Excellent blog in Spanish to the Monegros here by Nacho. Clearly he knows his stuff about one of the most biodiverse corners of the Iberian Peninsula.
Charming three-minute video from a tower block in Vall Hebrón in Barcelona of kestrels being raised in a window box for flowers . The pair of kestrels have been raising chicks for the last seven years in the same place. The kestrels have chosen a good home and the flat owner has even dedicated a poem to them. My friend Sergi Garcia explains why tower blocks are such a good environment for kestrels.
Rather sad news, Two earthquakes with magnitudes of 5.1 and 4.5 have hit the centre of the Murcian town of Lorca, killing at least ten people, after several buildings collapsed. Although minor tremors are relatively common in south-east Spain, this the first time since 1956 that so many people have been killed. Almost 200 soldiers have been dispatched to the area.
More than 200 puffins have been found dead along the coasts of Asturias and Cantabria in the last six weeks. SEO/Birdlife, who are unsure as to the cause, suspect the real figure could be in the thousands. More here
The expansion of eucalyptus farming in the Iberian Peninsula began some 40 years ago, sold as a profitable panacea, a fast- growing tree species producing abundant pulp in comparison with slow-growing oaks. Today there are more than 760,000 hectares of the tree planted in Spain and 646,000 in Portugal. Don’t be fooled by the fires that rage each year in the their plantations. They are not forests, but rather green deserts with a huge environmental and landscape cost. Every years hundreds of thousands of new trees are planted: some 30 million will be planted in Galicia alone. Crónica Verde More stats from El País
I wrote this on iberianature a couple of years back in relation to a bout of eucalyptus fires:
Yes, this is bad news for the owners and the people who live in the area. One might call it an industrial disaster, but hardly bad news ecologically. If there was anything more than token policy for reintroducing autochthonous species, one might even say it was a good thing, but as it is, reforestation in this damp corner of Spain will be swift. Eucalyptus is highly combustible but also regenerates incredibly quickly afterwards. There are hundreds of fires along Galicia ‘s coast of year, yet all along the Rias Bajas and Altas there is an almost continuous mono-crop swathe of these Australian trees. This birdless green desert is the true disaster of Galicia ‘s coast.
The wolf appears to have firmly returned to Catalonia after an absence of more than 70 years. In the last few years a dozen or so animals have been gradually arriving from France (see below) and settled in the Pyrenees, and have even reached as far south as the Vallés Oriental. The news was released in the latest issue of the Spanish wildlife journal Quercus which reports the presence of up to 13 different individuals, some identified only once and others that appear and disappear depending on the year. However, so far all animals have been males, except for a female detected in 2008. This is a common pattern, as young males tend to be the first to disperse, which explains in part why so far there is no evidence of breeding in Catalonia.The wolves have been detected in across an area of some 1,400 square kilometers in the Cadi mountains and other surrounding mountain ranges in Alt Urgell, Cerdanya, Alt Solsonès, and Berguedà. Unsurprisingly, the animal’s return has revived the traditional conflict with farmers and in the early years there was an average annual loss of about 80 head of livestock, although in some years more than 200 were lost. These attacks on livestock, for which farmers are compensated, have declined dramatically following various protective measures: just 3 sheep were lost in 2009 and 10 in 2010. ABC + Photo from here
How long before they reach Barcelona’s Collserola I wonder.
I wrote this last year
Tests have shown that this new influx of wolves in Catalonia is genetically Italian in origin, forming part of an expansion over a number generations out from the Apennines. The Apennine population began to expand in several directions from the early 1990’s. It moved north into the Italian and Swiss Alps; north-east into the French Alps and Lyon, and east towards the Pyrenees, reaching the Maritime Alps near Nice by 1996, Saboya by 1998. An individual was detected between Areja and French Cerdenya by August 1998 in the Madres Massif, just to the north of Canigó, and finally by 2004 into the Cadí range. The last Catalan wolf was shot in Horta de Sant Joan, in Tarragona in 1929, though the animal is thought to have disappeared from the Sierra de Cadí more than 100 years ago
Vultures in Catalonia are being increasingly spotted on the roads in search of roadkill, because of the paucity of their traditional sources of dead livestock: The EU prohibuts abandoning animal cacrasses because of mad cow’s disease. The above photo from La Vanguardia is along the N-230 between Lleida and Val d’Aran.
Nice, short video of a lammergeyer (bearded vulture – Gypaetus barbatus) swallowing a bone. The images were recorded in Tremp, in the Pyrenees at “La Terret” observatory. Sent to me by recercaenaccio.cat.
I’ve been woefully neglecting this section of iberianature recently. Here are a couple of recent wildlife stories in the English press.
The Missing Lynx (The Guardian) Good article. “Ten years ago, there were barely 100 Iberian lynx left. But an innovative Spanish conservation programme is rescuing them from the edge of extinction”
And this story about ancient giant bunnies from Menorca reported in The Scientist
The skeletal remains of a 26-pound rabbit was found on an island off the coast of Spain. Dubbed the Minorcan King of the Rabbits, this ancient rabbit lived approximately three to five million years ago and now adds evidence to a curious rule concerning the evolution of animals in islands. The so-called “island rule” states that big animals will get smaller and small animals (such as rabbits) will get bigger when the population is isolated on an island, perhaps due to the lack of mainland predators. In this case, the King is a whopping six-times larger than living European rabbits, but due to a rigid spine and short legs, it was also unable to hop.
More in English and how to visit a nearby replica here. Pictures from here.
Fascinating article in BMC Evolutionary Biology on the role of humans in helping the expansion of the Egyptian Vulture (Alimoche in Spanish, guirre in the Canaries) and its remarkably fast evolution into a sub-species (Neophron percnopterus majorensis).
Archaeological remains show that first colonizers were Berber people from northern Africa who imported goats. This new and abundant food source could have allowed vultures to colonize, expand and adapt to the island environment. Our results suggest that anthropogenic environmental change can induce diversification and that this process may take place on an ecological time scale (less than 200 generations), even in the case of a long-lived species. Full article here
Found on Crónica Verde: Los buitres llegaron a Canarias siguiendo a los hombres y sus cabras
Wikipedia on the Canarian vulture (above photo not the Canarian sub-species)
- N. p. majorensis, the Canarian Egyptian Vulture, the largest subspecies with by far the smallest and most restricted population, is found only in the eastern Canary Islands where they are known by the name of guirre. Described as a new subspecies only in 2002, studies suggest that it is more genetically distant from N. p. percnopterus than N. p. ginginianus is. Unlike neighbouring populations in Africa and southern Europe, they are not migratory and are consistently larger in size. The name majorensis is derived from “Majorata”, the ancient name for the island of Fuerteventura. The island was named by Spanish conquerors in the 15th century after the “Majos”, the main native Guanche tribe there. A study suggests that the species colonized the island around 2500 years ago and the establishment of the population may have been aided by human colonization.
- The population in the Canary Islands have been isolated from populations in Europe and Africa for a significant period of time and have declined greatly and are of particular concern due to their genetic distinctiveness. The Canarian Egyptian Vulture was historically common, occurring on the islands of La Gomera, Tenerife, Gran Canaria, Fuerteventura and Lanzarote. It is now restricted to Fuerteventura and Lanzarote, the two easternmost islands. The total population in 2000 was estimated at about 130 individuals, including 25–30 breeding pairs. The island birds appear to be more susceptible to infections. Island birds appear to accumulate significant amounts of lead from scavenging on hunted animal carcasses and the long-term effect of this poison at a sublethal level is not known although it alters the mineralization of their bones. In order to provide safe and uncontaminated food for nesting birds, attempts have been made to create “vulture restaurants” where carcasses are made available. These interventions however may also encourage opportunist predators and scavengers to concentrate at the site and pose a threat to nesting birds in the vicinity
My friend Lisa has posted this excellent wildlife watching report to Extremadura. I love reports like this that don’t just focus on the birds. Lots of interesting stuff on insects, amphibians and as you can see, she chanced upon these otters at a “a small, reed-fringed reservoir” somewhere near Torrejon el Rubio. “Gambolling along the spit they chased away a competing Little egret before returning to the water and swimming towards the main body of the reservoir, followed by a very excited otter-watcher.” Read more here
It appears that Camille, the last autochthonous Pyrenean bear, may have died, after 9 months without any sign of him. His death at the age of 20 comes as no surprise but is a sad symbol of the disappearance of bears in the range. Now the hope lies in the 20 or so bears which have introduced (or born of introduced animals) in the Pyrenees by the French government from Slovenia. In the photo Camille sits next to the tasty feast of a dead wild boar, somewhere in the Navarran Pyrenees. 20 minutos
This article from Wildlife Extra is also interesting. New research suggests Cantabrian female brown bears do not hibernate while cubs are still young proves anecdotal evidence first recorded many centuries ago.
One of the weirdest trees growing naturally in Spain is the Dracaena draco, the Canary Islands Dragon Tree (Drago in Spanish). Reports of one thousand-year old specimens are somewhat exagerrated. The tree, shown above at Icod de los Vino, is thought to be the oldest in the islands at a sprightly 650 years.
The tree ‘s name has mythical origins: for his 11th labour, Hercules had to bring back three golden apples from the garden of the Hespérides, which is guarded by Landon, the hundred-headed dragon. Hercules killed Landon and his blood flowed out over the land, which began to sprout ‘dragon’ trees. Arkive. The origin of this tale lies in the tree’s resin: When the bark or leaves are cut they secrete a reddish resin, one of the sources of the substance known as Dragon’s blood.