After returning from our very tiring, but wonderful trip to Uzbekistan we were looking forward to catching up on our sleep deficit. It was nice to get back to the UK, but on our arrival, I came down with Covid, my first time! My wife caught it 2 days later, so we were seeing plenty of our bed, but nothing to do with the sleep deficit!
We have now arrived in Murcia and are still feeling the after effects of Covid, two weeks later! However, it was great to get back late last night and sit on the front terrace in the dark with a nice cold beer. No sooner had we sat down, than a Scops Owl(Otus Scops) politely called to us from an almond tree. However, we weren’t so pleased when a very impolite Stone Curlew (Burhinus Oedicnemus) decided to say hello from outside our bedroom window at 5 o’clock in the morning! Never mind, we were cheered up when the local male Golden Oriole (Oriolus Oriolus) chatted to us from the carob tree whilst we were enjoying breakfast. Seeing old friends on your return is such a treat!
I mentioned a few months ago a Cuckoo (Cuculus Canorus) called PJ who had passed through Murcia on his way to my UK home in Suffolk. He was fitted with a satellite tag in 2016. Unfortunately, seven years on from being tagged, he has died on his breeding ground in Suffolk. During the six migrations he completed while carrying the tag, PJ notched up close to 100,000km of flight. Data from PJ and other cuckoos tagged by the BTO is helping to find possible reasons for the decline of the species in parts of Britain. R.I.P. PJ.
Have you ever visited a beauty spot near Mula, called Fuente Caputa? If you haven’t I would highly recommend it, but don’t go on a hot summer’s day as it gets very crowded with locals swimming in the stream-fed pools. My wife and I went there recently to do a 6km circular walking route, but early in the morning. We started at 7am so that it wouldn’t be too hot when we finished. The weather was just perfect as we walked alongside the water down towards Rambla Perea. It requires a bit of scrambling over boulders streamside and in the water, but that just adds to the fun. All along our route we were surrounded by beautiful flowering Oleanders. They are red here, not like the cultivated varieties that you can get in white and pink.
After twenty minutes, we arrived at the impressive large pool surrounded by cliffs, where swimming is very popular in the summer season. However, the path to reach it follows a narrow rocky ledge with a metal safety cable to hold on to, metres above the pool. At this point you can normally see a couple of bird species that are not commonly seen in Murcia, but breed in the cliff faces here. These are Rock Sparrows (Petroniapetronia) and Crag Martins (Ptyonoprogne Rupestris). On this occasion we didn’t hang around for long and missed seeing the Rock Sparrows. However, we had great views of a largish group of Crag Martins hawking for insects above the pool. They are resident birds that are commonly seen in winter near to roost sites away from their mountain homes, such as high buildings in Murcia City and places with abundant insects such as the lagunas of Campotejer. In summer they return to their breeding sites, nearly always where there are caves or holes in the cliffs.
As we left the pools and the rambla behind, there were tall vertical cliffs to our left-hand side where I have seen Alpine Swifts (Apus Melba) in previous years. There were lots of House Martins (Delichon Urbicum) flying around and a reasonable-sized colony nesting on the overhangs near the cliff tops. We are used to seeing these birds in urban environments swooping into their mud nests under the eaves of houses. However, in their natural state they are cliff/mountain nesting birds. This is one of the few places that I have seen them in their natural historical environment.
Just after watching the Martins, we were surprised to see a young Long-Tailed Tit (Aegithalos Caudatus) sitting a couple of metres away on a low pine branch. They are very cute birds with their fluffy black and white feathers that make them look like a bi-coloured cotton wool ball, with an amazingly long tail! This particular chappy was clearly waiting to be fed, as it probably hadn’t left the nest too long ago. Unfortunately, nothing I had would have appealed to it, except perhaps the mosquitoes that were annoying me.
As we continued, we noticed a group of about a dozen larger birds with scimitar wings flying like jet fighters as they chased each other across the skies hunting for insects. They were Alpine Swifts. There are not that many colonies of these birds dotted around the region. I was extremely pleased to see these large Swifts with their distinctive white chests and to know they had returned once more to Fuente Caputa.
The track then took us up from the valley floor onto the tops of the hills with their low matorral-style vegetation. It’s a site where I had previously seen Dartford Warblers (Sylvia Undate) in the good old pre-Covid times. I was hoping that they were still breeding here in the landscape that reminded me of English heath land. It wasn’t long before some young birds were seen flitting around in the low vegetation and were soon joined by their parents, who were bringing mouthfuls of insects for them to gobble greedily. As we continued walking, we met several younger families of these Warblers, so I was happy that they were clearly enjoying a successful season.
The other bird that we had been hearing and seeing was a very pleasant surprise as it is a species that has been suffering major population declines in recent years. We probably recorded 5 or 6 Turtle Doves (Streptopelia Turtur) on our walk, in a zone where I had never seen them previously. In the UK, numbers are down by an incredible 93% since 1994 and in the rest of Europe by a depressing 78% in the years from 1980 to 2013. This is mainly caused by habitat-loss due to agricultural industrialization and hunting. There is currently a moratorium that bans hunting of them in Spain for 2 years: 2021 and 22. The official government figures for 2020 show that hunters in Spain killed 900,000 Turtle Doves in a year. The birds aren’t even eaten! Personally, I can’t believe the figures are accurate and my best guess is that 900,000 is an under-estimate. However, I would like to believe that the 5 or 6 that I saw in Fuente Caputa is a small sign that the population of this beautiful Dove is finally on the increase; until 2023 when the hunters massacre them again, perhaps!
On our way home the plains were looking so beautiful as the sun shone across the golden fields of wheat, that I pulled over and we enjoyed a peaceful 10 minutes or so watching a combine harvester working across the fields. On closer inspection there were 2 Cattle Egrets (Bulbulus Ibis) and a small group of Lesser Kestrels (Falconaumanni) following the machine looking for insects disturbed by its action. It was our mindfulness moment and something that we all deserve at least once a day. I hope you enjoy at least one each day.
Many thanks to my good friend Juan García Lopéz for the use of his Dartford Warbler photograph and John Thompson for the use of his excellent shot of two Crag Martins in flight.
If you have any comments or queries, please feel free to get in touch with me.