Spring Birding in Central and Northern Spain Apr 25—May 10, 2008
This was my 15th Spain tour for VENT. Alberto, my steadfast Spanish co-leader, and I tried a slight variation and extension to the itinerary in an attempt to show you even more of Spain and its birds than before. We rearranged our route to travel via Valencia to find, for the first time, the globally threatened White-headed Duck in its most northerly Spanish outpost. This worked well, with great views of these bright and distinctive ducks.
All the sought after species are nowadays just about guaranteed, and we know precisely when and where we'll find them—all helped enormously by Alberto's network of co-workers and birders that he consults for the latest information on the whereabouts of special birds, and options should our first locations fail. This worked well, as we enjoyed excellent looks at Spanish Eagle and "first day out" sightings of both bustards in Extramadura. Later, Alberto's local knowledge paid dividends when he arranged for bones to be put out for the Lammergeiers in Sierra De Guara, ensuring some wonderful, close perched and flight shots of this spectacular and unique raptor—the only ossophagous bird in the world (we all learned a new word on this tour!). Wallcreeper proved slightly trickier this year, but with back-up sites we had delightful views of a pair doing aerial displays, even if a little more distantly than we would have liked.
The weather was almost consistently great—not too hot, and rain only on our final afternoon as we headed back for Barcelona after finding our third new species (Long-eared Owl) for this tour's cumulative bird list, which now stands at 258 species. Fog and low clouds on our snowline venture into the Pyrenees reduced our fun a little, but even there the skies cleared just long enough for the Ring Ouzels to appear out of the mist.
A great group of enthusiastic and keen-eyed participants ensured a bumper year, with 217 species recorded, including an impressive 22 raptor species and 17 warblers. Everyone seemed to enjoy the wonderful variety of rural and fascinating habitats we encompassed, and appreciated that in order to do this, we had to cover a substantial amount of ground: about 2,250 miles in two weeks. And everyone had their favorite birds for various reasons, be they sentimental Hoopoes, iconic Wallcreepers, evasive Sandgrouse, subtle Azure-winged Magpies, flashy European Bee-eaters, or (for me) Dupont's Lark—that enigmatic symbol of the endangered steppe habitats—at dawn.
Free wine with evening meals certainly went down well, and our group unanimously felt that the idyllic little village of Lecina and the good food and cozy accommodations of La Choca were a grand finale.