Sunday, 24 February 2013


On February 14, 2013 a group of ornithologists from Holland, and the University of Extremadura were conducting daily monitoring of godwits (Limosa limosa) in rice fields between the towns of Santa Amalia and Hernán Cortés (Badajoz). Taking part were Nathan Senner, Mo Verhoeven, Jorge Sanchez and Jose Maria Abad. At one point a flock of godwits was unsuccessfully attacked by a raptor identified as as a Rough-legged Buzzard(Buteo lagopus). This species, which breeds in the Arctic tundra and winters in central latitudes of Eurasia and North America, is rare in Spain, but winters regularly in Holland, the Dutch observers being familiar with this species. The sighting was very quick, but enough to appreciate some features of this species: "Strikingly pale underparts with rust coloration in the greater and lesser  wing coverts, giving a slight impression of a Short-toed Eagle. Flight resembled a booted eagle, with rapid wing beats and glides. A darker abdomen contrasting with the light colors of the rump. " Nothing was said of the tail pattern, a characteristic necessary to reach a positive identification.

Having published the news, Fernando Yuste said that a few days earlier, on February 3, in Santa Amalia, he saw a pale buzzard,  it could be, or not, the same individual. Fernando managed to photograph it .... half a mile away (shown in the two photos). You can hardly make out any details except the white coloring, some dark areas on the belly (perhaps too small for this species) and what looks like a black band on the tail end (or perhaps an optical illusion).

The Rough-legged Buzzard is extremely rare in the Iberian Peninsula. In Spain, only six records were approved up until 2010, all on the coast of Catalonia. The only twenty-first century report, is between 18.12.2010 and 09.03.2011, on the coast of Tarragona. There is another record pending acceptance, documented with photographs, in Gerona, on 4 and 05.03.2011. Both coincide with an exceptional high number of birds wintering in France (more than 200 individuals, when a normal year would have between 10 and maybe 30). However,  Reservoir Birds has 16 reports collected from up to 11 different samples, each in Catalonia, except for one in Mallorca (March 2012) and this in Badajoz (February 2013). The rest are distributed as follows: two birds in 2007/2008, one in 2008/2009 and six in 2010/2011. A review written by Ricard Gutiérrez et al. (2011) of all confirmed sightings in Spain can be read here. This Extremadura observation has been published on the web Rare Birds in Spain. A different issue will be the final validation, using the limited information available and knowing that most of the records of rare birds seen in Spain are not even sent to the rarities committee. We will have to wait a few months to accept this as the first sighting in Extremadura and the most southern in Spain.

Gutierrez, R, Escolà, A, Rodriguez G, Albert, C, Bed, A and Ollé, A. 2011. The Rough-legged Buzzards in Catalonia in February-March 2011, 6th-7th for Spain, and a review of Spanish records.