Tag Archives: Jay

Sunday afternoon in a pine forest

Pinar del Rey – The King’s Pine Forest, lies to the north of the town of San Roque. It was planted in 1800 by the Spanish Navy to provide timber for building ships; the planting consisting of a combination of Stone Pines and Cork Oaks. In 1804, following the defeat of  the combined navies of Spain and France at the Battle of Trafalgar, the Spanish no longer needed the timber and the plantation was gifted to the people of San Roque by King Ferdinand VII as compensation for losing Gibraltar 100 years earlier.

A path through the pine trees

The area has long been used by the local people as a recreational area and now there are picnic areas and barbecues set up in cleared areas beneath the trees, some of them quite extensive. The shady woods are a lovely outdoor ‘breathing space’ for families living in the local towns and villages, and are probably the most popular nature spot for miles around. Many families spend a day out in the country here, and it is especially busy on a Sunday, the traditional ‘family’ day.

On Sunday outings I normally steer clear of any area I know to be a popular family venue. Today, feeling in need of some fresh air and gentle exercise, and persuading Jon that he did too, I went along with his suggestion to drive out to Pinar del Rey, albeit with some trepidation on my part. It’s not too far from where we live and once through the small town of San Roque you are out in the countryside. It is still green, and colourful now with the tougher flowers of summer, purple thistles, patches of yellow Spanish Oyster plant and the lime green-yellow flowerheads of Fennel. Turning into the entrance to the site it was immediately apparent that although it was by now late afternoon, there were a lot of people here: families sitting chatting around the wooden tables, lingering over their picnics, children playing amongst the trees and people just strolling along the shady pathways. It is great to see folks out and about and making the most of this wonderful public space, but, very selfishly I know, we were hoping for something a little more peaceful where there may be a chance of seeing some of the wilder residents of the area. There is just one paved road for cars that eventually reaches an abrupt end and the only way forward is on foot. That is where we stopped today, in a spot where there were no other cars or people in immediate sight and close to the beginning of one of the marked footpaths, the ‘Sendero de las Aguilas‘.

Stone Pines backlit by the sun with Cork Oaks behind

This is a lovely path, pleasantly shady and the air fragrant with the fresh resinous scent of Stone Pines. A Blackcap was singing, moving from tree to tree as we approached but picking up the song each time he changed perch. I heard a Greenfinch calling and caught sight of a Blackbird, otherwise all was quiet. The track is almost on the edge of the part of the forest dominated by Stone Pines, its edge is marked by a water course bounded by other tree species and shrubs such as Oleander; and beyond it is more woodland comprised mainly of Cork Oaks.

There were several patches of some very pretty and delicate flowers growing alongside the path that I had not seen before, coloured in various shades from pale mauve to purple and magenta.

The little purple flowers are held on very thin stalks

I discovered later that the plant is  a Campanula (Campanula specularioides). Apparently it got its latin name because of its similarity to the flowers of Venus’ Looking-glass, (sp. Legousia), which used to be called Specularia. (Betty Molesworth Allen).

A patch of campanula with bigger flowers showing several variations inn shade

While I was busy with the flowers, Jon discovered a very intriguing scene that was being acted out on another part of the forest floor; where ants were milling around a large hole and running back and forth over a pile of freshly excavated soil.Some of them were actually carrying grass seed heads and there were a great number of similar seedheads piled around the edges of the soil pile, clearly harvested by the ants, that were either being carried into or out of the hole.Perhaps the oddest thing was the presence of four beetles, a couple of which were being harassed by ants, while others seemed to be burrowing into the piled up seedheads.

An intriguing scene involving harvesting ants and round-bodied beetles

Meanwhile, up in the trees a Crested Tit foraged around the pine cones. These lovely little birds are one of the most elusive species for me in terms of getting photographs and today was no exception. It was too shady there to get a decent picture anyway as I discovered when I attempted to capture an image of a pair of Blackcap in another treetop. A Jay was a little more obliging, sitting halfway up a better-lit trunk.

Jay - Garrulus glandarius

We heard a Robin singing and spotted him perched on a low branch next to the path, flying off as we approached.

A very large old Stone Pine with a double trunk

Many of the pine trees are huge specimens that are reputed to be those originally planted in the early 1800s, they are impressive and beautiful and present countless opportunities for photographs; the light and shade on the trunks, the textures of the bark, the sunlight filtering through the canopy and so much more. Part of the track runs parallel to the river bank and the damper conditions here support a different flora, amongst which is the dramatic Acanthus. It is not a common plant in this area, except on calcareous outcrops, but it is often cultivated, so I am unsure if it would have occurred naturally here.

Acanthus leaf with greenbottle fly. The leaves of this plant were patterns for the design on capitals of many Corinthian pillars of the ancient world.

Acanthus mollis - flower. The common name of Bear's Breeches comes from the shape of the flowers.

The shape of the top of the tree gives it the common name of Umbrella Pine

We took a different route home as I was keen to see the progress of the Stork families, so at the entrance/exit to the park, rather than turning left towards San Roque town, we turned right to go to San Roque Estacion. This is a very quiet road, particularly since the new stretch of dual carriageway was constructed, and is not in very good repair, but it is much more scenic and tuneful too – we must have heard at least half a dozen snatches of Nightingale song as we passed by. We saw a Nightingale too, very unusually perched on a power cable near the junction of this road and the new one. We saw Storks on their nests from here too where the road crosses the railway line, but had much better views once on the road driving towards Jimena. Most of the nests had at least two or three grown-up young, and many were crowded with the whole family jammed in at once.

This is always a busy road, but we risked a very quick stop so I could take this photograph:

Parent White Storks with their grown-up young. The adult hiding her face at the back and looking a bit tatty is most probably the mother!

Jay antics

11th February 2011

I hear Jays most mornings as they make their way around the neighbouring trees calling noisily to one another, and although I’ve had glimpses of them I haven’t had a really good view of one for ages, so I was very happy to see one call in for a quick drink at the bird bath this morning. They are such beautifully marked birds and are intelligent and full of character, it’s a pity they have the cannibalistic trait that make them a threat to the smaller birds.

A very handsome Jay taking a drink

JAYGarrulus glandarius-SPANISH:  Arrendajo Común

Occasionally a Jay will stay to bathe and turns a visit into a proper spectacle, it is such an amusing sight to behold that I’m putting in some pictures I’ve taken before when I’ve caught them in the act.

A Jay creating a maelstrom

A refreshed Jay with a new punk hairstyle

Balmy weather and bounty for birds

What a difference a week makes; following two weeks of rainy days and general wintry weather, this first week of February has been sunny and warm, with temperatures of 16ºC or more in sheltered spots, and there is a general sense that spring is on the way. The nights are still chilly, but the drier warmer mornings have coaxed the birds from their recent hiding places and they have been much more active and visible. Some have begun to sing regularly, in particular Wrens, Blue Tits and Serins. Thursday morning was quite magical, the first birds I heard were Jays squawking as they made their way through the cork oaks, and my first sighting was of 3 lovely Goldfinches feeding  on weed seeds and Blue Tits, one exploring the nooks, crannies and plants on the terrace, all the while keeping up contact with another nearby. The regular Blackbirds were about on the grass and a Short-toed Treecreeper arrived to scrutinize the trunks of some of the palm trees.

Goldfinch feeding on the seeds of groundsel

A Blue Tit in a sunny spot in a Cork Oak tree

A Short-toed Treecreeper exploring a palm tree trunk

I could hear Spotless Starlings whistling and calling tunefully from high up in the palm trees at the back of the house and watched a Wren, first singing from various spots along the top of the garden wall, then poking about in the foliage growing against it. A very colourful Greenfinch appeared briefly on the fig tree; I haven’t seen one for ages.

Spotless Starling - (this is a young one)

A Wren singing from a shrub growing against the garden wall

Short-toed Treecreeper taking a drink or perhaps looking for insects

From the kitchen window I saw a pair of Blackcaps after the berries on the dama de noche shrub, two Chiffchaffs flitting about, and two female Chaffinches and half a dozen Housesparrows all pecking around on the ground. The Robin was out and about too, again I hadn’t seen one for a while another Treecreeper came in, landed on a yucca tree trunk, then flew across to the birdbath, something I’d not seen one do before. I think it was drinking, but it may have been looking for insects. (My picture was a bit rushed, but the bird was only there for a few seconds and it took me by surprise).

Cultivated garden plant: Night-scented Jessamine– Cestrum nocturnum Spanish: Dama de Noche (Lady of the night)

Berries of Dama de noche

A tropical and semi-tropical member of the Cestrum family, this Mediterranean classic is grown for the amazing night-time perfume that on a hot August night permeates the air (and our house) with its almost-overpowering scent. This is why it is grown, certainly not for its beauty; it is generally a leggy, untidy shrub and the flowers are small, lime green and held in clusters that during the day have no perfume. The small white berries appear in the late-autumn winter, which is why I don’t cut my plant back sooner – I wait until the Blackcaps have enjoyed them.

Blackcap enjoying the berry bounty of the 'dama de noche' shrub