Martin Kelsey's blog on the birds, natural history and life in general in Extremadura
A walk late summer morning
Common Redstart (John Hawkins)
The last day of August and after having been away in England for two weeks I am returning to a different seasonal feel. We are on the cusp here and today the signs of autumn were outweighing the vestiges of summer. I set off from the house just as the sun started to peek above the slopes of the peak of Pedro Gómez, the one thousand metre mountain to the east of us. It was already ten past eight in the morning - dawn is getting later. Not a breath of wind nor a cloud in the sky, just our pair of Red-rumped Swallows gliding overhead. I set off on my walk, a circuit of our own mountain, part of the Sierra de los Lagares, taking an anti-clockwise direction, first northwards and then around the western flank of the hill. The verges and banks beside the track, which had been such a dazzling display of colour in the spring were now uniformly dry, dusty yellow, carrying a distinctive warm scent. Only patches of grey-green Heliotropes offered a sign of herbaceous life. Occasionally I would walk into a pocket of cooler air, plunging as it were and here a relict aroma of Wild Fennel hit me. My progress had led me to north of the hill and from here there was a magnificent view across the dehesa and plains, to the granite outcrop, the berrocal, on which at its highest point stood Trujillo, its Moorish fort and medieval churches catching the low morning sunlight.
Trujillo (Martin Kelsey)
As I headed south along the western flank of the hill, I was once again catching the first rays of the sun as it starting to rise over our mountain, giving me a second dawn. This expansive terrain of old olive groves and holm oak dehesa is the habitat of choice of passage migrants that I was hoping to find on this walk. It is these species, above all, that tell me autumn has come. Birds that have bred far from here, in cool temperate deciduous woodlands of central and northern Europe, finding shade in the olive and evergreen oak groves of Extremadura before making their crossing of the vastness of the Saharan sands to spend a winter sojourn in tropical forests and savanas. My first encounter was with a Pied Flycatcher, perched on a lower branch of a holm oak, calling loudly. Just further on, a Spotted Flycatcher flew from its perch to the ground and then back. A Common Whitethroat became curious of my presence, coming through a thick tangle of brambles, peering at me with typical stance with its body tilted so that its back and tail rose high above its head. More flycatchers - my count of Pieds had now reached ten and there had been a total of three Spotted Flycatchers. And other migrants as well - Common Redstarts, Garden Warblers, Iberian Chiffchaff. There were local birds too, like Golden Orioles and Spotless Starlings feasting on figs, a male Lesser Spotted Woodpecker calling from an oak and Hawfinches flying overhead. At one point, I turned a corner and found myself staring at a rather surprised Roe Deer - the first I had ever seen in the Sierra de los Lagares.
Booted Eagle (John Hawkins)
As I approached the house, completing my circular walk, the sun was high enough to encourage a Booted Eagle to start soaring and a party of noisy Bee-eaters circling amongst the hirundines, they will all be on the move soon. Not for the first time I was struck by the apparent, almost seamless ease that these migrant birds can fit in and become intrinsically, albeit temporally, part of such different biomes.
Part Three: More special moments - November to December Little Owl (Martin Kelsey): first seen 15 January By the start of November, I reappraised my progress. There were a few species, like Grasshopper Warbler (a scarce autumn passage bird and always seen just by luck) that I had missed and with now little chance of recovering. There were also a few winter birds that I had missed at the start of the year that I still had a chance to find. The first one I found was just 500 metres from my front gate: a pair of Bullfinches feeding on desiccated blackberries in brambles growing over an old wall. They were first I had ever seen so close to home. At my local patch Alcollarín where the water levels were extremely low because of the prolonged drought, the waders had been better than usual (probably because the nearby rice fields were so dry) and the winter gull roost was starting to build up in numbers. I paid a visit one late afternoon. Below the dam, something made me pause. The Alcolla
Part 2: Windows of Opportunity - April to October Black-winged Kite (Martin Kelsey) : first seen 28th January April is a crucial month in any Big Year attempt in Extremadura. This is the peak month for the northward passage of waders. Waders such as Grey Plover, Sanderling, Red Knot, Turnstone, Whimbrel and Bar-tailed Godwit are very scarce. Although most migrate along the coast, some follow an overland route across Spain. If they meet adverse conditions, they might pause and stop off for a very brief rest. The rice fields in the centre of Extremadura and the shores of reservoirs provide places for them to stop and feed. Whilst there is still some migration of Arctic-bound waders in early May (especially Common Ringed Plovers) and some of these species can also make an appearance in early autumn, April offers us the best opportunity. It is a narrow window of opportunity. April is also a time when I am out every day with clients, visiting the full spectrum of habitats, the rice fiel
Spanish Sparrow (Martin Kelsey): first seen 8th January. The rising curve - January to March I had never intended to do a “Big Year” in Extremadura in 2022, to see how many of birds I could record in twelve months. We spent the New Year in Galicia, the wonderfully wet and windy north-west of Spain, and it wasn’t until January 6th that I saw my first birds of the year in Extremadura. I was planning to be quite relaxed about my birding. But by February, it was clear that, thanks to strokes of luck and a lot of time spent in the field, I was doing rather well in the accumulative total of birds seen. So, I decided then that I would set myself two targets: to break my own record of 256 species and to see more species than anyone else in 2022. However, I would also set some rules. First, only to twitch (i.e to make a special journey to see a specific individual bird found by someone else) if I had never seen that species before in Extremadura, all other birds would be “self-found”. I woul