2004 – Rock On – Volume 2
Things are beginning to settle into a routine now that I have been here a couple of weeks. It gets light at about 08:30, so I am up, showered, eaten and have all available nets open by then. I wonder sometimes if its worth it, like now, when its cloudy, a strong Easterly wind blowing keeping the temperature down to 15’C, some 500 feet of mist netting out and I catch 2 birds in 4 hours. It’s enough to drive you to drink. What a good idea!
The weather conditions are persisting, with the one exception. The wind is getting stronger. Out in the straights its blowing a force 8 and has been for 2 days. Where I am, its not bad at all. It’s the only place on the rock where you get a bit of shelter, so I can sit outside and watch the world go by in a t-shirt. In town and elsewhere on The Rock, its blowing a gale and the humidity makes it feel very cold. Nothing else to do while this weather persists than to take shelter in any hostelry that serves beer and will have me as company. This could last a couple of days. I hope my liver is up to the job.
Confession time now. After a particularly good night out on the town, I awoke only to realise that I had not set the moth trap. I did no more than to cover up my crime by putting it out on the veranda making it look like that I had retrieved it from the cemetery as usual. I was also very fortunate to find a moth in the bathroom while I was showering, which I placed into the empty trap. When Charlie came up later to examine the contents, he was amazed by how few occupants there were, a few being one. I just shrugged my shoulders and offered the excuse that it was rather windy during the night. This was, in typical Gib fashion accepted and he went away quite happy after giving me instructions not to set the trap until the wind died down. A close call, but I think I got away with it.
Even though the wind is still blowing, the birds have to move. I have today caught a number of Chiffchaffs including one Iberian Chiff and Blackcaps. Proof that even in these conditions, there is some migration occurring. One plus is that the cloud keeps the Crag Martins low. I have caught 19 to date, a record for this place. I will catch a few more yet I reckon. I have also had 3 Blue Rock Thrush. They are not true thrushes, more chats. They are just like giant blue wheatears in the hand. Stunning birds, and all males. This is also a Spring record so I must be doing something right.
I went to Spain with Keith this afternoon. He is a local lad studying for his PhD. He has several study areas in Spain both near and far in which we have to do transects and point counts, quite a different form of birding but all good experience. This time we went to a magnificent pine forest about 25 miles (sorry 40 Km) into Spain. What a different world! The sun was shining although it was still windy but really pleasant to be out and about. The forest was something else. Full of Crested Tit, Firecrest, woodpeckers, Tree Creepers and migrants by the score.
It was also full of locals. We went mid week because it would be quiet. Little did we know that this was the middle of the 2 weeks when the locals are allowed to gather pine cones for the kernels. Everywhere we went, there were extremely agile Spaniards shinning up huge trees with cutters to get the cones. The earth shook as these things the size of grapefruits hit the floor. It was quite dangerous to stay still for more than a couple of minutes. We thought they were mad and I reckon the feeling was mutual.
On our journey home, off road and through some fabulous habitat, we also saw Swallows and Martins as well as Griffon Vultures and Buzzard. A taste of things to come. All this was rounded off by a visit to a local “Venta” for dinner in the evening and a couple of hours in the bar. This is my kind of birding!
Another day of slow ringing (although I did catch the first Swallow of the season) and a night out in La Linea was followed by a 05:00 start and another sortie in Spain with Keith. This time along the coast and inland slightly to some lowland habitat in the lee of the foothills. A magnificent day with the sun blazing down and so good to hear all the bird song that you used to here in England. Corn Bunting, Stonechat, Skylark, Goldfinch by the score. Also the locals, Thekla and Calandra Lark plus Zitting Cisticola. Remember when they used to be Fantail Warblers? There were also Spanish Sparrows in good numbers plus 300+ Griffon Vultures and a very early adult Egyptian Vulture.
After 3 hours of transects and point counts, we went to the beach to see what was there. Another couple of hours birding picked up some 14 wader species, 20 Auduins Gull, 70+ Sandwich Tern and a Caspian Tern.
To celebrate we had to go to a Venta for lunch, a very traditional Spanish thing to do which I am slowly getting used to again. Venta’s are the equivalent to our roadside cafés. They are very basic but serve up good traditional and wholesome Spanish fayre. Just the things I like. Soups made from wild asparagus and thistle, while for main courses there is oxtail, rabbit, wild boar, liver and stews of all different kinds. Just what you need after a hard morning.
Stuffed to the gunnels, a visit to the estuary added Spoonbill, 4 Osprey, Godwit, Cormorant ( a rare bird here) and another 3 wader species to the list. I was quite relieved to get back, have a bite to eat and get to bed. It’s a tough life this birding.
Today was Valentines day and it was celebrated with the first control of the spring, a Crag Martin with a Spanish ring. The rest of the day was spent like many other Valentines days in the past, in the company of men. Peter’s wife was in the UK so we spent the afternoon watching footy and rugby, slobbing around getting drunk and eating all the things his wife does not let him normally let him have. A great way to spend the day. It all ended up with me forgetting the moth trap yet again. I guess it will be the same again today (I hope).