Sunday, 31 October 2010

Common Crane Fest...

A few damp days came through although there was little rain to speak of. Common Cranes have been continuing to arrive at the ancient site of the former Laguna de La Janda, in Cadiz province. A few small flocks have been seen heading across The Strait of Gibraltar at Barbate, heading for sites in northern Morocco. There are many other northern and Central European wintering sites and these include portions of France and the north and east of Africa, the Middle East, India, and southern and eastern China.

Most of the cranes that come in to winter with us can be heard long before you can see them. Their haunting calls travel great distance and it's such a wonderful noise.

Very few of the migrating Cranes that I've seen over ther years either here or in Extremadura or Morocco, have been ringed, so it's quite difficult to work out where they come from. Europe has many breeding areas from Scandinavia, The Baltaic area, Germany and much of Eastern Europe, past the Ural Mountains and into Central Asia

The majority of the body is slate grey, though the back and rump are darker than the breast and wings. The forehead and lores are black in contrast to the bare red crown. The chin, throat, and anterior part of the neck are black to dark grey as is the nape. A white stripe stretches from behind the eyes to the upper back. The legs and toes are dark grey to black, and the bill is a light grey-white. All in all, pretty much grey...
Juvenile's have head and neck feathers that are are grey, tipped with cinnamon, and the crown is covered by feathers.

The birds fly and stick together in family groups with one or two offspring

A flock from last week checks out the rice growing area on the eastern end of La Janda, before deciding to land, beckoned on by the plaintif calls of one lone juvenile crane on the ground who was calling at the top of his voice, so happy to hear and then see his returning friends. He was a survivor from last winter having had his wing smashed by a wind turbine blade at the beginning of the year. He managed to keep low, feed and survive the increased patrols of foxes, and other predators that have benefited from finding collision casualties from the windmills or indeed flying into the many wires that span the countryside. Such predators would surely take an injured bird. Still unable to fly, I've seen the crane often this summer sneaking through the growing rice.

The flock lands and the whole scene is really quite touching...

Hoards of wintering Chiffchaffs are around now joining the Bluethroats, White Wagtails, Meadow Pipits cleaning up the paddy-field edges of insects

Quite a few raptors are around with increased Red kites likr this one.
Other birds of prey include Hen Harriers - saw two adult males hunting today close to Barbate on the Sierra de Retín. Booted Eagles are still around and Short-toed Eagles are in the area although there is only one pair close to us, the majority are down towards the Tarifa area and the southern stretches of the mighty Alcornocales forest. Fundacion Migres have recently published a short report regarding their findings regarding the Short-toed Eagle that has been regarded as a solitary raptor but new sightings as well as trcking show that this species in fact roosts in one huge group of 139 individuals at this time of year.... Read more here (You can translate the page in 'Google')

I was over on the Guadalquivir near Bonanza a few times in the last two weeks and also crossed over to the Coto Doñana and came across the lovely sight of an Osprey carrying off a fish.

A recent visit to the Alcornocales showed us this beautiful little Firecrest as well as lots of other birds. Thousands of European Robins have arrived, most are true woodland birds and are mucg more wary than the British or Irish one that happily sit on your garden fork. Huge numbers of Chaffinches have stopped off at the Sierra de Retin this week, an area of unparalled beauty and in pristine condition just as it was when the Moorish Invasion took place on the shores around Zahara and Barbate, despite it being a military training ground. There is a beautiful and diverse native woodland of oaks and Olives with dark-leaved, wind and sun tolerant vegetation of dwarf gorse, besom, several species of heather, lavender and other scented herbs and plants amongst the mountain and its many valleys and hidden rocky outcrops. Bracken and cistus and round-headed Thyme are abundant but a bush that's fruiting at present is a lovely orange-berried plant of the Daphne family that the Chaffinches just love. It must be one of the non-poisonous ones...

A few Black-winged Kites are around in various locations. A visit to the hide at the Laguna de Meidna picked up this young bird and a large group of wintering Black-necked Grebes. There are very good number od White-headed Duck, thousands of Mallard and probably more Northern Shoveller than I've seen in recent years. Red- Crested and Common Pochards are there too with Common Teal and few Garganey and Gadwall and Little and Great Created Grebes in amongst the thoudands of Common Coot. Check through these and you may find a Crested Coot. Some are from the breeding programme over on the Coto Doñana and wear a 'vicar's' collar with ID number.

Black-necked Grebe with eyes like a middle-aged birding guide.... I'm off to bed. Goodnight!

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Rice Harvest - Fatten up Before Winter!

With thousands of White Stroks hanging on during the migration season, waiting the annual rice harvest in southern Spain, it's no wonder that predators come along as well to see what's meaty and digestable... First, lets look at the start of the rice harvest and se what it mean to opportunist feeders of the long-legged variety! I will post a photoblog soon on waht's about raptor wise, predating all kinds of species disturbed and feeding during the big churn up!

Lots of White Storks! Of course they are eating all the crayfish, frogs, mice and other rodents that live and breed in and around the rice-fields. The smaller passerines like Yellow and White Wagtails, Bluethroats, Meadow Pipits etc clean up and feast on the smaller insect life. Resident Green and Common Sandpipers profit too from the chrning metal wheels of the combines and tractors. These waders are joined by hundreds of Common Snipe as well as passage migrants like Knot.

As the huge combine harvesters cut through the rich rice-fields, the mud banks are lined with rows and rows of White Storks just waiting to feed again and again...feeding, digesting, feeding..

Cattle and Little Egrets also are around in their thousands. Eurasian Spoonbills als drop in to filter feed, their side-to-side sweeping bill action is a good identification at a greater distance. A few Great Egrets and some Black storks also turn up, attracted from afar bu the huge numbers of birds

Looking out across the cut padddy-fields checking for any rare species but at the same time enjoying the sight of so many birds in one place at the one time. The annual rice harvest truly is a wonderful sight!

White Storks as far as the eye can see. In between the lines and ranks of lined storks are Cattle Egrets and lots more too. After the harvest the fields are 'turned over' or mashed, rather than ploughed. There is just too much mud and water. This is when the gulls arrive and feed on the sttling muddy ponds where the 'soup' has been set and served!

White Stork fly-past...

Before the combine comes along

So many birds...

Full... Shall we vomit and leave? Many literally have to...

Looking for more food... fattening up or can't believe what's in such a rich mush...

Getting grubby? Then clean that beak...

Bee-eaters are normally well gone by this time of the year. Even today there was a group, probably the same young birds, over our house that have been here for four days now, feeding with another late depature species, fifty or so Red-rumped Swallows...

The first of our 'wintering Black Redstarts turned up this morning. We have roosting poles set up for them under our outside staircase

Water Pipits pass through on their way further south to the Atlas Mountains of Morocco. Lots winter in the sierras of southern Andalucia

Reed Buntings have also arived in La Janda and similar habitats in southern Europe

Great little birds - our very own and only cisticola in Europe, the Zitting Cisticola, a real Andalucian underrated beauty, that builds a fantastic complex little nest in the scrub grasses.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Colours in Nature

The range of colours found in nature really are quite stunning. In most cases there is an evolved reason for such brightness and glorious beauty. At the other end of the 'beauty' spectrum are innumerable European species blending into the background with their subtle but sublime camouflage.

Armeria veltutina, March Andalucia

Agama Lizard, May Greece

Western Marbled White butterfly, Extremadura

Cricket on Squill/lilly, September Portugal

A pair of Red-backed Shrikes, May Austria

Red-legged Partridge, December Andalucia

Barn Swallow, March Andalucia

Blue Rock Thrush, October Andalucia

Strawberry Tree fruit, September Andalucia

Bluethroat, Sierra de Gredos, May Spain

Meadow Brown Butterfly, May Andalucia

Goldenring Dragonfly, July Andalucia

Common Linnet, March Andalucia

Collared Pratincole, March Andalucia

European Bee-eater, May Greece

Common Kingfisher, October Andalucia

Subalpine Warbler, May Greece

European Goldfinch, January Andalucia

Monarch Butterfly, November Andalucia