I have not yet seen a Costa Rican habitat similar to the flat, stone-strewn plain of La Crau, Provence, with its seemingly untillable soil and abandoned houses. Perhaps something similar can be found somewhere in Guanacaste, the driest area of the country. On my two visits, I saw very few of the 100,000 sheep said to inhabit the northern, drier part of La Crau, but it’s a hauntingly beautiful landscape, especially in the late afternoon. It offers several surprises to delight the bird-watcher, surprises, because at first sight it seems to be an empty wasteland.
Our first minutes on the dirt tracks that run through La Crau brought excited shouts of Ganga cata from my hosts, Karel and Nicole. This is the French name for the Pin-tailed sandgrouse (Pterocles alchata), a small flock of which they had spotted in flight. And I missed them! Here, however, is a photo that Karel was able to take a couple of days later, in my absence.
My life-birds were still to come. On the first visit, we had plenty of views of the Lesser kestrel (Falco naumanni) either hovering or perched atop one of the numerous piles of stones, which I was told were stacked by German soldiers to prevent the Provence landings of the Allied forces in 1944. The Lesser kestrel seems to be the signature bird of the area, and there may well have been regular Kestrels (Falco tinnunculus) among them, though we never managed a positive id of one.
We had excellent views of a pair of Stone curlews (Burhinus oedicnemus), but Karel could not get a photo so I am again grateful to Wikipedia for the following image:
The first La Crau trip ended with a small flock of Dotterels that came inquisitively right beside the car. This delicately beautiful bird was a new one for me. Karel Straatman’s photograph clearly shows the typical terrain.
My second trip several days later was even better, with larger flocks of Dotterels. No sign of Sandgrouse, but we had immediate good luck with tantalising views of two Little bustard (Otis tetrax) and a Great spotted cuckoo (Clamator glandularis).
La Crau is a unique landscape and attracts unique birds.