Ebro - Delta to Source

A Spanish Journey

27 April - 11 May 2002

Mike Lockwood & Teresa Farino

During our trip along the 928km of the River Ebro in northeast Spain, we were plagued by rather disappointing weather, including extremely muggy conditions in the Ebro Delta, fierce winds in the central Ebro Depression and floods of rain in the Upper Ebro.

The mammals, as might be expected, were rather thin on the ground, with only seven species recorded over the two weeks, but we did quite well for large herbivores, spotting both Red and Roe Deer, Spanish Ibex and Wild Boar. We were rather more fortunate with the birds, encountering a total of 174 species, including all the Iberian breeding herons except Bittern, 16 diurnal raptors (although we missed out on expected species such as European Honey Buzzard, Red Kite, Northern Goshawk and Hobby), seven terns, including an unexpected White-winged Black Tern in the Ebro Delta, and all the Iberian breeding larks except Wood Lark, but including that most sought-after bird, Dupont's Lark, at La Lomaza, Belchite.

The poor weather later on in the tour undoubtedly affected our encounters with reptiles, such that just five species were seen, while the only amphibian we came across was the ubiquitous Iberian Pool Frog. Again the rains which swept across northern Spain during the second week rather put the damper on our butterfly sightings, with only 18 species seen during the tour, almost all of which were found either in the Ports de Beseit or around the Laguna de Pitillas.


Saturday 27 April 2002 Llobregat Delta; transfer to Ebro Delta

Mike met the group as planned at Barcelona airport and whisked them straight off to the Llobregat Delta, immediately next door; the only remaining part of a once much larger expanse of coastal marshes. This small reserve boasts a splendid list of breeding and passage birds, many of which can be seen from the excellent hides which dominate the small wetland, against the backdrop of the comings and goings of innumerable planes.

At the first stop, a screen with eye-slits gave us perfect views of two male Garganey in the midst of a mass of Yellow-legged Gulls. At the next hide we were treated to the magnificent sight of two Collared Pratincoles on the dried mud, barely 10 metres in front of us, as well as a Northern Wheatear, a group of four Wood Sandpipers, a number of Black-winged Stilts, 20-plus Grey Herons, eight Greater Flamingos and a solitary Purple Heron flying overhead. Leaving the hide and heading back to the reserve information centre and ringing station, we had quick views of a Speckled Wood and a couple of immature Red-veined Darters.

Back at the ringing station, we surprised the reserve's ringers with two Little Bitterns in their hands, and could see that they (the birds!) were light enough to perform acrobatics on bendy reed stems. But then, as we were headed to another area of the reserve, to track down the Marsh Sandpipers, the lights suddenly went out for Mike, and the members of the group travelled independently down to the Ebro Delta.

Sunday 28 April 2002

Northern Ebro Delta: El Goleró

Happily reunited the following day, the group - now with the added presence of Xesco - headed off after lunch to the huge shallow bay known as El Fangar in the north of the delta and, in particular, to an area known as El Goleró. All the fields around the hotel and on the way to El Goleró were dry and still only half-prepared for the annual flooding and then rice-planting, the reason being - ironically - that the recent torrential rains had left the fields too wet in early April for the tractors to be able to prepare them for flooding. Our first stop was for a mystery pipit which sat on the track in front of us briefly before disappearing into the distance. It bore a certain resemblance to a Richard's Pipit, but the views through the windshield were not sufficient for a definite identification. A little further on, a female Whinchat perched atop a bush next to the path.

There was a good selection of birds around El Fangar: first one, then two Purple Herons provided close-up views on the embankment we were walking along, while Turnstones, a solitary Whimbrel, Grey and Kentish Plovers, Common Redshank, Common Greenshank and a group of Greater Flamingos in the distance were foraging in the shallow bay. Overhead, fishing Little, Common, Whiskered and Gull-billed Terns all passed by at regular intervals, but the real stars were the Slender-billed Gulls, which swam the shallows in their characteristic forward-tilted manner, the males displaying salmon-pink-flushed breasts.

Further back along the track, we encountered two Great Reed Warblers singing powerfully from a small patch of reeds, more waders and gulls and, even further along, two Squacco Herons, one in the sea and one in the paddy fields, but both posing beautifully. More herons passed by, a distant Osprey was harried by gulls and, among the waders we turned up a single Bar-tailed Godwit. Driving back through the small area of paddies, which had indeed been flooded, we had excellent views of Audouin's Gulls, a Hoopoe on a roof and Spotless Starlings on the telephone wires.

Our last port of call was the Platja de la Marquesa, which had been severely damaged by the April storms and whose dune cordon was thus rather the worse for wear. Plants we identified here included Helichrysum stoechas (one of the 'curry plants'), the shrubby Thymelaea hirsuta (yellow flowers) and Limoniastrum monopetalum (with its delightful pink flowers), sea plantain Plantago maritima, the leaves of the summer-flowering sea-daffodil Pancratium maritimum, southern bird's foot trefoil Lotus creticus and sharp rush Juncus acutus.

Monday 29 April 2002

Ports de Beseit

Today we headed inland and, after a false start at a phantom train station and a stop to buy new batteries for Peter's camera, we reached our first destination: a stretch of road on a south-facing limestone slope which the April rains had brought back to life. Here we quickly identified the main bushes and shrubs: lentisc Pistacia lentiscus, turpentine tree P. terebinthus, Cistus clusii, Mediterranean buckthorn Rhamnus alaternus, the related R. lycioides, prickly juniper Juniperus oxycedrus and dwarf fan palm Chamaerops humilis, the latter mainland Europe's only native palm. Flowering plants here included lots of the delightfully furry Convolvulus lanuginosus (much more attractive than the mallow-leaved bindweed Convolvulus althaeoides which was also common here and in all ruderal habitats in the area), the lovely yellow-flowered Phlomis lychnitis, blue aphyllanthes Aphyllanthes monspeliensis, the pink-flowered Antirrhinum barrelieri, the aptly named pitch trefoil Psoralea bituminosa and dipcadi or brown bluebell Dipcadi serotinum. The walls of the gully held clumps of sarcocapnos Sarcocapnos enneaphylla.

Butterflies were few and far between, which was to be the rule for the fortnight as a whole, while the birders' attention were mostly taken by the male Blue Rock Thrush perched on the cliffs high above us, a distant Short-toed Eagle, the first of many Griffon Vultures and the sound of Common Nightingales singing from the gully below.

Moving on, we picked up minor roads and followed a disused canal deep within the olive Olea europaea and carob Ceratonia siliqua groves, stopping only to watch our first Woodchat Shrikes atop a tree on the other side of the canal. A short circular walk here turned up many of the same wayside flowers as at our previous stop, although once we reached an area of bare limestone we found the leaves and seeds of Iris lutescens, along with more dipcadis, Cytinus hypocistis parasitising Cistus clusii, and lots of the viciously spiny Asparagus stipularis. Overhead a group of around 40 European Bee-eaters passed noisily by, surely still on migration.

After lunch we returned along the unused canal, stopping for back views of a Black-eared Wheatear, before beginning to climb up into Els Ports proper, along the road which leads all the way to the summit. Our first stop was after about 300m of climbing, where we encountered bloody cranesbill Geranium sanguineum in flower along the roadside, along with an interesting mixture of plants such as the leguminous Dorycnium pentaphyllum and D. hirsutum, a meadow-rue Thalictrum tuberosum, common globularia Globularia vulgaris, Spanish gorse Genista hispanica ssp. hispanica and, a bit further up the road, a perfect sword-leaved helleborine Cephalanthera longifolia.

Xesco located a group of three Spanish Ibex not too far above us on the hill, and we all got good views of a male with an especially fine pair of horns. A few more butterflies were now on the wing: male Moroccan Orange Tips flew by, along with a few Wood Whites, a Large Wall Brown and a Panoptes Blue. Sardinian Warblers sang from the scrub, and Peter and Mike managed to get a good view of a Firecrest in a solitary pine.

By about 4.30 we reached the top of the hairpin bends and prepared ourselves for the climb of Tossa de la Reina (1,113m): an exposed, rounded hilltop right next to the road. This peak, all but devoid of forest cover, has a superb flora, dominated in late April by the purple cushions of hedgehog broom < /font>Erinacea anthyllis, with other wind-moulded plants including cushions of Genista scorpius and Hormathophylla spinosa as well as mats of dwarf buckthorn Rhamnus pumilus on the rocks by the side of the road. The local endemics Knautia rupicola and Salix tarraconensis were, respectively, not in flower and only within binocular range.

We started the climb of the Tossa, through box Buxus sempervirens, stunted holm oaks Quercus ilex, grass-leaved buttercups Ranunculus gramineus and carpets of felty germander Teucrium polium and Salvia lavandulifolia, sadly only just coming into flower; on a small cliff we could make out the rosettes of Pyrenean saxifrage Saxifraga longifolia, as yet not burst into life. During the ascent, two female Eurasian Sparrowhawks flew past, Red-billed Choughs flew overhead and Griffon Vultures appeared in twos and threes. A single de Prunner's Ringlet kept us company for part of the climb, while near the summit, Red Admirals and Painted Ladies were hill-topping in the afternoon sun. Right on the top, an attractive mat of prostrate cherry Prunus prostrata provided a superb splash of colour.

After biscuits and cakes, we wandered back down to the vehicle, and began the long descent back to sea-level. While we had stopped at the monument to the Spanish Ibex for photographs; Mike found Malling toadflax Chaenorhinum origanifolium and rock milkwort Polygala rupestre growing on the rocks by the roadside. Further down the hill, we stopped for a short wander down a track into a rather more sheltered gully where we found a surprising number of plants familiar from Britain for such a Mediterranean environment, including cowslips Primula veris, holly Ilex aquifolium, whitebeam Sorbus aria, butcher's broom Ruscus aculeatus, black and maidenhair spleenworts Asplenium adiantum-nigrum and A. trichomanes, as well as the less familiar liverleaf Hepatica nobilis and three new trees/shrubs: Lusitanian oak Quercus faginea ssp. faginea, the maple Acer granatense and snowy mespilus Amelanchier ovalis. Just as we were walking back up the track, Xesco spotted a distant Bonelli's Eagle which left us rather unsatisfied, especially as it was our only sighting of the tour of this magnificent raptor.

Tuesday 30 April 2002

Ebro Delta

Back in the Delta once more, we headed first for a small mirador overlooking the Canal Vell: the largest lagoon in the northern sector. After a short walk, we reached the small viewing platform where the immensity of the lagoon spread out before us. Here, we found many of the same birds that we had seen on our first day in the delta, as well as a group of nine Black-crowned Night Herons in the bushes nearby. Black-winged Stilts, a Spotted Redshank, a Purple Heron and a small group of Greater Flamingos vied for our attention, along with a very distant group of Eurasian Spoonbills. The walk back to the vehicle brought a European Pied Flycatcher, a Red Admiral on Tony's leg and a couple of Willow Warblers.

After a restorative cup of coffee at the bar where we had parked the car, we headed off to try and locate the Scops Owl that Xesco had found the night before, but even after much whistling, it refused to appear, although we did spot a nest which it could well have been using.

Having a couple of hours to spare before the boat left, we went for a walk along the shore of El Ganxal: a shallow inlet on the northern coast of the delta which provides home for many water birds. The walk through the dunes provided a good opportunity for learning the song and call of the Lesser Short-toed Larks which are abundant there, and we also came across a pair of mating Black-tailed Skimmers and a few male Hoplia caerulea: a metallic blue beetle which sits on rushes and reeds with its back legs splayed out, presumably waiting for the subterranean females to turn up. From the hide overlooking the shores, we quickly spotted two Great White Egrets, obvious by the size alone, as well as many Whiskered Terns, Little Egrets and Mallard. One much paler tern flying with the Whiskered Terns proved to be a White-winged Black Tern, non-breeding or not yet moulted into its summer plumage, and on the far shores we could just make out a Purple Gallinule on the edge of the reeds.

Back at the vehicle, we drove quickly to the quay for the 12.30 departure of the boat trip to the mouth of the Ebro and back. This short but entertaining voyage took us right out into the sea and provided close-up views of thousands of Red-crested Pochard in the river and mouth of the Garxal. Other birds included our first Sandwich Terns, a Common Cuckoo in the reeds and a couple of Great Cormorants.

Once back on dry land, we decided to cross the river by transbordador for lunch at the tower hide overlooking the Illa de Buda. Here we lunched at 10m above sea-level, enjoying at the same time splendid views of Glossy Ibis, Purple Gallinules, Squacco Herons and the ubiquitous Whiskered Tern. Somewhere nearby a Savi's Warbler was 'reeling', while Xesco spotted a single Eurasian Spoonbill flying steadily away from us in the distance.

From here we headed towards La Tancada and l'Encanyissada, the two huge reedy lagoons in the southern section of the delta. In the dry fields just before La Tancada, two Collared Pratincoles flew up and perched on the mud next to the road. Further on, as we disembarked, we spotted a Woodchat Shrike on some wooden posts off to our left, and Lesser Short-toed and Short-toed Larks in the air above us. A pool off to the north held a single Great Ringed and a number of Kentish Plovers, while a track leading down to the beach turned up a number of European Turtle Doves in the pastures behind the pumping station.

Next stop was at the Salines de Sant Antoni: an area of disused salt-pans, much beloved of Pied Avocets. The other 'star' bird here is the Caspian Tern which we took some to find, loafing among a hoard of gulls, and unfortunately only at telescope distance. Nevertheless, we were able to appreciate its huge red, dagger-like bill. Other birds here included Common Shelduck, Pied Avocet, Grey Plover, Dunlin, Common Redshank, Little and Common Terns, Crested Lark, three very brightly coloured European Greenfinches and a 'blue-headed' Yellow Wagtail (of the subspecies iberiae).

Finally, we headed off to l'Encanyissada: the biggest lagoon in the delta. From the two raised viewing platforms we spotted Little and Great-crested Grebes, our first Eurasian Marsh Harrier, an Eurasian Spoonbill in flight and three Squacco Herons close to the second of the two hides. Fishing close by was a Common Tern, and we spent a long time trying to get a view of the Reed Warbler that was singing from the vegetation below.

And on the way home we stopped briefly at one of the ullals: freshwater upwellings on the spring line between the alluvial soils of the delta and the limestone rocks of the hills behind. Here the promised white water lilies Nymphaea alba were just coming into flower, while other areas were carpeted with the naturalised water fern Azolla caroliniana. A Purple Heron made a brief appearance, while Common Nightingales sang from the surrounding woods.

Wednesday 1 May 2002

Transfer to Zaragoza: Miravet, Laguna de la Playa

We headed north from the Ebro Delta towards the crusader castle of Miravet, first crossing the Ebro on an intriguing current-powered flat-bed car-ferry, before meeting up with our guide Pilar, who took us up to the castle built by the Knights Templar, which still preserves much of its original structure. Mike rudely interrupted Pilar whilst she was explaining the historical origins of the Templars to point out nearby Black Wheatears and Rock Sparrows, and we then proceeded to spend an enjoyable hour in the castle, with excellent views over the river (Black Kites and Eurasian Crag Martins included).

Lunch was taken near the river at a site best forgotten, and then we proceeded to head north into the ever more arid region of Los Monegros. Our destination was the Laguna de la Playa - the largest of the many endorheic (inwardly draining, highly saline and seasonal) waterbodies in the area - where we disembarked and walked down to the disused saltpans. A couple of birdwatchers put us onto a pair of Spectacled Warblers singing well just a little way in front of us and all got good views through the 'scopes. Other birds here included a Tawny Pipit (quick views through the 'scopes), Thekla and Calandra Larks, Black-eared Wheatear and Red-billed Chough and Common and Lesser Kestrels breeding in the semi-ruined buildings nearby. The vegetation of the area was dominated by the wormwood Artemisia herba-alba, although little was in flower except the halophyte Frankenia thymifolia, with its small pink flowers, and albardine Lygeum spartum -the typical steppe grass of the area - easily distinguished by its hood-like bract.

Still in the Monegros, Juan (our new driver) took us along a track to a small elevation which dominated a large area of the Monegros and one in which he had recently seen both species of bustard. Our vigil was fruitless, although the drive did produce a quick flight of seven Black-bellied Sandgrouse, while from the top of the hill we also had views of Tawny Pipit, Calandra and Thekla Larks, Red-legged Partridge, a Little Owl, Northern Wheatear and a possible Egyptian Vulture sitting in a distant tree.

Seeing as time was pushing on, we decided to head for Zaragoza without further ado and bypassed the juniper forest of Retuerta de Pina without stopping. We arrived at the hotel in reasonable time, for once, and settled in easily.

Thursday 2 May 2002


Today we returned to the dusty plains of the Ebro depression, although the Belchite area is not generally considered to be part of Los Monegros. We found our way out of the treacherous Zaragoza one-way system with a little difficulty, but soon arrived at La Lomaza, one of the two parts of the steppe reserve run by SEO/Birdlife: the Spanish Ornithological Society. Having spent the past two days rather cooped up in the vehicle, we decided to walk the whole of the 4km to the end of the trail, and so on a rather windy, but sunny, morning we set out through the low steppe vegetation in search of the almost mythical Dupont's Lark.

It was soon apparent that we would have to contend with many Lesser Short-toed Larks, as well as a few Thekla and Short-toed Larks. A couple of Pin-tailed Sandgrouse flew off in the distance, while a few Red-billed Chough provided a further distraction, and it wasn't until we were well into the walk that we first heard the distinctive fluting call of a Dupont's Lark. Observation was made almost impossible, however, by the wind and the secretive nature of the bird, as we were at a total loss as to whether it was singing from the ground, a bush, or thin air! Nevertheless, on the way back, Peter and Juan got reasonable views of a Dupont's Lark as it ran along the track in front of them before disappearing into the scrub. We quickly reconvened the group and the bird was spotted briefly again as it ran away about 30m in front of us. This type of observation, above all on a windy day, is about par for the course, and although we heard at least five of six more birds singing as we returned to the vehicle, no more observations were reported.

Despite the wind, Western Marbled Whites were flying well and Mike and Judy had good views of a Marbled Skipper. Plantwise, the most obvious species was Helianthemum syriacum, with its strongly inrolled leaves, and two typical indicators of gypsum soils: Helianthemum squamatum, with its drooping heads of small yellow flowers, and the pink restharrow, Ononis tridentata. Also in flower was the by-now-familiar dipcadi, as well as the legumes Hedysarum humile and Coronilla minima, coris Coris monspeliensis, Sideritis scordioides and the yellow-flowered composite Launaea fragilis.

Lunch was taken in the Planerón sector of the reserve, near the dry endorheic lagoon, and from here we had little to report, save many more Lesser Short-toed and Calandra Larks and the odd Griffon Vulture. We decided to visit the SEO information centre in Belchite village, but as it wouldn't open until 3.30pm we opted to spend a quick half-hour in the ruins of old Belchite, destroyed during the Spanish Civil War, which have been left as a painful reminder of unwonted human aggression. On the way we spotted 2 Eurasian Marsh Harriers - more in the pseudosteppe here than in the whole of the Ebro Delta! - European Bee-eaters and a couple of Alpine Swifts, while in the ruins themselves we located a Blue Rock Thrush atop the spire of the main church, plus European Serins and Sardinian Warblers elsewhere.

After a quick visit to the information centre (no postcards, much to Judy's chagrin!), we carried on back towards Zaragoza via a limestone outcrop near the village of La Puebla de Albortón. The highlight of this little enclave is the flora, with an abundance of Spanish rusty foxgloves Digitalis obscura decorating the roadside. A little searching among the Phoenician (Juniperus phoenicea) and prickly junipers also produced a number of mirror ophrys Ophrys ciliata, blue aphyllanthes, Phlomis lychnitis and two species of asphodel: hollow-stemmed Asphodelus fistulosus and the much taller A. ramosus. Birdwise, we briefly saw a Dartford Warbler atop a juniper, plus Black-eared Wheatear and Rock Bunting, although the much heralded Orphean Warbler was only heard by Mike in the distance and, having tried to d o too much in a single day as usual, we had to hurry back to Zaragoza to meet Enrique, who was to show us around the historic sights of the city.

The way back - "we're only stopping for Lammergeiers and/or Acts of God" - saw us pause for very close views of a Golden Eagle flashing past the vehicle, but we sped irreverently past the dozens of Black-eared Wheatears and European Bee-eaters. The city tour was fascinating as always, although we failed to see the Pallid Swifts zooming over the river; Enrique said that they hadn't arrived yet. European Serins, White Wagtails and European Pied Flycatchers also appeared, but all were over-shadowed (in Mike's opinion) by the Mudéjar wall of the old cathedral. The most significant faunal observation was a Large Yellow Underwing which lodged itself in Cynthia's clothing.

Friday 3 May 2002

Galacho de Juslibol

After the previous few hectic days, we had a later start and headed out with Enrique to the ox-bow lake (galacho) near the village of Juslibol on the outskirts of Zaragoza. Last year's Eagle Owl was, sadly, no longer in residence, but as a kind of compensation, Enrique took us to a section of the soft gypsum scarp overlooking the Ebro where he had previously located a Black Wheatear nest. Both parents were in attendance, but neither wanted to approach the nest in our presence and so we left them to it and continued walking along the track at the foot of the scarp. Here we recorded European Bee-eater, Rock Sparrow, Black Kite and a beautiful pale-phase Booted Eagle.

As we walked up the steps onto the scarp we noticed the typical gypsophilous flora of the area, with familiar species from the Monegros and Belchite - Helianthemum squamatum, H. syriacum, Helichrysum stoechas, Ononis tridentata and Sideritis scordioides - as well as clumps of the white crucifer Lepidium subulatum, some yet-to-flower Gypsophila hispanica, the strange Iberian endemic Peganum harmala, just coming into flower, scores of plants of Plantago albicans, silvery-leaved pink convolvulus Convolvulus lineatus, giant fennel Ferula communis and the joint-pine Ephedra nebrodensis. Also up on top, Enrique set to work to find us some of the most interesting invertebrates of the area; after turning over a few stones, he found the giant biting centipede Scolopendra cingulatus, but failed to come up with a scorpion. Poking around in the hole of the wolf-spider Lycosa fasciventris, he managed only to bring out the dead remains of one of these rather fearsome spiders.

Back at the foot of the scarp, we entered the verdant world of the galacho and its abundant woodland. The wind was not in our favour and we had to make do with the call of a Wryneck and quick views of the Short-toed Treecreeper that was singing persistently from near the bridge over the ox-bow lake. Also from this bridge, we saw a number of Red-eared Sliders sitting on the dead trees in the water, but none of the autochthonous species of terrapin they seem to have displaced. In the and around the woodland we turned up a male Blackcap, heard a number of Common Nightingales and had views of more Black Kites and another (or the same one) pale-phase Booted Eagle.

Lunch was taken in a picnic spot in the village of Juslibol and we were all back at the hotel for a free and theoretically relaxing afternoon, which some spent buying postcards and owls and/or visiting the restored Arab fortress-cum-Mudéjar palace of La Aljafería.

Saturday 4 May 2002

Galacho de la Alfranca/El Moncayo/transfer to Olite

First stop was another galacho, this time run as a reserve by the SEO and much more of a bird-watching destination than the previous day's ox-bow lake at Juslibol. We were met by our guide José Luis as we arrived more or less on time for once, and he took us straight off to the hide which overlooks the reserve's heron colony. Unfortunately, the strong wind meant that most of the Black-crowned Night Herons and Cattle and Little Egrets were keeping fairly low on their nests, some of which were literally 30 metres away from the hide. Not much else was moving and so we followed José Luis around the trail in the galacho, hoping to see Penduline Tits at a nest he had previously located. Again the wind was against us, and although we saw one of their marvellous nests and heard the birds in the trees above us, we failed to get more than a fleeting glimpse of any bird. Likewise, we only heard the Golden Orioles and Common Nightingales which abound here, although birds we did see included White Stork, European Sand Martin and a Purple Heron.

After our mid-morning snack, we set out for El Moncayo, the highest mountain in the Sistema Ibérico and one which we could just see, snow-capped, as we drove west along the Ebro valley away from Zaragoza. Given the wind and rather coolish weather, we decided not to stop on the lower, more Mediterranean slopes of the mountain and headed straight for the information centre where, after a brief visit, we picnicked among the pines, with Coal Tits and Firecrests fidgeting above us.

After lunch we drove up into through the forested slopes before emerging above the tree-line and leaving the vehicle in a small car-park before heading on foot up the last 2km to the sanctuary. We passed through the dense Scots pine Pinus sylvestris plantations and beech Fagus sylvatica forests, stopping at a small meadow by a ruined building where we found a small, but lovely elder-flowered orchid Dactylorhiza sambucina (yellow form), as well as lots of meadow saxifrage Saxifraga granulata, Valeriana tuberosa and another saxifrage which in retrospect could well have been a hybrid between the meadow saxifrage and the endemic Saxifraga moncayensis whose cushions - not yet in flower - studded the cliffs below the sanctuary.

Up at the sanctuary, under a scattering of snowflakes, there wasn't much to see except a fine view as far as Zaragoza, a couple of Common Crossbills in a tall pine, a few Griffon Vultures and a brief glimpse of a Hedge Accentor. Juan brought the vehicle up to meet us to save us the walk back, and we got in and decided that we would make a final stop before our hotel in Olite. The conglomerate cliffs near the village of Los Fayos, proved a fitting end to the first week of the trip, as there were Griffon Vultures perched on the cliffs a mere 50 metres above our heads and we were treated to a low-level fly-over by two adult Egyptian Vultures.

And by about 8 o'clock we finally made it into Olite, where Teresa was waiting to help us find our way through the maze of narrow back-streets to the hotel, where we dined on leek and prawn terrine and monkfish. Mike and Juan said their farewells the following morning, as the group prepared for another week's wildlifing along the Upper Ebro valley.

Sunday 5 May 2002

Laguna de Pitillas/Río Aragón/Monasterio de La Oliva

The day dawned clear, but with a chill wind, and we set off in high hopes to the Laguna de Pitillas, a few short kilometres from the hotel. The water levels in the lake were exceedingly low this year, with the warden later explaining to us that it hadn't rained to any appreciable extent for the past 15 months, and that the Bitterns (one or two pairs) which have regularly nested for the past few years had not been heard in 2002.

Nevertheless, from our vantage point at the information centre we could clearly observe the comings and goings of literally hundreds of pairs of Grey Heron (269 pairs bred here in 2001), interspersed with an occasional Purple Heron (some 20 pairs in 2001). Marsh Harriers were also extremely abundant (around 30 pairs), wheeling over the reedbeds, with other, lesser fry occupying the airspace over the lagoon including large numbers of Common House Martins and Barn Swallows. What little open water remained was dotted with Mallard and Common Coot, as well as an occasional Little Grebe and a solitary Red-crested Pochard.

Closer at hand, the ancient olives around the centre were teeming with Tree Sparrows, and the trilling song of a myriad Corn Buntings in the neighbouring fields filled the air. Once the impact of the rather distant heron colony had worn off, we headed off east along a track around the edge of the lagoon to a hide overlooking the reedbed. En route we studied some of the arable weeds of the area, and although the display was rather sparse as compared to previous years, we turned up rough and common poppies (Papaver hybridum & P. rhoeas), two red-flowered species of pheasant's-eye Adonis spp., milk thistle Silybum marianum, field eryngo Eryngium campestre and corn mignonette Reseda phyteuma. Despite the wind, many Common Blues - both males and females - were on the wing.

Once at the hide, we spotted a pair of Yellow Wagtails, foraging in the short vegetation between us and the reeds, and also had excellent, if brief, views of a Bearded Tit. Many larks were also in evidence, mostly Crested Lark, but as the wind was flattening their crests, some looked more like Skylarks. Having retraced our steps to the information centre, we then walked northwest along a broad boardwalk which penetrated the edge of the reedbed, getting fleeting glimpses of a number of Bearded Tits here, often first located by call, as well as good close views of a Purple Heron as it settled into the reeds and virtually disappeared.

We then drove along a track at the eastern margin of the lagoon, through calcareous scrub which is usually teeming with orchids, pausing en route to examine an Egyptian Vulture. Unfortunately the dry winter had obviously discouraged these from even attempting to flower, so we had to be satisfied with beautiful flax Linum narbonense, white asphodels Asphodelus albus ssp. villarsii, a pink-flowered race of felty germander, Thalictrum tuberosum and blue aphyllanthes. This was probably the best butterfly day of the trip, and even so few species were on the wing in the strong winds, although the abundance of Panoptes Blues did impress Tony. We also found a splendidly fresh Western Marbled White that posed beautifully for photographs (as did a local shepherd for Caroline!), and a number of Wall Browns, although Teresa unable to get the rest of the group 'on to' the Adonis Blues (both male and female) that she spotted before the wind took them far away. Birdwise the commonest species here were Northern Wheatears, Common Linnets and Corn Buntings, while a mystery bird with its back to us as we returned to the vehicle was almost certainly a male Whinchat.

Given the impossibility of getting out of the wind around Pitillas, we headed down to the Río Aragón near Mélida for lunch, finding a tranquil spot amid the fringing white poplars in which to enjoy our egg mayonnaise and strawberries, during which we were serenaded by Common Nightingales, Cetti's Warblers, European Serins and European Goldfinches. Bee-eaters perched on a nearby telegraph wire and periodically undertook swooping flights over the river, burbling almost incessantly, while Barn Swallows and European Sand Martins sped non-stop up and down the river.

We decided to drive back to Olite via, firstly, the Monasterio de La Oliva and, secondly, past the hilltop village of Ujué. At the monastery, the 'ladies' undertook an exploration of its architectural merits, Tony snoozed in the vehicle, and Peter and Teresa strolled down to the nearby river (still the Aragón), where they rescued a shrew from a concrete irrigation channel. The relatively long tail of the beast, its lack of dorso-ventral demarcation, and an examination of distribution maps of the Spanish shrews all pointed to the probability of it being a Pygmy Shrew although, in the absence of an insectivore dentist, this remains pure speculation. Fan-tailed Warblers 'zitted' over the neighbouring fields, which teemed with Spotless Starlings, while the roof of the monastery was adorned with literally dozens of White Stork nests and their incumbents. We were also treated to a female Swallowtail laying her eggs on fennel Foeniculum vulgare, which is the typical foodplant of this species in Iberia.

During the return to Olite we paused to take photographs of Ujué, where Teresa was surprised to find box growing on one side of the road, and holly oak Quercus coccifera on the other, and we also turned up a couple of stands of early spider ophrys Ophrys sphegodes. The hotel excelled itself that evening, regaling us with smoked salmon salad and roast duck.

Monday 6 May 2002

Bardenas Reales/Olite

Another relatively cloudless start to the day, and we headed off promptly to explore the fabulous eroded badlands of the Bardenas Reales. At the as-yet-unflooded salinas near Arguedas we noted at least 27 White Storks foraging in the damp mud, along with three Black-winged Stilts, but little else, so we drove on quickly to an area of cereal fields and scrub at the entrance to the badlands.

New to us here were a splendid Southern Grey Shrike, perched on an overhead wire, and we had our first - can you believe? - close-up views of Common Stonechats. In the fallow fields, we were delighted to encounter the lovely violet horned-poppy Roemeria hybrida, with steel-blue stamens, as well as the related red horned-poppy Glaucium corniculatum. A little further on, the road crossed a deep gully, filled with tamarisks Tamarix sp., the walls of which were drilled liberally with European Bee-eater nest-tunnels, although their owners were not in evidence at this time. Here we spotted a Short-toed Eagle, going away, as well as several Rabbits lurking in the undergrowth, while three or four Black Kites and a male Eurasian Marsh Harrier provided further entertainment.

As we progressed further into the badlands, Teresa spotted a large bird in a field, which she took to be a Grey Heron, until - on binocular examination - it turned out to be a Short-toed Eagle; probably the same individual as previously. Having passed the entrance to the airforce bombing range, a protracted pause was demanded by Tony and Peter, in order to watch a series of training exercises by fighter planes, during which we sat tight in the vehicle, as the noise was deafening.

A small pool and gully was our next stop, where we encountered Black-eared Wheatear and Black Redstart, the latter undoubtedly nesting in the creviced walls, and where all had excellent views of a number of Dartford Warblers in the surrounding bushes. A 'kettle' of Griffon Vultures circling in thermals above a distant hill-top was noted by Peter, and we also saw a pair of Eurasian Marsh Harriers quartering the bombing range. Further on, we paused to examine a number of Calandra Larks, noting their almost buzzing song-flight, as well as the lack of crest and black collar on perched individuals, and it was here that Teresa heard a distant Stone-curlew calling: the only one of the trip.

Approaching the cliffs on the far side of the bombing range, we had good 'scope views of a very confiding Tawny Pipit, then watched a preening Egyptian Vulture (spotted by Cynthia), perched on the edge of a rock outcrop, for some time. Red-billed Choughs were also noted here. Time was pressing, however, and we pushed on to the small reedy pool that was our pre determined lunch spot, where we were serenaded (if you can call it that!) by Great Reed Warblers and Iberian Pool Frogs. Also present were single individuals of Purple Heron, Common Redshank and Common Sandpiper. By now it was almost 3pm, and the day had turned extremely chilly (as can be vouched for by Teresa, who'd rather ambitiously donned her shorts that morning), so we headed back for what was left of our 'free' afternoon in Olite, reconvening at 6pm to visit the Carricas wine cellars.

Tuesday 7 May 2002

Transfer to Mave via Laguna de las Cañas/Soto de Buicio

The lengthiest transfer between bases yet awaited us this morning, and we set off promptly in alternating showers and sunny spells for the Laguna de las Cañas, on the outskirts of Logroño (capital of La Rioja), although a new road system delayed us for a while until Teresa got her bearings. En route we spotted a Short-toed Eagle perched on a pylon, many Common Buzzards, Black Kites and Common Kestrels and a Raven. At Las Cañas, water levels were once again extremely low, such that the Black-crowned Night Heron colony was much reduced, and crammed into a small island of emergent vegetation near the far shore, as the tamarisks where usually nest had been left high and dry, and accessible to predators.

The extensive muddy flats exposed by the receding waters were dotted with waders, although at that distance, only Grey Plover and Lapwing (new for the tour) were positively identifiable, even with the 'scopes. At least three Eurasian Marsh Harriers were circling the site, while Little Egrets, Grey Herons and White Storks flew to and fro. Cetti's Warblers called from the fringing tamarisks, and Caroline surprised a Hoopoe while searching for a convenient bush. The cold, dry spring had done little for the flora surrounding the interpretation centre, and the expected lizard orchids were still tightly furled.

Under lowering skies we headed further north and west to the Soto de Buicio: a gallery forest on the margins of the Ebro near La Puebla de Labarca, backed by a gypsum cliff and extensive vineyards. The group walked along the road beneath the cliff, where Ruth and Cynthia encountered a female Black Wheatear, and then along the margin of the river, where Peter spotted a Black-crowned Night Heron and Judy had a brief glimpse of a Golden Oriole flying across the adjacent vineyards. Once reunited at the picnic spot by the river, a quick exploration of a young poplar plantation nearby turned up a handsome male Cirl Bunting for Cynthia and Teresa, and then we settled down for lunch, once again accompanied by a sound-track of Common Nightingales, Cetti's Warblers, European Serins and European Goldfinches. Once back on the road again, we encountered Booted Eagle, Red-legged Partridges, Red-billed Choughs and a Southern Grey Shrike, but sped past them all without stopping.

Having paused for coffee in Ibias de Juarros, and made a brief detour to see if anything could be seen above-ground of the renowned Atapuerca archaeological site (it couldn't), we made a bee-line for our next base at Santa María de Mave, stopping briefly near Valdegama for three Hen Harriers (two males and a female), and a Tree Pipit singing from the top of a Pyrenean oak Quercus pyrenaica by the side of the road. Just after the village, Judy spotted a swathe of purplish orchids, which we trooped off to investigate: they turned out to be green-winged Orchis morio, in a variety of colour forms, growing together with meadow saxifrage and the white-flowered sun-rose Halimium umbellatum, with the corn buttercup Ranunculus arvensis (spiny fruits) abundant in the nearby cereal fields. A small flock of Meadow Pipits was swirling around the fields, and Caroline and Teresa had good views of our second Cirl Bunting of the day. We eventually arrived at the convent - our base for the next four nights - where we were treated to the extremely garlicky sopa castellana, voted the best soup of the fortnight by Tony.

Wednesday 8 May 2002

Hoces del Ebro

The following morning it was raining again, so Teresa opted to explore the Hoces del Ebro, where at least we would be sheltered from the worst of the weather. En route along the Aguilar-Burgos road, we kept a sharp eye out for Wolves - this is where we saw one last year - but could only manage a couple of male Roe Deer bounding across the scrub. Birdwise, Griffon Vultures, Common Buzzards and Montagu's Harriers were the order of the day.

Having turned off onto the extremely narrow Pesquera road, we paused for a photo-stop overlooking the sinuous Hoces del Ebro river canyon, to the accompaniment of singing Winter Wrens, European Robins, Common Blackbirds and Common Chaffinches, much as one would expect in UK gardens at this time of year. The surrounding scrub was dominated by our old friends snowy mespilus and Genista scorpius, coloured by common globularia and white asphodel (subspecies villarsii). Just as we were proceeding along the road, Judy obliged Teresa to reverse for a clump of purple orchids ("they'd better not be early purples!"), which in fact turned out to be our first lady orchids Orchis purpurea.

At Pesquera we followed a small path through fallow fields to the riverine forest along the banks of the Ebro, spotting Saxifraga cuneata on a garden wall, alexanders Smyrnium olusatrum, the birthwort Aristolochia longa, wild jasmine Jasminum fruticans and barberry Berberis vulgaris along the path, and shepherd's-needle Scandix pecten-veneris, many early spider ophrys, yellow ophrys Ophrys lutea, man orchids Aceras anthropophorum, a few more lady orchids and tassel hyacinths Muscari comosum in the surrounding grasslands. Corn Buntings called from the nearby bushes, a Common Nightingale sang strongly from behind the church, and we also heard Common Cuckoo and Green Woodpecker calling.

Once in the shady gallery forest, we encountered purple toothwort Lathyraea clandestina parasitising the roots of the black poplars, as well as columbine Aquilegia vulgaris, purple gromwell Buglossoides purpurocaerulea, gromwell Lithospermum officinale, wayfaring tree Viburnum lantana, guelder-rose V. opulus, traveller's-joy Clematis vitalba, hop Humulus lupulus and fly honeysuckle Lonicera xylosteum. It was rather difficult to spot birds here, as most were high in the canopy overhead or skulking in the thick marginal vegetation, so we had to rely heavily on song to alert us to what was around: namely Cetti's Warbler, Iberian Chiffchaff, Blackcap (we actually saw both males and females), Firecrest, Long-tailed Tit and a female Pied Flycatcher. Of the expected Golden Orioles (this is usually an excellent site for them), however, we heard not a peep, despite Teresa's rather pathetic attempts to whistle one up, and we had to conclude that they are not partial to pouring rain.

A small clearing beside the forest turned up sawfly ophrys Ophrys tenthredinifera and a few violet limodores Limodorum abortivum, not yet in flower, amid a carpet of hoary rockrose Helianthemum canum and blue aphyllanthes. As the weather was not improving we decided to head back to Pesquera for lunch, where a kindly barmaid took pity on us, enabling us to down liberal quantities of beer, wine and coffee with our picnic.

Having made a quick visit to the impressive mediæval bridge over the Ebro below Pesquera, we then headed for Valdelateja, to explore the other end of the Hoces, at the confluence of the rivers Ebro and Rudrón. Our path took us through Lusitanian oak forest, alive with the calls of Western Bonelli's Warblers and the song of a lone Song Thrush, and on into an area of limestone rockgardens. Plants new to us here included a species of Petrocoptis under an overhang, Nottingham catchfly Silene nutans, the peony Paeonia officinalis, just coming in to flower, the rosaceous Spiraea hypericifolia ssp. obovata, fairy foxglove Erinus alpinus and grape hyacinths Muscari neglectum. The cliffs opposite were stuffed with roosting Griffon Vultures, while a last look at the Ebro turned up a pair of Common Sandpipers at close range.

Thursday 9 May 2002

Alto Campóo/Puerto de Palombera/Ebro Reservoir/Cervatos

Equally depressing weather awaited us when we awoke, so rather than waste a cold day on the botanical delights of the Páramo de La Lora, we headed instead up to Alto Campóo, and the highest point of our journey along the Ebro. Black Kites, Common Buzzards, Montagu's Harriers and White Storks all made frequent appearances on the drive to Reinosa, after which we took the small road which leads west up to the ski station of Brañavieja, surprising at least two Red Deer by the side of the road on the way.

At the top, we had been expecting to drive to the foot of the second ski-lift, only to find the road completely blocked by snow after about a kilometre (and a stranded 4WD bogged down by the road as a warning to all). Tony and Judy - very sensibly - decided to remain in the vehicle, while the rest of us donned all possible layers, gloves and hats before venturing out into the freezing wind for a brisk walk up the road and back, during which not a single bird was seen! The expected spring gentians Gentiana verna and Narcissus asturiensis were obviously buried beneath tens of centimetres of snow, although the margins of the many small streams were adorned with marsh marigolds Caltha palustris.

Here we had been hoping for Rock Thrush, Alpine Accentor and Water Pipit, but had to make do (Teresa, Judy and Tony) with four Red Deer wending their way across the ridge opposite. In an effort to find, at the very least, Water Pipit, we made a quick detour to the less snowy, more sheltered area around the bottom ski-lift, eventually tracking down some rather forlorn-looking individuals huddled in a road-side meadow, with Northern Wheatear and Common Stonechat also in evidence.

Escaping from the weather, we descended via the same road back towards Fontibre, stopping en route to examine a swathe of angel's-tears Narcissus triandrus, where we also found the leaves and seedpods of dog's-tooth-violets Erythronium dens-canis, and - a little further on - the bank beneath a tract of beech forest, which was a colourful display of Irish spurge Euphorbia hyberna, tuberous comfrey Symphytum tuberosum, wood anemone Anemone nemorosa, stinking and green hellebores (Helleborus foetidus and H. viridis), yellow archangel Galeobdolon luteum, and both cowslips and oxlips Primula elatior.

We lunched at Fontibre, beneath a Black-billed Magpies' nest and that of a pair of falcons, most probably Common Kestrels, but the views through the foliage were too poor for certainty, accompanied by the song of Goldcrest and the attentions of a rather wolf-like dog. After lunch, we strolled through what is essentially a poplar plantation down to the 'official' source of the Ebro, on a spring-line, discovering swathes of pale-flowered orchids Orchis pallens, spring squill Scilla verna, Pyrenean snakesheads Fritillaria pyrenaica and Solomon's-seal Polygonatum multiflorum en route, as well as the pink and blue flowers of narrow-leaved lungwort Pulmonaria longifolia. Around the small lake which has formed by the source, we spotted Grey Wagtails and had arm's-length views of a fabulous male Eurasian Bullfinch foraging in the grass, while Cynthia and Caroline also observed a smart male Black Redstart. Common House and Eurasian Crag Martins and Barn Swallows zoomed incessantly over the water.

We then spent much of the afternoon exploring the limestone outcrop of Alto de la Pedraja, just north of the Puerto de Palombera, where we encountered our only Yellowhammer of the trip, as well as numerous Northern Wheatears, Black Redstarts and Common Linnets. The flora here included leafless-stemmed globularia Globularia nudicaulis, the rock-jasmine Androsace villosa, sweet spurge Euphorbia dulcis, horseshoe-vetch Hippocrepis comosa, the white-flowered cinquefoil Potentilla montana, pyramidal bugle Ajuga pyramidalis and spurge-laurel Daphne laureola. Tony spotted a lone burnt-tip orchid Orchis ustulata, but there was unfortunately no sign of the trumpet gentians Gentiana acaulis of previous years.

With a little time in hand, we undertook a quick exploration of the western end of the Ebro Reservoir, where we came across Grey Heron, Little Egret, White Stork, Mallard and Black Kite, before stopping off to examine the erotic gargoyles at the Romanesque church of Cervatos on the way back to the hotel.

Friday 10 May 2002

Hoyos del Tozo/Páramo de la Lora/San Martín de Elines

At last a clear morning, so we headed off without more ado for the Páramo de La Lora, stopping first in the small limestone gorge near Hoyos del Tozo. As we approached the gorge, a male Rock Thrush - the only one of the trip - was spotted, rather incongruously, perched atop a rose bush, but unfortunately, after only brief views, it made its get-away. Within the gorge itself, in warm sunshine for once, we observed a number of perched and flying Griffon Vultures, plus a low Egyptian Vulture and several Red-billed Choughs, as well as a pair of Alpine Choughs, which were distinguished purely by call as they flew across. We all had good views at last of Western Bonelli's Warblers in the Lusitanian oaks, and were regaled by the song of Iberian Chiffchaffs. Plantwise, we turned up a goodly number of early spider ophrys, as well as rock soapwort Saponaria ocymoides and white rockrose Helianthemum apenninum. On walking back to collect the vehicle, Teresa encountered a fine male Subalpine Warbler in the roadside scrub, and managed to show one to Judy too when she caught up with the group.

Our next stop was to take photos of some fine clumps of peonies (the same species as before), where we also had brief views of a Common Whitethroat, and we paused too to examine a Hoopoe sheltering within a ruined stone shelter by the side of the road. Once at Sargentes de la Lora, we started across the páramo in the vehicle, hoping to drive right across to the trig-point at Muñata, high above the Ebro, but the recent torrential rains had made the tracks impassable. Having parked up, Caroline spotted a group of nine rather miserable-looking Greater Ringed Plover by the side of a temporary pool, shoulders hunched against the cool wind that had sprung up; presumably the inclement weather had hindered their northwards migration.

So, we loaded up the lunch and marched north across the páramo, under greying skies but amid brief intervals of sunshine. The dominant scrub here was composed of dwarf juniper Juniperus communis ssp. alpina, Spanish gorse, bearberry Arctostaphylos uva-ursi and Cornish heath Erica vagans, between which protruded tracts of limestone pavement. New to us on the plant front were the delightful lilac-flowered Romulea bulbocodium, the annual rue-leaved saxifrage Saxifraga tridactylites, Montpellier milk-vetch Astragalus monspessulanus, prostrate toadflax Linaria supina a few gone-over wild tulips Tulipa sylvestris ssp. australis, and the candytuft Iberis carnosa, the latter spotted by Cynthia, but we were far more thrilled with the drifts of green-winged, early purple, man and elder-flowered orchids, plus angel's-tears and Pyrenean snakesheads, as well as by the swathes of Barton's orchids Dactylorhiza insularis.

Animal-wise, the commonest bird was undoubtedly the Sky Lark, but Peter's diligent searching of the horizon also turned up Southern Grey Shrike, a Harrier (too distant to say whether Hen or Montagu's), many Griffon Vultures on the lip of the buttress, and an Egyptian Vulture. Closer at hand, the only butterflies on the wing were a few Green Hairstreaks, but compensation was in hand in the form of the handsome red-striped black oil beetle Berberomeloë majalis.

Teresa trekked back to pick up the vehicle, leaving the group to make its way down the buttress to the village of Villota, where she picked them up and whisked them away for a whistle-stop tour of the Romanesque church of San Martín de Elines in the neighbouring village of the same name, during which Peter spotted a Short-toed Eagle, a pale-phase Booted Eagle and a number of Alpine Swifts. Once back at the hotel, Judy, Caroline, Cynthia and Teresa sallied forth once more to spend a pleasant half-hour exploring the 'cave church' of Olleros de Pisuerga, whose origins date from the sixth century.

Saturday 11 May 2002

Return to Bilbao

And so the fortnight came to an end, with the last morning seeing Tony, Peter and Teresa packing the minibus while the others visited the late-Romanesque church attached to the convent itself. The drive back to Bilbao, through pouring rain once more, took us though the Hoces de Bárcena and on to the coast road, but the weather slowed us down so much that we couldn't make the planned stop in Castro Urdiales, instead stopping for coffee in an immaculate motorway service station close to Bilbao.

We said our goodbyes at the airport and went our separate ways: Cynthia and Caroline into Bilbao, to visit the Guggenheim museum, the rest of the group back to the UK, and Teresa the long road home to the Picos de Europa.

Thanks to everyone for being patient and good-natured in the face of several problems on this tour, not least the foul weather which dogged the second week. Notwithstanding, we hope you all enjoyed your fortnight exploring the largely unknown territory crossed by the River Ebro.

© Teresa Farino & Mike Lockwood; May 2002



Pygmy Shrew (Sorex minutus): a shrew in an irrigation channel, rescued by Peter & Teresa outside the Monasterio de la Oliva on 5th, was probably this species, based on external morphology and distribution maps.

Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes): one seen in meadows as we drove down from Alto Campóo on 9th

Rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus): unusually scarce, seen only on 1st, 2nd and 6th

Wild Boar (Sus scrofa): one seen briefly by some of group on 4th.

Red Deer: 2+ by the side of the road up to Alto Campóo on 9th, plus a further 4 seen by Judy, Tony & Teresa once at the top.

Roe Deer: two fine males seen running across fields en route to the Hoces del Ebro on 8th

Spanish Ibex: 4 seen in Ports de Beseit on 29th.


Little Grebe: one in Llobregat Delta, approx. 10 in Ebro Delta on 30th, and one at Alfranca on 4th.

Great Crested Grebe: two in Ebro Delta on 28th and one on 30th.

Great Cormorant: abundant both days in Ebro Delta.

Grey Heron: seen on 8 days, with several hundred pairs nesting at Pitillas this year (5th).

Purple Heron: recorded on 7 days, usually in small numbers.

Cattle Egret: only seen in the lower reaches of the Ebro

Great White Egret: three birds in distance at El Ganxal on the 30th.

Little Egret: cited on 7 days, with breeding noted at Laguna de las Cañas on 7th

Squacco Heron: spotted in Ebro Delta in small numbers on three days.

Black-crowned Night Heron: despite low water levels, the Laguna de las Cañas colony was still present, although much reduced in numbers as compared to previous years, and in emergent vegetation as opposed to tamarisks (7th). Approx. 10 birds seen in breeding colony from hide at Alfranca on 30th.

Little Bittern: two birds being ringed in Llobregat Delta were, surprisingly, the only records for the trip.

Greater Flamingo: eight birds in Llobregat Delta and good numbers (100+) on both days in Ebro Delta.

White Stork: became progressively more abundant towards the upper reaches of the Ebro, seen on all 6 days of the second week, often in some numbers (cf 27 individuals at the entrance to the Bardenas on 6th).

Glossy Ibis: approx.10 birds recorded on 30th from hide overlooking Illa de Buda in Ebro Delta.

Eurasian Spoonbill: a group of 10 birds in the distance at Canal Vell on morning of 30th and one bird flying away at Illa de Buda.

Common Shelduck: eight birds at Salines de Sant Antoni on 30th.

Gadwall: a number of birds noted in Ebro on 30th; two birds at Alfranca on 4th.

Mallard: recorded on 9 days.

Garganey: two males in front of hide in Llobregat Delta.

Northern Shoveler: 2 birds on both days in Ebro Delta.

Red-crested Pochard: apart from the concentrations at the mouth of the Ebro on the 30th (probably around 1,000 individuals), seen only at Pitillas on 5th (a couple of birds).

Osprey: one bird in distance at El Fangar on 28th.

Black Kite: seen on 9 days; the commonest medium-sized raptor spotted from the vehicle during transfers; in the upper reaches of the Ebro we often saw 10 or more individuals per day.

Eurasian Griffon Vulture: seen on 10 days, notably on 29th in the Ports de Beseit, Hoces del Ebro on 8th and around the Páramo de la Lora on 10th

Egyptian Vulture: recorded on 5 days, with particularly fine views of two birds at Los Fayos on 4th, a perched bird towards the end of the Bardenas circuit on 6th, and one in flight (spotted by Peter) in the Hoyos del Tozo gorge on 10th

Short-toed Eagle: seen on four days, including two in the foothills of the Ports de Beseit, an individual perched on a pylon on 7th just after leaving Olite in the rain, and one seen only by Peter while the rest of us were in the church at San Martín de Elines on 10th

Hen Harrier: at least three individuals (two males and a female) seen on 7th, in the Valdegama area as we neared Mave.

Montagu's Harrier: seen only in the upper Ebro, but plentiful here, with around a dozen birds seen quartering arable and scrub on 4 separate days, often from the vehicle.

Eurasian Marsh Harrier: recorded on 6 days, most numerously at Pitillas on 5th, when upwards of 10 individuals were hunting over the reedbed. Curiously on one female in Ebro Delta, but three birds around the barren steppe of Belchite on the 2nd and one at Alfranca on 4th.

Eurasian Sparrowhawk: two birds fly by quickly whilst the group were ascending Tossa de la Reina on 29th.

Common Buzzard: seen only in the upper Ebro, and particularly abundant on 9th in the Alto Campóo area.

Golden Eagle: one bird very near road on evening of 2nd as we returned to Zaragoza.

Bonelli's Eagle: a distant bird in the afternoon on way down from Ports de Beseit on 29th.

Booted Eagle: all birds were pale-phase; two birds around Galacho de Juslibol on 3rd; more abundant in the Upper Ebro, seen at Pitillas on 5th, two during the transfer to Mave on 7th and one by Peter at San Martín de Elines on 10th.

Lesser Kestrel: a number of birds around ruined buildings in Monegros on transfer on Zaragoza on 1st.

Common Kestrel: seen every day except 30th.

Peregrine: definitely seen only on 29th in Ports (two individuals), with a second possible sighting in the Hoyos del Tozo gorge on 10th.

Red-legged Partridge: seen in small numbers on 7 days.

Common Moorhen: recorded on first four days in Llobregat and Ebro deltas.

Purple Gallinule (Swamphen): good numbers in three or four sites in Ebro Delta on 4th.

Common Coot: seen on 8 days.

Black-winged Stilt: most abundant in Lower Ebro, with good numbers seen in both the Llobregat and Ebro deltas, three individuals seen at the entrance to the Bardenas on 6th and a couple during lunch at the Soto de Buicio on 7th

Pied Avocet: around 30 birds at Salines de Sant Antoni on 30th.

Collared Pratincole: two in front of hide in Llobregat Delta and four more on 30th in Ebro Delta.

Stone-curlew: heard only by Teresa during a stop on the Bardenas circuit on 6th.

Lapwing: four individuals seen at the Laguna de las Cañas on 7th

Grey Plover: only 4 individuals seen during the trip; 1 on 28th and 2 on 30th in the Ebro Delta, plus a lone bird on 7th at the Laguna de las Cañas.

Greater Ringed Plover: bands of some 10 individuals seen on 28th and 30th in the Ebro Delta (as one might expect), plus an incongruous group of 9 by a temporary pool on the Páramo de la Lora on 10th.

Kentish Plover: abundant in Ebro Delta on both days.

Bar-tailed Godwit: one bird at El Fangar on 28th.

Whimbrel: two birds at El Fangar on 28th.

Spotted Redshank: common around Ebro Delta on 28th.

Common Redshank: seen on 5 days, mainly in the Ebro Delta (up to 20 individuals per day), with 5 at the Galacho de la Alfranca on 4th and a lone bird during lunch at the reedy pool in the Bardenas on 6th

Common Greenshank: relatively abundant on both days in Ebro Delta.

Wood Sandpiper: four in front of hide at Llobregat Delta; various individuals on both days in Ebro Delta.

Common Sandpiper: seen on 5 days, with Peter spotting single birds during lunch on both 6th (Bardenas) and 7th (Soto de Buicio).

Turnstone: six at El Fangar on 28th.

Common Snipe: singles seen in air on both 27th and 30th.

Sanderling: abundant in Ebro Delta on both days.

Little Stint: abundant in Ebro Delta on both days.

Dunlin: one bird at Salines de Sant Antoni on 30th.

Curlew Sandpiper: a group of 10 at El Fangar on the 28th.

Audouin's Gull: seen on three days in numerous small groups throughout Ebro Delta

Yellow-legged Gull: good numbers in the Llobregat Delta on 27th (some 500 birds), also seen in the Ebro Delta.

Black-headed Gull: abundant in Ebro Delta.

Slender-billed Gull: especially abundant at El Fangar on 28th; also seen on 30th.

Whiskered Tern: abundant throughout Ebro Delta: the commonest tern.

White-winged Black Tern: one bird in non-breeding plumage amongst Whiskered Terns at El Ganxal on 30th.

Gull-billed Tern: frequent throughout Ebro Delta.

Caspian Tern: at least one bird amongst gulls at Salines de Sant Antoni on 30th.

Sandwich Tern: common in Ebro Delta.

Common Tern: common in Ebro Delta.

Little Tern: common in Ebro Delta.

Pin-tailed Sandgrouse: two birds flying away in Belchite on 2nd.

Black-bellied Sandgrouse: seven birds disturbed next to track in Monegros on 1st.

Feral Pigeon: recorded almost every day.

Wood Pigeon: seen on 6 days, but only in ones and twos, except for a flight of around a dozen which crossed the road on 10th as we drove home along the Ebro valley below La Lora.

European Turtle Dove: again, recorded 6 days, generally in small numbers.

Eurasian Collared Dove: seen on 10 days; widespread and fairly abundant.

Monk Parakeet: at least 10 birds in Llobregat Delta.

Common Cuckoo: seen or heard on 7 days, particularly in the Upper Ebro, with a bird on a wire on the way up to Alto Campóo on 9th

Little Owl: one bird in Monegros on 1st.

Alpine Swift: recorded only on three days; at Belchite on 2nd, and by Peter on 5th and 10th

Common Swift: recorded every day.

European Bee-eater: cited on 9 days; most abundant in the Lower Ebro in migrating groups on 29th, 30th and 1st.

Hoopoe: seen on 11 days, often at close range (for example, the bird in a stone shelter on the Páramo de la Lora on 10th)

Wryneck: one bird heard in Alfranca on 3rd.

Green Woodpecker: only two individuals cited, on 28th in the Ebro Delta and heard on 8th in the Hoces del Ebro.

Calandra Lark: seen on three occasions, as expected, in the steppe habitats of the Monegros (1st), Belchite (2nd) and the Bardenas Reales (6th).

Greater Short-toed Lark: one singing in Ebro Delta on 30th and two singing in Belchite on 2nd.

Lesser Short-toed Lark: fairly common in Ebro Delta behind the beach at El Fangar and very common in Belchite.

Dupont's Lark: one bird seen reasonably well by Peter at La Lomaza in Belchite plus a number of others heard singing in the same area.

Crested Lark: seen on 8 days; the commonest lark in arable and low scrub in the central reaches of the Ebro.

Thekla Lark: much scarcer than Crested Lark, and coinciding in distribution with the Calandra Lark.

Sky Lark: seen on 5 days, in far greatest numbers on the Páramo de La Lora (10th), where their song was almost deafening.

European Sand Martin: recorded 6 days, in greatest numbers at the Galachos de La Alfranca on 4th

Eurasian Crag Martin: seen on 7 days, wherever suitable nesting habitat was available.

Barn Swallow: seen every day, often in large numbers.

Common House Martin: seen almost every day, again often in large 'flocks'.

Yellow Wagtail: seen on 3 occasions: lone individuals in the Ebro Delta on both 28th and 30th, plus more than half a dozen birds around the margins of Pitillas on 5th, which were well viewed by all members of the group.

White Wagtail: small numbers seen on 9 days; actually breeding in the roof of the convent at Mave.

Grey Wagtail: seen only in the Upper Ebro, on all days from 7th onwards.

Tawny Pipit: two birds seen well on 1st in Monegros, but probably best views towards the Bardenas circuit, when a perched, singing bird only 20 yards away was 'scoped'.

Tree Pipit: recorded only on the approach to Mave near Valdegama, on the evening of the 7th, when a bird was seen repeatedly parachuting down to the top of a Pyrenean oak by the side of the road.

Meadow Pipit: a small flock in the fields near Valdegama was the only observation of this species.

Richard's Pipit: only a possible: a mystery pipit was seen poorly (through van windscreen) on first afternoon in Ebro Delta and bore a certain resemblance to Richard's pipit.

Water Pipit: despite very late snow in the heights of Alto Campóo, and near-Arctic conditions, most of us had reasonable views.

Southern Grey Shrike: only seen in the Upper Ebro, with best views in the Bardenas Reales on 6th.

Woodchat Shrike: cited on three occasions (single birds), in the Ports on 29th, Ebro Delta on 30th and to the east of Olite on 5th.

Winter Wren: heard in the Ports on 29th, but most abundant in the Upper Ebro, particularly in the Hoces del Ebro (8th), Fontibre (9th) and Hoyos del Tozo (10th).

Hedge Accentor (Dunnock): one bird spotted next to Sanctuary in the Moncayo on transfer to Olite.

Rock Thrush: just a single observation, of a male bird perched rather atypically atop a rose-bush en route to the Hoyos del Tozo on 10th.

Blue Rock Thrush: two birds seen on morning of 29th in foothills of the Ports de Beseit, one bird in the ruins of Old Belchite on 2nd and another bird at Los Fayos in the afternoon of 4th.

Common Blackbird: seen on 6 days; most abundant in the Upper Ebro.

Song Thrush: heard only on two days: around the Hoces del Ebro on 8th and at Fontibre on 9th

Mistle Thrush: two sightings only; a lone bird at Juslibol on 3rd and three individuals near the Ebro Reservoir on 9th

European Robin: again most in evidence in the Upper Ebro, but cited only on 4 days.

Common Nightingale: heard on 7 days, particularly during lunches on 5th (Río Aragón) and 7th (Soto de Buicio), where we were serenaded at close quarters.

Black Redstart: recorded on 7 days, in small numbers, with breeding confirmed in the roof of the convent at Mave.

Whinchat: a female bird in the Ebro Delta on 28th, and a male near Pitillas on 5th.

Common Stonechat: seen only in the Upper Ebro, but then extremely abundant on all 6 days.

Black Wheatear: a pair approaching nest to feed young at Juslibol on 1st and one bird in Miravet castle, plus a smart chocolate-brown female spotted by Ruth and Cynthia on the cliffs behind the Soto de Buicio.

Northern Wheatear: one of the more versatile birds of the trip, recorded on 10 days all along the route, but particularly abundant in the upland areas of the Upper Ebro.

Black-eared Wheatear: cited on 5 days, with a smart pair in the Bardenas Reales on 6th and another just after leaving Olite on 7th.

Bearded Tit: recorded only at Pitillas on 5th, but in some numbers; especially good views of a single bird from the hide.

Fan-tailed Warbler: seen or heard on 5 days in a variety of habitats, ranging from the Llobregat and Ebro deltas to the vineyards near the Soto de Buicio.

Cetti's Warbler: heard on 9 days, in marginal vegetation of watercourses all along the Ebro valley.

Savi's Warbler: one bird reeling at lunch on the 30th in Ebro Delta.

Reed Warbler: heard on 3 occasions, in the Ebro Delta on 28th and 30th, and at Pitillas on 5th.

Great Reed Warbler: recorded only in the Ebro Delta on 28th and at lunch by the reedy pool in the Bardenas Reales on 6th.

Willow Warbler: two birds recorded along path to mirador over Canal Vell on morning of 30

Iberian Chiffchaff: recorded only in the Upper Ebro, in the Hoces del Ebro on 8th, Fontibre on 9th and the Hoyos del Tozo gorge on 10th.

Western Bonelli's Warbler: again cited only in the Upper Ebro: heard in the Hoces del Ebro near Valdelateja on 9th and seen by most of us in the Hoyos del Tozo gorge on 10th.

Blackcap: recorded on 5 days, but most abundant in the Upper Ebro, particularly in the Hoces del Ebro on 8th.

Common Whitethroat: one being ringed in the Llobregat Delta on 27th, one seen by Cynthia near Valdegama on 7th and one or two individuals in the southern part of the Páramo de la Lora on 10th.

Orphean Warbler: only heard by Mike in distance at limestone outcrop on way home from Belchite on 2nd.

Sardinian Warbler: very common in foothills of Ports de Beseit on 29th.

Subalpine Warbler: not recorded from the Monegros this year, but several males seen at close range in the Hoyos del Tozo gorge by Judy and Teresa on 10th.

Spectacled Warbler: good views of bird singing near ruined building in Monegros on transfer to Zaragoza.

Dartford Warbler: recorded on just two occasions: at limestone outcrop on way home from Belchite on 2nd and 5+ individuals at various points on the Bardenas Reales circuit on 6th.

Firecrest: two birds heard and one seen well by Peter in Ports de Beseit, and also heard in the Hoces del Ebro on 8th

Goldcrest: the only record of the trip was a bird singing at Fontibre on 9th.

Spotted Flycatcher: two birds seen on Moncayo on 4th.

European Pied Flycatcher: recorded in small numbers on 8 days all along the Ebro valley - still on migration.

Long-tailed Tit: a group of three in Ports de Beseit on 29th.

Penduline Tit: despite José Luis staking out a nest at the Galacho de la Alfranca, windy conditions meant that the birds were heard but not seen on this occasion; also heard along the Río Aragón during lunch on 5th, and Caroline possibly saw one at the Soto de Buicio on 7th.

Coal Tit: heard on 3 occasions: in the Ports on 29th, at El Moncayo on 4th and in the beechwoods below Alto Campóo on 9th.

Great Tit: seen or heard on 7 days, in the middle and upper reaches of the Ebro.

Blue Tit: not seen until 7th May, when recorded at the Soto de Buicio; also in the Hoces del Ebro on 8th.

Short-toed Treecreeper: a bird heard and seen in Juslibol on 3rd; also heard in the Hoces del Ebro near Valdelateja on 8th.

Eurasian Jay: recorded on just two days, at El Moncayo on 4th and around the Hoces del Ebro on 8th, when it was heard only.

Black-billed Magpie: seen on 10 days, all along the Ebro, with a nest above our heads during lunch at Fontibre on 9th

Red-billed Chough: recorded on 8 days, first in the Ports on 29th and then regularly wherever suitable breeding habitat occurred right through to the Páramo de la Lora on 10th, when a flock of 49 was seen.

Alpine Chough: recorded only in the Hoyos del Tozo gorge on 10th, when a flying pair was distinguished by call.

Eurasian Jackdaw: recorded on 5 days, but surprisingly scarce.

Carrion Crow: seen on 7 days, most abundantly in arable habitats in the Upper Ebro, when it was seen every day.

Common Raven: cited on 8 days, with 4 in the Ports on 29th.

Golden Oriole: disappointingly scarce, given the suitable habitat available; heard only on 4th at Alfranca, on 7th at the Soto de Buicio, where Judy claims a male flying across the vineyard, and on 10th in the Hoces del Ebro.

Spotless Starling: one of the most abundant birds of the trip, seen every day, with breeding noted in the roof of the convent at Mave.

Corn Bunting: apparently more commonplace in the Upper Ebro, when it was seen 5 of the 6 days, but also heard in the Ports on 29th and in the Ebro Delta on 30th

Yellowhammer: recorded only at the Puerto de Palombera on 9th, when a lone male was spotted (and heard calling).

Rock Bunting: seen on 5 days: in the Ports on 29th, in Belchite on 2nd, near Pitillas on 5th, in the Alto Campóo valley on 9th and in the Hoyos del Tozo gorge on 10th.

Cirl Bunting: seen only in the Upper Ebro, with smart males spotted by Cynthia and Teresa at Soto de Buicio, and by Caroline & Teresa near Valdegama, both on 7th, and also in the Hoyos del Tozo area on 10th.

Common Chaffinch: surprisingly uncommon and recorded in small numbers on 6 days in the more vegetated habitats.

European Serin: very abundant all along the Ebro valley; seen on 11 days.

European Greenfinch: common in and around Ebro Delta and Ports de Beseit.

European Goldfinch: likes the European Serin, with which it often associates, very common all along the Ebro valley; cited on 12 days.

Common Linnet: again, abundant throughout; recorded on 11 days.

Common Crossbill: two birds seen at Sanctuary del Moncayo.

Eurasian Bullfinch: recorded only on 9th at Fontibre, when we all had prolonged close-up vies of a male foraging by a picnic table.

House Sparrow: abundant and seen almost every day.

Eurasian Tree Sparrow: recorded on 4 days: in the Ebro Delta on 28th and 30th, at El Moncayo on 4th and around the hide at Pitillas on 5th.

Rock Sparrow: three birds recorded at Miravet castle on 1stand three more at Juslibol two days later.

Amphibians and Reptiles

Iberian Pool Frog: heard along the River Aragón during lunch on 5th and by the reedy pool in the Bardenas Reales on 6th.

Large Psammodromus: two individuals low down in the Ports de Beseit on 29th.

Common Wall Lizard: one individual up high in Moncayo on transfer to Olite.

Spiny-footed Lizard:

Red-eared Slider (Florida Terrapin): a couple of this unwanted species at Juslibol.

Viperine Snake: a dead snake in Ebro Delta on afternoon of 28th.


Swallowtail: recorded on 4 days.

Small White: recorded on 2nd and 4th

Bath White: cited on 3 days, only during the first week

Moroccan Orange Tip: recorded on in Ports on 29th and to the east of Olite on 5th

Clouded Yellow: only seen on two days; again, 29th and 5th

Wood White: seen only in the Ports on 29th

Brown Argus: one butterfly spotted by Tony in Llobregat Delta.

Panoptes Blue: recorded in the Ports on 29th and abundantly around Pitillas on 5th

Adonis Blue: both males and females near Pitillas on 5th, but seen only by Teresa

Common Blue: cited on 27th and 5th only, although in some numbers at Pitillas.

Red Admiral: recorded on 3 days in the first week

Painted Lady: seen only on 29th in the Ports

Western Marbled White: recorded at Belchite on 2nd and near Pitillas on 5th, a posed specimen providing good photographic opportunities.

de Prunner's Ringlet: noted only in Ports on 29th.

Speckled Wood: recorded on 4 days

Wall Brown: again, recorded only in Ports and at Pitillas, on 29th and 5th respectively.

Large Wall Brown: seen only in the Ports on 29th

Marbled Skipper: Mike and Judy had good views at La Lomaza on 2nd.

Other Invertebrates:

Red-veined Darter (Sympetrum fonscolombi): a number on Llobregat Delta.

Black-tailed Skimmer (Orthetrum cancellatum): a mating pair behind beach at El Garxal on 30th

Hoplia caerulea: a number of males in Ebro Delta on 30th.

Churchyard Beetle (Blaps mucronata): dead individual found near Pitillas on 5th, followed by a live beast on 7th.

Berberomeloë majalis: several of these red-and-black-striped oil beetles seen on the Páramo de la Lora on 10th

Scolopendra cingulata (centipede): one found by Enrique under stone on steppe at Juslibol on 3rd.

Lycosa fasciventris: one dead specimen found by Enrique under stone on steppe at Juslibol on 3rd.

Selected Plants:


Rosy Garlic

Allium roseum

Blue Aphyllanthes

Aphyllanthes monspeliensis

Common Asphodel

Asphodelus aestivus

White Asphodel

Asphodelus albus

Hollow-stemmed Asphodel

Asphodelus fistulosus


Dipcadi serotinum

Dog's-tooth Violet

Erythronium dens-canis

Pyrenean Snakeshead

Fritillaria pyrenaica

Tassel Hyacinth

Muscari comosum

Common Grape Hyacinth

Muscari neglectum

Solomon's Seal

Polygonatum multiflorum

Butcher's Broom

Ruscus aculeatus

Spring Squill

Scilla verna

Wild Tulip

Tulipa sylvestris ssp. australis



Narcissus triandrus

Sea Daffodil (leaves)

Pancratium maritimum


Wild Gladiolus

Gladiolus illyricus

Yellow Flag

Iris pseudacorus

Romulea bulbocodium


Man Orchid

Aceras anthropophorum

White Helleborine

Cephalanthera damasonium

Sword-leaved Helleborine

Cephalanthera longifolia

Barton's Orchid

Dactylorhiza insularis

Elder-flowered Orchid

Dactylorhiza sambucina

Lizard Orchid

Himantoglossum hircinum

Violet Limodore

Limodorum abortivum

Yellow Bee Orchid

Ophrys lutea

Mirror Orchid

Ophrys ciliata

Early Spider Orchid

Ophrys sphegodes

Sa wfly Orchid

Ophrys tenthredinifera

Early Purple Orchid

Orchis mascula

Green-winged Orchid

Orchis morio

Pale-flowered Orchid

Orchis pallens

Lady Orchid

Orchis purpurea

Burnt-tip Orchid

Orchis ustulata

Large Tongue Orchid

Serapias cordigera

© The Travelling Naturalist 2002