Tag Archives: White Stork

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!

Wading birds – an outing to Brazo del Este, Seville

14th May 2011

This outing was arranged by the Gibraltar Ornithological and Natural History Society. We have visited this site in the plains of Seville in the two years previous to this one, on 14th May 2009 and 15th May 2010, which is interesting for noting consistencies and changes in this very dynamic landscape.

The outing requires an early start from the Gibraltar/Spain border, meeting at 6am, then setting off on a journey that takes around two and a half hours if you drive directly there, or more like three if you stop for a breakfast break, as we do. It is a long drive, but easy going via the scenic dual carriageway from Los Barrios to Jerez de la Frontera, and then continuing towards Seville on the AP5. At this time of the morning there is very little traffic, but the new speed limit of 110 kph added a few minutes to our journey today – of course we kept to it – Jill set cruise control!

Brazo del Este is located 20 km south of Seville in the Guadalquivir river estuary and is an area with one of the highest levels of biodiversity in the Iberian peninsula. This former branch (brazo) of the Guadalquivir is east (este) of the river and has become an extensive wetland, marsh and reedbed area that is surrounded by rice plains and farmland where a variety of crops are grown. It is an outstanding ornithological site, where over 230 species of birds have been recorded. It is noteworthy for its high numbers of waterfowl especially in winter, while in times of drought, birds from the nearby Doñana National Park flock here.

We may have witnessed more dramatic and colourful daybreaks than this morning’s, but as the light slowly brightened we saw a good few raptors, at least one Short-toed Eagle, a Kestrel, Booted Eagles and Black Kites setting off from various night-time roosts, flapping over fields or perching up on pylons and power lines. The number of White Stork’s nests on the tops of shorter pylons along the roadside seems to increase each year, the bird pairs visible in the half-light sitting or standing on their nests, most of which will now house quite well-grown young.

We stopped for breakfast, as always when heading in this direction, at the service area of las Palmeras, located at the turn off for Alcalá de los Gazules. One of the early morning features here is the cacophony of House Sparrows waking up and exchanging noisy but cheerful greetings.  Refreshed, we continued our journey, finally reaching the small town of el Palacio at around 8.45am, where Jacaranda trees in full bloom line the main street and numbers of Swifts were already racing around squealing delightedly, and where the temperature had already reached 21°C.

Common Buzzard - Buteo buteo

The road leading from the town to our target site is long, narrow and almost straight, passing through vast acres of flat cultivated landscape that is short on significant features. On its left side there are a few scattered clumps of  farm buildings surrounded by large ploughed fields, and a line of telegraph poles is set along its edge. We had our first close bird sighting of the day here; a Common Buzzard that sat enjoying the sun, ignoring us determinedly as we sat in the car looking up at it.

Chicory thrives here

For a good length of it, the land opposite is screened by a windbreak of tall eucalyptus trees fronted by a deep reed-fringed dyke that was brimful of deep water. Windows down, we heard our first birdsong, the unmistakeable loud scratchy tune of a Great Reed Warbler.

A Great Reed Warbler, singing at full throttle

It took very little effort to locate the singer, perched high on top of a bedraggled old reed seedhead. We watched him for a minute, until he flew up into a nearby tree. A Moorhen crossed the road in front of us and a Crested Lark meandered along it further ahead. We stopped again almost next to another Great Reed Warbler, enjoying very close views of him, and  spotted Reed Warblers discreetly travelling around low in the reed thicket beneath his perch. Two Black-winged Stilts flew across towards the water and a couple of Black Kites flapped past, high above the fields.

Crop spraying was underway

Inside the site, we had a few moments of concern on seeing that a large area of what was reed-bed last year had been cleared and ploughed. To add to our woes a small crop-spraying plane was buzzing across the fields discharging its cargo. The thoughts that after travelling all this way, not only would there be no birds to see but that we may also be either poisoned or fertilised for our efforts, did cross our minds. But this is a very intensively farmed area, and although a designated Parque Natural, people here have to work hard at making a living; at least there were no tractors racing up and down the track covering us with great clouds of dust as they were last year! (I’m really selling this place aren’t I?)

Our spirits soon lifted when we saw more singing Great Reed Warblers up on reeds, and driving on a short way we discovered large areas of damp and, in places, wet reedbeds. Beyond the tall reeds there were Black-winged Stilts stalking through the shallow water, Purple Gallinules skulking around its reeded edges, Moorhens and the first of several views of a flying Little Bittern. A Cetti’s Warbler threw out its song and three tiny Fan-tailed Warblers were engaged in a tight battle, two of them breaking away and spiralling up and across the road oblivious to us.

Black-winged Stilt- Himantopus himantopus

Jill set up her telescope here and picked up that there were Dunlins in the mix too, one of which had lost a leg but that seemed to be coping well. A raptor flew across and landed on a distant pylon, through the ‘scope we could see it was a Black Kite that had perched up to eat something indeterminate but bloody. The presence of the Black Kite disturbed a large flock of smallish birds that we at first thought were Dunlins, but that turned out to be Ringed Plovers. We went on to discover there were large numbers of them scattered throughout the site, clearly on passage through and feeding before setting off to their more northerly breeding areas.

Purple Heron - Ardea purpurea

Our best views of Purple Herons were of individuals flying between various parts of the site, once they land amongst the reeds they are amazingly well camouflaged and they prefer to stay that way, much less commonly seen feeding openly as their Grey Heron cousins. There were other good sightings of flying waders too,  Grey Herons were frequent spots, Night Herons were out and about too. There were a couple more sightings of Little Bittern and most unusually, one of a Common Bittern. Two Glossy Ibis flew across, their profiles unmistakeable against the increasingly bright sun, although not a great light to photograph against.

Glossy Ibis - Plegadis falcinellus

We had a superb view of a Spoonbill flying low over the reeds: last year we had wonderful sightings of a flock then of them wading as a large group with a solitary Sacred Ibis attached.

Spoonbill - Platalea leucorodia

 Collared Pratincole – Glareola pratincola

Collared Pratincoles are one of the characteristic and I think most charismatic birds of this area, resembling Plovers (charadrius) on the ground and terns in flight.

Collared Pratincole standing on a mud bank

The habitat of Brazo del Este is perfect for their needs, they favour large flat expanses of land with some shallow pools and marsh, often dried-out flood areas, grazed shore meadows and salt steppe adjoining coastal lagoons and deltas. (They also occur in the la Janda area)

Collared Pratincole in flight; they catch insects on the wing

Moving on a little further we had closer views of Ringed Plover and Dunlin feeding on the muddy shores of  a rapidly drying pool, then further back in an area with more water were Spoonbills, Grey Herons, a Purple Heron, White Storks,Little Egrets, Redshanks, Avocets, Black-winged Stilts and Dunlins.

A few of the White Storks & a Little Egret that were part of a larger mixed group

Another moment of alarm occurred when we spotted ‘objects’ floating around on the surface of another pool: at first we thought they may be dead birds, but closer inspection revealed dead fish. We could only speculate as to what had killed them, but nothing was venturing to eat them.

Dead fish

There were not a huge amount of smaller birds flying around, but there were a few Whiskered Terns, Little Tern, Yellow Wagtails and Goldfinches to be seen. There were more Reed Warblers spotted and Great Reed Warblers continued to be heard, but as the heat increased were less frequently seen as they dropped lower down in amongst the reed stems.

Great Reed Warblers continued to be heard but less frequently seen

Much as I love to see birds, I am interested in habitats as a whole and am prone to becoming distracted by ‘other stuff’. The natural vegetation of the site as a whole is of course dominated by stands of Giant Reeds. The roadsides are so dry and sun-baked for most of the year that only the toughest of plants can hope to survive, so the vegetation there consists largely of thistles, plantains etc.

A hedge of thistles along part of the roadside

Aestivating snails clinging to thistle seedheads

Those in flower now attract a surprising number of insects, I saw bees, a few dragonflies, butterflies and a little diurnal moth. The most common butterflies were Clouded Yellows, I also saw mating Small Whites, Green Striped Whites and a pristine Painted Lady.

Clouded Yellow-

Green-striped White - Euchloe belemia

Another pool held an exciting find – a flock of beautiful Grey Plovers, the males in their handsome summer plumage. The sun high in the sky and reflecting off the water, together with the distance away made a decent photograph impossible, so I have included one that I took whilst on another outing on 6th May 2007, at Trebujena.

A pair of Grey Plover in summer plumage

Most of the wading birds we had come across had been on reedbeds  on the river side of the track (to our left going in), but we had one of our best collection of species sightings in a pool fairly distant from the track and on its other side. Here there were White Storks, a number of Grey Herons, (at least two of which were very young, probably of this year’s brood), Little Egrets, Grey Plovers, Dunlin, Ringed Plovers and gulls.

A variety of wading birds gathered together

A more expansive view of where the birds were showing the receding water

This was the last of the expanses of reedbed, but we decided to continue along a little further as we knew from last year there were some potentially interesting spots ahead providing a slightly different habitat and attracting some different species of birds. It was a good decision; our first spot was a Kestrel that we watched land on the bare earth of a ploughed field. There was another Kestrel already on the ground and the two of them stayed down, so had clearly found something worth eating.

We arrived at the small bridge that crosses a concrete-lined waterway, where last year we had come across the amazing spectacle of  White Storks, Grey & Purple Herons, Little Egrets & a Night Heron all feasting together on fish stranded in shallow water. There were no waders here today, but we did spot Red-rumped Swallows flying around the bridge and stopped to watch as they landed to collect mud from the bottom of the almost-dry dyke, then swooping up and under the bridge, where they are clearly building their characteristic ‘igloo- style’ nest.

Red-rumped Swallow - Hirundo daurica

On the other side of the bridge is a large pool surrounded by a grassy field, where again, last year we had seen two Squacco Herons. No Squacco’s today, but there was a Little Grebe. There were Black-winged Stilts too, actually nesting in the exact same place as they were last year in a surprisingly open spot in the field. Opposite there we had our best Purple Heron sighting of the day as it stood out in the open on the bank of a small river.

We turned back here to head for our favourite venta in the village of el Pinzón, first experiencing a bit of deja-vu as we encountered birds that we had seen in the exact same location in almost the same spots as last year. I am referring to an area of rough pasture that has pylons and cables that last year had Bee-eaters skimming over it; this year we saw only one up on the cables, but it was there. Last year a Short-toed Eagle was perched atop a telegraph pole on this bit of roadside and lo and behold, there it was again today. The final bird in the set was a Corn Bunting perched on the cable and yes, there was a Corn Bunting there today too. It’s reassuring to see that not everything changes in a hurry.

Back on the road and driving away from the site we had our most exciting bird sighting of the day. As we reached the end of the line of eucalyptus trees, a Marsh Harrier shot out from behind them then continued to fly low and fast parallel to the road. Jill adjusted her speed to keep pace with him and to try to keep him in clear view for me  to try to photograph through the open driver’s side window. Good job it’s a straight piece of road!

Marsh Harrier keeping pace with the car

At the venta there was another now-familiar sight – a Stork’s nest that is located on top of a tower on the opposite side of the narrow street where the parents were once again feeding growing young.

White Stork feeding young

Common Cranes and so much more at La Janda

12 February 2011

The first GONHS outing of this year took us to La Janda, nr. Tarifa, the place to visit during the winter to see large numbers of Common Cranes and White Storks gathered together as well as a myriad of other wintering and passage birds that are attracted to this rich, open agricultural site. This trip was a little different to our usual outings as we were guided by Stephen Daly, a professional guide who knows the locality inside out, is very aware of  what may be around at any given time and where best to find it. He also has privileged access to areas that are on private land and usually closed off, so although many of us on the trip have visited the area many times before, we were able to view parts of the site that were fresh to us.

A large group of members (21 of us), met up with Stephen at the Apollo XI venta, conveniently located a short way from the entrance to the La Janda site. After coffee and breakfast there was a little shuffling around to find everyone a seat in a 4X4, as the tracks around the site are weather-worn and not particularly friendly to ‘normal’ cars. We set off as a convoy of 6 cars, showing number plates from Gibraltar, Spain and the USA which evoked quite a bit of curiosity amongst other road users throughout the day.

We began our birding quest on land belong to el Cortijo de Haba, scanning the ploughed fields either side of a track. It was cold and quite misty there, but there were still birds to be seen, albeit mostly distantly; we  saw our first Common Cranes flying and quite a few Cormorants crossing back and forth. There were Storks, Cattle and Little Egrets present, a Buzzard hunched up on a distant fence, Red-legged Partridge at the field’s edge, Corn Buntings and Stonechats. We could hear Larks in the bare muddy fields, most likely Crested, but their superb camouflage made them difficult to pick out and although there was movement amongst them flights were low and short and not at all helpful to us.

We drove on to the La Janda site and turned in to be greeted by mist that shrouded the land to either side of us. The first birds we picked out were Lapwings that were flying around despite the reduced visibility that landed in the grassy field to our left.

A damp Cattle Egret stood in the damp mist, shaking out his feathers

The sun, quickly gaining in strength began to burn off the mist and birds began to move around more freely. Perching places are sparse in this part of the site; a sizeable mixed flock of Linnets, Goldfinches & Chaffinches flew into this small bush, with more alighting on the grass stems below to feed on grass seeds.

Birds in a bush-Linnet, Goldfinch & Chaffinch

There was an interesting departure from our usual route at this point; we would have continued driving and made a left turn onto the long main track here, but Stephen had gained permission for us to pass through a post and wire gate to the right, so we left our cars and continued along here on foot.

A spider’s web beaded with water drops sparkled in the sunlight

An old wasps nest attached to the wire fence that was probably concealed by reeds or long grass when it was built

The track leads between fields with the river on one side and a dry ditch on the other. There were numerous Chiffchaffs along here amongst the reeds, Stonechats perched up  atop stems and posts and Corn Buntings sang from the wire fence. Stephen had visited the site during the last week when there were large numbers of Snipe and Common Cranes here, but the field was being ploughed this morning, moving the Cranes on. We did however see Meadow Pipits, a Green Sandpiper and more Lapwings and there were still Snipe  in the field opposite, with Calandra Larks. With binoculars it was possible to see very large numbers of Storks gathered at the back of the fields and another perched Buzzard. By the time we turned around to walk back the sun had all but burnt off the mist and it was feeling much warmer. To our delight Calandra Larks were flying up high to sing and to display flights against the clear blue sky.

Calandra Lark, male displaying & singing

Calandra LarkMelanocorypha calandra-SPANISH: Calandria común

Calandra Larks are big, heavily built larks with a large head, stout Greenfinch-like bill and a black patch on neck-side. Characteristic in flight, with dark wings (all black below) with broad white trailing edge. Display sings in circling song flight, often very high up; the long black wings and closed tail give the impression of a much larger bird. A typical Steppe species favouring fertile grasslands, widespread over much of Spain and parts of Portugal, generally below 600m. There has been a noticeable decline in numbers in recent years due to modern agricultural practises. Feeds on seeds, shoots & insects. Calandras are thought to be non-migratory.

A Spoonbill was spotted flying, seeming to be trailing a leg. Back at the bottom of the track we heard Fan-tailed Warblers ‘zitting’ amongst the long grass, heard a Cetti’s Warbler from somewhere by the water and saw a pair of Mallard flying.

Driving along the main track we had some great views, a Swamp Hen (I still prefer Purple Gallinule), Coots, loads more Cattle Egrets, Corn Buntings and Stonechats. There were Little Egrets, Grey Herons, and a distant hovering Kestrel. We stopped to photograph 3 Cranes close by in a field, that turned out to be our best view of the day of Cranes on the ground.

Three Common Cranes, our best view of the day

The convoy came to a halt to admire three beautiful Spoonbills that stood at the edge of a flooded field, settling down to take a rest.

Three Spoonbills on the edge of a distant flooded field

We stopped again a little further on as Golden Plovers, still in winter plumage and incredibly well camouflaged against the bare brown earth were spotted in a field together with yet more Lapwings. Visible only with the aid of a telescope, we may well have passed them by if they had not been pointed out to us.

There were Golden Plovers in the flat bare field beyond the reed-fringed river

Lapwings were everywhere today, flying and feeding on the ground

An elegantly poised Grey Heron alone in a stubble field

We turned right off the main track, crossed the bridge over the river and then drove down the length of straight track lined with small willow trees,  currently bearing catkins. The track surface here was full of potholes to avoid and from our position at the back of the convoy, the only birds we saw were a couple of Chiffchaffs and Goldfinch. We stopped briefly and getting out of the car inadvertently disturbed a bird we were hoping to see – a Great Spotted Cuckoo left the cover of the shrubs and flew low down, close to the hedge back along the way we had just driven.

The rest of our party had stopped a bit further on to watch a well-spotted Black-winged Kite perched at the top of a small tree. The beautiful bird then flew out across the field it had been scanning, hovered Kestrel-like over a spot on the ground then returned to its perch.

A distant view of a Black-winged Kite

The next spot was of a Little Owl that had been sitting up on one of the huge arms of one of the irrigating contraptions; it was long gone by the time we tail-enders arrived! We did see a Marsh Harrier here though,  quite distant above the hills to our left, but still good to see. Causing a little more excitement a Hen Harrier flew into view on the opposite side of the track, again distant, but it was possible to see it was a female that was then joined by another bird, probably the male. As we drove off we spotted a very tight flock of dark-coloured birds flying away from us that turned out to be Glossy Ibis.

We carried on up to the farm, leaving the cars once again to the scan around the very different terrain here. To one side there is rough pastureland where cows were grazing around clumps of flowering Asphodels; this is part of the Hen Harriers’ territory and they would have been around here when we saw them from lower down.

A huge field full of flowering Asphodels with grazing cattle, cork oaks and distant mountains – this is Hen Harrier territory

Parked close to a cow shed with a very muddy enclosed area in front of it that was full of curious cattle, the air around us was rather pungently fragranced, which some felt added to the campo atmosphere but which others found strangely offensive (townies!). But, where there are animals there are generally insects and small rodents, therefore birds. There were large numbers of Jackdaws all over the place that Stephen told us nest on the rock faces of a local quarry, and a little crowd of Chiffchaffs that were perching in the squares formed by a wire fence surrounded by yellow mustard-type flowers, diving out acrobatically to chase flies. A single Barn Swallow was spotted and a Booted Eagle that was perched up on a telegraph pole pointed out, 2 Buzzards circled, then a Hen Harrier flew in and scanned the area in front of us (pastureland surrounded with olive and cork oak trees and other scrubby vegetation). We heard the distinctive honking of Cranes flying and two separate groups headed straight for us then passed close over our heads. Lovely views of these large, elegant birds.

Cranes flying over our heads

Absorbed by the Cranes we had failed to notice that a huge flock of White Storks had gathered behind us and were beginning to wheel characteristically and drift across above us: a breathtaking display.

Wheeling White Storks

Moving along a short way we stopped again as Stephen spotted a Great Spotted Cuckoo that had been perched but that dropped to the ground, disappearing from view. Somehow someone picked up a Little Owl sitting in a tree above a bramble patch, but I could not see it, sorry.

So, onwards to lunch – which all GONHS outing regulars will know and appreciate is an essential part of the day’s proceedings. Stephen did us proud, guiding us to ‘Cortijo Los Monteros’, which is located on the Medina-Benalup road (km6). We all enjoyed our choices from the tasty and generously portioned, but very reasonably priced 3 course ‘menu del dia’, that we ate seated at a very long table in front of a huge roaring wood fire.

After lunch Stephen was taking us to a nearby reservoir. We stopped en route at a beautiful woodland spot along the road to look out for the rare Spanish Imperial Eagles that nested here for the first time last year, an unexpected event that has caused much excitement.

A cork oak tree reflected in a flower-covered pool which was well-populated with frogs

A lovely healthy-looking cow with a fearsome set of horns and dangly earrings grazed with her calf on the lush grass, guarded by her own personal ‘tick-picker’ (cattle egret).

We had no luck with the Imperial Eagles, but we enjoyed the moments of peace and tranquillity of our surroundings and while some of us were content to wander around and take it all in, others were diligently scanning the sky for the elusive raptors. Stephen heard a Green Woodpecker, or Iberian Woodpecker as he referred to it and whistled back to it, hoping to bring it to us, but it could probably see we were quite a crowd and chose not to. More Buzzards and a Sparrowhawk  were spotted and then excitement was aroused by two beautiful Red Kites directly overhead. They seemed as interested in us as we were in them and they spent some time moving around us slowly, whilst peering down.

A stunning Red Kite, looking a bit frayed around the primaries peering down at the strange gathering of humans below it

Arriving at the reservoir we got our bearings and realised we were at the far side of the huge expanse of water that lies to the left of the main AP-4 the Algeciras – Sevilla road, that we had all seen and wondered about dozens of times but had no idea how to access. Well now we know – it is the Barbate reservoir constructed in 1992 to prevent the agricultural land at the site we had just visited from flooding. That seems a little ironic as that site was historically a lake that was drained so the land could be put to agricultural use. The reservoir is absolutely huge, stated as covering 2,537 hectares, but now undoubtedly swelled by the recent heavy rainfalls. As with most reservoirs it appears to be a fairly sterile environment for birds, although apparently Osprey have nested there in previous years. There was not much to see here, we could hear Sardinian Warbler amongst the scrub growing on the bank we were standing on and some distant ducks were Mallard and possibly Pintails, but apart from a herd of goats grazing in an idyllic spot on a grassy hill near the water, there were no signs of activity. It’s a lovely spot though with views to Sierra del Algorrobo and their highest peak, el Picacho, the location for several previous GONHS outings.

A view across the reservoir

View to el Algorrobo mountains

Bird List for the day: Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo, Cattle Egret Bubulcus ibis, Little Egret Egretta garzetta, Grey Heron Ardea cinerea, White Stork Ciconia ciconia, Spoonbill Platalea leucorodia, Glossy Ibis Plegadiss falcinellus, Mallard Anas platyrhyncos, Pintail Anas acuta,Red Kite Milvus milvus, Griffon Vulture Gyps fulvus, Hen Harrier Circus cyaneus, Marsh Harrier Circus aeruginosus, Sparrowhawk Accipiter nisus, Buzzard Buteo buteo, Booted Eagle Hieraaetus pennatus,Kestrel Falco tinnunculus, Red-legged Partridge Alectoris rufa, Pheasant Phasianus colchicus, Coot Fulica atra, Swamp Hen (Purple Gallinule Porphyrio porphyrio, Common Crane Grus grus, Golden Plover Pluvialis apricaria, Lapwing Vanellus vanellus, Green Sandpiper Tringa ochropus, Snipe Gallinago gallinago, Black-headed Gull Larus ridibundus, Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus, Woodpigeon Columba palumbus, Collared Dove Streptopelia decaocto, Great Spotted Cuckoo Clamator glandarius, Little Owl Athene noctua, Green Woodpecker Picus viridis (Iberian race sharpei)(heard), Crested Lark Galerida cristata, Calandra Lark Melanocorypha calandra, Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica, Meadow Pipit Anthus pratensis, Pied(White) Wagtail Motacilla alba, Black Redstart Phoenicurus ochruros, Stonechat Saxicola torquata, Fan-tailed Warbler Cisticola juncidis (heard), Cetti’s Warbler Cettia cetti (heard),Sardinian Warbler Sylvia melanocephala, Chiffchaff Phylloscopus collybita, Spotless Starling Sturnus unicolor, Jackdaw Corvus monedula, House Sparrow Passer domesticus, Chaffinch Fringilla coelebs, Goldfinch Carduelis carduelis, Linnet Carduelis cannabina, Corn Bunting Miliaria calandra (51 species)

Further information & links:

This blog has pages relating to La Janda, including directions for getting there and previous trip reports.

Stephen Daly keeps a photoblog that has loads of  stunning photographs of the many birds he encounters in the area, including Great Spotted Cuckoos, Black-winged Kite and Imperial Eagle:  andalucianguides.blogspot.com

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 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.

Sources

Extract from Waterbirds around the world. The Stationery Office, Edinburgh, UK. 960 pp. Boere, G.C., Galbraith, C.A. & Stroud, D.A. (eds). 2006.

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