Tag Archives: Herons

The Egrets have landed

30th January 2011


This lagoon, very close to the entrance of Sotogrande Port and backing onto the beach, Sotogrande Playa, is not very big (approx 250x60m), but it is more or less surrounded by reed beds. It is home to a number of resident species of birds that you may or may not see, but one species can be relied upon to provide a regular spectacle: this is the spot chosen by hundreds of Cattle Egrets as their night-time roost.

In the fading light, a White wagtail perched on top of a reed stem in the centre of the lagoon.

I arrived at the lagoon this evening at about 6.15pm as the sun was beginning to go down and tint the sky rose pink. There was not the slightest breath of a breeze, the sea and the surface of the lagoon were almost perfectly flat and the reeds motionless. I heard the calls of Cetti’s Warblers, two of them that seemed to be communicating, saw Chiffchaffs aplenty amongst the reeds,watched White Wagtails dart after flies from perches on reed stems and Crag Martins that skimmed close over the water. But although the light was beginning to fade, there were no Egrets.

A sunlit Cormorant flying to roost

I watched the sky and saw Starlings set off for their roosts, Cormorants in ones and twos passed by hurriedly on their way across to theirs, somewhere upriver and then a single Egret heading my way. It flew in as though to land, but then looped around and flew back in the direction it had come from. Three birds together then did exactly the same thing, then three more. I was baffled by this, wondering if perhaps the water-level, which is very high at the moment, had covered the bank they roost on and forced them to seek alternative accommodation.

Cattle Egret - Bubulcis ibis

Then suddenly they began to arrive in larger groups, flying in quite fast then parachuting down at speed to settle amongst the reeds on the banks of the lagoon like large snowflakes.

A group flying in, legs extended, preparing to drop down to land

The first arrivals were landing in reeds in front of the buildings on the outer edge of the port; although closer to people, this is probably the most sheltered spot. As more arrived, some were slotting amongst those already there while others were spreading further round the bank. In a matter of two minutes the concentration of birds trebled and the noise level increased as the birds jostled for position. I thought back to the birds I had seen earlier and though it possible that they had turned back to wait until a number of birds had settled, seeking the greater safety and security of a large group.

After two or three minutes the covering of birds had begun to thicken - there are about 150 of them in this initial stretch close to the front of buildings and sea wall

After a few minutes of watching I decided to walk a little further around the board-walk to try to find a clearer view and was surprised to discover a second, quite separate roost behind a flooded area of the reed bed that backs directly onto the beach.

A second roost, backing on to the beach

There were a smaller number of birds here, but still about 200-250 individuals.

By 6.50pm the majority of the birds had arrived, although there were still small groups of new arrivals dropping in from the darkening sky

I stayed until it was almost dark and the birds were beginning to settle, although late arrivals set up protests and a few shifts of position. I’m not the best at counting large numbers of birds, but from rough counts from my photographs I would say there were at least five – six hundred birds in the two roosts, maybe even more. I have witnessed the sight on several occasions and it is always one worth making the effort to watch, even when it is as cold as it was last night.

A last picture of birds in the almost-dark


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.