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Saturday, January 24, 2015

Negociating the fog and the wind, Swallows in the freezing cold, Marsh Harriers by the dozen then Griffons in the sunny high tops

Marsh Harrier in the fog, Valverd
One of the problems with travelling in Spain in the Winter months, as I found to my cost during my last visit in Nov/ Dec 2013, is FOG! Usually of the freezing variety it hangs around in great swathes and typically affects the interior plains and what remain of the steppes. My destination after the Pyrenees was to the south of Lleida and one of the last remaining areas of steppe land in Catalyuna that hasn't been given over to intensive farming. Looking forward to photographing some Sandgrouse I was, or maybe catching a glimpse of some Great Bustards. I got neither because of FOG! Went to all the right places and sure I could have stayed longer but after 4 days of hanging about I gave up and drove South and out of it!
Male Merlin, Utxesa

During a brief respite from the stuff whilst I was at Utxesa I got my first Merlin of the trip...distant shot but good enough to tell it was a male.


..and lots more White Storks, apparently a whole bunch of them winter around a big rubbish tip on the outskirts of Lleida city.

 ... and at Valverd my first Purple Swamphens of the trip. I have a soft spot for these comical giants of the reedbeds and these were the first of many over the coming days as I headed ever closer to the Ebro Delta.

Squabbling Purple Swamphens, Valverd

Seen many more Lapwings this time around, with many flocks of 200 plus roaming about the fields. This smallish flock crossing the reclaimed lake at Valverd made a pleasing sight as I sat in the sun and chomped away at a chorizo & cheese sandwich!


Earlier in the day, in the freezing fog and whilst my hands could barely operate the camera I took a chance on photographing some Crag Martins over the lake that didn't look quite right. They turned out to be a couple of Swallows! Rubbish pics but good enough for me to tell these are the most northerly wintering Swallows I've ever seen … lord knows how they were existing or what they were feeding on in such harsh conditions but this was major surprise bird species in this part of Spain.

Bearded Tit (male), Utxesa

....moments later I got another unexpected bird to add to the list...  a pair of Bearded Tits fraternising with 20 or so Chiff Chaffs on the margins of the lake …

At this point grabbing the camera was like holding a block of ice and my fingers were none too happy about being removed from my gloves, so these are a few degrees from decent shots! Another first for Spain for me though.

Bearded Tit (female), Utxesa
You can't beat driving South and as I expected, in just 50 kilometres and through a couple of mountain ranges, I was into bright sunshine and spirit uplifted I pulled the van over at the first most likely spot for a stroll. I was immediately into a secluded valley full of singing Song Thrushes, Chaffinches and close on 50 Blackcaps darting in amongst the mixed olive and almond groves.

Time to stop for the night and I stumbled upon a nature reserve nr the town of Flix, on the banks of the mighty Ebro and a place where much toxic shit waste was uncovered in 2005. Its been cleaned up and the work continues … I witnessed it going on as I biked back down the track from the reserve into town and across the river. Never has biking been such fun!!

The reserve itself – Sebes d'Ebro, was certainly worth a stop over, not least because I met and befriended one of the reserve guardians - a guy called Mathew from Huddersfield, UK no less!

Got some half decent Marsh Harrier and Kingfisher shots here but the light was less than perfect so theses are a tad grainy....

Male Marsh Harrier, Sebes


Male Marsh Harrier, Sebes

Kingfisher, Sebes

Alfara de Carles

Huge winds crossing the mountains around Tortosa caused a stop over there and they were no less fierce the next morning as I attempted some kind of mountain terrain experience around Alfara de Carles

Got my first Griffon Vultures up there plus a very distant Bonellis Eagle and a Citril Finch plus lots of Blackcaps in just about the only place I could find out of the wind. I know it looks idyllic and yes the sun was shining but man I could hardly stand upright up there!
Just about the only place out of the wind at Alfara!

Griffon Vulture, Alfara
So those last shots in the mountains were on the 17th Jan and since then I've been on the Ebro Delta. Internet access has been tricky, otherwise I'd have posted more frequently, no camp sites are open either so its just been me and the van and some very inventive use of wet wipes!!

Next up will be highlights from the Ebro and whilst the experience was spoilt somewhat by the excessive amount of shooting that takes place over here, there's plenty of goodies to stay tuned for!

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