21 December : La Janda (first day of winter)

21 December, first day of winter according to the stars and waning moon in the sky when I left home for La Janda, but apart from the early morning cold one wouldn't have thought so as it was sunny and virtually windless all day from dawn onwards and around noon onwards it was positively warm. As I hadn't been birding, proper birding, since before mid November when I went to England and having had a rather busy week since returning, it was just the day I needed. And I got it!

There wasn't a vast quantity of species, exactly 40, but there was quality and when you see the list I think you'll agree, even though one of the most desirable species, the Black-shouldered Kite, was notable by its absence but there were compensations. For a start off, no sooner had I started down towards the drainage canal than a Merlin crossed my bows - flat out on the deck, the only way they fly. There were fewer Marsh Harriers than expected, only 5, and not a single Hen Harrier. There were fewer Kestrels too, less than 10, but outnumbered by at least 11 Common Buzzards (photo above). But things were to get even better with 2 juvenile/immature Bonelli's Eagles and then a tremendous racket caused by 2 Ravens seeing off a 1st year Imperial Eagle. The two photos below aren't great but they were very distant. There was also a very distant and unidentifable Aquila-type eagle which showed a silhouette which reminded me much of Spotted/Lesser Spotted but which will remain one of birdings great unknowns.

 There were quite a lot of Chaffinches (but no Bramblings), Goldfinches (but not a single Greenfinch!) and House Sparrows, plus flocks of Skylarks and later a few Calandra Larks which are always nice to see. There were Chiffs everywhere there was cover and large numbers of White Wagtails also.I saw both species of starlings, most were Spotless but there I saw one lovely spotty Common (perhaps we ought to call them Northern Starlings down here?), this latter being species much overlooked as most birders don't bother.
The rice fields, long harvested, have been dried out and the majority left with the stubble but with little standing water. In fact, there were only two areas of water and on the first, about half way along on the left hand side going northwards along the track, gave a few Lapwings (more seen later), 2 Green Sandpipers and a solitary Greenshank. The second area of water, more or less opposite the bridge, was more productive with a count of 19 Ringed Plovers and 2 Little Stints on the outward leg and going back later no waders but a couple of Water Pipits.
And there were the Cranes, with at least 350 streaming across in front oif me far along the track and setting down in the fields to the west. Some 30 minutes later I heard and then picked out a very high flying flock of some 80-90 birds coming down from the north. They really were high, I reckoned at least 1.500 feet and possibly a lot more, altitude is very difficult to estimate. These must have seen or heard those below and they went on down La Janda, turned across the light breeze and made a long final approach, legs down to brake and lose height, to land amongst those already present. And what a noise they made, almost a celebration of their arrival (highly anthropomorphic, I know), and I wondered very seriously how far they had come. I do like cranes!

So all in all, a very pleasant, very relaxing, day with some nice birding to help along. There is very little more that one can ask for in life as far as I am concerned.

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