This was a targeted birding trip designed to try and see about 25 species missing from our list. We saw 18 of our target species, but missed out on Red-necked Nightjar and Snowfinch. May is a lovely time to visit Aragon, the weather was generally pleasant, there was no rain, and still some snow in the Pyrenees. The area is notably depopulated, has many newly built roads is heavily agricultural (grains and sheep) with numerous ruined stone farm buildings and the roadsides and fields were strewn with poppies. In some areas, like Fuentetodos, wind farms are common. We were surprised by how few other birdwatchers were around, only exchanging information with some groups we met at El Planeron.
Apart from the usual field guides, we used the 2008 edition of Where to Watch Birds in Northern and Eastern Spain by Rebane & Garcia. The latter proved very useful although does not cover all the sites we visited. We also found the following trip reports to be very useful: Cram & Davies (2008), Walsh et al. (2003), and Arch et al. (2005). For navigation we used the AA maps plus various detailed ones downloaded from the internet, and a GPS.
We flew into Zaragoza from Madrid and picked up a pre-booked a car from Avis at the airport. An ordinary car was adequate for all the places we visited. We have graded the hotels below, based on our experience and biases, as poor, adequate, good, very good or excellent. Prices ranged from. Eu40 – 100. As it was not a busy season we had not booked ahead and usually had no problems securing accommodation. People everywhere were helpful and pleasant and Tessa’s fluency in Spanish was a definite asset in all aspects of the trip.
Hotels used and price per night:
Quinto – Hotel La Rioja (2 nights) – Eu50 - adequate
Jaca – Gran Hotel – (1 night) – Eu60 – very good
Hecho – Lo Foraton Hotel – (1 night) Eu40 - good
Jaca – Reina Felicia Hotel – (1 night) Eu60 – excellent
Huesca – Hotel Montearagon - (2 nights) Eu80 – adequate, tired, but included breakfast
Lecere – Hotel Rural Rincon del Cierzo - (2 nights) – Eu54 – excellent, well priced evening meals in the dining room next to the garage. The hotel itself is a bit hard to find as it’s behind the garage. Ask at the garage. An enterprising business venture targeting birders!
Lagoa de Gallocanta – Albergue Allucant – (1 night) - Eu40 – good, a hostel type atmosphere, catering to school groups, educational focus. Good evening meals etc.
Fuentetodos – El Capricho de Goya – (1 night) - Eu40 – excellent, a stylishly converted old mill, good evening meal.
Zaragoza airport – Diagonal Plaza Hotel – (2 nights) - Eu100 – excellent five star hotel with underground parking. Hotel is in a dusty open area being developed for light industry. Good bus connection to Zaragoza. When we were there, there was a shuttle bus to airport but not after hours. Cabs coming from the city charge for the trip to the hotel and back plus trip to airport.
We generally provided our own breakfast and lunch, eating while we were out and shopping at local supermarkets. Only ran into problems one day when we forgot our knife in the hotel and had to borrow one from a pub owner!
7 May 2009 Zaragoza Airport to Quinto & Belchite road
After a delayed departure from Madrid we arrived in Zaragoza at about 3 pm. Clear of airport by 4 pm and arrived in Quinto at about 5 pm. Located Hotel la Rioja easily, but finding staff more difficult as they do not stay on the premises. After asking around we located the manager at the petrol station on the outskirts of town. After settling in we took a drive out along the Belchite road where bird numbers, but not diversity, were high among the arable fields. Species noted were Thekla lark, Corn Bunting, Citril Finch, Spotless Starling, Black Kite, Common Buzzard and White Stork
8 May 2009 – all day at El Planeron Reserve, Belchite road
Started birding at first light at the first car park in the reserve on the main road. This area was quite quiet so we moved to the roads in the reserve. We spent much time walking the reserve as well as driving the two main parallel tracks in the reserve. Calandra, Lesser Short-toed, Short-toed and Thekla Larks were common, but we only located two Dupont’s Larks after much searching. We eventually had good views of a flock of Black-bellied Sandgrouse. Another new bird for us was a Spectacled Warbler which was calling among some low bushes in the northern part of the reserve. Raptors included Golden Eagle, Montagu’s Harrier, Kestrel and Lesser Kestrel. Black-eared and Northern Wheatears, Red-legged Partridge and Beeeaters were quite common.
9 May 2009 - Quito to Jaca via Candasnos and Ontinena
Left early in order to bird the steppes along the Ballobar road. These were disappointing and did not yield much so we pressed on to Jaca. Many of the hotels in Jaca do not have parking (which is expensive) so we opted for a more expensive hotel with free parking! After checking into the Gran Hotel, we walked the short distance to the Citadel and quickly located the target Rock Sparrows. In the late afternoon we drove out to the Parador d’Oroel and its forests. This beautiful area, close to the restaurant, gave us two more of our target species, firstly several Short-toed Treecreepers, followed by a Black Woodpecker, which responded to the tape and gave good views. Griffon Vultures were also seen overhead.
10 May 2009 – all day - Hecho Valley
We drove up the valley as far as we could – the point at which the road is permanently blocked by a fast flowing stream. This was a disappointing day as, despite much searching, we could not locate the hoped-for Alpine Chough. We had good views of Griffon Vultures, Lammergeyers and a Golden Eagle. At the high point in a lonely pine tree there was a Black Woodpecker. On the way down we birded the Gabardito area and were pleased to find a Cirl Bunting. Returned to Hecho Village where we stayed the night at Lo Foraton Hotel.
11 May – all day – Anso Valley
As the road from Hecho across to the Anso Valley was blocked by landslides we drove back to the main highway and then up the length of the Anso Valley. Again we were disappointed, but the scenery was magnificent! Birds of note were Lammergeyer, Griffon Vulture, Grey Wagtail and Crag Martin. Good views of Chamois and there were lots of Red Squirrels around. We drove back to Jaca and found a new hotel (Reina Felicia) on the western outskirts of town. In the late afternoon we returned to the Parador d’Oroel area where we birded the forests. The proprietor of the Parador was very friendly and stayed open in the evening to cook us some good steaks!
12 May – El Portalet area and back to Huesca
In a final attempt to see Alpine Chough we drove up to the Spanish-French border at El Portalet. Success at last – flocks of Alpine Choughs on both sides of the border and relatively tame in the carpark on the French side. Birding here was good, and other notables included Chough, Alpine Accentor, Water Pipit, Rock Thrush, Lammergeyer, Griffon Vulture, Black-eared Wheatear, Red Kite, Black Redstart, Grey Wagtail, Whinchat and a solitary Little Ringed Plover. There was still some snow around, but all the skiing facilties and lifts etc were closed and the area generally deserted – good for birding! Drove back down the valley, stopping to bird around the Olivan Fish Farm. We were unable to stay in Loporzano itself as all accommodation was full so headed for Huesca and stopped at the first hotel we saw on the outskirts. Checked into the Montearagon Hotel just outside Huesca – well-situated for visiting both Loporzano and Montearagon Castle. In the late afternoon we drove up to the Castle and were lucky to get good views of our target species – the Black Wheatear. Other notables that evening at the Castle were Rock Sparrow, Spectacled Warbler and Chough.
13 May 2009 – Loporzano Cemetary and surrounding area
The Loporzano cemetery proved difficult to find and we only got good directions after asking at the Bakery, where a very helpful baker offered to lend us the key for the cemetery (not necessary). The bush outside the cemetery was excellent and yielded three new species: Woodchat Shrike (surprisingly scarce it seems?), Western Orphean Warbler and Sub-Alpine Warbler. We also had good views of an Egyptian Vulture circling over the area. Returning to this area after dark we failed to find any Red-necked Nightjars.
14 May 2009 – Huesca to Lecera via Ballobar and Ontinena
We once again explored the steppes along the Ballobar road, looking for Pin-tailed Sandgrouse. There were more birds than last time, but the only notables were European Roller, Great-spotted Cuckoo and Short-toed Eagle. At last, 4 km north of Candasnos, on a side road, we got good flight views of a pair of Pin-tailed Sandgrouse. Not finding anywhere to stay in Belchite we drove on to Lecera where the Hotel Rural del Rincon was excellent and obviously used to catering for birders.
15 May 2009 – all day at El Planeron (again) and visiting the ruins of old Belchite in the afternoon.
Spent the morning in the reserve, with more good views of several groups of Black-bellied Sandgrouse and of a single Pin-tailed Sandgrouse.
16 May 2009 – Lecera to Laguna de Gallocanta via Daroca
An interesting early morning drive on the A1506 – good birding stops at km 33 and km 43, most of the expected species as well as a Hawfinch and a Great-Spotted Cuckoo. Headed on up to Laguna de Gallocanta where we located the recommended Albergue Allucant and booked in. In the afternoon we visited the Information Centre and enquired whether any Great Bustards had been seen recently. The very helpful staff said it was a bit early in the month, but suggested a couple of routes to check. Lo and behold, success – at the point shown for the species on the hand-out map there they were – one male and two female Great Bustards. After this great experience we explored various areas around the lake, mostly quiet. Returned to the Albergue for a tasty meal.
17 May 2009 – Laguna de Gallocanta to Fuentetodos
Spent the first hour or so birding the lake below the Albergue. The grass and reed areas along the shore with scattered bushes were interesting and we found Great Reed Warbler, Squacco Heron and Woodchat Shrike among other more common species. Birded the route back to Fuentetodos, but nothing of note. Found accommodation easily in Fuentetodos (Hotel El Capricho) which has some tourist interest as it is the birthplace of Goya, and explored the country around, but found nothing of note. After dark searched for nightjars on the hills south of town, but nothing found or calling.
18 May - Fuentetodos to Zaragoza
19 May - Zaragoza – visiting old city
20 May - Departed by air to Madrid and then Quito.
Great Cormorant - L. de Gallocanta
European Shag - L. de Gallocanta
Grey Heron - L. de Gallocanta
Little Egret - L. de Gallocanta
Cattle Egret - L. de Gallocanta
Squacco Heron - L. de Gallocanta
White Stork - L. de Gallocanta
Eurasian Spoonbill - L. de Gallocanta
Greater Canada Goose - L. de Gallocanta
Common Shelduck - L. de Gallocanta
Mallard - L. de Gallocanta
Red-crested Pochard - L. de Gallocanta
Red Kite - El Portalet
Black Kite - Anso valley
Lammergeier - Hecho valley, Anso valley, El Portalet
Egyptian Vulture - Loporzano
Eurasian Griffon Vulture – Parador d’Oroel, Hecho valley, Anso valley
Short-toed Snake-Eagle – Ballobar road
Montagu's Harrier - El Planeron
Western or Eurasian Marsh-Harrier
Common Buzzard - Anso valley, El Planeron
Golden Eagle - El Planeron, Hecho valley
Lesser Kestrel - El Planeron
Common or Eurasian Kestrel - El Planeron
Red-legged Partridge - El Planeron
Common Moorhen - L. de Gallocanta
Common or Eurasian Coot - L. de Gallocanta
Great Bustard - L. de Gallocanta
Black-winged Stilt - L. de Gallocanta
Pied Avocet - L. de Gallocanta
Eurasian Thick-knee or Stone-Curlew – El Planeron
Northern Lapwing - L. de Gallocanta
Little Ringed Plover - El Portalet
Whimbrel – L. de Gallocanta
Common Redshank - L. de Gallocanta
Black-headed Gull - L. de Gallocanta
Pin-tailed Sandgrouse - El Planero, Candasnos
Black-bellied Sandgrouse - El Planeron
Rock Dove Montearagon
Great Spotted Cuckoo – Ballobar road
Alpine Swift - El Portalet
Common Swift - El Portalet
Common or Eurasian Hoopoe El Planeron, Ballobar road
European Bee-eater - El Planeron
European Roller – Ballobar road
Black Woodpecker – Parador d’Oroel, Hecho valley
Skylark - L. de Gallocanta
Greater Short-toed Lark - El Planeron
Lesser Short-toed Lark - El Planeron
Dupont's Lark - El Planeron
Crested Lark - L. de Gallocanta
Thekla Lark - El Planeron, Montearagon
Calandra Lark - El Planeron
Eurasian Crag-Martin - Anso valley
Red-rumped Swallow – L. de Gallocanta
Northern House-Martin - El Portalet
Grey Wagtail - Hecho valley
White Wagtail - El Portalet
Yellow Wagtail - L. de Gallocanta
Tawny Pipit – El Planeron
Water Pipit - El Portalet
Alpine Accentor - El Portalet
Black Redstart - El Portalet
European Stonechat - Montearagon
Whinchat - El Portalet
Black Wheatear - Montearagon
Black-eared Wheatear - El Planeron, El Portalet, Montearagon
Northern Wheatear - El Planeron
Rufous-tailed Rock-Thrush - El Portalet
Mistle Thrush – Anso Valley
Common Grasshopper-Warbler - L. de Gallocanta
Great Reed-Warbler - L. de Gallocanta
Blackcap – Parador d’Oroel
Western Orphean Warbler - Loporzano
Subalpine Warbler - Loporzano
Spectacled Warbler - El Planeron, Montearagon
Firecrest – Parador d’Oroel
Eurasian Nuthatch – Parador d’Oroel
Short-toed Treecreeper – Parador d’Oroel
Great Tit – Parador d’Oroel
Crested Tit – Parador d’Oroel
Coal Tit – Parador d’Oroel
Southern Grey Shrike - Loporzano
Woodchat Shrike - Loporzano
Alpine Chough - El Portalet
Red-billed Chough - El Portalet, Montearagon
European Serin - El Planeron, Montearagon
Citril Finch - Hecho valley
Eurasian Linnet - Montearagon
Common or Scarlet Rosefinch
Eurasian Tree-Sparrow – Jaca Citadel
Rock Sparrow – Jaca Citadel, Montearagon
Yellowhammer - El Portalet
Cirl Bunting – Hecho valley
Reed Bunting - L. de Gallocanta
Corn Bunting - El Planeron, Montearagon