Saturday, 23 April 2016

From Spain, to Turkey, to Canada, back to Spain again, and spring migration in Ontario

I am thinking that I should change the name of this blog as I seem to be posting more stuff from outside of the province than inside. I will however be back in Ontario soon enough and can't wait to go birding and herping locally, during (nearly) everyone's favorite time of year - May!

Laura at Parque Natural Els Ports, Cataluña, Spain

Laura and I had an excellent adventure in northeast Spain, flying in and out of Barcelona and renting a car to traverse the countryside for the days in between. Spring was just heating up, as was the birding and herping. I'll get into more detail about the trip at some later date, but needless to say we had a blast. The food and wine was amazing, we hiked daily and often in places with stunning vistas, we found a nice variety of herps (Laura has quite the knack for spotting snakes; I think she found each of the three we encountered), and we came across nearly every target bird species.

My uncle and his partner live in Barcelona, and our visit happened to coincide with a visit that my maternal grandparents were having to Spain as well. My brother was visiting his girlfriend in England at the time, so they flew down too, as did my mom's cousin. We all stayed at a house in a town in the Pyrenees for a few days and it was great to have a bit of a family reunion in this beautiful country.

hiking in the Pyrenees, Aragon, Spain

In no particular order, here are some of my nature highlights from the trip:

-finding a male Wallcreeper with Laura after an all-day search- a difficult, iconic and unique species that was my most wanted bird for Europe;

-a surprise Alpine Accentor that Laura spotted in El Parque Natural Els Ports;

-encountering a Viperine Snake, flock of Whiskered Terns, Wood Sandpiper, Slender-billed Gull and an early Purple Heron at the Ebro Delta, among the thousands of Greater Flamingos and other wading birds;

-Spanish Ibex!!!

-great looks and photos of Dupont's Larks, a Near-Threatened species that is one of the most range-restricted birds found in Spain;

-Lammergeiers flying right over our heads...what incredible birds;

-finding and identifying many lizard species;

-digiscoping Black-bellied and Pin-tailed Sandgrouse in a field, followed shortly by a Little Owl;

-hiking in the incredibly scenic Spanish Pyrenees, while Egyptian Vultures wheeled above us in the sky;

-catching up with a few nemesis birds of mine: Jack Snipe, Lesser Short-toed Lark, Citril Finch, Eurasian Penduline-Tit, etc;

-the excitement of finding a neonate Montpellier Snake with Laura.

Laura with a Montpellier Snake - Belchite, Aragon, Spain

male Wallcreeper!! - Alquezar, Aragon, Spain

The trip was over much too quickly (aren't they always), but I had arranged a 20 hour layover in Istanbul before returning home to Toronto. I hooked up with local birder extaordinaire Kerem Ali Boyla from and we squeezed out as many birds as we could in my short time there - I was happy to pick up an even 10 life birds. I highly recommend Kerem if you happen to be in Istanbul. He picked me up from/dropped me off at the airport, and knows the area probably better than anyone. Migration in the area north of Istanbul can be absolutely spectacular and it is well worth it to add in a day or two layover here if you happen to be flying to Europe anytime soon.

I was home for about a week when an opportunity came about to travel to Spain with Worldwide Quest. They were in need of an emergency replacement guide for the tour leaving in one week's time - it was an offer too good to refuse and so I started to madly prepare for a return to Spain. I am currently in Trujilla, Spain, after a highly successful first week in Andalucia and Extremedura provinces in the southwest of the country. I have been blessed with a fantastic group of ten people to lead around Spain and the weather has largely cooperated, allowing us to find a wide variety of birds and wildlife.

Today we explored the steppe areas west of Trujillo, currently awash with the reds, yellows, and purples of spring wildflowers. We found displaying Little and Great Bustards, both species of sandgrouse, European Rollers and Bee-eaters, and a wide variety of raptors including a nice surprise in a Spanish Eagle! We have had many other highlights so far including Northern Bald Ibis (reintroduced into Spain in 2003 after an absence of over 500 years), Iberian Chiffchaff, and my favorite find so far - a Western False Smooth Snake. I am happy to have seen most of my remaining target bird species found in Western Europe - most of these I had not yet found because they are later migrants and all of my visits to Europe have been in February or March.

Iberian Magpie - Parque Nacional de Doñana, Andalucia, Spain

Spring migration is well underway and perhaps even winding down here in Spain, but back across the pond the crazy season is just picking up steam. I am excited to return to Ontario by the end of the month to partake in the festivities of May birding - it is always an awesome time! Hopefully whatever rarities the intrepid birders in Ontario find over the next little stay put until next weekend ;)


Alan Wormington said...

Sounds like a cool place to hang up for a few weeks.

Anonymous said...

Great write up buddy!