jueves, 9 de abril de 2015

Vulture feast

A common spectacle is the soaring wheel of vultures preparing to land to feed on the carcass of some animal - maybe sheep, deer or boar - which has met its end. Occasionally you may be lucky to come across one of these "feasts" close enough to the road to get an idea of what takes place. The vultures normally take a prudent look all around the scene, first from high-up in the air and then from closer up on the ground. Unless really driven by hunger, they will spend some time at a distance from the carcass, then one bird will bounce its way over and tentatively peck it before darting away just in case all is not as it seems. Once reassured, a bird moves in and starts to feed, and this is the signal for a free-for-all. It is by no means well-mannered and birds shove, push, clamber over one another, with beaks and talons used to push neighbours out of the way. The carcass is stripped of everything edible in a matter of minutes and the skeleton is left flesh-free. This is a fantastic service as decaying meat is removed from the fields.
At a distance it is a fascinating spectacle. Seen from close up, it is quite amazing, and this is made possible through various hides across Extremadura. Recently we spent a morning in a hide and here are a few of the 2,000 photos we took!
We are in the hide before sunrise, and the first birds to show are Kites - mainly Black with a few Red - and a few Raven.

The Kites and Raven are present throughout the feast. They make the most of the opportunity to grab as much as they can before the vultures make a move.

Although there is plenty for everyone at this early stage, it is striking just how provocative the Ravens are, frequently tweaking tails and wings of the Kites.

The next bird to show up is the Egyptian Vulture.
and then the first Black Vulture
In flight they are elegant, particularly when soaring on a thermal, but landing is often a clumsy affair.

We are lucky on this morning, as the numbers of Black Vulture build steadily. The maximum count is 35, with a good number of juveniles.
They are surprisingly elegant birds when seen close-up,
When approaching the meat the Black Vultures prance in a menacing manner, recalling a stage villain!
They haunch and posture a great deal.
Then the first Griffon come in, without preliminary circling as there are a reassuring number of birds already on site.

After a short time looking around the first bird moves in to feed, and it is like the starting pistol at a sprint.
As happened with the Kites and Ravens, there is plenty of aggression on show.
The Black Vulture has the stronger hand, or maybe we should say wing, with a wingspan and weight that outweigh the Griffon. This photo gives an idea of how much bigger than the Griffon the Black is. Here we see a Griffon and an Egyptian dwarfed by the spread wings of a Black Vulture.
Nevertheless, when standing calmly side by side, the size difference does not appear to be that great.
The chance to see the Griffon at close quarters shows a more appealing side than the gore-dripping beak.

domingo, 11 de enero de 2015

Here we go round the mulberry bush

The depths of winter are a good time to catch up on organising last year's photos. I have rediscovered a series of shots all related by a common theme, and here it is.

During the spring of 2014 we had an enthusiastic gathering of various species in two mulberry trees we planted near the porch of our house about 8 years ago. One is a White Mulberry and the other a Black, with slightly different ripening times for the fruit. The White Mulberry ripens a few days before its cousin, and  the birds move in enthusiastically. Once it has peaked the Black Mulberry is beginnng to offer ripe fruit, so the show continues for a few more days.

From a hide set up on the porch it was a pleasure to watch lots of birds and lots of species making the most of the luscious fruit. Here is a selection of the visitors.

The local gang of Azure-winged Magpies called in every morning. They are such large birds and voracious feeders it seemed that they would strip the tre bare, but there was always plenty left when they moved on.

Blackbirds in Spain are much more wary than in the UK. A family would come to feed but would take no chances on security.

The ubiquitous Collared Dove moves delicately through the tree.

In full sunlight at the front of the tree the Golden Oriole appears luminous!

However, he is remarkable well camouflaged on the inside of the tree where the shade breaks up the block of colour.

Greenfinch were regular but did not appear to gorge themselves as many other species did.

The Sardinian Warbler on the other hand was an enthusiastic feeder.

He was keen to eat his fill...

...and to get rid of excess juice!

The Serin called by occasionally

A family of House Sparrows too

with mulberries for everyone.

The Spotless Starlings living round the house are even warier than the Blackbirds.

And finally two vistors who didn't come for the fruit but for the profusion of small flies which appeared after a large hatch. 

The handsome male Stonechat 

and the amazing Melodious Warbler whose range of imitations included Starling and Hoopoe

martes, 7 de enero de 2014

Searching for Spanish lynx

This is not an Extremadura tale, nor is it about birds, but it is a natural history story not far from our local patch, with a happy ending and a warm feel-good factor that will be reason enough to include it.

The Iberian lynx population has been shrinking for many decades. Looking at distribution maps for the Iberian peninsula over the 20th Century is like watching a shallow pool drying out in hot weather. From a large spread of colour the patch has shrunk, split in multiple smaller patches, virtually all of which then dwindle to nothing. Two populations remain, both in Andalusia: Doñana and the Sierra de Andújar. Things have been going reasonably well and total numbers have built to over 300 in the wild. As things were beginning to look up, another cloud has appeared on the horizon: a new hemorraghic disease affecting rabbits.This matters a lot as the diet of the Iberian lynx is 80% rabbit plus occasional partridges and other small birds and mammals.

So in this difficult context we set off to try to see a lynx. The favoured place with a good population of lynx is Sierra de Andújar, in the valley of the river Jandula.

The mornings are cold, with heavy hoar frost but by late morning the sun feels hot. The place has plenty of other natural history interest: Spanish Imperial Eagle and Golden Eagle hunt these hillsides. There are quite a few other hopeful watchers on the quiet track running through the middle of the lynx territory, and a good deal of camaraderie. After one full day with no sightings, we returned the following morning and after several hours were rewarded with a good, long clear sighting of a lynx working his way through the scrub below us. The adrenalin surge was brilliant on seeing Europe's largest feline predator making his unhurried way across the hillside. He is top predator in this neck of the woods, and does he know it?!?! The nonchalant, muscular relaxed pace was paused a couple of times as some prey item was heard or seen. He sprang at one point from a large boulder to another with effortless, athletic grace.

Great efforts are being made and lots of public money being spent to ensure the survival of the species, with 3 artificial breeding centres in operation. One of these is in the north of Extremadura, at Granadilla, so we may yet have the opportunity to recount a meeting with one of these elegant felines on our home patch, maybe with a captured partridge in its maw. In this case we would have even more justification to include the story as relevant to ExtremaduraBirding!

domingo, 13 de enero de 2013

A Great Company of Great Egrets

There are various collective nouns for birds, but I've never come across one for Great Egrets! The fact that it is an uncommon visitor to British shores has a lot to do with it, of course, and even here is Extremadura you normally come across them in ones and twos. But after this evening's experience at a Cormorant and Cattle Egret roost on a local river, we do need that collective term. No fewer than 28 Great Egrets came in to roost - elegant pure-white birds circling down in graceful glides to take up places in the upper storeys of the great eucalyptus on a little island mid-river. So should we go with "skein of Great Egrets", a "charm", "wisp", or "trip"? None of these seems suitable, and as it's not often that we would be able to apply the term anyway, so we'll settle for "a lot of Great Egrets"! 

No photo of the ensemble to accompany the experience, I'm afraid, as it was on the edge of darkness when most of the birds came in. Just a single bird gliding in.

domingo, 18 de noviembre de 2012

Hungry hoopoe

This Hoopoe was feeding on a track near Acedera. He was so engrossed in the task that we were able to spend 2 hours watching him probing under small stones and vegetation for beetles and ants. In that time he covered 200 metres of the track and caught over a dozen food items. After the first 6 or 7 he spent 15 minutes resting and preeening, then stretched, flushed out the spectacular crest and resumed the search.