Growing up with a Birding Dad

 

Growing up with a Birding Dad 

by Alex West*

growing-up2

Bringing a child to this world and educating him doesn’t seem like an easy task. Having a birding enthusiast as a father isn’t either, especially when you are a kid, not very interested in birds, and who just wants to play football and mess around. Sometimes you won’t see your dad for weeks because he is leading a birding trip to Scotland, and sometimes he won’t move from his desk at home because he is contacting customers around the globe.

I remember when I was scared of grasshoppers, the idea of them jumping and getting stuck on my face terrified me. One day, on an excursion with my dad and my brother to the grasslands of Lleida, a giant grasshopper sneaked through the window of the car and landed on my side. I instantly started panicking and screaming, and jumped to the other side of the car next to my brother, fearful of what that devil’s creature would do to me. My father slammed on the breaks, unaware of what was happening, while my brother and I were hugging, squeezed into one corner of the car. He came out and grabbed the grasshopper with one hand, and showing it to me told me – See? It doesn’t do anything. I know you don’t like them but look at its wings when they fly. Moments after the grasshopper jumped and I saw a beautiful blue colour with black dots going away. How could such an ugly insect have those amazing colours on it? Since then I lost all my fear of grasshoppers and I started noticing all the different tonalities of their wings that I missed before just because I didn’t like them. That day my father taught me a lesson, everything has its beauty, it may be hidden or you may not see it, but that doesn’t mean it’s not there.

grasshopper

Grasshopper! Image by Fir0002/Flagstaffotos

I started listening more to my father, I became more interested in birds and I realized he knew facts that no one else did, I learned why Lammergeiers bathe in pigments and how they get their food, by dropping bones onto the rocks from hundreds of feet. I fell in love with the colourful Bee-eater and I was amazed by the sound the plumage of vultures makes when they pass metres away from you.

And then I realized how cool it was to have a birding father, he would take me to secret places with breathtaking views, he would teach me about ecosystems and the balance of nature, drive me out of the city and its monotony to breathe fresh air. Thanks to him I even stood face to face with a fox and shared laughter about the strange noises they make. He showed me to love nature, and that was his way of loving me.

Having a birding father is not easy but I could not wish for anything else.

Growing up with a birding dad

 

* This is Alex’s first post on the Birding In Spain blog and we think he’s done a great job. I’m sure he’d welcome any appreciative comment!

Professional Bee-eater video from photo hide

 

Birding In Spain invites you to watch this professional video short of Bee-eaters in Lleida, Catalonia, Spain.

Beautiful Bee-eater video taken from bird photo hide in Catalonia.

Beautiful Bee-eater video taken from bird photo hide in Catalonia.

Beautiful Bee-eaters

This beautiful video of Bee-eaters taken from one of our bird photography hides this spring was shot by professional film-maker Norbert Porta. Norbert had only one session in our Bee-eater photo hide but he put it to excellent use!

The Bee-eater video is only seconds long but it shows one Bee-eater feeding another at close range, and then another Bee-eater on its own at even closer range. The light on these birds is just perfect for filming or photography of their colourful plumage. You can also hear a muted version of the Bee-eater’s calls at the beginning. Don’t miss it!

Our thanks to Norbert for donating this video to Birding In Spain. And for his trust in us to arrange his bird hide photography needs while in Spain. Apart from our Bee-eater photo hide Norbert also successfully filmed other birds from different photography hides near Lleida, including Hoopoe, Little Owl, Bonelli’s Eagle, Lesser Kestrel and others.

Birding In Spain bird videos: Golden Eagle, Black Wheatear and Montagu’s Harrier

 

We at Birding In Spain have added 3 more short (10 second) bird videos to the growing collection. Taken from encounters with birds around the Lleida steppes, Catalonia, Spain, you can see Golden Eagle, Black Wheatear and Montagu’s Harrier.

The Golden Eagle is a juvenile bird filmed at the steppes to the south of Lleida. You can see the eagle swooping and landing, and being bothered by a Jackdaw and what looks to be like a Red Kite, or is it a Black Kite?

Golden Eagle, Aquila chrysaetos

                Golden Eagle, Aquila chrysaetos

The Black Wheatears depicted were filmed at two different steppe locations in the Lleida steppes, again just south of the city of Lleida. You can hear a very short splatter of Black Wheatear song if you listen carefully, and bear in mind that these are active birds, and are rarely still!

Black Wheatear, Oenanthe leucura

          Black Wheatear, Oenanthe leucura

The Montagu’s Harrier is a male bird which was filmed on the Lleida steppes, but to the north of Lleida. Watch as the Montagu’s Harrier comes flying in over a cereal field and actually lands on a branch perch in front of the camera! This lovely bird then starts preening.

Montagu's Harrier, Circus pygargus

            Montagu’s Harrier, Circus pygargus

Golden Eagle, Black Wheatear and Montagu’s Harrier are just three of the many interesting bird species that can be seen and filmed around the Lleida steppes.

The Golden Eagles are mostly juvenile birds which disperse over the steppes to hunt for more abundant food sources the area has to offer. Black Wheatears are resident breeding birds, holding their own in the more secluded, arid areas with barren, rocky slopes. Montagu’s Harriers are summer visitors to the Lleida steppes, arriving in April and often breeding in small numbers in cereal fields.

We hope you enjoy these videos and are looking forward to seeing more.

Hoopoes in the Lleida Steppes: Video

The next bird video in the 10 second bird video series is one of Hoopoes in the spring in the Lleida steppes, Catalonia, Spain.

Hoopoe on branch

             Hoopoe on branch in the Lleida steppes

You can see Hoopoes landing on a forked-branch perch when entering or leaving their nest nearby.

Listen out very carefully for the following birds: Corn Bunting, Hoopoe, Thekla Lark and Mistle Thrush. You may have to turn up the volume!

Dirk from the Netherlands was one of the photographers to use our photography hide for Hoopoes in the Lleida steppes with very good results. Although he wasn’t too happy that I had forgotten to bring a chair that day!

10 second videos: Little Bustard

The next video in the Birding In Spain 10 second series is the Little Bustard.

Little Bustard callingA short taster video of a Little Bustard on the plains in the spring. He’s not always facing the other way!

Posted by Birding In Spain on Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Little Bustard jumping

Male Little Bustard jumping by Bart Vercruysse

  1. What will you see? A male Little Bustard “singing”, ie blowing his raspberries.
  2. What can you hear? The Little Bustard call is obvious, and is repeated several times. However, you have to listen very carefully to hear Corn Bunting, Tree Pipit, and just a sliver of a Crested Lark.
  3. Where and when was this taken? In April and May on one of the remaining dryland areas of Lleida, Catalonia, where the Little Bustard still breeds.
  4. Where can I learn more? There’s nothing like photographing displaying Little Bustards from one of our photographic hides from late April to late May. You might even get a jumping male!
  5. And more, with a limited budget? You can join a spring birding tour to see the Little Bustards, or you can sit at home and watch the antics of Steve and the North Herts Birders birding the plains in the spring while being filmed for a Catalan TV programme. Here’s the link, it’s fun!

 

TV3 Tocats de l’ala. Dryland treasures.

10 second bird videos: Lammergeiers in flight

Once we manage to overcome a technical detail or two relating to optimizing the quality of the videos we can post Birding In Spain would like to offer a new series of home-made videos showing some of the birds of Spain and their habitats.

They are not BBC documentaries, but rather short 10 second looks at some of the bird delights this region has to offer. Some videos will be aesthetically pleasing, others that too but also educational, others entertaining, or posing a small challenge to the viewer.

We hope you like them, and welcome any feedback, questions, etc.

The first one is Lammergeiers in flight. All the clips of the Lammergeier (Bearded Vulture) incorporated here were taken in the Pyrenees of Lleida, Catalonia.

 

 

Lammergeierin flight

  Lammergeier in flight. Photo by Chris Schenk.

Lammergeiers in flight Facebook video

Here is the “Lammergeiers in flight” video card.

  1. What will you see? Several Lammergeiers of different ages in flight over the mountainside.
  2. Wait til the end? It’s only 10 seconds long, and the closest bird is in the last frames.
  3. What can you hear? Nothing, except the presentation Bee-eater, which has nothing to do with the action. In subsequent videos there will be birdsong and natural in situ sounds.
  4. Can I learn more about the Lammergeier? Yes, more Lammergeier videos will be coming, so that you can learn or practice identification of the species through its silhouette and flight action, and also see how plumage varies with age.
  5. And more? There’s a chapter dedicated to the Lammergeier in “Flying over the Pyrenees, standing on the plains” and it just so happens that it can be downloaded free of charge from the Birding In Spain website at this link:

Icemen and Lammergeiers chapter from “Flying over the Pyrenees, standing on the plains”

If you want to photograph Lammergeiers from one of our hides or see them flying over their mountain haunts on a guided birding tour just send us an e-mail. You can also work things out for yourself by using “Where the birds are in northeast Spain” and the free birding itineraries on the Birding In Spain website.

Happy Birding!

3 calling birds: The Cetti’s Warbler Confrontation

3 calling birds: Cetti’s Warblers in a bush

In the course of an average week-long birding tour around many parts of Spain it is quite usual to come across a number of Cetti’s Warblers, usually more than one at a time. However, even if encountered on every day of the trip we are rarely regaled with the possibility to observe the Cetti’s Warbler for more than a second or two. It’s a skulking bird which sings loudly and explosively from the depths of the thicket or undergrowth. One particular morning springs to my mind when we must have heard close to 50 different birds, without spotting even one of them.

So imagine my surprise and appreciation when I came across no fewer than 3 Cetti’s Warblers together out in the open while I was on a gentle walk at our local municipal park. I stopped in my tracks to watch these 3 birds, which were more engaged with each other than concerned by my proximity. All 3 were calling, cocking their tails, strutting on branches at a couple of metres from the ground and flicking or quivering their wings.

This was obviously a bid for local power, a territorial dispute, the importance of which was perhaps paramount to these birds at this particular moment in their lives. For some brief moments I was the spectator of a natural avian drama, and standing still I was anticipating watching the development and outcome of this show-down.

Cetti's Warblers

Cetti’s Warblers: By Richard Crossley (The Crossley ID Guide Britain and Ireland)

Unfortunately, the bird I shall unimaginatively call Cetti’s 1, the one nearest to me, flew off into cover just the other side of the canal to where I was standing. I had the distinct feeling that his departure was premature, and provoked, almost certainly by my presence.

Unperturbed, Cetti’s 2, the bird in the middle, called loudly again and received no answer from Cetti’s 1 (departed), and a muted response from Cetti’s 3, now further away and no longer quivering his wings. Cetti’s 2 had prevailed, and as such sang out his victory call louder than ever, with no competitor prepared to answer him back.

To me it was clear that I had witnessed Cetti’s 2 victory and that that patch of vegetation next to the path would be his for the time being, perhaps for the whole of the breeding season.

It also appeared to me that my presence there, if you like as a birder, although I wasn’t “out birding”, may have had a direct influence on the outcome of their confrontation. Whether or not Cetti’s 2 would have won without my passing we have no real way of knowing, but just for the sake of it let’s indulge in some speculation and see what conclusions (admittedly tentative) we can draw.

Cetti's Warbler

Cetti’s Warbler Cettia cetti

Theory 1: Cett’s 1 or Cetti’s 3 would have won the dispute had I not come along.

Therefore 1 or 3 would have established this area as part of their territory. However, if they are so easily spooked by passing humans then their foraging and subsequently breeding success is likely to be negatively affected by this factor, seeing that this is a frequently used path by many park-goers, joggers, cyclists, dog walkers, passers-by, etc. So if 1 or 3 were so susceptible to human disturbance it’s unlikely they would have ever been successful there anyway, and it would have been better for Cetti’s 2 (less easily spooked) to have stayed.

Theory 2: Cetti’s 2 would have won anyway, so my presence had no real effect on the bird’s selection and control of territory and its potential breeding success.

That’s fine, as long as you only correlate breeding success to disturbance and susceptibility to disturbance. But that’s obviously not the case. Supposing, for example, that Cetti’s 2 was the least effective forager of the 3 birds, or the least attractive mate, and only won because I disturbed the others. Cetti’s 2 would then attempt to breed in this patch of territory, and may even fail, its resistance to disturbance being no advantage to it when compared to the “other” skills, traits and fitness shown by birds in territories without disturbance. Perhaps 1 or 3 would have been more successful, able to find more food, make better use of the territory, attract a healthier female, and with subsequent overall positive breeding success.

Then a bolder, less skulking, bird may be easier prey to a Sparrowhawk; or is it a safer territory, due to the presence of passing humans, and which is therefore largely avoided by such predators?

What about “displaced” individuals 1 and 3? Couldn’t they then go on to dispute with their respective neighbours? And with very unpredictable results? For example, one or more of their neighbours then rebounding to dispute 2’s territory.

I’m still trying to get my head around all of this. Does anyone want to add any more possibilities or insights?

The idea is to allow just a small insight into the complexity of environmental science and ecology, and how we humans are influencing just about everything, no matter how respectful we try to be.

Participate in our birds and birders survey

Participate in our birds and birders survey!

At Birding In Spain we would like to conduct an informal survey of birders and birding. We are interested in getting insight into your birding experiences and outlook. If you can find the time help us by writing your answers and sending us an e-mail. Thanks!  

 Birders and birding survey

The questions are:

1. How long have you been birding?

2. What made you start?

3. What’s the best thing about birding for you? And the worst?

4. Does environmental education and promotion of birding make a difference to conservation? If so, can you give any examples?

5. Do you contribute with time, work or money to any conservation efforts? Which? How?

6. Does birding have any negative effects?

7. Is birding on the up in your part of the world? In general?

8. Which naturalists or birders do you admire the most, and why?

9. Is there somewhere you haven’t birded but would love to?

10. Would you like to make a prediction about the future of birding?

We invite you to complete and send us the answers via e-mail. A pdf version is also available on request.

Happy birding!

What, no selfies?

What, no selfies?

Or… when there are more interesting things to contemplate than one’s own image.

Peregrine Falcon, juvenile, on birding tour in Spain

This juvenile Peregrine was calling insistently from the top of the cliffs near Siurana. Worried about its vulnerability Roger and I tried to watch it without making it a public spectacle for the “normal” tourists wandering around and looking for something to focus their attention on.

Purple Shot Copper butterfly, on a birding tour in Spain

This Purple Shot Copper was a glorious dose of colour and pattern, and a memorable moment for us at Siurana.

Male Red-footed Falcon, Falco vespertinus, on a birding tour in Spain

On day 1 we came off the main road onto the drylands near Balaguer and the first 4 species we saw were all birds of prey: Golden Eagle, Hobby, Montagu’s Harrier and several delightful Red-footed Falcons. This spring there was an unusually large influx of these pretty little falcons, much to the delight of local and visiting birders.

Squacco Heron in the Ebro Delta, on a birding tour in Spain.

Bird photography is usually challenging because of the jumpiness of the subjects. Even when in a car if you stop the most usual response is for the bird to fly away. Just now and then though you can find a bird more absorbed in what it was doing, and less wary of your presence. Like this Squacco Heron in the Ebro Delta, looking for a snack in a rice paddy.

 Swallowtail Butterfly, on a birding tour in Spain.

A Swallowtail butterfly. Is beauty only in the eyes of the beholder? Or is there some intrinsic quality, some common denominator?

Common Tern in the Ebro Delta, on a birding tour in Spain.

A fishing Common Tern in the Ebro Delta. Another one of those opportunities when the bird is more concerned about food than human presence.

Two strange birds, on the southern Catalonia birding tour.

Not quite a selfie: Dr Buchanan on the left in the company of a lucky lesser mortal. All of the photos here are by Dr Buchanan. His company is also a generous gift.

Calming the beast within

Calming “the beast”

All photos courtesy of Dr Roger Buchanan. Roger calls his large telephoto lens “the beast”, which strikes me as a good leading line to show some of his photos taken during the last Ornitholiday’s Southern Catalonia Tour which we happily spent together. Along with his long-suffering wife, Jane, aka “the boss”. But that’s quite another subject…

Bee-eater, Merops apiaster, on a birding tour in Spain

A beautiful Bee-eater. What is man without the beasts? For if all the beasts were gone man would die of a great loneliness of the spirit. Chief Seattle.

Bee-eater’s lucky day, on a birding tour in Spain

The Bee-eater’s lucky day. The beast appears to be calmed.

Blue-spot Hairstreak, on a birding tour in Spain

Blue-spot Hairstreak. Whosoever is delighted in solitude is either a wild beast or a god. Aristotle. Maybe not “delighted” and maybe not real “solitude” but it’s surely a pleasing thing to get away from the crowds and to contemplate some of nature’s beauties, don’t you think?

Great Crested Grebe, on a birding tour in Spain

A Great Crested Grebe on nest. Every man has a wild beast within him. Frederick the Great.

 Glossy Ibis, on a birding tour in Spain

A Glossy Ibis in the Ebro Delta. I think the healthy way to live is to make friends with the beast inside oneself, and that means not the beast but the shadow. The dark side of one’s nature. Anthony Hopkins.

Moroccan Orange Tip, on a birding tour in Spain

Moroccan Orange Tip. The beast, once calmed, can be harnessed as a force for good. Steve West.