Tag Archives: Blackbird

Gibraltar Spring-A Walk to the Almeda Gardens

March 20th-Day 2 afternoon- A walk to the Alameda Gardens via Commonwealth Park and the Trafalgar Cemetery 

During the day the lower parts of Gibraltar are hectic and noisy with traffic. Most people drive everywhere, take the bus or hire a taxi, so in this small place with a large population, traffic is heavy and subsequent noise levels high. The drone of the constant streams of cars is punctuated with frequent horn-tootings and the waspish buzz of swarms of scooters dodging around them adds another dimension. Noise levels are further echoed and amplified by the proximity of the Rock itself, by the high old sea walls that bound the old town and by the ranks of the tall modern buildings that line the roads. Despite all this, as this fairly short walk shows, there are calm and peaceful oases to be found, busy roads are fringed with beautiful trees and looking upwards, the Upper Rock is cloaked with a mantle that is evergreen.

The Moorish Castle rises above modern buildings set against the background of Upper Rock greenery

I started my walk more or less at this small ‘desert-island’ of a roundabout and walked along Bishop Caruna Road to the next roundabout, then turned left onto  a stretch of the roadway that travels around the base of the Rock, Queensway Road.

COMMONWEALTH PARK

After about half a mile or so (approx. 600m), or around 12 minutes of walking, I   left the noisy pavement to take the scenic route through the green and peaceful haven of  Commonwealth Park. Opened in June 2014, this is the first public park to have been built in Gibraltar since the Alameda Gardens opened in 1816. Flanked by the old city walls the park has been thoughtfully landscape with large open grassy spaces, plenty of trees for shade and a large ornamental pool as well as planted gardens and it has matured into a lovely space that is well used and appreciated.

The Park’s visitors are not just restricted to human ones, the water is particularly attractive to birds too. House Sparrows enjoy it all year round and White Wagtails skitter around on the grass chasing flies, but a number of birds not commonly seen in Gibraltar have been spotted here too, including the occasional Egret and this past winter saw the arrival of a Cormorant who stayed around until he had eaten most of the larger fish in the pool! Recent records state that a Woodchat Shrike was seen here on April 1st. 

I didn’t take many photographs here as there were quite a few people out enjoying the sunshine and I didn’t want to intrude on their peace. I ‘borrowed’ the picture above from the official visitor website. I found the scene below quite amusing though, and couldn’t resist photographing the cheeky pigeons disregarding the sign.

Striped-neck Terrapins had scrambled out of the ornamental pool to sunbathe on a small island of rounded boulders and seemed perfectly happy to pose.

I left the Park at its far end to rejoin Queensway Road and carried on walking to the Ragged Staff Gate, turning left onto Ragged Staff Road. From here it’s a short distance to Trafalgar Road and my next destination, which was the Trafalgar Cemetery. (If you follow written or map directions here it seems complicated to find as its at the junction of several roads, but basically it is right in front of you and you can’t miss it.)

trafalgar cemetery

The Trafalgar Cemetery is a peaceful haven for both those laid to rest there and for visitors seeking out its history or a calm place to escape a while from the nearby hustle and bustle. It is immaculately maintained and the old graves are shaded by a variety of beautiful trees and shrubs.

The cemetery was consecrated in June 1798, seven years before the battle of Trafalgar. Known then as the Southport Ditch Cemetery, it may have been a part of the old St. Jago’s Cemetery, which was situated on the other side of Charles V Wall. The association with the battle of Trafalgar does not seem to have been made until many years after the event.

The cemetery was used for burials between 1798 and 1814, then fell into disuse. Earlier gravestones from St.Jago’s cemetery were set into the eastern wall in 1932, and  a few free-standing stones, some of which date back to the 1780s, have been transferred here over the years from the Alameda Gardens.

Older gravestones set into the eastern wall of the cemetery

Although the name of the cemetery commemorates the Battle of Trafalgar, only two of those who are buried here actually died of wounds suffered in the battle (Lieut. William Forster of the Royal Marine Corps of H.M.S. Mars and Lieut. Thomas Norman of H.M.S. Columbus).  Most of those who died at Trafalgar were buried at sea, and Lord Nelson’s body was transported to London for a state funeral. 

A bitter, or Seville orange tree has both fruit and blossom now

The warm air was fragranced with orange blossom, a male blackbird sang while a female foraged beneath the trees and a chiffchaff was calling his namesake tune from a tall tree.

I saw my first butterfly of this trip here, a pretty fresh Speckled Wood. A similar species to our northern European butterfly of the same name, but a rich orange replaces the cream on the wings.

THE WINDSOR SUSPENSION BRIDGE

Leaving the Cemetery I crossed the road in front of me, walked a short distance then crossed Elliots Way (the road that goes up to the Upper Rock) to the car park, within which is located the Cable Car Base Station. The main entrance to the Alameda Gardens is at its far end. Looking up at the Upper Rock from here I stopped to photograph its new feature, the Windsor Bridge, Gibraltar’s first suspension bridge, which opened to the public in June 2016. Forming part of the Thrill Seekers Trail of the Upper Rock, the bridge is located between two Batteries, constructed over a 50 metre gorge and is 71 metre long.

the alameda – gibraltar botanic gardens

A BRIEF HISTORY

The Botanic Gardens cover an area of around 6 hectares (15 acres); the site was a cemetery before the gardens were commissioned in 1816 by the then British Governor of Gibraltar General George Don. In 1815, considering that “there being no place of public recreation in this Garrison” he “was induced…to establish a walk around the Grand Parade, and form what is called in this country an Alameda, where the inhabitants might enjoy the air protected from the extreme heat of the sun”. Alameda is derived from the Spanish word “Alamo”, or White Poplar Populus alba, and old writings mention these trees growing along the Grand Parade.

House Sparrrows abound here and this one was my first bird sighting in the Gardens

To avoid the use of public expenditure the gardens were laid out with voluntary contributions, including some from the Amateur Theatre and monies raised by a series of public lotteries.

Following the 1970s the gardens had deteriorated and had fallen into a poor state. Since 1991, the restoration of the Alameda as a Botanic Garden has been in the hands of Wildlife (Gibraltar) Ltd., on contract to the Government of Gibraltar. The aim is to develop the gardens in ways that will enhance enjoyment, conservation and education, so that its future will be even richer than its past. In 1994 the gardens saw the addition of a zoo: the Alameda Wildlife Conservation Park.

The gardens are laid out with a network of interconnecting paths leading around water features and terraced beds built from the local Jurassic limestone. The planting includes Mediterranean species, including some endemic to Gibraltar. There is also an African bed and an extensive cactus garden. At path junctions and in other strategic places are placed antique guns and other artillery that commemorate Gibraltar’s military heritage.

THE ELLIOTT MEMORIAL

A number of features were gradually added to the gardens, most reflecting historical facts or personalities. Entering through the main gates you are greeted by one of the oldest and the tallest of them; a memorial of George Augustus Eliott, 1st Baron Heathfield, guarded by four 18th-century howitzers (canons).

The statue was  photographed from behind as I spotted a cheeky  juvenile Yellow-legged gull perched on top of the General’s head.

THE DELL BRIDGE

A favourite feature of mine is the bridge with its attractive pergola tunnel, presently shaded with flowering Bougainvillea, that spans the Dell and Sunken Garden. I like the patterns the pergola and railings make on the paving of the bridge. It also affords good views down onto the sunken gardens of the Dell.

The bridge is named for Guiseppe Codali who was the head gardener and horticulturalist of the Gardens during the mid-19th Century. He was Italian, from Bergamo and was brought to Gibraltar specifically to work in the gardens. His Italian influence can be seen particularly in the bridge and sunken garden, The Dell, in the centre of the Alameda which was opened on the 24th September 1842 and re-inaugurated 150 years later on 24th September 1992.

THE WHALEBONE ARCH

This pair of whale jaw bones was originally placed at one end of the Dell Bridge. Their origin is long forgotten , but whalers regularly called into Gibraltar until the early 20th Century. The bones now form an arch over the gate leading into the Dell.

THE DELL OR SUNKEN GARDEN

Stripe-necked Terrapins stack up to enjoy the sunshine on the edge of a pool in the Dell.

PLANTS OF THE GARDENS

The plants of the Alameda Gardens are a combination of native species and others brought in from abroad, often from former British territories like Australia and South Africa with which Gibraltar had maritime links at the time of the British Empire. Since 1991 many new species have been planted, some growing in Gibraltar for the first time.

Fressia is a naturalised plant in Gibraltar and found growing in the wild. Here it is the Wildflower Garden

SOME PERSONAL FAVOURITE PLANTS

There are so many beautiful plants here it takes many visits to appreciate them properly, but here are some of my personal favourites.

The gardens have a stunning collection of Dragon Trees Dracaena draco, the oldest of which is over 200 years old, perhaps as much as 300, and would have been amongst trees here that pre-date the opening of the gardens. It is still young though, there are claims that they live upwards of 1000 years! An unusual member of the lily family The Dragon Tree comes from the Atlantic Islands of the Canaries, Madeira and Cape Verde. The smooth grey bark is reminiscent of an elephant’s hide and its red resin, which quickly crystalises, was used medicinally and known as Dragon’s Blood. Its panicles of showy white flowers appear irregularly in summer and produce bright orange berry-like fruit in winter.

There are Bird of Paradise plants, Strelitzia reginaein several spots throughout the gardens. The species is originally native to South Africa and is the most exotic of flowers I think and so aptly named – I fancy this group looks just like a flock of large-billed birds about to take flight. Its scientific name commemorates the British queen Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz.

Another species of Strelitzia grows here too, it’s much larger and I think it may be S. nicolai , which is the largest in the genus, reaching as much as 10 m tall and producing stately white and blue flowers.The leaves are large and similar to a banana leaf in appearance. This beautifully newly-pruned tree shows the leaves grow in two ranks to form a fan-like crown of evergreen foliage. There is a flower bud squeezing between the leaf stems.

WILDLIFE OF THE GARDENS

A Blackbird singing from the branch of an old pine tree

The gardens are rich in wildlife. Bird species nesting here include Sardinian Warbler, Blackcap, Blackbird, Robin, Greenfinch, Serin and Wren. Winter additions include Grey and White Wagtail, Chifchaff, Black Redstart, Chaffinch, Short-toed Treecreeper and occasionally Kingfisher, while notable birds of passage periods are Hoopoe, Redstart, Woodchat Shrike and flycatchers. Kestrel (throughout the year) and Booted Eagle (in winter) regularly hunt in the grounds.

I spotted a female Blackcap nearby, a species that is a year-round resident in the Gardens.

There is a small raised pond in the courtyard between the administration buildings and greenhouses where I caught a resident Perez’s frog – Pelophylax perezi basking in the sunshine.

Other wildlife that may be spotted are reptiles including the Moorish Gecko and Iberian Wall Lizard, Amphisbaenian and the harmless Horseshoe Whip Snake. Of the bats, the Pipistrelle is the commonest (often seen during the day), while Schreiber’s Bat and the European Free-tailed Bat can also be seen.

One of the gardeners here has an incredible talent for propegating plants and takes great pains to display stock plants in a perfectly ordered way. At one end of the pond is an immaculately arranged collection of cacti.

More cacti stand in a rank along a wall opposite a collection of various Aloes.

and finally for this visit, is a iew of part of his display of the epiphyte collection: a beautiful piece of living art.

 

 

 

 

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Birds are singing, frogs are croaking

At the beginning of the week it seemed as though the total local Tree Frog population had converged upon our pool. Endearing as they are in the daytime when spotted out sunbathing, stuck to the sides of the pool like bath toys,  as soon as the sun has set and they begin their croak-off contests, necessitating turning up the volume on your TV, you can go off them a bit. It wouldn’t be so bad if they got tired after an hour or two and quietened down, but the tiny creatures have enormous stamina and I’ve heard them still at it at 2am. The morning following a particularly noisy night session I discovered the reason for the increased volume; I counted no less than ten of them in a variety of sizes and shades of green in various spots around the pool.

Four of the ten tree frogs in the pool today. This image shows them at more or less their actual very tiny sizes. Males are smaller than females.

A grass-green individual

I probably would have put up with the din so I could indulge in a bit more frog-watching, but my long-suffering other half had reached his tolerance limit and decided at least some of them had to move on, or back to where they’d come from. So the pool was drained to leave about half a metre or so depth at the ‘deep end’. We found some interesting stuff in there, including tadpoles of various sizes and some large dragonfly larvae. I was worried then that the tadpoles would get eaten, so we put a bit more water in to give them more chance to escape. It’s a situation that reminded me of a quote I remember which simply says ‘Nature quietly finds her way back into places we think of as ours…’ which is sort of what has happened here, although in this case maybe not so quietly.

A Serin singing his heart out

My little dog is happy that the pleasanter weather has put more regular walks back on the agenda, although he gets a little bit frustrated with the frequent stops we make as I spot photo opportunities or something interesting to watch. This week there have been so many birds about that our normal 20 minutes ’round the block’ have been taking at least twice as long. I have seen more Robins than usual and think  perhaps some are migrants; there are Blue Tits everywhere and Serins singing their tinkling songs from tree perches almost within sight of one another. They become more visible than usual at this time as they make display flights, shooting up from their perches then spreading their wings wide and fluttering and falling back down while still singing. Although seeming to be fully occupied by the effort they put into singing, they are still quite wary and easily disturbed, hence my best photo to date being a back view; it does show the yellow rump though. There are still nothing like the full number of House Martins and Barn Swallows back yet, but it’s been good to see a few in our patch of sky again. No sign of any Swifts yet.

A Collared Dove keeping a wary eye on me and the dog

There are dozens of Collared Doves around and I often come across single ones, or at the moment pairs, walking about on the roads. I know they’re common, but I like them, they look soft and gentle, which of course I know they’re not particularly.

A large flock of Siskins pecking around on the road

One morning l spotted a little flock of twenty or so small birds pecking around on the road beneath a tree. The bright dappled sunlight made it difficult to see them well and I thought at first they may be Serins, but their reluctance to move until I was quite close brought to mind Siskins, which is what they turned out to be. They didn’t move far, the majority just going up into the tree above, but then a man got into the car that was parked just behind them and they all disappeared. I’ve looked for them several times since, but have only managed one or two; I would imagine they have moved on by now.

A Robin in a rubber tree- about to fly off

It still feels quite odd to see Robins here in Spain, especially this far south, and their strong association with our British Christmas traditions makes it even more odd to see them perched on ‘exotic’ plants such as cacti and as in this picture, a rubber tree. Their behaviour is quite different here too, they are much more wary of people and although they are present in our gardens, they are reserved and keep close to cover.

A White Wagtail strutted about on the road, oblivious to being watched with interest by a nearby cat

I’ve been trying to spot a Chaffinch singing with not much luck so far, but I got some lovely views of a beautiful male as he came down from his tree to feed on the nuts of a crushed pine cone on the road beneath.

Chaffinches are quick to take advantage of car-crushed cones and acorns etc

The male Chaffinch is a beautiful bird

He even looks handsome from the back

Birds spotted singing, displaying or otherwise expressing themselves this week:

Blue Tits and Great Tits, Blackbirds – I watched a female gathering leaves on Tuesday morning, Spotless Starlings, Chaffinches, Goldfinches and Greenfinches all singing, Serins singing and displaying, Wrens in several different locations, Robin, Blackcaps, House Sparrows, Collared Doves, Short-toed Treecreeper who doesn’t have much of a song but keeps up his soft whistle for longer lengths of time.

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.