circa.4300 BC to 2020 AD
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Wildlife Newsletter for the Township of Dalkey     
                    February / 2019 - Michael Ryan

 Our only break outside the country last year was a long weekend in Seville in late November. I’d been there briefly many years ago at the last night of an organised birdwatching trip and had always hoped to go back again to see more of the beautiful city. The previous trip had been to visit the Cota Donana National Park, the vast estuary at the mouth of the Guadalquivir River which provides an internationally important breeding and wintering ground for hundreds of thousands of birds. On that trip we’d seen a wondrous array of birds in wetland, scrublands and other habitats. Every vista had Black Kites or Vultures drifting across the sky in the background and it’s where I got my first ever views of many bird species including Avocet, Black winged Stilt, Squacco Heron, Purple Heron, Night Heron, Flamingo, Spoonbill, a colony of Collared Pratincole, Fan Tailed Warbler and, resembling a very colourful Moorhen, the Purple Gallinule. Highlights for me included the beautiful Great Spotted Cuckoo, from the same order of birds as our own cuckoo but when this species lays an egg in a host bird’s nest, often the nest of a magpie or carrion crow, the hatchling doesn’t evict the host bird’s chicks or eggs but is fed alongside them and can even provide them with protection against potential predators by secreting a repellent scent.
   Another relative of one of our native, but not well regarded birds, is the very handsome Azure-winged Magpie. This species is very significant for having two populations that
exist separated by thousands of miles, this one in Spain and Portugal and the other in China and the East Asian seaboard. It’s believed the populations became separated during the ice age over one million years ago. The azure-winged magpies were very obliging to visitors as well since they frequented the picnic tables near a park cafe where inside swallows flew above the heads of the diners to their nests in the roof beams.
Some of the cafe’s windows had horizontal bars rather than glass, enabling the birds to fly in at all hours of the day or evening which I thought was a charming concession to them.

  Kestrel Perched on Seville Cathedral                Photo Michael Ryan

A Mustering of White Storks over Seville   Photo Michael Ryan

   Another highlight for me was of a bird known in, very unflattering, birding parlance as a typical LBJ or Little Brown Job. Although unspectacular in appearance, the Nightingale is justifiably famous for its beautiful song which is usually delivered from dense undergrowth but this particular individual we saw was perched very near on a bare branch giving us wonderful views head tilted upwards as he poured out his song. That first trip was in early spring, the peak of the breeding and nesting season before the heat got too unbearable lthough the midday heat added to the atmosphere when we visited the town of El Rocio which could easily have featured in a Spaghetti Western with its broad sandy streets and sun baked buildings, many with hitching posts outside them. To add to the impression a solitary figure trotted his horse through the almost deserted town while Griffon Vultures soared in the skies above.
    Anyhow on our recent trip we didn’t expect to see much wildlife, being confined to the city of Seville in winter far away from the wildfowl’s wintering grounds. One bird we did see a lot of was the Rose-ringed parakeets, a very loud and vivid presence in Seville as they are now in many European cities where populations, deriving from released or escaped captive birds, have done phenomenally well. Their presence and monopoly of nesting sites have long been thought to be detrimental to native species and in Seville they have been proven to have a very harmful effect on the small, already vulnerable population of Greater Noctule Bats which nest in the trees of Maria Luisa Park. Researchers studying the bats started finding their corpses badly savaged with holes torn in their wings with pregnant bats seeming particularly vulnerable. The researchers subsequently observed the parakeets attacking them presumably to eject them from potential nest sites.

    Although a summer migrant from Africa a small percent are known to overwinter in Spain and I thought this was one of them but subsequent examination of the photo led me to realise I’d been fooling myself and it was in fact a female Common Kestrel, the same as our own native species. On our previous trip to Seville we’d seen small flocks of birds darting above the narrow streets around the cathedral at dusk hawking for insects. Their long pointed wings made us suspect then they might be Nightjars but subsequently we realised they were almost certainly Lesser Kestrels which are now known to hunt at night by artificial light. There’s a wonderful wooden structure, the Metrop Parasol, towering over one street incentral Seville and the walkways on the roof give great views over the city.
   From there Lucy spotted a dark swirling mass of birds over distant rooftops. Initially I thought they were probably gulls but as they approached I was able to zoom in on them with the camera and saw they were White Storks, dozens, maybe even hundreds, of them moving across the sky in a huge flock.   Previously in Spain white storks always used to migrate, heading to Africa at the end of summer but in recent decades large numbers of them have begun to overwinter, feeding on rubbish tips and reducing the risks involved in migrating across the Mediterranean where many birds fall prey to hunters while more are killed in collisions with power lines. Cutting out the risks involved in a long migration has resulted in a healthy increase of the stork’s population and we were delighted to see the evidence flying in front of us.