Archive for Twitchin’

illustrations / drawings by C.F. Tunnicliffe


We recently received a parcel from the UK containing, amongst other things, a collection of Ladybird Books. And what is more, I was particularly excited to spot ‘THE FARM’ by M.E. GAGG N.F.U with illustrations by C.F Tunnicliffe one of my favourite artists. If I were wealthier, he is definitely an artist who’s work I would collect. What is more, though an English man from Cheshire, he lived on the Isle of Anglesea, or Ynys Mon in Welsh, a stones throw from my mother.

The Ladybird book is like all others but his illustrations are clearly scenes from Anglesea and clearly in the 1950′s. It’s a landscape that still (just) remains and very recognisable from my childhood as this is where we would holiday every summer. It’s a beautiful landscape especially when not raining!

However it is not this work I admire in Tunnicliffe but the intricate studies in pencil and watercolour of birds. He lived in a modest house overlooking an estuary clearly for the daily access to the subject of his best work and obsession, birds. Local, children would bring him specimens found dead in the surrounding area and he would make these beautiful studies. Studies made purely for the objective wonder of pattern colour and form as it appeared in  the scapulars, the primaries and upper tail coverts…




La Vida Los Vélez / de la amenaza

Last Saturday was a wonderful and enlightening day for us here at Los Gázquez. We, along with others from the Andalucían Bird Society, were guests of our friend and colleague Jesús Contreras of OZ NATURE, wildlife guide and total enthusiast for all things natural and from Almería. If you are  in these parts make sure you contact him as a guide if you should ever want deep insight to the natural world and the creatures that populate it in these desert lands.

The day started with a trip to our neighbours over the mountain at the ‘Las Almohallas Centro de Recuperación de Especies Amenzadas’, the centre for the recuperation of threatened species. This is where I found this wonderful Eagle Owl…


Sadly he/she will never return to the wild as it’s wings were damaged by power lines.

la_directorThis is the director of the centre cradling what is normally a very gregarious Barn Owl. With fewer people there, apparently, he happily jumps from shoulder to shoulder.

Having once been a volunteer ‘chick weigher’ for the Barn Owl Conservation Trust in the UK I can only imagine this to be a slightly painful experience as those small but powerful talons grab ones shoulder.

This bird too will never return to the wild as nearly all these creatures are victims to power lines, smugglers, hunters, farmers putting out poison etc. It’s a long litany of assaults on innocent wildlife and something repeated on a daily basis all around the world.

tortugaThis is one of hundreds of tortoise confiscated from smugglers by the Guardia Civil. These smugglers are taking the reptiles from the Atlas mountains of Morocco and selling them to the European pet trade completely illegally. We have native species in Almería too, the biggest threat to them is fire. As Spain is currently in it’s longest drought in 40 years the danger this summer through fire to these animals is much increased.


This is a Bonelli’s Eagle, another victim. This bird can live up to 32 years, let’s hope it’s not all behind bars…

PeregrinThis little Peregrine Falcon was just so beautiful and sadly again another injured bird. However the work undertaken by the Junta de Andalucía’s environmental department is crucial in so many ways. Not only do they recuperate birds to return to nature but they enrol those that can’t return to the wild into breeding programmes. This way these animals have the opportunity to maintain population levels in their natural environment.

And what was also stunning is that on this day we got ‘up close and personal’ with a recuperating Golden Eagle. He was was not in the least afraid of us, in fact he danced about making threatening gestures which was fantastic and you could really witness the power of the bird.

And the next photo I am proud of. The good news is that it’s a Bonelli’s Eagle nearly ready to be returned to the wild. It just goes to show what great photographic results you can get even with limited equipment. In many ways I would say the limitation forces you to be more creative within the limits imposed upon you…


The day went on to more encounters with birds including Griffon Vultures etc. So I would like to say a big thank you to Jesús again and make sure you look him up next time you are in Almería Oz Nature


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Los Caminos de la Luna

Los Caminos de la Luna

Or walking by moonlight. The next full moon falls upon August the 6th and Los Gazquez has planned a series of midnight walks on or around this date.

And what a date too, for it happens to coincide more or less with the Lagrimas de San Lorenzo, which is a spectacular meteor shower which sends hundreds of shooting stars across the sky. It is a good opportunity to hear the creatures of the night too,  in the cool and pine scented mountain air.

After an evening meal we leave at about nine o’clock in the evening walking across the mountain caminos for around four hours before returning to Los Gazquez for a small supper.

The next walk by moonlight will be on or around the 4th of September.

Please make enquiries here or via the web site.


Comments (2)

Aguila Real

Jonathan at (which is fab) directed me to this amazing film of a Golden Eagle hunting Ibex and Chamois in Cazorla y Segura National Park i.e. La Sagra, the mountain at the back of Los Gazquez. Like all Spanish film narration, in the face of the power and majesty of a wild predator, the gravitas is pumped up 1000%. Morgan Freeman eat your heart out.

The fact that it is apparently an Eagle trained for the camera doesn’t, in my view, detract from the experience of observing a wild animal’s hunting strategy.



Jay’s on the menu…


Whilst out for a walk the other day we came across this little bunch of feathers upon the ground. The feathers being unmistakably those of the abundant Jays in the forest around Los Gazquez.

And the feather plucking perpetrator of this crime? My guess is the Peregrine. A Jay is too big for a Kestrel and the other commonly sighted falcon at the moment is the Peregrine.

Guilty as charged, no wonder it’s a bit quieter out there.



Black Kite Migration


A flock of large birds I saw this evening, too large, with tails too long. Birds of prey are solitary on the whole, sometimes with fledglings, but never thirty seven in one group. But these were different.

Over the ridge I met a clearly enthusiastic couple, binoculars in hand, witnessing the same flock of birds. Black Kite’s they told me, starting their migration. From here, around the Sierra Nevada, the Sierra de Grazalema and on to Tarifa (wind surfing capital of Europe) and on to Africa. Fantastic.



Scold of Jays


There are literally hundreds of Eurasian Jays in the pine forests at the moment. Wherever you look you see the fleeing distinctive white patch above it’s tail feathers or you catch the azure shoulder feathers as it’s swooping flight carries them through the almond trees.

I have no idea if this is normal or whether there is a reason for an apparent population boom. I suppose they could be fledglings ‘learning the ropes’ or maybe it has been a successful year for prey species. I haven’t seen too many lizards recently.

I used Avibase to refine the subspecies but I wasn’t expecting quite so many.



Woodchat Shrike


Lanius senator and like all shrikes it is sometimes called the ‘butcher bird’ on account of it’s habit of impaling it’s prey (larger insects, smaller birds and reptiles) on thorns or barbed wire, creating it’s own larder.

Considering myself to be someone interested in birds as opposed to being a ‘birder’ (formerly ‘twitcher’) and having a modest repertoire of birds I know (but growing), identification has sometimes been hard. Sadly, this time, my beloved ‘Collins Guide to the Birds of Britain and Europe’ has let me down. I’ve pinched this picture from the guide, enlarged it tenfold, boosted it’s colour values and contrast and it still doesn’t do the bird justice. When I saw this black, white and orange, quite large, bird bounding from one promontory to another issuing a loud ‘chak-chak’ I immediately deferred to my ‘Collins Guide’ but it could not be found. The reason? This is a bright and vibrant bird, not the diminutive creature on page 218 (1972). It’s a lovely illustration but not adequate for identification.

However Surfbirds (not a longboarding site) is fab. The Woodchat Shrike actually looks like this…


I pinched this picture from Surfbirds. It’s by Kit Day and is rather good but still the bird looks more diminutive than it actually is.



Lammergeier or Bearded Vulture

Alas not here at ‘Los Gazquez’ but very close by in ‘Cazorla’ National Park and it is the subject of a fantastic EU funded reintroduction programme. It’s one of my favourite birds, with a wing span well over a meter and a very appealing habit of flying high with scavenged bones only to drop them onto rocks in order to eat their marrow.

See ‘Fundacion Gypaetus’ in ‘blogroll’ right

I’ll have to start wearing a hard hat whilst out pruning almond trees.





The Roller Coracias garrulus is, as it’s name suggests, quite garrulous, with it’s brilliant blue plumage flashing as it flies around the banks of the rambla from cane to agave. It’s a favourite of ours at this time of year always elliciting a bit of excitement when glimpsed through the olive boughs.

The European Roller has a large global population, including an estimated 100,000-220,000 individuals in Europe. However, following a moderate decline during 1970-1990, the species has continued to decline especially in Europe, with overall European exceeding 30% in three generations (15 years). In Estonia the 50-100 pairs in 1998 have reduced to no known breeding pairs in 2004; in Latvia and Lithuania populations have decreased from several thousand of pairs in the 1970s to under 30 pairs in 2004. In Russia it has disappeared from the northern part of its range. However, there is no evidence of any declines in Central Asia.

The declines in the European population has resulted in its Red List status being upgraded from Least Concern to Near Threatened in 2005. Threats include persecution on migration in some Mediterranean countries and hundreds, perhaps thousands, are shot for food in Oman every spring. Use of pesticides reduces food availability, and the species is sensitive to changing farming and forestry practices.




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