I have few words this month and although I hope for everyone to be safe and well I know that there is much worry and suffering for so many. Our life here goes on much the same but without the social contact and nature trips like this one from February. We set out on our annual pilgrimage to Donana wetlands where we hope to see great flocks of flamingos. One of our favourite places en route is by the bird sanctuary of Canada de los Pajaros. Many storks gather and nest here. So we stopped to see storks flying high together in a very bright blue sky, nesting in the pines, and making their wonderful bill clapping sounds.
After being quite stork struck I wandered up the path. There was bird poo all over the prickly pear, so I looked up. There were lot of large stork nests. I saw a bird move so got the camera on it. I thought it might have been a young stork or egret. The first photo told me very little but the next few meant that I had got on camera the birds that had eluded me last year.
Yes, indeed, the beak gives it all away and I finally got some good photos of a spoonbill.
Hope this may have made you wonder a little bit about nature and the amazing diversity of birds and beaks. For everyone lisening and looking more at the wonderful birdlife around us. Lets cherish the birds and keep them safe too with good conservation of the habitats they need.
Rushing to update now as this all ran ahead of me and published with a mind of its own. More on Donana and explorations around Finca Navasola next time. Love to all.
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.
We took a short walk around the Dehesa de Abajo reserve on the edge of the Doñana wetlands.
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.
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.
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.
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/
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Wishing you all a happy and positive 2017 and hope we can continue to create success stories for the natural world.
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.
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.
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.
Am really pleased to get this email from Greenpeace after a petition.Probably via facebook which I am sometimes criticised for using! Most of the time there is such ignorance about the damage being done to wild creatures and their habitats. If social media can raise awareness and help conservation and go straight to the corridors of power to create change, then lets keep doing it. Hope these little creatures now have a fighting chance to recover their numbers.
Success! You’re making a difference for vaquitas. I’m delighted to share some great news about these Mexican porpoises with you:
The Mexican government has just published a proposal to protect the entire vaquita habitat. It covers 5,000 square kilometers, and includes a 2 year ban on fishing with gillnets. These nets are single-handedly responsible for entangling and drowning so many vaquitas, there are now just 97 of these incredible creatures left. The proposal also sets out compensation for affected fishers.
You helped build an international outcry that reached the highest levels of government. An incredible 320,000 of us sent messages to Mexican president Peña Nieto – and it’s clear there’s huge pressure to protect these little porpoises.
However, there are some missing measures that must be included for this proposal to be fully effective. The most important is to strengthen surveillance and enforcement. Illegal gillnetting in the vaquita habitat is common and must be eliminated. We’re also urging the Mexican government to make this a permanent ban on gillnet fishing.
By the end of this month the proposal will have passed through consultation and be ready for a final draft. This doesn’t mean the campaign is over, as there may be more campaigning needed – and you and I both know there’s a big difference between what’s written on paper and what happens on the water. If we need more action soon, I would love to have you on board to make sure we secure a bright future for the vaquita.
Conservation and cooperation across human borders? Marine reserves, Seabird reserves. Wildlife knows no boundaries.
Feature Picture by Lesley Martin
‘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…..