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2022 Western Palearctic Trips (2 Viewers)

Paul Chapman

Well-known member
As the year ends, I thought that I would try two threads on my birding trips this year and a moth 2022 catch up in the Moths & Butterflies sub-forum. Before a November Thailand trip thread, this thread will be on my six shorter Western Palearctic trips in the first half of the year in case of interest for anyone. Headlines are as follows:-

Spain – 15th to 21st March 2022 (7 days) – first trip away with friends since early 2020 travelling to & from Barcelona – Marbled Duck, White-headed Duck, Little Bustard, Sociable Plover, Lammergeier, Iberian Green Woodpecker, Red-masked Parakeet, Dupont’s Lark, Red-whiskered Bulbul (heard only) & Red-billed Leiothrix

France & Netherlands – 25th to 28th March 2022 (4 days) – Bar-headed Goose, Black Swan, Reeves’s Pheasant, Alexandrine Parakeet & Vinous-throated Parrotbill

Cyprus – 28th April to 1st May 2022 (4 days) – Black Francolin, Cyprus Scops Owl, Cyprus Warbler & Cyprus Wheatear

Corsica – 7th to 10th May 2022 (4 days) – California Quail, Moltoni’s & Marmora’s Warblers, Mediterranean Flycatcher, Corsican Nuthatch, Italian Sparrow, Corsican Finch & ‘Corsican’ Crossbill

Latvia – 18th to 23rd May 2022 (6 days) – spring migration trip to Kolka Point – Pygmy & Ural Owls, Three-toed & White-backed Woodpeckers & Citrine Wagtail

Tenerife & Gran Canaria – 22nd to 27th June 2022 (6 days) – Muscovy, Bolle’s & Laurel Pigeons, Barolo Shearwater & Tenerife & Gran Canaria Blue Chaffinches

So the Spanish March trip first…
 
I had kept my head down for two years save for a couple of domestic twitches and indeed, I had even ignored a couple of those for the first time in three decades…. However, this spring, some friends were suggesting a trip away. At the same time, discussions with a couple of other friends prompted a review of my Western Palearctic list. The answer was that I was just shy of 800 species give or take one or two birds in the Category A/D overlaps and a few questions over whether introduced species seen were or were not part of self-sustaining populations.

I finally settled on a personal IOC WP list of 798 with my last WP tick having been the Papa Westray Varied Thursh on 28th October after Northern Mockingbird and Sulphur-bellied Warbler earlier in 2021. (This actually ended up being revised up one later in the year.)

The exercise left me with 28 remaining regular ‘European’ WP targets (including Cyprus & Canaries) of which 17 were Category C populations. However, one of these being Azure Tit in Belarus is now out of bounds…. So, the task became seeing the remaining 27 for now.

Despite having been well aware of the Category C populations for some time, I had never found the personal inclination to clear them up. It has been an area that has been an ever-changing landscape over the last decade in any event. Indeed, I had written a tongue in cheek blog post on many of them back in 2017 and that can still be found here:-

Last chance to C – by Paul Chapman – Big Year WP 2017 (hyber.org)


The position has not got any less controversial and a conversation that you can have with some earnest WP listers when you discuss these species without any hint of irony on their part runs as follows...


You can’t tick those. They are not a self-sustaining population. The only self-sustaining population was at X and they are now extinct... 😊
 
However, before any targeted WP clean ups, the first thing on the agenda was a decent birding trip away with friends to get a bit of foreign birding done for the first time in too long and to sample the world of international Covid travel and restrictions. If I could tick that WP list up to 800 at the same time, all good...

Spain seemed the least problematic location and was settled upon. The main Category A target there was Dupont’s Lark. Initially, we considered flying into Madrid, targeting Dupont’s Lark and then heading to Extremadura where we had done a trip together before in 2006. However, we subsequently settled on flying into Barcelona, spending the first day on the coast, heading inland for Dupont’s Lark near Zaragoza and then trying our luck briefly in the Pyrenees before a day in Barcelona when flying out. That would give us all a few more targets and a chance for a couple of Category C species for me.

Flights were £195 each including luggage. Accommodation was c£180 each working out as £30 per person per night via various Air BnB’s. Car hire worked out as £100 each, petrol £70 each and a collective whip of 200 Euros each for incidentals including a few beers, a few meals & some self-catering shopping delivered a break for £750 each for a week away. I claim no credit for any of that. My friends are experienced travellers and took the logistics on their shoulders. Similarly, they handled the driving expertly so I just had to provide input into planning the birding and look pretty. Both of those I am almost uniquely unqualified to do.

I think each trip was of a similar cost.
 
Planning for the birding was undertaken with the use of eBird, the Gosney guides to Northern Spain and Catalunia and Where to Watch Birds in Northern & Eastern Spain. Subsequently, expert input from Chris Bell, Paul Marshall, Matt Mellor and Shaun Robson finessed that further. Hindsight of course means that different decisions should have been made. I am a big believer in no regrets but at the same time, I am totally uncompromising with myself on where better decisions could have been made. It is the only way to learn.

We were a little unlucky with the weather at various points. However, I think that the main take away was probably either to go earlier as the Pyrenees species should really be targeted before the end of February or later if migrants and a bit more diversity is wanted. Also despite being disparaging about the Category C species, the reality is that whilst as with everything, you can of course immediately turn up and see something, that cannot be guaranteed so if you have a target, and want to see it, you do need to give it sufficient time.

On this trip, however, I was aware that I would need to go back for other Iberian Peninsula Category C species so anything seen in that respect was a bonus. Nevertheless, it was fantastic to get away and we were all pleased with the selection of species seen and some great experiences.

Busy for a day or two but I will work out the bird details & photos for each trip & get posting.
 
Good! I am looking forward to reading in particular about your cat. C ticks - I hope you will add convincing arguments that those are from real populations :) I have seen a herd of Muscovy ducks around a backyard pond on La Palma and a lonely Bar-headed Goose in a park in a Dutch town, neither of which I have had the stomach to tick, hope that yours are better, because if they are, I'd like to follow your footsteps!
 
Good! I am looking forward to reading in particular about your cat. C ticks - I hope you will add convincing arguments that those are from real populations :) I have seen a herd of Muscovy ducks around a backyard pond on La Palma and a lonely Bar-headed Goose in a park in a Dutch town, neither of which I have had the stomach to tick, hope that yours are better, because if they are, I'd like to follow your footsteps!
You are more likely to find out that I have lower standards...
 
15 March 2022

An early start saw us on a 7.15am flight from Bristol Airport arriving at Barcelona Airport at 10.20am. Covid restrictions saw the usual checking of our Vaccination status. A process with which I had become familiar on returning to sporting occasions in the previous months. The usual lengthy period spent at the car hire desk eventually had us seeing our first species of the trip in the car park about an hour after landing. The trip list ticked up to 8 species with nothing, save for Yellow-legged Gulls, that would have been out of place in the Bristol Airport car park. This included ‘normal’ Starling.

Our first main destination was La Tancada at the Ebro Delta so the trip was starting off with a reasonable drive. New species ticked up including Cattle Egret and Short-toed Eagle and at a services to stop to grab some provisions, Mistle Thrush. The species list had risen to 20 by the time of our arrival at La Tancada at 1.50pm. It had become evident en route that we were going to have a very difficult day with the weather. Birding was going to be challenging! The reason that we were there was to look for a Lesser Flamingo which would have been a WP tick for me. One had been present on 26th February. There had been no gen since but also few checklists on eBird from the location. It was difficult to stand up let alone bird. Raging easterlies of around 35mph meant almost no passerines. We worked hard finding different vantage points. We could not find the Lesser Flamingo and subsequently, that proved unsurprising with no sightings as far as I am aware after 26th February.

Nevertheless, a list of 37 species brought my trip list up to 48 species. This included some excellent quality with around 100 Garganey heralding the northward push that was reflected a few days later in Britain. Around 400 Greater Flamingo were seen as were a dozen Black-winged Stilts and five Audouin’s Gulls. Around 60 Glossy Ibis & a dozen Spoonbill were perhaps a prelude of future numbers on the Somerset Levels. Also seen were the first Spotless Starlings with a flock of twenty. This was the start of randomly calling Starlings of either species for the balance of the trip… It was like being transported back to Hugh Town in February 1998. Well maybe not.

Thereafter, Plan A had been to try for Orange-cheeked Waxbill at Luganas del Millars. In short, my travelling companions were happy to see any Category C species but they were not their priority. This was a short general birding trip after too long. It was clear that in the conditions searching for a tricky passerine in reedy ditches would have been fruitless so it was time for Plan B. Typing away, I am starting a plan for catching up in 2023 with the various remaining Category C species missed…..

Plan B was Marjal dels Moros as this may have some target species for my companions. About two hours later, we arrived. Walking from the parking area, eventually, we found the main concentration of duck on a lagoon nearer the coast. The main quarry were seen with six Marbled Duck and a drake White-headed Duck. Also present were ten Red-crested Pochard and a Pochard. The main concentration was over one hundred Shoveler but also present were twenty Garganey. A reeling Savi’s Warbler was part of the backdrop and two Booted Eagle were seen in addition to a Marsh Harrier roost of twenty birds. A group of twenty Serin were also present.

A Night Heron was the last addition as we returned to the parking area well after dusk. My trip list ended on sixty seven species from day one having missed a Western Swamphen seen by my friends. We rendezvoused with our Air B&B owners on the outskirts of Valencia and that would be where we would be starting the next morning.

Having edited as far as day three, I have reminded myself that all the pics were grey in light of the weather! Attached:-
1 - Flamingoes
2 - Avocets & Spoonbills
3 - Avocets
4 - Spoonbills
5 & 6 - Garganeys
7 - Serin
 

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16 March 2022

We arrived in the parking area next to Parc de Capcalera Valencia in the dark. A couple of hours free parking in a Supermarket car park was the appropriate window with a busy day ahead with ‘proper’ targets for others elsewhere. In cool and still windy early morning conditions birding was very quiet. A very early Spotted Flycatcher was a surprise. The parakeets were pretty flighty – not because they were wary I am sure but because presumably they were looking for suitable feeding areas. However, eventually, a total of around thirty parakeets had been seen with the largest group being twenty Red-masked Parakeets in addition to smaller numbers of Monk and Ring-necked Parakeets. Finally, we also did track down a singing Red-whiskered Bulbul at around 39.4747299, -0.4084039. This was broadly the same area in which Chris Bell had seen one previously. However, in the time available, it did not show and this left Red-whiskered Bulbul added to Orange-cheeked Waxbill on a future trip target list. At the time, I considered Red-masked Parakeet was my 799th Western Palearctic bird so I was not too disappointed not to see the Red-whiskered Bulbul as this left me targeting Dupont’s Lark later that day to bring up 800.

Heading north, Black Kite and Raven were additions to the trip list. As we cut along the CV4031, a stop near Villabla de Los Morales added a group of 45 Common Crane, ten Calandra Lark, a Water Pipit and a couple of Rock Sparrows loosely associating with ten House Sparrows. Shortly afterwards, we arrived at Laguna de Gallocanta. Quite a large area to search. On the lake around a thousand duck mainly consisted of Common Shelduck, Shoveler, Mallard and Teal but also Garganey, Gadwall, Teal and Red-crested Pochard. A further six Common Crane were seen as well as 150 Greater Flamingo. Around 300 waders included a good number of Ruff. Eventually, a friend tracked down the Sociable Lapwing, which was our main quarry, in the distance. A couple of Little Owls and a Hen Harrier were trip additions and there were more Hoopoes, Calandra Larks, Spotless Starlings and Corn Buntings. An area that would have been worth a proper exploration but as is almost always the case, the itinerary did not allow that.

After about three hours, we headed onwards towards Belchite. En route, Sparrowhawk, Griffon Vulture and Iberian Grey Shrike pushed my trip list through 100 species. We arrived at Balsa del Planeron at 3.45pm with a few hours of daylight left. Parking at the usual T junction south of the pool, notwithstanding the less than perfect timing, we soon heard the rather simple song of Dupont’s Lark. The area was good for larks with Calandras, Theklas and Lesser Short-toeds (or Mediterranean Short-toeds as the local ones are now called post split) so seeing a Dupont’s was less simple but eventually, we were successful with rather brief views. 800 up for my WP list. The Theklas provided the opportunity to call the balance of very similar birds seen as Crested Lark without any further fuss…

Otherwise, checking the pool added Water Rail to the trip list as well as the surprise of a calling Spotted Crake. It is a call which I have always enjoyed dating back to my first calling bird back at Wicken Fen in the 80’s whilst I was still at university. After an hour and a half, we headed off to our accommodation and to get some supplies. En route, a Merlin took my trip list to 109 species including plenty of variety that I had missed over the last two years.

We had been let down with our original Air B& B booking but our fresh booking near Movera proved to be quite palatial and reminiscent of a Finca in Extremadura at which I had stayed with the same friends on our first trip abroad together back in March 2006. We were booked in for two nights. A luxury on a short birding trip.

Attached:-
1 - Audouin's Gull
2 - Cranes
3 - Little Owl
4 & 5 - Hoopoe
6 - Sociable Plover with mixed Waders
7 - Sociable Plover
8 - Mediterranean Short-toed Lark
9 - Calandra Lark
 

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17 March 2022

The plan the next morning was to start back at Balsa del Planeron for further views of Dupont’s Lark. We were on site for 7.00am. Again, Dupont’s Lark was heard almost immediately and a total of at least six birds were heard. As we searched a couple of Stone-curlew and a couple of Chough were additional variety. Finally, a friend picked up one singing from the ground as drove the road further along from the parking area and some photos were secured. As the morning wore on, it seemed that this was mission accomplished so we decided to spend the balance of the day exploring a few additional local sites.

We headed on to Embalse de las Torcas arriving at 10.30am. The reservoir itself yielded nothing more than Great Crested Grebes and Cormorants and a couple of Woodlarks were gratefully received. However, the main targets were raptors and in additional to plentiful Griffon Vultures, Goshawk and Black Kite, we were delighted to pick up the Bonelli’s Eagle pair albeit quite distantly. Working out the cliff face being used to generate the termals, we drove around from our vantage point and had some exceptional views as they took exception to the local Griffons.

Attached:-
1 - Chough
2 - Mediterranean Short-toed Lark
3 & 4 - Dupont's Lark
5 to 14 - Griffon Vulture
 

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Attached:-
15 to 20 - Bonelli's Eagle
29 - Woodlark
 

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Attached pics 21 to 26 of Bonelli's Eagle & Griffon Vulture interactions - oh to have been there in decent light...
 

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Having left the site, we drove along the Rio Huerva valley with Crag Martins, Alpine Swifts and Golden and Short-toed Eagles for company. We arrived at Embalse de Mezalocha at 1.30pm. Here Egyptian Vulture and Red Kites joined our growing raptor list but the main prize were two Black Wheatears during an hour spent around the dam. Reorientating to nearer our accommodation, we decided to travel on to Galacho de Juslibol. We arrived here at 3.15pm and spent the best part of three hours walking the four miles along the valley to the pools and back from the parking area. Highlights were Blue Rock Thrush and Iberian Green Woodpecker as well as another Black Wheatear and a Goshawk. Along the cliffs were more Spotless Starlings and Crag Martins.

We just had time to make La Alfranca for a final 45 minutes birding in the day arriving at 6.30pm. This proved to be a cracking site adding seven White Stork and a Green Sandpiper in addition to fifteen roosting Black Kites, a Red Kite and a Marsh Harrier. My trip list and the quality had built up during the day to 126 species.

Attached:-
27 - Egyptian Vulture
28 - Red Kite
30 - Buzzard
31 - Blue Rock Thrush
32 - Black Wheatear
33 & 34 - White Stork
35 - Black Kite

Three full days & a morning left...
 

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18 March 2022

We were up and out at around 7.00am heading ultimately to our next Air B&B at Jaca. Our journey was punctuated by White Storks, Common Cranes, Griffon Vultures, Black Kites, Buzzards and Kestrels and at 8.40am, we arrived at Alquezar. Here we spent a couple of hours including checking the cliffs unsuccessfully for Wallcreeper. Yellowhammer and Wren were trip additions in addition to more Chough, Red Kites and an Egyptian Vulture. Having dipped, we headed on and added Jay and six Hawfinch en route to Huevo de Morrano arriving at 10.45am. A Cirl Bunting here provided a backdrop to some excellent raptor watching. A couple of hundred Griffon Vultures were joined by three Egyptians and a surprising Black as well as two Golden Eagles, Red and Black Kite, two Peregrines, a Kestrel and four Ravens. It felt good to be doing some foreign birding again.

We headed on and a fortunate roadside sighting found us enjoying eight Lesser Kestrels along wires and over the fields by the A 132 near Esquedas. After paying due reverence (and reaching the conclusion yet again that I would overlook all but adult males in a vagrant context – possibly…), we headed to Mallos de Riglos. Highlight here were two Alpine Accentors in addition to Dartford Warbler, more Blue Rock Thrushes and Hawfinches, Egyptian Vultures, Short-toed Eagle, Siskins and plenty of Black Redstarts. However, no Wallcreepers were to be found. The weather on this occasion was being unkind in being milder than we had hoped but nevertheless, the birding was excellent. We had all seen Wallcreeper previously – originally at Les Baux but latterly in Turkey and Georgia – so we headed on to our next location.

We arrived at San Juan de la Pena late in the day at 5.50pm but in a little over an hour, Black Woodpecker and some woodland additions took my trip list to 143 before we called it a day. Our rendezvous proved a bit more challenging with one way systems and pedestrianised areas in Jaca but was expertly negotiated by my travelling companions and we were soon in our flat for the next two nights.

Attached:-
1. Serin
2. Egyptian Vulture
3 & 4. Golden Eagle
5, 6 & 7. Black Vulture with Griffon Vultures
8. Black Vulture
9, 10 & 11. Lesser Kestrel (female)
12, 13 & 14. Lesser Kestrel (male)
15. Blue Rock Thrush
16, 17 & 18. Alpine Accentor
19 & 20. Black Woodpecker
 

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However, one of these being Azure Tit in Belarus is now out of bounds…. So, the task became seeing the remaining 27 for now.
Though many may not wish to, it is still possible to visit Belarus - the land border is totally open between Lithuania and Belarus, both to private cars and daily buses (about 27 euro to Minsk). No direct flights anymore, train route suspended.

Were you able to find a flight, via assorted counties, UK citizens flying into Minsk do not need visas. Using the land border, a visa is needed.

By car, Azure Tit is about three hours from Vilnius, plus however many hours the delay is on the border (frequently some hours)
 
19 March 2022

The next morning we arrived at the skiing area at Astun at 7.20am. Not much success was had but a Dipper on the stream was a nice sightings. Similarly, the next stop at Candanchu shortly afterwards was similarly quiet and the only Chough seen were simply too distant to identify to species. The rather frustrating absence of targets continued with the dam at Embalse de Lanuza with Crag Martins and a couple of Egyptian Vultures the backdrop to another unsuccessful Wallcreeper search. So we decided to check another ski area and with similar results at Formigal with a male Yellowhammer and four Water Pipits the only variety as a Red Kite ploughed north through the Pyrenees.

Having weighed up our options for the afternoon, we decided to head back to San Juan de la Pena. En route, again, raptors provided the backdrop with Griffon Vultures, Golden Eagle, Red Kites, Short-toed Eagles, Black Kites, Buzzard and Raven. We arrived at 1.15pm. On this occasion, we walked out to the ridge to spend some time watching raptors. En route, forest birds included Short-toed Treecreeper. We were unsure where to climb up the ridge from the path so my camera was in my rucksack when a stunning adult Lammergeier drifted only just above head height low over the ridge. Breathtaking views. During the balance of the afternoon, we were treated to similar views from the Griffon Vultures and an excellent pair of displaying Egyptian Vultures as well as four White Storks heading north before heading back to our accommodation via more roadside raptor watching.

Attached:-
1. Crag Martins
2. Coal Tit
3. Griffon Vulture
4 & 5. Chamois
6. Golden Eagle
7. Short-toed Eagle
8. Egyptian Vulture
9. Raven
10. White Storks
11 to 15. Griffon Vulture
16. Black Redstart
 

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A few pics 17 to 24 of the displaying Egyptian Vultures - another fantastic raptor watching experience. A day & a morning to edit to finish off this trip......
 

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Last edited:
Though many may not wish to, it is still possible to visit Belarus - the land border is totally open between Lithuania and Belarus, both to private cars and daily buses (about 27 euro to Minsk). No direct flights anymore, train route suspended.

Were you able to find a flight, via assorted counties, UK citizens flying into Minsk do not need visas. Using the land border, a visa is needed.

By car, Azure Tit is about three hours from Vilnius, plus however many hours the delay is on the border (frequently some hours)
Cheers Jos. I'll concentrate on the other clean ups for a while... A bit left to do first.

All the best

Paul
 
Yes. Thanks for a great read. Thoughts already turning to 2023 here so trip reports are very welcome and having yours being posted at the same time as Jos’ butterflies is the best
 
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