25th March 2008 - The Steppes of Lleida
A guided day tour to The Steppes in early Spring with Sam and Jamie Durrant, who kindly supplied his photos, on their quest for Great Spotted Cuckoos.
Due to a deliberately late start, traffic problems and wind building
through out the day, we had to work hard for our birds today but these
two Little Bustards, one of the first to pair up and set up a territory, would have made it worthwhile on their own.
Flocks of up to one hundred Calandra Larks and a couple of dozen Lesser Short-toed Larks
sent up a welcoming chorus as I wound down the car window (o.k. with a button) upon our
arrival in the Steppes. Unfortunately, about the same number of dust
grains blasted onto my eye balls and I wound it up again, deciding I'd
appreciate their song another time.
We moved on quickly to try and capitalise on what little of the morning was left and were entertained by car side Hoopoe, several Stone-curlew and a stunning Black-eared Wheatear before a Black Kite did us a favour and flushed a small flock of Pin-tailed Sandgrouse, which complained noisily as they headed off over the horizon.
A thorough scan of the surrounding fields failed to find any more but
it did refill my eyes with dust thankfully just after locating four Dotterel
that had been historically over-wintering in the area since December.
As usual during this time they had been politely posing for photos, a
habit that seemed to be catching on as a Thekla Lark followed suit a few minutes later.
A diversion to nearby Aspa provided a welcome break from the wind and
dust and an even more welcome opportunity for Jamie to pick up a lifer.
A short hunt ended with both male and female Black Wheatears showing well to complete the set for Spain (several migrating Northern Wheatear had already been ticked).
Blue Rock Thrush, Southern Grey Shrike, Corn Bunting, Red-billed Chough and Short-toed Eagle
all delayed our arrival at a small almond orchard bordered by the all
important pine trees that serve up the normally distateful caterpillars
that our main target bird loves to gobble up. We spent the next twenty
minutes or more, accompanied by flocks of Linnets, head-shaving Alpine Swift and yet more Stone-curlew, stalking ever-better views of around seven or eight noisy and very flighty Great Spotted Cuckoos.
Once one settled in the fork of a nearby almond and sat there for a
long-awaited study, Jamie did his customary 'lifer dance' (whilst I was
looking the other way) and we were happy.
Time then for a quick stop at the dump to watch the hundreds of White Storks, Black-headed Gulls, Black Kites and Cattle Egrets
(about a hundred of which rose up to float along
side the car as we drove through) to fight it out over luncheon scraps.
A lone Red Kite made a last gasp attempt to get the 'raptor of the day' award as it descended over the car but an amazing assault of a Merlin on a passing Barn Swallow, failing in four attempts to tuck in to a late lunch, had already won that hands down.