Monday 27 September 2010


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

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


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).

- 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


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).

Monday 6 September 2010

AUGUST 2010: Notable bird sightings in Extremadura

Selection of records sent to the GOCE forum in August 2010 (by S. Mayordomo). Any other Extremadura sightings should be sent to: Photographs: Top, White-Rumped Swift (Apus caffer), Guijo de Santa Bárbara, by Jesús Calle. Bottom, Willow Warbler (Phylloscopus trochilus), Galisteo, by Javier Prieta.

-Greylag Goose: one apparently wild bird in Casas de Hitos pond on 24/08/10 (Joaquín García).
-Purple Swamphen: One bird in Valdefuentes gravel pit, Galisteo, on 08/08/10 (Sergio Mayordomo). Second sighting in the River Alagón catchment area.
-Garganey: One drake in Galisteo Lake from 5 to 8/08/10 (Javier Prieta, Eva Palacios and Sergio Mayordomo). One female in Charco Salado, Casatejada, on 18/08/10 (Sergio Mayordomo).
-Lesser Kestrel: A count of 524 birds in a La Vera roost on 24/08/10 (Javier Prieta).
-Black Stork: A bird ringed in the Czech republic was observed on 28/08/10 in Oliva de Plasencia; this same bird wintered in this area in 2008/2009 (José Luis Rivero).
-Spoonbill: 33 birds in Ancho pond, Arroyo de la Luz, on 22/08/10 (Carlos Fernández). In Charco Salado, Casatejada, 78 birds on 18/08/10 (Sergio Mayordomo) and 57 on 25/08/10 (Manuel García del Rey); all-time highs for this site.
-Great White Egret: Confirmed breeding of a pair in Arrocampo reservoir (Javier Prieta, Eva Palacios and Sergio Mayordomo). First breeding record in Extremadura.
-Crane: One oversummering bird in Oliva de Plasencia at least until 28/08/10 (Juan Carlos Paniagua, Ricardo Montero, Eva Palacios and José Luis Rivero).
-Peregrine Falcon: One pair with two young, maybe three, in Monesterio, Badajoz, on 02/08/10 (Alberto Pacheco). Could be the first recent breeding record in the whole western Sierra Morena.
-Glossy Ibis: One bird in meadows near Azud del Guadiana in Badajoz on 22/08/10 and 27/08/10 (Atanasio Fernández).
-Common Waxbill: First records in Galisteo: 6 birds in the ricefield and two in the lagoon on 22/08/10 (Manuel García del Rey and Sergio Mayordomo).
-White-Rumped Swift: Two birds flying repeatedly into the eaves of a house in Guijo de Santa Bárbara on 07/08/10 (Jesús Calle). First record in La Vera and in a built-up area.
- Black-Necked Grebe: One bird in Fresnedillas pond, Oliva de Plasencia, on 23/08/10 (Eva Palacios and Sergio Mayordomo).
-Curlew: One in Galisteo Lake on 22/08/10 (Manuel García del Rey and Sergio Mayordomo) and 26/08/10 (Javier Gayo).
-Whimbrel: One in Portaje reservoir on 03/08/10 (Sergio Mayordomo).
-Olivaceous Warbler: 2 birds in Puente Viejo, Badajoz, on 30/08/10 (Juan Carlos Paniagua).

First Post-Breeding Records
-Hobby: One at Galisteo Lake on 26/08/10 (Javier Gayo) and another at Casas de Hitos on 27/08/10 (Martin Kelsey).
-Pintail: Two eclipse drakes on 09/08/10 in Charco Salado, Casatejada (Eva Palacios and Sergio Mayordomo).
-Sedge Warbler: One on 08/08/10 in Valdefuentes gravel pit, Galisteo (Sergio Mayordomo).
-Redstart: Two immature males on 20/08/10 in Cornalvo, Badajoz (José Ledo).
-Wheatear: One on 28/08/10 in Casar de Cáceres (Sergio Mayordomo) and another in Galisteo on 31/08/10 (Javier Prieta).
-Little Stint: One on 12/08/10 in Casas de Hitos (Martin Kelsey).
-Curlew Sandpiper: One adult on 27/08/10 in Talaván reservoir (Sergio Mayordomo).
-Garden Warbler: One on 20/08/10 in Monfragüe (Sergio Mayordomo)
-Whitethroat: One on 06/08/10 in Ahigal (Sergio Mayordomo) and two in Casas de Hitos on 12/08/10 (Martin Kelsey).
-Willow Warbler: Two on 01/08/10 in Arroyo de la Luz (Florencio Carrero) and one in Monesterio on 03/08/10 (Alberto Pacheco).
-Pied Flycatcher: On 16/08/10 one bird was seen in Plasencia (Javier Prieta) and another in Jerte (Blas Molina).
-Pochard: One immature on 02/08/10 in Charco Salado, Casatejada (Sergio Mayordomo).
-Whinchat: One on 20/08/10 at Talaván reservoir and another in Calzadilla on 21/08/10 (Sergio Mayordomo).