Sunday, 26 October 2008

Thinking About Warm Crayfish

After a deluge that passed over us, it always goes back the same way!
I'm talking about normal weather patterns, after a storm passes through south-west Andalucia, the sun kicks back in and we have clear sunny skies again. The only difference is that the current rainfall has been much greater in volume than in the past. An effect of global warming I should imagine.
But where most people notice these obvious greater effects, with flooding then drought, wet summers and mild winters, the birds and animals change and adapt by the way they live their lives just as we do. A warmer climate in Europe will keep on attracting more exotic southern birds for example, to spread northwards from their 'usual' territories, as food becomes more available in these traditionally cooler northern areas. Recent arrivals in Europe from Africa that are now breedinginclude Black shouldered Kites, Slender-billed Gulls and Western Reef Herons (breeding with Cattle Egrets resulting in hybrids). Rüppell's Griffon Vultures are now regular visitors and some stay on in the south for long periods. Just like Lanner Falcons and Atlas Long-legged Buzzards it will only be a matter of time before we'll have locally breeding birds.
The effects of our warmer climate means that there is a whole world of change taking place beneath our feet that goes practically unnoticed.

Looking at the amount of Red Signal Crayfish that are being eaten by Storks, Herons and Ibis in the La Janda rice fields, it seems that this species which was introduced in the late 1950's - early 1960's, has had a very prolific breeding time and now is one of the reasons coupled with the milder winter weather, that both White and Black Storks can survive here in Andalucia without having to undertake the great journey south to equatorial Africa. The result of not having to do this often hazardour journey each year means less numbers die and results in increased population amongst this particular species. The equation of ample food source and better climatic conditions outwith breeding times can also be used with the tremendous population explosion of another bird species the Glossy Ibis. Not such a long time ago, Glossy Ibis would have been a rare bird indeed in Europe. In the last fifteen years the breeding population has risen from single figures to in the thousands. Quite a remarkable success story. Since the darainage of natural wetlands in both Huelva and Cadiz provinces for rice production, the dramatic loss of habitat for many species meant a reduction of numbers and I presume the loss of specific species like Marsh Owl, Crakes and Rails. (Sadly there isn't enough information available on specific recordings or population density or distribution in this area for the 1950's to the 1970's.) The Glossy Ibis was a bird species that did profit from a combination of re-introduction/breeding programmes and the availability of new food sources in and around the agricultural areas.
Sacred Ibis are already in the Doñana parks and I suspect that unless some group activly stops them, they'll be breeding there too! These birds are either escapees from collections or from an already established group in Brittany, France.
Other larger and of course more noticeable escapees include Chilean and Lesser Flamingoes, Ruddy Shellduck, Cape Teal, Egyptian Goose, White Pelican and Black Swans.
Smaller caged-birds were released in their thousands in Spain and Portugal when the news that avian flu was going to be of 1919 proportions. The panicing owners released some quite exotic and stunningly beautiful species into the countryside. May of course din't make the assimilation from being cared for to abandonment. Others have successfully started small colonies or populations down this way and some like the various populations in mant Iberian cities the Monk Parakeet. Red Avadavat and Common Waxbill are even accepted as being 'Spanish' birds or even listed on the official list of birds of the Western Palearctic. What an accolade! Bouquets of Laurels, palms and bays say the birds....

Friday, 24 October 2008

Wetland Birds

I have been cleaning up after the torrential rain we had yesterday - not as bad as Valencia. They had 80Liters per m2 !

So now that I'm back inside and in front of the mac again, here are some images of wetland birds and waders, taken over the last two months that I'd like to share.

Great Egrets (used to be called Great White Egrets) populations and distribution are are on the increase, progressing steadily westwards through Europe from their eastern strongholds.

Caspian Terns (the bird with the carrot on the end of it's face!) have a huge global distribution and as terns do, they go wherever they want. We are lucky in the south to see such birds on a frequent basis.

Pied Avocets and Black-winged Stilts are always lovely birds to see. Looking so graceful and delicate, they are surprisingly tough birds, seeing off any potential predator with positive firmness and vocal alarm calls.

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

We Need The Rain ... But This Was Ridiculous!

Black Tailed Godwits are beautiful birds and I never get tired of watching them when they stop off down this way after their breeding season in the north.

Ducks and waders were out in force today in La Janda as the rains came once again.

Some heavy showers were coming in From the south Atlantic during the night after such a beautiful day yesterday.

The rain showers, some very heavy continued for most of the day and it was rather unfortunate that Frank and Yolande from Holland took today as a day for birding.
Finding some bedragled Northern Bald Ibis near Zahara was a good start and by the time we had got passed La Zarzuela we had seen White Wagtails, Meadow Pipits and Stonechats.

Not able to get out of the mini-bus at La Janda was a problem - in fact we could hardly open the windows such was the downpour. After a while the rain eased a little and we watched masses of White Storks, Glossy Ibis, Cattle Egrets, Grey Herons and some Little Egrets feeding on harvested rice fields. Spanish Sparrows, Snipe and Purple Sandpipers came next, flying out of the saturated fields. Red-legged Partridge and Common pheasant were all along the main collector canal track as were Little Ringed Plovers.

We stopped to check out a raptor sitting on a distant pylon which turned out to be a rather wet looking, young Bonelli's Eagle sitting out the bad weather.

A little further on we found Yellow Wagtails flying overhead and good views of a Cetti's Warbler.

A Southern Grey shrike was next which was a good find on such a day. Then as if by magic an adult Black shouldered Kite was seen on top of some bushes before flying off. We managed to get some fairly good views and watched it land a few times before flying past us.

Purple Swamphens were watched next as were more Marsh Harriers and another group of approximately one hundred White Storks.

It did stop raining for about ten minutes but then got back into deluge mode once again, so
we decided to call a halt at mid-day as the wet weather was really not moving off at all and although we had seen some good birds, it's always better to quit when one is ahead!

I didn't even try to take my camera out of the bag today as the light was so poor, so all the photos posted tonight are from other birding trips. ;-)

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Spanish Imperial Eagles - One Of The Rarest Eagles In The World!

I suppose some people may take the fact that Spanish Imperial Eagles are on the increase, therefore they aren't rare anymore. With less than 250 breeding pairs in Spain and Portugal this bird is globally rare and very much an endangered species. How lucky to have this as a 'garden bird'!
I went out this morning to have a look at some of my local patches and came across this young beauty. This first year bird was just wonderful to watch and enjoy. Later on a smaller Bonelli's Eagle came over to see what this larger bird was up to. Just magic!

Friday, 17 October 2008

Sun and Birds on The Río Guadalquivir

The name Guadalquivir comes from the Arab name, Wadi al Kebir which means "The large river".
It is a tidal river, right up to Seville, a distance of eighty kilometers.
The river is famous for departures of the voyages of discovery from Sanl
úcar to Central and South America. Columbus made some from here as did the founder of Buenos Aires, Pedro de Mendoza.

The Salinas de Bonanza are an integral part of the boundaries of the Parque Natural of the Coto Doñana. Some of the tracks are now off limits to vehicles and to get to some of the best sites where most of these photos were taken requires special permission. Thankfully I have a new key for the padlocks!
Some of pond with less salinity attract thousands of waders, gulls, Storks and Herons and really are worth a visit.

An Osprey flies past as we watch the Flamingoes and waders.

Greater Flamingoes have good wintering numbers around the Bay of Cadiz, the Cadiz side of the The Coto Doñana and across in Huelva province and the marshes of the National Park.
They are very specialised feeders, filtering out enormous quantities of salt and brackish water every day to feed on larvae, small shrimps and other small saline creatures.

This was a particularly obliging 'light form' of the Booted Eagle that came in quite close for a look at us!

Good numbers of Black Storks are around this week on the Guadalquivir.

A cruise ship heads up to Seville.

A Banded Groundling is predominantly a North African species but also found in southern Iberia.

Marbled Ducks seem to have re-grouped after last weekend's torrential rains. There were appoximately seventy-five birds present on the main location. Other birds included Black Sorks (twelve) Red Kites (four), Ospreys (four), Booted Eagles (three), Short-toed Eagles (two), Great Egret (two), Northern Wheatears (15+), Little, Whiskered and Caspian Terns, (Lots!)
Hoopoe (one), Greylaag Geese,(Twenty+), Purple Swamphens, Kingfishers, Greenshanks, Wood Sandpipers, Little Stints, Purple Sandpipers, Pied Avocets, Black-tailed Godwits, Redshanks, Dunlin,

Pied Flycatcher

This photo shows the massive silted up plain south of Seville.

We spotted quite a few new arrivals on the migrants front yesterday. Meadow Pipits and White Wagtails were seen in good numbers and European Robins are here in the woodlands. Pied Flycatchers seem slow to leave and perhaps like last year some will stay on a bit longer. Redstarts are though in the main, the bulk of them are now in Morocco or beyond. Black Redstarts tend to stay and winter right through until early spring. The last ten days or so has seen an increase in their numbers here. Lovely little birds! We have two roosting around our house and Hoopoe Cottage.

The Guadalquivir River is still navigable from The Atlantic Ocean at
Sanlúcar de Barrameda to the Andalucian capital Seville. Here, fairly large ocean going freighters travel with containers, cars, or hoiday makers on cruise ships. The deeper section are dreged and in recent years It seems that there has been an increase in shipping traffic.
I was across there birding with a Canadian couple from Toronto and we had a great day out. The sun was shining and lots of birds, butterflies and damselflys were around.

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Misty Morning

We had a migrant Hobby over the garden yesterday evening and a young Cetti's Warbler has been roosting in one of the bushes called in Spanish, 'Dame de Noche' for the past week. The particular bird likes to eat the soft white berries of this beautifully scented plant. The normally explosive song of adult Cetti's obviously take some time to master. This young bird is getting there but still needs some practice.

With dampness still hanging around the low lying areas, the white villages peer out of the morning mist and make for super
photographic opportunities. This is Vejer de La Frontera.