Big Year 2022 Part Three: More special moments - November to December


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 Alcollarín river has a lovely belt of willows and shrubs along the bank and is always good for small birds. Just the place I thought to find a Yellow-browed Warbler. I parked and stood on a small wooden bridge. Common Chiffchaffs were busy catching small insects close to the waters edge. Just a few minutes later, a small warbler flew up into the tree beside the bridge, straight onto it I saw its bright yellow supercilium and wingbars. I couldn’t believe it: a Yellow-browed Warbler! The first I had found in Extremadura (and only the fourth that I had ever seen in the region) and with that my personal year list record was also broken. Elated I quickly got the news out (it stayed there for about a week and was seen by many other local birders) and then proceeded to watch the gulls coming to roost. Having eluded me all year so far, I was delighted to find a Mediterranean Gull amongst the hundreds of Black-headed Gulls present. Two more species to cross off the list of potentials that I had made at the end of summer.

Yellow-browed Warbler (Martin Kelsey): first seen 7 November

November continued to give more. The day after finding the Yellow-browed Warbler I walked from the village to see if the Bullfinches were still present. They weren’t, but on my return, I checked a field close to my front gate to check the Song Thrushes and Redwings feeding there. Amongst them, was a Ring Ouzel. It was a huge surprise and it stayed for a few days, to be seen by several other birders. That was a bird that I was very keen to find and had considered visits to mountain areas where they may be overwintering. To find one at the edge of the village was a huge relief.

Ring Ouzel (Martin Kelsey): first seen 8 November

Late November was dominated by high winds from Storm Denise. I made regular visits to Alcollarín and Sierra Brava reservoirs in case of finding birds that had been blown inland. Whilst in the field, I received a call from David Lindo that he and a companion had found an adult Kittiwake on the rice fields nearby. It was just a few minutes from where I stood, so I got there quickly and the bird, an adult, was still there, sitting at the edge of the track. With that, the Extremadura year list record was broken. After a few minutes more, it flew off, not to be seen again. The following day, on my return from fieldwork in southern Extremadura, I noticed that there was a large flock of gulls at an ornamental pond in a park at the edge of Miajadas. I stopped to check them out and found amongst many Black-headed Gulls, an immature Kittiwake. It was a stunning bird and like some of my other finds, was enjoyed by several visitors on the days that followed.

Black-legged Kittiwake (Martin Kelsey): first seen 23 November

My son and I did a short trip to Salamanca for some birding at the end of the month and as we returned to Extremadura, we stopped briefly at La Garganta to find a few Goldcrests, a wintering bird I had missed at the start of the year. But that was not the final word from November. From the middle of the month, I had been checking the rice fields in the late afternoons to watch harriers go to roost and look for Short-eared Owls. I found a couple of harrier roosts, but had failed on the owls. On 29th November, whilst slowly driving along the dirt tracks, I stopped beside one flooded field where there was a flock of Dunlin. They took flight, thanks to a harrier, and as they circled before returning to the field, I noticed a larger and paler wader with them. I wondered whether it might be a Sanderling. Once they were back in the field, I checked them through and quite quickly refound the bird: a Grey Phalarope. That was brilliant, a bird I had not even put on the potentials list, and only the second that I had ever found in Extremadura.

Rock Sparrow (Martin Kelsey): first seen 21 January

December started with 261 on my Year List. I was leading the field and had broken not just my personal best, but also the all-time record. I wondered would it be possible to reach 265 for the year? The first two weeks of December had record-breaking rainfall. Over half of an average year’s worth of rain fell. There was severe flooding and the reservoirs dramatically filled, to levels that I had not seen for years. We spent a week away to take a break to mark our wedding anniversary. I was back in the field in mid-December, doing fieldwork in the south and checking Alcollarin every afternoon. There were still some gulls that could be added to the list. On 16th December, a sunny afternoon, amongst Black-headed Gulls flying at some distance at the far end of the reservoir, I noticed a smaller gull with more rounded wings, which were dark below. It was an adult Little Gull, a rarity in Extremadura and my first for my local patch.

Iberian Grey Shrike (Martin Kelsey): first seen 8 January

I had been putting off going to the city park in Cáceres to look for the resident Monk Parakeets that live there, but whilst Christmas shopping I took a few minutes to stroll down there. Alarmingly, the park was closed because of damage that the recent gales had done to trees, but I waited at the perimeter until I glimpsed and heard a Monk Parakeet, another feral species in Spain. Christmas passed and my plans for a final visit to La Garganta were thwarted due to persistent high winds or cloudy weather. So instead, David, my sister and I went to the summit of the Villuercas Mountains on a morning miraculously calm, to look for Alpine Accentor, which David had not yet seen during the year. As soon as we got out of the car and walked just a few metres from it, in flew that gem of gems a Wallcreeper. It was the first (and only one) seen in Extremadura in 2022 and we enjoyed spectacular views of it for a few minutes at close range. It is surely a regular wintering visitor to Extremadura but is a classic needle-in-a-haystack bird. To cap it off, we then found a group of Alpine Accentors for David.

Wallcreeper (Martin Kelsey): seen 28 December

The following day I received an email from my friend Neil Renwick. On 28th, he had found an odd-looking wagtail and thought it was a Citrine, but he wanted my opinion on it first. He attached some photos and it was clear to me that it was indeed first-winter Citrine, a first ever for Extremadura! I immediately contacted other birders. I drove down before dawn and did some driving along tracks in the rice fields to be rewarded, at last, by a Short-eared Owl. At first light (at the same place where I had found Aquatic Warber and Red-throated Pipit!), Hugo, Raquel Lozano, David and I started searching for the wagtail. It was two days since Neil had found it, but we felt certain that it would still be present and sure enough, after a couple of hours of checking each suitable looking field, we found the bird. It was 266 for my Year List and a first for Extremadura to boot.

Citrine Wagtail (Martin Kelsey): seen 30 December

I spent the last few hours of daylight on 31st December at Alcollarín, enjoying the gull roost, seeing another Mediterranean Gull. My local patch had proved its worth, I had seen 163 species there during the year. The year ended, I had broken my personal best for a year list in Extremadura and also set a new record. I was two species ahead of the person in second place. For the second year running I had the highest year’s total.

What about the rules I had set myself? 98% of the birds I saw were “self-found” and if I exclude the birds that I subsequently found for myself elsewhere and species found by others that were first for me in Extremadura (like the Citrine Wagtail and Great Northern Diver), then I broke the rule for only 1.5% of the species seen. As for maximizing the number of species seen within 35 km from home, I calculate that the average distance I saw a bird for the first time in the year was 32.47 km. 191 species were recorded for the first time within my 35 km radius. Subsequent sightings closer to home of some species initially recorded further away, showed that 206 species were seen inside the limit. I am impressed by that total.

Little Bustard (Martin Kelsey): first seen 7 February

It had been a great year, especially because of some of the rarities that I had found myself. Yes, I had missed some birds. Red Knot, Ruddy Turnstone, Common Gull and Bald Ibis were all species that were present at sites for several days, but I did not go to see them because it would have broken my rules. I think that had I twitched all possible species, I might have reached 270 species. Do I want to do it again? No. It was a satisfying achievement, but frankly in the last few weeks it became a bit of an obsession, putting in a lot of effort to look for birds like Short-eared Owl, which are always a delight to see, but I have previously seen them always just by chance, by luck.

So, this year, 2023, I will take the birding as it comes. I certainly have some goals and targets. I want to enjoy my local patch birding at Alcollarín, I want to find some more rarities. I have some in mind and I know that with effort and perseverance, it sometimes works (it did with Red-throated Pipit and Aquatic Warbler). I also want to explore some places that I have barely visited before. But this year, I will not mind how many species I see or where I stand in the rankings. Someone else can take the chase. My record is there to be broken.


Griffon and Black Vultures (Martin Kelsey)



 Appendix 1:

Species accumulative curve: the initial surge, levelling off and final bonuses


Appendix 2

List of species seen in chronological order


1, Collared Dove

2, Common Chiffchaff

3, Long-tailed Tit

4, Eurasian Blackcap

5, Sardinian Warbler

6, Spotless Starling

7, Eurasian Blackbird

8, European Robin

9, House Sparrow

10, Hawfinch

11, European Serin

12, Barn Owl

13, Griffon Vulture

14, Crested Tit

15, Eurasian Blue Tit

16, Zitting Cisticola

17, Eurasian Crag Martin

18, Mistle Thrush

19, Black Redstart

20, Blue Rock Thrush

21, Alpine Accentor

22, Common Linnet

23, Cirl Bunting

24, Northern Lapwing

25, White Stork

26, Red Kite

27, Common Buzzard

28, Eurasian Hoopoe

29, Iberian Grey Shrike

30, Iberian Magpie

31, Common Raven

32, Great Tit

33, Woodlark

34, Crested Lark

35, Common Firecrest

36, Song Thrush

37, Redwing

38, Spanish Sparrow

39, White Wagtail

40, Meadow Pipit

41, Common Chaffinch

42, European Greenfinch

43, European Goldfinch

44, Great Northern Diver

45, Black Vulture

46, Thekla’s Lark

47, Dartford Warbler

48, Eurasian Wren

49, European Stonechat

50, Dunnock

51, Western Swamphen

52, Great Cormorant

53, Little Egret

54, Eurasian Spoonbill

55, Western Marsh Harrier

56, Common Kingfisher

57, Common Magpie

58, Eurasian Jackdaw

59, Eurasian Penduline Tit

60, Bearded Tit

61, Cetti’s Warbler

62, Bluethroat

63, Common Waxbill

64, Egyptian Goose

65, Northern Shoveler

66, Gadwall

67, Eurasian Wigeon

68, Mallard

69, Northern Pintail

70, Eurasian Teal

71, Little Grebe

72, Great Crested Grebe

73, Black-necked Grebe

74, Black-headed Gull

75, Lesser Black-backed Gull

76, Black Stork

77, Grey Heron

78, Great White Egret

79, Peregrine Falcon

80, Eurasian Skylark

81, Common Shelduck

82, Eurasian Eagle Owl

83, Grey Wagtail

84, Greylag Goose

85, Greater White-fronted Goose

86, Common Crane

87, Green Sandpiper

88, Common Kestrel

89, Black-winged Stilt

90, Common Snipe

91, Common Greenshank

92, Cattle Egret

93, Hen Harrier

94, Red Avadavat

95, Eurasian Tree Sparrow

96, Eurasian Coot

97, Jack Snipe

98, Common Sandpiper

99, Eurasian Sparrowhawk

100, Little Owl

101, Lesser Spotted Woodpecker

102, Barn Swallow

103, Corn Bunting

104, Canada Goose

105, Red-crested Pochard

106, Common Pochard

107, Common Pheasant

108, European Golden Plover

109, Water Pipit

110, Little Ringed Plover

111, Ruff

112, Dunlin

113, Spotted Redshank

114, Pied Avocet

115, Kentish Plover

116, Common Ringed Plover

117, Eurasian Curlew

118, Black-tailed Godwit

119, Little Stint

120, Common Redshank

121, Long-eared Owl

122, Tawny Owl

123, Garganey

124, Ferruginous Duck

125, Rock Sparrow

126, Red-legged Partridge

127, Common Woodpigeon

128, Short-toed Treecreeper

129, Eurasian Siskin

130, Wood Sandpiper

131, Eurasian Jay

132, Great Spotted Woodpecker

133, Spanish Eagle

134, Bonelli’s Eagle

135, Eurasian Nuthatch

136, Common Moorhen

137, Black-winged Kite

138, Barnacle Goose

139, Common House Martin

140, Iberian Green Woodpecker

141, Golden Eagle

142, Black-bellied Sandgrouse

143, Great Bustard

144, Glossy Ibis

145, Rock Bunting

146, Merlin

147, Water Rail

148, Western Yellow Wagtail

149, Osprey

150, Rock Dove

151, Black Wheatear

152, Sociable Lapwing

153, Brambling

154, Great Spotted Cuckoo

155, Pin-tailed Sandgrouse

156, Calandra Lark

157, Common Starling

158, Stock Dove

159, Little Bustard

160, Stone-curlew

161, White-throated Dipper

162, Little Bittern

163, Black-crowned Night-Heron

164, Lesser Kestrel

165, Common Reed Bunting

166, Egyptian Vulture

167, Red-billed Chough

168, Caspian Tern

169, Squacco Heron

170, Sand Martin

171, Greater Flamingo

172, Yellow-legged Gull

173, Ring-necked Parakeet

174, Carrion Crow

175, Coal Tit

176, Common Crossbill

177, Citril Finch

178, Black Kite

179, Short-toed Eagle

180, Fieldfare

181, Grey Plover

182, Moustached Warbler

183, Sedge Warbler

184, Spotted Crake

185, Pallid Swift

186, Common Quail

187, Western Subalpine Warbler

188, Northern Wheatear

189, Tufted Duck

190, Red-rumped Swallow

191, Yellow-crowned Bishop

192, Common Cuckoo

193, Woodchat Shrike

194, Booted Eagle

195, Eurasian Scops Owl

196, Alpine Swift

197, Purple Heron

198, Savi’s Warbler

199, Willow Warbler

200, Iberian Chiffchaff

201, Collared Pratincole

202, European Bee-eater

203, Greater Short-toed Lark

204, Common Redstart

205, Montagu’s Harrier

206, Common Nightingale

207, Eurasian Wryneck

208, Common Swift

209, Common Reed Warbler

210, Spectacled Warbler

211, Western Orphean Warbler

212, Western Black-eared Wheatear

213, European Roller

214, Gull-billed Tern

215, Mute Swan

216, Black-rumped Waxbill

217, European Pied Flycatcher

218, Great Reed Warbler

219, Red-throated Pipit

220, Whimbrel

221, Curlew Sandpiper

222, Garden Warbler

223, Tree Pipit

224, Melodious Warbler

225, Common Tern

226, Whinchat

227, Eurasian Golden Oriole

228, Temminck’s Stint

229, Bar-tailed Godwit

230, Western Bonelli's Warbler

231, Red-necked Nightjar

232, European Turtle Dove

233, Black Tern

234, Little Tern

235, Whiskered Tern

236, White-rumped Swift

237, Tawny Pipit

238, European Honey-buzzard

239, Common Whitethroat

240, Spotted Flycatcher

241, Common Rock Thrush

242, Ortolan Bunting

243, Western Olivaceous Warbler

244, Rufous-tailed Scrub Robin

245, African Sacred Ibis

246, Eurasian Nightjar

247, Red-backed Shrike

248, Eurasian Hobby

249, Audouin’s Gull

250, Pectoral Sandpiper

251, Aquatic Warbler

252, Sanderling

253, Ruddy Shelduck

254, Eurasian Dotterel

255, Eurasian Bullfinch

256, Mediterranean Gull

257, Yellow-browed Warbler

258, Ring Ouzel

259, Black-legged Kittiwake

260, Goldcrest

261, Grey Phalarope

262, Little Gull

263, Monk Parakeet

264, Wallcreeper

265, Short-eared Owl

266, Citrine Wagtail



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