Monday, 4 April 2016

El Planeron - just for a lark!

There are probably a number of good reasons why you might visit El Planeron, the scenery is good, but probably no better than other neighbouring areas. For the majority, myself included and the Dutch and Danish couples who I met there, there is only one reason; Dupont's Lark, El Planeron is one of the best sites to see it.
El Planeron Dupont's Lark sign
Dupont's Lark has a reasonably wide distribution in the Saragossa area and is shown on the distribution maps as also occurring in pockets further south including Ronda, although talking to Peter Jones he thought that these populations were gone. Dupont's Lark has suffered significant declines in past decades, it's classified as Near Threatened by Birdlife due to a 20% population decline 1970-1990. The Spanish Population is estimated at 2000-3000 males.
El Planeron Dupont's Lark habitat
I have never seen Dupont's Lark before so was keen to correct that, but I knew seeing the bird could be difficult. I arrived at the site around 16:00 yesterday and walked the areas listening intently until dark at 20:00. I thought I had heard one or two short bursts of its very melancholy song but wasn't sure. I decided to stay in the area overnight and in darkness at 20:30 I heard two clear bursts of song near where I was parked.
I was up at 05:30 although it wasn't light until about 07:30. At 05:45 I heard one bird singing strongly and by 06:30 there were at least three birds in the same area. As it became light I parked myself reasonably close to where I thought the song was coming from and waited. The singing reduced as it became light but still continued intermittently. The song had a mysterious habit of moving although there was no sign of anything in the steppe vegetation. Two hours later still nothing. I walked the area again and picked up several more birds singing, probably 7 males by now. This was frustrating I could hear them but not see them. I was starting to think they had an underground tunnel system to move from place to place!
By 11:00 I had given it 8 hours of solid searching and it was decision time, did I leave the larks and head for the Pyrenees as planned or stay with the larks and abandon the Pyrenees leg of the journey? I decided to stay and would have stayed until at least the following morning if necessary. I wanted to see this bird!
Occasionally the song was very close and contained some popping notes, a bit like Raven do sometimes. I caught a brief view of a bird landing after one episode of close calls and it occurred to me that they could be giving a song flight. The next time I heard the call close I looked up and saw a lark plummeting out of the sky, I can only think that it had been singing at a height that it was not visible to the naked eye. It came down quickly but I managed to see where it landed, and then it appeared, for about 20 seconds it was in view before running in to the vegetation. I grabbed the camera and fired off as many shots as I could. 
Dupont's Lark
Pam often says why don't I take the time to enjoy the bird rather than looking through a camera lens. Well this is the answer, I could have had 20 seconds of distant binocular views but now after writing this blog I will fill a glass of wine and study the photos. I may then have a second glass and look at them again, I have a permanent record of the moment the Dupont's Lark stepped out infront of me.
There were other birds in the area, plenty of Lesser Short-toed Larks, plus Calandra and a few Short-toed Larks. I saw two pairs of Stone Curlew, which were calling through the night.
Lesser Short-toed Lark
Short-toed Lark
Four Pin-tailed Sandgrouse flew over giving their characteristic kaa-kaa calls but they had almost gone by the time I got them in the camera.The Dutch couple had a party of 16 fly over yesterday.
Pin-tailed Sandgrouse - you can just about tell what they are!
So, I am heading for France now, hopefully I can pick up the Pyrenean mountain species in the French Alps.

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