Last weekend I was fortunate enough to spend some time in the beautiful and bird-rich northeast of Spain. There were plenty of birds singing in the various habitats I visited, and I had an interesting time trying to recognise the various sounds. Some of these were familiar from home, others were sounds I’ve heard on previous visits to continental Europe but which I don’t hear regularly. I was interested to discover which of these I could remember. Some were very obvious, such as the simple and insistent ‘sip-sip-sip’ of a zitting cisticola (or fan-tailed warbler, if you prefer). There were other sounds that were a bit harder to recall but which I recognised once I heard them, like the harsh ratchet-like call of a Sardinian warbler and the distinctive buzzy twittering of a serin, a sound that seems so redolent of warm sunny gardens in southern Europe.
But the finest spectacle of sound was in the drylands at El Planeron, just to the east of Zaragoza. Early morning here was cool with a lingering mist and the air was filled with singing larks, particularly the numerous lesser short-toed larks, together with thekla and calandra larks. Whenever I’m in open country like this, it strikes me that the way that birds sing is different to how they sing in more enclosed habitats such as woodland. Here the birds don’t find a discrete perch to sing from but instead they take to the air and their singing is a continuous stream of sound and not the well-mannered bursts and pauses of woodland birds. Here’s part of a recording I made at El Planeron.
Interspersed amongst the relentless twittering of lesser short-toed larks is a rather different sound: a rising three-note song where the last note is strangely inflected. This is the song of the avian speciality of El Planeron, a Dupont’s lark. This is one of those birds that is perhaps most readily encountered as a sound. They sing much more from the ground than other larks and they are, as anyone who has ever tried to look for them will tell you, bewilderingly hard to catch sight of. You can hear one rather more clearly on this recording.
Eventually I saw one rise up from the ground like the other larks and give a circling song flight high up above me. But when I think of a Dupont’s lark, what I think of is that strange three-note phrase that I heard almost continuously at El Planeron, emerging from what seemed like the landscape itself.