Monday, 30 March 2015

With a little help from the guide

You go on holiday, you've done the research, a bag of reference books and optics is hauled onto the aircraft, then thrown into the hire car, and the satnav is plugged into the cigarlighter socket.

Likely habitats are picked from the paper maps sourced from Amazon, and then you realise that the Ibiza isn't going to get you there. The road has petered out into a rocky track.

 You take solace with the birds around you - your first greenfinch of the year,
and a little owl looks down too wisely.

Serins and corn buntings rattle all around....

.... and the odd Spanish Festoon flutters by.

 But it's OK - you have a plan (in fact printed sheets with lots of plans).  You have armed yourself with the marvellous Birding Cadiz guide, provided free online by John Cantelo from Canterbury and Alcala de los Gazules depending on the time of year.

He provides detailed information on all of the best sites in the area, with careful driving instructions and notes on the best ventas to visit, as well as comments on the birds to be seen. It was an invaluable addition to the holiday, and was recommended to a number of birders of various nationalities that we met on the way. 

For example, he takes you down a track from an obscure village, to a hillside that is a "reliable site for little bustard". Sure enough, you hear a raspberry from the middle of the hillside - something you've listened out for on the whole trip, without hearing. A few minutes later you see:

Wonderful - another daft chicken-sized bird, and well worth the suggested donation to the bird charity of your choice (SEO for us).

John's 120-odd pages also led us to La Janda (black-winged kite, spanish imperial eagle, night heron, larks, cranes, glossy ibis and even five purple gallinules).

We were guided behind Bolonia to a hide facing a crag with nesting griffon and Egyptian vultures, dwarfing the local ravens.

There should be a copy of the guide in the top drawer of every hotel bedside table in the area - we soon started to call it "the bible".

Sunday, 29 March 2015

As I flew out one mid-spring morning

As we flew into Gibraltar one mid-spring morning I was reminded of our holiday on the Rock a few years ago when we stayed in the observatory for a few nights.

In my bag was a much-loved copy of Laurie Lee's book As I Walked Out One Mid-Summer Morning, telling of his walk across Spain in earlier, tougher times. He described  the Rock, "trailing a perpetual plume of cloud, looking like a stricken battleship on fire".

Our plan was to tour around the Costa de la Luz, and as usual we didn't get very far - not to Cadiz,  and certainly not to Donana or Seville. There's always too much to see on the doorstep. Including Africa which looks incredibly close.

 Migration here depends greatly on the wind-direction, as the birds crossing the Straits are gently blown towards Gibraltar by westerlies or towards the Costa de la Luz in easterlies. The Levanter was blowing on the day of our arrival, and we were pleased to watch black kites and short-toed eagles flying in low over the pines and sand dunes.
 The birds have to run the gauntlet of wind farms along this notoriously windy coast, and whether these pose a serious risk to them can only be answered by scientific recording - unfortunately the owners of wind farms and surrounding land have a vested interest in this, so information is scarce but estimates of kills are high.

One project involved researchers warning turbine operators of arriving migrants, and the blades were turned off, which is intriguing but not a long-term solution and of no help at night of course.

We stayed at the excellent Montecote, across the valley from Vejer and were centrally placed for a wide variety of habitats, all filled with birds.... hills, farmland, marshes, pine woods, rice paddies, lagoons and beaches - even in the towns you kept your eyes to the skies, watching overflying swallows and martins, vultures, eagles and storks.

Vejer has its own colony of lesser kestrels, and a group of about 30 bald ibises that have been reintroduced to the area but which have independently chosen their own nesting place -
   - on a cliff by a busy road, 
... conveniently placed for birders....
...and for litter-picking / nesting-material-gathering in a car park.

Is that really a used nappy?  You're the rarest breeding bird in Europe - have some self-respect!