Town park birding

Little Ringed Plover (Martin Kelsey)

There is nothing quite so dapper as the ringed plover Charadrius species in breeding dress. Neat and precise black bands crisply border the front half of the bird, contrasting with pure white underparts and, in a modest concession to their surroundings, smooth mud-brown upperparts. Their rotund bodies, rather short legs and simple short bill give them an appealing cuteness, strengthened further by their  typically tentative demeanour. They are hesitant birds, foraging by means of a few paces in one direction, a pause to peer and peck, followed by a few more steps in what seems to be a random trajectory. They seem both endearingly vulnerable and friendly at the same time.

In its full nuptual plumage, the Little Ringed Plover blasts its European congeners away with an almost alarmingly swollen ring of bare-skin around the eye. This ripe lemon yellow orbital adorns the dress uniform of the bird like parade-ground braid. Little Ringed Plovers are common breeding birds in Extremadura, found at the edge of water bodies, along rivers and even nesting along the farm tracks in the rice fields. It is an increasingly familar sight in winter too (see the Spanish blog by Javier Prieta).

I know of no better place to get better views of this little wader than the San Lazaro park at the edge of Trujillo. Here there is a body of water of about two hectares in area, with a perimeter path and footbridge going right across its centre. In places there are small gently sloping patches of bare ground on its shore, elsewhere reduced clumps of reed mace. At its far end there is a children's playground and bar. It is a favourite spot for dogwalkers, joggers, families and those simply out for a paseo. And for me, an ideal drop-in spot before heading to do some shopping nearby.

On my visit there yesterday, I counted four pairs of Little Ringed Plovers, each quietly keeping to favoured zones, where they trundled and paused, almost as if by clockwork. They were a total contrast to the chic dainty elegance of Black-winged Stilts (three pairs were present), with their absurdly long red legs, needle-like black bill, acting like pincers to lift prey from the water.

Black-winged Stilt (Martin Kelsey)

From the Typha a migrating Sedge Warbler had stopped off and was singing loudly, right beside the footbridge. The same patch of emergent vegetation is cover for wintering Chiffchaffs, that fly out in short hovering motion to feast on yuletide midges. Barn Swallows hawked the open water, where Coot, Moorhen, Little Grebe and Mallard all pootled around, and all nesting around the pool. Serins performed their buoyant songflights above me.

The San Lazaro park in Trujillo (Martin Kelsey)

From my vantage point, on the path beside the water, I  look up towards the centre of the town and to the Moorish fort crowning the heights of the granite foundation of Trujillo. A building a thousand years older than the concrete silo dominating the skyline to my left. But the latter too featured in my town park birding, a dozen Lesser Kestrels wheeled in the sapphire sky above it. Thanks to installation of nest boxes on its roof, this monolith  has become one of the most important single Lesser Kestrel colonies in the region.


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