Archive for February, 2007

Conflicts with wolves in Spain

Thursday, February 22nd, 2007

12/12/2006 Conflicts with wolves in Spain (press note). 23 minutes. The Sierra de la Culebra is a model to follow. Click on play. Another Spain Wolf documentary here

Trip to Sierra de la Culebra

Thursday, February 22nd, 2007

12/12/2006. Another great trip to the Sierra de la Culebra, that immense, empty landscape on the north-east frontier with Portugal, organised by Galanthus. Iberian newt tadpoles. salamanders, some 30 red deer, 2 foxes, and 5 black vultures flying over the place we were staying. On the way back we stopped off at Vilafafila for ten minutes and I saw my first long tailed duck (Clangula hyemalis), a rarity at that site, and a throng of fifteen great bustards, the heaviest flying bird in the world. Oh and we also watched a big male wolf moving slowly through the scrub, as ravens picked at an animal it had presumably killed, and a fox struggled to drag off a piece of the carcass. More on this and some great photos also not by me soon.

 Photo by Jordi Dalmau Caner

Bears in Galicia and honey

Wednesday, February 21st, 2007

02/12/2006 Galician bears and honey

Following on from news of possible return of bear to Galicia, here’s a photo of an alveriza (known as cortines in Asturias). These old constructions were built to protect beehives from bears. Note, the hives were positioned together to capture the maximum amount of sunlight. Photo from here. More on bears and bees. Christmas present idea. Fapas in Asturias will install your very own sponsered unprotected beehive so bears can gorge on it. 413 sponsered so far. 57 euros here.

Don Quixote in the Sierra Morena

Wednesday, February 21st, 2007

Don Quixote mounted without replying, and, Sancho leading the way on his ass, they entered the side of the Sierra Morena, which was close by, as it was Sancho’s design to cross it entirely and come out again at El Viso or Almodovar del Campo, and hide for some days among its crags so as to escape the search of the Brotherhood should they come to look for them. He was encouraged in this by perceiving that the stock of provisions carried by the ass had come safe out of the fray with the galley slaves, a circumstance that he regarded as a miracle, seeing how they pillaged and ransacked.

That night they reached the very heart of the Sierra Morena, where it seemed prudent to Sancho to pass the night and even some days, at least as many as the stores he carried might last, and so they encamped between two rocks and among some cork trees.(Trans John Ormsby, 1829-1895) Don Quijote library. See also Epistemology in Don Quixote + Dehesas de Sierra Morena

New species in Spain

Wednesday, February 21st, 2007

26/11/2006 150 new species are discovered every year in Spain

An interview with Mario García París of the Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales in today’s (El Pais) . I paraphrase.
“There are some 60,000 species of animals in Spain, of which some 40,000 are insects. And we are incapable of knowing how many are catalogued. A species is a group of animals which are genetically compatible. There are worms which look the same but are different species and frogs which are as similar as an egg to chestnut tree, but which can breed.
It is impossible to know how many species are still to be recorded. One knows when most of the biological wealth of a country has been recorded when the rate of discovery slows down. This does not seem to be likely in the short term in Spain. We’ve been discovering some 150 new species a year since the late 1970s. And this rate has continued unabated. Since 1978, 3,627 new species have been discovered in the Peninsula, with a further 1,417 in the Canaries at an almost constant rate of 150 a year. “In the distribution maps of species there are dark areas around Madrid, Barcelona and Las Hurdes, in Extremadura. The county of Las Hurdes appears because several people from the museum spend their holidays there”.
There are even big gaps in knowledge with groups such as amphibians despite the legions of amateur naturalists out and about recording them. “A year ago we discovered a new midwife toad which only lives in the fountains of villages. We called it Alytes obstetricans pertynas. “Pertinacious” because while most amphibians are becoming extinct, this one is resisting in human settlements”.
Spain because of its geographical position and the variety of its climate is particularly rich in biodiversity, but much of this being lost. “In the county you can’t hear anything anymore. Ten years ago you heard and saw lots of insects. Now they are spraying everything and all is quiet. When I look at my field notes from 15 years ago describing swarms of bugs I think I must have been exaggerating, but the truth is I was only describing what I saw. When we visit Morocco today we see animals everywhere, just as it was here years ago. If a Goya is burnt. It’s a national tragedy, because it cannot be replaced. The same is true for a species but nobody seems to care”. See also Montseny Brook Newt

Largest Bechstein’s Bat colony discovered

Wednesday, February 21st, 2007

The largest colony of the endangered Bechstein’s Bat (Myotis bechsteini – murciélago ratonero forestal) in the Iberian Peninsula has been discovered in the Alta Garrotxa in Catalonia by Xavier Puig of the wildlife research group Galanthus, as part of a bat census together with the Museum of Granollers. The colony is formed by 24 individuals and is the first non-fossil citing for Catalonia. These bats, probably the rarest species in Europe, live in mature forests with old trees with plenty of nooks and crannies for shelter. They will also nest in cracks in rocks and even old buildings. They have a penchant for taking non-flying invertebrates (spiders, centipedes, caterpillars, etc) on the ground, or vegetation, swooping upon them with their slow, low-flying ponderous but agile flight, though they’ll also snap up insects from the air. Fossil evidence suggests that 5000 years ago Bechstein’s bat was one of the commonest species in Europe, thriving in the continent’s old mature woods, but the historic destruction of forests has led them to their current plight. Photo of Bechstein’s bat by Xavier Puig. See also Bats in Spain

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Bear population in the Cordillera Cantábrica.

Wednesday, February 21st, 2007

26/11/2006 More bears in the Cordillera Cantábrica.

This year’s bear cub census by the Fundación Oso Pardo “seems to indicate that the bear is moving back towards viability in the Cordillera Cantábrica”. Between 24 and 26 bears were born in the western sector and five in the eastern sector, totalling 31, one more than than 30 born last year. Four more bear cubs are to be confirmed, giving a total of 35. At least three cubs were killed by their mothers. There has also been a huge decline in illegal wild boar snares found in the area (189 in 2004, 32 so far this year). Not all good news though, some bears are still being injured by snares and a bear was also found poisoned this year in Somiedo, The quality of the above graphic of cubs raised (1989-2006) is not very clear but you’ll get the idea of the rise. The estimated population is now some 160 individuals. (LNE) More on bears

Diary of a bear tracker

Wednesday, February 21st, 2007

12/11/2006. Diary of a bear tracker Brief desciption of tracking bears in Proeza, Asturias by Fapas. The area is the only possibility of linking the two bear populations in the Cordillera Cantabrica, currently separated by 40 km. 11 bears have been tracked in Proeza in the last three years, including a female which is rasing two cubs here. By Fapas here

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Lammergeyers in the Sierra de Guara

Wednesday, February 21st, 2007

I’ve been invited by Josele J. Saiz to stay a couple of day at his Boletas Birdwatching Centre in the Sierra de Guara in Huesca. More on him soon. While there I hope to talk to Oscar Dí­az of the Fundación Quebrantahuesos (English) as part of research for the book. FCQ, one of the most active wildlife groups in the Pyrenees, works in the conservation of lammergeyers, but also in the conservation of the Pyrenees in general. I’ve been doing a bit of background reading on the lammergeyer or bearded vulture. What an utterly remarkable bird this is.

Photo by F. Marquez.

This is the world’s only bone-eater. They feed on marrow which they get by dropping bones repeatedly onto rocks, as their Spanish name, quebrantahuesos, aptly suggests. They’ll come back again and again to their favourite rocky areas known in English as ossuaries.
The evocative English Lammergeier or Lammergeyer (both correct) comes from the German, lammergeier, meaning “lamb-vulture“. This was apparently coined by 19th century naturalists due to the mistaken and incredibly widespread belief across Central Europe that they would take young lambs.
They are also known in English as bearded vultures. This is in reference to the ochre ruff of quills they sport around their necks. They are not born with this colour, but acquire the colour by actively seeking out iron-rich muds and rubbing their feathers in them. One theory goes that in a stand-off, the redder the feather, the tougher the lammergeyer, though I need to check this.
The female lammergeyer lays one egg, and then a few days later, lays another. The second chick plays the role of a substitute if the first egg fails to hatch. In most cases, the second chick dies, despite the efforts of its parents to feed it: the older sibling is stronger and takes its food. And then, when the right moment arrives it will kill its brother or sister. This is known by biologists as Cainism, the advantage being that if the first chick fails to hatch or dies young the second chick is at hand. Some of these second chicks are now being rescued are used as part of a captive breeding programme in Andalucia.
• The most serious problem for the bird is poisoning. Some 40% of unnatural deaths of lammergeyers in Spain are from poisoned meat put out principally, these days, to kill foxes, though in the past the bird also suffered from more direct persecution
• Unusally, reproductive units can be comprised of two or three adults. Groups of three appear to be more common that thought. In the latter case there usually are two males and one female, although exceptionally reproductive units made up of four specimens have been observed. The members of the group mount each other as part of a bizarre mating simulation, male on male and female on male.
Currently the Spanish Pyrenean population is comprised of around 125 occupied territories (2004) with an estimated pre-adult population of 156-162 specimens distributed in an area of 21,000 km2. Perhaps the best site to them is the Sierra de Guara with 12 bearded vulture territories, the densest population in Europe. ,
There really is so much more. Just about the only live prey they take are tortoises, which they also dash on the rocks, though as they have been pushed out of low-lying areas this may no longer occur, and certainly not in Spain. Legends abound across Eurasia and Africa. There are for instance strong associations with the pheonix and the bearded vulture. More on this soon. More on lammergeyers in Spain and here on lammergeyer around the world

Anti-nazi bear: Bears in Madrid

Wednesday, February 21st, 2007

23/10 I’m taking a course over the next two weeks on Iberian Birds of Prey at the Facultad de Biologia in Barcelona. Interesting stuff, but I also came across this poster in the faculty foyer as part of a small exhibition of Spanish Civil War posters. More on the Madrid bear and its origin.