Recorrido por el centro y norte de España, 14 - 29 Mayo
Central and Northern Spain 14 - 29 May

Este viaje de dos semanas recorriendo tierras de Madrid, Cáceres, Palencia, Cantabria, Huesca, Zaragoza y Tarragona en realidad echó a andar hace 11 años, cuando viajé por primera vez con el Brooks Bird Club. Fue aquel el viaje más entrañable que seguramente realizaré en mi carrera como guía ornitológico, y cuando conocí a los que siempre llamaré mis padres americanos, Carl y Juanita Slater. Durante las tres semanas que duró aquella primera expedición (https://spainbirds.com/tripreports/4_bestofspain2002.pdf) visitamos Extremadura, Gredos y Andalucía, pocos espacios naturales y pocas ciudades bonitas nos dejamos en el tintero, pero lo más importante de todo, es que durante ese tiempo conseguí hacer grandes amigos, algunos de los cuales desgraciadamente ya no están con nosotros.

Cuando hace algo menos de un año Juanita me propuso embarcarnos juntos en una nueva aventura no lo dudé ni un instante... pero esta vez visitaríamos el norte del país, para que tanto ella y Carl como los nuevos intrépidos viajeros que se unieran a esta expedición, conocieran otra parte de España. Esta vez diseñamos un tour de dos semanas donde no podíamos prescindir de la visita a Monfragüe y los llanos cacereños, además incluimos una visita cultural a Salamanca que, gracias a Marian y Josemi (qué grandes!), salió redonda. Camino al norte paramos en Fuentes Carrionas, con estancia en el Parador de Cervera, para luego saltar a Picos de Europa, recorrer el valle de Liébana y subir a Fuente De (completamente cubierto de nieve). La segunda parte del viaje nos llevaría a los Pirineos centrales y al Delta del Ebro como principales bases, haciendo una breve e intermedia incursión en las estepas de Belchite. No resulta fácil enumerar la cantidad de especies interesantes que registramos a nuestro paso, pero gracias a la voluntad y el trabajo de Sally Egan más abajo podréis leer un resumen del viaje... en inglés.

En este viaje además conocí a la hija de Carl y Juanita, Cindy Slater, quien siempre fue de gran ayuda para para los guías, además de poner la nota de humor y alegría cada día. También tuve la suerte de conocer a Chandler Robbins (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chandler_Robbins)auténtica leyenda viva de la ornitología nortemericana, y quien a sus casi 95 años iba anotando cada detalle del viaje, cada especie nueva observada... fue un apoyo fundamental para Sally a la hora de hacer la crónica de esta expedición. Desde aquí gracias a todos los participantes y gracias a Oriol Baena y Xesco Macià, los dos guías locales que hicieron mi labor más fácil durante las dos semanas. 

Gaviota de Audoin / Audouin's Gull

Canastera / Collared Pratincole

Charrán común / Common Tern

Alimoche común / Egyptian Vulture

Carraca / Eurasian Roller

Buitre leonado / Griffon Vulture

El grupo en Fuente De / The group at Fuente De

Ori, Chan Robbins y Santi

Zampullín chico / Little Grebe

Pico mediano / Middle Spotted Woodpecker

Garza imperial / Purple Heron

Escribano montesino / Rock Bunting

Gaviota picofina / Slender-billed Gull

Garcilla cangrejera / Squacco Heron

Torcecuello / Eurasian Wryneck

Chova piquigualda / Alpine Chough

Day 1    Arrived in Madrid at 8:15AM (2:15 AM our time).  Met our leader, Santiago “Santi” Villa, his 18 year old enthusiastic Catalonian trainee, Oriol Baena or “Oodie” and our bus driver, Miguel  Angel.  Despite cool and rainy weather, we boarded the bus and headed east of Madrid to see Great Bustards.  The Great Bustard is a large and heavy bird of the extensive plains of Valdetorres del Jarama, said to be the largest flying bird in the world.  With the aid of Santi’s and Oodie’s scopes, we were able to see them in a distant field.  Saw the first of many Black Kites which fly in for the spring and summer, also had a good view of a Western Marsh Harrier who was fighting the wind to catch his prey.  Other birds seen were Common Kestrels, Eurasian Magpies, Barn Swallows, Eurasian Stone Curlew, Wood Pigeons and White Storks.  White Storks seemed to be nesting anywhere there was an elevated platform.  Stopped for coffees and a small breakfast of fresh baked bread and a Spanish omelet made of eggs, potatoes, and onions.  Had lunch at Valde de Torres.  Spaniards eat their main meal in the afternoon so we all sat at a long table and had generous tapas servings of various kinds of food, including grilled asparagus, calamari, croquettes, paprika-flavored potatoes, fried pork pieces, individual loaves of fresh baked bread, mineral water in pretty blue bottles and red riobo wine.  Hard-crusted bread, wine and bottled water were staples at every lunch and dinner.  Common Swifts were flying around the town square and church bells were ringing in celebration of the feast day of St. Isidro, patron saint of Madrid City and of farmers.  Then we headed to the countryside and saw more Great Bustards, especially one that was fanning its tail.  Checked into our hotel, took a quick rest and then took a quick tour of Madrid City.  Walked around Plaza Mayor, a beautiful city square and the gateway to the oldest neighborhoods.   There was a festive atmosphere in the plaza for the feast day.   Especially interesting were the mimes and women and children dressed in festive costumes.  Back to our hotel and a dinner buffet at 8PM including salmon, chicken, and gazpacho.

Day 2   On the road at 8:45AM heading for Extremadura to the southwest near the border of Portugal.  Beautiful scenery including old castles, watchtowers, fortresses, fields of poppies, oleander, rape and snow-capped mountain ranges in the distance.   Gorse, a spiny yellow-flowered shrub, lined the roadways.  Black Kites were everywhere.  Stopped in Navalmoral de la Mata for a rest stop and tried unsuccessfully to get Euros at the bank so Santi loaned us some Euros.  Headed for Monfrague National Park, home to 600 Griffon Vultures, Golden Eagles, and 20 pairs of Black Storks.  Had good views of a Woodchat Shrike, European Bee-eater and Booted Eagle.  Passed by groves of Cork-Oak trees in which the cork bark of the tree is taken off the bottom portion of the tree up to the branches every 7-8 years.  At the cliffs of Monfrague, we saw Griffon Vultures, Egyptian and Black Vultures, a beautiful Black Stork, Red-rumped Swallows, Rock Bunting, Eurasian Crag Martins, Common House Martins, heard a Chaffinch, and a Common Nightingale.   Spanish Lavender looked pretty along roadsides.  Great lunch at Restaurante Monfrague including ham, artichokes, turkey chops, fries and chocolate mousse.  After lunch, saw a Thekla Lark, a distant Spanish Imperial Eagle and Short-toed Snake Eagle, European Honey Buzzard, a Blue Rock Thrush and a Red Fox.  A bird walk near our hotel turned up a Eurasian Hoopoe, Crested Lark, Spotless Starling and Common Stonechat.  An endemic Azure-Winged Magpie gave us a close-up look while we feasted on pasta, pork loin and tiramisu for dinner.     

Day 3   Bird walk at 7AM – New birds were a Eurasian Collared Dove, Corn Bunting, Sardinian Warbler and Common Cuckoo.   Back on the bus, passing vineyards, Holm Oaks, black pigs, rock walls, fields of sheep.  Saw Thekla Lark, Pin-tailed Sand Grouse, Little Bustard, Red-legged Partridge, Golden Eagle,  Common Buzzard and European Rollers.  Numerous nest boxes for the Rollers had been erected. Then, a quick stop in Caceres for coffees and porras (sticks of fried dough) and lunch in the medieval town of Trujillo.  A statue of Conquistador Pizarro graced the large plaza. Saw Pallid Swifts, a colony of Lesser Kestrels, White Storks, Spotless Starlings and Spanish Sparrows.  Had a delicious meal of an assortment of food (raciones) which included salad, pork, asparagus, potatoes, croquettes and ice cream.  Gordon Knight was missing when our bus was ready to leave.  Thereafter, he gracefully endured some light-hearted teasing every time we were about to depart. “Is Gordon here?” Cindy Slater would announce.  A trip to the countryside after lunch to see a Great Spotted Cuckoo, European Bee-Eaters, Montagu’s Harrier, Calandra Larks hovering, a flying Great Bustard, Western Cattle Egrets, Little Bustard and Iberian Grey Shrike.  Another stork condo was observed in an old structure.  Dinner at 8PM with flan for dessert.

Day 4   Awakened to Common European Blackbirds singing outside of our hotel.  On the road by 8:40AM heading for Salto del Gitano’s large, very high rock formations `with many interesting birds.  Great looks of a Rock Bunting, Chaffinch, Black Stork nesting, Winter Wren, Short-toed Creeper, Crag Martin, Peregrine Falcon, many  Griffon, Egyptian, and European Black vultures, Booted and Short-toed Eagles and a quick view of an Alpine Swift flying over a river.   Gum Cistus bushes with white flowers were seen along the roadside. A quick gas and rest stop where we saw a Red Kite from the parking lot.  Arrived in Salamanca and rendezvoused with two of Santi’s birder friends who led us on a tour of the city. The old cathedral was built in the 1100’s and the new one in the 1500’s.  Many sandstone buildings.  Went to the main university building and Oodie helped us find the frog hidden in the facade.  Students who find it have good luck with their studies.  Enjoyed a delicious meal while a bachelorette party was going on downstairs.  Back on the bus passing electric-generating wind turbines and small, old towns each with their own church rising up in the center.  Covered many miles (450 km) and arrived at the state-run Parador de Cervera de Pisuergo in the foothills of the Picos de Europa.  What a beautiful place!  Our spacious and nicely decorated rooms opened onto balconies overlooking a lake nestled in the mountains of Fuentes Carrionas National Park in Palencia.  A very breathtaking view with the sound of Cuckoos in the distance followed by an elegant dinner of veal, potatoes, veggies and apple cake.
Day 5 Bird walk at 7:15 with everyone layered in clothing in the cold mountain air. Birds seen were Bull Finch, Black Redstart, European Robin, Great Tit, Blue Tit, Song Thrush, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Western Bonelli’s Warbler, Tree Pipit, Common Cuckoo, Rock Bunting.  Following an outstanding breakfast with so many interesting choices, we hit the road and saw four Red Deer in the woods.  Then, a quick stop to view our most recent hotel all alone among the foothills.  Angel’s Tears were spotted nearby.  A Great Crested Grebe was seen in a reservoir along the road and the spring season was just arriving as new leaves were sprouting on the trees.  Stopped at the Church of San Salvador at San Salvador de Cantamunda, an example of Spanish Romanesque which was built in the 11thand 12th Centuries from local stone.  The Catholic Mass is still celebrated there. Interesting stonework with an arched ceiling.  A cemetery was situated behind it.  A White Wagtail gave us good views.  Stopped at a little café/bar in town and some were able to find a White-fronted Dipper in a nearby stream.  Continuing through the foothills, we spotted male and female Red-backed Shrikes and Carrion Crow.  Stopped at a snow-covered magnificent lookout 4,000 ft. in elevation, Mirador de Piedrasluengas, where we saw Northern Wheatear, Alpine Chough (pronounced Chuff), and European Serins.  Two children were throwing snowballs at each other.  Had lunch at the La Venta de Vieda Restaurant where we dined on the local cuisine including a dish with chick peas and pork.  Arrived in Potes around 3PM, dropped off our luggage and headed to Tudes, a very quaint old mountain hamlet with a medieval church.  Had great looks at a Middle Spotted Woodpecker, a glimpse of an Iberian Green Woodpecker.  Also seen were Tree Pipits, Spotted Flycatcher, Peregrine Falcon, Common Redstarts, Common Blackbirds, European Goldfinch and a good look at a Red-backed Shrike on the way down the mountain.

Day 6   Headed to Fuente De to ride the cable car to the top of the mountain. Very cold, 3 degrees Centigrade (approximately 36 degrees Fahrenheit), but the sun was out with no wind.  The majestic Picos de Europa were all around us. These Karst limestone mountains were formed by Alpine glaciers. Saw Pyrenean Chamois (Alpine Deer) climbing up the sheer cliffs. Got very close looks at Alpine Choughs and a quick glimpse of an Alpine Accentor.  Griffon Vultures were soaring overhead, Snow Finches flew by and a Chaffinch gave us a good look.  A female Blackcap was spotted on the way to lunch.  After a good raciones meal of mushrooms, beef, fries, cheese plate and strawberry mousse, we spotted a Gray and White Wagtail along a narrow river.  Took note of some black sheep while driving up the mountain to Brez.  Had a good look at a Wryneck, also Stonechat, European Goldfinch, Cirl Bunting, Water Pipit, Egyptian Vulture, Common Blackbirds, and European Robin. Had to move out of the way of a herd of cows coming up the road led by a female cow herder.  A few older ladies of the village followed behind the herd swatting the rear ends of the cows to keep them moving.  A Tree Pipit performed for us going high in the air and then gliding down and singing its song. Back to the hotel for the bird list and a good meal of fish stew, chicken, scalloped potatoes, and bread pudding.

Day 7  Began the day by driving through the beautiful La Hermida  gorge where a Dipper was spotted.  Had a quick glimpse of the Bay of Biscay and passed through Santander, a very industrialized area. At noon we entered into Basque country where the highway signs were in both Spanish and Euskera (Basque language).  We wound our way through the rainy streets of Bilbao and made a quick stop at the Guggenheim Museum with its impressive architectural design.  Stopped for lunch at a cafeteria built over the highway.  Soon we began to see the snow-capped Pyrenees beyond the foothills.  Santi told us about the Lammergeier which eats bone marrow by dropping the bones from on high breaking them into small pieces.  Arrived in Jaca where we stayed for three nights in order to explore the western part of the central Pyrenees.  A big, boisterous tour group joined us in the dining room.

Day 8 First stop was a photo shoot at a 10th Century monastery, San Juan de la Pena, which was partially built into a cave.  Then a quest for the Black Woodpecker in the area of the new monastery which has been turned into a hotel.  No luck with the woodpecker, but did see a Short-toed Treecreeper, Eurasian Nuthatch, Coal Tit, Marsh Tit, Firecrest, and a singing Rockcap and Chiffchaff.  After lunch, took a walk on a country road and had good views of a Red-backed Shrike, Crag and House Martins, and some saw a Golden Oriole.  Headed to town for shopping and to see the town’s impressive fortress.  A herd of Red Deer was seen in the grassy moat around the fortress while I walked a few blocks of the Camino de Santiago, the Way of St. James pilgrimage path, which leads from the town’s cathedral to its ending destination in Santiago (a distance of 800 km.). 

Day 9   Miguel Angel displayed his driving expertise as we drove through narrow mountain roads along a raging river in the Valley de Echo of the Pyrenees.  Arrived at a park refuge, Salto de la Vieja, with our hikers layered in warm clothing.  Santi led a group on a trail to find the elusive Wallcreeper on the rock face above.  After an hour’s wait, the Wallcreeper made a brief appearance.  The hikers also had to move aside as cows came up the trail. Oodie kept watch with those who stayed behind.  He excitedly pointed out a Lammergeier that flew over the bus and then disappeared into the rocky face of the mountain.  Our elevation was 4500 ft.  Other birds at this refuge area were Mistle Thrush, Black Redstart, a mixed flock of 45 Red-billed and Yellow-billed Chough, common Lintels, Citril Finch and Northern Wheater.  As we headed for lunch, a dramatic scene unfolded in a cow pasture as 30 or more Griffon Vultures descended to feed upon a placenta from a calf that had just been born.  The momma cow charged at them to protect her calf.  After lunch, we headed through another narrow gorge, called “Hell’s Mouth.” A river raged below and it felt like a wind tunnel when we stopped to look around.  Rode through a tunnel made of rock and stopped one more time to look for the Black Woodpecker to no avail.  We were able to see holes that it had drilled into a tree.  Many brave souls, including Chan Robbins, went owling after dinner and had luck finding the Scops Owl in a nearby park.

Day 10 Headed into the mountains of the Pyrenees.  Saw Pyrenean Chamois on the mountainside. Stopped at a cold, icy parking lot of a ski resort in Candanchu with snow in the air.  Saw Alpine Chough, Black Redstart, a male and female Northern Wheatear and quick views of a Water Pipit and Raven.  Roadway was slushy as we stopped near the French border and some hearty folks left the bus and crossed into Somport, France.  Stopped in Canfranc which had a grand train station and then back on the road heading south with a last photo stop of the Central Pyrenees.   Had lunch in Zuera and saw a Spotted Flycatcher near the river.  Arrived at a very unique ranch-style hotel in the steppes near Belchite. Then headed to the El Planeron refuge.  Santi spotted a Wild Boar along the way.  Beautiful mesas were seen in the distance. Had good looks at a Calendra Lark and a Greater Short-tailed Lark. Oodie found a rare Dupont’s Lark which we saw through his scope.  Despite the wind, saw a Skylark in flight and a Eurasian Stone Curlew. 

Day 11 Returned to El Planeron passing by numerous wind turbines and had a good look at a Little Owl in the ruins of a building.  Also watched a Red Fox chase an Iberian Hare.  Oodie discussed the Catalan language which is older than Spanish and is spoken in Catalonia and the border region of Aragon.  Stopped at the ruins in Belchite, a town destroyed in the Spanish Civil War.  On the road again passing by a large solar energy farm and orchards of Olive, Almond and Carob trees farther south.  The temperature rose so we shed some layers of clothing.  Passed over the Ebro River and began seeing rice paddies everywhere and shorebirds among them.  Had a wonderful rice-themed lunch with Paella at Lo Más de Nuri which was served out of very wide circular dish, with rice flan and rice liqueur for dessert.  Oodie met his parents there.  After lunch, his dad took a group picture of us near the sea and then we said goodbye to Oodie for a few days.  Met our new guide, Xesco, pronounced “Chesco” who would be with us for two days. At a blind, El Garxal, we saw Greater Flamingos,  Audouin’s Gulls, Moorhens, Glossy Ibis, Great and Little Egret, Common Greenshank and a male Red-footed Falcon a quite scarce migrant here.  At another stop, a man did not want us walking on his property to get to a blind because the government had not paid him yet.  Later, he gave us permission but it was time for us to leave.  Had good views of Audouin’s Gulls, Black-headed Gulls and Whiskered Terns at that stop.

Day 12 Headed south for the Delta de L’ Ebro.  First stop was the Mirador de la Tancada.  Had great looks at a Purple Heron, Black-winged Stilt nesting, large flocks of Greater Flamingos, Little Egret, Great Crested Grebe, Mallards.  Birds at the next stop were Oystercatcher, Common Redshank, Gadwall, Yellow Wagtail, Common Tern and Pied Avocet.  At another stop, we saw a Little Tern, Slender-billed Gull, Whimbrel, Red Knots.  Stopped at a busy refuge rest area where people were selling olive oil, rice and other items.  At the next stop, saw a male and female Kentish Plover and a Slender-billed Gull with its upright posture in the water. At a shore stop, we saw Audoins’ Gull chicks, Yellow-legged Gull chicks, Avocets, Common Redshanks and Lesser Black-backed Gulls.  Lots of people in cars were arriving to spend their Sunday on the beach.  Next stop was a picnic lunch at Reit Vell, a natural reserve.  Walked out to a blind that had Barn Swallows nesting on top of it, so we were eye-to-eye with the swallow as they came in to feed their young.  Got good looks at Moorhen, Coots, a male Common Tern bringing food to the female, Little Grebes, Shovelers, Gadwall, Mallards, Flamingos, male and female Red-crested Pochard, and Grey Heron.  Barry Williams saw a Little Bittern. At the next stop, saw a Lesser Short-toed Lark high in the sky.  Moving on we saw some Common Shelducks, Flamingos flying, and a Red-crested Pochard.  Drama unfolded when we saw either Yellow-legged or Audoins’ gulls scoop up two baby Mallards who were unprotected in a small cement canal.  Saw a Zitting Cisticola in tall grass, then Common Pochards, Great Egret, and Catalon donkeys in a rice field.  Dinner included paella with mussels and calamari.  After dinner Santi presented us with Spainbirds t-shirts which were a big hit.

Day 13 Headed for the Northern portion of Delta de L’Ebro.  First stop was at El Fangar, which was a Black-Winged Stilt breeding grounds with 40-50 nesting birds nestled among foliage near the water.  Had good looks at Collared Pratincole, Yellow Wagtail, Bar-tailed Godwit, Common Greenshank , Whiskered and Little Tern, Grey Heron, Black-crowned Night Heron, Great Egrets, Kentish Plovers with their chicks, a Little-Ringed Plover, a Eurasian Hobby, and Little Bittern.  A Great Reed Warbler was noisy but we couldn’t find it.  Rosie Campbell saw a Common Reed Bunting.  Reed barriers along the rice fields filtered chemicals coming from the fields.  Then, a stop at Marquesa Beach on the Mediterranean Sea to view a Purple Swamphen, Squacco Heron, Common Moorhen and have a group picture taken with our new Spainbirds t-shirts.  Stopped for a delicious lunch including calamari-inked black rice.  Next stop was a high-tower lookout, L’Aufacada, on an island at the mouth of the Ebro River where we saw Black-bellied Plover, Ringed Plover, Purple Swamphen.  An energetic youth group was practicing their kayaking skills nearby.  At dinner, Carl Slater presented Xesco with a Brooks Bird Club pin, emblem and brochure and we expressed our appreciation.

Day 14 Said goodbye to Xesco and headed north to Barcelona.  Gas stop - 1.39 Euros per liter.  Passed many vineyards and arrived in Barcelona.  Oodie hopped on the bus and became our tour guide.  Very busy, bustling city with many ornate buildings, old Roman walls, seaport, and the site of the ’92 Summer Olympics. Stopped to view Gaudi’s La Sagrada Familia, The Church of the Holy Family.  Almost too much detail for the eye to behold, immense with tall towers and has been in construction for eighty years.  Then lunch, to our hotel and time for shopping at a nearby complex.  At dinner, Carl presented Santi and Miguel with Brooks Bird Club items and we thanked them for a wonderful trip.  Santi fought back tears saying we were a special to him, since he had led a previous BBC trip to Spain of which Carl and Juanita Slater were participants.

Day 15 at the airport, Santi received lots of hugs and we started through the maze of security checks. About a nine hour flight to Philly, then to our connecting flights.  There was a log jam at customs due to two 300 passenger international flights arriving at the same time, so hopefully everyone made their connections.  A trip of a lifetime!  Thanks to all who made it possible!

A total of 174 bird species, 10 butterfly species and 8 species of mammals were seen.

Trip participants were:   Albert and Katherine Bauman, Rosie Campbell, Sally Egan, Gladys Faherty, Mary Gordon, Charlotte Icardi, Gordon and Connie Knight, Ed Mead, Chan, Jane, Michelle, Stu and Kathy Robbins, Carl, Juanita and Cindy Slater, Libby Sullivan, Don and Pat Wensel, Barry Williams

Sally Egan in collaboration with Chan Robbins who saw 36 Life Birds

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