2004 – Rock On – Volume 3
Today I was reunited with an old friend, the push bike I had last year. This will be my transport for the duration of my trip. 18 gears and I only use one, the lowest. This is because its either up a very steep incline or zooming down the same at break neck speed. There is NO in between. Again I had forgotten how difficult it is to get around here under your own steam, but I will soon be conquering these hills again as I did last year. It’s only a matter of practice, which I get a great deal of.
I have been “hob knobbing” today. I had a visit from the Gib Environment Minister. True to form he was late, about 4 days. I was told the visit would be last week but he didn’t show, until today that is. I had made an effort to dress a bit decent before but he saw me in full scruffy mode this time. This included a Tee shirt with a rather rude logo on the front. Luckily I had a few birds to show him which included a Crag Martin and Swallow.
Things were going quite well until he wanted a tour of the nets. We made it to the first, he took one look (which is not very steep compared to the others) and “bottled it”. Politics must be easier in comparison.
After a morning of very slow ringing, had another trip into Spain with Keith to one of his study areas. This time to the foothills in open maqui above Tarifa. Tarifa, if you didn’t know is the windiest place in Europe, famed for its breakers and surfing. In the foothills, with an easterly its even worse!. It may have been 17’C, but with the wind blowing a gale (Force 7) and it was bloody freezing. I have not been so cold for a long time. No matter what you did or where you went, you could not avoid it. My whole arms were numb and fingers tingled as we did 2 hours of transects and point counts. It was really difficult even keeping on track and reading the GPS. In those conditions there were not too many birds either. A flock of 300+ Skylark and a Kingfisher (what the ****** hell was it doing up there) were the only highlights birding wise.
We were witness to one fabulous event, the birth of a calf. One thing you have to remember in Spain is that brown cows are OK, black ones, you do not mess with. They are really, really mean hombres, bred for the bull rings of Madrid and Seville. You do NOT wander into their territory. This one was brown. Spanish cattle (or steers to our American listeners) are not molly coddled. No vets in attendance here, they have to take their chances in the wild. It was amazing to see and also amazing to see how quickly the Griffon Vultures homed in on the event. Within minutes of the birth, there were 25 vultures circling very low or on the ground. The mother was frantic, trying to chase them off when all they were interested in was “the bits”. After 30 minutes of dividing her time between her newborn calf and the vultures, she just moved off and everyone was happy. Great views of vultures was had by all. Something I shall not forget, like something out of Africa.
Footnote:- Mother and baby are doing fine.
Friday and it has lashed down all day. A good easterly blowing about force 6, cloudy and very wet. I have been asked if I would paint the inside of the Obs while I am here, so this has been the activity of the day. Scraping walls, filling and painting in the ringing room. Nearly finished the room in a day, only a very long corridor and 3 other rooms to go! It doesn’t look too bad, but I have cut corners, something I would not do at home but things are looking cleaner and fresher already. At the end off the day I think I had as much paint in my hair as on the wall. How is that possible I hear you say!
Saturday and its off birding in Spain, to La Janda, which is a huge open marsh area. We left at 05:00 which would allow us breakfast in a Venta. Breakfast in Spain is a big event. It’s either churros and chocolate sauce or toast with coffee. The coffee comes in half or pint glasses, so bloody hot that you can’t drink it for at least half an hour, but it is fabulous, like nothing I have tasted anywhere
Churros is not the choice of locals here. The bread that they serve toasted is made especially for the purpose in local bakers or on the premises. Each slice is the size of the moon and tastes fab on its own. It is served with fresh garlic and olive oil or “red and white butter”. If you choose the garlic, a huge clove is cut in half, rubbed on the toast and oil then poured on. This completely coats your mouth and the taste lasts all day. Its great but you do not make many new friends.
The white butter is pork dripping, the red butter is pork dripping with paprika and herbs. Just fantastic. My kind of breakfast and makes for a great start to the day. It just wouldn’t happen back in the UK, far too unhealthy. Who cares, its just FAB.
The birding was a little slow, the wind again keeping most things down. No sign of the Cranes this time, but we did have Purple Swamp Hen, Great Spotted Cuckoo and three Wood Sandpipers ( a Spanish rarity). Apart from that, it was all the usual suspects that you get here which still makes for a great days birding.
On the way home I did have another “food” tick, tripe stew. This is another local dish served in Venta’s and tasted much better than it sounds, full of unrecognisable bits and pieces, masses of chick peas in a rich, almost red gravy. I happened to mention this the following day to Paul Rocca, the guy who counts raptors on migration and he said that his mum cooked the best tripe stew in the world. Funny how mums always cook the best. Anyway to prove this fact, some 3 hours later I was presented with a huge vat of Paul’s mums tripe stew, they just happen to be having for Sunday lunch. It was indeed tasty, but there was so much that I will be eating more unrecognisable things for a few days to come. Mmmmm, I hear you say, how lucky can one man be!
They are forecasting Westerlies next week which means that the Raptor migration should start and that I will not be painting. Problem here is that they are absolutely hopeless at predicting the weather here as It is so variable at this time of year. Judging by the thunder and lighting outside and the howling wind and lashing rain at present I think that they might have it a little wrong. I just might be painting for a couple of days yet.
PS. Remember that I was meant to be getting an M.O.D pass for Windmill Hill? Well, I have filled in all the appropriate paperwork, it has been sent off and I am waiting. It has been 3 weeks now. Knowing Gib, it will be some time yet before I get it, if it turns up at all. Such is the efficiency here. I will keep you informed.