Sunday, 24 March 2013

Great Bustards, Sandgrouse and all the Harriers

Saturday 23 March

The recently postponed meeting of the monthly field visit of the Andalucia Bird Society was duly completed yesterday with the forecast promising dry, cloudy weather until midday followed by cloud and rain for a couple of hours and then more persistent and heavy rain.  We may well complain about rubbish weather forecasts but this was spot on (forget "spot" more like "buckets" on)!  On the other hand we did get to see a great variety of special birds.

Meeting on the outskirts of Osuna in Sevilla Province, for the first time I covered the Osuna, La Lantejuela triangle in a clockwise  direction, the intent being to concentrate on trying to find the small resident population of Great Bustards.  Over twenty of us present and all of us managed to get distant, but very clear, views of this magnificent bird including displaying males.
Marsh Harrier  Aguilucho Lagunero  Circus aeruginosus

Leaving Osuna on the back road we soon had regular sightings on the fences of both Crested Larks and Corn Buntings and a fast departing Hoopoe took to the trees before regular stops as first Marsh Harrier and then a rather large female Montagu´s Harrier passed overhead - and what stick the latter gave the Marsh Harrier.  Before reaching the first high railway bridge over the new trackbed for the high-speed train, we had also recorded Hen Harrier and a single Common Buzzard.  However, it was to be the second bridge that gave the first sightings of Great Bustards with a pair being picked up by some of the group, one either side of the railway.  A number of marsh Harriers were resting on the fields and there was a constant passage of Montagu´s including some rather handsome male birds at close quarters.  Why did I not think to get the camera out of the car_  Too bust watching the spectacle. me thinks.  Also from this bridge we had our first of many Red-legged Partridges and a pair of Ravens.  Meanwhile, sitting ans singing away of¡n the track fence was a rather lovely Common Whitethroat and three small brown birds.  Forget Passer domesticus, these were Spanish Sparrows and, again, I think all managed to get good views of both species.  It made the movement of the local Spotless Starlings seem almost irrelevant. 

Montagu´s Harrier  Aguilucho Papialbo  Circus macrourus
 Before finally reaching the third bridge with its road over leading towards La Lantejuela, we also had the first of quite a number of Black Kites and a single Red Kite in the distance.  The fields to our left also produces a pair of "grazing" Mallards and a single Grey Heron just to break up the "monotony" of all the raptors that were being seen and recorded.

Then, having determined that the Great Bustards were probably in field that could be seen from the above third bridge, we all moved on once again.  How right we were were!  Whilst one member thought he had a distant Great Bustard I had a nearer, and very clear, fertiliser bag on the edge of the field.  At least it was until it turned round and moved a step or two!  From then on we all had great views through the scopes and managed to pick up a total of about eight individuals of ths resident flock including some great displaying males.  In future I shall have to think "fertiliser bags" rather than "sheep" when trying to locate these marvellous birds!  Some also managed to record a Little Bustard as it popped its head up from the covering grass.  Whilst on the bridge, not only did we have the first Red-rumped Swallow of the morning fly over to add to the Barn Swallows and House Martins already seen but also a first Lesser Kestrel.  The arrival of a single Alpine Swift had members looking skywards and next the shout went up as a trio of Black-bellied Sandgrouse flew over our heads.  One other stranger was seen from this vantage point; a very pale Black Kite had quite a number of us trying to solve this little mystery.

Great Bustards Avutarda Comun  Otis tarda

By now it was midday and, as we moved off, the first spots of rain began to decorate the cars.  But the primary objective had been achieved; find the Great Bustards.  A stop near the old farm produced a flock of Lesser Kestrels plus a solitary Common Kestrel whilst, in the fields opposite, a small flock of Calandra Larks was located.  And so it was on the the village of La Lantejuela for lunch but not before checking out the small reserve in the village which, once again, was closed.  However, from the upper viewing platform we did locate Moorhens, Little Grebe and a pair of Shoveler.  Indeed, driving down the small lane to this reserve the latter cars even had the local White Stork accompany them carrying its latest contribution to the nest.  (We were to be informed in the bar that the village holds just the single pair of breeding White Storks.)
After a short coffee break I was off to explore the Laguna de la Ballestera whilst the remaining members of the party enjoyed their meal.  Catching me up a little later, and now quite wet with a steady rainfall, we were all able to confirm the sightings of many Flamingos, Coot and Shoveler. A Red Kite flew over, having already passed a rather bedraggled individual resting on an electricity pylon.  Also on the water were a number of Black-winged Stilts, a small number of Black-headed Gulls and a pair of Avocets.  A distant Yellow Wagtail (Flava Iberiae) was recorded before a single Stone Curlew came out of the olive grove and flew over the water.  Meanwhile, on the rise at the top of the field, we managed to record a Woodchat Shrike resting in a small bush and as we made our way back to the cars the single Red-crested Pochard at the back of the laguna took off to find better company.

Greater Flamingos Flamenco Comun  Phoenicopterus roseus
 So we left accompanied by a single passing Blackbird to our next stop, final stop for many of the party, at the weed-infested, overgrown water of Laguna de lasTurquillas, where, apart form a number of Coots and a pair of Mallards, the predominate duck present was at least fifty Red-crested Pochards.  (That´s where our previous bird was off to!)  Frank picked up a calling Cetti´s Warbler from below. Overhead and over the water and reeds numerous Barn Swallows and House Martins were busy feeding along with the occasional Red-rumped Swallow and a handful of Pallid Swifts.  However, it was pleasing to also see a couple of early Common Swifts also present.

Red-crested Pochard  Pato Colorado  Netta rufina

Moving round the corner and on to a very small parking place opposite the Laguna de Calderon, I found Peter and his car party looking at yet more Flamingos and Shoveler but, in addition, they had also managed to find both a Black-necked and Great Crested Grebe plus a single Green Sandpiper.  However, their best sighting whilst we were still at the last water, was a distant Osprey which managed to put up the Flamingo flock a passing Peregrine Falcon on the road side of the water as it shot past like the proverbial "bat out of hell".  Very lucky, too, for them to get this view.

With the thought that the rain might ease off and having to pass the salinas of Fuente de Piedra on the way home, a mere thirty minutes or so ahead of me, I decided  to drop in and check out the flooded fields towards the Mirador Vicaria.  It also seems that I was not the only one with this thought in mind seeing the cars that were in the main car park!  Whilst much of the observation was done from the car, although the rain did ease off sufficiently for me to take a closer look at both of the main flooded areas, I did manage to add a handful of waders to the day´s list in addition to the Cattle Egret and both White and Yellow Wagtail.  Only a couple of Black-tailed Godwits and Ruff, both now looking quite splendid in their rapidly-approaching summer uniforms but at least five Snipe, a handful of Redshanks and a single Common Sandpiper.  Finally, it was pretty obvious judging by the movement over the road, that the Gull-billed Terns had also returned from their winter migration.

I am not sure how many species as a whole the group recorded but, given the conditions from midday onwards, I was more than pleased to get home with a final total of 50.

Birds seen:
Mallard, Shoveler, Red-crested Pochard, Little Grebe, Great Crested Grebe, Black-necked Grebe, Cattle Egret, Heron, Osprey, Red Kite, Black Kite, Marsh Harrier, Hen Harrier, Montagu´s Harrier, Buzzard, Lesser Kestrel, Common Kestrel, Peregrine Falcon, Moorhen, Coot, Little Bustard, Great Bustard, Black-winged Stilt, Avocet, Stone Curlew, Ruff, Snipe, Black-tailed Godwit, Redshank, Common Sandpiper, Black-headed Gull, Gull-billed Tern, Black-bellied Sandgrouse, Collared Dove, Alpine Swift, Common Swift, Pallid Swift, Hoopoe, Calandra Lark, Crested Lark, Barn Swallow, House Martin, Red-crested Swallow, Yellow Wagtail, White Wagtail, Blackbird, Cetti´s Warbler, Whitethroat, Woodchat Shrike, Raven, Spotless Starling, House Sparrow, Spanish Sparrow, Corn Bunting.

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