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Thursday, 22 February 2018

Sierra de Andújar home of the Pardel Lynx


You could say that we had “entered Sierra de Andújar through the back door.” From the former coal-mining town of Puertollano, we climbed slowly higher, the open cast mining landscape replaced by grazing cattle and sheep, passing through the narrow settlement of Mestanza and higher the Sierra Madrona both beautiful and devoid of other road users.
 It is here in this remote corner of Andalucia that we find the Northern extreme of the Sierra Andújar.


This is the Province border between Jaén and Andalusia. Obviously, Andalusia is not committed to spending on the road surface and our onward progress very slow as we avoid multiple potholes.


The road does not detract from the view and we have time to ponder our chances of spotting a Pardel Lynx in this vast area, "third time lucky" Um!


Short-Toed Treecreeper (Certhia brachydactyla)

We park and walk along the charming Jándula river, birdsong exploding from all around.
It is about 2.5 kilometers from the picnic area up to the dam, well worth the time as there is usually lots to see like this Short-Toed Treecreeper.
As evening descends there are small gatherings of people close to the dam, they are here in the hope of two sightings, one the pair of Otters that are often seen on this stretch of the river and two an elusive Pardel Lynx.


A Red Deer watches our progress, not at all alarmed by our presence.
No Otters and no Lynx on our first evening.


As the low Winter sun starts to rise on our first morning we are out fresh and alert. The sun had been up 45 minutes when a shadow seemed to move down the hillside on the opposite side of the river.
It was extremely hard to make a positive identity with the light, large boulders, and shrubbery.


"Movement"! and there it is, not the best photograph in the World but it is a Pardel Lynx in the wild.
The tracking collar is looking very warn. Apparently, the collar color correlates to the Lynx given name.


Sadly! gone so fast.


It just disappeared into the undergrowth.
To say they are difficult to see, there were a few guy's only 15 meters away from us and they missed it!
As the best time to see the Lynx is early and late in the day we spent the rest of the day observing some of the other local wildlife.


Nuthatch (Sitta europaea)

In the forest, this Nuthatch finds a Moth in the Lichen.


Horseshoe Whip Snake (Hemorrhois hippocrepis or Coluber hippocrepis)

Horseshoe Whip Snake a non-poisonous snake.
Enjoying the sun on the rocks.


Azure-winged Magpie (Cyanpica cyanus)

There are large numbers of these charming birds, usually found in family groups, they appear to love the stone pines. They are quite shy and alert birds.


Our second day had not started well, the early morning fog was actually getting thicker as the sun was rising.


The previous morning at this time we were photographing a Lynx, it's hard on this occasion to see a Cormorant at 10 meters.


As the fog starts to lift, we scan the right-hand bank but it's not to be today.


As we have said, the Sierra Andújar is a large area, at La Lancha you find the most popular Lynx watching area, at the weekends, watchers line the twisting mountain road with their telescopes and picnic chairs. If you are not lucky enough to peek a Lynx here there are plenty of Red Deer.


The view looking down the Rio Jádula.
A great visit for us and third time lucky.
Lynx watching really is a case of lots of patience and even more luck!


Wednesday, 21 February 2018

Parque Nacional de las Tablas de Daimiel Birdwatching.


It was January and the Winter days were short, we had left Zaragoza later than planned heading West towards Madrid where we would be turning South. As the road climbed higher and fresh falls of snow covering the hillsides we decided to seek a refuge for the night, the hilltop town of Medinaceli looked very picturesque with the setting Sun.


Medinaceli is home to the only three-gated Roman arch in Spain, constructed in the 1st-3rd Centuries A.D.


With the setting sun and snow, it all looked quite charming but there is a darker side to this hilltop town, that being the "Toro Jubilo" a festival that takes place here in November,
   denouncing the occupation of Spain by the Moors.
A Bull is tied to a post, a thick layer of mud is applied to it's Head Neck and Back, with this completed, balls of tar are attached to the animals Horns and set alight, once the tar is burning the Bull is set free in the enclosure, some people then terrify the beast further by running at it with red flags and trying to prod it!

Thank goodness its January.


In the Plaza Mayor, all was quiet on that Monday evening, just a snowman left from the weekend's visitors.


The following day, in brilliant sunshine we went South through the Alcarria Baja region of Guadalajara, passing around the Embalse de Entreprēnas on the Rio Tagus, forming with the other accumulation of Embalses that make up the "sea of Castile"


Lunch at Sayatón and another of Spain's famous rivers this one the Rio Tajo.


Great Bustard (Otis tarda)

After lunch, our road had taken us onto the great Plain of La Mancha, in the Province of Ciudad Real. South of Lillo and heading for Alcázar de San Juan you find the La Mancha Húmeda there are many semi-endorheic lagoons.
At one, the Laguna de Tirez, we chance on a flock of thirty Great Bustards that take to the air, crossing our path.


Far across the plain the distant skyline is dotted with the windmills above the towns of Consuegra and Alcázar de San Juan and these (above) are at Puerto Lapice where we made a stop for the night. The giant plain of La Mancha, famous for its wines, brandy and, Olives, stretching to the horizon and beyond.


Black Redstart (Gibraltariensis)

The following morning had bought a dense fog, and a slow drive to the Tablas de Daimiel, not the best of days for bird watching!
Our first bird of the day, this beautiful if wet, Black Redstart,  perched on the car park wall.


Hoopoe (Eurasian) Upupa epops

Also in the car park and again damp from the fog this Hoopoe, it was digging for grubs.


Greylag Goose (Anser anser)

Given the foggy conditions, even the Graylag Geese seemed unsure of what to do.

The controversial water levels here in Spains smallest natural park once again seemed very low. For years there have been huge water level problems with the aquifers, and farmers boring illegal wells. In 2009 Spains secretary of state for water actually stated "we are about to lose the Tablas de Daimiel" The European Union demanded an explanation of what was happening to this extremely important wetland, that is placed somewhere near to midway between Africa and Northern Europe and acts as an important stopover for migrating birds, as well as a huge breeding ground for many species.

Due to the water levels being very low once again we decided just to concentrate our time on the Laguna permanent, this is where the Rio Guadiana enters into the Tablas and the water level is more stable.



Marsh Harrier (Western) Circus aeruginosus

Later in the morning, as the fog started to lift, we had good views of three Marsh Harriers, two female and one male out on a dead tree.


The male bird departs for the open fields.



Bearded reedling (Panurus biarmicus)

What we used to call Bearded Tits, but in fact they are closely related to the Larks. It breeds colonially in the reed beds. The two males we photographed were busy eating the reed seeds.




Chiffchaff (Common) Phylloscopus collybita

Chiffchaffs are very busy in the reeds looking for insects.


Leaving from Daimiel we night stop at the Pueblo of Luciana, close to the Rio Guadiana.
The next part of our journey would take us further South to the Sierra de Andújar.


Kingfisher (Common) Alcedo atthis

A clear frosty morning had greeted us, breakfast and a stroll along the river bank, where we found a Kingfisher warming in the weak Winter sun.
Later in the morning, we observe Black Shouldered Kites and a pair of distant subadult Spanish Imperial Eagles.

Our journey continues into Lynx territory.

























Sunday, 11 February 2018

Hawfinch

  The Hawfinch, a strikingly large and charismatic bird but shy and elusive spending much of its time high in the treetops of broad-leafed woodland and avoiding the open ground.

With its large and very powerful bill, its large head and neck adapted to accommodate the muscle that helps generate a staggering 45kg of force and used for cracking open the likes of Cherry and Olive stones, so as to extract the inner seed, all the more impressive from a bird weighing in at a mere 2oz.

Generally, it is a nonmigratory bird although Northern birds move South of their breeding range. It is the Winter time that we see them in large flocks foraging open farmland and perhaps mixed with flocks of mixed passerines, Chaffinches, Bramblings and Greenfinches etc, who have also moved South in search of food.
     

The Male, with its Horned coloured Winter bill, in Summer it changes to a blue Black colour.


Here the Female duller in colour and a grey patch on the wing.


In the breeding season part of the Male mating ritual is to raise its head and chest feathers, it seems the head feathers also rise when it is alert to disturbance or danger.


Standing tall in the Winter treetop.


A Female looks down on a Blue Tit.


Here we can see the Iridescent blue flight feathers, once again at the breeding time, he will drop his wings displaying this beautiful colour to his new partner.


Except for the nesting period, Hawfinches are particularly pugnacious birds. Because their Winter feeding takes place on the ground they rather tend to give each other space. Whilst carrying out this study I observed a small flock of six birds have their feeding station invaded by a flock of eight birds.
What followed was quite incredible, one Female bird tried for forty minutes to remove all the newcomers.


What is interesting is that part of the mating ritual is bill kissing, it can begin as early as mid-Febuary so at first, I was unsure to what was happening here!


It is said that there is aggressive and defensive posturing associated with the possession of perching space and food. This is heightened as the days start to lengthen. My conclusion, this is combative aggression and not affection, however close we are to St Valentine's day!



The following day, still in the presence of the fourteen Hawfinches, I found "Bruiser" his bill has suffered some damage from the affray!



If a Hawfinch is disturbed it flies up through the tree, perching high in the tree canopy and descends branch by branch keeping an eye on the surroundings.


This is what happens when this male finds another male bird on its stamping ground.


110lbs of pressure on that bill.


Inside the bills are jagged to help hold the fruit stones.


The clash is over quickly.


They just need their own space! to perch and preen.


What a top bird!