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.
Early December in the hills (Martin Kelsey) Eight months earlier, under the softness of a fresh canopy of Sweet Chestnut leaves, the sight of a vast colony of creamy Barton's Orchids filled me with joy. Now, only a single wizened grey spike, bearing the husks of the seed capsules remains in view. It is exposed on a mossy bank, with the rest of the colony now hidden under the deep blanket of coppery leaves covering the ground in this grove. The trees stand dormant and a winter's silence now clothes this hilltop. Until a Jay screeches and somewhere through the trees a Roe Deer barks, making me jump. A frosty trail (Martin Kelsey) There is still colour in many of the Sweet Chestnuts and Pyrenean Oaks. I am at about a 1000 metres above sea-level and the temperature is hugging freezing point (but in the frost pockets lower down it was down to minus 4º C) and autumn just about perseveres here, although there is a distinct wintery feel to the birds. Walking along a ride, where the s
Alcollarín Reservoir (Martin Kelsey) A blustery late afternoon in mid-November and I pause to watch a large flock of small birds that zing like a wind-blown sheet pegged to a washing-line. They gather on the ovine-nibbled sward beside feed mangers in a small paddock populated by some ewes and lambs, under the shade of broad holm oaks. For no apparent cause, a "dread" sweeps across them and they retreat into the trees, like the sheet torn off the line. A minute or so later they calmly descend again, as if the sheet gently floats back to the ground. This woosh of panic and then calm happens every few minutes. Most of them are sparrows, both House and their chunkier Spanish cousins. But there are also Chaffinches amongst them, and where there is a large winter flock of these, then there is always a chance of their northern counterparts: Bramblings. I settle down with my 'scope to pan across the groups of feeding birds once they are on the ground. It is frustrating - it see
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