On Day Three of their trip, we took our lovely Honeyguides group to the huge plain of La Janda, formerly a vast wetland which was mostly drained for agriculture in the 19th Century. Fragments of wetland remain amongst the low-intensity farming, and we spent the morning finding a host of wetland and farmland treasures.
As the breeding season really gets into gear, the air here is thick with birdsong and we arrived to jangling Corn Buntings, Zitting Cisticolas calling and a symphony of song from the resident Calandra and Crested Lark population. To the group’s pleasure, several of these perched conveniently on nearby fence posts for great views and photo ops! Julia soon picked up on a Common Quail calling to add further to the soundtrack. The group got amazing views of a Great Spotted Cuckoo perched up in a trackside bush, and it hung around calling and flitting between trees for a long time.
In the wetter rice stubble fields, groups of Spoonbills and Common Cranes mingled with huge flocks of Cattle and Little Egrets. We had several groups of Little Ringed Plover, Common Snipe and Green Sandpiper and good views of an elegant Wood Sandpiper – unusual for the site. Amongst the numerous Meadow Pipits, we also picked up on at least three Water Pipits, their broad superciliums and light wing bars visible even at a distance.
Some of the day’s more glamorous birds were Purple Swamphens, which were very active today. We saw a total of five birds moving around the bulrushes fringing the main ditch, iridescent in the sun. They were not to be outdone by a particularly flirty Hoopoe, which teased the group by giving great views from the minibus but continually darting a bit further away before it could be photographed!
Migrant passerines are reaching the area in early spring and we had brief but enjoyable encounters with Northern Wheatear and Yellow Wagtail. The springlike feel was enhanced by Clouded Yellow and Cleopatra butterflies and Iberian Pond Tortoise basking in the sun.
Marsh Harriers, Common Buzzards and both Kestrel species quartered the land, and the group had stunning views of an adult Short-toed Eagle, first perched up on a telegraph pole and then low overhead. Two Black-winged Kites were also distantly visible hunting over the fields.
Another superb sighting for the day was a Greater Spotted Eagle, which drifted overhead as the group picnicked by a river. A couple of these magnificent raptors, normally associated with the Eastern Palearctic, have been recorded wintering at La Janda and we were able to get a good look at the diffuse light patch on its upper wing, compact wing shape and distinct upperpart spotting which made it stand out from more typical local raptors.
The group members were by now firm converts to urban birding, so our bins were very much at the ready as we headed in to Benalupe village for an afternoon coffee stop! This didn’t go amiss as we passed a large kettle of newly arrive Black Kites over the town, bringing the day’s total to around 300 birds. Outside the café in the peaceful town square, we were treated to the aerial antics of Barn Swallows and Crag Martins, as well as cruising Griffon Vultures.
Does that sound like your kind of day out? We’ll be going back there soon! We’d love to take you with us on one of our Strait Birding and Cetaceans tours in Spring or Autumn, Birding Two Continents (next running in September) or Ronda and the Straits in October…