Friday, 19 October 2012

All along The Strait

Blue Emperor (Anax emperor)
Yesterday the weather started to change, as a low-pressure system came up from the south-west. Rain came in the night which is a pity as it's our daughter Amelia's birthday today! 

There were some insects around as I explored the coastline from Tarifa to Pelayo with father and son, Terry and Gary from the UK who were down this way for a short break. We had a good day out managing to get on to some Bluethroats at La Janda which was a 'lifer' for Gary. I showed them some new areas down the coastal stretches and there were some great birds and other wildlife to enjoy amidst stunning scenery.
Monarch Butterflies were present and some Blue Emperor dragonflies were seen hunting on migration down at Guadalmesi. Taking flight shots of these large insects isn't that straightforward and patience with a bit of luck is needed.

A rather worn migrating Clouded Yellow or is it a Pale Clouded Yellow (Colias hyale)?

Cloud changes on The Strait

A Two-tailed Pasha on Cork Tree acorns
Autumn Crocus (Colchicum lusitanum)

Autumn Snowflake (Leucojum-autumnale)

The amazing bright red eye of the Black-crowned Night Heron

Black-winged Kite at La Janda yesterday

Chiffchaff taken on a dull day
Quite a few new species are arriving here to winter or passing through heading across The Strait of Gibraltar.
This week I've watched flocks of Chaffinch, Goldfinch, Serin, Greenfinch, Robin, White Wagtail, Meadow Pipit, Black Redstart, Chiffchaff, Garden Warbler, Northern Lapwing, Marsh Harrier and Hen Harriers as well as more Black-winged Kites, Red Kites

Chiffchaff taken in morning sunlight

Female Hen Harrier this week

Shooting Moorhens
The hunters have been out as usual at this time of the year. Many shoot duck along the fringes of the Natural Park of the Barbate Marismas beside our home. This week I had a confrontation with some hunters that were shooting Snipe and Moorhen from within the boundary fence of the protected area. I was threatened and stones were thrown when I photographed what they had killed. 
Such confrontations consume a lot of energy for me and with such people I know that I have to be careful where I park my car when out birding. This and the unresolved problem of kite surfers using the lagoon at the other protected area of Playa de Los Lances at Tarifa to practice, right in front of the hide is another violation where people from different European countries ignore the sign posts, walk right though to the water and flush all the birds. 
The situation in both areas does not seem to improve visibly and there is a real lacklustre from the authorities to address this problem and prosecute those who blatantly break both Spanish and EU law covering the protection and conservation of wildlife. 
Birdwatchers and the economic benefits that they bring to local areas are considerable for local hotels, restaurants, car-hire etc, but these facts are overlooked by a lot of people involved in local government. There are of course a large number of local and national people here that do protest and also lobby to have attitudes changed, particularly amongst those who have been elected to represent the people of this area.
Getting back to shooting, it's quite clear that there are two basic types of hunter. Those who shoot for 'the pot' and the ones that call themselves Sport Hunters, where anything is a target.
There were over a thousand hunters in Morocco this spring sport shooting specifically during the migration as birds flew north from Equatorial Africa to breed in Europe. 
This year showed a marked decrease in species such as Turtle Dove, Bee-eaters and Barn Swallows. During spring here in Andalucia paid observers working for the hunters clubs, were out counting the numbers of Turtle Dove arriving across The Strait to give the hunters the perfect time frame to get out and shoot these declining and most delicate of creatures.
'Where are all the Turtle Doves this year?' one of the hunter's lads asked me...

Marsh Frogs

Torre de Guadalmesi

Looking back along to Tarifa from Guadalmesi

Heading back to Africa, a flight of Eurasian Spoonbills pass over The Strait

With a hop and a skip and a few flaps, this lovely Northern Wheatear will soon be on the other side of The Strait
Red Kite with Rat

Evening light at Barbate

Gibraltar with a low cloud on top of the rock

Back at home in our garden a Speckled Wood Butterfly feeds by the pool

Friday, 12 October 2012

From Cape Trafalgar to La Janda

The Natural Park at Barbate which incorporates two different areas covering over 5,000 hectares is quite unique and diverse for wildlife.
This is a view of the pine forest of La Breña, taken from the summit of the Sierra de Retin. Cape Trafalgar is just around the corner and the cliff top walk from the port at Barbate to Los Caños de meca is a great way to spend the morning, especially now that the cooler weather is setting in. When I say cooler, it's normally between 14 and 20 degrees centigrade.

At the western edge of the Marismas, close to La Barca de Vejer are several paths and tracks that you can explore around the area. Winter rains can make it heavy going underfoot and at times in very wet winters it can become impassable.
One place on the road between Vejer and Barbate that's worth a visit is the water run-off from the Vejer sewage works.

During the winter months Cadiz province is an excellent place to catch up with Black Storks. A few can be found around the La Janda area and the eastern end of the Marismas close to the vast Military zone. This area in itself adjoins La Janda though you have to travel via the coastal road or the main N340 road that runs from Cadiz to Tarifa

This last week has been very good birding both at La Janda the Masrismas at Barbate and down on Los Lances beach at Tarifa

Quite a few juvenile Black Storks are still around la Janda and taking advantage of the rice harvest
Most of the adult birds can be found on the Guadalquivir River areas between Sanlucar and Brazo del Este
The rice harvest disturbs lots of mammals particularly voles which are one of the main food sources for the beautiful Black-winged Kite

 Lots of Black-winged Stilts were present this week at the Marismas with a host of other waders. Most of the birds are stopping off to feed before leaving Europe for the short hop across to Africa. Many waders do hang around all winter but this all depends on weather conditions and the availability of food.
 The arrival of Bluethroats both here and in Morocco is always a sign that the weather is changing in the north and these lovely birds usually arrive with us in September. They feed mostly on insects although do supplement their winter diet with berries and seeds.

Booted Eagles have been the dominant visible raptor during this last week. There were significant numbers of Sparrowhawks passing along the cliffs at Barbate heading down The Strait and inland many Hen Harriers are here with Red Kites now migrating through. Rüppell's Vultures a few Long-legged Buzzards are also still in the area. To date there's been no sign of the Bateleur that came in from Morocco in May
There have been a few reports of passing Pallid Harriers but as yet none have stayed for any length of time at La Janda. There's plenty of time though for them to appear as well as the larger eagles that spend time down this way in winter.

The whizzing noise of hundreds of Calandra Larks passing you by is an amazing sound to hear and of course an amazing sight to see.

There are always a few of the 'chunky' Caspian Terns around at Barbate, Sancti Petri or over the slat-pans at Bonanza
Common Snipe landing at Barbate Marismas. These fast fliers are pretty difficult to photograph in flight!
Swooping in to feed, Glossy Ibis also make an incredible wing noise and the suddenly drop down en masse at the marismas.

The sheer numbers of Glossy Ibis provide a real riot of colour

 A Great Egret has been hanging around on the marismas for a few weeks now
 A stone's throw away at La Janda, Green Sandpipers are in plentiful supply.
Green Sandpiper reflections

Lesser-crested Tern amongst Sandwich Terns at Los Lances. A few weeks ago there were four birds present, one had been ringed this year in Lybia

Down at Los Lances, I haven't managed to catch up with the juvenile American Golden Plover (above). Fog rolled in when I went down there early Wednesday and Thursday but had no luck.
This super photo was taken by my friend Yeray Seminario

 As usual for this time of the year there are lots of Marsh Harriers to be seen.

Yesterday (Thursday) we spotted a high flying adult Bonelli's Eagle over La Janda. You could make out that the bird had been feeding well as its crop was fully distended. It's impossible to say if this was one of our local birds or a non-breeding bird on migration.

Northern Bald Ibis are taking advantage of their winter feeding areas around Barbate. I took this close up shot to show the subtle and delicate iridescence of the neck mane that these rare birds have.

 A Northern Wheatear was flashing its wings as it searched for insects. I watched it for a while as it collected any insect that was startled and moved by this clever trick.
 Three different Ospreys were at Barbate last week and we saw another yesterday down at Los Lances

 Praying Mantis have been active both in our own garden and out in the surrounding countryside

Stone Curlews are lovely creatures and there is a large flock of over fifty birds at Barbate this past week

Stone Curlews