Trip report: Northern Spain (March-April 2017) by Tropical Birding

Guided by Lisle Gwynn. This was a set-departure tour.

Northern Spain and the Spanish Pyrenees are a standard jaunt on any European birder’s list of initial foreign forays. For some reason though, it has remained off of the radar of American birders… until now. The south of the country has long held appeal for its sun-baked plains, wonderful food and Mediterranean siesta lifestyle, but the north holds these things as well, with the addition of snow-capped peaks, seemingly bottomless gorges, and a few key specialities of the feathered form to tie it all together.

This year was Tropical Birding’s inaugural Northern Spain tour and it went with a bang. We cleaned up on all but one of our targets – the pesky White-winged Snow Finch was all that remained unseen, but it’s a tough bird on any occasion. More importantly though, we secured good views of two Wallcreeper on a towering high-Pyrenean rock face, near arms-length fly-past by a Lammergeier at San Juan de La Peña, and an abnormally obliging Dupont’s Lark at Belchite; and this was before our bounty of waterbirds at the Ebro Delta. This tour takes in all the best birding and scenic sights along the ‘traditional’ Northern Spain route.

We began by driving from Barcelona to the Hecho Valley and based ourselves deep in the heart of the mountains for several nights. Here we chased forest, mountain and valley birds to our hearts content and spent time below, at and above the snow line. At Gabardito we found butterfly-like Wallcreeper, in the snow we found Red-billed and Alpine Choughs, and in the foothills we visited bizarre red rock formations and an ancient monastery where we had great views of Black Woodpecker and an incredible encounter with a Lammergeier. From here we made our way down onto the steppe habitat surrounding Belchite. As we had all been in Southern Spain too, we didn’t spend much time looking for the bustards or Pin-tailed Sandgrouse, but we did find plenty of our missing Black-bellied Sandgrouse as well as good migrants and the much hoped for Dupont’s Lark.

This short stop was the precursor to a relaxed ending on the coast where we scoured the Ebro Delta and found bountiful waterbirds including the special Audouin’s and Slender-billed Gulls. What a journey it had been. It was an excellent tour with all the hoped for birds and more besides. We’d had incredible luck, and the group was fortunately an excellent bunch of people, adding to the joy. I personally thoroughly enjoyed sharing one of my favourite regions with new-comers, and our walk through spectacular country to Gabardito to find Wallcreeper will long live with me (as will the smell of the Paté that one scoundrel that shall remain unnamed brought into our lives).

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