Thursday, January 3, 2013

A Christmas Birding Trip to the Steppe & Lagoons of Eastern Spain

On 22nd December, Dave provided a guided bird watching trip to the steppe and lagoons for a client from the Netherlands. Norbert, a very well travelled and experienced birder was holidaying in the Valencia area and was keen to see the bird life that this superb region has to offer.

Beautiful winter tones on the steppe of Eastern Spain
 Beautiful winter tones on the steppe of Eastern Spain

The morning had dawned bright and clear but as we climbed up onto the steppe, it became quite cloudy with a little light drizzle in the air. After a coffee in a local farming village, we set out across the fields towards the day´s first lagoon. Something caught our eye way off to the left so we stopped to take a closer look…indeed, it was a pair of Great Bustards – one of the day´s target species. After a few minutes they took flight, remarkably elegantly for such huge birds.

Spain is home to 60% of the global population of Great Bustard - the World´s heaviest flying bird

Spain is home to 60% of the global population of Great Bustard – the World´s heaviest flying bird
The first lagoon gave good views of Shoveler, Shelduck, Greater Flamingo, Golden Plover and Teal. Although quite far off, we also had views of a Merlin. The nearby telephone cables were occupied by a large flock of Corn Buntings whilst flocks of Serin were flitting around the trees at the edge of a field.


As we approached the second lagoon, the weather had begun to clear, the cloud breaking up and the sun finally giving some warmth to a chilly morning. We enjoyed good views of Marsh Harrier over the reeds, and the water held Pochard, Coot and Little Grebe. We retraced our original journey along a lane through the rolling fields and stopped to enjoy superb views of an Iberian Grey Shrike. A bird of prey caught our attention, then one of those very special birding moments that stay with you forever….as we stood by the side of the lane, a Golden Eagle flew straight across the fields right in front of us! We enjoyed remarkably close views of this magnificent raptor as it glided by then began to circle over fields a little further away. It´s wing pattern suggested that the bird was a first winter. What a truly awesome creature, and so very close!
After a celebratory coffee, we visited a smaller lagoon where we saw Red Crested Pochard, Wigeon and Greylag Goose. As we made our way up onto the steppe, we saw flocks of Calandra Lark and Skylark.  Still thrilled by the sight of the Golden Eagle, we were in for a further treat…whilst scanning the vast steppe, we not only found a couple of Great Bustards but also came across a group of over 40 Cranes. These elegant birds spend the winter in Spain before making their Spring migration back to north east Europe and Scandinavia.

Wintering Cranes on the plains of Castilla de la Mancha, Eastern Spain

Our final stopping point for the day was another lagoon, surrounded by farmland. We had good views of a Black Winged Stilt, unusual for winter as most of them spend the cooler months further south. Around the shallow margins were a small flock of Linnet, a Crested Lark, Chiffchaff and a Water Pipit. The deeper areas held Greater Flamingo and Shelduck.

Water Pipit
Water Pipit

A simply fascinating day was brought to an end with views of a pair of Red Kites displaying over the fields, the low winter sun enriching the warm tones of their beautiful plumage.  We´d had a great day, and had enjoyed some superb views of some great species. This area demands effort, but usually rewards with some wonderful sights and memories.
Our species list for the day included…
Buzzard, Golden Eagle, Iberian Grey Shrike, Kestrel, Marsh Harrier, Merlin, Red Kite, Black Winged Stilt, Crane, Golden Plover, Great Bustard, Greater Flamingo, Lapwing, Red Legged Partridge, Coot, Greylag Goose, Little Grebe, Mallard, Pochard, Red Crested Pochard, Shelduck, Shoveler, Teal, Wigeon, Black Redstart, Blackbird, Calandra Lark, Chiffchaff, Corn Bunting, Crested Lark, Crow, Great Tit, House Sparrow, Linnet, Magpie, Serin, Skylark, Spotless Starling, Stonechat, Water Pipit, White Wagtail, Wood Pigeon

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