Spain Catalonia 16.-24.10. 2010

Spain Catalonia 16.-24.10. 2010

To Barcelona

After we (me and Miika “potu” Suojarinne) had spent already 4 weeks birding in Britain, we had in this day already travelled from Shetland Sumburgh to Scotland Edinburgh and from there to London and there by 4 metros from airport to another, finally got our flight tickets that Iberia had somehow lost, we were now finally in a right gate waiting for our flight to Barcelona. We were a bit worried because it was already time the plane to go but nothing was happening. Soon the gate opened and we got into the plane. But then we sat in the plane for ages and nothing happened! Time was passing and I started to get really nervous, our schedule was extremely tight! We had spent too many pounds to change to this flight so I could make it to Barcelona-Valencia football match in the evening. After all the plane was already an hour late when it finally left, so I thought it’d be in Barcelona airport only 30 minutes before the match!

Even thought the flight seemed to take long it surprisingly landed a half an hour earlier than we thought and I still had an hour before the match – but then we had to wait for our luggage for ages! My bag came after some 20 minutes but then it took still at least 10 minutes before potu’s bag finally came! So after all we were out and calling a taxi just 22 minutes before I had to be in Camp Nou stadium!

Luckily we got the taxi right away but of course the driver didn’t speak any English. So I used all Spanish words I knew to tell him to get to Camp Nou gate 18 and quickly! On that gate my friends from Parikkala were waiting with my ticket and also the key to an apartment where potu could go because he wasn’t coming to match.

It was exactly 8 p.m. when we made it to Camp Nou, but we were on the wrong side of this huge stadium. Somehow the driver managed to get through a couple of closed roads and finally we got to gate 18. But my friends were already inside. I called them and pretty soon one of my friends came with my ticket, but unfortunately he didn’t have the key for potu. So another call to another friend and soon potu could continue with the same taxi to La Rambla where we had our apartment and I could run to Camp Nou! Finally I was on my place when only 8 minutes had been played and luckily the result was still 0-0.

The match itself was pretty boring in the beginning. The biggest star of the field Leonel Messi was almost invisible and actually the whole Barca team was in big troubles with Valencia. And the first goal was made by Valeancia and it was very close that they didn’t lead 0-2 before the half-time. In the last minutes of the first half Barca started to take control of the match and the in the second half there was only one team playing! Word cup hero Andrés Iniesta made it 1-1 in the beginning of the second half and finally the captain Carles “tarzan” Puyol made 2-1 in middle of the second half. After this goal there was a great atmosphere in Camp Nou, I had thought there’d be like that all the time. When the match ended we took some pictures of us in the Camp Nou and then started to walk towards our apartment. But my friends had been celebrating already for a couple of days so after all they had no idea which direction to walk. So we asked some help and then went a couple of stops by a metro and finally found our apartment. Potu had got big problems to get into the apartment as the keys weren’t really working. After some 45 minutes trying he had finally managed to get in and then managed to see the second half of the match in a pub nearby with a well deserved cold beer.

After a short visit in our apartment we went to eat to the closest small pub and after that continued to see nightlife to La Rambla. I was absolutely too tired after an extremely long and stressful day, but anyway we were back into our apartment only at 4 a.m.

Walking in Barcelona

On the 17th of October we woke up at 9 a.m. even though the previous day had been one of the longest and toughest in my life! We took it easy for a couple of hours and then decided to go to have a long walk to see all the most important tourist places of Barcelona. My old Catalan friend Oriol Clarabuch had been in a bird-race in Baski-country, so we had decided to stay this day in Barcelona and then travel to meet him in the evening. About at 11 a.m. when my other friends started to wake up, we left to the city with potu. We had been walking enough in Shetland so we were ready for a long walk!

First we walked to harbour and from there through the old town to gothic town. Of course we went to see Sagrada Familia and then walked down along La Rambla where many Gaudi buildings were. We also saw some birds: 40 Monk Parakeets that were a lifer to potu and also 2 Serins and Yellow-legged Gulls, but not many other birds.

After 6 hours walk we were back in our apartment where we talked with my friends for some time and then packed our luggage and took a taxi to Sants railway station. Oriol had called and told us to take a train to Girona from where we’d continue to his place to Olot with him. The train to Girona was fast and we were there at 9:36 p.m. Oriol had send me an SMS that he’d be a little bit late but soon he walked to the station and it was very nice to see him again! Outside the station there were also Oriols partner Maria and another couple that had been in the race. So Oriol had just arrived from Baski-country. Of course they had won the race there.

Somehow we managed to get our luggage to Oriol’s Peugeot and soon we were on our way to Olot. After a half an hour driving we were in Oriol and Maria’s apartment and after a Catalan evening meal we were ready to go to sleep.

Relaxed day

On the 18th of October we slept long. We had been extremely tired and of course we had to let Oriol to sleep as much as he needed after a bird-race and before a longer race with us. We had planned to go to PNAE (Park Natural del Aiguamolls Emporia) to do bird census, but the weather forecast had told that there would be more than 120 km/h wind, so we had decided to stay near Olot. So in the morning we walked on the hillside forests near Oriol’s apartment with his dog Sula (Gannet). Potu got his first lifer already on the balcony when a Short-toed Treecreeper was calling in the closest trees. On the hillside we found some Short-toed Treecreepers more. A Mandarin Duck that had been on the river nearby wasn’t found but Nuthatches, a couple of Cirl Buntings, a Wood Lark, Sardinian Warblers, a calling Green Woodpecker, Marsh Tits and Stonechats etc. were found. Also a Firecrest was heard which was another lifer for potu.

During the mid-day we visited a ringing station nearby where a local ringed had just done a round and we got an opportunity to see some common passerines in hand. Robins, Chaffinches, Dunnocks, Blue Tits, a Song Thrush, a Blackbird and so on were of course photographed too. We still made another round but nothing new was caught, so soon we continued back to Oriol’s apartment.

In the afternoon we went to La Vall de Bianya where was a small pool with reed-beds and nice forests. Sula flushed a Red-legged Partridge which was again a lifer for potu, and soon Sula was swimming in a pool and walking in a reed-bed where it flushed a Water Rail – a good dog! Also Serins, some Reed Buntings, a Kingfisher, a Black Redstart and again a couple of Firecrests were seen. In the late evening Maria offered us the best meal of the trip. It included some mushrooms that we have also in Finland.

PNAE bird-census

On the 19th of October we woke up soon after 6 a.m. and headed towards the coast and PNAE. It was really freezing outside, only +2 degrees! While we were driving towards PNAE the wind started to rise and near the cost there was still very windy. We were there when the sun started to rise and it was still really cold. So we had even more clothes than on Foula in the coldest days!

Right behind Estany del Cortalet information centre there was a hide from where we found quite a lot of birds and one of the first waders was a Lesser Yellowlegs that Oriol had found a week earlier. Other birds seen were 22 Flamingos (lifer for potu) and many common waders and ducks. From the next hide we saw the same birds in better light, but there were some horses that had escaped from the owners and they were disturbing birds, so I couldn’t get any good pictures of the Lesser Yellowlegs. Fom the other side of the area we saw a Spoonbill (lifer for potu) together with the Flamingos, a couple of Purple Swamphens (wp-tick for potu), 3 Pochards and on the sky we saw some Pallid Swifts. We continued to Depuradora d’Empuriabrava sewage ponds where we saw a Mute SWan, Green Sandpipers and a Common Sandpiper and more Pallid Swifts. I also saw a Turtle Dove flying with a flock of Wood Pigeons.

After we had done the bird census the weather had warmed up and now it was really hot! We headed to Rose to Vall de Muntjoi valley, where we were checking the bushes and trees for vagrants but found only big numbers of Blackcaps and Sardinian Warblers, a Great Spotted Woodpecker, a Crag Martin and a couple of Firecrests. The wind was almost stormy but it was good because we were going to do seawatching to Cap de Creus. The drive to Cap de Creus was long and on the way we saw some very nice birds when the road was climbing on the high hills. In Pla de Gates we saw 3 Alpine Accentors (lifer for potu), a Ring Ouzel and also briefly a couple of Thekla Larks (lifer for potu).

In Cap de Creus we parked next to the restaurant and then walked the last couple of hundred of metres to the rocky shore. The wind was extremely hard but luckily we found a sheltered place for seawatching. And there were amazing numbers of bird on the sea! Balearic and Yelkoyan Shearwaters were moving all the time in big numbers! Also some Gannets and Yellow-legged Gulls were seen but in the beginning we counted 100 shearwaters passing us in a minute and about 70% of them were Balearic and the rest Yelkoyan Shearwaters. Also some Mediterranean Gulls and a lonely Shag were found. There were also plenty of shearwaters swimming and we really didn’t need anything else to be very pleased! After an hour I found a strange looking skua coming towardds us and it immediately looked like a Long-tailed Skua with only white in the bases of two outer primaries. But it somehow looked too white-rumped. Otherwise the bird looked very dark. It was flying with a couple of Black-headed Gulls and it seemed to be smaller. When it was closest I decided to get some video of it through the scope because Long-tailed Skua would have been the first ever in Cap de Creus and a lifer for Oriol. When the bird was gone we were sure it was a Long-tailed Skua, but when we looked the video I had got, it really looked different! In my video there was a pretty pale looking young Arctic Skua-like bird! I have no idea how the bird had looked so different in live? Without the video we’d been misidentifying the bird! I once again learned how important it is to get some kind of documents of difficult birds like this!

When it was already getting darker and there were only 20 shearwaters passing us in a minute, we decided to leave. When we were back in Olot we just ate and went to sleep.

On the 20th of October the morning was similar than on the previous day and we were again in PNAE when the sun rose. On the way we had seen a Little Owl (a lifer for potu) in St. Pere Pescador. It was perched on a roof of one building. We started the census in La Masrona where were much less birds than on previous days places. The weather was still windy and the morning was extremely cold again. In El Matá pools we found Greylag Geese, Pheasants, 6 Red-legged Partridges, a Peregrine, a Sparrowhawk and a Goshawk. While we were walking on a sandy beach in Platja Can Cornes it started to get really hot. We were stripping our clothes but it didn’t help because it was soon more than 20 degrees! On the shore we saw some Grey Plovers, Kentish Plovers, Ringed Plovers and a Curlew, a Black-necked Grebe, Fan-tailed Warblers, a Bluethroat and a couple of Southern Grey Shrikes (again lifer for potu). The most common bird on the reeds was a Cetti’s Warbler and they were singing loudly. When we were walking back along the beach we saw a Hen Harrier migrating over us. We walked back towards our car along a garden of a camping area but only vagrants we found were a couple of Goldcrests. We still climbed to a high view-tower from where we had nice views to the area that we had been counting for two days. A Lesser Spotted Woodpecker was calling nearby on the trees.

After we had eaten a really good lunch in a small village restaurant we had 3 still places to count. We did it so that Oriol dropped potu to one place, me to one place and went by himself to count the third place. So we managed to count these places in a little bit more than 30 minutes. After that we managed to start our way back to Olot earlier. And we needed time because we had planned to go much further in the evening.

In Olot we packed our luggage and soon started a long drive to west. We dropped Sula to Maria’s parents and then we still had a 3 hours drive to the border of Catalonia ans Aragon. We were finally in Mequinensa late in the evening and there we went straight to Oriol’s friend Juan. Potu tried to find a Barn Owl from the village while we were discussing (unfortunately in Catalan) with Juan. Juan arranged us a nice place to stay overnight in 2 small bungalows. The small buidlings weren’t really good-looking outside but inside they were very comfortable. So soon we were sleeping and dreaming of semi-steppe birds!

Different kind of birds

On the 21st of October we woke up at 8 a.m. and there was a typical weather to Catalonia and Aragon border area, a fog. Anyway it was much warmer than in earlier mornings and many Mistle Thrushes and Spottles Starlings were flying over the plantations. Soon Juan arrived and after a coffee break in a village we continued to La Granja d’Escorp to dry hills. On the first stop we found some Black Wheatears and Thekla Larks. Unfortunately our guide was hurrying a little bit too much to the next “better” place where was no birds at all, so we never got any pictures of these birds. Anyway it was also good to hurry as my only project bird was still coming so we soon continued to a dry semi-steppe area in Secá Granja. We stopped a couple of times but found only a Dartford Warbler and a Southern Grey Shrike, but then when we were driving again we picked up a flock of 4 Black-bellied Sandgrouses flying over us. We stopped quickly and potu managed to get a couple of pictures of these 2 males and 2 females flying. A lifer for me too! Almost in same time we heard a call of a Red-billed Chough and a couple of birds landed to a roof of a building behind us. From a field nearby we still found 4 Calandra Larks in a flock of Skylarks (already the 4th lifer for potu this morning). Later we still found a flock of 7 Black-bellied Sandgrouses that also left immediately, they were probably so flighty because of the Red-legged Partridge hunters that were a lot. I hope these last Black-bellied Sandgrouses of Catalonia survive!

Soon we said thanks and goodbyes to Juan and continued to Aitona to Arrossars Fondo Lliteras wet fields where a Long-billed Dowitcher had been found about a week earlier. On the first fields we had only lots of Snipes and Lapwings, but in the middle of the area we finally found a field with other waders. There were Ruffs, Black-tailed Godwits, some Dunlins and the dowitcher! Potu had his 5th lifer of the day! These waders were pretty far and the haze was really bad so we tried to get closer but the waders were very flighty! Even thought we tried to get some kind of pictures of them for more than an hour, we really didn’t succeed. We found also a Purple Heron and 11 Little Ringed Plovers and there were some Griffon Vultures soaring on the sky.

Still to mountains

Soon we left towards the mountains; we still had one project species left for the day. We drove a little bit more than an hour towards the mountains and then stopped next to beautiful cliffs along the river, but soon Oriol decided that we’d continue still to a better place. So we climbed higher and higher to the mountains and were surrounded by amazing high and steep cliffs. We continued still 45 minutes and saw a party of Griffon Vultures along the road before we stopped to a valley.

When we finally stopped we were in the middle of huge cliffs. We started to walk and all the time watched up to the cliffs. Many Griffon Vultures were flying over us. After about 15 minutes our necks started to hurt but then potu saw a sparrow-size passerine flying very high on the cliffs, but it disappeared behind the ledge. We walked after it and now I saw it flying behind the next ledge. We ran after it and then I found it landing to a steep wall. I put my scope up and there it was – a Wallcreeper! We all managed to see the bird shortly through the scope before it disappeared. Another lifer for potu, 300th Catalonia year-tick to Oriol and my second ever Wallcreeper!

We still tried to find the Wallcreeper for some time but we saw only many Griffon Vultures, a Red Kite and a flock of Siskins and several flocks of Chaffinches that were migrating along the valley. I just wonder how many passerines there might be migrating in a good morning.

Soon we left again as we still had a long way to drive to south-east. We headed towards Ebro-delta and it meant we had to drive through whole Catalonia. Oriol was driving the whole way and somewhere we saw an amazing flock of 4000 Cattle Egrets going to roost!

Finally at 9 p.m. we were in Ebro-delta where we parked to El Canal Vell ringing-station. We carried our luggage to visitors room and then it was time to say thanks and goodbyes to Oriol who still had to drive to Barcelona to sleep to his parents before he’d continue to work at morning.

We walked a little bit outside and checked some of the places in the station before the ringer Pep came from shopping. I had met him 10 years ago in the same place and also in Vic where we’d been ringing too and it was good to find out that we were going to have a good time even though he didn’t speak English well. But he was a funny guy! We decided that Potu was going to communicate with Pep so the language was going to stay simple enough.

Pretty soon we were ready to go to sleep even though Moorhens, Purple Swamphens and different kind of egrets were calling on the reeds. I almost stayed up and went to record the calls, but I was absolutely too tired, maybe next night?

Ringing in Ebro-delta

On the 22nd of October we woke up at 7:15 and soon we were out and looking up to the sky where were egrets and herons flying all the time. Surprisingly there were lots of Great White Egrets. Some bats were still flying around us even though the sun was already rising. We also checked the cages where we found several birds and in the first one was the same Black Kite than 10 years ago. On the next cage there was an Eagle Owl and then there were still 4 Griffon Vultures, a Kestrel and a Little Owl and also lots of turtles and tortoises. The first mist-net round was at 8:15 a.m. and we walked it together with Pep. The night had been warm and dry so it was the first and the last time that we were wearing wellingtons in Catalonia. There were quite a few birds in the mist-nets: Cetti’s Warblers, Robins, Chiffchaffs, Song Thrushes and a Reed Bunting. On the station Pep was ringing the birds and we of course wanted to take pictures of all species as it was far too long time since I’d been in a ringing station and handled almost any birds. Soon it was time to make the next round and now Pep took nets of one side of the station and we took the another side. Again we had nice selection of birds and when we were back in the station we could easily see that Pep got something better with him. Of course he left that one bird-bag last and while we were photographing a Reed Warbler and a Blackbird he carried us a nice Moustached Warbler! And when we were photographing this potus lifer he still carried a couple of Penduline Tits for us, I have no idea where he had them hidden. And soon it was again time to another round.

We had a good time walking the mist-net rounds and then photographing our catches until the mid-day when it started to be much quieter. But now we had time to walk around a little bit and also climb up to the bird-tower of the station to see some more birds. I was also digiscoping an Audouin’s Gull that was perched on a pole while other Audouin’s Gulls were calling on the background with their strange call. During the day we still had another Moustached Warbler which was even more beautiful than the first one, also a locally rare Sardinian Warbler, a late Redstart and the first Goldcrest and a Wren of the season were caught.

Before 3 p.m. we closed the mist-nets for a couple of hours and went twitching. Oriol had called to Pep that there had been a Black Stork found on the other side of the delta. We drove there and found the stork easily but unfortunately it flew too far to the fields to get photographed. On the pools nearby we saw lots of Whiskered Terns (do I need to say – a lifer for potu) and also a Black Tern.

When we were back in the station we put up the mist-nets again and then checked them every hour until the dark. We didn’t catch many birds but now there were lots of bigger birds in the air! We climbed up to the tower from where we saw amazing numbers of ducks gathering to the bay. There were for example 220 Red-crested Pochards! The next lifer for potu was a Glossy Ibis and when we were doing another net-round we saw the first Little Bittern (again a lifer for potu) and then a huge flock of big black birds flying around the bay. I told to potu that they were Glossy Ibises but he didn’t believe me. He said that they must be Cormorants because there can’t be so many Glossy Ibises in the whole world! But when we climbed up to the tower and saw the flock with the scope he had to believe his eyes, there was a flock of 1500 Glossy Ibises flying around! Also other egrets and Grey Herons were seen and some big flocks of Ruffs too, I also counted more than 100 Little Grebes from the bay. When it came dark the war started! There were loads of hunters shooting all the time. Pep told that they were hunting Moorhens, but we think that they were shooting everything that moved, they were shooting so much! Anyway we managed to see the first Night Heron and soon there were plenty of them. We saw maybe 40 of them and when it was absolutely dark we still heard them between the gunfire. Yep – it was again a lifer for potu. The war continued whole night so I had to forget the recordings. It also seemed that Purple Swamphens were now very quiet. On the last round we caught a nice white-spotted Bluethroat. Before 10 p.m. we were ready to go to sleep.

Another day in Ebro-delta

On the 23rd of October we woke up early and I went soon out to record Purple Swamphens, Moorhens, Little Grebes and also Night Herons. There were still some gun-shots, but I managed to get some recordings. Unfortunately Purple Swamphens were still very quiet. Maybe all Moorhens and similar birds were already shot?

We made the first mist-net round with potu so that he did the easier side. I got almost 20 birds but potu only 4, but of course one of them was very badly stuck, so we were in the station in same time. I got one surprise in a bird-bag and I told to Pep to ring it last. Potu tried to guess what it was, but even though he could easily see it was a bigger bird he didn’t get it right. It was a Moorhen. So at least one had survived from last night.

The next rounds were surprisingly quiet; a Great Reed Warbler was anyway very nice. So we walked a little bit around the station but found only a Bluethroat and some Audouin’s Gulls.

We knew that Pep was going to leave to a ringer meeting to Barcelona (where Oriol was also going to be) during the morning and we had planned to leave in the evening, but when Pep was still around in mid-day we asked if we should leave in same train than he. It’d be easier to everyone. Of course it was ok, so at 2 p.m. we closed the mist-nets and packed our luggage and soon left with Pep’s Pajero towards Deltebre city.

To Barcelona again

From Deltebre railway station we took a train to Barcelona. From the train we saw nice views to the coast and lots of tunnels. After Tarragona we saw some Rose-ringed Parakeets flying over a reed-bed area (lifer for potu again).

The train was late but we weren’t in a hurry at all. Finally we were in Barcelona and we jumped off the train in Sants, Pep was going to the next station and change to another train there. We said goodbyes and walked to the station. There we took a taxi and asked the driver to get us to the nearest cheap hotel, but it wasn’t that easy! He told that all hotels were absolutely full because of the season and some kind of diplomatic meeting. He promised to take us to La Rambla where we should find hotels nearby and whole way there he tried to get us a hotel by phone, but everything was full! So soon we were in my worst nightmare, in La Rambla with our luggage and no idea where to go. So potu stayed there with our bags and I started to visit every hotel, hostel and so on. The first one had an empty room, but the price 210€ wasn’t what I wanted. The next 3 hotels were both expensive and full so I started to check only hostels. First 6 were full and then I found a Youth Hostel where they got space, but I didn’t really want to get into a big room with 6 other people that could do anything when we wanted just sleep. I continued along the smaller roads until the edge of the old town where I found a ridiculous small and awful hostel where I got a room for 40€. I took it even though the room was really awful. But I didn’t care anymore! The price was good and all we needed was a lock to the door, so we could leave our luggage there while we were out. I should have taken a picture of potu’s face when he saw the room, but he couldn’t complain either. We were now free to do something in the evening and also next morning.

In the evening we were walking around La Rambla and of course went to eat. We came back to our room when we were absolutely tired so we could immediately get to sleep at 11:00 p.m.

One more lifer before the end

On the 24th of October we woke up at 7 a.m. and at 8:00 we were walking to the end of La Rambla to Plaza de Catalunya station. There we took a train to Baixador de Villadrear. After a half an hour we were there and got out to the station which was surrounded by hills with pine-forests. We had got the info from Oriol to take the first road right and keep on walking towards the hill. There were some Crested Tits and Firecrests calling and after some walking we heard a birdsong which sounded like a Garden Warbler. We knew that there weren’t any Garden Warblers anymore so it must have been the bird that we were searching for. And soon we found the first red-billed bird from the tree, what ever Leiothrix? The story how we were there twitching this strange bird is so funny that I must tell it. When we were in Oriol’s apartment on the first evening he told me to have a look at his books if there was any book I wanted to read in the evening. I immediately noticed a new Birds of Catalonia book and opened it and on the first page I opened there was a strange green red-billed and red-breasted bird. “What the hell is this?”, I asked and Oriol answered: “it’s Leiothrix, a common bird in some places nowadays and you can tick it!”. Well anyway we forgot the bird but when we had decided to come to Barcelona, a night before our flight back to Finland, we had asked Oriol to find out where we could tick this bird. And there they were now at least 5 birds in front of us in the tree! Unfortunately the only camera we had was potu’s and only with the view-lens. Anyway he managed to photograph these birds. Soon we took the train back to Barcelona where we ate a good breakfast, got our luggage from the hostel room and took a taxi from La Rambla to the airport.

Our Baltic Airlines plane left at 1:55 p.m. and we landed to Riga at 6:00 p.m. in Finnish time. We spent a couple of hours in the airport queuing and eating pizza. At 8:10 p.m. left our plane to Helsinki. We landed to Finland at 9:30 p.m. and from the airport we found my father and potus companion Kirsi. We said goodbyes to each others and Potu and Kirsi started a long drive to Mikkeli and I got my fixed car and started even a little bit longer drive to Parikkala. My father wanted to try how he can get to Kirkkonummi by public transportation. Finally I was at home at 2 a.m. Potu and my father had been at their homes about in same time an hour earlier (there hadn’t been many trains or buses for my dad).

In Catalonia we had seen 158 species and 2 od them had been lifers for me, potu had got 24 lifers. I have to thank Oriol, Maria and Pep one more time! You made our trip unforgettable! During the last 5 weeks we had seen altogether 260 bird-species, 8 of them had been new wp-ticks for me, 38for potu!

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