Martin Kelsey's blog on the birds, natural history and life in general in Extremadura
Bustards in the burnished gold
Great Bustard August 2013
High summer on the plains of Extremadura and with the afternoon temperatures approaching 40 degrees Celsius in the shade - and out on the plains there is none - the only time to be out is early morning or evening. But well worth the effort it is to be out in this landscape in early August. There is a heavy stillness, languid, silence, quite unlike the audio feast of spring. No larks or Corn Buntings singing, just the short flight call as a feeding party of buntings fly over. Everything seems in slow motion. A loose group of Great Bustards, scattered across the burnished gold of the dry grasslands in dawn light, make measured strides as they search for food. Later on they will try to reduce exposure to the heat by sitting on the ground, resting, stationary. Their stately gait is emphasised by their set-square shape: their neck at right angles to their long horizontal body. A juvenile Peregrine stands on a rock,but it is difficult to see whether it has prey, but I suspect it was out even earlier than me and is holding its breakfast in its talons. The sky is cloudless and the blue deepens as the sun rises higher. A purring bubbling sound comes from somewhere above me: Black-bellied Sandgrouse.
Black-bellied Sandgrouse (John Hawkins)
Their distinctive call is both far-carrying and difficult to pin-point. Just by getting a sense where the call is coming from as its source moves helps me eventually to locate the small group. They are rather pot-bellied, but their pointed-wings makes them skillful fliers, and they wheel and then glide down to disappear behind a mound, where there is likely to be a pool to provide them their morning drink. Across the empty plains drifts a buoyant Montagu's Harrier, a bird fledged this year with a shock of orange on the underparts. The building heat radiating from the ground gives it all the lift it needs to quarter the grasslands without a single flap of its wings.
White Storks August 2013
In several places bands of White Stork stand in closed groups, appearing to be resting rather than feeding. These may well be birds on southward migration (storks have already been crossing the straits of Gibrater from Europe into North Africa), roosting over night on the plains and soon to take off again as the thermals develop. I head off too, for my breakfast, and it is only then as I start the drive home that I realize that I have not seen a single Black Kite. This will have been the first morning out in the field in five months without Black Kites. They are one of the earlier summer visitors to depart and clearly this abundant bird has slipped away, unnoticed, over the last few days, heading south for Africa. Sometimes it is what you don't see rather than what you do that gives you the message of seasons on the move.
Sawfly Orchid Ophrys tenthredinifera : one of the most widespread species in Extremadura Orchids are compelling. Even the most botanically-challenged birders will stop to admire one in flower. Simply being an orchid commands attention. The name is instantly recognisable, sounds special - although how many will know that it comes from the Greek word for testicle, thanks to the pair of tubers that many orchids have underground? The flower itself is attractive, usually held aloft on an upright stem, gorgeous and intriguing to those curious enough to get on their knees for a closer look. Beyond their appearance are fascinating life-histories and ecologies. They have an association with fungi which provide nutrients and sometimes have highly-specific pollinating agents. The bee orchids are sexual traps that lure young male bees by pretending to look (and smell) like female bees. A long wet and mild winter for growth and a long hot dry summer for dormancy is what suits the orchids growing
A first dawn back on the plains of Extremadura (Martin Kelsey) It was an emotional reunion. After over six weeks away, I had missed its prime. But with huge gratitude I was there to witness the evensong of spring on the plains, as it ebbed away. Summer comes early on the steppes of Extremadura. Lockdown was still in place, but I carried a government authorisation to work as a volunteer to monitor the classic steppe species, all confronted with a challenged future. On getting out of the car, I instinctively did the most simple thing. Standing facing east, I soaked in the very first rays from the rising sun in a landscape which seemed unlimited and eternal. Backlit feathery Retama bushes providing perches for singing Corn Buntings, emerged from the mist. Pondering forms of grazing cattle shuffled in the mist. Everywhere larks were singing. With a weaving buoyancy a Montagu's Harrier tracked over the vast meadow beside me. A dawn and dusk hunter, searching the ground for a vu
Hoopoes in dispute (Martin Kelsey) The Hoopoe's "song" oop-oop-oop is delivered perched, with the bird appearing to go through considerable effort in producing it. Standing on our balcony for lockdown birding has given me the chance to watch our garden birds stepping up into the rhythm of spring. A Blackbird appears relaxed as it sings: barely moving its body and its bill simply ajar, the head still as song flows warm and comforting into the soundsphere. Hoopoes undergo a contortion. They arch their heads downward, the neck becomes swollen and the bill is directed the feet. They appear hunched up and troubled, grave and serious. With its oop you can sense strain. Hoopoe singing (Martin Kelsey) Yet, Hoopoes are busy ooping away, because spring demands it. We must be on the border of two Hoopoe territories because whilst I was watching this singing bird, I sensed a split second of unease, its tail fanned and at the moment a rival flew in and dislodged the singe