Monday 26 January 2015

New Year, and a look back at December.

Better late than never I'd like to wish you a Happy New Year.
Although with climate change, crisis and the government's nefarious environmental policies (I'm speaking about Spain here, though I'm sure a lot of other countries would apply) the future for birds and nature looks difficult, I remain optimistic that positive changes are possible through dialogue and cooperation with those who are most connected with the land and therefore responsible for the direct custody of the natural world. Here in Castilla y León there is a large and active network of ecologists, naturalists and bird lovers in general who are committed to protecting our wonderful natural heritage, and who participate in bird census and conservation programmes as well as educating the public and doing their bit for the cause. It's an uphill struggle at times, but every day there are more of us and that's encouraging.

In December we went to the Peña de Francia (the highest peak in the Sierra de Francia at 1728m ) to see Spanish Ibex Capra pirenaica and Alpine Accentor Prunella collaris. Neither disappointed us, and the views with seas of fog below were magnificent. The surprising thing is the presence of Crag Martin at this time of year, but obviously they have enough to eat or they wouldn't be there.

 Peña de Francia
Griffon vultures

Views over the Sierra de Francia

Spanish Ibex Capra pirenaica

Alpine accentor

Raven kingdom
'Here's lookin' at you'
Crag martin
A couple of trips to an artificial lagoon in NE Salamanca rewarded us with close views of Kestrel, Red Kite, Buzzard and Marsh Harrier, as well as a dozen Partridges perched on the dam bridge, and on our second visit 4 Brent geese (ssp Bernicla) as well as 4 White fronted geese amongst hundreds of Greylag geese, Cormorant, Mallard and Shoveler, and Cranes coming in to graze around the surrounding pastures.


Marsh harrier  

Red Partridge 
Four brent geese in a row 

Greylag geese

We had some beautiful frosty mornings and around our patch there's an abundance of Spanish Sparrow Greenfinch and Corn bunting decorating the rosebushes as well as one little chap that comes to feed at the bird-table and valiantly fends off all competitors.

Frosty horse 

Spanish sparrows 

Corn bunting
Spanish sparrow
The Azure winged magpies are easy to see in winter as they frequent areas where cattle graze and either directly steal the cow's food or feed off insects on cowpats.

Azure-winged Magpie

We took part in a Crane survey one evening with another group of birders and counted Cranes flying in to roost. Not an easy task, as they come in from various directions and sometimes wheel around again but there were over 2000 counted coming in from the northeast only so if the same amount came in from the west and south we can guess that there are several thousand wintering at the reservoir. We just need more volunteers to count them.


One morning our friend and colleague from the Casa Rural El Gorgocil took us to see some remains of a Roman Villa and path, as well as a very old Bull-ring.  What is left of the Villa has been used over the centuries by local farmers as entrance posts to their fields, and the ancient paths are mainly recognised by regular lines of stones running crossways and acting as retainers for the smaller cobbles. 

Roman posts? 

 Roman way

Bull ring 

Lightning-struck Holm oak

Casa rural El Gorgocil

On our route we saw large groups of Rock Sparrow feeding on the ground, as well as Mistle thrush, Iberian Grey Shrike, Dartford Warbler and a very active Short-toed Treecreeper.
Mistle Thrush 

What I'm going to mention next has had me wondering whether I should speak out about because it isn't exactly anything to be proud of regarding our regional government.
The Lagoon of the Nava in Palencia was recently included in the International Goose flyway along with the Urdabai Bird Centre in Vizkaia, the Oso in Avila and Doñana in Huelva. This flyway runs between Finland, Sweden, Denmark, Germany, Holland, France and Spain and will link up various migratory points and hopefully form a north-south birding tourism route which will also help to raise awareness about wildfowl and stimulate the economy.   So far so good and well done to Fernando Jubete who instigated the restauration of both the Nava and Oso lagoons.   Now for the bad news.
Just after the announcement about the Nava being included in the Goose flyway, we were informed that the Junta had given permission for a goose hunt to be carried out around the lagoon in December.  Twenty posts were sold to a variety of individuals, many of them known members of authority. 
Bird-watchers were present on the morning of the shoot (there is as yet no law to prevent observers from being there) and they reported back that although there was a thick fog which should have made it illegal the hunt continued, within 200m of the lagoon and shooting at whatever passed overhead, be they geese or Cranes, and of course many other protected goose species.   The local guards were called to see if anything could be done but they explained that their hands were tied.
Last week the hunt was repeated, changing the day from a Saturday to Thursday presumably to avoid the presence of bird-watchers.  Fernando made an appeal for help and Alfonso and I set out at 4am on a three hour journey to be at the lagoon before dawn.  We saw a stream of four-by-four vehicles driving along a track: the twenty or so hunters and their partners.   Fernando took us along another track and we parked between the hunting posts and the lagoon, and got out telescopes and tripods. 
Daybreak at La Nava 
Watching and waiting
The saviour of the wetlands
It may have been bravado but I thought: what the heck, they’re all armed but we have the moral upper hand so may the gods of geese guard us, and sure enough, nothing went wrong.  We had our names taken down by the Guardia Civil, though they admitted we weren’t doing anything wrong, and we spoke at length to the reserve warden who was spitting feathers about the hunt:  “I spend all year protecting this lagoon and making sure nobody disturbs the birds only to have to put up with this lot!”  
Something in the range of 12 thousand geese winter there, not to mention Cranes and all kinds of ducks and herons.  The geese, I’m glad to report, perfectly aware of our presence when they started to take flight, veered off to either side of us and flew high enough for the hunters not to be able to make their mark.  
Geese-1: Hunters-0

Geese blowing strawberries at the hunters

1 comment:

  1. Precioso artículo, me ha gustado mucho. Saludos cordiales desde Cantabria.