Ask any keen birders what their best moment was while birdwatching, the chances are high that the story will involve a raptor. There’s something about these aerial warriors which brings out the Jeremy Clarkson in birders – Jezza would rather talk about Ferraris and Bugattis than Fiats and Fords, birders want to talk about Eagles, Falcons and Hawks rather than Little Brown Jobs.
We have an excellent selection of raptors in our corner of Spain, but unfortunately some of them are only around in good numbers during the winter season, when they arrive to hunt the huge amount of wintering birds in our area. However, the news is not all bad, and there is one spectacular species which only occurs here during the summer when it arrives to breed in small numbers.
This is the Montagu’s Harrier, named after an 18th Century British Ornithologist named George Montagu, who did much pioneering work long before most people even thought that birdwatching was a good idea. My picture shows the male bird, mostly silvery-grey; the female is much browner than this, and surprisingly somewhat larger. If you are a relatively keen birder, you may have seen the related (and much bigger) Marsh Harrier which occurs in the Clot from time to time, and can also be found fairly easily in the big reserve at El Hondo; the Montagu’s Harrier is a smaller bird, but no less determined in its hunting technique.
These are birds which specialise in hunting over extensive reedbeds, low scrub and cereal fields. Their diet consists mostly of small mammals, birds and reptiles as well as larger insects like grasshoppers and crickets. Its hunting technique is to fly slowly and buoyantly along well-determined flight paths, dropping like a stone once it detects prey. They may nest in loose colonies if there are several pairs around, so if you see one bird hunting, you may well see another if you hang around.
So where are they? In our area, I have heard very few reports of sightings in the Clot, but it is not the ideal place – to see these birds, the best place to go is along the Lemon Tree Market road on the northern edge of the La Mata salt lake north of Torremolinos. The reedbeds which skirt the edge of the lake holds several pairs, and this is the ideal time to see them as they will be raising youngsters, which of course will need a regular supply of prey. You need to take one of the many farm tracks down to the lake, providing of course that you think your suspension and tyres are up to the job!
These are highly endangered birds – the threats to their existence are mostly due to human activities, be it hunting, poisoning, poor farming techniques and loss of habitat. However Spain remains one of their strongholds and they are certainly worth seeking out if you have the time.
Then you can bore all your friends with stories starting “When I saw my first Montagu’s Harrier…”
You can see more photos of our local wildlife by visiting