Why go birdwatching in Catalonia? Well, because of its terrific range of habitats and geographical position, it has a greater variety of wildlife than anywhere on the peninsular, with 95% of Iberia’s and 50% of the whole Palearctic region’s recorded bird species. Not bad for an area one quarter the size of England.
I quite understand why everyone wants to visit the Pyrenees when they come to Spain to watch birds, as there certainly is an air of magic about the place.
It’s not just because of the calm tranquility or the clean, crispness of the air, but somehow everything looks different. The lines and colours of even a humble Linnet seem to jump out and smack you so hard in the face that you’d swear you’d discovered a new species.
But that’s not all. Like a true magician the Pyrenees seem to know exactly what the audience want and deliberately take its time to cast its spell.
Of course it’s no mystery that everyone’s here for the Wallcreeper, Black Woodpecker and Lammergeier… .
The Delta de L’Ebre is like a moving tapestry of colour, spectacle and fantasy. There’s so much variety and abundance of species that when I first visited it I could barely sit still for fear – absolute fear – of missing something.
Birds were everywhere. Cetti’s, Savi’s, Fan-tailed and Great Reed Warblers were competing for space on the tops of reed stems with Little Bittern of all things. Meanwhile, on the lagoons behind them, Black-necked Grebe, Red-crested Pochard and a host of other ducks were apparently doing exactly the opposite and lazily rafting away the day, wisely allowing the magnificent Greater Flamingos to lavish all the attention….
Whether you need to fill in a couple of rushed hours before flying off somewhere or want to take it easy and relax away the whole day, the Llobregat Delta, next to Barcelona’s El Prat airport, is the perfect location.
Indeed, as nature creates a freakish metaphor of its neighbour, with thousands of birds and some 350 species passing through each year, it’s not surprising that it’s earned a reputation as THE place for migrants in the whole of Catalonia….
Cap de Creus
The expression ‘exposed to the elements’ has never been more true than of the Cap de Creus (the last glimpse of the Pyrenees before they plunge into the Mediterranean) as the effects of wind, fire and water are clearly visible for all to see.
They shape everything. From the oddly-formed plants and trees sculptured by the hands of the tramuntana, or northwind, to the jagged cliffs and islands honed by the relentless action of the ocean.
And then there’s the birdlife.
At the right time of year you can actually put down your binoculars and revel at the sight of Cory’s, Balearic and Yelkouan Shearwaters all floating on a cushion of air just a few metres below you….
Steppes of Lleida
With the light already fading and arriving at an uncertain location given to me by an even more uncertain local, on my first visit to the Lleida Steppes, I didn’t really know what to expect.
But two and a half hours later I tore myself away from the pitch black having seen seven species I’d never seen before, including Bonelli’s Eagle and Little Bustard, and had the best birding experience of my life….
Garraf Massif, Barcelona
If you’ll forgive the pun, the Garraf Massif is massive. So when I first visited I had absolutely no idea where to start looking for the Bonelli’s Eagle, Eagle Owl and Black Wheatear that the park is famous for.
To make things worse, unlike in the Ebro delta where birds simply flock into your notebook, I soon learned that nature is different here. Birds are either elusive, evasive or both and tracking them down is more like going on safari.
So one could do worse then than to mimic the birds you’re hunting for and a patient, watchful eye will soon reveal a Southern Grey Shrike or two doing likewise from the tops of bushes.
Similarly, a little ‘pshing’ may lure out Spectacled and Subalpine Warblers curious to know who’s making that ridiculous noise, silently blending into the background will…
Aigüamolls de L’Empordá
It’s not surprising that there was a national campaign to save the Aigüamolls de L’Emporda from development (which succeeded back in 1983); it’s like all the other itineraries rolled into one!
Of course, its similarity to other wetland sites (with the presence of Flamingo, herons and waders) is only to be expected but Roses Bay, which forms part of the reserve, is actually a better bet for both Red- and Black-throated Diver than anywhere on the Ebro Delta.
Similarly, your chances of seeing Moustached Warbler, Spotted and Little Crake are arguably better here than on the Llobregat Delta, a place it would also challenge for migrant capital of Catalonia given regular sightings of….
For more information on Birdwatching in Catalonia, even if planning your own trip, contact Stephen Christopher at www.catalanbirdtours.com.