Friday 18 July 2014

Miracles and tragedies

Now in its final stage, the Harrier campaign brings both the joy of witnessing fledged birds soaring and swooping and learning to hunt or the bitter disappointment of discovering that, after all the efforts made to protect them, they nevertheless succumbed to the laws of nature.

A farmer contacted the local group to say that he had found a nest whilst harvesting, so we went out to put some mesh around the area in order to protect the chicks from terrestrial predators like foxes or dogs. As we approached the mother Montagu Harrier rose up revealing her secret nest. 

secret nest

 This is what we found. Three recently hatched chicks.

Protecting the new chicks Photos Jose Luuis Sanchez
 We then went to check on another nest: this time all but one of the chicks had fledged, the last being days away from flying. Its sibling flew away as our colleague approached but it settled on a haystack and stayed there until we had left. They are still dependent on their parents for food so will return to the nest for safety.

Thanks to José Luis Sánchez for the photographs.

Vigilant chick on stack
The third nest we checked on was suspiciously void of movement, as the chicks should by now have fledged. When we got there we looked in on a scene of avian carnage. Despite the protective barrier a large raptor, possibly the Booted, Golden or Imperial Eagle had been there before us and all that was left were the remains of wings, heads, and a little further off more feathers. Such is life, and we hope they may have served to feed the chicks of one of the eagles.

As we drove through the cereal steppes we couldn't help noticing the red plastic tubes scattered around on the edges of the fields. These containers are the unpleasant reminders of the Castilla y León governments 'solution' to plagues of Vole Microtus arvalis : poisoned grain was held within them, containing the extremely toxic rodenticides chlorophacinone and bromadiolone. As voles actually prefer to graze on fresh shoots, and their cyclical population explosions lead to a natural mass die-out, the result of this government folly was a massive poisoning of most of the mammal and avian species in the area, either by ingesting the lethal grain or through ingesting poisoned animals. Thus thousand of mammals and birds including endangered species were lost through stupid decisions by ignorant politicians who should have known better.
Poisoned grain container

This year when (unjustified) alarms were raised that we should expect another plague and the autonomous government purchased 86 tons of poisoned grain, an allegiance was formed between the SEO (Spanish Ornithological Society), Ecologists in Action, the hunters association and various scientific bodies and NGOs and they managed to dissuade the authorities from repeating their insanity. There are very effective natural ways of controlling plagues, which involve placing nest boxes to encourage various predators such as Kestrel, Short-eared owl and Barn owl.

On a more positive note our wren family is doing well and the Booted Eagle chicks are due to fly any day now. They stand up on their mighty legs and flap their wings and show all their raptor potencial.

Wren alarm

Yesterday evening, with temperatures around 33ºC we went down to the river Tormes at Puente del Congosto to cool off. As we arrived at the water's edge by the busy café we saw a Nutchatch about ten feet away wandering up and down the trunk of a poplar. It's a fantastic place to spot Nuthatch, Short-toed Treecreeper, Great and Lesser spotted Woodpecker and Swallows and Martins swooping down to the water. Had a wonderful swim up river followed by a delicious icecream: well, yes, let's advertise – it was a white Magnum....mmmmmm...

Birding with my magnum

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