This report was from Ian Williams who stayed here in July 2011.
The hills of Sierra de Aracena y Picos de Aroche have been my temporary home for a couple of days now, and the patchwork of mixed oak woodland and sunny, open meadows have brought some great birdwatching. Today we’ll take a look at some of the birds of prey of the region…and where better to start than with one of southern Spain’s most spectacular species, the Griffon Vulture.
The Griffon Vulture Gyps fulvus is a truly immense bird. With a wingspan over over two and a half metres they’re noticeably larger than most eagle species, and watching them soaring over the hilltops around the refuge has been a highlight of the trip so far.
Elsewhere in Europe numbers have declined but they remain reasonably common in Spain and Portugal. They have responded well to a reversal in the regulations controlling the disposal of livestock carcasses, which has once more allowed farmers to leave this critical source of food out for vultures to scavenge.
Common Buzzards Buteo buteo and Short-toed Eagles Circaetus gallicus have also shown well, patrolling the valley even through the hottest hours of the day…close enough to get the IDs, but frustrating my attempts at photography! Thankfully a pale-form Booted Eagle Aquila pennata proved rather more forthcoming, and there are some interesting points to look out for in the images shown here.
With its bright white plumage and the contrasting black band along the back of the wing, this colour variant is often one of the easier raptors to identify. However, note also the thin, translucent trailing edge to both the wings and the tail, and the pale patch on the inner primaries, giving the wing a characteristically notched appearance – helpful details when dealing with the trickier darker form of this species.
Last but by no means least today, our first ever images of a bird of prey that has made a notable recovery back in the UK in recent years. The Red Kite Milvus milvus is still a fairly common but declining species in Extremedura…the 300 or so breeding pairs are heavily outnumbered by the closely related Black Kite, Milvus migrans.
Sadly the bird is now absent as a breeding species from most of Andalucia: of the 25 or so pairs recorded in recent years almost all are found in Donana. Regional numbers increase hugely in winter as many arrive from northern Europe, with maybe 10,000 wintering in Extremedura alone, but again this seasonal influx has also decreased. Fanastic to have this raptor on the list for the summer then, and the views I had were typical – this particular individual was scavenging at a service station!
The oppurtunity to go birdwatching in a new, unspoilt area has been a wonderful experience, and we hope very much to be offering excursions here soon. We’ll keep reporting on all our birdwatching news as the summer rolls on so please keep checking our posts…and for information on how to join us for birdwatching trips and holidays down here in southern Spain, simply click on the link for more details!