|Introduction to the Birds of Spain|
|Birds of Spain|
The Penibaetic Range of mountains dips its toes into the Mediterranean on the eastern side of Gibraltar and into the Atlantic to Gibraltar’s western seaboard. From here the range strikes north and then eastwards, never far from the Mediterranean and has it’s ceiling in the Sierra Nevada with several peaks of over 3,000 metres. It is as dramatic as it is stunning. The Serranía de Ronda and Sierra de Grazalema is situated amidst the limestone peaks, which lie south and west of the Sierra Nevada.
The area’s highest peak is Torrecilla at 1,919 metres. To the southwest of the Serranía the mountains are sandstone. The habitats of the area are varied and include sheer limestone cliffs, pine woods (P.sylvestris, P.pinaster), Spanish Fir (Abies pinsapo), grasslands, scrub and oak (Q.rotundifolia, Q.suber) woods. Amongst the flora there are several species endemic to the area.
The bird community is particularly rich and breeding birds include, to name but a few, Golden Aquila chrysaetos, Bonelli’s Hieraaetus fasciatus, Booted H.pennatus and Short-toed Circaetus gallicus Eagles, Griffon Gyps fulvus and Egyptian Neophron percnopterus Vultures, Peregrine Falcon Falco peregrinus, Lesser Kestrel Falco naumanni, Eagle Owl Bubo bubo, White-rumped Apus caffer, Alpine A.melba and Pallid A.pallidus Swifts, Blue Rock Thrush Monticola solitarius, Rock Thrush Monticola saxatilis, Black Wheatear Oenanthe leucura, Black Redstart Pheonicurus ochruros, Chough Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax, Rock Sparrow Petronia petronia, Rock Bunting Emberiza cia and Crossbill Loxia curvirostra. The Serranía and its surroundings include three major natural parks, Sierra de las Nieves (declared Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO in 1995), Sierra de Grazalema (declared Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO in 1977) and Los Alcornocales a richly wooded park and declared ZEPA reserve (zone of especial protection for the birds).
Major river systems flowing to the south include the Rio Genal and Rio Guadiaro, both are important to the many species of birds that avoid higher land altitudes during migration i.e. Warbler Sp., and for summer residents (as they flow in the high summer, when most other rivers are dry). These rivers act as a natural highway for many migrating species in spring and autumn. This is our study area; We’ve died and gone to heaven!
The area is remarkable, not only for being an internationally important area for fauna and flora, but also for an almost total lack of organised research into even a comprehensive list of bird species using the Serranía and Sierra (until our recently published book). The creeping hand of agriculture, land development, deforestation and poorly planned tree planting all put this natural wonder at critical risk. Adding to these risks are illegal poisoning, egg collecting, trapping and hunting. There is a local saying ‘If it can fly, you can eat it!’ A depressingly familiar attitude shared by all countries in the Mediterranean basin.
Our research and love of the natural wonders that are the Serranía de Ronda and Sierra de Grazalema, raises many an old eyebrow. You know, it was not so long ago, when during the oppressive years under Franco, people had to supplement their diet with whatever food they could get hold of. Hunting today largely has its roots in the necessity of hunting for ‘the pot’. Thankfully, a more enlightened attitude is evident with the younger generation, who not only appreciate their natural heritage, but many actively pursue means of protecting it. However, discovery can motivate you. Not always the preferred kind like, finding higher densities of breeding Rock Thrushes than anyone thought possible, but also by getting some idea why Song Thrushes in Northern Europe might be diminishing. Talking to one shoot organiser he mentioned, quite casually, that they had shot over 500 Song Thrushes that season! Apart from some research and census work involving raptors, birds by enlarge; have been poorly served by any organised and meaningful basic survey work here.
The mounting pressures increase the need for knowledge and case building to protect this most important area. For us it has been depressing, although challenging, to begin a research programme, where very little is available historically to use as a beginning, or by way of comparing with our own results. Once we began though, there were some very encouraging finds to our work i.e. a local healthy and still viable population of Bonelli’s Eagle H. fasciatus, despite local hunting interests! Note: Bonelli's Eagle. The highest breeding density in Europe is here within the Serranía and Sierras.
The research programme covers 48 times 10Km² squares. It is a mammoth undertaking and includes fringe, out-lying areas of the Serranía de Ronda and Sierra de Grazalema. The methodology used follows normal formats i.e. Linear transects, listening stations and tetrad sampling, but is also supplemented by ringing and colour ringing. The later, colour ringing, is being applied only to the family Turdidae and in particular Oenanthe sp. The objects are to establish a comprehensive atlas for all birds of the Serranía and Sierra at all times of the year, breeding population studies, densities and post juvenile dispersals. Habitat registers and their relative importance will also form many of the appendices to the finished research! Eventually, the published results will provide a valuable reference for future use.
The Serranía de Ronda and Sierra de Grazalema, is unique and an important area for European birds. Not only is the area rich in breeding species, as previously mentioned some four different species of eagle nest here, but also because of its’ close proximity to the Straits of Gibraltar (only 14 kilometres from North Africa). It is an extremely important feeding area for migrant birds of western and northern Europe. Recent research has shown the importance of the area to several breeding species under threat. Such birds as Golden Eagle A. chrysaetos, Bonelli’s Eagle H. fasciatus, Egyptian Vulture N. percnopterus, Peregrine Falcon F. peregrinus, Black Wheatear O. leucura, Rock Thrush M. saxatilis, Orphean Warbler Sylvia hortensis and Chough P. pyrrhocorax, are all classified by the World Conservation Union (UICN) as being under varying danger levels of extinction.
Your support of ornithological tourism in the Serranía and Sierra will, we are certain, help raise the profile and importance of the need to protect the natural wonders of this unique area. People are far more likely to protect and preserve wildlife, if it can generate real income and contribute more fully to the local economy.
The Project needs YOU!!
Opportunities are there for any visitor to the area to assist with survey work, whatever the time of year. We ask for any information on species seen and their location. Numbers, breeding, pairs in an area, flock sizes and virtually any information you can provide from your visit here, will be gratefully received and acknowledged. An added bonus, as previously mentioned, is a visit here will encourage locals to protect and preserve wildlife in the area. For those requiring a guided tour of the best sites in the area, then please refer to the OrniRonda page. If you intend visiting the area, or wish to submit past or future records, why not do so via the bird forum of the Andalusia Bird Society? The membership to the forum is free. To help the ABS in it's work why not join the Society?
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Accommodation: For accommodation in the area, please following this link.