NAPTON ON THE HILL WEATHER

Monday, May 28, 2018

🇪🇸 NE SPAIN 2018

Back aboard now after an exhilarating 16days in northern Aragon high up in the Spanish Pyrenees and then down along the coastal areas of Catalonia to the north-east. In total, we clocked up some 2,650 kilometres and avoided just three head-on collisions during this visit. If you've driven around Catalonia, you'll know exactly what I mean!

A very showy Squacco Heron at Aiguamolls
Our final couple of days were spent in a quiet hotel both chilling and sightseeing around Girona but we did take the opportunity to revisit Aiguamolls de l'Empordà Natural Park on Saturday between leaving our villa and checking in to our hotel. If you remember we didn't have the best of visits on Monday 21st, it was full of noisy school parties and coach loads of tourists. Thankfully Saturday was much quieter, with actual birders milling around! That said it was club-med for mosquitos and despite some hefty precautions on our part these guys meant business, you can't win em all.

A shy Purple Heron
Cattle Egret
Notwithstanding we had a very good visit and the best results of which I've posted in picture form. I've also posted a complete list of all bird species noted and will post Odanata and Butterflies later when I've resolved a few ID issues.

Glossy Ibis
Mute Swan, Greylag Goose, Shelduck, Mallard, Gadwall, Red-crested Pochard, Red-legged Partridge, Quail(h), Pheasant, Little Grebe, Great Crested Grebe, Balearic Shearwater, Cormorant, Shag, Cattle Egret, Squacco Heron, Little Egret, Great Egret, Grey Heron, Purple Heron, White Stork, Black Stork, Glossy Ibis, Spoonbill, Flamingo, Lammergeier, Griffon Vulture, Egyptian Vulture, Golden Eagle, Short-toed Eagle, Booted Eagle, Bonelli's Eagle, Red Kite, Black Kite, Marsh Harrier, Montagu's Harrier, Common Buzzard, Honey Buzzard, Sparrowhawk, Goshawk, Kestrel, Hobby, Peregrine, Water Rail, Moorhen, Coot, Purple Swamphen, Avocet, Black-winged Stilt, Collared Pratincole, Little-ringed Plover, Ringed Plover, Kentish Plover, Grey Plover, Lapwing, Dunlin, Temminck's Stint, Little Stint, Wood Sandpiper, Common Sandpiper, Redshank, Greenshank, Black-tailed Godwit, Curlew, Woodcock, Ruff, Black-headed Gull, Yellow-legged Gull, Gull-billed Tern, Common Tern, Whiskered Tern, Rock Dove, Stock Dove, Wood Pigeon, Collared Dove, Turtle Dove, Cuckoo, Eagle Owl(h), Tengmalm's Owl(h), Tawny Owl, Barn Owl, Little Owl, Scops Owl(h), Nightjar, Swift, Pallid Swift, Alpine Swift, Hoopoe, Kingfisher, Bee-Eater, Roller, Black Woodpecker, Green Woodpecker, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Skylark, Crested Lark, Thekla Lark, Woodlark, Sand Martin, Crag Martin, Barn Swallow, Red-rumped Swallow, House Martin, Tawny Pipit, Water Pipit, White Wagtail, Yellow Wagtail, Grey Wagtail, Dipper, Dunnock, Alpine Accentor, Robin, Nightingale, Black Redstart, Wheatear, Whinchat, Stonechat, Mistle Thrush, Blackbird, Blue Rock Thrush, Garden Warbler, Blackcap, Orphean Warbler, Sardinian Warbler, Subalpine Warbler, Dartford Warbler, Moustached Warbler(h), Zitting Cisticola, Cetti's Warbler, Reed Warbler, Great Reed Warbler, Melodious Warbler, Willow Warbler, Bonelli's Warbler, Chiffchaff, Goldcrest, Firecrest, Wren, Spotted Flycatcher, Pied Flycatcher, Great Tit, Blue Tit, Crested Tit, Marsh Tit, Long-tailed Tit, Nuthatch, Treecreeper, Short-toed Treecreeper, Red-backed Shrike, Woodchat Shrike, Magpie, Jay, Jackdaw, Chough, Alpine Chough, Carrion Crow, Raven, Starling, Spotless Starling, Golden Oriole, House Sparrow, Tree Sparrow, Rock Sparrow, Chaffinch, Linnet, Goldfinch, Greenfinch, Citril Finch, Serin, Common Crossbill, Reed Bunting, Yellowhammer, Cirl Bunting, Corn Bunting, Rock Bunting (175 Seen and heard)

A few notable absentees: Common Redstart, Wryneck, Night Heron, Stone Curlew and Lesser Kestrel

Saturday, May 26, 2018

🇪🇸 NE SPAIN 2018 ~ Days 11/12/13

The last three days of the holiday have been more a mixture of wildlife watching and sightseeing. Today (Saturday 26th) we move out of our current accommodation for a weekend of rest and pampering at a quiet hotel near Girona. I'll certainly miss sitting out late at night listening to the Nightingales, Nightjars and Scops Owls and watching the bats whizzing around the garden. I have to say though, that we're looking forward to a few days rest from birding, it's been almost non-stop, extremely tiring but at the same time wonderfully exhilarating!

Crested Lark 
🇪🇸☀️🌩24C Wednesday 23rd May 2018 ~ We headed up to Cap de Creus lighthouse. This area constitutes the last buttress of the Pyrenees and the easternmost point of the Iberian Peninsula. The coast is abrupt and jagged, with towering cliffs and remote coves. On our last visit here in 2016 the place was mobbed (never visit on a Sunday) but today it was reasonably quiet. Although not specifically a birding day, on the way up we stopped on several occasions to investigate areas, coming across our first Spotted Flycatcher of the whole visit, plus a Crested Lark, which was obviously nesting close by.

Alpine Swift

Pallid Swift
At the lighthouse, we walked the cliffs and had great views of Alpine Swifts, along with one or two Pallids. It was flat calm so not much on the sea below, save for the many Yellow-legged Gulls, a passing Shag and a couple of Balearic Shearwaters. A Peregrine was best on route back to the lighthouse.


Dartford Warbler
Heading back to the villa we stopped near a large military installation to look for Spectacled Warbler, which we found here in 2016 but sadly not today. However, just before the daily thunderstorm hit we managed Dartford Warbler, Corn Bunting, Cirl Bunting, Melodious Warbler, Linnet and Stonechat.

False llex Hairstreak
🇪🇸☀️25C Thursday 24th May 2018 ~ We drove up the dirt tracks towards Punta Montgó, an area of pine and maquis (scrubland vegetation) and paused at various areas to admire the clifftop views. One area in particular was good for butterflies, so with the birding a little slow we concentrated on this. Spanish Gatekeeper, Iberian Swallowtail, Cleopatra, Green-veined White and lots of what I believe are False llex Hairstreak. A surprise was hearing a churring Nightjar, it lasted for only about 10 seconds then stopped, I've never heard one in the day before! Next, we came to an abandoned house and paused for a while to check out a large area of meadowland, now of course in late May, overgrown. Hoopoe, Thekla Lark, Woodchat Shrike, Cuckoo and Hobby here. At the end of the track we reached Punta Ventosa a high cliff area which overlooks the sea but again it was flat calm with little of note below. However, over the cliffs lots of Common Swift, along with Pallid Swift and Crag Martin. Our final stop before heading for a late lunch was at the turning for Bellcaire. Here there is a rocky track with a circular route well worth a look. Rock Sparrow, Sardinian Warbler, Golden Oriole, Orphean Warbler and Woodlark.

Dazza's photo of Cirl Bunting shows how well camouflaged these can be!
🇪🇸☁️ 23C Friday 25th May 2018 ~ We spent today at the Parc Natural de la Zona Volcanica de la Garrotxa, a volcanic park of some 12,000 hectares. The road from Banyole passes through a beautiful wooded landscape, climbing and dipping around craters and lava flows, offering some lovely valley views until you reach the town of Olot. The 30 volcanoes have been dormant for 11,500 years, and luxuriant vegetation masks their contours. It was a different day weatherwise, with bright but mostly overcast skies and quite humid. There was a good deal of butterflies on the wing today and we spent quite a bit of time searching them out.

Another one of Dazza's ~ Provencal Fritillary
These included Scarce Swallowtail, Spanish Gatekeeper, Grizzled Skipper, Provencal Fritillary, Small Heath, Red Admiral, Common Blue, Painted Lady and Speckled Wood. Birds noted: Griffon Vulture, Honey Buzzard, Raven, Melodious Warbler, Bonelli's Warbler, Chiffchaff, Firecrest, Black Redstart, Stonechat and Cirl Bunting.

Provencal Fritillary

Speckled Wood ~ Note the lighter colours in the Spanish version!

Painted Lady 
Spanish Gatekeeper

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

🇪🇸 NE SPAIN 2018 ~ Days 10

🇪🇸☀️🌩25C Tuesday 22nd May 2018 ~ Our second day around Aiguamolls de l'Empordà and we began firstly by bypassing the busy main reserve and driving around to the adjacent campsite access road. Here you can enjoy close views of the Estanys del Mata without going through the main reserve trail. This, as you may remember, is where we terminated yesterdays visit. Here, in the quiet, we achieved great views of feeding Glossy Ibis and were able to spend an hour or so scanning the area.

Glossy Ibis too close to this nesting Stilt
Lots of House Sparrows along the fencing to confuse matters, but we did pick out two Tree Sparrows and a single Whinchat. Our efforts produced several nesting and protective Black-winged Stilts, their nests literally sitting on top of the water and other waders included: A single Black-tailed Godwit and various counts of Avocet, Ringed Plover, Redshank, Wood Sandpiper, Ruff in breeding plumage, plus a single Little Stint. Also noted Iberian Yellow Wagtail, Little Egret, Great Egret, Greater Flamingo, White Stork and a distant Collared Pratincole. Overhead Yellow-legged Gulls, Black-headed Gulls and Whiskered Terns.

Hoopoe
From here a 15-minute drive out along the C-260 to the southeast corner of Castelló d'Empúries. Here there are three bridges with reeds and open water that are well worth investigating. After parking along the roadside we took a short walk, a Common Buzzard overhead and within the reeds Cetti's Warbler and the grating song of Great Reed Warbler. Unfortunately, I inadvertently flushed a Purple Heron which rose over the reeds and headed off, can't quite nail a photo of one of these yet. Little Egret, Cattle Egret, Cuckoo calling, Hoopoe and plenty of White Stork. A Stonechat posed briefly and Zitting Cisticola overhead before Dazza spotted a distant Montagu's Harrier.

Serin ~ Looking smart in the blue backdrop
Nightingale ready to deliver his find
About a half mile further on there is an excellent circular walk, around 3kms offering some superb habitat with flower meadows, small copse, rocky areas and olive groves. Along the first half of the trail, there's plenty of shade and plenty to look out for among the Tamarisk. We picked out a Serin through one of the gaps perched up on a dead branch and looking pretty smart against the blue sky backdrop. In the undercover, a Nightingale was carrying food, probably to a nearby family.

Rather odd plumaged Whiskered Tern!
Dazza spotted a few raptors circling pretty high up and along with Common Buzzard and Short-toed Eagle our first Bonelli's Eagle of the whole trip! By the time we'd reached the hide overlooking L'Estany de Vilaüt we also noted Bee-eater, Woodchat Shrike and Crested Lark. We had to be very careful while in the hide due to a nesting pair of Swallows, so we didn't stay too long, although they were very confiding. From the hide Greenshank, Glossy Ibis, Black-winged Stilt and a flyby Whiskered Tern.

Roller pair (heat-haze effected)
Typically, shortly after leaving the hide, we watched six Spoonbill fly in but by this time we'd caught up with a pair of Roller. We knew from our previous visit in 2016 that this was a good spot to see them and were delighted we'd connected once again.

Roller
Dazza's best photo of Roller on the Canon SX50
The above heat-effected photos do not do justice to the wonderful time we spent watching these stunning birds.

Monday, May 21, 2018

🇪🇸 NE SPAIN 2018 ~ Days 9

🇪🇸☀️🌩21C Monday 21st May 2018 ~ Aiguamolls de l'Empordà Natural Park protects one of the most important remaining wetlands on the northern Costa Brava coast. Vital as a staging area for a wide variety of water birds, this network of freshwater and brackish lagoons, marshes, grazing meadows and rice fields is an area we last visited in 2016. It forms part of the Bay of Roses and, like the Ebro Delta, was a malarial swampland. The marshland lies between the Rivers Fluvià and Muga and is the second largest wetland in Catalonia at over 4,800 hectares, established in 1983.

Nesting White Stork completely unfazed!
For the next couple of days, we'll been roaming various parts of this vast reserve beginning today at the Nature Centre in El Cortalet. Obviously, a good place to start to investigate the integral parts of the reserve. Things got off to a good start as while driving down the access road three Wild Boar crossed the road in front, forcing some evasive manoeuvres! All around the parking area and along the access lanes White Storks abound, the one above nesting in the car park.

Purple Heron ~ Unfortunately moving away
We began at the two hides which overlook Estany (lagoon) del Cortalet where the first birds of note were Black-winged Stilt, and a couple of Cattle Egret. Towards the rear of the lagoon Purple Gallinule, Purple Heron in flight and a couple of Whiskered Terns.

Cattle Egret doing what they do!
With too many cyclists up and down the track, we doubled back to take the trail that leads down to the Estanys del Mata, a great area for waders with plenty of shallow brackish water. Along the trail, there are various stopping points to look across the grassy meadows and rice fields. Species observed or singing along the route included Water Rail, Melodious Warbler, Nightingale, Blackcap, Bee-eater, Monk Parakeet, Cetti's Warbler and over the meadows Zitting Cisticola, Iberian Yellow Wagtail and Crested Lark.

Greater Flamingo on the Estanys del Mata
Our visit two years ago was in late April when the reserve was much quieter, with the local campsites not yet open. Today, with the sites now open it was incredibly busy. This included not only many of the nearby campsite visitors but several very noisy school parties, with even noisier teachers! The hides were a nonsense, I've never known any reserve to allow dogs in hides and the noise emanating as we approached made a mockery. The majority of visitors were non-birders, with several coach parties from France too and from my experience, both the French and Spanish do not know the meaning of stealth and can be heard from many meters away. This detracted greatly from the days birding but we persevered for a while but called time on the reserve when we reached Estanys del Mata.

Black-winged Stilt
We did get the chance to scan here when we found a relatively quieter spot and despite most birds to the far side of the shallows, I wonder why? we did manage a good count.

Ringed Plover ~ Over 30+
Wood Sandpiper
This included Squacco Heron, Grey Heron, Ringed Plover, Little-ringed Plover, Common Sandpiper, Wood Sandpiper, both Temminck's and Little Stint, two flyby Collared Pratincoles and both Whiskered and Gull-billed Tern.

Dazza's close up views of White Stork feeding on what looks like Crayfish
We found sanctuary to the north of the reserve after a 10-minute drive to the Estany Europa and spent the remainder of our visit here enjoying the three 'quieter' hides. Highlights included close up views of feeding White Storks and Coypu.

Coypu ~ Photo by Dazza

Sunday, May 20, 2018

🇪🇸 NE SPAIN 2018 ~ Days 7/8

After our amazing week in the Pyrenees, I urge any birder planning a trip to Spain to visit, we arrived Saturday afternoon after a 4-hour drive east at our new home for the coming week. We're now situated near the small town of Les Olivers, not far from the coast and around 20 miles or so from Girona. The difference in habitat as you would imagine is stark, although we can just about make out the snow-capped Pre-Pyrenees to the west.

Part of the villa grounds
The villa itself is stunning and set in its own grounds which includes woodland, scrub and many surrounding fields of various crops. Having unpacked and settled in we sat out for dinner and it wasn't long before I realised that Dazza (my travel agent) had done it again, the wife just never fails me! We enjoyed our dinner listening to Nightingales, Woodlarks, Quail, Scops Owl and at least three Nightjars, one extremely close by, plus several Bats around the villa pool and a night sky which was to die for.

Woodlark singing over the villa today
Today Sunday Dazza and I decided on a day of rest, just simply hang around the villa pool and recharge the batteries for the coming week. Of course, birders are like policemen, there never off duty and so we decided to see how many species we could see, either within the grounds or seen or heard from the grounds.


Bonelli's Warbler today
The final tally by the time we called it a night was 33 and here they are!

Quail, Honey Buzzard, Kestrel, Yellow-legged Gull, Turtle Dove, Collared Dove, Scops Owl, Nightjar, Swift, Hoopoe, Crested Lark, Woodlark, Barn Swallow, White Wagtail, Nightingale, Sardinian Warbler, Subalpine Warbler, Bonelli's Warbler, Firecrest, Great Tit (nesting), Crested Tit, Woodchat Shrike, Magpie, Jay, Bee-eater, Spotless Starling, House Sparrow, Linnet, Goldfinch, Greenfinch, Serin, Zitting Cisticola, Corn Bunting...

🇪🇸 NE SPAIN 2018 ~ Pyrenees Day 6

🇪🇸☀️🌩21C Friday 18th May 2018 ~ On our final full day in the Pyrenees, we visited the monastery of San Juan de la Peña "Saint John of the Cliff", a religious complex in the town of Santa Cruz de la Serós, to the south-west of Jaca, Huesca. During the middle ages, this was one of the most important monasteries in Aragon. Its stunning two-level church is partially carved in the stone of the great cliff that overhangs the foundation. Legend has it that the chalice of the Last Supper (Holy Grail) was sent to the monastery for protection and prevention from being captured by the Muslim invaders of the Iberian Peninsula.

Monastery of San Juan de la Peña
Not only is the scenery spectacular here but it's also renown as a good place for birds. I'm not sure about the latter, as in recent years the monastery has been greatly modernised so isn't perhaps as attractive to hole-nesting species such as Rock Sparrow and Red-billed Chough, which were once found here.

Bonelli's Warbler ~ Common throughout our stay
We enjoyed the visit and did indeed get all the species you'd expect to find in the surrounding woodlands. Bonelli's Warbler, Chiffchaff, Firecrest, Crested Tit, Marsh Tit, Nuthatch, Short-toed Treecreeper and Great Spotted Woodpecker. The meadows held Yellowhammer and Linnet but as expected no Citril Finch, Rock Sparrow or Chough. It's also known for Black Woodpecker but again, no sight nor sound! A number of raptors overhead, which included the usual flow of Griffon Vultures, plus Booted Eagle, Red and Black Kite.

Crested Tit at the Monastery
For our final destination, we decided to give Refugio de Gabardito a second visit. If you remember we were hampered by bad weather during our visit on Monday and today the weather was a lot kinder. This area is renown by some to be 'the best-known breeding site for Wallcreeper in the Pyrenees'.

On arrival in the car park, where unlike Monday's visit there were no Citril Finch, we were today greeted by a drumming Black Woodpecker, which I'm happy to say we did thankfully get a brief glimpse of. We searched for a short while longer for a chance of better views but sadly the bird had moved on.

Red-billed Chough above Gabardito
It was late afternoon so we decided to head up to the cliff face without too many stops. Having found ourselves a good spot for scanning we began in earnest to look for the elusive Wallcreepers. Our best hope really was to find one in flight, to see one clinging to the cliff face at this distance would be difficult.

Dazza's turn on the scope
There were several Griffon Vultures nesting, two Lammergeier circling often over the tops, Red-billed Chough, Alpine Swift, Crag Martin and a high Golden Eagle but sadly after two hours, no Wallcreepers!😒

Our quest goes on for this elusive of species. I'm still adamant about finding our own one in Spain and simply refuse to go on any tour offering that guarantee of seeing one at a known nesting site, were's the fun it that! Unfortunately, or search must continue another time as tomorrow we head down to the east coast. Our incredible week in the Pyrenees comes to an end, some stunning highlights, stunning scenery and a few hits and misses on the birding front, but WOW!

** A quick thank you for the emails and messages we've been receiving during the last week. Its good to know that we have such a keen group of followers 👍

Thursday, May 17, 2018

🇪🇸 NE SPAIN 2018 ~ Pyrenees Day 5

🇪🇸☀️⚡️🌩22C Thursday 17th May 2018 ~A later start today than normal on our penultimate day in the Pyrenees, catching up on a little sleep, processing a few images and getting to grips with some bug, butterfly and moth IDs. My thanks to Fred Stokes back in the UK who's a great knowledge base to rely on when you've forgotten a few of your Butterfly/Moth ID books. See below..

White-spotted Black, Eurrhypis pollinalis, moth basking in the sun
After breakfast and using Dave Gosney's 'Finding Birds In North Spain pamphlet', we set off on an hours drive to the outskirts of the municipality of Sabiñánigo to an area known to be good for buntings, warblers and raptors.

Excellent habitat for Dartford Warbler
As recommended we began by searching the scrubland to the right along the access road to the Margas Golf Club and spent a good hour here. A couple of Bee-eaters perched up on the wires, Dartford Warbler, Wheatear, Linnet, Woodchat Shrike and a pair of Stonechat. We walked as far as the fairways with no sign of our target birds for the day, Ortolan Bunting and Rock Sparrow, the latter apparently breed here.

Cirl Bunting ~ Great camouflage
We then decided to walk the section on the opposite side of the road back to the car, stopping occasionally to sit and watch on some well-positioned benches. While here a couple of Cirl Buntings appeared, a male sitting well camouflaged in one of the birch trees.

Woodchat Shrike

Red-backed Shrike
On the fences and bushes looking down to the golf course both Woodchat and Red-backed Shrike were noted, plus two more Wheatear. The skies had begun to darken but overhead more Griffon Vultures and the ever-present Red Kites and then as we thought the distant rumble of a thunder.

Still using Dave Gosney's 'Finding Birds In North Spain pamphlet'. Our next stop just a short distance from the golf course was nicknamed 'Critchell's Road'. Graham Critchell, Dave tells us, apparently described it in one of his publications as 'one of the best places to go birding in the whole of Spain' a bold statement indeed!

Nightingale
However, before heading off along the roadside, which in places has excellent views across the mountains, we took a walk up to a nearby communication tower, perhaps not the best idea with a thunderstorm arriving! We made it up and down without being hit, although the lightning was spectacular and for our efforts managed Woodlark, Nightingale, more Dartford Warblers and overhead, Black Kite and Short-toed Eagle.

Impending Storm
The walk along 'Critchell's Road' did produce Orphean Warbler, Garden Warbler, Rock Bunting, Corn Bunting and Bonelli's Warbler and although an excellent haul: 'The best birding site in Spain'? Who knows, the thunderstorm certainly put paid to further investigation!

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

🇪🇸 NE SPAIN 2018 ~ Pyrenees Day 4

🇪🇸☀️24C Wednesday 16th May 2018 ~A short and local morning walk before breakfast, mainly to listen to the wonderful Pyrenean dawn chorus: Nightingale, Cuckoo, Golden Oriole, Hoopoe, Bonelli's Warbler, Blackbird, Robin, Orphean Warbler, Great Tit but no Turtle Dove today! The find of the walk was an obliging Red-backed Shrike, which posed very briefly for a quick photo, not had one of these for a while and sadly a know declining species for the Pyrenees.

This morning Red-backed Shrike
Breakfast on the terrace was nicely interrupted once more by the regular morning passage of raptors: Griffon Vulture, Egyptian Vulture, Red Kite, Booted Eagle, Honey Buzzard and Sparrowhawk today, you simply can't be anything but in awe of this place!

The medieval town of Alquezar
Today Dazza and I celebrated our wedding anniversary and after breakfast headed for lunch at the medieval town of Alquezar, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Staying at reasonably lower levels (2500ft) for a change the weather was spectacular with clear skies and a comfortable 24C

Absolutely stunning El Grado
Naturally, on route to Alquezar, we stopped on many occasions including at the above stunning embalse (reservoir) El Grado, a huge reservoir fed by the Rio Cinca. Along the rock face Red-billed Chough and Crag Martin and over the tops Alpine Swift, screaming Common Swift and Griffon Vulture.

Clouded Yellow
We took a walk along the waterside meadows where a number of butterflies were on the wing and these included Common Blue, Scarce Swallowtail, European Swallowtail, Clouded Yellow and a few other species I'm still searching for ID on, forgot my book!

After lunch, we spent the remainder of the day enjoying the scenery and checking out various gorges and ravines. Some of the resulting observations below.

Alpine Swift 

Griffon Vulture

Egyptian Vulture

Bee-eater