Christmas shopping – you either love it or hate it, and I am firmly in the camp which says they’d rather spend an hour in a dentist’s chair than go through the stress and nausea of finding presents for people you don’t like in crowded shopping centres. I suppose many of you will go along (or be dragged to) Zenia Boulevard just south of Torrevieja, where there is a wide range of shops suitable for your festive gifts. For those of you who are doing this reluctantly, or who want to see something rather special in the way of wildlife, why not take a small detour during your journey?
Take the turning off the N332 for Torrevieja Hospital, go past it towards an urbanisation called Los Balcones, take a right turn at the second roundabout and go along the road towards the salt lake and park where the metalled road ends. Walk a little further on, and listen for a raucous screeching sound.
What you should find is a small flock of the very colourful Azure-winged Magpies, which do not normally occur in our area, although it is fairly common in woodlands in the centre of the Iberian Peninsula. Over the past six or seven years, a wandering family of these birds have set up their home at this location, and Los Balcones is the only reliable site in our area to see these birds, which may now number up to 20 or more individuals.
You may think I’m cheating by telling you about birds which aren’t actually in the Clot, but one or two have been seen there, probably stragglers from this particular group. Also known as the Iberian Magpie or Rabilargo in Spanish, it is the smallest member of the crow family, and in Europe it is confined to Iberia. Intriguingly it is also found across the other side of the world, in China, Mongolia, Korea, and Japan, but they do not migrate between these two vastly separated locations, they are distinct resident populations.
They often squabble among themselves, but they are also remarkably sociable and co-operative when it comes to breeding. Each pair bonds monogamously for life and both immature and adult birds within a breeding colony help their fellow Azure-wings with nest building, supplying food to incubating females and feeding the young.
They are not at all fussy about their diet. They enjoy soft fruits, acorns, pine nuts, berries, insects, grubs and other invertebrates, and will even come into gardens for kitchen scraps, even bread crumbs on bird tables.
So if you do visit, I hope you enjoy your little Xmas present from me, and if not, Happy Christmas to you anyway!
You can see more photographs of birds from our area by visiting www.marketheridge.smugmug.com
See you next month.