It is nearly five years since I shared the magic of the Portuguese steppe, but it has been in my mind quite a bit recently following the very positive reaction to a wide open space I shared on my other blog a few days ago. Now that Hampshire open space is not even the size of a pin head compared to the glorious uplands in Alentejo.
Alentejo, pronounced ah-lehn-TAY-zhu , is known as the ‘bread basket’ of Portugal. In the north the land is mostly pastures and marshlands, whilst to the south of the region it is vast undulating plains. Most of the rich land is turned over to agriculture, but thankfully it is generally wildlife friendly. Consequently it is a haven for birdlife and birders alike, hence our repeat visits. Over the years we have been spoilt with (do click on the bold to visit more posts);
- a curfew of Stone Curlews
- a dance of Common Cranes
- a drove of Great Bustards
- a kettle of Eurasian Griffon Vultures
- and amazingly even an Eurasian Black Vulture
We have also seen Little Bustards, Lesser Kestrels, the Black-bellied Sandgrouse, European Rollers, the Montagu’s Harrier and I mustn’t forget the European White Storks (Ciconia ciconia). The Iberian Peninsula is a stronghold for the White Storks, with around 12,000 occupied nests just in the 15% of the peninsular that makes up Portugal. Here you will regularly see them on tops of buildings, on lattice towers between power lines, in the open grasslands and of course the wetlands.
Whilst we have seen large numbers of storks in flight in the Algarve, it is in Alentejo where we have tended to observe groups strolling around. Officially the collective noun for a group of storks is a muster or a phalanx, however, European White Storks never seem organised enough to be called that. I think a band of storks is probably better. There are at least 41 of them in the second part of my video.
As you can see from my video and photographs they are not difficult to spot. Adults are between 3ft and 4ft in height and a length of 3ft. Their wing span is even bigger; up to 7ft. They are as their name suggests mostly white, although on wet days in the Algarve it looks more grey or brown following a forage in the mud! The adults have red beaks, black flight feathers and bright red legs; the latter though again is dependent upon the mud.
Their Portuguese name is Cegonha-branca, and increasingly they seem to be spending their winters in the south of Portugal rather than flying to Africa. The best time though to see them remains the spring, and one of the highlights in spring is seeing them on their nests lined up beside the roads. They do also nest in trees and on buildings, but these rows of nesting points seems extra special to me. They use the same nests year after year just updating it with a few extra sticks.
By the way that nest with a squabble going on really was that wonky, and yes they do squabble over nests. Check out my post from two years ago which has some incredible shots and film of a nest battle in the Algarve.
One of the great sounds after a squabble, and also at other times is ‘bill clapping’. Storks create this extraordinary noise by rapidly opening and closing their beaks which is amplified by the throat pouch which acts as a sound box.
Some of you may have spotted the sound and video were not in sync, that’s because I replaced my audio. There was far too much wind in mine! The actual sound was captured in Spain by Sean Ronayne, XC518425. It is also accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/518425.