Saturday, 29 March 2014


A huge wild fire destroyed hundreds of acres north of Almeria in the Sierra Gador on Wednesday 26th March. Below is the photograph we took, when we spotted it, en route for the Sierra de los Filabres. Although we were some 40kms away, it was possible to see the flames licking across the hillsides and the towering clouds of smoke. There was a powerful wind too, whipping the fire ever faster. As you pass through this landscape, it is easy to see how a fire could take hold, as the vegetation is tinder dry after a long period of no rain. 

The Spanish Air Force deployed four  Bombardier planes, from the 43rd Groupo at Torrejon, near Madrid, to fight the fire. They are Spain's elite fire fighting unit. Below are three of the planes, Mike photographed.

Not wishing to get in the way of any fire fighting action, we waited until Friday to go to the area of the fire to see for ourselves the damage and it was a very sad scene of desolation. The village of Enix was  lucky to be spared, as the fire reached the very boundaries of the village, some houses only metres from being engulfed, but it must have been terrifying to see at close quarters, as it was driven so fast by the wind.

This area, thankfully, is sparsely populated, so to our knowledge there was no loss of life, but the damage to the countryside was huge. What trees there are in this area were mostly destroyed, below you can see the scorched hillside, where the fire swept through. As we stood sadly viewing the blackened and charred hills, the smell of fire and clouds of ash pervaded the air.

Although some trees appear green on the top, they are blackened and burnt below.

Some pockets seem to have been spared and hopefully will help to regenerate the area, but the damage to species of insects, flora and fauna is incalculable, especially at this time of year.

But nature is a wonderful thing and just along from the devastation, Mike photographed a pair of Golden Eagles, hunting, as if nothing had happened.

Also on some wild flowers, we found this handsome Burnet Moth, in all its metallic beauty.

A miniature Rock Rose bloomed among some boulders. 

This area has seen many fires and nature repairs and replenishes the land, but we must not take her for granted. We each have a duty to future generations, to keep these special places in the world and to do all we can to preserve them.

Thursday, 27 March 2014


Traveling from Grenada to Almeria, you have the most stunning views of the Sierra Nevada, capped with snow and below the Almond trees, all laced with pink blossom. The Sierra extends for about 80kms and has the highest peak in Spain, Mulhacen, standing at 3482m. It is tremendously important botanically, as almost a third of the total flora of Spain, some of which are unique are only found here.
The Sierra is sometimes snow clad for 9 months of the year and 95% of precipitation falls as snow on the highest peaks. It is also home to many birds and mammals, especially the magnificent Iberian Ibex.

Before we followed the road up into the Sierra, we stopped at the village of Calahorra, where a magnificent 16th century Castillo perches high on a hill overlooking the village.

Climbing higher we follow the winding road towards the Puerto de la Ragua, at 2609m.
This must be a stunning sight, but the weather has closed in and it has started to snow!

The weather brightened as we descended on the southern side of the Sierra and the sun came out, as we travelled the road through the Alpujarras. Our lunch stop found us overlooking this almost surreal view of Almond trees on different coloured soil.

Further along our route looked down on valleys and gorges, stopping to admire the view, we heard bells tinkling and below us a shepherd with his sheep and dogs came into view and just as quickly disappeared into the vast and desolate landscape.

Below is one of the famous white villages of Andalusia, called Ohanes, all piled up on itself, with
the Church at its centre.

The village was surrounded with ancient terraced fields.

Another white village, behind you can see the beginning of the Tabernas landscape, which is more desert like, with arid mountains also known as the badlands.

At any moment we expected to see Clint Eastwood riding across the range, but no luck!

Now in the Sierra de los Filabres, down one of the most winding roads ever,
 ( we thought that we would meet ourselves, coming up) we came across this little gem of a village,
called Terque, like an oasis in the barren landscape. Not only with beautiful colonial Spanish houses,
 but also cave dwellings.

Like a painting, a quiet corner of Terique.

Following the valley of the Rio Andarax, we then turned northward into the badlands of the Desert de Tabernas as the sun was going down, lighting the tips of the grasses.
A fitting end to a day of contrasts.

Friday, 21 March 2014

Lagunas de Ruidera and Tablas de Daimiel.

On the road again and heading south, for the Lagunas de Ruidera, we pass through some wonderful scenery and at Molina de Aragon, we pause to photograph the amazing Castillo. The Torre at the very top of the photograph is the Torre de Aragon. It originated as a Moorish fortress in the 10th & 11th century and became the residence of the Lords of the taifa of Molina. When El Cid was exiled from Castile, he resided here. In 1129 Alfonso 1 of Aragon captured it from the Moors. It is a vast structure on a hill with a commanding view of the surrounding countryside and originally the line of towers included a village. Strangely this photograph looks digitally altered, but is totally untouched!

Traveling on towards Cuenca, we saw more and more of these strange stacks of some sort of bright red willow, which were being grown as a crop and we have no idea of its use, but it is used alot!

Eventually we arrive at the Lagunas de Ruidera and they are stunning. Situated in a Parque Natural on the arid plains of Castilla- La Mancha. The source of these lakes are filters, springs and streams that come together around Ruidera. 
Naturally formed by 16 small lakes at different levels, the crystal clear waters cascade one to the other and form an important area for migratory birds.

There are many beautiful, tall, silver trees surrounding the lakes and I think that they are some sort of Poplar.

The Guadiana river (one of Spains longest) has its source here, but disappears underground, only to rise agin 15 kms away at our next destination, Daimiel.

The Tablas de Daimiel are an extremely important wet land site and ecosystem, for many migratory birds, in a very arid area of Spain. Although covering nearly 20 square kms, this is the smallest of Spains National Parks. During our visit we observed that they are expanding the park into the neighboring dry land areas, in an effort to try to stop over exploitation of water resources. While not wanting to become political, we wish that they would adopt this idea in the Strawberry growing province of Huelva, where illegal water extraction is causing water levels of the Donana National Park to drop to dangerously low levels. All for the sake of cheap Spanish Strawberries!

On the tranquil waters of Daimiel a Red Crested Pochard can glide safely, as this is no longer a water fowl hunting area.

A Ferruginous Duck.

Northern Pintail

Tufted Duck

Common Teal

And in the serenity of Daimiel a Grey Lag Goose watches from the grass, as we take our leave.

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

The road to Laguna de Gallocanta and the sacred home of the migrating Common Crane


At last the sky is blue, after we have travelled through rain and huge winds from the Pyrenees. We are heading for the Laguna de Gallocanta, where we hope to see the Cranes that have over wintered there and the ones flying in to this rendezvous point, from further south.  En route passing the red town of Daroca, we have to stop to photograph the magnificent fortified entrance and the town beyond, as red as the soil of Aragon.

All the buildings look as though they are forged from the very earth, with the church at the heart of the town.

Perched high above the town is all that is left of the Castillo of the Mayor.

Onwards to our destination, the Puerto de Santed stands guard at the entrance to the Laguna. Which is on a high plateau, some 995 m above sea level, the landscape shows the vast emptiness of the place.

The Laguna is surrounded by a patchwork of grassland and farmed fields, where the farmers put out straw to feed the Cranes, perhaps saving their crops! We were so pleased to see so many Cranes remaining, as you see below, they were thick on the ground.

Thousands of Cranes, like so many grey clad commuters, with the village of Las Cuerlas in the background.

We watched so many comings and goings as they fed on the fields, in the evening, sadly the light was getting worse.

The light here at Gallocanta is amazing, big skies and the clouds rolling in, I think we are in for a storm!

Storm we had, wind and lashing rain, but the morning was not so bad, so Mike set off, that is him, on the road below the village of Gallocanta, hoping to get some good shots, although the light is not brilliant.

The birds are getting restless, they will soon be making their flight north to their breeding grounds in Scandinavia and northern Europe.

They mostly seem to be in family groups, below is a typical family, with one juvenile, playing follow my leader.

Some young birds and many adults are starting to jump up and down, which is part of the courtship ritual. It is very amusing to watch and seems to be catching, as when one starts, very soon lots of them are bobbing up and down.

This is still, to us, a very special and almost spiritual place, where a dusk vigil, is rewarded by the haunting cries of these wonderful birds as they fly in to roost for the night. At our home in France we always look forward to the flight of the Cranes, southward foretells of the coming Winter and northward heralds the coming of Spring, but always, always, their cries fill the air.
May they forever fly their paths across the sky, we wish them safe journey.