Friday, October 24, 2014

High Mountains, Long Shadows

It’s amazing just how quickly time seems to flyby. It seemed as if it was only yesterday when summer’s visit painted our skies in the deepest of blue and softened the rough hues of our mountains with shimmering haze. It was only yesterday when Black Kite, Honey Buzzard wheeled high in their thousands gathering to make their southwards pilgrimage to Africa. But now our autumn has abruptly cast her door wide open and the days are becoming shorter, trees are baring their skeletal shapes, where once they had been adorned in many hues of green. It’s a time where nature takes a rest, where life seems to move along at a leisurely pace and prepare itself for the harshness of winter.

A lazy sun casts deep shadows on the hills and mountains of my landscape giving a velvet texture to the high slopes, but Bonelli’s Eagle are already pledging themselves to their partners, ignoring the message of winter and preparing already to reaffirm their bonds of parents to be. Late departing Barn Swallows still chatter and busy themselves over our local river, whilst newly arrived Chiffchaff hawk insects from every vantage point aligning the river’s edge. It is here where winter will first be felt with the cooling waters spreading their mist and clinging to all that are unable to escape its reach. Green Sandpiper and Common Sandpiper use this river as a highway to warmer climes, but some are attracted to spend winter here and lend character to a day’s foray by birders, their constant bobbing and strutting combining to perform a dance to entertain the observer, a performance enhanced by a watery reflection.

In the higher reaches of the surrounding mountains, Ring Ouzel have at last arrived in good numbers and are busy raiding the horde of Hawthorn berries that are so bountiful this year. Song Thrush and an occasional Redwing join the harvest, whilst Alpine Accentor put in brief appearances before vanishing behind the rock strewn slopes beneath high mountain crags. A Mistle Thrush performs a forlorn defense of its chosen fruit tree and is distracted; overwhelmed by sheer numbers of marauding Ring Ouzel, whilst large flocks of Spotless Starling join-in the sacking of the bird’s chosen cache. And all played out beneath the ever watchful eye of a Sparrowhawk, that has taken to the valley as a likely winter’s retreat. Crag Martin skip the rock face and mock the Sparrowhawk with twists and turns unmatched by their would-be foe. In the high grasslands, Meadow Pipits tiptoe and are joined by ever increasing numbers of White Wagtail, where Water Pipit have recently arrived to feast on various larva in the soft grounds surrounding small pools of the Llanos de Libar.

With an optimistic gaze, my eyes are always drawn skywards for autumn and winter raptors. The area can have an attraction, even a mystical lure, not just for me, but for the wanderings of such species as Black Vulture and Imperial Spanish Eagle. For the most part, these scarce birds tend to be juveniles, displaced by the sudden chastening of their parents. Lost souls searching for their place in an unforgiving world, they must find a niche and wander far on a journey of discovery. Merlin and Hen Harrier put in fleeting appearances, whilst individuals can also take-up winter residence. Small populations of resident Lesser Kestrel inhabit the rocky crags of the Serrania de Ronda and their numbers appear to have increased, no doubt milder winters having assisted them with finding food. Golden Eagle is another species increasing and often rewards my diligence, whilst scrutinising the circling clusters of Griffon Vulture, a practice regularly enacted when looking for raptors, many birds of prey seem attracted by circling Griffon Vultures and normally these take the high space above these large and apparently intimidating giants of my skies.


And so onto a pictorial of the current season here in my mountains, I very much hope you enjoy the view and do let me know if the read and viewing was a pleasant experience!









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 - also wetlands and so much more read HERE

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Pied Avocet - A short story

Thinking back to my childhood, in my case that almost translates to the dark ages, one of the most impressionable birds I observed was the Avocet. I am at a loss to think of a more elegant or striking bird than this most beautiful of waders. Obviously the national charity in the United Kingdom thought so too, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds made the Avocet their emblem and soon it was internationally recognised as an icon for bird conservation. In Britain it became extinct as a breeding species during the 19th century, but through concerted efforts and habitat management it repopulated the marshes of Norfolk and Suffolk in the 20th century, returning to Norfolk in 1941 and Essex in 1944, later they were soon re-established in Suffolk (1947).

It was easy to believe Avocets were critically endangered as a species during my formative years, but then again I was young and had such an insular view on nature in general, influenced as I was by my interests in British fauna and flora. Actually, nothing could have been further from the truth as this species thrived across suitable habitats throughout Europe! Here in Andalucia they not only share typical habitat requirements with other specialists such as Greater Flamingo, but alongside Black-winged Stilt they are also surprisingly opportunistic. We can often find isolated pairs on very small marshes and lagoons, as some seemingly prefer to nest and feed in smaller and less saline pools, lagoons, muddy arms of deltas, and estuaries, and sheltered muddy tidal flats where ample loose sediment is rich in food organisms suitable for working with its peculiar bill, mostly in under less than 15 cm of water. During the breeding season they differ from Black-winged Stilts, insofar as they are confined to almost bare surfaces to very sparse low vegetation for nesting.

Our local breeding birds tend to leave their breeding grounds during the second half of July, normally dispersing to areas similar to breeding habitats, although their choices are widened by a freedom to occupy mudflats and shallow water farther from suitable nesting sites. Some of the largest concentrations of wintering Avocets can be found in Iberia, though substantial wintering flocks, numbering several thousands, spend a good part of the winter across the Strait of Gibraltar in Morocco on the tidal marshes, especially Merga Zerga (Moulay Bousselhame). During late October local birds can be joined by populations arriving from Northern Europe, after they have completed their autumn moult, these birds arrive after they had gathered in their thousands on special moulting grounds in Heligoland Bight (from Römö, Denmark, to Dutch Waddenzee) and in the Dutch delta region.

Avocets are highly social and gregarious for much of the year. Outside of the breeding season it is not uncommon to see flocks numbering in excess of 20 birds, even feeding cooperatively where advantageous i.e. on Neomysis shrimps. Flocks can be hundreds strong as winter progresses, but gradually these flocks disperse throughout late February and early March as small groups start to wander back to their breeding grounds. Normally our local birds tend to be on their chosen breeding territory by late February or early March, whilst others drift through northwards. Breeding birds appear to arrive as established pairs, bonds probably being formed during late winter, there is no evidence they remain paired during winter. Throughout our region there are several small sporadic lagoons (not annually filled with water), and although colonies are often located at traditional sites or areas where water conditions are relatively stable, especially in temperate parts of their range, these typically impermanent waters are more ephemeral and the birds nomadic, settling to breed where temporarily possible.

Once our birds have arrived at their chosen breeding territory the nest is built by excavating a scrape, then lined and built-up mostly with short stems, grasses and leaves found locally, either slightly raised in water (using a small mound) or very near to the water’s edge, it can sometimes be in short vegetation, but again still very near to water. Both adult birds build the nest and a single brood of between 2 to 5 eggs are laid. Although single brooded, a replacement brood may be laid in the event of loss i.e. raising water levels or predation. Incubation lasts for between 20 to 28 days and the young hatch asynchronously depending how staggered the eggs were laid. The young are very soon able to walk and feed, but are still tended and brooded by both parents. After around 35 to 42 days the young are fully fledged, although they can still be very much dependent on both parents. To summarise, the eggs are normally laid towards the end of April, hatched during late May and young usually fully fledged by July. The young will mature to become breeding adults after 2 years, though a few will delay breeding until they are 3 years of age.



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




Sunday, June 22, 2014

Blooms and Bugs of Serranía de Ronda


One of the joys of walking or driving in the hills and mountains of Andalucia is that you can always come across some wonderful sights, no matter what time of year. Even when you think you are not going to see any wild flowers, due to the vegetation looking like dried straw, you can still find something to make you do a double take and go and have a look. The Serranía de Ronda is just a treasure chest of wild flowers, many endemic to the area and all a delight. Investigating that flash of colour soon leads you to explore not just the array of flowers, but also their pollinators and they mostly come with their very own parasites! The experience soon makes you realise you are standing within a veritable jungle.

Blooms and Bugs Gallery:












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


Saturday, June 7, 2014

The Hoopoe – the modern day pterodactyl….


Hoopoe Upupa Epops (Abubilla)

I guess the first impressions you get from seeing a Hoopoe for the very first time is a mixture of the comical as well as the beautiful! Is it a bird or an as yet undiscovered modern ancestor of the pterodactyl? With its striking colours and very distinct black and white wing pattern the Hoopoe is a favourite amongst even the most casual observer. The Hoopoe is a one-off polytypic species, although now split into several subspecies, and is distributed widely throughout the Western Paleartic, but is only a resident in southern Spain, northern Africa, Egypt and the Lebanon. It is one of those birds whose presence during the winter months can more than make-up for the cooler temperatures.

Did the Hoopoe derive from the pterodactyl? Joking before you mail me!

In Andalusia we are fortunate to see these beautiful birds all year round and, during times of bird migration, the local birds are joined by those passing through on their way to northern and central Europe. Although a bird essentially of level or gently undulating terrain that has good areas of bare surface i.e. silt, rock and sandy soils, they have taken to the grassed golf courses of the Costas and are a common sight in coastal areas. They can be seen at varying altitudes within the province ranging from sea level to well over 1400m. Here Mole-crickets and beetle larvae form the bulk of their diet, although they show a great liking for both larvae and pupae of butterflies and moths. So mostly their diet is insects and almost entirely animal, they are also known to take lizards, frogs, toads and rarely bird eggs and nestlings. It has a long and thin bill which suits probing soft ground and under leaf litter where I have seen it take millipedes and centipedes, but once I saw it grapple with a small scorpion and this makes the bird a friend of mine!


Hoopoes nest most commonly in the holes of trees, but are also known to use buildings and ground holes. Normally between 5 and 7 eggs are laid and incubation can range from 14 to 20 days. The young, which take anywhere from 26 to 29 days to fledge, are at first brooded almost continuously by the female and are fed by the female until almost ready to fledge when the male, although always the provider in the earlier stages, will also directly help feed the chicks. It is when the young are over 6 days old that they are able to largely prevent unwanted attentions from predators and of course yours truly. When disturbed they can exude an evil and intolerable smelling fluid from enlarged and modified oil glands and if this wasn’t enough they acquire the dubious ability to forcibly squirt a hatful of liquid faeces and gut contents accurately over a distance of 25 to 30cm. It is a good reason for telling people to pronounce the name Hoopoe as ‘Hoopoo’!


If you want to know more about the birds of Andalusia why not join and support the Andalusia Bird Society? See their website here: www.andaluciabirdsociety.org


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


Sunday, June 1, 2014

UK citizen? This is for you then!

Photo by kind permission of Dean Eades - thanks Dean

UK citizen? Care about wildlife? This is for you then, please sign (link below).

Intensive management of upland areas for the ‘sport’ of grouse shooting has led to the near-extinction of the protected Hen Harrier in England, as well as increased risk of flooding, discolouration of drinking water, degradation of peatbogs and impacts on other wildlife.

Grouse shooting interests have persecuted the Hen Harrier to such an extent that, despite full legal protection for the last 60 years, it is almost extinct as a breeding species in England (2 pairs nested in 2013) despite there being habitat available for 300+ pairs. The investigation of wildlife crimes against such protected species is time-consuming, difficult to prosecute, and ties up valuable police resources.

Grouse shooters have failed to put their own house in order, despite decades of discussion, and government has proved incapable of influencing this powerful lobby group.

The time has now come for the public to call ‘Enough!’ and require the next government to ban driven grouse shooting in England.

PLEASE SIGN BY CLICKING HERE

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Ronda Wildlife – May 2014 Review


The month had been varied and untypical in so far as weather was concerned. Cold spells, plenty of rain, cool nights and all interspersed with the more normal warm days and balmy evenings! A noticeable bonus to cooler temperatures and decent rainfall has been the prolonged season for the native plantlife. Of course this translates into bumper harvests for insects and seeds, thus our precious birds are thriving. Some notable birds there are too, first timers on the backyard breeding list are Roller and Black-winged Stilt, with Pied Flycatcher seen throughout May and also likely! Sightings included Long-legged Buzzard (adult seen 2 times) and the elusive Rufous-tailed Scrub Robin present in 2 secret locations.

Hoopoe - Another good and successful breeding season
Dragonflies and Butterflies are thriving, variety as well as abundance confirming the benefits of an extended flowering season. Late arrivals to the scene, as always, are Spotted Flycatcher, who seems to occupy all known sites this year. The prolific insect hatch will satiate this handsome visitor as well as assist Barn Swallow in raising good sized and more broods, this is particularly necessary as numbers are certainly down this year. Wonder why? Could it refer to unforeseen, untold problems at their wintering grounds?

Spanish Festoon. A great year so far for many species of butterfly 
In all years there are good and bad things to report, as well as some worrying trends. The increasing use of systemic herbicides is baffling, why use these on verges? More especially their use in the areas of so-called Parque Naturals, protected areas, together with strimming verges at their peak with flowering plants is criminal! Despite the mismanagement of these roadside wonders, nature has conspired, so far, to thwart the destruction of one of the most attractive and colourful spectacles of our area. You would think the number of tourist that come to view wildflowers and add economically to this area, might have some influence on the decision makers on rural affairs, but so far there is no sign of it! Who would believe we have problems in paradise?

Roadside flowers under threat from Parque Natural mismanagement?

A pictorial review for May. Hope you enjoy the view?

Pied Flycatcher - A new breeding species for the area?
Barn Swallow numbers are down this year - they need a good year!
Broad-bodied Chaser among many dragonflies enjoying a good spring
Knapweed Fritillary another insect enjoying prolific plantlife
Bug Orchid enjoying the climate, one of many orchids this year.
Iberian Grey Shrike - slow decline in occupied territories is of concern!
Crested Lark one of our more common birds in cultivated areas.
Echium a great favourite with butterflies and other insects.
Roller - a first record as a breeding bird in this area
Black-winged Stilt another bird 1st breeding record in the area this year!
Spotted Flycatcher present again on all known sites
Southern Gatekeeper - one among many butterflies this spring

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

Coming Soon! Tour to South Africa beginning November 2014, fancy joining me?

Blue Crane - one of the many birds we will seek during our tour
Introduction to the tour HERE

Full Tour Itinerary HERE

Photo Gallery from our 2013 tour HERE

I very much hope you can join me for this tour and also the optional tour extension to Cape Town.