Archive for June, 2007

Success for Imperial Eagle in Doñana

Thursday, June 14th, 2007

Nine Spanish imperial eagle chicks have hatched this year in Doñana, following the nine of 2006. Only three chicks were born in 2005 due to the severe drought of that year, In the 1990s, an average of just three chicks were born a year. In addition to the 18 born in the last two years, five female chicks have been introduced by hacking. As with the lynx, work is being done on increasing Doñana’s rabbit population, the principal food source for the imperial eagle, with the aim of increasing the number of pairs (8 at present).

Tossa Great White Shark

Wednesday, June 13th, 2007

A Great White Shark was washed up injured and later died at Tossa de Mar in 1992. It seems there was an attempt by the local authorities to cover up the incident through fear of upsetting the tourist trade. Juan Rodri from Tossa de Mar, whom I met on wolf-watching trip kindly sent me this photo and press clipping of the incident. Read Sharks in Spain

Relief for Tablas de Damiel

Saturday, June 9th, 2007

Rains have brought respite for the Tablas de Daimiel and now the flooded area covers 68ha up from just 20ha at its lowest point several weeks ago. National Government has also agreed to “transfer” water from El Tajo. At its peak the marshes cover 1,600ha.. (El Pais ). Level of flooded area here of Tablas de Damiel

Retuerta horses are oldest breed in Europe

Saturday, June 9th, 2007

The oldest horse breed in Europe is shown to be the Retuerta, only distantly related to other breeds. Only 60 retuerta horses survive in Doñana marshes. A 4-year genetic study has shown they form the base of the genetic tree for European horses. They are also the only autochthonous breed of horse which lives in the wild in Europe isolated from other countries. el mundo

Good news for carrion birds

Thursday, June 7th, 2007

Very good news for carrion birds. A new Spanish national decree is to regulate the feeding stations for carrion birds, and now allow whole bodies of cows (younger than 24 months) and sheep and goats (younger than 18 months), even though these may contain materials at risk, providing a rapid test has been carried out on them. Older animals may now also be dumped after a BSE test on 4% of the dead animals. Since the outbreak of the Mad Cow’s disease, EU law has forced these animals to be removed from the countryside, leading to the closure of many feeding stations. Only horses and donkey could be dumped. This has led to widespread hunger among many carrion birds. More here (El Mundo) They need to pass a similar law to help bears and wolves.

Darwin’s frustrated visit to Tenerife

Tuesday, June 5th, 2007

This month’s Quercus has an interesting article on Charles Darwin’s abortive visit Tenerife. Darwin had been inspired to visit El Teide after reading Alexander von Humboldt’s acoount of his ascent of El Teide. This helped fire Charles Darwin with a desire to travel leading him eventually to accept the invitation in 1831 to sail as expedition naturalist aboard the Beagle. The first stage of the Beagle’s voyage was to be stopover for several days at the Canary Islands. Unfortunately, just as they dropped anchor, a boat from the island’s authorities rowed out and informed Captain FitzRoy that they were prevented from going ashore due to a cholera outbreak in England. They were told they would have to wait 12 days in quarantine To Darwin’s dismay Captain FitzRoy gave orders to set sail for the Cape Verde Islands. ” Oh misery, misery we were just preparing to drop our anchor within a mile of Santa Cruz when a boat came alongside bringing with it our death-warrant…..And we have left perhaps one of the most interesting places in the world, just at the moment when we were near enough for every object to create, without satisfying, our utmost curiosityDarwin’s full description here


View of the Peak of Teide”. Histoire naturelle des a les Canaries. Les Miscellanes Canariennes. Planches. Webb, P. Barker et Berthelot, Sabin. 1839

Basque whaling tradition

Tuesday, June 5th, 2007

This is a bit from The Basque History of the World by Mark Kurlansky, an interesting if somewhat nationalistic portrait of that remarkable corner of the Iberian Peninsula. There’s a big section on whaling, from which I leave you all:


Seal of the Basque town of Biarritz, 1351, with whaling scene and two-flued harpoon. (

An important feature of the Basque whale was that, like the sperm whale, but unlike many whale species, it floated when dead. The whale’s back shone obsidian black in the water, though the belly was a brilliant white. Averaging about fifty to sixty feet in length, a quarter of which was the huge head, a single animal could weigh more than sixty tons. Such a whale would yield thirty tons of blubber, which could be cooked down to an oil valued for centuries as fuel. Most coastal Basque communities established facilities along their beaches for cooking down whale blubber. As with most things Basque, it is not certain when this oil trade began, but in 670, at the end of the age of the Visigoths, there was a documented sale in northern France by Basques from Labourd of forty pots of whale oil……
……The first commercial whale hunters were the seventh- and eighth-century Basques, who found an eager market for this meat in Europe. Whale meat became a staple of the European diet partly because the Catholic Church forbade the eating of “redblooded” meat on holy days-about half the days on the calendar including every Friday-arguing that it was “hot,” associated with sex, which was also forbidden on holy days. But meat that came from animals-or parts of animals-that were submerged in water, including whale, fish, and the tail of the beaver, was deemed “cold” and therefore permitted. So with the exception of beaver tails and the occasional seal or porpoise, whale was the one allowable red meat. The Basques became the great providers of this holy red meat. They sold the leaner meat fresh or preserved in salt. Fattier parts were cured like bacon. In Paris, where these cuts were a Lenten specialty, they were known as craspois. Tongues, fresh or salted, were regarded as a particular delicacy and served with peas. Being the choicest part, the only good part, according to some medieval writers, whale tongues were often demanded by local church or government officials as tribute. The port of Bayonne jealously guarded its monopoly on the tongue trade.

Replica of a txalupa, the original Basque whaling boat (

In the seventh century, the Basques, no longer content to await for ailing whales to beach themselves, built stone whalespotting towers along the coast from Bilbao to Bayonne, manning them between October and March. One still remains on a mountaintop near San Sebastian and another in Guethary in Labourd. The whale’s undoing was the fact that it is a lunged mammal and must rise to the surface to breathe. When it does, a tall column of vapor is released. Spotting the spout of an approaching whale off the coastline, the lookout in the tower would let out a prolonged yell. His shouts were actually coded signals that told whalers the exact type of whale sighted, and whether it was a single whale or in a group. Five oarsmen, a captain, and a harpooner would then row out in a lightweight vessel.
The oarsmen would row as silently as possible, muffling the oars in their locks and even the oar blades in the water with oiled cloth. Then, having sneaked up on the unsuspecting giant foundering along the coast, they would strike suddenly with wooden-handled spears and harpoons. The oarsmen had to row, close enough to the whale for the harpooner to plant the har•
goon deeply into the body just below the head. Harpooning became the trade of the largest, strongest men. After harpooning the whale, the oarsmen had to row furiously in reverse, turning a fast circle, for an enraged whale could kill a dozen men with a flick of its huge tail. Or, instead of turning on its attackers, the whale might try to dive to the safety of great depths, dragging men and boats with it. The whale would dive with harpoon, line, and buoys until, out of breath, it had to furiously resurface, only to be harpooned again. The process was repeated numerous times until the whale spouted blood and died or the whalers capsized and drowned. Sometimes the boat and fishermen would just sink under the weight of the wet ropes.
By the late thirteenth century, whales marked the town seals of Bermeo and Fuenterrabia. Among the other towns that included whales in their town seals were Biarritz, Hendaye, Guetaria, Motrico, and Lequeitio. Not only did these towns keep the whale on their seals, but, from the use of whaling launches, they developed an early and enduring passion for rowing regattas.

More books about the Basque Country I have read

The Basque Country: A Cultural History by Paddy Woodworth: Full of fascinating facts. An excellent balanced account.

Kestrels in Barcelona

Tuesday, June 5th, 2007

An enjoyable morning out under the under the cliffs of Montjuic this morning, “helping” to ring common kestrels. In the end only one adult female fell into our talons (common practice states I am not allowed to explain legal method in a public sphere just in case anyone gets any bright ideas). It seems the population has plummeted from European-wide record colony of 20 pairs just a few years ago to possibly just 5(?) or less this year, See here for expalanation I must say I felt rather privileged to holding such a beautiful beast as the ring-road traffic trundled past. Anyway, here’s some nice picis – unusually for me.

Here’s the video which was being filmed for during the ringing process. It covers peregrines and kestrels. You’ll recognise the kestrel in the second half. The balding guiri in the blue T-shirt is me.

Written report here: