Aragón, Northern Spain

24th November - 1st December 2001

Keith Grant


Saturday 24th November Arrival & travel to Boletas

A late morning flight from Heathrow enabled us to be on our way from Barcelona by mid-afternoon. Having missed the correct turning for the Huesca road, we did a brief detour into Barcelona itself, and heard and saw briefly two Monk Parakeets! On the right road at last, we had numerous Little Egrets and a few Grey Herons in the river valleys alongside the road. Hundreds of Cattle Egrets were further inland, especially on two refuse tips. Other than a few roadside Kestrels, nothing else to report, and we arrived at Boletas Bird-watching Centre at Loporzano in good time for dinner.

Sunday 25th November Monasterio de San Juan de la Peña

Clear skies meant a light frost overnight, enough to glaze the front windscreen of the bus anyway. We headed north-west, stopping briefly at the bridge over the Embalse de la Peña to find two Great Crested Grebes on the water and a Peregrine sitting in the morning sunshine on the skyline, excellent views through the telescopes. At a bridge over the Rio Gállego we had Dipper, Kingfisher, Rock Buntings and our first Red Kite. A little further on, there were Rock Sparrows, several Cirl Buntings and our first Southern Grey Shrike in roadside fields. At the Monasterio de San Juan de la Peña, we walked up through the wood to the viewpoint, and there, the Pyrenees were stretched out before us, looking stunning in the clear and bright conditions. A Hoopoe flew across below us which was a surprise, and the first of the Griffon Vultures were seen. The wood itself was fairly quiet, but we did have good views of Crossbills, Coal and Crested Tits, and a Short-toed Treecreeper was found by some of the group. After our sandwiches, we walked out along the ridge, checking the several hundred Griffons but unfortunately no sign of Lammergeier, though several further Red Kites were seen and several Ravens flew past. We then headed back to Boletas in time for Josele to take us the short distance to an Eagle Owl site. Almost immediately, one called and appeared on the opposite slope of the ravine. We eventually all had brief if distant views of one or two birds, though the light was fading rapidly. Return to Boletas in good time for dinner.

Monday 26th November Riglos, Sotonera & Loreto

A slightly later breakfast at 8am, a slightly heavier frost overnight and we set off for Riglos in rather overcast conditions. As we approached Riglos, it was very obvious how disastrous the huge forest fire had been a year or so ago. The village itself was very lucky to have escaped unscathed! We stopped briefly to overlook an old farmstead below Riglos and found a large flock of Linnets which included a few Serins. Having parked on the outskirts of Riglos, we walked up through the village to the church, where we immediately found a Wallcreeper low down on the cliff. Following carefully along the sloping path, a pair of Black Wheatears appeared, followed by several Alpine Accentors. Then we found the Wallcreeper again, and it eventually came right down in front of us, even allowing spectacular views through the telescopes. We found further Black Wheatears and Alpine Accentors, and eventually a male Blue Rock Thrush appeared and gave us brief snatches of song from the ledges above. We then headed off for the Embalse de Sotonera, stopping for stunning views of a Merlin perched on a treetop near the road. We had to make a slight detour en route due to a road closure and we had lunch on a slight rise where we could overlook the fields and valley. Dartford Warblers, a further pair of Black Wheatears and several Crested Larks were here. Moving on to the dam itself, a pair of Little Owls were in the derelict farmstead and we found further Dartford Warblers. There were many Mallard together with some distant Wigeon and a small flock of Cranes in the Embalse itself - the water level here was very low with lots of shoreline visible. A superb male Hen Harrier flew alongside the vehicle and our final stop was at the Alberca de Loreto, which interestingly had more water than I had seen before, and here we added Shoveler, Tufted Duck, Pochard and Dabchick to the list. A Marsh Harrier was also here and several Red Kites. Back to Boletas for a quick cup of tea and we finally checked the Eagle Owl site before dusk - it was sitting out in full view!

Tuesday 27th November Vadiello, Sariñena, Bujaraloz & Daroca

Frost again overnight with mixed sun, cloud and early fog. We tried the Eagle Owl site straight after breakfast but the bird was not showing. (For the doubters amongst you, it's good to know that the 'rock' we were watching yesterday evening had gone! [KG]) We then retraced our route, passed Loporzano and headed up the hill to the Embalse de Vadiello. The sun was shining and it was very pleasant, though once we moved into the shade, the temperature definitely dropped, on the Taylor Scale of Windchill, to 'brisk'! Soon after parking the car, we found two Alpine Accentors on the cliff faces just above us. The Griffons were circling in the updraughts and we spent half an hour checking each one! Then, two Wallcreepers appeared on the cliff above the building on the west end of the dam. Soon after that, at 10am exactly, an adult Lammergeier appeared from the north and flew right over our heads to circle the cliffs to the south. It landed at one point on a pinnacle giving stunning views through the telescopes, then it and a second adult flew back to the north. We spent the next 45 minutes watching these birds drift back and forth, interrupted briefly when a Wallcreeper landed on the wall of one of the dam towers right beside us - a dilemma indeed, to watch Lammergeier or Wallcreeper! We eventually tore ourselves away and started on our journey south, via the Laguna de Sariñena for a quick break and to add Greylag Goose, Teal and Pintail, and have excellent views of a Southern Grey Shrike on the wires close by. We moved on to the fields just south of Bujaraloz for our sandwiches and eight Black-bellied Sand-grouse; then near the Laguna La Playa, several hundreds each of Pin-tailed Sandgrouse and Calandra Larks were disturbed off the roadside fields. On to Daroca, arriving in time for a walk around the town at dusk.

Wednesday 28th November El Planerón & back to Gallocanta

A light frost, bright and sunny, and we headed back to the Belchite area to visit El Planerón reserve. Stopping first to view a lark flock beside the road, we found Lesser Short-toed Lark, Sky Lark, Rock Bunting and Rock Sparrow, all showing very nicely in the telescopes. A Peregrine flew across the road, and we searched part of the reserve without finding the hoped-for Dupont's Lark. However, a search of another area gave us close if brief views of one of these rare and difficult larks - our 100th species for the trip. A flock of 12 Black-bellied Sandgrouse flew past, and we unfortunately flushed these again off a field as we crested a rise in the vehicle. There were mixed flocks of several hundred Calandra, Sky and Lesser Short-toed Larks. During the afternoon, we came back to Daroca and on to Gallocanta for a quick coffee before heading to a hide overlooking the lagoon. The lagoon itself was totally dry and the surrounding fields had all been cultivated and resown. There were relatively few Cranes to be seen, probably not many more than 2,000.

Thursday 29th November Gallocanta area

Another bright and sunny day with a breeze keeping the temperatures down. Various small parties of Cranes were feeding in fields around the Laguna de Gallocanta, and were very wary. Whilst allowing close approach as the vehicle passed by on the road, all birds tended to fly off if we stopped or even slowed. Exploring a track across the fields to the south of the Laguna, we again found good numbers of Calandra Larks, allowing good views through the telescopes. Skylarks and Lesser Short-toed Larks were also found. Near the tower hide, there was a pair of Black-bellied Sandgrouse on the ground, but little else. As we approached Las Cuerlas village, we flushed three Curlew and several Tree Sparrows were feeding on the grass verge near the village. We then headed east, having lunch near the Ermita de Santa Barbara and finding a nice flock of Thekla Larks feeding near the road on a stony field. Heading back via Monreal del Campo and Blancas, a brief walk here produced at least 100 Choughs tumbling down from a great height. Finally, we checked the Laguna de Zaida, but this was also completely dry, and indeed seemed to have been cultivated with cereal stubble evident right across the valley. We returned to Daroca before dusk to allow further walks around the old town.

Friday 30th November La Lomaza, Belchite & back to Gallocanta

A hard frost overnight was quickly dispelled, and the day was positively warm. We first headed for La Lomaza reserve, north of Belchite. No sign of Dupont's Lark, but there were plenty of Lesser Short-toed Larks, Dartford Warblers and an adult Golden Eagle landed briefly on the ridge. Various distant Black-bellied Sandgrouse were seen and heard, and as we returned to the vehicle, an immature Golden Eagle drifted overhead. We had lunch just outside the Belchite ruins, and then spent some time in the afternoon exploring the ruined town. This was systematically shelled and bombed during the Spanish Civil War and has become a national historic site. I think we all found it very sobering and thought provoking. There were good views of Black Wheatears, Black Redstarts, Blue Rock Thrushes, Sardinian and Dartford Warblers. Returning to Daroca, we then drove a short detour along a very nice valley to Murero, then on to Gallocanta for the evening roost flight of Cranes. We watched a spectacular full moon rise over Gallocanta village, and at one point watched parties of Cranes fly across the skyline under the moon - a classic view - though numbers this evening barely reached 1,000!

Saturday 1st December Return to Barcelona & home

After breakfast, we departed for Barcelona airport and our flight home.



Little Grebe / Dabchick: Noted on 3 days with 2 Loreto on 26th, 2 Sariñena on 27th, 1 near Codos on 28th.

Great Crested Grebe: Noted only on 1 day, 3 Embalse de la Peña on 25th.

Great Cormorant: Noted on 4 days, up to 20 along river valleys on 24th - 27th.

Grey Heron: Noted most days.

Cattle Egret: Noted only on 2 days, hundreds on 24th, and also on 1st, near Barcelona.

Little Egret: Noted only on 2 days, numerous near Barcelona on 24th, also on 1st.

Greylag Goose: Noted only on 1 day, at least 10 Sariñena on 27th.

Eurasian Wigeon: Noted only on 1 day, a few at Sotonera on 26th.

Eurasian/Common Teal: Noted only on 1 day, several hundred at Sariñena on 27th.

Mallard: Noted on 3 days.

Northern Pintail: Noted only on 1 day, a male distantly at Sariñena on 27th.

Northern Shoveler: Noted on 2 days with 8 at Loreto on 26th, good numbers also at Sariñena on 27th.

Common Pochard: Noted on 2 days with 10 at Loreto on 26th, good numbers at Sariñena on 27th.

Tufted Duck: Noted only on 1 day, 10 at Loreto on 26th.

Red Kite: Noted most days, max counted was 12 on 26th, probably many more.

[Eurasian] Griffon Vulture: Noted most days with several hundred each day 25th - 27th, at least 30 on ground on 28th, at least 50 during day on 29th, a few on 30th.

Lammergeier / Bearded Vulture: Noted only on 1 day, an adult pair at Vadiello on 27th.

Hen Harrier: Noted on 4 days with 2 on 26th, a male on 27th, a male at Gallocanta on 28th, a ringtail La Lomaza on 30th.

[Eurasian] Marsh Harrier: Noted on 2 days with 1 Loreto on 26th, two Sariñena plus others on 27th.

Eurasian Sparrowhawk: Noted on 2 days with 1 Sariñena on 27th, 1 over hotel on 29th.

Common Buzzard: Noted most days, including one being beaten up by crows on 29th.

Golden Eagle: Noted on 2 days with 3 during day on 27th, an adult & imm at La Lomaza on 30th.

Common/Eurasian Kestrel: Noted most days.

Merlin: Noted only on 1 day, 1 perched on 26th.

Peregrine Falcon: Noted on 4 days with 1 on 25th, 1 distantly at Vadiello on 27th, 1 El Planerón on 28th, a juv on 29th.

Red-legged Partridge: Noted most days, max counted 20 at roadside on 27th.

Common Crane: Noted on 4 days with at least 25 at Sotonera on 26th, c.2,000 into Gallocanta on 28th, only 2,000 or so on 29th, only c.1,000 at Gallocanta on 30th.

Common Moorhen: Noted on 2 days with c.12 on roadside pool on 27th, also on 28th.

Eurasian/Common Coot: Noted on 3 days with several on river on 24th, then also on 26th & 27th.

Northern Lapwing: Noted on 4 days.

Eurasian Curlew: Noted only on 1 day, 3 near Las Cuerlas on 29th.

Yellow-legged Gull: Noted on 2 days, 24th & 26th.

Black-headed Gull: Noted on 3 days, on 24th, 4 on 26th, 20 at Sariñena on 27th.

Pin-tailed Sandgrouse: Noted only on 1 day, c.200 Laguna La Playa on 27th.

Black-bellied Sandgrouse: Noted on 4 days with 8 south of Bujaraloz on 27th, 12 on 28th, a pair near Las Cuerlas on 29th, 12 La Lomaza on 30th.

Rock Dove / Feral Pigeon: Noted most days.

[Common] Wood Pigeon: Noted on 4 days, 24th - 27th.

[Eurasian] Collared Dove: Noted most days.

Monk Parakeet: Noted only on 1 day, 2 presumed to be this species in Barcelona on 24th.

Eagle Owl: Noted on 2 days with a pair near Loporzano on 25th and 1 there at dusk on 26th.

Little Owl: Noted on 3 days with at least a pair on 26th, 2 during day on 29th, heard Gallocanta on 30th - relatively few compared with previous visits.

Common Kingfisher: Noted only on 1 day, 1 along the Rio Gallégo on 25th.

Eurasian Hoopoe: Noted on 4 days with 2 from bus on 24th, 1 from the viewpoint at Monasterio de San Juan de la Peña on 25th, 1 on fields near El Planerón on 28th, 1 at Belchite on 30th.

Great Spotted Woodpecker: Noted on 3 days, Monasterio de San Juan de la Peña on 25th, 1 heard at Santa Barbara on 29th, 1 Murraro on 30th.

Green Woodpecker: Noted on 2 days, heard on 25th, 2 near Bello on 29th.

Calandra Lark: Noted on 3 days with at least 300 Laguna La Playa on 27th, several hundred on 28th & 29th.

Lesser Short-toed Lark: Noted on 3 days with several hundred on 28th & 29th, 40 La Lomaza on 30th.

Dupont's Lark: Noted only on 1 day, 1 close but brief on 28th.

Crested Lark: Noted on 5 days, 26th - 30th.

Thekla Lark: Noted only on 1 day, 20 on roadside field near Santa Barbara on 29th.

[Eurasian/Common] Sky Lark: Noted on 4 days with several hundred on roadside fields on 27th, also on 28th - 30th.

[Eurasian] Crag Martin: Noted on 2 days with at least 2 Riglos on 26th, at least 6 Vadiello on 27th.

Grey Wagtail: Noted only on 1 day, a pair Sotonera on 26th.

White Wagtail: Noted most days.

Meadow Pipit: Noted on 5 days, 24th, 26th - 28th, & 30th.

Water Pipit: Noted only on 1 day, 2 Loreto on 26th.

Southern Grey Shrike: Noted on 5 days with 1 on 25th, at least 8 on 26th, regular birds during journey on 27th, 3 on 28th, 1 La Lomaza on 30th.

[White-throated] Dipper: Noted only on 1 day, 1 along Rio Gallégo on 25th.

[Winter] Wren: Noted on 2 days, 25th & 26th.

Alpine Accentor: Noted on 2 days with at least 2 Riglos on 26th, at least 2 Vadiello on 27th.

Blue Rock Thrush: Noted on 2 days with 1 male singing Riglos on 26th, c.6 Belchite on 30th.

Common Blackbird: Noted most days.

Song Thrush: Noted on 5 days.

Mistle Thrush: Noted on 2 days.

European Robin: Noted on 3 days.

Black Redstart: Noted most days.

Common Stonechat: Noted most days.

Black Wheatear: Noted on 2 days with 3 at Riglos and a pair at our lunch stop near Sotonera on 26th, 3 at Belchite on 30th.

Zitting Cisticola / Fan-tailed Wbr: Noted only on 1 day, 1 close by the vehicle near Rio Gallégo on 26th.

Cetti's Warbler: Noted only on 1 day, singing briefly on 26th.

Common/Eurasian Chiffchaff: Noted only on 1 day, 2 Loreto on 26th.

Blackcap: Noted on 3 days with at least 3 on 25th & 26th, a female at Belchite on 30th.

Sardinian Warbler: Noted on 3 days, 25th, 26th, 30th.

Dartford Warbler: Noted on 3 days, 26th, 28th, 30th.

Goldcrest: Noted on 2 days, 25th & 26th.

Long-tailed Tit: Noted only on 1 day, a small flock on 25th.

Coal Tit: Noted only on 1 day, on 25th.

Crested Tit: Noted only on 1 day, on 25th.

Great Tit: Noted on 4 days.

Blue Tit: Noted on 2 days.

Eurasian Nuthatch: Noted only on 1 day, heard on 25th.

Wallcreeper: Noted on 2 days with 2 at Riglos on 26th, and a pair very close at Vadiello on 27th.

Short-toed Treecreeper: Noted only on 1 day, 1 on 25th.

Eurasian Jay: Noted on 2 days with several on 25th, 4 Murraro on 30th.

Black-billed/Eurasian Magpie: Noted most days.

Red-billed Chough: Noted on 4 days with 2 Daroca on 27th, 1 on derelict farmstead on 28th, at least 100 near Blancas on 29th, 2 Daroca on 30th.

Western/Eurasian Jackdaw: Noted on 2 days, 24th & 26th.

Carrion Crow: Noted most days.

Common Raven: Noted most days.

Spotless Starling: Noted most days, often several hundreds.

Corn Bunting: Noted on 5 days.

Cirl Bunting: Noted on 3 days, several on 25th, male singing on 26th, a male near Bello on 29th.

Rock Bunting: Noted on 2 days with a male on 25th, 1 with larks on 28th.

Common/European Chaffinch: Noted on 5 days.

Brambling: Noted only on 1 day, a male on 26th.

European Serin: Noted on 2 days, 26th & 30th.

European Greenfinch: Noted only on 27th.

European Goldfinch: Noted most days.

Common Linnet: Noted on 5 days.

Common Crossbill: Noted only at Monasterio de San Juan dl la Peña where several excellent views on 25th.

House Sparrow: Noted most days.

[Eurasian] Tree Sparrow: Noted only on 29th.

Rock Sparrow / Rock Petronia: Noted on 4 days with several on 25th, several on 26th, 1 with larks on 28th, a few with larks on 29th.

BUTTERFLIES & other insects:

Small White: Noted only at Belchite on 30th.

Clouded Yellow: Noted only at Belchite on 30th.

Red Admiral: Noted on 3 days with singles on 25th, 28th, and at Belchite on 30th.

Bath White: Noted only on 1 day, La Lomaza on 30th.


Red Fox: Noted on 2 days with 1 near Bello on 29th, 1 near Belchite on 30th.

Red Squirrel: Noted only at Monasterio de San Juan de la Peña on 25th.

Iberian Hare: Noted only on 1 day, La Lomaza on 30th.

Rabbit: Noted only on 1 day, La Lomaza on 30th.

The Lammergeier and Wallcreepers were most impressive, and I think we will all remember that stunning vista from the viewpoint at the Monasterio de San Juan de la Peña with the Pyrenees stretched out before us. Also, don't forget that classic views of the full moon rise over Gallocanta village with the flock of Cranes flying across. Although I was rather disappointed with the low numbers of birds around Gallocanta this year, this was perhaps due to intensifying agriculture and reducing water levels. Time will tell! Other species of note included the several hundred Pin-tailed Sandgrouse and excellent views of Black-bellied Sandgrouse, Calandra and Lesser Short-toed Larks and, of course, Dupont's Lark.

Two new species included Corvus buteo and Athene minerale, but I'm afraid these will not be included in the species list! And finally, we must mention the Taylor Scale of Wind Chill - Fresh, Brisk, Bracing, thence unprintable!

Our sincere thanks to Josele Saiz and his family at Boletas, and everyone at the Posada del Almudi in Daroca. I hope that you all thoroughly enjoyed yourselves and I look forward to seeing you again in the not-to-distant future.

Keith Grant, December 2001

© The Travelling Naturalist 2001