Saturday, 1 September 2012

Spanish seawatching


As usual, big gap between posts (and I know I still haven't finished the one from Egypt, hopefully I'll post some catch up photo's soon), but the last trip I went on was really good, so thought I'd write a post before I forget to do it.

Spain August 2012

So when planning a seawatching trip earlier this year, I only really considered Bridges of Ross or Cornwall. That was until I went on a pelagic from Lanzarote (hopefully photos to follow soonish) in July, and chatting to Daniel Lopez-Velasco, realised how easy and relatively cheap a few days at Estaca de Bares, Galicia would be, and with previous day counts of thousands of long-tailed skuas, 4 pteredromas, south polar skuas etc etc etc my mind was made up.

So on Friday of the August bank holiday, I touched down at Asturias airport (with Easyjet), picked up the hirecar and met up with Dani. 2 hours later we were at Estaca de Bares, watching a trickle of fully spooned poms and sum-plum arctic skuas go by at closeish range, along with some lingering cory's, balearics and sooty shears. I headed back to the town that evening pretty happy with a few good birds, promise of north-westerly winds the next day, and met up with some of the Spanish guys from the Lanzarote pelagic for a great dinner full of fresh seafood for the princely sum of 15euros.

The next day I was up early(ish), the dawns are later in Spain, to get to the headland for about 07:45, for the best passage of the trip:

Saturday seawatching

In 13 hours:

202 pom skuas (mostly summer-adults with full spoons, some within 100m of headland)
62 arctic skuas
14 bonxie
4 long-tailed skua
5 great shearwater
grey phalarope

Plus a sprinkling of waders, terns and plenty of cory's, manx, sooty and balearic shearwaters, both moving and feeding in the area.
(These are just the totals of what I saw, I'm sure the recorded totals for the day were considerably higher)

On Sunday, Dani had a pelagic organised from Malpica, leaving at 08:00. The flat calm conditions were a blessing in the small fishing boat, with only 10 people on board, it made the perfect scenario for getting incredibly good views of seabirds. The result was incredible, undoubtedly the most enjoyable pelagic I've ever been on, some great birds seen astonishingly close, with one incredible highlight.


1 Fea's petrel; first definitively identified in Spain, see Dani's website, Reservoir Birds (or Birding frontiers) for some stunning pics. It gave at least two passes, coming very close to the boat c20-30m I guess, but we were all incredibly excited at the time.

3 wilson's storm-petrel
4 long-tailed skua
c25 pom skua
c8 bonxie
c15 arctic skua
c150 sabines gulls
c25 great shearwaters
2 grey phalarope
10 european storm petrel
Dani seemed a bit disappointed with storm-petrel numbers, but very pleased with the Fea's.

(the numbers are all a bit rough as I was enjoying myself too much to keep an exact tally)

Celebrating a first for Spain

We dashed back to Estaca for the evening, to catch the end of a decent passage of skuas and terns. Dani picked out another Pteredroma sp. (all pteredromas are currently left unidentified from land at Estaca), probably Fea's, from the headland. Unfortunately I was unable to get on it, despite it feeding offshore for a while.

On Monday I was at Estaca de Bares again for a much quieter day, with light south-westerly winds. The species list was pretty similar to the last few days, but with much lower numbers the day really dragged. However the highlight came in the evening, just before dusk. With everyone else packing up before a rainshower hit, I was having one final scan when I picked up a bird at midrange. It took a few moments before I was sure I hadn't gone mad or seen one too many Cory's, but soon the shout went up of another pteredroma, but the bird soon landed on the sea. Antonio picked it up again a few minutes later, before it ditched again, appearing to land with some possibly roosting shearwaters. Was this the same as yesterdays bird, coming back to roost in the same spot as the night before? Timing and behaviour certainly seemed to suggest so.

The next day, the weather looked even worse, so after a few quiet hours in the morning, I headed off to the Somiedo Biosphere reserve, about 3.5 hours away (only 1.5hrs from Asturias airport), to look for European brown bear. After a few slightly disconcerting hours in the midday heat with no people and no bears (but some mouflon) I got some good gen from a bar in Caunedo, and made my way to a picnic table at the base of El Llamardal at about 6pm, where half a dozen Spanish guys were already watching a bear on a hillside about a mile away. Despite my complete lack of Spanish and their understandable lack of English, they were very friendly and put my scope on the bear for me as the directions were entirely lost in translation. I spent a happy 2 hours watching it wander from bush to bush happily feeding on berries.

The next morning I returned to the same spot, and to my surprise, there was a mother and cub bear in the same area, again happily feeding, and a 3rd (4th over the two days) darker, almost black bear feeding above them. What a fantastic morning, and what a shock only 5 hours later to be back in a rainy, drizzly Stansted.

All in all, a truly fantastic trip, and so close to the UK.

Feel free to contact me for any more info on any of the above.