Walking as Nature Wishes

flies hanging at picnic rock

Sunday March 14, 2021

Eighteenth Anniversary of ‘Snake-Eagle Down’ at the Isla de Tarifa on 14/03/2003.

In the bright light of spring there are patterns of process, virtually unseen, glimpsed across the sky.
A dry and sunny day. Only a week ago, the deluge. Today, there’s scarcely a breeze under a super blue sky. Life is radiant, it’s almost hot. Until late in the afternoon. Then that grand old man Levante, disarmingly gentle at first, he rouses his Eurasian self, after twelve days (or is it centuries) of rest.

Yes, it’s a warm Sunday, a day of eastern dryness. Those two weeks of moist Atlantic weather today they slip away, as memory on the mind.
Now, as the 14th of March is a major anniversary for me – its “Snake-eagle Down Day” – I feel obliged to be youthful once again and give the farm a good, migratory, thrashing.
In the morning I did the secret valley, striding back home via the empty cattle pens for two pm. After the siesta I covered the ruins, picking oranges for Elsie and hoping for a snake (no luck), before heading into Irina’s sloping field, immediately below the farmstead. Then Elsie called me.
I met her on the dusty farm access track at five thirty, near where she’d found a flock of 19 Spanish Yellow Wagtails. We closely watched these glorious birds, using the car as a hide, for fifteen minutes, then headed down to the wee lagoon on the Cañada Real. Drove home for food, arriving about 1930.
The results:My equal best tally for a day on the farm this decade, 47 birds species. A total that included several moving birds and a few migrant butterflies, dragonflies and moths.

The method

By 0900 I am out after a grand cup of Colombian organic coffee, (yet without breakfast), out under the open azure cloudless. But I have taken a flask for blended Assam tea (Yorkshire Gold), and a piece.
Our two male Sardinian Warblers are now in full song; Calandras are all a buzzing in the lower, clayey pastures, where pink flowers bloom. Goldfinch, seemingly there is nowhere in Europe without goldfinches in these corporate decades of thistly greed! Feral Rock Pigeon – the ‘Trich’ disease has truly decimated our flock. House Sparrows are all around the cattle pens and in our back courtyard, but no sign of the cock ‘Spanskmus’!There’s a Little Owl on the ruins near home; we are blessed to have three pairs of these lovely semi-diurnal owls. Walking and stopping here and there along the way I pull-up some Crown Daisies to keep open little glades, space to grow for modest undemanding shorter flowers, as foraging space between these aggressive waist high Margharitas, these guzzlers of ‘artificial-nutrients-on-the-breezes’. Foraging space for insectivorous birds. Swooping Barn Swallows accompany me, maybe only two pairs are breeding here; but a handful of single birds pass the trig point ridge in the late morning hours. No House Martins today.
Being so calm there’s the nasty noise of Sunday motorcycle traffic that punctuates the neighbourly Corn Bunting rattles. Irritating waspish whines are coming from the Cadiz highway (distant 4km), so I head straight for the Casa del Molino that overlooks the near-guaranteed solitude of my spirit home, the secret valley. And El Puerto del Infierno.
The great human narrative, you knows, is controlled nowadays by lust for profit! Kabisa!
Mist is rising behind my back, from the vale of La Janda, rising in great vapour clods of the softest pinkish grey. Thekla Larks are singing all over the stony parts of the pastures. Unusually a pair of Mallard drop-in, at the farm itself, to the pool behind the cattle barns.
There are White Wagtails and Spotless Starlings arriving from the south to forage in the brown poached grounds of the feedlot.
Our Raven pair are on the white power line tower; she is eating something dark, whilst he croaks, satiated, facing east. The sun glistens off the pulsating hackles of his great throat. Stuffed enough, and with a morsel hanging out of her bill, she flies off east, climbing in a circle, toward the grey Sierra and the eager young ones.
Carrying on I see the first Black Redstart of the day. Interestingly by late afternoon there had been a small arrival, with possibly as many as five birds present around the farm ruins. No breeding plumage males now.
Whilst walking quite swiftly along the eucalyptus line toward the valley Greenfinch, Marsh Harrier(f), Meadow Pipit (over thirty present today), Blackcap, Griffon Vulture and Common Buzzard are added to the list.
At the Casa del Molino there’s the first Stonechat (breeding is in full swing) and everywhere is Galerida song. For the first time in weeks it seems there are no “Dehesa slugs” out and about. Too dry, time to aestivate. From the ‘patio’ peering into the valley I can hear the lovely childhood sweetnesses of Chaffinch song, and a lone Cisticola – zitting.
Half an hour elapses, down at the frontier fence, roundabout the olive knoll, there is much song: many conversational, premigratory Blackcaps, the resident Blackbird and two Serins in batty song flight. Forty years ago today (I think), I walked into Nepal. At the western border by Mahendranagar it was. I went straight into the larger of the two tea shops. And was immediately arrested!

Today is the first day since December without any Cranes. But I can hear Jackdaws calling at the Puerto del Infierno. Might they breed? A lone Black Kite comes by, flapping through the valley, and high above ‘the serra ‘ I see a soaring speck, which turns and turns, into a female Hen Harrier way up above the ridge line. A very rufous mantled (tardy migrant) Song Thrush flashes past me, out of the olives, this must be a western bird, could it be from Scotland? At the same time I hear Red-legged Partridge chuck-chuckling up the slope and the first Linnets of the day pass over.
I stop for a cup of tea and to eat my piece, just … hanging at picnic rock. I share the warmth of this sunny rock with two male Eristalis tenax, hovering in full display. Remember that a true naturalist never leaves his flies … undone!
It’s onward and upward now to regain the plateau ridge-line of the farm. In this world of barriers and divisions, of straight line logic, separations in the garbage of modernity, I repeatedly have to limbo dance to get under ubiquitous rusty barbed wire fences. But within half an hour I am up at “Olive Kopje” my VisMig site. There’s plenty of finches out and about (‘sadly’ 90% are standard – gold!) but a single migrant Hoopoe (the first of five today). And, there is a little shot of adrenaline, when a Lesser Emperor zips through. Also, for the first time, I notice that Green-striped White butterflies engage in ‘long-distance dispersal’; five pass me in the space of half an hour, all bearing NNW.
Below me, from whence I came, down in the secret valley, a male Hen Harrier is hunting. It is very satisfying to find out that the Lesser Kestrel flock which has been here, each midday for over a week now, are aerial feeding mostly on flying black ants. Succulent ants who rise in clouds from the hummingly warm turf.
As we pass solar noon, at about 13:30 I decide to head for home, taking a direct route past the lone pair of eucalyptus trees. Upon reaching this lone eucalyptus I flush a Great Spotted Cuckoo and another Hoopoe, whilst on the track between there and the ruins there is a female Common Blue, only my second of the year.
In the late afternoon whilst once again weeding crown daisies and picking oranges for Elsie I see little of note. There are one or two Silver Y moths flitting among the weedy ruins; and the day tally for each of two other generalist migrant leps, the Red Admiral and Painted Lady, moves into double figures. Both butterflies have been observed egg laying this week.
Working the big sloping pasture below Irina’s house adds three species of bird: Sparrowhawk (a local female passing over eastwards), Common Starling – one with the foraging flock of 30 Spotless, and Short-toed Eagle. It’s very reassuring to see that we have a pair here, for two birds are displaying, high above the sierra.

Whilst watching another Hoopoe on a fence I get a call from Elsie to “come and see the wagtails”. I hurry, shamboling and staggering in sandals over the tough terrain, diagonally across the great field, between surprised chestnut red Retinta cows, to get to the access track. Once there we drive down to the last pasture and the edge of the arable land. They’re still there, on the wire fences! Yes, no less than 21 Spanish Yellow Wagtails. Fabulous birds in all their springtime glory. The first of these arrived only yesterday. We enjoyed watching them on the track and along the wires on either side of us for fully fifteen minutes. And I hope the memory will last long in my mind.

Soon we are down at the ancient drover’s road of the Cañada Real. Turning to the west we pause at the one and only lovely freshwater pool on the western boundary of ‘our farm’. Nowadays the Cañada Real is a linear oasis, an unsprayed nature strip, a ribbon of sanity that slices through the vast toxic agribusiness patchwork of the vale, a valley of so-called ‘fields’. Slabs for profit, poisonous land that constitute the banksters’ valley of La Janda as it is today. Land literally stolen from the Spanish nation. Land that money won’t give back.
Here at the rushy pool we are allowed a glimpse into the not so distant past. A wide world of “natural beauty”. A taken-for-granted world, in a god-fearing time, where far tougher human societies painstakingly eked-out a living. To grow their food in various kinds of onerous task. Worked hard, with hands and feet and animals; more in balance with the rest of – “organic nature” – they lived living the life. And they reaped the benefits also. How different then, from this locked-up window in corporate Covid time.

So yesterday, in rapid succession, we the present peasants, here today, we added: eight Mallards, five Little Egrets, a Great Egret, a single Cattle Egret, a Little Grebe and a Moorhen; five more species to the day list.
Best of all there were two male Spanish Yellow Wagtails singing. Two ‘Spanish wags’, back from a winter in the rejuvenating, spreading Sahel (most likely in the wet-lands of Senegal), back home now, here for us, on territory.


Awake to Livingness In All Our Tierra we too may live. We are nature, nature is us. Live it. None of “them” can take this away from you. Remember that fact !

James Wolstencroft

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