Spring Birding in Central and Northern Spain Apr 22—May 08, 2010
Our Spain tour, now in its 17th year, is still going as strong as ever. We had a full tour of keen and companionable participants for what I am convinced is the most comprehensive, detailed, thorough, and well-researched birding itinerary in Spain that is possible to achieve in this time frame. All the scarce, localized, and sought-after species are still showing up and just about guaranteed. With Alberto's local knowledge and contacts, we know precisely when and where to find them, and have various "back-up" sites to ensure as best as humanly possible that we don't fail. However, each year provides little differences to keep us on our toes; birds never always do exactly as you want them to—it wouldn't be birding and wouldn't be as much fun if they did.
This year was, at times, unusually cold. The Pyrenees threw wind and snow at us, making our day in the high peaks less than comfortable, but we still managed to find most of the special birds. Wallcreepers this year provided some exceptional viewing and behavior despite the cold and wind. We enjoyed at least 3 (possibly as many as 5) on a towering red cliff face above us, calling their weird, piercing, undulating, whistling song which I'd never properly heard before, and making aerial flight displays out into the open sky, showing off their crimson, gray, and black butterfly wings.
Out on the steppes we got lucky with daytime views of the often extraordinarily difficult to see Dupont's Lark. Alberto had researched a new area with greater nesting densities, and here we were treated to the best views of this species I've ever had in 40 years of birding Spain. This unique little bird, with its limited world population centered on central Spain, stood "high" on a 4-inch tuft of dry bush and sang in full scope view for over 4 minutes (Alberto was so amazed that he actually timed it!). The wonderful displaying Great Bustards seemingly turning themselves inside out and upside down to attract mates must surely be a lasting memory for all.
This was another year with an almost complete suite of all possible raptors—22 species seen. Bonelli's Eagles were tricky this year and at one point we thought we were going to fail, but the close Booted and Short-toed eagles were magical. Participants on our Spain tours always seem amazed by the sheer numbers and phenomenally close views (some of nests with chicks) of Eurasian Griffons, along with their supporting cast of Cinereous and Egyptian vultures and, of course, the incomparable Lammergeier. And all this set in the most splendid and often spectacular country of rugged, rural Spain—magnificent cliffs and gorges, wide vistas of remote dry steppe, and those very special cork oak dehesas.
The warblers were not bad either! Seventeen species provided plenty of entertainment, and at times bafflement, as I explained the subtle differences between those LBJs in the phragmites. But everyone got the hang of the strident "carra-carra-crick-crick-gurk-gurk" song of the Great Reed Warbler in the end and marveled at the incredible views of Spectacled Warbler. For Alberto and me, it is always exciting to see additional species on this long-running tour and we were delighted to find 4 this year. Two of them illustrate the wonderful serendipity of birding. If Alberto had not left his binoculars behind, he'd never have returned to that wetland near Valencia and noticed the Marbled Teal that stayed close by for us all to see—a species we'd been hoping for over several years. With so many different good routes to take from "A to B" it was pure chance that we happened along a long straight road through the steppe and stumbled on that gorgeous breeding-plumaged flock of Eurasian Dotterels (just as we'd been saying how this area is used as a migration stop-off for them, but earlier in the year!).
We ended our tour with a very respectable 212 species seen and 2 others heard only. So many charismatic and colorful species were seen so closely: the Technicolor European Bee-eaters and European Rollers; the enigmatic Black-bellied and Pin-tailed sandgrouse; and the evocative songs of Common Nightingales wherever we went. The cumulative total is 262 species now. But while Alberto and I pride ourselves on being able to show you so many of Spain's great birds, we understand that you derive as much pleasure from the travel through "unknown" Spain, the grand scenery, the ancient hilltop towns, and just "being there."