Thursday, December 14, 2017

Montagu's Harrier Conservation Project

Review of “Montagu's Harrier in La Janda” 2017


Now, at the end of the breeding season and 2017, it is a good time to review the success of this conservation project for maintaining the population of Montagu’s Harrier in the Strait of Gibraltar. The project has been supported by the Andalucia Bird Society by means of a donation.


MIG: Miguel González Perea from Huerta Grande, a principle volunteer to this Project.
PJO: Peter Jones, ABS.
ALV: Álvaro Peral, ABS.

"The measures taken and the support of farmers have not been sufficient to save Montagu's Harrier. Productivity is not back to historical levels and the number of pairs continues to decline. A drastic situation in difficult times as we research and look for different solutions, and at this stage, this is where we are".


An interview and later a field visit were organized on August 10th to evaluate this project. MIG explained the project, which is divided into 2 actions:

1. Land Purchase
Purchase of a 12.000 m2 of cereal fields where 2 nests had been previously observed.
Investment: 750 euro.

Result: It resulted in the successful fledging of 6 young Montagu’s Harriers. Already these fledglings had successfully flown and dispersed.

2. Hacking facilities in Tahivilla.
Investment: hacking facilities and others, estimated at 1000 euro. Permission was given to install the hacking facilities in a plot owned by the “Harinas del Sur” factory. The eggs were brought from Jaén and Cádiz provinces. 12 volunteers fed the chicks in darkness. Webcams and a nearby hide were used for observation.

Result: It resulted in the successful fledging of 9 young Montagu’s Harriers. On our visit they had already successfully fledged and dispersed. The last one was supposed to be at the hacking station at that time, what we saw was a flying Montagu’s Harrier a few meters from the facilities. 

The written account above is as stated by MIG.

MIG also explains they have led related educational campaigns in 3 nearby schools.

We asked MIG about their crowdfunding campaign and he tells us those funds will be used on next season’s projects, i.e. same actions as those mentioned above, but with further help from the Andalucia Bird Society it can be expanded accordingly.

We explained to MIG that the ABS logo should be more visible given our involvement. MIG said no advertisement had been made for sponsors, but they will feature in the final report (in the upcoming weeks).


Considering all that’s been achieved this season - 15 Montagu’s Harriers successfully fledged- for very little money, we do think this is an interesting project to be supported by the Andalucia Bird Society in the upcoming years.

A strategy for ABS involvement should however be agreed before any future donation is considered and also agreed facilities for the Society's members to visit and be kept up to date on this important project.

Update. The Andalucia Bird Society has agreed to act as the major sponsor in the future, subject to receiving costings for 2018.

Álvaro Peral and Peter Jones

Andalucia Bird 

Want to do something worthwhile?
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The Society is very much for people and birds!

Please consider joining and at 25 euro per year it is a small amount to allow us to achieve so much.
To join us see HERE

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Memory Cake and ingredients

Cooking up a Memory Cake. Main ingredients: self-indulgence 20%, stock of reflective moments 20% and lots of fun 60%. It has always been motivating for me to aim to make each year better than the last, or at least not worse. The last 12 months have been a real rollercoaster ride of thrills, spills, fun and lots of great memories, what a ride. I quite deliberately setout to travel less over the last 12 month, but still managed South Africa, Morocco x2, UK and not least a special, self-indulgent premiere visit to bird in Canada. Of course these travels always produce great memories, but my local mountains also continue to come up trumps for scenery and special moments. I wanted and achieved more time here in my mountains; my wildlife and me danced a dance of pure bliss through the year’s seasons.

So here is a pictorial of the preceding 12 month and unusually for me, no words, just captions. And this is where the self-indulgence comes into play, sifting through photos and remembering sweet times.

Reminding me of times in South Africa, great to lead this tour with such good friends travelling together
Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross, South Africa just so much more than safaris and better known animals
Exotic species or travelling friends? Wonderful companions for me touring Morocco
Yes! At last a good photograph of the elusive Orphean Warbler. Morocco delivered memories in March 2017
During a Spanish Tour a Booted Eagle provided a laugh or two with it's beady eye following a flyby pigeon 
Spanish Tour and got so so lucky with Griffon Vultures up close enough for my point and shoot camera
What better or appropriate on my Canada Tour than a lifer, the beautiful and memorable Canada Warbler
Cuteness and a lifer to boot, a Boreal Chickadee fledgling hops around below parent birds, what a memory!
I looked happy being replaced as Chairman of Andalucia Bird Society, then being voted as President, but Elli wasn't sure!
Big day during my summer. Actually getting a Two-tailed Pasha to sit still long enough for a photograph - a result.
The summer also became very satisfying when a homemade pond saw 12 species of dragonfly and damselfly ovipositing
After over 40 tours in Morocco I finally get a winter plumage photograph of  a male Seebohm's Wheatear, excited.
Morocco and the Sahara Desert always acts as a magnet to me, attracting me back year after year. A wonderful destination
As winter takes hold of my mountains, we still get warm days and here an Ocellated Lizard takes advantage of sunshine
Not a decent photo, but a birding highlight recently as a Hawfinch male attempts to take a chunk out of a Ring Ouzel male
Well that's a brief taster of my year and all that remains is to wish my many friends and readers a Very Happy Christmas and a Peaceful and Healthy New Year! Take care and catch-up again in 2018. Peter

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Winter Wildlife Serrania de Ronda

Winter has encroached on my mountains; autumn’s soft embrace has released its hand on the landscape and submitted almost unnoticed to the cold of winter. The unpredictable has returned, from warm days to biting cold nights, to strong winds, which can herald the long awaited rains, to ashen clouds cloaking the high mountains later to reveal white peaks on the most grand of my mountains. It is a welcomed respite from the searing temperatures of summer that had parched the landscape, turning the views to golden browns for as far as the eye could see, though the large forested areas of evergreen oak beautifully frame the golden colours with their shades of green.

Yet through November and December, during the onset of winter, there are so many interesting features to my natural world here in the Serrania de Ronda. These months see the main rutting period for Iberian Ibex Capra pyrenaica hispanica, a time for keeping a sharp eye to the mountainsides. Males now actively seek females, who themselves are now divided by those able to breed successfully and those immature of 1 to 2 year olds who attempt to avoid contact with active males. Ibex are an interesting animal, many things attract me to their lifestyle and to give one example they have a special mechanism in the kidney that stores fat in order to be used as energy in the colder winter months.

From the every present, high flying and soaring Griffon Vulture, other birds too are more noticeable, as they flock and are concentrated in areas where food remains plentiful. Haw Berries and Rose Hips still glisten red in the day’s sun and are a much favoured food source for thrush and starling species, of course other birds too are attracted to these berries such as Blackcap, who are present in their thousands during our winter. The more open lower slopes and valleys attract huge finch flocks; ground feeders such as Meadow Pipit, White Wagtail and various lark species join these, whilst Corn Bunting too is now seen in large, highly mobile, flocks.

It is in these low lying areas I tend to spend more time during the winter months. The wild grasses and other plant life are emerging, recovering from the lack of rains during the summer months, in turn insects are plentiful as well as fallen seeds from the autumn. Birds are numerous; altitudinal dispersal also brings flocks of Rock Sparrow to these feeding grounds, with Blue Rock Thrush appearing around waste grounds. Another attraction is the small stands of water that appear on these open, flat and uncultivated sites. Here many birds will visit for bathing and drinking and if for no other reason I love to visit these sites to witness the bobbing and scuttling behaviour of the hundreds of White Wagtail, coming to perform their pampering before departing to their roosts.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

The ubiquitous wintering White Wagtail

Wintering birds in the Serrania de Ronda are increasing as temperatures in northern Spain plummet. An annual event here as many birds find refuge in temperate areas surrounding this southern most outpost of the Baetic System of mountain ranges. Involved as I am in a winter survey of birds here, one of the most commonly encountered species is the White Wagtail Motacilla alba alba. Surprisingly widespread, even at higher elevations, this enigmatic bird has to be one of the most attractive and entertaining of our annual visitors.

Common on open cultivated farmland and in Olive groves
We have a small breeding population here, but they are scarce and at times hard to locate. In contrast, they are among the most common of wintering birds and passage migrants. Summer's end and early autumn see huge numbers arriving to these parts, no coincidence that this mass arrival coincides with the cultivation of cereal and other cropped fields, most of which had been fallow for the greater part of July and August. It is a common sight to see several hundred birds following the plough and feasting on exposed worms and the many species of beetle larvae. Many of these birds will continue to journey south and winter in North Africa, but as autumn progresses so too will numbers increase of those birds choosing to winter here.

Water always an attraction to this and other wagtail species of the region
Wintering birds tend to be social and gather together on favoured feeding grounds, these are mostly open cultivated areas, but also they frequent pasture, upland scrub and open woodlands with grassland as an understory, olive groves are also much favoured. Of course their habit of attending communal roosting sites, allows for a more accurate way to assess and count numbers of birds during winter. The prerequisite to roosting is the need to drink and bathe. One of the most enjoyable experiences of following these birds, is to watch them gather at traditional bathing areas. They are my comic relief on cold and late afternoons, I can only admire their diligence with the bathing and attention to each feather during temperatures that keep most of us behind a car window or cowered by a our firesides.

Cold sunny afternoons see many gathering at favoured watering places to bathe
As winter settles into the familiar and somewhat local pattern of cold nights and temperate days, our birds can be found more thinly spread throughout the mountain valleys and cultivated areas, reflecting the need to search more widely for diminishing insect life. Although omnivorous, these wagtails have a preference for insects, however, it is notable during the months December through to February, that they can be more commonly encountered on pastures and tracks where verges produce a plentiful supply of seeds, plus longer grasses hold a good population of spiders as another favoured food source.

Attention to detail, pre roost preening is an essential ritual for these wagtails 
During the depths of our winter there is no discernable fluctuation in numbers, it is only during very cold weather do I witness a reduction and then only temporary as warmer weather sees their return. These colder periods most likely result in short distance dispersal, possibly altitudinal dispersal to lower and warmer elevations. Our wintering population normally drifts northwards during March and this spring migration is hardly noticeable as other birds are also returning from Africa. The absence of appreciable numbers only becomes apparent during the early part of April, when quite suddenly they have gone, then again it is also a time when Yellow Wagtail are returning in numbers and this tends to soften my disappointment.

I hope you enjoyed this brief account of my wintering White Wagtail