Saturday, 25 February 2017

Spain 24: Red? Squirrel

Red Squirrel - Spanish form
Once upon a time the only tree dwelling squirrel to be found across most of Europe was the Eurasian Red Squirrel Sciurus vulgaris. With a global range from Spain across to the Pacific coast and north to Siberia, there are currently 23 subspecies defined by size and colour of coat. 

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Spain 23: Spanish Ibex

Spanish Ibex
Across the mountains of the Old World, from Spain east to the Himalaya, and south into Ethiopia and Sudan, one of the most characteristic large mammals are the various species of Ibex. One of these was eventually domesticated and today has a worldwide range across North and South America and many islands in the form of the domestic goat, Capra aegagrus. However, the wild species still survive and one of these we tracked down in the hills near the ruins of a town called Belchite, which was heavily bombed during the Spanish Civil War. These were a family party of Iberian Ibex, Capra pyrenaica.

Saturday, 18 February 2017

Spain 22: Chamois

Pyrenean Chamois
One of the characteristic mammals of the high mountains of Europe and the Caucasus is the chamois. There are actually two species, the Alpine Chamois Rupicapra rupicapra from the Alps and eastward, and the Pyrenean Chamois Rupicapra pyrenaica in the Pyrenees. It was the latter species that we found in the mountains on the French border.

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Spain 21: Rock Bunting

Rock Bunting - male
One of the over 40 species of true (Emberiza) buntings is the Rock Bunting Emberiza cia. What actually defines a bunting is a rather complex issue, as the Emberizidae also includes New World Sparrows, Juncos, and Towhees. On the other hand, Snow and Lapland Buntings are now placed in an entirely separate family, the Calcariidae, which is closer to tanagers, cardinals, New World warblers and other species found in the Americas. Emberiza buntings are an Old World genus, with various species found from southern Africa to northern Europe and across to Asia.

Saturday, 11 February 2017

Spain 20: Hawfinch

In the UK the Hawfinch Coccothraustes coccothraustes is an extremely scarce and hard to see species, with a breeding population of under 1000 pairs. Across Europe it is doing much better and is consequently classed as Least Concern by the IUCN. Its range extends from Eastern Europe across temperate forests as far as eastern Asia and northern Japan. It is closely related to two American species, the Evening and Hooded Grosbeaks which have rather similar ecological requirements. Slightly more distantly related are other grosbeaks found in east Asia and the Himalayas.

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Spain 19: Rock Sparrow

Rock Sparrow. Note yellow throat patch
All over the world, the English name for a small, brown, streaky bird tends to include the word “Sparrow” even if the bird concerned is not at all closely related to the pretty much universally distributed House Sparrow. Having said that, the subject of the present post, the Rock Sparrow Petronia petronia, does belong to the same family as House and Tree Sparrows, albeit a separate genus.

Saturday, 4 February 2017

Spain 18: Spotless Starling

Spotless Starling
Out of the over 100 living species of starling only three breed in Europe. The most distinctive, the pink-and-black Rosy Starling Pastor roseus is found in eastern Europe. The Common Starling is native to Europe and Asia as far as Nepal and north to Siberia, but has been widely introduced to North America and Australia, and is also now breeding in South Africa and Argentina. The third species is the subject of this post, the Spotless Starling Sturnus unicolor.

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Spain 17: Choughs

Red-Billed Chough, Ireland
Across Eurasia can be found two species of distinctive crows that are distinguished by the colour of their beaks, the Red-Billed and Alpine (or Yellow-Billed) Choughs. They are associated with short grass and rocky areas, especially mountains. Red-Billed Choughs Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax also use sea cliffs while Alpine P. graculus is only found in high mountains. They are rather distinctive crows and in some ways their ecology is similar to some starlings, although starlings are on a completely different branch of the passerine family tree.