Saturday, April 25, 2015

Fuente de Piedra – Andalucia, Spain

The lagoon of Fuente de Piedra is located in the north of the province of Malaga, Spain. It is 50km from the Mediterranean coast and 410m above sea level. The lagoon is a seasonal salt lake with high salinity in winter and a salt shell in summer. The lake has a maximum width of 2.5km and a length of 6.5km, the maximum water surface area reaches up to 14km².

Fuente de Piedra - A view across the lagoon to the village
Forming one of many wader hotspots in southern Spain, the lagoon is perhaps best known for being the largest breeding site for Greater Flamingo Pheonicopterus rubber in Spain; in fact it has been since Roman times! The importance of this lake and the surrounding marshlands was recognised and listed as RAMSAR site in 1982, the listing triggered further steps to protect the area with the Andalucia Parliament pronouncing it a ‘Integral Reserve’ in 1984, followed by planning as a ‘Nature Reserve’ in 1989. In addition the EU selected it as a Special Protection Area under the Bird Directive of the EEC during 1988. The nature reserve occupies 1,554 hectares and its Peripheral Protection Zone covers an area of 6,689 hectares.

Temminck's Stint - recorded almost annually in the area
For waders, and many other species of birds, the period from March through to May is a time when there is more intense activity and a time when both wintering and migratory birds show at the same time. Not surprising as the water level and vegetation are most stable during the wet season. Wintering and migratory waders are also joined by breeding birds during this period. Most common breeding waders are Black-winged Stilt, Avocet, Little Ringed and Kentish Plover, with Eurasian Thicknee (Stone Curlew) breeding in the surrounding area. Depending on water levels, springtime migration can be spectacular, particularly for waders in their summer plumage. Collared Pratincole, Curlew Sandpiper, Black-tailed Godwit, Ruff, Ringed Plover, Little Stint and Dunlin pass through in large numbers, whilst Temminck’s Stint is recorded each year. Wood Sandpiper are another that can be common with it’s close relative Green Sandpiper wintering as well as increasing during migration in the spring period. Common Sandpiper is almost ever present, with Lapwing also surprisingly common at times. Other species such as Grey Plover, Spotted Redshank, Greenshank, Sanderling, Bar-tailed Godwit and Whimbrel are regular but scarcer migrants.

Collared Pratincole - A favourite for birders visiting the lagoon
Of course wintering birds, such as Golden Plover, Lapwing, Snipe and odd Turnstone, overlap with migratory waders. Also the area can attract the odd rarity or two with Pectoral Sandpiper, Marsh Sandpiper and others being recorded.

Wood Sandpiper - Common migrant and elegant visitor
So the area is hugely important on a broad basis for not just migration staging, but also wintering and breeding waders. The dramatic decline of many waterbird species throughout Europe can be attributed largely to wetland loss and degradation, with the expansion and irrigation of olive plantations one important reason for this in Andalucia and most likely Spain in general.

Eurasian Thicknee (Stone Curlew) - Breeds in the area and winter visitor
Note. A global biodiversity hotspot, the wetlands around the Mediterranean are important for over 100 species of waterbirds represented in the Paleartic, North Africa and Middle East regions. 150 species of migratory birds are estimated to use these wetlands as seasonal or stopover locations, this represents bird populations of 2 billion (IUCN, 2005)! As part of the most threatened aquatic ecosystems, more than 50% of Mediterranean wetlands have been destroyed by human activities. It needs urgent attention and study to see what impact irrigated crops, and particularly olive plantations, are having on the water level in wetlands.

Fuente de Piedra in Spring - Visitor Centre and walkways
Greater Flamingo is the reason for many to visit the lagoon

Why not join Peter on one his Day Tours? See Links below.

Serranía de Ronda – My Mountains – for further information read HERE

Osuna – Steppe Country – for further information read HERE

Campillos - Mountains to Lagoons - for further information read HERE

Strait of Gibraltar - Migration, wetlands and so much more read HERE


Thursday, April 9, 2015

Birds in April - Serrania de Ronda

Our rivers are in full flow as part of nature’s self sustaining life lines. They are such an enormous asset and valuable resource here in my mountains, and beyond of course. Unfortunately our lagoons are depleted and I really do wonder if illegal extraction for irrigating crops is mostly to blame? There is no doubt water, such a valuable resource for us all, is being used in huge quantities for olive growing. It is of real concern, but more about that in a future blog. Right now I am rejoicing in the gift that is Spring!

Painted Lady is also migrating northwards and stops at a feeding station!
There is nothing, absolutely nothing, on this Earth more precious than nature. And for me at least, Spring is a celebration of our natural heritage, a time of renewal and wonder. Here in Andalucia, I live in a migration bottleneck for birds, where they make their way to and fro on journeys that involve huge efforts between continental Europe and Africa. It is one of life’s spectacles, a time to catch your breath as you witness the arrival of so many different species of bird. A time where you can stand amidst nature and just feel a kind of spiritual sensation that raises the hairs on your neck. As an encore, flowers emerge and grace the landscape with carpets of colour, you can feel the energy being released after a long winter’s slumber.

Griffon Vulture finding a thermal. Always look above them for other raptors
As a flock of Bee eater fly overhead, their merry calls great you and you really feel their joyful sound is one of relief, having successfully navigated the amazing migration from the southern reaches of Africa, crossing the Sahara Desert and finally making it home. Others such as Short-toed Eagle greet each other and make excited honking calls as if to celebrate being home, I suspect too that some of these are already paired before arriving here, which would give a different meaning to these excited exchanges! Name a bird and it seems it is on migration over my mountains at the moment, sheer numbers add to the joy.

Blue Tit. Of course not to overlook common resident birds at this busy time!
Enough waxing lyrical and left alone I could fill several pages to describe my mountains at this time of year. Onwards with another pictorial and this time from being out and about during this early part of April. I hope you might enjoy some of these happy snaps.

By the rivers.

Green Sandpiper. Rio Grande - Good numbers are passing through along with Common Sandpiper, both heading North. Feeding was particularly hard for these birds on the river, as newly established territories by Little Ringed Plover meant the male of this species attacked and harassed these migrants. Good fun to watch though!
Little-ringed Plover the main antagonist for migrant waders on our rivers.
Common Sandpiper not given a moments peace by LRPs as they feed
Yellow Wagtail have arrived and are currently battling for territories

And there's more

Black-eared Wheatear males arrive before the females and set-up shop waiting for the ladies!
Water Pipit feed along the riversides alongside both Meadow and Tree Pipit
Woodchat Shrike are one of our early arrivals
Bee eater is perhaps a symbol of Spring for me
Of course what would Spring be without some Bonelli's Eagle watching?
Red-rumped Swallow are already nest building

Why not join Peter on one his Day Tours? See Links below.

Serranía de Ronda – My Mountains – for further information read HERE

 – Steppe Country – for further information read HERE

 - Mountains to Lagoons - for further information read HERE

Strait of Gibraltar - Migration, wetlands and so much more read HERE


Sunday, March 29, 2015

When its Spring again I’ll sing again…

Flowers from the Serrania de Ronda! Yep, it’s that time of year again and don’t you just love it. My mountains are coming into bloom, colours everywhere and some fine orchids already reaching for the sky (Photo: Sawfly Orchid). We recently had rains and now there is glorious sunshine, warm temperatures and lush greens carpeting the valleys. Toss in arriving migrant summer resident birds, migrating raptors cruising overhead and you have just about the most intoxicating mix of wildlife you can imagine. Welcome to my backyard!

Laneria sp.
The area is so rich in plant life and birds, of course butterflies, dragon and damselflies, that a visit to this veritable wonderland is an absolute must. With the euro now at a low against the US Dollar and British Pound it is also an attractive economical proposition too! Been here already, thought about coming? Then now is the perfect moment, good accommodation is plentiful in the area and should you need a recommendation just contact me.

Ophyrs fusca - so many orchids!
Anyways onwards with a few photographs taken in the last couple of weeks to entice you. If you can’t make it to the Serrania de Ronda, just keep an eye to this blog for fairly regular postings of what graces this wonderfully scenic part of Andalucia. Hope you enjoy this latest pictorial?

Wonderful scenery - Serrania de Ronda
Fan Lipped Orchid
Bumble Bee Orchid
Yellow Bee Orchid
Sub.species - Ophyrs fusca bilunulata
Lizard Orchid (from last year and coming soon!)
Another Ophyrs fusca such a variable orchid, in fact downright confusing!
Another O.fusca see what I mean?
Early Purple Orchid
Italian Man Orchid
Woodcock Orchid
Mirror Orchid
Did I mention there are other flowers too?
So many orchid species to show, so many birds, dragonflies, butterflies, reptiles there just isn't time to show you them all. Why not join me on a guided tour in the mountains of the Serrania de Ronda?

Why not join Peter on one his Day Tours? See Links below.

Serranía de Ronda – My Mountains – for further information read HERE

Osuna – Steppe Country – for further information read HERE

Campillos - Mountains to Lagoons - for further information read HERE

Strait of Gibraltar - Migration, wetlands and so much more read HERE


Tuesday, March 17, 2015

HELP! Blog by Mark Avery

Mark Avery friend and a well known campaigner for 'our' nature makes a case for signing the e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting.
I've signed and would put on my friendships here and ask you to do the same. Hen Harriers and other wildlife need your help. PLEASE DO SIGN.

Our e-petition passed 21,500 signatures yesterday, with less than two weeks to go (and after less than 10 months). HM Government e-petition Ban driven grouse shooting
The e-petition is on the Westminster government website which means that it has political clout. Already it is one of the most successful e-petitions ever – being in the top 0.5% of all e-petitions on this site.  The e-petition applies to England, but any UK citizen is entitled to sign it.
Driven grouse shooting, where lines of beaters chase the Red Grouse across the hills to fly past lines of ‘guns’ who pay large amounts of money to shoot at them, is the source of wildlife crime (killing of birds of prey), damaged wildlife sites (burning of blanket bogs), increased carbon emissions (from heather burning and soil erosion), increased water bills (through water discolouration requiring water treatment) and increased home insurance (through increased flood risk caused by land management in the hills).  It is of trivial economic value to the economy but your taxes are helping to subsidise this field sport. We’d be better off without it.
All attempts to negotiate a more sustainable future with grouse shooting interests have failed through their intransigence. The only way forward for the wildlife enthusiast, the taxpayer and the many, is to ban this unsustainable practice of the few.
This e-petition has already sent a message to grouse shooters that they need to change and to politicians that they need to act.  Your signature will help strengthen that message.
I am grateful to Chris Packham, the Green Party of England and Wales, Birdwatch magazine, the League Against Cruel Sports, Rare Bird Alert and a host of raptor workers and wildlife enthusiasts for their support in getting this e-petition so far. One last push and surge of signatures before the 30 March will strengthen that message.
But it’s up to you!
Thank you for your help.
Dr Mark Avery

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Serranía de Ronda, birds, mountains and things..

Dramatic scenery, dazzling wildlife, great hiking trails, amazing facilities and just one those places you have to visit at least once in your lifetime. In fact, once you’ve been to this stunning area, you are likely as not to return! Sound like a travelogue? Well, the area is precious and one of the ways to preserve it is to introduce elements to sustain it. One element, and not the least important, is nature tourism. Andalucia, and particularly rural Andalucia, is largely unspoilt but economically challenged! Tourism can bring incomes into the rural communities and not only help sustain local communities, but also encourage them to conserve and preserve their natural surroundings. Two birds with one stone so to speak.

The area known as the Serranía de Ronda is a natural gem and surrounded by natural parks, two of which are UNESCO Biosphere Parks, Sierra de las Nieves and Sierra de Grazalema. The diversity in habitats and hence wildlife is immense, in just ten minutes you can be driving through Mediterranean Forest and suddenly be in dramatic limestone mountains, contrasts easily reached and enjoyed by the many tracks and roads that make the whole area accessible. The area is a network of quiet country roads each leading to a famous ‘White Village’ which the area has become so well known for. It is an explorer’s delight; hidden valleys combine with a cultural heritage that beckons the adventurous tourist. Then of course there are the many local vineyards that seem to tug at the steering wheel as you drive by, my advice is not to resist, go and taste those fine wines and enjoy!

On the basis that a picture can paint a thousand words, and thus save my labours on this keyboard, I have compiled a pictorial of scenes from here during January 2015 until now (March 11th). I hope it gives food for thought and might help you decide to contribute to the conservation and preservation of the Serranía de Ronda by visiting this wonderful part of Andalucia, Spain. At the very least I hope you enjoy the photos.

Why not join Peter on one his Day Tours? See Links below.

Serranía de Ronda – My Mountains – for further information read HERE

Osuna – Steppe Country – for further information read HERE

Campillos - Mountains to Lagoons - for further information read HERE

Strait of Gibraltar - Migration, wetlands and so much more read HERE