We live in a fascinating place for all those interested in natural history, as the Region of Murcia has an incredibly wide range of habitats; coastal cliffs, beaches, salt pans, semi-deserts, woodlands, mountains, riversides, wetlands and steppes.
This variety of habitats increases the biodiversity as different species fill different niches in the natural world. I read recently that there are over 2,500 species of plants in the region and as far as the birdlife is concerned there have been more than 340 species recorded.
It is not only the range of habitats that is attractive to so many different species, but also the geographical location and the climate make a difference.
Southern Spain is located on one of the major migration routes for birds overwintering in Africa, so in Spring and Autumn we have the opportunity of seeing the 51 species which regularly pass through the region between their breeding and wintering grounds, plus the 40-ish species that are summer visitors here. In addition, there are another 78 species from northern climates that come here to avoid the bad weather and spend their winter holidays with us. We also enjoy 85 species that are resident all year round and another 80-ish species that have been occasional visitors or just got lost!
All in all, the bird life of Murcia is an ever-changing picture as we move through the seasons with resident populations, immigration, emigration and transit passengers. Just like us!
By the time you will be reading this, most of the migrants will be in their breeding areas. Our summer visitors and residents will probably have set up home and breeding will be in full swing.
Two of our most striking and vocal visitors are the Bee-eater and the Golden Oriole. Both are brightly coloured and impressive, especially when you see them for the first time.
Bee-eaters (in Spanish, Abejaruco) as the name suggests, eat bees, wasps and other flying insects. They hunt from perches such as bare branches and wires, so can be quite conspicuous. It is said that they can spot their prey from 50-100 metres away. They then take off and curve away before attacking at a tangent. Bee-eaters can be very acrobatic and entertaining in flight. Males and females are practically identical, with yellow throats, pale green-blue bodies, chestnut on the top of the head and yellow lower backs that contrasts with the chestnut and sheeny-blue wings. They are about the same size as a small dove. They nest in burrows which they excavate themselves in earth banks quite low down. A pair nested near our house and their burrow was only a couple of feet above the path. They also have a very distinctive call.
The Golden Oriole is another striking bird - well, the male is! The female is quite drab and I imagine it is to hide herself better when incubating the eggs. Orioles are about the size of a starling, maybe slightly bigger and the male is startlingly bright yellow with black wings and tail. You can't miss it in flight, but for such a bright bird it is amazingly difficult to spot when perched in a tree. It has several different calls, but also a very distinctive, beautiful, loud fluting whistle. If you can imitate the song it will call back to you, but don't do it too much because it will think you are another male moving into its territory. If you go onto Google you should be able to find a recording of the song quite easily; it's well worth a listen. The song is also the easiest way to know they are around.
Well, that's practically it for this month; just some titbits for the keen birders. There have been records of Little Bunting (not far from Calasparra) and Broad-billed Sandpiper (near Los Alcazares) in the last month. Both are firsts for the Region, but still to be formally accepted by the relevant records committee.