June 21, 2015, Cascante, Spain — The number one bird to see in Spain is, without doubt, the Spanish Imperial Eagle—a large, impressive raptor found only on the Iberian Peninsula (mostly in central and southern Spain, with a few in adjoining Portugal).
It looks a bit like a Golden Eagle with white shoulders, and eats things like rabbits and small dogs. The Spanish Imperial Eagle nearly went extinct in the 1960s, when its total population dropped to just 30 pairs; in recent decades those numbers have improved thanks to various conservation measures, but there are still probably fewer than 500 individuals in the wild.
Gorka talked to a park guard in Monfrague last night who gave us some good news: A pair of Spanish Imperial Eagles is nesting in a traditional spot within the park, so we had a good chance of seeing one! This morning we arrived at the spot early, before the day’s heat kicked in, and waited to see if an eagle might materialize.
The first bird we saw was an Egyptian Vulture, a nice lifer for me. But it was quickly ignored when Gorka suddenly exclaimed, “There it is, right under the vulture!” Sure enough, an adult Spanish Imperial Eagle soared along a ridge, then, in a stroke of luck, perched magnificently on a rocky outcrop where we could admire it with scopes. Some birds require a certain delicate sense of appreciation, but not this one—a huge eagle staring you in the eyeball isn’t exactly subtle.
The other major highlight today came later, when Gorka and I were searching for Little Bustards (the Great Bustard’s little cousin) farther north. It was mid-afternoon with the sun burning overhead and temperatures in the mid-90s, and neither of us was enthusiastic about our chances. Little Bustards are small, often shorter than the grass they like to hide in, and are easiest to see when males display in the spring. A hot summer afternoon is a terrible time to go looking, but we gave it a shot. Incredibly, Gorka spotted one at the third spot we tried, standing in the middle of a plowed dirt field. Got ya, you little bustard!
Happy Father’s Day (in the U.S.), by the way, AND happy summer solstice—around here the solstice was officially at 6:39 p.m. today. It’s the longest day of the year! In December, I’ll have the longest day of the year all over again, in Australia…
New birds today: 8
Year list: 3049