It has been a while since I visited the Saladares del Guadalentín, so a trip to Camposol to deliver some bird books to Best Wishes (the shop) was the perfect opportunity that I needed.

Some English friends, who were also birders, were staying a few nights with us after returning from a long motor-home visit to Morocco. They were on their way back to the UK and a day’s birding in the Saladares would prove to be the perfect antidote to their need for some rest and relaxation. The Saladares del Guadalentín also happens to be one of my favourite birding sites, although it can be a bit mixed; sometimes you see lots of interesting species and other times you feel like you are looking for a ‘needle in a haystack’. With fingers crossed, I went with them to look for ‘needles in haystacks’.

As we drove slowly across the plains, it seemed very quiet and we hardly saw anything until eventually, our first feathered friend honoured us with an appearance. It was a Woodchat Shrike (Lanius Senator), a colourful and very noticeable summer visitor. They are a little bit bigger than a Sparrow and the male bird in front of us was quite striking in his black and white plumage and a very attractive chestnut cap; once seen, never forgotten. They are summer visitors and very small birds of prey that are ‘sit-and-wait’ hunters. They settle on top of a visible perch surveying the surrounding area, waiting for a large juicy insect to appear. They then swoop down to capture their prey, which they sometimes eat immediately and sometimes save for later. If they are not too hungry, they will leave their prey hung up on a thorn, hence the nickname of ‘Butcherbird’. It is a gruesome practice, but a very practical habit.

We continued our safari across the steppes, but there wasn’t much about, except for some small LBJs that were quietly feeding on the barish ground at the edges of the low vegetation. They were smallish birds, about the size of a Sparrow and quite insignificant. I suspect only birdwatchers would notice their presence. They were in fact, Greater Short-Toed Larks (Calandrella Brachydactlya) and the only migratory Lark of the eight species that live in Spain. They are summer visitors that over-winter in Africa in the Sahel and breed over here, all across Spain. They particularly like areas of sandy wasteland and arable fields. At the moment these areas are relatively common habitat in Murcia, but they can often be overlooked. The birds are difficult to see as they blend into the background and are quite pale underneath and streaked brownish above. However, if the light is good and seen at the right angle, they have a rufous-tinged crown/crest. I was very pleased to see them on this occasion as it was the first time for a few years, after Covid and Brexit stays in the UK.

We continued on our way only to be interrupted by more LBJs; in fact, a whole flock of them, all Sparrows. However, as birding was proving to be a bit quiet and boring, I thought I would waste a bit of time checking them all in my binoculars. I was pleasantly surprised, as what I thought was a flock of House Sparrows (Passer Domesticus), turned out to be quite a mixed flock and included Tree (Passer Montanus), Spanish (Passer Hispaniolensis) and Rock Sparrows (Petronia Petronia). I also managed to find a couple of Corn Buntings (Emberiza Calandra) intermingled and disguising themselves as Sparrows! This was quite a find! It is not often that you can see all four species of Sparrows in the same location. Rock Sparrows can be common in the right habitat and are more often seen in the north-west of the Region; Tree Sparrows are quite rare and even rarer is the Spanish Sparrow. However, there are small populations of all these species here in the Saladares.

I was beginning to think it was going to be one of those quiet days, but nearly straightaway I came across a striking male Black Eared Wheatear (Oenanthe Hispanica). These birds are summer visitors. The males are quite striking and conspicuous, whereas the females are similar looking, but an awful lot duller and are able to blend in better with the local landscape. It is a useful trait if you are the main one bringing up a family.
A little bit further on I was driving towards a small field of broccoli; quite a common crop here at this time of year. Two largish birds suddenly flew down about twenty metres in front of me and were then joined by another two. I had clocked where they landed and soon had the binoculars focused on the spot, but I couldn’t see anything. This ability to remain invisible was a pretty good clue towards identification. Thankfully, they started to walk across the ground and I was able to watch them for quite a while. They were Black-Bellied Sandgrouse (Pterocles Orientalis), very uncommon and elusive birds on the Saladares.

Whilst watching the Sandgrouse, four Little Bustards (Tetrax Tetrax) walked out of the broccoli field right in front of me. This was obviously my lucky day as they hadn’t spotted me. There was an adult male in full breeding plumage, accompanying and guarding his harem of three dullish brown females. The males have an elaborate display and dance competition between themselves to attract the females, who then choose the most impressive male as their future partner. He must have been a good dancer to have three females in tow!
I wasn’t sure where to look next with all this activity in front of me, but two cryptic plumaged Stone Curlews (Burhinus Oedicnemus) appeared on the scene for a couple of minutes and then flew off into the distance. It was like waiting an hour for a bus and then three turn up in the space of a couple of minutes!

After this gold rush, things settled down a lot and I was left looking for the familiar birds of the area, but nevertheless no less interesting. The first one that came into view was very predictable as I was driving past one of the newly constructed Pigeon lofts that the Lesser Kestrels (Falco Naumanni) had adopted as their regular nesting places. As usual, there were a couple of adult birds perching near the building, whilst their housemates went hunting for large insects in the adjoining fields. Lesser Kestrels are summer visitors to Murcia and are one of our rarer breeding raptors. On a worldwide scale it is classified as fairly common, but on a local scale it is somewhat of a rarity. They are small Falcons, slightly smaller, but not noticeably so, than our common Kestrel. They winter in Africa and Pakistan. They are colonial breeders and generally nest in Murcia in the roofs of old abandoned buildings and sometimes dovecotes on the plains and steppes of the region. I estimate that there are less than ten breeding colonies with no fewer than 60 pairs. They are pretty little Falcons and one of Murcia’s special avian delights.
Driving a bit further along I came across a Hoopoe (Upopa Epops), intent on finding an insect to sate his or her appetite and it was so engrossed by its search that it took little notice of the strange bloke in the car intent on getting a photo.

My final bird of the day was a very common LBJ of the Saladares, but probably one that aptly represents this birding hotspot. It was a ubiquitous Crested Lark (Galerida Cristata). They are almost identical to a similar species of Lark called a Thekla Lark (Galerida Theklae). It is very difficult to tell these two species apart, as their differences are so subtle. There are a few identification features, but I choose to look at the beak. The Crested Lark has a slimmer and longer beak. It is also said that Crested Larks always perch on the ground, whereas Theklas prefer to perch at the top of a small bush or tree.

However, I am not too keen on this latter method, as I have seen Crested Larks perched atop of a tree! The habitat is also an identification indicator, as Theklas prefer higher, stony areas, whereas Crested Larks are often seen on flatter cultivated areas. However, I prefer a photo clearly showing the beak. You can just call them a Crested/Thekla Lark and not get too wound up about it!

If you have any queries or comments please do hesitate to contact me on