Cabo de Gata-Níjar

  • Region: Andalucia
  • Province: Almeria
  • Declared a Natural Park: 1987
  • Park surface area: 49.000 (34,000 terrestrial and 15,000 marine)
  • In 1997 it was designated as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.

Points of interest

Cabo de Gata-Níjar is an arid part of the Iberian Peninsular that is molded from volcanic rock giving rise to a demanding habitat for both plants and animals. Domed rock formations adorn the beaches and abrupt cliffs form tiny coves. The deficiencies in the soil have created an area of low growing, drought resistant vegetation.

This combination has lead to limited numbers of inhabitants who could survive off the salt works or fishing, allowing the area to remain relatively untouched to developement untill the tourism boom of the 80’s and 90’s.

The 300 hectares of salt pans are used by numerous species of birds resting on their migrational route as well the breeding and resident species.


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Flora

Dwarf fan palm is well adapted to the harsh demands. Wild olive trees, lentisc and kermes oaks are common vegetation in the scrub zones.

A pink flowered snap dragon (antirrhinum charidemi) is endemic to the park and dianthus (dianthus charidemi) can only found in a few localized area.
Some of the highly specialized plants are;

Verbascum charidemi, Teucrium charidemi, Androcymbium europaeum, Helianthemum alypoides, Linaria nigricans, Sideritis osteoxylla, Ulex canescens.

Saltwort, common reeds and glasswort grow in sandy, saline areas.

Fauna

Grey and purple heron, cranes, storks, black-winged stilts, oystercatchers and avocets can all be observed at the salinas (salt flats separated from the sea by a sand bar), as well as thousands of flamingos.

There are many migratory transitions here as ducks over winter and spring and autumn brings thousands of birds resting during migration.

Sea birds include yellow-legged gulls, razorbills, shags, terns, cory’s and balearic shearwaters.

The rare Dupont’s lark (Chersophilus duponti) lives on the steppe where there are also little bustards.

Italian wall lizards (Podarcis sicula) are the most unusual of the 15 or so reptiles. Others include ocellated lizards (Timon lepidus / Lacerta lepida), grass snakes (Natrix natrix) and Lataste’s viper (Vipera latasti).

The marine reserve protects the Mediterranean moray (Muraena helena), garfish (Belone belone), cuttlefish (Sepia officinalis), and flying gurnard (Dactylopterus volitans) as well as a multitude of crustaceans, molluscs and fish.

Also in the area

You can visit a cave called Cueva Ambrosio and the fort on top of the hill named Cerro de las Canteras.
You can visit a cave called Cueva Ambrosio and the fort on top of the hill named Cerro de las Canteras.

Information/Visitors Centers

Los Amoladeras, between Retamar and San Miguel de Cabo de Gata on the AL822 at Km 7. (Approaching on the Murcia bound carriageway of the N-344 from Almería, turn off at the El Alquián exit and continue as far as the Retamar quarter. From there take the AL-3115 towards the village of Pujaire. The entrance to the visitor centre is at Km. 7, just after the intersection with La Rambla de Las Amoladeras)

The exhibition at the Las Amoladeras visitor centre looks at the existence of human settlements in the Cabo de Gata-Níjar Nature Park and the surrounding areas since the Neolithic period. The different civilizations which subsequently colonized the area throughout history left their mark on the terrain, and this is reflected in the tour of the centre, which takes in traditional activities and crafts inherited from Arab culture, such as esparto, jarapa rugs and pottery.


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Sierra de Maria-Los Velez

  • Region: Andalucia
  • Province: Almeria
  • Declared a Natural Park: 1987
  • Park surface area: 22,670 hectares
  • Z.E.P.A

Points of interest

A part of the Cordillera Bética mountain range which holds forests in an otherwise arid part of Almeria. The Sierra de Maria-Los Velez creates a haven for wildlife and a special biosphere for plants. The Sierras hold close to half of the plant species listed within Almeria. The main high point, the Sierra Maria, has northern facing slopes which are cooler and more humid, so the vegetation is dense. In contrast, the drier south facing high points are home to only a few plants that can withstand the poor soil and extremes of temperatures. Aptly named the hedgehog zone, these are generally low growing thorny, flowering cushions.

Traditional lifestyles continue in the area such as keeping sheep and goats, cutting timber, logs and collecting resin and almonds along with a new introduction, distilling essential oils from aromatic plants.


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There are two UNESCO World heritage sites

Cueva de los Letreros, close to the town of Vélez Rubio, is a cave containing prehistoric red and brown sketches of human figures, animals, birds and astrological signs which date back to 400 BC. It is from one of these drawings that the symbol for the province of Almeria has been taken, “Indalo” is a figure holding up an arch dating from Neolithic times.

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The Red Deer

  • Spanish: Ciervo
  • Scientific: Cervus elaphus hispanicus
  • English: Red Deer
  • French: Cerf élaphe
  • German: Rothirsch
  • Italian: Cervo nobile
  • Portugese: Veado

Description

The red deer is A large mammal with a robust body, fine head and long legs. The males measure around 90 – 120cm (3ft-3’11”) at the shoulder and the females 90 – 110cm (3ft-3’7”). Only the males have antlers and these are replaced each year. Their general body colour is brown with greyish tones, the belly and beneath their short tail is much paler.

The Red deer has a fragmented distribution throughout much of Europe, Asia and North America. The 27 or so subspecies have each developed different characteristics. In Iberia there is a subspecies, Cervus elaphus hispanicus, which has a smaller head, more grey colouring and finer dimensions than in Central European variations.

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The Stone Marten

  • Scientific: Martes foina
  • Spanish: Garduña
  • Catalan: Fagina
  • Portuguese: Fuinha

The Stone Marten (also known as Beech marten) is a mammal of the Mustelidae family, it is around 12cms high at the shoulder with a long slim body of between 40 to 55cms with the bushy tail adding another 22 to 30cms. The main colouring is brown with the legs a darker shade and the chest and throat an obvious contrasting white, often dividing onto the top of the forelegs. The ears are short, upright and rounded, while the face and snout are steeply sloped.

This species of marten ranges throughout Iberia and much of Europe and central Asia.

These secretive mammals are territorial, defending a range of up to 10km from other males, active at dusk and night time. They are solitary other than in the breeding season, resting in a selection of places including under rocks, in tree hollows or in quiet barns and other buildings.

Beech martens prefer open deciduous forest and rocky outcrops in mountainous habitats, but will live in a variety of habitats including woodland, rocky scrub or urban areas as long as there is sufficient cover. They can also be found in mountainous zones to 4000m in summer.

They are able to climb trees making good use of their claws but are more terrestrial than their close cousins the Pine marten (Martes martes).

Stone martens are omnivores and their diet includes smaller mammals, eggs, birds, small rabbits, earthworms and fruit. The food supply can alter with latitude whereby small rodents, fruit and insects are more abundant to northern examples with fruit, reptiles and insects available to the southern inhabitants. The wild fruit includes rose hips and juniper berries as well as taking cultivated fruit from orchards.

Mating takes place during the summer but the female delays implantation for several months ensuring that the young are born the following spring. Gestation takes 56 days with, on average, 3 to 4 young born in March to July using a nest prepared and lined with grasses and moss. The young are blind and hairless at birth. Weaning occurs after 8 weeks with the mother and young remaining together through the summer while she teaches them to hunt. They reach sexual maturity from a minimum of 18 months. The maximum life expectancy in the wild is 10 years, with the average being much less.

Those that prey on the stone marten are wild cat (Felis silvestris), wolf (Canis lupus), fox (Vulpes vulpes), golden eagles (Aquila chrysaetos) and eagle owls (Bubo bubo).

At one point their skins were sought after but the current danger is more through habitat destruction. Also secondary poisoning may occur if they eat rats and mice that have consumed bait.

Further reading at wikipedia (especially the description of the difference between the stone and pine marten.) Above photo also from Wikipedia
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beech_marten


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The Turkish Gecko

  • Spanish: Salamanquesa Rosada
  • Scientific: Hemidactylus turcicus
  • English: Turkish Gecko
  • French: Gecko nocturne
  • German: Europäische Halbfinger
  • Italian: Geco verrucoso
  • Portugese: Osga-turca

Description

A delicate-looking gecko which normally measures about 8-9.5 cm (3 -3¾ inches) including an intact tail, which is half the overall length. They are mainly pink in colour with black spots and paler areas, somewhat translucent, especially on the belly. The head is narrow and short, triangular in shape, their eyes are placed closer together than in the common gecko, with a vertical pupil.

The tail has alternating light and dark stripes providing it is the original, a regenerated tail will be smooth. Another characteristic of this species is that each digit has a curved claw. The toes are equipped with adhesive pads that allow them to adhere to vertical surfaces.

Nocturnal, spending the day hidden in the cracks of stone walls, in ruins, and rubble or under rocks and logs. This is reptile has adapted well to living with the man and is commonly seen hunting insects on summer nights near street lights and house walls etc.

The breeding season begins in March and lasts until July, consisting of 1 or 2 small eggs with the capability of laying up to 5 clutches per year. The eggs are are deposited under rocks, crevices in the ground etc and incubation lasts between 50 to 72 days.

Baby turkish gecko in Spain
Note the pinky translucent skin of the baby Turkish gecko.

IUCN Conservation Status: LC Least Concern

Distribution: Mediterranean Basin (Introduced elsewhere)

Similar species: Moorish Gecko (Tarentola mauritanica)


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The Moorish gecko

  • Spanish name: Salamanquesa Común
  • Scientific name: Tarentola mauritanica
  • English: Moorish Gecko
  • French: Tarente de Maurétanie
  • German: Mauergecko
  • Italian: Geco comune
  • Portuguese: Osga-moura

Description

The moorish gecko is a small reptile that can reach 16 cm (6¼ inches) in length – including the tail. Its body is robust and flattened with a broad, large head that is almost triangular in shape. The eyes are large with vertical pupils. The colour ranges from grey/brown, brown or light brown including black in the early morning hours. These light and dark patterns are an aid in camouflage. It has a scaled back with prominent tubercles. Its spiny tail is banded in different shades.

Very often seen without a tail (after been attacked by domestic cat or predated on by a bigger lizard or snake.) The tail can regenerate and the new one is much smoother.

The feet have 5 digits, 2 with well developed claws (third and fourth digits). The toes are equipped with adhesive pads that allow them to adhere to vertical surfaces (including glass).

Moorish geckos emit croaking sounds of varying types for communication between individuals, to mark their territory etc.

A common species found in rocks and stones, as well as manmade structures in the countryside, towns and cities (making use of the artificial lights that attracts their prey). They are most active during the early hours of the night and spends the rest of the time hidden, although you can see them basking in the morning sun.

They hunt at night and are mainly insectivorous; sawflies, wasps, bees, moths, grasshoppers and spiders.

The breeding season begins in March and lasts until July, consisting of 1 or 2 small eggs placed in crevices such as the bark of trees, gaps in walls or under stones. Incubation lasts 55 to 98 days. Females lay two or three egg clutches per year.

Baby Moorish gecko in Spain
Baby Moorish geckos are tiny. Note the striped tail which helps to identify them

IUCN Conservation Status: LC Least Concern

Distribution: Mediterranean area (introduced elsewhere)

Similar species: Turkish Gecko (Hemidactylus turcicus)


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