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Late winter and early spring in C Spain

John Muddeman
24/02/2011 14:02:57

While winter has not finally gone, spring is edging in and when the weather's clear, the temperatures rise and wildlife takes advantage!

Posted in: Flora, Butterflies and Moths, Amphibians, Birds, Endangered Wildlife and Habitats | Madrid | Mainland Spain, Central Spain

A quick trip to the accountant's yesterday (23rd Feb) Spanish imperial eagle  - Aquila adalberti © John MuddemanAdult Spanish imperial eagle
Aquila adalberti
© John Muddeman
saw me take full advantage of the glorious weather and warm temperatures, and a short walk along a public track near my former base in Galapagar was a real treat.

As I got out of the car a pair of noisy Spanish imperial eagles Aquila adalberti circled up in front, though all too soon were out of range of the camera. However, given their repeated calling, they were clearly around throughout the 90 minutes or so I was out, even returning fast overhead at the end as if to say goodbye, too. We're in the height of the courtship period and this pair were clearly up and moving around to show their nearest neighbours that this was their patch. [I know the picture's poor, but you can still make out the white forewing edge, dark mask and straw-coloured shawl, grey bill and grey tail base].

Natterjack toad  - Bufo calamita © John MuddemanNatterjack toad
Bufo calamita
© John Muddeman

Bumping into these as I arrived was clearly a good omen. The warm sun had also enticed out a couple of brimstones Gonepteryx rhamni and my first Western dappled whites Euchloe crameri for the year, and some discrete croaking from a small pool pond indicated a common toad Bufo bufo was present, though 'only' a male natterjack B. calamita and several egg strings of this species were seen. Despite it being just after noon, the natterjack thought it could hide at the bottom, despite being just and inch under the clear water!

Spring was clearly in the air too, with a flock of a dozen or so house martins Delichon urbicum drifted noisily over, a background melody of singing common chiffchaff Phylloscopus collybita and woodlark Lullula arborea was lovely, and calling firecrest Regulus ignicapillus and crested tit Lophophanes cristatus just added spice. It was still enough to hear the wing flapping of a European green woodpecker Picus viridis ssp. sharpei as it bounced clumsily past.

But the main reason for the visit was to see whether One of the dozen or so microspecies in Spain  - Gagea sp. © John MuddemanOne of the dozen or so microspecies of
Gagea in Spain
© John Muddeman
the only colony of white hoop petticoat daffodils Narcissus cantabricus I know of was in flower, not having visited for several years. This was almost the same date that I first found them, and after a wet winter, there was a simply superb display of several hundred of these gorgeous flowers. A few spikes of a yellow-flowered Gagea sp. slowed my arrival slightly, and despite minor disturbance from a couple of joggers and passing cars, I was delighted to see that the colony still persists, exactly as I remembered it, despite being in a public place. Although the photos show it as being white, it is actually a slightly creamy-white in the wild.

White Hoop Petticoat Daffodil  - Narcissus cantabricus 3 © John MuddemanWhite Hoop Petticoat Daffodil
Narcissus cantabricus
© John Muddeman

Both plants deserve a few more comments. Some years ago I took Teresa to this colony as she'd not seen it before, and she quickly added that despite its scientific name, it is not found in N Spain. Indeed, looking at a map of the species on the web, this must be one of the most northerly sites for the species and is apparently some 50-60 km from the extreme NE extent of its distribution (just in the province of Guadalajara). Cantabrican it is not! At least its not quite so far out as the showy Scilla peruviana of SW Spain!

The Gagea also had me looking briefly for a possible ID, but I quickly saw from a couple of articles on the web that it is full of extremely similar and morphologically variable (micro)species. So I've simply declined to even try to name it, even if there are only about a dozen in Spain and probably only one or two in this area. Until the relevant volume of Flora Ibérica comes out, I won't even try! [NB. Since writing this I see that the first ever Flora de Madrid was published in December and I'm eagerly awaiting its arrival!].

I'm off to the International Birdwatching Fair at Monfragüe National Park on Saturday, and the park should be at its early spring best too. I hope to have a bit of time to look for a few things there, and if so, I'll try to add more to this post.

Adult Bonelli's Eagle - Aquila fasciata © John MuddemanAdult Bonelli's Eagle
Aquila fasciata
© John Muddeman

F.I.O. 2011 :

The fair was a great success, not only as I was able to meet plenty of people I haven't seen for years, but also see how it is gaining in popularity among the general public. The car parks were simply packed virtually until nightfall on the Saturday and were just as busy on the Sunday morning as we passed through again. With just 10 thousand members of the Spanish Ornithological Society (SEO/BirdLife), to see so many interested visitors is a welcome boost, showing that many were drawn to the reserve outside the usual mass visiting period of Easter week and either side.

It was also very good for wildlife observations, with a number of Otters (including one family group of 4) showing regularly for the lucky, plus a wide range of usual spring birds, including Red and the first Black Bosca's Newt - Triturus boscai © John MuddemanBosca's Newt
Triturus boscai
© John Muddeman
Kites, all five Spanish breeding eagles (Spanish Imperial at two sites, Golden, a couple of Bonelli's and the first returning Short-toed and even a Booted Eagle, the latter perhaps even an over-wintering bird), Egyptian, Eurasian Black and Griffon Vultures, Peregrine and incubating/brooding Eurasian Eagle-owl of most note among the raptors, plus several very showy Black Storks (including the famous old female known colloquially as "CHONI" given her colour ring code) and the first Subalpine Warbler (remarkably early) [with thanks to various members of the GOCE forum in Cáceres for their sightings]. In almost stark contrast, especially given clear sunny skies and temperatures into the low 20sºC, the female Goosander (the second for Extremadura and indeed this winter) was seen by many all three afternoons, though personally, one of my favourite sightings [this time thanks to a park ranger] was of a dozen or more Bosca's Newts in active courtship in a small pool!

Combining the visits to the park with a stay further south at Finca Santa Marta, where it was great to see the owners Henri and Marta again, and to meet the new manager, made it a superb couple of days.

C Spain observations continued

A trip on 3rd March to take a look at a section of river included as a route for the Birdwatching Tourism of the Western Sierras of Madrid project (still underway), was remarkable. In just 90 minutes, a tremendous mix of wintering, migrant and resident species was seen, with the most notable birds in local terms being large numbers of Eurasian Female Eurasian Siskin - Carduelis spinus © John MuddemanFemale Eurasian Siskin
Carduelis spinus
© John Muddeman
Siskins feeding in the Alder trees, a calling female Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, a male Eurasian Penduline-tit calling from a nest (though it is surely an old nest being revisited?), a pair of early-returning Red-rumped Swallows, but in marked contrast, good numbers of Redwings were also present.

This contrast of wintering species and early returning migrants has also been a feature in my home village of Fresnedillas de la Oliva, where the unmistakable call of a passing Red-rumped Swallow alerted me to its presence as I was searching for some wintering Goldcrests -an unusual winter visitor here- in a small pine plantation on 7th.

And today, 10th, just as I stopped work for a late lunch, the unmistakable bugling of migrant Common Cranes alerted me to the active passage of what turned out to be two large flocks as they headed NE, undoubtedly aiming to reach White Hoop Petticoat Daffodil  - Narcissus cantabricus 1 © John MuddemanWhite Hoop Petticoat Daffodil
Narcissus cantabricus
© John Muddeman
Gallocanta by nightfall. Passage of the cranes, and indeed Greylag Geese over the village is regular in spring, though depends on almost crystal clear conditions and very lights winds for them not to be drifted further S as they pass (as happened in late February this year).

The most significant event of the last week though was undoubtedly the discovery, and close to home, of what is surely one of the largest colonies of Narcissus cantabricus in Madrid! After my trip noted above, it came as a real shock to almost tread on hundreds as I was jogging the other morning! Several thousand flowers are present, though many of these are now looking rather jaded after being open for some ten days or so, and particularly after being covered with several centimetres of snow for almost 12 hours last Friday during rather extreme weather conditions! however, a few are still only in bud, ensuring that two of the local rangers, who've been alerted to their presence, can go and record them 'officially'.

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