Tarifa – in between Europe and Africa

Personal, Travel

Last month I returned to Tarifa for a couple of days, where I have already ventured out a while ago, in search of its (pirate) treasures. Also, this time I managed to rent out a beautiful rural apartment in El Pozuelo, a nearby village which is close enough to the historical old town, and sufficiently far away from the civilization, to wake up with the sound of bird songs, and go to sleep hearing the flapping wings of some larger birds like egrets, or cranes.

On my way to the rural apartment, I already met a friendly, fellow birdwatcher who helped me spot a beautiful pair of sanderlings foraging in La Jara river. During this 3,5 km walk I then repeated at least twice a day, I would always keep my camera ready for action, just in case I saw a worthwhile situation to document. October is still such a great month to witness different migration routes in this extraordinary place, just 14 km away from the African shore.

During my stay there were numerous goldfinches gatherings around the Atlantic meadow, before they passed the Gibraltar Strait in search of the warmer temperature, food and water in Africa. Although this bird species is considered an all-year resident in Spain, I could witness that some goldfinch flocks dare to take the passage. Similarly to some other passerines and larks.

I worked pretty intensely during the week and in order to recharge after / before work, I did long hike trails along the shores of the Gibraltar Strait, a magical place where one can see and hear the boats passing by, and look ahead to spot Tanger and Ceuta on the other side. If you are lucky, you can even spot a dolphin or a whale, while for them this passage is often deadly, due to a large number of vessels.

And I realized how the natural landscape always impresses me, especially in the morning and in the evening, when the animals can be seen in the most active situations. Here is a flock of cattle egrets collaborating with the Iberian cow herd. Sometimes, starlings would join them.

It looked like as if, for each cow there was about 2-3 egrets commensals and they would closely mimic each other. I have never seen egrets as close, which gave me a great opportunity to take some very detailed pictures while observing that co-op in real time.

Tarifa is not only a natural paradise (in danger!), but also one of the most strategic locations in Europe, highlighted by the presence of the bunkers and maritime towers from the distant past.

Los Lances lagoon at this time of the year is a fascinating birdwatching site with hundreds of waders of different sizes cohabiting. The lagoon commensals specifically benefit from tiny shrimp species, a local specialty of the Cadiz cuisine for humans, too.

I could speak so much about the magical sunrises in Malaga, and sunsets in Cadiz – that is probably why I am spending so much time in between these both locations, thanks to the benefits of remote working from different parts of Spain. Practically, you can wake up in Malaga and go to sleep in Cadiz, which would be a dream come true.

Finally, I visited La Isla de las Palomas (also known as the Island of Tarifa) thanks to the Andalucian Bird Society field trip. Currently, this Southernmost Continental Europe peninsula remains as a military object and is only subject to Guardia Civil’s admission. Our guide for the day, Javier, identified three types of migratory bird routes: from Europe to Africa (passerines, goldfinches, kites and even a stunning Eurasian Black Vulture), from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean (Balearic Sheawaters, Gannets, Puffins), and vice versa (Cory’s Shearwaters – known to me so well from Ilha das Flores).

The day passed by with some stunning sightings (e.g. mom and baby gannet making their way to the Mediterranean). To top this fantastic trip up, in the afternoon, before leaving to the next stop in Cadiz, I could witness a mysterious haze which overtook Tarifa for a few hours, turning it into a movie scenery, with a very original soundtrack of the ship horns.

El Día de Sopas Perotas

Music, Travel

I started off the first weekend of October in the most peculiar, and absolutely fantastic way, at the same time. Woke up with the loud birds and the magic morning sunrise of Malaga, and headed off to catch C1, and later C2 train to go all the way up to Alora, together with my friends who love both DJing and nature. And on that day we would focus on the nature… in theory.

The trip was sponsored by a very thoughtful initiative of the Spanish government, to grant free commuting train ticket from September 2022 until the end of the year. The only requirement to get the ticket for free is to use up the ticket for a minumum of 16 trips, after which 10 EUR of the initial fee is reimbursed. This way, people are incentivised to use the public transportation instead of their own vehicle. Which in the current inflation and gas pricing climate, makes even more sense. Well done, Spain!

On our way we did not plan much, just to see the beautiful pueblo blanco, its surroundings, ermitas, a castle and have some tapas. What we found out though, stepping out from the C2 train, was a GREAT fiesta. This time dedicated to a soup: a famous sopa perota, typical from the mountains of Malaga, made out of vegetables, white wine and bread.

Perota is an adjective describing the inhabitant of Alora, just like maño – maña describes someone from Zaragoza. For centuries, mountains of Malaga have been a rather hostile place to live, with equally hot summers and harsh winters, so the dish had bring enough calories for hard working folks. There is a beautiful homenage to La Faenera, a working class woman carrying heavy buckets, in one of the main streets of Alora.

As I’m writing this, a few day has passed since the Soup Day in Alora, and I am on my way to a completely different destination, Barcelona, on a high-speed bullet train, passing through Alora, Antequera and other familiar places in the mountain range – wondering how stunning it is that Spain combines so much modern advancements and tradition, at the same time.

On the Soup Day, we also witnessed a fascinating journey to the history of Alora, dating back to ancient times where there were no refrigerators and the food, or wine was stored below the ground, in a thickly isolated containers, now available to admire passing by the peculiar Mirilla Pepe Rosas.

My friends also introduced me to the typical, rhytmic music of the mountains of Malaga, los verdiales, famous for its rhytmic crótalo, tambourines and energetic singing and dancing. As we followed the local Panda de los Verdiales of Alora, we thought about the all-encompassing need of humans to unite in the rhythm. Be it verdiales, jungle, or house music. As I attended an open air techno party the day after, I kept hearing verdiales in the background of my thoughts.

It was not all about the sopa perota – there were local stands with wine and olive tasting (the one and only olive from Spain with a DOP signature, aloreña), pitufo con lomo a la manteca colora’a (don’t ask what is it, it’s simply tasty as long as you don’t know!), art work from women’s associations, typical pottery for the soup and much more. Day-drinking from 10 am also sounds like something one could easily do on such a day.

Instead of hiking, we ended up going with the flow of the Soup Day – from stand to stand, interacting with friendly and funny strangers, and even Canal Sur NoticiasThat later my friend’s mom watched.

We were so impressed with the town, its artwork at each step, stunning landscapes and peculiar history. Yet, we did not manage to try the famous soup. The line for 6000 portions went on for hours, making it a great excuse to party, listen to music and spend a lovely, warm October day outside.

What was so special about it? Sharing moments with your friends, spontaneously discovering traditions which have been preserved and celebrated by the generations, in a perfect sunny weather, not too hot anymore. Going to a place A and ending up in a place Z. And that in such a traditional, rural town, there was a safe LGBTQI+ space, same as the elderly, youngsters, guiris, a guy without a T-shirt, or anyone else. This is what I love about Spain: the feeling of belonging, the relaxed inclusion of whomever you are, as long as you’re respectful of others and the place you’re in. There are still so many things which are lacking, more public transportation included, but where we are now, it is not bad either.

Autumn bird migration in La Janda

Travel

After spending most of the summer up in Poland and Germany, like a migratory bird, for various reasons (not nesting though), I finally came back to Spain in September. After a sticky, humid summer, September brings pleasant temperatures while still allowing to indulge oneself on the beach and plunge easily to the sea. There are other reasons why I love this season in Andalucia so much: I can still do snorkelling and wave ‘hi’ to fish, while there is still a lot of birds up on the skies and in the remains of humid, salty marshes.

These birds are either on its way to Africa, or preparing for a wintering season here in Spain. The only sad note to self I made is that the swifts are long gone, after a very hot and unpredictable summer, and they no longer wake me up with their energetic hunt for the insects. And as a matter of fact, I then notice the painful presence of mosquitos. Even more important to prepare the nest box and save the swifts the next season!

Since I missed the summer get-togethers of the Andalucian Bird Society, I was very excited to see everyone again for the Autumn Migration meetup in La Janda and Barbate Marches. As I arrived almost late by bus to the village of Tahivilla, and quickly ordered a proper breakfast in Hotel/Restaurante Apolo IX, it was so nice to see familiar and new faces excited for the day ahead of us. We had about 11 cars altogether and decided to divide into two smaller groups to ensure optimal birdwatching conditions. I joined the group led by Frank O’Hair and we started off by the route ‘up to the stinky farm’ (aren’t all farms a bit smelly, by the way?).

We stopped several times by La Janda canals to notice the absolute birding wonders. As the mornings tend to be cloudy due to the Atlantic Ocean’s presence, we first spotted colourful red legs of a red partridge, followed by a bunch of stonechats, corn buntings, wood warblers, zitting cisticola, and redstarts. In the misty air, we noticed crested larks, hoping to see Calandra larks too. Instead, we saw a cheerful group of Spanish sparrows, residing in the bushes. As the sky became clearer, we spotted birds of prey: black-winged kites, common and lesser kestrels as well as griffon vultures, at their cruising altitude, not too bothered about anyone else, not even crashing into a flock of glossy ibis.  

A more dramatic scenario happened to a honey buzzard, notoriously mocked by the group of lesser kestrels. How come you can tell a lesser from a common kestrel? Lesser kestrels vary by the size, colours but also by its behaviour. They live and breed in larger groups than the common kestrels, and they seem to use a group strategy to scare off larger predators. On that day we also saw a number of Montagu’s and marsh harriers, often hard to tell especially when they’re juvenile. And on top of that, there was an impressive Spanish imperial eagle, relatively well to spot in La Janda.

Our next stop was next to the pump, which offered a great observing spot for cattle and little egrets. Dozens if not hundreds of them inhabited the neighbouring trees where we had an opportunity to observe their cohabitant behaviour and plenty of juvenile examples. Other wading and impressive species noted around this location included storks, cranes, and spoonbills gathering before crossing the Gibraltar Strait. We also noticed the ongoing presence of jackdaws, raven, collared dove and a wood pigeon, varying slightly in their mourning calls (by one syllable).

Before we paused for a packed lunch picnic next to the shaded area of the canal with two kingfishers and plenty of swallows, we saw a lovely greylag goose couple surrounded by the egrets taking off. At the lunch spot we did hear a penduline tit (Twitter notification sound!), gallinule (aka swamphen) and a hoopoe. After our lunch we briefly met with the other group, which reported fantastic sightings in the Barbate Marshes area and we exchanged some birding tips for La Janda.

They were soooo right: Barbate Marshes were such a treat to our eyes, starting off with a plethora of common ring and Kentish plovers by the shore and soon, spotting a pair of Eurasian curlews resting at one of the isles. Further up we had a lovely view over the greater and lesser flamingos, and an isle full of gulls, including Audouin gull, black-headed gull (with a white head around this season), slender-billed and a yellow legged gull, all of them in one place. I still envy anyone capable of telling a juvenile gull species from each other, definitely a note to self and a 2023 challenge to work on!

The sounds of black-winged stilts got us to look into a part where they cohabited with gracious pied avocets and lively sanderlings, little and Temmick’s stints, dunlins, turnstones, ruffs and common redshanks, sandpipers and snipes. At the end of our day we also counted a lesser and common tern and a common buzzard hovering above us.

The day ended up looking at the spoonbill showing off her beak from various perspectives, which itself is fascinating. We were also very perseverant looking for a little owl, allegedly residing in the local tamarind trees. Instead, we managed to see a female black redstart and a pied flycatcher before we called it a day. We said our goodbyes and left passing through a cattle herd coming back to their farm.

I dreamed of birds that night, and the day after my eye sharpened so much for them, or I was just nicely hallucinating. Staying in my beloved Conil de la Frontera I took the opportunity to run my usual 5K at the beach shore, alongside the juvenile, gregarious ringed plovers. They were faster, and I let them score. It was a great weekend, location and both human and natural company to recommend to anyone at this time of the year visiting Andalucia.

From the airplane window – 3 years in Malaga

Personal, Travel

2022 went flying by and most friends I know gets to feel the similar intensity in life: be it new born babies, travelling more than in two years’ time and also taking part in social, company or conference gatherings. The world is not in the best place, but when was it the last time? This is why I apply optimism, good vibes only energy and excitement to my days. Unknown future is the void one can fill with experiences and hoping for the best. 

What you can see above are the first pictures I took on 31st May 2019, the day I arrived to start a new chapter of life in Malaga. Filled with hope, and curiosity which eventually led me to one of the happiest times, best work and life experiences and getting grounded and calm. Each time I take off and land in the AGP airport, the breath-taking views of Sierra de Malaga or the Mediterranean spark so much joy in me.

And the move here was one of the bravest question marks – I didn’t know anyone here yet it quickly opened up a lot of conversations, which led to further friendships. Malaga attracted some of my friends from other cities I lived in, I managed to share time with friends and family and will probably be lucky to have even more visitors than in the past two years.

That’s why I miss Malaga even today, when I go for a longer holiday and will be happy to come back. I found home so far away from my original country that after three years, even during challenging pandemic times, it brought me deeper connections, balance in life, happiness from both the city life and the surrounding nature and this short post is just to acknowledge how contented I am living here, hopefully for much longer.

Fuente de Piedra – birding and biking

Travel

This month, one Sunday, me and my friend decided to embark on yet another green trip, combining a train + bike ride inland Andalusia. We both wanted to try out this way of discovering the nature and springtime landscape around, without the need of taking the car out. Inspired by the birding experiences and interesting, and flat landscape of Fuente de Piedra, I took some time to plan a day trip from Malaga. 

Since Malaga is one of the most steep & mountainous provinces in Spain, ‘a relaxed bike trip’ is an oxymoron for most times. Also, some roads tend to have heavy traffic and I don’t enjoy it this way, as I consider it dangerous. The bike & train trip to Fuente de Piedra seemed to match all the criteria: several regional (MD or AVANT) trains passing by during a day, allowing to take a bike for free onboard and a great 40-45 km bike circular trail. We didn’t know though that AVANT trains only allow a foldable bike to take, which reduced our possibility to travel only with Media Distancia types of trains which have a broad bike and wheel chair compartment for our gravel/city bikes. However, it is not common to see a lot of bike tourism, and is better to double check if the train you’re planning to take offers enough space by letting the station officer of RENFE know about your plans (!).

Everyone we met was very helpful though and we managed to get to Antequera-Santa Ana without any problems. The train ride itself was a bliss – passing by the famous Caminito del Rey or more ancient (and dangerous!) Caminito del Principe, we saw fellow hiking groups waving at our train going on and off through the mountain ranges. Incredible how much flatter the landscape becomes after passing by the stunning Torcal and moving towards the Antequera province. From the Antequera-Santa Ana we took off on MA-5406 road only to turn left through olive groves and wide, blossoming meadows.

The landscape was far from flat so the bike ride required some stamina, especially that we needed to shorten our route as we wanted to catch the MD train, 3 hours before the originally planned AVANT. We could observe countless birds of prey such as black kite, marsh harrier and buzzards in the air and hundreds of egrets, flamingos and stilts closer to the lagoon, considered one of the most interesting birding spots in the region. We were also glad to hear and then see a loud, territorial hoopoe in flight.

Sadly, I didn’t manage to take any interesting bird pictures on that day, but was focused more on the route, keeping the tempo while pedalling through the hilly landscape around the lagoon. Above I attach the idea of how much it takes according to the Google Maps, but you should probably add 30-40% to it, as the roads are mostly gravel and not too well kept at times. The final part we decided to take via the olive groves and not A-384 road which is quite busy. It was getting quite warm and steep, but the final ride was worth a million of sweat drops left on that day. When we arrived back to the station, the conductor was waiting for us, making sure that the adventurous bike friends caught the last train on that day back.

Springtime migration

Travel

After the rain comes sun, after the sun comes rain again. While this may be universally true, we’ve been waiting for the rain for over 9 months in Andalusia. Contrary to the other European locations, the percentage of rainy days accounts for 10% tops throughout the year.

This has profound effect on the ecosystem, including summer wild fires and decreasing bird population, especially the migratory species, looking for the rest after the long way to or from Africa through the Gibraltar Strait. The month of March though brought immense amount of water, as well as Sahara sandstorms twice, turning the Andalusian landscape into an orange-ish, muddy moonscape.

I went on a weekend trip to my beloved Conil de la Frontera on the Cadiz coast, also known as Costa de la Luz. The heavy rain was gone by then, leaving vast greenfield areas and welcoming the migratory bird species from Africa which came here for the nesting period, alongside the all-year-round inhabitants.

Conil is situated in between La Janda and seaside lagoons which are a great foraging area for egrets, stilts and other wading birds, previously mentioned.

I took some time to hide and train my amateur photographic eye to witness the common egrets cohabiting these areas with glossy ibis, and even more domestic species like pigeons or sparrows.

Alongside the coastal line I could also spot a curious wagtail observing the agile shore swallows and different gull and shy plover species. As the current changed every couple of hours, I could see their intensifying fishing attempts or giving up and resting on the shore.

I couldn’t miss visiting the glossy ibis colony in the Playa de Castilobo area. I was happy to see the colony growing in number, gracefully flying around the fields and sharing the foraging area with stilts and common egrets.

Around this time of the year, as I walked nearby the Atlantic beach meadow, the cattle was enjoying the company of the cattle egret, smaller in size and gregarious in its nature. I’m fascinated by the cohabitation and comensalism of these two species and since then, anytime I see a bull, a cow or a horse, I look out for the cattle egret around!

Coming back to the ibis colony, I could also see how well they share their territory with crows and rock pigeons, picturing some incredible everyday moments of living on the rocky tower block!

I am very glad that my bird-eye view becomes sharper each time I look around, being able to recognise and take a shot of a resting kestrel, comparing to my previous year’s photos.

Last but not least, among the springtime migration, there was a purple egret – a stunning, colourful bird alongside with terns and gulls, preparing for the nesting season and quite territorial. I won’t forget the bird attack I suffered on Iceland, not knowing about the close nesting location of the Arctic tern.

So, happy springtime birding and remember about the safety of the birds, yourself and distance to the nesting areas. Don’t joke with the tern!

Birding in the Osuna Triangle

Travel

We arrived in Osuna the night before and set foot to explore the town itself, which proved to be very interesting, given the historical importance and quite recently, having starred in the popular series of ‘Games of Thrones’ as a mediaeval fantasy scenery. After discovering the town’s culinary and architectural gems, we went to sleep early to be on time for the exciting Field Meeting of the Andalucia Bird Society.

The morning was quite chilly, cloudy and foggy and we started to worry how this may affect our birding day. We set off onto a SE-715 road passing by the Antequera – Sevilla railroad through vast cereal fields and olive groves. Despite the clouds we could already see numerous red-legged partridges, buzzards and kestrels on the way.

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Our first stop was on the rail bridge from where we could set scopes into a very interesting scene happening at the cereal field. There was a great buzzard male displaying and above we could see a black kite approaching and foraging not too far away from the male and a group of females. Given the fact that me and my partner come originally from Poland where, despite the historic presence and abundance of the species, great bustard became extinct in the early 70s of 20th century due to DDT usage and the industrialisation of traditional agriculture. Having read that Spain and Portugal nowadays account for the majority of great bustard’s European population, we were very excited to see this bird for the very first time, and even more so: displaying! We spent some time there observing the situation until the male gathered the females closer to the olive groves, not too keen to share the details of their potential mating scene. Unfortunately, we were slightly too far away to hear great bustard’s mating calls, which may seem like exploding, flatulent sounds. 

On the other side of the road, we also observed a dramatic scene of red-legged partridges approaching the rail trucks, frequented by the speed train to Seville. Fortunately, the partridges fleed the danger and hid in the bushes, joining a tea party of wild rabbits. 

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From there, we came back on the road, and climbed up the second rail bridge, leading our way towards Arroyo del Alamillo where we took a nice stroll on the field road, which offered interesting sightings of the calandra and crested larks, singing cheerfully in their nuptial flight. An old field well attracted a beautiful male kestrel to sit back at the outpost, observing potential prey. During that walk, the sun went out, and we noticed numerous species including once again great bustards, black kite, but also stonechats, booted eagle, corn bunting, marsh harrier, swallow, white wagtail, spotless starling, blackcap, spotted flycatcher and iberican grey shrike, notorious for its horrid habits of impaling its prey. Although one may argue it’s actually shrike’s culinary art of cooking a la Michelin star chef. 

After taking this nice stroll, we went to stop by some abandoned buildings close to Lantejuela, inhabited by various pigeon types: feral pigeon, collar doves and woodpigeons. Most of us carried packed lunches and after a short stop, we decided to take a break at the picnic area next to the Ornithological Observatory in Lantejuela and skip visiting Venta for lunch. At the end of the day, the curiosity of spotting more birds prevailed over hunger, as usual!

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The Observatory is situated next to the Laguna del Gobierno, a part of the Complejo Endorreico de Lantejuela which serves as a water basin for the migrating and wintering species when the area lacks water, like this year. We all noted that this year the whole region of Andalucia has been missing the rain for a very long time, except for 3 days of showers in 9 months’ time! This is a serious ecological threat to the region, including the lives of multiple wading species. 

We weren’t sure if the Laguna would be open but a friendly employee of the site let us in for only 3 EUR/person. 

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Laguna del Gobierno consists of several basins, coming from the residual depuration of Lantejuela, using an innovative, ecological way of water management through algae and microspecies helping to clean up the water. We could see the effect of it by having various species residing at the cleaner basins’ area. I was particularly lucky to catch the flying flocks of glossy ibis, and greater flamingos in my camera lens and later on, set the scope into the following interesting species: shoveler, gadwall, pochard, white-headed duck, black-necked grebe, cattle egret, ruff. As we strolled through the area, we noticed also Cetti’s warbler calling and spotted a colourful pair of common waxbill, an introduced species from the Atlantic Ocean and Subsaharan Africa. 

In one of the lagoons we saw a green sandpiper alongside with avocet and black-tailed godwit foraging, using very specific movements of its legs to search through the mud for its food. It was a very special moment to watch this intimate scene. 

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At the end of our visit, the employee showed us his stunning photos and a taxidermy workshop, and gave us a flamingo feather for good birding luck!

On the way back we met a group of local birdwatchers, admiring marsh harriers and griffon vultures in flight, and we stopped in a few spots in search of sightings for the birds of prey and the birds of steppe. In the afternoon sun, we saw ravens, goldfinch, linnet, and most likely, an Eurasian eagle-owl taking off through the olive grove but this couldn’t be confirmed.

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Back in Osuna, we could also see a pair of white storks, so popular on the Sevilla fields, and also, a honorary resident of various churches in Osuna. The couple was preparing their nest with a lot of care, which resulted in a few beautiful pictures we managed to take. In the evening, we bumped into some fellow friends from ABS enjoying the nightlife in Osuna, and the next day, many of us returned to the first rail bridge in search of the great bustard male but without much luck.



Sierra de las Nieves – El hombre, la tierra y las montañas

Music, Travel

January marks my birthday (not to mention a slippery slope from the Dry January resolutions) and since a couple of years, also a surprise trip or retreat related to it. Knowing how much I like unknown destinations, my partner planned this year’s surprise very well, so until the very end I had no idea where I’ll spend celebrating another year of health, prosperity and being alive. After last year’s municipal confinement where we couldn’t really go on any trip beyond Malaga, this year he could take me on a road trip all the way to the high mountain retreat in Andalucia’s Sierra de las Nieves (‘Mountains of the Snow’).

We stayed at the mountain hotel at about 700 m above the picturesque town of Tolox (visited with a local hiking group just before the confinement in 2020) and I considered the road trip up above a part of the exciting surprise, leading through steep and extremely winding camino.

Sierra de las Nieves welcomed us with the fresh, almost dizzying winter air. At the resort, we learned that this area is a well-known retreat for people suffering from respiratory diseases, as well as modern day symptoms of burnout. Not that I currently suffered from it, still we treated the weekend stay as a preventive measure, indulging ourselves into the nature: birdwatching and enjoying ‘0 km’ picnics (eggs, local produce) in the high mountain air.

We met less than 10 people in total, over the three-day stay, and most of them were very active elderly hikers and trail runners. One of them, a local, looking at the majestic landscape, complained that nowadays there is very few birds of prey in the area, while many years ago vultures would be soaring to the sky over the snowy peaks. Truth is, that we didn’t spot a single bird of prey but still, very colourful and exciting species such as: a golden oriole, red crossbills, black redstart, wood nuthatch and a great spotted woodpecker. All in all, there were more birds than humans wandering which made the trip worthwhile. Not to mention the quantity of sheep and goats roaming freely through the mountain ranges.

Sierra de las Nieves inspired us to continue binge watching a series ‘El Hombre y la Tierra‘, discovered earlier this month on Youtube, from the Spanish RTVE archives. The show is presented by Felix Rodriguez de la Fuente, a popular author from the 60s, who lost his life in a plane crush while approaching Alaska for the filming of his new series about the North American nature. He is considered a living memory of many Spaniards, the one who hijacked the theory of evolution to the programme even during Franco dictatorship, and the Youtube documentaries were uploaded during 2020 lockdown, maybe to cheer up everyone at home. Despite the fact that >50 years passed from some of the episodes, the stunning film techniques, the suspenseful narrative (a meme to some, nowadays) and his sheer love for nature prevailed and continues to inspire. I even considered learning an opening theme, which is a challenging symphony piece.

Happy New Bird

Personal, Travel

December was a month full of highlights: despite 2021 being another year in pandemic, we made it through and made the most out of it, focusing on discovering the local gems of Andalucia and learning more about the cultural and biodiversity richness of place we live in.

This month we had a few visitors, including friends and family, which was great but equally intense, so we took a few days in between to be alone, in the brand new place for us: Jerez de la Frontera, and Trebujena marshlands. We set the direction to a picturesque road passing through Teba, Campillos, Olvera and Algodonales where we could spot lagoons perfect for flamingos as well as the mountain ranges known for the griffon vultures presence.

In 2,5 hours of slow drive through the sunny landscape of Andalucía we reached our destination. Even before, I heard great things about Jerez for being a true capital for sherry wine and lively tavernas locally called trabancos. A very first bird metaphor was used for tapas on our very first visit: as each tapa arrives with un gorrion (common sparrow), a shot of a locally distilled sherry. The city itself is best to experience through walking, and stopping by randomly at those places, or entering one of the wine bodegas today often converted into great restaurants, like La Carbona. 

Jerez is famous for its Royal School of Equestrian Arts as well as the Cathedral which was very nicely decorated a weekend before the Christmas. After spending a day in Jerez and sobering well after those tasty ‘sparrows’, we changed the scenery to join our first Andalucia Bird Society field meeting in Bonanza.

Bonanza is a part of an equally interesting sherry town of Sanlúcar de Barrameda (we haven’t discovered yet), located at the mouth of Guadalquivir river entering the Atlantic Ocean, and opposite to the Doñana National Park. What strike at the very beginning are the huge ‘icebergs’ of salt, Salinas de Santa Teresa, abundant in that area and strategic material since the ancient times. Very close to it, we stopped by Laguna del Tarelo where the very first sightings were confirmed of the wintering and residing species of wading birds.

Thanks to our guide of the day, Juan Martin Bermudez we could see a daytime sleep of the Night Herons (who are foraging at night and have some interesting courtship behaviour of gifting a female with a green branch), as well as the appearance of a very rare, endangered species of the Marbled Teal (currently <55K species worldwide).

White-headed Ducks (coloured as the name mentions), Coot, Little Grebe, Grey Herons among other wading birds were seen on the water, while the Osprey and Red Kite appeared higher up the sky. We were very grateful to the fellow members for pointing us to the interesting sightings thanks to their scopes, which we hadn’t had at this point.

Passing through the vast marshlands of Trebujena, we made the next stop at the Esteros de Guadalquivir which offered us a great hide and sightings of Greater Flamingos, Black Redstart, Little Egret, Black-winged Stilt, Redshank, variety of Plovers, Pied Avocet, White Storks, Slender-billed Gulls and Caspian Tern. Up the river, we also so large vessels heading all the way to Seville, and, at a closer sight, we managed to see a Velvet and Common Scoter, occasionally passing through Andalucia during wintertime.

This great birding experience, combined with a jolly pre-Christmas atmosphere among the ABS members made us think that Santa should really get us a scope this year to continue our fantastic field discoveries. Upon our arrival from this trip, we wrote a special letter and few days later, probably thanks to the express postal services of the local Collared Doves, we got it!

Our first local birding trip got us to Guadalhorce on a New Year’s Day to celebrate the 2022 arrival, hoping for the better to this world of humans and animalia, and gave us a delightful day of observing both Greater and Lesser Flamingos, Grey Herons hunting for the moles, gregarious Stilts, and the best of all: another time a Velvet Scoter!

To top it up, one of the fellow birders pointed us to the unforgettable scene of the Osprey-gourmand eating up his fish on the outpost. Apparently this particular Osprey returns since 16 years already to Malaga for the wintering season from Germany. Learning about it, it felt very emotional to be a witness of all the birds, and more what’s happening around us all the time. What a way to start a year and wish that everyone finds their own Happy New Bird! Believe me, witnessing the nature’s beauty and collecting sightings is much more precious than any NFT collection out there.

Vulture Culture – around Estepona and Casares

Travel

This autumn we had a lot of reasons to discover our fascinating Costa del Sol region further, thanks to our friends who moved to Estepona for a few months. Willing to spend some time with them, we headed for a weekend there, combining the urban, coastal and hiking highlights, including birdwatching some of the most impressive species out there: a Griffon Vulture (Buitre Leonado in Spanish).

Estepona is a ‘garden town’ of Andalucia, influenced heavily by its coastal location nearby the Gibraltar Strait. Founded its first civilisation during the Bronze Age, nowadays it is a picturesque Andalucian town with a lot of vegetation, flower plants and art all over the place.

There is about 14 km of a coastal path meandering around various gardens. About 30 buildings in Estepona are painted with the original murals, or encrypted with of some piece of poetry on its elevations. The beauty of it soothes so much, that we felt relaxed as soon as we found a parking slot. Probably the only stressful part of staying in Estepona. You can also choose to arrive by bus, frequently passing from Malaga or Cadiz/Algeciras/La Linea.

We took a stroll around the city centre, watched the orange trees grow their first fruits of this season, and took a lot of new pictures from different angles. Estepona offers a lot of daytime attractions apart from being a very picturesque town (an Orchidarium, Selwo Aventura among others), while during the night, there is a lot of romantic restaurants offering wine tastings and tapas.

The proximity of the Gibraltar Strait creates an interesting microclimate and marks a historically important location of Estepona in between the continents and the seas. During our long walk with our friends, I was able to catch some magic moments of the sun setting down somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean, on the other side of the Strait, and some interesting seagull flocks too.

The next day, we drove a very pleasurable, winding road all the way up to Casares, a picturesque ‘white town’ in the mountain range of Sierra de Bermeja. It is famous for various reasons: a birthplace of Blas Infante, a staging ‘sponge town’ in Mario Bros 64 from 1996, and for being inhabited by a large group of Griffon Vultures.

We took a circular hiking path around the town, where we admired magnificent views over Gibraltar Strait, as well as Sierra de Bermeja, heavily affected by a large wildfire this year. The damage took over 100 000 m2 and lasted for over a month until its full extinction. The saddest thing of all is that it was not a simple effect of the climate change (wildfires happen in this region quite often). It was set on purpose by some monstrous beings, who knew how difficult the extinction may be in the steep mountain range, in the weather conditions of a strong wind blowing from the West. A single drop did not fall during 10 initial days of the extinction and only thanks to a heavy fall which happened afterwards, the fire got under control. It is a very painful memory of this summer 2021, knowing that one brave firefighter lost his life, among hundreds of wild animals inhabiting the forest and thousands of the inhabitants had to be evacuated to a temporary shelter.

Fortunately, we could see how the nature recuperates, after all. The trees and the whole ecosystem, although so heavily damaged, seem to be recovering slowly. The aftermath of that fire may still affect Costa del Sol in many unpleasant ways – making the winters colder and the summers hotter, reducing the mild  microclimate known around the world.

We were fortunate also for another reason: on that day, several couples of the Griffon Vulture were hovering in the air surrounding Casares. Because of the proximity of a few motorway junctions and local roads, the local ornithologists created a special Vulture Feeding Stations where the birds can safely enjoy their prey. One of these stations is located close to Casares and this is why we could notice these powerful and very helpful animals. The town of Casares seem to like them as well, decorating various outposts (e.g. the church towers) with the vulture silhouettes.

Looking at the vultures a bit more closely, we could observe a special nuptial flight, when the male flies above the female, just before the mating. Hopefully next year there will be more of them welcoming us. This weekend trip was one of those mini breaks, when you can focus and appreciate the nature around you, and nothing else. Especially in the good company of your friends, spending their autumn in such a pleasant, special part of the world.