Saturday, 23 March 2013

Clayheads on Tour - NW Spain 14th March 2013 El Planeron

The alarm was set for 05:30hrs so that we could be at El Planeron before dawn. As I woke up, I could still hear the wind and a squeaking sign outside still blowing. I opened the door and it wasn't as bad as last night but it was still blowy.

We struggled to find both tracks onto the reserve marked "El Planeron" in the dark, but when we retraced our steps, we realised we'd missed the first signpost and found the second track first, and thats why we had driven along the road and not found another track.

There was another car driving around the tracks with three Devon (ish) biders in. We only located one singing Dupont's Lark (41.36961N, 00.62882W), and as we arrived after first light due to our navigation problems, it was a good job it was still singing in the wind until after 08:30hrs. I had good views of Calandra Lark plus there were loads of singing Lesser Short-toed Larks around.  

The track across El Planeron

We had driven around again once the Dupont's went quiet and returned to again to see if it had started singing again. We met David from and had a great chat to him about various things. He told us about a good LITTLE BUSTARD/SANDGROUSE site on the outskirts of Belchite, so with things quietening down on the plains we headed off. We had planned to return to the hotel for our advertised breakfast of one toast one coffee but with more birding to do, we decided to skip breakfast.  

If only all birds were signposted

Dupont's Lark - we only had them in this type of habitat

As we were driving off the plains, we paused to check a ploughed field and we were soon watching a Southern Grey Shrike, perching on the clumps of soils trying to feed in the ever increasing wind. I casually glanced to check the field opposite and immediately saw five bird shapes sat there. I lifted my bins and was met with an amazing sight. It was five Pin-tailed Sandgrouse sitting literally feet from the car. They saw me and started to move away before taking flight. It was at this moment that I realised that despite dipping the Wallcreeper repeatedly, we'd actually had quite a lot of lucky sightings on this holiday. Bumping into the Alpine Accentors, amazing views of the Lammergeier and now these PTSG. We headed off for the LITTLE BUSTARD site with a spring in our step. We'd only got one more target bird to find now a bird we'd both dipped before in Portugal.

David from had told us that the A1307 road out of Belchite (signposted to Escatron) was good for LITTLE BUSTARD and SANDGROUSE. We soon found a track leading off the main road that went towards the huge windmill farm here. We didn't see many birds at all on the huge open fields, but we did see three Griffon Vultures, good views of a male Lesser Kestrel and our first Northern Wheatear.

We carried on driving towards the site we were originally heading for, the Salinas between Sastago and Bujaralos (fgrom the gosney guide). The drive took us about an hour to complete, but it didn't look that far on the map. Again, we very rarely saw another car on the same road. We eventually found the Laguna la Playa but there was hardly any water in it. The guide told us to explore the tracks opposite, but again it was just masses of lifeless fields, all with grass growing in them. We did find one overgrown field (41.43069N, 00.22119W) and pulled up alongside it. Without even getting out of the car, two Black-bellied Sandgrouse and four Pin-tailed Sandgrouse flew up and across the road. I got out of the car and another two Black-bellied  and two Pin-tailed flew up, and a then a more distant flock of three Black-bellied and two Pin-tailed flew off. We had convinced ourselves that it was a birdless area. We drove back down the track, but I kept on thinking that one species was missing. We came to the bottom of the field, seeing another Lesser Kestrel round one of the disused farm buildings and we decided to see what was in this part of the field. We had only taken a few steps in when six Little Bustard flew up and over the ridge. Success!
The barren field that contained 15 Sandgrouse sp and 6 Little Bustards

We realised that we hadn't actually had anything to eat yet today and it was after midday. Another meal from a service station was consumed and then we didn't really know where to head to next. We headed back along the motorway and returned to Belchite and El Planeron.

A large bull keeps a check on passing motorists

The road down to Belchite from the north includes a straight section of 19km!

We saw bits and bobs at El Planeron in the afternoon such as our only Moorhen of the trip, a few more Black Redstarts, two Black-bellied Sandgrouse but there was not a lot of lark activity. It was 16:00hrs and too early to return to our room. We looked in our guides and headed back north towards the Ebro River. We hadn't seen many ducks so we headed for a reserve called Galacho de la Alfranca.

The car looking rather dirty following its day on the Steppes

Amazing scenary at El Planeron

An amazing place according to the guide books, but when we arrived, the lakes were totally birdless. In a field nearby we had 26 Crane and a White Stork, and then when we eventually found the hide, our target bird was found - a single Coot! You have to have a Coot on your trip list.