The map below shows the location of my local patch between Fuengirola and Benalmádena, about 20 kilometres westwards of Málaga along the A7 autovía. It sits on the lower slopes of the foothills of Sierra de Mijas, its higher, northern edge being 200 metres above sea-level and its lower edge only 30 metres. Its northern edge is bordered by the A7 autovía and its southern edge is bordered by the coastal railway between Málaga and Fuengirola and 120 metres further the Mediterranean Sea. On either side are dense populations of housing so it is somewhat boxed in. This area, which covers about 137 hectares (338 acres), is located on the eastern edge of the municipality of Fuengirola in the province of Málaga, and is a designated building area. Therefore, unfortunately, its days are numbered and it will eventually disappear beneath houses, schools and roads. However, its life has been extended by the economic crisis that has recently occurred and I think it will still be with me for a few more years yet.
Within this area is a small farm that is still occupied, and whereas most of the land has been sold to Developers, the farmer, my hero, as far as I know, has still not sold. They keep cattle that are free to wander and the old farmer often used to accompany them on his horse with his two dogs. He died a few years ago and now the cattle wander only accompanied by their Cattle Egrets. The sons still run the farm but they have day jobs as well.
The northern, higher end of the site is covered in coniferous trees, whose density thins as the elevation falls to give way to dry grassland and dense scrub. Two small arroyos (streams) pass down both sides of the site, falling down the slope on their way to the sea. Over the years they have carved gorges out of the rock, because although these arroyos have very little surface water throughout the summer, during the wet winter months, for short periods, they are ideal for white water rafting. Both of these arroyos provide another habitat of wet pools surrounded by dense, lush vegetation throughout the year.
The site is crossed, east to west, by electricity pylons (blue dotted line in figure 1), which provide a convenient perch for many birds and north to south by a road. This used to be a meandering, lovely dirt track that travelled up and down the valleys following the contours of the land and which passed several ruined country homes of the past. About four years ago diggers arrived and cut their way through the contours, destroying the track and the old buildings to create a smooth dual carriageway that connects the A7 autovia to the coast road that very few people use.
It provides magnificent views of the Mediterranean Sea and on clear days the north African coast and to the south west the peaks of the Atlas mountains in Morocco. The site is called Higueron after one of the arroyos that flow through it. It is my site, because, during the twelve years of my love affair with Higueron I have met hunters with their guns and dogs trying to kill partridge and rabbit, with little success, I have met walkers with children and dogs, I have met lines of people on horses trekking and I have dealt with trappers after Goldfinch, but I have never met another bird watcher. I appear to be the only person monitoring this site.
My home overlooks Higueron and to set off for a period of birding all I have to do is open the side gate and I am away. I am in my twelfth year of monitoring this site and have visited it on average 1.3 times a month. Over the twelve years I have recorded 80 different species and the most common birds have been Common Blackbird and Sardinian Warbler, followed by European Serin and European Goldfinch. These are resident birds that breed on Higueron and are seen every month of the year. Other resident birds that breed on the site are Red-legged Partridge, Common Kestrel, Collared Dove, Little Owl, Great Tit, Crested Lark, Zitting Cisticola, Dartford Warbler, Spotless Starling, European Stonechat, Black Wheatear, House Sparrow, White Wagtail, Chaffinch and European Greenfinch. There are also resident birds that do not breed on the site; instead Higueron is part of their feeding territory. These birds include Cattle Egret who are colony breeders and their colony is eastwards along the coast. They feed on Higueron because of the cattle. Other birds in this category are Northern Raven and Crag Martin that breed in the Sierra de Mijas mountains and the Hoopoe, and I am unsure of where they breed as I have not discovered them breeding on Higueron.
The two migration periods bring passage migrants to Higueron. These are birds that are on a journey and are using my local patch as a resting place. During the spring migration I see Willow Warblers, Bonelli’s Warblers, Common Whitethroats, Common Redstarts, Black-eared Wheatears and Pied Flycatchers spending a few days at the site before moving on. During the autumn migration I have seen Western Orphean Warblers, Northern Wheatear, and again Pied Flycatchers. In the spring I also often see Short-toed Snake Eagles flying over the site during their flight northwards to more suitable habitat and in the autumn migration I also see large numbers of European Bee-eaters flying over the site during their southward migration.
The spring migration also brings summer breeding birds. Early arrivals in February are Barn Swallows and House Martins. Red – rumped Swallows usually do not arrive until March and this is also the month that brings European Bee-eaters, Woodchat Shrikes and Subalpine Warblers. I have to wait until early May for Western Olivaceous Warblers, Melodious Warblers, Spotted Flycatchers and strangely, Corn Bunting. Table 1 provides more details about these summer breeding birds.
There are two other summer visitor species that I see on Higueron but they breed elsewhere. They are the Common Swift, which is seen from April until August and the Pallid Swift, which is seen from March until October. I occasionally see Garden Warblers, usually during July but I have never found any evidence of breeding.
The autumn migration takes away the summer breeders and visitors and brings the winter visitors. In the case of two species the local populations of resident birds are increased by an influx of birds of the same species travelling from the north. The species affected are Spotless Starling and White Wagtail. In the case of the Spotless Starling it is quite dramatic because the few hundred that make up the local population is increased to many thousands of birds. They roost eastwards along the coast and every morning large flocks fly along the coast and many stop at Higueron and perch on the electricity pylon earth wire that stretches between the top of each pylon, while they plan their day. With the White Wagtail, the population is probably doubled. In addition, as can be seen from Table 2, seventeen new species can be found on Higueron between the months of October and April.
Higueron also receives Occasional Visitors. These are species that are not seen every year and the number of birds involved are low. These include Grey Heron, Sparrowhawk, Marsh Harrier, Common Buzzard, Lesser Kestrel, Rose-ringed Parakeet and Tawny Owl.
When they do eventually build, the story of My Patch will come to an end. The birds will move elsewhere and I will find a new patch in the Sierra de Mijas mountains.
David Hird – ABS member