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.
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