La Mancha | Weeks 1 & 2 – Semanas I y II

So, I´m back in La Mancha again and this post is going to be a summary of all the stuff I´ve seen in my first week and a half here.

Due to feeling crap due to a really bad throat, the first three days or so didn´t involve much in the way of nature but after some antibiotics Gui and I were back out in the field.

The first nature outing was very brief, and was to a fountain in the outskirts of the village, and wasn´t the most fruitful of excursions, though on the way, a Red-rumped Swallow (Hirundo daurica, golondrina daúrica) was a nice surprise, though again I didn´t manage a photo. Also on the way were many Pallid Swifts (Apus pallidus, vencejo pálido), the only species left in Chinchilla as the Common Swifts (Apus, apus, vencejo común) have already begun their long migration, and house martins, and a single common kestrel (cernícalo vulgar). When we arrived at the fountain, it was a little dissappointing as the majority of life seemed to be mosquito larvae, however we did find a nice worm to add to our natural aquarium which we began last time I was here, about which you can read more in Gui's post. And that is the end of the summary of our first outing, but unfortunately the next is going to be just as brief.

We decided to go visit some of the pines at the bottom of the village close to the main road that we had seen returing to the house the night before to see what was around. On the way I got an invertebrate lifer in the form of Iris oratoria, however it dissappeared very quickly not allowing me to get a photo. When we arrived at the pines we were again dissappointed, hearing Iberian Green Woodpecker (Picus viridis sharpei, pito real) and literally nothing else. (I apologise for the slightly lacking summary so far but I promise it does get better).

The next day, we finally went to the mountains. After lunch, we decided to rest a little before going and wait for the rain to die down. From the terrace, we were surprised to see a gathering of ~37 hirundines on an aerial close by, the majority Swallows but with a few Sand Martins in the mix, clearly preparing for their long migration. 

The beginnings of the gathering
After a quick stop off at the shop for sugary foods we stopped close to the bottom of the hill up to the mountain to look in some “adelfas” or “baladres” (Nerium oleander) for mantises, and to our luck Gui found one almost right away, a female Mantis religiosa, and luckily this time managed a picture. The next interesting thing to happen was losing my phone in a forsest full of thousands of identical Pinus halepensis, but fortunately, after retracing our steps, I was reunited minutes later. In the mountain I saw many plant species which I had not noticed the previous trip such as Helianthemum sp. (still in flower, surprisingly), Cistus clusii, and some new thistle species yet to be identified, and many species which last time had seemed to be everywhere seemed much less obvious due to their changing form. As we got further up the mountain, the weather began to worsen and so we decided to cut short our visit and turn back and on turning around we got great views of an Iberian Hare (Lepus granatensis, liebre ibérica), a new species for me and an endemism to the Iberian Peninsula and noticeably different to the Common Hare (Lepus europaeus, liebre europea) I have seen so many times back home which is in my opinion much less interesting.

Mantis religiosa
Not much to write for today though at the very end of the day, on a very cold and windy walk around the village after a day of bad weather, I found one of the best things I've ever found. A first for me (in the wild) but something very close to my heart - an example of Blaps mucronata (Churchyard Beetle) - close to the caves. This is a species very important to me as I recently lost my own, Ben, after eleven years (yes, you heard me right). If you´re interested you can read about that here.

After almost 48 hours of stormy weather (which was at times a little scary), it was a perfect night to go on the hunt for amphibians. In the outskirts of Chinchilla we found a Natterjack Toad (Epidalea calamita, sapo corredor) which is something Robert, James, and I had tried for many times without success, and after dinner three more and also a single Common Parsley Frog (Pelodytes punctatus, sapillo moteado).

Epidalea calamita. Formerly belonging to the genus Bufo.
Today we went to Valdeganga. On the journey there, we saw three Lesser Kestrels (Falco naumannii, cernícalo primilla), two marsh harriers (Circus aeruginosus, aguilucho lagunero) and an Iberian Grey Shrike (Lanius meridionalis, alcaudón real meridional). Our main intention was to collect pinecones of Pinus pinaster (pino resinero). These are generally a more common sight in the southern, more mountainous part of the province, along with Pinus nigra, however Gui had found some near the village on his last visit, and after sucessfully collecting some and watching some migrating Bee-eaters close by we went on to the river. Our plan was to collect some more specimens for our aquarium, however we only managed a prawn (Atyaephyra desmaresti) and some snails (Melanopsis tricarinata , and (heard only) Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis, martín pescador) and Cetti's Warbler (Cettia cetti, ruiseñor bastardo). The weather was partly to blame, as all the rain and storms had made the water level very high and sediment was making visibility bad and another bad storm was brewing cutting short our trip.

Atyaephyra desmaresti taking a dump.
This morning we went to the mountains of Chinchilla, armed with six Cistus albidus, a species of Rock Rose (Jara blanca) and two Pinus pinea (pino piñonero) to try and continue with Gui'´s efforts to reforest correctly the area. On the way, we stopped at what Gui had told me to be a reliable spot for seeing Mantis. Sure enough, we found one Iris oratoria and not only this but an amazingly big 'grillo de matorral' (Decticus albifrons?). On arriving, we found a fairly healthy Cistus which had been planted at the beginning of the year and because of this decided to plant two more in the same place, watching a Red Squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris, ardilla roja) as we did. We continued along the path, where we saw butterflies every step. In between plantings, we saw many insects particularly Shieldbugs, Grasshoppers, and as mentioned already butterflies, and at the site of one of the plantings, saw a blue-tailed young Iberian Lizard (Podarcis hispanica, lagartija ibérica). En route to the final planting site we saw many snails of the genus Sphinterochila. In the forest next to this we had planned to find the Quercus ilex (encinas) that Gui had planted before, however unfortunately we were unsuccessful, however whilst there I spotted a group of five birds – Woodlarks! A lifer for me... and at long last, as it was one of the birds I'd tried to see the last time I was here. Shortly after, we arrived at the final planting site, close to the perch of an Eagle Owl (Bubo bubo, búho real). Unfortunately, a Cistus that we had discovered to be broken last time, had dissappeared. The good thing was that we found two new Quercus ilex growing very close by. At this moment, as we were just about to plant the remaining plants Gui realised that he had lost the digging tool so we decided to return to the house and find it on the way. Whilst walking through the village, close to the shop we found a young Black Redstart (Phoenicurus ochruros, colirrojo tizón) which allowed us to get very close but without time for me to get a picture, however to our luck just seconds later we encountered another of which I managed a few poor record shots, though the great views alone were enough to keep me contented. A nice end to the day.
Reforesting a mountain doesn´t always go to plan...
Today once again we went to the Sierra de Chinchilla to plant the Cistus and Pinus pinea left over from yesterday, as well as some Quercus ilex. Today, the mountain was full of cyclists and people; a little annoying when you want to observe the forest and its wildlife, and reforest without disturbance. Despite all of this, we planted the final plants successfully. At the site of the Eagle Owl , we got great views of a Short-toed Treecreeper (Certhia brachydactyla, agateador común), which until today I had only heard, not seen. After finishing planting, we ventured further to see if the acorns of the Quercus ilex and Quercus coccifera (coscoja) were ready but unfortunatly not; like everything this year, very late. These two perennial oak species more closely resemble a Holly (Ilex aquifolium), than either our own native Oak species (Quercus robur; Quercus petraea). After enjoying the views of the Manchego countryside, we returned home. On the way, we saw three Pin-tailed Sandgrouse (Pterocles alchata, ganga ibérica) crossing the path very close to us. Part of the journey back involved passing through a field of thistles (cardos), where in one single thistle we found four examples of Iris oratoria; three males (one green) and one yellowish female. We chose to return via a different path where I spotted a raptor which Gui identified as a Honey Buzzard (Pernis apivorus, halcón abejero) – A lifer to end the day and the first two weeks!
Iris oratoria (left: males, right: female). All in the same thistle!