Friday, 27 March 2015

Day 4 - into the plains

This mornings pre breakfast walk produced a number of new species for the trip. Rather than turning right as we had done the two previous mornings, we headed left then followed a wide cut "cycle path" off to our right. New species for the trip included Zitting Cisticola (well new for most) Meadow pipit, Wood Lark, and Cetti's Warbler. Cirl Bunting was also new for our walks in the Loporzano area. A fly over from 5 Cranes were a final avian farewell to this area.

After breakfast and our farewell to out fabulous host, Ester, we made the long journey down to the plains north of Belchite. Our first stop was to try to locate the "steppe" lake reported by Gosney (site 3 pg 30). A couple of false starts, did see our first Rabbits, Red-legged Partridges and Hoope of the trip before we found the correct trail and pulled in alongside the ruined building over looking the partially filled depression. Sandgrouse and Larks were our targets here. Larks certainly featured well with 100's of Calandra Lark with smaller numbers of the smaller Short-toed species -However we couldn't get decent views of these so the remain un id'ed to species level. A couple of Souther Grey Shrikes gave good views, but the Sandgrouse, and Stone Curlew, just would not co-operate.

We then headed over to the El Planeron reserve to try our luck with the Dupont's Lark. Given our recent lack of form since day 1, hopes were low, if not well and truly buried! but nothing ventured, nothing gained. Not long after pulling onto the Eastern most trail we had Black-bellied Sandgrouse fly up from the roadside. Was our luck beginning to change?

We pulled over into the parking area just down the slope from the junction with the cross road and piled out. Calandra and Lesser Short-toed larks were singing everywere. Spreading out we search and listened out for any sign of a Dupont's. Bevan, heard one, but it could not be located, even though it sounded close to where we stood. What we needed was a lunch brake, so Bell, Phil and Rob returned to the car and started lunch. mr Bell had just started his chicken sandwich when he noticed a bird on the skyline, a quick look through thebin's and it looked like a lark. Quickly swinging his scope round he relocated the bird, it decided to turn it head to show a lovely longish curved bill - Dupont's Lark sitting out as clear as day. All got to see the bird before it launched itself into a towering song flight and a steep decent that looked for al intents and purposes as it was was about to land on Mr Bell's head before veering of slightly landing near by and running off between the tussocks. Wow. One of the harder species to get and it was in the bag at 13:20 ish -none of this turn up before daylight even thinks about getting out of bed, hoping to hear and even catch a glimpse in the pre dawn light.

Not long after a second was found, also atop a tussock, this showing on and off for 20  minutes or so whilst at least two others sand near by.

Bouyed by our return to form, we headed off, quickly picking up both Sandgrouse species along the access road, Pin-tailed being a lifer for all of us. On then to Sastago, where Black Wheatear, Dartford Warbler and Kingfisher were added to the trip list.

The final birding stop of the day was to bird the tracks leading to Salina del Camaron (site 1 pg 30) looking for Bustards. Stopping and scanning produced great views of 3 Red Foxes, but no Bustards. Just as we approached the Salina, two Golden Eagles were picked up flying quite low and engaging in some talon grapplings. One of the birds was a juvenile (2cy?) bird whilst the other looked to be an adult. Suddenly Phil picks up a large bird flying almost directly towards us, with large white patches visable on the upper wing. Great Bustard. it drops behind some ruined buildings so we make out way down, hoping its landed with others already there. No such luck. there was however, great views of a male Great Bustard strutting across the field.

Heading back to the main road, a male Hen Harrier was spotted and whilst following that a male Little Bustard was picked up by Rob and Mike. Although a bit more distant than the Great it gave good scope views. Despite a good search no other Bustards could be located.

Job done, it was down to our new accommodation in Lecera, some 12 km south of Belchite, the Hotel Rincon del Cierzo. Look for the petrol stations as you drive into town, its also the reception for Hotel!. By this time the rain had started so we quickly checked in and made our way to the bar to celebrate our days successes.

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