Sunday, 19 October 2014


 A PLACE much loved by birders is Extremadura in Spain.

The pictures below are by courtesy of Wikimedia Commons and feature some of the sights that might greet a visitor in spring and summer.
 Typical dehesas habitat in spring - note also the white stork (photo:Ardo Beltz)
Cirl bunting – plentiful in this region of Spain (photo: Paco Gomez)
The bee-eater – beautiful to see, beautiful to hear (photo: Shah Jahan)
Rollers are encouraged by the provision of nest-boxes (photo: Sumeet Moghe)

The next best thing to going there is attending a presentation by Lincolnshire birder Steve Lovell who knows the area and its wildlife well.

Here is an account of the highly entertaining talk he gave to members of Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust at Louth Library on Friday evening.

A LINCOLNSHIRE birder has described how he witnessed the tragic demise of one of Europe’s rarest birds of prêy.

While on a week’s holiday in late spring in the Extremadura region of central Spain, Steve Lovell and wife Elaine were tipped off by a couple of Finnish birders to the whereabouts of the nest of a Spanish imperial eagle.

As they waited in the expectation of soon seeing one of the adults returning to feed the two chicks, something bizarre and tragic happened.

The larger of the chick lost patience with waiting for its next meal and turned on its younger sibling - killing, then eating it.

Steve described the fascinating but tragic episode when he was guest speaker at Friday’s meeting of the Louth branch of the Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust.

“Before our eyes, two eagles became one,” he said with grim humour.

The Lovells have been to the Extremadura on three separate occasions - late spring, September and winter - and each one has been fascinating.

Known as “green Spain” it is one of the most heavily protected wildlife areas in Europe and its economy relies largely on birding tourists - which is why it is represented, every August, with extensive stand space at the annual British Birdwatching Fair which it also co-sponsors.

It is easy to see the attraction. It is home to some 300 species, many of them only very seldom seen in the UK.

The range of habitats includes Mediterranean forest, dehesas, rocky areas, heaths, rivers and streams, reservoirs, towns and villages, pastures/dry farming land and irrigated agricultural crops (including, unusually, paddy fields where rice is grown for risotto).

Steve and Elaine are also skilled photographers, and their presentation featured stunning close-up shots (see end of report for list of species).

“Cirl buntings and crested larks are everywhere,”enthused Steve. “In winter, you see and hear cranes, with their extraordinary bugling calls, until you are blue in the face. Their population is said to reach as many as 120,000.”

The Lincoln man, who runs his own successful garden landscaping business, revealed a special admiration for the various vulture species that are widespread.

“As well as their role in cleaning up nature, their flight is breathtaking,” he said. “They are truly masters of the sky.”

Steve evidently also has a spot for rollers whose breeding success is encouraged by dedicated nestboxes, and for bee-eaters - not just for their beautiful plumage but also for the sound they utter.

“It’s a wonderful bubbling call,”he said. “It blows you away.”

The couple’s portfolio of photographs also included expanses of French lavender and other herbs and flowers, various reptiles and amphibians plus such insects as the oil beetle and the epaulette strimmer.
One particularly impressive shot was that of four swallowtail butterflies settled on the ground where they were evidently seeking some kind of sustenance from minerals in the mud.

“Normally you only see swallowtails flying powerfully away into the distance, so this was something memorable,”said Steve “It was too good to miss!”

Spanning 250km from north to south and 200km from east to west, Extremadura is larger than some countries, for instance Belgium, Denmark and Holland.

The Lovells had flown to Madrid from the UK, then hired a car, but the region can also be reached in about the same time (about three hours) from the airports at Seville and Lisbon.

Steve also sounded plaudits for the unspoiled “Spanishness” of the towns and villages,  and he clearly enjoyed both the local wine (vino tinto lagares) and the Iberian pork (acorns from the numerous oaks are voraciously gobbled up  by the black pigs and help to give their meat its unique flavour.)

Anything else? “Yes, the cherries are the best I’ve ever tasted,” he chuckled.

Before concluding, he also offered a couple of tips to prospective visitors:

* Be forearmed by doing some research before you go.

* Restaurants where there are cloths on the table are likely to be more expensive than those without!   

The meeting above Louth Library was attended by 31 Trust members including branch chairman Ray Woodcock who provided an appropriate thank-you to the Lovells. “Muchas gracias!”he exclaimed.

Though they missed out on seeing eagle owl and Bonelli’s eagle, the list of species photographed by Steve and Elaine was awesome. It  included:

Red-spotted bluethroat
Spanish sparrow
Cirl bunting
Black-winged stilt
Little ringed plover
Ortolan bunting
Purple heron
Squacco heron
Cattle egret
White stork
Black stork
Rufous bush robin
Sub-alpine warbler
Pallid swift
Rock bunting
Great spotted cuckoo
Lesser kestrel
Short-toed lark
Cassandra lark
Crested lark
Montagu’s harrier
Black kite
Spotless starling
Black-shouldered kite
Temminck’s stint
Red-rumped swallow
Whiskered tern

·       For more info about Extremadura,

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