14th December 2018 Daniel Roca

Little Bustard, first for the Ebro Delta

When we visited the Ebro Delta last week, we had in mind looking for the long staying rarities that have been around for some time. A very creamy looking Steppe Grey Shrike was one of them. A Smew was another. Or the always interesting White-headed duck. And of course, lots of other birds.

Birding was very pleasant. No wind, mild temperatures. In the afternoon, the northern bay was packed with birds and we were enjoying just scanning the water again and again, as there was always something interesting in sight. Among the thousands of gulls, ducks, coots and waders, there were a couple of Red-breasted mergansers and some Slender-billed gulls.

What we were not expecting was this.

Ebro Delta Little Bustard
Terrible picture, but the distance was considerable. Out of nowhere, this Little bustard had come flying with the clear intention of landing on salt water! And so it did. It was not a scared or injured bird that had no other choice. Actually, it looked pretty calm and healthy. It could have just kept on flying a bit more and land on the dried up rice fields behind us. Instead, it chose the bay. And it looked quite comfortable with the water reaching its belly. Mallards, Black-headed gulls and Redshanks didn’t seem very surprised either. But we were!

And so the bird stood there for around 15 minutes, showing off its versatility. We are used to see this bird in the Lleida Plains, far away from the sea, where the steppeland-like habitats maintain a –sadly declining– population of the species.  Later we discovered that this was the first record of the species for the Ebro Delta. Little bustard has been found on very few occasions in the coastline in Catalonia and, to my knowledge, never on sea water.

Anyway, after some time, it took off and flew almost above us, moving inland.

Ebro Delta Little Bustard
Ebro Delta Little Bustard
These pictures show how its legs and belly feathers got really wet after some time underwater.

It slowly descended on the rice fields, and we lost it. The day after it was found again by another birder.

Ebro Delta Little Bustard
Sometimes the most unusual sightings do not involve rare birds, but just this kind of bizarre behaviours that leave us scratching our heads and thinking why, just why.

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