Saturday, 18 December 2010

SPANISH IMPERIAL EAGLE: FALSE ALARM

Spanish Imperial Eagle (Aquila adalberti). Adult perched next to its nest. Monfragüe, spring 2010. Photograph taken from 2.5 km away (Javier Prieta).

A previous blog entry expressed some alarm at the apparent fall of Extremadura's population of Spanish Imperial Eagle (Aquila adalberti) from 49 to 41 pairs in two years. These fears were based on the figures sent up by the Regional Government of Extremadura to the national Environment Ministry. At the time, given the unofficial nature of the information we published this bad news with all due caveats. Happily, this apparent decline turns out not to be true, since Extremadura's actual Spanish Imperial Eagle population in 2009 was 47 pairs. This more up-to-date information comes from regional press reports of a visit by EU officials to assess the results of the EU "LIFE Programme" initiative to help conserve this raptor in Spain [read more here]. While waiting with bated breath for the official 2010 figures, which might be somewhat brighter, at least we know that the species has been holding pretty steady in the region in recent years, with a medium term increase since reliable counts have been made. We publish below new graphs of the Spanish Imperial Eagle to correct the ones previously shown in this blog.

Sunday, 12 December 2010

PREPARING THE WINTERING HERON COUNT: LOOKING FOR ROOSTS

Mixed heron roost on the River Alagón (Montehermoso, Cáceres). In winter 2007-2008 the count was 5281 Cattle Egrets (Bubulcus ibis), 150 Little Egrets (Egretta garzetta) and 8 Great White Egrets (Egretta alba). In October 2008 it was occupied anew before being abandoned in November and has never been used since (figures provided by César Clemente and Javier Mahillo).

Every year SEO/BirdLife organises one or more counts of particular bird species or families. In 2011 it's the heron family's turn. A count of wintering birds will be carried out in January before tackling a count of breeding colonies later on. A particular value of this winter count is that it will then be fed into the Spanish Atlas of Wintering Birds, just like the recent coordinated counts of Cranes (December 2007) and gulls (January 2009).

Although several members of the heron family winter in Extremadura, only roost-forming species really lend themselves to systematic counts. The most abundant species in Extremadura is the Cattle Egret (Bubulcus ibis), followed by the Little Egret (Egretta garzetta) and at some distance by the scarcer Great White Egret (Egretta alba). The other heron species have been ruled out of the count, for various reasons. The Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea), although quite numerous, does not form roosts and is not usually gregarious. The Night Heron (Nycticorax nycticorax), although it forms big roosts in Doñana, is basically a summer visitor in Extremadura (albeit with the odd wintering bird). Other summer visitors that sometimes linger on into winter are the Squacco Heron (Ardeola ralloides) and the Purple Heron (Ardea purpurea). Lastly, the Little Bittern (Ixobrychus minutus) and Bittern (Botaurus stellaris), both very shy, have also been left out of this count.

The first step in the project is to find the roosts where the herons congregate each evening. The aim is to sound out the situation before 10 January 2011 and, if possible, by 31 December 2010. The next step will then be to count the birds in all known roosts in January. The ideal situation, volunteers permitting, would be coordinate all counts in the weekend of 14 to 16 January 2011, otherwise the count would have to extended to other dates in January. We therefore need your help: first by communicating any Extremadura heron roosts you may know about and secondly by then taking part in the count (for both purposes send an email to seo.caceres@gmail.com).

The only previous info on wintering herons in Extremadura comes from the Iberian counts carried out in 1992 and 1993 (Fernández-Cruz and Farinha, 1992; Sarasa et al., 1993). The overall results of both counts threw up figures of about 160,000 Cattle Egrets, 10,000 Little Egrets and 1500 Night Herons, with a few Great White Herons, Squacco Herons and Purple Herons thrown in for good measure. The results were broken down by river-catchment areas, so no regional figures are available. Even so, we estimate ball-park figures of 42,000 (1993) and 53.000 (1992) Cattle Egrets in Extremadura, above all in irrigated farmland and more numerous in the Guadiana catchment area (30-35 thousand) than in the Tagus catchment area (13-17 thousand). The Extremadura population is therefore very important (one third of the Iberian total); in 1992 the region also boasted Iberia's biggest roosts (the biggest with 7820 birds in Arroyo Concejo, Cáceres). The Little Egret, with a more coastal range, is less common in the region, accounting for 10% of the Iberian total. Even so the estimated Extremadura winter population is about 1500 for 1992 and 700 for 1993. Once more the Guadiana catchment area comes out tops. The lower 1993 figures for both species can be put down to the drought that hit the area at that time. This information, quite old by now, is only a rough guide for tackling the 2011 count, because many variables might well have changed since then, such as the number and site of landfill sites, new reservoirs, new irrigated farmland and ricefields,...). Prima facie, there now seem to be fewer but bigger roosts than in 1992 and 1993. Anyway, enough chat and let's get down to it!

Distribution maps of Cattle Egret roosts (top) and Little Egret roosts (bottom) in January 1992 (Fernández-Cruz & Farinha, 1992).
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References:
- Fernández-Cruz, M. & Farinha, J. C. 1992. Primer censo de ardeidas invernantes en la penínsulas Ibérica y Baleares (1991-92). Airo 3:41-54. [PDF]
- Sarasa, C. G., Bartolomé, J., Fernández-Cruz, M. & Farinha, J. C. 1993. Segundo censo de ardeidas invernantes en la penínsulas Ibérica y Baleares (1992-93). Airo 4:41-50. [PDF]

Monday, 6 December 2010

NOVEMBER 2010: Notable bird sightings in Extremadura

Firecrest (Regulus ignicapilla). Valdesalor, Cáceres, 29-10-10 (Carlos Fernández Díaz).

A list of the most notable records sent to the GOCE forum in November 2010 (compiled by Sergio Mayordomo).

-Alpine Accentor: 3 at Monesterio (Badajoz) on 27/11 and 6 flocks with 40 birds on passage at Ladrillar, Las Hurdes (Cáceres) (A. Pacheco).
-Osprey: one at Arrocampo Reservoir (Cáceres) on 1/11 (Jaime Collado), at Mérida (Badajoz) on 21/11 (Á. Sánchez) and at Gabriel and Galán Reservoir (Cáceres) on 25/11 (A. Pacheco).
-Booted Eagle: pale phase bird seen at Plasencia (Cáceres) on 3/11, at Montehermoso (Cáceres) on 13/11 (J. Mahillo) and at Mérida landfill site (Badajoz) on 28/11 (Á. Sánchez).
-Egyptian Vulture: 2 adults and one juvenile in the centre of Cáceres province on 1/11 (E. Palacios and M. Á. Muñoz).
-Pink Footed Goose: 2nd record for Extremadura (pending acceptance): one bird on 27/11 feeding on rice stubble at Casas de Hitos (Cáceres/Badajoz) with about 500 Greylags (J. M. Salazar, J. Vilches, J. Arias and Fran).
-Little Bittern: wintering birds on the River Guadiana: one bird at Mérida (Badajoz) on 12/11 (Á. Sánchez) and 3 birds at Badajoz on 12/11 and 2 on 28/11 (J. C. Paniagua).
-House Martin: 15 at Valcorchero, Plasencia (Cáceres) on 11/11 (E. Palacios and S. Mayordomo) and on 12/11 (M. García del Rey).
-Avocet: 9 at La Albuera on 7/11 (J. C. Paniagua) and on 26/11 (J. P. Prieto). 6 birds on ricefields between Palazuelo (Badajoz) and Madrigalejo (Cáceres) on 14/11 (M. Kelsey). 10 on the River Alagón at Riomalo de Abajo (Cáceres) on 23/11 (A. Pacheco).
-Goshawk: one at Salto del Gitano, Monfragüe (Cáceres), on 10/11 (J. L. Rivero).
-Short-Eared Owl: one in the open countryside called Campiña Sur (Badajoz) on 21/11 (A. Núñez).
-Purple Swamphen: one at Valdefuentes gravel pit, Galisteo (Cáceres) on 12/11 (S. Mayordomo). Late breeding record: adult and fledgling on 14/11 at Arrocampo (Cáceres) (J. Briz).
-Garganey: one female at Valdefuentes gravel pit, Galisteo (Cáceres) from 1/11 to 15/11 (J. Prieta and S. Mayordomo).
-Kentish Plover: 3 on ricefields between Palazuelo (Badajoz) and Madrigalejo (Cáceres) on 14/11 (M. Kelsey).
-Dotterel: one juvenile at Guijo de Coria (Cáceres) on 2/11 (J. Prieta) and on 3/11 (S. Mayordomo).
-Red-Billed Chough: one at Mirabel landfill site (Cáceres) on 7/11 (S. Mayordomo) and at San Vicente de Alcántara on 28/11 (J. Gordillo).
-White Stork: first birds at nest on 18/11 zt Zafra (A. Núñez), on 27/11 at San Vicente del Alcántara (J. Gordillo) and on 28/11 at Badajoz (J. C. Paniagua).
-Black Stork: wintering birds at Oliva de Plasencia (Cáceres): one on 10/11 (R. Montero), three on 14/11 (R. Vicente) and six on 17/11 (J. Prieta). Two birds at Moheda Alta, Navalvillar de Pela (Badajoz) on 27/11 (Á. Sánchez).
-Quail: one bird in an olive grove at Mohedas de Granadilla (Cáceres) on 16/11 (A. Pacheco).
-Pin-Tailed Sandgrouse: three flocks with 250 birds at Santa Marta de Magasca (Cáceres) on 10/11 (M. Kelsey).
-Squacco Heron: one on ricefields at Palazuelo (Badajoz) on 14/11 (M. Kelsey).
-Mediterranean Gull: one at Mérida landfill site (Badajoz) on 4/11 and two on 7/11 (Á. Sánchez).
-Common Gull: one first-winter bird at Mérida landfill site (Badajoz) on 4/11 and two on 7/11 and 28/11 (Á. Sánchez).
-Yellow-Legged Gull: several at Mérida landfill site (Badajoz) on 7/11 and two on 28/11 (Á. Sánchez).
-Black Kite: two at Navalmoral de la Mata (Cáceres) on 1/11 (J. Briz, M. García del Rey and V. Risco) and a juvenile at Cáceres on 10/11 (M. Kelsey).
-Tufted Duck: 71 birds at Charca de Brozas (Cáceres) on 28/11 (E. Palacios and S. Mayordomo).
-Goldcrest: two in Mediterranean woodland at Monfragüe (Cáceres) on 6/11 (S. Mayordomo). Abundant in the pinewoods of Las Hurdes (Cáceres) during the 2nd week of November (A. Pacheco). Three at Cabezabellosa (Cáceres) on 9/11 (R. Montero).
-Shelduck: 3 at Valdecañas Reservoir (Cáceres) on 25/11 and 12 at Moheda Alta, Navalvillar de Pela (Badajoz) on 27/11 (Á. Sánchez).
-Black-Necked Grebe: 2 at Charca de Brozas (Cáceres) on 28/11 (E. Palacios and S. Mayordomo).

Lingering summer visitors
-Wheatear: One at Villanueva de la Vera (Cáceres) (Dave Langlois) and 5 at Acehúche (Cáceres) (E. Palacios and M. A. Muñoz) on 1/11. One at Guijo de Coria (Cáceres) on 2/11 (J. Prieta).
-Willow Warbler: two at Talaván Reservoir (Cáceres) on 1/11 (Antonio Ceballos).
-Alpine Swift: One at Mérida (Badajoz) on 12/11 (Á. Sánchez).

First wintering visitors
-Brambling: One female at Cornalvo (Badajoz) on 12/11 (José Ledo).
-Redwing: One at Villanueva de la Vera (Cáceres) on 1/11 (D. Langlois).

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

NORTH-AFRICAN LONG-LEGGED BUZZARD IN EXTREMADURA: THE TIP OF THE ICEBERG?

North-African Long-Legged Buzzard (Buteo rufinus cirtensis), adult in captivity. September 2010, Plasencia, Cáceres (J. Prieta). Typical adult with rufous plumage, pale breast and darker thighs ("trousers") and unbarred reddish tail.

The Long-Legged Buzzard (Buteo rufinus) lives in North Africa (cirtensis subspecies) and in Eastern Europe (rufinus subspecies); it is hard to tell apart from the Common Buzzard (Buteo buteo). Check out specialist guides and internet sites (e.g., , here, here and here) to find out more about its complex identification features. As a general rule, however, any particularly pale or rufous buzzards in the field should be checked carefully. The Buzzard is a notoriously variable species but the birds in Extremadura, where it is abundant, are usually dark and fairly uniform.

The Long-Legged Buzzard is classed as a rare vagrant in Spain and observations have to be vetted by SEO's Rarities Committee. Taking only officially accepted records into account, it comes out as extremely rare in Extremadura, where there has only been one confirmed observation: an adult of unknown subspecies seen on 06/12/05 in Regina, Badajoz (J. J. Ramos Encalado, Ardeola 54:419). Possibly the same bird was seen in the same site on 25 and 26/12/05 and in January 2006 (Javier Salcedo et al). The tip of the supposed iceberg is therefore tiny. And to give a good idea of the identification difficulties, this particular bird was considered by some observers to be a Steppe Buzzard (Buteo buteo vulpinus).

Long-Legged Buzzard (Buteo rufinus) dark adult. 1-5-2009. Regina, Badajoz (drawing and fieldnotes by Juan José Ramos Encalado). The uniformly red tail tells us it's an adult.

There are now at least three other observations up before the Rarities Committee. One from 01/05/09 in Palomas, Badajoz (Antonio Matador): a 2nd-year bird, possibly of the cirtensis subspecies, casually photographed without the least idea it could be a Long-Legged Buzzard and then confirmed by several experts (Andrea Corso, Ernest García, Javier Elorriaga). Curiously enough, on the same day and only 35 km away an immature was recorded between Usagre and Hinojosa (Xurxo Piñeiro), but we don't know if this record has been sent in to the Rarities Committee.
Buzzard (Buteo sp.). Possible Long-Legged Buzzard (B. rufinus) immature. 1-5-2009. Palomas, Badajoz (Antonio Matador). It shows rufous plumage, pale breast and dark "trousers". The lightly barred tail tells us it's an immature.

Another two were recorded in 2010, once more 2nd-year cirtensis, near Trujillo, which might be two birds or the same bird seen twice: on 11/06/10 in Belén, to the east of Trujillo (Ernest García; ex member of the Rarities Committee) and on 22-23/06/10 in Los Cerralbos, to the west of Trujillo (Martin Kelsey). In this same zone there were other tentative observations in April and May that have not been sent up for acceptance.

Buzzard (Buteo sp.). Possible Long-Legged Buzzard (B. rufinus cirtensis) immature. 11-6-2010. Belén, Trujillo, Cáceres (Ernest García).

Further west there are other uncertain records, including one on 10/4/10 between Cáceres and Santa Marta de Magasca of another possible immature (Godfried Schreur and Jan van Schaik).
Buzzard (Buteo sp.). Possible Long-Legged Buzzard (B. rufinus), immature. 10-4-2010. Between Santa Marta de Magasca and Cáceres (Jan van Schalk).

On 18/4/10 a different bird was again seen in Santa Marta de Magasca: an immature female with some rufinus features. This bird was accompanied by a male Common Buzzard, both giving out the characteristic Buzzard mew and showing similar behaviour (John Muddeman and John Cramer).

Buzzard (Buteo sp.). Possible Long-Legged Buzzard (B. rufinus), immature. 18-4-2010. Santa Marta de Magasca, Cáceres (John Cramer).

The Long-Legged Buzzard may well be more common in Extremadura than it seems, especially if we include in our trawl observations that were never sent in for ratification for one reason or another (identification doubts, groups of tourists pushed for time, lack of interest, etc.). Since 2005 there has been a series of possible Long-Legged Buzzard sightings. With all due caveats when working with unratified records, SEO-Cáceres has compiled the following list:

* 2005. At least 6 birds in April-May 2005 in Trujillo (3), Llanos de Cáceres (2) and Vegas Altas (1). In Belén, Trujillo, three birds, two light and one dark, recorded by at least 14 different observers between 17/04 and 29/05/05. First record of a light bird and another dark bird on 17/04/05 (S. Villa, T. Driscoll and B. Driscoll); the light bird was seen on 19/04/05 and 20/04/05 (J. Muddeman); on 20/04/05 a dark bird was seen hard by in Torrecillas de la Tiesa (J. J. Saiz); a bird on 22/04/05 and on 23/04/05 (M. Kelsey); a bird on 1/05/05 (Á. Molina and A. López; J. Portillo and J. Portillo) and on 5/05/05 (S. Villa); a bird was seen on 8/05/05 (A. López and J. Diego Acevedo); the bird was still present on 29/05/05 (K. Parker, G. Dodd); in May two light birds were seen (J Muddeman) and one dark (S. Villa). In Cáceres-Santa Marta de Magasca, 25 km west of Belén: two putative birds of the cirtensis race in late April 2005 (S. Villa, J. Boyes and J. Boyes) and a dark bird in May (S. Villa). In Vegas Altas: one light bird in May 2005 (J. Muddeman).
* 2006 and 2007. No information.
* 2008. One putative juvenile in Belén, Trujillo, on 4/05/08 (S. Villa)

Buzzard (Buteo sp.). Possible Long-Legged Buzzard (B. rufinus). April 2004. Belén, Trujillo, Cáceres (Santi Villa).

Let's hope the picture becomes clearer in the future. At present we have little to go on but the supposed presence of 2nd-year cirtensis birds in Spring in steppeland areas could reflect the dispersal of immature Long-Legged Buzzards from North Africa to southwest Iberia. The species has been breeding in Andalusia at least since 2009 (Elorriaga & Román, 2010), and in 2010 there were cases there of hydridisation with Common Buzzard (J. Elorriaga, pers. comm.); precedents of such crosses are known from Italy. Given the close genetic similarity of both species the hybrids might well be fertile. And if these crosses are occurring unbeknown to us there might be hybrids from more than one generation at large in the field, exacerbating the identification difficulties even more. Moreover, the taxonomy has not yet been well defined, since the morphologically different buzzards from the Western Palearctic are genetically very similar. Some authorities consider them to be subspecies rather than full species; on the other hand other pundits separate "B. cirtensis" as a full species in its own right. To complicate matters even more, a recent study moots the validity of the Iberian subspecies B. buteo hispaniae, morphologically different from other European forms (Kruckenhauser, et al., 2004) and sometimes showing a reddish tail.

Acknowledgements: thanks to Javier Elorriaga for his help in identifying the photos and his input of information. To Sergio Mayordomo for compiling the previous records (2005-2008). To the colleagues of GOCE forum who have swapped observations and opinions.

Sources:
- Elorriaga, J. & Román, A. 2010. Primeros casos de reproducción e invernada del busardo moro en la península ibérica. Quercus, 293:32-34. [read more]. Results on 2010, Quercus 298:15.
- Kruckenhauser, L., Haring, E., Pinsker, W., Riesing, M. J., Winkler, H., Wink, M. & Gamauf, A. 2004. Genetic vs. morphological differentiation of Old World buzzards (genus Buteo, Accipitridae). Zoologica Scripta, 33:197-211. [PDF]

Friday, 26 November 2010

THE COMMON SNIPE IN SPAIN: NEW PUBLICATION

Common Snipe (Gallinago gallinago). Galisteo Lake, Cáceres. 06-10-2004 (J. Prieta).

As part of its "monitoring birds" series, SEO/BirdLife has just brought out a new booklet on the shy Common Snipe (Gallinago gallinago), one of many species that are all too often overlooked by government authorities and researchers and receive attention only from a few stalwart (and almost always unpaid) amateur sleuths. This interesting booklet can now be downloaded in PDF version. Only a hundred-odd pairs of Snipe breed in Spain. About ten are still hanging on in Ourense, hitherto the Spanish population's stronghold before Antelas Lake dried up, and there are about 60-105 pairs in hay meadows in the Avila sierras, just behind the now snowy Gredos peaks in the north of Extremadura. This magnificent fieldwork is still underway for the authors have unearthed new pairs in 2010 in zones of Ávila where the book had previously cited them (M. Lorenzo, pers. comm.). From here we want to add our own pennyworth, because although the book records the Snipe as absent from the Sierra de Guadarrama, César Clemente (SEO-Cáceres) has proven their presence in Navas del Marqués (Ávila), where he was lucky enough to watch the magnificent drumming display flight in spring 2008.



- Lorenzo, M. and Planelles, P. 2010. La agachadiza común en España. Población en 2009 y método de censo. SEO/BirdLife. Madrid.
[in Spanish, with English abstract]

Download: click on the image of the book cover

Saturday, 20 November 2010

THE CORMORANT AND THE CATFISH

Subadult Cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo) catching a Black Bullhead Catfish (Ameiurus melas). Galisteo, Cáceres. 02-11-2010 (J. Prieta).

The above sequence of photos shows a Black Bullhead Catfish (Ameiurus melas) being caught and eaten by a Cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo). The photos would obviously win no prizes; neither is the observation anything out of the ordinary, since Cormorants are skilful fishers. The surprising factor is the place, a recently opened and shallow gravel pit where you wouldn't expect to find fish of this size yet. And the worrying aspect is that this gravel pit should already be occupied by an invasive species that is quickly spreading in native waters. In every single visit to this gravel pit we have seen successful Cormorant captures of Black Bullhead Catfish, which is also a prey species of Little Grebe and several heron species (Grey Heron, Little Egret, Great White Egret).

The Black Bullhead Catfish, native to North America belongs to the siluriformes order, which does not exist naturally on the Iberian Peninsula. Its biggest Extremadura populations are in the catchment areas of the rivers Tiétar and Alagón. As in so many other cases it has been introduced deliberately and also as the accidental result of escaped livebait. There are also records of another introduced North American catfish in Extremadura, the Channel Catfish (Ictalurus punctatus) dating from the 1990s in the Badajoz reservoirs of Zújar and La Serena. Luckily there have been no more recent records. Lastly a third siluriforme, the European Catfish, also called Wels Catfish or Sheatfish (Silurus glanis), has also found its way into some Extremadura reservoirs. In Cedillo there was a one-off record from the 1990s and another was caught in Alcántara reservoir in 2008, this time within the Monfragüe National Park. In this case we are not talking about any old fish but a species that can grow 2.5 metres long and weigh over 100 kg! Native to the large rivers of Central Europe, it is a rapacious predator that has become highly prized by some fishermen, who insist on introducing it illegally wherever they can. Something akin to releasing lions or tigers in our dehesas.

The boom in introduced species contrasts sharply with the lamentable situation of our native species. Largely overlooked, these small denizens of our rivers often turn out to be surprisingly diverse. The latest studies continue to differentiate new species with tiny ranges; endemics have been discovered for Salamanca, Guadalajara and Málaga. In Extremadura the most similar case is the ray-finned species Cobitis vettonica, called Vettonian Spined-loach (Cobitis vettonica) in Spanish. It is exclusive to the catchment area of the river Alagón from which it takes its name, straddling the provinces of Salamanca and Cáceres, with its biggest populations in the rivers Alagón, Jerte and Ambroz.

References: - Pérez-Bote, J. L. 2006. Peces introducidos en Extremadura. Análisis histórico y tendencias de futuro. Revista de Estudios Extremeños 1:485-494 [PDF] - Pérez-Bote, J. L. & Roso, R. 2009. First record of the European catfish Silurus glanis Linnaeus, 1758 (Siluriformes, Siluridae) in the Alcántara reservoir (Tagus basin, Spain). Anales de Biología, 31:59-60. [PDF] - Leunda, P. M. et al. 2009. International Standardization of Common Names for Iberian Endemic Freshwater Fishes. Limnetica, 28:189-202. [PDF]

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

THE JOURNEY OF "SAHEL", AN EGYPTIAN VULTURE

Bird migration is a fascinating subject. We watch with awe as birds of all sizes clock up journeys of thousands of kilometres under their own steam in only a few days, living each year in two (or sometimes even three) different continents. The new technologies, especially satellite tracking, have revolutionised our knowledge of migration. We can now keep abreast of it day by day, find out the routes used, the speed and height flown at, the stopover points, etc. All you need to do is drop into a website. Sitting comfortably in front of a PC screen, anyone nowadays can thrill to the epic journeys, not always with a happy outcome, of storks, raptors, gulls and waders, courtesy of generous promoters who furnish us with the information. In Spain, unfortunately, this information is not always so forthcoming. It's easier to keep track of birds marked in Holland, Estonia or even Australia than others born in our own country. As always, happily, there are exceptions. WWF and Fundación Biodiversidad have set up a magnificent website we can dip into at will to marvel at the odyssey of four Segovia Egyptian Vultures, one immature male and three adults (two females and one male). This is the second year of the project. Unfortunately, one of the stars of the first journey, the male Atlas, died poisoned in Siruela (Badajoz). The female Vega survived and is once more being spied on this second time around.

We recommend dropping into the website "el viaje del alimoche" before reading the following nutshell account of the journey of Sahel, the only inmature of these four Egyptian Vultures and the only one that passed through Extremadura. All of them are now in Mauritania, in the same zone where they wintered in 2009, after clocking up 3000 km, sometimes flying at 95 km/hour at a height of 2000 metres. Sahel was the first to leave the Hoces de Riaza (Segovia) on 30 August, the three adults then following suit on 12 and 15 September. It first headed west for Salamanca, where it spent some time near Ciudad Rodrigo. The real journey begun on 5 September when it headed south through the Sierra de Gata (Descargamaría, Santibáñez el Alto), the Cáceres plains (Coria, Portaje, Garrovillas, Cáceres) and the province of Badajoz (Mérida and Zafra). On 7 September Sahel entered Andalucía; after overflying Sevilla it reached the Straits of Gibraltar on 8 September. In two days it had crossed the whole 400 km of Extremadura and needed only four to leave Spain completely. On 9 September its stepped up its pace, arriving at the Moroccan Atlas mountains after crossing the strait in a nonstop 500 km stage. Here it rested up a while to gird its loins for the Sahara crossing. On 12 September it entered the great desert, passing through Algeria and Mali before reaching its final destination in the Mauritanian Sahel on 20 September. A sixteen-day voyage. Its virtual companions took a little longer, reaching the same destination between 27 and 30 September. Best of luck to all of them. We'll see you next spring.

Read other Egyptian Vulture entries in Birds of Extremadura.

Friday, 12 November 2010

ARE RESERVOIRS GOOD OR BAD FOR BIRDS?

Sierra Brava Reservoir, Zorita, Cáceres (Ángel Sánchez)

Every month this blog publishes a list of the most notable observations of the previous month. Even the most cursory glance at one of these monthly lists shows a striking fact: the sheer number of these observations that are made in reservoirs. The percentage was particularly high last October, at about 80% of the total. As ecologists, however, we always come out strongly against any new reservoir project. Why the paradox? If reservoirs are so bad why do we spend so much time birdwatching in them? This begs a question we cannot afford to shirk.

The answer is at once very simple and very difficult, simple in principle and difficult as it actually pans out in practice. Basically, reservoirs might be good wintering and passage sites but they are very poor breeding grounds. The huge sheet of water seen from the air pulls down many migrating birds for a pit-stop, especially wildfowl and other aquatic birds like ducks, geese and waders. On winter nights these reservoirs can also be excellent roosting sites, especially for such an iconic Extremadura bird as the Crane, and we all flock to reservoirs like Rosarito and Sierra Brava to watch gobsmacked the huge incoming flocks of these magnificent birds. As breeding sites, however, reservoirs are pretty hopeless. The everchanging banks give lakeside vegetation no chance to take hold, making it very difficult or impossible for any phragmites reedbeds to build up, a sine qua non for typical wetland species to breed there. There are exceptions of course. Arrocampo, due to its particular purpose of cooling the Almaráz nuclear power plant, has to hold its water levels fairly steady. This has allowed at least a substantial reedmace bed to grow there, if not a phragmites reedbed. This has now become home to breeding species like Purple Heron and Purple Swamphen, scarce elsewhere in the region. In Rosarito Reservoir, straddling the Cáceres-Toledo border, there is now a large and stable Cormorant colony. Little Terns sometimes try to breed there, without much success. In general, however, reservoirs provide few birds with breeding territory but they wipe out huge swathes of it for others. The amount of breeding grounds that are lost by such a sudden and aggressive act as flooding a whole river valley is incalculable and irreversible.

Hence the dichotomy: reservoirs can be great wintering sites (by day and night) and migration stopover points, but at what cost to the birds that previously bred in the area? The huge rafts of ducks floating on the Sierra Brava reservoir are a staggering sight. But most of them don't even feed there, simply resting up there before winging out to feed on the surrounding rice fields. The Cranes that nowadays roost in our reservoirs have almost certainly been roosting in the general area for centuries; it's just that nowadays they are concentrated in an area that, well managed, offers them greater security. (Badly managed, reservoirs might even turn out to be harmful for them. Take the case of Rosarito. Even though it is a SPA site, fishermen are allowed to drive their cars right to the water's edge and quads and motorbikes scramble on the sand when water levels are low, precisely when the Cranes are arriving tired from their autumn odyssey and are in greatest need of rest). The rare waders that turn up on the muddy edges of our reservoirs, however interesting they might be (and we all might twitch for them as a once-in-a-lifetime event) are largely irrelevant. They could almost certainly have rested up equally well in thousands of other sites. But the Great and Little Bustards that have been driven out for good?

Neither is it all about birds. Damning rivers has dire effects for fish-life; hence Extremadura's rather poor ichtyofauna. Fish are in fact the most threatened group of vertebrates in the region. Our otters are probably also hard put to deal with all the shifting water levels and changes in the region's water courses. The biggest known heronry in Extremadura was drowned for ever beneath the waters of the Sierra Brava reservoir, now a paradoxical birdwatching Mecca.

The damage is particularly severe when a reservoir project involves a site of great importance for a threatened species, like the Monteagudo project in the River Tiétar (Ávila), which would destroy breeding territory of Imperial Eagle. If, god forbid, it should go ahead, I guess that in 10 or 20 years, like the fallible mortals we are, always looking for the quick fix, we would all wend our way there to tick off the latest rarity that turns up on spring or autumn passage. But I'm equally sure that all of us, put on the spot, would gladly swap this juicy but one-off sighting for the Imperial Eagle or even the buzzard or scores of scrub warblers that bred there in the past and have now had to look for other outlets in an ever-dwindling range of possibilities.

Dave Langlois. Villanueva de la Vera

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

A WINTERING HONEY BUZZARD IN EXTREMADURA

Following a Wallcreeper blog entry published a few days ago we received an old Monfragüe Wallcreeper record. The list of birds furnished by the observer, Alan Parker, included an astonishing sighting of a Honey Buzzard (Pernis apivorus) at Salto del Gitano on the same day as the Wallcreeper (11 January 1989). The record is 100% reliable. Alan himself mentioned in his notes how totally unexpected it was to see a Honey Buzzard in January. There is no other Extremadura record at a similar date, though we're not sure whether or not the record is unprecedented at national or European level.

In Extremadura Honey Buzzards are summer visitors, arriving in early May and leaving by September. There have been occasional sightings in February (23 and 27/02/2000) and March (13/03/99 and 19/03/99). Source: Anuario Ornitológico de Extremadura.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

OCTOBER 2010: Notable Bird Sightings in Extremadura

Turnstone (Arenaria interpres). Esparragalejo, 3.10.10 (Ángel Sánchez)

A list of the most notable records sent to the GOCE forum in October 2010 (compiled by Sergio Mayordomo). We'd like to include non-GOCE sightings as well but no one sends any. Why not send in yours to seo.caceres@gmail.com.

- Bonelli's Eagle: a 2nd-year bird caught a juvenile Cormorant at Casatejada (Cáceres) on 02/10 (S. Mayordomo).
- Egyptian Vulture: one bird in Membrío (Cáceres) on 14/10 (G. Schreur and J. Tarriño).
-Avocet: one ringed bird at Talaván Reservoir (Cáceres) on 07/10 (R. Montero), another at Arroyoconejos Reservoir (Badajoz) on 18/10 (A. Núñez Ossorio); 11 birds at La Albuera (Badajoz) from 23/10 to 28/10 (J. C. Paniagua and A. N. Ossorio).
- Lesser Kestrel: one bird at El Gordo (Cáceres) on 17/10 (J. Briz and V. Risco).
- Grey Plover: one at La Albuera (Badajoz) from 23/10 to 28/10 (J. C. Paniagua and A. N. Ossorio).
- White Stork: Between 1500 and 2500 birds in Mérida's Ecoparque (Badajoz) throughout October 2010 (Ángel Sánchez) and 134 at Mirabel on 27/10 (J. Prieta and S. Mayordomo).
- Black Stork: 33 birds at Orellana Reservoir(Badajoz) on 24/10 (Á. Sánchez).
- Buff-Breasted Sandpiper: one bird at Valdecañas Reservoir (Cáceres) on 15/10 (Á. Sánchez).
- Curlew Sandpiper: One bird at Valdecañas Reservoir on 17/10 (J. Briz and V. Risco).
- Red-Necked Phalarope (see photo): one at Esparragalejo on 14/09 (J. M. Benítez).
- Grey Phalarope: One bird at Cancho del Fresno Reservoir, Cañamero (Cáceres), on 02/10 (S. Mayordomo).
- Whiskered Tern: A juvenile at Talaván Reservoir(Cáceres) on 07/10 (R. Montero) and 3 birds at Esparragalejo (Badajoz) on 23/10 (Á. Sánchez).
- Egyptian Goose: One pair with 9 chicks at Ibahernando Reservoir(Cáceres) on 05/10 (G. Sánchez Peña) and 4 birds at Talaván Reservoir (Cáceres)on 22/10 (S. Mayordomo).
- Great White Egret: 15 birds at Casatejada (Cáceres) on 02/10 (S. Mayordomo).
- Audouin's Gull: A young bird at Mérida's Ecoparque (Badajoz) on 05/10 (Á. Sánchez).
- Yellow-Legged Gull: One bird at Valdecañas Reservoir(Cáceres) on 17/10 (J. Briz and V. Risco) and a 3rd-winter bird at Mérida's Ecoparque (Badajoz) on 21/10 (Á. Sánchez).
- Red-Rumped Swallow: 3 fledglings still being fed by adults at Orellana (Badajoz) on 21/10 (Á. Sánchez).
- Glossy Ibis: One bird at Palazuelo (Badajoz) on 11/10 (J. García).
- Wood Duck: One eclipse drake at Casas de Belvís (Cáceres) on 09/10 (J. Briz).
- Common Waxbill: 6 birds at River Jerte, Plasencia (Cáceres) on 01/10 and several birds at Valdefuentes gravel pit, Galisteo (Cáceres) on 19/10 (R. Montero).
- Wallcreeper: One bird at Monfragüe (Cáceres) on 11/10 (Tom and Greg Marbett).
- Turnstone: One bird at Esparragalejo (Badajoz) on 03/10 (Á. Sánchez; top photo).

Last post-breeding observations
- Osprey: one at Valuengo Reservior(Badajoz) on 15/10 (A. Núñez Ossorio). Another seen at Los Canchales Reservior(Badajoz) on 16/10 (A. Matador) and 20/10 (Godfried Schreur).
- Booted Eagle: one pale morph at Moraleja (Cáceres) on 05/10 (C. Clemente)and a dark morph at Mérida (Badajoz) on 18/10 (Á. Sánchez).
- Montagu's Harrier: one near Montijo (Badajoz) on 05/10 (Á. Sánchez).
- Hobby: one at El Gordo (Cáceres) on 17/10 (J. Briz and V. Risco).
- House Martin: nine at La Codosera (Badajoz) on 24/10 (G. Schreur).
- Sedge Warbler: two at Granja de Granadilla (Cáceres) on 10/10 (R. Montero).
- Reed Warbler: one at Talaván Reservoir(Cáceres) on 22/10 (S. Mayordomo).
- European Nightjar: one at San Vicente de Alcántara (Badajoz) on 23/10 (G. Schreur).
- Common Redstart: one at Guijo de Coria (Cáceres) on 06/10 (S. Mayordomo).
- Short-Toed Eagle: one at Almendralejo (Badajoz) on 18/10 (R. Vicente).
- Subalpine Warbler: one at Badajoz (Badajoz) on 02/10 (J. C. Paniagua)
- Purple Heron: one at Badajoz (Badajoz) on 07/10 (J. C. Salgado), a young bird at Casas de Belvís (Cáceres) on 09/10 (J. Briz) and one bird in Granja de Granadilla on 10/10 (R. Montero).
- Yellow Wagtail: three at Galisteo (Cáceres) on 21/10 (J. Prieta and S. Mayordomo).
- Pied Flycatcher: several at Plasencia (Cáceres) on 15/10 (E. Palacios and S. Mayordomo) and four at La Albuera (Badajoz) on 23/10 (J. C. Paniagua).
- Whinchat: one bird at Jerte Reservoir(Cáceres) on 20/10 (J. Prieta) and another at Galisteo (Cáceres) on 21/10 (S. Mayordomo).
- Pallid Swift: 4 birds at Piornal (Cáceres) on 13/10 and one at Plasencia on 17/10 (J. Prieta).

Earliest winter visitors
- Dunnock: several at Monfragüe on 18/10 (J. Prieta)
- Hen Harrier: two at Llerena (Badajoz) on 18/10 and one male at Granja de Torrehermosa (Badajoz) on 21/10 (A. Núñez Ossorio).
- Greylag Goose: two flocks of 14 and 16 birds at Los Ibores (Cáceres) on 12/10 (J. Briz and V. Risco) and 5 birds at Valdecañas Reservoir(Cáceres)on 15/10 (Á. Sánchez).
- Water Pipit: 6 birds at Galisteo (Cáceres) on 13/10 (J. Prieta).
- Bullfinch: two birds at Villanueva de la Vera (Cáceres)on 23/10 (D. Langlois and S. Langlois) and one at San Vicente de Alcántara (Badajoz) on the same date(J. Gordillo).
- Golden Plover: four at Aldea del Cano (Cáceres) on 27/10 (G. Schreur) and six at Valdeíñigos (Cáceres) on 30/10 (R. Guzmán).
- Reed Bunting: one at Talaván Reservoir(Cáceres) on 29/10 (G. Schreur).
- Merlin: one juvenile/female at Galisteo (Cáceres) on 04/10 (S. Mayordomo)and another at Guijo de Coria (Cáceres) on 13/10 (J. Prieta).
- European Starling: over 15 birds at Guijo de Coria (Cáceres) on 13/10 (J. Prieta).
- Crane: thirteen over Trujillo (Cáceres) on 09/10 (Martin Kelsey). Estimation of about 17,822 birds in the central zone (Badajoz/Cáceres) on 29/10 (M. Gómez Calzado).
- Siskin: several at Piornal (Cáceres) on 07/10 (J. Prieta) and one at Villanueva de la Vera (Cáceres) on 13/10 (D. Langlois).
- Stock Dove: 3 birds seen at Galisteo (Cáceres) on 19/10 (R. Montero) and 90 in flight on 26/10 (S. Mayordomo).
- Goldcrest: two at Piornal (Cáceres) on 26/10 (J. Prieta).

Sunday, 7 November 2010

BIRDS OF EXTREMADURA (AVES DE EXTREMADURA) IN A BOOK OF BLOGS

On 31 October 2010 the Fundación Xavier de Salas brought together in Trujillo a sizeable group of Extremadura bloggers, mainly nature photographers but also news bloggers (birds in our case and other groups dealing with orchids and geology). The central moment came with the presentation of a small book containing a selection of up-and-running online blogs. Most of these blogs are for the personal expression of one blogger; Aves de Extremadura is one with a group character. This means that all of you who collaborate in Aves de Extremadura in any way, whether with observations or photos, should rightfully consider yourselves to be participants in this book. The biggest source of info, images, ideas and inspiration is without doubt the GOCE forum, a meeting point that is now recording an almost frenetic rate of activity. No fewer than 643 messages in October and 248 in the first eight days of November!! GOCE has never before been in such rude health. The growth of the forum has coincided in time with the launch of this blog (and another one of SEO-Cáceres) so the two events may well be causally related. Aves de Extremadura received almost 2000 hits last month and has been chalking up a daily mean of 100-150 hits lately.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

PRESS REPORTS OF VULTURES IN EXTREMADURA

Monk Vulture (Aegypius monachus). Llanos de Cáceres, 1-11-2010 (Carlos Fernández)

There have recently been some press reports of vultures in Extremadura (read here, read here). With the logical caveats, we pass on some of this information below.

- Since 1993 Extremadura has donated 71 Monk Vultures, 151 Griffon Vultures and 5 Egyptian Vultures to reintroduction projects in Catalunya, the Balearics, France, Italy, Bulgaria, Bosnia and Greece, among others. Most were juveniles from wildlife rescue centres.

- In the last ten years the Los Hornos Wildlife Rescue Centre (Centro de Recuperación Los Hornos) in Sierra de Fuentes has taken in and cared for 938 Griffon Vultures, 217 Monk Vultures and 32 Egyptian Vultures. Malnutrition cases have soared since 2005.

- In the whole region, according to government figures, there are 859 pairs of Monk Vulture and 166 pairs of Egyptian Vulture. Sierra de San Pedro and Monfragüe boast the biggest colonies of Monk Vulture, with 352 and 315 pairs respectively; the colony of Sierra de Gata is home to 54 pairs [N.B. in none of these cases is the year mentioned].

- Since 2003 the Regional Council of Extremadura (Junta de Extremadura) has verified 98 cases of vulture poisoning.

Check out related blog entries: Egyptian Vulture, Griffon Vulture, Rüppell's Vulture, Monk Vulture

Saturday, 30 October 2010

EGYPTIAN GEESE IN EXTREMADURA. WHERE DO THEY COME FROM?

Egyptian Goose (Alopochen aegyptiacus), adult. Cornalvo Natural Park, Badajoz. 16-06-10 (José Ledo)

The Egyptian Goose (Alopochen aegyptiacus) is one of the most numerous of the African Anatidae. Mainly sedentary, it is native to Africa south of the Sahara and in the Nile valley. It also has thriving feral populations in some European countries, estimated to be about 2000 pairs at the end of the twentieth century. Most of these feral birds are in the UK (700 pp. in 2000) and Holland, with a growing number in Belgium and a scattering of birds in Germany and France. In 2009 it was officially declared to be a pest species in the UK.

Egyptian Goose (Alopochen aegyptiacus), two adults and two juvs. Talaván Reservoir, Cáceres. 22-10-10 (Sergio Mayordomo)

In Spain it was considered to be a rare vagrant until 2006; it is currently listed as an introduced species breeding sporadically without established populations (Grupo de Aves Exóticas). A check of the records up to 2003 (De Juana, 2006) shows year-round presence with winter peaks. This is explained by the arrival of birds from Europe and escapes from wildfowl collections, plus the birds born in Spain from feral birds.

Egyptian Goose (Alopochen aegyptiacus), pair of adults with nine chicks (only eight seen in the photo). Ibahernando Reservoir, 5-10-10 (Genaro Sánchez Peña)

As with most introduced species the number of sightings in Extremadura has shown an upward trend since the first record in 1993, becoming almost regular after 2007 when the first proved breeding occurred near Trujillo. Up to 2008 there has been a total of 19 records involving 60 individuals, 49 of them in 2007 and 2008 and with peaks in October and September. Taken together the sightings tally with the three abovementioned hypotheses about their origin. Some are obviously escapes, such as the birds seen in Sierra Brava and Casas de Hitos, where there is a large wildfowl collection nearby. Other individuals seem to come from the European population, such as the pair of adults with two juveniles seen in Talaván (middle photo). Lastly, there are the birds that breed in Extremadura, though there is as yet only one known breeding pair in Ibahernando Reservoir, Cáceres, which bred at least in 2007 (6 young), 2009 (11 young) and 2010 (9 young; bottom photo) (Julián Panadero; Genaro Sánchez Peña; Steve Fletcher). But there are other birds whose origin is harder to track down (top photo).

- De Juana, E. (2006). Las aves raras de España. Lynx Edicions. Barcelona

Friday, 29 October 2010

WALLCREEPER IN MONFRAGÜE

The above picture has been borrowed from the Birdingextremadura blog of our colleague Martin Kelsey. The photographers were Tom and Greg Marbett, who were lucky enough to spot a Wallcreeper (Tichodroma muraria) in the carpark of Salto del Gitano in Monfragüe on 11 October 2010. A subsequent check of the records showed, surprisingly, that there is only one other published Wallcreeper sighting in Monfragüe, dating from 11 years ago in 1999 (J.A. Ojalvo, although we know of other records that were never published, including a much earlier observation by Alan Parker dating from 11 January 1989). The three Extremadura Ornithological Yearbooks published up to now record only two other sightings in the whole region up to 2003, one in 1989 and the other in 1991, both from the same observer (Godfried Schreur). Between 2004 and 2008 (unpublished) the picture changes, with ten more records. These include a bird on Trujillo castle, four birds together in Valencia de Alcántara, a bird originally ringed in Picos de Europa that was found dead in the town of Cañamero on New Year's Day 2005 and one or two birds that that stayed on the height called Pico Villuercas for three months (January-March 2008). These fourteen records, running from October to March, involve birds on rockfaces throughout much of Extremadura, though especially the quartzite sierras of Las Villuercas (half of the records).

The Wallcreeper is the only member of the Tichodromidae family. It is a rock breeder on mountains of the southern Palearctic, from Asturias to China, taking in the Alps, the Caucasus and Himalayas on the way. In Spain its range is limited to the uplands of the Cantabrian cordillera, especially the Picos de Europa, and the Pyrenees, preferring limestone rocks. Its total breeding population is reckoned to be a few thousand pairs, most in the Pyrenees of Huesca. In autumn and winter part of the population remains in the breeding areas, even at high altitude. But others drop down to lower rockfaces, even at sea level, especially the limestone cliffs in eastern Spain. Despite the dearth of observations it probably winters fairly regularly in Extremadura, tucked away in inaccessible habitat that makes any sighting a real lottery.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

BUFF-BREASTED SANDPIPER: NEW SPECIES FOR EXTREMADURA

Buff-Breasted Sandpiper (Tryngites subruficollis). The even spangling of scaly fringes on the back tells us it's a juvenile. Valdecañas Reservoir, Cáceres. 15.10.10 (Ángel Sánchez).

On 15 October 2010 a juvenile Buff-Breasted Sandpiper (Tryngites subruficollis) was spotted at Valdecañas reservoir near El Gordo in the province of Cáceres. This is a first for Extremadura. The only observer was Ángel Sánchez, the bird proving impossible to find again in subsequent days.

The Buff-Breasted Sandpiper is classed as a rare vagrant in Spain. It is the third most frequent American vagrant wader after the Pectoral Sandpiper (Calidris melanotos) and the Lesser Yellowlegs (Tringa flavipes). Up to 2007 a total of 42 sightings had been accepted, involving 46 different birds (Díes at al. 2009). Figures have not yet published for 2008 and 2009 but the autumn passage of 2010 is turning out to be extraordinary, with no fewer than 30 different birds recorded on September and October (Gutiérrez, 2010) . One possible cause might be the series of Atlantic storms in this period. Another notable feature of this year's records is that the birds have turned up in inland areas and even steppic habitat, whereas all pre-2003 records had been coastal (de Juana, 2006).

The Buff-Breasted Sandpiper is currently considered to be the only member of the Tryngites genus, although recent studies suggest that it might be very closely related to the small waders of the Calidris genus, and even includable therein (Thomas et al. 2004). It breeds on the arctic tundra of North America and northeast Siberia, wintering on the pampas of South America after migrating inland down the American continent (see map). The regular passage through western Europe suggest there might be a minority migration route in the east Atlantic, used more in autumn than in spring, although it is not known whether these birds winter in Africa or South America. Unlike other sandpipers it prefers humid inland pastureland as its stopover and wintering sites. The estimated Buff-Breasted Sandpiper population is 16,000-84,000 birds, based on migration counts, although it was much commoner in the past (hundreds of thousands). Its conservation state is precarious and it is listed as Near Threatened (NT) on a global level due to its declining trend (BirdLife, 2010).

- De Juana, E. (2006). Las aves raras de España. Lynx Edicions. Barcelona.
- Dies, J. E. et al (2009). Observaciones de aves raras en España, 2007. Ardeola 56:309-344.
- Gutiérrez, R. (2010). Buff-breasted sandpiper in Spain, autumn 2010. Rare Bird in Spain Blog. 19-10-2010.

Saturday, 16 October 2010

THE CRANES ARE HERE

Common Crane (Grus grus). Oliva de Plasencia, Cáceres. 30-08-2010 (J. L. Rivero/Objetivo Verde)

Ever since the end of summer the first winter visitors have been trickling in to Extremadura. This invasion has picked up pace since early October and by now skylarks, meadow pipits, robins, lapwings and red kites are daily sightings just about everywhere. The real red-letter moment of winter arrivals, however, is always the first Common Crane (Grus grus), without doubt one of Extremadura's flagship winter visitors. The first recorded cranes were the 13 seen flying over Trujillo on 9 October (M. Kelsey). But the first real sign of a mass influx was the sudden appearance of 3000 cranes in the Aragón lake of Gallocanta on the 12th, many of which flew off southwards on the morning of the 13th with other groups moving in to replace them (J. Mañas).

They didn't take long to get to Extremadura. On the morning of this same day, the 13th, a flock of 18 was seen in Oliva de Plasencia (R. Montero) and 56 in the central zone (M. Gómez Calzado). On the following days they turned up in many places: 26 over Casas de Miravete (G. Naharro) and 21 in Navas del Madroño on the 14th (G. Schreur and J. Tarriño), 36 on passage over Plasencia (J. Prieta) and 30 in Gabriel y Galán (A. Pacheco) on the 15th, etc. The numbers are now going from strength to strength: by the 14th there were 1200 in the central zone (M. Gómez Calzado), 1000 in Santa Amalia on the 15th (Á. Sánchez) and thousands in Los Canchales on the 16th (A. Matador). In short, an appreciable arrival of birds spread throughout all their traditional wintering areas.

Manolo Gómez Calzado tells us in his blog, dealing almost exclusively with cranes, that their average arrival date in central Extremadura has moved forward about two weeks over the last 20 years. We've checked the Extremadura birdwatching yearbooks to see if the same thing has happened in the region as a whole but no arrival dates were recorded until 2000. From then on, however, the dates have changed little, with the main arrival around 15 October and a few forerunners in the last days of September. It is sad to note that until recently there was so little interest in recording and communicating such a striking event.

These checks of the yearbooks from 1998-2008 did have a serendipitous result, however. They served to confirm that there were no previous records of cranes oversummering in Extremadura, something that has in fact occurred in various sites in 2010. One example has already been mentioned on several occasions in this blog (sightings of June and August): a 2nd-year bird present in Oliva de Plasencia at least from 12 June to early October and seen by numerous birdwatchers (R. Montero, S. Mayordomo, J. Prieta, J. L. Rivero, E. Palacios, J. C. Paniagua, et al; top photo). Another was seen on 22 June in the reservoir of Los Canchales (T. Álvarez in Quercus 294:47), where it was still around on 18 September (Á. Sánchez). And apparently another two cranes oversummered around the reservoir of Orellana (M. Gómez Calzado) and three more in Gallocanta, Aragón (J. Mañas). In previous years there were records of cranes in Extremadura in spring and summer, at times until August, never in September. It was always mooted that these were sick birds unable to migrate. But we can confirm here that the first two abovementioned birds in summer 2010 seemed to be in perfect nick.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

SEPTEMBER 2010: Notable bird sightings in Extremadura

Photo: Osprey (Pandion haliaetus), River Tiétar, Cáceres, 29-09-2010 (Juan Pablo Resino).

-Avocet: 28 at Portaje reservoir (Cáceres) on 26/09 (Sergio Mayordomo).
-Savi's Warbler: 1 at Valdefuentes gravel pit, Galisteo (Cáceres) on 03/09 (S.Mayordomo).
-Garganey: One eclipse drake at Moheda Alta reservoir, Navalvillar de Pela (Badajoz) on 05/09 (Eva Palacios and S.Mayordomo).
-Kentish Plover: Navalvillar de Pela (Badajoz): 1 at Moheda Alta on 05/09 (E.Palacios and S.Mayordomo); at Casas de Hitos 2 on 05/09 (E.Palacios, Steve Fletcher and S.Mayordomo) and 3 on 11/09 (Martin Kelsey). At Valdesalor reservoir (Cáceres) 1 on 22/09 and 27/09 (S.Mayordomo).
-White Stork: 2850 at Mérida landfill site (Badajoz) on 28/09 (Ángel Sánchez).
-Black Stork: a 40-bird flock flying over the A-5 road in Trujillo (Cáceres) on 09/09 (M.Kelsey) and 35 birds in several flocks at Gabriel and Galán reservoir (Cáceres) on 15/09 (Alberto Pacheco).
- Temminck's Stint: At Casas de Hitos, Navalvillar de Pela (Badajoz), 1 on 05/09 (E.Palacios, S.Fletcher and S.Mayordomo) and 11/09 (M.Kelsey).
-Pectoral Sandpiper: 2 at Galisteo lake (Cáceres) from 17 to 19/09 (Javier Prieta, Ricardo Montero, S.Mayordomo, César Clemente, E.Palacios, Memole, José Ramón Martín).
-Curlew Sandpiper: 2 adults and 1 juvenile at Valdesalor reservoir (Cáceres) on 04/09 (Carlos Fernández and Jerónimo Jaén). At Casas de Hitos (Badajoz) 2 juveniles on 05/09 (E.Palacios, S.Fletcher and S.Mayordomo) and 1 bird on 11/09 (M.Kelsey). One juvenile at Portaje reservoir (Cáceres) on 26/09 (S.Mayordomo)
-Spoonbill: 38 at Valdesalor reservoir (Cáceres) on 04/09 (J.Jaén), 44 at Charco Salado, Casatejada (Cáceres) on 06/09 (E.Palacios and S.Mayordomo); at Los Canchales reservoir (Badajoz) 60 on 08/09 (Fernando Yuste) and over 100 on 26/09 (Á.Sánchez)
-Pheasant: One male at Galisteo (Cáceres) on 19/09 (C.Clemente and Javier Mahillo)
-Red-Necked Phalarope: One at Los Canchales reservoir (Cáceres) on 08/09 (F.Yuste).
-Yellow Wagtail: One bird of the flavissima subspecies at Guijo de Coria (Cáceres) on 14/09 (J.Prieta) and another at Torreorgaz (Cáceres) on 26/09 (S.Mayordomo).
-Red-Crested Pochard: One female at Portaje reservoir (Cáceres) on 26/09 (S.Mayordomo).
-Black-Necked Grebe: 2 adults at Sierra Brava reservoir (Cáceres) on 05/09 (E.Palacios, S.Fletcher and S.Mayordomo).

Last sightings of summer visitors
-Bee-eater: Several birds on 06/09 in Plasencia, Cáceres (J.Prieta).
-Honey Buzzard: One at Gata (Cáceres) on 12/09 (Paco Buénaga and Javier Prieta).
-Woodchat Shrike: One juvenile at Toril (Cáceres) on 12/09 (E.Palacios).
-Purple Heron: One at Valdefuentes gravel pit, Galisteo (Cáceres) on 19/09 (C.Clemente, Javier Briz, J.Mahillo and Vicente Risco).
-Black Kite: One on 09/09 in Trujillo (Cáceres) (M.Kelsey) and another on 21/09 at Torreorgaz (S.Mayordomo).
-Golden Oriole: one male at Casas del Castañar (Cáceres) on 03/09 (J.Prieta).

First post-breeding records
-Skylark: One at Galisteo lake (Cáceres) on 28/09 (J.Prieta).
-Tree Pipit: Over 20 at Jerte reservoir (Cáceres) on 16/09 (J.Prieta) and 1 at Villanueva de la Vera on 17/09 (Dave Langlois).
-Tawny Pipit: Several birds at Acedera, Orellana, Mérida, Los Canchales and La Serena (Badajoz) between 21/09 and 27/09 (Á.Sánchez).
-Meadow Pipit: 4 at Galisteo (Cáceres) on 26/09 (S.Mayordomo) and scores of birds at Jerte reservoir (Cáceres) on 29/09 (J.Prieta).
-Iberian Chiffchaff: One bird singing at Galisteo (Cáceres) on 03/09 (S.Mayordomo).
-Bluethroat: 1 at Valdefuentes gravel pit, Galisteo (Cáceres) on 19/09 (C.Clemente, J.Briz, J.Mahillo and V.Risco).
-Wigeon: One pair at Casas de Hitos, Navalvillar de Pela (Badajoz) on 05/09 (E.Palacios, S.Fletcher and S.Mayordomo).
-Wryneck: 2 in Plasencia (Cáceres) on 06/09 (R.Montero) and 1 at Piornal (Cáceres) on 11/09 (E.Palacios).

Monday, 27 September 2010

MONK VULTURES SANS FRONTIÈRES

One of the Monk Vulture chicks born in Portugal being held by the Portuguese wildlife officer Carlos Pacheco (collaborator in some of SEO/BirdLife’s projects in Cáceres)
At last, after years of expectation, the Extremadura Monk Vulture colony in Tajo Internacional has decided to cross the border and start breeding in Portugal. This Cáceres colony of about 60 established pairs of Monk Vulture (also known as Cinereous Vulture and Black Vulture) has been nesting for some time at the end of the valley called Valle del Salor, within the "Tajo Internacional" Nature Park. Although birds from the colony often wandered into Portugal, they never actually nested in the neighbouring country, where the species was considered to be extinct as a breeder [although the media claim that the Monk Vulture had not bred in Portugal for 40 years, according to Infante (2004) there have been two confirmed cases of breeding, one in 1994 and the other in 2003]. All previous Portuguese attempts to expand the colony into their country, for example by installing artificial nests, had failed up to now. But it’s never too late...., in 2010 came the excellent news of three breeding territories being taken up on the Portuguese side of the border, two of which produced young. But the birds were beset by problems. The first pair failed when the nest fell at the start of incubation. Chicks hatched in the other two nests, in Holm Oaks, but they were blown down by gales in June and the chicks fell to the ground, where they were hastily rescued. One was in a critical state and needed intensive care in a specialist centre. Both chicks, baptised Aramil and Tajo, were then returned to their territories, duly marked with radio transmitters. Two artificial nests were built for that purpose, in the exact place where the original nests had fallen. There they completed their normal development. These three Portuguese pairs are very likely to have come from Extremadura.

Gala, the first Monk Vulture chick born in the Pyrenees for one hundred years, rests in her nest with a transmitter fitted to her back.

Good news involving Monk Vultures of Extremadura origin also came from the Catalan Pyrenees, where the species has bred for the first time in a century. In this case the "colonisation" needed human help, in the form of the successful reintroduction project begun in 2007. Between 2007 and 2009 a total of 27 birds bred in captivity in rehabilitation centres were released in the area, many coming from the "Los Hornos" rehabilitation centre in Cáceres. As at June 2010 14 birds remained in the release area (Boumort and Alinya in the Pyrenees of Lleida), 3 are in dispersal and 10 others have been found dead or have disappeared. In 2010 three mature pairs bonded. One of them involves two birds from Extremadura: Perla (a 7-year-old female released in 2007) and Portell (a 4-year old male released in 2007); this pair has built a nest and successfully reared a female chick called Gala, who took her maiden flight on 24 September. Another prime aim of the project was to create a nexus between the French and Iberian populations and this is also proving successful because French Monk Vultures and others from southwest Iberia are regularly being seen in the area. The released vultures also roam over a wide area covering part of France and nearly the whole of the Iberian Peninsula. Witness Obaga, a female born in captivity in 2009 and released this year; in spring 2010 it mingled with the colonies of Monfragüe and Sierra de San Pedro as well as passing through the East Coast, Cádiz, Sierra Morena, Montes de Toledo and Aragón.

These two success stories are matched by others in France, Mallorca, Bulgaria, Greece, etc, where Monk Vultures from Extremadura are being used in reintroduction or reinforcement projects (see our blog SEO-Cáceres). 1992 saw the start of one of the most successful of these projects in the French Massif Central, where 30 pairs have now settled down, meaning that the French population is now the second biggest in Europe.

This information has been culled from the website: Pelanatureza (Portugal), Grefa and the reintroduction project in the Pyrenees. The photographs have been taken from http://www.grefa.org/.

Infante, S. (2004). Status and Conservation of the Black Vulture in Portugal. International Symposium on the Black Vulture Aegypius monachus. Córdoba. España.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

WHAT A PAIR OF PECTORALS!!

Pectoral Sandpiper (Calidris melanotos), two juveniles. Galisteo, Cáceres. 17.09.10 (Javier Prieta).

Two juvenile Pectoral Sandpipers (Calidris melanotos) were observed from 17 to 19 September on Galisteo lake, Cáceres. The first bird was discovered by Ricardo Montero on the morning of Friday 17. On the afternoon of the same day Ricardo himself, together with Sergio Mayordomo and Javier Prieta, found and photographed two birds, both seen again on Saturday 18 and Sunday 19 (César Clemente, Arian, Memole, José Ramón Martín). During these visits 12 different wader species were seen, together with Golden Eagles, Black Storks, up to 7 Spoonbills and several migrating passerines.

Pectoral Sandpiper (Calidris melanotos), juvenile. Galisteo, 17.09.10 (J. Prieta).

Pectoral Sandpiper (Calidris melanotos). Galisteo, Cáceres. 17.09.10 (J. Prieta). The two clear Vs on its back identify it as a juvenile.

The Pectoral Sandpiper is a rarity in Spain, although it is also the rare wader that turns up most often. By 2007 217 records involving 240 birds had been accepted (Díes at al. 2009). An unprecedented influx then occurred in autumn 2008, with 67 different birds recorded in Rare Birds in Spain. Another similar influx seems to have occurred in 2010, with at least 29 birds recorded in Spain from 2 to 17 September. It is therefore a species on the increase and on the point of forfeiting its rarity status.

Five records are known for Extremadura, two of them already accepted by the rarities committee:
1 - Los Canchales Reservoir (Badajoz), one juvenile, 14.09.02 (Francis Prieto).
2 - Valdesalor Reservoir (Cáceres), one juvenile, 05 and 06.09.06 (Sebastian Molano).
....... and another three pending acceptance from 2008 in Cáceres:
3 - Talaván Reservoir, one juvenile, 12.09.08 (S. Mayordomo).
4 - Casar de Cáceres Reservoir, one juvenile, 16.09.08 (Carlos Fernández).
5 - Valdesalor Reservoir, one juvenile, 14.10.08 (Carlos Fernández).
Pending publication of the 2008 and 2009 rarity reports, therefore, this will be the sixth regional record and the first one involving more than one bird. As with all the previous records, these are juvenile birds in post breeding dispersal, turning up on habitual dates (mid September).

The Pectoral Sandpiper breeds in the Arctic tundra of North America and Siberia, with an estimated population of several hundred thousand birds. It winters in Australia, South America and probably Africa. Most of the birds turning up in Europe have been traditionally considered to come basically from the North American Nearctic zone, though there is now thought to be a migratory route between Siberia and Africa, passing through Western Europe (De Juana, 2006; Gutiérrez, 2008). The theory has it that the Nearctic birds tend to move down the western part of the Peninsula and the Asiatic birds down the Mediterranean side. The Extremadura observations of 2008 and 2010 have coincided with increasing sightings in Mediterranean Spain, probably bound up with the arrival of Siberian birds, a population expanding westwards. It has even started to breed in Scotland very recently (RSPB).

References:
- De Juana, E. (2006). Las aves raras de España. Lynx Edicions. Barcelona.
- Dies, J. E. et al (2009). Observaciones de aves raras en España, 2007. Ardeola 56:309-344.
- Gutiérrez, R. (2008). Pectoral Sandpiper influx in Spain, autumn 2008 (July-15 September).

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

STARLINGS AND THE “MEDIA VEDA”

Spotless Starling (Sturnus unicolor), juvenile, Galisteo, 20.10.04 (Javier Prieta).

The “media veda” is a late-summer partially open season allowing the hunting of a restricted list of species. In Extremadura, in 2010, it ran from 21 August to 12 September, taking in Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays. The hunting species listed in the “orden de vedas” (the order laying down hunting rules and species) were European Turtle Dove, Common Starling, Magpie, Eurasian Jackdaw, Mallard, Fox and a species vaguely identifed as “palomas” (doves/pigeons). We discuss below whether there is any valid scientific justification for declaring these species to be huntable during this period, drawing the conclusion that it is based on little more than a dash of tradition and a large dose of ignorance. Of the eight species considered, one is not even present in Extremadura, another may be present but in negligible numbers, another is threatened, another is in decline, another is of largely unknown status and only three have healthy populations. In two cases, moreover (Common Starling and Mallard), identification difficulties bring nongame species into the trawl, with Spotless Starling and other duck species besides Mallard being killed by mistake.

- Common Starling (Sturnus vulgaris). This species does not breed in Extremadura and wintering birds usually begin to arrive in mid October; the earliest recorded arrival is 29 September. It would therefore seem absurd to authorise the hunting of a bird that is not even present in the region, with the added chagrin of Spotless Starlings being killed by mistake. Although this latter bird is called “spotless” in English, its plumage does have a scattering of spots after the summer moult, especially in juveniles (see photo above). Telling the two species apart can be very tricky in autumn even for experienced birdwatchers with good optical equipment, so hunters are very unlikely to be up to the job. In fact, one of the very few mistakes in the magnum opus Handbook of the Birds of the World could well be the photograph of a starling on page 690 of volume 14. Ostensibly a Common Starling photographed in Alicante, it is likely in fact to be a Spotless Starling (though it would be interesting to know the date of the photo).

- European Turtle Dove (Streptopelia turtur). This is a threatened species in Spain, listed as “Vulnerable” in the “Libro Rojo” (Red Book). It is a scarce breeder in Extremadura, this region accounting for only 2.7% of the Spanish population. The birds hunted in autumn are above all migrants, but in Europe as a whole the species suffered a significant decline of 69% from 1980 to 2008.

- The vague mention of “Palomas” (doves/pigeons) in the “orden de vedas” reflects its lack of scientific rigour. In default of any more reliable information we have no choice but to assume that the three Extremadura species of pigeons and doves are all legal prey.
- Rock Dove (Columba livia). Almost all Rock Doves in Extremadura are feral with hardly any genuinely wild birds.
- Wood Pigeon (Columba palumbus). In the timeframe under consideration the European migrants have not yet arrived in the region, so only resident birds are being hunted. The Extremadura breeding population is estimated at 380,000 birds with a stable trend in the centre of Spain as a whole.
- Stock Dove (Columba oenas). Once again, European migrants have not yet arrived in the period under consideration so only resident birds are being hunted. Nonetheless, hardly anything is known about the status of this species in Extremadura, where it is a very scarce bird throughout almost the whole region, with about one thousand birds at most. In fact, in the eleven year recording period (1998-2008) of the Extremadura Ornithological Yearbook, there has never been a confirmed breeding record of Stock Dove in the region.

- Magpie (Pica pica). This is a common species (300,000 birds in Extremadura) with an upward trend in central Spain.

- Eurasian Jackdaw (Corvus monedula). A common species (500,000 birds in Extremadura), albeit with a downward trend in central Spain (-4% a year).

- Mallard (Anas plathyrhynchos). European migrants have not yet arrived in the period under consideration so only resident birds are being hunted. Nonetheless, nothing is known about the population or number of breeding birds in Extremadura, although their status is apparently quite good. The biggest problem is that hunters use the inclusion of this bird as a pretext for hunting other duck species in the same area or even other water birds that bear precious little resemblance to a duck.

During this period of “media veda” members of SEO-Cáceres witnessed many hunters breaching the rules. This rule flouting is particularly rife in wetlands, with illegal species being killed and stalking being used instead of the established method of stand-hunting. Many examples of these irregular practices could be cited. For example a group of foreign tourists visited a lake where young local hunters were “kind” enough to wait for them to finish their observations before slaying the wildlife on the lake. Moreover this lake had no Mallards so they were hunting illegal species. This is just the sort of example we need to encourage birdwatching-tourism in the region, I’m sure you’ll agree. After this lamentable incident SEO-Cáceres contacted the owner of the lake to see if hunting could be banned there. The owner was receptive to the idea because the hunters pestered his livestock and damaged the farm in other ways, but he didn’t dare do so for fear of retaliation. “I know them well and they would burn down my farm”, was his reply. Another massacre occurred on another lake in the province, where dozens of ducks of various species lay floating on the water, slain illegally and to absolutely no purpose because the hunters didn’t have retrievers to collect them. Another birdwatcher had to flee a lake in haste when “overwrought” hunters levelled their guns at him as he tried to identify the species they were hunting with his telescope. Outrageously, the slaughter included Pochard, a duck with only 25-50 pairs in Extremadura (fewer than Imperial Eagles!). In sum: harrowing!

The abovementioned figures have been culled from the work in progress "Aves de Extremadura. Vol. 4", in turn drawing from the following SEO surveys (SACRE, Aves comunes, Libro Rojo).