Three years ago we were lucky enough to be in the right place at exactly the right time when we came across a large flock of Great Bustards displaying and they were accompanied by a couple of Little Bustards. It remains to this day one of the most incredible birding moments we have ever experienced.
They are not the only amazing birding show we have seen in Alentejo as we have also been spoilt with a phalanx of European White Storks, a curfew of Stone Curlews, a kettle of Eurasian Griffon Vultures and amazingly even an Eurasian Black Vulture. However there was one species we had not seen, and that was the Common Crane.
You’d think the cranes (Portuguese name Grou-comum) would be easy to spot as they are over one metre tall and around 2000 individuals winter in Alentejo every year. However their distribution in the region is fragmented and despite their gregarious nature with each other in the winter months they are incredibly wary of humans. The Alentejo plains though are one of the most likely places to observe cranes. So we knew one day we might be fortunate enough to see a dance of them, and earlier this year we were.
Last year there were record numbers wintering in the Alentejo, more than 12,000. It is believed this was because Spain was so dry they had to come to Portugal to feed and survive. Researchers therefore think it is possible if migration patterns continue to change so will breeding patterns for cranes. After all Common Cranes have bred in Portugal in the past. However the last records of nests in the Baixo Guadiana and Tagus estuary were in the 19th century.
And, as the researchers themselves highlight, changes in land use across the Alentejo steppes are affecting the little bustards, so if the conversion of cereal plains to intensive olive groves and vineyards continues then only the birds that can adapt to these changes will survive. I am not sure a bird as wary as the Common Crane will adapt. As you may have gathered from the quality of my photographs this dance of cranes were some distance from us, at least half a mile. We didn’t attempt to get closer nor did we separate ourselves physically from the car which was partly hidden by a bank. However they still spotted us and headed off within minutes of our arrival. At least though we had seen them, and enjoyed for a few moments another extraordinary show. If you’d love to see a dance of cranes too, then visit Aves de Portugal for more info on where and when to go.