Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Meet on the Ledge

A rocky path leads from the Gibraltar bird observatory across the sheer eastern face of the Rock. The path is called the Mediterranean Steps, and is known to be a botanical treasure. This side of the Rock benefits from sea frets and therefore has a lush vegetation rarely seen in the Mediterranean region.
It helps to have a good head for heights and a stout pair of shoes, however. There were plenty of Dwarf Fan Palms which elsewhere in Spain have generally been cut down when small for their fleshy edibly stems.
We saw few species that we recognised from home, but plenty that seemed familiar. This looked like our Butchers' Broom with red berries on the 'leaves' or cladodes, and I think it's Spanish Butchers' Broom.
Nearby a Moorish gecko basked in the sun, motionless, as did a scary 'hopper which was the size of a man's finger.
I liked the various catchflies that we saw, tucked in the limestone crevices.

Back in the mountains, we followed the suggestions of John Butler's excellent Birdwatching on Spain's Southern Coast - a dam over a dry river seemed a waste of time and money, but provided a good habitat for the usual rock birds -Crag Martins and Blue Rock-Thrushes, Choughs and overflying raptors.
Blue Rock-Thrush

Short-toed Eagle

Nearby a lovely bit of habitat had almond trees covered in red-berried mistletoe - a strange sight indeed - and dotted around on the ground were some lovely toadflaxes.
The beautiful town of Ronda is built over an awe-inspiring gorge, with a stunning bridge spanning the gap.
This also played host to the usual suspects, with a sighting of just one Alpine Swift to remind me of the Folkestone visitor a couple of years ago. Choughs chuffed around below us.

Meadow Saxifrage - it grows in west Kent but I've not seen it there.

Nailwort (Paronychia sp. apparently)

Wednesday, 21 March 2012


Just back a few days in southern Spain, which included a visit to the Bird Observatory on Gibraltar. The views from there are stunning, across to Africa ....
..... and across the bay to Algeciaras.
Unfortunately the Levanter easterly winds were not kind to us, and not one migrant was seen over the three days at the Obs - they would have been pushed over to the more westerly landfall at Tarifa.

To quote the excellent Gibraltar Ornithological and Natural History Society website :

14 Mar: The winds have been a moderate easterly with mainly clear skies for the last few days. This means that there has been no raptor passage and the passerine migrants have gone through mainly undetected with the clear night sky. The ringing effort has therefore produced few birds, with mainly local retraps and some local birds ringed, and included a new Blue Rock Thrush on Monday. Lets hope that the weather system that is producing settled weather over much of Western Europe shifts soon and may bring the much awaited rain fronts our way. If this does not happen soon, we will be experiencing extreme drought conditions, and the vegetation will soon dry out, as it is already showing signs of stress and browning.

That's not a bad view from the well-appointed Observatory, and there were Sardinian Warblers and Black Redstarts in the garden to watch, not to mention the ubiquitous Yellow-Legged Gulls which bizarrely nest in trees on the Rock.
Spotless Starlings nest in the Trafalgar Cemetary.

There are apparently still a few Barbary Partridges left in the area, but these are declining with habitat loss and depredation so are rarely seen. This moth-eaten specimen showed well, however.
The flora on the Rock was varied and fascinating, and a later blog will hopefully cover some of these after some critical analysis. We were greatly helped by Paul, a local member of GONHS, who showed us around and pointed out some of the bird and plant species. He also kindly told us where to find a small colony of Lesser Kestrels on the mainland, without which help I'm sure we'd never have seen them.

They were nesting in holes on a railway bridge and although they quickly flew when we arrived, a little patience paid off and they soon returned, wheeling in the bright sunshine showing their colourful plumage.
The mountains of Andalucia were lovely, but dry. There were plenty of orchid rosettes but few flowers which have presumably been held back by the lack of rain. More birds were seen here, with the pick of them being this juvenile Golden Eagle.

Water was eventually found back at Malaga at the end of the airport runway. The estuary of the Guadalhorce has been made into an impressive nature reserve, where Kentish Plovers were a joy to see. Just look at their little red caps!
In the wetlands behind the beach was a good variety of species, and the contrapunction of White-Faced Duck and elegant Black-Winger Stilt was very strange.
More later, when the thousands of photos have been processed :-)

Sunday, 18 March 2012

More Fallen Chalk - and the culprits

Another week, another cliff fall - a large one this time, between St Margaret's Bay and Dover docks. It's not quite taken out the promontory from where I watch nesting Kittiwakes, but it's close and some scary cracks have appeared across the turf which indicate that the viewpoint is now even less safe than previously.
I know what (or rather, who) caused this avalanche...... it was the Greater Kent Birder with his enormous equipment, who has spent much of the last fortnight sitting on precisely this bit of chalk watching for Peregrines. And by doing so he got some great photos, see here.
Presumably the weight of his lens was too much for the cliff, which gave way after after ninety million years in existence.

A pair of Peregrines flew across the white chalk scar today, and seem to have taken a liking for a nearby chasm despite the fall and despite the many onlookers on the cliff-tops.

The pair of Ravens that have taken up residence further around the South Foreland were vocal, and were seen flying back to their usual feeding area around Lydden.
John Wooley (in his book on birds' eggs Ootheca Wooleyana) wrote that "In the year 1841 there were three nests on the South Foreland. All the young birds were caught on the sands before they could fly well. I purchased one of them at St Margarets for eighteen pence - a fine well-grown bird".

Ticehurst, writing in 1909, reported that "the Raven, like the Chough, is another of our vanished Kent birds" although pairs bred at the South Foreland and between Dover and Folkestone until the late 1800s.
He ends by stating that "if only protection were given to this fine bird, it might once more re-establish itself as a breeding species in the county". Exactly 100 years later, this has indeed occurred.

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Fallen chalk and fallen wood

I told them...... I said it was more dangerous to fence off the rifle range so that the path was forced along the foot of the cliffs. And look what happened:
The MoD risk assessment obviously got it wrong, and there could be birders or dogwalkers under there.
Or indeed James Bond and his girl Holly Goodhead, who in Moonraker are sunbathing at the foot of Kingsdown cliffs (no, honestly!) but the evil Dr Drax sets off a cliff fall from which 007 emerges miraculously unscathed.
A likely consequence of this fall could be the total closure of the area which would be good for wildlife but a shame for me. At the moment the path is taped off, a precaution which seems to be being universally ignored.

In other news:
A young female stonechat was seen on the range.
The highlight of a trip to Oare was the huge flock of Brent geese (estimated at 1300 birds):

On the botanical front, butcher's broom is blooming....
...... sweet violets are perfuming!....
..... and this stork's-bill could be sticky or sea - any experts out there?
Getting down to ground level, a pleasant stroll around Park Wood failed to find lesser peckers, but while idly picking off bark from fallen branches a whole new ecosytem was uncovered.....




round-mouthed snails Pomatia elegans

...and a glow-worm larva, the first record of the species in this wood, apparently.

They're all lovely in their own little way.