Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Andalucía a wildlife paradise - Part 1

Andalucía boasts the broadest diversity of habitats in Europe. It’s difficult to find a destination that offers such an unique ecological diversity in Europe whilst at the same time unveiling to us the history of Western Europe. To birdwatch in White Villages, follow the footsteps of the Phoenicians, photograph unparalleled landscapes, taste local delicacies, traditional and contemporary, discover cities and locations that are World Heritage Sites or share experiences with true, authentic locals, is a true pleasure in life!


Approaching the region from the north you could be forgiven for thinking you are entering a giant olive plantation, as orchard upon orchard reaches as far as the eye can see in Jaén. Yet even here you get a glimpse of what might be, with high mountain ranges breaking through the skyline to reveal temptation to the travelling naturalist. Surprisingly there still remains some wonderful and ancient unspoilt refuges here and areas where the rarest feline in the world still finds a niche to survive in healthy and sustainable numbers, the beautiful Pardel Lynx or Iberian Lynx Lynx pardinus. The province also holds an increasing population of Lammergeier that can be found in Spain's largest National Park Cazorla, Segura, Las Villas. Also Spanish Imperial Eagle and Black Vulture have strongholds here, so appearances are not all they seem and the whole province is worth exploring.



Jaén is one of 3 provinces that form the eastern bloc of the region, the others are Granada and Almería, if you were to travel south and east you would be struck by the sheer scale of contrast between these eastern provinces. Granada, as the southern and neighbouring province, is the first to be encountered and the scale of it's mountains, the Sierra Nevada, immediately make an impact with their tall peaks and high rolling mountain tops. The mountain range contains the highest point of continental Spain, in fact the mountain Mulhacén is also the third highest mountain in Europe at 3,479 metres above sea level. Here the area holds strongholds for such mountain species as Alpine Accentor and Citril Finch, raptors are another group of birds that brings visiting birders to these parts alongside other birds such as Common Rock Thrush. Of course the province is best known for the famous Alhambra, a hilltop fortress from the Nasrid Dynasty and a complex that comprises of royal palaces, peaceful terraces, reflecting pools and wonderful gardens, in fact a must visit heritage site if you are close to the province.




Go further south than Granada and you arrive to the province of Almería, the mountains here are less in altitude, but no less striking. The most famous aspect and attraction to the visitor here is the province holds Europe's only true desert and the fauna and flora reflects the arid conditions. Trumpeter Finch provides for the tastebuds of the avid birder and the inland areas, where low scrub blankets the plains, provides the chance to find Dupont's Lark, a real target bird for many who visit Spain, let alone the region of Andalucía. The coastal saltpans of Cabo de Gata, a Natural Park and the largest coastal protected area in the region, was designated as a UNESCO Biosphere Park in 1997, it has a climate that is the driest in Europe with annual rainfall below 160 mm, thats 6.3 ins in old money! The whole area is a delight for the geologist with the Sierra del Cabo de Gata mountain range providing many points of interest, the highest peak is El Fraile and the volcanic rock formation is the largest in Spain. Almería also enjoys the distinction of being the first area on continental Europe where Cream-coloured Courser bred, although in more recent times they have successfully bred in Granada Province.




Returning to the north of the province and Jaén, we head westwards and arrive in the province of Cordoba.The Province of Cordoba presents a remarkable landscape, housing a good representation of our most unique and threatened fauna. The variety of habitats available and, many of them in good condition, make possible the coexistence between these geographical boundaries of species such as the Iberian Lynx, the Iberian Wolf or the Spanish Imperial Eagle in the Sierras of Cardeña and Montoro, the Black Stork, the Golden Eagle or the Black Vulture in the Sierra of Honachuelos, the White-headed Duck or the Marsh Harrier in the humid areas of the south, the Peregrine Falcon and the Bonelli's Eagle in the Sierras Subbéticas and the Great Bustard, the Common Crane or the Black-Bellied Sandgrouse in the valleys of the Guadiato and the Pedroches. And of course you have for good measure the famous Mezquita Cathedral of Cordoba, a real cultural treasure and must visit site if you are in the area. The site is bordered by the Rio Guadalquivir a great place to do some birding and another incentive to visit.




Next up as we continue our journey westwards is the amazing province of Sevilla, culturally superb and home for one of Europe's best known birding hotspots the Doñana. But more of that later in part 2 of this lengthy blog.

Recommended for further information is the superb source of the Andalucía Bird Society's website. In fact if you are visiting the region why not consider joining them, you get all the perks including being able to attend a professionally led Field Meeting held each month.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

International Vulture Awareness Day


The first Saturday in September each year is International Vulture Awareness Day. Vultures are an ecologically vital group of birds that face a range of threats in many areas that they occur. Populations of many species are under pressure and some species are facing extinction. The International Vulture Awareness Day has grown from Vulture Awareness Days run by the Birds of Prey Programme of the Endangered Wildlife Trust in South Africa and the Hawk Conservancy Trust in England, who decided to work together and expand the initiative into an international event. It is now recognised that a co-ordinated international day will publicise the conservation of vultures to a wider audience and highlight the important work being carried out by the world’s vulture conservationists. On the first Saturday in September, the aim is for each participating organisation to carry out their own activities that highlight vulture conservation and awareness. This website provides a central place for all participants to outline these activities and see the extent of vulture conservation across the world. Additionally, it is a valuable resource for vulture workers to learn about the activities of their colleagues and to perhaps develop new collaborations or exchange information.
More information. Learn more here

Friday, August 2, 2019

Spain going to court for not adequately protecting European Turtle Dove?

“You cannot get through a single day without having an impact on the world around you. What you do makes a difference and you have to decide what kind of a difference you want to make.” - Jane Goodall




The European Commission will take Spain to court for not adequately protecting European Turtle Dove. The EC has just announced an infringement procedure that may end up in court within a few months if the administrations do not take action: Brussels accuses Spain of not adequately protecting the European Turtle Dove, a beautiful bird of our countryside. The blame? Bad agricultural policies and, once again, hunting. The European Commission has opened an infringement procedure against Spain for continuing to allow hunting of the European Turtle Dove Streptopelia turtur and for not adequately protecting its habitat. In Spain, only four autonomous communities have approved moratoriums against hunting this species: Asturias, Cantabria, the Canary Islands and, since July 15, the Valencian Community.

Specifically, the Commission has just announced the initiation of proceedings against Spain and France for breach of Articles 3, 4 and 7 of the Birds Directive. These articles oblige Member States to maintain the population levels of bird species, especially migratory bird species, ensuring that there is sufficient diversity of habitats both inside and outside protected areas. Member States also have an obligation to ensure that hunting of any species of bird does not jeopardize conservation efforts.




Since 2018 there is a European Action Plan for the Conservation of the Turtle Dove and BirdLife International claims its instigation since then. The plan includes measures to preserve and restore favourable habitats for the Turtle Dove and, in addition, emergency actions such as establishing a temporary moratorium on hunting the species.

In addition, in compliance with the EU Birds Directive and, in Spain, with the Law of Natural Heritage and Biodiversity, the hunting of this species should not be authorized, at a minimum, until their populations recover. However, in the last season hunting was re-authorized by the Spanish Government with a level of catches similar to the previous one, which could have led to the death of some 800,000 Turtle Doves in Spain, well above what the species can withstand, an unsustainable and unacceptable scenario.

Spain has lost a quarter of it's Turtle Doves!!


Spanish hunters say they are not to blame for the European Turtle Dove population being low. They even claim that a major fault is that they are hunted a lot in Morocco..
But it turns out that it is the Spanish hunters who fundamentally go to Morocco to exterminate the species. It is about exterminating just for fun, there is no other interest other than fun for these hunters!
In Spain, the European Turtle Dove population has fallen 25% in two decades, according to BirdLife International censuses. Across the EU, the European Turtle Dove population has fallen by 50 to 70 percent and, in some countries, the crash reaches 90%, like the United Kingdom, where it has virtually disappeared. Being a migratory species, the actions or omissions of countries such as Spain affect the whole of the species throughout the continent: this species makes an impressive journey of 4,000 kilometers every year from sub-Saharan Africa, where it winters, to its breeding areas in Europe.

The threat of intensive agriculture

In addition to hunting, this species also experiences the suffering of many agricultural birds: the intensification of agriculture, the loss of fallows or the elimination of shrubs and other vegetation on the edge of farms and roads, hinder the subsistence of these and other agrarian birds.

According to the Commission's complaint, no national government has initiated the so-called “emergency agro-environmental measures” to protect these migratory species. However, on this occasion, the European Commission has considered that the breach of these agri-environmental measures deserves to be prosecuted, something quite unusual to date, since the Commission had been reluctant to admonish countries for their bad agricultural policies. The results of this process are expected to be relevant for the design and implementation of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).

Companies in Europe still advertising hunting Turtle Dove.

Turtle Dove hunting is allowed in eleven of the member estates of the EU, where large numbers of turtle doves are hunted annually.

Also Morocco for Western European migrating Turtle Dove: https://www.marruecosadventure.com/en/producto/caza-en-marruecos/

Romania: http://www.italcaccia.ro/turtle-doves-hunting.html

Bulgaria: 
https://www.faviaviaggi.com/offers/small-game/turtle-doves-15/?view=1&destinationId=2

Serbia: http://www.vojvodinahobby.com/Eng/eng-Game-Qualis-and-Doves.htm

Macedonia: http://hunting.mk/portfolio-view/turtledoves/

United Kingdom: https://hunting.gg/wildlife/upland-game-birds/columbidae/streptopelia-turtur/


Background Information ( abstract from a presentation at the 33rd International Union of Game Biologist Congress. Citation ref: https://digital.csic.es/handle/10261/175261 )




Turtle dove (Streptopelia turtur) is a trans-Saharan migratory species recently up-listed to Vulnerable status in the Red List of Threatened Species. Breeding populations of Turtle Doves are declining throughout Europe, declines being particularly severe in certain countries (e.g: England, where the population has declined by 93% since 1995). Current estimates attribute 75% of the global breeding population to Europe, the remainder occurring in North Africa and Asia. This fact is especially relevant since Turtle Dove hunting is allowed in eleven of the member estates of the EU, where large numbers of turtle doves are hunted annually. The European country where the greatest amount of Turtle Doves is hunted is Spain (around 701.600 birds in 2014), through which also passes the main migratory route for western European Turtle Dove populations (also Morocco). We analyzed Turtle Dove population trends for the different regions of Spain and for the whole country using available data from SACRE (Spanish contribution to the Pan-European Common Bird Monitoring Schemes (PECBMS) designed by the European Bird Census Council, and carried out in Spain by SEO/Birdlife International). Data from this program (kindly provided by SEO) included observations of Turtle Doves in 10x10 km quadrats in most of the Spanish regions from 1996 to 2016. Additionally, we compiled the number of birds hunted in each region from the official hunting statistics available since 2006 in the Ministry of Agriculture, Fishing, Food and Environment (before 2006, official statistics did not separate Turtle Doves hunted from other bird species). We show that Turtle Dove abundance in Spain declined around 40% since 1996. The decline happened in most of Spanish regions and it was especially remarkable in the North, where hunting is relative unimportant. Therefore, it seems that hunting is not the main reason behind the declines. Nonetheless, annual variation in the number of Turtle Doves hunted in each region was unrelated to annual variation in turtle dove abundance. Globally, hunting pressure (numbers shot) has not significantly diminished since 2006, despite observed population declines. Thus, although hunting is not the main driver of the decline, results also indicate that it could be an aggravating factor, and that current tools to determine the number of Turtle Doves that may be hunted are not efficient enough, or not correctly applied.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Delicious Autumn!

Delicious autumn! My very soul is wedded to it, and if I were a bird I would fly about the earth seeking the successive autumns. 
George Eliot

Soon. To be leaving us too soon, evoking thoughts of autumn too soon, to be missing you too soon. Signs clearly now of autumn migration and a time of excitement and regrets. Never sure whether this time of year fills me with wonder or a yearning to follow our birds south. The Woodchat Shrike pair here is one of the many species I miss during their winter's truancy.

I thought I would also take this opportunity to show you some of those birds I will miss until next spring. Soon, with just a blink of an eye, I will be welcoming winter birds. Where does time go?








Monday, July 29, 2019

Lazy Sunday Afternoon

"During [these] periods of relaxation after concentrated intellectual activity, the intuitive mind seems to take over and can produce the sudden clarifying insights which give so much joy and delight"Fritjof Capra

Just every now and again it is good to have a lazy, sunny Sunday. A day of not doing a lot and giving yourself time to reflect, relax and enjoy the simple things in life. Legs outstretched, arms supported and looking out over the back garden, my morning cuppa in hand and watching birds making their staged approach to the garden pond. Beauties like these seem to share the relaxed and easy moment.