Sunday, 4 October 2009

Catalan Birding

During our stay in Sitges we enjoyed a day trip with Catalan Bird Tours to the Lleida Steppes. Steppe is unirrigated farmland, a habitat that is rapidly disappearing in Europe.

After seeing a number of raptors on route as the sun came up, we stopped to look for Dotterel, which our guide told us were definitely in the area. After searching a number of fields one of our companions spotted this group as we drove past - brakes slammed on and we got out to take a
closer look. The dotterel didn't seem too bothered by our presence and we got close enough to get some decent pics.

We saw a number of other species in a comparatively small area at the start of the day - kestrel, marsh harriers, a hobby, a pair of shrike and green woodpecker, but sadly not close enough for photos.

The next major find was a group of Pin Tailed Sand Grouse, hiding in long grass. We watched them for a few minutes from the car before they finally realised we were looking at them and half the group took to the skies.

Flocks of Callandra Larks and Corn Bunting were up early too.

We then had a half hour drive to the next location where we were expecting to see Great Bustard, and we did - a pair feeding in a barren field just off the main road. Unfortunately we could only really see them with a scope, but worth seeing nontheless.

Driving around the area as the sun got higher, the raptors came out in force and we saw countless Buzzards, griffon vultures, marsh harriers and kestrels as we were on the road. The habitat ranged from fields of sunflowers to fields of not very much at all, and it was very hot and dry.

No wonder that one of the few pools of water in the area attracted so many dragonflies. There were hundreds of these flying through the air - we think they are Scarlet dragonflies (Crocothemis erythraea), which are rare visitors to the UK but were certainly not rare at this pond. The females are bright yellow, and one posed very nicely for us.

When driving through a plantation of almond trees - another regular feature of the landscape - we saw a couple of Stone Curlew resting in the shade. Again, it was scope only, unfortunately . Butterflies included Large White and Long Tailed Blue.

We saw these Little Bustard feeding in a field.

Another scope only highlight was a young Golden Eagle, soaring around an arid valley and taking advantage of the thermals to give quite an exhibition. Whilst trying to locate him again we came across the find of the day - a whole flock of Griffon Vultures.

One of our party spotted a couple of vultures flying around a ridge in the distance. This wasn't unusual for the day, but what was unusual was that they seemed to have landed behind this ridge. Our guide felt that this was worth investigating, and he was right. We drove along the dusty tracks towards the ridge where we thought the vultures had landed. Before we got chance to get that far, a couple of vultures flew from just behind it, over our heads, landing in a nearby field. As we got out of the car to take a closer look, the vultures just kept coming...

By the time they had all come out, there were around 60 of them. They were in the fields, flying over our heads, and one cheeky chap decided to land on the derelict farm buildings just yards from where we stood, just to mark his territory. The consensus was that there had to be some pretty large source of food the other side of the ridge to have attracted that many birds to this point. We never got to find out what it was, as our guide felt we had disturbed their lunch for long enough, and we moved on.

Having seen a solitary White stork in the early light as we started our trip, we were surprised not to have seen any more during the day. We needn't have worried. It seems the reason we hadn't seen any was that they were all too busy scavenging at the local dump. Dozens of them sorted through the rubbish as the workmen took a siesta, leaving the tip to the birds. Cattle Egret, seagulls, a heron and a number of other species took the opportunity to have a free feed.


  1. What a great trip you had, so many wonderful birds. The Golden Eagle must have been quite a sight! Your pictures are great, seeing so many Vultures so close must have been a little scary!

  2. The flying vulture pics are great, as is the Dotterel.


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