I find it difficult to put into words just how wonderful it is to now be free to visit my mountains. To traverse high mountain tracks, to see no people, to be totally and utterly immersed in nature, it has been pure bliss. It also felt strange, I was intruding on an area that had enjoyed a spring without hikers, mountain bikers, birders or visitors in general. I wonder how many years had passed where the area experienced such a lengthy and quiet spring?
I have shared the mountain area of Llanos de Libar with literally hundreds of people, recommending it, writing about it and taking hundreds of people on a guided tour to this paradise. I have studied and researched birds in this place for 17 years, I spent 5 years becoming intimate friends with Black Wheatear here. I have had exceptional days here, finding autumn Dotterel on a high fallow cereal field, Wood Sandpiper in woodland, Richard’s Pipit in autumn in successive years in the exact same place. Yellow-browed Warbler has showed for 3 years in autumn, Ring Ouzel has been seen in staggering numbers and a whole lot more besides.
In short, the area is an oasis for birds. It has a diverse topography and the route that transects these habitats is linear. What you miss climbing into the heart of the area, you can catch up on whilst descending. The landscape appears totally different in each direction. Despite my many years of birding, I have never been what is termed as a ‘lister’. Perhaps in my youth, so many years ago to remember with any accuracy, I did list birds for certain areas to assist with compiling a dossier of important sites for birds. Researching birds, being out in the field, has always been a privilege and a wonderful way to spend your life, but writing the results has always been a chore. So listing observations has actually entailed my avoiding such a laborious task.
And so to organised listing. Should I participate or not? The most popular version to listing would appear to be signing up for the collective as in eBird. I should again reiterate I am no lister, I am not obsessed by how many species I might have seen. Also I am reluctant to share certain areas where, quite unashamedly, I selfishly enjoy the solitude and privilege of discovering my own birding Shangri La. And I am not alone. I know many top birders and ornithologists not prepared or happy to participate with eBird. So for many years I had been happy to give all those listing platforms a wide berth.
My first couple of attempts to list birds of an area started off as a disaster. Why? Well, I hadn’t read the instructions, something I am always telling my wife to do when we acquire a new appliance. I had fallen foul of my own supposed diligence. Most recently I wanted to list all the birds from my lockdown patch and the end result made it appear I had seen over 90 species in 1 1/2 hours on a single day! I was suitably admonished and had to delete the list and start again. The admonishment, although making me feel somewhat deflated, also included a piece on the number of species seen in one day at the Guadalhorce reserve. According to the author 59 species seen at this site represented the highest total seen in a 24 hour period in Spain, indicating it was the best birding hotspot in the province, if not the country. The assertion made me think how wrong that was. As good a place as the Guadalhorce reserve is, it is not ‘the prime’ birding site in Spain.
So onwards and upwards, quite literally, we visited Llanos de Libar on Monday May 25th. Our visit lasted 5 hours and during this period we saw 62 species, a great total, and still some obvious birds, such as Wren, were missed. Entering the totals for the day eBird came up with, what I would call anomalies, such as, 120 Red-billed Chough was considered too large a number for the area. An anomaly most likely caused by insufficient records being reported, as was also the case for Subalpine and Orphean Warbler. So I will continue to submit lists for the sites I am happy to share, providing accurate information as opposed to existing incomplete information.
The conclusion for me is, eBird is only as good as its parts. Clearly a great many birders and ornithologists do not use it, or contribute to it. So its value is restricted, but nonetheless useful as a rough guide to the status of many species and birding sites.
Article and Photographs. Peter Jones ABS Member
Note: The views expressed in articles are those of the authors, and are not necessarily those of the Society.