Friday, 16 March 2012

Bustards, Raptors and Lots More

Yesterday we drove just a short way north for another great day in the Baixo Alentejo. It was mostly cloudy and a stiff breeze made it quite chilly at times, so from a weather point of view it could have been better but the birding was excellent.

Our aim, as usual, was to get good views of as many of the areas special birds as possible rather than go for a long list but we still managed to record 77 species during the day. Inevitably, some of them, for instance Quail and Wren, were only heard.

Great Bustard is of course the ‘flagship species’ of the Castro Verde area and at this time of year they’re not difficult to find. We saw about 120 of them during the day. Little Bustards, although more numerous in the area, are much more difficult to see but although we managed only a handful there were some good views.

Little Bustard

There were plenty of raptors as usual. Not only did we see 10 species but we saw all of them very well - Marsh, Hen and Montagu’s Harriers, Red, Black and Black-winged Kites, Short-toed and Spanish Imperial Eagles and both Common and Lesser Kestrels. It was a particularly good day for Spanish Imperial Eagles; twice in the morning we saw two birds together and later three birds gave great views. We saw them from below, we saw one sitting on a fence post and, when we were on top of a small hill we even looked down and saw them from above! It’s hard to say how many different birds were involved in our three sightings; they were some distance apart but it seems unlikely that we saw seven birds.

Red Kite

Although the extensive grasslands were the main focus of attention, the area does have a number of lakes/reservoirs and small ponds. As a result, we saw quite a number of species that most people probably associate more with the Ria Formosa rather than the Baixo Alentejo. Most notable amongst these and a surprise even to us were three Greater Flamingos which looked completely out of place. Others at the same location included Spoonbills, Common and Spotted Redshanks, Greenshank, Northern Pintail, lots of Northern Shoveler and Gadwall and even a female Red-crested Pochard.

Many White Storks appear now to be sitting on eggs but there are still lots of them in the fields and there was one point in the afternoon when we were able to look around us and count 70 birds!

White Stork

Corn Bunting

But the day wasn’t just about the big birds. Corn Buntings are now singing from every roadside fence and we lost count of the Southern Grey Shrikes! We were also quite taken with a Water Pipit that was well into its pink summer dress, a common enough bird but looking very smart indeed. Great Spotted Cuckoos were also among the day’s more popular species, but maybe that's just because of how English people feel about the Common Magpies in whose nests they lay their eggs!

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