The crane's lair: trip to Gallocanta

Grus grus, Common CraneThere are places where even a rare species becomes popular and common. One of these places is the Gallocanta plain during winter months, when thousands common cranes and other birds come to overwinter. A nice time to watch them flying in big flocks or feeding in the fields around.

The first time I heard about this place was by my girlfriend’s mouth. Sara came out with this fact about a place where thousand common cranes (Grus grus) pass the winter months. Suddenly my head banged and I feverishly tap on my pc keyboard in search of more infos about that place. Gallocanta, “where the cock sing” is a small village of about 150 locals situated on one side of a large lagoon. This lake itself is quite interesting, because it’s a “endorheic basin“, so it hasn’t any flow-out system except evaporation. It’s the largest water basin of the country, about 1400 ha. This lake could have freashwater, brackish or salty water depending on rain supply. There’s no way out for all the minerals washed out from rocks by the rain-water, so in the low-rain period the water gets salty. The plain of Gallocanta is an highplain surrounded by low hills and cultivated fields.
Here life’s slow, expecially during winter, and people is very kind and “live and let live” minded.
But the real “thumbs-up” for this region comes out when we begin to talk about birds. First of all, this is a winter hot-spot for 20,000 to a striking 60,000 common cranes which come here each year to overwinter. When approaching the lagoon on morning or at sunset the noise is deafening. All the cranes regroup to pass the night in a lake’s corner, while during the day they disperse around the plain, feeding on seeds left in the fields.

The area has been designed by the European Community as a Special Protection Area. It’s possible to make some great observations by the road that runs all around the lagoon, or by some tall hides. But if photography is the main reason, the best choice is to reserve one of the two hides placed near the village of Bello. These hides are made for photography purposes. They feature big windows to be covered with mimetic nets, but they allow to work with big telephoto lenses. The nice news is that these two hides are placed near small freshwater ponds where birds come to drink, the bad news is that anyone who want to take pictures from here, have to enter the hide half-hour before dawn and he will cannot leave it until half-hour after sunset! But the show is astonishing and many birds like curlews (Numenius arquata),  Hen Harrier (Circus cyaneus), griffons (Gyps fulvus) and many others can be seen passing by. Of course, cranes will be there for almost the day and they’ll be the main subject.

This is indeed a trip for birdwatchers, but it could be very interesting for any nature lover. A place not to be missed is the “Monasterio de Piedra” Natural park, situated at about one-hour drive from Gallocanta, near the village of Nuévalos. Striking waterfalls created by the Piedra river run down rocky outcrops with broad-leaf woods and small ponds. A landscape with amazing corners to be seen and photographed.