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Catalonia, Spain - July 2002

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Old Wednesday 9th April 2003, 20:46   #1
avifauna
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Catalonia, Spain - July 2002

Birdwatching_Catalonia - Spain, July 2nd to 16th 2002.

Introduction

Being quite an experienced web birder, I have read my part of Trip Reports over the years. I have tried to commensurate the template pattern of most of them, but readers must bear over with the occational outbursts of emotion that have sneaked in!

My family, consisting of my wife and our youngest son (aged 14) visited the north of Catalonia from July 2nd to July 16th 2002, including one day in Barcelona. The trip was mainly our summer holiday, but with some birding spells. These were mainly concentrated in three areas, see the itinerary for details. But as like most birders, I was all eyes and ears whenever outdoors.

We spent two weeks in a rented apartment in the city of Cadaques. We hired a car – a Renault Megane TDI Coupè - for the whole stay, thru AVIS. We drove approx. 1650 kms / 1000 miles spending less than 60€ on diesel. Coming from an oil-producing but high-cost country like Norway, tears gets in my eyes! We flew from Norway to Barcelona/ el Prat via Amsterdam/ Schipol. We also had booked hotel in advance for a single night in Barcelona.

Driving was easy, whether it was motorways or winding roads in the Pyrenees. Traffic was not as heavy as expected, apart from the Figueres-Roses stretch, which can be described as a complete waste of time, but due to the amount of road construction there is hope! Maps are not accurate, since there is a steady improvement of roads in Catalonia. Our worst enemy was the mixture of old and new road numbers.

Then some afterthoughts on birding. I have visited the Mediterranean area several times, but never practiced birdwatching seriously. This time I did some research on the web and through available literature, taking both sites and species into consideration. Being on my own, I was quite satisfied with a total of 90+ species identified, of which about 1/3 were new for me. The figures could have been slightly higher if I had done my homework better on passerine song, as many of them were unseen.

Birdwatching Itinerary

July 3rd to July 14th: Cadaques and surroundings – 4 hrs

July 4th : Parc Natural de Cap de Creus – 1 hrs

July 6th : Monestir de San Pere de Rodes y Castello de San Pescador - 2 hrs

July 7th : Parc Natural de Aiguamolls de Emporda, trip I : Estany de Vilaüt – 1 hrs

July 8th : PNAE, trip II : Estany de Cortalet – 2 hrs

July 10th : PN Cap de Creus – 2 hrs

July 11th – 12th : Parc Nacional de Aigüestortes y Estany de San Maurici in the Pyrenees– 5hrs

July 13th : PNAE, trip III : el Matar - 1 hrs

Total of 18 hours dedicated to birdwatching, of which 5 was combined with some heavy walking.

Day-by-day diary.

Days 0 and 1:

Travel from our home via Bergen on the west coast of Norway, and Bergen-Amsterdam-Barcelona the next day, arriving at 2.30 PM. Picked up the hired car and set out on the Motorway system bound north for Figueres. Made one stop to have some food and phone our host, which gave the first real birds, Goldfinch, House Sparrow, House Martin and Common Swift. As warned on beforehand, the road from Roses to Cadaques was quite climbing and winding – but we would be used to it after the next two weeks. We arrived as planned at the apartment at 6.30 PM.

Day 2 – July 3rd.

Cadaques is by all means a pittoresque and quiet ‘fishermans’ village, known perhaps to some as the home of Salvador Dali, his house is situated in Port Lligat some fifteen minutes walk from the Cadaques centre. The first morning gave sights of Yellow-legged Gull, Collared Dove, and a singing Serin. The air above the city was at most times filled with Common Swifts, Barn Swallows and House Martins. Shortly singing Sardinian Warbler, and Domestic Pigeon was added to the list.

As the weather was rather cloudy, we took the car and headed for Cap de Creus. This is the easternmost point on the Iberian Peninsula some 6 kms north of Cadaques. The narrow and winding road leading out to the lighthouse appeared to have lots of stopping opportunities for later visits.

We spent some time in the area between the lighthouse and the sea, including a cave made by the sea itself. Hatching Crag Martin and a suspicious pair of Rock Doves? They were strikingly more like the ‘real thing’ than any other domestics I have seen. The air was filled with Common Swifts and some Pallid Swifts . A Blackbird was noisy in the vicinity, there were hordes of YLG’s, and a female Blue Rock Thrush was seen plus several Sardinian Warblers, including a female feeding a juvenile. On our return to the apartment we saw our first Red-rumped Swallow and likewise one Spotless Starling.

Day 3 – July 4th.

A morning trip was made along the road towards Cap de Creus. Due to a strong north-easterly wind there were few birds around, the swifts and likes were not to be seen. Instead I had to search the shrubs and maquis for other passerines. Black-eared Stonechat, Corn Bunting, Stonechat and a windblown Marsh Pipit were the new species here. In the afternoon we drove a tour to Figueres. On our return home a White Stork passed above us on the Emporda Plain.

Day 5 – July 6th.

This afternoon’s outing went to Monastir de Sant Pere de Rodes, situated by a mountaineous road from El Port de la Selva towards the Emporda Plain. This proved to be a real passerine site, birds singing and displaying all over. Gold Finch were numerous, but in between I managed to sort out Stonechat, a male Blue Rock Thrush, Black Redstart, Rock Bunting, Serin, Blue Tit, Barn Swallow, Common and Pallid Swift, Orphean Warbler plus two other species of which one was a Melodious Warbler, whilst the latter had a song resembling a Wren , but as I saw the bird, it was a pale, rather anonymous one, but whether it was a Hippolais or Phylloscopus I couldn’t tell. On the top of the cliffs a Kestrel was soaring just below us.

Day 6 – July 7th.

I was up at approximately sunrise minus 1/2 hour, which in fact was late enough. I left town across the ridge and headed for the Emporda Plain. Reading the map while driving with one eye reserved for feathers is not recommended, but I soon found The point of three bridges, and since it was early Sunday morning I just left the car on the edge of the road. At last! This was a memorable moment, mild weather, rising sun and a chorus of birdsong, sounds and the flutter of wings all around me. The first minutes was just insane as I in despair tried to identify every sound and movement ‘on the double’, thinking it was business as usual. Luckily I managed to calm down and concentrate on just one bird at a time –and for as long as needed! So, Corncrake, Water Rail, Zitting Cisticola, Purple Heron, Quail and Cattle Egret were readily added to the list. The more usual Gold Finches, Swifts and likes and the Corn Buntings was uncountable. Overflying YLG’s, several Magpies and a family group of Great Tits also showed up.

I left this point and headed back to find a more suitable parking space. The field guide recommended a nearby taverna, but due to the circumstances I chose the entrance road of a newly cut cornfield. Scope and binocs plus fieldguide were picked up and I started my walk towards the Estany (‘pond’) de Vilaut.

Common Starling, Common Nightingale, Crested Lark, more ZCs, Goldfinches and so on. Suddenly, in some large trees on the right, two European Rollers and almost simultaneously a couple of Hoopoes to the left! A female Green Woodpecker (sharpei) came nearby and several Common Cuckoos passed over. Several high-voltage lines pass by, and Kestrel nestboxes are placed on many pylons. Soon a Kestrel pair appeared, and further on a White Stork nest was clearly visible. After some twenty min’s of walking I approached the Estany itself, and was not disappointed. Cattle Egret, Little Egret, Purple Heron, White Stork, Black-winged Stilt, a female Marsh Harrier and good numbers of Black-headed Gulls together with a female Gadwall. In addition House Sparrow, Barn Swallow and Stonechat was noted, and finally the first Wood Pigeon, Tree Sparrow and Blackcap showed up. Upon returning to Cadaques a White Wagtail was seen.

Day 7 – July 8th.

Managed to get up even earlier this morning, and my wife joined me for this outing. We headed straight for the Aiguamolls Information Centre at Estany de Cortalet. We knew that we would not make it during normal opening hours, but had quite an enjoyable visit.

With the car safely parked in the would-be shades, we entered the reserve just at sunrise. The light enhanced the colour of the Purple Herons passing over. We could hear the rattle of Stork beaks just anywhere. We followed the trail towards left, and shortly after entered the first hide overlooking some ponds and grassy plains where a herd of horses grazed their way, followed by a bunch of Cattle Egrets, both on ground and horseback. Northern Lapwing, Ringed Plover, Wood Sandpiper, Grey Heron, Moorhen, and Mallard are familiar species, but then a Black-crowned Night Heron flew by, Great Reed Warbler, and Yellow Wagtail (iberiae) was added. Coot and Little Grebe with chicks also appeared in front of us.

A Hoopoe and a Green Woodpecker sandbathed in front of us giving excellent display.

Heading back for the car the bonus birds appeared both in sound and view, 8 European Bee-eaters changed between chasing insects and taking rests at some low trees just 10 meters off the trail. Truly, this was the highlight of the tour so far.

There were plenty of birds everywhere, and the following species was noted : White Stork, Blackwinged Stilt, Gadwall, Purple Heron, Marsh Harrier, BHG & YLG, Cuckoo, House Sparrow, Barn Swallow, Common Starling, Goldfinch, Collared Dove, Wood Pigeon, Little Egret, Zitting Cisticola, Spotless Starling. As mentioned before, singing passerines is underrepresented.

Day 9 – July 10th.

In the afternoon, while the others were taking a rest in the apartment in between bathing and meals, I drove off towards Cap de Creus again as I wanted to unveil some passerine secrets. I was not disappointed, though most of the species had already been ‘listed’. Several Alpine Swifts was Red-Arrowing around, and on my way home a Dartford Warbler was hopping about on the roadside near Port Lligat. Worth to mention along the road was Kestrel and several Crested Larks.

Days 10 and 11 – July 11th and 12th.

When Thursday appeared we set off for the trip of the tour (?). During our planning sessions back home we clearly wanted to pay the Pyrenees a visit. But it was after consulting our Spanish host, searching some more maps etc. that we decided that Catalonias only National Park should be our target. On a lousy cellular phone call we managed to book for one night plus meals at Refugi d’Amitges. It can be taken as a planned incident that this tour is identical to one of the many itineraries described in the WtWBiC !

It took us 6 hours driving to reach the Park entrance, and little was seen on the trip except a Bonelli’s Eagle which was soaring next to the road.

The walk itself is described accurately in the mentioned book. It departs some 1600 meters above sea level, the refuge is situated on 2380 m.a.s., the walk took us 3 hours and a quarter up, and 1 hour less downhill. The walk is mainly through coniferous wood, passes one large lake and several minor dams, and also crosses or follows various streams or rivers. We carried one rücksack, a photo bag and a small day-trip sack plus the usual water bottles. Water, however, was no problem.

The birdlife was plentiful regarding species, but not so numerous. In my next life I shall practice weight-lifting, just to carry a scope and tripod up there! My 8x32 binoculars didn’t bring the birds close enough.

OK, here are the results : In the lower part we enjoyed Swift, House Martin, Sand Martin, Black Woodpecker, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Garden Warbler, Blackcap, White Wagtail, Wren and Song Thrush. Grey Wagtail was quite common all the way. In the woods Chaffinch, Siberian Jay, Chiffchaff, Great Tit, Crested Tit, Robin, Goldcrest, and Common Crossbill was mainly heard, and occasionally seen. Somewhat higher we had Rock Bunting, Cliff Swallow, Black Redstart, Kestrel, Blackbird, Mistle Thrush and Cuckoo. Still higher and more open landscape produced Citril Finch and Alpine Accentor, and high up around the ridges we saw Golden Eagle, Lammergeier, and at last both Red-billed Chough and Alpine Chough.

Before breakfast I climbed a bit further (just had to overcome 2470 meters, which is Norway’s highest), and saw a total of 16 Chamois deer. On our descent we saw Red Squirrel. We were more than pleased with this tour, despite missing Wallcreeper and potential Raptors. Recommended!

Day 12 – July 13th.

Due to both weather and other circumstances this Saturday afternoon pointed out to be the last birding opportunity. My wife joined me again for Aiguamolls de Emporda, and this time we chose the southern part at el Matar. I had intended to make a walk towards and along the seaside hoping to see some terns, but time and weather didn’t allow this. (Thunderstorms were lurking in the vicinity)

One other disappointment was also the amount of people and their level of noise on this time of day. Still, this was an OK outing bringing some new experiences along.

From the tower we had splendid view of the wet grassland scattered with minor ponds. Here too, horses are keeping the vegetation down. A single Flamingo was sweeping its beak thru the shallow water just below us. Here we also saw two Purple Gallinules, lots of Coots and Moorhens, together with numerous Black-winged Stilts of all ages. We also saw swarms of Mallards together with Cattle and Little Egrets. In the vicinity towards the sea I was able to sort out a single Mute Swan.

Back on the ground we made a stroll along the path towards the sea. And here we had the surprise of our time as a Little Bittern came flying just in front of us. Apart from more swarms of Sand Martins, House Martins, Barn Swallows and Swifts the air space did not produce any new species. Zitting Cisticolas, Goldfinches and both BHG & YLG were present, together with Great Reed Warbler and a new species; Moustached Warbler.

Day 14 and 15 – July 15th and 16th.

This day in Barcelona was spent sightseeing, shopping and for meals so the only bird worth mentioning was 4 Monk Parakeet screaming around Place de Catalunya. The last day was dedicated to the trip home.

Postscript.

And just like I deserved, Norway's first White-throated Sparrow Zonotrichia albicollis was identified some 2 miles from my home on July the 9th. It was still to be heard and seen on the same spot after I came home. If I went to see it? Just guess . . . . .

For full species List and maps pictures please visit my homepages at http://home.no.net/nofoll/ and follow the link shown as a Catalan flag in the lefthand meny. The site is mainly in Norwegian.

Literature:

Svensson et al. : Gyldendals Store Fugleguide (The birds of Europe in Norwegian), Oslo 2000.

Sargatal and del Hoyo: Where to Watch Birds in Catalonia, Lynx Ediciones, Barcelona 1989. (Out of Print)

Accessories:

Binoculars, 8x32 used anywhere

Telescope, Opticron HR80, with 32x and 60x in combination with Slik/Manfrotto tripod/head, used mainly at Aiguamolls de Emporda.
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Best regards from Norway,
Hans MH

Last edited by avifauna : Monday 26th May 2003 at 12:39.
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Old Wednesday 9th April 2003, 22:40   #2
Andrew
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What a great read, I have been to the Catalonia area but never as a Birder. I will have to rectify that considering your specials!
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