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Itinerary - Birdwatching in Catalonia

Day 1

On arrival at Barcelona airport, you will be collected and transferred to the foothills of the Pyrenees.  The journey, lasting about three hours, will take us through quiet countryside, unspoiled scenery and charming villages.  En route, we might make a brief stop (it all depends on our arrival time) to see if Rollers and Bee-eaters have arrived from their breeding grounds.  There will also be a chance to see some raptors, including our first Griffon Vulture.  

We will anchor for two nights at a charming village of Sort, which means “luck” in Catalan.  The place is famous for its lottery shop, thanks to many locals who won huge prizes.  Sort became an ultimate place to buy a lottery ticket in Spain and people travel here from across the country to try their luck.  You might be tempted to do the same! 


Day 2

The Pyrenees reach a height of 3,404 m altitude and stretch continuously from the shores of the Mediterranean Sea to the Atlantic Ocean in the west, spanning 430 km and reaching some 130 km in width in the centre.  Most of the foothills of the Pyrenees are on the Spanish side, where it is shared between three districts: Navarre, Aaragon and Catalonia.  We will spend the whole day exploring the Pyrenees and travel through breath-taking scenery, reaching an altitude of about 2000 m in search of the birds. Likely species here include the Citril Finch, Common Crossbill, Dunnock, Rock Bunting, Firecrest, Goldcrest and Ring Ouzel and Alpine Chough and Black Woodpecker.  Seeing Egyptian and Bearded (Lammergeier) Vultures souring high in the sky is not uncommon.  Other raptors might include Booted, Golden and Short-toed Eagles.

As we descend to more forested areas, we will target species such as Crested Tit, Nuthatch, Bonelli’s Warbler, Iberian Green Woodpecker while trespassing the territory of Wryneck, Hawfinch and Crag Martin.   On the sunny slopes and the green valleys, we will search for Stonechat, Yellowhammer, Red Kite, Rock Sparrow and more elusive species such as Subalpine and Orphean Warblers.  The Pyrenees are also home to Pyrenean Chamois, Red Fox, Red and Roe Deer and Brown Bear, but seeing the latter species is rather unlikely.

We will continue birding along the rivers and more open areas, where possible species might include Dipper, Calandra Lark, Alpine Swift, Lesser Kestrel and Peregrine Falcon.


Day 3

In the morning, we will undertake a picturesque drive to the top of the Pyrenees to visit a vulture feeding station.  Here, we will be able to witness a spectacle, where all four European species of vulture (Griffon, Lammergeier, Black and Egyptian) come to feed on the offal provided for them.   We will observe as they all fly in, eat and fight for the best scraps.  The Red Fox sometimes intermingles between the vultures, trying to steal some tasty pieces.  This is a truly memorable event not to be missed.  Other possible species include Orphean Warbler and Raven.  The sunny slopes of the mountains are also home to numerous butterflies, and if we are lucky, we might come across some interesting western European species warming up in the first rays of the sun.

In the afternoon, we will travel south, to the dry Lleida steppe of the interior of the country, where there is an excellent opportunity to search for steppe birds that, with some exceptions, are found only in the Iberian Peninsula in Europe.  


Days 4-5

We will spend two days exploring different parts of the Lleida plains, including forested rocky out-crops to the north, vast dry cereal steppes in the centre and a large wetland in the heart of the plain.  The target species at higher elevations include Eagle Owl, Black and Black-eared Wheatears, Blue Rock Thrush, and Dartford Warblers.  In the dry open valleys, we will search for Thekla’s and Short-toed Larks, Woodlark, Tawny Pipit, Sardinian and the scares Spectacled Warblers, Cirl Bunting and Serin.  We will drive across the plains in search of elusive species such as Great Spotted Cuckoo, Scops and Little Owls, Iberian Grey Shrike and Pin-tailed Sandgrouse.

The vast dry steps of Lleida are also home to the Little Bustard.  Although its extensive breeding range encompasses southern Europe and western and central Asia, a population in the west of its range is experiencing a moderately rapid decline due mainly to habitat loss and degradation.  We will, therefore, make a special effort to find it.  Montagu’s Harrier can often be seen foraging here too.  Last, but not least, Dupont’s Lark will be on our target list.  This is not an easy species to locate, but its repeated thin and melancholic whistling song, might just give it away.  And, finally, we will not be able to ignore a more familiar species such as European Roller, E. Bee-eater, Golden Oriole and E. Hoopoe, which, no doubt, will add colour and excitement to our daily sightings.

The Utxesa Nature Reserve, is a mosaic of wetland habitats, including the river Segre and Utxesa reservoir, where we will also spend some time.   The area is rich in flora and fauna, so its remarkable diversity of birds ensured its status as a nature reserve.   The extensive reedbeds are home to Marsh Harrier, Bearded and Penduline Tits, and a number of warblers, including Reed, Great Reed, Cetti’s, Melodious and Moustached.  The reserve is also an important breeding site for Witherby’s Reed Bunting; in fact, it is one of the last world strongholds for this subspecies.

“Getting to know the culture of our wine is the best way to discover the lands of Lleida”, as the locals say, and indeed, we will not ignore this advice.  The region with its dry climate of the interior, high insolation, scant rainfall and persistent fogs of winter moisture, creates conditions that influence the excellent quality of wine and their unique character.  We will visit the most ancient wine cellar in Catalonia situated in an historic estate with a castle, where the first agricultural activity dates back to 1780.  The proximity to the lake will allow us to do birdwatching while tasting some of the vintage wines of the estate.

If time allows, we will also visit Roca dels Moros, a prehistoric religious site and one of the most important cave sites in the Iberian Peninsula, with 42 painted figures and 260 features engraved in the rock.  In the neighbouring area, we will check for Red-billed Chough, Red-rumped Swallow and some migrant passerines.


Day 6

Today, after some morning birding, we will undertake a two-hour drive to our next location, the Ebre Delta.  En route, we will stop briefly to check for raptors, and likely species might include Short-toed and Bonelli’s Eagles, and Black Kite.

On arrival at our hotel, situated strategically close to the delta and within walking distance to the beach, we will get a good feel for this splendid wetland and be able to birdwatch on our doorstep.


Day 7

The whole day today is devoted to exploring the Ebre Delta, part of which has been designated as a national park in 1983.  The delta covers the area of 320 km2 and encompasses large lagoons, saltmarshes, dunes, sand-flats, small stands of riparian woodland lining the Ebro river and its channels, and large rice paddies away from the coast.  This mosaic of habitats is home to biodiversity hotspot, with eight of plants and 69 species of vertebrates of international.

Apart from the Greater Flamingo, Audouin’s Gull and Glossy Ibis that delta is famous for, we will encounter thousands of breeding terns, such as Gull-billed, Sandwich, Little, Common, Whiskered, and gulls, including Slender-billed, Mediterranean, Lesser Black-backed, Yellow-legged and Black-headed.  Waterbirds abound here, and likely species include Squacco, Purple, Western Reef and Black-crowned Night Herons, Great White and Little Egrets, Little Bittern and Eurasian Spoonbill.  Breeding waders such as Kentish Plover, Avocet, Black-winged Stilt, Collared Pratincole and Redshank are in good numbers here, and Temminck’s Stint and Marsh Sandpiper can be found foraging in the flooded rice paddies.  However, there are also rare migratory species of waders that turn up here regularly, and who knows, a Lesser Yellowlegs, or Pectoral, Broad-billed and Terek Sandpipers might add extra excitement to our birdwatching here.

Breeding passerines are represented by interesting species, such as Lesser Short-toed Lark, Zitting Cisticola, Savi’s and Cetti’s Warblers, Penduline Tit, and Spotless Starling.  Scops Owl might be seen during the day in the delta’s scattered trees, and Long-eared Owls often forage over the wetland.  We might also venture into the night in search of the Red-necked Nightjar, if they back from their wintering quarters.

At lunch time (Spanish time!), we will visit the Plegadis Foundation, where we will have the chance to observe some ringing conducted by the members of the foundation and visit two of their birdwatching/photo hides.  While observing the birds, we will consume a traditional paella, especially prepared for us by the members of the foundation.

We will conclude our day, and indeed the tour, with a special meal at one of the best local restaurants.


Day 8

Today is our departure day, and our morning activities will be planned according to the departure time.  The journey from Ebre Delta to Barcelona airport will take about two and half hours.

 

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Pyrenees, Catalonia

Pyrenees, Catalonia

Pyrenees, Catalonia

Pyrenees, Catalonia

Vultures, Catalonia

Vultures, Catalonia

Griffon Vulture, Catalonia

Bearded Vulture, Catalonia

Black Vulture, Catalonia

Griffon Vulture and a Fox, Catalonia

European Bee-eater, Catalonia

Black-winged Stilt, Catalonia

Crested Lark, Spain

Hummingbird Hawk-Moth, Spain

Spanish Gatekeeper Pyroni, Catalonia