Wedding and birding trip to Catalonia 16.8.-1.9.2000
Finally our summer job period ended and we were free to begin our wedding trip to Catalonia (Spain). When the plane was landing to Barcelona we already saw white egrets flying – Cattle Egrets! It was our first trip tick. Our friend Oriol Clarabuch was already waiting for us at the airport. He had helped us planning the trip (actually had been planning almost the whole trip) and he was going to be our guide almost for whole trip.
Oriol is a professional ringer so of course our trip started from ringing station. So we begun our way to Ebro delta ringing station 200 km South from Barcelona. It was very hot, more than 35 degrees! While driving the motorway we saw some birds: Turtle Dove and Western Black-eared Wheatear… But we continued driving pretty fast. After two hours driving we arrived at big Ebro delta, which showed its nails right away! Small water areas had tens of Whiskered Terns, Purple, Grey and Squacco Herons, Little and Cattle Egrets and Black-winged Stilts. Fan-tailed Warblers were singing in the rice fields, Hoopoe and Kingfisher were flying over us.
When we reached the ringing station David Bigas had already some birds waiting for us: Kingfisher, Great Reed Warbler and Reed Warblers. On the reeds there were Moorhen and Water Rail shouting and from the shore there were Flamingos making strange voices. First Little Bittern was seen from the tower soon, while Whiskered Terns and Fan-tailed Warblers were calling even too loud. Yellow-legged Gulls and Little Terns were flying over the bay; Cormorants were sitting on the poles. Some Whimblers and Osprey were migrating over us, and when some Wood, Common and Green Sandpipers were calling from the sky; I realized there is still some same bird than home.
From nets we found Reed Warblers, Kingfishers and some Tree and House Sparrows, Greenfinches… After the round I climbed to the birdtower. First I found Night Herons flying further while other herons and egrets were flying pretty close for a while. From the bay I scoped hundreds of Coots, Great Crested and Little Grebes, Mallards, Gadwalls and Red-crested Pochards. Soon Oriol, Hanna and David climbed to tower too and right away David found easily a couple of Western Swamphens! Later we saw big flocks of Starlings with pretty many Spotless Starlings. There was also one totally yellow bird in one flock, some escaper? From nets we got still one nice Western Subalpine Warbler and totally we got 58 birds ringed.
Later we talked a lot with all other people who were working in the station. They told about their works which included taking care about injured animals. There were some birds and turtles on the cages. At night we wondered lizards which were climbing on the walls and the strange voices of frogs, grasshoppers and egrets. (David left home and we took the ringing responsibility for all the next days.)
Six a.m. I jumped up and climbed to birdtower while others were still sleeping. Some Slender-billed Gulls and Black-winged Stilts were found directly. On the bay there was some poles which had a Gull-billed Tern sitting on one. Others woke up to the first net round which offered Cetti`s Warbler and Savi`s Warbler. After some rounds we took Oriols car and drove to Playa de la Marquesa, which is the nearest bigger bay of Ebro-delta. There were many waders (like our Catalan friends promised): hundreds of Curlew Sandpipers and Dunlins, some Little Stints and Knots, Sandpipers, Kentish Plovers and Golden Plovers, Black-tailed Godwits with one Bar-tailed Godwit and a Curlew. Sandwiched Terns, Gull-billed Terns and Audouin’s Gulls were flying over the bay. Of course there was also a lot of Whiskered Terns, Egrets, Fan-tailed Warblers etc.
After some hours trip which was pretty hot and sweat (+38 degrees) we rushed back to station. It was totally too hot for birds too – nets were all empty. Finally it was good light to go to have a check to the closest bay. Before I went there I asked Oriol if it’s possible to see Crowned Coots in this area. And Oriol answered: “Impossible”. Well I walked to the bay and started to scan the birds (Little Grebes, Red-breasted Pochards and Flamingos). I didn’t care a lot about the Coots because there was too much of them. But then I realized there was something wrong with one Coot – it had a neck-ring. Funny I thought – it had also something red in his head – Crowned Coot!!! And it was one of the nearest birds! I ran to the station and on the way I heard a Penduline Tit calling. Oriol was amazed but we all ran back to the bay really fast. I found the bird pretty easily and I begun to tell the others where it was. “Little bit left from the Cormorants, behind the `nettas´”. And Oriol translated it to Catalan for other Catalans. Same time Hanna was telling something very weird instructions about finding the bird. But then I found another bird and realized that Hanna had a different bird. But she still had a different place – she had a third bird! And all these three birds were colour-ringed! These birds were the first birds in Catalan in ten years. And the last bird was shot by the hunter and took for the birders, only then they believed. (The head of that bird is still on the bottle in station!) Before that this species had been last in Catalan 40 years ago. (Of course these birds were introduced birds from Southern Spain, but anyway.)
At afternoon we saw still many interesting birds. So our triplist was getting longer. One Savi’s Warbler was singing, but more interesting was a little poisonous snake which Hanna found from the yard. (They had told us that there is no poisonous animals in the area :-).
Early morning I managed to see one very good bird: I saw an Aquatic Warbler. At day we went to Riumar, Ebro-rivers delta, which showed up to be too much touristic place for us. But after a little driving we managed to find some birds too: Crested Larks were everywhere, Flamingos with 8 Glossy Ibises, Black-winged Stilts, Avocets, other common waders, hundreds of Little Egrets, 3 Little Bitterns, 5 Shelducks, Lesser Black-backed Gulls (different subspecies), Fan-tailed Warblers and over the sea thousands of Yellow-legged Gulls with some Auduoin’s and Slender-billed Gulls. Also we saw and heard many Collared Doves.
From nets we got some Kingfishers, Great Reed Warbler, some Savi’s Warblers, Western Subalpine Warbler, Willow Warbler, Sedge Warbler, Swallow, Greenfinch, Tree Sparrow, House Sparrow and 38 Reed Warblers.
Southern side of Ebro river
Next morning the first bird from the nets was a Nightingale. Soon we started our way to South side of the Ebro river, and we tried to get to all the best places. One stop in the middle of some fields was good with Skylarks, Short-toed Larks and one Mediterranean Short-toed Lark. La Tancadas fishpools showed us many Yellow-legged Gulls, one Caspian Tern and 80 Mediterranean Gulls. Soon we continued to the best Mediterranean Short-toed Lark and Collared Pratincole places. Pratincolas were easy to find. In one place there was at least 13 birds hunting insects. There was also all kind of larks, but we couldn’t see any Mediterranean Short-toed Lark well.
At Salinas de la Trinitat, we collected some shells and swam a little, because it was far too hot for birding. Some flocks of Sanderlings were flying on the shore of this 7 km long and 100 m wide sandbeach. Also Mediterranean Gulls were found many. Later, when it was still amazing hot, we reached the place where was thousands and thousands of Auduoin’s Gulls. There was a hide from where we could see these gulls more than anywhere else. From the sea we found also one old Gannet and one Arctic Skua which was our 100th triptick!
At sandbeaches we found also Turnsone and collected more shells. Later at La Casa de Fusta it became too hot to have any more birdwatching. So we continued back to ringing station. At afternoon we saw only one Gadwall and almost albino House Sparrow.
Second last morning at Ebro begun with some quiet net rounds. Later we went with Oriol and two local birdwatchers (Jopep-Maria and Ralf) to watch birds to the closest beaches. At El Canalot we found 3 Hoopoes, Spotless Starlings, flock of 45 Black-winged Stilts, Spotted Redshank, Grey Plover, Purple Heron, Flamingos, Fan-tailed Warblers and Cettis Warblers. But the best bird was a migrating Eleonora’s Falcon.
Another side of El Canalot we found more Plovers, Black-tailed Godwits, Ruffs and 26 Curlews (the last ones were the most interesting birds for locals), hundreds of Sandwiched Terns and Audouin`s Gulls – and other gulls, 3 Oystercatchers and 2 Arctic Skuas (last ones were good ones for locals), sandpipers, Purple and Grey Herons and 80 Kentish Plovers! At the evening arrived first Crested Coot twitchers. The last bird from nets was Fan-tailed Warbler (finally).
At next morning we drove to Premia de Mar, Oriol’s hometown, 20 km North from Barcelona. Right away we went to have some seawatching to long beach. 45 minutes seawatching showed: two Gannets, Cory`s Shearwater and Audouin’s Gulls. Later in the evening we went to Tiana hill to try to catch Red-necked Nightjars. We reached the hill about half an hour before the sunset but we found nice birds: Jays (which were darker than our Jays), Alpine Swifts were circling up the sky, Western Subalpine, Sardinian and Dartford Warblers were calling in the bushes, Crested Tit was calling in the forest, Inerian Green Woodpeckers were shouting on the hillside, and Red-legged Partridges were calling down on the fields. We really didn’t know where to watch! But we had to get the nets up before it came dark. With Oriol and his friend Raul we managed to put the nets up very fast. Rauls Boida dog was also following us all the time.
First Nightjars came to fly over the nets even before we had the tape calling. Also Little Owl started to call. So we put the tape for it too. But it was an autumn, birds weren’t very interested about our tapes. Luckily we managed to get one European Nightjar, but we couldn’t even see a Red-necked. But it was nice to sit still and see the Little Owl calling on the moonlight .
Vic – ringing and twitching
Our seventh day in Catalonia was a tourist day. We took the train to Barcelona, where we visited a Gothic city with Barri Gotic and La Seu cathedrals, La Sagrada Familia was of course visited too. Also we made some shopping. But we managed to see some birds too: Parc de la Ciutadella has a breeding population of Monk Parakeets. At afternoon we packed all our stuff with us and started our way to somewhere! We weren’t told exactly where we were going! We just knew we were going to have some ringing and we had some sort of place to stay overnight, and we would have some company – other ringers. Oriol had planned everything ready! Funny!
So we drove to North and to Vic (a home town of Josep-Maria and Raul). On the way we saw some Carrion Crows. At night we met Josep-Maria, Raul and our new “helpers” Alex and Jepi. First we tried one Scops Owl (we did heard it) and after a lunch we went to Ter river to put some nets ready for the next morning.
When in Ter we heard some Bee-eaters but then came the darkness. It was amazing how we managed to put the nets up to that place because it was very difficult even to walk in that place. But somehow we made it. The night we spent on the floor of one old school, and even our place wasn’t five star hotel, we were sleeping very soon.
Josep-Maria woke us up like in army, even we felt like we wouldn’t have slept more than an hour yet. Soon we were wondering a dry river, which had nicely net lines ready in two different places. There was already some Common Sandpipers, Little Ringed Plover, Pied Wagtails and Grey Wagtails hanging on the nets. Also one Blackcap, Robin, Song Thrush, Blackbird and some tits were seen. Wrens were singing like Cetti’s Warblers and Goldfinches too, latter were everywhere and big flocks. Bee-eaters, Stock Doves, Collared Doves and Turtle Doves were also seen. Also we saw migrating Common Buzzard and Peregrine. Golden Oriol was singing shortly like saying hello to Oriol. From the nets we got Cetti’s Warblers, more Grey Wagtails, Garden Warbler, young Magpie, Goldfinch and so on. From the trees we found a Short-toed Treecreeper. But soon it was time to move on again. Locals had a minute schedule planned for us and so we packed the nets.
Now we continued close to Rauls home to Vic’s farmlands. Next “bimbo” (a lifer in Catalan) for us was a Cirl Bunting. Soon we reached an old abandoned house, and we guessed right what we were searching for: while others were getting in the house me and Hanna saw a Barn Owl flying out from the window. We tried to find the bird again but we found only two dead owls from the train tunnel. But we found some other interesting bird: Stonechats, Woodchat Shrikes, Wryneck and some Red-legged Partridges, so we were very happy.
Next it was Josep-Marias turn to lead us. We drove up to the 1100 meters high hill, which was reached only with Josep-Marias 4×4 car. On the way we saw some Wood Larks. Again we didn’t know what to search for but Hanna noticed that the place was good for fossils. I tried to look with binos up and down and both sides but I found only Honey Buzzard, Peregrine and some Crag Martins. At same time Hanna, Oriol, Josep-Maria and Jepi were walking noses on the ground. They even found some fossils, but Jepi found the best one: a Scorpion. But the birds that we were searching for weren’t found. The nest was till there – Egyptian Vultures had left the building. But we found still some Firecrests.
PNAE – a bird paradise
We were again in tight schedule and continued driving to next place to Park Natural dels Aiguamolls Empuria. We said goodbye to our helpers, and continued with just Oriol to the coast again. At Sant Pere Pescasor we met again new people: Gabriel Gargallo and his wife were waiting for us in a local restaurant. We ate amazing well before we continued to nature centre, where we had a room to stay. At night we managed to hear a Thick-knee calling but soon we were sleeping.
I woke up early and I heard Little Owl and Thick-knees calling again. White Storks were on the light poles. Nightingales tried to sing a little, and Goldfinches were again everywhere. Also egrets, Collared Doves, Cetti`s Warblers and so on was seen. At the closest birdtower we couldn’t find any bird but some deers.
Soon we left to one good place for passerines; witch unfortunately had burned in big forest fire some weeks before. The fire had been that big that we had heard about it in Finnish news! 10 x 6 km area had burned almost totally. In that dust and ash we tried to catch some passerines – mostly Orphean and Sardinian Warblers. We did catch some Sardinian Warblers and saw some Nightingales. But we couldn’t find any Orphean Warblers. We saw also some Pallid Swifts, Cirl Buntings, young Woodchat Shrike and a nice Borelli’s Eagle flying soaring with also nice Short-toed Eagle! But soon we had to hurry again!
Now we went to Cap de Creus, which is a rocky tip of a cape. We noticed soon it’s difficult to find birds in a place like that. But after half an hour searching we found a Blue Rock Thrush and a pair of Thekla Larks on the top of the same hill. Rock Pigeons were also nice to see – one sort of lifer! Crag Martins and Pallid Swifts were flying very nicely towards the hard wind. On the rocks on the sea there were some Shags sitting and I managed to see one Western Black-eared Wheatear migrating. But we couldn’t find any Black Wheatears even we really tried.
At afternoon we were again at the nature centre. We met a local bird guide, which lead us to see some good birds. Soon we found first good one – a young Roller. Soon we saw also two more Rollers. On the way we found also adult Woodchat Shrike, some raptors and Lesser Grey Shrike. 40 Cattle Egrets and Great Woodpecker were also seen. Our next target was a Moustached Warbler which was found pretty easily. In same place we saw amazingly the only Corn Bunting in our trip and Stonechats, Crested Larks, Bee-eaters etc. At the evening we found a flock of 32 Thick-knees feeding in one field. At night Oriol went to see his girlfriend and we went to put some nets with our new “helper” Juan-Carlos. Again we had to do everything in dark, and it was really difficult. But we made it again.
Again it was difficult to wake up, but soon we had power again to do some ringing. There was already some Nightingales, House Sparrows and a Stonechat hanging on the nets. Hobby and Pheasants were new trip ticks. Nice brave White Stork gave us to photograph itself from 3 metres. But we had time for only one more net round before we left to do some twitching again.
Oriol was already waiting for us and we were going again. After some hundred meters Oriol said something about clamator, and it was true a Great Spotted Cuckoo flew over the road! We were driving on a protected area and saw a lot of Hoopoes and Bee-eaters.
At the beaches there were hundreds of Bee-eaters, Kentish Plovers, finally first Southern Grey Shrike, Cuckoo, male Golden Oriol, Short-toed Eagle, Iberian Green Woodpeckers, Flamingos, Red-backed Shrike and a lot more. At the centre Juan-Carlos had a Hoopoe which had hit by car. The bird was anyway in pretty good shape.
Later we had to leave PNAE. Before leaving we still checked the last corner of the area and it was worthy! Western Swamphens were 16, some Flamingos, Pochards, Garganey, some sandpipers with one Temminck`s Sandpiper (rare there), a lot of other waders, 42 White Storks, some Mute Swans and many Bee-eaters and Stonechats.
On the way back to Premia we visited Oriol’s family’s summer home. I think it was more like a castle! 800 years old big house had also beautiful forests, and it was only 30 km from Barcelona. We tried to find some warblers, but the first bird I found was a surprise. I was totally out when I heard that bird’s voice, but it was easier when I saw it – it was a Ring-necked Parakeet! We found also some Short-toed Treecreepers and Yellow Serins. But it was already afternoon so we couldn’t find much more.
To the Pyrenees
26th of August we started our mountain trip to Pyrenees. First we rented a car from Mataro. Oriol had to help a lot because the local people never understood any English! But soon we were driving North to our “honeymoon” just me and Hanna together.
We saw Montserrat Mountains on our way, but neither it nor Red-rumped swallow could make us stop. Also we saw a flock of 40 Cattle Egrets, Roller, Woodchat Shrikes and some new common northern birds as a trip ticks. Close to first bigger mountains there was a nice place to have a dinner. It was even open when we are used to eat! First Griffon Vultures were gliding over the mountains, Alpine Swifts, Carrion Crows, and some Golden Eagles were also seen. Some other Griffon Vultures were seen later but we had to hurry, because we had to be at Pont de Suert in our hotel six p.m.
Our room was pretty nice. And after good night sleep we drove back to same mountains to find some passerines and of course raptors. When we reached the place there was 170 Griffon Vultures soaring in 3-4 flocks with two Egyptian Vultures and some Short-toed Eagles! Soon all Eagles disappeared to the clouds or behind the mountains. Little later we saw two Booted Eagles and one Goshawk but then all raptors were disappeared. So we walked down to the river and we found some passerines: couple of Nuthatches, Redstarts, Pied and Striated Flycatchers, 50 Linnets, Roller, Great Spotted Woodpecker and Cirl Buntings. We also practised some mountain climbing and walked to one small hill. While climbing we found nice female Rock Thrush and some lizards and butterflies.
At afternoon we passed 3400 meters high mountain and drove through 5200 metres long tunnel to Vielha. Vielha was a nice alpine kind of city, and we had some shopping there. At night we arrived back to Pont de Suert to eat at same time than locals.
Next day was a mountain day. Early we were driving towards Besiberri Mountains. On the way we realized that it was really cold – only 7 degrees. And I had worn just shorts and t-skirt. On the way we saw some Long-tailed Tits (which weren’t that nice than ours), Bullfinches, Coal Tits and Crested Tits. At dam we tried to find Wallcreeper, but we couldn’t find any. But we saw a lot other interesting birds: a couple of Red-billed Coughs were climbing on the dam wall, Citril Finches were in the bushes, Rock Buntings, Dunnocks and Chiffchaffs were seen too. We also heard a local rarities – Black Woodpecker (it was nothing else than a trip tick for us then). Also more common Iberian Green Woodpeckers were heard (much more interesting for us).
When the temperature rose more than 10 degrees, we started to climb. We had planned to climb to 2700 meters high mountain and walk about 9 km long route (most up there). When we passed a sign which had some Catalan with a word expert, we didn’t realize the route could be more difficult than we thought. Well we climbed really steep mountainside, which had some kind of markings telling where the route was going. For a while there was more difficult places when it was important to know where the route was going otherwise we would have been soon food for vultures. Soon we realized the route was so steep that we couldn’t turn back anymore. It would have been too steep to climb down! So we had to continue climbing and hope it won’t get any harder. After two hours climbing we had moved on map less than 500 meters and the dam was still visible under us (but it was just very tiny). Some Griffon Vultures came to watch if we are soon eatable. Also Rock Pipits, Common Crossbills and Goldcrest came to our list. And latter was already magical 200th species on our trip!
Luckily it came safer to walk. But up there in the high mountain it was still really difficult to walk. We had to jump from rocks to rocks. And like always in high there wasn’t many birds. But when we found one it was always interesting one. Alpine Accentors were beautiful. Only two birds were seen but more were heard. When in 2700 meters we saw some Pyrenean Gemses (sort of deers) and also feathers and shit of Ptarmigan! It was really difficult to stay on the route, there was just some rocks stacked every 50 meters. Binoculars helped a lot to see those stacked rocks.
We lost the “track” once, but found luckily right place to start climbing down. In lower altitudes there were again some birds: some tits, Rock Buntings and Black Redstarts. Soon we met first people too. These guys had all mountain climbing equipments with them even this side was really for children if compare to other side from where we were coming. Soon we were down in a grassy meadow, and we remembered someone had told us there were weasels. And soon I found the first one: “Look Hanna just beside of you, size of a beaver!” Then Hanna noticed it too just before it disappeared under a big stone. It really was huge! Soon we found some more weasels and also Meadow Pipits, Black Redstarts and some Citril Finches. From meadow to dam it was some three km to walk. But now we were walking on a highway! And there were also a lot of tourists. Good we had chosen an expert route! 9 hours after leaving our car we saw our rented Corsa again! And we had still one can of Coke waiting for us.
Waiting for Bearded Vulture
Next day we took little easier. We even had breakfast in our hotel! Then we went to one natural park near Boi. In the area it was aloud to walk or take a taxi, but we found out there were too many people waiting for the taxi. So we decided to walk (again).
The route was like a highway and so it didn’t feel as good as yesterday. So we walked only some five kilometres in nice green mountain area. We saw only some birds. Views were beautiful, many butterflies, some Golden Eagles and Griffon Vultures and falcons, one Dipper and so on. Maybe the taxi would have taken us to even better places?
Our last day in Pyrenees was a vulture day. After breakfast we went to that place we had been before. We found a rock where was a lot of Griffon Vultures sitting. But it had been raining all night and it was still cold, so the birds were just sitting. Two Egyptian Vultures were sitting close to 80 Griffons. Some local guardians came to ask (in Catalan) who we are and they really weren’t friendly. But I think they were taking care of those Vultures. But the birds just kept sitting.
Then it happened! Hanna found a different shaped of big Vulture. There it was – a Bearded Vulture! It was amazing. Almost an adult bird was gliding while Griffon Vultures were just watching for it. It was soaring nicely against the mountains for some seven minutes. And just after it disappeared where it had came from, I found a Red Kite soaring with some Griffon and Egyptian Vultures. That was enough for us, so we started our way back to Mataro. We drove pretty fast (I started to used to local speed). On the way we saw one beautiful pale morph bird of Booted Eagle.
Something before the end
Oriol was there again helping for us with the car. (The price was 166 € for 5 days) And soon we were again in Premia de Mar. After a lunch we went again to try to catch Red-necked Nightjars. Raul had already nets ready when we reached at Mataro. Unfortunately it started to rain a little, but not too much. We caught only one old male Sardinian Warbler but we managed to see shortly both European and Red-necked Nightjar flying.
After breakfast we went to nearest hills of Premia. First we wondered nice views to Barcelona and a migration of Alpine Swifts. About 500 birds passed us very close and stopped to a huge flock to soar. We found also some Dartford, Sardinian and Western Subalpine Warblers. And our last trip tick was a Melodious Warbler which sang a little for our cd-player. We also saw it very shortly. After this we visited a dolm made by Asterix and Obelix I think.
Then it was again Barcelona’s turn. We had still some souvenirs to buy. We also visited Zoological Museum. At the evening we had amazing good lunch at Premia with Oriol and his parents. Later we had to pack our luggage. At early morning Oriol drove us to airport and after goodbyes and thank yous we were on our way back to Finland. Oriol of course continued straight to Ebro to ring some birds.
Totally we saw in our trip amazing 207 bird species! We had just 13 birding days and it was August, which is not the best time to watch bird in Catalan either. Everything was great and we have to thank Oriol and all his friends for everything they made for us!! We were surprised because there were good equipments in all bird places in Catalonia! There were nice hides, bird towers and information centres in those places that we visited. The biggest problem in our trip was that most people couldn’t speak English at all.
Of course the birds were the most interesting part of our trip, but all those views, mammals, lizards and of course all those nice people that really became also our friends made our honeymoon unforgettable!