Archive for July, 2007

Tassel Hyacinth


Tassel Hyacinth Muscari comosum

This was one of this springs favourites. I had never seen one before and I just love the cardinal purple colour and simple structure. The only ones I have seen in the whole of the Sierra are just in one corner of a field in very dry clay soil.



Castillo de los Fajardo - Velez Blanco


This is our castle, a Renaissance palace built within the original Moorish Citadel. For more pictures and information look under ‘pages’ to the ight of the window.



La Muela


I realise that I keep mentioning La Muela (the molar) without showing you what it looks like. Well we have all seen ‘Close Encounters’ and it’s not far off being the same. This is where the Griffon Vultures roost and this is our landmark. It’s different from every angle and very beautiful. At 1553m it is not too hard to climb (about two and a half hours) but it is difficult to get down, all screes over limestone pavements. Very tough on the knees.


And this is the view north from the top. In the centre of the picture you will see a fire break running diagonally down a ridge. Los Gazquez is at the bottom of that fire break.



Griffon Vultures


This is my friend Nick Tudors picture of a Griffon Vulture taken from La Muela. Nick runs photographic holidays which are very successful and you can see why.

I love these creatures, every time I see one my heart lifts. They are big and last autumn we counted 43 over the house just waiting in the sky for the right thermal to take them over us to their roosts on La Muela.

However what is this…



So why is a Griffon Vulture wearing a goats bell? Mysterious no? The truth is that in these parts when a goat herder finds a vulture whos crop is so full that it cannot fly away from him he finds it hilarious to attach one of his goat bells to it’s neck so if you think you hear goats in the sky look up and you will see a Griffon Vulture.

I must thank Clive Muir for allowing me to steal his pictures of vultures with bells. Clive co runs Iberian Nature and Wildside Holidays and has been very gracious about my theft. Let me thank him again.
[email protected]

Here is some information…

Size: About 15 pounds, wingspan 8 feet. Small, but bulky.

Voice: Unlike many other species of vulture, the Griffon is able to utter noises. Young make peeps and wheezes.

Diet/Feeding: One of the Old World vultures, Griffons cannot smell. They find food by soaring high, scanning the land for signs of a kill, or for stationary bodies. Often, the vultures will wait on the outskirts of a feeding frenzy, closing in once the mammalian scavengers have gone. Their weak beaks are not designed for ripping open fresh hides. They depend on predators or larger vultures to begin the work for them. Once they can access a carcass, the vultures will gorge themselves. Their crop can hold up to 13 pounds of meat!

Flight: Griffons can soar for 6 to 7 hours, or 100 miles. They often require steep cliffs or mountains to aid them in taking off. It can soar as high as 3300 meters, but has been recorded at hights of up to 9000 meters. Descending on a carcass, the bird can dive at over 100 miles per hour. They are one of the fastest species of vulture.

Range/Habitat: The largest numbers of Eurasian Griffon Vultures are found in Spain, but there are significant populations in Turkey, Gibraltar, and Bosphorus. They favor the more southern parts of their range, and can tolerate inclement weather such as rain, mist, and snow fairly well. Though they avoid wetlands and marine areas, they are very fond of fresh and running water, for bathing and drinking.

Behavior: Griffons are very social, living and nesting in colonies of 15 to 20 pairs. Sometimes more than 100 pairs compose a colony. After feeding on a carcass, Griffons often gather at a watering hole to bathe. They are dominant over most of the other vultures in their range, except the cinereous and lappet-faced vulture.

Life Cycle: Young fledge 3 to 4 months after hatching. Griffons are mature enough to breed after 7 years, and live around 40 years.

Breeding: Griffons pair for life. They build nests of grass and twigs on cliff ledges. Mating takes place on the same steep cliff faces where the birds construct their nests, and the female lays one or two eggs 2 months after mating. Both parents tend the egg. Model parents, the griffons incubate their eggs by night, and shade them by day, as the temperature rises. Incubation lasts from 48 to 52 days.
Status: Griffon vultures are quickly losing habitat as humans increase their use of mammal poisons, and expand more and more into their areas. They also suffer at the hands of misunderstanding individuals who do not know the value of these wonderful creatures. In France, their populations are declining so drastically in that conservationists are thinking of bringing in new griffons to help repopulate the area. The griffon is extinct in much of its former range.

Folklore, Misc. Information: The feather of the Eurasian Griffon Vulture, according to greek myth, could protect against snake bites, cure blindness, and relieve the pain of childbirth.

You can hear them in action here…



Comments (2)

Country life demands all the use of available labour




Black Eared Wheatear


I must confess that when it comes to bird watching I normally like the big exotic stuff, rolling off wing span statistics and varieties of prey etc. condemning everything else to the title ‘SBJ’ (small brown job). However this little fellow is around the house all the time now and he is very gregarious, goading the dog to chase him and making loud chattery conversation all the time.
Expect more bird news in the future.



Degrees already?

No not first degrees already just the Spanish way of celebrating the completion of their first year at school here in Andalucia.



View from La Muela

Griffon Vulture seen from the top of the mountain.