Newsletter November 2009

Andalucia Bird Society – News and Views

ABS Issue: #2 21st November 2009

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Andalucia Bird Society News

Dear Peter,

At last, yours truly has gotten around to producing our latest newsletter! Its been a chaotic summer for me and with having to reorganise web hosting, rebuilding the web site and organise the forum and member’s events, time seems to have passed me by. So my sincere apologies to all for this delay.

We have decided to use an email facility for our newsletters, it helps to have a standard format and hopefully you will let me know just how much you like it, or not! Remember you are always welcome to contribute articles of interest to editions of the newsletter and I welcome any constructive critiques on how we can improve content.

My special thanks to John Hale and Tony Bishop for their articles appearing in this edition.

Warmest best wishes to you all and very good birding,

Peter Jones
Andalucia Bird Society


December 2nd to 5th. – EXCURSION TO MOROCCO

A discovery tour of birding in Morocco, we are to visit marshland and coastal sites in the areas of Tanger, Asilah, Larache and Moulay Bousellham. We hope to make this trip an annual one, but perhaps vary the seasons each year. It would be interesting to visit again for the Spring Migration in 2010, what do you think?
December 12th (Saturday). FUENTE DE PIEDRA
The meeting will start at 10:30am in the main visitor’s centre car park. We will look for Common Crane, Stone Curlew and a host of other wintering birds. We expect to complete our birding of the area by 13:30pm. As the last scheduled meeting of 2009, it might be a good idea to take lunch together in the village, please let us know if you would be interested to do this.
IMPORTANT. Please post your proposed attendance to one or both of these meetings on the Forum:


I do not wish to detract from the true meaning of Christmas, but to look at one of the other icons that feature regularly as we exchange seasonal greetings. I refer to the humble Robin.

Most gardeners from the British Isles will be familiar the Robin sitting nearby as the soil is turned over, its bright beady eye alert, frequently diving in to claim a tasty morsel. This is not the case on most of mainland Europe where Robins are secretive and rarely seen except to the most persistent observer.

Many of the British Robins are sedentary, unlike their continental cousins. Winter temperatures are generally milder in the British Isles, due to the effect of the Gulf Stream, unlike  large areas of the continent where ice and snow cover  the feeding grounds. It is no surprise therefore, that most of the Robins from such habitats move south to warmer climes and in search of available food.

Research carried out shows that many of these birds over winter in southern Spain. Not only do these Robins fly south, like tourists seeking winter sunshine, but also return in subsequent winters to the same place, an amazing feat of navigation. For us it is easy to hop on a low cost flight but for the birds from northern Europe it is a long and dangerous journey as they frequently fly at night, navigating by the stars. Adverse weather, “sportsmen” and avian predators all have to be overcome. Ringing recoveries have shown that Robins from as far away as Norway, Sweden and Finland overwinter in southern Spain, so for these birds it is truly a “long haul” flight. As the nights lengthen and temperatures rise at the end of March, the birds start the lengthy return journey to their breeding grounds. Not bad for a creature normally weighing 14 to 15 grams.

This Christmas when you are opening your cards, revere the stable scenes, admire the holly and ivy, give a thought to its fascinating life story when you come to the inevitable Robin. John Hale


Please help spread the word and encourage new members to join our ABS Forum. Our forum is a great resource for exchanging and or getting information on many aspects of birding here in southern Spain. Whether you are resident here in Andalucia or if you intend visiting this area, then an open and free forum allows you to contact locals on specific site or species information. Contibute to our database and conservation efforts by submitting your bird sightings, local patch stories and trip reports etc. to the society.

The main site and the forum also have restricted areas only for members of the society. To get even more benefits from our web activities and also be entitled to receive newsletters and attend field trips why not join us?

  • Want to meet likeminded people?
  • Have a problem with a bird, insect, flower, mammal or reptile/amphibian ID?
  • Want to share a discovery or share some latest news?
  • Need help with equipment?
Well, if you have an interest in the birds and wildlife of Andalucia, then the ABS Forum is an ideal place to get involved. Please help our Forum to become the most important resource for wildlife in Andalucia, by registering, posting regularly if you are already a member and encouraging others to join.


Location: the dry river bed just upstream from the infamous leaky dam near Montejaque.
Weather: warm, dry, clear skies.
Author’s mental state at the time: mellow; sceptical of UFOs; non-paranoid.
Author’s physical state at the time: see day of week above.
Other witnesses: just one, Nelly, a frisky but nonetheless elderly black dog of unknown parentage with a keen sense of smell and poor eyesight.

(Orchestra plays “Dragnet” theme at this point.)
I was heading back towards home in Montejaque with Nelly, bonding with the Woodchat Shrikes, wheatears and Stonechats that abound in this area.  We had just walked as far as the base of the dam and she was feeling in need of a Cruzcampo, or at least that was my understanding of her panting.  (I admit that I’m predisposed to projection.) Over the horizon appeared four, then ten, then fifty or so Griffon Vultures, initially in strict fly-past formation, then more widespread.  Nothing unusual so far: after all, Griffon Vultures in Montejaque are like sparrows in Albert Park in Middlesbrough.  However, what follows is most unusual, for this writer at any rate.
The vultures started to circle over head and then swooped low over the fairly flat ground, some to the left, some straight ahead, and some to the right.  Then, to my amazement, they all began to settle on the ground in a loose semicircle around us, about 300 metres away.  The ground is quite flat here so I could see that there was no obvious large carrion to attract them.  Most of you are probably already ahead of me by now, but for those of you at the back of the classroom, I’d better explain that I and Nelly were both still walking and in fine fettle. Nonetheless, I could feel the hairs standing up at the back of my neck.  I didn’t know if Griffon Vultures are especially grumpy on a Monday morning or if this particular lot had eaten recently.  I’d read that they only eat dead things but that was in the Daily Mirror back in the UK.
Bravely, or so it seemed to me at the time, I decided to test the theory of their liking only pre-prepared, pre-packaged dead meat.  I started to walk towards the ones to my left, Nelly looking up at me with large, pleading eyes and rather sensibly holding back.  The vultures ahead of me started to move around about nervously and then hopped away from me.  You could have heard my sigh of relief in Ronda.  They hung around like that for about five minutes, seemingly casual but almost certainly waiting for me to wilt so they could pounce.  You can always tell when a Griffon Vulture is trying to be crafty.  Then, almost simultaneously, they all lumbered up into the sky like a flock of jumbo jets.  Two minutes later, not a sign of them.
My question, dear readers, is this.  What were they up to?  Eve, my good lady, reckons they were checking my sell-by date. Tony Bishop



As no doubt you will have noticed, the website has been slowly taking shape and content being added on a regular basis. The ‘members only’ area is still to be finished and we are hoping to include important site details, areas where it is worth to visit for birds. Other additions to be included for members are a revised and comprehensive ‘Birds of Andalucia’ systematic list, reporting forms and critirea for submitting your bird sightings and a special form for rarities (status will be defined in the new systematic list). Also we hope to translate the current site and make the content available in Spanish.


We are continuing to add new headings which we hope are of interest to forum members and again we have plans to add more translations into Spanish. Along with the website we are hoping to encourage Spanish people to join-in with our progressive society.
We are making arrangements for our field meetings in 2010 and we expect to be able to keep you informed via email notices (sent to all forum members) and certainly before the Spring, we will do a Meeting near to Granada and also La Janda (Tarifa/Barbate). We are fortunate to have professional bird guides within the ranks of our membership and these guides give their time freely to the society, so whatever your level of experience, these meetings can be informative and extremely useful. Meetings are well attended and thanks to all for your continuing support.
Education. We are in discussion to introduce an education programme into local schools and the idea is to have at least one school from each province participate (8). These schools will select, at the end of the course, their star birder and they will then go into a competition to find the young ‘Birder of the Year’ for Andalucia. All winners will receive a prize and of course the top three will receive special prizes in keeping with their acheivement.
Lesser Kestrel Nest Box Scheme. We are to instigate and commission the construction and sighting of nest boxes for Lesser Kestrel. We will keep you informed on our progress in future issues of the newsletter. For an outline to the scheme, see the project profile in the member’s area of the main website.
Moroccan Aid. We are also involved with introducing an educational programme into schools of Morocco, or more correctly some schools in the Saharan region. We are requesting secondhand binoculars and telescopes to help gain the interest of the children and to make the course successful, so if you can help by donating either of these items, please let us know. We are also helping an organisation in Zagora with a self-help programme which seeks to improve the quality of life for marginalized women and children.


Our autumn has abruptly cast her door wide open and the days seem grey, trees baring their skeletal shapes, where once they had been adorned in many hues of green. It’s a time where nature takes a rest, where life seems to move along at a leisurely pace and prepare itself for the harshness of winter.

And yet, during a period when the excitement of autumn migration subsides, I visit my regular haunts seeking the first of our wintering birds. Even now there are large numbers of birds passing through in search of their favoured wintering grounds. As I write this article, Black Redstarts, Chiffchaff, Ring Ouzel and Meadow Pipit are here in ever increasing numbers, some will stay, but a great many will slowly make their way ever southwards. Recent visits to ‘my local patch’, Llanos de Libar, have been rewarded with some winter regulars and Water Pipit is now busy chasing its cousin, Meadow Pipit, away from the small pools in the higher meadows.

Redwing, Song Thrush and Ring Ouzel are now in the lower area of the Libar valley, feasting on the abundant harvest of Hawthorn. Alpine Accentor, so difficult on occasions, can be seen dancing around scree slopes beneath the high bluffs and the odd bird showing well framed by blue skies on the clifftops. Was it my imagination, or did I hear Wallcreeper above the dense Hawthorns? Pretty sure I did and this will consign me to more visits, creeking my old neck to scan the high cliffs, suffer now I must for my art! My gentle strolls through my local Olive grove are now accompanied by the constant chastening ‘tut tuts’ of Blackcaps, whilst Song Thrush are increasing almost daily and most recently I saw my first Siskins of the winter, always a great pleasure to observe.

The Society will be holding a field meeting at the lagoon of Fuente de Piedra on December 12th and I will certainly be going along hoping for some decent views of Common Crane. I can remember seeing over 1300 of them at this location some four years ago, so hope springs eternal. The surrounding area can also be interesting, with Stone Curlew somewhere around and in very large numbers, whilst the lagoons should have some waders and duck species within easy viewing distance from the new hides. Some raptors that can be found here during the winter are Red Kite, Hen Harrier, Bonelli’s Eagle and Peregrine Falcon, so the day promises to be worth attending.

The society is now one year old and is progressing with creating a valuable resource for all with an interest in the nature of this region of the Iberian penninsula. The more members we are able to attract, then the greater our influence will be on provincial affairs that directly impact on our environment. So please help us to increase our membership by informing and recommending both friends and interested parties about our society.
Recent activities have included consulting with departments of the Junta de Andalucia and advising on such broad ranging issues as the use of natural resources and their sustainability, and helping a golf course to introduce conservation management planning to their portfolio. We co-operated in providing information and content to publications promoting the province to tourism that is interested in nature. So we have been very active in the first year of formation and are looking to increase our activities during the course of 2010.
Peter Jones
Andalucia Bird Society

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