IberiaNature A guide to the natural history of Spain

Birdwatching in Catalonia

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For many, birding in Spain is the best in Europe. And for many who've been, birding in Catalonia is the best in Spain.

For variety of bird species you have to find variety of habitat and Catalonia, at just over 30,000km 2 roughly one-third the size of Andalucia, has a range of habitat types that are offered in such proximity nowhere else in Spain, and perhaps even Europe.

The Pyrenees, Ebro Delta, Steppes of Lleida and Aiguamolls de L'Emporda are all in the same region! High and low mountains, reed beds, marshes and lagoons, all types of woodland, steppe, farmland, rocky cliffs, rivers and a long stretch of coastline - all within easy reach of Barcelona.

And it's this terrific range of habitat, combined with its rather envious geographical position on a major bird migration route, that gives Catalonia - with 95% of Iberia 's and 50% of the whole Palearctic region's recorded bird species - a greater variety of bird life than anywhere on the peninsular.

That includes 232 regularly breeding species like the Dotterel, Ptarmigan and Lesser Grey Shrike and nearly 160 of those birds that regularly breed, winter or pass through Catalonia are rare or threatened in some way, their future being classified as having an unfavourable conservation status on a global, european or nationwide level.

The Balearic Shearwater, Audouin's Gull, Lesser Kestrel and Little Bustard are all on the world conservation list (IUCN) along with Egyptian Vulture, Red-footed Falcon, Black-tailed Godwit and Roller. Those on Europe's SPEC list have the iconic Lammergeier, Eagle Owl, Greater Flamingo, Purple Swamphen, Collared Pratincole and both Black-bellied and Pin-tailed Sandgrouse amongst them but they're not alone. Whilst Cory's Shearwater, Common Crane, Crested Coot and Caspian Tern frequent the waterways, Bonelli's Eagle, Black and Black-eared Wheatear, Ortolan Bunting, Orphean Warbler and Lesser Short-toed Lark can be found on dry ground.

Add to those Red-necked Nightjar, Southern Grey Shrike, Spotless Starling and even the lowly Cattle Egret, whose distribution in Europe is focussed in Spain, and the highly sought-after Eleonora's Falcon, Marsh Sandpiper and Red-throated Pipit, that can also be seen at the right time of year, and you may still be asking why I have yet to mention White-winged Tern, Snowfinch or Wallcreeper!

Southern Spain's Andalucia may have, as it surely does, a superb list of birds also but they are dispersed across nearly 90,000 km 2 and so, if you're looking to get the most out of birding in Spain, with a wide variety of quality species, you should consider booking a flight to Barcelona, Girona or Reus and spending some time in Catalonia. Whether you go it alone or take advantage of one of the many birding holidays, bird watching breaks or day tours available, you won't be disappointed.

By Stephen Christopher. Steven is an expert birder based just south of Barcelona. He runs catalanbirdtours

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Guide to Catalonia