Birding sites in Catalonia

For many, birding in Spain is the best in Europe. And for many who’ve been, birding in Catalonia is the best in Spain. By Stephen Christopher. Steven is an expert birder based just south of Barcelona. He runs catalanbirdtours

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. Catalan birdtours

Birding trip report around Catalonia with Stephen Christopher by Jonathon on the iberianatureforum

We arrived at Barcelona airport early afternoon and met up with Stephen.  It was beautifully sunny and warm but there was a strong breeze coming in off of the sea.  We decided to start our trip by birding at Llobregat Wetlands reserve.  The first birds we picked up upon entering the reserve were the ever abundant zitting cisticola, of which we managed to find a non-shy individual and we  were awarded lovely sciope views.  We soon picked up Mallard, Gadwall, Teal and Moorhen as well as a few more common water birds that we are used to back home In Norfolk.
As we progressed through the reserve towards one of the viewing towers we spectacularly close views of two ospreys soaring together and being harrassed by the odd black headed gull.  As we watched the ospreys disappear, a quick scan of the flats rewarded us with little Stint, Greenshank, both Godwits, lapwing, sandwich tern and spoonbill, and after a more intense scan of our surroundings we managed to pick up an off course buff brested sandpiper nestled down out of the wind. A lifer for myself.

Day2:  Our second day lead us to the Pyreneese.  We had only birded the French side before, and so were excited to see what the Spanish side offered.  We picked up Blackcap, Pied Flycatcher the common tits and Firecrest at our early morning coffee stop, shortly followed by rock bunting, black redstart and whetere as we drove to higher, more alpine surroundings.  Kestrals were in evidence and a fabulous view of a peregrine atop of a dead tree eating what we presumed was a mistle thrush was a thrilling site, a juv. woodlark hopping past reminded us to keep our eyes at ground level, where we also picked up crested tit and short-toed treecreeper.  Both Chough spp. were about, their wonderful calls echoing across the scenery.  Raptors were not showing too brilliantly today, due to the cool temperatures but we picked up another osprey and a marsh harrier, presumebly on migration. As the day drew to a close, we picked up black woodpecker, raven, griffon vulture and a pair of distant golden eagle.  Mammals included marmot, red squirrel and a heard of 16 Isard.

Day3:  An early start and substantial drive lead us to the Ebro Delta for our third day of Catalonian birding.  The weather forcaste was less than promissing but we managed to stay dry throughout the day. We spent the morning checking the freshly cut rice paddies for passage waders and picked up woodsandpiper, black winged stilt, purple swamphen, Water rail and bluethroat.  At another watchpoint we saw a flock of little tern, thousands of mallard, gadwall and red crested pochard and a lone common pochard and yet another Osprey.  A great white egret and a fleeting glimps of a Juv, Little bittern added to the excitment, and a bluethroat popped out onto a railing long enough for me to get a quick scope view.  Later on during the day we picked up Temmincks Stint, Dotteral, another buff Brested Sandpiper, Booted Eagle, Lapwing adn collard Pratincole, as well as scores of yellow wagtail with which we had fun determining which subspecies they were.
On our return journey we headed to the coast and managed to pick up Caspian Tern-another lifer for me, an Osprey fishing and slender billed gull, as well as Turnstone, Spot. Shank a Whinchat, reed, great reed and Cetti’s warbler.

Day4: A very early start on our fourth day lead us to the steppe areas of neighbouring Aragon.  We were in search of bustards and sandgrouse and managed both Great and little bustard and a flock of pintailed sandgrouse.  All species were seen into double figures.  Rain duringthe night had brought down flocks of migrating turtle dove, one which managed to fight off the clutches of a female sparrowhawk right next to our vehicle.  Growing flocks of Corn Bunting, Linnet and Goldfinch added to the early morning count, as did Sardinian warbler and a beautiful, though distant Black shouldered Kite. As the morning warmed, raptor numbers grew.  A pair of young golden eagle were first up, as were multiple buzzard, red kite, marsh harrier and booted eagles, then joined by griffon vultures and a solitary short toed eagle. The afternoon was spent in Aragón and a huge bloom of insects brought flocks of roving kestral and migrating hobby above our heads.  As we travelled past isolated farm houses we picked up Little owl and a flock of 20+ stone curlew, which were brilliant.  Tawny Pippit, Southern Grey and Woodchat shrike were also noticed.

Day5: On our final full day we headed back to the Pyrenees.  The weather was perfect and as we approached this magnificant range we began picking up more species.  Firecrest, Blackcap and a flock of feeding Citril finch started the day off well. As we hit mid morning the griffon vultures began to take off and we managed fabulous views no more than 10m above us..of course my camera was in the car.  Stonechat, willow warbler and many dunnocks were picked up as we moved through the alpine countryside, but a sudden shout from myself brough us to a halt as our first Lammergeier was seen soaring along a ridge.  It was lit up perfectly and we could see that it was young bird due to the lightness of its chest colour.  2 other Lammergeier were seen that day, along with a golden eagle being mobbed by a raven, many hundreds of chough and our third wagtail of the trip- a Grey.  On our return trip we spotted a falcon shaped bird in a tree but unfortunatly were moving too fast to get a good look or stop, however be both thought straight away that it looked like a redfooted falcon with no doubt attached, I shant count it though..

Day6:  Our final day was spent on the coast and in the Costa Garaf were we picked up several new species for the trip including:Shag, Rock Sparrow, Redstart, Spotted flycatcher, Subalpine, Dartford and Spectacled warbler, Whitethoat, Cirl bunting and small flocks of honey buzzard lazily soaring south. We had fabulous views of a Peregrine soaring out at sea and returning to the cliffs, a family of kestrals disappearing at the sight of the Peregrine and a Hobby perched in full view on a Pylon.  AS our trip neared to its close we had one final stop at the wetlands on the other side of Barcelona Airport, the only new bird was a fabulously close wryneck but we had some comical views of green woodpeckers on palm trees as well.

I really had a brilliant time birding in this part of Spain and cannot reccommend it enough.  Our guide, Stephen was incredibly knowledgable and I came back from this trip having learnt quite a fair bit.

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