Thursday, 19 January 2017

Plain dawn

Winter dawn on the plains (Martin Kelsey)

Mist-grey-toned meadows are spread before me, touched by a hoar frost that had arrived overnight. Only a gentle incline nearby has escaped and looks distinctly lusher green. I muse for a moment about why the frost had not formed there. Had the dry-stone wall beside me offered enough protection from the rolling, heavier, freezing air? There is something almost sinister about the sight of a pre-dawn frost. As we sleep a nocturnal prowler is at large, an invisible slowly moving blanket of cold, gently caressing the folds and hollows of the land.

Behind me are the bold Mooresque-forms of the smooth, rounded granites of the berrocal of Trujillo and I gaze across the seemingly vast plains of Belén, gently undulating as the curves in a piece of silk. To the east, the outline of the Villuercas Mountains appears stark, brittle and monochrome whilst the massif of the Gredos to the north, whose peaks are capped by snow, murmur a soothing pale peach.

A Thekla Lark comes onto the stone wall and gives its inflected pensive call. It stands, plump with its feathers puffed out, hunch-backed against the cold. A hoarse wheezing sound from the bare tree beside it, squeezes from an equally solemn-looking Hoopoe, silhouetted. But it makes me smile, as it takes on a comic pose. Trying to preen its upper breast feathers with its absurdly long bill, it is forced into bizarre contortions, pushing its neck in one direction to try to angle the bill in another. My amusement is abruptly distracted by a blast of light as the sun suddenly edges into view above the Villuercas. On cue, a Red Kite sets out on its early morning foray, a purposeful, direct flight in the cold dawn air, propelled by deep rowing flaps: fifteen and then a glide, fourteen then a glide, seventeen then a glide, its long tail relaxed and level.

It is time to move and I return to the car and taking the narrow road that crosses the plains north-east, drive slowly onward. Swathes of small birds in low bounding flight make passage across a field and as I stop to watch I pick up the twangs of Calandra Larks and the tics of Corn Buntings. Singleton Lapwings are dotted across the terrain, whilst beyond, lined up on a horizon formed by the crest of a rise stand a group of fourteen Great Bustard. They have a perpendicular statuesque form, verticals and horizontals, exaggerated further by their cocked fanned tails.

Stopping whenever the opportunity arises to survey the surroundings from a suitable vantage point, I scan the fields with the telescope, panning right to left and back again. The low sunlight picks up the white shock of Lapwing bellies from a huge distance, I detect the motion of foraging Golden Plover in the dry grey stands of dead thistles. On rock piles, stationary grey forms are revealed to be Little Owls. Onwards I go to another viewpoint to search again.

Eventually I find them, like the distant Lapwing, the shallow sunlight highlighting their white underparts. Otherwise their quiet brown dress would conceal them wonderfully in the remnants of last year's stalks. They too are standing hunched and largely motionless, just occasionally a wing stretches to reveal a surprise of white. This group of Little Bustards comprises twenty-four birds and even though several hundreds of metres away, some are facing the right direction for me to able to count at least eight adult males. Just one of these has started to grow the feathers to produce the striking chevron black and white neck patterns of spring plumage, but the others show a clear divide between brown upper breast and white below, as well as having much less patterned backs than the females and younger birds. I log information about the habitat and location, data to be sent through to SEO/BirdLife for its nationwide winter census of this fast-declining species.

Little Bustard in winter (two males and two females/young birds) (Martin Kelsey) 

My sense of satisfaction of having found this winter group is bittersweet. On 2nd March 2006, close to where I am standing today, I had watched a flock of over 330 birds. Such has been their precipitious decline.

Saturday, 31 December 2016

This winter's tales

Common Cranes (Martin Kelsey)
This solstice and yuletide have gifted us a season of frosty mornings, cloudless skies and not a breath of wind. It has been warm enough to lunch outdoors, catching the winter song of Woodlark and the sliding whistling whoops of Spotless Starlings. Yesterday from the terrace of a restaurant giving views across half of Extremadura, we watched two Barn Swallows and a House Martin feeding alongside groups of Crag Martins.  At dusk, against the sound of Little Owls, I start to count the stars as they break into view, slowly at the beginning, but more and more punctuate the sky as the colour drains. Soon I surrender to the futility of the task and to the lure of the log fire.

Waking at seven, the night seems as dark as it will ever be. There is no sign of an eastern glow yet and a feast of constellations is spread above me. These are days to be out and to celebrate abundance. It is mid-winter and at no other time of the year in this part of Extremadura are there so many birds. And this is no better epitomised than by the Common Cranes. Just before Christmas, volunteers across Spain and elsewhere in Western Europe took part in a coordinated count of cranes. My left elbow still aches from a repetitive strain injury caused by the use of my mechanical counter, my index finger pressed its little lever 11,739 times that day, as I registered the swathes of hunched grey-backed Common Cranes as they fed on the stubble fields or as they strode as aparitions through the fading light at a dehesa-bordered lake. My efforts contributed less than nine percent of Extremadura's count. This December a record-breaking total of over 132,000 Common Cranes was counted here. Spain holds the highest number of wintering Common Cranes in the world (nearly a quarter of a million this December) and Extremadura is by far the most important region, with Aragón coming in second with nearly 50,000 birds.

The largest numbers spend most of the winter on the stubble in Extremadura's rice and maize-growing areas, landscapes supporting a spectacular number and diversity of birds. In late afternoon, the low sunlight carries my shadow from the sandy track where I am standing, across a Typha-filled ditch and onto the cropped rows of rice stubble. A Bluethroat curtsies at the edge of a patch of open mud. The path in front of me dramatically changes colour as a thousand Spanish Sparrows erupt from its surface where a scattering of rice grains lay. They murmurate as a fluid, amoeba-like flock, as if enclosed in some membrane, holding the constituent sparrows together as a single life-form. The cause of this furore is quickly obvious, as an immaculately marked male Hen Harrier glides across my view. I am struck by the bold constrasts in its plumage: black, the palest of greys and a white enfused by the crisp afternoon sunshine. There is commotion still as flurries of jerky-flighted Meadow Pipits panic. I turn my attention to the harrier's wake and the view is pierced by its consort, a female Merlin, angular and sharp, a straight dagger of a flight in pursuit of avian prey flushed by its larger companion.

Great Bittern (Wilf Banfield)

I had driven down this same track a few days earlier, accompanied by three birding guests. Just ahead of me I sensed a movement in the vegetation beside the track, a rounded hunched form, the identity of which I could not immediately place. Carefully I drove on a few metres to get level to the place where I guessed the creature was now hiding, a field best described as rice fallow, where open water was broken by clumps of unharvested crop in random patches and clusters of sedges. Just a few feet into this field, standing still, with its body held at a low angle, but with neck and bill frozen vertical was a Great Bittern. It recoiled its neck and took on again the hunched form that I had first seen. With slow but powerful strides it traversed the gap from one tussock to the next, where it resumed its classic bittern-pose. This it sustained for a few seconds before hunching-up again to cross the next gap in the trajectory it sought. Thus it eased itself away from us, calm and collected, until it achieved complete invisibility as perspective merged the patches of tall vegetation into one.

Friday, 28 October 2016


Pin-tailed Sandgrouse (Raymond de Smet)

Daybreak on the plains north of Trujillo and finally the relief of heavy skies and shrouds of rain. Autumn made us wait this year, but as the landscape turned green in the space of a week, my friends' faces have become brighter: a transformation of mood as profound as that of their surroundings. I stand beside a shower of white Serotine Narcissus and look across the field, the gloaming of dawn extended by the overcast sky. Over two hundred Lapwing are evenly spread in front of me, facing the prevailing weather, taking long pauses between their almost mechanical strides. Beyond them, on a gentle rise, are what I first take to be a scatter of rounded stones, but as I struggle to get a better view through the raindrop-splattered telescope, one object shifts position and provides a view of a white belly, so close to the ground it appears to almost to touch it. Others make little shuffling movements and thus the stones transmute to Pin-tailed Sandgrouse, a group of forty or more.

Serotine Narcissus (Martin Kelsey)

Few birds can match the temperament of the weather than sandgrouse. On such a morning, they crouch huddled, as if wrapping themselves in heavy wool blankets, small-headed, broad-backed, short-legged. In the poor light, the upperparts appear dark greyish-brown, pressing further the imagery of foot soldiers, moping at rest, their cloaks draping to the soggy ground. They trudge, then pause and peck, barely a signal of movement from their forms. But find such a flock when the sun is shining and it is as if the squad of troopers has been promoted. Their upperparts spangle with golden medallions, their wing coverts appear laden with braid and their chests show panels of black-bordered russet-orange, The flock explores the ground with more animated shuffles and occasionally a bird lifts its body up to stretch its wings, flashing the pure-whiteness of its belly.

Pin-tailed Sandgrouse (John Hawkins)

Ever vigilant and always forsaking tall vegetation where their vision is contained, sandgrouse are nervous. All it takes is the appearance of a Spanish Imperial Eagle slowly flapping in take-off from a nearby roost for the flock to erupt. Their strident gull-like cries seem out of character to their rather dove-like bearing on the ground, but it is a far-carrying and evocatively haunting sound of open expanses. They metamorphose again in flight when we are confronted with a tight flock of surprisingly pointed-winged agile birds which twist and turn on rapid wing beats, rising in unison. Our final reward is yet another change of act, as the flock reaches its highest point and then bursts like a star, shattering into shrapnel with the birds, now in twos or threes, dispersing in all directions on long glides against a clear blue sky, becoming ever more difficult to follow and yet still vocal: a flock that disappears above us before our very eyes.

Sunday, 9 October 2016

Sierra wanderings

Walk towards the Garganta del Fraile near Serradilla (Martin Kelsey)
The Almonte River is marked, after four months of drought, by a belt of bleached dull grey pebbles, a fossilised watercourse, with two shrunken still pools as signals of what once was. Crossing the river from the south, the road climbs a sandy, conglomerate ridge to overlook a vast bowl of dehesa, a landscape stippled by innumerable encinas, the indomitable holm oaks of the Mediterranean savanna. It is rimmed by the southern edge of the Monfragüe syncline: the barrier of 500 million-year old quartzites, lichen-toned crags erupting from the flanks of evergreen oak cover. From the ridge I can see my destination, the village of Serradilla, lying at the foot of this rim and to the west of that most emblematic of the ruptures across the quartzite, where the great Tagus River cuts past the massive Peña Falcón cliff: the southern gateway of the Monfragüe National Park.

Serradilla is that typical half-forgotten outpost, a dense pack of mainly single-storey white-walled, terracota-tiled homes terraced along eccentrically-dimensioned cement streets, which if you looked from above, recall the logic of a spider's web, but at ground-level transform to a maze. Hardly a soul is encountered, but from some of the dwellings partially-raised shutters and colourfully-striped door-curtains suggested occupancy. From the main road which takes an oblique chord across the town and compromises its width as it searches out the least obtuse of routes, there are few signs of commerce, but down a side-street I quickly find a bar where I am cheerfully offered an ample pincho of tortilla to accompany my coffee.

Leaving the car at the edge of Serradilla I take a lane that strikes out parallel to the hillside above the village. I rejoice at the discordant continuation of the buildings either side of my route, the irregularly plastered walls and painted metal doors of sheds, workshops and garages: signs of a lived-in, worked-in village. This impression is reinforced as I enter the patchwork of stone-walled parcels of small-holdings that is typical of settlements here, precious assets for the people, sandwiched between the village and the vast latifundia of private estates. These dusty allotments are populated by Iberian pigs, a few chickens and donkeys, remains of the summer tomatoes wither and from a plot of water melons, with the globes of fruit dotted across the yellowing bed of leaves, a flock of Rock Sparrows twang as rise, their white-tipped tails flashing. The uneven stone walls offer perches for Black Redstarts. An arid paddock is criss-crossed by ant highways, dark seams across the textile-like mat of dried grasses, whilst a Hoopoe waddles in its curious clockwork gait.

The slope above Serradilla, fingered by small olive groves, is largely clothed by evergreen oak, patches of pines and the matorral of rock rose, with emergent rock outcrops. Over these dozens of House Martins pirouette, amongst them the darker, stockier Crag Martins, with stiffer, more-swift-like wings. As I watch, a swift does enter the arena, black and slender, until with a twist, its white band reveals its identity: a White-rumped Swift whose sojourn here extends well into autumn. I pause on the track, listening to Cirl Buntings rattling and looking south-east over the rolling dehesa with the bluish form of the Villuercas Mountains on the horizon, a good 75 kilometres away.

The track now boasts a mixed vegetation: wild olives, mastic and strawberry tree and, as if on cue, a Two-tailed Pasha crosses the path, a flight of strong stiff glides, before settling on a lichen-covered snag to take the sun. I climb on top of a stone wall to try to get an unimpeded view of this impressive butterfly, but the angle is wrong with only its rear end in view, But as the sun warms it, it opens its wings and I get a powerful glimpse of the pair of amber bands on the upper forewing, the yellow strip on the hind wing, sky-blue dusted markings and the white-rimmed pair of tails.

Partially hidden Two-tailed Pasha (Martin Kelsey)
I am led finally to the Friar's Gorge, where a stream flows between a narrow entrance through the ridge and a quartzite pillar stands like a cowled monk in testimony. Above me two Griffon Vultures circle, taking deep flaps as they turn, paddling the air. A contrast to the steadfast determination of a Black Vulture which glides above them, crossing my view on rigid, slightly bowed wings.

Approach to Mirabel Castle (Martin Kelsey)
From Serradilla I cross the ridge and approach the ruins of the castle of Mirabel, standing high on Acero hill. The present structure has dominated the skyline since the 15th century, an earlier fortress being destroyed by the Almohades two hundred years earlier. A small group of Griffon Vultures had found an updraught along the ridge and were joined briefly by a Spanish Imperial Eagle, gliding away from me, before turning with a shock of the emulsion-white leading edge of the wing. Below the castle on a wide sweep of land is a dehesa of cork oaks, more noble trees than the holm oaks. I walk through this parkland, flushing a Tree Pipit from the ground close to me and I watch it take a perch, longitudinally on a branch, tail-pumping as it stands and preens. Ahead of me a cork oak stands out even amongst its conspecifics, taller, with a canopy spreading 27 metres. This is the Padre Santo (Holy Father) oak, estimated to be 900 years old. It stands unaided, its foliage lush green and evidence of successive cork harvests on its boughs high above me. This plant has lived through the whole of the history of the castle above it, indeed as a sapling it would have searched for light through the shade of conspecifics that might have started their lives during Roman times: conceivably just two or three cork oak generations away from the present. As I rest beside the Padre Santo, a movement catches my eye. A Spotted Flycatcher had left the tree on a short sally and is now back on its perch, in chippy upright posture and alert for prey. For the flycatcher, this is a stopover on its long-distance migration to the tropical forest savannas of Africa - how many generations of flycatchers has this singular tree served?

Looking up into the Padre Santo cork oak, 900 years old (Martin Kelsey)

Thursday, 22 September 2016

A landscape takes shape

Summer drought in Extremadura (Martin Kelsey)
The heat at the start of the month turned the landscape two-dimensional, sucking out depth and leaving it as a flattened canvass. As the shade temperatures hit 40ºC, nothing stirred. All creatures it seemed had found some solace in shade, whilst we retreated indoors.  Early September brought us the hottest days of the year, and sleepness nights too. Then change happened abruptly as we entered the second week, and for the first time I could step out of the door in early morning and become embraced by a shock of freshness. For the first time too, for many days, it was now comfortable to sit out and eat at night and we did so at the middle of that second week gazing at the glorious rhomboidal juxtaposition of a young Moon, Mars, Saturn and Antares.

Now we can rejoice a landscape again bearing form and solidity, an autumnal bite to a blue sky across which pass drifts of Spotless Starlings. Parties of these garrulous birds sit in the trees which now bear over-ripened figs, a starlings' fig party indeed and there is a constant chortling, a musical gurgling.  As I stand the garden I am aware of a new sound, distant but penetrating, the bellow of Red Deer stags, embarking on their annual rut, deep, almost adenoidal groans. There too, that most uplifting of sound, champagne fresh and clean, the lilt of a Woodlark: the undeniable herald of autumn, which captures like nothing else days of autumnal sunshine.
Singing Woodlark (John Hawkins)

The days are still hot (close to 30ºC), however the equinoxal nights are deliciously longer and cooler. But the single day of some rain recently, which broke about three months of drought, has plainly not achieved yet the arrival of our second spring, when in the space of days the landscape becomes green with the appearance of delicate new spikes of grass. With no rain expected at least through to the end of the month, we have still more days ahead to contemplate the the powerful harshness of the baked blond ground vegetation, in places crumbled by the hooves of livestock, and the sharpness of the lengthening shadows in the dehesa - a contrast made of black and gold.

Notwithstanding this sense of waiting, cues of change are being clocked up daily. Just two days ago, a biting tic call from the garden told me that our first wintering Robin had arrived. And there it was, close to the trunk of a tree, in a shady patch of the parched lawn, with its appealing upright stance and large-headed appearance, alert and cocky. A companion for the months ahead, whatever the weather.

Robin (Martin Kelsey)

Thursday, 11 August 2016

Bursting with bee-eaters

Juvenile Woodchat Shrike (Martin Kelsey
Two birds set the scene at the moment more than any others, by their sheer ubiquitousness and presence. And yet, each summer the almost constant companionship they give takes me by surprise. One is the Woodchat Shrike. On a drive recently through a terrain of mixed habitats, where patches of dehesa woodland were giving way to the plains, it was the most numerous bird to be seen perched on the roadside fences. They perch with a bolt-upright stance, looking bull-headed with a teasingly slowly wagging tail. From the top strand of wire, they are afforded sufficient height to scour the sun-baked earth, with sight evolved to see through the mish-mash of conflictingly-angled dead grass straws for signs of movement. The shrike drops from the fence, becomes immersed in the brittle cover and emerges with a cricket in its hooked-bill, returning briefly to the same perch before taking a bee-line, in typical direct flight away from view. This bird was a juvenile, as indeed are most that I see at this time of the year. Their plumage bears little resemblance to that of their boldly marked parents, looking a faded grey-brown, but beautifully scalloped with fine greyish bars. Only the pale creamy rump presages that of an adult. The species is a common bird here, but their abundance in late summer and the way young birds turn up and seem to take up temporary territories in areas away from typical breeding habitat (such as the edges of the rice fields, or indeed, our garden) suggests both a dispersal from natal sites and, perhaps, movement of birds from elsewhere as part of the gentle roll of autumn passage.

Unlike the Woodchat Shrikes, the Bee-eaters are in groups, sometimes forty or fifty strong, either bursting from low perches and hawking by swoops and glides over the pastures, or wheeling high above, mingling with hirundines, constantly making that pulsating referee-whistle prrrrt. They too are everywhere, moulting adults mixed with the young, less burnished golden above, more damp moss green.

Adult Bee-eaer on left and juvenile on right (Martin Kelsey)

Other birds too are amassing. On the Alcollarín reservoir near home I made four carefully-chosen stops, each offering me different angles on the water body, thus to survey the whole expanse of water, and to take into account the sun's position to enhance visibility, I picked a morning when the wind would be light enough to avoid the water surface becoming choppy. With my mechanical counter at hand I scanned the view, focusing on just two species which have been gathering in post-breeding groups here. Great Crested Grebes loafed languidly in loose parties, many with their long necks resting along their back, a position which accentuated their pale, rounded sterns and recalling flotillas of moored dinghies with sails at rest. I counted through these groups and added in as well the occasional solitary bird, or pairs of adults accompanied by their now large, stripy-headed young, still noisily begging as soon as a parent surfaced from a dive. There were 830 birds all told.

The Little Grebes were far more challenging to count. A few birds were scattered in ones and twos, but almost all were in one of five packs. Quite unlike their larger cousins, the Little Grebes reminded me frenzied nervous shoals, tightly packed, surging uni-directional, and able to switch course in apparent unison. Briefly they might pause and slowly spread out, but halfway through my count, the group would flex and tighten and start again a froth of submersions.   The most intense activity happened when the flock was close to a bank, in shallower water where presumably the small fish they were hunting where themselves more tightly packed. It seemed to me that the grebes were exercising a form of coordinated hunting, driving the fish into the shallows. This attracted Black-heded Gull and egrets which waited at the water's edge, as they do when cormorants perform in the same way.  There was unison in behaviour too when a Marsh Harrier sailed close along the water's edge. Almost all of the group of over a hundred grebes submerged as one, leaving me only being able to imagine the submerged chaotic scene, and having to wait until the grebes had regained a semblance of calm before resuming my count. The tally at the end of the visit was 585 Little Grebe, a remarkable total for not a particularly large reservoir. Like my musings on the Woodchat Shrikes, I wondered where they had all come from.

A pack of Little Grebes (Martin Kelsey)

Thursday, 4 August 2016

Bustard blessings

Juvenile and female Little Bustards (Martin Kelsey)
Finding bustards in early August in a year such as this when the wet spring's legacy has left swathes of tall and brittle grasses is ultimately a question of luck. The first two hours of daylight offers the prospect of yield, for once the sun is high in the sky, the rising temperature forces all creatures on the plains into shade. Crested Larks gather in the dark beneath a manger, an Iberian Grey Shrike will find that wisp of shadow behind a fence post, shuffling into position on its barbed wire perch, and bustards plonk themselves onto the ground and pant. Taking a horizontal view across the fields, the surface bubbles with heat haze, thus converting distant cardoon thistle heads into those of bustards. Add in to this the perfect fusion now in colour of the dry vegetation with that of bustard plumage, then serendipity remains the only recourse.

And thus we were blessed yesterday. We made our first stop, just as the sun had capped the eastern hills and the pre-dawn greyness on the plains had been alchemised to a coppery gold. Five Great Bustards were striding in an uneven line across the field beside us, shoulder deep in the grass stems. Despite our proximity, they paid no heed and methodically were using the first hour of daylight to forage. Their focus was not in our direction and their trajectory ran parallel, rather than away, from us. We were ignored. Slow steps and heads tilted down in studied concentration, the briefest of pauses and then a strike, the head disappearing into the herbage to make a peck. Four of the birds looked like adult females, with rather slender grey necks. But with them was a bird identically marked, but no more than two-thirds the size of its companions.   It was a juvenile of the year, fruit of a mating between one of the displaying males that I had watched lekking on this same terrain four months earlier and result of the care and protection its mother had provided subsequently.

Two hours later as we were about to move on from the plains, an experience eclipsed even that one. Something told me that it may be worth checking a particular shallow valley where in the spring a Little Bustard had been displaying. On my visits there in late spring, the grass had grown so tall that despite hearing the display call I had been unable to locate the male responsible at all. The same valley had held two pairs of Stone Curlew, which had often been easier to find as they stayed close to the sparser vegetation amongst the dog's teeth of rocky outcrops.

We reached the place and tall, straw-yellow vegetation seemed an impenetrable barrier to our visual search. Easier to see was the Short-toed Eagle that was perched on a pylon, with a Roller adjacent, a reprise of an identical scene from the spring. But Mark caught some movement, and by extraordinary good fortune, he had found two Little Bustards. Not wanting to take his binoculars away from his eyes, so homogeneous was the field of view, that I had to attempt to follow his line of vision and search for how the birds were moving in the way that he was describing. Sure enough, there they were! They were frequently out of view behind taller or denser vegetation, but their direction was clear, moving down the slope and towards us.    

Little Bustards /(Martin Kelsey)
I paused and took stock. Beside us was a small pool, a stagnant dewpond, with steep rocky sides. It was clear to me that the Little Bustards were making their way in that direction in order to drink. We got back into the car and I drove just a few metres forward to a place where we were closer to the pool, but now less visible to the bustards. We sat and waited. The birds had disappeared from view completely. What we did not know was that whilst we sat there, the Little Bustards had moved in a wide arc and when they reappeared they did so on the bare ground lying between us and the water. They had swung round in order to access the pool from the side where there was a more gentle access.
Little Bustards coming to drink (Martin Kelsey)
Now at close quarters, we could see in perfect detail the fine and intricate vermiculated patterning on the upperparts of both birds and how the colour tones matched in extraordinary precision the dry dusty summer vegetation. But what was also clear was that one of the birds was smaller than the other, had a shorter bill and was a little less marked on the underparts. We realized we were looking at a female with its juvenile offspring. They dropped below the bank and out of view, we assumed they must have been drinking at the pool. Shortly they reappeared, bills glistening, with the bird we now recognosed as the adult female in the lead. They slowly ascended the bank of the pool and then the female made a short run and caught a large grasshopper in her bill. Immediately the young bird ran towards her and together they dismembered the insect. They rose to the top of a rise and were poised to descend the other side and out of view when something changed the mother's mind. She turned  and, with her youngster following, returned for a second drink at the pool. With their thirsts' finally quenched, they took the same path back up the slope and after pausing briefly at the crest of the rise, then dropped to the other side and out of view.

Little Bustards (Martin Kelsey)
We had barely spoken during this extraordinary encounter and I had found the experience deeply moving. Like the Great Bustards earlier in the morning we had been blessed with the sight and evidence of successful breeding - this young bird's father would almost certainly have been the male that I had watched on several occasions here in the spring, and once indeed with a female showing great interest in him. But in a more profound way, these Little Bustards had hit a deeper nerve. This is a species now considered at risk of extinction in Extremadura. A species that has almost disappeared, dramatically and precipitiously, under our very noses.  A species we had taken for granted has become the very symbol of the precariousness and fragility of the dry plains of western Spain. And here before us was a valient, vigilent and careful mother, guiding at each step a representative of a new generation of Little Bustards. No one could predict the future of this particular young bird - huge challenges and many dangers would lie ahead, but I clung to this symbolism of hope and prayed that somehow in the years to come others too would still find Little Bustards here.  

The final view (Martin Kelsey)