Memorable moments from a birding expedition!

Memorable moments from a birding expedition!

We are so grateful for being able to be a part of the 2018-2019 Grand Iberian Bird Tour. The whole journey was a fantastic experience, and a fantastic time of our lives.
The list of birds increased rapidly with some fantastic sightings creating so many special birding moments. We had great fun travelling around in Frankie, our campervan. Gussie, the fifteen-year-old, deaf, Beagle, had a great time too. Every time he stepped out of the van he had new smells. We saw 270 different species of birds – the rewards were fantastic. Some of the birds we saw were rare or scarce, which made the experience even more exciting.

Be prepared for mishaps

Things don’t always go according to plan on a seven-month trip. We had several mishaps with Frankie along the way. One puncture and one burst tyre; a lorry hit our rear-lights whilst on the rescue trailer; the gas leaked and caught fire; we had broken catches on the drawers and the hinges broke on the washroom door; the inverter popped and stopped working; the driver’s seatbelt broke; and the main internal batteries stopped functioning. We fumbled along with broken Spanish and had repairs and replacements sorted out. It helps if you can speak some of the local language for dealing with the unexpected!

Do your research & Pick the right time

We aimed for the major areas of Doñana, Caćeres, and Monfragüi National Park during the spring migration. Those were the areas where we saw the most variety of species. It was good to have the dates coinciding with the migration hotspots! We went to Tarifa for three weeks, although we originally planned to stay a week or two. The wind was strong and constantly changeable, requiring daily research on the wind direction, so we knew which way to drive along the coast, to look out for birds crossing the Strait of Gibraltar. When it rained constantly we drove on around the route. Occasionally we took a detour, twice in the wrong direction, following the advice and tips that we received from friendly birders.

Bring a notepad

We have seen so many varieties of species on this amazing trip, so remember a notepad because you don’t want to forget a single sighting! A page taken from our notes list’s hundreds of Scopoli’s Shearwaters, flying along the coast, from the Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea, at first light; Seeing eight larks, the Crested, Thekla, Skylark, Woodlark, Short-toed, Lesser short-toed, Calandra, and Dupont’s Larks, and an extra ordinary pale Crested Lark from North Africa; seeing six woodpeckers, Black, Middle-spotted, Green, Great-spotted, Lesser-spotted and a Wryneck on a Woodpecker Challenge.

Rain isn’t always bad

Special landmarks stood out, as places we wanted to get to, on a certain day. We got to Gallocanta, for what we expected to be 5,000 Cranes on the 10 November. Unexpectedly there had been heavy rain and the lagoon had filled with water. It turned out there were 26,000 Cranes and the lagoon had previously been dry for sixteen years!

Get talking and be flexible

We made lots of new friends, mostly birders from all over Europe. It was good to speak to birders; often they provided valuable information on birds they had recently seen. We spoke to workers at nature reserves and asked them about their land and their birds, and they also proved to be a valuable source of information on the birds in the area. We decided on some new places from the advice of others, Santoña, Roses, and Picos de Europa. We added the Brenne in France to our journey, saw five different species of Woodpeckers and a Wryneck, and changed the ferry booking. Looking back on the changes to the route, it was great that we had some flexibility built into our planning, so we could alter the direction slightly, or run over on dates if the area was good for birds. That route flexibility seemed to be a major strategy for seeing lots of species of birds, catching them at the right time, particularly the migratory species.

Take a moment, appreciate what you’re seeing & be patient

This has been one amazing journey with experiences that have been exhilarating, exciting, frightening, marvellous and totally stimulating; We went off on a twitch for a Brown-necked Raven, at Cabo de Palas, it was accompanied by Shag, a Balearic Shearwater, and surprisingly, a Monk Parakeet. It was amazing to see a White-throated Kingfisher at La Janda too. Not forgetting the large flocks of species, of Little Egrets flying over our heads, a flock of Whimbrels and another flock of Black-tailed Godwits, flying around the northern coast of Galicia. Seeing the six Wallcreepers at the top of the world at Picos de Europa, after the third attempt at trying to see them, and telling ourselves we probably wouldn’t see any. You have to appreciate the smaller experiences too, from wind-blown leaves near Spanish cemeteries, discovering the true nature of butterflies, learning about birders as a species all by themselves, working out how to run and drive a campervan without major mishaps, being allowed time to watch some of the extra-ordinary lives of birds and following parts of their incredible daily antics, learning about brine shrimp, visiting salt basins, high snowy peaks and hot sandy towns, not forgetting meeting and listening to inspiring brave individuals that are about on the road.

Never forget

It is with a grateful heart that we both feel indebted to numerous people who have helped us in our endeavour. We feel so fortunate to have experienced and so very lucky to have taken part in the 2018-2019 Grand Iberian Bird Tour.

There is so much to tell, so much to describe and share, from the glorious bird sightings we made in Tarifa, to the wonders of the shear cliffs in Monfragüe with their colonies of vultures. Not forgetting the lumps in our throats when a group of three hundred White Storks flew over our heads, knowing the hazards and obstacles they had overcome to get to Spain from their winter quarters.

Remembering the sandy streets of El Rocio and their magnificent prancing stallions and the wondrous Wallcreepers of the frozen mountains of Picos de Europa, each and every experience offering unique opportunities to learn and delight in this small part of our planet.

Do it again

We will most certainly be returning this November for another fantastic bird spotting road trip, and we hope to see you there!

Sally and Stephanie

Sally has been a life-long birder. Her greatest moment was seeing a Belted Kingfisher in the Rio Formosa area, Faro, Portugal. She loves taking pictures of birds although relatively new to this practice and enjoys spending time sitting and observing birds. She is attempting to see as many birds in her lifetime as possible, although this is not the driving force behind her birding, which is simply spending time with birds.

Stephanie owned and ran an olive farm in the Beiras region of Portugal for over fifteen years and on selling up has been engaging in her passion for writing and observing insects. She has always been interested in observing bird behaviour and was recently fascinated to watch an adult and juvenile Goliath Heron feeding in a rice field near Figuera da Foz, Portugal.