Saturday, October 13, 2012

Looking ahead to next spring!

Springtime in the Serranía de Ronda
(Something to look forward to)...

I have recently been asked to write a short piece on the spring attractions to be found in the Serranía de Ronda, the travel advisers wanted something to put into their pages on this wonderful area. Ironic so soon after writing about the autumn and onset of winter here.
All times of the year hold fantastic opportunities to view wildlife in this unspoiled mountain range, but I guess for sheer abundance of fauna and flora, then mid springtime is as good it gets here. Many visitors find the vibrant colours, scenery and wide vistas simply breathtaking and not at all as they imagined Spain, a far cry from beaches and crowded resorts. So it is not the hardest of tasks to write about my mountains!

During the final days of April, many migrant breeding birds have already arrived and are proclaiming their territories in the Serranía. Probably, at this time of the year, it is easier to find normally elusive birds due to the male’s higher profile during display and territorial behaviour. Others, such as the larger resident raptors i.e. Bonelli’s and Golden Eagles, are secretive now as they feed and protect their young. Egyptian Vulture, an endangered species, breeds here in the Serranía and is one of only two pairs currently breeding within the Malaga province! Together with Griffon Vulture, you should see these spectacular raptors during the course of a couple of day’s excursion. During a tour, you will be able to see handsome male Black-eared Wheatears, as well as a Spanish speciality the Black Wheatear, the later apart from a few pairs on the French side of the Pyrenees, breeds no where else in Europe! Casting your eyes skywards, you should be able to see both Booted and Short-toed Eagles soaring over the wooded areas of the Serranía, only recently arrived from their African wintering quarters, they are more readily seen at this time of year as they re-establish breeding territories.

Springtime in the Serranía can be a wonderful time to visit. Not only is the area rich in birds, but also wildlife in general. Spring flowers for example, can provide carpets of rich colour and the number of species found can be challenging. Orchid species abound and the mixture of limestone and sandstone leads to such diverse soil types, that the variety of flowers is probably richer here than many parts of the Iberian peninsular. Indeed, if you include the Sierra de Grazalema within your visit to the area, then the mountain range here is probably among the most important in Spain, if not Europe. Iris is also a family well represented and although the species Wide-leafed iris may have gone over, the Barbary nut Gynandris sisyrinchium is almost certain to be found on your tour. The Barbary nut is an interesting plant, flowering only after mid-day; it was a traditional source of blue ink in day’s of old!

Hopefully, a tour of the Serranía will allow you to leave the area with a much greater understanding and appreciation of its beauty and importance. To see as much as possible, you should explore the area with a local guide, with as many stops and walks as time will permit.

To find out more about the wildlife of the area, it is recommend visiting the website where checklists can be found for Birds, Mammals, Reptiles, Butterflies and Flora.

A book Birds of the Serranía de Ronda (including Sierra de Grazalema) is available from the author at for the price of €10 plus postage, the same email address can be used for inquiries regarding and prearranging tours in the area.

Did you know?

The area has more than 1800 species of plants recorded?

This land-locked area has more than 230 species of birds recorded?

Redstart and Northern Wheatear have their most southerly European breeding populations here?

Bonelli’s Eagle has its highest breeding density in the world in the Serranía?

The Serranía is the only place in Europe where the Pinsapo tree grows as an endemic species?

Grazalema has the highest annual rainfall in all of Spain?

Griffon Vultures have a wing-span of 9ft and can weigh 17.6lbs!!

Parque Natural Sierra de Grazalema covers over 50,000 hectares?

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Changing Seasons

As an offshoot from an interest in birding you become acutely aware of the changes in the seasons. Subtle changes to dramatic sudden change, from the dry summer here in Andalucia to an absolute deluge which produced 10 inches of rain in 2 hours (Sierra de las Nieves).

Of course the onset of autumn also means a change to our local avifauna, not least the southward migration of so many much loved birds, whose absence is mourned and a longing for their return burns ever brighter as autumn progresses and slowly ebbs into winter.

It is a difficult time to go birding here in my mountains (Serranía de Ronda), a kind of transitory period with so many summer residents departed for Africa and a wait for winter birds to arrive. Taking people around the area can be tough, as we struggle to find remnants of migration, still late birds including Whinchat, Tawny Pipit and the occasional Short-toed or Booted Eagle help to give spice to our days. Some magnificent birds remain all year as residents such as Bonelli’s Eagle, Black Wheatear and the constant songster the Blue Rock Thrush, but things definitely quieten down for a few weeks during October.

Quite apart from looking forward to winter arriving birds, now is time for drawing breath and reflecting on a very hot and dry summer. As mentioned in previous blogs/articles, the breeding season has been hard for many birds, especially insectivores; with the late flowering of many plants having effects on insects appearing much later than normal and in reduced numbers. Warblers, Bee eaters and many others found life hard, but the emergence of late insects eventually led to successful broods being raised during the late summer. Other species such as Bonelli’s Eagle had a great year with most nests producing 2 fledged young. Not such a bad summer after all.

Now, as I ponder late autumn, winter birds are just about starting to make an appearance, my fig tree is currently being ravaged by hordes of Blackcap and Spotless Starling with the occasional late migrant such as Garden Warbler joining in the feast. Chiffchaff are starting to arrive along with a few early White Wagtail, soon I am expecting large numbers of Ring Ouzel to feast on the plentiful fruits of local Hawthorn, these were well below normal last winter due to the lack of hawthorn berries, so I am expecting thrushes aplenty this winter. Alpine Accentors should arrive very soon as snows fall on higher mountain ranges and I guess the big question for me is will we be graced with Wallcreeper this winter? Richard’s Pipit sometimes accompanies the large winter contingent of Meadow and Water Pipit, so plenty to look forward to!

Seasonal changes to the weather offer exciting opportunities for birding here and not least the winter months, when large numbers of our avian friends choose to spend their time here in the temperate climbs of Andalucia. Common Crane will arrive in their thousands, whilst local populations of Little Bustard and Great Bustard will flock together making observation easier. Stone Curlews too gather into huge wintering flocks that can number in excess of 1000, so spectacles as well as thrills await the winter birder!

Peter is an associate of Andalucia Wildlife Guides, why not join him this winter on a winter holiday in the mountains, steppe and wetlands of Andalucia? For more details on his winter programme of short breaks see here, for day tours also read more here.