I like to pay attention to the wild things I meet, the wild lives they live. It is not just the birds (people understand birding) but the butterflies, the beetles, the spiders, the rats, the reptiles, the slugs. It is not just the pretty flowers that I love but the trees, the grasses, the molds and the lichens. I love wild things variety, their beauty, their savagery and their strangeness whether they are the size of a pinhead or the size of a whale. And Where are the Wild Things? They are All Around you!
Don’t be scared – nothing will leap out at you right now (well, probably not). But if you like wildlife too and live in the town don’t be downhearted if hiking into the sierras isn’t practical: you are surrounded it. Wildlife lives with us virtually everywhere: life bursts out of cracks in pavements, makes nests under window ledges, slips behind flowerpots or under roof tiles, dangles past us on gossamer breeze-blown threads. I believe (or at the very least hope) that you can find wild things almost everywhere, wherever you live. Taking the time to see them and know them is life-enhancing. I love wildlife: the sight of a bird of prey makes my day; I love to identify and know about the flowers and plants I see; I’m filled with glee when I find the implausible rhinoceros beetle crossing a stretch of concrete.
I see wildlife in the city, the carpark, on the road … but of course it’s best if you can get out of town. I admit it; I’m really lucky: I live in a staggeringly beautiful rural area in the province of Malaga, Spain, on the edge of a natural park.
It’s the park of the Sierras Alhama, Almijara and Tejada. This is part of the Axarquía, the wedge shaped east side of Malaga. It is a beautiful location and paradise for a wildlife freak. It has everything: three rivers filter through a complex of valleys from springs that supply water through any drought; the land rises rapidly from the seashore to rugged mountains that are snowbound in winter. The lower slopes are peppered (actually, they look more like salt) with white villages with beautiful names: Frigiliana, Cútar; Salares (that last one is especially salty), and the land is farmed, though the terrace edges and rough land (often used for hunting) provides plenty of space for wild things – but get into the Parque Natural and there is nothing but one or two ancient farms between you and the hills.
These hills are glorious! You may know the simple exhilaration you get from gaining height, looking around and seeing the landscape spread out before you. Because it rises so steeply, the Axarquia gives you the chance to get out of breath from virtually every pueblo, every wayside, every doorstep. You can easily get high enough to see the Riff mountains in Morocco; more locally you soon realise there are layers and layers of hills to enjoy. Your familiar view from the side of the valley shows you one set of ridges and peaks; a little extra height and you see these are mere hills, with bigger hills behind them; finally you see the true mountains of the Sierra proper. Take them on and you can step into Granada province (the divide runs along the spine of the hills) and see all the way to the Sierra Nevada and Spain’s biggest mainland mountain.
I love the hills. But because I love wildlife as much if not more than walking I do not always and only go up. If going out to look for birds is “birding” than most of my walks are “wilding” walks – as I said I’m interested in everything out there, from the lichens up. And there are many places beyond the mountain peaks worth exploring. There are marvellous river valleys here that stay wet – to a degree at least – all year, even through the summer drought. The pine woods are filled with birds and beasts. And farmed lands are worth a look: I’ve seen golden oriole, hoopoes and bee-eaters eating up the bugs in vineyards, and many of the bigger raptors are quite happy floating on thermals low over the coast. I have taken friends and visitors who were not “match-fit” on almost-flat strolls to see cinematically beautiful sight of hillsides covered in poppies, or to meander along the riverside looking for our spring orchids. To be honest, even in the towns there are the nesting passerine birds, lizards and geckos, all the bugs you might expect and a few more and plenty of bats to eat some of them up.
I’m going to write about the wild things I find here, the beautiful land they live in and the walks I take to see both, with a few notes on the place and the culture thrown in. If you are interested in walking and/or wild things you might like to see where I’ve been and what I’ve seen – and what you are likely to find during the walks and in the villages nearby. If you like birding, flowers, bugs or beasts, come wilding with me!