Last month I mentioned that 3 friends had written to the Town Hall of Pilar de la Horadada to ask if the Lo Monte Nature Reserve could receive some more appropriate maintenance. I was expecting them to reply with the age-old excuse about insufficient resources and priority being given to front line services. However, they haven’t had the courtesy to reply after nearly two months!
I also recently visited another wetland reserve that is suffering from similar neglect; the internationally acclaimed wetland site of Campotejer, this time maintained by the Town Hall of Molina de Segura. Now, I can understand that front line services such as health, education, transport, security and maintaining the environment need to jostle for funds, but I have yet to find a Murcian Town Hall that gives these services priority over funding local fiestas. After all, most of that money ends up being wasted! OK, my rants over!
On my return to Murcia I immediately did a lovely varied walk in our rambla amongst almond groves, mountainside and pine woodland. Unfortunately there are quite a few ‘uppy’ bits as well. It wasn’t a birding trip so I didn’t have any binoculars with me, but on the route I was pleased to see several birds that always cheer me up on returning to my beloved region.
The first of three birds was ticking away from a nearby perch and was soon located. It was a stunning male Black Redstart and the first of this winter. These birds are common winter visitors in the region, although I suspect there might be a few pairs breeding in the mountains of Northwest Murcia. Since their arrival they have become extremely common. Seeing the first one of the winter was a pleasure, but also a reminder that the seasons are changing.
Whilst walking in the rambla, the second bird I saw was a speciality of the area. The habitat here was ideal with rocky walls on each side and low vegetation sparsely covering the flattish ground. It was a Black Wheatear; it is known as a speciality because it is only found in the Iberian Peninsula and North Africa. A lot of Northern European birders would have this bird on their wish list if visiting Murcia. It is about the size of a Robin and has a similar shape, but is all black with a very noticeable white rump and is quite unmistakeable in flight.
The third and final bird was a Grey Wagtail. It was in the rambla because the habitat suits it; they are birds that associate with running water. The recent rains had transformed the rambla along its length from a dry sandy and stony riverbed into a shallow river. It made our walking route difficult, but it was ideal for this Grey Wagtail. They are beautiful slim birds with a long tail and as their name suggests, they wag continually. They are a nice shade of grey and black on their backs with white chests and yellow under parts. They are uncommon residents, but in winter their populations are enhanced with birds overwintering from further north and are therefore seen more often. Don’t confuse them with their close cousin, the Yellow Wagtails, which are all yellow with grey/blue heads, even though they are similar looking at first sight. However, the Yellow Wagtail is only a summer visitor, so if you think you’ve seen one in winter, it is more likely that you’ve made an understandable error.
My next walk in the countryside was to the gorge of the River Luchena at Valdeinfierno (the valley of hell). You’ve probably heard me talk of this area previously, as it’s the most god-forsaken place I have ever visited in our region. It is totally uninhabited, has a dried-up reservoir and is normally so quiet you could hear a pin drop. It is a strange and eerie place with one of the driest reservoirs in Spain. It only holds water after heavy rain. It was built in the 17th Century with the singular task of saving lives downstream by avoiding flash floods. However, the gorge at the bottom of the dam is one of the most spectacular landscapes of the region. To reach the bottom of the gorge requires one to climb down over one hundred metres of steps to the floor of the canyon. The walk takes you down the gorge along the riverbed with giant rock walls to either side and I have to say that it lives up to its spectacular reputation. However, from a birding point of view it was quite disappointing because our group of twenty created too much disturbance and there wasn’t much to be seen or heard. There were fleeting glimpses of Griffon Vultures flying above the gorge, but not much more.
I was in the gorge for nearly five hours and saw a few Black Redstarts and a lovely Blue Rock Thrush perched half way up a cliff. It was in a very appropriate environment and showing itself in a classic pose. These birds look a bit like our common Blackbirds, but are scarce residents. Although widely spread in the region they are quite uncommon and favour these sorts of rocky mountainsides.
After a long and tiring walk it was time to drive to a good restaurant in the nearby village of La Paca. As we got closer to the houses there was a huge flock of large birds circling above us. On stopping the car and looking a bit closer we saw about eighty or ninety Griffon Vultures wheeling above our heads. I suspected that they had spotted a dead animal and would slowly descend and start a feeding frenzy. They are very nervous about landing, but as soon as the hungriest and bravest bird lands they will all quickly descend through fear of missing out on the feast. It was a very impressive sight that was witnessed by several carloads of curious people. I doubt that any were birders, but all were totally enthralled by one of nature’s amazing spectacles.
My next trip out was supposed to be to Puerto Alto in Los Revolcadores, the highest mountain in Murcia at just over 2,000 metres. However, the last time I went there was pre-pandemic, so my ageing memory being what it is, I took the wrong turning and ended up at the highest village in Murcia; Inazares! Plan B came into play, which was to drive through the village up a mountain track to a place on the mountainside where there is a sheep trough with a reliable water supply. These areas always attract birds, as water is absolutely essential for their survival. I settled down nearby with my camera at the ready. It wasn’t long before I was suitably entertained by a family of Crossbills perching on the nearby pine trees as they politely queued for a drink at the trough. These resident birds are quite common in our pine woodlands, but they are difficult to see as they wander widely around the woods and often keep to the tops of the trees.
At this time of the year these high mountainsides are known for a variety of uncommon winter visitors. I was seeing Bramblings and lots of Song Thrushes and hearing but not seeing, Ring Ouzels. However, what I really wanted to see was an uncommon winter visitor, if not a Murcian rarity, a Citril Finch. A group of them had been reported in the area and it would be a lifer for me (in Spanish, un bimbo). Spain holds 80% of the world’s population of this Finch. It is mainly sedentary and the bulk of the population lives in the Pyrenees. Apart from some LBJ’s (little brown jobs) that had been flitting around the trees, I was out of luck. However, when I got home and looked at my photos I was amazed to find two blurry photos of Citril Finches, un bimbo! It was a bit unsatisfactory, as I don’t remember seeing them close, but better than nothing.
A few days later my wife and I did a walk by the River Segura, a little bit downriver from the dam of the Pantano de Cenajo. It is a very pretty area with lots of birds flitting around the river and the harvested paddy fields (it is a rice growing area).
The birdlife was interesting, but what really surprised us both was another wonderful wildlife spectacle. We saw a very brave Kestrel start to annoy a rather large bird of prey. The much larger bird was an adult Bonelli’s Eagle, the rarest Eagle in our region with 18 pairs at the last count. To see one so close was a unique and amazing experience. The little Kestrel was incredibly brave or foolhardy, continually attacking the larger Eagle to drive it out of its territory. We were treated to this aerial dogfight for quite a while as the smaller more mobile Kestrel continually buzzed the slower less manoeuvrable Eagle. To put it into perspective: an adult female Kestrel (female birds of prey are normally larger than the males) is about 39cm high, with a wingspan of 82cms and weighs 180gms, whilst a Bonelli’s Eagle will stand 74 cm high, with a wingspan of 180cms and can weigh up to 2.5kgs, considerably bigger than a Kestrel. I suppose it’s nature’s equivalent to David and Goliath and nowadays; Ukraine and Russia!
If you have any queries and comments please do not hesitate to contact me on email@example.com