Category Archives: Birds

Animal encounters of the not so good kind. The cycle of Life.

Animal encounters at Navasola are few and far between. Much life is out there but usually elusive. A bird alights on a branch nearby and then moves behind some leaves and as if it knows you are watching creeps up the tree mainly out of view. Just enough for us to know it is there. So we were surprised and alarmed by a sudden bang at our kitchen window. It was a beautiful Red Rumped swallow. We were all taken by surprise and thankfully after allowing me to take some photos it recovered and flew off. The fat fly was left dead on the store roof.

The park regulations for windows are strange and large ones are not allowed. We would love more light but maybe it would be difficult for birds flying into the glass by mistake. We will get some bird stickers but that would have made no difference to the Red Rumped swallow on its mad chase of a fat fly. I’m glad the bird was only a little stunned and flew off in good feather.

Red rump swallow on battery shed roof after flying into window chasing fly!
Red rump swallow on shed roof after flying into window chasing fly!

Another encounter was the return of the Wood Mouse and with a vengeance in a large cardboard box I had stored some bed linen in. But not for the mouse! After excavating all the bedding I find the cause of the sounds and bitten bedding. The mouse was trapped at the bottom of this deep box .  We decided to lure it with food and straw in a box but that was the last thing it wanted was to take a rest, go into the little box and then we would have humanely released it back to the wood pile. It jumped high, somersaulted and then bit the bottom of the box ferociously. We need a net but I find a bit of cardboard for a ladder out.  It falls into the box and with a quick action I get a lid on it. We release it into the rock garden where it bounds off. Well, was it a lucky mouse……. Two days later I open the front door to an amazing view of a weasel poised on the rock. I can see its back very clearly and for a while it doesn’t move. As it turns its head I can see a wood mouse in its mouth. Whether it was the same one we shall never know. The weasel turned, looked at me and then slunk off.  We probably don’t need to find a cat! Maybe this was the same weasel I saw some time ago. They can live for a few years and we have plenty of wood mice.

Wood mouse trapped in gigantic cardboard box
Wood mouse trapped in gigantic cardboard box
Woody Wood Mouse
Woody Wood Mouse
Churchyard beetle
Churchyard beetle keeping me awake at night!

If you ever have the fortune to come and stay with us do not be surprised to be woken at night by strange creatures.

I told a previous tale of the bat on my birthday when our friends came to stay and were woken by the bat.

It is also not really advisable to keep windows wide open even if very hot. Bat wings are actually quite noisy as I found out myself one sleepless night. Mice scrabbling has been dealt with too and we try a row of bricks by the door and have been given a humane trap. But the noisiest for its size has been the churchyard beetle. Now to wake me fine but not another friend in the brand new bedroom. There was a scream when the culprit showed itself.

Ladder back snake crushed by car wheel?
Ladder back snake crushed by car

A sad tale was when we discovered the crushed and quite dead ladder snake. It had probably been our friend’s car when leaving. These are the friends who have suffered bat visitations and the beast on the roof that turns tiles over. The noisy night criminal is quick to get away and has as yet not revealed its identity. Even though it was me who had gone out in the dead of night with torch it slipped away. This was just as well as it sounded so loud on the roof.  possibly a beech marten, genet or that darned fox. We did come across a  drowned beech marten once. Someone had stolen the top of a water butt and this creature was inside. Hopefully it is another member of that family banging on our roof.

However, the demise of the ladder snake gave a good banquet to these large ants. I had put this beautiful but dead creature on a rock. The next day the ants were carrying off the skeleton with excellent team work skills.

Snake being cleaned up by ants!
Snake being cleaned up by ants!

image
As for the bird life a baby swift is saved from the feral cats of the village. There is a centre just out of Seville which monitors swifts and helps in recuperation. There have been declining numbers of swifts, swallows and house martins and hopefully every little helps.

Watching these swallows swooping down the valley or the great hordes of swifts in one village and the house martins in Cabanas might make me think there is no problem but much more needs to be done to ensure survival of these migratory birds.

Red rump swallow recovering from being stunned and ready to fly off.
Red rump swallow recovering from being stunned and ready to fly off.

The Longest Day. From Sunrise to Sunset. The Castle and its Kingdom.

If we live in beautiful places do we have to travel to find more. It seems we do and it can be so inspiring to see a different kind of landscape and for me it’s flora and fauna. We spent the summer solstice in the fortress town of Marvao in Portugal. Marvao welcomes visitors as there is little need to defend the kingdom by having an impenetrable castle these days. So for people there, their economy is supported by tourism and holiday homes. The only other reasons to go up the hill is for the sheer beauty of the views, sunsets and the quaint old streets. And maybe to see the aerial display of the many house martins, swifts and crag martins.

On the 21st of June we got up at 6 to see the sunrise. We were 5 minutes late and were the only ones about. Not quite like Stonehenge on the Salisbury Plains but the view across Extremadura, flat and with a few rocky outcrops and hills on the border with Portugal from the mountain of Marvao was indeed a sight to see.

Sunrise over extremadura Spain from the hilltop castle town of Marvao, Portugal.
Sunrise over extremadura Spain from the hilltop castle town of Marvao, Portugal.
The room for a sunrise view at the Dom Dinish hotel, Marvao.
The room for a sunrise view at the Dom Dinish hotel, Marvao.

After many shots capturing the rising sun we realised that there was still two hour before breakfast was served at the Dom Dinish hotel. This is an excellent and friendly place and rooms with views. Our room had a view of the south western side and the sunset if you leaned out rather precariously from the Juliet balcony. However it is not far from the castle and the town’s walls and these all provide amazing views, plentiful birds in swift flight, and vertigo inducing drops.

So with hours to kill and the sun so pleasant we didn’t retreat to the room but decided to meditate on a bench by the castle and gardens. And we did, only to find we had been sharing the bench with a giant grasshopper. As still as could be. Now nature can teach us a thing or two about stillness. The creature remained for a photography session and was there after our trip up to a castle arch to find the Crag Martin family.

Grasshopper stillness on meditating bench!
Grasshopper stillness on meditating bench!
Grasshopper meditating or Tai Chi position .
Grasshopper meditating or Tai Chi position .

After the encounter with the grasshopper we decided to see if we could photograph the Crag Martin nest we had seen under one of the first arches you go through into the castle. This is a busy spot for people but it seems not many noticed this little family. They also didn’t seem perturbed by us observing them. At first it was difficult to spot but as the beaks of the 3 youngsters opened wide in anticipation of a fist from a parent we realised that it was a very active nest! The parent bird returned a few seconds after the opening of the beaks so the little ones had sensed the nearness of the parent bird. It all seemed to happen quite quickly and photographing seemed impossible the evening before. However, on this summer solstice morning the birds obliged, a little. One was on the nest,one was on the nest resting and still. The other obliged by returning to feed the open mouths and not dashing off so rapidly.

Crag Martin under arch of Marvao castle
Crag Martin under arch of Marvao castle
Parent Crag Martin returning with food for hungry mouths.
Parent Crag Martin returning with food for hungry mouths.

After breakfast we had a good long walk around the Castle. There are many shots of that but not many of the swallowtail butterflies, both types and graylings. We even saw a Red Admiral on some rocks by the Convent. The heat was rising and there was a need to withdraw. The renovated Pousada was very cooling for a coffee with views over Spain and amazing coffee table books with beautiful photographs of horses around the world and some in very high places too.

View from the Pousada Santa Maria, Marvao
View from the Pousada Santa Maria, Marvao
Coffee and coffee table books
Coffee and coffee table books

The rest of the day was spent strolling around, touring in the valleys below, and finally another really red sunset. A real glory be to Nature and maybe final farewells to the history of war and now homes for Swifts, Martins and other critters! And for us, love conquering war with a second honeymoon!

Castle of Marvao
Castle of Marvao
Evening Primrose in castle gardens
Evening Primrose in castle gardens
Rooftops and views, Marvao, Alentejo, Portugal
Rooftops and views, Marvao, Alentejo, Portugal
Sunset from hotel room. Note weather vane is odd!
Sunset from hotel room. Note weather vane is odd!

Bird Biodiversity Poem 0n the Sea Shore

Today we are going to do identification of birds,
Birds on the seashore, birds out at sea,
Birds whose names meant nothing to me.
I must now make a spell and chant out the words.

Ringed plover
Ringed plover

Kentish plover, Ringed plover,
Little ringed plover too,
Golden plover, Grey plover,
Dotterel make a few,
and let’s not confuse
Dunlin, Sanderling, with Knot,
Green Shank with Red Shank
Or take a Stint or two.

Grey plover in adult winter plumage. Pluvialis squatarola.
Grey plover in adult winter plumage. Pluvialis squatarola.

That’s just the start
of the spell we need to weave,
If we go to the seashore,
Where there’s a chance to breathe.

Breathe deep and wonder
The vast variety of birds.
Stand in awe and thunder
Storms brewing words

Words we never knew
Words which are a sign
Words in different languages
For birds at the end of a line.

Will we never know
How many we have lost
Far out at sea
Can we count the cost?

Cabanas Sunday 032curlew back

The curlew is out there
With its haunting cry.
The whimbrel is whimpering
The waters have run dry.

Kentish plover, Ringed plover,
Little ringed plover too,
Golden plover, Grey plover,
Dotterel make a few,
and let’s not confuse Dunlin,
Sanderling, with Knot
Or lose a Stint or two.

Cabanas Sunday 013

Misstery Bird, Missing binoculars, Missing Birds. How many birds will we miss?

My first ventures at bird photography with the LUMIX was more successful than the dear old iPhone. It was also quite good to zoom in on birds to identify them as our binoculars have gone walkabout. In this photo I was trying to identify a large looking  egret but missed seeing the other two. It was only later, on the computer, I spotted the two other birds.

Photo of egret but includes a mystery bird camoflaged on the shore; largish with possibly long beak; curlew? and small wader paddling. Perhaps the zoom on the camera is better than the binoculars we have left in London!
Photo of Little Egret  but includes a mystery bird camoflaged on the shore; largish with possibly long beak; curlew? and small wader paddling!
Ringed plover
Ringed plover little, Charadrius dubius

I never thought how important binoculars would be some years ago when I tried using them and couldn’t focus at first. But the distinct colours and antics of birds became so vivid that now I feel lost without them. I remember the little brown bird in my garden, a dunnock,with its tawny golden streaked feathers.

Grey plover in adult winter plumage. Pluvialis squatarola.
Grey plover in adult winter plumage. Pluvialis squatarola.arden.
Another curlew on a sand bank
Another curlew on a sand bank, numenius arquata

In 2010 we walked along this stretch of the Ria Formosa by Cabanas Fort. This is a sandy dune habitat and a protected place for conservation of a range of habitats and seabirds. My eyes were opened to the variety of birds and trying to look for the leg or beak colours. This was another eye opener to the amazing range of birds I had never really thought about before.

But the curlew had always been a part of my imagination. A book read long ago in childhood described the haunting cry of the curlew. Now we need to listen to their plaintive cries and protect their habitats. Maybe the mystery bird is a curlew?  But could it be a whimbrel, a godwit or one of those green or red shanks… .? It was far too far  away to see and when I saw the photo it was also well camouflaged on the shoreline.  A bird to haunt me!

Now for the missing binoculars, not just one but two pairs. Is this what happens travelling between UK, Spain and Portugal? Unfortunately am still looking and having to use the camera to zoom in and capture a little bird.

More of a concern than the binoculars are the decline in bird numbers. How many different birds will we miss if we have never known the amazing variety that there are?    Just for starters…. Kentish plover, Ringed plover, Little ringed plover, Golden plover, Grey plover, Dotterel and let’s not confuse Dunlin, Sanderling and Knot or take a Stint or two.

Maybe they all deserve a poem or a shipping forecast with their amazing names.

First bird shots with lumix bridge camera

A kind of Egret in the almond orchards with Bermuda buttercups
A kind of Egret in the almond orchards with Bermuda buttercups

My hat goes off to all those bird photographers out there. I am often amazed by the clarity and closeness of the images. I will persevere but spotting these rather large birds and then zooming in on them wasn’t easy.

Along the shore of the Ria Formosa in the Algarve at this time of year is a wader’s paradise. Of course some of them like the meadows nearby and on one of our walks we heard a lot of croaking. So the frogs are busy along with the bees in the almond blossom.

we have been without our binoculars so the camera helped with some identification and we think we have seen the following : turnstones, dunlin or knot, ringed plover and grey plover, curlew and cormorant, and maybe some green shanks.

Egret on the shore at Cabanas de Tavira, Algarve, Portugal.
Egret on the shore at Cabanas de Tavira, Algarve, Portugal.

Extract from the “Art of Birds”, by Pablo Neruda

Just came across this and back in Spain with the birds and the Spanish Language and my first year of blogging. Thank you for all the amazing connections we make all you bloggers out there and especially those who want to help in the conservation of this beautiful planet. Me gusta mucho las obras de Pablo Neruda, muy profondo. And I love the birds and have just bought bird seed to attract the wild ones so I can see more of them! Might work. Might not!

Gannets- a very British responsibility or a very Scottish responsibility. Over 50 % of gannets in the world use the British Isles and Ireland for their nesting colonies

Conservation and cooperation across human borders?  Marine reserves, Seabird reserves. Wildlife knows no boundaries.

Feature Picture by Lesley Martin
24/05/12
‘The population of gannets on the Bass Rock, off the East Lothian coast in Scotland, has reached an all time record. There are now around 150,000 birds which will increase further once this year’s chicks have hatched. The Bass Rock is the largest single gannet colony in the world and was described famously by Sir David Attenborough as ‘one of the wildlife wonders of the world’.’

We hope that on this referendum day for Scotland  whoever wins  the power  will protect the amazing range of wildlife that also has its home in and around Scotland.

On my recent visit back to the UK we  went to visit the RSPB reserve at Bempton Cliffs. Here we were able to watch at close view gannets flying, soaring by from cliff top viewing points. For me far better than taking a boat out to sea and far off rocks. Still haven’t quite recovered from my 24 hour ferry from Santander!

We learnt some interesting facts about gannets and can now possibly age them as under five years old or over.  The young are quite black and then become more speckled until when mature at 5 and ready to mate their plumage becomes brilliant white with contrasting black wing tips. Around their brain is a kind of jelly that protects against the cold of the sea and their rapid dives in to catch fish.

Another place that we saw gannets a couple of years ago was off the coast of Ireland. We were visiting our friend in Kerry and went on a boat trip to the mystical and wild Skelligs. On Skelligs Michael in May there were also plenty of puffins and other sea birds  such as Razorbills.  Two places well worth a visit for the wildness and the wild inhabitants. Photos below with thanks to Nature Watch and other wiki sources. Last one …. My iPhone…..

 

IMG_0195.JPGIMG_0194.JPG

IMG_0197.JPG

 

 

 

IMG_2628.JPG
Gannets at Bempton cliffs, Yorkshire. An RSPB reserve.