Thursday, 2 February 2012


On 2 February 1971 the Convention on Wetlands was signed in the Iranian city of Ramsar. Since that date a World Wetlands Day has been held every year on 2 February. Many events have been scheduled in Spain over the coming days. Wetlands are perhaps the habitat most assiduously visited by birders; the waterfowl on show are often striking to the eye, the flocks are sometimes spectacular and rare vagrants are likely to turn up from time to time. Extremadura, rivers apart, is not exactly rich in natural wetlands like marshes or lakes. But in recent years many artificial wetlands have been created by man. This is certainly a controversial subject. Destroying natural habitat to create artificial habitat. A tricky dilemma. We have in fact talked about this contradiction on this blog. Reservoirs are the best known example; ricefields have less of a press, for good or ill. Many foreigners are in fact often surprised to find out that Extremadura is a big rice producer, in some years Spain's biggest. By 2009 there were over 30,000 hectares of ricefield in the region, the bulk of them in the area known as Vegas Altas. Ascertaining their birdlife is no easy task. Last January, however, a coordinated count of Vegas Altas ricefields was organised. To do so the 70,000+ hectares of ricefields were broken down into nine different sectors, each sector being visited on 18 January by one or two people. The joint result of the count was almost 54,000 water birds, pride of place going to waders, whose figures are shown in the following table.

It is worthwhile glossing these figures species by species. The Black-Winged Stilt count was the biggest regional figure ever recorded, multiplying tenfold the mean Extremadura figure in the period 2005-2008 (130 birds). The Little Stint also outnumbered its mean (16 birds). Avocet, Dunlin, Ruff, Curlew and the three little plovers (Ringed, Little-Ringed and Kentish) threw up normal figures. As regards the Black-Tailed Godwit, its pre-breeding migration starts as early as January so the birds seen are not really overwintering. By February the flocks build up to over 25,000 birds (see here). The figures for Lapwing, Golden Plover and Snipe understate the real population because the scattered flocks and birds are hard to count. Lastly, there is little past information to go on in terms of the three "shanks" (Red-, Green- and Spotted) and the three sandpipers (Common-, Green- and Wood) but the figures in general seem to be higher than past records, perhaps due to the wider, though hardly complete, coverage. Two Wood Sandpipers were once again seen, a scarce but regular winter visitor since 2002 in Vegas Altas.

The 2012 waterfowl count in Arrozales de Vegas Altas, part and parcel of the wintering waterfowl count in Extremadura, was organised by Luis Lozano, Juan Pablo Prieto and Fernando Yuste. Other participators were Ángel Sánchez, Atanasio Fernández, Javier Caldera, Domingo Rivera, Manuel Gómez Calzado, Ángel Luis Sánchez, Benigno Cienfuegos, Sergio Mayordomo, Marcelino Cardalliaguet and Javier Prieta.