ITALY AND SPAIN 2010

 

NOTE:  When Sharon adds comments, they will be in {curly brackets}.  Comments added AFTER real time are in [square brackets].

Trip Log 22.  Day 22 and 23. Our Two-day Guided Birding Trip

Day 22. Spain. Wednesday November 3, 2010. Birding Day 1


Ramon has laid out the breakfast Emma prepared last night. We have packed our birding and overnight stuff, and are ready to go.

Breakfast is delicious as usual. Stephen Christopher, our guide, has requested that we meet him at a particular subway station, about twenty minutes away. Ramon can't understand why he won't pick us up here, but Stephen is unfamiliar with this part of the city, and is wary of rush-hour traffic conditions. In other words, he doesn't want to waste part of the day we're paying him for, in picking his way through stop and go traffic. We agree, but Ramon thinks it would be simple for him to pick us up.

But Ramon's a trooper, and has agreed to take us there, after I show him a map, and he grasps where Stephen is trying to go, to meet us.

Ramon drives us down in heavy traffic, and we find Stephen, double parked, and looking a little frantic, feeling guilty about blocking the flow of traffic. We jump in and we're off.

As Stephen drives through a traffic circle, Sharon see pigeons and Stephen confirms them to be Woodpigeons. Excellent. It's about 8:30.

Our first stop will be at one of the two bird reserves at Llobragat, next to the Barcelona Airport. There are birds and planes in the air, and it's a little bit more windy that ideal conditions.


Our birding reserves are adjacent to the new airport.

9:05 I spot a Sardinian Warbler, pointed out by Stephen, but Sharon doesn't get it fast enough. Yesterday, she saw one but I didn't see it. We have to both see the same bird at the same time, so we can't count it yet as a life bird.

A couple of minutes later Sharon gets us on a European Goldfinch, or as it's called here, Goldfinch, the bird with the embarassment on its face. Stephen points out a Meadow Pipit flyover, then some Tree Sparrows and Common Waxbills.

There are singing Cetti's Warblers all over the reeds. A Little Egret flies, and then Stephen gets us on the first of several Fantailed Warblers of the day. The name is officially being changed to Zitting Cisticola, but Stephen hates that name. I'm with him, I like the old name.

We get a Blackcap, not our first of the trip. Then Stephen points us to a Purple Swamphen aka Gallinule. He says this is a different species than the one in the U.S. But we need to know if it's a different species than the one in Kenya. If it IS different, then it's a life bird for us. Will have to verify later, one way or another.

A White Wagtail flies over. It is so windy that Stephen shifts us to a different location in the wetlands, one with more tall reeds to shield us from the wind. Here we soon get, all at the same time in the scope, Waxbill, Robin, Chiffchaff and Blackcap. {We're looking for the Penduline Tit (kind of like our chickadee) that lives in these reeds. Stephen tells us that they are secretive, but will go to the top of the reeds to feed at times. That is what we are watching for.}

We hear a rooster crow, then get a female blackbird. A Kingfisher flies low over the reeds, then drops below the tops, disappearing from out site. There is a squealing, like a pig, and Stephen says, "Water Rail." We soon see this bird, and guess what, it looks nothing like a pig.

A beautiful gull is the Black-headed, but in the winter, he loses all the black color from his head except a little grey patch that one just has to associate with his ears.

Ten o'clock and Stephen and Sharon are both hearing Penduline Tit. The call is so high that, to my immense frustration, I can NOT hear it. I have Sharon cock her hand like a gun, and the instant she hears it, to "shoot." No help, I can't hear it. Then we lose it, but keep on around the same track we're on. Stephen says we'll come back by this way, and should see one.

Shoulda woulda coulda.

We scare up a big Grey Heron, and it spooks us just a little as it flies off.

There are several bird hides here, and we have stopped in the first, bypassed the second because of grass and reed cutting going on with gasoline {noisy} clippers, and are heading for the third.

We come to an elevated lookout platform, and up we go. Now we can look into the water channels, over the overgrown weeds and plants.

Stephen immediately says that he hears Penduline Tits, but we never see one.

We get Green Sandpiper, Northern Lapwing and Wigeon, then Water Pipit and Greylag Geese. Lots of Great Crested Grebes.

Three Common Pochards fly in and Sharon spots them first. Then we get a female Eurasian Wigeon.

We come to yet another hide, and at first there are lots of birds, but then who, who, who let the horses out? The birds can't abide the horses and slowly move out in shifts, each new shift coming about when the horses get into their territory. {They put the horses here in the reserve to trim down the plants, especially non-native plants.}

The ducks are generally the same size except for the teals. They are smaller. Here they have split the Common Teal to Common Teal and Green-winged Teal. One difference is that there is a shoulder stripe that is vertical on one and horizontal on the other. Isn't that like saying the horses were absolutely identical, except the black one's tail was one centimeter longer than the white one's?

Then Stephen gets a magical bird for us - the Hoopoe. Most people pronounce this "HOO-poo" but I have always called it "HOO-po". Stephen says they are famous for how bad their nests smell. Never heard that before.

(From internet)

Next are Yellow-legged Gull and Little Bittern, and finally, a Penduline Tit shows himself long enough for all of us to see him clearly, with the black teardrops. Excellent. {While we were excited about the tit, we scared up the bittern but Bob and I never got good looks at it.}

Stephen is much more excited about the Little Bittern, which is rare for this time of year. One big bird angle for him is keeping track of when the migrants first show up and when they leave.

A Marsh Harrier does a flyover, and Stephen spots a Buzzard in the air also. This is, I think, the most common hawk here, and is sort of like our Red-tailed Hawk, in America.

We get a Greenfinch flyby, and now we're under the path of the airplanes. It's kind of fun.

To our satisfaction and relief, we get a nice pair of Sardinian Warbler males that we both see.

A little after noon, and Stephen gets us on a Yellow-crowned Bishop, but he says it has to be an escapee, and is not countable. I get a spectacular look through my binocs, but no photos. Sorry.

We pack up and drive to the other Llobragat reserve, passing some Cattle Egrets on the way.

As we're driving Stephen says he has a young son, named Jordy {Catalon for George}. He says that there is a St. Jordy's Day, kind of like our Valentine's Day, where boys give girls roses, and girls give boys books. He says that vendors come and set up book stands by the school, so the girls can buy books right there.

It's one o'clock and we pull in to the other reserve, and share the lunch which Stephen has prepared for us. It's delicious and is a good break.

He cocks his ear, and says, "Short-toed Treecreeper!" I don't know if Sharon heard it or not, but I didn't.

A Blue Tit picks its way through the trees around us, as we finish up our lunch and pack up the leftovers and trash. Then it's off again.

We get a real good look at a Cetti's Warbler, and hear a Green Woodpecker behind us. Suddenly there are a million kids on the trails around us - some sort of field trip day obviously.

At the second hide hear, we get Reed Buntings, then Mediterranean Gulls, in addition to lots of Black-headeds and a few Sandwich Terns.

I always like to ask at least three stupid questions and my next one is, "Are there Shovelers here?" This is a duck with a bill so long that it looks like he is going to tip over frontward, all the time. Stephen points out that there have been Northern Shovelers everywhere we've been, all day today.

Oh.

We finish up, and drive down to the small town of Garraf. It's on the water, and we get a Yellow-legged Gull on a mast of a boat in the neat little marina.


The marina in the little seaside village of Garraf.

I ask about cormorants vs. shags, and Stephen says the inland birds are all cormorants. The shags are only on the coast.

Then we get a beautiful Black Redstart male. Very elegant, always dressed up in his black and white best, with rusty appointments. Or is it apartments?

Then Stephen finally gets us on a life bird, a very nice Black Wheatear. This bird loves rocky habitat, like the one he's in.

Later we get Red-rumped Swallow nests overhead, but I didn't note where we were exactly at the time. {It was in a underpass we go through.}

We have headed inland, and after climbing, climbing, climbing, we get a couple of Spotless Starlings, another life bird for us. This is a perfectly named bird, so I don't have to say anything more about it to describe to you what it looks like.

From many vantage points on he road, one can see large, white houses in the surrounding hills and mountains. Little fortresses. {This is all preserve now but the former residents get to stay.}

In the surrounding brush, we also get Crested Tit, Mistle Thrush and Green Woodpecker, then a closer look at Spotless Starling. A Jay flies in front of us, but far away. This bird is a patchwork made of feather patterns of several different birds, and looks a little like a quilt, color and pattern-wise.

A large flock of birds is ID'd as Serins by Stephen, who then points us to a couple of nice Dartford Warblers.

Then we're back in his 4x4 and driving. Suddenly he darts left then right. He says it was a snake, and he thinks he avoided hitting it. He says it was most likely a ladder snake, the most common type here. Sharon asks if there are poisonous snakes here and Stephen says no, but they can make you a little sick.

We stop at the edge of a forest, to admire a Long-tailed Tit, and while we're there, Stephen gets us on a beautiful Firecrest. This tiny bird has a streak of fire right on the crown of his head, running front to back.

We begin to head back, and I enjoy many views that include the sea. I snap one of Stephen, who is an A-number-one birder and guide.


(L) View of the Mediterranean. (R) Stephen Christopher, ace bird guide.

We finish up, and then Stephen drives us to a supermarket, where we buy some things for dinner, since we don't want to eat in a restaurant tonight. We've arranged to stay in his basement apartment for the night so we can get an early start tomorrow.

His apartment is spartan, but is supposed to have Wifi. {It is the ground floor of his house, has two bedrooms, a kitchen/dining room and a rec room with a pool table and ping pong table. There is a beautiful swimmming pool but it's too cold to even think of that. The bathroom is also outside (I'm guessing this used to be the pool house) and we go in shifts with our flashlight. I go to bed and get warm while bob tries out the WiFi.} He never quite gets it going, as it is new, and you know, there are always bugs and hitches in new things. I ask him if the water's safe to drink and he says, "Oh yes." So that's good. [Words that will hain't me, as my dad used to say. And that Ramon still says]

We enjoy our dinner, read a little, I work on my photos and videos a bit, then on a report, then we turn in, eager for tomorrow. I fill my water bottle with tap water.

 

Day 23. Thursday November 4, 2010. Birding Day 2, Sick Day 1.

 

Na na na na na na. THEY SAY it’s your birthday. Na na na na na na. It's my birthday too, yeah.

I have, this morning, what I call my weak voice syndrome. It can mean different things, but almost always means I'm physically weak or otherwise sick.

I feel terrible. But it's time to go. I have some Lomotil Sharon brought to slow things down but decide not to take it, and hope for things to turn around.

We're headed for Cadi-Moixero Natural Park today, in the Pyrenees, not too far from France, our guide has already said that we can't go into France.

We load up and take off about 6:30. It's dark, with the moon providing light, and as we get into the beginning of the moutains and it lightens up, a little fog is visible.


The fog is clearing.

As we drive, Stephen occasionally points out some birds. Carrion Crow, Buzzard. Jay.

Woodpigeons.

We get far enough and high enough that we stop and Stephen gets the scope out. We get a couple of Alpine Choughs, life birds for us, and a Griffon Vulture, the most common type here, way up on the mountain called the Fork. I am now not only sick from drinking "bad" water last night (bad for me), but now I'm terribly motion sick too. And I'm so weak I can hardly get out of the 4x4.

We continue on, stopping occasionally in friendly habitat, and we get a beautiful pair of Bramblings, then a Cirl Bunting.

We stop at a little market for lunch snacks, and there is a beautiful double-peaked mountain right across the road.


(L and R) Fork Rock, but in Spanish. Or Catalon.

This is called something like Fork Mountain.

It's 9:15 am as we get kettling Alpine Chough. Kettling means they swirl around in circles, rising and falling, like things in a witches kettle as she stirs them.

Back on the road, further on, we get Rock Bunting, Cirl Bunting, then a pair of Golden Eagles. Stephen hears a Green Woodpecker, and the call is clear.

Stephen stops several times, and checks out the high flyers, but they are all Griffon Vultures, and in fact one landed on the left peak of the forked mountain. Back in the car (I've stopped getting out at this point), and onward. {Bob is looking increasingly sick and I know he so wants to see the Lammergeier, so we go on.}

When I reveal to Stephen my condition, he says that we are not yet halfway around the loop, and if I want to go back home, it would be better to turn around here. Well, faster is what he really said. I say no, I will hopefully get better as we continue on. So on we go.


(L) An early dusting of snow. (R) Looks a little like the Smoky Mountains, with the fence.


(L) View straight down, from a lookout. (R) View across the valley, showing the thinnest bit of snow on the knife-edge peak.


(L) Path back to the 4x4, from the lookout. (R) Beautiful blue, on this flower.


(L) Looking for two birds, with hope in our souls. (R) High mountain meadows of the habitat for Alpine Accentor.

We are approaching a spot where Stephen says he often gets our big target bird.

Stephen comes around a hill, stops, and says there is a different bird coming back this way.  With the bitd circling in the sun, I am hunkered down in the front seat with my eyes closed when I hear that magic word, "LAMMERGEIER!!!"

I pull myself out of wherever it is that I am, and listen to Stephen point out the differences in appearance, and especially how the wings are held when they are gliding, as opposed to Griffon Vultures. Yes, I see that. Fantastic. Now get me outa here. Only I don't say that, I just get back in the car.

We continue on, and at one stop we get a nice Coat Tit and a Yellowhammer. I am O-U-T of energy. But I perservere, meaning I am Robert Lump-man. By now we're WAY back in the mountains.

Stephen walks up above a sheepherder's hut where he has seen a bird we are looking for. I get out of the car, and Sharon and I are standing there (well, me leaning against the car), when suddenly we hear what sounds like a jet engine, coming down the valley from behind us. We turn, and there are three or four ravens, diving as fast as they can, their wings whistling like jet engines. It is their feathers vibrating in the wind. Awesome. It brings me out of my sicknesses for about ten glorious seconds, then I'm back in again.

It's just about noon.

I'm fuzzy on exactly what happens for the rest of the day. I wasn't sick enough to shut me out of photograpy though - I kept that going. Anyway, here's my best estimate of the rest of the day:

About 1:30 Stephen sees a Bullfinch, and I thought Sharon got it, but she didn't. I definitely didn't, so we can't count it as a trip bird.

After a bit Stephen stops by a trail, and asks if I feel good enough to walk it. I say no, but change my mind. Maybe fresh air will help. I stagger out, and head up the trail, behind the two of them. Each step up the trail is unbelievably difficult, and I go very, very slowly.

Sharon thinks she spots a Dipper through some brush, in the river below, but loses it. They move on, but as I spend more time where they were, I see it. A wonderful little high mountain, fast-water bird, this one is brown with a white chest, as opposed to the Dipper of North America which is uniform grey all over.

Stephen drives us into this little village, hoping that the pharmacy is open so we can get me some Cipro, but they are closed. Stephen drives to one end of the village where a fast river runs under a bridge. He parks the car on or next to the bridge. He and Sharon go looking for some bird, I think, but I'm too far gone to care.

When they come back they report that they got great looks at another Dipper pair. And I don't care.

Then Stephen gives me a choice. He says we can drive to "that red mountain over there", where he has seen the Alpine Accentor, our next target bird, but leaves it to me. He says the road will be rough, winding and long, and of course, there's no guarantee that the bird will be there. I say let's go for it, and hunker down in the front seat.


(L) (R) Stephen scanning for raptors. "If we just drive over to that red mountain over there (just to the left of Stephen's baseball cap)... ."


The sheepherders hut, made of concrete and stone.

After he drives about ten feet, I say, "I changed my mind. Let's go home." I suddenly picture myself in this condition for several more hours PLUS the time to drive home, and it's clear I can't do dat.

Well, I have to say that this about the lowest birthday of my life. I suspect that Ramon's going to have a surprise party waiting for me, and we have to call him and tell him not to. We borrow Stephen's phone and Sharon talks to Ramon or Emma and tells them the situation.

Then it's teeth-grittin' time for me.

I can't possibly describe the hell of the trip out of the mountains, but I kept in my mind the wonderful picture of me laying in that beautiful bed on the top floor of Ramon and Emma's home. Just to get out of this car. Scuse me, I think I'm gonna barf. No. It passed. {Poor guy, imagine not only having "tourista" sickness, but then getting car sick on top of that. The altitude can't be helping either.}

But he gets us there, thanks to his GPS and the address we give him. We unload all our stuff, and I don't know how, but I load up with all my stuff, and we go in, up the stairs - nobody even had to carry me. But it is close.

I drop onto the bed, and now I am afraid we won't be able to get Cipro before the weekend, and I'll just dry up and blow away, but Sharon and Ramon work some magic down at their local pharmacy. And I start on Cipro, plus lots of sleep, plus some trips to the rest room. {Emma and Ramon start him on an antibiotic Ramon used on a trip to the Canary Island when he got sick like this, but Bob has so much confidence in Cipro as it has worked for him so many times before so he would really like it. We had asked the Kaiser travelnurse before we left to give us a prescription, but she said, "It's Europe, you won't need it there" so we don't have any here. But Ramon takes me to his local Farmacia and I show the Pharmacist the generic name for Cipro. "Oh, yes", he says, (only in Spanish, of course.) He goes in the back and gets it for me (don't even need a prescription!) I ask, "Do you take credit card?" He and Ramon laugh and he says "You don't know how much this costs, do you?" Oh no, I think. It's going to be expensive. Then he says "It's 2.9 Euros *(about $5) and I pay him with much thanks. What a medical system here. I was dreading having to take Bob to an urgent care clinic on a Saturday with him being so sick.}

Oh, yes and Sharon thinks I may have an intestinal blockage, though I'm pretty sure it's just the bad water response. Anyway, I also begin the first of two big bottles of Power Ade, to replenish electrolytes. Also grape juice to break up any blockage. Plus water of course.

So although I'm sick, I now have all the stuff I need to pull out of this dive. Just not today. Time is what I need now. Terrible that this has do happen on what should have been a spectacular birding day in the mountains.

I have to say that this is not the two-day birding trip I had planned. And in addition to that...

Happy freakin’ birthday.{I don't think I've seen Bob as sick as this other than when he has been hospitalized. He was so weak, I watched him carefully when he had to walk to the bathroom. Other than that, he stayed in bed and I brought him chicken soup that Emma made for him. He slowly got better after the Cipro and PowerAid drink. I wouldn't let him eat fresh fruit or vegetables for a couple of days to his dismay. He loves those fresh tomatoes and Emma peels them for us.}

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