Sunday, 11 February 2018


  The Hawfinch, a strikingly large and charismatic bird but shy and elusive spending much of its time high in the treetops of broad-leafed woodland and avoiding the open ground.

With its large and very powerful bill, its large head and neck adapted to accommodate the muscle that helps generate a staggering 45kg of force and used for cracking open the likes of Cherry and Olive stones, so as to extract the inner seed, all the more impressive from a bird weighing in at a mere 2oz.

Generally, it is a nonmigratory bird although Northern birds move South of their breeding range. It is the Winter time that we see them in large flocks foraging open farmland and perhaps mixed with flocks of mixed passerines, Chaffinches, Bramblings and Greenfinches etc, who have also moved South in search of food.

The Male, with its Horned coloured Winter bill, in Summer it changes to a blue Black.

Here the Female duller in colour and a grey patch on the wing.

In the breeding season part of the Male mating ritual is to raise its head and chest feathers, it seems the head feathers also rise when it is alert to disturbance or danger.

Standing tall in the Winter treetop.

A Female looks down on a Blue Tit.

Here we can see the Iridescent blue flight feathers, once again at the breeding time, he will drop his wings displaying this beautiful colour to his new partner.

Except for the nesting period, Hawfinches are particularly pugnacious birds. Because their Winter feeding takes place on the ground they rather tend to give each other space. Whilst carrying out this study I observed a small flock of six birds have their feeding station invaded by a flock of eight birds.
What followed was quite incredible, one Female bird tried for forty minutes to remove all the newcomers.

What is interesting is that part of the mating ritual is bill kissing, it can begin as early as mid-Febuary so at first, I was unsure to what was happening here!

It is said that there is aggressive and defensive posturing associated with the possession of perching space and food. This is heightened as the days start to lengthen. My conclusion, this is combative aggression and not affection, however close we are to St Valentine's day!

The following day, still in the presence of the fourteen Hawfinches, I found "Bruiser" his bill has suffered some damage from the affray!

If a Hawfinch is disturbed it flies up through the tree, perching high in the tree canopy and descends branch by branch keeping an eye on the surroundings.

This is what happens when this male finds another male bird on its stamping ground.

110lbs of pressure on that bill.

Inside the bills are jagged to help hold the fruit stones.

The clash is over quickly.

They just need their own space! to perch and preen.

What a top bird!

Thursday, 7 September 2017

The Laguna de Los Peces,Puebla de Sanabria, Zamora province, Spain.

Puebla de Sanabria is a small town in the North Eastern area of Zamora province in Spain, it is also one of Zamora's oldest settlements. 
It is here that we had been Wolf watching and taking pleasure in this unpopulated and periodically inhospitable area.

The town of Puebla de Sanabria.

We had crossed back and forth across the border with Spain and Portugal. On the other side of the border in Portugal, we discover the region of the Park Natural de Montesinho, unspoiled by the present time. 

Last year we came to see the Lago de Sanabria.

The purpose of this return trip was to visit the two glacial lakes, (Laguna de Los Peces) located high above the Lago de Sanabria.
 We had not succeeded to reach their heights on that last trip, due to the severe weather.

We had good views of both glacial lakes once we reached the mountain summit.
 The Laguna de Los Peces concealed far up in its isolated mountain locality.
Everywhere the weather was menacing, snow showers storming across the lakes.

The following morning the weather had changed dramatically and we found ourselves headed out across the Fuentes Carrionas y Fuente Cobre Natural Park, engulfed in a snowstorm. Reaching Guardo we encountered the first snowplows.

We followed a constant snaking mountain pass, jaded we pulled over for our lunch, far below us a small herd of Red Deer undisturbed, later watching a pair of Foxes arrive in a corner of the stone walled pasture, they seemed to be enjoying the weak sunshine.
We had hot soup and bread, warming and energising.
Griffon Vultures cruised the higher slopes, in the hope of food.

After lunch we continued, stopping at the roadside in an attempt to photograph the Rock Buntings bustling in the leafless shrubs.

The tapering road twists and turns towards a higher level offering a superb mountain perspective.

Once again a voyage of discovery, in both Portugal and here Spain. 

Another fabulous visit!

Monday, 3 July 2017

Watching Wolves in Spain

The sky had started to turn into a wonderful vermillion glow, it was getting late and time for us to leave our road and rest for the night.
We were in the North of Castilla y León and very close to our destination, this is where we would start our search for the Iberian Wolf.

Rested and ready, the new day unfolding in front of us, our lesser travelled road takes us through stunning countryside, we pass underneath huge concrete pillars holding Spains impressive motorway system high above us (business as usual) but down here it is like a forgotten World, unchanged with time, people still take the time to see who is passing as they toil in their plots, perhaps they worry about the coming change! Like us passing through!

A stone and slate bridge crosses a meandering river, the water level low for the time of year, there has been no rain for some time. Interestingly it's March and we should have expected colder weather not the 23degrees plus, maybe everything is changing, it certainly causes conversations with the local people.

High on our vantage point, we can see for miles! With our telescope, we scan the countryside, a little further along the track others are doing the same.

Beautiful Dartford Warblers perch in the surrounding trees with their brazen song, they are so untroubled in this environment, other than a few of us hoping to see an Iberian Wolf there is nothing but peace.

In a small group of trees, Nuthatches seek insects, already feeding their first broods.
Spring has come early this year.

To understand more about the Iberian Wolf, we make a visit to the excellent interpretation center at Robledo, south of Puebla De Sanabria in Zamora province.

Behind the heather a Watching Wolf.

What a beautiful creature

Iberian Wolf,  (Canis lupus signatus)  stands proudly on the hillside.

Once again it is time for us to move on, the road from here is the beginning of our journey home, what will tomorrow's travel bring?

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

The wild Arribes del Duero in Portugal and Spain

We had driven north from Vila Velha de Ródão with its towering cliffs known as the Portas do Ródão, where we had spent the night. The following morning we drove to Castelo Branco, and once again crossed the border into Spain, the sky blue, heat haze disfiguring the road as we passed through the Sierra de Gata, our destination La Alberca, high in the Sierra de la Peña de Francia, located
70 Kilometres South of Salamanca and also in the province of Salamanca in Castilla Y Leon.
The road is torturous, the air was cooler as we passed through the pine forest, gaining height, eventually the switchback bends delivered us into La Alberca.  

We awoke early the following morning, refreshed and ready to explore the town and breakfasted on an incredible local bread stuffed with Chorizo sausage.

After breakfast, we once again set out on another zigzagging road, this one spiralling us ever high towards the summit of Peña de Francia.

The views from the top of Peña de Francia, at 5666feet, 1727mtrs are far reaching.

Presumably, this sculptured window is a characterization of Simón Vela and his travels from
Santiago de Compostela via Salamanca to find the Peña de Francia.
It may just be Don Quixote!

Due to its height, the Peña de Francia is home to Alpine Accentors whose breeding grounds are usually above 1800mtrs.

They like barren areas and feed on Insects and seeds. It was certainly barren up there and I guess their main food source would have to be insects as there was barely a blade of grass.

Later in the day, we passed through Ciudad Rodrigo and into the arribes, the local name for the complex of Duero river gorges. Once again these canyons form the border between Portugal and Spain for close to 120 kilometres, and like the Rio Tajo gorges, they harbour important populations
of cliff-nesting birds.    

In both the above Photographs you can see the road that we had travelled, to access the canyon.

At the river level we used one of the giant dams to cross the border back into Portugal, so again you see Portugal on the left and Spain on the right. Swifts, Red Rumped and Barn Swallows hawk over the still water.

Positioned on top of an elevated outcrop, waiting to observe Vultures flying through the gorge, it was a surprise to see this Wren, so high!

The Griffon Vultures look Great in the late afternoon sunshine.

They just soared past just below our viewpoint.

Some of them starting to moult.

The following morning we were back early, just in time to catch a pair of Egyptian Vultures.

As the pair of Egyptian Vultures passed down the gorge the Griffon Vultures start to launch from their roost.

Some off the Griffons wait on the rocks for the early morning air to warm, before launching themselves off the cliff face.

We made slow progress, following as close as possible to the gorge, we were still in Portugal and Spain rising up across the water.

At times the roads and tracks had become so rutted and impossible to travel along we had to hike to the canyon.

Whilst walking we found This lovely Provence Hairstreak butterfly.

Two minutes later we found a Green Hairstreak.

The end of another great visit!

From here we would be travelling further North in Castilla y  León to start our search for the elusive
Iberian Wolf.