Wednesday, 12 September 2012

It's a family holiday in Spain, not a birding trip...

I had a great holiday in Spain at the end of August – just me, Mrs Indie Birder, and the two kids (Miss and Master Indie Birder, I guess). We stayed in a small casa on an olive farm in what felt like the middle of nowhere (near Rasquera, about 30km due north of the Ebro Delta). Plenty of good birding to be had, lots nature reserves about too, although the rural Catalans aren’t all bird lovers…

The weather was great: at times scorchio, but with a cloudy couple of days and a bit of rain thrown in to take the edge off the heat. This was no birding holiday; but with nowt else to do than swim in the pool, I spent the odd hour wandering around the olive groves looking for stuff.

Wood Lark, Crested Lark, and Hoopoe were the most interesting of the birds around the farm. The other birds are the kind of things you’d expect on a farm in Britain in the summer: Goldfinch, House Sparrow, Starling, Magpie, Wood Pigeon, Swallow, Long-tailed Tit, Great Tit, Blackcap…

Wood Lark, Catalunya, Spain - August 2012

These olive farms make for a dry and desolate habitat, especially after a long hot summer and when most of the breeding is over. The birding is tough here on a hot afternoon, I can tell you. There had been some fires this year, and the evidence was clear from out front door: charred trees within 15 metres of the casa.

I guess the most interesting things around the farm were the insects: things like Ephippger, Blue-winged Grasshopper and Nosed Grasshopper. Plenty of butterflies too: Large White, Wall Brown, Mallow Skipper, Common Blue (I think), and Swallowtail. Plenty of moths (Hummingbird Hawk-moth being the best), and loads of dragonflies, though I struggle to ID these well.

Wall Brown, Catalunya, Spain - August 2012

Mallow Skipper, Catalunya, Spain - August 2012

One (sneaky) reason for suggesting we come to this area was the chance to visit the Parc Natural del Delta a l’Ebre (that’s the Ebro Delta Nature Reserve). Now then, this is a really great place for birds, even if my trip was during the quietest time of the year. During the week I managed to charm my way to two visits, one with the family and one without, both to the northern side of the delta.
As we drove through the rice fields, the draw of the place became clear. There were Whiskered Terns everywhere: sat of wires, hovering over the roadside ditches, swopping over the car. And Little Egrets and Squacco Herons flew up from hidden dykes as we passed.

I took the family to El Garxal on the north-eastern tip of the delta, where the highlights were Greater Flamingos, Black-winged Stilts and Glossy Ibis. It’s very educational to see these birds in breeding, non-breeding and juvenile plumage side-by-side, allowing for lots of comparison and learning. Well, that’s what I thought; the kids seemed to get a bit bored after a while. We met another family here, whose kids really interested in the birds, which was rather refreshing.

"Daddy is hogging the scope again..."

 Greater Flamingo, Catalunya, Spain - August 2012

I reckon Spurn could benefit from having one of these running between the Crown & Anchor and the Point.

We set off for Canal Vell, further west, and got lost. Again. It’s easy on this massive delta, and most of the relevant signs were tiny and hidden. When I finally got there the wind was up, which made birding from the top of the observation tower difficult. Few birds around too, I reckon because of the time of year; but a Slender-billed Gull and another Greater Flamingo was worth the effort. Better still, there were some Audouin’s Gulls in the fields by the track, allowing for great views.

 Audouin's Gull, Catalunya, Spain - August 2012

 Audouin's Gull, Catalunya, Spain - August 2012
(same bird as above in different light - notice how much darker the wings look)

 Observation tower at Canal Vell, Ebro Delta, Catalunya, Spain - August 2012

The strong wind meant the dragonflies were clinging on to the vegetation for dear life, but photographing them (with my crap camera) was difficult. I only managed a few decent shots among the blurred ones as the dragonflies were shaking so much in the wind. Any ID help here is much appreciated.

 Yellow-winged Darter (male), Catalunya, Spain - August 2012

 Yellow-winged Darter (female), Catalunya, Spain - August 2012

 Ruddy Darter (male), Catalunya, Spain - August 2012

I returned to the Delta on my own on a rainy morning later in the week, visiting Les Olles on the northern edge near L’Ampolla. The undoubted highlight (possibly of the whole trip) was finding a family of Purple Swamphen (Porphyrio porphyrio): two adults and two juveniles. Despite their bright colouration, they weren’t easy to pick out as they poked out the reeds in the gloom and skirted around the water under the overhanging vegetation. The poor light and worse equipment meant I couldn’t get a decent photo…

 Purple Swamphen, Catalunya, Spain - August 2012

There were plenty of ducks at Les Olles, and the commonest seemed to be the Mallard; but this being duck moulting season, I felt obliged to check every bird in case there were other eclipse ducks hidden in there. With the exception of the odd Pochard, they were all Mallards. Or I’m rubbish at eclipse ducks, which is quite possible.

One downside to this place were the observation tower with the ramps for wheelchair and pushchair access: great idea, but there's no attempt to hide the observer from the birds. No roof and a really low wall. I had to crawl up it and peek over the side on my knees - and I still flushed half the birds. The other half left when a family joined me on the tower a couple of minutes later.

The other was finding all the shotgun cartridges around the reserve.

Les Olles, Ebro Delta - Note the shotgun cartridge under the sign

Of course there’s great birding to be had inland in Spain, and our one trip into the mountains produced a Short-toed Snake Eagle. It was sat at the top of a tree at the roadside on the road from Rasquera to Cardó. It flew as we pulled over, but gave some great flight views, long enough for me to get a good look and jot down some notes.

 Looking for eagles in the Serra de Cardó...

Eagle-eyed Rowan

It was also in La Serra de Cardó we saw the lovely Two-tailed Pasha butterflies, the enjoyment of which was only spoiled by the fact they were feeding on a really stinky cat turd.

Two-tailed Pasha, Catalunya, Spain - August 2012

We went for a boat trip along the Ebro from Benifallet to Miravet. From the quayside I got close views of Squacco Heron (in it’s proper habitat, not like the one I saw in Northumberland, which died the day after), plus Grey Heron, Little Egret, Common Sandpiper, White Wagtail, and Kingfisher.

So, yeah, not bad for a family holiday, and definitely not a birding trip…

Sand Lizard, Catalunya, Spain - August 2012

1 comment:

  1. Considering that I'm a nature lover, I should try bird watching when I avail of my "cheap holidays to spain 2013". I've always climbed mountains and took photos of beautiful sceneries but not minute details such as birds, animals, and other insects. Can you recommend me some starter tips on photographing birds and insects?