TRAVELLING NATURALIST TRIP REPORT

Northern Spain

29th November - 5th December 2003


Leaders:
Keith Grant

John Muddeman

Daily Diary:

Saturday 29th November Arrival

Sunny & warm.

We arrived in Barcelona slightly ahead of time and, once we'd found the correct baggage hall (!), we met up with John who'd flown in from Madrid earlier. We picked up the minibuses, loaded our bags and set off for Huesca and Loarre. A fairly long journey, with a coffee break halfway and a slight detour round a road accident, brought us to Loarre slightly later than expected but still in good time for dinner.

Sunday 30th November Riglos, Sotenera & Vadiello

Fog at Riglos, then brightening, though still overcast at Vadiello.

We emerged from an 8am breakfast to find the weather overcast and damp as we headed off from Loarre. Stopping just below the village to watch a Red Kite sitting on a pole, we found good numbers of small birds around the field, including Cirl Buntings, White Wagtails, Meadow Pipits, and a Sardinian Warbler in the hedgerow. We moved on to Riglos and as we approached, we suddenly realised that we were surrounded by about 60 Griffon Vultures sitting on the roadside and slopes. The cloud base was low here and gradually they took off across the valley, though we did have excellent views of one sitting right on the roadside. We parked and walked up through the village to the church. Here, a Wallcreeper immediately showed well at the base of the pinnacles, and a male Blue Rock Thrush was found. Most of us walked round the track, but very quickly, the fog rose from the valley below and quickly enveloped us. The several Alpine Accentors we were watching were lost to view so we decided to change plans and, once back to the vehicles, to head back to the Huesca area in order to get under the cloud-base. This was a good decision and we were soon at Lupeñén where we found seven Little Owls in view at once. Several Hen Harriers were quartering the roadside fields, and there were many Buzzards and a few Red Kites. Overlooking the Embalse de la Sotonera, we found several Great Crested Grebes and several hundred Teal way off in the distance. A Marsh Harrier drifted over and distant bugling heralded the arrival of several flocks of Common Cranes which flew right over us. A Golden Eagle flew right overhead just before lunch at the dam itself in warm sunshine. We then round the corner to check a dry slope by a ruined farmstead. There was a brief view of a Black Redstart, several Stonechats and brief views of Dartford Warblers. Several Red-legged Partridges were flushes by a hunter before we decided to head back towards Huesca. Checking on the weather towards the Pyrenees, it looked better so we decided to head for Loporzano and the Embalse de Vadiello. Stopping to check a group of Griffon Vultures circling overhead, we realised that a Thekla Lark was perched near the road calling. At Vadiello, there were many Griffons coming into roost on the cliff ledges, a Wallcreeper on the dam itself and, right in the distance, a Lammergeier and various Alpine Choughs. We stopped briefly at dusk, at a gorge near Loporzano, to check for Eagle Owl. Though one called briefly in the distance, it didn't come into view so we headed back to the hotel in time for checklist and dinner.

Monday 1st December Riglos & San Juan de la Peña

Mixed sunshine & cloud, chilly.

After our usual 8am breakfast, we headed for Riglos again. Clouds had lifted after torrential rain overnight and the day looked much brighter, though decidedly chilly. A Peregrine appeared as we parked the vehicles and soared round the cliff face. A long fast dive right across in front of us was spectacular, but resulted in no catch, so he returned to the cliff and perched for some time. We walked through the village below the church and overlooked the grassy slopes, immediately finding Alpine Accentors. Then, walking a short way up the slope we realised that a Wallcreeper was very low on the rock face in front of us - giving excellent views for everyone. Moving on, we had a brief stop at the Embalse de la Peña where Crag Martins were very distant and Great Crested Grebes much closer. The small fields where we turned off the main road held Cirl Buntings and a nice Hawfinch. Working our way slowly along the minor road towards Peña, we stopped at various points, finding Rock Buntings, Bullfinch, another Peregrine, several Ravens, and Red-legged Partridges 'legged' it into the scrub & out of sight. An area of reed and wet scrub held at least one singing Cetti's Warbler. We had lunch at the Monastery, listening to Crested Tits and watching Griffons flying over. We walked up to the balcón for a stunning vista to the mountains laid out before us and many Griffons gliding across the valley below us. Walking back through the wood, we found Crested Tits, Coal Tits, Short-toed Treecreepers and Nuthatches. Finally, there was a large flock of Fieldfare and Redwings as we returned down the ridge, heading for home at dusk.

Tuesday 2nd December Sariñena, Bujaraloz & on to Daroca

Mainly sunny, cloudy spells, chilly

We had a light dusting of snow on the ridge above Loarre overnight, but the day dawned cold and sunny. We duly packed the vehicles and bade farewell to Loarre. Bypassing Huesca, we turned south and headed for Sariñena. We had a brief stop to overlook some rice fields, finding a lone White Stork and also several Brambling and Yellowhammers amongst the flocks of small birds. The interpretation centre at the Laguna de Sariñena was open when we arrived and we were given a number of leaflets. The several hundred ducks on the lagoon included Mallard, Teal, Pochard and Shoveler. Several Greylag Geese were also visible, and we added Coot to our list. Buzzard and Marsh Harriers showed well as they hunted the fields just below us. We headed on to Bujaraloz and explored the steppes to the south, heading off along a series of dirt roads and finding flocks of Red-billed Choughs on the fields. We stopped for our picnic lunch sheltered from the breeze by a small farm building. As we finished, a distant flock of Pin-tailed Sandgrouse flew back and forth over the fields. Several Black-bellied Sandgrouse then joined them and as they all landed, they were, of course, in dead ground as far as possible from any approach road! Flocks of larks included Skylarks, Calandra Larks and Lesser Short-toed Larks. We saw several Golden Eagles, including one perched on a rock pile. Time was getting on so we continued on via Escatrón, Azaila and Belchite. Near the latter we found two Black Wheatears and one of very few Black Redstarts this trip. A superb Red Kite circled overhead, followed by a Sparrowhawk. This was our final stop before heading on to Cariñena and arriving in Daroca in the late afternoon, allowing some to walk round the old town before dark.

Wednesday 3rd December Gallocanta and surrounding area

Mixed sun & cloud, cold breeze.

We headed for Gallocanta straight after breakfast, and realised that the laguna was fairly full of water. Looking over the western part of the lagoon from the outskirts of Gallocanta village, we watched a number of Common Cranes feeding on the fields below us. Several Greylag Geese flew in and there was a distant Curlew and several small 'calidrids' (probably Little Stints, though distance precluded a positive identification). A superb Southern Grey Shrike posed near us, and a Green Woodpecker flew in and perched on a nearby tree. Whilst watching that, both Stonechat and Dartford Warbler appeared, and a very close Corn Bunting. We headed along the northern shore, watching flocks of Cranes and several Hen Harriers. A Merlin perched on a stone pile before flying off. The interpretation centre was interesting and directed us to the café in the nearby village of Tornos, after which we headed on to the southern shore and explored the farm tracks here. We had our picnic lunch near the tower hide, from which we saw a Spotted Redshank feeding along the near shore and the flocks of ducks included several Wigeon. There was a very nice flock of Tree Sparrows near the next village, Las Cuerlas. We then headed back to Bello and out towards Odón. Walking a short distance across a stony area, we found Thekla Larks and several Choughs flew overhead. We then headed back to Gallocanta for a quick cup of coffee before going to the Ermita for dusk. Once we'd pushed ourselves out of a muddy track (!), and headed round a short detour (!), we parked up next to the ermita to await the dusk flight of Cranes. We could see good numbers in the fields feeding veraciously, but there were very few flying in to roost. We gave up just before dusk and headed back to the hotel.

Thursday 4th December Belchite & El Planerón reserve

Sunny, some cloud, less chilly.

We headed off after breakfast direct to Belchite and then on to the El Planerón reserve. A water hole near Codo held a Water Rail briefly as we passed, though the first bus didn't see it and it disappeared immediately into the vegetation. The 'duck pond' at Codo itself held Moorhen and several Cormorants. We had pulled off the road on to the correct track and stopped to check through a large lark flock when we realised that on the other side was a large flock of Pin-tailed Sandgrouse. With the sun and wind behind us, all the birds were facing us and we had really excellent views in the bright light. Several Black-bellied Sandgrouse were also in this field but slightly separate from the main flock. These kept well down so were quite difficult, but then another Black-bellied Sandgrouse called and flew over us to land in the field with the others. We eventually moved on to park by El Planerón reserve and walked out along the sandy track. Careful searching found Lesser Short-toed Larks, Meadow Pipits and Thekla Larks. Then a large lark was spotted running ahead of us - Dupont's! But as they always do, it promptly disappeared amongst the tussocks. More searching, and several more Dupont's Larks were flushed but only very brief views were obtained. On our way back, one was flushed and landed almost immediately. A quick encircling action prevented it running off and we all had exceptional views as it ran from tussock to tussock just in front of us. This bird was very well marked with pale feather edging indicating it to be an immature bird, which might explain the relative ease we found it. It ultimately ran to the edge of the tussocks and flew into an open field with cereal just sprouting. Even here it managed to run and hide in the slight furrows, but most did get good views through the telescopes. An excellent bird which gave both John and I our best ever views of the species.

We headed back to Belchite, stopping for a Hen Harrier eating prey in the 'sandgrouse field'. We had lunch near Belchite, then spent an hour exploring the ruins. The town was shelled and bombed to oblivion during the Spanish Civil War and the ruins now remain a national monument. We headed back during the mid-afternoon to allow people time to explore Daroca itself.

Friday 5th December Departure

Mixed sunshine & cloud.

We packed the vehicles and bade farewell to our friends at the posada in Daroca. We made several rest stops on our way back to Barcelona, stopping for lunch at one of the motorway service areas. Here we had brief views of our final species for the week, a Goshawk, which circled over a nearby hillside. Arriving at Barcelona Airport, we found the departure area absolutely packed as this weekend was a national holiday. However, after various long queues for check-in and security, we all duly arrived at our departure gate, and completed our journey back to London in good time.

Species Lists:

The various species lists below use the following references:

Birds: We use the suggested worldwide English names and systematic order as found in World Bird Species Checklist: with alternate English & scientific names (Wells, M.G., 1998).

Mammals: Collins Field Guide, Mammals of Britain & Europe (Macdonald, D. & Barrett, P., 1995).

Amphibians & Reptiles: Collins Field Guide, Reptiles & Amphibians, Britain & Europe, 2nd edition, (Arnold, N. & Ovenden, D., 2002).

Butterflies: Collins Field Guide, Butterflies of Britain & Europe (Tolman, T. & Lewington, R., 1997).

Dragonflies & Damselflies: The Dragonflies of Europe (Askew, R. R., 1988).

BIRDS:

Great Crested Grebe: Noted on 2 days with several at Sotonera on 30th, 4 at Embalse de la Peña on 1st.

Great Cormorant: Noted most days, maximum count was c.50 at Sotonera on 30th.

Grey Heron: Noted on 4 days, maximum count was c.20 at Sariñena on 2nd.

Cattle Egret: Noted on 2 days with 5 at Sariñena on 2nd, 1 near Codo on 4th.

Great [White] Egret: Noted only on 29th when 1 flew over road.

Little Egret: Noted only on 29th when 1 seen alongside river outside Barcelona.

White Stork: Noted on 2 days with 3 circling over the motorway near Huesca on 30th (plus lots of others distantly), 1 at Sariñena on 2nd.

Greylag Goose: Noted on 2 days with 10 at Sariñena on 2nd, 15 Gallocanta on 3rd.

Common Shelduck: c.30 at Gallocanta on 3rd.

Eurasian Wigeon: 9+ at Gallocanta on 3rd.

Eurasian/Common Teal: Noted on 2 days with c.200 at Sotonera on 30th, 100+ at Sariñena on 2nd.

Mallard: Noted on 3 days, maximum count c.70 at Sotonera on 30th.

Northern Shoveler: 50+ at Sariñena on 2nd.

Common Pochard: c.30 at Sariñena on 2nd.

Red Kite: Noted most days, maximum count c.25 during day on 2nd.

[Eurasian] Griffon Vulture: Noted on 4 days with several hundred at Riglos & Vadiello on 30th, hundreds at Riglos & San Juan de la Peña on 1st, c.15 Gallocanta area on 3rd, 2 Daroca on 4th.

Lammergeier / Bearded Vulture: Noted only on 30th when 1 distantly at Vadiello.

Hen Harrier: Noted on 4 days with at least 4 at Sotonera on 30th, 1 at Sariñena on 2nd, 3+ Gallocanta area on 3rd, 1 on 4th.

[Eurasian] Marsh Harrier: Noted on 4 days with 2 at Sotonera on 30th, c.10 during day on 2nd, 3+ Gallocanta area on 3rd, 4 on 4th.

Northern Goshawk: 1 en route on 5th.

Eurasian Sparrowhawk: Noted most days with 1 on 30th, 5 on 1st, 4 during day on 2nd, 1 Bello on 3rd, 1 on 4th.

Common Buzzard: Noted most days, maximum count c.20 on 30th.

Golden Eagle: Noted on 4 days; 1 flew over Sotonera plus another near Huesca on 30th, 2 San Juan de la Peña on 1st, 1 or 2 at Sariñena on 2nd, 1 Gallocanta area on 3rd.

Common/Eurasian Kestrel: Noted most days.

Merlin: 1 in Gallocanta area on 3rd.

Peregrine Falcon: Noted on 2 days with single birds at Riglos & Vadiello on 30th, 2 on 1st.

Red-legged Partridge: Noted on 4 days with at least 7 at Sotonera on 30th, 5 on 1st, 6 flew off from roadside on 2nd, 4 Gallocanta area on 3rd.

Common Crane: Noted on 2 days with c.80 in 3-4 groups in Sotonera area on 30th, several thousand Gallocanta area on 3rd.

Water Rail: 1 near Codo on 4th.

Common Moorhen: 1 at Codo on 4th.

Eurasian/Common Coot: c.40 at Sariñena on 2nd.

Northern Lapwing: Noted on 3 days with several at Barcelona airport on 29th, several hundred on fields north of Sariñena on 2nd, c.12 Gallocanta area on 3rd.

European Golden Plover: c.20 with Lapwing on 2nd.

Eurasian Curlew: 3 on Gallocanta lagoon on 3rd.

Spotted Redshank: 1 on Gallocanta lagoon on 3rd.

Common Sandpiper: 2 at Sotonera on 30th.

Little Stint: 5 small shorebirds at Gallocanta lagoon on 3rd were probably this species.

Yellow-legged Gull: Noted on 3 days with several at Sotonera on 30th, heard on 1st, several on 2nd.

Black-headed Gull: Noted on 3 days; on 29th, c.20 at Sariñena on 2nd, c.5 Gallocanta area on 3rd.

Pin-tailed Sandgrouse: Noted on 2 days with c.20 distantly on 2nd, c.200 on 4th.

Black-bellied Sandgrouse: Noted on 2 days with 3 distantly on 2nd, c.10 on 4th.

Rock Dove / Feral Pigeon: Noted most days.

[Common] Wood Pigeon: Noted on 3 days with a few en route on 29th, 4 on 30th, 2 en route on 5th.

Eurasian Collared Dove: Noted each day.

Eurasian Eagle Owl: Heard distantly near Loporzano on 30th.

Little Owl: Noted on 3 days with 7 at Lupiñén plus another on 30th, 2 during day on 2nd, c.5 in Gallocanta area on 3rd.

Long-eared or Short-eared Owl: 1 in headlights as we approached Loarre on 29th was one of these species.

Common Kingfisher: 1 briefly near Codo on 4th.

Great Spotted Woodpecker: Several noted on 1st.

Black Woodpecker: Heard below the balcón at San Juan de la Peña on 1st.

Green Woodpecker: Noted on 2 days with 1 near Riglos on 30th, 1 Gallocanta area on 3rd.

Calandra Lark: Noted on 3 days with 100+ on 2nd, c.100 Gallocanta area on 3rd, c.200 on 4th.

Lesser Short-toed Lark: Noted on 2 days with 2 on 2nd, c.20 on 4th.

Dupont's Lark: At least 4 at El Planerón on 4th.

Crested Lark: Noted on 4 days, 30th & 2nd - 4th.

Thekla Lark: Noted on 3 days with 1 on 30th, 2 Gallocanta area on 3rd, a pair El Planerón on 4th.

[Eurasian/Common] Sky Lark: Noted on 4 days, 30th & 2nd - 4th.

[Eurasian] Crag Martin: c.6 noted at Embalse de la Peña on 1st.

Grey Wagtail: Noted on 2 days with several on 30th & 1st.

White Wagtail: Noted most days.

Meadow Pipit: Noted on 4 days, 30th & 2nd, - 4th.

Southern Grey Shrike: Noted on 4 days with at least 5 along roadside on 30th, 6+ during day on 2nd, c.10 Gallocanta area on 3rd, c.6 on 4th.

[Winter] Wren: Noted on 2 days with several on 30th, heard on 1st.

Alpine Accentor: Noted on 2 days with up to 9 at Riglos on 30th & 1st.

Dunnock / Hedge Accentor: Noted on 2 days at Riglos on 30th & 1st.

Blue Rock Thrush: Noted on 3 days with 2 at Riglos on 30th, 1 male again at Riglos on 1st, and a female at Belchite on 4th.

Common Blackbird: Noted on 3 days, 30th, 1st, & 2nd.

Fieldfare: c.25 noted near San Juan de la Peña on 1st.

Redwing: Noted on 2 days with calls heard near Riglos on 30th, and c.10 near San Juan de la Peña on 1st.

Song Thrush: Noted on 3 days, 30th, 1st, & 4th.

Mistle Thrush: Noted on 3 days, with several on 1st, 2 in Gallocanta area on 3rd, 1 on 4th.

European Robin: Noted on 3 days, 30th, 1st, & 2nd.

Black Redstart: Noted most days though only single birds seen, c.4 seen at Belchite on 4th.

Common Stonechat: Noted on 4 days with several on 30th, 2 on roadside on 2nd, several in Gallocanta area on 3rd, several on 4th.

Black Wheatear: Noted on 2 days with 2 near the refuse tip outside Belchite on 2nd, 2 pairs in the ruins there on 4th.

Zitting Cisticola / Fan-tailed Wbr: 1 along the roadside near the ricefields on 2nd.

Cetti's Warbler: Calls heard near Triste on 1st.

Common/Eurasian Chiffchaff: At least 2 noted on 30th.

Blackcap: Two at Riglos & a male at Sotonera on 30th.

Sardinian Warbler: Noted on 2 days with several on 30th & 1st.

Dartford Warbler: Noted on 2 days with several at Sotonera on 30th, 1 eventually showed well at Gallocanta on 3rd.

Goldcrest: Several noted at San Juan de la Peña on 1st.

Coal Tit: Several noted at San Juan de la Peña on 1st.

Crested Tit: Several noted at San Juan de la Peña on 1st.

Great Tit: Noted only on 2 days, 1st & 3rd.

Blue Tit: Noted only on 1st.

Eurasian Nuthatch: Several noted at San Juan de la Peña on 1st.

Wallcreeper: Noted on 2 days with 2 at Riglos & 1 on Vadiello Dam on 30th, 2 again at Riglos on 1st.

Short-toed Treecreeper: Several noted at San Juan de la Peña on 1st.

Eurasian Jay: Noted on 3 days with 1 near Riglos on 30th, several on 1st, 1 on 4th.

Black-billed/Eurasian Magpie: Noted most days.

Red-billed Chough: Noted on 3 days with c.100 on 2nd, several pairs in Gallocanta area on 3rd, several on 4th.

Yellow-billed/Alpine Chough: At least 8 distantly at Vadiello on 30th.

Western/Eurasian Jackdaw: Two noted on 30th.

Carrion Crow: Noted most days.

Common Raven: Noted most days.

Common Starling: Noted on 4 days.

Spotless Starling: Noted most days.

Corn Bunting: Noted on 3 days, 30th, 3rd, & 4th.

Yellowhammer: One on 2nd was the only record.

Rock Bunting: Noted on 2 days with a male at Sotonera on 30th, several on 1st.

Cirl Bunting: Noted on 2 days with several near Loarre on 30th, several flocks on 1st.

[Common] Reed Bunting: Noted on 2 days with several at Sariñena on 2nd, several in Gallocanta area on 3rd.

Common/European Chaffinch: Noted on 3 days, 30th, 1st, & 2nd.

Brambling: Noted on 2 days, 1 flew over on 30th, several in the ricefields on 2nd.

European Serin: Noted on 4 days with a flock at Sotonera on 30th, several at Riglos on 1st, 2 flying around Gallocanta on 3rd, 1 male singing during lunch on 4th.

European Greenfinch: Noted on 2 days though very few, on 1st & 2nd.

European Goldfinch: Noted on 4 days, on 30th, 1st, 2nd, & 4th.

Common Linnet: Noted most days with several at Sotonera on 30th, c.10 Riglos on 1st, several on 2nd, c.40 Gallocanta area on 3rd, several on 4th.

Common/Eurasian Bullfinch: A male on 1st was the only record.

Hawfinch: Noted only on 1st when 1 seen by first bus near the Peña turnoff.

House Sparrow: Noted most days.

[Eurasian] Tree Sparrow: Noted on 4 days with several at Loarre on 30th, several on 1st and at the ricefields on 2nd, c.100 in Gallocanta area on 3rd, with a particularly nice flock at Las Cuerlas.

Rock Sparrow / Rock Petronia: Noted on 3 days with at least 8 at Sotonera on 30th, 3 near Belchite on 2nd, c.14 in Gallocanta area on 3rd.

BUTTERFLIES & other insects:

Small White: Noted on 3 days, 30th, 2nd, & 4th.

Large White: Noted only on 2nd.

[Western] Dappled White: Noted only on 30th.

Clouded Yellow: Noted on 4 days, 30th, 1st, 2nd, & 4th.

Painted Lady: Noted on 3 days, 30th, 2nd, & 4th.

MAMMALS:

Red Fox: One seen on 4th.

Beech Marten: A spraint found at the balcón de San Juan de la Peña on 1st.

Wild Boar: Very widespread diggings at San Juan de la Peña on 1st.

Red Squirrel: Two at San Juan de la Peña on 1st.

Iberian Hare: One in Gallocanta area on 3rd.

Rabbit: One on roadside in Gallocanta area on 3rd.

Several highlights for me stand out from this trip, in particular the large numbers of Griffon Vultures right on the roadside as we approached Riglos on our first day, and the close views we had of Wallcreepers and Alpine Accentors. In the south, it has to be the absolute brilliant views of the Dupont's Lark at El Planerón, and indeed the large flock of Pin-tailed Sandgrouse just before reaching the reserve. I'm sure everyone else will have different memories of this excellent trip.

Well done to all of you who made this trip the success it was, and I do hope to see you all on another trip, sometime in the not-too-distant future.

Keith Grant, December 2003
© The Travelling Naturalist 2003