The Dupont‘s Lark at Las Almoladeras in Spain

Dupont's Lark on a stoneAlthough recent research and an action plan by SEO regards the Dupont‘s Lark (Chersophilus duponti) as highly on risk in Almeria, this area is still worth a try.  This Lark is probably one of the highly thought-after bird species if travelling to and birdwatching in southern Spain. I photographed it in mid May 2002. First choice for this lark in southern Spain probably is Cabo de Gata. This is a Parque Natural with almost 50,000 ha (exactly 49,696 ha). Cabo de Gata comprises a Biosphere Reserve of the UNESCO. In general this large area extends from the western side of Cabo de Gata around to the eastern coast as far north as Carboneras. For birdwatchers the best sites are the sierra of Cabo de Gata, the salinas of Cabo de Gata, and a series of steppe areas, of which I tried Las Amoladeras which is generally recommended as being the most productive from the ornithological point of view. Additionally this area is reasonably accessible. For the first visitor, I think, it is best to go for the Visitor Center “The Amoladeras”. In the exhibition of the visitor center the existence of human settlements in the Natural Park Cabo de Gata- Nijar is shown as well as aspects of nature. Visitors can learn a mosaic of ecosystems, consisting of the Sierra de Gata and its coastal fringe of dunes, steppes and saline pools.

The Visitor Center Las Almoladeras is located just 20 km south-east of Almería. To get there, you can come along the Murcia bound carriageway of the N-344 from Almería, turn off at the El Alquián exit and continue as far as the Retamar quarter. From there take the AL-3115 towards the village of Pujaire. The entrance to the visitor centre is at Km. 7, just after the intersection with La Rambla de Las Amoladeras.

The steppe habitat of Las Almoladeras here in Almería is a typical, arid, shore and steppe area, administered as a “no hunting area” and zoological station by the Consejena de Medio Ambiente and the S.E.O. lt is contiguous with the large Steppe area of the Campo de Nijar. The shore and dunes are followed further inland by Steppe with low Mediterranean scrub. The scrub growth is typical of arid dune and steppe areas, with no trees. But be careful: Some plantations of agaves in past decades make walking in some places nearly impossible.
In general there is a good variety of larks and larks are actually one of the site‘s main attractions. The top species is the quite elusive Dupont’s Lark (Chersophilus duponti), which is found mainly in the northern section of the reserve in areas of Thyme (Thymus vulgaris) and False Esparto Grass (Lygeum spartum). Lesser Short-toed Larks (Calandrella rufescens) are abundant and Greater Short-toed Lark (Calandrella brachydactyla) is reasonably common. Both Crested Lark (Galerida cristata) and Thekla Lark (Galerida theklae) occur. The latter being much more common. Skylarks (Alauda arvensis) are winter visitors.

Some steppe species are scarce residents within the reserve but there are significant populations of Eurasian Thick-knee (Burhinus oedicnemus) and Black-bellied Sandgrouse (Pterocles orientalis). It is possible to see Lesser Kestrel (Falco naumanni) and of course Corn Bunting (Miliaria calandra). Ring Ouzels (Turdus torquatus) are not uncommon in winter. Rufous-tailed Scrub-Robin (Cercotrichas galactotes) occur with some regularity. Sardinian Warbler (Sylvia melanocephala) as well as Dartford Warblers (Sylvia undata) are moderately common at all seasons, as are Spectacled Warblers (Sylvia conspicillata) in summer and Common Chiffchaffs (Phylloscopus collybita) in winter. Southern Grey Shrikes (Lanius meridionalis) occur in the few areas with trees or bushes. Trumpeter Finches (Rhodopechys githaginea) are mainly winter visitors in moderate numbers, but at least some are present in summer.
This site is highly attractive for the presence of many of the Steppe species, although they do take some searching for. In general it is recommended to use the early morning hours and in order to find the birds, stop, look and listen. As the area is very dry a good bet is to investigate the parts where there is some water more intensively.

To access the steppe habitat you can follow more or less the direction to the visitor center. Thus take the local road off the N-344 for Cabo de Gata and San Jose from the Retamar roundabout. At Km 6, after the Retamar roundabout, prepare to turn north onto a paved track on the right side of the road. This track direction is to the approach radio tower for Almeria airport. It is 1.4 km from the main road, but you do not need to go all the way up. Park and walk along the tracks off to the right after some 100 meters and again (and again). These tracks normally cut through all this area, which includes the best steppe habitat. The Lark was found on 70 m above sea level (asl) in a mix of low esparto grass and thyme. I got attracted to the lark with her singing. This metallic clatter I compared first with a tape-recording brought along, and then I checked the book. In the Visitor Center there are tape-recordings of the lark, too. So you can check here as well.

Excellent Literature – not only for the Las Almoladeras – area is “Where to watch birds in Southern & Western Spain” by Ernest Garcia and Andrew Paterson.
Be prepared, that Dupont‘s Lark (Chersophilus duponti) is a very local resident, confined to a wide area of steppes in eastern Granada and Almeria. Some individuals may disperse more widely in wintertime and might show-up on locations you would not think.

To cope with the growing demand for top shots of the rarer species of the Palearctic Bird-Lens is keen to enrich the range of pictures of birds you can find in the western palearctic. Trips to remote places like Finland in wintertime or to Spain in spring to capture images of rare birds of western palearctic were very successful. The nice image you find in that blog is only an appetizer, what you will find in the gallery in the “Pictures Shop”. Just give me a message, if I could serve you with an additional image.

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