Sunday 30 October 2011

Pyrenees - day 1

The last leg of the Spain trip was in the Pyrenees where I was crossing all my fingers and toes for a Lammergeier. Following directions from the Birding in Spain site I went on a short hike to find a meadow that was apparently one of the best places to see Lammergeiers:

I quickly decided that this was not really the best place - there were trees blocking most of my view of the main mountain tops... so I decided to go right to the top.

Along the way Griffon Vultures were flying several hundred meters above me:

I parked the car and began the climb up one of the peaks of the mountain. Wheatears and Black Redstarts were in abundance during the hike up:

It didn't take long before I finally saw something in the distance that fit the silhouette for a Lammer. Within a minute of first finding them 2 Lammergeiers had passed by me leaving me little time to appreciate their size and beauty:

So I continued on to the top where I scanned the surrounding mountains for more birds. I was surprised to see these ladybuys:

I didn't really need Lammers to keep me happy though. The view was spectacular:

Griffon Vultures were flying very close overhead:

And on my way down this Lammergeier became curious in me and flew around my head for a few minutes before continuing on its way! Quite the experience.

Lammergeier silhouette showing the wedge shaped tail that makes it stand out from miles away:

At the end of the day a large kettle of Choughs (a Corvid species) and Griffon Vultures formed - a Lammergeier eventually joined in as well:

So, needless to say I was quite happy with the results of day 1 on the Pyrenees!

Friday 28 October 2011

Lleida Steppes

I'm off to Germany today! And that'll be the last of all this ambling around Europe...for the most part. So I'll keep the blog going with things from Spain.

As I've mentioned before the Lleida Steppes weren't as productive for me as the other two habitats I visited in Spain. Nonetheless I did see some unexpected species.

The drive there took 3 times longer than expected because I got lost several times - partly because of false directions by Google Maps (I couldn't believe that that ever happened) and partly because I was a bit slow to react to signs at times...

Anyway, I eventually made it there. After wandering around a bit I decided that this wasn't the right place so I went back into town to email my Spanish contact for some directions!
But during that short walk I did see a Eurasian Hoopoe. A bird I wasn't really expecting but I certainly was happy to see - it's sort of the equivalent to the Loggerhead Shrike in Ontario. The Hoopoe is symbolic of the conservation work being done to combat the illegal bird hunt in Europe.

After returning to the Steppes I eventually saw a distant Little Owl sitting right out in the open:
 It was very far away!

Several Red-legged Partridges were a welcome find as well:

I was enjoying the sunset and a little curious as to why some of the leaves were already changing colour down there - it was 25 degrees! No frost could have done that.... wimpy trees!

And in the evening I was very surprised and happy to see 42 White Storks hanging out on 2 cranes in the city:

Next up is the Pyrenees which were a little better ;)

Wednesday 26 October 2011

Back to the Sea

I love the ocean and thankfully it takes me less than 15 minutes to bike to my seawatch spot. And along the way I usually check in on the Tawny Owl who never disappoints.

Todays seawatch started off pretty good. Within ten minutes I had a lone Brant flying South, 3 adult Gannets and two distant Alcids...
and after that I was struggling to find anything of note. Just as I was packing up to leave a Goosander (aka Common Merganser) flew by - my first for Denmark.

I headed for the woods with high hopes of a Yellow-browed Warbler. After searching through all the Tit and Goldcrest flocks I came up empty... perhaps another day!

I did (finally) find my first Fieldfare for Denmark too.

Great Tits are common - I really should have a better photo than this:

Tuesday 25 October 2011

Big news in Denmark

A Red-eyed Vireo - the first for Scandinavia is right here in Denmark.

That's an impressive 4200km flight from the closest point in North America - St. John's, that is, which happens to be where I am from!

BUT, it's probably even more impressive than a mere 4200 km because Red-eyed Vireos are relatively uncommon at this time of year in Newfoundland... so maybe it came from somewhere else in NA...
Maybe it has been island hoping for some time and has only been discovered now... I find what is almost as exciting as seeing or hearing about a mega vagrant is imagining where it came from, what route it took...etc!
It would be sweet to have a geolocator on one of these vagrants and find out the answers to all those questions.

Anyway, here's some photos on this blog.

For some reason it's tempting to chase it just because everyone else is excited... but there's more reasons to go too!

Gyrfalcon (and Little Bunting, Pallas's Leaf Warbler, Dusky Warbler, Yellow-browed Warbler...)!
Well, mostly because of the Gyr...

I won't be able to go this weekend so I'll have to cross my fingers that some of these birds stay for another week plus some. There won't be any harm in going if they're not around, it looks like a cool place to be. Although it's a 7 - 9 hour trip to get there by train, bus and then walking the last stretch!

Next month I have pretty much reserved every weekend for traveling around Denmark and getting to know this country - so I will have time to explore those far off places with strange vagrants  :)

Monday 24 October 2011

Delta de l'Ebre - day 2

I started day 2 of birding in the Ebro Delta at the Aufacada observatory.

Right away I heard an unusual call from nearby. A Water Rail was hanging out at the edge of the reeds unaware of me far above it:

In and around the marshes I was happy to see several Black-winged Stilts, a juvenile Purple Swamphen and a handful of Warbler species.

My next and last planned stop before driving to the Lleida Steppes was to be Golero for Terns. On the way I tried photographing some more Egrets and Herons.

Little Egret:

Great Egret (surprisngly uncommon considering the hundreds if not thousands of egrets - 'only' saw about 15):

Gray Heron:

In another flooded field I finally connected with a significant flock of waders. Several Little Stints, Common Ringed Plovers, a few Dunlin and Curlew Sandpipers - after studying the birds for over an hour a Kentish Plover woke up and allowed me to confirm its identity!

I didn't see many Terns at Golero, or anywhere on the Delta really, but I was happy to see this Osprey:

Ospreys are currently on their migration from all over Europe towards Africa. Check out the route three Ospreys took from Wales in the UK through continental Europe (including Spain) and to their main wintering grounds in Africa:

I found 2 flocks of Glossy Ibis in the region both containing almost 100 individuals. Usually they were quite spread out though so only managed in this one photo:

 All to soon I was back on the road towards the Lleida Steppes...

Sunday 23 October 2011


I've been reluctant to do a seawatch from the coast here in Denmark because I was warned that it wasn't so good here. I guess that's true if you compare it to some places in the UK or Newfoundland. But in comparison to Ontario, which is where I've done most of my birding over the past few years, it's pretty good - well at least by todays results.

Recent reports on the local bird sightings forum showed an increase in Gannets and a small increase in Alcids being seen around Denmark. So I tried my luck and scoped the seas.

I started by finding only the usual birds. Common Eiders, Common Gulls...etc
Eventually I found an Alcid flying by that landed straight out from where I was. The blunt bill confirmed my suspicions that it was a Razorbill - bird 130 for DK!
A couple Great Crested Grebes flew by confusing me for a while, a Guillemot (aka Common Murre in NAmerica) made its way South and then I found a 2nd year Gannet slowly flying South - a bird I was really hoping for in Denmark!

Not a bad day :)

distant shot of the Gannet:

Saturday 22 October 2011

Delta de l'Ebre - day 1

After sleeping (or at least trying to) in my tent next to the airport in Barcelona I packed up and went to pick up the car rental. First thing I did was try and withdraw cash from the ATM. The machine said "withdrawal successful" but nothing was coming out... that's when I started getting a little stressed. Then I went to pick up the car and the woman at the desk says "Oh! You're only 21? You need to be 23 to rent a car here!"...
"B..b..but I have rented a car with you before in Norway and when I reserved the car I said I was 21.... why didn't you tell me before!?"....
"Hmmm... sorry... that's all I can do... You're not allowed to rent a car in Spain if you're 21"...

At this point in time I was seriously considering trying to find the next available flight back to Denmark. But for whatever reason I tried the neighbouring car rental company and had no problem at all!

So the trip was a go. And thankfully so...
After making the drive to the Ebro Delta (Delta de l'Ebre in Spanish) I was shocked to see hundreds of Egrets in the fields within seconds (literally) of passing the "Bienvida a Delta de l'Ebre" sign. I didn't expect it to be this good.

That photo doesn't quite do it justice... but still impressive compared with Denmark or Canada!

White Wagtails were rather common amongst the Egrets and Black-headed Gulls:

But I couldn't find any waders around...

My first planned stop was to see the Flamingoes. I didn't give them as much attention as they deserved - they were rather distant and in my drive to see new birds and decent photos I moved on.

Well, I did sit around for a while and was surprised when this Common Kingfisher landed very near by. It only noticed me as I tried to reposition myself for a better photo and managed this fluke shot of it in-flight:

So I went to the beach with hopes of new Gulls and Waders.

This Black Redstart was feeding nearby:

I did find what I was looking for!
Slender-billed Gull:

Audouin's Gull (how do you pronounce that!?):

and Mediterranean Gull (posted a photo yesterday). These were all seen along the sandbar towards the salt pans.

The only Waders I could find were 1 Dunlin amongst several Sanderlings:

I pitched my tent near a marsh so that I could start the next day in a new habitat with hopefully new birds! I woke up at 3 am to a Spotted Redshank flying around my tent obnoxiously calling and the pungent smell of sewage... turns out that I was also sleeping near their sewage outlet. I suppose it's natural for birders to turn up at sewage outlets!

More to come...

Friday 21 October 2011

Back from the South

The trip went very well despite coming threateningly close to being cancelled mere hours after arriving in Barcelona.

34 lifers +/- 1
97 species total +/- 2

Not too bad, I saw most species that I expected to see. Some misses of course, but I was expecting that because I was only spending about 24 hours in each location/habitat.

I'll do a day by day series of posts over the next while to give the trip the coverage it deserves! But for now, some pictures - not meant to be the best from the trip though ;)

Little Egrets were common at the Ebro Delta:

Along the beach is where I saw all of the interesting gulls:

Mediterranean Gull (adult Winter):

The Lleide Steppes weren't as successful as I had hoped but still fun:

The bird of the trip and one of the main reasons I wanted to go on this trip: Lammergeier (aka Bearded Vulture) in the Spanish Pyrenees!!! I saw no less than 3 from the mountain tops.

One of these beauties actually became curious in me and circled within 5 meters of my head. With a wingspan of over 2.5 meters it was difficult to fit the bird in my binoculars. Naked eye views were stunning and hearing the air rush past its wings was absolutely exhilarating!

My hawk watch spot from the mountain tops (more like a vulture watch really...)

I camped out on the roadside every night so I've had some sleepless nights... time to catch up on that

Tuesday 18 October 2011


I'm in Spain for the week on a birding trip. This is an auto-post (a pre-written blog entry) about what I expect to see and where I will be going:

Before coming to Denmark I was considering a trip to Madeira in pursuit of Zino's Petrel - among many other endemic species to the North Atlantic Island. But after a bit of research it became clear that there was no guarantee to see them in October - so I decided to save that trip for another time.
And perhaps by the time I actually do go someone will have figured out how to identify the bird!

That decision left me with a blank week in my schedule in mid-October. There were many choices for where to go - the four that stood out most were:
The Bosphorus in Turkey
Northern Scandinavia in search of Arctic owls, Gyrfalcon etc
Someplace else along the Mediterranean

It was a pretty cold week in Denmark when this dilemma came about - and the heater in my house wasn't working. So I was eager to go somewhere warm with long days. Eventually Southern Spain became the new desired destination. Donana National Park stood out as "the most important wetland in Europe and one of the best places for birds in the Palearctic". Once I decided to go there flights were already quite expensive so I decided to scale it back a little and head for the North Eastern coast of Spain. Barcelona area!

Conveniently there is a very good (I hope) wetland just outside of the city - hosting waders and shorebirds, Gulls and Terns and several rare passerines.
And then the Pyrenees aren't too far either giving me the chance to search for several new species of raptors and mountain birds.
And along the way to the mountains there are the Lleide Steppes - a dryland where I should be able to find several species exclusive to that habitat.

So, needless to say this is promising to be an exciting trip. I leave on Sunday and will have 4 full days of birding, exploring and meeting locals.

Here's a sampler of the species I hope to see in each habitat.

Ebro Delta (wetland next to the ocean):
Greater Flamingo
3 species of Shearwater!
Squacco Heron
Bonelli's Eagle (nearby)
Slender-billed Gull
Audouin's Gull
Gull-billed Tern
Thekla Lark (nearby)

Spanish Pyrenees:
Black Vulture
Wallcreeper (very unlikely)
Milky Way!

Lleide Steppes (plains):
Black-shouldered Kite
Iberian Grey Shrike

So, lots of new stuff and almost-endemic species as well. Hopefully next week I'll be able to repeat this post word for word - but in the past tense!

Sunday 16 October 2011

Dipping Dipper

After yesterdays failure at finding the White-throated Dipper I did a search on Google Maps for suitable habitat for this bird. My field guide told me that the bird prefers fast-flowing water with exposed boulders. I was a little confused yesterday when I was searching for the bird because all the water was practically stagnant.
Anyway, with a quick search on Google Maps I saw that there was a small waterfall further upstream. I went there first thing this morning and found the bird right away. Easy!

Neat bird. It likes to dip into the water, often swimming around looking for food. In fact it can swim under water because it has solid bones - apparently the only flying bird that has solid bones! It was having a tough time flying around, no wonder why.
There's a good chance that this bird will be here for the winter so I'll be checking in on it once in a while.

That's bird #150 for Europe! And my 102nd new bird since coming to Europe. My goal was 103 new birds - I'll probably break that by the end of the day in Spain.

It was pretty cold this morning with frost on the grass:

 And the Tawny Owl is still on its own... I wonder where the other one went?

Saturday 15 October 2011

Dipped Dipper

A White-throated Dipper showed up at the Deerpark next to my house yesterday. It's not a rare bird around here but it's a winter visitor and a lifer so naturally I searched for it today. As the title suggests I didn't have much luck even though 2 separate birds were seen today. I think I was in the wrong area though so I'll have another go at it eventually!

I did hear a Raven which is a first in Denmark for me and several mixed flocks of Bramblings and Chaffinches gave me a good opportunity to study and compare those two species.

Here's a Brambling showing off it's black head stripes:

An interesting sighting was a bat flying around a river in the middle of the day and a huge wasp. About half the size of my thumb!

Yesterday I was in the park while the sun was setting. I thought it was pretty spectacular:

But it kept getting better:

Tomorrow I'm headed for Spain so I'll have more birds to talk about when I'm back from there.

Thursday 13 October 2011

Dreams of a warmer clime

Taking advantage of a week off of classes I booked a flight to Barcelona in Spain. The flight happens to leave in a few days from now and my lack of prior research and planning is really becoming obvious... and somewhat frustrating!

I have 3 spots I plan to "rock up" - as my Aussie roommates would say - each with a totally unique habitat. The first is the Ebro Delta a wetland area with lots of waders, shorebirds, terns and gulls. Next up is the Lleide Steppes - open flat terrain with grouse, kites and larks. And last is the Pyrenees - a mountain range with vultures, other raptors and some interesting passerines as well.

Sounds easy right.... and all the trip reports I've read seem to indicate that as well. But my eyes are turning red after reading endless articles trying to figure out the detailed directions to all these places I want to go to... eBird eventually saved the day - it being the only website (that I could find) with a map showing exactly where I should go!!!

Perhaps I should have bought that book "Where the Birds are in Northeast Spain" - everyone was raving about it - but me being stingy decided that the internet would be good enough...
I'll have to make the final call on that when I'm back.

A more detailed plan to come! But despite the frustration I'm quite excited for the warm weather and the promise of new birds.

Did a quick check to see if the mystery bird from yesterday would return. Nope. And only one Tawny Owl today where there usually are two...

Some of the deer in the park:

Wednesday 12 October 2011

Night life

Been doing a bit of owling these past couple nights without much success. The first night I heard a distant Tawny Owl calling - I tried to get closer to be able to better hear it but as I was crossing a field I started noticing deer running around - very close by. At this time of year the males can get quite dangerous while they compete with one another and try to protect their females.

So I turned back and made my way home. As I was crossing another field I heard and saw gunshots from the direction I was headed to. Again I decided that that wasn't the best way to go and chose another route. I eventually made it home safe and sound.

The next night I threw caution into the wind and returned for some more owling! I didn't hear any owls this evening but as the sun was setting I heard a very distinctive call - the closest match I can find is Black Woodpecker, but I'm thinking that I'm also biased because I really want to find one of them! I'll have to go back and hope I hear it again so that I can record the sound and get it identified.

No gunshots today...