Battle in the Skies

Booted Eagle, Common Kestrel. photo: Pete George, IBC

Went back to Sedella this week for another stroll above the village. Fascinated to see a Booted Eagle being attacked, repeatedly a common kestrel. This went on for a good 5 minutes or more with both birds flying right across the sky. This is probably territorial defence – the kestrel doesn’t want a big competitor clearing the area of prey – which sounds very sensible, but was shocking to see – the tiny attacking hurtling in at a much larger bird.

Field of gold: Purple Vipers Bugloss to the fore, mainly umbrella milkwort, behind

Lovely flowers in abundance too, especially Spotted Rock-Rose and fields full of Umbrella Milkwort. There were also agave cactus putting up flower spikes at about 15 at this stage with more to go, beautiful big Broom, Mallow-leaved Bindweed, Creeping Jenny, Purple Viper’s Bugloss, Wild Artichokes and much more!

Agave cactus

 

 

 

 

 

Wild Artichoke

 

 

 

 

 

 

There were bugs and butterflies too, including dozens more Owly Sulphers – only seen these near Sedella. I caught a couple again: the singles don’t stay still for long enough! But nothing topped the aerial display at the end of the walk!

 

 

 

 

I must add a thanks for your company to Mychaela, Pauline, Keith and especially Sybil.

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May Day walks

Unexpected chance to go walking with some lovely people on May day and the day after. It was a treat and we had lovely weather for it.

The first day was on the silk route, so called because it is one of two routes to the Puerto de Cómpeta – the pass between Sierra Almijara and Sierra Tejada into Granada province. The silk industry flourished in Al-Andalus from the 9th century and the Axarquía has a climate ideal for mulberry trees, so silkworm coccoons (and many other things) were traded using this route and  Granada silk was brought back for export from Torrox, the closest harbour.

Spanish broom

This walk, open with views all the way down to the coast (where you can glimpse Torrox Costa), also gives you stunning views of the dramatic Sierra Almijara. In May the scene is splashed with the bright yellow of Spanish Broom, spilling down the hillside. And beside the path, everywhere you looked there were flowers.

Linaria amoi, Axarquia Toadflax
Grey-leaved Rock Rose
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I was interested to see the difference, between two types of Jerusalem Sage . I rarely see the yellow ‘Wooly’ Jerusalem Sage, while the purple variety is everywhere. Nice to see the latter’s furry visitor, too.

Phlomis purpurae, Purple Jerusalem Sage, with visiting bee
Phlomis lanata, Wooly Jerusalem Sage

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pinecone Thistle, Leuzea conifera

 

One of the other walkers spotted this young pinecone thistle too, a curious looking item but very distinctive.

 

 

We walked to the Venta Pradillos, which was once a fair sized Inn, with it’s own terraces, spring, stabling and threshing circle. Sadly, in the 40s the Civil Guard, in an effort to quash the last resistance to Franco, closed it and took the roof off to make it unusable, but it is in the most beautiful spot imaginable.  You can just see it here among the pines. It makes a wonderful spot for a picnic.

That, in fact, seemed to be something everyone agreed on. As we headed back we were met by a couple of Spaniards, then a small party of British walkers, then a large party of very friendly Irish walkers and finally a Danish family (the girl was afraid of our gentle but friendly dog) – all coming the other way and heading for the venta. I felt rather smug that we had got there first!

 

I generally prefer circular walks but there are advantages to a linear walk in a landscape this dramatic. The reverse view can be surprisingly different. Coming back the rocky outcrop of the Atalaya rose above us.

The turtle

I pointed out that Atalaya looks like a planetary land turtle, that has swum up from the molten core all the way through the outer layers of rock and soil to take a quick gulp of air at the surface. You can even see the lower jaw. Imagine my surprise when other walkers thought it looked more like a camel, or even an owl. It’s quite obvious to me that it is a turtle (I am typing this after a couple of glasses of wine, though).

The most exciting wildlife on the walk was only seen by a few of our us. Neil spotted Ibex running up a slope – probably to get away from Sybil, the lovely dog we had with us. They blend in so well that we wouldn’t have seen them unless they were running, so Sybil did us a favour.

That said we did see a wolf. Well… I saw a hole beside the footpath with a little network of needles and stones around the entrance. Easy to overlook, but I had seen this before. I teased a pine-needle into the doorway a little and was rewarded, by the home-maker’s brief appearance: a wolf spider. Is a wolf spider more exciting than ibex?

Wolf Spider, Lycosa tarantula

These are impressive spiders and can be quite big, so I was all the more surprised to say hello to another, smaller specimen, the following day near Sedella. Perhaps a male (they’re smaller) looking for a mate.

 

That was another fabulous walk. We took a turn around the town (Sedella is very attractive) before heading up to the old Mill, where you can see system for milling with water from the open water tank at the back to the channelling system for bringing it in and the old grind stones within the building itself. We strolled up from here to where the track splits beside a building for water purification, with the sensible party heading off to the picnic site and the rest of us heading over to the old hide where we looked out on what had been the vulture sanctuary and, as usual, saw no birds.

Spotted Rock-Rose, Tuberaria guttata
Umbrella Milkwort, Tolpis barbata

Wonderful flowers though. I was pleased to see both Spotted Rock Rose and Umbrella Milkwort, which someone had once i.d. for me the wrong way round causing me great confusion.

walkers at Sedella’s picnic ground

Then we went to the picnic site and re-joined the others. There’s one vulture there who is reliably available and readily posed for photographs.

Sadly the site has been paved, which is probably good for access but for my taste diminishes it: I liked the wooden tables and benches under the pines, with pine-needles underfoot. These are on the way out – the benches are mostly rotten – which seems a pity. Still, perched on a wobbly bench, eating our sandwiches, we watched a pair of eagles floating across the valley with great delight. A couple of us saw Sardinian Warblers and we all saw Serins and Goldfinches, but the eagles were the stars of the day.

Shorted-toed (Snake) Eagle & Booted Eagle. Photo from Never mind the finnsticks.

I was a bit cautious giving i.d.s because (I hate to say this) I hadn’t taken my binoculars (Ow! just kicked myself). Also on the silk route Maddy and Neil told me they’d seen 5 eagles (five!) eagles the day before – they were two pairs of Short-toed (Snake) Eagles, and then a fifth later on. Again they were told Short-toed, but were surprised: the bird seemed smaller and had a very clear white body and wings with an outer rim of black. Now, I know how very easy it is to reach for your first gut-instinct i.d. (especially something you have just seen) without thinking and then be embarrassed by a mistake – I’ve done it myself – but this sounds very much like a Booted Eagle to me. Size usually gives it – Snake Eagles head up towards a 6 foot wingspan; even Booted females aren’t much more than 4 foot. But having confirmed this on one day I didn’t want to get something wrong on the next.

Bonelli’s Eagle. Photo Dharani Prakash

The first eagle we saw while walking: a seriously big bird. I didn’t think it was as big as an adult Golden (around 7 foot wingspan!); I thought this was probably another Snake Eagle was best guess on balance of probability. But the two eagles that played out for us by the picnic ground for some 20 minutes seemed to me to be smaller – definitely bigger than the petite Booted, but not convincing me as Snake Eagles unless they were juveniles. The only bird that I have seen in the area that fits this would be a Bonneli’s Eagle – certainly a possibility. But I have to say, at that distance without binoculars, an educated guess is all you do.

 

Full of picnic we went down to the main road on the zigzag path. At one point there are hives on a sidetrack and someone had dangerously put one up on the main track (not heard of anaphylactic shock?). But mostly I enjoyed saying hello to lots of small pollinators, not to mention butterflies and crickets. The best of all were new to me – a gorgeous pair of antlion relatives with the lovely name of Owly Sulphurs. What better way to finish a wilding walk?

Owly Sulphers, Libelloides coccajus

 

 

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A Prickly Problem

The thistle-like flower

Yesterday I walked from Salares back to Finca El Cerrillo with some lovely people who are staying there. Someone asked me, as we came to the end, what a sea of lilac thistles were called and I was ready with the answer – Carduncellus Caeruleus. Then I looked closer and they weren’t.

Prickly stem

Spanish Oyster Plant
Spanish Oyster Plant

Thistles are common here. They fit in. In lands with long droughts the juicy stems and leaves of plants are asking to be eaten: prickles are the obvious defence. We have brambles of course, gorse, prickly juniper, prickly pear and the invading agave cacti are happy and healthy. The spikes on every side make summer walking (when wearing jeans is unbearably hot) interesting: I generally choose shorts anyway but I know I will come back bearing scars!

And thistles, as you would expect are so common you take them for granted. Big base rosette of white and green thistle leaves? Milk Thistle. Unbelievably vicious, vigorous tall spike? Spanish Oyster Plant. Lilac thistle flower? Carduncellus Caeruleus (CC for short). I had stopped actually looking. And that’s a terrible thing to do!

Carduncellus Caeruleus (beside a vine)
Carduncellus Caeruleus (beside a vine)

The plant I saw yesterday had the same lilac-coloured petals in a typical thistle head, a central disk of small yellow petals, and a bulbous, thistle-like bract supporting the flower. The disk told me it wasn’t CC) but more importantly it lacked a fundamental of thistles. Where were the spines? The only leaves I could locate were small lance-shaped stem leaves – not the familiar lobed, thorn-edged variety. I realised, with some embarrassment that I had been walking half the spring past a swathe of flowers I could not name. This one had to be hunted down!

Two books and one website later I was getting a bit prickly myself. I could not find something that was so like a thistle that wasn’t a thistle. At a certain point I decided Centurea Pullata looked likely and foolishly tweated this pre-checking. Unfortunately Centurea Pullata has lots of leaves crowding up the plant stems.

It was La Flor de Málaga (Antonio Miguel Pérez Ortigosa) – the only flower book on my book shelf specific to the province – that finally gave me the clue I needed. and invaluable for clues on a hard to track plant. The detailed photos of Cyanopsis muricata looked identical to my mystery thistle. Following links and checking websites suggest that it is in the sunflower family, is of North African origin and is also known as Centaurea muricata, Volutarella muricata and (my favourite) Morocco knapweed. But I’m happy this is it. And I have learnt two useful things:

  1. Don’t forget to look again at what you think you already know: you might be surprised.
  2. Never tweet before you checked!

 

A verge full of Moroccan Knapweed
A verge full of Moroccan Knapweed
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Día del Nispero, A Fruity Fiesta

Nispero
Nispero

“Nispero?” It’s a fruit. A rather strange fruit. It’s Japanese Medlar in English, or Loquat (from Urdo), but most people look as blank at those names as they do at the Spanish word.

The nispero tree
The nispero tree

This is because the tree is not commonly grown in Europe, preferring a sub-tropical climate to fruit well…a sub-tropical climate like the one in Sayalonga.

Nispero are, I understand, quite difficult to cultivate. Sayalonga, however, excels in their cultivation; the district is the main producer of fruit in the whole of Andalusia. Heading down towards the river ford from the Corumbela side you walk past acres of these low growing trees with long green leaves, heavy, in April and May, with yellow-orange fruit.

Nispero harvest
Nispero harvest

Years ago, heading this way with some Dutch walkers, I came across a family harvesting the fruit into crates, who told us their name and were amused at our puzzled reaction. They gave us each a fresh nispero to try – my first bite of the juicy summer fruit. I was amazed at the size of the seeds, like a set of wooden blocks packed inside the flesh. Mmm.

 

Nispero on street sign
Nispero on street sign

This is the fruit for Sayalonga, a stand-out symbol for the town, that appears on paintings, mosaics and street signs: no wonder it has its own fiesta. The Día del Nispero has been celebrated for over 80 years; it is held on the first Sunday in the month of May.

Serving nispero
Serving nispero

This is a lively party, full of fruit: you can taste the nispero: the fruit, the jams, the desserts, the liquors; bars giving free samples to the crowd and selling other drinks are normally found near the main square. There are normally stalls with other local products and a bouncy castle (or similar) for children, but the main action is the main square, where there are presentations, music, dancing, poetry, and speeches all day long.

 

2015 poster
2015 poster

The townhall present a “Nispero de Honor” to people or organisations from Andalusia, Malaga, the Axarquía and Sayalonga – this year this will include a flamenco guitarist, a women’s association supporting cancer sufferers, a local historian and firecrews without frontiers.

Poster 2016
Poster 2016

Equally memorable is the posters that will promote the festival – these are designed based around the winner of the yearly competition (first prize €1,500!) – always on the theme of … well, nisperos and Sayalonga, what else. The lower rooms of the towns Museo de Moriscos house previous paintings and they are wonderful, though you feel that the room should smell of nispero jam – there’s an awful lot of fruit!

The Día del Nispero is a great day to visit Sayalonga and take a look around the town’s monuments or lose yourself in the twisty streets in between watching the dancing and sampling the fruit. It is an attractive, typical ‘pueblo blanco’, to which the nispero celebration gives something unexpected and unique. Try the nispero liquor – sweet but very good! First Sunday in May … that’s 1st of May 2016 – just a week away. Put it in your diary!

Nisperos, Sayalonga

 

If you speak Spanish (and even if you don’t – some of it will be clear) here is a link to the Día del Nispero program 2016

 

 

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