Saturday, June 05, 2010

Lesser Kestrel (Falco naumanni)

Getting access to the LPN controlled breeding colonies of Lesser Kestrel and Roller (where a ruined farm has been modified and a series of artificial walls with breeding holes has been created) is impossible  -  the birds are viewable from the Castro Verde - Mertola road (EN123) but they are distant.

I was told a couple of years ago that both species breed in the ruined railway station buildings near Casável, north-west of Castro Verde. On the 24th May we had the possibility of good weather so I put all the "gear" in the Land Rover and decided to go.

The trip along the A22 and then up the A2 (Portagem  -  "Toll Road") is effortless but the "fine detail" at the other end is another matter as the roads around Castro Verde - Almadovar - Ourique are changing at such at a pace that published maps are useless. Fortunately, I had obtained a grid reference of the locality from Google Earth and entered this into my Tom Tom Satnav - without that I would probably not have arrived (only got lost once at Ourique which is beautiful beyond description).

Casével station appears rather abruptly at the end of a progressively deteriorating metaled road which then becomes a dirt track. It is beautiful but very overgrown and really out of another age.

I went over the railway crossing and slowly approached the station building (together with more outbuildings and some adjacent agricultural buildings) and was simply amazed at the number of birds  -  I calculated that there were 20+ pairs of Lesser Kestrel nesting and at least six pairs of Roller. Because of the state of the overgrown vegetation (particularly the Fennel) it is very difficult to move around the site and setting up a tripod with a long lens is very difficult. For photography, you need to be on the south side side of the buildings which means standing on the railway track (the only "clear" and horizontal surface)  -  and, guess what? the line is still in use with local trains (almost silent diesel engines) coming through very fast.

The Rollers are very "spooky" although at first they were more concerned with stealing food from the kestrels (and "rolling" magnificently, something I have never seen before and impossible to photograph). In very harsh light I managed a few shots of the Lesser Kestrels which appeared all to be feeding young and bringing in mainly Cicadas and Scorpions.

Setting up a portable hide here is very difficult, as is shooting from the jeep, but I will go back  -  it is a special place.

Whilst there is no evidence of active management, the site is clearly monitored and "looked after" (to an extent!!) as there are artificial nest boxes on several of the buildings.

If YOU go on the basis of what I have written here please be careful  -  this is, I think, a "sensitive" site.