As in previous years, FIO 2015 took place in the beautiful village of Villareal de San Carlos, right in the heart of Monfragüe National Park. FIO 2015 has been the FIO of records. In its tenth anniversary, the Extremadura Birdwatching Fair has exceeded all its records: exhibitors, attendees, speakers and, more importantly, quality.
We arrived to Villareal de San Carlos in the evening of Friday, 27 February. We firstly visited the area dedicated to optics and photography exhibitors. In this area we could browse the latest models of spotting scopes and cameras from Óptica Roma and Martin Iglesias. As in the 2014 edition, we also leafed through some of the books from the broad panoply of publications displayed by Oryx.
In the art and nature tent, about fifteen painters, illustrators and sculptors showed their work. This year, they had reserved a small space at the entrance where artists could interact among them and also with the public. They all created the collective mural with the most representative birds of Extremadura, which you can see in the following picture.
At the back of the art and nature tent, we could see the finalist works of the FotoFIO 2015 contest. We got impressed by Mario Cea’s skills to capture the movement of the Barn Owl in “Cuando cae la niebla” (when the fog falls), Birds of Spain award. We also liked Carlos Pérez’s “Aguantando el temporal” (weathering the storm), Young Photographers award. His picture makes us live an authentic sighting. First, we observe a barren landscape where there seems to be nothing and, suddenly, we feel that we are the ones being observed. A very good picture indeed.
There was a large tent assigned for the talks of the FotoFIO programme this year. In some sessions there were over two hundred attendees. Real icons in nature photography like Javier Corso, René Pop, Uge Fuertes or José Pesquero showed their work in this area. They taught us how it is possible to create art with a camera, and also the great effort and dedication that professional photography demands, particularly nature photography. We found Kiko Arcas’ talk especially appealing. A real “cyclogenesis hunter”, he told us how he benefits from the chaos produced by the big storms in the Galician coast to create truly stunning pictures.
The heartfelt tribute to David Álvarez also took place in the FotoFIO tent. Rubén Martínez, David’s partner in numerous occasions, explained how they met, how fun and charming he was, and how he was loved by everyone around him. Without a doubt, the most beautiful image of FIO 2015 was the hug between Rubén and David’s sister at the end of the tribute. In the following link you can see David Álvarez’s gallery. He is not with us anymore, but his work will always remind us who he was and how he felt through his camera.
The largest tent at FIO 2015 was reserved to the travel and tourism exhibitors. We were pleasantly surprised to see that a substantial number of companies had decided to present their services at FIO this year with their own stand. Some of them showed almost unknown treasures for the European amateur, like Georgia (Ecotono Birding) and India (Asian Adventures).
The general conference programme was carried out in the “Escenario” tent. The line-up of speakers has been extraordinary this year. Juan Varela, José Luis Gallego, Stephen Moss, Antoni Margalida, Kilian Mullarney, David Lindo, Yerai Seminario, Joaquín Araujo, among others, dealt with truly exciting topics.
Among all the talks, we would like to highlight two initiatives that we consider of particular importance. In the first place, Alejandro García Herrera’s introduction of the Festival de la Migración de las Aves de Santoña (the migration of the Santoña birds festival). It is an event that is annually held since 2007 in the Santoña, Victoria and Joyel Marshes Natural Park, which aims to discover the potential of the protected space as the engine of non-seasonal tourism and of a local economy associated with the conservation of nature. Alejandro encouraged us all to visit the festival during the third weekend of September. We think it is an important initiative, so we would try to attend the festival.
We also want to highlight Rafael Benjumea’s presentation named “Batumi, el gran espectáculo de la Migración” (Batumi, the great migration show). Rafael informed us about the task carried out by the Batumi Raptor Count volunteers with their census of migratory birds of prey in this Georgian region. Batumi is a “crossroads” in the migratory routes followed by many birds of prey, as well as other birds, between Europe, Asia and Africa. During the last season, over a million migrant birds of prey were registered in the census. The sunlight, softened by the flight of thousands of birds of prey, is an astonishing image.
Another FIO 2015 highlight we should mention is the family activity programme. Children could dress up, make all kinds of crafts, read and comment fables, participate in the now traditional bird ringing workshop by SEO Cáceres, and go with their parents to some of the trips. The youngest ones of the family didn’t have time to get bored.
One of the activities we were more eager to take part of was the walk organized by the editors, and now proprietors, of the Quercus magazine. On Sunday, Rafael Serra, during a short walk between Villareal de San Carlos and the river, told us the story of Quercus and the adventure they decided to embark on a little over a year ago, when the publisher informed them of the decision to close down Quercus, because they couldn’t find a buyer for the masthead.
At that moment, the editors, with no previous experience in economic management of a magazine, had to choose between accepting the close down or embark themselves on a corporate adventure with an uncertain destination. All of us who admire the Quercus magazine, and what it means to the conservation and knowledge of nature in Spain during the last 35 years, are deeply grateful to them for taking the most difficult path.
Rafael told us that handling the financial and administrative management of the magazine seemed like a world apart. However, during this year and a half, they have proved that they can do it. Now, Rafael regretted that it takes time they would spend writing otherwise.
During our walk with Quercus we could admire Griffon and Cinereous Vultures, a group of cormorants resting on the banks of the Tagus, Long-tailed Tits in a bush, and also a Short-toed Snake Eagle and an aloof Egyptian Vulture newly arrived from Africa. As often happens when going into the countryside, we could see something unexpected: one of the last flocks of cranes leaving Extremadura towards the north. Of course, we jump on our mobile phones to tweet the sighting and register it for the next tracking report.
As a culmination to our visit to FIO 2015, we took part in the coach tour around the National Park which was organized on Sunday afternoon. During the route we could admire the great beauty of Monfragüe, still injured by the eucalyptus reforestation of the 70’s. During the last years, the eucalyptus have been cut down and Mediterranean species have been planted instead. However, it will take at least half a century for the original forest to grow enough to allow Monfragüe (mons fragorum) live up to the name given by the Romans when they saw the density of its forests.
We went to the viewpoints La Portilla del Tietar and Apartadero. Although the Black Stork was aloof and we didn’t get to see it, we could admire a beautiful Spanish Imperial Eagle in La Portilla, and we saw many many many Griffon Vultures, which was absolutely impressive.
In La Higuerilla viewpoint we could observe a Grey Heron fishing beside a young wild boar that was bathing in the Tiétar River. We also saw a Cinereous Vulture nest usurped by a couple of Griffon Vultures.
Lastly, we went towards the Tajadilla viewpoint, where half a dozen Griffon Vultures were awaiting us. We waited for a long time and tried to see an Egyptian Vulture, but luck wasn’t on our side. Only a few have already arrived from Africa, and it is still difficult to see them.
Before ending our chronicle, we want to acknowledge the decision of the organizers to facilitate the access to FIO 2015 by public transport. In previous editions, almost the only way of getting to FIO was by private vehicle. Year after year, you could see the sad image of thousands of vehicles entering Monfragüe National Park to access FIO. The damage caused to the national park by road traffic may not be very high. However, it was disheartening to see, year after year, that it was not possible to use public transport to access FIO, showcase of the Extremaduran nature and symbol of the compatibility between economic development and the conservation of nature. But this time it was different. During FIO 2015 it was possible to access Villareal de San Carlos by coach from Plasencia and from the Monfragüe station. Thank you very much.
The visit to FIO 2015 fulfilled all our expectations. Without a doubt, FIO 2015 has marked a leap in quality. As if it was an Olympic game, we can say that FIO 2015 has been the best FIO in history. We are eager to return to Villareal de San Carlos for FIO 2016.