Friday, 14 April 2017

Iberia: Castro Verde 10 - 14 April

Day 1 10.04.2017
In January I applied for a field position with Yoav Perlman in Spain and Portugal working with Bustards on the steppes. I was thrilled to receive the phone call that informed me that I had got the position and that I would be spending an amazing 6 weeks in an extremely good birding area.
Our first day in Spain was pretty straight forward. We arrived in Lisbon mid-afternoon and once we had picked up the car we began our journey south. This took all afternoon, but I gained a number of new birds on the trip south. Spotless Starling was the first new lifer I got, and they were extremely common throughout the region. The same can be said for Red-rumped Swallow, Zitting Cisticola and Lesser Kestrel. A single Sardinian Warbler was the only one we saw, but was a lifer.
There was an abundance of cool birds. White Storks were common, and at roadside pools there were plenty of Black-winged Stilts and Greater Flamingos. As soon as we arrived at the field station we added Stone Curlew to our growing list. I also heard my first ever Quail, a pretty cool sound, and probably something I should have heard before at some point. Crested Larks were obviously common, but their warbling calls brought back memories of Oman.

Species List:
Driving to Castro Verde: Sardinian Warbler, Zitting Cisticola, Red-rumped Swallow, Spotless Starling, Lesser Kestrel, Bee-eater, Stone-curlew, Montagu’s Harrier, Robin, Greater Flamingo, Common Buzzard, Spoonbill, Little Egret, Knot, Woodpigeon, White Stork, Feral Pigeon, Cattle Egret, Crested Lark,

Day 2 11.04.2017
Today was mainly spent around the field centre in Castro Verde park, practicing the methods we were going to use in the field. It was a lovely morning and I added a number of species to my life list. I got both Great and Little Bustards not far from the field centre, although Great Bustards were only in flight. Little Bustards could be heard all across the steppes. It must be said that their calls are probably the most unflattering bird calls I have ever heard.
We had a small flock of Black-bellied Sandgrouse fly over us at one point, which was pretty exciting. It made for a change of sandgrouse experience after those in Oman, which we only saw at water. I finally felt justified at ticking Short-toed Lark when we had a couple of singing birds, after I had avoided ticking the flyovers in Oman. Our walk also took us past a stunning Roller. It was distant and flushed as soon as we saw it. However it did perch again some distance away, a cracking looking bird. The final lifer of the day was a Serin which I had to track down in the supermarket car park. Hopefully better views of the latter will be afforded before we finish.
The novelty of Zitting Cisticolas had pretty much worn off by the end of the morning. Their calls filled the air all around us. As did the calls of Quails, Corn Buntings and another new bird for me; Calandra Lark, whose mimicry was causing all kinds of problems for my limited lark identification skills. Lesser Kestrels were still common, with two nest sites within 1km of the field centre. Woodchat Shrike, Bee-eater, Hoopoe, Great Spotted Cuckoo and Black-winged Stilt were all also present. So many awesome birds it would take for too long to elaborate on. A Spotted Redshank was a nice addition to the trip list, something worth making an added note for.
-Iberian Water Frog

Species List:
Castro Verde: Little Bustard, Great Bustard, Calandra Lark, Lesser Kestrel, Black-bellied Sandgrouse, Short-toed Lark, Red-rumped Swallow, Serin, Hoopoe, European Bee-eater, Woodchat Shrike, Crested Lark, Corn Bunting, Montagu’s Harrier,  Great-spotted Cuckoo, Coot, Great-crested Grebe, Little Ringed Plover, Gadwall, Black-winged Stilt, Spotted Redshank, Greenshank, Raven, Stone Curlew, House Sparrow, Zitting Cisticola, Skylark, Sand Martin, House Martin, Barn Swallow, Booted Eagle, Spotless Starling, Red-legged Partridge, Cattle Egret, Grey Heron, Goldfinch, White Stork, Stonechat, Carrion Crow, Magpie, Jackdaw, Rook, Greenfinch, Little Owl, Roller, Swallowtail, Small Copper, Painted Lady, Clouded Yellow, Small Heath, Common Blue, Green-striped White.

Day 3 12.04.2017
All the days follow a pretty similar format from here onwards. Survey across farmland in the morning, siesta, then an afternoon survey too. Today was the first day of surveying, and we will continue to work across Castro Verde for the next week and a half. I’ll just run through highlights and lifers to prevent the sightings from becoming tedious.
Survey work today was immediately from the centre. Much the same as the previous day, but with much better views of Little Bustards, some getting up from extremely close to my transect. Calandra Larks were still common, as were Zitting Cisticolas, the novelty of the latter is beginning to wear thing already. Today I encountered 2 Rollers on the fence, but they remained wary. A Pale-phase Booted Eagle was nice, as was a pair of Great Spotted Cuckoo. The real highlight though was a stunning male Black-eared Wheatear. A little distant but a superb looking bird to be sure!
-Little Bustard
-Great Bustard
-White Stork

Species List:
Castro Verde: Little Bustard, Great Bustard, Red Kite, Little Grebe, Coot, Montagu’s Harrier, Calandra Lark, Crested Lark, Zitting Cisticola, Corn Bunting, Red-legged Partridge, Jackdaw, Lesser Kestrel, Roller, Grey Heron, Cattle Egret, Hoopoe, Spotless Starling, House Sparrow, Barn Swallow, Red-rumped Swallow, European Bee-eater, Carrion Crow, Stonechat, Booted Eagle, White Stork, Spoonbill, Great-spotted Cuckoo, Black-eared Wheatear, Mallard, Gadwall, Black-bellied Sandgrouse, Swallowtail, Green-striped White, Small Copper,

Day 4 13.04.2017
Today started with thick fog and felt unpleasantly cold. It warmed up mid-morning and as a result the birds started to appear. I actually saw my first two Quail of the trip when I almost trod on them in the fog. I lifered Spanish Sparrow as a large flock was nesting in a Eucalyptus tree, directly in a White Stork nest. Iberian Grey Shrike was the first of our trip, although it is the same species as the Southern Grey Shrike I saw in Oman. I had a great encounter with a pair of Black-eared Wheatear and a nearby Tawny Pipit. The Pipit was fairly photogenic but sadly the same could not be said for the Wheatears. The only other different birds were the first Black Kite of our trip. After only seeing distant birds in Oman it was nice to finally appreciate these birds.
-Tawny Pipit
-Lesser Kestrel
-Calandra Lark

Species List:
Castro Verde: Little Bustard, Great Bustard, Quail, Iberian Grey Shrike, Marsh Harrier, Montagu’s Harrier, Tawny Pipit, Calandra Lark, Crested Lark, Short-toed Lark, Spanish Sparrow, House Sparrow, Grey Heron, White Stork, Spoonbill, Cattle Egret, Mallard, Gadwall, Lesser Kestrel, Black Kite, Common Buzzard, Black-eared Wheatear, Corn Bunting, Stonechat, Red-legged Partridge, Zitting Cisticola, Spotless Starling, Feral Pigeon, Collard Dove, Swift, House Martin, Barn Swallow, Magpie, Carrion Crow, Hoopoe, European Bee-eater, Black-winged Stilt, Blackbird, Linnet, Goldfinch, Coot, Little Owl, Iberian Water Frog, Iberian Marbled White, Painted Lady, Green-striped White,

Friday 14.04.2017
We headed a little further west today, out of the far side of Castro Verde town. The road to my transect seemed great, until I had to pass through a farmyard with about 10 dogs. Their barking brought out the farmer, who didn’t speak a word of English. Given my extremely limited Spanish though we had a broken conversation and I was allowed past. I even got a friendly pat on the shoulder for my efforts.
Insane numbers of Great Bustards were the highlight today. At one point I had 30 all in one field of view, albeit distant. I also had my first vultures of the trip; Griffons made up the majority but a couple of Black Vultures could be picked out from the soaring flock. I got good flight views of Black-bellied Sandgrouse, my best yet, as well as more Roller and Quail. A Pale-phase Booted Eagle was also nice. The highlight beyond doubt was finally an approachable male Black-eared Wheatear. Still not ideal but much improved views on the last two birds! In our afternoon transect I saw my first Azure-winged Magpies, plus my first Bonelli’s Eagle of the trip. Iberian Grey and Woodchat Shrike were both more common during the afternoon transect.
-Griffon Vulture
-Black-bellied Sandgrouse
-Great Bustard
-Black-eared Wheatear 
-Eurasian Black Vulture
-Cattle Egret
-Spotless Starling
-Spanish Sparrow

Species List:
Castro Verde:

Roller, Lesser Kestrel, Black Kite, Booted Eagle, Griffon Vulture, Red Kite, Montagu’s Harrier, White Stork, Grey Heron, Cattle Egret, Quail, Gadwall, Mallard, Coot, Great Bustard, Little Bustard, Hoopoe, European Bee-eater, Swift, Feral Pigeon, Black-bellied Sandgrouse, Zitting Cisticola, Calandra Lark, Crested Lark, Short-toed Lark, Stonechat, Corn Bunting, Black-eared Wheatear, House Martin, Barn Swallow, Carrion Crow, Azure-winged Magpie, Spanish Sparrow, House Sparrow, Raven, Peregrine, Red-legged Partridge, Little Owl, Bonelli’s Eagle, Spotless Starling, Red-rumped Swallow, Spoonbill, Collard Dove, Iberian Hare, European Rabbit, Painted Lady, Small Copper, Common Blue, Clouded Yellow, Green-striped White, 

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