Monday, August 25, 2014

Plato Mixto – (Mixed Plate)

Another guest post from Karyn on our adventures here in Spain! Among all of this fun, I continue to work here counting raptors (12,700 on Monday!), banding birds (69 Black Kites banded yesterday), and writing manuscripts. Enjoy!

Plato Mixto – (Mixed Plate) – by Karyn deKramer

The friends I have made in Spain are very warm and welcoming, sharing their culture and traditions. One such tradition is the sharing of different plates at the evening meal. Plates of different varieties of meats, fish, vegetables and such are ordered and shared between all at the table. So it is here, that I share with you, a mixed plate of stories and adventures.

Cueva de los Antepasado de Nieves (The cave of the Ancestors of Nieves) -14.1km / 521 meters of elevation gain - Near Facinas, Spain.

Our sweet friend Nieves led us on a very special hike to view prehistoric cave paintings. Nieves left work to pick us up in Tarifa for a 2pm start as Rob and I had dinner commitments with IBO/Migres that evening at 8:30pm in Tarifa – it would be a full day.

She came prepared with photocopied pictures of the images we were to see as well as the decipher key of what each symbol is thought to represent – water, trees, flocks of birds, boat, human, animal, star, etc. Nieves grew up in this area and it was obvious that this place was very special for her and now for us as well. She pointed out the area her family had occupied for many, many generations in the cork oak forest.

It was a very hot afternoon and we appreciated every little breeze that came our way. The trek started out on a rocky, rolling, and unpaved road that was slightly tinted ‘rojo’ (red) with iron oxide.

We could see the cave in a rock face in the rolling hills of cork oak in the distance above us.

Nearer to the cave, we veered off the road and onto a trail. With sandaled feet, Nieves led us like a javelina through the jungle of thorny, wicked, tangled brush. We lost the trail a few times but managed to continue to regain the way.

Reaching the cave, we welcomed the cool interior. The cave was incredible, consisting of sandstone that has been eroded into holes and twisted designs. Nieves encouraged us to look around and discover the prehistoric paintings ourselves. We enjoyed the exploration, found swift and wasp nests, and then Rob discovered the panel of paintings.

We enjoyed deciphering the symbols using the photocopies Nieves had provided of the early 1900’s documented discovery. She explained that there was another panel depicting a horse, and dots resembling a map that she had not found. This was her third time coming to this cave. We sat at the opening and enjoyed the vast view of the valley below.

Rob and Nieves viewing the landscape.

Nieves spoke of her generations of ancestry and memories growing up near this incredible area, surrounded by cork oak forest and wildlife. We joked and laughed that Nieves’ prehistoric ancestors might have been the ones who painted in this cave in prehistoric times. Suddenly, Nieves sat up excitedly. She walked over to the wall and pointed at her discovery – The panel with the horse and dots resembling a map! She had found the missing panel. It was very faint, but there it was.

Map and horse (on the right, not really visible in this photo).

Thank you Nieves, for sharing such a special place with us and a great hike!

Nieves after discovering the final panel.

Mtn. Bike Ride: Carrizales Loop 41km / 890 meters elevation gain / 3hrs

It was a perfect morning, cooler than most with a pleasant breeze. Rob and I boarded the bus down to Tarifa and rented some nice mtn. bikes at AOS which is located at one end of town. We pedaled a steady, scenic climb up into the beautiful Alcornocales Park (cork oak forest) on gravel road, crossing streams along the way. Climbing to the top, passing churning windmill farms and then down rolling hills, through desert terrain, the road narrowing as we go. Through a cow herd (perdon!-pardon me), over the next roller to find incredible views of the Mediterranean Sea. Next, on to a beachfront trail (is this a cow trail?), followed by a climb up to the paved bricks of old town Tarifa (pave!), through the arch, weaving traffic to finish the loop at the bike shop (AOS). Looking at the time, we scurried on to catch the next bus home to Pelayo which left in 8 minutes! We sit on the bus, with big smiles on our faces having completed a sweet loop and another awesome day on a bike in Spain.

A Night in Tarifa – Big 50 for the Boss

Greg – IBO Boss turned 50 while visiting us in Tarifa. Emmy made him a fantastic card with 50 birds drawn on the front.  The four of us (Greg, Rob, Emmy, Karyn) celebrated by dinning in Tarifa at Otro Melli which is located in the central plaza. While sharing platos of Spanish cuisine, we were entertained by street musicians. Up first, a Flamenco guitar player, followed by a Beat Box duo …with sax, and theatrical performance – it was great!

Boss Greg with his homemade birthday card (Thanks Emmy!)

The Vuelta

Stage 2 of the Vuelta a Espana started in Algeciras and raced through the town of Pelayo today into San Fernando. It was incredible to see all the people in this little town of Pelayo lining the autoway to catch a glimpse of the riders! I walked up to the ‘blue’ pedestrian bridge that crosses the autoway to find it already packed with spectators waiting to cheer on the riders. The breakaway of riders came through with Spain in the lead… the pack followed shortly after…then the stream of team support vehicles –bicycles loaded on top! It was really awesome to witness.

La Vuelta stage 2 leaders through Pelayo, Spain


La Vuelta stage 2 main pack through Pelayo, Spain

‘Take Off’ – Peregrine Falcon, Spain - Original Watercolor 11x15

With limited supplies and so much to capture and experience here in Spain, the artwork I have been doing has mostly been in the form of sketching from life or memory in my sketchbook, thinking through compositions for future paintings, or creating digital drawings on the ipad from photos and memories captured here in the field. I was really excited and honored to be asked by my new, dear friend Eddy the Eagle to paint this incredible scene from his photo of a Peregrine Falcon taking the first flight of the morning from an alcornoque (cork oak tree). It is always a pleasure for me to connect my art to others who share my passion for wildlife, nature and art. My first watercolor painting created in Spain of a ‘Spanish’ Peregrine Falcon taking off from a tree that defines this area of Spain. For many reasons this will always be a very unique and special piece for me.

Take Off! Original Artwork, Karyn deKramer.

----- Thank you Karyn!

For more background on our two months of studying birds at the Strait of Gibraltar in partnership with the Fundación Migres and Boise State University’s Intermountain Bird Observatory, refer to my last seven posts.

Post 1: Our First Days Back in España

Post 2: Mucho Flamencos!

Post 3: Birds, Birds, More Birds, and Whales!?!

Post 4: In and Around Our Temporary Home in Pelayo, Spain (Accidently deleted)

Post 5: More Andalusia Adventures

Post 6: Sleep Not For The Birds

Post 7: The Rock!

Thursday, August 21, 2014

The Rock!

Karyn and I continue our work in Spain. On our recent weekend off of work, we traveled to Gibraltar. Here is Karyn’s guest post describing our adventures:

Friday 15 August 2014 - Rob had the day off at Migres and we hired a Taxi ride to Gibraltar- a British territory. We ate an English breakfast then hiked around and up to the castle which is full of history having been taken over by many different people and re-built throughout time. 

Rob with a full English Breakfast (except for the coffee), Gibraltar.

Moorish Castle (note: Gibraltar airstrip in background separates Spain from Gilbraltar)

We found the tram car and paid for a 6 min scenic ride up to the top of the Rock of Gibraltar. The Rock at its peak is 1,398 ft. and made up of Jurassic Limestone.  A Big Rock! It takes up most of the peninsula.  As the tram car docks in at the top, a troop of monkeys (Barbary Macaques - native to the rock) are waiting to accost travelers of their belongings.  They are mostly looking for food, but quickly snatched a shopping bag of someone in our tram car party.

Tram to the top of Gibraltar

Barbary Macaques accosting visitors, top of Gibraltar.

Barbary Macaques blocking the path off of the tram, top of Gibraltar.

Barbary Macaque on railing at visitor center, top of Gibraltar.

It was a foggy, humid morning so visibility was pretty poor, but at the top is quite a view of the Mediterranean Sea and Spanish coast.  The Rock has a knife edge ridge at the top and the Levante winds were blowing from the east.  This created an interesting phenomenon where one side of the ridge (the one we were standing on) was sunny and the east side completely fogged with a few feet at best visibility. If you stepped to the top of the knife edge, you could feel and see the cool fog blowing hard up the rock and into the air. It felt like stepping into a freezer with a big fan blowing – an awesome contrast to the humid heat! Hard to describe but the effect looked man- made (like a snow blower –blowing fog). The cool blowing air felt great but was hard to tolerate since it was a strong wind.

Levante Fog blowing over top of Gibraltar.

We hiked around the top of the rock viewing many defense towers and bunkers that were built to defend the rock and taking in the vast panoramic views.

View of the main urban area of Gibraltar from half way up the rock. 

View out into the Mediterranean Sea from top of Gibraltar.

The monkeys seemed to be everywhere at the top of the Nature Reserve.  Further down, we toured the Great Siege Tunnel – tunneling started around 1779 and this tunnel was completed as it is today around WWII. It is a long tunnel, full of history, old cannons, artifacts and holes you could peek out of!  There are also many tunneled roads in the lower part of the rock which are used today by the Gibraltar Military and are off limits to civilians (30 miles or so).

Inside the Great Siege Tunnel, built to defend the north side of Gibraltar.

View toward Spain from inside the Great Siege Tunnels.

There are also many natural caves in the Rock. We toured St. Michael’s Cave - a dramatic, natural grotto with stalagmites and stalactites which was incredible and much larger and expansive than I expected. The cave is used as a natural amphitheater for music concerts. 

Inside St. Michael’s Cave, with dramatic lighting and music, Gibraltar.

Inside St. Michael’s Cave, with dramatic lighting and music, Gibraltar.

Inside St. Michael’s Cave, with dramatic lighting and music, Gibraltar.

Every inch of this peninsula is used and land is being ‘reclaimed’ from the sea as Gibraltar is one of the most densely populated territories in the world. Water is collected off the rock, and water is desalinated from the ocean for drinking and use.  There is an airstrip that runs perpendicular to the main street entering Gibraltar from Spain. If you enter by foot as we did, you walk across the tarmac.  When planes are scheduled to land or take off the strip is closed temporarily to auto and foot traffic! 

Gibraltar Airport from the top of Gibraltar.

Having explored most of the attractions at the top of the rock Nature Reserve – where most of the history and tourist attractions are, we worked our way down to the heart of the city through a series of steps.

Narrow paths in the city, Gibraltar.

Narrow paths in the city, Gibraltar.

There are many stairs to climb up and down that wind around the city, in and out of residential and public areas.  Hungry, thirsty and tired, we searched to no avail for an Indian Food Restaurant. We found ourselves on the main street at a local bistro named “Llanito” – a great find! We were taken in by the site and smell of the varied (culturally mixed) dishes being served. We ordered and consumed large salads and a quatro formaggi pizza. I later learned thru Wikipedia: “Llanito” is a name many locals of Gibraltar call themselves celebrating the mixture of cultures which represent the people of Gibraltar.  We left by taxi having enjoyed a really fun day in Gibraltar – Cheers!

For more background on our two months of studying birds at the Strait of Gibraltar in partnership with the Fundación Migres and Boise State University’s Intermountain Bird Observatory, refer to my last six posts.

Post 1: Our First Days Back in España

Post 2: Mucho Flamencos!

Post 3: Birds, Birds, More Birds, and Whales!?!

Post 4: In and Around Our Temporary Home in Pelayo, Spain (Accidently deleted)

Post 5: More Andalusia Adventures

Post 6: Sleep Not For The Birds

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Sleep Not For The Birds

Welcome to Karyn and my weekly update from Spain! The past week has once again been filled with adventures on the job and off. We are approaching the half way point on our assignment in Spain, and are still experiencing new work projects and recreational activities. For more background on our two months of studying birds at the Strait of Gibraltar in partnership with the Fundación Migres and Boise State University’s Intermountain Bird Observatory, refer to my last five posts.

Post 1: Our First Days Back in España

Post 2: Mucho Flamencos!

Post 3: Birds, Birds, More Birds, and Whales!?!

Post 4: In and Around Our Temporary Home in Pelayo, Spain (Accidently deleted)

Post 5: More Andalusia Adventures

My past five years of bird research has prepared me for the challenges that work schedules can have on personal sleep. In 2010, I was assigned to a Flammulated Owl project that required me to stay up to at least 2am every night. Since then I have worked on three separate woodpecker projects which regularly require early morning hiking, starting up to an hour and a half before sunrise. However, the work in Spain requires flexibility in sleeping schedule, often on a daily basis. Last week we were out past midnight-banding Barn Swallows and again moon watching. This week I had to be up at 4am to leave for morning songbird banding. Sleep is not for the birds, and I sleep not for the birds!

The Migres work team has grown a bit as four students from universities across Spain have joined the effort before their school begins again in the fall. This has been a great change, providing more flexibility in meeting the work demands, but also comes with the cost of increased coordination as everyone lives in different places. One of my assignments is to transport some of these students to various work assignments.

Morning Songbird Banding

The site of songbird banding is the same as evening Swallow banding, Laguna de la Janda. As I have previously mentioned, this used to be the largest wetland in Europe before it was drained in the 1960’s for agriculture and later used for large wind farms. It is still home to many species including thousands of Glossy Ibis, Cattle and Little Egrets, Gray Herons, and others. The site provides an important stop-over site for migrating passerines, swallows, and storks.

I had to be up at 4am to leave Pelayo by 4:40am. Two of the students that were supposed to go with us, bailed at the last minute, leaving Alejandro and I to enjoy the sunrise in La Janda ourselves. We set the nets up before first light and waited for the sunrise.

The first “net run” was lite on birds, but the second presented more than 50 birds. With only two people to process, we had our hands full. We had Goldfinches, Greenfinches, Reed Warblers, Great Reed Warblers, Melodius Warblers, Cetti’s Warblers, Olivacious Warblers, Nightingales, Sardinian Warblers, House Sparrows, Spanish Sparrows, and a Kingfisher! I banded and measured the wings and Alejandro aged, sexed, evaluated molt, measured tail, tarsus, and culmen.

Kingfisher, La Janda, Spain.

The Spanish Inquisition!

Male Spanish Sparrow, La Janda, Spain.

On the final net run of the day, we had many of the same species including another Kingfisher! Kingfishers are incredible birds. Their feet are soft and rubbery like a gummy bear.

Kingfisher Foot, La Janda, Spain.

Alejandro and the second Kingfisher of the day, La Janda, Spain.

I look forward to the next morning banding session in approximately ten days. In the mean time, we will be swallow banding in the evening later this next week (see report of last session below).

Moon Watching

There are a number of accepted methods for quantifying the volume of avian migration. We spend most of our days here in Spain, as a team is also doing in Idaho, counting the visible migrating raptors. This of course fails to detect nocturnal migrants. Researchers can also use the number of birds trapped for banding as an index of the volume of migration (assumed to be proportional to the volume). Other groups use radar to detect migrating birds. In general, it is preferred to use multiple methods as no single method is perfect and no method meets all of the research needs.

The Migres team has collaborated with teams across Spain using the moon-watching method. This involves counting the birds that pass in front of the nearly full moon and then extrapolating the size of the moon to the full sky. The method we tried out here in Pelayo involved 10-minute samples, counting the number of birds, the type of bird (duck, swift, raptor, passerine), the direction of each bird, and the size of the bird (represents altitude). It is much more difficult than you might think, especially when up to eight birds fly in front of the moon at once.

The Migres teacm also has an experimental computerized system performing the count. This might increase reliability and consistency over individual observers. In the mean time, I must convince the team and volunteers back in Idaho to begin implementing this program with the hopes of future automation.

Swift Flying in Front of the Moon, Strait of Gibraltar, Spain.

Some of the Moon-watchers - Juan-Fran, Eva, Alejandro, Karyn, and Emmy
Strait of Gibraltar, Spain.

Swallow Banding

This last week we joined the growing Migres Team in the second session of swallow banding since our arrival. The plan was the same as I had documented in a previous post. Two nets put up before dark, with a couple of net runs after dark. The focus is on banding swallows, but we do catch other birds also.

Barn Swallow (above) and Red-rumped Swallow (below), La Janda, Spain.

Sedge Warbler (new life bird for me), La Janda, Spain.

This next week, we will repeat the process as we do every ten days or so. I am still hoping to catch and band a European Bee-eater.

Migration Counting

Of course, the counting continues. Seven days a week we have a team at Cazalla, counting the migrating raptors. I am assigned there three days a week. The counts have been lite as of late by Cazalla standards, only 2000 – 3000 migrants per day! Right now the counts consist largely of White Storks and Black Kites, but we are starting to see migrating Booted Eagles and Egyptian Vultures. The Egyptian Vulture is one of my favorites.

Adult Egyptian Vulture, Cazalla Spain.

The stork migration is one of the most impressive sights of animal movement I have seen. Last week we captured this video of a flock of 1000 storks above the town where our apartment is located. Here are two 15 second videos to highlight part of the spectacle (I am NOT a professional videographer…).

1000 White Storks above Pelayo, Spain.
Jebel Musa (translation: Mount Moses) of Morocco, Africa in the background.

1000 White Storks above Pelayo, Spain.

Mountain Biking

We continue to try and experience more of the area in our free time. A friend of mine, Nieves, from my visit last year arranged demo Cannondale mountain bikes for us to ride. The bikes were free as long as we completed a survey/review of the bike’s performance after the ride. We were very excited about the opportunity to ride in a new area. Since we had not been on a bike in more than a month, we couldn’t wait to get on the trails.

Nieves and Jose led us on the ride. Only two minutes into the ride, I crashed right in front of Nieves. I am sure she was impressed with my expert bike handling skills. I was trying to jump a curb, which usually is not very difficult. However, I usually ride with clipless pedals (shoes that attach to the pedal). On this occasion I did not have clipless pedals. I essentially  jumped up and off the pedals, missing the pedals on the way back down! There was no permanent damage to me or the bike, except to my pride. Nieves now has ample material to use against me. It was all great fun.

Karyn and Nieves on the climb up above Tarifa.

The view toward Tarifa, with Africa in the distance.

I forgot to start my phone recording our route for the first 8 km, but here’s what the remainder of the 32 km ride looked like. We started in Tarifa, rode out on a country road until we hit the dirt.


Our fall back activity is to hike in Los Alcornacales National Park as it is situated just behind our apartment. As we have no vehicle to use for personal use, we are essentially tied to hiking from Pelayo or taking the bus in to Tarifa. The park continues to offer new discoveries and rewards.

The Portuguese Sundew is a carnivorous plant with a very small distribution. It is located in poor soils within a few ten kilometers of the coast in Portugal, Spain, and Morocco. Los Alcornocales National Park contains what is believed to be the largest population of the species.

Portuguese Sundew Carnivorous Plant, Los Alcornocales National Park, Spain.

On our last hike I also found two new life birds. The first, and my 900th life bird overall, was the Crested Tit. He successfully eluded my camera. Next up was the Nuthatch. Compared to the nuthatches in the United Stated, this species is huge – more than 4 times the size!

European Nuthatch, Los Alcornocales National Park, Spain.

Musica Brasileña

Near the Migres offices is a ecotourism lodge called Huerta Grande. When working in the office this is where we go to get coffee during our morning break. Last week they hosted live music. They had a four person band playing Brazilian music – bass player, flute player, guitar/singer, and a percussionist. It was great fun and provided one last challenge to our sleep habits!

The next week offers more of the same – counting migrating birds at Cazalla, swallow banding at La Janda, some work in the office, and some time off. I’ll keep you posted.