NEW! Catalonia: Ebro Delta & Steppe
An 8-day, small group birdwatching tour to Catalonia, in Northeast Spain
Spain Birding Tours with Limosa Holidays: Our spring birding tour to Northeast Spain visits one of the best birdwatching sites in Europe - the Ebro Delta. A treasure trove of Mediterranean wetland species, the Ebro boasts everything from Little Bittern and Western Swamphen to Greater Flamingo and Slender-billed Gull. From there, we travel inland to the dry plains around Lleida - a vital refuge for breeding Montagu's Harriers, Little Bustard, Pin-tailed Sandgrouse and Catalonia's last population of Dupont's Larks – before concluding amid the uplands of the Pre-Pyrenees, home to Lammergeier, Citril Finch and Western Orphean Warbler. Discover a very different birdwatching tour to Northeast Spain!
Tour Dates & Prices
Sun 9th May 2021
Sun 16th May 2021
7 Spaces Available
Tour Cost: 8 Days from £1945* inc return flights from London Heathrow
* 2020 tour costs shown. Please note costs for our 2021 tour TBA (available summer 2020)
- Limosa Tour Leader
- Return flights - London Heathrow to Barcelona, nonstop with British Airways
- 7 nights accommodation in Spain, staying at two good and comfortable hotels
- All main meals - and drinking water provided
- Minibus transport
- All excursions, entry fees, permits
- All tour-based tips (hotels, meals etc) & taxes
- Map & Limosa Checklist of birds
Insurance, drinks, airport/in-flight meals and snacks & other items of a personal nature.
The Land Only cost is the price you will pay if you choose to arrange your own flights
- Unrivalled spring birding, off the beaten track in Northeast Spain
- 3 nights in the Ebro Delta, discovering one of the most important wetlands in the Western Med
- Squacco Heron, Little Bittern, Western Swamphen, Collared Pratincole, Audouin’s & Slender-billed Gulls
- 4 nights based in the medieval hillside village of Montsonís
- The Lleida steppe for Dupont’s Lark, Little Bustard, Western Black-eared Wheatear, Iberian Grey Shrike
- Lammergeier, Griffon Vulture, Booted Eagle, Black Wheatear, Ortolan Bunting in the Pre-Pyrenees
- Small group tour - maximum 10 participants
- Expertly led by Limosa's English-speaking Spanish specialist Fernando Enrique
Fly London Heathrow-Barcelona. We transfer south to our first hotel, in the heart of the Ebro Delta. Night Deltebre
Exploring the northern and southern parts of the Ebro Delta. Two further nights Deltebre
We travel northwest to Montsonís on the plains, for a four-night stay. Night Montsonís
Three full days visiting different areas of the plains: Bellmunt and Lleida, plus a day in the Pre Pyrenees. Three further nights Montsonis
We return to Barcelona via the Llobregat Delta. Late afternoon flight to London Heathrow
This exciting new tour to Catalonia - the Ebro Delta, Lleida Plains and Pre-Pyrenees - has been designed for us by Limosa’s Spanish specialist Fernando Enrique. In a way it is like visiting his own 'local patch', for until recently Fernando lived in Barcelona and he knows the area well.
After flying to Barcelona, we travel south to our first hotel - right at the heart of the Ebro Delta, and where Penduline Tit is a garden bird. Our base for three nights here lies within a very short drive (or even walk!) of all the important local birding spots.
The Ebro Delta is a world renowned Ramsar site and boasts a wide range of fine habitats - from rice fields, sandy beaches, saltmarsh and reed beds to coastal lagoons and marine bays. Over the years, more than 350 bird species have been recorded at this special place - indeed, such is the wealth of birdlife here, that in May we could well see over 100 species in a day!
Flocks of Greater Flamingo sparkle as they take flight, Little Bitterns bark from the reeds and Great Egrets and Squacco Herons stalk openly across the rice fields. As evening approaches, Black-crowned Night Herons can be seen flying from their daytime roosts. A number of lagoons and reed beds have observation towers from which we will enjoy superb views, not just of the birds but also the fascinating delta landscape. Red-crested Pochard, Western Swamphen, Caspian Tern, Zitting Cisticola and Great Reed Warbler are common, and the delta also boasts the largest colony of Audouin’s Gull in the world.
In May, many of the shorebirds here will be migrants, pausing to rest and feed on the Ebro's saltpans and flooded fields as they head north to breed. Now in their summer finery, cracking orange Little Stints and burnt sienna Bar-tailed Godwits and Curlew Sandpipers are a delight to behold, foraging alongside resident Kentish Plovers and Black-winged Stilt. Inhabiting rough pasture, Collared Pratincole and Greater Short-toed Larks add to the variety, while a small stand of Eucalyptus trees near the coast can attract an exciting mix of spring migrants, from Nightjars, Hoopoes and Golden Orioles to warblers, chats and flycatchers.
After two full days exploring the delta, we set off north and inland to reach our second hotel, at Montsonís. Our journey will take us through the Parc Natura de la Serra de Montsant - one of the secret gems of Catalonia. This mountain range is an area seldom visited by birders – but sshhh, don’t tell anybody! Picturesque villages sit in a beautiful landscape and the local cliffs are home to one of the highest densities of raptors in this corner of Spain - Golden and Bonelli’s Eagles, Short-toed Snake Eagle and Peregrine all breed.
Set amidst a mosaic of Pyrenean and Holm Oaks, scrub and rocky areas in the Sierra de Montsec, Montsonís is one of the best-preserved medieval villages of the region. We spend four nights in this tranquil spot, enjoying the rich local flora and fauna, with European Nightjar, Bee-eater, Hoopoe, and Western Orphean, Subalpine and Western Bonelli's Warblers to look for, along with Firecrest, and Cirl and Ortolan Buntings.
Our lovely hotel at Montsonís is well situated, allowing for full three days visiting three very different habitats, yet all within easy reach:
The arid steppe around Balaguer and Bellmunt d'Urgell holds the declining Little Bustard and Montagu's Harrier, whilst Hobby, Stone-curlew, Roller and Great Spotted Cuckoo should also be found. A veritable symphony of larks includes Crested Lark and Thekla – don’t worry Fernando will help you with your identification skills - as well as Greater Short-toed and Calandra Larks.
The terraced landscape to the south of Lleida is home to the last population of Dupont’s Lark in Cataluña. This rarely observed species is tricky to see as it often sings at night - then, just as the sun rises, drops to the ground and shuts up! In order to find it we’ll need to be at just the right spot at first light... but it's well worth making the effort to hear its curious 'rusty swing' song and for a glimpse of one of Europe's most enigmatic birds. But if further incentive is needed, both Pin-tailed and Black-bellied Sandgrouse also frequent the dry, sandy plains.
The Pre-Pyrenees lie to the north of Montsonís and we will drive up into the southern and lower part, close to the border between France and Spain. Here, the alpine and subalpine habitats are home to species of birds we’ll not yet have encountered on our tour. Amongst the limestone gorges of Congost de Collegats and coniferous forests of the Parc Natural de Boumort, live montane specialists such as Lammergeier, Alpine Chough, Citril Finch and Ortolan Bunting.
Get off the beaten track with Limosa's English-speaking Spanish specialist Fernando Enrique and discover the wonderful birdlife of Catalonia in Northeast Spain!
TO BARCELONA & DELTEBRE
Our spring birdwatching tour to northeast Spain commences with a morning flight from London to Barcelona, where Fernando will be waiting to welcome us. After a short drive we will stop for lunch at a cosy restaurant on the small reserve at the nearby Llobregat Delta, before continuing southwest beside the blue Mediterranean coast towards the famous Ebro Delta, a journey of ca. 90 minutes.
Arriving at Deltebre, we head to our nice hotel in the heart of the Ebro and settle into our rooms. If there's time, we’ll enjoy a short walk about the grounds. This is an excellent location and boasts ‘garden birds’ such as Little Bittern, Whiskered Tern and Penduline Tit - amongst many others! Deltebre will be our very convenient base for the first three nights of the tour. Night Deltebre
Days 2 - 3
We have two full days to explore and enjoy the wonderful Ebro Delta, not just the birds but also the fascinating landscape. This internationally important Ramsar site covers 320 sq. km, with habitats ranging from reed beds and coastal lagoons to rice fields, sandy shores, salt marsh and marine bays.
To the south, there are a number of excellent observation towers, such as at Poblenou del Delta – and en route we should pick out the fabulous Squacco Heron in the ricefields, if we have not already bumped into one before.
Looking out over l'Encanyissada lagoon, there are often Red-crested Pochard, Little Bittern, Greater Flamingo, Western Swamphen, Western Marsh Harrier and Great Reed Warbler, while Savi's Warbler buzz from the reeds. At another observation tower, we might add Great Egret and Gull-billed Tern, with Bluethroat also possible here on migration.
The Sant Antoni saltpans are a well-known spot for gulls and home to the largest Audouin’s Gull colony in the world, as well as many terns and waders. In May, with the breeding season well underway, Sandwich, Little and Common Terns are especially active. Hulking Caspian Terns can be seen loafing or flying about, but although Lesser Crested Tern also breeds nearby, picking up one of these rare birds in flight is a matter of luck! Slender-billed and Yellow-legged Gulls are an almost constant presence, and spring migrant waders regularly include silver-backed Grey Plover and terracotta-hued Red Knot, Little Stint, Curlew Sandpiper, Dunlin, Bar-tailed Godwit, Greenshank and Ruff - the majority in summer dress and looking at their very best now. Black-winged Stilt, Avocet and Kentish and Ringed Plovers all breed locally and the white-throated Iberian race of Yellow Wagtail nests in the low, scrubby vegetation - a vivid splash of lemon to be looked for atop the Salicornia - proclaiming its territory with its buzzing call.
La Tancada lagoon has a hide overlooking it and is another spot good for waders and wildfowl, including Garganey in spring. Western Ospreys can sometimes be seen hovering above the lake, while stub-billed Lesser Short-toed Larks circle in display above the saltings performing their Serin-like song-flight.
An area of rough pasture at At Erms de la Tancada should reward us with the more robust Greater Short-toed Lark and elegant Collared Pratincole, while a small patch of woodland near the coast can attract all kind of migrants at this time of the year - everything from European Nightjar, Hoopoe and Golden Oriole to a host of warblers, chats and flycatchers. These can include some scarce migrants for Spain, such as Icterine and Wood Warblers, and Collared Flycatcher. Thanks to Fernando’s contacts with the network of local birders, we should be among the first to hear the latest news!
To the north of Deltebre, further observation towers overlook the southern part of the Canal Vell lagoon. It's a regular spot for croaking Black-crowned Night Heron and Little Bittern, as well as bustling flocks of Greater Flamingos, Great Egrets and Black-winged Stilts. Great Reed Warblers sing from the tops of the reeds as the tiny dots of Zitting Cisticolas (that's Fan-tailed Warbler in 'old money') bounce across the landscape.
Lo Garxal is a shallow lagoon often alive with terns and waders, where we might find an elegant Marsh Sandpiper or coal-black Spotted Redshank. Excitingly, both Little Gulls and Red-knobbed Coots have become a regular sight here in recent years, too. Two further nights Deltebre
INLAND TO SIURANA & MONTSONÍS
We depart Deltebre after an early breakfast today, leaving behind the flat rice fields and lagoons of the Ebro Delta and travelling north towards the Montsant mountain range.
The Parc Natura de la Serra de Montsant is one of the secret gems of Catalonia. An area seldom-visited by travelling birders, its picturesque villages, beautiful landscape and excellent wines are a 'must' if you are planning a visit to Cataluña. The numerous cliffs in the area are home to one of the highest densities of birds of prey in this corner of Spain. Species to watch for include Egyptian Vulture, Golden and Bonelli’s Eagle, Short-toed Snake Eagle and Peregrine.
The journey from the coast to Montsonís isn't a particularly long one (just a couple of hours if we were to go direct), but we shall be stopping to bird along the way.
Siurana is not only a clifftop village in the most beautiful of settings, but home to specialities such as Melodious and Western Orphean Warblers, Firecrest, Blue Rock Thrush, Black Wheatear and Rock Bunting.
Our ultimate destination today is Montsonís, a wonderfully preserved medieval village located halfway between the Lleida plains and the Pre Pyrenees, in the Sierra de Montsec in Catalonia. No more than 20 people live in this tiny hamlet, so peace and quiet are virtually guaranteed - at least until we arrive! Montsonís will be our base for four nights - and on the cliff in front of our hotel there is often a pair of Bonelli’s Eagles...
Having settled into our rooms, we will spend time this afternoon birding between Montsonís and Rubio de Dalt, enjoying the mosaic of Holm and Pyrenean Oaks, scrub, rocky areas and field edges that support a rich flora and fauna. Here we can find Quail, European Nightjar, Hoopoe, Bee-eater and Woodlark. Super Sylvias include secretive Subalpine, Western Orphean and Dartford Warblers, and there are also Western Bonelli's Warblers, Firecrest, Tawny Pipit and Ortolan, Cirl and Rock Buntings. Night Montsonís
Days 5 - 7
BELLMUNT, LLEIDA PLAINS & PRE-PYRENEES
From Montsonís, we have three bird-filled days to discover our new surroundings. On each of our days here we'll drive out to visit a very different area, focusing on the various landscapes and key birds and wildlife that inhabit them. We may vary the order in which we visit them depending on weather at the time:
Drylands of Bellmunt
Lying just 20 minutes to the south of our hotel, the dry lands between Balaguer and the village of Bellmunt d'Urgell hold important numbers of Montagu's Harriers and the globally threatened Little Bustard - which at this time of year 'blow raspberries' at one another as they display from uncultivated patches!
Dryland farming and sheep herding have been the dominant form of land use for centuries in this area. As such, these plains are one of the last strongholds for many grassland birds found in the region. Scanning the open steppe should reveal hovering Short-toed Snake Eagles and rakish Hobbies (two birds after very different prey), furtive Stone-curlews, glorious turquoise Rollers and dazzling Bee-eaters as well as the shag-crested Great Spotted Cuckoo, Little Owl and a variety of lark species - including Crested, Thekla, Greater Short-toed and Calandra Larks.
After enjoying lunch in a local restaurant, we will spend our afternoon at the most important interior wetland of Catalonia. Estany d’Ivars is a large lake that was drained during the 20th Century, but now has returned thanks to a very successful restoration program. Herons are well represented here, with Squacco and Purple Herons, Little Bittern and Black-crowned Night Heron all on the cards. Red-crested Pochard, Western Swamphen, Black-winged Stilt, and Black and Whiskered Terns add further to the appeal. Meanwhile the reeds can be alive with birds such as Great Reed and Eurasian Reed Warblers, and the bandit-masked Penduline Tit.
In the mosaic of agricultural fields and natural grassland near Montoliu de Lleida, the terraced scenery is notable for its low, table-topped hills rising from flat lowlands. The area is attractive to steppe-loving birds, with large numbers of breeding larks that includes the last surviving population of Dupont’s Lark in Cataluña.
A much-sought after species, Dupont's Lark is notorious for being difficult to see. It gives its song in flight in the dark just before dawn - but just as the first glimmers of light make you think you will at last surely spot it, then drops to the ground and runs off like a courser! In order to have the best chance of finding this remarkable bird, we will need to be in the right spot at just the right time. But with patience and Fernando to help, we have a great chance of seeing this elusive species on the ground and in daylight!
As we wait and watch for Europe’s most elusive lark to appear, other key species found here include Stone-curlew with its eerie calls, and strikingly marked Pin-tailed and Black-bellied Sandgrouse.
Lleida's hillsides and cliffs are covered with a mix of Mediterranean and semi-desert vegetation that supports a great variety of birds. We will spend time today looking for smart Black and Western Black-eared Wheatears, Red-rumped Swallow, Red-billed Chough, Iberian Grey Shrike, Spectacled Warbler and Tawny Pipit. With a little local knowledge, we might also be lucky to find Eurasian Eagle Owl, while a nearby rubbish dump (lovely!) attracts large numbers of White and Black Storks, Cattle Egrets and other scavengers, allowing good photo opportunities!
Today we head for the hills, driving north into the Pre Pyrenees. Still with peaks rising to over 2000m (6,500ft), these southern and lower ramparts of the Pyrenees possess both alpine and subalpine habitats that are home to a cracking range of species we simply won't find elsewhere during our tour. Mountain specialists such as Lammergeier, Ring Ouzel, Citril Finch, Crossbill and Ortolan Bunting will occupy our time, along with Red-backed Shrike (here at the southwestern limit of its breeding range).
Driving through the beautiful landscapes of coniferous woodlands, spectacular gorges and immense cliffs, we arrive to our destination on the southern edge of the Parc Natural de Boumort. At this altitude, the forest gradually opens out to more scattered trees, with rose bushes, Alpenrose heathland and flowery grasses that are home to Tree Pipits plus an amazing diversity of butterflies - among them two of Europe’s most beautiful spring-flying species: Spanish Festoon and Spanish Fritillary. The cliffs around these meadows are also home to the southernmost breeding population of Alpine Choughs in Spain.
High above, the mountains and valleys at Boumort are the domain of all four European vultures: Lammergeier, Black, Griffon and Egyptian. This is the only place in the whole of Europe where all four species breed side-by-side. Other birds typical of this remote upland region include Golden Eagle, Raven, Crested Tit, Firecrest and Short-toed Treecreeper.
Following a lovely picnic lunch, we’ll drive north to spend the rest of the afternoon exploring the Congost de Collegats. Here, impressive canyons and caves have been cut through the limestone creating an area of high cliffs that hold a healthy population of raptors due to their inaccessibility. We have further chances of seeing Golden Eagle and the diamond-tailed Lammergeier as well as Egyptian and Griffon Vultures. Three further nights Montsonís
RETURN TO BARCELONA, LLOBREGAT DELTA & FLY LONDON
Leaving lovely Montsonís after breakfast, we travel two hours back to the coast at Barcelona and enjoy a final couple of hours of birding around the Llobregat Delta, close to the airport.
Llobregat is a haven for wildlife on the outskirts of the city of Barcelona, and holds a surprising variety of interesting wetland birds. Although only a small reserve it has excellent hides and a short visit here can be combined with an often profitable seawatch from the nearby shore, with chances of Balearic and Cory's Shearwaters, and Gannet, plus a good selection of terns and gulls including Audouin's, Little and Mediterranean.
After a leisurely lunch, we make the very short drive back to Barcelona Airport for farewells to Fernando and our return flight to London, where our birding tour to Northeast Spain concludes.
WHAT TO EXPECT
Tucked away on the northeast coast of Spain, the Ebro Delta is one of the best birdwatching sites in Europe - on a par with the more famous wetlands of the Coto Doñana and the Camargue.
Much less visited by travelling birders, it is a treasure trove of Mediterranean wetland birds - from Little Bittern, Western Swamphen and Red-crested Pochard to Caspian Tern, Slender-billed Gull and Greater Flamingo.
For the second part of our holiday, we travel inland to explore the dry plains around Lleida - a vital refuge for breeding Little Bustard, Pin-tailed Sandgrouse and Catalonia's last population of Dupont's Larks – and pay a visit the uplands of the Pre-Pyrenees, home to Lammergeier, Citril Finch and Western Orphean Warbler.
In May, the weather in this part of Spain is typically warm and sunny (occasional showers or thundery rain some years). More variable at altitude in the Pre-Pyrenees, where it is often warm and sunny, but can also be cool, especially first thing.
As with all mountain areas of course, it can occasionally be cold and/or wet - so do come prepared with suitably warm and weatherproof clothing, just in case. Snowfall is very unlikely at this time.
Opportunities for incidental bird photography can be good to excellent on this trip.
7 nights accommodation in Spain, staying at two good and comfortable hotels - beginning in the Ebro Delta with 3 nights at the well-located Delta Hotel, and concluding with 4 nights at the comfortable La Botiga de Montsonís - a very characterful hotel in the picturesque village of Montsonís, with its well-preserved medieval buildings and views of big cliffs to the north and the plains to the south. All rooms have private facilities.
All main meals are included in the tour price, commencing with lunch on arrival in Spain on Day 1 - at a local restaurant at El Prat de Llobregat - and concluding with lunch there on Day 8.
Breakfasts and delicious home-cooked dinners will be taken at the hotels. Lunches will be a mix of picnics and sit down meals in local restaurants in some of our favourite places.
Overall easy on this tour. There are no long or strenuous walks, not even in the Pre-Pyrenees. We drive to most birding locations and take short walks at a relaxed pace to enjoy the magnificent birds and landscapes.
Wear comfy walking shoes or lightweight boots with sturdy corrugated soles for grip.
Return flights from London Heathrow-Barcelona, nonstop with British Airways.
Ground Transport By minibus.