A tale of nature, wildlife and birding from Cheshire, North Wales and across the globe....

A tale of nature, wildlife and birding from Cheshire, North Wales and across the globe....

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Northern Spain Trip Report - Day 2

Day 2 - Monday 14th April 2014

After a stop in Zaragoza where we had unfortunately timed our arrival with a traditional Spanish Easter festival involving lengthy processions through the streets by black cloaked hooded figures banging large and very loud drums (that made parking or getting anywhere in the streets a nightmare – especially as the road to our hotel was closed!) we had an early 5am start ready to be back on site by dawn.
Spain
Setting up our scopes overlooking a favourable patch of ground near the car park, we listened in the cool, calm, dawn air for the larks to rise and start singing. Several Frenchmen joined us with our vigil, and before long the distinctive flutey song of the Dupont’s cut through the morning air to greet us, a beautiful chorus unlike anything I’ve heard before. With Dupont’s Larks choosing to spend a lot of time on the ground and concealed in bushes, they are renowned for being exceptionally hard to spot, and we spent a good while trying to locate one particular singing individual that sounded quite close by but proved impossible to spot. Therefore, we couldn’t quite believe it when one of the Frenchmen casually exclaimed “I have eet” as calmly as if he was merely ordering a beer at the bar, the Dupont’s Lark proudly centred in his optics. In complete contrast and in panic mode, we hurriedly peered through his scope to admire this fascinating lark, hardly containing our excitement that we had managed to track it down (this was Chris’s fourth visit to Spain in search of this species!). 
Duponts Lark - Spain
Record shot of the Duponts
Duponts Lark - Spain
Duponts in flight
Duponts Lark - Spain
We even managed to have it out in the open
Interestingly, the lark was much further away than the sound would have led us to believe and we had been checking the bushes far to close – a good tip to locate them seems to be to always look behind where you think the sound is coming from.
Duponts Lark - Spain
The Duponts mid song
Northern Spain
This tactic did us well throughout the rest of the morning,  and a walk round the footpath revealed more snatches of song and an incredible 8 or so individuals in just a small patch, singing beautifully and showing considerably well in front of us, the distinctive long curved beak clear to see. 
Duponts Lark - Spain
Alex's excellent digiscoped shot of the Duponts
The site was incredibly rich in small birds, with an abundance of Calandra, Lesser Short-toed Lark, Crested and Thekla Lark all present in huge numbers. Differing from the Crested Lark only slightly and being quite tricky to separate unless close views are obtained, Theklas have a shorter bill, with more contrasting patterns on the wing and head. The crests on Crested Larks are also slightly more pointed and raised than those of the Theklas, and it was these features that allowed us to separate the two.
Thekla and Lesser Short-toed Lark - Spain
Thekla lark on the top, Lesser Short-toed Lark below
Thekla and Lesser Short-toed Lark - Spain
Lesser Short-toed Larks are identified by the streaking on the breast - Greater Short-toed Larks don't
Hearing the distinctive cry of a flock of Sandgrouse in the distance, we decided to drive further down the road in search of them. We soon picked up two stunning Black-eared Wheaters in flight in one of the earth-clodden fields which later perched on the dry stone wall, allowing us to watch them at length. 
Black-eared Wheatear - Spain
Record shots of the Black-eared Wheatear
Black-eared Wheatear - Spain
A walk through the area revealed 3 Pin-tailed Sandgrouse feeding in an adjacent field, providing fantastic views through the scope that revealed their stunning plumage, the beautiful metallic olive-green feathers glinting in the sun. We could see several flocks flying distantly in front of the incredible mountain backdrop, their calls echoing across the muddy plains and across the valley. Exploring the area, I turned to see two birds fly close in, and excitedly noted that their black bellies could only mean one thing – Black-bellied Sandgrouse! We watched the male and female pair quietly feeding and creeping around the hill in front of us for some time, before a low flying raptor spooked them and they completely disappeared amongst the foliage – sadly proving impossible to relocate.
Northern Spain
Ecstatic with the mornings finds, we headed to a nearby site at Belchite to explore some bombed ruins in the search for any avian inhabitants. A Black Redstart immediately greeted us from under the pines in the car park before perching on one of the broken walls, whilst I caught sight of a Rock Sparrow flitting about one of the tumbling down towers. We soon spotted a magnificent jet coloured male Black Wheatear, the sooty plumage standing out a mile away in contrast to the orange toned brick. A cracking male Blue Rock Thrush also danced around the top of one of the crumbling turrets – a really striking bird and one that I was pleased to catch up with – only one of two from the trip.
Black Redstart - Spain
Black Redstart near the car park
Belchite Ruins - Spain
Heading back to the car park, we spotted a gorgeous Scarce Swallowtail butterfly flitting amongst the vegetation, and a quick hop down to its level saw it pose brilliantly for photos – one of the few species we could positively identify on the trip!
Scarce Swallowtail - Spain
Scarce Swallowtail - Spain
We were soon back on the road and heading north to our stopover destination of the brilliant Casa Boletas in the high Pyrenean town of Loporzano, spotting several new raptors for the trip in the form of an impressive Black Kite, our first Booted Eagle and a majestic Golden Eagle that was circling at the side of the road. With eagles and large raptors being high up on my list to see on the trip, I was thrilled to watch them gliding effortlessly along the thermals – having only ever seen a distant Golden Eagle at Haweswater in Cumbria before now.
Golden Eagle - Spain
Record shot of the Golden Eagle
Deciding to head towards a large freshwater lake that was on route, we were rewarded with incredibly close views of a Booted Eagle feeding on a rabbit right next to the side of the road before it took its prize in to the nearby trees. An exploration around the thicket of scrub surrounding the clear water’s edge revealed a colony of Mirror Orchids, my only orchid of the trip and part of the Ophrys genus – related to the Bee and Spider Orchids we get back in the UK. We soon picked out a Western Bonelli’s Warbler in the trees, as well as a beautiful male Cirl Bunting – far more common in these Mediterranean climes than in Britain, although a Western Orphean Warbler, despite its large size, managed to elude us – we could only hear its distinctive call through the branches. Another Rock Sparrow made a brief appearance, and a second flock of Bee-eaters called overhead, just about visible through the trees.
Mirror Orchid - Spain
One of the Mirror Orchids by the lake
The shimmering blue lake itself surprisingly held very few birds, so we continued on to our destination, heading up extremely steep mountain roads that became increasingly and alarmingly narrow in some of the villages – expert manoeuvring provided by Alex as he heroically navigated the streets of one small town in particular that seemed built for bikes judging by the width of the alleyways! Congratulating ourselves that the car was still in one piece, I soon realised that Chris had sent us to entirely the wrong village – our hotel was situated some half an hour away in a completely different town! This meant we had to undergo the whole ordeal again, this time going downhill, and Chris was subsequently banned from any navigational duties. 
Spain

1 comment:

  1. What an exciting account!I hope we manage to see all the species that you did! I had thought Duponts would be hopeless but may give it a go after all!We are stayiikg at Casa Boletas teh last week in April.

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