Friday, 23 February 2018

A novel, The Wife by Alafair Burke

A NOVEL, ‘THE WIFE’, written by New York Times best selling author! ALAFAIR BURKE.

Alafair Burke's new Book, ‘The Wife’ was something different for me to read after the second Solomon Creed. It felt good in the hand and the front cover appealed. Perhaps it is an indication of the times we are in and the events that are thrust upon us in our 24/7, almost inescapable daily news, where this book scores well. What would any self-respecting male - yes there must be some still around - even pick up a book by a woman and with that title. I quickly got to Page 40 and found it different and topical. Added to that, it is the way the characters are portrayed and there are some interesting people who saunter around the fringes of the main players. They made me wonder what their motives were and how bad they could be?

You will get no ‘plot spoiler’ from me. Suffice to say this is much, much, more than a crime novel.
Okay, people die and as I read it, that part became almost a side element, but nevertheless still integral, to the issues that are thrust at us. Yes, intriguingly, both sexes are included! What goes on between them makes it a compelling story. It is expertly told. There are less turns in a jive contest than in here.

How this story was wrapped up has kept me thinking, and also, the consequences of those final chapters. There are good clues on the back sleeve, but you don't really need other people's comments for you can make your own up when you read it.

Monday, 19 February 2018

Sierra De Espuña

Friday 16th February I collected Bryan about 9am (late for us) to go to Sierra de Espunas. It has just warmed up and the weather has changed to allow Spring to progress.

It is motorway all the way to past Murcia and then follow the big brown signs. We were up the mountain and listening and watching for birds as we went . The temperature was surprising warm at 15 C. We had a couple of short stops on the way up that yielded nothing. We parked outside the information centre and we could hear Crossbill, Coal and Crested Tit, Chaffinch and Woodlark and Bryan’s knowledge did the translation. Our views were limited.

We moved onto a viewing point and on the way two Golden Eagles appeared briefly, but we had good views of them once we had parked. Here there were two Crossbill - either female or juvenile male - and we heard Woodlark again. However this was not our final destination as we wanted to go much higher. Our target was the ‘ice caves’ and the water source by them. It was an interesting twenty minute walk and although it was sunny and the temperature around 15C part of the track had snow and other areas were either crisp or wet. We met other birders/tourists on route and it is good to stop and chat with others as we search for birds

There was bird song and calls all around us amongst the pines. We waited for a while at the caves with not much to make the trip worth while apart from the pleasure of being there out in the mountain air. A Rock Bunting obligingly perched for the photograph and it was in full summer plumage.

A Cole Tit, Robin and Linnet showed well and up the slope there was a cacophony of sound that included the whirring Red Legged Partridges and Chough called frequently. We heard and saw flying Raven with one perched high on a ridge.

We were too late for both Mistle Thrush and Ring Ouzels and I will have to wait to next winter for them.

Wildlife apart, this Sierra and surrounding ones, have a good deal of history which can be viewed on Murcia Today and other sites. There are intact ‘ice houses’ there too and some were constructed in the 1500’s.

Saturday, 17 February 2018

The Second Solomon Creed - The Boy Who Saw


I have re-read ‘the boy who saw’. The front cover proclaims that:

‘only one boy can see the darkness’
‘only one man can save him from it’

It is the second book in the Solomon Creed triology by Simon Toyne and I am impatient for the third and final one to appear.

Having read the first book I became hooked on the character, Solomon Creed, and being amazed, and wondered at, how this extraordinary being came about. He carries the stories, but the writer has also created other essential and interesting characters. Some good and, of course, some bad. If you have read the first story you could expect more of same except Creed has moved continents and the motivations for violence have different origins. It is an enthralling read and there is again, so much detail. It as an absorbing book.

This story is firmly rooted in European history of the last century and also as rooted in political events of even last year. He has created players that want to see the end of liberalism and the rise of more nationalistic ideas. Toyne has treated these subjects with respect and he acknowledges, in his depth of research, the assistance of others. What next will come, I wonder.

Monday, 12 February 2018

Day Five.

Here are some shots of the Short-Eared Owls taken on Canon 40D with a 300mm f4 Lens. The light was fading, the sun was going down and the owls were quite long way a way.

Flying high in the distance.

In the bottom right of the photo you can see what is possibly a Common Snipe escaping the Owl

In Flight

Copyright Michelle Edwards 2018

Friday, 9 February 2018

Day Five - Our Final Day

Tuesday 6th February and our last day. It was 4 degrees with sun, cloud and a cold wind. We were informed that this was their coldest week of the winter. Our plan was simple to take a route to José Valverde Information Centre via Isla Mayor - that was recommended by Laury. We were en route from 8.30 until our arrival at I.C at 3.15pm. In June Bryan had seen a plethora of species here included a host of Black Vultures. This winter there were none on view and not much else.
There were clear views of both female and male Gadwalls and so we had our lunch and moved on.

On route an Egyptian Mongoose dashed across the road in front of the car and one crossed behind. We had two clear views.

We were now in the same location, but earlier, than Day One when we saw our first Owls. We knew the road and likely locations and we were not to be disappointed. In the marsh a herd of Fallow Deer, mainly stags with a couple of hinds looked our way.

Common Cranes were easily seen in both small groups and in one group of 70. White Storks dotted the fields and we also had three clear, but distant Black Storks as well. The verges and fences had numerous birds and I had my first very clear views of both male and female Spanish Sparrows. Corn Buntings and Stonechats were again numerous too.

Soon we saw the Short-Eared Owls and we watched them for more than an hour. They are so beautiful and the photographers were kept busy. They were an unforgettable sight.

While scanning for more Owls Trevor spotted in the distance a Hen Harrier - our first for the trip. We watched it disappear and then we located both a male and a female. After discussion it was decided that the male was a Hen and not a Montagu’s.

At one location near the pumping station we counted over fifty Nigh Herons with some in breeding plumage and others being younger birds.

It was a late drive home, but with no Barn Owl to see on this occasion and we arrived at our accommodation at 8.55 tired but pleased.

Our total now was 132. Obviously we always want to see as many species as possible, but it is quality sightings that matter most to us. And we had plenty of them. Southern Spain is a must for any birder as there are so many to see and in very good numbers. I think we will be back again.

Day Four

MONDAY 5th February. We discussed the value in booking a guide for a day. Laury was our ‘in-house’ man as we were staying on his property. We already had three very successful days and we had taken some advice on where to go. We decided that to see more we needed local knowledge and it proved to be a very good decision for we had twenty-three new species on the day.

We left prompt at 9am with a frosted windscreen and our first destination was to a restricted area where Luary had gained permission. The habitats for today changed from pine woodland, through the whole range of coastal ones to farmland late in the afternoon. Crested Tit was more easily heard than seen, but we all saw it and I had a clear view through binoculars. When two were seeing Dartford Warbler the other two were having great views of a Dunnock. It perched in full view in a leafless bush. On the adjacent lagoon there were Gadwall and Wigeon that were both new birds for this trip. One House Martin flew over. Other waders were there too.

The next area was a salt water habitat. Perched in the distance was an Osprey and there was one flying over the port area afterwards. This area was fantastic for the quantity of waders and gulls, but nothing that was new for us. We had terrific and frequent views of both Whimbrels and Curlews again and saw another Grey Plover.

Gulls were plentiful and included out first sightings of both Audouin’s and Slender Bill Gulls.

On the unused salt pans waders were numerous and my target bird and star bird of the day was three excellent sightings of one Marsh Sandpiper. We worked at it as the bird flew several times before Bryan was able to photograph it. This is an area not to be missed there was not only a plethora of birds, but also a rarity too.

Watching a Marsh Sandpiper

We moved on and we saw both Sandwich and Caspian Terns and then a Purple Heron flew to disappear into the marismas.

We again changed habitats and headed towards farmland in search for the Black Shouldered (Winged) Kite. We located two with one perched on a platform and the other one, the male, was flying until it landed with the female and copulation took place. We were to have three more sightings of others.

The farmland area was buzzing with birds that included Spanish Sparrow and a variety of Larks including Sky and Calandra.

It was another full day, guided for this one, and we arrived back home at 7.30 hungry and satisfied with our day. I thought good value for money with no driving for Michelle or for myself with a good variety of birds and excellent views of a Marsh Sandpiper which was a first anywhere for the both of us.

Our guide was Laury Grenon at

Day Three

For our Sunday trip on 4th February we decided to go north west of Huelva. Our destination was Ermita de la Virgen De la Peña because this is a site for Alpine Accentors. These are rare birds and usually difficult to find. It had rained overnight and on leaving at 8.30am it was 8 degrees with cloud cover, but the wind made it feel colder. We did have spots of rain in the afternoon and some sunshine at the Ermita.

Our route from Huelva took us west on A49-E1 to junction 105 where we turned north on HU 3401 heading towards Tariquejo and San Bartolomé De la Torre. At the latter town we turned nothing west on A 499 to Villanueva de los Castillejos. Here we turned north still on A 499 until we saw the sign for the Ermita on our right hand side.

We knew that our route would take us through ‘steppe’ country where we could see Great Bustards. It was in the area of Villanueva on A 490 we saw two GB’s fly in the distance. They were only brief views, but another species for the list. We searched the surrounding fields for any more and found Golden Plovers with Lapwings.

We had various stops on route and saw Chaffinch, Buzzards, Blue Tit and Bryan heard a Wood Lark. Also there were about one hundred and fifty White Storks circling high in the distance. There were others on nests. Villanueva was one stop where we had coffee and there was a garage as well.

At the Ermita de la Virgin De la Peña there are panoramic views all around. In fact this is a site that is exceptional and it was special for us. Apart from Blue Rock-thrush, Black Redstarts, House Sparrows, Robin, Blue Tit, with two flying Jays, and a Great Tit called, with White Storks and Griffins overhead which would please most birders the star birds had yet to be seen. Today there were at least seven Alpine Accentors. These showed well feeding on a bank of bare earth, and trees and shrubs. This is a spot they continued to return to. They flicked through the vegetation at the base of a pine. In the car park, only a few metres away from the bank I stood still and they walked to with ten feet of me. There were four here paying only little attention to people. We took our time as our star birder and photographer needed to get the best photograph possible. The Accentors were our 99th bird of the trip. In the car park I spoke to two Spanish guys who told us that around the back of the rocky outcrop was an Eagle Owl site that can be seen from the road at the back. We were unsuccessful.

On a return southwards we saw a small area of water and there was a perched Kingfisher, and House Martins flew over on passage. In the margins a Ringed Plover fed. It does pay to stop and look!

Traveling towards home we headed again to Isla Cristina and this time decided to investigate Playa de Canela. (See Page 51 -Guardiana Estuary of Where To Watch Birds in Southern & Western Spain by Ernest Garcia & Andrew Paterson. The map on this page does give any idea of the distance needed to get there). It is almost a nine day camel ride to get to a view of the marsh. In winter it is empty of visitors and this meant that we could stop anywhere. Here we had our first Curlew and Whimbrel of the trip. They were brilliant views of several birds and comparisons between the species was easily seen. Flying over the harbour was a Sandwich Tern.

Further on into Huelva opposite LYDIA COCINAS and across the single railway track we traveled down a track and in the lagoon we saw about a dozen Shellduck. Twelve Ringed Plovers, Little Stint and Redshank. It was easy birding, but the temperature was dropping with a cold wind blowing. Upon leaving there were over 100 Cattle Egrets in a field. Our next stop was the Shopping Centre signposted Centro Commercial for a beer and a burger. New species for today were eleven with a trip total of 105.

The two photographers had looked enviously at the ‘nightscape’ provided by the Repsol site on our route to our accommodation. The security provided by Prosegur found us and suggested hat we move on and that photographs were not allowed. However, no signage and no one was arrested.