Part of the municipality of Lagartera is included in a Special Protection Area for Birds (ZEPA). There must be a reason for this… The truth is that we have a wide range of habitats, from the rocky uplands to the plains, from pastures with Holm oaks, streams, and land covered with shrubs, which all provide homes for the different species that live among us. Some of these species are endangered and all the species, apart from those that can be hunted, are protected.
We are privileged and at the same time often unaware of our privileged situation, because we do not realize what a treasure surrounds us … For me it is common to meet people who comment, after a walk with me naming the birds that we come across “We’ve been lucky, with all the species that we’ve seen today” but in reality they are always there, you can see them every day. What happens is that we don’t usually pay attention to them, because we are thinking about other things.
Through this little article. I’d like you to get to know some of the species that can be seen, sometimes even from our homes, or by taking a short walk through the countryside, looking at what surrounds us.
As you know some of these birds are with us all year round, while others prefer to go somewhere warmer in winter, like our familiar swallows, while yet others come here in winter, from the north where it’s much colder, and for these winter visitors, our winters are mild.
We will start with those birds that we can see at this time of year.
Cranes (Grus grus) are one of the species that arrive in autumn, when the acorns are ripe, and they leave us in spring. They fly through the village, and you can identify them perfectly by the sound they emit, a characteristic trumpeting, and by their formation when flying in small groups making a V, or a 1 as they say here, to save energy.
They can also be seen eating acorns in the Holm oak groves in the northern part of our territory, towards the Rosarito reservoir, even from the road.
It is a real spectacle when they approach the reservoir to spend the night there, where they can gather in their thousands.
Another of the species that spend the winter with us, and that I find beautiful, are the lapwings, (Vanellus vanellus). Here they are called “aguanieves”, or ”snow water” no doubt referring to the time of year when we see them.
The lapwing is a medium-sized bird, with a white belly and dark rounded wings. It has a slow flight that is easy to follow with binoculars. If we take a walk in the open country to the north, they can be seen pecking on the ground. Up close you can see that their plumage is iridescent, that is, it changes with the light, emitting different reflections. And on their heads they have a graceful plume of feathers adorning them.
There are also the tiny birds, which are not so spectacular, but it is a delight to stop and watch their quick “coming and going” if we have the chance. One of my favorites is the robin (Erithacus rubecula), which is also very easy to identify, because as its Latin name suggests it has a spot on the chest, which is not exactly red, but rather orange, but we are not going to get pedantic… and it has a greenish gray back.
It is a very restless bird that hides in the bushes and shrubs. It emits a very characteristic metallic sound (chip-chip-chip). It can be seen in orchards, olive groves, among brambles. In other areas it spends all year round in the same place.
Another quite common bird is the black redstart (Phoenicurus ochuros). This species presents sexual dimorphism, that is to say that the female and the male look different. And as is common among birds, the males are much more striking: almost completely black with a small white spot on the wings, and when the redstart flies up, it shows its tail, which as with robins, is not red, it is a russet colour. The female is a duller grey.
Sometimes they can be seen in spring-summer, although it is more common to see them now, in parks, orchards, olive groves, and the like. I am lucky to be able to see a couple from my window when they come to peck in my neighbour’s garden.
There is much more that could be said and there are many more species that we can see, but I think that arousing curiosity while not overwhelming my readers is enough. I have put some links below, in case you want to build your knowledge in a more rigorous and scientific way. If you’re really interested, there are also great guides, even mobile applications, such as the Guide to the Birds of Spain by SeoBirdlife, which is very complete and free.
Another day we will talk about the birds that are with us all year round. I hope you like this first account of our treasures.
Text by Irene González Sánchez
Photos by José Miguel Millán
Lagartera, Toledo, December 2022
If you’d like to know more:
SEO Birdlife is Spain’s bird conservation society:
The first map shows a walk along the tracks to the north of Lagartera, in the open countryside, where you can see lapwings at this time of year, among other birds.
The second map shows a drive along country roads and tracks to see cranes feeding among Holm oaks.