Category Archives: Catalonia

Spain Catalonia 16th to 24th of October 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 Iberian 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 Western 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, Western 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 Western 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 Western Swamphens, Moorhens, Little Grebes and also Night Herons. There were still some gun-shots, but I managed to get some recordings. Unfortunately Western 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!

J.A.

Spain Catalonia 16th of August to 1st of September 2000

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.)

Crested Coots

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).

Misty birds

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.

Driving around

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.

Good twitching

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.

Tough day

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!

J.A.