Thursday 8 May 2014

Marsh harriers and May arrivals.

April seemed to fly by with a good deal of time spent carving a Black Vulture in marble for a wildlife exhibition I've been invited to take part in, in Cáceres. It's an honour for me as I was asked to participate by one of Spain's foremost wildlife artists and birdguide illustrators, Juan Varela. 

The vegetable plot and mending drystone walls have also filled up a large chunk of my time 



but we did manage a few routes and a six hour stint looking for Marsh Harrier nests as part of SEO/Birdlife's Harrier protection project: Campaña Aguilucho. Although the Marsh Harrier isn't considered as much at risk as Montague's or Hen Harriers - which nest in cereal plantations and if not found and duly protected fall victim inevitably to combine harvesters, - identifying nesting sites allows monitoring and gives a general idea of the health of the population.   
Old gravelpits now form wetlands
'Home' to at least four pairs of Marsh harrier
We had to figure out from various vantage points where the female returned to after accepting food from the male in flight, and then our companion, kitted out in waders, stepped into the water and dragging his feet through masses of dried reeds attempted to flush out the female and so locate the nest. Easier said than done. Several attempts proved unsuccessful, the female Harrier no doubt holding out with her chicks until we'd left the area, and who'd blame her: she wasn't to know that we were doing it for her good and meant her no harm. It was nevertheless a lovely morning and we saw at least four pairs so we can hope there'll be a good breeding season at this particular wetland.
The nests are in there somewhere..
Can you spot our colleague?
We also watched an aerial battle between a male Marsh harrier and a Buzzard which had inadvertently (or on purpose?) flown into the harrier's territory. Gripping stuff. The buzzard kept flipping over with it's claws in the air but the Harrier was too much for it and eventually it gave up and left.

We had a day's birding in the Sierra de Bejar near the village of Candelario. A gorgeous spot full of Oak, Silver Birch, grassy pastures, peat bogs, and streams everywhere.

Young Oak leaves Sierra de Bejar
Cuerpo de Hombre river
Old barn
There were lots of recently arrived Crag Martins, Western Bonelli's Warblers, and a Pied Flycatcher. We saw Rock Bunting, Dipper and Nuthatches in nearly every tree, and some beautiful lizards - the Iberian Wall lizard and a male Iberian Emerald lizard in full breeding colours when it's head becomes a gorgeous bright blue.

Iberian Wall lizard Podarcis hispanicus

Iberian Emerald lizard Lacerta schreiberi

Walking along the river Tormes in Salamanca we saw a Little Bittern fly into some reeds and instantly disappear, but unfortunately it didn't repeat the next day when we took a group of ecologists and their kids out for a birding route to the same spot.
The Golden Oriole has arrived, beautiful as ever, to tantalise us with it's mysterious voice from the dappled crowns of the riverside Poplars. A gorgeous male flew across the road the other day as we drove along, and perched visibly in a small willow. Needless to say I didn't have the camera to hand.  

Walking down to our vegetable plot the last few days has been full of surprises. 
Bee-eater bunting

There've been groups of Tree sparrows and Rock sparrows feeding on the ground, and Bee-eaters perching on the power lines and doing their aerial acrobatics as they catch insects in flight. The quail has been calling from the far side of our field, and I'm hoping he's in luck and finds a mate nearby, as we've kept a good deal of our land as a wildlife reserve and there's plenty of room for everybody. I saw my first Nightjar of the year the other night at the entrance to our village: it took off just as a car appeared around the corner but I got a good sight of its large 'red' eye (in the headlights) and it's white spots on the wings and tail. I wasn't able to see if it was the Rednecked or the common Nightjar - could have been either as we have both here – but I look forward to hearing them call.  This morning we saw a Ladder snake which I urged into a crack in the wall safely out of harm's way.

Ladder snake Rhinechis scalaris
And down at the vegetable plot I saw and heard this year's first Turtledove. It's beautiful soft purring call makes me want to lie down in the grass and go to sleep....

So, if you're feeling just that little bit of envy...come out to the west of Spain and join us for a bit of birding!

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