Since 2006 my family and I have been on a summer holiday to the costa bravan region of Catalunya/Spain. The region that I stay, is in close proximity to the Parc Natural dels Aiguamolls de l'Empordà and the Parc Natural Cap de Creus. To try and make this trip a little more different, my father and I went to the Pyrenees for the day to the Val De Nuria.
The first day, I just had a wander around my estate and managed to pick up the regular garden birds of the area: Sardinian Warbler, Nightingale, Serin, Golden Oriole, House Sparrow etc.
I had planned to wake up first thing with my dad so that we could be at the picnic site of Mas Ventos on the road between Vilajuiga and the monastery of San Pere de Rodes. Waking up at 06.30 (GMT+1) I had a scan from the balcony across the costa bravan plain. Estany de Vilaut is usually visable from the villa, so I had a scan towards that and noticed water! This is the first time I have ever seen any water at this site, so I was interested in viewing the pool that Stephen Christopher of Catalan Birdtours claimed to be one oh his favourite sites in the whole of Catalonia.
Arriving onsite, there were 3 Roller in the area of the pylons and arriving in the hide, I could see 150+ White Stork as well as Little Egrets, 2 Spoonbill, Wood/Common/Green Sandpiper, Greenshank, Sniper, LRP, Black Winged Stilts, Garganey and a Great White Egret.
Shortly after this, I made a trip to a local Reservoir and Tip (which would be the perfect gull magnet in England!) Here, the main species by far was Yellow Legged Gull with a minimum of 2500 gulls. Also present were c20 Black Headed Gulls and a juv Med on the water. A Red Kite that I have seen the last 2 years was again present flying around the Tip.
My 2nd full day started off with an adult Bonelli's Eagle behind the house. Later on, I decided to try and get some photo's of gulls at Rosas Harbour where I have had at least 20 Med Gulls in the past, and very educational Yellow Legged. This time, I was only able to photograph Yellow Legs, but this was sufficient gulling for me in the pending autumn gull watching of Lancashire!
August 10th - A trip to the Salvador Dali house in Port Lligat didn't see too much in the name of birds, however when I got back home, an overcast Pau saw a gathering of Swifts and Hirundines above the house. This included Pallid and Common Swifts and 2 Alpine Swifts stood out like a sore thumb next to the seemingly puny Pallids! Understandably, a flock of Swifts attracted attention from the raptors and I soon picked up two falcons overhead. I first thought they may have been Peregrine, but they had long tails and were very slim looking so I then moved to the idea of Hobby. When I picked them up in the scope, I was amazed to find that they were Eleanora's Falcon! This is the first time I have seen them over the house and was keen to get a photo. My plan however changed when they drifted over the top of the Hill and didnt reappear...
August 11th - No birding today, except Monk Parakeet in the centre of Rosas and Empuriabrava.
August 12th - Today was really the day that I most looked forward to before the trip and I had the potential of seeing at least 10 lifers and seeing scenary that makes Pendle look like a mole hill! My father and I headed off to the Pyrenees near Andorra, to the Val de Nuria. We took the N260 through Figueres, Olot and Ripoll and then headed north to Ribes de Fresar where we got the Rack and Pinion train to Nuria. En route, I was alerted by a roadkill in the middle of the road with a long stripey tail. As we passed, it was clear that it was a Genet! Since reading that they were present in the region, I was keen to see one, however a completely nocturnal cat isn't exactly the easiest mammal to see on a family holiday! Apologies for anyone who is slightly squeamish, but you can clearly see the main features of the Genet...among other parts that you may never normally see!
Also along the way, we took an unplanned detour along a windy mountain road through a forest. Here I picked up a couple of species I have never seen in Spain before: Jay and Robin! Whilst driving along the road, I picked up a brown mammal scurry down a slope and when it reappeared, I was shocked to see a Pine Martin! What a productive drive!
The station at Ribes de Fresar held breeding Crag Martin and a Black Redstart feeding on the train tracks. The train to the top of the valley was certainly the most impressive train journey I have ever been on as we ascended to 2500m. Along the way, I picked up Dipper, Griffon Vulture and Queen of Spain Fritillary. Due to Clouds at the top, it was disappointingly misty, so my visions of Lammergeier and Golden Eagles overhead wasn't exactly proven true. One of the first birds I saw at the top was the most productive bird of the trip in my opinion, as it was the only lifer of the trip! A fabulous flock of Citril Finch! Also present at the top was Black Redstart, Ring Ouzel, Rock Bunting, Dunnock, Chaffinch, and one of the more surprising birds, a pair of calling male and female Common Crossbill!
Deciding to walk down the valley to try and pick up Birds of Prey and Wallcreeper may have been a bad idea. It began to rain within 5 minutes of walking down the valley, and 20 minutes into the trip, we were already soaked to the skin in out holiday clothes (shorts, t-shirt and a hoodie!). It took 2 and a half hours to walk down to Queralbs station. By the time we had reached the station, we had lost the will to live and had potentially ruined all of our equipment. The light rain storm turned into 2 hours of torrential rain and lightning storms. this lead to 'floods' along the hillside paths as we descended. On a lighter note, we saw a cliff face where Wallcreeper breed, but no Wallcreeper, as well as Wheatear, Grey Wagtail and some of the most impressive scenary I have personally ever seen!
It was certainly an eventful and memorable day, but I did come away with 21 species for the trip, so it was also a productive day!
August 13th - A lazy morning 'recovering' from the Pyrenees trip meant that there was enough time in the day to make an evening trip to Cap de Creus. A seawatch produced 14 Cory's Shearwater and 2 Yelkouan Shearwater (the light was behind me so it was obvious that these two birds were not as soft as Balearic, and the underbelly was obviously contrasting to the upper body. Also present was Thekla Lark and Blue Rock Thrush
August 14th - I again woke up for first light and walked up the hill behind the house towards the picnic site of Mas Ventos. I picked up Dartford Warbler, Spectacled Warbler and Red Legged Partridge on the ascent. By the time I got to Mas Ventos, birds were beginning to move around and I picked out: Crested Tit, Wryneck, Pied Flycatcher, Cirl Bunting and Booted Eagle
August 15th - A relax day saw me watching birds around the house and I was able to watch Melodious Warblers, Willow Warblers and a juv Subalpine Warbler feeding in the pines behind the house. I also picked up Peregrine and later an adult Hobby above the house, making that 4 species of falcon above the house during the trip (including Kestrel)
August 16th - Waking up early, my parents and I went to the Aiguamolls de l'Emporda. Sadly the only water present was a tiny puddle at el Cortalet, however this seemed to hold birds! Scanning through the plovers, I picked up Little Ringed, Ringed, Lapwing, Little Stint and then a passerine with an angry face hopped out of the reeds! A female Bluethroat! I have only ever seen two Bluethroats (including this bird) and both have been at El Cortalet! (see April 2008 trip)
August 17th and 18th - My brother's birthday was on the 17th, so I couldn't exactly go off birding. Surprisingly however, I did end the trip with a Lifer! Whilst having a drink at a Mojito bar, I heard what sounded like a group of 'scared' bats and then an owl flew under a street light. I followed it and say it land in a tree, on closer inspection it turned out to be a Scops Owl!
My mum and I flew back home on the morning of the 18th so that I couldn't be present on Thursday 19th for my A Level Results. I ended the trip on 130 species, and followed this up with a place at Bangor University. For the next 3 years, expect blog updates from the North Wales Coast!
Collins Field Guide Taxonomy - 130 Species
Great White Egret
Red Legged Partridge
Black Winged Stilt
Little Ringed Plover
Black Headed Gull
Yellow Legged Gull
Great Spotted Cuckoo
Red Rumped Swallow
Yellow (Iberian) wagtail
Blue Rock Thrush
Great Reed Warbler
Fan Tailed Warbler