How to Make Your Garden a Bird Sanctuary

The total number of wild birds in the world is somewhere between 100 and 400 billion according to an article published by Arbotopia. The fact that they are all around us in so many different shapes, colours and sizes is perhaps what makes them so fascinating. The migratory patterns of some birds or the peculiar habitats of others has spawned an interest in bird tourism. Going on a holiday in a bird hotspot, such as Northeast Spain, is decidedly attractive, but it’s also possible to create a home to many intriguing birds in your own garden.

Robins in your garden, photo by Andrew Alexander

Feed them

Birds have an eye for a tasty morsel and having flown thousands of miles in some cases will want to stop where it is safe and where they find food waiting for them. Furthermore, researchers believe feeding birds encourages flight patterns causing birds like the Blackcap to settle in the UK instead of going to Spain. With that said, you could try feeding them mealworms, as well as bits of fruit or peanuts to make the stay.

Give them a drink

Water is essential to birds. Not only to drink but also for the all important grooming of feathers and even for entertainment. They tend to be drawn to water in motion. If you want to attract a large variety of birds then you should consider a water feature. Keep it usable all year round by placing rocks in it to prevent the water freezing over and installing a solar powered version will make it conservation friendly. The Cuckoo and the Woodpeckers, although generally shy birds would both appreciate being offered a drink from the fountain.

Give them a shelter

The garden environment should also be considered as it is a shame to invite birds into the garden only to find that they are at risk from predators or the food on offer is being eaten by other animals. Consider where the food is being placed in order to attract a variety of birds. Even if you are not ready to completely redesign your garden you might be prepared to leave that old tree stump in place to accommodate a Woodpecker, or not cut back your bushes quite so neatly, and allow the Blackcap to roost there.

Birds are everywhere and there are many species worth exploring, particularly in Spain. But if you are concerned about your ‘ carbon footprint’ there is a lot you can do to attract birds to your garden and conserve the bird population.

Article by guest writer Sally Writes.

The Iceland Experience 1

Our Iceland Experience

A day out Whale-watching

Icelandic horses

Icelandic horses grazing near Akureyri, Iceland

I can’t confess to anyone how fast I drove our hire car along that almost deserted road running along the western shore of the fjord, hoping to get to the whale-watching harbour before the ship’s scheduled departure at 9.30 am.

“When they see us, or people like us, the locals must think that the tourists are crazy”, observed Florinda.

And in truth, driving like that did seem out of place, taking into account that in this part of Iceland all roads except the main ring Road 1 were virtually empty, and that we had not encountered anybody speeding over the last week while driving in the country. I was no expert in the Icelandic temperament, but the people didn’t seem to do stress the same way I could.

We sped past a few local ladies out for a walk on the edge of the harbour-side settlement which passes as a village in these parts. I imagined their surprised comments as we pulled up into the harbour and spotted the likely looking vessel comfortably moored by the sea wall. That’s funny, we couldn’t see the activity one would normally associate with a whale-watching cruise about to depart in a few minutes’ time.

We dithered between the moored vessel and a large warehouse which was obviously the commercial base. The only person we could see was a blond middle-aged man in an anorak, walking calmly towards us. He was smiling gently, and to me he looked like a skipper.

“Hello, is this where we get the tickets for the whale-watching?” I asked.
“Yes” he said, “You’re a bit early though, we don’t depart until 1.30 in the afternoon”.

About half an hour later we were back at the guesthouse. Slightly deflated. We approached the reception desk, our source of local information, including the whale-watching enterprises and their timetables.
“Um, the departure from Dalvik is in fact at 9am, not 9.30. And at Hauganes they only do an afternoon departure at 1.30 pm,” I pointed out to the attentive young lady who had previously provided us with some slightly inaccurate information.
“Oh really?”, she smiled, “Thank you for telling me”.

So what could we do for the next 3 hours? We retired to our room to consult leaflets and things over a quick cup of instant coffee. I thought hard while staring out of the window watching some of the numerous and noisy Redwings feeding in the clump of Rowan trees within metres of our room. There were Common Redpolls there too, I could hear them, but they moved so fast it was so hard to get a decent view of any of them.

Iceland fjord

Florinda, a Black sand admirer, Akureyri, Iceland

Our solution was to take a gentle walk along the shores of the fjord – unfortunately we were also just a little too late to go horse-riding. As a complete beginner I’m not sure whether I was relieved or not about that. Still, the walk was enjoyable, the waters were calm and we spent some good time watching Long-tailed Ducks, Common Eiders and Glaucous Gulls at close range, and in calm, gentle sunshine. I kept scanning for the Diver (Great Northern?) I had seen from the guesthouse the previous evening, but it seemed to have moved on. Turning inland and reaching the local road was not enough to call us towards the “forest”, which, by Icelandic standards was obviously quite an eye-catcher, but by my Anglo-Catalan standards was a rather lifeless rectangle of land planted with single-aged spruce trees, where the only birding appeal might be to get close to a slow or unwary Redpoll.

Some time later, we pulled into a parking space in the harbour well before 1 o’clock: we weren’t taking any chances! The possibility of seeing whales was one of the major highlights of this trip for Florinda, we knew there were no guarantees, but the pressure was on. We paid, each found a red jumpsuit which fit us and, feeling slightly awkward in this unfamiliar attire, filed out towards the vessel among a growing group of similarly-clad visitors. The captain was there again, with his enigmatic smile.
“What are the chances of Humpback Whales?” I asked, searchingly.
“That depends on them, but should be good”, came the not-quite reassuring reply.

As our ship set off we could feel a breeze working up and see grey clouds gathering – the lovely calm conditions of the morning were changing and the forecast was for overnight snow. Hopefully we still had a few good hours before things got rough, time enough for us to see a Humpback Whale or two, and to get back to dry land without Florinda having cause for getting seasick!

We had just turned into the open fjord when the first mate shouted to the skipper, who immediately announced that there were Humpback Whales, 3 or so, and gave full throttle across the fjord towards the whales. Could that really be true? He wasn’t having us on, was he? Some of us held on the rails and peered out past the stern, following our line of travel to try and spot a Humpback Whale, and yes! There was a huge watery spout being blown high into the air! Then a tail fin breaking the surface and disappearing below! There really were whales out there!

Humpback Whale tail fluke

Whale-watching: Humpback Whale tail fluke

The next couple of hours were better than we had even dared to dream: we came into close contact with at least a dozen Humpback Whales of different ages, one time so close that one surfacing whale blew its watery spout into my gaping mouth. It was light and salty. We saw the barnacles growing on their bodies, the nicked fins of some, and could tell when they were just swimming or going for a dive. Another vessel had sped up from Akureyri to join us, and after many close contacts with the Humpacks the skipper could see we were all well-satisfied and offered coffee, biscuits and buns to all.

Humpback Whale submerging. Whale-watching north of Akureyri, Iceland

Someone’s just caught a fish!

Great Northern Diver, or Common Loon, Iceland

Turning back to the western shore we hadn’t finished yet. There were good numbers of gulls in flight over the water, including Black-legged Kittiwakes, Glaucous and Iceland Gulls – I’d never imagined I’d see so many in one place- , and a single Great Skua. Common Eiders seemed to be more common closer to the shore, and didn’t seem too put off when we dropped anchor to do a spot of line fishing.

Result: the Chinese tourist was exultant as he caught a fish – and took a selfie; I too caught my first-ever fish; and what about Florinda, would she catch a fish too? Maybe next time – she had already seen so many Humpback Whales, better than a dream come true, so how much more can you ask for?!

Autumn Iceland Tour Video

 

iceland-video-screen-blog

In September and October 2018 we will be visiting Iceland! Land of the naked elements, water, fire, air and land. And birds of course, plenty of interesting birds. Whales, seals and horses too. In fact, can you think of a reason not to come?

Click on the link to see the video, and then if you want more information we can send you a pdf with all the details.

https://vimeo.com/245338922

A brief Collins Bird Guide (for Android) App review, or – Who needs a microwave?

Collins Bird Guide App, a review of sorts.

Collins Bird Guide App for Android is here

Years ago, when we got married, my wife’s work colleagues at the time made us a gift of a new microwave oven. This was back in the early 1990s, when not everyone had a microwave, and well before the era of mobile phones. True to my luddite streak, in private, I rather ungratefully declared “Who needs a microwave”? Because if I wanted to boil milk I used a saucepan, I had the kettle for boiling water, cooking was done in the oven, and defrosting food was planned the night before.

I’ve mellowed somewhat over the years, at least that’s what my wife tells me now and then; even so, I must admit I was tempted to say, “Who needs the Collins Bird Guide as an app?”. Now I’ve always said that the Collins Bird Guide – in its traditional paper and ink form – would remain unsurpassed by any similar field guide for decades to come, and I feel that that particular statement has the ring of truth, unless we get pedantic and count second and third editions etc.

Collins Bird Guide Little Bustard

Collins Bird Guide Little Bustard

 

Collins Bird Guide App search feature

Collins Bird Guide App search                       feature

So I have the Collins Bird Guide if I want to see an illustration of the species itself, see the bird in its natural habitat, glance at a distribution map with colours for winter, summer etc, read a useful descriptive text, or even have a description of the bird’s song and calls. What more could I need? And, furthermore, how could an app replace the feeling of leafing through a bird book?

Well, what I didn’t realize is that it doesn’t need to replace anything, rather this app has made a niche for itself and is ideal for anybody who is out and about birding in Europe, and even more so if you happen to be a professional of the birding world. The book is still there for you on the shelf, perhaps in the car or at best in the backpack, although if you have the app on your mobile phone then you might as well save yourself the inconvenience of the latter.

This app does everything the book does, as you’d expect, and without getting dog-eared, but what else can it do? Well, the list is quite substantial:

(i) Instant alphabetical search function – just type in the name of the bird species and the options appear as you write. Of course this is a commonsense feature, but just think of any beginner birders you may know and the difficulties they have finding their way through the standard guide, “Why aren’t the birds in alphabetical order?” is a question I have often been asked.

(ii) Comparison feature allowing the user to compare similar species or any species they want, up to 6 in all – even if you think Crested Larks and Hoopoes both have a crest and so need to be compared the app will not put up any obstacles or raise any objections.

Collins Bird Guide App Compare FeatureCollins Bird Guide App bird families

 

(iii) Recordings of most species’ songs and calls – making redundant the very variable interpretations of the phonetics of descriptions such as “voy voy…vüüü(cha)… vüüü(cha) swe-swe-swe-swe-swe sisisi … svee, sveeh” (can you tell me which species that refers to off the top of your head?). Just play the call (looped) and there is no need for any words to get in the way – however, they’re still in the text if you’re a fan.

(iv) The “My list” feature offers you a simple note-taking capacity. Admittedly, I personally still prefer the written notebook, but that may change.

(v) Add-to (and pay-for) features already available or nearly so include Bird Atlas 2007-11 maps if you have a special interest in Britain and Ireland, and species videos, many of which are brand new and have been filmed especially for this app.

In summary, in the field this all this translates to:
What does the bird look like? That.
What does it sound like? That.
What’s its range in Europe? That.
How is it different from a Hoopoe? There.

OK, so having established that this app is the best thing to happen to European birding since the Collins Bird Guide was published, is there anything the app doesn’t do, and perhaps could? Well, I miss a bit of “fun”, for example a quiz option where you can challenge your buddies or students to identify the species from the song (fingers on the buzzer or not) or the distribution map, or even “bits” of the bird in question. Furthermore, some of the recordings are of below average quality, although I have been informed that this is a shortfall which is likely to be rectified in later editions. Another thing is that, as with any app, it’s not as easy to lend as a book is. Come to think of it, that’s got to be an advantage.

The Collins Bird Guide app or, “Who needs a microwave?”. I do!

A Few Simple Ways to Bird-Proof Your Home

A Few Simple Ways to Bird-Proof  Your Home

 

Photo by Vincent van Zalinge on Unsplash

Photo by Vincent van Zalinge on Unsplash

 

Attracting birds to your home is one of the easiest ways to birdwatch, requiring nothing more than a gentle touch to ensure you don’t spook them.

However, your home can be a potentially dangerous location for birds. In a world where we already have to balance environmental interests with bird safety, there are some steps you can take to make your own little impact and hopefully attract some birds to your home.

Windows

Birds flying at high velocities perceive “the gap”, which is in reality a window, to be nothing but air. Needless to say, it can easily injure the bird, or in the worst case scenario, kill it. The first option to rectify this, if you’re committed and have time and money, is to change the glass. You can make your windows bird friendly by switching from purely transparent to etched or angled glass. These particular methods alter the way the bird looks at the ‘gap’ to prevent it thinking it can just fly through.

If you’re a bit more strapped for cash and time, consider creating distractions; wind chimes, external shutters and strips of tape, for example, to either deter the bird from being in the vicinity or, again, change their perception of what they’re flying into.

http://www.penn-jersey.com/ensuring-your-windows-are-bird-safe

Protecting the Birds

Aside from windows and wind turbines, one of the biggest international killers of birds are cats. To cite an example from the USA, cats kill 3.7 billion birds every year. Cats are a big issue in Spain, with whole colonies living in the towns and cities; so in your backyard, birds will be unlikely to visit without a bit of protection.

To make your property a less inviting proposition for cats, consider spraying citrus around the garden, which is a known cat ‘repellant’. You can also employ the use of chimes to alert birds and try and discourage skittish felines.

We’re currently living in somewhat difficult times for birds, with several bodies harming bird populations. If we all come together, however, and make small changes in our own lives, we can together create a much more bird-positive environment, and enjoy the benefits ourselves.

By Sally Perkins

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!

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!