Little Bustard (Tetrax tetrax) photography in Extremadura

Littel Bustard male in displayThe sun is still high in the sky, although it is almost 6:00 pm. As far as the eye can see : steppe, interrupted now and then by eroded rocks . Above the ground , the air shimmers . In the car there is indescribable heat. After last year’s winter precipitation had failed in the Extremadura, everything looks withered. And yet it teems with soil insects, especially grasshoppers. It let the routes appear in a green. Dark- gray colour. Again and again the invading insects entering inside the car must be removed. However, the window must remain open. Not because of the heat, but because of a strange bird. Finally, I want to hear it. Now you have to sit still. No hectic movements. Not even to chase the annoying mosquitoes buzzing around your head .

The steppes of Caceres and Trujillo are famous for their steppe birds. Montagu’s Harrier (Circus pygargus),), Great Bustard (Otis tarda), Eurasian Thick-knee (Burhinus oedicnemus), Pin-tailed Sandgrouse (Pterocles alchata), Black-bellied Sandgrouse (Pterocles orientalis), Calandra Lark (Melanocorypha calandra), and then the actual object of the photographers desire. “Raspberry roller” sometimes English ornithologist call him. The English name ” Little Bustard” for Tetrax Tetrax but is a bit dry and uninteresting. You suspect a bird of a small edition of the Great Bustard behind this name. But this, the bird has not deserved. If ‘ he ‘ is mentioned, then the male Little Bustard is meant. He is a real macho, loud and flashy in comparison to the females, who hardly play a prominent role and you rarely get to see them in spring.

All evening I have been waiting patiently for him. Now the creaky mating call is to clearly hear ”ppptttrrrrrr”. This is really impressive. But wait. There is not only one cock in display mood. From all sides the uniform creaking sounds you can hear. Yet there is nothing to see but a lot to hear. The courtship song of the Little Bustard is not one of the acoustic pleasures of this world. It is reminiscent of the sound of castanets. And something makes this sound so fascinating : it hides the singer is so discreet and secretly and is still widely heard.

Mating grounds are often exposed spots on the top of a hill with a good view. Gladly distinctive landscape elements will be searched for. A pile of stones or a small rock formations are probably not only good sign recognition for the observer but also highlight the area for the Bustards.

It is now mid-May and the display happens now every night in this way. All the time, there is not much to see from the females. From time to time a female emerges with her telescopic head and a suspicious look in the low grass. They pick borred the grass but do not seem to be in the right mood. Whoever gets out of the car and try stalking to see more in the field, has already lost. Also from nature conservation point of view , one should not cause this disturbance for the birds.

Departing females cause the Bustard-cock noticeably lose interest. Little Bustards already have a flight distance of at least 100 meters. The male of my choice, which I have observed for days out of the car, displays now on a knoll next to a dust lane that leads to a finca. Therefore thi cock is accustomed to passing cars. Added to this is, that this summit is situated higher than the mating grounds of the adjacent rivals. Hidden in the valleys, females have yet to respond. I slowly start to see the world through the eyes of a Little Bustard . Putting up a hide in the steppe is always a delicate project. The most visible foreign matter might scare the bird – or not?

To dig into the cement-like soil caked Extremadura seems pointless. Long hours lying on a mattress on the floor is an ordeal. One feature of the Extremadura are weathered rock formations and outcropping shale. There are also heaps available, which were erected by the shepherds. Both landscape elements you can be used to pitch a photo hideout.

What a feeling of happiness flows through my venes waiting for hours in the tent when I heared the ”ppptttrrrrrr” after hours of waiting the first time. Sometimes you hear it further away, but then you can hear the noise very close. Now no swing with the tele lens. Just look . In Little Bustard-photography patience is the only chance of success. Suddenly the cock is clearly visible with the naked eye. Very close, the typical Bustard shape can be seen. The stretched neck, horizontal body, the powerful legs are clearly visible. The plumage of the male is very striking, despite all camouflage , especially the black neck is equipped with a double white collar. The top collar in the form of a V. The back feathers of the bird are golden brown marbled. The eye with the golden iris has something stinging. The eye seems to emphasize the distrust and caution of the animal.

Piecemeal approaches of the mating cock; I still did not made even one image. Finally he stands on the mating grounds, showing his ritual. Before each mating call, he inflates the airbag in his throat , and then pressed jerky air through the throat by throwing the beak upwards. Two or three steps after each call, a rotation of about 60 degrees so that – finally –  the area is irradiated on all sides.

Ok, so far so good. All that remains is the question how he will react to the first shutter sound. The camera triggers. No reaction. His excitement makes him practically blind. Everything is possible: to change the lens, replace the camera, placing the converter …

The Little Bustard gets more and more in displaying trance. Energized the valve inflates his throat, suddenly he fluffs the back and chest plumage. The white of the bottom is to show a long-distance effect of the courting ritual. Finally, he leaps into the air to land on the same spot. What a experience!

Other memories make me happy to remember the plains of the Extremadura. So e.g. the futile Little Bustard hunting. It was compensated by the unmotivated and totally unexpected appearance of a Short-toed Snake-Eagle (Circaetus gallicus), which chose a slate rock about 50 meters away as a resting place. And this in a seemingly endless landscape of alternative perches.

Who wants to travel to the Extremadura  has to undertake a long journey by car from Western or Central Europe. Airports are also quite far, so also a rented car is not really a convincing alternative. As a guest I have always preferred the villages. Spanish cities are loud and noisy. With a good likelihood you can hear the sound of the leaf blower and the sweeper until the early morning hours. Who needs to get up at 3:00 a.m at night to visit the display of Bustards really needs his sleep. Which can be found on the village more reliable. There, however, you find only a reduced tourist infrastructure in the Extremadura.

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