Friday, 17 November 2017

Engineering conservation

My morning walk today took me up the north bank path of the rio Aguas nature reserve, curious to see how much progress had been made in clearing vegetation from the river bed since I last went up there, exactly a month ago. I was astonished by what I saw.
Not only had another half a kilometre of cane and bushes been cleared from the watercourse, but several large earth moving vehicles were excavating the soil and adding it to the existing dykes, established as a flood prevention measure years ago. There are places on the north side where flood water erosion last winter swept away soil and vegetation, scouring three metre high precipices in places next to the dirt road. All this needs repairing, making stable and safe, and with vast amounts of alluvial soil and stone to draw upon, it will be possible to improve greatly the protection needed whenever there is catastrophic flooding and rio Aguas threatens to burst its banks.

Needless to say, the riverbed environment, stripped of its five metre high cane forest, looks ravaged and desolate, a conservationist's nightmare on a par with images of amazonian despoilation. But, the banks are not being heaped high with stone and the riverbed paved, as is often the case in cities having to cope with the disruptive effect of occasional deluges. There will be a dramatic effect on riverbed wildlife and ecosystems with such environmental disruption, but similar things happen if there is a big flood also, or a toxic incident. The soil here is rich and fertile and the impact of this remodelling of the riverbed won't be permanent. Vegetation will return and quickly re-grow, and the wildlife will return spreading from wherever it now takes refuge.

It was interesting to observe several Great Egrets accompanying the excavators, dicing with death in close proximity to tracks or giant wheels. Wherever the earth is broken open, a feast of seeds and insects is released, and keen eyed birds benefit. A short term gain for them, maybe, a treat in the never ending hunt for food. It was hard to get decent photographs, as the excavators are so big and the bird so tiny in comparison.
Stripped of vegetation, it's possible to see where the river used to meander and maybe still does if there is enough rain for water to appear at ground level. The core route of the river is also being excavated, it's definition being restored, so that it can more effectively take rain water running from the surface either side of the channel. On the north side of the valley, half way down is an artificial plastic lined pond, perhaps collecting spring water from the cliff above. This drains into a channel that connects to the central river bed, feeding the charco which at this point is a few hundred metres lower down toward the sea. All this must be carefully engineered to ensure the right balance between saline and fresh water for the vegetation around the charco to flourish.
How good it is that the municipality and regional government are willing to invest thought, time and money in large scale conservation project of this kind. Nobody wants floods, so managing the landscape is vital. Perhaps those involved have also noticed how many visitors are attracted by the very fact that an otherwise unremarkable coastal valley has retained its bio-diversity and made it into an attractive place to visit. I was passed on the dusty track by a couple of golf carts from the neighbouring Marina Playa course laden with passengers, curious like me to take a look at work in progress. I wonder what the watercourse will look like in a couple of years from now.

Thursday, 16 November 2017

Shore walking is better for you

I was awakened at first light today by a double bang coming from the lounge, the sound of a metal breaking free of its wall mounting and dropping a coupe of inches to the floor. Neither floor nor the radiator were damaged fortunately, but both the wall mountains had broken. Given they were made from some kind of hard plastic, this would have happened sooner or later, as the actual mounting points on each wall bracket weren't very large, so the pressure exerted on them by a thirty kilo load of iron plus temperature variations would be bound to take their toll eventually. A strange start to the day.

Walking to and from the shops along the beach, I've decided is congenial if I'm not in a hurry, albeit a little slower across sand and uneven patches of terrain. If there's little wind car exhaust fumes tend to accumulate along the Paseo de la Playa, some days worse than others. I should have thought of this ages ago. In the same place as yesterday, I spotted a pair of Sandpipers today, defending their patch of sandy soil and grass from other birds. Not that there were many of them. I was pleased to get this photo.
Perhaps because this week I've had less to preoccupy myself with, I seem to have noticed several different kinds of birds for the first time. Occasionally there's the beginnings of a murmuration of starlings around sunset. By day few are visible, but their huge numbers are audible, to judge by their birdsong from the trees everywhere I walk in town. 

I have to make the most of this free time. When I return to Cardiff, there won't be so much daylight. Inevitably there'll be cloud to darken things further, and only the usual local urban species to see - Crows, Gulls, Magpies, Sparrows, occasionally Robins, Blackbirds and even masses of Starlings, with Cormorants and Mallards, the occasional Heron and rare Jay  along the river Taff. Being here beside the sea is rewarding in a different way, not least because its unfamiliar, I guess.

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

More bird surprises

When I walked out to the bridge over the charco this morning, three older men with telescopes on tripods were stood there chatting in English with West Country accents, inspecting the water below. Evidently twitchers. Their attention was directed toward what they spoke of as rarity in this place, a little grebe, also known as a Dabchick. The diminutive bird they pointed out was one I've observed and photographed often. It moves quickly and dives often compared to other dabblers. Getting a good photo is challenging for that reason. I was pleased to learn its name at last. I suspected there is a pair of them, but I've not them in the same stretch of water at the same time. Their quick diving habit makes them hard enough to spot let alone train a camera on. This is my best distance shot of it so far.
Then came a surprise, however, as what the men were getting excited about was a Dabchick chick, taking refuge on a clump of reeds, and occasionally venturing to rendezvous with its mother and practice diving. That was quite unexpected. The photo isn't that good, as both are less than half the size of a Pochard, and a good twenty metres away below me. But, I was there!
Later, I remembered to put on my walking shoes and went along the beach to the supermarket, thereby avoiding the annoyance of grit invading my sandals. I saw a solitary sandpiper high up the shore, hunting for insects, and then a few moments later, a lapwing in car park gravel nearby. I saw lapwings foraging above the shore last year, a few kilometres beyond Mojácar at Playa Macenas, but this was my first sighting this year.

I was delighted to hear from Clare this evening that sister-in-law Ann is planning to join us for a week in Montreux just after New Year, while I am on locum duty there. She'll be in Scotland with her son David for Hogmany, and flying direct from Edinburgh to Geneva. I enjoy having a chance to share places where I stay on locum duty with family and friends, other than with photographs.

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Bird surprises

A quiet start to the week so far, with not even a sermon to plan for next Sunday, as Margie, one of the Chaplaincy Readers-in-training is going to preach while I celebrate at Llanos. She showed me an early draft of her sermon when I was there last, so this will be an opportunity to listen and give her feedback. She certainly has the right kind of enthusiasm for working with biblical material, and I've already heard how much she's appreciated by the congregation.

Yesterday, after a visit to Lidl's for supplies, I went and inspected what new birds could be seen on the charco and just missed snapping that elusive picture of a grey heron coming out of hiding and landing in a prominent place. I find it curious what while the large number of coots moorhens stays roughly the same, mallards and pochards vary considerably. They may well all be hiding away in the reed beds and emerge from cover to dive and feed according to minor variations in conditions which a casual observer cannot be aware of. The more I have time to watch, the more curious I am about this. The visit highlight was utterly fleeting - the distinctive iridescent flash of a Kingfisher flying at high speed under the road bridge. Just once before I've caught this here. The first time, so quick, I wasn't sure if I believed my eyes, but this sighting confirms it.

Walking back along the beach from the shops this morning, I saw a flock of a dozen Sanderlings in their winter plumage, foraging in the gravel for small invertebrates washed ashore by the waves. Apart from gulls pigeons and straying starlings it's unusual to see other birds along this shore-line. The beach is a mixture of sand and gravel, and doesn't seem to support much plant life in the first thirty metres from where the waves crash in, so it's rare to see birds pecking among the stones for insects. The sight of the Sanderlings dodging the surf, running as they do along the waters edge, was a surprise, to be followed by another later on. I had no camera on me to record it, however.

The few egrets and herons that frequent the charco nature reserve aren't to be seen every day I visit, but at midday one of each was perched at a usual roosting place of dead trees and stones projecting from the bank into the water, about fifty metres from the road bridge.
In addition there was a large black bird, the size of the grey heron with a white front, and distinctively different beak. I checked on-line later and learned it may be a juvenile Cormorant, although to my mind it was rather big for a young bird. Back in Cardiff Bay, I've seen large-ish cormorants with white fronts, groups of them, in fact, identified later as being females in the breeding season.
There are certainly plenty of fish in the charco waters. It'll be interesting to see if any others turn up in days to come.

Sunday, 12 November 2017

Remembrance Sunday

The Ermita de San Pascual de Baylon was full to overflowing for this morning's Eucharist with act of Remembrance, altogether about a hundred people. We started at 10.45, and reached the appointed hour just as we finished singing Abide with Me before the Gospel reading. I'd have been less tense if we'd had a shorter hymn at that point, as singing it in full can drag and lose a minute or two, causing some old soldiers to inspect their watches.

As a locum priest, you take things as you find them. Left to my own devices I wouldn't have integrated the Act of Remembrance into the Eucharistic Ministry of the Word, but kept it as a stand-alone ceremony before Mass, as a number of people turn up for the ceremony and leave straight after, rather than stay for the full service. In fact, that was what I'd expected, or forgotten from last year! Presented with a printed order of service minutes beforehand, I had think on my feet too quickly for comfort. And, it didn't help that I'd slept badly and didn't feel as if I was on my best form. Anyway, by the time I preached, the adrenalin generated by an audience started working its magic.

At the end of the service, Val the Treasurer came to the front and read the formal announcement of the name of the coming new Chaplain, Canon Vincent Oram, currently working in St Alban's diocese, although his ministry began in the Anglican Province of the Church of South Africa, back in the time of apartheid. He's been in rural ministry there and in UK, and won't have any problem adjusting to a ministry involving long drive times for himself and his several flocks. It was for me a satisfying thing to be here when the announcement was made, having met him briefly just after I arrived for duty. I may never pass this way again, and look at my many photo albums of the region with nostalgia, but to have been here to help prepare the way for his arrival is a pleasure of its own.

I joined sixty members of the RBL Branch for lunch at the Bella Vista restaurant after church, but nearly came un-stuck. I arrived at the restaurant, same one as last year, thinking I was only just about on time, and the place was empty apart from three waiters waiting for something to happen. I could see no welcome to the RBL panel in the foyer, and thought I'd made a mistake about the venue. I was too dumbstruck to enquire, went back to the car and tried calling the organiser to check what I'd done wrong. No answer. So, I drove back to the apartment, unable to figure out what Id done wrong. Half an hour later, my call was returned. I was at the right venue, only half an hour early! If there were any diners present, or organisers, they were in a back bar, and not making any noise. I felt such a fool, but jumped in the car, and returned, saying Grace only ten minutes later than proposed. What an idiot!

After an enjoyable meal in pleasant company, I made my excuses and left, to be sure I was ready on time for the drive to Aljambra for Evensong. As I made my way up the Almanzora Valley, the setting sun was just above the horizon, right in my eyes, and slowing me down somewhat, but I was there a quarter of an hour before time, just enough to get organised with Duncan leading the office, and me preaching and baptizing. There were thirty of us present, almost full, and baby Tallia Sophia's three siblings were there taking part, along with parents, godparents and friends. It was a delightful finale to my Aljambra sojourn, and there were some warm and kind words of farewell to send me off into the night, back to base in Mojácar after an eventful day.

Saturday, 11 November 2017

Armistice observed in Mojácar

As I wasn't assigned any special duties this morning I walked to Mojácar Playa's Parque Comercial to join with other members of the local Royal British Legion Branch for the Armistice Day two minute silence. There's a large patio with tables open on one side, enclosed by shops and restaurants, where people can sit to eat and drink. In one corner Mick and Chris had established a poppy sales stall, and there was a public address system, as on this special occasion a local British singer known as Lady Ellen volunteered to sing popular songs of the two World Wars after the ceremony. She's well known and popular, after living and working here for thirty years. She'd come to boost the poppy selling last Saturday also, but was sabotaged by wind and torrential rain. Today however, the sun shone, and it was twenty five degrees, the other face of autumn on the Costa Almeria.

As well as fundraising, Mojácar Branch of the RBL is active socially, with evenings of entertainment and dinners, attracting 60-70 people at a time, regular residents and seasonal visitors. With a fair number of ex-service personnel among expatriates, the Branch's welfare section finds plenty to do in supporting older people. It's impressive, and has good links through some key personnel with the Chaplaincy, perhaps even strong than in many British parishes.

With two sermons to prepare for tomorrow, I spent the afternoon finishing off one and writing the second one, joining the theme of Remembrance Sunday with Baptism, since there's a Christening at Aljambra at Evensong. I'm looking forward to it, although it'll be my final service there, and time for my first farewell, as Evensong takes place on the second and last Sundays of the month, whether that's a fourth Sunday, or in this month fifth, and I'll be leaving for home before then.

Friday, 10 November 2017

Garrucha Playa boy in the air

Garrucha Puerto seems to have been quite busy recently, for on several occasions since I've been here while one large bulk carrier is being loaded, another two or three are queuing off-shore. In addition, a fleet of small fishing vessels head out of port before dawn, and return just before sunset.

Late afternoon today, I walked up to the port as the fleet was returning, and glimpsed the fish market in progress. While the crew laid out their nets and lines to dry on the quayside, others gathered and chatted with them. I wondered which fisherman was being visited by his wife with babe in arms. At the other quay of the port, where quarried stone was being transferred by crane into the giant holds of the bulk carrier, hardly a soul could be seen standing around, apart from an occasional figure on deck, checking progress by radio with the crane operator in his distant cab. Such a contrast between two of the three main industries of the town. The third is tourism and this is a quiet time of year, when many in the hospitality business take a well earned holiday.

Apart from a handful of fishermen, there were very few people walking or sitting on the beach. Many I guess, taking an evening stroll, find the promenade of the Paseo de Malecon above the beach easier going. There was a mother down on the shore with an infant in a push chair, but her son of 8-9 years had taken himself off a few hundred metres to a raised stone bed about a metre high, boasting a large palm tree. Using this as a launch platform, he was practicing back-flips and somersaults with great energy and confidence, all on his own, just for pleasure. That was my treat of the day. Here he is.