TRAVELLING NATURALIST TRIP REPORT
26 November - 3 December 2000
Mike Read , Mike Lockwood
Sunday 26th November
Journeys from Britain went smoothly and we met up with Mike Lockwood at Barcelona airport. While we waited for those later arrivals travelling from Manchester Airport, a group of up to 5 Monk Parakeets kept us entertained as they fed on the fruits in a nearby palm tree. The drive to Huesca began in daylight and pools near the airport held Black-headed Gulls and a Little Egret. Along the River LLobregat, a number of Mallards were to be seen as we dashed past. A Grey Heron stood in the shallows and further on, a 'fly-over' Cattle Egret was quickly followed by a group of about 20 Little Egrets standing on the riverbank. Soon the sun set through various shades of yellow and burnt umber and darkness fell on the final 1½ hours of the journey to Huesca. We arrived at the hotel and enjoyed our first fine Spanish meal before heading off to bed.
Monday 27th November
We left the Hotel Pedro I De Aragon at 08.30 and headed generally westwards. There was fairly thick mist for the first few kilometres during which time we saw a couple of Common Buzzards and a few Rooks perched on roadside poles & cables. Soon after we left the mist behind, about 24 Griffon Vultures were circling over a hill and 2 Red Kites were seen nearby. Also in the area were a few Woodlarks and a Rock Sparrow. Further on we left the main road and headed north towards Jaca. We soon made a stop to view various small birds, which included Cirl, and Rock Buntings, Sardinian Warbler, Southern Grey Shrike and we also heard Dartford Warbler calling. At another stop, we added Dipper, Grey and White Wagtail. A narrow winding road led us to the Monasterio de San Juan de la Pena and a pre lunch walk led to a fabulous viewpoint. The Pyrenees were spread out before us but sadly they were mostly hidden behind a large bank of clouds! However, this seemed to add an air of mystery to the view, as various peaks were revealed then hidden again. Griffon Vultures drifted past in varying numbers and Crested Tits called from the pines behind us. It took considerable persistence to actually get to see one of these elusive creatures. During lunch, a Black Redstart perched on the ruined monastery wall but we were soon walking in search of more wildlife.
Further up the hill, an adult Lammergeier flew past at very close range while gathering numbers of Griffons punctuated the grand vistas. A second fly-past by the same Lammergeier later on seemed to interrupt the calls of a couple of Black Woodpeckers but eventually, one of these fine birds was found to be sitting high in a dead pine tree. We had excellent views of it for at least 10 minutes! As we walked back towards the busses, a group of about 85 Common Cranes flew over calling noisily. They had obviously just crossed the Pyrenees and were heading to their wintering grounds a little further to the south. The journey back to Huesca was uneventful.
Tuesday 28th November
We left the hotel at 08.30 and again headed west but this time, we turned towards Riglos and immediately paused to walk a track amongst some farmland. Birds seemed to be everywhere and we were soon viewing a flock of Rock Sparrows perched on overhead cable. As they dropped into fields to feed they were lost to view and our attention turned to Rock and Cirl Buntings, plus Woodlarks, Sardinian Warbler (calling only) and a few other species. At another stop further along the road, good views to Riglos and to the rock pillars beyond were well photographed by many; and we added Common Crossbill to the list as 3 flew in to join those already calling (but unseen!) in the nearby pines.
At Riglos itself, we walked to the area of the church and spent some time scanning the cliffs. A Black Redstart or two fed in the area as did three Alpine Accentors while about 10 Crag Martins patrolled the cliff above. Eventually, while watching a group of House Sparrows 'exploring' a cave, a Wallcreeper flew into view. Sadly it soon disappeared from view but everyone was happy (note from the office - especially Mr Read given his record with these...) - at having seen such a special bird. However, the best was yet to come! While we scanned unsuccessfully for Black Wheatear, two more Wallcreepers flew into view and one gave really close views for a short while. During lunch, we saw another 2!! During a second walk at Riglos, we saw lots of Griffon Vultures and a juvenile Lammergeier plus many small birds in the various cultivated plots.
During the return journey to Huesca, we detoured to visit Lupinen where we found two Little Owls. Close to Huesca, we visited Alberca de Loreto where, at a small lagoon, we saw some Marsh Harriers, a couple of Kestrels, lots of Starlings (including Spotless) and Corn Buntings. We also heard 3 Cetti's Warblers and probably 4 Water Rails to complete the day's birding.
Wednesday 29th November
We left the hotel at 08.30 as usual and drove east to Vadiello in the Sierra de Guarro. We parked near the dam and took a short walk in search of birds. Scores of Griffon Vultures flapped and soared above or just lined cliff tops and ledges. In the dull, overcast conditions it was only the breeze over the ridges which gave them any lift. A couple of very distant Lammergeiers were disappointing, but closer to Loporzano we had much better views of an adult quartering the hillside and this was just after having a brief view of a Peregrine. After coffee in Loporzano, we drove closer to Huesca and then out towards an old castle/monastery where we found another Little Owl, heard probable Thekla Lark and then had good, but distant views of a pair of Black Wheatears. We drove towards Sariñena and stopped before Novales to watch a fine male Merlin, about 30 Griffons, a few Red Kites and 30 Ravens. We stopped for lunch near some rice fields and added Cattle Egrets and Water Pipits to the list but before we reached Sariñena, a small 'tower' building had about 20 more Cattle Egrets on the roof. Sariñena Lake produced a Bittern, which was only seen by the leaders so does not count! Then one client was the only one to see a Kingfisher, which does count!! Also seen were Greylag Geese, Teal, Shovelers, a few Marsh Harriers and we heard some Wigeon. However, rain began to increase in intensity and we headed for Zaragoza and then on to Daroca. Zaragoza at rush-hour in the pouring rain was a nightmare!
A calm but overcast morning gave way to very light rain at lunch and at Sariñena, the rain increased to quite heavy. This continued for the rest of the day.
Thursday 30th November
A slightly later start with an 8 a.m. breakfast, after which we split into 2 groups. Most took a conducted tour of the old town of Daroca and learned much of the history that surrounds this ancient city. A small group drove a loop along the River Jiloca to the town of Murero and back. This proved enjoyable with numerous interesting sightings including about 8 Hawfinches, a small flock of Yellowhammers, a lone Stock Dove and plenty of woodpeckers with 3 Great Spotteds in one tree. Just after 11 a.m. we set off for Laguna de Gallocanta and began birding after coffee in the 'birding centre'. Common Cranes seemed to be arriving throughout the day and Griffon Vultures were ever present. Calandra Larks were seen in single species flocks while Corn Buntings, Rock Sparrows, Goldfinches and Linnets all seemed to mix fairly well. There were even a few Tree Sparrows included at times. A small group of Greylag Geese, an occasionally seen male Hen Harrier and a hunting Merlin all added interest but pride of place surely went to the flock of about 45 Black-bellied Sandgrouse which were seen feeding and in flight. This preceded our final birding of the day, which was to watch the flight-in of the Cranes. This event was somewhat marred by the local version of the 'boar wars' when hunters were seen to chase and shoot at least two of the family of four Wild Boars that we had been watching for some time. This event made a mockery of the special 'protection' status given to the local lake where at least one of the boars was shot. This shooting was upsetting on two counts especially; one was shot in a 'hunting free' zone and the roosting cranes were very disturbed as shots were fired very close to them.
The weather was much better than the previous day with virtually no rain, a sunny morning and only light breezes.
Friday 1st December
Today we headed north to Belchite to visit the old ruined city and a nature reserve. Mist greeted our approach to the area and so we decided to check out the ruins first. Black Redstart and Blue Rock Thrush greeted our arrival and everyone was in awe of the ruins themselves. They seemed a fitting memorial to lives lost during the Spanish Civil War. Eventually, more birds were found including Dartford & Sardinian Warblers, Thekla Larks, 2 Black Wheatears and a co-operative Hoopoe. As we drove out to El Planeron reserve, the first birds we saw were Black-bellied Sandgrouse taking off from the ploughed fields. Various larks in the area included Calandra, Wood and Lesser Short-toed and over the pools, Marsh Harrier and a Peregrine could be seen hunting. A walk in suitable habitat produced a typically brief view of Dupont's Lark, but, sadly, not many people saw it and, despite a secondary search, it was not relocated. During lunch, various ducks on the ponds included Mallard, Gadwall, Teal and Shelduck and later, from the other side of the pools we added Pintail (2 females), Shoveler and a couple of Green Sandpipers. A juvenile Golden Eagle flew past in the distance and another Merlin completed our viewing here. Some pools closer to Belchite proved worthwhile when we added Reed Bunting and Penduline Tit (at least 7 of the latter) to the day's tally. The day was completed with a visit to the Nature Interpretation Centre in Belchite.
Mostly fine with light winds.
Saturday 2nd December
We set out for the Belchite area again hoping to see two male Great Bustards that were reported to still be in the area. A couple of Red Kites, a female Hen Harrier and a Common Buzzard added interest to the journey and a Spanish Ibex was most unexpected. At the bustard site, prolonged searching did not produce the hoped for species but we did see Red Fox, Iberian Hare, a male Hen Harrier, a distant juvenile Golden Eagle and a wide range of Lark species although this did not include Dupont's Lark which was seen at he next location, La Lomaza. The journey back towards Daroca was punctuated by a few stops for raptors and especially for scenic photography as the afternoon light was superbly clear after a good (?) shower of rain. A short detour along the Rio Jaloca produced little in the bitingly cold wind except a Green Woodpecker. Approaching Gallocanta a group of Griffon Vultures were circling over a hill. After a hot drink at the Centre, we climbed a nearby hill to get views over the lake and its surrounds. It was obvious that there were many more Cranes present than during our previous visit and, despite the chill wind, we all enjoyed watching the dusk flight of these vociferous birds. The whole event was enhanced by a fabulous sunset, some good humour and an occasional drink of red wine!
Sunday 3rd December
An early breakfast saw us setting off for the airport by 06.45! This enabled us to enjoy the sunrise (when it eventually happened!) as we drove eastwards from Zaragoza towards Barcelona. By this time, a few birds were beginning to grace the clear skies with a few raptors being of greatest interest. They included a lone Sparrowhawk, a couple of Kestrels and 4 Common Buzzards. Mistle Thrush and Crested Lark kept up their regular appearances and as we neared Barcelona, the expected 'herons' were seen along the Llobregat River namely Cattle and Little Egrets. As we took off and began flying northwards, the Pyrenees looked fabulous with their fresh caps of snow glistening spotlessly white in the winter sunshine. The rest of the flight was uneventful and everyone's luggage arrived safely!
Little Grebe: Seen at Alberca de Loreto on 28th and 4 at Sariñena Lake on 29th.
Great Crested Grebe: Seen at the same locations as the previous species with 1 on 28th and 2 on 29th.
(Great) Cormorant: About 20 seen along the River Llobregat just west of Barcelona on 26th and on 3rd, seen at the lakes visited on 28th & 29th and flying over Belchite on 1st.
Grey Heron: Seen on 5 days.
Little Egret: The first was hunting in a shallow pool just outside Barcelona airport and then beside the River Llobregat where about 20 were gathered in presumably a pre-roost group, both on 26th. Also seen as we approached Barcelona on 3rd.
Cattle Egret: One flew over the road soon after we left Barcelona airport on 26th. We also saw about 10 at our lunch stop on 29th and 15 on a roof (!) near Sariñena later the same day. Finally, a couple were seen as we neared Barcelona on 3rd.
White Stork: Seen on 3 consecutive days from 27th as up to 4 roosted on Huesca Cathedral.
Greylag Goose: There were at least 60 at Sariñena Lake on 29th plus 8 or 9 at Laguna de Gallocanta the following day and at least 5 at the same location on 2nd.
Shelduck: Just a single bird at El Planeron on 1st
(Eurasian) Wigeon: Heard at Sariñena Lake on 29th.
Gadwall: 8 at El Planeron on 1st.
(Common) Teal: Seen at Sariñena on 29th and at El Planeron on 1st.
Mallard: Seen every day.
Northern Pintail: 2 females at El Planeron on 1st.
Northern Shoveler: 4 seen at Alberca de Loreto on 28th, a few at Sariñena Lake on 29th and a pair at El Planeron on 1st.
(Common) Pochard: 3 seen at Alberca de Loreto on 28th, at least 2 at Sariñena the following day and 3 at El Planeron on 1st.
Red Kite: Seen on 4 days with the most being on 29th when there was a gathering of at least 20 north of Sariñena and a 'wet-weather roost' of perhaps 200 on pylons and in trees near Alcubierre.
Lammergeier: An adult flew past at very close range at the Monasterio de San Juan on 27th. This was followed by a juvenile at Riglos the following day and up to 3 individuals near Vadello on 29th when an adult gave excellent views and 2 others were too distant to assess their age.
(Eurasian) Griffon Vulture: The 28th was the best day when at least 450 were seen in the pre Pyrenees near Riglos but over 300 were seen the previous day and over 200 on 29th.
(Eurasian) Marsh Harrier: At least 3, possibly as many as 6 at Alberca de Loreto at sunset on 28th and at least 7 at Sariñena the following day. We also saw smaller numbers on 30th, 1st and 2nd.
Hen Harrier: A male at Gallocanta on 30th was somewhat eclipsed by 2 females and a male near Belchite and 2 males and a female at Gallocanta on 2nd.
(Eurasian) Sparrowhawk: Our first on 27th was followed by longer views of one soaring around with Griffon Vultures at Riglos on 28th when the huge size difference was very noticeable. Finally, one was seen as we drove towards Barcelona on 3rd.
Common Buzzard: Seen every day except 26th.
Golden Eagle: A juvenile was seen at El Planeron on 1st and 2 or 3 were in the Belchite area the following day; these sightings may all refer to one individual bird.
Common Kestrel: The first was seen from Barcelona airport car park and probably the same one was seen during the early part of the journey to Huesca. Not seen on 27th but then seen every day from then onwards.
Merlin: 1 male seen in field and then on telegraph wires as we travelled towards Sariñena on 29th. This was followed by a female the following day at Gallocanta, 2 at El Planeron on 1st and 1 at Gallocanta on 2nd.
Peregrine Falcon: 2 very distant birds circling with Griffon vultures on 27th at the Monasterio de San Juan looked small by comparison! A single bird was seen near Vadiello on 29th but sadly it was just a rear-end view as it dashed away and not many saw it. Also seen at El Planeron on 1st and near Belchite on 2nd.
Red-legged Partridge: 5 flew behind the lead mini-bus as we left Vadiello on 29th. Also at least 6 at El Planeron on 1st and 8 west of Belchite on 2nd.
Water Rail: At least 4 heard calling at the lake at Alberca de Loreto at dusk on 28th and also heard at the Laguna at Sariñena the following day, at Gallocanta on 30th and 2 near Belchite on 1st.
(Common) Moorhen: Seen on just 3 days.
(Common) Coot: Only seen on 26th on the journey from Barcelona and at Alberca de Loreto on 28th.
Common Crane: Our first were about 85 flying in 'V' formation as they arrived from the north on 27th. This was followed by about 6-7000 at Gallocanta on 30th which had risen to 12000 two days later. We also saw 17 at El Planeron on 1st.
(European) Golden Plover: Just a single bird with a group of lapwings at Gallocanta on 30th.
(Northern) Lapwing: About 8 were seen as we taxied towards Barcelona Airport terminal on 26th. There were over 200 at our lunch stop on 29th and we also saw the species on 30th, 1st & 3rd.
(Common) Snipe: Just 2 at our lunch stop at some rice fields on 29th
Common Sandpiper: Heard at Alberca de Loreto on 28th.
Green Sandpiper: 3 at El Planeron on 1st were the only ones.
Greenshank: A single bird flew over calling at Sariñena on 29th.
Dunlin: About 10 flew across Gallocanta Lake on 2nd.
Yellow-legged Gull: Seen on 4 days.
Lesser Black-backed Gull: Just a single bird near the Laguna de Gallocanta on 30th.
Black-headed Gull: Seen on 3 days.
Pin-tailed Sandgrouse: 7 at El Planeron on 1st
Black-bellied Sandgrouse: Possibly as many as 48 at Gallocanta Lake on 30th were followed by at least 35 at El Planeron on 1st.
Feral Pigeon: Seen every day from 27th to 2nd.
(Common) Wood Pigeon: Seen every day from 26th to 30th.
Stock Dove: 4 seen in the Jiloca Valley on 30th.
(Eurasian) Collared Dove: Seen every day from 27th.
Monk Parakeet: At least 6 were feeding in a palm tree just outside Barcelona Airport as we arranged the mini bus hire.
Little Owl: Two at Lupinen on 28th were followed by a single bird at Montearagon the next day.
(Common) Kingfisher: Just a single glimpse of one at Sariñena Lake on 29th.
Hoopoe: We struggled to find the first, which was amongst the ruins of Belchite on 1st; then we found a further 3 that day!
Great Spotted Woodpecker: One near the Monasterio de San Juan on 27th was followed by at least 10 sightings in the Jiloca Valleyon 30th. Finally, one was seen on the journey to Belchite on 1st
Black Woodpecker: Two were calling near the Monasterio de San Juan on 27th and one was subsequently found sat in a dead tree; it was watched for at least ten minutes which is most unusual for this species.
Green Woodpecker: Seen on 4 days with at least 4 in the Jiloca Valley on 30th.
Calandra Lark: Hundreds seen at Gallocanta on 30th and 2nd and in the Belchite area on 1st and 2nd.
Lesser Short-toed Lark: Common in the Belchite area on 1st and 2nd especially at El Planeron.
Dupont's Lark: A single bird at El Planeron on 1st was typically elusive and difficult to see as was the one at La Lomaza the following day.
Crested Lark: Seen or heard every day from 27th.
Thekla Lark: Heard at Montearagon on 29th then seen amongst the ruins of Belchite on 1st. Also seen on 2nd.
Wood Lark: A good tour for this species with birds being seen on 5 days in widely scattered locations. The best day was 27th when at least 10 were seen.
Sky Lark: Seen on 5 consecutive days from 28th.
(Eurasian) Crag Martin: At least 10 along the Riglos cliffs on 28th and a single bird over Daroca on 30th.
Meadow Pipit: Seen every day except 26th & 3rd.
Water Pipit: At least 2, probably many more seen at the rice paddies lunch stop on 29th.
White Wagtail: Seen every day.
Grey Wagtail: 2 on 27th at the Monasterio de San Juan and also seen near Vadiello on 29th.
Southern Grey Shrike: Seen on 6 consecutive days from 27th.
(White-throated) Dipper: Just a single bird seen along the river near Anzanigo on 27th.
(Winter) Wren: Identified on 5 days.
Alpine Accentor: Half a dozen in the Riglos area on 28th were followed by a single bird on the road to Vadiello the next day.
Dunnock/Hedge Accentor: Seen on 4 days.
(European) Robin: Seen on 4 consecutive days from 27th.
Black Redstart: Regularly seen except the two airport days.
Stonechat: Seen every day except 26th.
Black Wheatear: 2 at Montearagon on 29th plus another 2 amongst the ruins of Belchite on 1st.
Blue Rock Thrush: 3 in the Riglos area on 28th, 1 at Belchite on 1st and a female near Gallocanta on 2nd.
(Common) Blackbird: Seen every day except 26th & 3rd.
Redwing: 8 on 28th near Riglos and also seen the following day.
Song Thrush: Seen on 27th, 29th & 30th.
Mistle Thrush: Seen every day except 26th.
Cetti's Warbler: At least 3 heard at Alberca de Loreto on 28th plus 2 on 29th at Sariñena and a call at a pond near Belchite on 1st was probably this species.
Fan-tailed Warbler: 2 during lunch and one at Sariñena Lake both on 29th.
Blackcap: A male and a female both near Riglos on 28th.
Sardinian Warbler: Noted on 27th, 28th, 30th and 1st; more often heard than seen.
Dartford Warbler: Heard near San Juan on 27th then seen at Belchite on 1st. Also noted on 2nd.
Common Chiffchaff: Seen in 'reed bed' areas at Alberca de Loreto on 28th, at Sariñena on 29th and near Belchite on 1st.
Goldcrest: Seen on 2 walks at the Monasterio de San Juan on 27th.
Long-tailed Tit: Seen near the Monasterio de San Juan on 27th.
Coal Tit: Seen in the same pine woods on 27th as the previous species.
Crested Tit: Seen during each walk and during lunch at the Monasterio on 27th.
Great Tit: Seen on 4 consecutive days from 27th.
Blue Tit: Seen on 4 days, 27th, 28th, 30th and 1st.
Penduline Tit: A brief stop at a pond near Belchite on 1st proved fortuitous when 7 of these elusive birds were seen.
(Wood) Nuthatch: Only seen in the pinewoods on 27th.
Wallcreeper: Many people were pleased (even relieved!) to get good views of this elusive species when as many as 5 were seen at Riglos on 28th.
Short-toed Treecreeper: Only seen in the Monasterio woods on 27th.
(Eurasian) Jay: Seen on 27th, 28th and 30th.
(Black-billed) Magpie: Seen every day.
Red-billed Chough: A couple seen on 27th and 28th and then at least 15 near Montearagon on 29th, heard at Daroca on 30th and finally seen near Gallocanta on 2nd.
(Eurasian) Jackdaw: Seen every day with the most being well over 1000 coming in to roost at Alberca de Loreto on 28th.
Rook: Small quantities of this rare winter visitor were seen to the west of Huesca on 27th and 28th.
Carrion Crow: Seen every day except 26th.
(Common) Raven: Seen every full day in Spain with the most being over 50 on 29th in the pre Pyrenees and on the way to Sariñena.
(Common) Starling: Seen every day.
Spotless Starling: Seen every day.
Cirl Bunting: Noted on 4 days from 27th with the most being in the Monasterio area and in the valley to the south of there on that date.
Rock Bunting: As expected, only seen in the Pyrenees area on 27th, 28th and 29th.
Reed Bunting At least a dozen at Sariñena Lake on 29th and a couple at the pond near Belchite on 1st.
Yellowhammer: A group of at least 6 were seen in the Jiloca Valley on 30th.
Corn Bunting: Commonly seen on every day except 26th and 3rd.
Chaffinch: Seen every day except 26th.
(European) Serin: A group of about 10 near Riglos on 28th.
(European) Greenfinch: Small numbers seen on 27th, 28th and 30th.
(European) Goldfinch: More common on the plains than in the mountains; seen every day except 26th and 3rd.
(Common) Linnet: A flock of 20 - 30 were seen with various other finches and sparrows near Riglos on 28th then not seen again until we reached the plains 30th when there was a flock near Gallocanta. Then also seen on 1st and 2nd.
Common Crossbill: 6 - 8 seen just below Riglos on 28th and also heard in the Jiloca Valley on 30th.
(Common) Bullfinch: Just heard during lunch at the Monasterio de San Juan on 27th.
Hawfinch: At least 8 in the Jiloca Valley on 30th.
House Sparrow: Seen every day.
(Eurasian) Tree Sparrow: Seen on 4 days 28th, 29th, 30th and 2nd.
Rock Sparrow: 1 on 27th near Anzanigo was followed by about 30 near Riglos on 28th and then there were about 300 near Gallocanta Lake on 30th.
Beech Marten (sadly, only dead on the roadside)
Bat (not specifically identified)
BUTTERFLIES and other Taxa
Hummingbird Hawk Moth
Overall, this was another excellent Travelling Naturalist tour with each of the leaders gaining 'lifers'; Mike Lockwood saw a very brief Bittern at Sariñena Lake and Mike Read at long last saw a Wallcreeper (or 3 or 4!) plus 3 other new species. The weather was relatively kind with heavy rain on only one day. The great abundance of small birds in all locations was appreciated and was something of a reflection of times past on British farmland. This was all enhanced by seeing such special species as Lammergeier, Dupont's Lark and Penduline Tit. Perhaps most enjoyed were the Common Cranes flying in to Gallocanta Lake in the gathering gloom of a fine winter sunset. Having said that, we are sure that each person on the tour took home some of their own very special memories of their visit to Northern Spain. The wildlife watching was all combined with good food and wine together with lots of good humour ............... and then there were Mike Read's jokes too!! We certainly hope that the latter has not put you off and that we will meet up again in the not too distant future.
Mike Lockwood and Mike Read.