Speaker: Dr Dave Horsley
Reporter: Sue Gale
Dave is a fan of birding in the Spanish Steppes, parts of Spain close to the Portuguese border and very much inland. They are between 600-900 metres above sea level, so the numbers of large raptors that we often associate with mountains are not too surprising. Also, some of the passerines like the lovely Rock Bunting he showed us. The Southern Steppes identified by Dave were in Extremadura, and many of the areas were familiar to those club members who travelled to Spain in 2019, bringing back happy memories.
The Monfrague National Park and the plains around Trujillo and Caceres especially. The Northern Steppes, around Slamanca, included the Arribes National Park along the River Duero – the border with Portugal – and the Villafafila wetlands (not so wet in summer). These Northern Steppes are no longer natural grassy plains but are irrigated for agriculture, in particular for vines. Rueda, the local wine, came much recommended. Sadly, the vines present a hazard to low-flying birds, particularly the Great Bustards, whose numbers are now decreasing.
Dave treated us to some great photos of raptors including Booted Eagle, Golden Eagle, Short-toed Eagles and of course the Spanish Imperial Eagle. Dave was able to get close views of raptors feeding on carcasses in front of the hides, and took some great video footage. The other stars of these were the Vultures, particularly Black and Griffon Vultures. A long video of the fate of a sheep’s carcass, made available under licence and placed in front of a hide was a great way to end the talk. It was a couple of hours before the carcass was discovered, original
by some Ravens, which attacked the more vulnerable parts of the body. When the much more powerful Griffon Vultures arrived progress really began to be made. Eventually the carcass was completely covered in Black Vultures until it was stripped completely clean. All of the birds looked very full! Dave reported the ring numbers on some of these Black Vultures and found that some four- or five-year-olds were about 100km from where they had been ringed as chicks. Another 2-year-old came from the nearby mountains. It seems they don’t travel very
far! By no means the only birds to be seen in the Steppes are eagles and vultures. Dave interspersed his talk with pictures of some of the others, including what he called the ‘gaudy threesome’ – Bee-eaters, Rollers and Hoopoes. We saw some Gull-billed Terns, who catch fish in the winter but subsist on voles in the dried out
Villafafila wetlands in summer. Pin-tailed Sandgrouse are scarcer but also present there, as are Azure-winged Magpies. Although he wasn’t there at the right time of year to photograph male Great Bustards displaying, he still had some great shots of these birds. Many thanks to Dave for giving us a great tutorial on raptor ID as well as some fascinating footage of their lifestyles.