ABS Field Meeting June 20th 2020

On a very hot day, 25 members came together for our first field meeting since lockdown, and we were treated to a very special sight, but more of that later. We met in Apollo 11 in the village of Tahivilla in La Janda, and after refreshment drove a few kilometres into the campo, where we were shown a breeding site for Montagu’s Harriers.

Before going into the details of the meeting a little background first. Twenty years ago there were 30/40 pairs of Montagu’s Harrier nesting in the Tarifa area. Last year there were 6 nests but two were lost. This year there were only 3 nests, of which one did not produce fledglings. This decline was noticed 10 years ago by a group of friends who lived locally and who were interested in trying to reverse this trend. They formed a group and called themselves Tumbabuey. This group are supported by the local community and other donors/societies as well as ABS being a main sponsor.

The main reason for the decline is a local breed of cow, called Retinta, which matures faster and is well suited to the blazing sun and hot winds which scorch the shelterless landscape. As a result, farmers have introduced new feed crops which mature earlier and they reap the harvest whilst it is still moist, typically over one month earlier than previously.

All this means that they destroy the nests and chicks before they can fledge.

Manuel Morales is one of the dedicated members of Tumbabuey and he told our field meeting members what the society was doing to protect these Harriers and give them a chance to breed. They start early in the season and try to identify the breeding sites as the Harriers change location each year. This is made easier, as very unusually for predators they nest in colonies and there can be 5/6 nests in just a few hectares. Having identified where they are nesting, they approach the farmer and offer to buy the crop so long as the farmer does not reap it. Some are more willing than others to help. This is where the ABS helps by donating money, 2000 plus euros each year to enable Tumbabuey to buy the crop. This year one nest produced 4 fledglings and the other 2 fledglings. In good years up to 6 can be fledged from one nest. We were shown the very small patch of land where the nests were located and we had superb views of the Harriers, perched and in flight.

But things got more exciting as the Junta’s Rescue Centre in Las Dunas de San Anton brought a fledgling of around 20/25 days old, which had been rescued by a farmer and they handed it over to Manuel. We were treated to arms length views of this spectacular female bird, named Petra, before it was ringed and then taken to be released into Hacking Boxes.

Montagu's Harrier juv.
Our newly arrived juvenile female Montagu’s Harrier. The Society members have named her Petra

We drove further on the track until we reached a point where we could see on the skyline the 2 hacking boxes for rescued juvenile Harriers. There were 3 in one and 2 in the other. They are fed there for several days and then the boxes are opened and food placed on nearby posts. Generally the birds return to the safety of the boxes at night. By encouraging them to fly they get to know the area and it becomes imprinted in their minds that this is where they were born. As they get older the volunteers must put the food out on the posts between 4/5am so the birds do not get used to seeing humans provide food for them. Around August they will migrate to Gambia and Senegal before returning to the La Janda area to breed.

After lunch we were also taken north to another site where more Harriers were flying and breeding.

Field Meeting
The few brave survivors at the end of our very hot field meeting. 25 members attended the day.

Whilst all this was going on, we also saw many other species (56) including those listed below:

Red-legged Partridge, Common Pheasant, Mallard, Little Grebe, White Stork, Glossy Ibis, Eurasian Spoonbill, Cattle Egret, Grey Heron, Little Egret, Griffon Vulture, Short-toed Snake Eagle, Montagu’s Harrier, Common Buzzard, Booted Eagle, Common Kestrel, Purple Swamphen, Moorhen, Black-winged Stilt, Green Sandpiper, Wood Pigeon, Turtle Dove, Collared Dove, Common Swift, Pallid Swift, European Bee Eater, Hoopoe, Woodchat Shrike, Jay, Jackdaw, Common Raven, Great Tit, Calandra Lark, Greater Short-toed Lark, Crested Lark, Barn Swallow, House Martin, Red-rumped Swallow, Cetti’s Warbler, Melodious Warbler, Zitting Cisticola, Eurasian Blackcap, Spotless Starling, Blackbird, Stonechat, Spotted Flycatcher, House Sparrow, Spanish Sparrow, Iberian Yellow Wagtail, Tawny Pipit, Chaffinch, Serin, Greenfinch, Goldfinch, Linnet, Corn Bunting.

Author: John Brooks – ABS Member
Photos: Peter Jones, Ricky Owen, Antonio Pestana and Frank Hair – ABS Members

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