Today we had arranged to take fellow birders, Jim and Yvonne, to look for birds in the Petrola area, especially aiming to see Great Bustards. The weather was good as we set off up towards Albacete on the motorway. After a short coffee stop we turned off at Bonete and headed towards Higuerela seeing and hearing plenty of larks and seeing a few distant raptors, which we thought were probably Buzzards. At Higuerela we turned left onto a track and John and Jim spotted a Short toed Treecreeper in the small stand of trees on our left. Chaffinch and Great Tit were also seen here and a Green Woodpecker was heard calling. We bumped our way across the track towards Petrola but the birds seemed quite elusive, apart from lots more larks, flying around in flocks. We also had a good view of a single Calandra Lark standing in a field. At the lagoon near the railway we saw Marsh Harriers hunting and Shovelers and a few White headed Ducks were on the water.
At Petrola we drove down the side of the lagoon, but again it was quiet without any of the waders we normally see here, apart from a Green Sandpiper which flew off at speed. A couple of Water Pipits gave close views and posed for photos. We continued down the other side of the lagoon passing three Lapwings, on the way. We stopped where we could view the birds on the water, these included Flamingo, Avocet, Black headed Gulls, Shelduck and Red Crested Pochard. We stayed here to eat our picnic lunches before heading through Petrola and onto our usual track to Corral Rubio. We had not gone far when John spotted a flock of Great Bustards flying over the track! We all dived out of the car and watched as three separate flocks of about 20, 5 and 15 flew overhead. What a result!
Once the birds had flown out of sight we continued along the track, seeing a Little Owl on a pile of rocks as predicted by me! Further along, we turned left again heading towards the Corral Rubio road. This track has proved a good spot in the past and didn’t disappoint. I was just thinking how I hadn’t seen any Cranes yet this year when John spotted some large birds standing by a patch of water, they were Cranes, eight of them. I was hoping for a photo but the birds took off having being flushed by some raptors. My disappointment was somewhat limited by the fact that these raptors turned out to be four Golden Eagles! The birds took to the skies, as close as we have ever seen them, and the camera was clicking like crazy. If only I had a bigger lens!
After watching the Cranes and the Eagles in the sky until they disappeared from view we set off again, passing through Corral Rubio. As we were driving along the road I spotted another group of Great Bustards on the ground so we pulled into a track to have a look. They were a bit distant but could be seen through the scope. It was good for us all to be able to see the birds standing as well as having seen them flying. We made a final stop near some old farm buildings on the right. There were hundreds of small birds flying around, perched on the wires and drinking from a pool of water. These included Goldfinch, Linnet, Corn Bunting and Rock Sparrows. While we were looking at these birds another group of Great Bustards flew over giving us even better views than the first lot. Brilliant! A few Larks were also on the ground providing us with some more identification challenges. They were probably Crested Larks but there may well have have been Thekla Lark and perhaps other lark species too.
Species list – Little Grebe, Common Crane, Greater Flamingo, Shelduck, Mallard, Shoveler, Red Crested Pochard, White headed Duck, Marsh Harrier, Buzzard, 4 Golden Eagles together, Kestrel, Red legged Partridge, Great Bustard, Avocet, Green Sandpiper, Lapwing, Black headed Gull, Black bellied Sandgrouse, Collared Dove, Little Owl, Hoopoe, Green Woodpecker, Crested Lark, Calandra Lark, Water Pipit, Black Redstart, Stonechat, Great Tit, Short toed Treecreeper, Southern Grey Shrike, Spotless Starling, Magpie, Crow, Rock Sparrow, Chaffinch, Goldfinch, Linnet, Corn Bunting.