Tuesday, 24 February 2009

A Spanish lark.

One of the good things about birding in southern Spain is the opportunity to see a greater diversity in families that we have grown up with here. The larks are an example, for although they don't reach the number of species that occur in Southern Africa there is a chance to see six species at this time of year and a seventh in summer, with in easy reach of Alcala de Los Gazules, and another more towards central Spain. Mind you this one's the easy to hear (if you're in the right place) but notoriously difficult to see Dupont's Lark. Steve Rowland, ex-Kent birder, has an account of his encounter with this bird on his "Bull of the Bog" blog.

This small, almost Sparrow like Lark goes by the uninspired name of Lesser Short-toed Lark. We found it in the area of the Marshes along the east bank Rio Guadalquivir, where it appeared quite common. Apart from a few in Portugal all the western European population is in Spain. The far side of the river borders the Coto Donana, made famous in the UK by the book, Portrait of a Wilderness by Guy Mountford featuring Eric Hoskins photographs. The larger relative of this Lark, the Short-toed Lark arrives to breed in the summer.

One Lark that I was pleased to see was the Thekla Lark. This bird is similar to the Crested Lark, which I'm much more familiar with as it occurs round the car park in Calais. The Thekla Lark, in often occurs on higher, rockier slopes, although is some areas it does inhabit steppe areas and coastal dunes. It had a stouter bill than the crested Lark and heavier streaking on the breast. Jack thinks, and he might be right, that the crest is more untidy and "punkier" than on the Crested.

This Crested Lark seemed to enjoy a charmed life. It was searching a busy road for items of food. I watched avoiding the traffic while we supped our morning coffee (great coffee too, no British Railways dish-water here!). The Crested Lark gets right up to the French coast but seems reluctant to cross over, a shame because there's lots of suitable habitat for it over here.

Can't leave out the Woodlark, in the UK it enjoys a restricted range and it is always pleasant diversion to hear one singing. Over much of its range it is far more common and in many places its song is a familiar background sound, along with the Nightingale and song Thrush. This one nicely shows the black and white alula area and the well marked supercilium.

On La Handa we watched the sun go down and as we did a recently arrived flock of around 50 Black Kites flew through, lazily flapping, presumably off to a nearby roost.

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