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Trip reports from participants of Catalan Bird Tours' birding holidays and bird watching tours to the Aigüamolls de L'Empordà and Cap de Creus are posted here.

My own blog and photos are also below.


spain birding in spain aiguamolls 2007 summary

spain birding in spain aiguamolls 25 sept

spain birding in spain aiguamolls 20 may

spain birding in spain aiguamolls 6 may

spain birding in spain aiguamolls 29 april

spain birding in spain aiguamolls 25 april

spain birding in spain aiguamolls 22 april

spain birding in spain aiguamolls 6 april

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25 September 2006

Stephen Christopher

Bill and Helen Dick, England

Cap de Creus / Aiguamolls

“We really enjoyed our day (in fact, we called back in at Aiguamolls on the way to the airport), so as soon as my computer is OK, I will send you some comments...” (!)

Bill and Helen Dick

The really nice thing about the autumn is that you get the best of both worlds.  When we met at El Cortalet, the skies were still full of summer with Swifts, Swallows and martins (incidentally including an almost completely albino Sand Martin) whilst the waters were filling up with the first winter arrivals of Shelduck, Teal and Greylag Geese.

As we watched the transition between seasons, a Short-toed Eagle, most probably on its way to the savannahs south of the Sahara but may be one of the few to over winter in Spain, soared low over the near horizon and landed in a bush just ahead of us.  And another bird that may well choose to spend the winter locally or head off to sub-Saharan Africa, the Hoopoe, escorted us as we made our way back to the car.

We paused en route to Vilaut at a roadside field, a traditional site for throngs of pre-dispersal Stone Curlew, and sure enough, given a second look with the aid of binoculars, about thirty pairs of big yellow eyes stared back at us.  Vilaut itself was too flooded to gain access but we were entertained by an adult and a juvenile Peregrine Falcon chasing, or perhaps teasing, a flock of Black-headed Gulls.

A quick migrant check at a cork oak and olive grove on the boundary of the Cap de Creus National Park produced Redstart, Hobby and singing Melodious and Willow Warblers among others and the winding road to the Cap itself was marked with stop offs for resident Thekla Lark, Corn Bunting and Blue Rock Thrush.

Unfortunately conditions were less than ideal for sea watching but we did ‘scope the occasional Balearic Shearwater trailing the fishing boats and one or two Shag were evident on the cliff face.  Around about Northern Wheatear and Stonechat perched up every few metres and Pallid Swifts skimmed above our heads but the highlight by far for this section of the tour was four absolutely classic Honey Buzzards floating and flapping directly above our heads as we watched over a beautiful cove facing the Mediterranean.

The flocks of Jackdaw and Carrion Crow signalled almost the completion of a full circle and we arrived back at the El Cortalet reserve, this time to check in on the waders at El Mata.  Continuing the theme of the day, Black-winged Stilt and Wood Sandpiper were the summer’s representatives whilst expanding flocks of Lapwing and Common Snipe had showed up on behalf of the approaching winter.

The final word I suppose has to go to the autumn though with passage birds including Ruff, Dunlin, Black-tailed Godwit, Greenshank, both stints, Common and Spotted Redshanks and three juvenile Black Terns hawking over the shallows.  Pied Flycatcher and a blue-headed Yellow Wagtail provided welcome distractions until, as the day’s piece de resistence, a majestic VERY LOW Osprey checked in and hovered just a few metres ahead of us.

Teal and Grey Heron
teal photo cap de creus trip report 25 september 2006 shag photo cap de creus trip report spain 25 september 2006

For a complete check list of this tour

20 may trip report

20 May 2006

Stephen Christopher

Marjolijn Van Delft +40, Holland


“I want to thank you again for your tour.  We really enjoyed it and everyone was really enthusiastic about it.  We all study different aspects of biology... we learned a lot and you were able to answer all of our questions. 

We were very happy and thankful that you made it possible to visit this beautiful piece of nature of Spain.  We have seen a lot of interesting and beautiful species.”

Marjolijn Van Delft, Holland

When I was asked to lead a group of Dutch biology students on a tour to the Aigüamolls de L’Empordà, I was a little concerned that the size of the group (over forty 19-26 year olds plus a few lecturers) would make it difficult to spot birds, let alone expect them to hang around long enough for everyone to gather round so I could talk about them.

Despite this, having satisfied myself that splitting them into two groups and my degree in zoology would be enough to make the day work, I accepted the task and set about planning a series of ‘set-pieces’ to punctuate the impromptu stuff. 

However, when they poured out of the coach, most of them without binoculars, and I was told they had literally just driven the eighteen hours from Holland non-stop – save for a breakdown! – I almost jumped back in the car and fled.

I’m glad I didn’t.  From the moment when came the first of many eager interruptions as a small section couldn’t contain their excitement at seeing adjacent Squacco and Purple Herons, to the scramble for hand-shakes and photographs at the day’s end, I had an absolutely fantastic time.

Of course the birds played their part too, as the Swifts and Swallows over the rice-fields at Mas Matá allowed me to start the tour talking about migration and, how many birds, such as the current flock of waders and the recently departed Red-throated Pipits, time their journey to coincide with the region's flooding. 

A careful scan across the site revealed that, of all the species of wader, each was occupying its own feeding niche, the depth of water or mud dictated by the birds’ specific physiological adaptations.  In this case, the shapes and lengths of their bills.  From short to long, my classroom demonstrators for the day included Little Stint, Ringed Plover, Wood and Curlew Sandpiper, Black-winged Stilt and Pied Avocet.

An eager, ‘what’s that?’ from a young man carrying a constantly-open field guide and pointing at a passing Whiskered Tern, was the sole interruption to a discussion on the many sub-species of Yellow Wagtail that migrate through the area.  But a flyby Collared Dove, flapping its way over a flock of Greater Flamingoes, fortuitously prompted me to ask, ‘Does anyone know what those two birds have in common?’

When the answer (that they are, along with the Emperor Penguin and other doves, the only birds to produce milk for their offspring) was greeted with the surprise I expected, I took advantage of their interest and moved on to my ‘bird song spot'.

Silently settled between the walls and canopy formed by reeds and riparian trees, we listened to the songs and calls emanating from choristers deep beyond them.  Amongst other topics, we mused on why many species reliant on song for finding a mate are typically dull in their plumage.  The Nightingale and Cetti’s, Reed and Great Reed Warblers all helped to make the point.  The fact that they also obliged us with unusually close ‘binoculars-down’ views was only failed to be appreciated by the students because most of them didn’t have any binoculars to put down.

The quite fascinating mating exploits of the Penduline Tit were appreciated, however, and the (partial) explanation of the sexual dimorphism shown in birds such as Mallard, Marsh Harrier and Common Pochard, regarding responsibility for egg incubation, initiated a chorus of ‘I knew I knew that’ recognition.

A lone Cuckoo and the massive, chick-filled nests of the White Storks initiated discussions on survival instincts and the validity of man's interference with re-introduction schemes until an excited runner from my first group, exclaiming that he’d found a pair of Roller and beckoning us to follow, provided a timely end to proceedings and we headed back to the coach via them and a bank of Bee-eater nests.

Iberiae 'Spanish' Yellow Wagtail
Curlew Sandpiper
birding day tours spain iberiae spanish yellow wagtail photo curlew sandpiper aiguamolls de l'emporda photo

For a complete check list of this tour


6 April 2006

Stephen Christopher



There a very few places I prefer to be when I’m exhausted than sitting in the single, sleepy hide at Vilaüt, in the Aigüamolls de L’Empordà.  In all the years I’ve been visiting it I think I’ve only ever seen two people there, which is incredible considering what an absolute marvel it is in terms of birds.

I mean it’s just a wet field in the middle of some other fields but, for some reason, the birds like it and something always turns up to join the site’s famed Roller, Great Spotted Cuckoo and, perhaps still, one of only two breeding populations of Lesser Grey Shrike in Catalonia (and Iberia!). 

I can’t pretend I wasn’t disappointed then when a disparate collection of Mallard was all there was to greet me as I approached the gap between the trees that always offers me my first excited peek.  The build up via the farmland dirt track had promised much, with startling spring pairs of Northern Wheatear, Stonechat and Whinchat all competing for space in my notebook, but the vacant expanse now before me began to tease out a guilty regret that I had stayed in slumber rather longer than I had intended this morning. 

And then, bang on ironic cue, and seemingly urged on by the metaphoric alarm clock of the rhythmic tock-turring of Red-legged Partridge, the site began to awaken.  Tree Sparrows began to chatter around the hide, perhaps impressed by the Wood Sandpiper’s ability to melt out of nothingness, and a whole section of field just a few metres away decided to reveal itself as a rather large flock of gleaning iberiae Yellow Wagtail.

It always does this.  And I always forget.  Everything seems to stop, like a group of actors on stage politely waiting for a latecomer to take his seat, until you’ve unpacked your flask and poured out a cup full of wake-me-up.  Then, once you’re comfortable, the plot continues, rising and falling in fits and starts before presenting you with the finale.

In the past this has meant anything from my first Short-toed Eagle (Culebrera, or Snake Eagle, in Spanish), blankets and blankets of waders or a lone Common Crane to keep me company but today, today was a real fanfare.  As a dark-phase, Booted Eagle (Calcada oscura locally) floated down from the right, it was simultaneously joined from the left by a superb adult Culebrera.  And then from high, high above – and I have no words to describe this – a Pescadora (or Osprey) swooped gently down to complete the circus of friends cart wheeling and pirouetting on the stage that is Vilaüt.

Re-invigorated and, not surprisingly, no longer sleepy I made my way to the noisy El Cortalet reserve chaperoned, to the car at least, by scooping and screaming hirundines and two species of swift, Common and Alpine

Whiskered Tern, Lapwing, Glossy Ibis, Hoopoe, Lesser Short-toed Lark, Woodchat Shrike, Marsh Sandpiper, Purple Heron, Melodious Warbler and Little Owl all provided the highlights.  Of the second part of the day at least.
Northern Wheatear
Marsh Sandpiper
Black-tailed Godwit
aiguamolls de l'emporda trip report northern wheatear photo trip report aiguamolls de l'emporda marsh sandpiper photo trip report aiguamolls de l'emporda black-tailed godwit photo

For a complete check list of this tour

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