THE MOST INTERESTING BIRDS IN
THE CENTRAL SPANISH PYRENEES
WITH MONEGROS AND THE EBRO VALLEY
The Pyrenees and the Ebro Valley hold a fair number of bird species of special interest. The species selected will not necessarily be of interest for everyone, since a birder from England may have other wishes than one from Madrid, Zaragoza or The Netherlands.
The Lammergeier is present throughout the year and all over the Pyrenees. It is easy to find flying over cliff faces and valleys of the southern slope of the Exterior Sierras (Riglos, Salto de Roldán, Vadiello, Rodellar), over the highest peaks of the Interior Sierras (above the highest villages) and along the mountains of the high Pyrenees. In the vicinity of the village of Escuaín, at the eastern edge of the Ordesa and Monte Perdido National Park, it is possible to see more than 10 individuals in a single day.
The Montagu’s Harrier still frequents cereal fields between late April and early September. The best way to look for it is to drive along the secondary roads of the Ebro Valley. The highest chances of success can be expected in the lower Cinca region and in the Monegros.
The Golden Eagle is found throughout the year all over the Pyrenees, including the Exterior Sierras, and in Monegros. The best chances are in the high Pyrenees and in the Monegros.
The area to see Bonelli’s Eagles is the southern slope of the Exterior Sierras. There are still breeding pairs in the vicinity of Salto de Roldán and along the river Alcanadre. Its flight is fast and it does not soar often and it generally takes effort to see it. The patient birder, prepared to settle himself for hours on end on Salto de Roldán and keep a vigilant watch on all raptors presenting themselves, will have a chance of spotting it and will not have to worry about disturbing this endangered species by his presence.
All through the summer period Booted Eagles may be found in the valleys and depressions of the Pyrenees, in the Exterior Sierras, in the northern Somontano and in the Monegros. Particularly interesting for this species seems to be the Sierra de Alcubierre.
Peregrines may be seen all over the Pyrenees. The best possibilities are offered by the high areas of both the Interior Sierras and the Exterior Sierras. Outside the breeding season, the Peregrine can be seen also with relative ease south of the Pyrenees.
There are several colonies of Lesser Kestrel in the Monegros, where the birds are present from April to August. Here it is an increasing species which can be seen hunting in groups above the fields.
The densities of Ptarmigan in the high Pyrenees are very low. Most observations date from autumn (August-November), which is the period when it is most easily found. It is present in the highest peaks and most frequently seen in the eastern parts. One will have to ascend to at least 2,000-2,500 metres and preferably search the areas least visited by man.
In view of the very precarious situation of the Capercaillie in the Pyrenees, you are advised not to go and look for it, in order not to disturb the areas it frequents.
There is a very important Crane roost which is used during spring migration. The birds may then be found either east or south of the village of Montmesa, along the banks of the Sotonera reservoir. The best time to look for them is dawn or late afternoon. When weather conditions are not favourable for crossing the Pyrenees, birds may remain in the area all day and, then, numbers present may approach to 10,000 birds. Between approximately 20 February and 15 March Cranes are generally present in this area.
In order to see Great Bustard you have to go south to the area around Bujaraloz (Monegros). To find them one must drive along the many small roads and tracks and search the immeasurable fields.
The best way of finding Little Bustards is to drive the tracks in extensive areas of arid open countryside in the Monegros. There are three areas where it is still relatively easy to find them. The first is the flat area north of El Tormillo, where there is a small area of cereal fields. The second one is larger and consists of the flats between Almudévar, Gurrea de Gállego and Alcalá de Gurrea. The last area is situated between Alcolea de Cinca, Ontiñena and Ballobar.
Black-bellied Sandgrouse and Pin-tailed Sandgrouse
The best way of finding Black-bellied and Pin-tailed Sandgrouse is to drive the tracks along extensive areas of arid open countryside in the Monegros. There are two areas where they are still relatively easy to find. The first is at the flats between Almudévar, Gurrea de Gállego, Alcalá de Gurrea and Torresecas. The second is situated between Alcolea de Cinca, Ontiñena and Ballobar, where one should drive along tracks and secondary roads.
Great Spotted Cuckoo
The Great Spotted Cuckoo is a common bird in some parts of the Ebro Valley, especially in the area between Tormos in the northwest, Monzón in the northeast, Alcolea de Cinca in the southeast and Zuera in the southwest. The best way to find it is to visit the re-afforested pine plantations or the (scarce) forests of Monegros.
Of course, the Eagle Owl should preferably be looked for at night. The best time of the year is February/March, when the males are calling. It is also possible to see it at dusk, emerging from its day-time hide. Areas where it may be seen are for example the village of Biniés in the Pyrenees. Good sites are the small sierra between Piracés and Tramaced and the walls along the river Cinca close.
Tengmalm’s Owls should be looked for at night in February or March, at altitudes between approximately 1,800-2,000 metres, in the zone of Black Pine. The highest densities have been found in the eastern part of the Pyrenees, in the valleys of Pineta, Plan and Benasque (where Vallibierna is the most famous site for this species) and more to the east in the province of Lleida. One has to make an immense sacrifice to see or hear this bird.
The Black Woodpecker occurs frequently in all well developed woodlands of the Pyrenean valleys between 900 and almost 1,800 metres altitude. It is present in all valleys, with the highest densities in the surroundings of Zuriza (valley of Ansó), the Selva de Oza (valley of Hecho), San Juan de la Peña, the valleys of Ordesa, Pineta and Estós (Benasque).
Primarily a Central European species, the White-backed Woodpecker also maintains a reduced relict population in the north of the Iberian peninsula. In the Pyrenees the major nucleus of this species is found in the province of Navarre and in the French Pyrenees, north of the tunnel of Canfranc. It has also proved o be present in the virgin Beech forests of Zuriza (Ansó) and Oza (Hecho). One should search during the month of March.
The Dupont’s Lark is a steppe bird, only inhabiting the arid zones which have not yet been modified by man and where the original xerophytic vegetation is still intact. In the Monegros it may still breed at about four kilometres west of Ballobar, in El Basal. The most famous site is near Belchite, south of Zaragoza. It can be found in the El Planaron reserve, which can be entered turning left at the indication of the reserve on the road between Belschite and Quinto de Ebro. The best time to find it is in spring, when you should try to localise singing birds (also at night).
Lesser Short-toed Lark
Like the former species the Lesser Short-toed Lark inhabits the most arid zones of the steppes. This species prefers bare ground with little or no vegetation. The best sites are found in the area around Ontiñena, Candasnos and Ballobar. It can also be seen close to saline lagoons like La Playa, close to Bujaraloz. Most important site in the Ebro Valley is the area of Belchite.
The Short-toed Lark is also a typical bird of arid areas, but its dependence on the most extreme circumstances is less marked than in the two preceding species. In spring and summer it is found in large numbers in all arid steppe zones.
Calandra Larks are found in similar habitat as the Short-toed Lark. Nonetheless, this species is much easier to find. It is present throughout the year and it is very vocal, which makes it easy to detect. In winter Calandra Larks are gregarious and flocks of hundreds and even thousands may be seen, particularly in the Monegros.
Lesser Grey Shrike
In the area Monzón – Fraga - Lleida the Lesser Grey Shrike reaches the southwestern limit of its European distribution. The population primarily inhabits the fruit orchard area close to the rivers Cinca and Segre, south of but there are only a few pairs left.
The Alpine Accentor must be looked for in summer between bare rocks and in stony alpine areas of the high Pyrenees between 1,900 and 2,400 metres altitude. Hot-spots are, among others, Cotatuero (Ordesa), the Balcón de Pineta and Aguas Tuertas (valley of Hecho). The easiest way to find it in winter is driving along roads and tracks of the Exterior Sierras (Riglos, Guara), where it usually occurs in flocks up to some dozens of birds. At this time it is always present in the vicinity of the castle of Loarre.
The Rock Thrush is widely distributed in summer all through the high Pyrenees close to the tree limit. In spring, when males mark their territories with their distinctive song (similar to that of the Blackbird), it is relatively easy to locate. Slightly less widely distributed, but possibly easier to find, Rock Thrushes also occur in several bare rocky sites in the Exterior Sierras (for instance Salto de Roldán and the road to Vadiello).
Blue Rock Thrush
The Blue Rock Thrush reaches its most northerly range more or less in the Pyrenean valley of Ansó, at Foz de Biniés. It is far more abundant in the Exterior Sierras. Well-known haunts, both in summer and in winter, are the castles of Loarre and Montearagón, the Mallos de Riglos and Vadiello. Further south it also inhabits for example the sierra between Piracés and Tramaced and the walls bordering the rivers Alcanadre and Vero.
The Black Wheatear is a typical bird of rocky and sunny areas. Highest densities are found on the southern slopes of the Exterior Sierras and in small sierras and cliffs of the Monegros. Some particular spots where this species may be found with ease are the Mallos de Riglos, the castle of Montearagón, the sierra between Piracés and Tramaced, the hermitage of Chalamera de Cinca and the area of Terreu and Castelflorite.
The Spectacled Warbler inhabits the low scrub areas bordering arid zones. It is found especially in the region of the Monegros.
In summer the Wall Creeper frequents the southfacing sunny cliffs and ridges in the high Pyrenees, the lowest haunts then being the Boca del Infierno (Hecho). In Ordesa too it inhabits south-facing walls. In winter it is invariably present on the sunny walls of the Exterior Sierras, for example in Agüero, Riglos, Salto de Roldán, Vadiello, Alquézar and Mascún.
In order to see the Snow Finch it is necessary to ascend to the highest mountains. In summer they are found breeding at altitudes of approximately 1,800 – 2,800 metres. Colonies are often situated on small slopes facing southwards. A large concentration exists about ten minutes walking from the refuge of Goriz (Ordesa) on the track towards the Brecha de Rolando. In winter it often visits ski resorts, like those at Formigal and Cerler.
Lammergeir (Photo Cees van Overveld).