Figures of 8 – Pool-making considerations for humans

The drinking pool’s conception was easy enough, it’s being a parent of a thirsty and difficult pool progeny that’s the hard work!

grapevine at the Pou del Mano, Bovera

Heard it through the grapevine

Until we proposed the drinking-pool as a reality brother-in-law Jordi would come to the “Pou” with the tractor and plough the weeds a couple of times a year, and someone in the family would casually pick some of the bunches of grapes produced by decades-old grapevines. Occasionally, villagers may have visited and poked around the stone walls and fennel plants, looking for snails after a bit of rain – yes, we eat snails, and they are the same as the ones that many people poison in their gardens in the UK. What a waste! They are just delicious griddled and dipped in garlic butter!

Griddled snails, Lleida.

Cargols a la llauna, Lleida

Here’s a recipe for that very “Lleidatà” (from Lleida) dish, with garlic butter, salt, pepper … mmm, delicious!

Snails on the griddle

But back to the drinking pool and some of the initial considerations in its imperfect design.

  • Location: It should be away from human transit and hence disturbance, which narrowed down the possibilities to the far end of the plot. Uncertainty about the future use of the continuous flat area led me to site the pool in the vicinity of the big Holm Oak tree, on the small terraced slope. This choice would have consequences which will be dealt with later.
  • Dimensions: The pool, for the time being at least, would have to be filled by hand. I had already learnt from previous experiences with larger pools that that in itself could be an onerous and thankless task, difficult to keep up with in the summer, when water is most needed by the birds and other wildlife. So the pool wasn’t going to be so big that it couldn’t be filled by two or three trips with a wheelbarrow laden with 25 litre water containers. However, it also had to have some depth to ensure that summer evaporation would not dry it out in no time at all.
  • Shape: The final figure of 8 shape seems quirky at first sight, but makes it possible to retain at least some water in case of leakage or low refilling frequency by damming the “waist” if needed and dedicating the meagre water resources to only half of the pool.
  • Construction: Dig a hole to the right depth and shape, flatten and smooth the surface, remove any sharp objects, cover with old clothes, sheets, blankets, carpets – whatever –  roll out the liner, cut to measure, leaving overlap around the edges, make a ledge and fold over the edges, get some rocks and stones to weigh it down.
  • Aesthetics: We used stones to overlay the edges of the liner, as there were plenty of those about. We also used burlap, but that disintegrated before too long. Leaves and other debris get in the cracks between the stones, so it’s probably best to cement them in. We also had a supply of pebbly stones which were ideal for lining the bottom of the pool.*
  • Aeration: Little solar-powered aerators (made in China) seem like a good idea, but don’t have much impact and don’t last for more than one season. Think seriously about this and mosquitoes if you are in a hot climate. For us the eventual solution was to link the pool to the irrigation system and have a “jet” of water aerating the surface whenever we turn on the tap.
  • Stability: The slopes needed stabilizing, and also people walking around the edges have to be catered for. Reeds cut from the field edge (see photo) were remarkably effective in preventing slope erosion over what was very loose soil on quite a steep slope.
  • If you’re going to plant then the plants will need some attention. Winter shade and freezing temperatures just about polish off the plants that manage to survive the extreme heat of the summer. We’re still working on this.

For the birds: filling the drinking pool

For the birds: filling the drinking pool

* The pebbles were left in a heap by Florinda’s grandfather about 40 years previously. He was too old to do heavy work on the land so spent his time removing pebbles from the ground one by one and discarding them on a pile next to the well.

That’s a lot of work, when do we start reaping the rewards? And where are the birds?

Next: Tell us about the birds and the bees

What real people say about Birding In Spain :

Jeremy Bradshaw (Liverpool, UK) – Marvellous May Tour 2019 

We’ve just come back from a fantastic 7 days “Marvellous May” birding trip with Steve and Florinda in NE Spain.  From our first contact to our final goodbyes at the airport, we were treated with friendly professionalism.  Steve’s knowledge of bird identification is outstanding (particularly his identification by call) and his brilliant local knowledge of good bird sites enabled us to “tot up” a trip list of over 190 species including some difficult and much sought after birds, such as Dupont’s Lark, Sandgrouse and Alpine Accentor to name but a few. The hotel accommodation, in all three locations we visited, were well run and friendly with good food and well stocked bars!  Would I recommend using BirdinginSpain and Steve for a guided birdwatching holiday?  Yes, in a heart beat ! 

We recommend …

 

 

El Pou del Mano, “Mano’s Well”

El Pou del Mano

Note: The translation of the title “Pou del Mano” from Catalan to English is “Mano’s Well”. “Mano” is the village nick-name of Florinda’s parents’ household, for this generation mostly applied to Salvador, Florinda’s father. 

Bovera, Les Garrigues, Catalonia.

The village of Bovera in the Garrigues, Catalonia

The village of Bovera in the Garrigues, Catalonia

A new chapter has opened in our lives, and it’s taking on ever increasing dimensions. In July 2016 things kicked off with my idea of building a small drinking pool for birds, down near the “pou” (well). The smallish plot, about 2,000m², once held apple and peach trees, which Salvador, my father-in-law, used to irrigate from the water he drew from a well in the middle of the plot . Rather tentatively I put the idea to Salvador and, fortunately, he had no reservations, “Do what you like with it”, he said. Even though the land had lain idle for about 30 years, after he had uprooted the drought-stricken trees, it was still a relief to me to hear those words, as I still felt like an outsider on most things related to Florinda’s village. Little by little though, the initial project would expand and take on new dimensions and provide a source of new endeavours, and some disappointments and headaches too.

The view towards the well – centre – and Bovera village – left

So, once in place with all the necessary materials for building a modest drinking pool – a roll of heavy duty black plastic liner, old discarded clothes, burlap (bought on the internet and sent from India), cutter, spade, pick-axe, hoe, string, tape measure – I was alone before the beast of doubt. What shape should the pool take? How deep? How would I stabilize the margins? Should I try and incorporate plants? Is there any need for an overflow? And so on.

Well, here are some photos from that very first day (and later), when there were more doubts than realities.

New drinking pool in the making

New drinking pool in the making I

 

New drinking pool in the making

New drinking pool in the making II

 

New drinking pool in the making

New drinking pool in the making – the finished  product?

That was almost three years ago. In that time the pool has been a focal point for much of the local wildlife, in particular birds, but also the odd toad, timid nocturnal badgers, foxes and stray dogs, dragonflies, bees and wasps, and mosquitoes. Damn the mosquitoes.

I also set up a hide, rescued from the days when we dealt directly with international photographers on the Lleida plains, coming to photograph Little Bustards, Little Owls, Stone Curlews and the like. However, after two years of accustomization the birds are fine with it, but I have yet to find the time to get in there and take some photos or videos! The trail cam, however, did much of the job for me, and after the first session of going through about 2,000 photos I proudly declared that we had already had 30 species of avian visitors to the pool, and that was even before the spring migration period had started. At that time Hawfinches were everywhere, and the pool was no exception, but the camera also recorded one of only two records of Brambling for the village, this one a fine male coming out of winter plumage. However, for me the most enjoyable scenes were the starlings, both Spotless and Common, which made a regular appointment in the early afternoon, to come down, drink, bathe and socialize in groups of 5, 10, 20 or more, before continuing the party by flying off to the roofs and the village church for the end of the day chatter and sing-song.

Starling festival at Bovera

Starling festival at Bovera I

 

Starling festival at Bovera

Starling festival at Bovera II

Next post: Figures of 8 – Pool-making considerations for humans

Wonderful Winter Wallcreeper Short Break

Being a local bird tour specialist – both agency and guide – must be like being an actor – you can’t escape first-day nerves and uncertainties.

Will the Wallcreepers be there at the first site?Will everyone get to see them? Or will we have to use one of the back-up sites and bear the weight of undelievered expectations until a Wallcreeper finally flutters into view?

Can the forecast be trusted? Will it really rain on Tuesday, or should we go ahead with our original itinerary?

Will everyone in the group be in shape enough to make the walk to the entrance to the gorge?

And so on. Until you walk onto stage, move into gear, and flow with the motion, letting the years of experience do their thing while you get that nagging voice of doubt to sit down and shut up. Under promise, over deliver. Let the group dynamics furnish most of the input, just add a drop of oil now and then on a few rusty spots. And above all, let people enjoy themselves – they’re on holiday, after all – whether it’s with rare Wallcreepers or abundant Griffon Vultures.

Wonderful Winter Wallcreeper Tour

You can join us on one of these Wonderful Winter Wallcreeper Tours in November 2019 or February 2020. It’s an interactive performance.

 

Get up early for summer birding

For a long time now I’ve shared the widely-held belief that July and August are not months for birding in, especially in Spain, where daytime temperatures can surpass the 40ºC mark. Nevertheless, when there’s work to be done it’s a case of don the cap, smear on the suncream, and dust off the binoculars. And trust in the car’s air-conditioning too!

However, there is another way. And it’s probably the best. Get up with the sparrows, no later, and get out somewhere nearby, take a walk when the temperatures are pleasant and bird activity is at its highest. If you get back to the car more or less at the time when the birds start panting you’ve probably timed it to perfection!

Furthermore, you’ll have done a good portion of the day’s necessary exercise, and a good siesta after a delicious lunch is perfectly justifiable!

 

Birding In Spain’s Gift Pack – what a great idea!

About the Birding In Spain Gift Pack now available:

Looking for a Christmas gift that will leave the loved one(s) open-mouthed with delight?

You must know that birders already have bird books, binoculars and apps, but that nobody – even the most experienced birder – has travelled the whole world and seen all of its birds and natural wonders.

two birding together

                                     Two birding together

Have they ever been birding in Spain? If not, can you think of a better way to make them a gift that they’ll enjoy and remember for a long time?

Birding In Spain is easy, safe and really enjoyable. Here’s how to do it:

Birding In Spain gift card

                                  Birding In Spain gift card

  1. Look at the website, and download our brochure to see what kind of tours we put on offer, who we are, etc.
  2. Decide if you want to participate in one of the set tours, or if you want us to design a private tour for you.
  3. Decide how much you want to spend on your gift for now. The minimum of 50 euros won’t buy you a tour but it will ensure you a provisional place on one until all the details have been arranged and confirmed.
  4. Send us all the the details you can about yourselves, approximate dates, tour interest, etc, as well as what text and details you  would like us to incorporate on the personalized gift card.
  5. Birding In Spain Gift Pack Special! Purchase before 31st December 2018 and enjoy a 5% discount from the brochure price from any set tour, and a bottle of local wine or cava during your tour.
  6. Receive your personalized gift card from us. It’s a guarantee of our compromise with you. Merry Christmas!

Autumn Iceland Tour 2018? Yeah!

When planning this Iceland Tour for 2018 and 2019, I was asked why the autumn? Everybody knows that the best time for visiting Iceland is in the short summer, when the days are long and the birds are frantically set on their breeding activities and on raising their young. By September most of the migrants (those that there are!) have already gone, the weather can suddenly turn,…

Skogafoss Waterfall, Iceland

                          Skogafoss waterfall, Iceland

All that is true. So at the time I was less eloquent in my answer, babbling something about the Northern Lights (which are not seen in June, but there’s a reasonable chance in September), about Glaucous and Iceland Gulls everywhere, wintering and passage geese flocks, and the chance of some lovely autumn days. I don’t think I was that convincing.

White-tailed Eagle, Iceland

                            Immature White-tailed Eagle in northern Iceland

So now, after our first Iceland autumn tour I’ll let the photos do the talking – well, most of it! For the record though:

Humpback Whale

                                                   Humpback Whale spouting

  • We came close to Humpback Whales on a beautifully calm day, on a lovely old fishing boat, and with snow-capped mountains framing the photos
  • The Ptarmigans we encountered all had white “trousers” and were in different stages of donning their snowy winter plumage
  • We had flocks of geese: Greylag, Pink-footed, Greenland White-fronted, Brent and the vagrant Canada Goose.
  • On one day we saw 5 merlins and 2 White-tailed Eagles, among other things
Whale-watching boat and fjord, Iceland

                                   Whale-watching in northern Iceland

  • We had days when the scenery and the weather were aligned just perfectly (we also had days when it was windy and downright freezing!)
  • Glaucous and Iceland gulls were indeed all around, as were Common Seals
  • Gyrfalcon, Arctic Fox, Grey Seal, Barrow’s Goldeneye, Harlequin Duck, Purple Sandpiper, Black Guillemot, divers, scoters and more were all memorable features and moments
  • Good food, hotels in great locations, easy-going Icelanders and a really lovely group of participants made us just so content that everybody was going home happy
Iceland tour participants

                                    Autumn Iceland Tour participants 2018

All things permitting, we’ll be doing another Iceland autumn tour in 2019. Oh yes, and a summer tour as well.

August’s competition ends soon!

What species is the feather from?

Birding In Spain's feather competition August

                August’s competition: which species?

You don’t know? Well, enter the competition and you’ll see that there are only four options, so it’s easier than you might think. What’s more it’s completely free, and you can win some great prizes! And if you convince someone else to enter you get another go. All correct answers enter the draw for prizes.

Click on this link to enter:

https://www.birdinginspain.com/bis-competition/participate/

So far, the voting is as follows:

Great Bustard leads the voting

    Great Bustard leads the voting in the BIS                                     competition, with 57%

  • Great Bustard leads with 57%
Hoopoe is in second position

Hoopoe is in second position with 32% of the                        votes in the BIS competition

  • Next is Hoopoe with 32%

Outsiders are Common Snipe and Barn Owl, with 6% and 5% repectively.

Good luck!

Monthly competitions kick off in August

The Birding In Spain 12 Big Year monthly competitions kick off with the first starting on August 1st. Don’t miss this wonderful opportunity to win a free and easy prize, from among those detailed below. We are dedicating August’s competition to the theme of “British Wildlife” with the awarding of 3 free memberships of one of UK’s wildlife trusts. Other prizes include free fabulous Collins Bird Guide apps for Android or iPhone,  courtesy of Nature Guides plus a great hotel deal courtesy of Hosteria de Guara .  And there’s more…

Follow us on Facebook or Twitter, or on this blog. Or for more information send an e-mail to steve – squiggly a – birdinginspain.com .

And remember … August 1st!

 

Wonderful Winter Wallcreeper Tour and the Big Year Prize

We know, and we apologize. We haven’t appeared on the blog for months now. Now, it’s not as an excuse, but rather as information, that we can tell you we have been very busy working on a new Birding In Spain Tour brochure, and a great competition where prizes can be won every month. Additionally, there will be a Big Year Prize at the end of those 12 months, with the option of winning a place on one of our Wonderful Winter Tours Winter wallcreeper tour info (1) to take place in 2019 or 2012.

Wonderful Winter Wallcreeper Tour

Want to know more? Then get in touch via e-mail, or follow Birding In Spain on Facebook. There will be competition announcements on Twitter and Instagram, as well as on this blog.

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.

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