Doñana National Park: Coastal Wetlands

A highlight, on a recent trip to Andalucia in southern Spain, was discovering the extraordinary beauty of the wetlands of Doñana National Park.  It is sited along the banks of the great Guadalquiver River at it’s estuary on the Atlantic Ocean. It’s an immense expanse where water has a language described in terms of flowing or still; of lagoons, marshlands, aquafires, ponds, pools.  It’s well known as a gathering place for millions of migatory birds.  It’s present area covers 50,720 ha. and it’s ecological value is recognised under  Ramsar  status and as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

The Guadalquivir river runs over a watercourse 657kms in length and exits at an estuary stretching out into a marshy delta known as Las Marismas del Guadalquivir.  It’s Spain’s only navigable river with historic links back to Seville and in Roman times reaching as far as Cordoba.  The park has a diversity of ecosystems of caños and cotos, marismas and dunes; it is notable for its biotopes – the lagoons, marshlands, fixed and mobile dunes, scrub woodland and maquis. Five threatened bird species make their home here. It is also one of the largest heronries in the Mediterranean region and is the wintering site for more than 500,000 water fowl each year.  Thousands of greater flamingoes come to nest over the spring to summer months.  Wading birds, spoonbills and herons and amazing numbers of raptors hover in the airspace above.

Only guided tours in 4×4 vehicles are permitted and we booked a half day tour through the company “Discovering Doñana “.  Sonia Alís, our guide picked us up early in the morning and we set off on an exciting tour.  Along the sandy road Sonia soon picked up the spoor of lynx and fox.  Sonia worked for some time at the Iberian Lynx project and was most knowledgeable on their habits.  Soon we were spotting fallow and red deer; wild horses and birds, birds, birds.  We appreciated her indepth knowledge on the varied environments and biodiversity of the park.  As a protected area it plays a vital part in the ongoing health of migratory bird life, and the interconnection of it’s supporting flora and fauna.

Reference: Wikipedia

“The following is a list of birds that inhabit the park: velvetleaf, bee-eater, hoopoe, dunnock, vulture, curlew, gadwall, mallard, widgeon, snipe, black-tailed godwit, imperial eagle, booted eagle, short-toed eagle, Bonelli’s eagle, Montagu’s harrier, marsh harrier, hen harrier, alcatraz, shrike, lark, greylag goose, bean goose, redshank, lapwing, avetorrillo, eared owl, griffon vulture, black vulture, great reed warbler, teal, white stork, black stork, stilt, ringed plover, Kentish plover, cormorant, crow, cuckoo, spatula, crested coot, toed eagles, sandpipers, duck, quail, redstart, redstart, merlin, black starling, starling, Flemish, coot, horned coot, whiskered tern, black tern, common bargain, egret, squacco, herring gull, Audouin’s gull, black-headed gull, dark gull, purple heron, gray heron, barn swallow, red-rumped swallow, sparrow, house sparrow, tree sparrow, Moorish sparrow, jackdaw, honey buzzard, peregrine falcon, crested tit, tit, goldfinch, eared owl, barn owl, kingfisher, heron, black kite, red kite, common blackbird, glossy ibis, common fly, cattle egrets, teals, bittern, little egret, white wagtail, yellow wagtail, purple gallinule, moscón bird, woodcock, brown nighthawks, wood pigeon, shoveler, robin, spotted woodpecker, finch, woodpecker, moorhen, pochard, totovía, little grebe, mistle thrush, song thrush, curlew, magpie, swift, greenfinch, oriole, Cetti’s warbler, nightingale, little bustard, great crested grebe, shelduck, pied flycatcher, spotted flycatcher, common flycatcher, tufted duck, pochar, ferruginous duck, rabilargo, buzzard, common buzzard, common scoter, short-toed lark, stonechat, merganser, firecrest, gull-billed tern, lugano, water rail, bunting, reed bunting, ortega.”

 

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Cape Grysbok

Cape_Grysbok_Raphicerus_melanotis

It’s almost a year since a devastating fire rushed down this section of the mountain in a destructive path.  The vegetation is recovering well and how wonderful it is to see this shy and timid species of endemic buck, the Grysbok on this rainy, drizzly-wet morning.   All the more remarkable is that it is so close to the suburban edge.  They are solitary animals, except during the mating season when they are found in pairs and here we see that this is a female (the male bears horns).    This is one of the smaller species of antelope – it weighs in between 9 – 12 kgs.  Residents in this area have occasional sightings and these close encounters leave the viewer with a sense of awe for these secretive little creatures.

UNLESS… Earth-friendly Chroniclers: Challenge 12 ~ Pollinator Portraits

Jane has chosen a fascinating subject this week:  Pollinators   She writes:  “Beyond the crucial ecosystem services they provide, pollinators are a diverse and fascinating group of animals in their own right. They include bees, butterflies, moths, hummingbirds, some bats, some beetles, flies and wasps.”

Jane calls for portraits, so to my delight that suggests up-close macro shots.   I discovered a whole new world after i purchased a set of Vello extension tubes to fit on my 105mm fixed lens and starting delving into the ‘private world’ of flowering plants……

Topical too – as here in South Africa we learn that our R20-billion agriculture industry faces ruin as foulbrood rips through the country’s bee populations.  Bees are a critical part of our food cycle, with one in three mouthfuls of food reliant on insect pollination.   It’s a wake-up call when too little attention has been given to the health of this humble but crucial insect.  40% of the bees in the Western Cape have been killed off and that’s a big worry for the farmers of the area.

But besides the roll of bees the Cape Floristic Region has a fabulous array of pollinators.  The competition between flowering plants to attract pollinators has been one of the driving forces for the evolution of an amazing diversity found in the Fynbos biome.  Bell shaped flowers provide the ideal shape for bees to collect nectar with their two sets of wings, while flies with one set can sneak into smaller spaces. In the Ericas, the tubular flowers of some species have strongly curved flowers that match the specific bill shape of the Orange-Breasted Sunbirds.  Butterflies are also specialist feeders uncurling their long tongues to reach down like straws into long-tubed plants.  To add to Jane’s list – rodents also have a specialised role in pollinating some of the low growing Proteaceae species.

I did a bit of research and found that 430 plant species are pollinated by birds, with the Cape Sugarbird and several of the sunbird species visiting as many as 300 protea flower heads every day during autumn and winter.  Insects play a major role, with beetles coming in with an astonishing diversity.  Currently, over 1 040 described species and 51 genera of monkey beetle are known from South Africa.

It’s International Biodiversity Day!

This is a day to celebrate: that biodiversity is recognised across the globe, right?  The theme this year is linked to Sustainable Development.  The focus is on efforts to integrate biodiversity targets into Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s).  All the buzz words and acronyms but how does it translate into actions? The goals were part of the outcome document from the Rio+20 Summit and are expected to become part of the United Nations (UN) overarching development agenda beyond 2015. There are currently 17 objectives, and the first is to ‘end poverty in all its forms everywhere’, with other goals focusing on resilient infrastructure, gender empowerment and sustainable use of natural resources.

“Biodiversity and ecosystems should be integrated and into the UN post 2015 sustainable development agenda,” says Susan Brown, Director of Global and Regional Policy at World Wildlife Fund (WWF). Andrew Deutz, Director of International Government Relations at The Nature Conservancy explains further : ” The focus of Goal 15, for example, encompasses sustainable management of ecosystems and halting and reversing land degradation and biodiversity loss. There are indicators within the SDG on food security that mention sustainable agriculture,” says Deutz. “Another Goal that deals with water discusses restoring freshwater ecosystems and managing water resources with integrated approaches.”

Deutz says one of the most important notions to come out of the SDG panel was that the environment is not a stand-alone pillar. “Environment and natural resource management need to be integrated across the full spectrum of other goals,” he says. So success looks like achievements that conserve the environment while also ensuring food security. Are these goals really achievable? In March this year during a visit to London I was lucky to get to the Syngenta Photography Exhibition held at Somerset House.  The theme explores global challenges and was titled:  “Scarcity Waste”  and was represented under four themes: “Planet under Pressure”, “Our Footprint”, “Food Waste”, and “Shaping our Future”. A picture is worth a thousand words, so the saying goes, and how relevant it is in this context.   The photographers captured seeringly desolate scenes,  scenes that chill the heart.  On the one hand the plight of the desparately poor and on the other the extravagant waste of the first world populations.  As more than 800 million people got to bed hungry worldwide, others throw away over half of the food they buy.  A third of the world’s food prodution is lost or wasted along the supply chain.  In a world of limited resources, scarcity and waste have become fundamental social, political and environmental issues of our time.  Something needs to change! Text and photographs below are those displayed at the Syngenta Photography Exhibition under the theme:

“Planet under Pressure”

Our demands on nature are increasing: we are eating into our natural capital, making it more difficult to sustain the needs of the future. We have become the dominant force that is both shaping and altering the planet as a whole. Our impact is no longer local; it’s global. The effect of a growing human population will multiply the pressure we place on natural resources.  Our challenge is to ensure that there is enough land, food and water for future generations.”

http://www.eileencrist.com/images/pdf/Crist-Choosing-a-Planet-of-Life.pdf http://www.populationspeakout.org Further reading on SBD’s  https://www.cbd.int/sbstta/doc/trondheim-full-paper-2-sdgs-en.pdf

“The economic and social needs of human populations will
continue to rely on wild species, which implies that these will
have to be used in a sustainable way, avoiding any threats of
extinction. Solutions involve much more than looking at all
living things as an economic resource, they are about changing
legal and institutional frameworks as well as individual habits,
particularly in industrialized nations, if species are to be saved.
The CBD* has not reached this level of action to drive changes
in economic systems that currently allow species to be over-
exploited and placed on the verge of extinction”

* Convention on Biological Diversity