The Knowledge …

And that wraps up my Spanish sojourn.

I only scratched the surface. In Extremadura the pseudo steppe country around Trujillo turned up such delights as Great and Little Bustards, Stone Curlew and the Great Spotted Cuckoo. Monfrague was gorgeous and Vulture heaven. Villuercas delivered some very nice birds of prey. The countryside in Extremadura was awash with wild flowers and in the towns history dripped from every stone.

It was the perfect time to visit Doñana in Andalucia, the water birds were abundant and El Rocio was becoming lively in the run up to the fiesta.

You can’t beat local knowledge and that came in the form of Peter Warham. He is a longtime resident in Spain. He organised our accommodation, drove us around and helped at every step of the way with translation. He is a very amiable guy, he knows his birds and knows how to find them. We thought his rates very reasonable. He puts in from dawn to dusk. He can be contacted at pwarham@hotmail.co.uk.

I’m writing this in a hotel room in Oslo. Tomorrow I head for Svalbard where the sun will not set until 11.58pm on Saturday August 25th although I won’t be there quite that long.

Eucalyptus …

Our trees have conquered the world. On my travels I occasionally crush a few leaves to transport me to home and I’m always amused to see alien creatures nestled in Aussie foliage. White Storks for example …

But if this next tree really belongs in Oz then the bird clearly belongs in Sub-Saharan Africa …

and the photograph was taken by the side of an irrigation channel in Andalucia!

A colony of Black-headed Weavers has established itself here. The earliest records are from Portugal and presumed to be aviary escapees, they seem to have spread from there.

 

The Price …

I spent some time watching a pair of Great Spotted Cuckoos. The male was very adept at catching caterpillars, every sortie seemed to be successful. The female would then start begging in a way very reminiscent of a young bird. The first few times he simply ignored her and ate his caterpillar.

Courtship feeding is fairly common in birds. Given the significant investment a female makes in the reproductive process it’s a good idea to check that the male is capable of delivering the goods to the nest. Most cuckoos don’t bother to feed their own young. These particular cuckoos lay their eggs in the nest of Eurasian Magpies and leave the feeding to foster parents.

So I was very interested to see what would transpire and in due course he made her an offer …

… and she accepted.

El Rocio …

Modern roads lead to the edge of El Rocio and then stop. In the town the roads are sandy, much better for the horses.

photo GHD

Although the town is small it’s currently preparing itself for an influx of about a million pilgrims. They will walk or ride or arrive in old fashioned caravans  drawn by tractors. A few will come in carts drawn by bullocks. The women will be dressed in their flamenco finery. The roads will be blocked with traffic, some already are. No cars will be parked in the town.

They will be coming to pay their respects to the Virgen Del Rocio or Virgin of the Dew but they may well have a party while they’re there. The tradition dates back to the 13th Century.

Mass will overflow from the lovely old church. A grandstand has been erected in the square to hold some of the overflow.

Guadalupe …

After a day’s birding in the Villuercas park we slipped over a pass that led to a point looking down on historic Guadalupe …

It is the home of one of the Black Madonnas. It was here that the Spanish monarchs Isabel and Ferdinand signed the documents that authorized the first voyage of Christopher Columbus to the New World in 1492