Monday, May 28, 2012

Southern Spain Wildflower gallery

Wandering around southern Spain in early May, I couldn't help but notice the astonishing abundance of fabulous wildflowers. I haven't had a chance to identify all of them (which would be restricted to perusing the world wide web in my spare time), but I thought I would go ahead and the photos here.

morning glory

Tassle Hyacinth, Leopoldia comosa

unknown borage?

unknown borage

unknown Centauria-like composite

unknown clover

unknown composite and beetle

unknown lavender

unknown mallow

unknown mint

unknown pink flower, maybe Valerianceae?

unknown yellow cress

unknown pink cistus and beetles

unknown white cistus

Tarifa – The Total Tip of Spain

Here's another quick back-track blog from my week in southern Spain – the first couple of days in Tarifa with James and his friends.

It's a lovely, historic old town. Here's walking into the old walled part of the ancient city through the Puerta de Jerez.

We had our meals and much beer down here, often in view of buildings such as the San Mateo Church, originally built in the 16th century.

Here we were eating breakfast in the ruins of an old convent.

We sampled the nightlife – there are tons of restaurants, bars, and a few dance clubs. It was, after all, James' bachelor party ("stag do" in British English).

But of course we did some natural history – the first afternoon included a boat trip more than half way across the Strait of Gilbraltar so that we were actually closer to Morocco than to Spain. While sea birds were not too common (a few Cory's Shearwaters, Northern Gannets, Black Terns, and a couple Pomarine Jaegers), a steady stream of Common Swifts flying southward was notable. But the main purpose of the boat trip was to see dolphins and whales, and we had a wonderful experience with a very close pod of Pilot Whales.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

A Lapse of Lynx

Spain was a side trip on my Europe vacation to spend time with James Lidster on his "stag do." That sort of British English for "bachelor party," but it seems to imply much more. This one was planned to be a week long trip for him and his friends including some birding and natural history, but not too much.

First stop in Spain on May 2 was the Llanos del Rincón on the way to Andújar from Málaga with James' friends Shaun and Kevin. It was really nice to see several White-headed Ducks, a Eurasian Thick-knee, and hear a Great Reed-Warbler singing.

Then we went to the mountains to the N Andújar to look for Iberian Lynx. I was one of two out of the 12 guys who assembled here who missed seeing the stupid cat. But I enjoyed other things, as well as getting to know James and his friends.

This is the view from where many people stood and scanned for hours hoping to see the feline. There were mammal watchers from all over Europe here these days, and few people were as lucky as these guys.

Some birds in the are included lots of Sardinian Warblers (all birds digibinned here).

And European Bee-eaters.

A Small Copper was one of few butterflies active in the cool, showery weather.

We went into an artificial cave with several species of roosting bats, including this Greater Mouse-eared Bat, Myiotis myiotis.

Herman alerted me to this Moorish gecko, Tarentola mauritanica, in a culvert by the lynx watching spot.

James (little guy on the left), Alex, and Herman. I'm usually the tall one in the group, but during this trip I was only the 5th tallest.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Ice Age Mammal

I'm interrupting my string of Europe blogs to share this Moose. I saw MOOSE today. In fact, this weekend I saw several Moose near Homer, Alaksa. Such a bizarre, huge creature, nonchalantly devouring people's front yards and threatening traffic with impunity.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

France in a Day, Paris in an Afternoon

More catching up with my blog. Now in Homer, Alaska, I can believe I really was in Europe just 3 weeks ago only if I look at my photos to recall the wonderful moments I had with friends.

Even if as brief as my 1 1/2 day visit in France was, it meant a lot to me. After visiting Stephen in  Belgium, I took the quick train to Paris' Gare du Nord train station on April 30. A lot of souls have wandered through this famous spot over time.

It was about 4 blocks' walk to the East Station (Gare de l'Est; actually in Tucson terms it was about 1/4 block), and while I busied myself with knitting a new pair of socks, I was suddenly in the middle of Champagne, visiting my dear friend Titou.

On May 1, far from the demonstrations that dominated much of the country, we had a nice morning of birding in the forest to the south of Reims, passing through picturesque old villages, such as Villers-aux-noeuds.

The region grows a lot of grapes for bubbly wine; not just any, this is the genuine champagne.

On our walk in the woods the Blackcaps, Great Tits, Marsh Tits, Chaffinches, and Dunnocks conspired to create a cacophony. No photos of them, but the wildflowers in this late, late spring were still nice to see. Bluebells.


And a really hairy cool weather fly.

Titou lives in a lovely country house over an hour from Reims but maintains a lofty flat in the middle of the city, with a spectacular view of this famous city.

The Notre Dam cathedral in the center of town is perhaps the best known landmark.

Then I got a ride to Paris with Titous' nephew, met up with my friend Harald, and within a short time was viewing the other Notre Dam cathedral. France in a day.

Harald and I then caught up at a busy restaurant, having last seen each other in Heidelberg 14 1/2  years ago.

I saw the tip of the Eiffel Tower from afar. Paris in an afternoon.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

99 Birds in Belgium

I've gotten way behind in my blogging – too much fun, too much real experience, and not enough time online. I'm not complaining.

I'll just start where I left off with my month-long vacation visiting friends in Europe, though I'm now home and putting the last touches on my shopping list and recipe book for the Gambell cooking job I'm doing week after next.

After visiting Marco and Frank in Oldenburg, I made my way to Brussels to visit fellow birding tour guide Stephen Boddington. The train took me across the entire nation of The Netherlands, where I had to change trains in Groningen, Utrecht, and Rotterdam. The latter has a particularly striking, and not very bird-friendly, skyline from the main train station.

Stephen and I birded two different sites in Belgium, did some touring of the city center, had a drink with a friend of his at a pub that had a listing of maybe a hundred beers, and walked through the rare opening of the royal greenhouses.

We started with a local hotspot in a Brussels suburb called Mechelen, taking the train and walking to the Mechels Broek from there. A lake, wet fields, hedgerows, and scattered trees make this a very good local patch for birders with only a couple hours to spare. Our highlight here today was a group of migrant Black Terns over the main lake, but a nice assortment of shorebirds – Common Sandpiper, Common Redshank, Greenshank, Wood Sandpiper, and Green Sandpiper – was also a treat. A new phenomenon for me was the mating swarms of this unusual moth, the Green Longhgorn, Adela reaumurella. I had never seen a moth with such long antennae, making me think at first that they were trichopterans.

Our non-birding interlude in Brussels included the city's most famous tourist attraction, the tiny statue known as Manneken Pis, the "Little Man Pee." There is apparently crowd of tourists around it at all times, though I had never even heard of it before.

We did include some birding, such as the pair of Stock Doves that Stephen had found in the main park as well as the breeding pair of peregrines in this church tower. We saw the female come in and land briefly above the nest, and the chicks are visible with the cam that is broadcast on tv screens in a trailer parked on the street below. Two interpreters are employed full time to talk about the birds with curious passers-by.

We also took advantage of the brief annual opening of the royal greenhouses in the N part of the city. Lots of palms, ferns, and fuchsias. The King apparently likes pink.

Finally, we got in a good, full day of birding on the coast near Brugge and hit it just right with conditions for a superbly visible landbird migration. Stephen wrote about it already on his Belgian Birding Blog.

We started off on the top of the dike with town and farm fields to the southeast and the North Sea (near where it meets the English Channel) to the northwest. Here we saw flocks of swallows, swifts, pipits, and wagtails winging their way north (forced to head northeast by the coastline), with top highlights going to a Common Redstart, an Osprey, and a Ring Ouzel. Two Eurasian Jays flying very high were behaving like migrants, though local birds are probably resident.

We then covered the green, wet, and plowed fields behind the town of Blankenberge, a wildlife area called the Uitkerkse Polder.

Breeding Black-tailed Godwits sang while Meadow Pipits foraged quietly – apparently already feeding young.

The plowed fields were full of three kinds of Western Yellow Wagtails, Northern Wheaters, and a few Whinchats. I always enjoy watching Jackdaws, a very cute corvid that most Europeans take for granted. We just don't have anything like it in North America, though I once heard a distinctive single call note from the middle of a huge flock of American Crows going to a roost at Sauvie Island, Oregon. I could have just shrugged it off as a hallucination if it hadn't been also heard by my friend Hendrik who also picked the sound out of the more raucous crows. But we never saw anything and I will always only wonder if we actually heard a Jackdaw.

Other shorebirds in the wet fields included several Eurasian Oystercatchers and this lingering European Golden-Plover.

In just a day and a half of birding, we had managed to get to 99 species for my first trip ever to this country. I'll have to return.