Saturday, April 18, 2009

Easter in Spain - Day 3

Saturday was greeted with another 05:00 alarm and heavy rainfall, which was depressing. Today was Steppe day, though in truth the Steppe is no longer and what viable habitat remains is diminishing due to human encroachment and EU policy funding causing people to plant fruit trees, the fruit of which will never be eaten - instead it falls and rots and the farmer collects a subsidy pay-out and the birds lose habitat and breeding space. Witness the Dupont’s Lark, now an extinct breeder in this region within the last ten years, with more species on the verge of local extinction.

The area we concentrated on is about halfway between Barcelona and Zaragoza, around Lleida, so a reasonable trip. Dawn took longer than usual due to the heavy cloud and continual rainfall, so we stopped for a cuppa at a local service station before heading out. We headed off the main road through large pools of muddy water, entirely new pools it turned out, created since we started our 'Spring Sunshine' holiday!

The first bird of the day was this singing Corn Bunting oblivious of the rain:

Our first new species was Little Bustard, though distant and somewhat obscured by the persistent rainfall. We stopped by a group of feeding birds, both Pin-tailed Sandgrouse:

And Lesser Short-toed Larks:

All very bedraggled. As you can see when it wasn't actually raining it was obvious it would be soon:

Even the (Eurasian) Hoopoe managed to look the worse for wear in the weather:

We headed away from the land formerly known as the Steppe to a typically human location, a landfill. which seemed a popular feeding station for both White Storks:

and Cattle Egrets:

whilst overhead a Black Kite searched for a tastier meal, as by now the rain had stopped:

Driving on from the landfill we passed an irrigated field and spotted a Lesser Kestrel perched on a far post. Further down the road Griffon Vultures were riding a thermal, this one being shadowed by a Raven:

We drove on heading to another area of Steppe - on the way we passed through a beautifully coloured landscape:

Driving with the window down Stephen though he heard his first (European) Bee-eater of the Summer, he had! We searched around and quickly found a group of around ten calling away to each other, whilst perched on a cable and periodically launching off to grab a meal:

I started off behind and to the right but slowly walked around and in front of the group, trying not to disturb them:

They are stunning birds and the experience made us all smile very broadly:

Eventually we moved on back to the Steppe, which was still covered in low cloud, but at least now it was starting to dry out:

The birds we'd seen in the morning had mostly moved on but we did get to see our first Bonnelli's Warbler:

We also spotted a distant male Montagu's Harrier, and followed it's soaring and flapping flight for a while I managed a couple of distant shots, in the gloom, included here for reference:

For the last stop of the day we headed out toward a particular village, set around a sheltered area in the surrounding rock to see our first Black Wheater and were briefly overflown by a Short-toed Eagle - we got close enough to a Black-eared Wheater for a good photo:

While the day had started very wet Stephen really worked hard to get us around and to see as many species as possible, a characteristic of our time with him and something we remain very grateful for. We also learned a lot about the birds we saw, their habitat, field identification tips, etc., which has already proved very helpful to us.

New species:

Little Bustard
Lesser Short-toed Lark
Pin-tailed Sandgrouse
Montagu’s Harrier
Thekla Lark
Chandra Lark
Lesser Kestrel
Griffon Vulture
Black-bellied Sandgrouse
Short-toed Eagle (European)
Tawny Pipit
Bonnelli’s Warbler
Black Wheatear
Southern Grey Shrike

New species in Europe:

White Stork
Black Kite

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