing just right. Other highlights included Lammergeiers mating in the snow, excellent views of both sandgrouse, superb performances by Dupont’s Larks and huge numbers of Common Cranes.
Alpine Accentor at Astun Derek McAlone
We flew from Liverpool to Barcelona with easyJet (£51 return, booked over the internet, very efficient and virtually hassle-free apart from a minor delay on the return flight). At Barcelona airport we picked up a hired Volvo V30 Diesel from Avis (£352.78 including excess buy-out, booked over the internet with Holiday Autos and again very smooth and efficient). Our only quibble was that, as in the past at Barcelona and contrary to the advertising blurb, the car hire desks are not even in the same terminal let alone the arrivals hall, necessitating a bit of a hike with the luggage to pick up your vehicle.
We used the E90 toll motorway up to Fraga in both directions, which cost us about 12 euros each way; however, the alternative route, the toll-free N11, involves long sections of single carriageway roads choked with heavy lorries and very little opportunity to overtake.
We pre-booked two nights at the Boletas Birdwatching Centre at Loporzano and it was our intention to then move up to Jaca and find accommodation there to be handy for birding the ski resort areas. However, within ten minutes of arrival, a chat with Josele Saiz completely changed our plans! His advice was to go at the earliest opportunity i.e. next morning to Astun to get Snowfinch as any improvement in the weather would see them move immediately up to higher ground. He was right! So we ended up staying four nights at Boletas (they could not put us up - or should that be put up with us! – any longer) before moving to Jaca. Josele very kindly phoned ahead and booked all the accommodation for the rest of our trip. Having struggled to find accommodation in the Candasnos/Bujaraloz area on our last visit to the area, it was relaxing to have everything sorted beforehand.
We stayed at the following: -
Boletas Birdwatching Centre at Loporzano Four nights at £34 per person per night sharing a twin-bedded room and including breakfast, packed lunch and dinner. May not be able to accept credit cards but will take either pounds sterling or euros. A brilliant base with incredibly helpful and friendly, English-speaking hosts, great home-cooked food and a super location. Josele Saiz not only provided up-to-date accurate bird information but also phoned ahead to book our accommodation for the rest of our trip. Some of us, but not all, even forgave him his support for Arsenal as “the only British team not to play prehistoric football”! A real home from home and highly recommended.
Hotel Charle situated 2km north of Jaca Two nights at 79 euros a night for a twin-bedded room, including breakfast. A bit pricey perhaps but nice people, bar and restaurant attached (run as a separate business). Very comfortable and ideally situated for Astun in particular.
Hostal el Portal at Alcolea de Cinca No website but a few details can be found at http://en.infohostal.com/guide/huesca/alcolea-de-cinca/accommodation/7302/hostel-el-portal.html Two nights at about 33 euros for a twin-bedded room, including breakfast. Not sure of the exact price as our total bill was not itemised but came to 237 euros for two nights accommodation, two breakfasts, one packed lunch and one evening meal for four of us – whatever the details, it was decent value. Comfortable and friendly with a bar and restaurant and handily situated for the Candasnos area.
Hotel Rioja at Quinto de Ebro Two nights; we paid the bill at Boletas and were charged the Boletas rates i.e. £34 per person per night sharing a twin-bedded room and including breakfast, packed lunch and dinner. It may have been cheaper to pay the hotel independently. Slightly strange set-up in that the hotel itself is used on a room-only basis and you need to go to the Restaurante Quinto (situated at the edge of the village next to the filling station) to get keys and any meals. Clean and comfy enough but rather basic. Not particularly obliging staff; breakfast as early as 08.00 seemed a great imposition! The real plus of staying here is that, in an area with little accommodation, you’re just 20 minutes away from the El Planeron Dupont’s Larks.
Everything from snow, rain and strong winds to clear blue skies and warm sunshine – sometimes all in the same day! Daytime temperatures ranged from –5C (early morning at Astun) to +21C (afternoon on the plains). Snow and ice prevented us reaching San Juan de la Pena, the Upper Hecho Valley and, on one occasion, Oroel and the wintry conditions at these sites was, we felt, responsible for our failures with Black Woodpecker and Citril Finch while thick fog thwarted our efforts to find bustards near Bujaraloz on our final day. Be prepared for anything at this time of year.
Snowfinches at Astun Ronnie Irving
Alpine Choughs at Astun Derek McAlone
High altitude ski resort enabling easy access in winter to Alpine Accentor, Snowfinch and, less importantly, Alpine Chough. Snowfinches, especially, appear to be very weather-dependant – any melting of the snow and they immediately leave for higher altitudes so the advice is to go at the earliest opportunity. The access roads are kept clear for the benefit of skiers so only fresh snowfalls are likely to prevent you reaching the car-park and hotel area where the birds are to be found. We did baulk on one occasion when signs indicated that snow chains were required. Alpine Accentors and Alpine Choughs readily came to biscuit crumbs and would probably also have been attracted to the cornflakes we scattered if a snowplough hadn’t immediately buried them under six feet of snow! Birds seen here were largely restricted to the main targets – Alpine Accentor, Snowfinch and Alpine Chough – so lacked variety but more than made up for it with quality.
Vadiello Dam Derek McAlone
Wallcreeper at Vadiello (Videograb) Ronnie Irving
The dam at Vadiello is a well-known Wallcreeper wintering site, with easy access by road (apart from the last few hundred metres, which has to be completed on foot as vehicles are barred) c10 miles north of Loporzano. In addition to Wallcreeper (the main attraction that we saw on two of our three visits) birds here included Lammergeier, Egyptian Vulture and Crag Martin.
Riglos Derek McAlone
Though, obviously, as visually spectacular as ever, we found Riglos disappointing bird-wise. Past trip reports have mentioned several Wallcreepers on or around the church and flocks of Alpine Accentors but we struggled for one brief view of a Wallcreeper on the cliffs and saw neither Alpine Accentors nor Black Wheatears. We did see a Lammergeier and the odd Blue Rock Thrush but perhaps the most abiding memory will be of flocks of noisy northbound Cranes against such a stunning backdrop.
Disappointing and almost birdless on our two visits, due entirely to the inhospitable weather (icy winds and lying snow) at the time. A third visit was aborted as the road was impassable in fresh, heavy snow. As this was our main hope for Black Woodpecker, a few Common Crossbills provided scant compensation.
Embalse de la Sotonero
Common Cranes at Sotonero Ian Kinley
The lake itself is largely sterile and birdless, its main attraction being as a staging post for huge numbers of Common Cranes on their northward migration; some 50000 were said to be present around the time of our visit. The most favoured area is the northern end of the lake, near the village of Montmesa, from where a network of driveable tracks allows access. Apart from the Cranes, birds seen here included Marsh and Hen Harriers, Common and Green Sandpipers and Calandra Larks.
Monte Aragon (an obvious ruined castle just outside Huesca).
Though not a major site, this ruined castle on top of a hill is convenient for Huesca and Loporzano and is a reliable location for Black Wheatear and Rock Sparrow. Access is by road through a new housing estate at Quicena.
Lammergeier near Santa Cilia Derek McAlone
Reputedly a vulture feeding station situated 30km northeast of Loporzano and reached via Bandalues and Aguas. Drive through the village and continue on a track to view the hills and screes. There is an information centre in the village but this was closed when we were there and we saw no evidence of a feeding station. However, we did see plenty of vultures, including several Lammergeiers, though our best sightings were had before we reached Santa Cilia itself. Not a great deal else seen here apart from the bizarre sight of a naked (male) rambler! Thankfully the cold weather made this marginally less offensive than might otherwise have been the case.
A snowy Gabardito Refuge Ian Kinley
Snow and ice prevented us getting much further up the valley than the Boca del Inferno though the road up to the refuge at Gabardito had been kept clear. We therefore failed to get to the area where we’d had Black Woodpecker and Citril Finch in the past and the cold and snowy Gabardito also failed to produce. A quick look at the Boca del Inferno did not reveal the hoped for Wallcreeper. Nevertheless, there were lots of birds lower down the valley including fields full of thrushes, larks, pipits and buntings. Highlights included Golden Eagle, Lammergeier, Crag Martin, Water Pipit, both species of Chough, Cirl and Rock Buntings.
Embalse de Sarinena
A large, attractive, reed-fringed lake with a visitor centre and a couple of hides accessed by driveable tracks. Birds here included Cattle Egret, Short-toed Eagle, Purple Gallinule, Common Crane, Alpine Swift, Water Pipit, Bearded Tit and Penduline Tit.
The Candasnos/Ballobar/Alcolea de Cinca area.
Sandgrouse country at Llanas de Menorca Ian Kinley
Great Spotted Cuckoo Ian Kinley
Much of what used to be steppe is becoming degraded and cultivated, with former Dupont’s Lark sites seemingly now deserted. There are still good birds to be found however. The Llanas de Menorca area proved particularly good for sandgrouse and also produced our only Little Bustards and Great Spotted Cuckoos while the cliffs at Alcolea brought an unexpected Wallcreeper as well as the more anticipated species. Apart from those already mentioned, birds seen in the area included Griffon Vulture, Golden Eagle, Hen Harrier, Goshawk, Lesser Kestrel, Merlin, Stone Curlew, Alpine Swift, Hoopoe, Calandra Lark, Lesser Short-toed Lark, Southern Grey Shrike and Chough
A small reed-fringed lake on the southwestern outskirts of Candasnos that proved something of an oasis in an otherwise arid area. It was packed with wildfowl including Black-necked Grebe, Red-crested Pochard and Garganey. Other birds here included lots of displaying Marsh Harriers, Black-winged Stilt and Water Pipits. Massive potential at this site.
As thick fog forced us to abandon our second visit to this site, we managed just a few hours in the area. In this short time, birds included Griffon Vulture, Golden Eagle, Hen Harrier, Lesser Kestrel, Hoopoe, Calandra Lark, Lesser Short-toed Lark, Southern Grey Shrike and Chough.
A brief visit to the cliffs overlooking the Ebro produced the hoped-for Black Wheatear, as well as a Short-toed Eagle and a Great White Egret with Little Egrets by the river itself.
Dawn at El Planeron Ian Kinley
Now THE place for Dupont’s Lark in Los Monegros. On the Quinto to Belchite road take the first El Planeron sign you come to and drive down the track for about 1.5km to a small car-park on your right. Footpaths lead off to numbered watchpoints but we didn’t really need to leave the car-park. On our evening visit, the first Dupont’s started singing at 18.30 in good light but they didn’t really get going until dusk. Next morning we arrived in darkness at 06.30 and birds were in full song, though as the light increased the song became more intermittent and restricted, albeit at least one bird was still whistling away when we left at 08.20. If you want to hear the full song, stay until well after dark or arrive well before dawn. This was also a good area for Calandra and Lesser Short-toed Larks; we heard both sandgrouse species but saw neither and also had Hen Harrier and Hoopoe. The small pool visible distantly from the entrance track (or more closely from the track that emerges onto the Quinto to Belchite road nearer to Belchite) held a few waterbirds including Black-winged Stilt.
A well-managed reserve close to Barcelona Airport that provides welcome variety to a trip like this. The entrance is at about km188 on the C31 heading from Casteldefells to Barcelona. NB The barrier at the approach road entrance is locked at 18.00 so don’t get carried away! There’s a visitor centre and a number of well-appointed hides overlooking a series of lagoons. Ideal if you’ve got a few hours to spare on your way to the airport as we had. Species here included Spoonbill, Little Egret, Greater Flamingo, Garganey, Purple Gallinule, Audouin’s Gull, Penduline Tit and Melodious Warbler but the reserve turns up lots of rare birds and is well worth a look at any time. Look out (in whatever sense you want to interpret it!) for the working girls touting for trade alongside the main road near the entrance – we thought one of them was going to bodily stop our car!
We also visited Castille Loarre, the Larues/Bagues area, Tosos and the Ebro at Quinto.
Details and directions to most of the sites can be found in Gosney’s Finding Birds in Northern Spain and/or the more recent Where the birds are in north east Spain by Steve West. Directions to El Planeron and Llobregat were provided by members of Birdforum and extra information was gleaned from the Boletas Birdwatching Centre website and trip reports available on the Travelling Birder website
We used the Michelin map 443 1/400000 Catalunya/Aragon.
6th March - Travelled from Liverpool to Barcelona and on to Loporzano with a few hours’ birding in the Candasnos/Ballobar/Alcolea de Cinca area. Highlights included Black-bellied Sandgrouse, Lesser Kestrel, Hen Harrier, Hoopoe, Alpine Swift and Calandra Lark. Overnight at Boletas.
7th March - Birding at Astun, Oroel and Vadiello. Highlights included Lammegeier, Egyptian Vulture, Golden Eagle, Common Crane, Crag Martin, Wallcreeper, Alpine Accentor, Snowfinch and Alpine Chough. Overnight at Boletas.
8th March – Birding at Vadiello. Santa Cilia, Sotonero and Monte Aragon. Highlights included Lammegeier, Egyptian Vulture, Hen Harrier, Common Crane, Crag Martin, Calandra Lark, and Black Wheatear. Overnight at Boletas.
9th March – Birding at Riglos, Embalse de la Pena, Castille Loarre and Monte Aragon. Highlights included Lammegeier, Egyptian Vulture, Common Crane, Crag Martin, Hoopoe, Thekla Lark, Black Wheatear, Blue Rock Thrush, Dartford Warbler and Rock Sparrow. Overnight at Boletas.
10th March – Moved from Loporzano to Jaca. Birding at Oroel, Jaca area, Larues/Bagues and Foz de Binies. Highlights in mostly awful weather included Lammegeier and Cirl Bunting. Overnight at Hotel Charle, near Jaca.
11th March – After unsuccessful attempts to reach Astun and Oroel, birding mainly in the Hecho Valley, including Gabardito. Highlights included Lammegeier, Egyptian Vulture, Golden Eagle, Crag Martin, Water Pipit, Alpine Chough, Rock and Cirl Bunting. Overnight at Hotel Charle, near Jaca.
12th March – Moved from Jaca to Alcolea de Cinca. Birding at Astun, Vadiello, Sarinena and Alcolea. Highlights included Egyptian Vulture, Short-toed Eagle, Common Crane, Alpine Swift, Crag Martin, Water Pipit, Calandra Lark, Wallcreeper, Alpine Accentor, Snowfinch, Blue Rock Thrush and Alpine Chough. Overnight at Hostal el Portal at Alcolea de Cinca.
13th March – Birding in the Candasnos/Ballobar/Alcolea de Cinca area. Highlights included Black-necked Grebe, Red-crested Pochard, Black-bellied and Pin-tailed Sandgrouse, Golden Eagle, Hen Harrier, Lesser Kestrel, Stone Curlew, Alpine Swift, Great Spotted Cuckoo, Thekla Lark, Calandra Lark, Lesser Short-toed Lark, Water Pipit, Hoopoe. Overnight at Hostal el Portal at Alcolea de Cinca.
14th March – Moved from Alcolea to Quinto de Ebro. Birding at Alcolea, Sarinena, Bujaraloz area, Sastago and El Planeron. Highlights included Cattle Egret, Little Egret, Great White Egret, Black-bellied and Pin-tailed Sandgrouse, Golden Eagle, Short-toed Eagle, Hen Harrier, Lesser Kestrel, Common Crane, Purple Gallinule, Alpine Swift, Calandra Lark, Lesser Short-toed Lark, Dupont’s Lark, Water Pipit, Hoopoe, Bearded Tit, Penduline Tit, Black Wheatear. Overnight at Hotel Rioja at Quinto de Ebro.
15th March – Birding at El Planeron, Quinto de Ebro and Tosos. Highlights included Cattle Egret, Little Egret, Great White Egret, Black-bellied Sandgrouse, Golden Eagle, Short-toed Eagle, Hen Harrier, Water Pipit, Calandra Lark, Lesser Short-toed Lark, Dupont’s Lark, Hoopoe, Southern Grey Shrike. Overnight at Hotel Rioja at Quinto de Ebro.
16th March – Travelled from Quinto to Barcelona Airport. Birding at Candasnos and Llobregat Delta. Highlights included Black-necked Grebe, Red-crested Pochard, Spoonbill, Little Egret, Greater Flamingo, Garganey, Purple Gallinule, Little Bustard, Black-bellied and Pin-tailed Sandgrouse, Golden Eagle, Goshawk, Audouin’s Gull, Calandra Lark, Water Pipit, Penduline Tit, Dartford Warbler and Melodious Warbler.
We recorded a total of 152 species, listed below. The figures in brackets represent the number of days each species was recorded (e.g. 4/11 means that a species was seen on four days during our 11 day trip (we managed just a few hours’ birding on the first day) and gives a crude indication of how easy each species was to see. More details are given of the rarer or more interesting species.
Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis (3/11)
Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus (4/11)
Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis (2/11) 6+ at Candasnos Lagoon on both our visits.
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo (6/11).
Cattle Egret Bulbulcus ibis (4/11) A handful on the Zaragoza Plains
Little Egret Egretta garzetta (2/11) Just small numbers at sites on the Ebro and at Llobregat.
Great White Egret Ardea alba (2/11) Singles on the Ebro at Sastago on 14th and Quinto on 15th.
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea (10/11)
White Stork Ciconia ciconia (8/11) Relatively small numbers, mostly on the Zaragoza Plains, with nests in some of the towns and villages.
Spoonbill Platalea leucorodia (1/11) One at Llobregat on 16th.
Greater Flamingo Phoenicopterus ruber (1/11) c30 at Llobregat on 16th.
Shelduck Tadorna tadorna (1/11)
Wigeon Anas penelope (1/11)
Gadwall Anas strepera (3/11)
Teal Anas crecca (4/11)
Mallard Anas platyrhynchos (8/11)
Pintail Anas acuta (4/11)
Garganey Anas querquedula (1/11) A pair at Candasnos Lagoon and c12 at Llobregat on 16th.
Shoveler Anas clypeata (6/11)
Red-crested Pochard Netta rufina (2/11) 5+ pairs at Candasnos Lagoon on both our visits and c6 at Llobregat on 16th.
Pochard Aythea farina (2/11)
Tufted Duck Aythya fuligula (2/11)
Black Kite Milvus migrans (11/11) Numbers increased during the course of the trip with passage birds at many sites. Heavily outnumbered by Red Kites in the Pyrenees.
Red Kite Milvus milvus (9/11) Very common in the Pyrenees where it was the second commonest raptor after Griffon Vulture. Much less numerous, indeed quite scarce, on the Zaragoza Plains.
Egyptian Vulture Neophron percnopterus (5/11) Present in small numbers, mostly in the Pyrenees, with a maximum of four at Vadiello.
Griffon Vulture Gyps fulvus (10/11) Very common in the Pyrenees. Small numbers seen on the Zaragoza Plains, especially around Alcolea de Cinca and Sastago.
Lammergeier Gypaetus barbatus (5/11) Easy to see in the Pyrenees. Sightings consisted of 2 between Jaca and Astun and 2 at Vadiello on 7th; at least 4 around Santa Cilia on 8th; 1 at Riglos on 9th; 1 en route from Huesca to Jaca on 10th and 4 or 5 in the Hecho Valley on 11th. The Hecho sightings included memorable views of a pair mating on top of a rocky outcrop, sending snow flying everywhere.
Short-toed Eagle Circaetus gallicus (3/11) Singles at Sarinena on 12th and Sastago on 14th followed by super views of 2 pairs displaying at Tosos on 15th.
Marsh Harrier Circus aeruginosus (7/11) Widespread but especially numerous at Sarinena and Candasnos Lagoon.
Hen Harrier Circus cyaneus (5/11) Widespread in small numbers.
Goshawk Accipiter gentilis (1/11) 1 at the Llanas de Menorca on 16th.
Sparrowhawk Accipiter nisus (4/11)
Common Buzzard Buteo buteo (7/11)
Golden Eagle Aquila chrystaetos (7/11) Plenty of sightings both in the Pyrenees and on the plains, with 2 near Azaura on 15th and singles between Jaca and Astun on 7th; in the Hecho Valley on 11th; near Candasnos on 13th; near Bujaraloz on 14th and near Quinto on 16th. Nearly all were immature birds.
Lesser Kestrel Falco naumanni (3/11) 1 at the Llanas de Menorca on 6th and 5 there on 13th followed by 2 near Bujaraloz on 14th
Kestrel Falco tinnunculus (11/11)
Merlin Falco columbanus (2/11) Singles at Llanas de Menorca on 13th, near Bujalaroz on 14th and El Planeron on 14th.
Peregrine Falco peregrinus (7/11)
Water Rail Rallus aquaticus (4/11) 1 seen at Loporzano on 8th and others heard at Sarinena and Candasnos Lagoon.
Moorhen Gallinula chloropus (3/11)
Purple Gallinule Porphyrio porphyrio (2/11) 1 heard at Sarinena on 12th and 1 seen at Llobregat on 16th.
Coot Fulica atra (5/11)
Common Crane Grus grus (5/11) One of the abiding memories of the trip was provided by flocks of cranes migrating through the spectacular Pyrenean scenery, calling constantly as they did so. Several flocks on 7th got beyond Jaca but thought better of it in the poor weather and changed their minds. A calm, warm, sunny morning on 9th produced an almost continuous stream of migrating birds, particularly atmospheric as they headed past the Mallos at Riglos. Thousands were seen on the ground at Sotonero on 8th (a massive 50000 were present according to Josele at Boletas). Less spectacularly, 1 was at Sarinena on 12th and there were 3 on the ground and 5 in flight at Sarinena on 14th.
Red-legged Partridge Alectoris rufa (7/11)
Little Bustard Tetrax tetrax (2/11) c6 (including one calling briefly) at the Llanas de Menorca on 13th and at least 1 there on 16th.
Black-winged Stilt Himantopus himantopus (3/11) A few seen at Candasnos Lagoon, El Planeron and Llobregat.
Stone Curlew Burhinus oedicnemus (1/11) Quite common on the Zaragoza Plains including c20 in the Candasnos/Ballobar area on 13th.
Little Ringed Plover Charadrius dubius (1/11)
Golden Plover Pluvialis apricaria (2/11)
Lapwing Vanellus vanellus (8/11)
Ruff Philomachus pugnax (5/11) Seen in small numbers at Sarinena, Candasnos Lagoon and Llobregat.
Snipe Gallinago gallinago (1/11)
Curlew Numenius arquata (1/11)
Spotted Redshank Tringa erythopus (1/11)
Redshank Tringa tetanus (4/11)
Greenshank Tringa nebularia (1/11)
Green Sandpiper Tringa ochropus (5/11)
Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos (2/11)
Black-headed Gull Larus ridibundus (7/11)
Audouin's Gull Larus audouinii (1/11) 3 adults at Llobregat.
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus (1/11)
Yellow-legged Gull Larus cachinans (5/11)
Black-bellied Sandgrouse Pterocles orientalis (4/11) The Llanas de Menorca area was especially productive for both sandgrouse species. Black-bellied comprised 2 in flight on 6th and c30, including views of some on the ground, on 13th. A mixed flock of 43 sandgrouse there on 16th was made up of c60% Black-bellied, some of which were seen well on the ground on 16th. Also heard at El Planeron.
Pin-tailed Sandgrouse Pterocles alchata (3/11) As with the last species, the Llanas de Menorca area was especially productive and records consisted of c15 on 13th, some of which were seen well on the ground, and c40% of the mixed flock of 43 sandgrouse there on 16th. Also heard at El Planeron.
Feral Pigeon Columba livia (11/11)
Stock Dove Columba oenas (3/11)
Woodpigeon Columba palumbus (10/11)
Collared Dove Streptopelia decaocto (11/11)
Monk Parakeet Myiopsitta monachus (1/11) 1 flying noisily around the car hire area at Barcelona Airport on 6th.
Great Spotted Cuckoo Clamator glandarius (1/11) Lovely views of at least 3 noisy individuals at the Llanas de Menorca on 13th.
Barn Owl Tyto alba (2/11) 1 seen in the dark at Alcolea on a couple of occasions.
Little Owl Athene noctua (4/11)
Swift Apus apus (1/11) Early birds (by English standards!) at Llobregat on 16th.
Alpine Swift Apus melba (5/11) Seen at several sites, most notably the first on a bitterly cold evening at Alcolea de Cinca on 6th and a maximum count of c25 at Sarinena on 14th.
Kingfisher Alcedo atthis (1/11)
Hoopoe Upupa epops (6/11) Fairly small numbers, mostly on the Zaragoza Plains
Green Woodpecker Picus viridis (1/11)
Great Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos major (5/11)
Calandra Lark Melanocorypha calandra (7/11) Very common on the Zaragoza Plains. Interestingly some were still in flocks e.g. c50 in the Candasnos/Ballobar triangle on 6th while others were singing and displaying enthusiastically.
Lesser Short-toed Lark Calandrella rufescens (3/11) Fairly common on the Zaragoza Plains, especially at El Planeron.
Crested Lark Galerida cristata (11/11) Common
Thekla Lark Galerida theklae (3/11) Fairly common in suitable habitat, especially at the Llanas de Menorca.
Dupont’s Lark Chersophilus duponti (2/11) At El Planeron, up to 6 birds were heard on the evening of 14th (started singing at 18.30 in good light but didn’t really get going until dusk) and the early morning of 15th (singing in darkness at 06.30 and still whistling away when we left at 08.20). Several mostly brief views on both occasions but did include a prolonged scope view in fading light on 14th and a stunning, close range though rather brief view in full daylight on 15th. We also tried unsuccessfully for this species at dusk at a site near Alcolea where Steve West’s book says a couple were still hanging on in 2002 (the habitat looks pretty poor and fragmented now, especially in comparison to El Planeron). The site north of Candasnos recommended by Gosney where DT and IK heard Dupont’s in 2002 is apparently no longer occupied (per Josele at Boletas).
Woodlark Lullula arborea (4/11) Heard singing at several sites including Santa Cilia and near Riglos. Also seen in fields with other passerines in the Pyrenean valleys.
Skylark Alauda arvensis (3/11)
Sand Martin Riparia riparia (4/11)
Crag Martin Hirundo rupestris (9/11) Common, especially in the Pyrenees, but also at sites such as Alcolea.
Swallow Hirundo rustica (9/11)
House Martin Delichon urbica (4/11)
Meadow Pipit Anthus pratensis (8/11)
Water Pipit Anthus spinoletta (5/11) Not yet at breeding sites, unsurprisingly in view of the depth of snow, but several seen in fields with other passerines in the Pyrenean valleys as well as at Candasnos, Sarinena and Quinto de Ebro.
Grey Wagtail Motacilla cinerea (8/11)
White Wagtail Motacilla alba alba (11/11)
Dipper (Black-bellied) Cinclus cinclus (1/11)
Wren Troglodytes troglodytes (5/11)
Dunnock Prunella modularis (4/11)
Alpine Accentor Prunella collaris (2/11) Stunning close range views of 8 at Astun on 7th and 2 or 3 there on 12th. Readily attracted to biscuit crumbs and very approachable.
Robin Erithacus rubecula (6/11)
Black Redstart Phoenicurus ochruros (8/11) Common.
Redstart Phoenicurus phoenicurus (1/11) A male at Llobregat on 16th.
Stonechat Saxicola torquata (10/11)
Black Wheatear Oenanthe leucura (3/11) 1 at Monte Aragon on 8th, 2 there on 9th and 1 from track below cliffs at Sastago on 14th. None seen at Riglos.
Blue Rock Thrush Monticola solitarius (2/11) Surprisingly scarce. 1 at Riglos on 9th; 1 north of Jaca on 12th.
Blackbird Turdus merula (10/11)
Fieldfare Turdus pilaris (5/11)
Song Thrush Turdus philomelos (7/11)
Redwing Turdus illacea (5/11)
Mistle Thrush Turdus viscivorus (6/11)
Cetti's Warbler Cettia cetti (6/11)
Fan-tailed Warbler Cisticola juncidis (1/11) Somewhat surprisingly, recorded only at Llobregat on 16th.
Melodious Warbler Hippolais polyglotta (1/11) 1 at Llobregat on 16th.
Blackcap Sylvia atricapilla (3/11)
Dartford Warbler Sylvia hortensis (3/11) Ones and twos near Riglos and the Llanas de Menorca.
Sardinian Warbler Sylvia melanocephala (8/11) Relatively uncommon but widespread.
Common Chiffchaff Phylloscopus collybita (8/11) Numerous especially later in the trip.
Firecrest Regulus ignicapillus (1/11) 1 at Riglos on 9th.
Bearded Tit Panurus biarmicus (1/11) Several seen and heard at Sarinena on 14th.
Long-tailed Tit Aegithalos caudatos (4/11)
Blue Tit Parus caeruleus (4/11)
Great Tit Parus major (6/11)
Coal Tit Parus ater (2/11)
Nuthatch Sitta europaea (2/11)
Wallcreeper Tichodroma muraria (4/11) Delightful views of a male at Vadiello on 7th and 8th (no sign there on 12th); 1 seen briefly by DT only high up on the cliffs at Riglos on 9th and, most unexpectedly, a female seen well on the cliffs at Alcolea de Cinca on 12th (though the bird seemingly went to roost, we failed to see it on subsequent visits).
Treecreeper Certhia familiaris (2/11)
Penduline Tit Remiz pendulinus (2/11) At least 2 seen and heard at Sarinena on 14th and heard at Llobregat on 16th.
Southern Grey Shrike Lanius meridionalis (4/11) Small numbers on the plains.
Jay Garrulus glandarius (1/11)
Magpie Pica pica (11/11)
Chough Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax (9/11) Common in the Pyrenees. Widespread in small numbers on the Zaragoza Plains
Alpine Chough Pyrrhocorax graculus (4/11) Seen at several sites in the Pyrenees with sightings including c40 at Astun, where birds fed at close quarters attracted by biscuit crumbs, and a flock of c400 in the Hecho Valley.
Jackdaw Corvus monedula (4/11)
Carrion Crow Corvus corone corone (9/11)
Raven Corvus corax (9/11)
Starling Sturnus vulgaris (6/11) Widespread and numerous though outnumbered by Spotless.
Spotless Starling Sturnus unicolor (11/11) Widespread and numerous, often in mixed flocks with Common Starlings.
House Sparrow Passer domesticus (11/11)
Tree Sparrow Passer montanus (1/11)
Rock Sparrow Petronia petronia (2/11) Singles near Loporzano on 8th and at Monte Aragon on 9th.
Chaffinch Fringilla coelebs (11/11)
Brambling Fringilla montifringilla (4/11)
Serin Serinus serinus (7/11) Widespread, generally in small numbers except for a flock of c100 at Quicena on 8th.
Greenfinch Carduelis chloris (5/11)
Goldfinch Carduelis carduelis (9/11)
Siskin Carduelis spinus (3/11)
Linnet Carduelis cannabina (11/11)
Snowfinch (2/11) c20 at Astun on 7th and c30 there on 12th. Very confiding and giving super, close range views. Birders visiting this site between our two visits and two weeks later failed to find this species, illustrating how crucial the weather and timing can be.
Common Crossbill Loxia curvirostra (2/11) Small numbers at Oroel.
Hawfinch Coccothraustes coccothraustes (2/11)
Yellowhammer Emberiza citrinella (2/11)
Cirl Bunting Emberiza cirlus (6/11) Singing birds at a numbers of sites, both in the Pyrenees and on the plains plus excellent views of small numbers feeding in fields with other passerines in the Pyrenean valleys.
Rock Bunting Emberiza cia (1/11) 4 (1+2+1) in the Hecho Valley on 11th.
Corn Bunting Miliaria calandra (10/11)
We also saw a Barnacle Goose of extremely dubious origin at Laguna de Sarinena, two Wild Boar in the car headlights at dusk at Foz de Binies and Red Squirrels at Oroel.