A few days ago, (last Wednesday, 28th September to be exact) Keith and I were just pulling up in the car outside our house when from the corner of my eye I saw a large grey bird taking off from the other side of the river island. For a split second I thought it was the usual heron that hangs about in that spot. Then as I was doing a double take – 4 more birds took off from behind the tamarisk trees- this would be about 250 metres away from our front door. It was a bright sunny day and as they were lifting themselves above the water with their backs to me I could clearly see that these birds were huge and “feathery” – they were certainly not herons!! I left Keith to gather the shopping bags and I took the stairs two at a time to get into our apartment. They were already heading off upriver but from our balcony and through my binoculars I could see a flock of 5 huge, grey, birds. Birds with long necks held straight out, not retracted like a heron. More like a stork. But I was sure they weren’t white storks either. They were grey and black(or a very dark grey) not black and white. And there were no red beaks. Cranes? Could they be cranes? They could only be cranes. But here on the Ebro? I needed to try and get a photo. I grabbed my little Fuji but there they had almost gone out of sight. I snapped a few shots in desperation as they were disappearing round the bend in the river and also made some quick notes: Grey and darker grey plumage in same general pattern of grey heron. Big wide wings. Feathery. Pale coloured neck and head. Neck outstretched – not rigidly straight – slight dip. Beaks looked pale, def not red! On downloading most of the shots were devoid of any birds. Except one, which had a small grey smudge. I cropped in as much as I could but obviously the clarity was poor and I was disappointed that it didn’t show any long neck.
I then contacted a few local birders and described what I’d seen. Yes, conceded one of them– your description sounds like crane but it is several weeks early, cranes don’t normally arrive in Spain until around mid-November. The other guy was more sceptical and basically said “has anyone ever seen cranes in Spain in September? I think you probably saw storks in bad light”
And that’s when I shot myself in the foot. I posted the bad photo on Facebook and both birders came back with a resounding “That’s a heron!” And of course, it was. When I looked in the cold light of day the photo was of the flippin heron. Stupid woman – should have been pretty obvious that it was the heron, for one thing it’s flying downriver. The cranes were flying away!
But… I had also contacted a 3rd birder in Huesca, Aragon which borders our province of Tarragona because I’d discovered that nearly all migrating cranes pass through that territory – his local patch. He too said that the main influx of cranes was normally late October onwards but, he added, that’s not to say that small groups can’t already be around. He said he would let me know if he or anyone else got a sighting. Yesterday – music to my ears – he contacted me to say “the first cranes have arrived in Huesca” (jumps up and down with big cheesy grin)
Of course there is no way of knowing if they are same birds, but by car from Mora to this location it would take just over 2 hours. As the crane flies – an easy journey! And even if they are not the same group,it proves that there are cranes about – in September! And I am, I think, justified in claiming a life tick and tick for my 2011 birding challenge. And because, I know what I saw… 🙂
More reading about rare birds on the Ebro here: Hybrid reef x little egret