Every now and then you feel as though you are invited by nature to observe an event or a behaviour which normally goes unobserved and it invariably comes as an unexpected treat. This happened to me on the river about three weeks ago when the gypsy barbel were so preoccupied with feeding in broad daylight that, when silently approached, I was permitted to see them from very close. I made a film of them but for reasons I do not fully understand, I am unable to load it up on to the blog.

Yesterday my backstage pass was issued, not by fish, but by turtles. Our turtles here are Spanish Pond Turtles or Mediterranean Pond Turtles (Mauremys leprosa) and they are quite common in Spain and Portugal, particularly in more southern parts. Interestingly there are two subspecies, our “European” one (M leprosa leprosa) and one that lives in northwestern Africa (M leprosa saharica).

Turtles are quite common on the rivers locally. There are times when poor water quality results in whole stretches of the Guadalhorce being abandoned by fish and only turtles seem to be present. Normally during the hotter hours of the day the turtles sunbathe in the river margins and particularly favour rocks, or elevated banks that allow them to fall into the river if they feel threatened. I imagine that the barbel are beneficiaries of this behaviour because it alerts them to risks that they may not have become aware of themselves. These turtles grow pretty big and so they make quite a splash and many times I have crept into position to aim a nymph at a fish only to alert the local turtles with entirely predictable results!

Being air breathers, they periodically need to pop up to the surface and so turtles that were hidden underwater give themselves away at least for the few seconds it takes to fill up their tanks before vanishing once again.

For the most part those turtles live secretive, enigmatic lives and seem to like things this way. Apart from on one occasion in Concepción reservoir where a dead fish was being torn at in the shallows by a couple of turtles, I have never seen these turtles feed. Yesterday though the turtles gave me a little glimpse into their private lives.

This happened on narrow finger of still water that was connected to the Guadalhorce River. Quiet backwaters like this one are well worth a close examination in my experience because, if they are deep enough, barbel and carp will often be found in them. There were no signs of fish in this particular backwater but it held a good number of turtles. They were right up at the surface feeding on insect shucks and tiny bugs in the surface film. Their little oasis was reed fringed and provided me with some cover and so I was able to approach quite closely. They reminded me of river trout that will also group together in eddies and slow flowing river seams to feed on spent spinners and will unhurriedly sip down the insects with the gentlest of dimple rises.

One thing that was interesting was that they expended no effort in remaining at the surface. It seems that fine adjustments of the volume of air in their lungs allow them to remain at the surface as certain times and amble along the river bed at others.

After quietly observing the turtles I backed away and left them to their own devices. The weatherman promised some good weather before the afternoon rains came down and so I wandered off in search of some gypsy barbel while the turtles, unaware of my visit, continued to feed.



Here are a couple of Spanish pond turtles doing their thing. There must have been at least half a dozen of these things cruising around and plucking insects from the surface film.

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The other subspecies is found on the other side of the Mediterranean. These ones were photographed in Morocco.