Thursday, 22 December 2011

Mongoose, Merlin and The Big Eagle

Immature Spanish Imperial Eagle (Aquila adalberti) yesterday over La Janda

The Spanish Imperial Eagle is unique to the Iberian Peninsula. Almost the whole world population breeds in Spain, but recently a few pairs recolonised parts of Portugal, particularly in the Alentejo area near the border with Extremadura.
Spanish Imperial Eagles were thought to be no longer breeding in Morocco, but there was a report of a successful breeding pair in 1995. There could be a few pairs left and young birds do cross The Strait of Gibraltar each autumn. Normally their part migration does not exceed 350 kms in one-way distance.
The eagle was also known to have been a breeding bird in Algeria in the 19th century, but now extinct there.

Immature birds can look like juveniles especially from far off but closer inspection of the breast and wing coverts would suggest an older bird. The white trailing edge to the wing seems not to be present although difficult to see the colour of the primaries in the bright sky, the secondaries look as if they have dark tips and white tips, showing some moult. Same with the tail moult.

Spanish Imperial Eagles are always impressive birds to watch, especially at close quarters where the large size is apparent even without another species in the air for comparison.
Some statistics: Length: 78-82 cm, Wingspan: 180-210 cm, Weight: 2,500-3,500 g
They are known to live for over thirty-five years, older in captivity.

The coast line close to the Sierra de La Plata, looking down The Strait towards Bolonia and Tarifa with a very dramatic sky

Bluethroats were performing particularly well this last week. There must be a bit of competition going on with Common Stonechats this week...

Standing to attention

Bluethroat from behind

Two different male Common Stonechats with variable plumage

Irrigation rainbow

Merlin (Falco columbarius)

One of the smallest falcons but certainly a real bruiser for it's size. It has powerful flight, hence the deeper, muscular chest and is exceptionally agile and very fast flier.

Merlin showing all those lovely underside markings

I took this very poor shot of a passing adult male Pallid Harrier on the 21st December. I've still not managed to be close enough to the male for better photos. Still, there's always next year!

The Egyptian Mongoose (Herpestes ichneumon) is a very secretivie mammal and although there are lots of them around souther Iberia, you seem only to get fleeting views. They can weigh up to 4 kg although they are normally between 2.8 and 3.8 kg. They have long dark brown hair and have a slender, low-slung body with short limbs and strong claws on the forepaws for digging.

A Penduline Tit takes flight as the mongoose passes through the reeds

Back out onto the main track at La Landa

Here we are at the happy end to another great year with Andalucian Guides. It's been a fantastic year for me, travelling, experiencing lots of old favourites and new ones too. Some new birds, plants, insects and other wildlife and getting the chance to meet some lovely people.
Have a great holiday over Christmas and New Year, we have asked the Bald Ibis to decorate the local overhead cables as Chritmas decorations and they are doing quite a good job by the look of things!

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Cold Nights, Sunny Days

On the edge of La Janda is a classic example of a working Andalucian finca, the Cortijo de Trapatana. The farm and the surroundings just complement each other and each season shows different colours of the crops in the fields as well as the light and surrounding landscape.
You can find the Cortijo close to the best known track that takes you down to the main collector canal and into the body of this vast agricultural area.

Cortijo de Trapatana

I'ts been a busy week around my local patch, trying to take advantage of some free time and catch up with lots of wintering birds. I have taken so many photos and really need to go through and edit some of the better ones, especially some of the wonderful views of a variety of large raptors that have dominated the La Janda skyline. You can review the last couple of blog entries to see these photos and my own attempts to clarify identification of comparative 'ringtail' harriers with the influx of many Pallid Harriers in Cadiz province. Five different Pallid Harriers last week in the La Janda area alone is a real record for this essentially Eastern European bird of prey.

One of those very special birding days came along last week and happily I was able to share with fellow birdwatcher and friend, Mick Richardson. Mick and his wife settled some time ago further north in Andalucia at Loja, Granada province. Mick runs his own wildife guiding business in that equally rich area and can show clients much of the mountain and plains birds, orchids and other plants as well as butterflies, dragonflies and a whole lot more. Click above to find out what Mick does...

Mandrake (Mandragora autumnalis) was one flowering plant that Mick pointed out to me

Our day started with a coffee at the Bar Apollo at Tahivilla, we then headed down to the coast towards Barbate, looking for Northern Bald Ibis as early morning mist hung in the low-lying La Janda. It's just a short run from Tahivilla down to the sea and quickly we were seeing lots of birds driving past Prickly-Pear cactus fences that border the Military Zone of the Sierra de Retin.

A pretty pose from a male Common Stonechat

Corn Buntings, Common Stonechats, White Wagtails, Spanish Sparrows and Zitting Cisticolas flitted past and soon we were on the coast where hundreds of Crag Martins fed on the little estuary at Zahara de Los Atunes.

Crag Martin over the edge of Sierra de Retin at Zahara de Los Atunes, a wintering area for these fast and agile fliers

Northern Bald Ibis at Barbate

Driving along the Atlantic Ocean's coast we soon saw a few of the Northern Bald Ibis feeding in the rough grazing land on the Military part of the coast. A little further along at Barbate we came across about thirty birds feeding amongst cattle and sitting on electric wires and posts, preening themselves. These are all free-flying birds and there are around eighty of them now with some breeding success as they continue and colonise several sites on the coast and inland.

The morning passed quickly and we picked up some new birds for the day around Barbate bridge and estuary. Here we saw Greenshank, Common Redshank, Little Egret along with Lesser Black-backed, Black-headed and Yellow-legged Gulls. We had a quick look to see if we could find some Tawny Owls in woodland around Vejer but without success. An (Iberian) Green Woodpecker, some Black Redstarts, European Robins, Chaffinch, Cattle Egrets and Chiffchaffs were found though, always good to see.

Black-winged Kite guts a large rodent then swallows it whole

Back down to La Janda where by this time the mist had burnt off and the air was slowly starting to warm up. We took the western track entrance off the N340 road from Manzanette and Mick and I took our time scanning across the harvested rice-fields that were alive with the song of Common Cranes. Marsh Harriers are very common at this time of year and could be seen in every direction we looked, either sitting on the ground or paddy-field earth dykes or hunting with their heads down.
Reed Buntings, House Sparrows and a Blackbird flew around the reeds that line the main canal banks. The high pitched looping sound of Penduline Tits calling showed us where a lovely pair were feeding and we had some great views of these often elusive birds.
Night Herons, Grey Herons were also seen and a few hundred meters further along the canal, we happened upon what looked like a Purple Swamphen convention, with thirty or so birds all milling around the opposite banking and field.
The first of the day's Black-winged Kites showed up and Common Kestrels were around in good numbers. Mallards, Little Grebe were seen and a Cetti's Warbler called as we watched another Black-winged Kite hovering, hunting for prey. It wasnt before long that a a large rodent was caught in it's powerful talons. The bird carried it's prey to a nearby post and we watched it first eat the brain, then gut the animal and finally eat the whole rodent in one gulp.
Over the next thirty-minutes we watched it go straight back to hunting mode, obviously still peckish! We had excellent views of it hovering and flying pretty close to ourselves as we used the car as a hide. Both of us managed to get some really satisfying photos of this wonderful bird of prey.

Incidentally, the bird was tagged and ringed on the 13th of July by a local ringer in Cadiz, Rafael Sánchez Carrión.

Black-winged Kite ( Elanus caeruleus)

Mick and I continued birding after a short break for tapas and a beerette. During the afternoon the sun was warm and we thought that a search for larger birds of prey would be worthwhile. A short time later we saw a juvenile Spanish Imperial Eagle, looking very bright perched on top of an electric post showing the ochre and dark brown plumage juvs show when perched or in flight.

Not such a stunning view but interesting shot of it hovering, seeing how the bird controls air flow over its wings and tail

Some of my black and white photography. I'm attracted to the diversity of clouds and weather patterns on The Strait of Gibraltar where you can see some amazing cloud formations between the two continents

Peregrine Falcon (Falco preregrinus)

The Peregrine takes off showing the powerful body and long wings

A female Hen Harrier ( Circus cyaneus) passes by

More Common Cranes and some Calandra Larks called and flew in large flocks as we watched and a lovely male Hen Harrier ( Circus cyaneus) hunting, just as a young Bonell's Eagle passed quite high up, overhead. An older looking Spanish Imperial (Aguila adalberti) was also seen flying low over the woodland edge and a short time later a young Golden Eagle flew into view being later mobbed by a pair of Ravens. It was all happening at once and two young Bonelli's flew into view, one coming really close for some good photos (below)

Passing the coast at Barbate

Bonelli's Eagle (Hieraaetus faciatus). This fresh youngster comes really close, staring right at us Such a stunner!

Bonelli's Eagle (Hieraaetus faciatus)

Mick and I were delighted at seeing three large eagles in the sky at once and always on the fringes of the skyline were many Griffon Vultures as well as some closer views of Common Buzzards, some looking decidedly rufous in colour, visitors from the north that often confuse the observer, looking in some ways like Long-legged Buzzards. These birds are always worth a good look.

Back down towards the rice-fields again and out to Tahivilla to drop off Mick, we passed our Penduline Tits and saw a few other species that included lots of Northern Lapwings, a few Green Sandpipers, Common Snipe and hundreds of White Storks, egrets, gulls following the tractors ploughing the still sodden paddy-fields.

Bonelli's Eagle (Hieraaetus faciatus)

Bonelli's Eagle (Hieraaetus faciatus)

Bonelli's Eagle (Hieraaetus faciatus)

Looking across to Morocco as the setting sun lights up the mountains

Having seen so many great birds in one day was just wonderful but it wasn't finished yet. As we were passing a wild olive dehesa or wooded meadow, a juvenile Pallid Harrier (Circus macrourus) came gliding over the tree tops giving us great views in profile, showing that clearly marked collar or 'boa' on the neck.

Below are new photos of the adult female Pallid Harrier hunting. You can see all the photos so far of the Pallids on the previous blog entry.

Pallid Harrier (Circus macrourus)

Pallid Harrier (Circus macrourus)

Pallid Harrier (Circus macrourus)

Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus)

Back down towards the rice-fields again and out to Tahivilla to drop off Mick, we passed our Penduline Tits and saw a few other species that included lots of Northern Lapwings, a few Green Sandpipers, Common Snipe and hundreds of White Storks, egrets, gulls following the tractors ploughing the still sodden paddy-fields.

Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus) takes off

During the afternoon we also saw Sparrowhawks, Mistle and Song Thrushes, Jackdaws and one of the wintering Short-eared Owls. It was a great day out and I really enjoyed having another experienced pair of eyes with me. It made our day out such a pleasure and pretty soon I'm going to check out the Granada area where Mick lives.

Below are some photos of the Common Cranes at La Janda

Common Cranes (Grus grus)

As another low pressure system comes through The Strait from Morocco, the changing patters of light and dark make for an amazing light show, reflecting on the Atlantic's waters