Ring Ouzel migrating through Spain

Out with my friend Manel birding on the drylands of Bellmunt, Lleida. A quick visit on the way home from Mont-roig (I know! I was there last week too, but it’s such a great place for birding!), mainly to see if any Little Bustards were marking territories. Nope, none.

But there we stood, listening to the melodic song (ehem!) of the Southern Grey Shrike, while watching a good number and variety of raptors sailing on the morning’s thermals: a handful of Griffon Vultures, a Golden Eagle, 2 Red Kites, a Hen Harrier and a Marsh Harrier too.

We drove on a little and then Manel stopped. I’d signalled for him to do so because I had seen a black bird in a short grassy field (barley actually but being young and green it looked like grass) but I couldn’t tell what it was.

“A starling” said Manel. I was looking at an angle through the windscreen, and you know how that distorts, but starling didn’t seem right.

“A blackbird?” I suggested. “Or perhaps a Ring Ouzel?” even more tentatively.

“A Ring Ouzel?” repeated Manel, with an inquisitorial tone, which made me sincerely hope that the bird was not in fact a starling after all. The bird then hopped, flew a little closer to us, and helpfully turned towards us, showing a gleaming white half-moon.

“Oh! It is a Ring Ouzel!” exclaimed Manel, “Isn’t that strange!”

Well, strange no, because birds have wings and they use them to migrate. Furthermore early March is the peak season for Ring Ouzel migration in this part of Spain. Nevertheless, it was only the second Ring Ouzel I had seen near Lleida in the 20 years that I have lived here. So “strange” maybe not, but stimulating certainly.

The Ring Ouzel that breeds in the Spanish Pyrenees is of the race alpestris, while the Bellmunt bird was obviously a male of the nominate race torquatus. So if any of you more northern European residents happen to see a Ring Ouzel in your garden in the next week or so think that there’s just a tiny possibility that Manel and I had been watching that same creature on the drylands of Bellmunt, northeast Spain.

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