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Saturday, November 23, 2013

Beating it South, 15,000 Cranes, fab Hen Harriers and resting up time in Alicante.

For the first time in my so far fantastic journey through Spain, I felt a bit of time pressure and the need to head South. Having thoroughly enjoyed the high peaks of the Pyrenees and the splendour of the Sierra Guarra, I realise that if I want to have some quality time in Extramadura I have to beat it down through Spain with a bit more purpose!

Good progress South!

So, Satnav set for beyond Zaragoza and away we go ....

Couple of places on my itinerary I wanted to stop off at on the way, the first of which is the Belchite Steppes, a place that had been recommended to me as a useful spot for picking up Sandgrouse, Dupont's Lark and Golden Eagle. Fat chance! The wind that's been picking up in these parts for days must have reached near on a gale force northeasterly when I arrived in Belchite and it fair rocked my van around in the night. The morning, though bright and sunny brought no relief, Crikey oh Riley it was windy! ..... yes there were birds about, several larks and finches but all too fleeting and everything going to ground real fast, too fast for my hand eye binoc co-ordination. Hopeless for birding ... I was both staggering and staggered -  what a spectacular place!

The Belchite Steppes

Awesome place for a van pic!

Windy on the Steppes of Belchite

I did see a Sandgrouse here, which one - black bellied or pin tailed I'm not sure as it was one of those 'flying away and getting smaller' birding moments and all I was left with was an image of extreme windiness!

Further south and east I ventured, on through Aragon and towards Valencia, and the vast inland plains ringed by mountain ranges that typify this part of Spain, stopping now and again for food & succour.... bread, cheese, chorizo and here's a tip travellers - check out the many truck cafes on the motorways ... good grub and cheap as chips - Spanish Omelette, huge slice of, some kind of apple cake (huge slice of!) and coffee to go for only 3.50euro!

Laguna de Gallocanta
I was heading for Valencia and the Marjol del Morro reserve but seeing a signpost for Gallocanta I decided on a detour to take in the big salt lagoon there. Another visually awesome place, the huge lagoon, although at an altitude of 1000m, is set in a natural depression and ringed on all sides by mountain ranges. Difficult to get a feel for the place from a photograph but if you think 'film sets' and a combination of valley of the dinosaurs and spaghetti western you'll get the idea!

Its renowned as a wintering and staging post for thousands of Common Cranes - my reason for visiting, and at any one point in the Autumn it can hold up to 50,000 of them! Well I've no idea how many were there on the late afternoon I arrived but my best guess was 15,000. Staggering numbers and all around me as I sat in a one man hide on the grassy shores.
Common Cranes across Gallocanta

Spot the gangly teenager!
Have to be my best Crane pics to date and not looked at them all yet, mainly because I've been too busy drooling over a host of my best ever Hen Harrier pics ... I reckon there were 3 females quartering the shores and dykes around the lagoon. Here's 3 of the best....
Female Hen Harrier, Gallocanta
Female Hen Harrier, Gallocanta

Female Hen Harrier, Gallocanta

Marsh Harrier, Gallocanta

Couple of Marsh Harriers here too, in fact there are a lot of Marsh Harriers around generally, Red Kites and Griffons aside, these are the most common raptors I'm seeing as I drive through Spain.

I added Tree Sparrow to the species list here (big flock of 200 or so!) and will do tally up of species seen soon but for now I'm resting up on a camp site at Crevillant, nr Alicante, before heading on into Murcia. Couldn't believe the difference in temperature as I came down from inland Spain (most of which is over 1000m) to the coast ... 22c in Valencia as I drove through (lovely city but not for the faint hearted by the way, unless you just love 7 lanes of traffic!!

Resting van, resting man, Crevillent

Lots of flowers still in bloom here and a perfect place to get myself together, wash a few clothes and recharge my various batteries.

No idea, but looks great around the van!

and then there was Earnie and Linda from Huddersfield .... the first English people I've met since arriving in Spain. Nice people and a lovely couple, doing the right thing with their retirement just like me!

Earnie, Linda and the Hymer!

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