Monthly Archives: January 2011

White Storks sitting out the rain

White Storks are a characterful and integral part of the local landscape and their residence here is actively encouraged, with many areas providing purpose-made platforms on top of pylons etc. A breeding colony thrives at San Roque de Estacion where nests occupy the tops of just about every available low-rise pylon set along the railway track. The numbers of birds here has increased noticeably over the eight years we have lived here and birds are having to move along the A-405 road towards Jímena de la Frontera to  find fresh nesting sites. Many of the birds remain here during the winter months rather than migrating to N Africa and can be seen around and about hunting in fields and even up on their nests. I love to see them and if I’m heading in that general direction, often make a longish detour to see what they’re up to and the sight is always included in tours for visitors that don’t know the area.

 WHITE STORK – Ciconia ciconia

By now, late January, many of the birds have returned to their nests with their mates and occupy them pretty much constantly, guarding against the invasion of potential squatters. I went for a look yesterday and found that many of the nests were indeed occupied, by either one or two birds, although there were a few empty ones too. The birds stay put even in the rain and I took some photographs as they were drying off and preening between some heavy falls.

A damp bird preening its feathers

A White Stork (with leg ring) coming in to land

WHITE STORKCiconia ciconia Spanish : Cicueña Blanca

  • White storks (Ciconia ciconia) have been studied intensively over the years as their habits and survival are closely connected to how we treat or manage our environment. They are one of the key species used to promote public awareness in the fight for nature conservation.
  • White storks travel south to the warmer climates of Northern Africa for the winter and return to various parts of Europe to breed in summer. According to the last census, Poland is by the far the most popular host for White Storks with over 50,000 breeding pairs. Spain follows second as an attractive host with Portugal and France showing an increase in numbers.
  • Between the years 1970 and 1990, there was a sharp decline in the White Stork population and the census count was at its lowest in 1984. There has since been an increase in breeding pairs, particularly in the western part of their nesting regions but their numbers have not reached what it was before the decline. Their status is therefore listed as ‘depleted’.
  • Hazards: Out of the many factors that affect the White Stork’s survival, mankind has the largest impact. Development in areas that were previously natural breeding grounds displaces them. Uses of chemicals in modern agricultural practice depletes or poisons their food. Some suffer electrocution by high voltage power lines, especially those along the White Stork migratory path.
  • Reasons for Re-population: Between 1984 and 1994-05, the population increase along the western migratory path has been attributed to favourable winter climates. A number of White Storks also chose to winter in Southern Spain instead of crossing the Strait into Africa. Changes in their feeding habits also led to a rise in number of breeding storks along the Iberian Peninsula (more irrigated fields and large garbage dumps provided alternative feeding).

The Human Connection

White Storks build their lives close to humans, nesting near populated areas and even on rooftops whereas their counterpart the Black Stork, chooses to remain at a distance and not have human contact. It makes sense that how we live will naturally affect the life of the White Stork thus effectively changing the status of the White Stork from just being

Extract from Waterbirds around the world. The Stationery Office, Edinburgh, UK. 960 pp. Boere, G.C., Galbraith, C.A. & Stroud,  another bird to being a lighthouse, warning us of the changes in the environment. In paying attention to their survival, we also help protect the land in which we live.

SourcesD.A. (eds). 2006.

Ciconia ciconia, White Stork. http://www.birdlife.org.

Acacia or Mimosa

The weather this week has been wintry, lots of heavy rain, strong winds and generally cooler temperatures. I’m not complaining as I know that by the summer I’ll be longing for such days, but it does curtail outdoor activities for me and the wildlife. My excursions have been very limited, but brightened by the sight of the sunshine-yellow of the Acacia trees planted along the main entrance road into Sotogrande, that are in glorious full blossom now.

SILVER WATTLE, Florist’s mimosa – Acacia dealbata

Spanish/Castilian – Mimosa, hoja fina

A closer look at the blossom & leaves

Acasias, or Wattles are a large genus of shrubs or trees distributed from Africa and India to Australia, where there are many species. Many species are grown in Mediterranean gardens.

The tree and blossom in my pictures are of the Silver Wattle – Acacia dealbata,which originates from SE Australia and Tasmania and which has been widely naturalised and planted  in Spain and Portugal.

It is grown as an ornamental plant, it is highly scented and the flowers are cut and sold by florists as ‘mimosa’, but they are also planted for soil stabilisation.

They are very quick-growing but their branches are rather brittle and it’s not unusual to see broken branches after storms or strong winds have passed.

Rain in Spain & Blackbird battles

25th January 2011

Following two weeks of pleasant, spring-like weather, the winter rain has returned and seems to be set in for a while to come. At the moment it is raining hard and water is cascading from the roof in waterfalls, having run in streams down each of the channels created by the curved terracotta roof tiles. Most houses in this part of Spain are not fitted with guttering as those in the UK are, which we found strange to begin with, but having experienced 7 winters here now and realised just how heavy the downpours are, it is now clear that it’s because it just wouldn’t work.

Confined to the house for most of the weekend, and with very little bird activity to watch in the garden and thereabouts, I’ve had a look back through my photographs and journals to see what was happening at this time in previous years for some reminders and inspiration for this piece of writing. It was interesting to see the similarities and differences in levels of activity amongst the birds that I see regularly in the garden and how the weather affects their behaviour too, but I was particularly drawn to a set of pictures I took of a pair of fighting Blackbird males; so Blackbirds it is.

Blackbirds are very numerous hereabouts, thanks no doubt to year-round access to plenty of well-watered lawns, berried shrubs and trees and safe places to build their nests. We have had a pair nesting in our garden each year we’ve lived here so far, most years successfully raising a family of three, and a few times managing two broods. This breeding success, repeated throughout the area, often results in a local population explosion, which come the onset of the next breeding season means there’s a lot of competition for the best territories.

At this time of year I have seen as many as six males in the garden at any one time demonstrating the familiar challenging routine that generally involves a lot of following and retaliatory chasing between two or sometimes more birds, with one usually succeeding in sending the rest packing, often protesting loudly as they retreat over a wall or hedge.

The fight, though, (25th January 2008), took the competition to a whole new level that I had never witnessed before or since. The duelling began in pretty much the same way as usual, with one of the birds shadowing the other as it ran between shrubs or along the corridor between the hedge and the wall, then the one being followed would turn and lunge at its follower and chase it purposefully, attempting to intimidate it into leaving. This behaviour went on for days, with each challenge lasting for quite some time, which must have been very tiring for the birds. The contenders must have been very equally matched and more determined tactics called for, and chases began to be more aggressive, with the birds flying up at one another, bill to bill until one departed. This happened over several mornings, but the incidents were so brief, or in an awkward place that I failed to get anything on camera. Then one day one of them must have decided that enough was enough and that there would be no more Mr. Nice Bird, as the following pictures show……….

Despite the apparent ferocity of the attack, I don’t think either bird was seriously hurt, but I have no idea which one emerged as the victor either.

Later in the year a pair of Blackbirds nested in a fork of the branches of our big yucca tree.

Orange Season

25th January 2011

Recent gifts from friends of carrier-bags full of their organic, home-grown oranges, for turning into deliciously sweet juice, has reminded me how significant citrus trees are in the local landscape, particularly now.

Thousands of orange trees line streets, boulevards and the parks  of towns, cities and villages throughout much of Spain. In the winter, from the end of December onwards, the fruits are ripe and deeply coloured, and suspended against their background of dark evergreen leaves they create a rich and colourful display. Those planted thus are known to British ex-pats as ‘Seville’ oranges, traditionally used for making marmalade and taste bitter and sour to eat; a deliberate ploy where the trees are planted for decorative purposes so the fruit is not picked by passers-by.

In many places the fruit continues to ripen and just falls to the ground, but in the larger cities  such as Seville and Malaga, sometime during January or February,the local governments employ people to pick them and they are sold on a commercial scale for making into marmalade, or the extraction of their essential oil to the perfume industry.

___________________________________________________

Out in the countryside the sweet edible oranges are also ripe and ready for harvesting. Most of the oranges grown here are sold for juicing rather than for eating; the bulk of those exported (70%), are grown in the Valencia region. Many supermarkets  buy those produced locally in Spain, and some have juicing machines on the premises to press the fresh fruit for customers on demand. In our local area, in the province of Cadíz, there are many orange groves of varying sizes and growers set up displays of the fruit and other produce they may have, and sell it directly to anyone who wishes to buy it.

Sadly, there are also many groves of fruit that are untended, having been bought up by companies or individuals for the land they stand upon for future development as golf courses, or some other construction. It is sad to see them neglected and to see the fruit fall to the ground and be left to rot, but at least while they remain standing they provide habitat for a variety of small birds and other wildlife.

____________________________________________________

Oranges – A brief History of Cultivation

The Persian orange, grown widely in southern Europe after its introduction to Italy in the 11th century, was bitter. Sweet oranges brought to Europe in the 15th century from India by Portuguese traders quickly displaced the bitter, and are now the most common variety of orange cultivated. The sweet orange will grow to different sizes and colours according to local conditions, most commonly with ten carpels, or segments, inside.

Portuguese, Spanish, Arab, and Dutch sailors planted citrus trees along trade routes to provide fruit as a source of vitamins to prevent scurvy. On his second voyage in 1493, Christopher Columbus brought the seeds of oranges, lemons and citrons to Haiti and the Caribbean. They were introduced in Florida (along with lemons) in 1513 by Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de León, to California by the Franciscans in the 18th century, and were introduced to Hawaii in 1792. (Wikipaedia)

____________________________________________________