Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Spanish Fiesta, Part III. The plains and back to Barcelona.

Right, better finish off this epic tale (eh?).

So after picking up a new car in Pamplona and driving round the Zaragoza ring road, eventually arriving around the plains at Belchite (pronounced Bel-Cheetay, and not Belshite!) during the middle of the day. Heading straight to El Planeron.

El Planeron is one of the main areas of steppe/semi-desert habitat, close to my hotel. A drive around the track, just to suss the place out really, had excellent views of 4 species of Lark (Calandra, Short-toed, Lesser Short-toed and Thekla), Stone Curlew and both Marsh and Montagu's Harriers. But by gum it was hot! It was pleasantly warm in the Pyrenees, but here the temperature peaked at 35 degrees celsius. Quite a shock to the system, too hot for me!

Considering the heat, I decided to try a spot for Lesser Kestrels, about an hour's drive away in Los Monegros. I'd heard conflicting stories about this spot. One group staying at Boletas told me that Lesser Kestrels there were dead easy, whereas Cristian told me that this colony had gone, and sadly Lesser Kestrel numbers are crashing all over Spain. Although I had a feeling that Cristian's local knowledge would be correct, I had to check it out for my own curiosity.

On arrival at some roadside derelict farm buildings, there were about six Kestrels up in the air and coming down to land on the rooves, along with Jackdaws and Choughs. All the male birds I could see were Common Kestrels. Oh dear, there's going to be some disappointed birders. But there's a lesson here, you've got to check them for yourself. Don't just turn up, look at some Kestrels and go away just assuming they're Lesser Kestrels!

I'd had enough at this point, so drove over to check into my last hotel. Trouble is, the room was just as hot as outside! This also explains the lack of photos so far. An evening check of El Planeron also yielded a Southern Grey Shrike and Whinchat. The main reason for sussing out El Planeron was to come here at dawn the next morning to try for Dupont's Lark. At which point I went into Rolf Harris mode:

Getting here before sun-arise, an absolute cacophony of Lark song. I had to remind myself of Dupont's Lark with my MP3 player (very useful to recognise yourself with unfamiliar bird song!), there were certainly around 3 or 4 Dupont's Larks singing all around the car park. And what an evocative song it is too!

As it started to get light at least you can then try to scan for them. The nearest I got was when one Dupont's was singing away, as soon as I got the binoculars in that area, a bird dropped from a bush down onto the ground straight away. Damn, it could've been Dupont's I suppose, but to be honest it could've been one of five different species of Lark. As the sun gets higher the Dupont's Larks start to quieten down. There are a couple of ponds by the roadside here, which had excellent views of Melodious and Great Reed Warbler.

For most of the day it was very tough going again with the heat. Trying to drive along some more tracks in the Los Monegros area, managed to see a Roller and a couple of immature Golden Eagles, but that was about it.

Then towards the end of the day, things started to cloud up a bit, and only now it felt like I could stand outside of car, with no beating sun. Things really got going now back at El Planeron, where I managed another immature Golden Eagle, 3 Spectacled Warblers and best of all, a Pin-tailed Sandgrouse through the scope. Brilliant, and what a relief!

I suppose I should've tried again for Dupont's Lark the next morning, my last in this trip. But I didn't because I knew I'd be back home late, in the early hours of the Saturday. And typically, by the time I left the plains the temperature had cooled right down.

Anyway, a few hours of driving back to Barcelona. Along the way, some schoolboy humour was had at a motorway service station. I missed this chance in Portugal, not going to miss it this time!!!

If you didn't already know, then next to Barcelona airport is the Llobregat Delta. Which was an excellent place to finish off. Highlights here included 4 Collared Pratincoles, 16 Audouin's Gulls, 7 Gull-billed Terns, 2 Purple Gallinules, 1 Kentish Plover, Spanish Yellow Wagtail. And all sorts of other birds that you just wouldn't see in the Pyrenees or the plains.

And if you're really bored, you can try some plane spotting as they come in to land at the airport.

So that was it. Ending up with a bird list of 139 and 13 lifers, and got through an unbelievable amount of red wine!

Whilst waiting in the airport, the departure terminal gradually built up with FC Barcelona supporters, using flights to Luton, Gatwick and Stansted to get to Wembley for the champions league final. We all know what happened there. The plane to Luton was rocking to Barcelona chants, they even tried a mexican wave at one point!

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