It is a sound you’ll never forget, one of the most evocative wildlife experiences anywhere in Spain: In cold early evenings in late autumn and winter, thousands of common cranes fly in to the Laguna de Gallocanta to roost after feeding in the surrounding farmland. They stop off every year at the lagoon on on their migration between Northern Europe and their wintering grounds in Extremadura (see xxx), and again on the way back. Numbers are particularly spectacular during migration peaks in November and February when as many as 60,000 cranes roost in the safety of the lagoon, although in drought year of 2017 they were almost absent. In recent years, some 10-20,000 have also chosen to stay for the whole winter, feeding in the surrounding cereal fields and steppe. Gallicanta is 1000m in altitude and “enjoys” a continental climate so make sure you wrap up warm if you come in the crane season: things can drop below -20°C some years. Although famed for its cranes, Gallocanta is also one of the most important wintering sites for waterbirds in Spain, while the surrounding area is very good for steppe birds and raptors.

The lagoon itself is the biggest saline lake in Europe and in rainy years Spain’s largest natural waterbody. Located in an endorheic basin, which means that no river leaves here for the sea, it is largely dependent on underwater streams fed by autumn and spring rains meaning the water level can fluctuate hugely. The continental climate here is extreme with temperatures rising to the high thirties in the summer which can in some years dry the lagoon out, while in winter wrap up well if you come for the cranes.

The Allucant hostel on the shores of the lagoon is a great guesthouse and information spot for birders and has an excellent library of birding books.