Category Archives: Spain

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.

Spring in the Sierra Aracena

On the 30th April in Sweden it is Walpurgis Night and time to celebrate the beginning of Spring for the First of May. Anna’s blog has some interesting insights into this festival and of course her wonderful art work.
https://fargaregardsanna.wordpress.com/2018/04/30/walpurgis-night-valborg/

Even though this April seems to be going on the record for Spain’s coldest since 1974 , here in the south of Spain we have had glimpses of Spring. The variability and size of Spain means that there can be variation in the weather but this year the news is showing snow today in Cantabria and people sunbathing on the Mediterranean coast!

Iberian frog enjoying plentiful water and sunshine.

At Navasola we are lucky to have had so much rainfall after the drought that lasted throughout the summer and into the winter. Spring has brought much needed rain. One Spanish programme seemed to be suggesting that the reservoirs were now back to capacity. And there’s still some more rain due! These photos are from early April and at a friend’s finca on the warmer south facing side of the valley. Signs of butterflies, bees and blossom are always welcome.

The Easter celebrations went smoothly in the town of Aracena and it is amazing the dedication and work that goes into the Holy Week processions. The story of the Passion is brought onto the streets and is both a religious and cultural occasion.

It takes at least 5 x 5 pairs of feet to carry the float. And all around the town too!
And the band keeps playing!

Continue reading Spring in the Sierra Aracena

Feliz Navidad, Felices Fiestas a todos. Seasons Greetings from Southern Spain

Greetings to all and as many of you know it has been a busy year but we are now in the Sierra Aracena and able to have a restful Christmastide. At present we can enjoy the Andalusian blue skies in the middle of the day and log fires for the evening chill. We managed a midday walk around the pueblo of Valdelarco. Here the Sierra villages have a tradition of crochet decoration for winter. In Valdelarco the trees in the square and the benches have been given a warm covering of colourful crochet.  A great idea for the cold iron benches.

It was our intention for our walk to be circular and we headed off from the upper part of the village. It was hard to park as all the parents and local school buses were attending a festive programme for the linked primary schools of our three local villages. Rural life seems well supported in Spain and there are the local school, village pharmacies and regular GP surgeries. As we climbed up there were some good views back over the village and through to the other hills of the Sierra Morena of which our Sierra is a part of.

We followed the map and turned right before the barranco/ stream with the pilgrimage church for the romeria on the other side. The romeria is the local village festival and usually takes place on the feast day of the village saint but usually in warmer weather! I showed the major romeria for most of the local villages in September when horses, carts and the bullocks set off for the church of the ‘Queen of the Angels.(La Reina de Los Angeles.)We walked quite a way and were hoping to complete a circular route. The path was pretty but finally came to an end with an impressive locked gate and lots of notices to confirm we would not be welcome to continue. Sin pasar! A lot of the well know public paths are kept open forming a network of ‘senderos’ but most of these are long distance and there are few circular routes. There is also a local group that tries to keep paths open and this had certainly looked a very clear path on the map.

Walking back was uphill! We planned to eat by the pilgrimage church in the full sun but ended up by a signed post and opposite the red sandy banks where the bee eaters nest in the spring. They have gone for a warm respite to somewhere in Africa. These birds also feature in my novel so I am very fond of them!

Greetings to all. We are all well and Trevor managed to overcome some of his difficulties with walking. We are plodding on with finishing the house hence view of my new shelves with Christmas cards and tools. I also managed to create a festive space with some solar lights.

We will have a pot luck veggie Christmas with friends. Chestnut and Apricot nut loaf and a trifle with sherry and madroño are my offerings. I am finally finished with the chestnuts and the blisters they give me. Why such a tasty and nutritious nut should prove so difficult to peel is beyond me! I managed to complete a vegan challenge in November and certainly felt good with the diet and overcame my desire for tea with milk. I now have light black tea with ginger and/ or lemon.

I am beginning to look into how the way we eat and farm does affect the natural world and is probably one of our biggest threats and challenges for the loss of biodiversity and climate change. In the news there was a report about the scale of recent deforestation amounting to the size of Spain. Spain is huge. The views I show of the Sierra should really be covered in trees. Reforestation could halt drastic rises in world temperatures.https://www.theguardian.com/environment/radical-conservation/2017/dec/22/failing-our-forests-in-two-years-weve-lost-enough-trees-to-cover-spain?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other

Thanks to everyone for all the love,support, cards, messages and comments this year. This is the time of year for the Baby Jesus story so I will sign off with the first smiles of my first grandchild. Babies seem to encourage us to look after them and think about doing what we can to provide a good life, inner and outer. Here’s to our desire and hope for peace, and for a future that’s good for all living things on this beautiful planet earth. Abrazos a todos. Hugs to everyone.

Festivals in the Sierra Aracena: The Romeria of La Reina de Los Angeles

It’s the 8th of September and the day of my favourite festival in the Sierra. Its full of horses, mules, donkeys and a wonderful mix of devotion and conviviality. Today is the day where each of the surrounding villages pay homage to the Patron Saint of the Sierra Aracena, La Reina de los Angeles whose hermitage is at the Pena de Arias Montano. This is a beauty spot on a rocky outcrop overlooking the village of Alajar. It is also full of history and the extraordinary story of Arias Montano, a highly learned man of the Renaissance times.

Although in 1970 this Romeria was given a very public and national status it is truly a very local event. At least nine of the surrounding villages go on a pilgrimage to the hermitage and this includes Seville. All travel on foot, horseback or the lucky ones in a carriage. The Virgin Mary of each local village church is taken by bullocks in beautifully adorned carts. These are paraded in front of the Queen of the Angels at the hermitage. She too is then taken out of her seclusion and shown the beauty of the views.

If you live in or close to one of the villages such as Fuenteheridos and Castano de Robledo this is also the time to meet up with neighbours and share good food and drink. After the religious devotions there is time for picnic and chats. It is a balancing act of cultural traditions, religious devotion and neighbourliness which also seems to honour the natural beauty of the area and rural lives, past and present.

For many it is time to get out the wonderful flamenco dresses, ride your horse, sing songs and enjoy a day out. For me I relish being here as it was the one festival I always had to miss as the school term had begun. I was always given a running commentary about the horses. Perhaps one day I’ll finally get back on a horse and ride up over those hills to the Pena. I might need a little assistance too!

 

Gardens and Butterflies 

David Attenborough is asking folk in the U.K. to help with a butterfly survey. The numbers of British butterflies seem to be going into a decline. There has been a lot of interest in gardening for wildlife and it was hoped that bees and butterflies could be recovering but there have been a range of factors affecting numbers and particular species.
Here are some of the butterflies I was fortunate enough to photograph at Navasola in May and June. I love the wild plants and flowers here and these seem to support a variety of wildlife but I have been delighted that my efforts in creating some small patches of garden have not only paid off with a range of flowers but also brought these beautiful butterflies close by.
Last year I was given some Sweet Williams by a friend nearby. These were planted last year and survived August heat and bloomed beautifully from the end of April to June. I hope these will self seed but I have collected seeds too. I may also be lucky and get a second show of flowers from the same plants next year. Seeing how these flowers have attracted a range of butterflies and bees means they are a must for any wildlife garden and nature lover.

Please let me know any hardy flowers that have attracted butterflies in your gardens and parks. Of course the eggs and larva also need very specific plants too and these are often wild ones that are seen as weeds. Enjoy!

Who is looking at who? A Cardinal in the Sierra Aracena.
A newly hatched Cardinal spreading its wings out to dry.
A fritillary we struggled to fully identify. Visited at same time as the Cardinal.
Swallowtail heaven!

A Meadow Brown keeping an eye on me!

All taken by me but with a LUMIX camera borrowed from my naturalist friend and artist.

Summer journeys almost over: butterflies, bees and boars.

P1140134

 

From a very lush and wet warm summer in London, through the beautiful greens of France, stained glass of Chartres, Cloudy heights of the Pyrennes, Cool air of Bejar, to the hot and dry Sierra Aracena. However, the Sierra is always green in summer because of its varied trees; chestnuts, oaks and various poplars and willow.

The red admiral landed happily on the sunflower planted by my daughter in London. She loves the garden, birds but is not so sure about the flying insect world! The wild bit at the back with nettles helps the red admiral thrive.

Arriving at our finca there were few wild flowers. It’s the wild carrot time and a few yellow mullein. Most was quite dry. Apart from my garden areas where Ruth had admirably kept the plants well watered from the drought and heat of July and August.

A pretty wall brown landed for a while on the echinacea near the house. Bees and other pollinators seem to like this cultivated flower.

P1140469

Another long journey. This cricket was on the windscreenwipers. We thought it would jump or be blown off. It stayed on its green home, our car, while we collected our freshly baked bread from our local village. It is an alternative bakery with organically grown wheat or rye flour. A large traditional clay oven is used. The cricket waited.

And the cricket returned for its photo opportunity and chance to be a celebrity in my animal stories of Navasola! We think its pholidoptera griseoptera, a dark bush cricket.  There are so many, and then there’s the true crickets. And the cave cricket. And a camel cricket! It was light brown and the Dominion guide suggests there are several similar species in Southern Europe.

There is certainly a cricket with a high pitched chirp and it keeps me awake at night too. At least its not aircraft noise and it is rather soothing.

P1140481

In April and May it was so wet. The rainfall in May filled our pond to overflowing. We went down to investigate the water level in the pond now. There was nothing. Last year it had retained water at a lower level through the long dry summer. Why had it dried out? The evidence was before us. That wild boar family that loved rolling in the mud in May. I guess now they’ve scored an own goal. No more water in the pond. Tusk marks in the strong, expensive, plastic base. Without this, the water did just drain away. We will have to rethink on this one. Seems a shame to put a boarproof fence around a water hole.

We’ve also just been reading about reports of wild boar, jabeli, visiting the beaches in Spain. At dusk I think and still not quite sure which beaches.The report in Spanish was about the increase in the wild boar population. Not enough hunters? I say, not enough wolves! We’ve got 7 more baby boar on our small finca. Perhaps some will move to the coast?

Apologies for not much blogging recently. I think I have been suffering from my own drought. I have been trying to re edit the first chapter of my novel.It’s been quite a journey writing it, literally as it has taken in a quest through Spain, France, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Holland and the UK. A nature quest! I have also spent a lot of time struggling with rewriting the beginning and becoming anxious about the next stage. There have also been the chores and the DIY and clearing of beloved brambles and the heat! Most needs to be done in the early morning!

Thank you to all who read this far and have been following my journey. I look forward to some more catching up with you all. The weather is a little bit cooler. I have re edited my first chapter!