Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Our autumn has abruptly cast her door wide open and the days seem grey, trees 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.

And yet, during a period when the excitement of autumn migration subsides, I visit my regular haunts seeking the first of our wintering birds. Even now there are large numbers of birds passing through in search of their favoured wintering grounds. As I write this article, Black Redstarts, Chiffchaff, Ring Ouzel and Meadow Pipit are here in ever increasing numbers, some will stay, but a great many will slowly make their way ever southwards. Recent visits to 'my local patch', Llanos de Libar, have been rewarded with some winter regulars and Water Pipit is now busy chasing its cousin, Meadow Pipit, away from the small pools in the higher meadows.

Redwing, Song Thrush and Ring Ouzel are now in the lower area of the Libar valley, feasting on the abundant harvest of Hawthorn. Alpine Accentor, so difficult on occasions, can be seen dancing around scree slopes beneath the high bluffs and the odd bird showing well framed by blue skies on the clifftops. Was it my imagination, or did I hear Wallcreeper above the dense Hawthorns? Pretty sure I did and this will consign me to more visits, creeking my old neck to scan the high cliffs, suffer now I must for my art! My gentle strolls through my local Olive grove are now accompanied by the constant chastening 'tut tuts' of Blackcaps, whilst Song Thrush are increasing almost daily and most recently I saw my first Siskins of the winter, always a great pleasure to observe.

The Society will be holding a field meeting at the lagoon of Fuente de Piedra on December 12th and I will certainly be going along hoping for some decent views of Common Crane. I can remember seeing over 1300 of them at this location some four years ago, so hope springs eternal. The surrounding area can also be interesting, with Stone Curlew somewhere around and in very large numbers, whilst the lagoons should have some waders and duck species within easy viewing distance from the new hides. Some raptors that can be found here during the winter are Red Kite, Hen Harrier, Bonelli's Eagle and Peregrine Falcon, so the day promises to be worth attending.

Note: See web site http://www.andaluciabirdsociety.org/
and Forum http://www.andaluciabirdsociety.org/forum/index.php

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Autumn Shadows

It’s amazing just how quickly time seems to flyby. 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 seem grey, trees 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 Chiffchaffs 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 defence of its chosen fruit tree and is distracted; overwhelmed by sheer numbers of marauding Ring Ouzels, whilst large flocks of Spotless Starlings 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 Martins 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 Pipits 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 Montejaque area 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 practise 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 vultures.