Walking on sunshine – for Janet

I think I first walked the goat path with Janet and David back in 2003, possibly the first time they visited Cómpeta. I had walked with them thousands of times in the Lake District and Scotland but never before in Spain. Another couple of grasshoppers who liked hopping about hills and wild places, both were terrific walkers. Both loved wildlife: Janet was especially keen on birds and flowers. The April day I’m thinking of was beautiful – we saw violet-winged carpenter bees feeding on the Jerusalem sage’s pink blooms under the old olive trees. David and Janet were tickled when we meet goats on the goat path (how unlikely!) and, though they had no Spanish, enjoyed saying hello through me to Antonio, the goat herd. If I remember rightly when we got to Canillas we found a bar, drowned our tapas in wine, and staggered merrily out for a taxi to get back to Cómpeta quoting a walking song to each other:

               “Before the Romans came to Rye or out to Severn strode                                     The rolling English drunkard made the rolling English road…”

 

Birding, La Rahige

When they visited in more recent years we did plenty of other walks – La rahige; the silk route on a very hot day; Puerto Collado to Acebuchal for a wonderful meal. I remember a trip with them during a rainy March to the magnificent limestone scenery of El Torcal where we saw ibex.

In El Torcal

We followed that with a walk up the Cájula valley, though the bad weather continued, telling ourselves the weather was clearing up a bit … maybe … as the stream lapped our boots and the rain became heavier and heavier. We took shelter in the doorway of one of the ruins en-route. “Is this revenge for all those wet walks we dragged you out on in the Lake District?” asked Janet. “Definitely,” I said, “but I never expected to wreak my revenge out here”.

 

But then a couple of years ago Janet got sick, a nasty form of cancer attacking her bones. For months this active woman was stuck, unable to go swimming, unable to enjoy long walks, unable for back-pain to drive – hardly likely to come out to play in Spain. She said to me later that it had been horrible but she’d tried to keep walking every day if she could “Even if it was only as far as the gate posts, on David’s arm”. I loved her bloody mindedness, finding what she could do instead of focusing on what she could not. A keen and capable gardener, unable to tend her garden, she told me she’d been working on plant pots: “It’s so good to have my fingers in the soil again”.

Some 10 months and a grim winter after the diagnosis, Janet’s condition was better: she could even take a short ‘treatment holiday’. David and Janet immediately booked to come over (‘Oh to get some sunshine!’) and said they would like to walk but that she would struggle with distance and hills. Now, obviously I like walking, but I probably like a good all-day walk best. I prefer going uphill from down: great long marches that make you heart thump and bring you sweating to see the most spectacular of views. Flat, easy walks are not abundant in the Axarquia.

Nor on the net. I had a look, in case I had simply missed some easy walks but found that most walking sites, routes, or suggestions on-line focus on the macho full length stuff. I thought the valley walks (flatter) would be too rough – and besides, wanted to bring my English visitors into the light uplands. Tricky, this. Even when I go from Canillas to Cómpeta I choose the high road over the goat path.

The Goat Path! Of course! Mainly flat, beautiful, simple, a village end with access to a cafe to recover in. But would Janet be able to do the 3 Km? Her condition had been bad enough for that there was some doubt.

It was May and a simply glorious day. From Santa Ana in Canillas, all along the path there was a mad profusion of flowers – poppies and periwinkles, bindweed and bugloss. At the start we saw bushes spread with the skirts of funnel-webs. Janet never like spiders much but the webs in the shade were holding beads of water and were beautiful.

Janet & David, near Santa Ana, Canillas

Janet absolutely gloried in it; from flower to flower, view to view she loved it. “So close to the town and yet we are right in the heart of nature. People may not realise what they can get to see” she said, and we talked about how people who can’t walk easily like people who live in town and cities may feel they can’t go birding, see wildflowers or wildlife.

Leaf Beetle

Yet from tower blocks to tube-lines there is always something to see, because nature finds a way to get everywhere. Janet always found a way, too – a way to enjoy beauty, a way to take part, a way to live.

 

A yellow serin perched in a bush over our heads and sang it’s twittering little song, over our heads and stayed and stay ed above us: it was a delight. “Seranaded by a serin! Wonderful!”

The serin, David’s photo

 

Half way point

Perhaps you appreciate things most when you’ve missed them. Janet had not be certain she’d ever again be able to go walking with me among the Spanish hills. She was radiant that day from start to finish – it shows in the photos – not merely enjoying the sunshine but revelling in it. She made me appreciate more what I have here on my doorstep.

 

It was, in part, Janet, and especially this walk with her and David, that inspired me to start this blog. I wanted to share my love of wildlife, walking and Malaga, not just with the serious hill walkers and the macho mountaineers, but with people who can appreciate these things but may not be able to hike up El Lucero. I wanted to write up some walks that almost anyone can enjoy.

 

Now Janet has died. But every time I walk the goat path this spring – and probably on many other walks too – I will be thinking of her, showing her in my mind the things I see, the birds I hear. I’m thankful that we shared a life-long love of the natural world and that her passion for it, her appreciation of it, and her courage in all things were inspirations to me. She was wonderful.

 

 

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Sedella

Popn: approx 670

Sedella lies south of the main bulk of La Maroma, the great mountain of the Sierra Tejeda, which rises dramatically above this attractive village. Like all the villages it is not far from water – the Rio de la Fuente passes just to the east. It is surrounded, on lower slopes especially, with farmed lands but to the north you are immediately into the natural park. Molino MontosaWalking routes bring you to the Water channels above Molino MontosaMolino Montosa, an attractive old mill; go above it and you find first a clear demonstration of the water system and then the reservoir used to supply it.

 

From the mill you can go on to the ‘buitrería’ – this was a vulture sanctuary for injured birds. There is still a birders’ hide, but this is essentially obsolete since the resident birds that were fed here (leading to visits from large flocks of wild vultures) have now died. I still live in hope of seeing what a friend once witnessed: a flock of more than 20 taking off from the bank below the hide. Failing this I can always head to a small picnic site, to round off this nice walk with an encounter with a vulture that is always happy to pose for photos.

Sedella’s neighbours are the nearby Árchez, which is easy walking distance (see Silk to Salt) and the more distant Canillas de Aceituno (though Canillas de Albaida is actually closer).

Sedella wall mosaic, with an illustrated text about Malaga’s silk industry during the Nazari period

I have heard different accounts of the origins of the town’s name: a Cómpeta couple told me years ago that it derives from silk, the Spanish word being ‘seda’. Silk production was a significant industry here during Muslim times. However, other sources say different. Guide writer Hilary Gavilan, Andalucia.com, and the Diputación all mention the Latin word Sedilia, meaning rural possession as a possible name source. The latter two also mention Sedille as used by the Visigoths. Then there is the fact that, post-reconquest, it was referred to as Xedalia (an Arabic word, surely). Finally there is a long-standing tradition that the Catholic Queen Isabela created the place name on being told of a battle that took place nearby, when she said, “Sé de ella“, which means I know about it. No mention, it seems of silk. Perhaps the ‘seda’ in Sedella is mere coincidence.

I can wholeheartedly agree with Gavilan’s assessment of the town in her book The Axarquia, East of Málaga: “a delightful village with interesting alleyways and narrow streets. Well worth exploring”. Like so many of these villages there are lovely streets, attractive metalwork balconies and unexpected views.

As well as walks to the Puente Romano, the Molino Montosa or the Buitrería, there is great pleasure in just strolling through the streets. There is church and chapel – the Chapel de Nuestra Señora de la Esperanza has a forecourt built with embedded stones in front of it, an old threshing circle. The little townhall is in an attractive square, just near the bus stop. There are several attractive and interesting mosaics in this square giving explanations of the towns history. There is also the old public wash-house, with the spring waters that come down from the sierra filtered through a dozen sinks. I imagine the centuries of work that would have been done by the town’s women here – hand washing all, linen, all garments, all fabrics – and in a climate like this, they would have needed endless washing. No more though: it has now been turned into a mini garden, decorated and full of plants. With such a simple adaptation they turn the utilitarian into an unexpected attraction.

Facilities

Centro de Visitantes (with parking for mules)

Centro de Visitantes

This is the visitors centre for the Natural Park and an attractive facility with good displays, maps, explanations, and even some conference rooms for visits from the great and good, as well as toilets and a little shop. I wish it were open a little more, but it is worth taking a look round.

 

Restr. Lorena, Sedella

Cafes/Restaurants

Restaurante Lorena is the only one I’ve eaten in here, being served good, traditional local food, though the boars’ heads displayed don’t appeal. The owners, who cure their own cheese and ham, are very pleasant, in spite of being Real Betis fans (I’m Malaga, of course).

On the same street (Villa del Castillo) there are two others, Chiringuito and Meson de Franco, which seems like a well-set up bar. In the Plaza, near the San Andrés Apostol church, there is also a bar. It is pretty basic but I’ve been perfectly happy to enjoy a beer or two here after a long walk.

Fiestas & Events

January 17th: Fiesta de San Antón. Like the Canillas de Albaida fiesta (also the 17th) there is a procession followed by the blessing of animals that have been part of the procession.

Easter: several sources say that the Easter celebrations in Sedella are particularly deeply felt and so attractive to watch.

August: Celebration of the Day of Our Lady of Hope (to whom the chapel is dedicated)

 

Also of interest

Walk route: Silk & Salt – from Sedella to Salares (or vice versa)

History of Sedella

Blue Colour of the Sky, Sedella

in Spanish:

Subida a Sierra Tejada

Do you know Sedella? Have I missed anything? Feel free to let me know – add a comment of email me at grasshopper@wildingmalaga.com with additions or corrections.

 

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Andalucía Day’s Walk

Andalucia Day – 28th February. Time, as the hymn of Andalucia says to Arise – and in my case, to hop out into the perfect sunshine, lovely temperatures and find lots of wildlife to say hello to: a perfect celebration of this beautiful part of the world.

All the bugs were out, especially the R&B band … no, no, not Fats and Aretha, I mean the red&black bugs, Spilostethus pandurus, that appear in our very early spring. They were still pretty small (only around 1cm), but this is the adult form, so size didn’t stop them doing what the birds and bees do, too.

Queen of Spain Fritillery

And there were butterflies everywhere. A red admiral, countless Whites, a couple of Wall Browns, a couple of Cleopatras, and Fritillaries.

Cleopatra, Gonepteryx cleopatra,

The one thing that all of them had in common, as they rose from the banks and fluttered past, was being too busy to stop for the camera; these shots are from other walks.

I glimpsed a snake down by the Rio Cájula – a lazily moving coil deep in a thick bed of oxalis – but even as I leant forward, the snake felt the movement and was gone. It was the blue-yellow pattern I associate with Montpellier Snakes, but a 5 second glimpse is a tough i.d. Of cours I’d love to have got a picture; I just didn’t want it enough to go wading into the undergrowth on the hunt for a venemous reptile.

On such a day you get self indulgent. I spent some time wandering a path I suspected to be a dead end that I’d never checked before for the pleasure of time in the narrow verdant river gully complete with trees; such a pleasure to see the sun through leaves. Then I hiked steeply uphill passing masses of French Lavender in bloom and wondering how I’d let myself get this unfit. The path veered through an olive grove, rich with an understory of wildflowers; I was sad to see a farmhand at work spraying away at the spring growth. Then a cousin of mine, the Egyptian Grasshopper (Anacridium aegyptium) whirred passed – he likes to make an entrance – like a small bird. Egyptian Grasshoppers can reach 7 or 8 cms: it can be a startling experience for the walker who becomes his accidental landing site.

And then, at last, I reached the top and took a look at the valleys. It wasn’t just the sunshine and the blue skies – it was the richness of green patterning the hillsides that struck me. The avocados, heavily planted in on the terraces, have almost yellow leaves; the carob trees are dark; the almonds pale; the poplars gold…so many shades of a single colour enriching the landscape. Fantastic!

It was while I was admiring the view that a couple of walkers, Rosario and Calum, appeared from the upper road; they wanted to check that the path down lead to the bridge but after a chat we realised they wanted the second track (which I was headed for) to hit the later bridge higher up the valley. In talking I found that Calum writes a walking blog with a friend. It’s axarquiaonfoot.com, and is worth taking a look at if you want more routes (obviously mine are the best, but you may want to hop around a bit!) – he said they’ve over 30. He is based down in Torrox and his friend is in Frigiliana, so perhaps more in that locale: I will have to try to walk any that are new to me some time. It was lovely to meet someone who was a fellow enthusiast. While we talking an eagle drifted into view behind them. They weren’t surprised (or offended) when I broke off to look through the binoculars – they said they’d seen four in the area as they came up the valley. My guess would be two breeding pairs, but that – and the bird’s id – would be mere speculation. Against the light it glided quietly out of sight.

I came down into the valley again and headed to the Merendero picnic site. Again I was disappointed to see evidence of spraying; they’ve cleared the ground. I understand that farmers want to give priority to their crops, but the wild flowers were surely an asset to a picnic ground. Still, you can’t fail to be charmed by this lovely site; they have planted in a few more poplars, a tree I have always loved. The beautiful colour of the new leaves is breath-taking. It make me think of Frost’s (rather sad) poem: ‘Nature’s first green is gold,/her hardest hue to hold’.

I wandered down to the river and enjoyed the relaxation of listening to water burbling away to itself and watching the pond-skaters sliding on the moving surface. At the bridge by the mill I had seen flycatchers over the water, but here the water was moving a little faster and there seemed to be fewer insects. No flycatchers anyway. Perfect spot for a dipper but alas, I didn’t see one. Maybe next time.

And then finally it was time to walk up to the town and think about what I ought to have been doing while I was out enjoying myself. Such a beautiful walk. There had even been a lovely breeze every time on the uphills; though now it was getting a bit insistently wild. Then I noticed the cloud above the west side valley ridge, shaped like a flying saucer – or a long lentil. The latter gave this cloud formation it’s name, it’s called a lenticular, and in my experience it means a windy day or two on the way. Might be time to batten down the hatches. Grasshopper hopping off home!

 

 

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Cómpeta

Popn: approx 4000.

The New York of the Sayalonga Valley! Cómpeta is one of the larger white villages. It is also distinctive in its cosmopolitan nature, with a big immigrant community – about 800 residents are foreign – mainly British, but many other nationalities are represented. It lives on tourism as well as agriculture and building – domestic tourism, at the Noche del Vino and Semana Santa, for example – as well as international tourism all year round.

I’ve often heard visitors express disappointment or disapproval at the effect of this modern influx of foreigners on the town. “Uff! I can hear more English than Spanish!” they say, or “Hardly an authentic pueblo blanco, is it!”

I understand that people who head to the hills wanting to escape the costa-del-sol cliché don’t want to see British tourists. But there a limitations for the residents to the ‘quaint’ villages that are preferred and, in my opinion there have been terrific benefits – and not just financial ones – to the development that Cómpeta has seen over the last 50 years, including the arrivals from abroad.

Street art

The town is so beautiful and its hillside location is so picturesque that it has long attracted artists and would-be artists. I do not think this has overwhelmed the town’s Spanish culture – just enriched it, with new ideas and new audiences. I think the many small businesses that have grown up based initially on foreign visitors have given the town a vibrancy and energy it would not otherwise have.

An example of this is the yearly ‘Art walk‘, held around Easter week, which was begun by foreign artists but embraces many nationalities, reaches out to Canillas de Albaida and just gets better every year. There was music in the square this time – I briefly saw the talented Yanique and friends playing there – but then, there is almost always music on in and around Cómpeta. Even the cuisine here seems to me to have been enriched and enhanced by the influence of visitors from many different countries to become more varied and interesting, whether you are having Spanish tapas or a Moroccan tagine.

From the Gaudi-esk Mirador

There is lots on here because there are people who want to make things happen. Everywhere you go at all times of year – even a rainy weekday in the first week of December, for example, you will see posters telling you of different activities, classes, demonstrations, performances: I noticed the “Encuentra de los coros” – choirs from 5 villages will be meeting in the church to sing together – an ‘unplugged’ music event in restaurant Casa Paco, a crooner in a bar in the countryside, a guitarist performing in a tiny art-gallery in Canillas – a Christmas market, and a performance of artistic skating in Torrox! That’s more events being advertised than I remember happening in a year in the dull, dormitory town (30,000 popn) I grew up in!

Cómpeta is a cracking small town with a wealth of facilities and activities, a vibrant cultural scene to enjoy and the most wonderful natural landscape all about it to discover.

 

Facilities

Cafés/Restaurantes (lots): Too many to count. Of particular note, El Recreo – just

View of the Plaza

behind the townhall, a cafe with a nice open patio; the 3 cafes on the square and plenty of restaurants – La Tetería, which also has occasional curry nights (though service can be slow); El Pilon up the steps; Oscars just off the square (especially good range for vegetarians); Hotel Balcon – the menu del dia I had there in the summer was superb; Pamplona up above Plaza Vendimia – worth the walk.

Shops: 3 medium sized supermarkets; many small shops including boutiques, bazaars and hardware shops; 3 chemists. There is also a weekly market held in the open air carpark (shut for the day) on Saturdays.

There’s also a Medical Centre (Consultario), Police Station (beside the townhall), Nursery, Primary and Secondary Schools, Tourist office (at the bottom of the hill near the bus stop), banks, estate agencies and more. You get the picture. Of special interest to walkers, the adventure agency Salamandra have their shop and office near bus stop and tourist office – you can’t miss them.

Accomodation: Hotel Balcon is the main hotel. The Estate Agencies, of which there are at least 4 in the centre of the town, can help with rentals – or you can find hundreds on the web. 

Transport: Buses 3 per day to Malaga via Caleta and Torre del Mar

Fiestas and Events

January 5th the Cabalgata

January 20th Feria del Barrio, celebrated on San Sebastian’s day as he is the town’s patron saint, a procession followed by a town picnic.

May 3rd, Día de la Cruz – again a procession, this time up to Cruz del Monte in the first hills above the town, for a ‘merienda’ – a tea-time picnic.

The statue of the Virgin, Cómpeta

March-April Semana Santa: processions from Palm Sunday through to Easter Sunday. Many of these are spectacular, with the icons taken from the church and carried around the village on great plinths by smartly dressed (but sweating) locals to the accompaniment of the town’s brass band. In addition, recent years have seen a passion play performed in the main square and other parts of the village on Good Friday.

Late July: Summer Feria, the usual 3 days of partying and fair-ground fun, usually including live music and public dancing, a foam fiesta and other events, always accompanied by letting off loads of ‘cohetes’ – incredibly loud banders. Great fun or noisy disruption, depending on your mood, age, company and circumstances.

Noche del Vino 28

August 15th : Noche del Vino

Dancing, Plaza Vendimia

This is Cómpeta’s unique festival, celebrating the start of the grape harvest, the local moscatel grape and the wine produced from it. The posters for it are created from the winner of the yearly competition by local artists and are now a collector’s item.

There are events through the week and on the day markets and stalls sell local goods. In Plaza vendimia there are displays of traditional grape pressing and people queue for free plates of migas (fried breadcrumbs) with bacalao (cod) and grapes, along with samples of Cómpeta wine. There are performances of flamenco dancing and band music. In the evening, more free wine and, in the main plaza, speeches, prizes and flamenco artists performing.

September 6th/7th Noche de las Lumbres

Traditionally, with the grape harvest coming to an end, people in the countryhouses and farms would collect all the old and broken boxes, baskets and planks and build a bonfire (‘lumbre’) in honour of the Virgin Mary, with the family celebrating by eating peanuts and drinking anis round the fire and hoping (after enough anis, perhaps) to see her image in the flames, presaging a good harvest. Nowadays fires are lit in various parts of the village as well as in the countryside and there are sometimes firework displays. .

December: Christmas

 

See Also

The Grapevine Magazine

 

Noche del Vino 35

 

 

 

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Weather

Swallows in the rain
Swallows in the rain

“Not much like Sunny Spain, is it?” the tourists groan as they huddle around the gas-heaters in tented ‘open-air’ bars as the rain patters on the cover above.

“La tierra la necesita…” – the land needs it – sighing villagers, struggling up the hills with umbrellas tell each other “Ya ve…”

Cloud on the hillside
Cloud on the hillsides

We have been getting weather recently. The “100% chance Precipitation” kind, interspersed with a couple of lovely sunny days. Summer-only tourists find it odd to see the clouds here and shocking to endure rain, but in our sea-to-mountain landscape fogs and rolling clouds are very much part of the scene.

DSCF0633

 

Okay, so the oppressive condensing fog – which glooms-out the mountains, the valley, the village, the house next door and leaves the cars crawling along in second gear – the mountains is not really a big thrill.Early morning mist, Huerta Grande

But even fogs have their moment: one early morning in late June – well into the hot season – I was climbing the Huerta Grande and was delighted to find a thickening mist cooling my hot muscles, blowing across the path, confusing the thread lacewings who were making their brief appearance just then. In summer it’s a privilege to be in cloud!

 

Dramatic storm clouds

 

When storm clouds gather on the mountains threatening a valley still brightened by sunlight the drama of the scene is wonderful.

Often low-lying cloud, clinging to the hillside and valley bottoms, rolls slowly inland, until hilltops are turned into  islands and higher villages find themselves perched above a sunlit sea of mist.

Cloud in the Valley
Cloud in the Valley

 

As rain and mists clear, the damp earth smells fresh and clean, the colours look more vibrant, the small birds – warblers, thrushes, finches – are active again – everything seems renewed. Perhaps the Axarquia is most beautiful after rain?

Canillas in a raindrop (Maggie Woodward)
Canillas in a raindrop (Maggie Woodward)

 

 

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The Painter’s Palette

Perhaps its the lingering effect of the Artwalk but everywhere I go I see colours. I drive up the valley; I walk over from Cómpeta to Canillas on the goat path or from Canillas to Cómpeta on the low road; I go along the coast road or visit a friend at a villa up a country track and on all sides is a miracle of colour.

We think the common poppy is the only one (and expect fields of colour) but I see different kinds scattered about the paths: the Rough poppy, the Long-headed poppy, the Opium poppy.

Very small flowers are easy to miss but sometimes very beautiful, like this toadflax. And all the Scarlet Pimpernel flowers blue here!

Blue Pimpernel (Anagallis foemina
Blue Pimpernel (Anagallis foemina
Ivy-leaved Toadflax
Ivy-leaved Toadflax

 

 

 

 

 

I am amazed that wild pea is said to now be found only in the Mediterranean; I see pea flowers everywhere.

That said, peas are easily muddled with the vetch family.

Spanish vetchling
Spanish vetchling

There are abundant aromatic herbs but one wayside plant has a strange stink; Pitch trefoils leaves smell strongly of pitch or tar – like a hot road. The flower is pretty but the smells strange

This post just gives a hint of the blur of colours  – purple, yellow, blue, pink, red – that is all around us, underfoot, and beside us. Even the thistles are beautiful!

Carduncellus caeruleus
Carduncellus caeruleus
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March Gallery

The first Spring month; the migration under way with tens of thousands of birds flying across from Africa; enough rain to make life interesting: great month for wilders! What have I seen in March?

Swallows and martins are back (even in the rain). The collared doves never left – they continue their gentle arguments (“But Juuuu-dy! But Juuuuu-dy!”) all year. Several years I have seen flocks of choughs squabbling over the vineyards on the way to Corumbela. And – perhaps it is that I do some longer walks in March – I have seen the years first Eagles by the end of the month. Ditto Ibex, our wonderful mountain goat.

But long walk or short all the flowers are out – everything – cistus and asphodel, lavender and pitch trefoil. I’ve just put a few examples in the gallery. Do you know what subspecies the “toadflax” is? I only see it over 8 or 900m or so!

And of course where there are flowers there are insects. Bees, butterflies and beetles all about. Also I sometimes see some of the years first lizards to poke their noses into the sun.

So, that’s what I’ve been looking at. What have you seen?

Please let me know in comments – or send any Malaga wildlife photos (low res jpeg only please) to grasshopper@wildingmalaga.com

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Birds in the Vineyard

Kestrel in the vineyard
Kestrel in the vineyard

(with thanks to Bodegas Bentomiz for generous time on their grounds)

What’s in a vineyard?

Vines, of course!

Moscatel de Alejandría vine
Moscatel de Alejandría vine

And one or two wild things, too!

It is hardly surprising, hopping about the Malaga hills, that I happen on vineyards. It’s part of the territory; vines have been grown here for at least 3000 years (the Phoenicians were at it).

Our vineyards look wierd to wine buffs: instead of 10 or 20 hectares of climbers, growing on wires in straight lines we have up to 3 hectares of a thick low trunks – vine stumps – planted higgledy-piggledy on the steep terraces. In early spring when the ground’s cleared and the vines trimmed it looks as if someone’s hammered great wooden pegs in to mark out the slope. Come April those trunks throw out a thick bush of leaves that shade the flowers and fruit. That’s the point, of course – the plant shades its own fruit which stops our mad Spanish sun from frying the fruit dry before it is ripe.

The small vineyards are as much down to topography as anything else: after a couple of hectares there’s always another gully in this deeply dissected landscape. That means unfarmed slices of land. When this is combined with a few rental villas (with unfarmed land) or the occasional abandoned vineyard or olive grove there is yet more wild space. And best of all, some viticulturalists (grape-growers, that is) do not use herbicides or pesticides on their land. They may weed in spring when the vines are fruiting, but in winter the weeds don’t matter and can be left alone – to the very great benefit of wildlife. So, visiting Bodegas Bentomiz, for example, you find a vineyard that is full wild things. And lately it’s been chock-a-block with small birds.

Bird crazy!

All autumn the birds in the vineyards drove me crackers. We had some heavy rains early autumn then long warm dry spell. The weeds went crazy – flowers everywhere in the Axarquia’s lovely second spring. Then there were seedheads side-by-side with more flowers  – so many that white fluff was blowing down the paths. The seed-eaters were very happy indeed. To be fair, the weather was pretty good for insects too – but this month a single day of steady rain brought more out and about yet and suddenly there were warblers as well as finches at the party.

Friendly Black Redstart
Friendly Black Redstart

I have my own particular friend – a reliable female black redstart (Phoenicurus ochruros), that flirts and bobs her tail at me from the same terrace wall whenever I pass by. And this autumn winter round the vineyards I’ve seen the ‘ordinary’ English garden birds

 

 

Blue Rock Thrush
Blue Rock Thrush

robin, blackbird, song thrush. I’ve also seen the rather less common blue rock thrush, and the marvellous hoopoe, though none since early autumn.

I’ve seen goldfinches – flocks and flocks of them, gorging on thistle down – as well as great tits, blue tits, serin, chaffinch, northern greenfinch, stone chat, black cap, black redstart, wheatear, tree-creeper. (Okay, the tree-creeper was on a pine near the vineyard, not in it). Stone chats are frequent visitors. But I’ve also seen a lot of warblers – that much is easy to say. But while the Sardinian warbler (bless it’s cotton socks) is a synch to i.d., telling

Sardinian warbler
Sardinian warbler

the willow from the chiffchaff from the melodious from the olivaceous … very tricky. Song is a clue of course – I’ve certainly heard melodious once and chiffchaffs often but not, surprisingly, willow warblers.

well hidden lark
well hidden lark

And then there are larks. I have seen larks with crests, but were they crested larks (Galerida cristata) or thekla larks (Galerida theklae)? Were the none-crested a greater short-toed larks or a lesser short-toed larks? Were they larks at all? Have I gone mad yet?

 

 

Flocking to the feast

A silhouette
A silhouette

They came in gossiping, fluttering, squabbling flocks for the feast. They talked together in the pine trees before getting down to the ground and back again. They flew from one side of the road to the other past my car. And they always did it when:

  • I didn’t have my camera
  • I did have my camera but the battery had just gone
  • I did have my camera and batteries and had nearly (but not quite) got them in focus…

I swear they do it on purpose. They know that until my ship comes in I will not have a professional, expensive SLR with manually adjustable shutter-speed to rapid-fire at a moving target and a zoom as long as a cannon. And they are revelling in taking advantage of it.

Strike back!

binoculars
binoculars

This is only a simple variant of the most familiar birds on the game the really tricky little buggers – warblers and such, so difficult to differentiate – like to play. You haven’t got your binoculars? I’ll stay put really close (but not close enough). You have your binoculars? I’ll sit against the sun. You are driving and can’t stop – here I am!

This was less of a problem for me pre-Christmas – my years old binoculars had disappeared somewhere on a valley walk in the summer. Now though, they can start again. Binos for my xmas present: game on. Just wait til the spring migration starts!

(click on the pictures to expand)

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