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Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Treehugger Tuesday

From The Guardian:

Bustards Strut their Stuff after Return to the Plain

Salisbury Plain, Wiltshire The breeding season has started late and male great bustards are still performing their elaborate courtship displays

Claire Stares
Friday 10 June 2016 00.30 EDT

An adult male great bustard on Salisbury Plain. The bird was reintroduced in 2004, after becoming extinct in the UK in 1832. Photograph: Nick Upton/Alamy

We follow a pitted farm track over the brow of the hill and into the valley, then climb off-road to the hide. The 38,0000 hectare chalk plateau is a haven for wildlife with its patchwork of close-cropped grass, golden oilseed rape and small strips of soil ploughed bare to create stone curlew nesting plots.

In 1998 the Great Bustard Group began exploring the possibility of reintroducing this vulnerable species, which became extinct in the UK in 1832. Annual releases of imported bustards began in 2004 and the first eggs were laid by reintroduced birds in 2007, but the population is not yet self-sustaining. Although breeding has taken place every year, survival rates are low and not all surviving juveniles are recruited to the adult population. Lekking usually peaks in April, but this year the breeding season started later than usual and I’ve been told that there is still a chance of seeing the males perform their elaborate display.
Salisbury travel tips: great bustard birdwatching on the plain
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I spot a drove of three males bobbing their heads as they are dive-bombed by a lapwing protecting her nest. Standing around a metre tall and weighing up to 16kg, they are impressive birds. A couple of markedly smaller females mill around on the periphery, one dust-bathing, another pecking at seeds and insects in the long grass. As she approaches the group, Pink 2, the six-year-old dominant male flicks open his rufous barred tail like an unfolding fan. His neck balloons as he inflates his gular pouch, the blue-grey plumage parting to reveal a deep V of black skin, and his whiskers curve upwards like a handlebar moustache.

He sweeps his wings sharply down to his sides and inverts them, exposing a frill of white feathers like the ruffle-tiered sleeves of a flamenco shirt. Tail cocked, chin raised, eyes bright, he begins to shimmy from side to side, picking up pace and every so often punctuating the dance with a foot stomp. Seemingly unimpressed by his advances, the female wanders off down the bank. Despite being given the brush-off, Pink 2 turns to face his rival males, raising his wings with a defiant flourish.

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