A real opportunity

Two black kites in flight over a rubbish tip belonging to the NGO AMUS located in the town of Valencia del Mombuey. Two black kites in flight over a rubbish tip belonging to the NGO AMUS located in the town of Valencia del Mombuey.
Two black kites in flight over a rubbish tip belonging to the NGO AMUS located in the town of Valencia del Mombuey.

They say that almost everything in life happens by chance and this is exactly how I came to take up what is now my profession: Ornithologist. Since I was a child I have always been fascinated by birds. I watched them in the countryside, with my grandfather, who was a gardener on the outskirts of Úbeda, my hometown. And on television. I am part of a generation that began to understand the importance of nature thanks to the TV programmes presented by Félix Rodríguez de la Fuente. When I managed to save the 5,000 pesetas that they would cost, about 30 euros, I bought some binoculars and that is when I started looking for birds everywhere, when I was about 12 years old.

One day I was in an area with lagoons, that unbeknownst to me was a protected area. A forest ranger appeared and wanted to fine me. I insisted that I was only there for bird watching and after chatting for a while, he asked me if I would help to do censuses. It was a task that he had been given but, unlike me, it was something he did not like at all. Soon after this, his boss called me and offered me my first job with birds. It was 1994. 

A kite dives down onto the corpse of a dead sheep in the rubbish tip belonging to the NGO AMUS located in the town of Valencia del Mombuey A kite dives down onto the corpse of a dead sheep in the rubbish tip belonging to the NGO AMUS located in the town of Valencia del Mombuey
A kite dives down onto the corpse of a dead sheep in the rubbish tip belonging to the NGO AMUS located in the town of Valencia del Mombuey
A group of kites perched on an old tree. A group of kites perched on an old tree.
A group of kites perched on an old tree.
On theA group of kites eating a dead sheep in the rubbish tip belonging to the NGO AMUS located in the town of Valencia del Mombuey. On theA group of kites eating a dead sheep in the rubbish tip belonging to the NGO AMUS located in the town of Valencia del Mombuey.
On theA group of kites eating a dead sheep in the rubbish tip belonging to the NGO AMUS located in the town of Valencia del Mombuey.

Since then, I have enjoyed numerous adventures in different parts of the world. These include Portugal, Morocco, South Africa and United Arab Emirates, always with the same enthusiasm and the same desire to learn. In 2018 a new opportunity appeared. I invited people from Endesa's environment team to a workshop on bird mortality. We made an excellent connection and they asked me, through AMUS, the NGO for which I work, to present them with actions relating to the conservation and recovery of birds which they might find suitable. Today this collaboration has led us having shared projects in Aragón, Andalusia, the Balearic Islands, the Canary Islands and Extremadura and to undertake the protection of the red kite, black vulture, hen harrier, little bustard and the Cream-coloured courser

Alfonso Godino Ruiz holds a Red Kite before inspecting and classifying it. Alfonso Godino Ruiz holds a Red Kite before inspecting and classifying it.
Alfonso Godino Ruiz holds a Red Kite before inspecting and classifying it.

The red kite project is perhaps the most ambitious of all those we have in common, because it is a particularly threatened species in the Iberian Peninsula. It is a pan-European project with the participation of 19 partners from 21 countries and we invited Endesa to join. It seeks to identify the threats to this species and to strengthen the population in the southwest of Spain. 

This project has an extraordinary history that shows us very clearly how scenarios have changed in just a few years with regard to biodiversity. With the aim of strengthening the population of kites in the southwest of Spain, we will release a hundred chicks from the United Kingdom over 3 years. The reason we are bringing them from there is, first of all, because they have a population of about 6,000 pairs so it is very unlikely that this action will have a negative impact on the conservation of the royal kite in their territory. 

Montagu's harriers that are part of one of our bird recovery projects in collaboration with AMUS waiting to be transferred to the project at the AMUS headquarters. Montagu's harriers that are part of one of our bird recovery projects in collaboration with AMUS waiting to be transferred to the project at the AMUS headquarters.
Montagu's harriers that are part of one of our bird recovery projects in collaboration with AMUS waiting to be transferred to the project at the AMUS headquarters.
Hen harrier chicks at the closed down Valdecaballeros plan. Hen harrier chicks at the closed down Valdecaballeros plan.
Hen harrier chicks at the closed down Valdecaballeros plan.
Video cameras undertake 24-hour monitoring in the ICU at the AMUS bird hospital. Video cameras undertake 24-hour monitoring in the ICU at the AMUS bird hospital.
Video cameras undertake 24-hour monitoring in the ICU at the AMUS bird hospital.

But another reason for selecting this population from England as a donor population is that these chicks probably have Spanish roots. 30 years ago only 20 pairs of red kites remained in the United Kingdom, located in Wales. Then a programme was launched to reintroduce the red kite, using chicks from countries including Spain where there was a strong population in the 1990s. In the United Kingdom the population went from 20 pairs to 6,000 in 30 years, and now we are the ones who need their help with the descendants of those chicks that we sent from Spain to colonise Britain.  

Detail of materials for ringing red kites. Detail of materials for ringing red kites.
Detail of materials for ringing red kites.
An AMUS volunteer puts a hood on a red kite chick before ringing it. An AMUS volunteer puts a hood on a red kite chick before ringing it.
An AMUS volunteer puts a hood on a red kite chick before ringing it.

Another really interesting project we have together with Endesa is the cream-coloured courser. In collaboration with the Government of the Canary Islands, we are studying the only community of this species on European soil, specifically, on several islands in this archipelago. Our task is to make a census in order to quantify the number of examples of this species and their area of distribution, and in the next phase we will begin to identify and define the threats to their survival. 

An AMUS volunteer feeds a pair of red kite chicks. An AMUS volunteer feeds a pair of red kite chicks.
An AMUS volunteer feeds a pair of red kite chicks.

In this regard, the creation of new wind farms and photovoltaic plants is a major challenge for all of us working on the conservation of endangered species. Nobody disputes the fact that the development of these renewable energy sources is indispensable in the fight against sudden climate change. But being sustainable does not only involve generating green energy. We have to ensure that renewable projects protect biodiversity and create value for people. 

“Being sustainable does not only involve generating green energy. We have to ensure that renewable projects protect biodiversity and create value for people”.
An AMUS biologist checks from a distance the cages with Red Kite chicks. An AMUS biologist checks from a distance the cages with Red Kite chicks.
An AMUS biologist checks from a distance the cages with Red Kite chicks.
A group of biologists and volunteers from the NGO AMUS put a red kite chick in a transport basket. A group of biologists and volunteers from the NGO AMUS put a red kite chick in a transport basket.
A group of biologists and volunteers from the NGO AMUS put a red kite chick in a transport basket.

As an example, Endesa, with our collaboration, has decided to identify areas of interest for threatened species in order to take this information into account when designing any new energy infrastructure. This is not only a question of social and/or environmental responsibility, it is a matter of economy. This action and making prior studies save work, because if you know that you will receive a negative response at the environmental level, you will not even begin a tedious administrative process, in which you will invest a large number of human and material resources. This is why these studies aim to identify areas of interest for biodiversity and at the same time try to propose measures to enable renewable plants to become a refuge for biodiversity and at the same time a source of increased knowledge about our natural heritage.

These are small steps, but we are convinced that they will have a strong impact on the future.

A Red Kite chick that has recovered thanks to financial support from the NGO AMUS. A Red Kite chick that has recovered thanks to financial support from the NGO AMUS.
A Red Kite chick that has recovered thanks to financial support from the NGO AMUS.

Alfonso Godino

Ornithologist in the AMUS Association.

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