Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Another Day in the Alentejo

It was another really good day’s birding in the Alentejo yesterday.  With an almost cloudless sky and hardly any wind, the weather was only a little on the cool side of perfect and there was plenty to see.

At this time of year it is almost worth the trip just to see and hear the White Storks.  They’re busy nesting now and it’s fun to watch their displays accompanied by loud bill-clattering.  In bright sunshine, their white, black and red colours make a fine sight against the clear blue sky.

Of course, we also looked for Great Bustards and probably found close to 100 in total.  Some were quite distant but eventually we had reasonably close views of a group of about 40 that included several males that were displaying – they’re much easier to find when they turn themselves into big white powder puffs!

Little Bustards were fewer but even closer.  From the car we were able to watch some that were only a short distance from the road.  The males are already moulting into breeding plumage, showing their distinctive black neck with two white collars.

Most of the Black-bellied Sandgrouse were also quite distant but we did at least have a flock of six pass almost overhead so that we could see some of the plumage details and hear their characteristic flight call.  As they went away from us, the flock split into three pairs that went their separate ways – it’s that time of the year!

It’s because spring is arriving that most of the Common Cranes seem to have left the area and headed back north.  We found only a handful remaining although in previous years we have seen them well into March.

Among the many raptors it was pleasing as always to see Spanish Imperial Eagles, three immature birds putting on a bit of an aerial performance.  It’s fair to say that we are now very disappointed if we don’t see these birds when we visit this area.  And it was good to find that Lesser Kestrels have not only returned but are already occupying nest sites.

We saw only one Great Spotted Cuckoo.  The larvae of processionary moths (Thaumetopoea pityocampa) are among their favourite foods and there are lots of those about the place now.  As usual there have recently been newspaper articles here warning the populace to avoid contact with these caterpillars which in humans can cause reactions ranging from mild itching to anaphylactic shock, yet the cuckoos seem to love them!

It was dusk by the time we got back to Tavira – just right to see a Short-eared Owl flush about 30 Stone-curlews from a field on the outskirts of town.

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