Birders might not immediately think they need to know much about maps. We tend to know our best local birding spots and there is of course the ABS network to tap into. If all else fails there are also books – ‘Where to Watch Birds in…’ – which tell us precisely where to go when we venture further afield. All of which is fine but I’d suggest that a close look at our local maps can enhance our knowledge and enjoyment from a birding point of view.
The Spanish equivalent of the British Ordnance Survey map is the Mapa Topográfico Nacional de España at a scale of 1:25,000. For several years I’ve had a few of the maps in this series, covering the area where we live near Sorbas, a small town in eastern Almería province, but recently I splashed out another fifty euros or so to buy a dozen more sheets –they’re €4.50 each at the time of writing. Since then I’ve had many a happy hour simply looking at the new maps, scanning areas I don’t know very well to see what I might learn.
There are obviously place-names relating to major features such as mountains and rivers but perhaps surprisingly birds, especially the bigger and more obvious species, are well represented on these maps. In the following passage, I’m referring to various places in eastern Almería but I’d be very surprised if a range of birds can’t also be found on your local maps.
Eagles are a favourite. There’s the straightforward El Aguila (The Eagle), just south of Alfaix; Cerro (Hill) del Aguila and Alto (High Ground) de Aguila on the Verdelecho sheet; Risco (Crag) del Aguila a few kilometres north-west of Carboneras and so on. Just south of Uleila del Campo is Vereda de los Aguileras (District of the Eyries). A hill called El Búho (Eagle Owl) lies north-west of Tabernas, with the Fuente (spring) del Búho and Rambla (Riverbed) del Búho nearby, whilst three kilometres south-west of Macael is Piedra del Halcón (The Falcon’s Stone) and down on the coast is Cala del Cuervo (Cove of the Raven).
Smaller birds get a look in occasionally too. On the Lucainena map there is Piedra de las Golondrinas (Stone of the Swallows). Just south-east of Tabernas is Los Abejarucos (The Bee-eaters). North-east of El Pozo de los Frailes lies Cerro del Mochuelo (Hill of the Little Owl) and six kilometres west of Agua Amarga El Mochuelo appears again. Hoya de la Perdiz (The Partridge’s Hollow) is on the Uleila sheet. Pigeons inevitably show up too. Four kilometres south of Turre is Majada de las Palomas (Flock of Pigeons) and a similar distance south west of Antas lies the Cañada de las Palomas (Gully of the Pigeons).
Maps won’t tell you everything though. The old locals, the lugareños, still have a few tricks up their sleeve. Some time ago we were on a local mountain walk with our neighbour Paco. He was born in our valley 70-odd years ago. From the top of the local hill, Cerro de los Lobos (Hill of the Wolves, incidentally) we went north-west from the 601m summit, down the ridge to a good vantage point. Looking north-west, down into a steep-sided valley, Paco told us this was Rincón de los Buitres (Vulture’s Corner). Within that, there’s an impressive crag at a height of 456m called Piedra de la Águila (Eagle’s Stone).
In a similar vein, one October day I was out with a Spanish walking group from Turre. We were in the Sierra Cabrera above the tiny village of La Carrasca, a place once virtually abandoned but now undergoing a renaissance. As we looked back over the tiny settlement I asked Pedro, a local with many years etched into his smiling face, how many people now live in La Carrasca full-time. “Well,” he said, “there’s one of my brothers and his wife, and a son and daughter. And I’m there five days a week – I’m retired – then I go to Almería for a couple of days.”
Sometime later we dropped briefly into the head of the Barranco de Faína and headed towards two sets of towering crags. “There used to be vultures on the far cliffs,” said Pedro, “but there are still aguilas reales (Golden Eagles).” I’m surprised by this. I would have thought there’s too much disturbance nowadays. “They’re not always here but I’m sure they’re around,” he added.
These memories and these names are not on any map. When Paco, Pedro and the others of their generation, the old folk who grew up and roamed these hills, finally pass on, these memories and names will disappear too. Infinitesimally but definitely, the place will be impoverished.
Back at the maps again, they record other kinds of wildlife too. Loma de la Vibora (Hill of the Viper) is not far from Sorbas. Just south of the old film-set Parque Oasys, near Tabernas, where many of the spaghetti westerns were made, is Barranco del Grillo (Ravine of the Cricket) and how about Cerro del Piojo (Hill of the Louse), north-east of El Real near Vera Rabbits feature at Rincón del Conejo (Rabbit’s Corner) in the hilly wilds on the Arroyo de Verdelecho map, at Rincón de los Conejos near Mojácar and again, west of Níjar, at Cerro de los Conejos (Hill of the Rabbits). Just a little to the north is Cerro de la Fuente de Pavón (Hill of the spring of the Peacock, more likely the butterfly than the bird, I suspect). Immediately above the village of Bayarque in the Sierra de los Filabres is Alto de la Peña de la Zorra, (the High Crag of the Vixen).
The nearest wild wolves from our local area are now 200kms away in the Sierra Morena but there is plenty of map evidence to suggest that they were once widespread here. Barranco de los Lobos (Ravine of the Wolves) is not far from the town of Sorbas. The twin-topped hill south of Gafarillos, directly opposite our house, is Cerro de los Lobos (Hill of the Wolves), as mentioned above. Just to the east of that hill is the once abandoned village of Los Loberos (The Wolf-hunters) and a few kilometres south of Los Loberos is El Salto del Lobo (The Wolf’s Leap). Ten kilometres west of Níjar is Cerro de las Fuente del Lobo (Hill of the spring of the Wolf).
Lobos (Wolves) can be misleading though. Down on the Almerían coast, as at Torre de los Lobos (Tower of the Wolves, apparently), the reference is actually to ‘lobos marinos’, (Monk Seals). This no doubt is also the case along the coast at Mojácar, where Playa Cueva del Lobo will be Beach of the Monk Seal’s Cave. All of which complexity makes me even more interested in what the maps have to tell us. And your local Spanish maps – what clues do they hold about the wildlife where you live?
Kevin Borman – ABS member
With thanks to Francisco (Paco) Espinoza Crespo for his local knowledge and companionship on the hills.