Ebro - Source To Delta

12 - 26 May 2001

Teresa Farino & Pete Combridge

Our trip along the 928km of the River Ebro, in Northeast Spain may have encountered some poor weather and an occasional minor administrative hiccup, but, especially in terms of the sheer variety of wildlife encountered along the way, was an enjoyable and successful trip, the first of its kind for The Travelling Naturalist.

The mammals were, as might be expected, rather thin on the ground, with only five species being positively identified in the two-week period (leaving aside the plethora of bats that gathered round the street lamps at night), but these did include a fleeting glimpse of a Wolf that we passed on the Aguilar-Burgos road. We were a sight more lucky with the birds, encountering a total of 174 species, including three grebes, nine herons (including Black-crowned Night and Purple at the nest), 16 diurnal raptors (including, rather unexpectedly, Eurasian Black Vulture, plus great views of Golden Eagle), five gulls (notably Slender-billed and Audouin's) and six terns, all eight of the Iberian larks (although only Peter and Sylvia actually saw Dupont's), and eight Sylvia warblers (including Orphean). Notable highlights were the Eagle Owl at Juslibol, the Great White Egrets and Purple Swamp-hens in the Ebro Delta and the Penduline Tits' nest at the Galachos de La Alfranca.

We didn't do too badly for reptiles either, the 11 species recorded including Turkish Gecko, European Pond Terrapin, both Large and Spanish Psammodromus and a fabulous Horseshoe Whip Snake at Miravet. Despite rather poor weather early in the tour, we still managed to see 41 species of butterfly, including Duke of Burgundy Fritillary in the Hoces del Ebro and Queen of Spain and Marsh Fritillary at the Dehesa del Moncayo, although it will surely be the splendid Cardinal at the Galachos de La Alfranca which will be most fondly remembered.

Saturday 12 May 2001 Transfer to Santa María de Mave

A rather late arrival by the British Airways flight to Bilbao meant that in order to dine some time before midnight, we would have to head straight to Mave without stopping for the customary refreshments en route. Once we reached our destination, the converted convent delighted all and we were soon tucking into the first of many delicious meals with gusto.

Sunday 13 May 2001 Fontibre/Alto Campóo/Puerto de Palombera

Our first full day in the field dawned fine and saw us heading off to Fontibre: the official 'birth-place' of the River Ebro. In a rather manicured setting of planted poplars and picnic tables, we nevertheless managed to locate a number of interesting plants, including Pale-flowered Orchid Orchis pallens, Provençal Orchid O. provincialis, Spring Squill Scilla verna and a few 'just-finished' Pyrenean Snakesheads Fritillaria pyrenaica. Other typical shade-tolerant plants here included Green Hellebore Helleborus viridis, Long-leaved Lungwort Pulmonaria longifolia and Solomon's Seal Polygonatum multiflorum, with Meadow Saxifrage Saxifraga granulata and the white-flowered cinquefoil Potentilla montana in more open areas. Birdwise, little did we know that this would be the only time that we were to record Song Thrush and Goldcrest during the whole fortnight, with Long-tailed Tit and Spotted Flycatcher also in evidence.

Carrying on up the road west to the true source of the Ebro, on the flanks of Pico Tres Mares (Alto Campóo), we stopped for a superb Red-backed Shrike and subsequently found a meadow teeming with Green-winged Orchids Orchis morio and Southern Red Bartsia Parentucellia latifolia. Above the Brañavieja ski station, we abandoned the vehicles at the edge of an extensive snow-field (there had been a heavy fall on April 30th, which made the going rather harder than normal), and set off on foot up towards the Collado de la Fuente del Chivo (2000m+). An abundance of Narcissus asturiensis was the main botanical interest, while the birdwatchers concentrated on the Water Pipits parachuting all around. Here too we saw Alpine Chough, as well as a small group of Red Deer on a distant hillside.

Once at the collado, we were rewarded with dramatic views of the Picos de Europa and the rest of the Cordillera Cantábrica, to the north and west, but the icy wind meant that we soon retraced our steps and headed a little way down the valley for lunch. The flora of this sheltered side valley included an abundance of Spring Gentians Gentiana verna, Oxlips Primula elatior and Marsh Marigold Caltha palustris, while Lindsey managed to locate a few Dog's-tooth Violets Erythronium dens-canis while the rest of us were tucking into our fresh fruit salad and egg mayonnaise.

After lunch another roadside stop was demanded to photograph the drifts of Angel's-tears Narcissus triandrus before we made our way up to the limestone outcrops of the Puerto de Palombera (1,257m). The ornithological highlight here was undoubtedly a pair of Rock Thrushes, with Red-billed Chough, Crag Martin and Rock Sparrow all adding interest, but the plantlife was considerably more diverse, owing to the calcareous nature of the rocks here. Among the more eye-catching species were Trumpet Gentians Gentiana acaulis, the rock-jasmine Androsace villosa, Liverleaf Hepatica nobilis, Stinking Hellebore Helleborus foetidus, Scrambling Gromwell Lithodora diffusa and Leafless-stemmed Globularia Globularia nudicaulis. Unfortunately we were too early to catch Pyrenean eryngo Eryngium bourgatii and livelong saxifrage Saxifraga paniculata in flower, and had to content ourselves with recognising the foliage, while the deeper soils supported cushions of Spanish broom Genista hispanica ssp. occidentalis and Cornish heath Erica vagans (a British Red Data Book [RDB] species).

A brief stop on the way back down to the Reinosa road allowed us to key out the yellow-flowered lousewort in a boggy meadow as Pedicularis schizocalyx, accompanied by a number of Early Purple Orchids Orchis mascula, but perhaps more memorable was the Black Kite hawking low over the fields to our right. We finished the day with a visit to the Romanesque colegiata (seminary church) of Cervatos, complete with erotic gargoyles!

Monday 14 May 2001 Páramo de la Lora

Although we started the day in 'fried eggs' weather, the cloud gradually closed in, ending in what was probably our worst day, with rain sweeping across the páramo and putting paid to what should have been our best butterfly day of the trip.

Our first stop was in a small limestone canyon near Hoyos del Tozo, where we encountered a number of Griffon Vultures perched or sweeping low over the cliffs, as well as a rather splendid Egyptian Vulture. Closer at hand the stunted Lusitanian Oaks Quercus faginea held Rock Bunting, Western Bonelli's Warbler and Common Whitethroat, while the warbling song of a myriad Wood Larks filled the small valley.

The flora here was typical of limestone habitats in northern Castile, being dominated by the horribly spiny Genista scorpius and two white-flowered rosaceous species - Snowy Mespilus Amelanchier ovalis and the diminutive Spiraea hypericifolia ssp. obovata, the whole of the lower valley being studded with Common Asphodels Asphodelus aestivus in full bloom. An examination of the rock outcrops Fairy Foxglove Erinus alpinus, Prostrate Toadflax Linaria supina, Malling Toadflax Chaenorhinum origanifolium, the Iberian endemic, 'ivy-leaved' saxifrage Saxifraga cuneata and Rusty-back (fern) Ceterach officinarum.

Along the verge, Anne spotted a clump of Ophrys orchids, which saw Rosemary and Lindsey whipping out their copies of Delforge before pronouncing them to be 'common or garden' Early Spider Orchids O. sphegodes, and they were quickly followed up by a number of Yellow Bee Orchids Ophrys lutea and some lovely Man Orchids Aceras anthropophorum (which Teresa thinks should be re-christened 'Motorbike Courier Orchids'….). We stopped again at the junction of the Hoyos del Tozo-Sargentes de la Lora road where drifts of purple, pink and white Early Purple Orchids had caught our eye, to turn up the handsome Ophrys dyris and our first Crested Larks.

As we drove towards Sargentes we encountered a fine male Montagu's Harrier, quickly followed by a much duller first-summer male (which most of Teresa's bus had pegged for a female, until Pete informed us otherwise), then stopped by popular demand as stands of Lady Orchids Orchis purpurea appeared along the roadside. Here too were loads more Ophrys dyris, plus the superficially rather similar Brown Bee Orchid O. fusca, while Joan found a mass of Pyrenean Snakesheads, in much better condition than those of the previous day, along the edge of the wood, although Teresa was much more taken with the stunning yellow blooms of the pheasant's-eye Adonis vernalis in the verge. Overhead Skylarks were singing, while Northern Wheatears skittered across the arable fields. We paused briefly as a Hoopoe flew across the road just outside Sargentes, and were more than a little surprised to see a splendid male Rock Thrush feeding in the ploughed field next to the minibuses.

We drove across the Páramo de la Lora to the edge of the buttress which looks over the Ebro valley and then walked along the cliff-top. Progress was slow, as we were surrounded by orchids galore, with new species including Burnt-tip Orchis ustulata, Barton's Dactylorhiza insularis (pale yellow, with two elliptical orange spots on the lip) and Dense-flowered Neotinea maculata (spotted by Carol). Other botanical delights of the Páramo were Wild Tulip Tulipa sylvestris ssp. australis, Common Grape Hyacinth Muscari neglectum, Hoop-petticoat Daffodils Narcissus bulbocodium (much more common after lunch), the Iberian endemic stork's-bill Erodium daucoides and Grass-leaved Buttercup Ranunculus gramineus, plus more Angel's-tears and Pyrenean Snakesheads.

In the meantime, waterproofs had been donned and we looked for somewhere out of the driving wind to have lunch, finally settling on the shelter of a small limestone bluff, carpeted with Chamois-cress Hutchinsia alpina. After lunch we wandered across the limestone pavement to the east, encountering Blue Aphyllanthes Aphyllanthes monspeliensis, Tassel Hyacinth Muscari comosum, Sawfly Orchid Ophrys tenthredinifera, Elder-flowered Orchid Dactylorhiza sambucina and the lovely Thalictrum tuberosum, before deciding to head down the San Martín de Elines rather than trudge back into the driving wind to the minibuses. Thus - regaled by superb views of Alpine Swifts zooming around the buttress and earnestly singing Iberian Chiffchaffs - Teresa led the group down to the village, where some opted to visit the stunning Romanesque colegiata, while Pete and Pat went back for a vehicle, to drive round and collect some of the group and Teresa, go back for the second vehicle, etc., etc., all of which made for a rather late evening meal.

Tuesday 15 May 2001 Hoces del Ebro

Yesterday's inclement weather had eased somewhat, so we headed off to the Hoces del Ebro as planned, the group in a hired coach (driven by Ana) and Pete and Teresa driving the minibuses to leave in Valdelateja, so that we would be able to walk the gorge in a single direction only. As we travelled in convoy along the main Aguilar-Burgos road, Teresa - in the first vehicle - was stunned to see an adult Wolf standing calmly by the side of the road. Managing to resist the temptation to slam on the brakes on a busy main thoroughfare, she stopped as soon as possible and then climbed into the coach, which turned round to see if we could get a second look. By this time (all of 5 minutes later) of course, the Wolf was nowhere to be seen.

We stopped at a magnificent viewpoint overlooking the Rudrón valley, with Griffon and Egyptian Vultures sailing across the air-space ahead and scores of Lady Orchids along the sides of the road, then continued on to Pesquera de Ebro, where we said goodbye to Ana and started our walk through the Ebro river gorge. The first section traversed rough grassland, where the birdwatchers had good views of Tree and Tawny Pipits, Red-backed Shrike, Corn Bunting and Stonechat, while those heard-but-not-seen included Wryneck, Common Cuckoo and Golden Oriole, as well as a chorus of Common Nightingales emanating from the nearby riverine forest.

On the plant front, Joan located some Woodcock Orchids Ophrys scolopax, while typical species of open habitats included Annual Scorpion-vetch Coronilla scorpioides, Ground-pine Ajuga chamaepitys, Large-flowered Wild Clary Salvia verbenaca, Viper's-bugloss Echium vulgare, the white-leaved, red-flowered hound's-tongue Cynoglossum cheirifolium and Rosy Garlic Allium roseum. Cleopatras and Orange Tips (males of both) were also seen here.

Once into the shade of the riverine forest - mainly Black and White Poplars (Populus nigra and P. alba), Narrow-leaved Ash Fraxinus angustifolia and Small-leaved Elm Ulmus minor - we were delighted to encounter the tree-root parasite Purple Toothwort Lathyraea clandestina, Columbine Aquilegia vulgaris, Blue Gromwell Buglossoides purpurocaerulea (a UK RDB plant) and the enormous Pyrenean Valerian Valeriana pyrenaica, up to 2m tall and with basal leaves some 30cm across. The thick canopy made spotting birds difficult, but we strolled along to the songs of Garden Warbler, Blackcap, Iberian Chiffchaff, Robin, Wren and Chaffinch, the music occasionally punctuated by the explosive calls of Cetti's Warblers from the river's edge.

We entered a small clearing in search of Military Orchid Orchis militaris, finding just one in bud, although this was compensated for by a number of Violet Limodores Limodorum abortivum and Sawfly Orchids. This clearing also turned up a Small Blue butterfly and a fabulous praying mantis nymph, spotted by Carol, which turned out to be Empusa pennata (long crest on the back of the head) and was much photographed.

As we continued along the river, Teresa - at the head of the file - saw Golden Orioles fly across the water on two occasions, but the lack of 'windows' in the vegetation made views all but impossible for the rest of the group. Bullfinches called from the surrounding bushes, again glimpsed by just a lucky few, while Pat, John and the two Peters saw a Hawfinch. Gradually the views ahead widened out and we spotted three Griffon Vultures roosting in the 'eyes' of a face sculpted from the cliff above, while rocky overhangs nearer at hand sported clumps of Sarcocapnos Sarcocapnos enneaphylla and Rock Soapwort Saponaria ocymoides. Moroccan Orange Tip, Speckled Wood and Wood White were added to the butterfly list here.

The more Mediterranean vegetation in this sunnier stretch of gorge was composed of evergreen shrubs such as Strawberry-tree Arbutus unedo, Mediterranean Buckthorn Rhamnus alaternus, Privet Ligustrum vulgare and Western Holm Oak Quercus ilex ssp. ballota, accompanied by deciduous species such as Fly Honeysuckle Lonicera xylosteum, Barberry Berberis vulgaris, Alder Buckthorn Frangula alnus, Dogwood Cornus sanguinea, St Lucie's Cherry Prunus mahaleb, Wayfaring Tree Viburnum lantana and Guelder-rose V. opulus. In the understorey we spotted Bastard Balm Melittis melissophyllum, Swallow-wort Vincetoxicum hirundinaria and a few Red Helleborines Cephalanthera rubra still in bud.

We eventually found a stretch of path wide enough for us all to sit and have lunch, after which we continued through more open habitats on the other side of the river to Valdelateja. This drier limestone was the domain of strongly scented shrubs and herbs such as the everlasting flower Helichrysum stoechas, Round-headed Thyme Thymus mastichina, Pitch Trefoil Psoralea bituminosa and Sage-leaved Cistus Cistus salviifolius, but the highlight was undoubtedly the crimson peonies Paeonia officinalis ssp. microcarpa just coming into flower. Overhead a Honey Buzzard was followed by a Common Buzzard, enabling us to compare both morphology and flight characteristics, while Pat spotted a high-flying raptor that turned out to be a Eurasian Black Vulture, well north of its main strongholds in Central and Southwest Spain.

In complete contrast to the previous day, the heat was quite suffocating as we neared our destination, although obviously providing ideal conditions for a number of reptiles: we saw a male Iberian Wall Lizard, several young, very spotty Ocellated Lizards and a number of Three-toed Skinks, as well as a Common Toad. The butterfly highlight was undoubtedly a Duke of Burgundy Fritillary, which vied for our attention with Pat's Black Vulture, but we also saw a couple of velvety dark brown Piedmont Ringlets. The most abundant form of animal life during this final stretch, however, were the legions of Griffons roosting on the honeycomb cliffs opposite, many of the holes being used as nest-sites.

Wednesday 16 May 2001 Transfer to Olite via Soto de Buicio/Laguna de las Cañas

While Pete and Teresa loaded up the minibuses, Joan took the group on a quick tour of the 12th-century church attached to the ex-convent of Santa María de Mave, after which we said our goodbyes and started out on the long haul to our second base at Olite (Navarra). After a quick coffee stop in Ibias de Juarros (close to the Atapuerca archaeological site) we headed on swiftly to our lunch-site at the Soto de Buicio: a riverine forest on the banks of the Ebro. Before and during lunch we were treated to views of two Purple Herons poised motionless on the far bank of the river, as well as a splendid male Woodchat Shrike only a few yards away in a young poplar, while Pat saw a Golden Oriole cross the river twice. Common Nightingales sang incessantly, interspersed with Cetti's Warblers and a distant Great Reed Warbler, the latter seen fairly close-up by some of the group during a post-lunch stroll along the river.

In the meantime, the abandoned vineyard - rather parched already owing to the dry spring across much of northern Spain - immediately adjacent to the river was explored by Lindsey, who turned up a few spikes of Lizard Orchid Himantoglossum hircinum, the yellow-flowered form of Bellardia Bellardia trixago and Red Star-thistle Centaurea calcitrapa (a British RDB plant).

A few kilometres to the east and we stopped briefly at the Laguna de las Cañas, on the outskirts of the city of Logroño, where we had distant views of the Black-crowned Night Heron colony and watching a number of Marsh Harriers hunting over the lake. Little and Cattle Egrets crossed the airspace continuously and we also saw our first European Bee-eaters of the trip, while the open water housed Great Crested Grebe and a single male Northern Pintail, as well as the more commonplace Common Coot and Mallard. Savi's Warbler was heard singing here, while Lindsey spotted several Pallid Swifts (John had already seen them earlier, en route) and Red-rumped Swallow overhead. The flora was also of interest here, again including Lizard and Man Orchids, plus Rosy Garlic, Pallenis spinosa, Corn Mignonette Reseda phyteuma, White Horehound Marrubium vulgare and the distinctive grass known as Albardine Lygeum spartum: all in all a highly profitable visit.

We checked into the rather sumptuous Casa Zanito, in the middle of a maze of narrow streets that considerably frustrated minibus access to the door to unload.

Thursday 17 May 2001 Laguna de Pitillas

As Teresa was unwell the following morning, Pete C ferried the group in two journeys to the nearby Laguna de Pitillas for a productive morning's birding. Bittern was heard booming, Bearded Tit was seen in the reedbeds, Red-crested Pochard and Black-necked Grebes occupied the open water and two Eurasian Hobbies put in an appearance. Pitillas was also the only place during the fortnight that we saw Common Pochard, Tufted Duck and Short-toed Eagle.

A free afternoon was spent exploring the Medieval walled 'city' of Olite and generally relaxing, although Carol and Rosemary persuaded Pete C that they would much rather stay on at Pitillas. Several of the group joined a more-or-less-recuperated Teresa for a tour of the Carricas bodegas (housed in ancient catacombs) just before dinner, where many purchases were made for consumption during future lunches and back in the UK (Anne kindly donated three bottles of 'champagne' to the TN cause….).

Friday 18 May 2001 Dehesa del Moncayo

A fine morning was us heading towards the prominent peak of the Dehesa del Moncayo (2,315m), seeing a wealth of birdlife in the Mediterranean habitats on the way, notably Golden Oriole, both male and female Montagu's Harriers, a Peregrine carrying its prey and Rock Sparrow, while Anne spotted Red-legged Partridges by the side of the road. Just as we entered the Pyrenean Oak Quercus pyrenaica forest at the foot of the peak, a splendid male Roe Deer crossed the road in front of us, closely followed by a Great Spotted Woodpecker.

We drove up the winding road through Scots Pines Pinus sylvestris and Beech Fagus sylvatica to the small carpark just below the Santuario, then strolled along the remaining section of unmade road to the chapel (1,610m). The extremely acid conglomerate rocks here housed a dense scrub of Pyrenean Broom Cytisus purgans, Tree Heath Erica arborea, Red-berried Elder Sambucus racemosa, Dwarf Juniper Juniperus communis ssp. alpina and Holly Ilex aquifolium, with little in the way of interesting herbs until we reached the sheer rock-faces just below the chapel, which were studded with cushions of the endemic saxifrage Saxifraga moncayensis, just coming into flower.

Excellent views were had of a singing Rock Bunting, perched atop a Yew Taxus baccata, with Dunnock, Black Redstart and Crag Martin (the latter collecting mud from the foot of a small spring) providing additional interest. Once at the chapel, Lindsey spotted our only Large Tortoiseshell of the tour. The more active members of the group continued up a small path to the plateau above the chapel, which was awash with daffodils (Lindsey decided that there were probably two species here: Narcissus asturiensis ssp. jacetanus and Lent Lily N. pseudonarcissus), as well as the Central Spanish endemic pansy Viola montcaunica and Brittle Bladder-fern Cystopteris fragilis. We also heard Firecrests calling here and, during our return to the vehicles, encountered a splendid Queen of Spain Fritillary and several Wall Browns.

Lunch was taken further down the hill in a small, sunny clearing in the pines, where more Queen of Spains were on the wing, accompanied by Marsh Fritillary, Cleopatra, Holly Blue and Western Marbled White. We then opted to take a stroll through the beechwoods proper, where additional butterflies included Red Admiral and Green-veined White, and we also heard a chiffchaff singing which sounded much more like Common Chiffchaff than the more-usually-encountered Iberian bird. On the way home some of the group opted to visit the Cistercian monastery at Veruela, with its impressive Romanesque chapterhouse.

Saturday 19 May 2001 Bardenas Reales; transfer to Zaragoza

Good weather once again, although the aroma of the nearby pigfarm rather spoiled our enjoyment of the recently flooded rice paddies at the entrance to the Bardenas, where we encountered good numbers of White Stork and Fan-tailed Warbler. A little further on, a stop in the low-intensity arable fields turned up Corn Bunting, European Bee-eaters around their nest-holes in the bank of an eroded gully, several Black Kites and a fabulous pale-phase Booted Eagle, as well as a Black-eared Wheatear at just 2m which was probably suffering a broken wing.

The flora here was quite different from anything previously recorded, including a mixture of salt-tolerant 'steppe' shrubs - Shrubby Orache Atriplex halimus, Salsola vermiculata, and the pink-flowered Ononis tridentata - and arable 'weeds', the latter including Spiked Fumitory Platycapnos spicata, Violet Horned-poppy Roemeria hybrida and Red Horned-poppy Glaucium corniculatum (both the latter mostly in seed). More colour was provided by Silvery-leaved Pink Convolvulus Convolvulus lineatus, White Flax Linum suffruticosum, Coris Coris monspeliensis, the lemon-flowered composite Andryala integrifolia and Hollow-stemmed Asphodel Asphodelus fistulosus, with some enormous specimens of Holy Thistle Silybum marianum and Giant Fennel Ferula communis along the roadside.

As we entered the Bardenas proper, the views were fantastic, demanding a photo stop which also produced the stunning blue-flowered Beautiful Flax Linum narbonense, Dipcadi Dipcadi serotinum, resembling a brown bluebell, Yellow Gromwell Neatostema apulum and the shrubby Artemisia herba-alba - one of the most characteristic steppe plants of the central Ebro depression - here parasitised by the broomrape Orobanche arenaria, as well as Bath White, Western Dappled White and Adonis Blue.

A stop by an eroded gully (rambla) just after the entrance to the air base turned up Iberian Pool Frog in the muddy pools, and a wander across the steppe was rewarded by Spectacled Warbler and Thekla and Lesser Short-toed Larks. Further on, in an area of short, shrubby vegetation, Pete C's minibus spent a little time examining the differences between Lesser Short-toed and Short-toed Larks. At the cliffs at the back of the air base we had good views of both Griffon and Egyptian Vultures, Common Kestrel, Red-billed Chough and Common Raven, accompanied by distant Alpine Swifts. A late lunch was taken by a small, reed- and willow-fringed pool which was home to Marsh Harrier and Great Reed Warbler, with the surrounding salt-flats giving us our first Little Ringed Plovers, after which we made our way to our third base - Posada de las Almas - in the centre of Zaragoza.

Sunday 20 May 2001 Galachos de La Alfranca/Juslibol

After a 7am breakfast we sped off to the Galachos de La Alfranca reserve, where we were met by our guide for the morning, José Luis Rivas. He told us that the storks on the tree outside the information centre were only second-year birds, but already breeding, and we could also see the Tree Sparrows which had chosen to rear their young in the base of their nest. On the way to the main hide we paused for excellent views of a Common Nightingale out in the open, singing its heart out, as well as two Hoopoes perched in a tree. Great Reed Warblers were croaking noisily all around, but we could also just make out a less raucous Reed Warbler singing nearby, and as we approached the hide we all had good views of our first Melodious Warbler.

The main focus of attention once in the hide was without a doubt the Black-crowned Night Heron colony only a stone's throw away, but a Golden Oriole and a small pile of European Pond Terrapins (identified by John) were also seen from here. Lindsey came in and announced the presence of a Cardinal (butterfly!) basking in the sunshine on the brambles just outside the door, which was duly admired by all before we headed off into the undergrowth beneath some majestic White Poplars for José Luis to try and attract Penduline Tits using tapes. The curious little birds came to investigate on several occasions, but the dense canopy meant that not all of us got good views. We also attracted Golden Oriole, Margaret's calls rivalling those on the tape for authenticity, such that one bird perched only a few metres away - unfortunately completely hidden from sight - and squalled like a cat for several minutes.

We then headed off to a second hide, pausing only to watch two Honey Buzzards on passage high overhead, which overlooked an area of open water and had little to offer, but about 50 yards further on José Luis had 'staked out' a Penduline Tit's nest to all to see, swaying in the wind, although once again not all saw the adult birds which flashed in and out on several occasions: if you blinked, you missed it! Black Kite and Marsh Harrier were also seen overhead from this locality.

Two adult Purple Herons on nests, one of which was tending chicks, plus a much more obvious subadult bird were seen en route to the banks of the Ebro, while European Bee-eaters wheeled overhead uttering their burbling cries. We spent a happy half hour on the riverside, literally on top of a bank harbouring nesting Sand Martins, which whizzed in and out from under our feet as we observed first a Great Cormorant flying by, then a Purple Heron, and lastly a Common Buzzard carrying what was probably a rat. Common Sandpipers and Little Ringed Plovers were visible picking their way across a pebbly island in mid-stream, while Carol spotted a Moroccan Orange Tip in the sun-dappled riverine forest.

After spending some time in the Visitor Centre, we lunched at the picnic tables nearby before heading back to the hotel. At 4.30pm we were met by our guide for the afternoon - a Frenchman called Henri, who'd been living in Zaragoza for about 20 years - and headed off to another area of ox-bow lakes: the Galacho de Juslibol. Instead of visiting the wetland here, however, our main focus of attention was to be the gypsum cliffs (old river terraces) and the steppe lands above.

More interesting plants awaited us as we disembarked from the minibuses in scorching sunshine, notably the fleshy peganum Peganum harmala and squirting cucumber Ecballium elaterium, located by Joan, although only Teresa dared explode the bristly fruits to disperse the seeds (with the judicious aid of someone's walking stick, as the juice is extremely irritant). Crag Martins, Jackdaws and Red-billed Choughs wheeled about the cliff-face and we all had good views of a female Black-eared Wheatear perched on a dead tree at path-level. The highlight of the day (and possibly the trip) was a fabulous female Eurasian Eagle Owl (previously located by Henri) roosting in a crevice in the cliff, which we examined through the scope, so close that we could clearly see her orange eyes.

Such was the heat that some of the party opted not to ascend the stairway to the top of the cliff, but those who did were regaled with an interesting gypsophilous flora including the shrubby, white-flowered crucifer Lepidium subulatum, the composite Atractylis cancellata, with delicate spiny bracts enclosed the flower-buds, the rock-rose Helianthemum squamatum and the spurge-laurel-like Thymelaea tinctoria. Most of our attention, however, was focused on the animal life, with Spanish and Large Psammodromus darting away at our every step, while turning over numerous boulders revealed a Turkish Gecko, a Churchyard Beetle, several unidentified millipedes and a number of virulent-looking centipedes Scolopendra cingulata, much to Carol's delight, whose bite is said to be quite vicious, although our attempts to tease the so-called tarantulas Lycosa fasciventris out of their burrows proved futile.

Monday 21 May 2001 Belchite

Again we headed off bright and early, this time for the renowned Belchite steppes, with an essential pause on a busy main road to watch a Golden Eagle at close quarters. Despite large-scale roadworks we managed to locate the entrance to the La Lomaza reserve and spent a happy hour wandering through the low scrub to the chorus of dozens of Dupont's Larks, although only Peter M and Sylvia were lucky enough to clap eyes on one. Other birds seen well at this location included Calandra (our first good views), Short-toed and Lesser Short-toed Larks.

We then made our way towards El Planerón, stopping for stunning views of Honey Buzzard en route, and also seeing a small group of Black-bellied Sandgrouse winging their way over the horizon in the distance. Once parked up by the small lagoon of La Balsa at El Planerón (pretty-well dry this year) we wandered at will across the stony steppe, spotting Thekla Lark and Tawny Pipit but sadly no more Dupont's Larks. The tamarisks Tamarix spp. around the dry lagoon was home to large numbers of Southern Emerald Damselflies Lestes barbarus, distinguished by their bicoloured pterostigmas.

The group then wandered around the ruins of old Belchite, bombed during the Civil War and left as testimony to the horrors of that event, while Teresa went into the new town in search of bread for lunch. Despite an unexpected heavy shower, the group finally tracked down Blue Rock Thrush in the ruins, which was ably spotted by Lindsey. Once reunited we headed off for a rather late lunch on the limestone plateau above Puebla de Albortón.

A quick stroll after lunch turned up Tawny Pipit and Orphean Warbler for the birders, Blue-spot Hairstreak for butterfly-lovers and a host of colourful plants for the botanist, namely Wild Gladiolus Gladiolus illyricus, Spanish Rusty Foxglove Digitalis obscura, the lovely yellow-flowered labiate Phlomis lychnitis, Blue Aphyllanthes, Sad Stock Matthiola fruticulosa and the semi-parasitic osyris Osyris alba (a member of the sandalwood family), growing between compact bushes of Prickly Juniper Juniperus oxycedrus and Rosemary Rosmarinus officinalis.

Having returned to Zaragoza, we met up with Henri once more for a cultural tour of the city, which Joan and Lindsey volunteered to translate so that Teresa, Pete C and Pat could go shopping and stock up on fresh ingredients for lunch for the next few days. More Black-crowned Night Herons and Pallid Swifts for the lucky ones!

Tuesday 22 May 2001 Transfer to the Ebro Delta via Retuerta de Pina/Miravet

Despite a magnificent effort on the part of all the group to depart Zaragoza by 8am so as to give us time to visit Retuerta de Pina, Saladas de Chiprana and Miravet en route to the Ebro Delta, plans soon went awry when Teresa's minibus split an injector just before the motorway exit near Pina de Ebro. Clouds of black smoke accompanied them as they limped through the toll booth, and obviously a replacement would have to be found. Joan generously offered to wait for the tow-truck with Teresa, while Pete C ferried the rest of the group in two shifts to a café on the edge of the Retuerta de Pina.

Apart from a wealth of singing Wood Larks and Sylvia warblers, including Orphean, Dartford and Subalpine (although views were sporadic as the birds flitted through the branches), highlights of the Aleppo Pine Pinus halepensis, Spanish Juniper Juniperus thurifera and Phoenician Juniper J. phoenicea forest at Retuerta de Pina included a number of splendid Cardinals, Iberian Marbled Whites and Spanish Gatekeepers, as well as the eye-catching ant-lion relative Nemoptera bipennis.

Eventually equipped with a 'new' minibus (on which it turned out that the turbo was barely functional, making driving up hills a painful process indeed), Teresa and Joan were reunited with the rest of the group, although by this time it was about 2pm and far too late to visit the Saladas de Chiprana for lunch as planned. Instead we stopped by the first decent patch of shade, and were rewarded with an Orphean Warbler literally 'shouting' from the top of a bush across the road.

After tuna and tomato empanadas we drove on for our rendezvous with Pilar in Miravet, where we explored the crusader castle, marvelling at the enormous rose window (no glass) in the 2m-thick walls, the hair-raisingly claustrophobic spiral staircase to the ramparts and the splendid view of the River Ebro from the top. During our tour Margaret spotted a fabulous Horseshoe Whip Snake winding sinuously across the passage, which we all watched incredulously as it scaled the wall for about 4m before disappearing into a small tree. We also found caper Capparis spinosa growing in abundance from the walls of the edifice, accompanied by the eye-catching Mallow-leaved Bindweed Convolvulus althaeoides.

Meanwhile those who'd opted not to explore the castle had located a Black Wheatear on the ramparts, with Blue Rock Thrush also seen here. This was also one of only three places, quite surprisingly, that we encountered Sardinian Warbler, while piercing gull-like calls from above the river turned out to be a pair of Black Kites. We then had a quick drink in the tree-lined square by the river before crossing the Ebro on a flatbed ferry, powered by the current, before driving on towards the Ebro Delta and our 'eco-hotel' amid the rice paddies.

Wednesday 23 May 2001 Northern Delta del Ebro

A fine morning once again accompanied us as we headed north to the Platja de la Marquesa on the northern shores of the Ebro Delta. The recently flooded paddies en route turned up Squacco Heron (renamed Stucco Heron by a quick-witted Pat), Audouin's and Slender-billed Gulls, Gull-billed and Whiskered Terns and Black-winged Stilts galore, as well as a group of Cattle Egrets following along behind a hedge-trimmer in the hopes of finding an easy invertebrate meal. Once at the beach we split into two groups, one opting to scan the surrounding area with scopes and the other to walk along the dunes and explore the psammophilic vegetation.

We found the dune flora to be very different from anything yet encountered, including Yellow Horned-poppy Glaucium flavum, Coastal Crucianella Crucianella maritima, the pink-flowered shrub Limoniastrum monopetalum, Sea-holly Eryngium maritimum, Sea Spurge Euphorbia paralias, Sea Medick Medicago marina, all in full bloom, as well as the leaves of a myriad Sea Daffodils Pancratium maritimum and spiny umbellifers known as Echinophora spinosa still to come, although the whole was suffering somewhat from the choking effects of the invasive Hottentot Fig Carpobrotus sp., a naturalised South African species.

Birdwise we saw both Sandwich and Little Terns off the shore, Fan-tailed Warblers, Purple and Squacco Herons, Little Egrets and Black-winged Stilts in the paddies behind the dunes, Kentish Plover along the beach and a male Little Bittern which we disturbed from the reedbeds alongside the track, which obligingly flew back to where the other group was standing (we later put up a female too). One of the highlights of the tour for Carol was the huge number of bright metallic blue beetles hanging from the reeds by their front legs, bodies held at an angle of 45 degrees to the stem and back legs protruding behind. Teresa later found out that these were the males of Hoplia caerulea, a sort of chafer, the females of which live buried in the soil and only emerge to reproduce.

Hummingbird Hawk-moths, Painted Ladies and Red Admirals were also seen along this stretch of dunes, with crayfish (probably the introduced Procambarus clarkii) in the stream feeding the paddies. Lindsey spotted a solitary Collared Pratincole which 'went down' onto the beach, where its cryptic coloration made it completely invisible, but just before we left it flew off and John was also able to verify the sighting.

We headed back to the hotel for lunch, which was taken in the gazebo in the garden, before once again collecting our belongings and spending an interesting hour strolling round the visitor centre in Deltebre. Highlights here included the absolutely colossal Wels Silurus glanis (a sort of catfish, and the largest freshwater teleost in Europe), which basked in a shallow muddy pool (this species has been introduced to the Delta), as well as the diminutive endemic and threatened Spanish Aphanus iberus and Valencian Valencia hispanica Toothcarps in the aquarium section.

We then headed to the northern shores of the Delta again, this time to the small fishing port of Illa del Mar (Port del Fangar), where we walked east to within a few hundred metres of a large group (200+) of Greater Flamingos. Also here were some fairly confiding Purple Herons, which lifted off when we approached too close, only to land just a little further along the track, plus both Black-crowned Night and Squacco Herons, a pair of Slender-billed Gulls, Curlew, Common Redshank, Kentish Plover, Yellow Wagtail and, most surprisingly, a Brent Goose! And so ended our first day in the ornithological paradise that is the Ebro Delta in spring.

Thursday 24 May 2001 Ports de Beseit

Taking a break from the Delta we headed up into the limestone labyrinth of the Ports de Beseit, stopping first in an area of Olive Olea europaea and Carob Ceratonia siliqua groves to the west of Roquetes. Woodchat Shrike, Hoopoe and Wood Lark were the main birds here, with butterflies including Clouded Yellow, Lulworth Skipper, Painted Lady and Wall Brown. The botanists had a whale of a time exploring the flower-rich limestone rock gardens and grasslands beneath the trees, with notable finds including the pink-flowered snapdragon Antirrhinum barrelieri, Blue Hound's-tongue Cynoglossum creticum, Narrow-leaved Rue Ruta angustifolia, the large, lemon-flowered composite Urospermum dalechampii, Coris, Cone Knapweed Leuzia conifera, the bronze-flowered goat's-beard Tragopogon crocifolius, the lavender-cotton Santolina chamaecyparissus and Broad-leaved Leek Allium nigrum.

A second stop a little further up in the Dwarf Fan-palm Chamaerops humilis, Box Buxus sempervirens and Mountain Pine Pinus nigra zone produced Alpine Swift, Griffon Vulture and a pair of Spanish Ibex, with Carol spotting a False Ilex Hairstreak closer at hand, with a third stop only a few metres further on provoked by a bank of orchids spotted by Rosemary. On closer inspection these turned out to be Common Spotted Orchids Dactylorhiza 'fuchsii', growing together with Ivy Broomrape Orobanche hederae, Nottingham Catchfly Silene nutans, Butcher's Broom Ruscus aculeatus, Large Mediterranean Spurge Euphorbia characias, Yellow-wort Blackstonia perfoliata, Large Self-heal Prunella grandiflora and a small spike of Pyrenean Bellflower Campanula speciosa, discovered by Margaret and much photographed by all and sundry. More butterflies here included Large Wall Brown and Moroccan Orange Tip, with a Burnet Companion (moth) thrown in for good measure.

Close to the peak or Tossa de la Reina, where we found Hedgehog Broom Erinacea anthyllis, Snowy Mespilus, Felty Germander Teucrium polium ssp. aureum, Mountain Kidney-vetch Anthyllis montana, Montpellier Milk-vetch Astragalus monspessulanus, White Rock-rose Helianthemum apenninum and Fairy Foxglove, we met a Spanish botanist called Luis Torres, who had studied the flora of the Ports for his PhD thesis. He showed us a few of the more memorable plants of the area, including the local endemic dwarf willow Salix tarraconensis, very similar to the Dwarf Buckthorn Rhamnus pumilus, the cushion-forming scabious Knautia rupicola, Lax Potentilla Potentilla caulescens, the shrubby, spiny crucifer Hormathophylla spinosa and the spurge Euphorbia nicaeensis.

We then headed up to the Scots Pine forest at the foot of the path to the Coll de Pallers, which was to be our destination later in the afternoon. Just before lunch, a stroll through these woods turned up both Sword-leaved and White Helleborines (Cephalanthera longifolia and C. damasonium), a large yellow-flowered broom called Genista patens, the lilac-flowered horehound Marrubium supinum and False Sainfoin Vicia onobrychioides, while butterflies on the wing included Berger's Clouded Yellow, Black-veined White, Marsh Fritillary and several male Adonis Blues. The birdwatchers were meanwhile being treated to Northern Goshawks displaying overhead, while the surrounding pines were filled with singing Western Bonelli's Warblers and Coal Tits. After lunch almost everybody elected to start the walk up to Pallers, although only the fittest few made it to the top - which event has been duly recorded on film.

Friday 25 May 2001 Delta del Ebro

Our last day was to be spent once more in the Ebro Delta, this time accompanied by another Travelling Naturalist leader, Mike Lockwood, who lives locally, knows the area well and very kindly offered his time to show us some of the wetland's special secrets.

Our first port of call was a tower hide overlooking the Canal Vell: a large reedy lagoon in the northern 'hemisphere' of the Delta. We drove east out of the hotel before turning north through the now familiar paddy field scenery of the Delta, where we were delighted to find a group of a round dozen Glossy Ibises feeding in the field to the left of the road. After parking, we strolled the 200m along a canal to the hide from which we could appreciate the size of the Canal Vell lagoon - largely inaccessible - lying before us. Groups of Greater Flamingos sieved the waters in the distance, Whiskered, Gull-billed, Common and Little Terns hawked around the paddies on all sides and there was a steady stream of passing Purple Herons, a single Black-crowned Night Heron and, in the reeds below us, Great Reed Warblers and a Little Bittern. The walk back to the vans was enlivened (for some) by a Little Bittern performing acrobatics on a reed in the canal next to the path.

We then drove off towards the mouth of the river to embark on the tourist-style boat that was to take us on an hour's trip to the Mediterranean and back. Apart from the spiritual need to commune with the river we had followed so intimately for so long, this was a good opportunity to obtain views across the shallow lagoon of El Ganxal on the north of the river just above the mouth, where we spotted large flocks (someone estimated around a thousand individuals) of brilliantly coloured male Red-crested Pochard. Wading around in the shallows there was also our first Great White Egret, a species which began breeding in the Ebro Delta a few years ago and which is now a regular bird all year round.

Back on dry land, we crossed the river on a transbordador and drove to another tower hide - the Mirador de Migjorn - overlooking the Illa de Buda: the strictly private island lying between the current river mouth and an old dead-end branch of the river to the south. Looking both north and south from the hide, we had good views of Purple Swamp-hen, Glossy Ibis, a Squacco Heron in the paddy field below the hide, Great White Egret and a number of Collared Pratincoles hawking around the beach and marshes, while Anne thought she saw a Bittern dive into the reedbed almost immediately below the tower.

After lunch on the beach (gazpacho, accompanied by Kentish Plover and a very pristine Swallowtail nectaring on the Sea Medick), we headed for the main areas of the Parc Natural del Delta de l'Ebre in the southern hemisphere of the Delta. Our first stop was in a small hide overlooking the large Tancada lagoon where in the few bushes we spotted Melodious Warbler and Whinchat. Further along the same road, we overlooked an area of dry salt pans occupied by a number of Avocets, Kentish Plovers, Slender-billed and Audouin's Gulls and Shelduck. Passerines in the area included Crested Lark, Fan-tailed Warbler and 'Blue-headed' Wagtails.

Continuing through the southern half of the Delta, we stopped briefly at the northern edge of the enormous Encanyissada lagoon, not seeing much apart from Gadwall from the hide overlooking the rather massive expanse of water, before moving back to another raised hide between the two main parts of the Encanyissada. From here, as a Common Tern fished in front of our eyes, we had rather distant views of more Red-crested Pochard, a couple of Marsh Harriers and, in the irrigation canal next to the road, hundreds (sic) of ducklings being escorted by just a few female Mallards. A Black-crowned Night Heron sat on the edge of the canal waiting its chance to grab a quick meal.

Our final stop was an area of ullals, the freshwater springs that emerge where the alluvial plain of the Delta meets the adjoining limestone rocks. Surrounded by thick beds of Great Fen-sedge Cladium mariscus, Yellow Flag Iris pseudacorus and Marsh Mallow Althaea officinalis, the clean fresh water in the diminutive (5m across) ullals contrasts clearly with the very eutrophic lagoons in the rest of the Delta. It is a perfect habitat for White Water-lilies Nymphaea alba, Water Fern Azolla filiculoides and dragonflies such as Keeled Skimmer and Ischnura graellsii, this latter almost identical to the familiar Common Blue-tailed Damselfly.

And then it was time for home - with a last look at the river Ebro as we crossed it in Amposta, somewhat larger than when we first encountered it, 14 days and more than 900km ago.

Saturday 26 May 2001 Transfer to Barcelona via the Delta de Llobregat

On our way to the airport we had time for a quick visit to the Llobregat Delta reserve, strategically (for us!) located next to Barcelona Airport. While Mike was negotiating vehicle access we were entertained by a small colony of Monk Parakeets in a palm tree near the entrance to the reserve, plus Bee-eaters galore. Two brand-new hides - excellently situated overlooking a large marsh - provided views of numerous pairs of Black-winged Stilt and Little Grebe, a few Purple Herons and a solitary Black Tern sitting on a shingle bank. Our final picnic was eaten on the porch of the Information Centre, after which we left regretfully for the airport at about 3.00 to catch our plane back to the UK, taking with us memories of a fabulous fortnight exploring the largely unknown territory crossed by the River Ebro.

Teresa Farino

July 2001



Wolf: one standing by the roadside en route to the Hoces del Ebro on 15th

Red Squirrel: one seen in the Ports by the group which didn't venture up the Coll de Pallers on the 24th.

Rabbit: unusually scarce, seen only on 21st and 22nd

Red Deer: 2+ in Alto Campóo on 13th

Spanish Ibex: 2 seen in the Ports de Beseit on 24th


Little Grebe Noted by some en route on 15th, by all group members at Laguna de Pitillas on 17th, Ebro Delta on 25th and Delta de Llobregat on 26th.

Great Crested Grebe Noted Laguna de las Cañas on 16th, Laguna de Pitillas on 17th and Ebro Delta on 25th.

Black-necked Grebe Common Laguna de Pitillas 17th.

Great Cormorant Recorded Galachos de La Alfranca on 20th, Ebro Delta on 23rd and Llobregat on 26th.

Bittern Heard Laguna de Pitillas on 17th. One seen from Mirador de Migjorn in Ebro Delta on 25th (Anne).

Little Bittern Common Ebro Delta and Llobregat.

Black-crowned Night Heron Common Laguna de las Cañas on 16th and in Ebro Delta. Attending nests at Galachos de La Alfranca on 20th.

Squacco Heron Renamed 'Stucco Heron', this species proved especially popular and was encountered daily in the Ebro Delta.

Cattle Egret Common Laguna de las Cañas, Galachos de La Alfranca and throughout Ebro Delta.

Little Egret Less abundant than Cattle Egret, though nonetheless easily seen at Laguna de las Cañas, Galachos de La Alfranca and in the Delta.

Great White Egret Now a scarce breeder in the Ebro Delta, this species was first noted during the boat trip to the Ebro mouth and later from Mirador de Migjorn.

Grey Heron Noted on ten of the 15 days.

Purple Heron After the first two, at Soto de Buicio, found commonly in a variety of 'reedy' areas, including an isolated pond in the Bardenas.

White Stork Recorded every day except for the last four in the Delta and at Llobregat.

Greater Flamingo Recorded at Llobregat and daily in the Delta. Largest flock recorded 200+ individuals at Port del Fangar on 23rd. This flock contained a bright pink individual, which reminded Rosemary of the Caribbean race ruber (it was clearly not a Chilean Flamingo, which shows red 'knees') and was obviously an escape.

Glossy Ibis 12 seen feeding together in the northern Ebro Delta on 25th.

Brent Goose An unexpected dark-bellied adult Port del Fangar 23rd. Despite a substantial increase in the wintering population of this form in north-west Europe during the 1980s and 90s, and previous records for the Delta, the possibility of an escape cannot be ruled out.

Shelduck Three recorded in southern Ebro Delta on 25th.

Gadwall Small numbers Ebro Delta on 25th.

Mallard Recorded every day.

Northern Pintail One male Laguna de las Cañas on 16th.

Red-crested Pochard Recorded Laguna de Pitillas, Llobregat and in the Ebro Delta, most numerously during the boat trip at El Garxal.

Common Pochard Only recorded Laguna de Pitillas.

Tufted Duck Only at Laguna de Pitillas.

Honey Buzzard Singles Hoces del Ebro on 15th and near Belchite on 21st. Two Galachos de La Alfranca on 20th.

Black Kite Recorded seven dates.

Eurasian Black Vulture One, first seen by sharp-eyed Pat, Hoces del Ebro on 15th.

Griffon Vulture Numerous

Egyptian Vulture Recorded on four dates, the first an adult at Hoyos del Tozo on 14th.

Short-toed Eagle One Laguna de Pitillas on 17th.

Hen Harrier Male near Sargentes de la Lora on 14th. Seen by Pat from minibus en route to collect remaining party members from nearby San Martin de Elines.

Montagu's Harrier Common, recorded on eight dates and much appreciated by members of the party.

Marsh Harrier Several birds at Laguna de las Cañas, but also seen in the Bardenas Reales and Galachos de La Alfranca.

Eurasian Sparrowhawk Noted by Lindsey on 18th.

Northern Goshawk Displaying female and two males, Ports de Beseit on 24th.

Common Buzzard Seen in small numbers, especially in north.

Golden Eagle Magnificent views of one flying across road near Belchite on 21st was one of the ornithological highlights.

Booted Eagle Dark phase on 15th and single pale phase birds on 19th and 22nd.

Common Kestrel Recorded all but two days.

Eurasian Hobby The proud emblem of The Travelling Naturalist was recorded at Laguna de Pitillas on 17th (two) and en route to Barcelona on 26th.

Peregrine One carrying prey recorded en route to Dehesa del Moncayo on 18th, two near Belchite on 21st, pair Ports de Beseit on 24th. Finally, one was seen by John at Llobregat on 26th.

Red-legged Partridge Noted on 13th, 14th, 15th & 18th.

Common Quail In suitable habitats in the northern sector of the Ebro.

Common Moorhen Common in appropriate habitat.

Purple Swamp-hen At least four individuals seen from Mirador de Migjorn on 25th.

Common Coot Common on lakes and ponds.

Black-winged Stilt Numerous in Ebro Delta and Llobregat.

Avocet Common in southern Ebro Delta 25th.

Collared Pratincole One noted by John and Lindsey at Platja de la Marquesa on 23rd. About 10 from Mirador de Migjorn on 25th.

Ringed Plover 15+ northern Ebro Delta 23rd. Noted southern Delta 25th with a single at Llobregat on 26th.

Little Ringed Plover One Bardenas 19th, at least one Galachos de La Alfranca 20th and at least six Llobregat 26th.

Kentish Plover Recorded on coast at Ebro Delta.

Curlew Two Port del Fangar on 23rd.

Spotted Redshank Four seen by Lindsey on arrival in Ebro Delta on 22nd.

Common Redshank Small numbers Ebro Delta. One Llobregat 26th.

Common Greenshank 14 Laguna de Pitillas (Carol and Rosemary), two in rice fields, Ebro Delta 23rd (John) and one Llobregat 26th (Pat).

Green/Wood Sandpiper One Laguna de Pitillas (Carol and Rosemary).

Common Sandpiper At least four Galachos de La Alfranca

Sanderling One noted on beach Platje de la Marquesa by John, Margaret, Peter M, Sylvia, Pat and Rosemary on 23rd.

Curlew Sandpiper Four in rice fields north of Deltebre 23rd (John, Margaret, Pat, Rosemary, Peter M and Sylvia).

Ruff One Llobregat 26th (John, Margaret and Rosemary).

Audouin's Gull Common in Delta and present also Llobregat.

Yellow-legged Gull Briefly seen from minibuses on 12th. Numerous Delta and Llobregat.

Mediterranean Gull Despite lacking telescopes (packed for return to UK), at least three seen Llobregat and no doubt more present (John, Lindsey and Rosemary).

Black-headed Gull Numerous in Delta and Llobregat.

Slender-billed Gull Easily seen in Delta.

Whiskered Tern Common in Delta over rice fields.

Black Tern One Llobregat (Rosemary and Lindsey).

Gull-billed Tern Numerous over Delta rice fields.

Sandwich Tern Common offshore and in river mouth, Ebro Delta.

Common Tern Common along coast and coastal lagoons, Ebro Delta.

Little Tern Status as Common Tern.

Black-bellied Sandgrouse Four in flight Belchite 21st.

Feral Pigeon Recorded every day.

Wood Pigeon Noted nine dates.

European Turtle Dove Noted eight dates.

Collared Dove Common, recorded all but one day.

Monk Parakeet Seen in Zaragoza and in the Delta de Llobregat on the 26th.

Common Cuckoo Recorded nine dates.

Eurasian Eagle Owl Pointed out on the gypsum cliff above Galachos de Juslibol by Henri, our guide for the afternoon. The bird of the trip?

Little Owl One Galachos de La Alfranca (John, Margaret, Pat, Peter M and Sylvia).

Alpine Swift Seen Páramo de la Lora, Galachos de Juslibol and Ports de Beseit.

Common Swift Recorded every day.

Pallid Swift Noted in transit by John on 16th and later the same day by Teresa and Lindsey at Laguna de las Cañas. Well seen along Ebro in Zaragoza. Under recorded?

European Bee-eater A classic Mediterranean bird, noted on nine dates.

Hoopoe Common, seen nine dates.

Great Spotted Woodpecker Recorded only Hoces del Ebro and Dehesa del Moncayo.

Green Woodpecker Only seen in north.

Calandra Lark Seen by Teresa on Páramo de la Lora and all the party at Belchite.

Short-toed Lark Recorded four dates.

Lesser Short-toed Lark Recorded in the Bardenas and at Belchite.

Dupont's Lark Heard by all members of the party at Belchite, though seen only by Peter M and Sylvia, who encountered two right by the road.

Crested Lark Noted ten dates.

Thekla Lark Identified with certainty on only four dates, generally in rockier and less cultivated areas than Crested Lark. First encountered in the Bardenas.

Wood Lark One of Margaret's favourite birds. Heard Hoyos del Tozo, seen Retuerta de Pina and en route to Ports de Beseit.

Skylark Four dates.

Sand Martin Sparingly recorded on four dates.

Crag Martin Common in mountains and rocky areas.

Barn Swallow Recorded every day.

Red-rumped Swallow One seen by Lindsey on 16th.

House Martin Noted 14 dates.

Yellow Wagtail Recorded four dates.

White Wagtail Recorded on all but one day.

Grey Wagtail Four dates in typical habitat.

Tawny Pipit Recorded six dates, with good views eventually for all the party.

Tree Pipit Singing Hoces del Ebro. One Llobregat (John).

Meadow Pipit Recorded en route back to Mave 13th.

Water Pipit Several singing Alto Campóo 13th May.

Red-backed Shrike Recorded 13th, 15th and 18th.

Woodchat Shrike Sparingly recorded, five dates.

Wren Noted six dates.

Hedge Accentor (Dunnock) Common northern Spain.

Rock Thrush Pair Puerto de Palombera 13th and Hoyos del Tozo 14th

Blue Rock Thrush Noted Belchite, Miravet and Ports de Beseit.

Blackbird Seen 11 dates, Common.

Song Thrush Only recorded Fontibre on 13th.

Mistle Thrush Recorded 13th, 20th & 21st.

Robin Recorded mostly in northern Spain.

Common Nightingale Common, recorded nine dates.

Black Redstart Six dates.

Stonechat Five dates.

Black Wheatear Noted by Lindsey on 18th and by Peter M and Pat at Miravet on 22nd.

Northern Wheatear Common in north and the Bardenas.

Black-eared Wheatear A handful recorded, the saddest a road casualty with broken wing on 19th in the Bardenas.

Bearded Tit Recorded only Laguna de Pitillas.

Fan-tailed Warbler Very common, recorded nine dates.

Cetti's Warbler Common, recorded nine dates.

Savi's Warbler Heard Laguna de las Cañas.

Reed Warbler Common in suitable habitat.

Great Reed Warbler Common in suitable habitat.

Melodious Warbler Pair Galachos de La Alfranca 20th. Tail-less singleton Ebro Delta 25th.

Iberian Chiffchaff One good example singing typical song daily El Convento. Several Hoces del Ebro 15th. Singers on Dehesa del Moncayo gave typical Common Chiffchaff song and were perhaps that species or mixed singers.

Western Bonelli's Warbler Two seen briefly by John, Margaret, Pat, Peter M and Sylvia at Hoyos del Tozo on 14th, otherwise heard only.

Blackcap Recorded six dates.

Garden Warbler Recorded two dates only.

Common Whitethroat Recorded three dates.

Orphean Warbler Two males Albortón on 21st, with single males at Retuerta de Pina and impromptu lunch stop on 22nd.

Sardinian Warbler Surprisingly recorded on three dates only.

Subalpine Warbler Views of pair Retuerta de Pina on 22nd.

Spectacled Warbler Seen and heard in the Bardenas 19th.

Dartford Warbler Recorded in the Bardenas on 19th (Peter M), Retuerta de Pina on 22nd (all party) and Ports de Beseit on 24th (Lindsey).

Firecrest Widespread in suitable habitat, though mostly heard only.

Goldcrest Fontibre 13th.

Spotted Flycatcher Recorded three dates, including, appropriately, at Fontibre on our first full day and in the Ebro Delta on our last.

Long-tailed Tit Noted Fontibre on 13th and Mave on 15th.

Penduline Tit Recorded at Galachos de La Alfranca, where nest seen.

Coal Tit Recorded three dates.

Great Tit Noted eight dates.

Blue Tit Only noted Fontibre.

Nuthatch Seen Dehesa del Moncayo (Lindsey).

Short-toed Treecreeper Mostly heard only, though seen closely by Peter M and Sylvia at Mave.

Eurasian Jay Noted five dates.

Magpie Common and widespread.

Red-billed Chough Recorded in suitable habitat on six dates from Puerto de Palombera in the north to Ports de Beseit in the south.

Alpine Chough Recorded Alto Campóo 13th.

Jackdaw Scarce. Recorded five dates.

Carrion Crow Recorded 11 dates.

Common Raven Recorded ten dates.

Golden Oriole Recorded four dates, though views difficult and brief.

Spotless Starling Abundant.

Cirl Bunting Recorded four dates.

Rock Bunting Seen in several localities, notably Hoyos del Tozo and the Dehesa del Moncayo

Corn Bunting Fairly commonplace in appropriate habitat.

Yellowhammer Recorded three dates.

Chaffinch Common in northern Spain. Noted Seven dates.

European Serin Abundant.

Greenfinch Commonplace

Goldfinch Common

Linnet Common.

Bullfinch Recorded only Hoces del Ebro.

Hawfinch One Hoces del Ebro 15th (Pat, John and Peter M).

House Sparrow Very common and widespread.

Tree Sparrow Noted eight dates.

Rock Sparrow Widespread in suitable habitat. Seen on seven dates.

Amphibians and Reptiles

Midwife Toad: heard at Alto Campóo (13th).

Common Toad: Hoces del Ebro (15th).

Iberian Pool Frog: Laguna de Pitillas (heard; 16th), Bardenas Reales (18th) and Llobregat Delta (26th).

Common Frog: seen at Alto Campóo (13th).

European Pond Terrapin: several seen at the Galachos de La Alfranca (20th).

Florida Terrapin (Trachemys scripta): seen at the Galacho de Juslibol (20th).

Turkish Gecko: one on the Juslibol steppes (20th).

Ocellated Lizard: several juveniles in the Hoces del Ebro (15th).

Iberian Wall Lizard: seen in several places, notably Hoces del Ebro (15th); Dehesa del Moncayo (18th).

Common Wall Lizard: common in the upper reaches of the Ebro, notably Puerto de Palombera (13th); Dehesa del Moncayo (18th).

Large Psammodromus: abundant on the Juslibol steppes (20th).

Spanish Psammodromus: several on the Juslibol steppes (20th).

Three-toed Skink: several, Hoces del Ebro (15th).

Horseshoe Whip Snake: one seen at Miravet Castle (22nd).

Viperine Snake: one seen by John only at Pitillas (16th).


Species 13/06 14/06 15/06 16/06 17/06 18/06 19/06 20/06 21/06 22/06 23/06 24/06 25/06
Small Skipper                       x  
Lulworth Skipper                       x  
Mallow Skipper       x                  
Swallowtail                         x
Wood White     x                 x  
Clouded Yellow         x x x x x x   x x
Berger's Clouded Yellow                       x  
Brimstone     x     x           x  
Cleopatra x   x     x           x  
Western Dappled White         x   x x x        
Orange Tip     x x               x  
Moroccan Orange Tip     x         x x     x  
Large White     x     x x x   x   x x
Small White         x x x x x x      
Green-veined White       x   x x x x       x
Bath White             x            
Large Tortoiseshell           x              
Red Admiral         x x           x  
Painted Lady x     x x x x   x   x x  
Small Tortoiseshell x       x x              
Cardinal               x   x      
Queen of Spain Fritillary           x              
Knapweed Fritillary     x                    
Heath Fritillary                 x        
Marsh Fritillary           x           x  
Speckled Wood x   x x   x   x       x x
Wall Brown           x x     x   x  
Large Wall Brown                       x  
Small Heath x       x                
de Prunner's Ringlet     x                 x  
Spanish Gatekeeper                 x x      
Iberian Marbled White                   x   x  
Western Marbled White   x     x x x x x        
Blue-spot Hairstreak                 x        
False Ilex Hairstreak                 x     x  
Small Blue     x                    
Holly Blue     x     x              
Black-eyed Blue                 x     x  
Adonis Blue         x   x x       x  
Common Blue x       x     x          
Duke of Burgundy     x                    
Totals 6 1 12 5 10 16 10 11 11 7 1 21 5
(number of species: 41)                          

Other Invertebrates:

Southern Emerald Damselfly (Lestes barbarus): dozens at El Planerón on 21st.

Empusa pennata (mantis) nymph: Hoces del Ebro (15th)

Nemoptera bipennis (Nemopteridae): sometimes called ribbon-tailed lacewing; Retuerta de Pina (22nd).

Silver Y Autographa gamma): a common day-flying noctuid seen on 17th, 19th and 20th.

Hummingbird Hawk-moth Macroglossum stellatarum): along the Platja de la Marquesa (Ebro Delta) on the 23rd.

Hoplia caerulea (Scarabaeidae): many bright blue males along the Platja de la Marquesa (Ebro Delta) on the 23rd.

Churchyard beetle (Blaps mucronata): Páramo de la Lora (14th); Juslibol steppes (20th)

Scutigera coleoptrata (Chilopoda): long-legged centipede in Carol and Margaret's bedroom in Olite!

Scolopendra cingulata (Chilopoda): large centipede; several under stones on Juslibol steppes (20th)

American Crayfish (Procambarus clarkii): Platja de la Marquesa (Ebro Delta) on the 23rd.

Plant List


Broad-leaved Leek Allium nigrum
Blue Aphyllanthes Aphyllanthes monspeliensis
Common Asphodel Asphodelus aestivus
Dog's-tooth Violet Erythronium dens-canis
Pyrenean Snakeshead Fritillaria pyrenaica
Yellow Star-of-Bethlehem Gagea lutea
Tassel Hyacinth Muscari comosum
Common Grape Hyacinth Muscari neglectum
Solomon's Seal Polygonatum multiflorum
Spring Squill Scilla verna
Rosy Garlic Allium roseum
Wild Tulip Tulipa sylvestris ssp. australis
Hollow-stemmed Asphodel Asphodelus fistulosus
White Asphodel Asphodelus albus
Dipcadi Dipcadi serotinum
Butcher's Broom Ruscus aculeatus


  Narcissus asturiensis
  Narcissus asturiensis ssp. jacetanus
Hoop-petticoat Daffodil Narcissus bulbocodium
Lent Lily Narcissus pseudonarcissus
Angel's-tears Narcissus triandrus
Sea Daffodil Pancratium maritimum


Wild Gladiolus Gladiolus illyricus
Yellow Flag Iris pseudacorus


Man Orchid Aceras anthropophorum
Pyramidal Orchid Anacamptis pyramidalis
White Helleborine Cephalanthera damasonium
Sword-leaved Helleborine Cephalanthera longifolia
Red Helleborine Cephalanthera rubra
Barton's Orchid Dactylorhiza insularis
Common Spotted Orchid Dactylorhiza maculata ssp. meyeri
Elder-flowered Orchid Dactylorhiza sambucina
Dark Red Helleborine Epipactis atrorubens
Lizard Orchid Himantoglossum hircinum
Violet Limodore Limodorum abortivum
Dense-flowered Orchid Neotinea maculata
Bee Orchid Ophrys apifera
Small Spider Orchid Ophrys araneola
  Ophrys castellana
  Ophrys dyris
Brown Bee Orchid/Dull Ophrys Ophrys fusca
Dark Ophrys Ophrys incubacea
Yellow Bee Orchid Ophrys lutea
Woodcock Orchid Ophrys scolopax group
Early Spider Orchid Ophrys sphegodes
Sawfly Orchid Ophrys tenthredinifera
Early Purple Orchid Orchis mascula
Military Orchid Orchis militaris
Green-winged Orchid Orchis morio
Pale-flowered Orchid Orchis pallens
Provençal Orchid Orchis provincialis
Lady Orchid Orchis purpurea
Burnt-tip Orchid Orchis ustulata
Large Tongue Orchid Serapias cordigera

© The Travelling Naturalist 2001