Tuesday, 7 August 2012


The Glossy Ibis (Plegadis falcinellus) is the latest addition to Extremadura's list of breeding birds, now standing at 205 species. This is now becoming almost routine; since 1998 30 new birds have been proven to breed. The most recent, besides the Glossy Ibis, are Shelduck (Tadorna tadorna) in 2011 and Great White Egret (Egretta alba) in 2010.

The site where Extremadura's first Glossy Ibis chicks have been born is the traditional heronry of Azud del Guadiana, on the outskirts of Badajoz city itself. This colony breeds in three hectares or so of thick willow and ash scrub. According to 2011 figures (SEO/BirdLife, unpublished), this colony includes about 2000 pairs of Cattle Egret (Bubulcus ibis), 80 pairs of Night Heron (Nyctycorax nyctycorax) and 75 pairs of Little Egret (Egretta garzetta). In 2012 there were also at least two pairs of the scarce Squacco Heron (Ardeola ralloides) and probably one breeding pair of Purple Heron in the area too (Ardea purpurea). Little Bittern (Ixobrychus minutus) is another habitual breeder in the area and there are also resident but non-breeding Grey Herons (Ardea cinerea).

 First Glossy Ibis nest (Plegadis falcinellus) ever found in Extremadura. 
Azud de Badajoz. May 2012 (Atanasio Fernández). 

The story goes back to 15 April 2012, a day of surprise visitors at Azud del Guadiana. Six Spoonbills turned up (Platalea leucorodia) plus a pair of Glossy Ibises. The Spoonbill's visit was fleeting but the Glossy Ibises decided to stick around. A month later, from 18 to 20 May, the number of birds had built up to 16 and, even more importantly, the two first nests were spotted (Juan Carlos Paniagua, Luis R. Hernández and Atanasio Fernández). By the end of May at least nine pairs were sitting on eggs with perhaps more incubating pairs out of sight (A. Fernández, J. C. Salgado, Mercedes Rodríguez and J. C. Paniagua). These included four ringed birds, all from Doñana. The oldest, born in 2004, was B[5RN]; B[7U0] was born in 2007 and the other two in 2008: B[CNA] and B[85N]. Some of them had been spotted in previous years in Huelva, Cádiz and Seville, but never in Extremadura. The birds' main feeding area seems to be to the west, across the nearby border in Portugal, in the ricefields of Alfarófia about 3.5 km from Azud del Guadiana; here, on 5 June, flocks of 15, 4 and 3 Glossy Ibises were seen. There were also sightings from the ricefields of River Gévora, in Extremadura.

Just when everything seemed to be going like clockwork, however, the Glossy Ibis colony mysteriously disappeared. On 14 and 15 June only one bird was seen (ring B[CNA]) carrying nesting material to a nest out of sight. On 17 June a flock of 30 Glossy Ibises was seen in Alfarófia (Portugal), suggesting that the birds had abandoned the Extremadura colony. On 29 June, almost by chance, a nest was found with at least two chicks, although later sightings showed that there were three chicks being fed by the adult [CNA], possibly a female. Tags were kept on this nest throughout July until, finally, on 14 July a fledgling was seen outside the nest. On 21 and 22 July at least five fledglings were seen in the colony, suggesting the presence of at least one other nest that had produced two more chicks.

The minimum result of Extremadura's first record of breeding Glossy Ibis is therefore as follows: nine breeding pairs, two with success and five fledglings. This could therefore represent the first ever inland breeding record in the Iberian peninsula, unless other records turn up later from 2012.

First family of Glossy Ibises (Plegadis falcinellus) seen in Extremadura. An adult (possible female with ring W[CNA]) next to two chicks. Azud de Badajoz. June 2012 (Atanasio Fernández). 

Up to now the Glossy Ibis has always been a scarce bird in Extremadura, albeit with an increasing number of sightings as the Doñana population to the south soared. Here the bird is known to have bred from the eighteenth to early twentieth century, when breeding stopped due to direct persecution and habitat loss. The last breeding record, according to J. A. Valverde, dates from 1909. Luckily, decades later, two pairs bred in Albufera de Valencia in 1993 with another breeding pair in the same site in 1994 but no more breeding records thereafter. In 1996 it began to breed in Spain's biggest wetlands: Doñana (7 pairs) and Delta del Ebro (4 pairs), and in 1997 on the saltpans of Santa Pola (Alicante, 2 pairs). The number of breeding pairs in Delta del Ebro had built up to 119 pairs by 2007 with 15 in Santa Pola the same year. The increase in Doñana was much more spectacular, with 1125 pairs by 2004, 3643 in 2007 and about 7200 in 2011 (see table; taken from Máñez and Rendón-Martos, 2009).

The severe drought of winter 2011-2012 produced a widespread dispersion of Glossy Ibises from Doñana throughout the whole Iberian Peninsula, including deep inland and the north coast, with records of several hundred from Albufera de Valencia. In Extremadura the biggest ever Glossy Ibis flock was seen in November 2011: 70 birds in a roost in Madrigalejo (Cáceres); in the spring of 2012 small groups began to turn up in suitable breeding habitat, such as the reservoirs of Arrocampo (Cáceres) and Montijo (Mérida). In Arrocampo sightings peaked at ten birds in March-April, including two ringed birds, both born in 2011 in Doñana. In Mérida the presence was more numerous and constant, with a maximum of 24 (Ángel Sánchez), several ringed in Doñana, and occupation of the roost until August.

The River Guadiana, as it flows through Badajoz, accounted for half of Extremadura's records up to 2000 . The first two published records correspond to 2-5 birds seen in October and November 1989 (C. de la Cruz et al) and one bird in May 1990 (J. Hernández); April (J. Gayo), June and September 1994 (I. Galván); and April 1995 (S. Lozano). Later on, two adults of differing size, perhaps male and female, were first seen in a Portuguese ricefield on 25/06/1999, and then flying in at dusk for weeks on end to Badajoz's heron roost (D. Rivera), with one record as late as 15/08/1999 (J. L. Valiña). On 10/09 and 19/09/1999 a young bird was seen (R. Morán and L. Sanabria). More recently, in a meadow close to Azud del Guadiana, a Glossy Ibis was seen from 22 to 27/08/2010 (A. Fernández), and a pair in the same meadow on 03/03/2012 (J. C. Paniagua).

All the credit for finding Extremadura's first breeding Glossy Ibises and writing the text goes to Juan Carlos Paniagua and Atanasio Fernández. Juan Carlos Salgado, Mercedes Rodríguez, Eva Palacios, César Clemente, Sergio Mayordomo and Luis R. Hernández have also chipped in with their own observations. Much more detailed information can be gleaned from the excellent blog of Atanasio Fernández, "Desde mi chajurdo", a must for the quality of its photographs and eminently readable texts. 

- Máñez, M. and Rendón-Martos, M. (Eds.). 2009. El morito, la espátula y el flamenco en España. Población en 2007 y método de censo. SEO/BirdLife. Madrid. 
- Prieta, J. and Mayordomo, S. 2011. Aves de Extremadura, vol. 4. 2004-2008. SEO-Cáceres. Plasencia. 
- Prieta, J. 2007. Aves de Extremadura. Volumen 3. 2001-2003 Versión digital. ADENEX. Mérida.