Category Archives: conservation

Decision Day for the Doñana Wetlands. A visit to see some of the birds.

We took a day out to the Doñana Wetlands a week ago and for this week the 21st of March is a decision day in the European Parliament for securing the future sustainability of this most important habitat. The wetlands are becoming drier because of more use of the underground water table and rivers.

View of lake at Dehesa de Abajo with carpet of red flowers

We took a short walk around the Dehesa de Abajo reserve on the edge of the Doñana wetlands.

Visitor Centre at Dehesa de Abajo, always full of storks nesting.
Stork nesting near visitor centre at Dehesa de Abajo

We had  a wonderful day out and come back feeling ‘filled up’ with birds. The closeness to storks nesting in nearby trees and wild flamingos swimming with necks underwater in the lake all made for a very bird fulfilling day. We also saw spoonbills, glossy ibis, egrets, linnets, black kites and buzzards.

glossy ibis
Flamingo dipping
Linnet on fence

 

Spoonbill flying

The only shadow of the day is the knowledge that Doñana is at risk, with very low water levels but there is some action and Doñana is at the centre of a political battle for its survival. Local groups have taken the issue to national and European levels. There will be a decision made on the 21st of March at the European parliament that will hopefully outline the measures needed to protect this very special place. This could be an example of how the EU can be used to support and negotiate between different local and national interests.

Egret having to think about this. It makes the head hurt.

The Doñana wetlands have been at risk and the water levels becoming unsustainable since at least 2013. There are a significant biodiversity of species that need these wetlands, including the iconic and threatened Iberian lynx. This area was designated a natural park by Spain and is also under the European Network of protected areas for nature.

Glossy ibis having a think about this or a scratch

We have been to visit on various occasions and in particular we like to walk around Dehesa de Abajo. This is more on the edge of Donana and quite accessible from Sevilla. It is also near the bird sanctuary of Canada de los Pajaros. This is only open at the weekends but is worthwhile to visit and support their rescue efforts. There is also the International Bird Fair being held again at the Visitor centre of Dehesa de Abajo from April 26th to 28th. These are birds without borders that need our support. http://www.donanabirdfair.es/home-2/

Stork in field near Canada de los Pajaros

 

Spoonbills flying overhead

There are many pressures on this area of wetlands situated between the cities of Huelva and Sevilla. It seems there are many illegal wells extracting water for various reasons and there are four gas projects which are about to begin fracking for extraction of gas. Environmentalists and others have taken their concerns to the European Parliament as this should be a protected site under Spanish and EU laws and is also  recognised by UNESCO as a unique habitat and important place for migratory birds.

 

One comment in a Spanish newspaper was about the need to balance the social economic needs of the region with those of the environment. The point of the International nature reserves networks is to protect against these pressures where the wildlife sites are crucial to many species across Europe. It is the first major wetland after the long migratory journey from Africa and across the Sahara  Desert. Any further deterioration and loss will affect too many migratory birds. It is true to say that the Huelva region has suffered greatly economically in the past 10 years but  the way to address this is not to pit this against these protected areas. Sustainable economic policies are much needed. Doñana could be a flagship as to whether the wetlands can be saved and measures taken to restore it where needed while also looking into the local economy and ways of improving this without drawing on the water table that supports these wetlands. I read recently how the Galapagos Isles were saved for the many unique species and restored within three years. It can be done.

 

A bull from the friendly herd that grazes the edges of the lake

The area has long had a rice growing economy, river transport and boats. Some of the new agriculture seems to stretch further away from Donana but does include vast strawberry growing. This kind of agriculture is very dependent on water throughout the whole year. Traditional Spanish agriculture is referred to as ‘dry’ and involves most growing taking place before the normal Mediterranean dry summers. This  new business of fruit crops throughout the year, along with changes in the climate, more erratic rainfall and longer periods of drought will impact on the water tables and the wetlands if there is more unsustainable methods of agriculture. Changing to more use of renewable energy instead of new projects to extract gas from an area where the fragile water table could be disastrously affected should also  be the way forward.

Unfortunately we see in progress a major threat to important wildlife habitats through the old ways of ‘business’ and economic growth. Spain could lead the way on this one with the support of European initiatives. Meanwhile students ask for a climate emergency to be declared. One Spanish poster and cry was ‘ Ni un grado mas ni un especia menos ‘ Not a degree more or a species less. The ideas of a Roosevelt style ‘green deal’ are thrown up into the air.  The UN report gives 12 years to ensure global temperatures are kept from rising too high. Will there be action for a circular economy and not ‘business as usual’? Doñana and the future for its biodiversity is at stake now.

So having filled you up with the complexities of nature conservation and economic growth let me finish with  some more of the birds that filled me up with such delight.

Flamingos on the lake
We enjoyed their swimming antics
Bottoms up

We came for the large flocks of flamingos before they leave.

I can only hope that in the years to come I can take my granddaughter to visit Doñana so she too can have the joy of being filled up with birds. And the birds can have safe places to stop at where they can fill up with food and create their next generation.

 

And here are more storks and other birds peacefully coexisting surrounded by an ecosystem supporting all kinds of life.

Stork walks around the ibis and egret

 

Lets all be like this egret and keep a watchful eye on what goes on around us. Our survival and that of this beautiful planet and all its inhabitants may depend on this.

The Watchful One.

Mayhem in May: Changing weather and other surprises. A sanctuary for snakes!

The May in May. The beautiful hawthorn near the back of our house and its may blossom in the sunshine.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wild peonies after the rain.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The mayhem here in the south of Spain is not just of the political kind as Spanish democracy votes in a new Prime Minister. Here the weather has remained cool, cloudy but with some beautiful sunshine and thunderous storms. May has gone, the month and as yet not the long suffering UK Prime Minister! Our month of May has been full of wild, wet and windy weather but with some glorious moments. Weather forecasters here in Spain seem to blame this on the USA and Canada. Well,it seems there has been a meeting of a cold front and a warm front and that’s blown over to us across the Atlantic!

Don’t cast a clout till May is out, goes the proverb.But June too began with cloudy, thunder threatening, days.With this inclement weather some wild ones arrived seeking shelter near the house. The feral kitten population seems to expand around this time but we rarely see them again. They will not come near and I fear many give up their lives to the foxes, mongoose, and snakes that live or should live outside of our house.

My day in May began with the need to photograph the very green mosses on the rocks and experiment some more with my new camera. I wanted some close ups before the moss dries out and I had become fascinated by these ‘micro forests’ since reading the book ‘The Signature of All Things’. The main character Alma specialises in mosses and ‘discovers’some of the principles of evolution through a detailed study of adaptation. She talks about’moss time’ and the very slow evolutionary changes that take place. However, on reading the book ‘The Emerald planet’ about how plants have changed and adapted to planetary conditions, it seems it took over 40 million years for leaves to come into existence and changes in carbon levels in the atmosphere affected this. Human evolution in comparison to this took minimal time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

So after the sunny morning taking photos of mosses, wild flowers,camelia and lilac,the clouds came and then dramatic storms.

 

It was thunderous and torrential rain. Dramatic change. And then T discovered a 3ft long snake disappearing behind some of my plant pots. We were struggling to identify this and it was very difficult to take a clear photo.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And then another day, a month later, we had more torrential rain and another visitor. I had taken shelter from this downpour inside the house in my sanctuary but on the storeroom side T saw a snake’s tail. We identified this one quite easily.

Ladderback adult snake in house.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Snakes in the South of Spain and Portugal.

We are lucky that there are few venomous snakes here and none with particularly fatal bites. I think more people in this area might be hospitalised for eating the wrong kind of wild mushrooms.

Snakes are a vital part of an ecosystem and like most wild animals would rather escape from us humans but can be dangerous if trapped or threatened in some way. Snakes may have a bad press but we can learn to live near them if we take a few precautions.

We identified the snake in early June as a ladder snake with two distinct stripes. Just visible from my yet another failed attempt to photo a snake. These snakes have markings like a ladder when young. As they become adult and much larger the ladder rungs disappear and leave the two stripes along the length of the snake. Snakes will certainly help control a rodent population. We think there are some bumps  to be seen. Perhaps a swallowed mouse or small rat.

 

 

 

 

 

 

On looking at the snake in May I have begun to think that this was a ladder snake but it looked a bit circular or even zig zag like a viper. Perhaps the rungs are just beginning to disappear on this one. It certainly did not fit any other similar snakes for our area so think this is the answer. We couldn’t see its head either; a triangular shaped head and vertical pupils indicate vipers and therefore poisonous.

Long snake which was hard to identify but think now is a young adult ladderback snake. Just beginning to lose the ladder and to just have the two single stripes.

 

One amazing fact about ladder snakes is that the females stay with their young for a few days. A more sanguine fact is they can be aggressive and bite and these bites can be painful even though not poisonous. Snake bites contain anti coagulants that prevents the blood from clotting and so can take time to heal too.

So what to do with a snake in the house, over 3 feet long, possibly a good rodent killer but with a painful bite if suddenly disturbed. Well, the internet and some helpful advice. We thought about the blanket option of covering over the snake and then gathering it into a bag. I didn’t quite like the idea of the broom to guide it to the door and this was the upper part of the house and no door to the outside! Our ecologist friend sent a note about providing a black bag or box as snakes like dark places. Well, there were plenty of dark spaces behind all the boxes and it had gone under a bag near the pipes. In this area we left one of the natural rocks and built over it. We thought the snake would hide there.

Too much deliberation. When we came to look under the bag by the rock the snake had gone. After some thought we think there may be a natural hole in the rock and the snake has left the house. I did check under the bed that night though.

Here is a good phone photo of another kind of southern Spain and Portugal snake. This was taken by a friend in Cabanas de Tavira. It has distinct markings and is a horse shoe whip snake. Photo opportunities of wild ones are all about good observation, quick thinking and fast shutter speed, and luck with the light!

Horseshoe whip snake photographed by Rosalind Siggs

Most of our days in May have been spent on exploring some local walks suggested by a bird and wildlife guidebook to our part of the Sierra Morena. It has been good walking weather and an abundance of wild flowers. Hopefully I can run some posts on these when I return from another visit to see my grandchild, now trying to stand! She is growing so fast but with all the changes in my life I just about manage a blog post a month. I will try and keep posting and keep up with all your posts too.
 

 

Wishing all the creatures of this world a successful 2017! Grey seal conservation success along Donna Nook in Lincolnshire, UK.

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A baby seal born in November and quite well fed by its mother.
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A good kind of fence ensuring the mother seals are not disturbed and the humans don’t get bitten by Mum.
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The mature seals blend in well and are very laid back.
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This is Ropeneck and her young pup. Ropeneck was rescued from some plastic strangling her neck. She made a full recovery and comes to the same place by the fence every year.
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Extraordinary mammals. The mother seals give birth to their young here and remain for two months without food. They suckle their young and fatten them up for the trip back into the sea in January.

This was a wonderful experience that lifted my spirits. Donna Nook is a wide mud and sand beach south of Cleethorpes where my mother’s family came from. It was named Donna after a Spanish Armada ship went aground here in the 1500s.

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Sunset over the flat rich lands of Lincolnshire.

I had never visited here but Trevor had with his son many years ago.  There was no fence then. But this fence is one of those good fences which help make good neighbours ( Robert Frost). Now humans can enjoy watching these wild animals close up and the fence prevents the seals from biting us! The mother seals are not too interested in the humans behind the fence. There are now many more seals here and it is a conservation success.Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust, the RAF, who have an artillery range here, and support from the EU and others have all contributed to the increase in numbers giving birth here.
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Wishing you all a happy and positive 2017 and hope we can continue to create success stories for the natural world.

On the other side of the fence the grass is always greener. Post BREXIT it MUST be for the sake of our green and pleasant land!

On the other side of the fence the grass is always greener.
Post BREXIT it MUST be for the sake of our green and pleasant land!

Buff Tailed Bumblebee, April 2016, by Ruth Konigsberger.
Buff Tailed Bumblebee, April 2016, by Ruth Konigsberger.

I have been grappling with the consequences of the referendum vote and have attempted to share with you my understanding about the EU directives for Nature and Farming subsidies. We all need to be more clued up as our government will begin to frame new legislation or perhaps include EU ones. We must ensure that the UK becomes Greener however muddy the grass looks now. Nature deserves the best from us.

By 2016, the EU under the direction of Member States and the European Parliament has achieved the world’s best record of comprehensive directives and legislation to ensure the environment we humans live in and the rest of the biodiverse species that live in or visit Europe are protected. Protected from habitat destruction, air and water pollution, climate change.  Considering the EU started out as an elite club for business this record in my mind and that of many British conservation organisations had been a good reason to vote remain.

Profit before planet or planet before profit is a way of deciding actions in a very complex world.  Dare we continue to decide profit first? There is a terrific decline in the numbers of migratory and farmland birds.  Add to that the decline in our diverse range of pollinators. We will all profit if we protect the diversity of the natural world.

The wildlife trusts made a statement about why they advocated remain but also stated that whatever the outcome  it would need all organisations that care about nature to step up and ensure environmental protection is continued and improved. The cliff we are really on the edge of is a climate that will make supporting diverse forms of life more difficult. Habitat destruction, deforestation, loss of biodiversity, reducing carbon emissions and preserving water are paramount to all life on earth. The EU directives attempt to address this.
In Britain we should be proud of the role we have played in this within the EU. As a public we support many conservation organisations like the RSPB and have a love for the British countryside and nature. Even political parties at different ends of the political spectrum; UKIP and the Green Party, their MEPs voted against any relaxation in the EU directives and legislation which protects our rapidly dwindling natural world.

David Attenborough expressed his concern about the environmental effect of leaving the EU. It is now the time for all of the public, whichever way we voted, and the charities that look after our beautiful and green England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to hold our politicians to account and ensure that our precious natural places, wildlife and countryside are at the forefront of new legislation and will abide by the EU directives for nature.

BUT we also have the thorn in the side of farm subsidies. Subsidies to support hardworking farmers manage when crops or markets fail may seem a good idea. However, these payments to farmers, landowners have not been without controversy in the history of the EU. From an investigative journalism website there were details of where this EU collected money went to in each country. Now I knew some of this but when I began to look at the ones that had benefitted from very high amounts I was shocked. From a farmer in Romania being given a subsidy of 400 euros to the Duke of Westminster( considered the third richest person in the UK) receiving half a million. His Polish distributors, Cogent received over 8 billion in dairy subsidies. Now, this might mean support for many farmers in Poland but it seems a lot. Finally,  there has been a drive to reform these subsidies.

Examples of EU work to reform aspects of farm subsidies

Luxembourg (2012) ‘Greening Instruments – menu for
Member States within the EU framework’. Presented to the
Special Committee on Agriculture. April 2012.

European Commission (2012) Concept paper – May 2012
Agricultural Council – Greening
IEEP (2012) Agriculture and Rural Development –
European Parliament rapporteur reports and conference on shaping the future CAP
Defra feedback at CAP Greening Workshop held on 5 October 2012.
The National Trust & The Co-operative Farms – ELS+
in England post 2014 – Report
Cumulus Consultants Ltd & IEEP – CC-P-570
Issue: 2.0
Date: 21.11.12

The Common Agricultural Policy ( CAP) reform is intended,
to address the challenges of climate change
and sustainable management of natural resources,
look after the countryside and help
make these subsidies …GREENER!

The E.U. pays out more than half its annual budget, around €53 billion, in farm subsidies, four times as much as the United States. The subsidies cost each European Union citizen around €110 a year, according to the European Commission, a healthy chunk for a family of four. The money is raised from customs duties, sales taxes and a contribution made by each E.U. country based on its wealth.

In order to make Farming and Environmental concerns link up and be more accountable there have been a variety of initiatives. Environmental Stewardship, Ecosystem Services and general Rural Development funding.

With the Brexit battlebus and the millions to be saved in money to the EU there has already been cries from various recipients of EU money to ensure continuity. Much has been invested by EU money through CAP, to charities like the National Trust with environmental concerns and other rural development funding. It seems in Cornwall there has been major investment in rural development and the plans were for this to continue into 2020.

I have read some interesting blogs on these and on ecosystem services and new ideas from the EU. Miles King Miles King
Jeff Ollerton Jeff Ollerton
Adrian Colston

The New York Times reports
At the same time, the E.U. was shifting more funds away from farmers to a rural development plan that paid out €8.5 billion last year. The idea was to wean the countryside off its addiction to subsidies by encouraging it to diversify.
The money, according to E.U. guidelines, could flow to any number of development objectives: organic farming, farm tourism, infrastructure, renewable energy products and rural businesses. National governments were given great leeway in choosing recipients.
e.g that is how a gravel manufacturer like Arids qualifies for farm subsidies, as did Pasquina, which collected €1.13 million for its new asphalt factory in Spain. The Spanish utility Endesa also was eligible — it received €466,000 for installing electrical connections.
Cargill — the mammoth food producer that is the largest privately held company in the United States, with revenues of €120 billion in 2008. Last year Cargill received at least €10.5 million, collecting subsidies in eight E.U. countries.http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/17/business/global/17farms.html?_
Other sources for this blog
Lawton, J.H. et al. (2010)
Making Space for Nature: a review of England’s wild
life sites and ecological network
Report to Defra.
The National Trust & The Co-operative Farms – ELS+
in England post 2014 – Report Cumulus Consultants Ltd & IEEP – CC-P-570
Issue: 2.0
Date: 21.11.12

 

The UK  government with our pressure
MUST
1. Ensure the same if not better level of environmental protection and strengthen the EU nature directives. The UK helped create them.
2. Ensure any subsidies for farming is linked into the already good work achieved by many landowners in Environmental Stewardship. Have high standards for nature, farm animals and sustainable farming.
3. Public accountability and transparency in how this becomes UK law and is abided by.
4. Involvement of a wide alliance of environmental organisations in the development of any new regulations, use of tax payers money for farm subsidies, and further progress in keeping England greener than green.

We must ensure we are not ‘fracked off’ into the sidelines of environmental progress. I am not sure but I believe our role in the EU has helped lead on this. We can still help and support other countries in the EU and elsewhere through e.g Birdlife International and other groups but we will have lost the power to really influence the way the EU moves forward on the environment. We may just be too busy dealing with the outcomes of this post brexit world on our own environment and lives.

There is the loss. Nature has no Borders. There needs to be cooperation and leadership at this time in the world’s history. Joined Up thinking.

SO we must ensure we are GREENER on all sides of any fences. Then maybe,  just maybe there would be no need for fences.

Back home: June at Navasola, Wild flowers and Wicked ways. Never pick wild flowers. No recoge las flores salvaje.

‘Wild flowers are for everyone to enjoy. Leave them alone.’ The photo is of a wild iris for all to admire, part of the ecosystem for bees and pollinators, the plant needs to fulfil its life cycle to survive and reproduce.  Never pick wild flowers. No recogas flores salvajes. Some are very rare now and some extinct. Many are extremely poisonous. Best left alone!

I have spent over a month away from Navasola. While I have experienced snow in Dorset, spring  breezes in Rhodes and hot weather in London and Manchester during April and May the weather here in the South of Spain has been mainly wet. This desperate downfall of water has created an abundance of growth: wild flowers, bracken and high grasses. My vegetable garden is hard to see and also the rock flower garden. But with a bit of work I am getting it less sneeze inducing and for better or worse a bit less wild. I struggle with this but need a few patches where I can try and grow things. This is where I have to discern rare flowers from less rare but all have their part and I love seeing how so many can self seed. I leave many but the cultivated ones struggle to survive if overgrown with the wild ones!  Below is the view from my sanctuary window after a bit of work. I moved the lemon balm which had gone mad and put in a rose from Ruth. There are some wild ones in the photo, a local lily,  three wild alliums  and some to be named! This type of red rose is cultivated and irrigated in this area. It flowers for a long time and the bees love it.

new card April 24 to June 6th 2016 1591

new card April 24 to June 6th 2016 1587

 

 

 

 

 

I have been busy in the UK visiting friends, family and two lovely weddings and for the last week I have had friends and family to stay with me here. We have walked around the finca and found lots of different wild flowers and exuberant growth. Lotti, Ruth’s dog also found where the boar had been taking mud baths and had left their two toe prints. For a short while we had had a stream running into our pond and out the other side. I could have grown rice!

There are also lots of wild iris and foxglove about. Higher up on the hillside it is covered with pink silene and some white ones. There are also lots of yellow flowers and tolpis with tiny white snowflake flowers close to the ground. Too hard to photograph the beauty of such a spread.

Last year outside our gate there was a beautiful wild orchid which I photographed but not clearly enough. This year I was sent a message and we joked and using the expression from the German New Year comedy ‘same procedure as last year’ . Unfortunately, this year within the last few days, someone has come and picked the flower stem.  It seems that the wild iris  is picked too. It is such a shame when wild flowers are interfered with and the orchids are rare. I can only hope that the main part of the plant will be able to flower again. I’m sure it was my parents who used to say wild flowers are for everyone to enjoy, leave them alone. Now, it is a conservation issue too. Too much of the wild is being lost by human hands.

Wild gladioli outside the gate to Navasola
Wild gladioli outside the gate to Navasola

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Thapsia, tall and elegant on the verge.
Thapsia, tall and elegant on the verge.

new card April 24 to June 6th 2016 1477

 

 

 

Now I am back I hope to catch up with as many of you as I can  while trying to grow my own veg and finish that novel about the wild ones.

Pelican Puzzle poem. Donde Estamos? Where are We?

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Willow and Gingko

Am now in a very different place where there is sea all around and halfway between the USA and Europe. We are on holiday for Trevor’s significant birthday. However, this poem was written a little while ago  and was inspired by a walk in a famous park. I love many of the prompts given by Dverse poets prompts This one was about the surreal in the ordinary. The climate talks were also going on at the same time. It all felt quite surreal particularly as I recognised the Spanish words of a small child. I also wanted to do this walk in response to the blog  A Wildflower’s Melody.A wildflower Melody I love the serendipity of blogging. Also check out some amazing poems and advice, examples and interesting folk writing poetry for the Dverse Poets bar. http://Dversepoets.com I can’t keep up with it all!

 

Donde Estamos?   Where are We?  or  Pelican Puzzle Poem

 

Donde estamos a child says on a bridge

Crossing with his father near the edge

Familiar sounds in unfamiliar places

Familiar faces from high mountain passes

 

Donde Estamos?

Where are we?

 

Diverse ducks on rippling waters

Wild grey geese fly into land

Wild and tame take turns to feed

Clipped wings that long to be freed.

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Donde estamos?

Where are we?

 

 

 

 

Diverse trees some bare, some dressed,

With gilded leaves at some royal behest,

Weeping willow leaves green may last

Next to the far flung Gingko holding fast

 

Donde Estamos ?

Where are We?

 

Black fisher birds perched up on rocks

Herons looking down form weather cocks

Cottage house with surely, organic veggie plots

Fresh fish arrives in plastic pots.

 

Donde Eastamos?

Where are We?

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Great African White in grey December Park

Whose wingspan could rival the albatross

Grey squirrel on a grey man’s long grey arm

The wild we tame with foods ever constant charm.

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Donde Estamos ?

Where are We?

 

 

 

 

 

Wild eyed Pelicans look down the lake

Pink footed geese fly past their palace.

A dull sky with flights of fancy passes by

A skyline of roofs with power to make us cry.

 

Donde Estamos?

Where are We?

 

Overlooked by one all seeing Eye

Chopper birds also above us in the sky.

Surveillance city sees us all, weather indifferent

To human fair or peace for species in our care.

 

Donde estamos?

Where are We?

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A small sized beak cries out in hope

By a puffed up pigeon on a post.

Ancient birds with strange design

Greet us with a knowing look

Open up capacious beak that must be filled.

Talks and more talks, but act we must

Who are we to turn our backs?

 

Who are we?

 

Where are We?

Donde Estamos?

 

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Will be busy celebrating Trevor’s birthday and then travelling back from another rather surreal place.  Let us know if you know anything about where these Pelicans are or hopefully just enjoy the poem. Thanks again to Dverse poets for all their prompts and inspiration.