Monday, 26 September 2011

Birding Northern Spain with Boletas Birdwatching Centre

Steve Carter and I headed off to Northern Spain and to the Boletas Birdwatching Centre based at Lorporzano, Huesca, Aragon. We took a Ryan air flight from Stansted to Zaragoza and arrived late evening where we were met by our guide Alberto Bueno who drove us to our hotel located near the town of Belchite. The journey was made difficult with heavy rain and thunderstorms, the first for eight months, but Alberto did a sterling job and we arrived safely. We checked in to the Hotel Rincorn del Cierzo that it situated very close to the steppes of Belchite and retired for the evening.

An early start was organised with Alberto so as to try and connect with some steppe specialities so we awoke at 06:30 and arrived at the El Planaron Reserve at dawn. Here we located at least 4 singing Dupont's Lark but I was unable to view any of them as they remained hidden in the low foliage. We then noted a large group of Calandra Lark on the move and viewed several Lesser Short-toed Lark at close range. Other notable species observed included Tawny Pipit, Southern Grey Shrike and Northern Wheatear. En route back to our hotel Alberto pointed out a Black Kite that was at rest on a telegraph post.   

                                          Thekla Lark at El Planeron Reserve.

After breakfast Alberto drove us to Belchite where we photographed the old town ruins, a relic of the Spanish Civil War. Birds noted included a couple of Black Redstart plus many House Sparrow and Collared Dove. Then on to Bonelli’s Eagle breeding site via Villanueva where we spotted our first Griffon Vulture and 2 Rock Sparrow before arriving at our destination above the village of Tosos. Here we observed the resident pair of Bonelli’s Eagle, the male bird sporting a radio transmitter as along the cliff faces dozens of Crag Martin buzzed by and a Cetti’s Warbler sang out below. We then headed back to the steppes of Belchite where en route a Short-toed Eagle was noted as it flew over the forested hills. Once at our destination we noted a Short-toed Lark and dozens of Northern Wheatear and another Tawny Pipit. At an Almond grove dozens of Stone Curlew sat in the shade and nearby 2 Raven were seen. Then first contact with Black-bellied Sandgrouse, 2 that were flushed as we drove by and nearby 14 red-billed Chough displayed overhead briefly. Then on to Los Monegros for Great Bustard noting another Short-toed Eagle posing well on a pylon. A male Dartford Warbler was briefly viewed but alas no sign of any Bustards. We then headed off to a nearby lake where we ate lunch from the hide viewing waterfowl and at least 3 Marsh Harrier. Then back to the steppe habitat where we noted 10 more Black-bellied Sandgrouse at Albertos’s local patch. Then as we were driving a long a dusty track 6 Little Bustard appeared before they took flight and disappeared among long grasses. A Little Owl was seen on a derelict building before we departed for Huesca. As dusk approached we could see the wonderful panorama of the Pyrenees foothills before checking in to the Boletas Birdwatching Centre.

                                                       Boletas Birdwatching Centre

Black-necked Grebe (1), Little Grebe (42), Cattle Egret (6), Grey Heron (c10), Mallard, Gadwall, Teal, Pintail, Northern Shoveler Duck, Red-crested Pochard (2), Tufted Duck (2), Black Kite (1), Short-toed Eagle (2), Griffon Vulture, Marsh Harrier (4), Sparrowhawk, Common Buzzard, Bonelli’s Eagle (pair), Common Kestrel, Red-legged Partridge, Water Rail (2 calling), Moorhen, Coot, Little Bustard, Lapwing (1), Black-bellied Sandgrouse (12), Rock Dove, Woodpigeon, Collared Dove, Little Owl (4), Crested Lark, Thekla Lark, Short-toed Lark (2), Lesser Short-toed Lark, Dupont’s Lark (4 singing), Calandra Lark, Sand Martin, Crag Martin, House Martin, Swallow, Tawny Pipit (3), White Wagtail (2), Yellow Wagtail, Robin, Stonechat, Black Redstart, Northern Wheatear, Blackbird, Mistle Thrush (2), Cetti’s Warbler, Blackcap, Dartford Warbler (2), Great Tit, Coal Tit, Southern Grey Shrike, Magpie, Red-billed Chough, Carrion Crow, Jackdaw, Raven, Spotless Starling, Rock Sparrow (2), House Sparrow, Linnet, Goldfinch, Corn Bunting, Reed Bunting. 

                                          Little Bustard in flight.

After breakfast Steve and I took a leisurely walk around the village noting Sardinian Warbler, Black Redstart, Spotless Starling and Common Whitethroat. Then Alberto arrived to take us to Parq natural de guara and Embalse de Vadiello spotting 2 Cirl Bunting and singing Woodlark en route. Then on the approach to the dam we discovered a female Pied Flycatcher as overhead many Griffon Vultures basked in the morning sunshine. After viewing commoner species we then headed off to a vulture feeding site near Santa Cilia. Here we had wonderful  views of at least 4 Lammergeier that were present with c200 Griffon Vultures. Then on to Caste de Montearagon for lunch where we ate sandwiches while viewing 3 beautiful Black Wheatear and a male Blue Rock Thrush with brief views of Zitting Cisticola. After lunch we visited a nearby river bank where at least 5 female Pied Flycatcher obliged as did Cetti’s Warbler, Kingfisher and Blackcap with a Golden Oriole possibly heard calling. Alberto then decided to take us to Huesca rubbish tip where we noted 44 White Stork and dozens of Raven among the rubbish while nearby on waste ground 2 Willow Warbler and c50 Serin fed greedily. We then continued on our way noting another Lammergeier and 2 Golden eagle as we neared Pena’ de San Miguel. This dramatic area gives eye level views of the vultures as they cruise by the cliff face and c100 Red-billed Chough were also seen. A good area for Rock Bunting although we did not encounter them during our visit. As the late afternoon approached we moved off and made our way to the steppe area near Gallegua where a Goshawk was flushed from its roost. Then as we headed back to Zaragoza Airport I noted 2 Monk Parakeet in flight before we reached the terminal building.

White Stork (44), Red Kite, Lammergeier (5), Griffon Vulture, Sparrowhawk, Goshawk, Common Buzzard, Golden Eagle (2), Common Kestrel, Woodpigeon, Collared Dove, Monk Parakeet (2), Little Owl, Kingfisher (1), Great-spotted Woodpecker (2), Woodlark (3), Crested Lark, Thekla Lark, Sand Martin, Crag Martin, House Martin, Swallow, White Wagtail, Grey Wagtail, Robin, Stonechat, Black Redstart, Redstart (female), Northern Wheatear, Black Wheatear (3),
Blue Rock Thrush (male), Blackbird, Cetti’s Warbler, Zitting Cisticola, Blackcap, Common Whitethroat, Sardinian Warbler, Willow Warbler, Goldcrest, Pied Flycatcher (c5), Great Tit, Magpie, Red-billed Chough, Jackdaw, Carrion Crow, Raven, Spotless Starling, Rock Sparrow, House Sparrow, Chaffinch, Serin (c50), Goldfinch, Cirl Bunting (2). 

                                          Griffon Vulture at Pena de San Miguel.

                                          Lammergeier en route to Pena de San Miguel. 
                                           Black Wheatear at Caste de Montearagon.
Alberto Bueno

Born in Huesca in 1962. Member of SEO-Birdlife since 1978. At the age of 14 a group of Dutch birdwatchers employed his services to localize and observe the Dupont's Lark. Well acquainted with all the good ornithological sites in the northeast of Spain, he is considered the first Spanish involved in birdwatching guide work. Author of numerous articles about the birds of Aragón and several texts for the book "Where to Watch Birds in Spain" edited by SEO-Birdlife. During many years he has organized private tours and collaborated with different nature tours companies (from Europe and USA) that operate in Spain. Has collaborated with Boletas Birdwatching centre since its foundation working as a bird guide. Since 1999 Alberto works as a "forest ranger" and naturalist for the regional government of Aragón, and he lives at the steppe area of Monegros, he has a deep knowledge of the steppe birds (mainly bustards, sandgrouse and larks) and where to find them. From 1997 to 2010 he co-leaded every spring the most comprehensive and successful birding tour in Spain (with a total range of 250 species recorded) for an American company.

                                           Alberto and I at Steppe area near Gallegua

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