A summer evening birding on the steppes

I spent yesterday evening doing bits of business in Trujillo, and finishing at 9pm headed to snatch the last hour of daylight out on the plains of Belén, just twenty minutes from home. One first has to navigate the little village of Belén itself, where the tiny streets twist and bifurcate, like in so many Spanish villages where a moment's lapse in concentration will lead to a wrong turning down a thoroughfare that will narrow right down to a cul-de-sac. Many of these villages appear deserted during the day: the shutters are down and not a soul is visible. They come to life in the evening. Chairs are brought out and the adults sit on the edge of the street (in Belén there is no pavement so this makes the streets even narrower for passing traffic). The children play and where there are benches, at street corners, groups of older men or women (rarely mixed) will sit and gossip. One notices that all the older men and women are more or less the same size and shape: stockier and shorter than their offspring, testament of harder times in the past.

On the road out of the village, I pass small groups taking their evening walks, the famous "paseo", so appreciated in the summer when the heat makes people avoid being out of doors during the day if at all possible.

It was a tad too late as I started to cross the open plains themselves, already post-breeding flocks of Calandra Lark and Corn Bunting were pitching down to roost in areas of taller vegetation. Southern Grey Shrikes flew low over the ground, rising to perch on the roadside fence posts, whilst a Hoopoe caught the evening sunshine to perfection. I was on the look out for Great Bustard and eventually found a small group feeding at sunset on a stubble field, their darkening forms slowly striding across the field. Whilst I watched them, four Black-bellied Sandgrouse fly across my field of view and I follow them, seeing them drop down behind the bank of one of the few pools on the Belén plains with water.

I continue as far as a ruined farm building where I stop and listen. Joining the sound of cowbells, comes the beguiling sound of Stone Curlews, one starting to call and being quickly followed by another. In the gloom, I make out two forms nearby. A pair of Stone Curlew starting to feed, making a series of quick steps, body held horizontal, then stopping either to peck at the ground or to straighten up with head held high. It is a wonderful sight and I watch them as long as I can before the light starts to fade rapidly. Being nocturnal birds, their "day" was only just starting.

Returning home, I see four more Stone Curlew in flight, crossing the horizon in front of the silhouette of iconic Spanish cattle against a vivid evening sky.


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