Saturday, 30 June 2012

Lesser Kestrel - Falco naumanni

(MALE above) The Lesser Kestrel (Falco naumanni) is closely related to the Common Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus). Their European distribution extends from the Iberian peninsula in the west, through most Mediterranean countries (including some North African countries) and into the Middle East. Their global distribution is greater the further east one travels, extending to northern Mongolia and on into north-eastern China. There are no known cases of the two species interbreeding although there were some suggestions that migrant birds may have bred a second time in winter. Whether they kept within thier own sub-species groups is a matter of conjecture. Detailed studies would need to be done to prove or disprove these two aspects of the bird's migratory behaviour.
(FEMALE above) More information is emerging from studies and global reports on their migration. Recent reports show mass concentrations of eastern birds roosting in winter in Madagascar, whereas western European birds winter south of the Sahara although a good number of Lesser Kestrels from Spain and Portugal remain in Andalucia or Northern Morocco. Large concentrations of migrating birds wintering in South Africa and birds caught and ringed in that area, have been shown to originate from Asia Minor. Interestingly, on migration the birds flock together often in larger groups, migrating at a height of around 2,000m.
As more migration studies are undertaken each year, in varying forms and the sharing of information and collation of reports, dates and numbers becomes available, particularly through the internet, the general picture is a mixed one. Most agree that although the Iberian poulations appear to be stable, this sin't the case in other countries, particularly in Eastern Europe and the Middle East. We have to look more deeply at pesticide contamination affecting reproduction success and food availability, problems with breeding colonies, winter ecology and how to develop and coordinate an international conservation strategy.
The use of radio tracking devices, which are cheapr than satellite transmitters will show quite accurate movements during migration. Tracking or geo-locators are fitted to birds at their breeding sites but have to be recovered the following year then the information on the 'stick' downloaded and analysed. The methodology over a longer period should start to show patterns of migration routes, time at various sites and return timings with relationship to weather pattern which affect all avian migrants and their breeding timing.
Lesser Kestrels are a sociable species favouring buildings in need of repair and are not put off by close human contact. They find cracks in walls, Under pan-tiled rooftops, eaves and anywhere in fact where there is enough space to raise a brood. In some countries where recent renovations of older buildings took place, this led to the loss of available nest sites and was particularly so in a lot of the 'White Villages' or 'Pueblos Blancos' in Spain. Numerous breeding initiatives have taken place across the south- west of the Iberian peninsula where nest boxes have been installed by conservation groups and local authorities in both Portugal and Spain, leading to a stable population at least in this part of the world.

Males (like this one above) and females share incubation which is around one month. Clutch size varies but it's usually between 3-6 eggs

Chicks are fed a high protein diet of grasshoppers, crickets, beetles, smaller rodents, lizards and Geckos. Such dependency on this specific food supply has seriously affected breeding populations when agricultural spraying is intense and the modern practice of regularly de-worming cattle, horses, donkeys and other animals here in Andalucia at any rate is killing all the beetles and other ground insects that feed on manure. This irresponsible practice of using chemical drugs with no consideration given to natural plant remedies to rid cattle and other mammals of internal infestations is extremely irresponsible and something must be done to stop this uncaring, blatant poisoning of the food chain. Lesser Kestrels actually are a benefit to Man in the agricultural arena and help by killing small rodents and insects that destroy crops.

Some views of females - underside

Female upper-side

Underside of the female with a more open wing

Back to the male

This small falcon has a length of 30-36 cm with long pointed wings. The long tail has a broad black terminal band. This falcon has strong sexual dimorphism in its plumage. Males (above) have a chestnut back and a blue-grey crown, neck, rump, and tail. Their belly is a creamy pink with small brown streaks. The eye ring is bright yellow while the feet are an orange-yellow. The undersides of the wings are white with a black tip. Females (scroll down for more flight photos) have a brown back and head with a pale belly. Both the back and belly are streaked with brown. The wings are also light with dark barring and black tips. Juvenile lesser kestrels look similar to the females.

Estimations of the abundance of the lesser kestrel show that breeding numbers have dropped by 95% since the 1950's. Sharp declines are especially obvious in its European range. A marked decrease in breeding range appeared all over Europe, most notably in Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Austria where lesser kestrels are no longer breeding.

Hunting, usually for small mammals, makes excellent use of the lesser kestrel's powerful eyesight, sharp claws and strong beak. It dives almost silently from a perch or from mid air and pounces on prey with the claws, before swiftly killing its prey with a bite to the back of the head. Here we see a male carrying back a small lizard to the nest.


Male with Banded Centipede

There's a very good photo ID pdf available for download on all plumage stages here

Friday, 29 June 2012

Back on my own patch & some surprises at La Janda

My daugher Lucia and I travelled through the flooded rice fields of La Janda early yesterday morning. She asked me if we could have a couple of hours photography. Although I encourage her and her sister about wildlife, I don't drag the kids around rubbish tips or sewage farms or to gull roosts but rather respond to their enthusiasm about wildlife photography and off we go.

We took the Vejer end entrance into la Janda along the main collector canal track, then turned left over the bridge along the wooded avenue that leads over the bridge towards Benalup. This huge site of the vast ancient laguna of La Janda is now a massive agricultural area and is left deliberately drained in winter to make it easier for rice planting in May. Only then do the fields turn green again so it limits drastically the number of breeding wetland species. Taking in all the sights and smells from the Cattle Egret nesting colony, we travelled the avenue and found that there were at least two nesting pairs of Squacco Herons in amongst hundreds of egrets and the ten or so pairs of Glossy Ibis that chose to nest there this year.

It's such a remarkable sight to see breeding Squacco's in this area as we were already delighted with the Glossy Ibis nesting there for the first time. The unusually dry winter and spring has left the wetlands of the Coto Doñana and other traditional nesting areas parched. If only one small part of La Janda could be managed properly and returned properly, it would be one of the best migration stopping off places and breeding areas for many species of birds and other creatures. Squacco Herons are always special birds to watch and to have them breeding on your own doorstep is something quite special
Glossy as ever - the ever expanding bird that numbered but ony a few pairs in Spain and Portugal when we first decided to live here eleven years ago. From ten pairs over in the Coto Doñana in 2001 they have virtually exploded in population terms to around fifteen thousand today

Returning to the nest
Glossy Ibis colours showing up in the light
Flocks of Glossy Ibis like this in La Janda are nowadays a common sight but this is the first time I have seen them breeding on land where the public has access

Fine breeding plumage of an adult Cattle Egret

Cattle Egret fledglings

Western Olivaceous Warblers are fairly rare but we do have a few breeding sites here in the south
Melodious Warblers on the other hand are fairly common but have sufferred this year from the dry weather and lack of suitable vegetation.
Great Reed Warbler
New growth along the canals and channels of La Janda. These fresh Bullrushes will provide winter food for Reed Buntings and Penduline Tits
A Grey Heron feeds along one of the flower covered dykes of the rice-fields

A newly fledged Purple Heron surveys the rice-fields

Poised to strike - the stunning male Sardinian Warbler out hunting. Other birds included Bee-eater, Black-winged Kite, Common Buzzard, Black Kite, Short-toed Eagle, Booted Eagle, Common and Lesser Kestrel, Griffon Vulture, Black-winged Stilt, Gull-billed Tern, Mallard, Green Sandpiper, Woodchat Shrike, Nightingale, Purple Swamphen, Great Egret, Little Egret, Night Heron, Purple Heron, Grey Heron, Purple Swamphen, Moorhen, Red-legged Partridge, Common Pheasant, Cetti's Warbler, Great Reed and Reed Warbler, Melodious Warbler, Western Olivaceous Warbler, Subalpine Warbler, Crested Lark, Common Stonechat, Zitting Cisticola and Corn Bunting

Black Kite with road-kill
There are plenty of rabbits along the road to Benalup and now that the old tarred road at the Benalup end has been repaired, traffic can move quicker. The downside is that not only rabbits get killed but Red-necked Nightjars, Little and Tawny Owls as well as Moorhens are also victims. On the other hand Black Kites, Egyptian Vultures, Weasels and Rats capitalise on this quite well

Collared Pratincoles have been nesting again on private land around La Janda

Parent with food
A young Collared Pratincole's first flight

Monday, 25 June 2012

Garden Creatures

Praying Mantis or Mantid - Quite a common insect. Two forms can be found locally, the green one like this female above and the beige coloured from. We have lots of young ones in the shrubbery right now

Andalusian Wall Lizard -  I took this shot on the coast
Not exactly in our garden but Common Dolphins are very close to us out on The Strait of Gibraltar. Last week we took a family boat trip out to watch some of the dolphins in the Bay of Gibraltar. It's always lovely to watch these lovely mammals having fun following the boat
Egyptian Grasshopper detail. A common garden insect and fairly large into the bargain
Egyptian Grasshoppers can be quite variable in colour and seems to be able to blend in with their surroundings
This one was taken out in the countryside

Empusa fasciata is a type of mantid or mantis and is very small. This is one on an Apricot tree
Fly - detail. Most compound eyes of colourful insects are quite fascinating and using a hand-held macro lens on my Canon, I can get fairly good results
Passion Fruit flower - one of the summer blooms that's not only pretty but attracts a lot of flying insects to our garden
Montpellier's Snake - fortunately outside our garden! I took this photo a few weeks ago on the coast
Marsh Frog are frequent visitors in the swimming pool and mostly move around in winter

Ocellated Lizard - We have seen this huge reptile a few times in our garden, usually skulking around the compost
Digi-scoped Moon. I thought I'd have a go at taking a few shots with my small Lumix camera through my Kowa scope which has a x30 wide-angled eyepiece. The results were really quite good
Mammoth Wasp on Wild Onion flower. Wasp is an intimidating – It's an intimidating looking insect, but despite its black and yellow ‘warning’ colours, it is not at all dangerous to people. They are large impressive insects and females may grow to reach 4.5cmlong with males being a little smaller

Emperor Moth
Humming Bird Hawk Moth

Painted Lady
Scarce Swallowtail newly emerged in our garden
Scarce Swallowtail
Wing detail
Clouded Yellow
Cleopatra on Field Scabious

Mediterranean Chameleon in our Loquat tree
Iberian or Sharp-ribbed Newt is an infrequent garden visitor here near the Barbate marismas. It uses a very odd type of defence when attacked whereby it forces its rib bones through it's skin that come through like barbs... You can read more about this rare and threatened creature here
The newt or salamander as it's sometimes called, has a rather flat head and the most amazing eye pattern and colours