birding the costa


22 June : Caba de Gata and Rambla Morales

As Dave so rightly comments, summer is not only a-coming in, it's arrived! Mind you, so has a Slatey Junco at Algeciras, a probable hitchhiker on some vessel from the States. This, therefore, will probably be the last post for a while although there may well be two or three to cover my summer trip up to Spitsbergen and which will appear before the middle of August.
So, dear and faithful readers, have a good summer under 50 factor sunburn cream and if you're going to Britain, take your woollies. As the max. temp. in Spitsbergen a couple of days since was -5ºC (yes, minus 5), I am taking some very warm gear!
Many thanks, Dave, for all your efforts and reports over the year and I'm so pleased to see that you've taken Gilly out! And don't force yourself in to going out too much, I'd hate to think of you tiring yourself before the autumn!

For our ultimate day out, prior to the summer heat, we decided to make our way to Cabo de Gata. I managed to get Gilly out of bed at the crack of dawn so we got to the far end of the reserve by 8am. We'd already logged Jackdaw and Southern Grey Shrike by the time we started along the sometimes bumpy track going round the rear of the salinas. We spotted Blackbird, Crested Lark and Red-rumped Swallow before we came to some water. Through a break in an earth bank I could see a small number of Audouin's Gulls at rest. In the salina after the hide we found Greater Flamingo and Avocet. At the ternery I counted at least 15 sitting Gull-billed Terns and a lesser number of Little Terns. The Gull-billed Terns seem to be having a good year in our area. Gilly spotted a pair of flying Stone Curlews. We also had Shelduck and Black-winged Stilts and Gilly found a very bedraggled looking Raven. We saw at least 3-4 more Southern Grey Shrikes. Further along perched on a siempre verde hedge, Gilly spotted a Woodchat Shrike which posed superbly. We completed our early morning list with Hoopoe and a family of Sardinian Warblers.
We met up with John and Richard at the Pujaire cafe. After a couple of cups of coffee we headed to the first hide. Here we saw Greater Flamingo, Avocet and Mallard. There were no little waders round the rear of the reserve, but here we saw a small number of Kentish Plovers. Gull-billed and Little Terns were out feeding. House Martins, Barn and Red-rumped Swallows passed by.
There was nothing seen out to sea. Small white horses were appearing as the wind from the east increased in strength. We walked to the second hide from which Gilly counted 686 Greater Flamingos. She also spotted a pair of Little Egrets and some sheltering Redshank and I found a Shelduck.
Moving to the public hide, Gilly was the first to see now two bedraggled looking Ravens on the steppes! We added Slender-billed Gulls from the hide. Gilly found 4 Black-necked Grebes and John spotted a White Wagtail. We had a Common Swift on the way to Cabo de Gata village for a refreshment break.
The beach was full of children enjoying themselves. The holiday season had also brought out the Guardia Civil in good numbers. The sign of the times unfortunately.
We made our way to the Rambla Morales. The wind was very strong. We found some Kentish Plover and chicks plus a Black-winged Stilt by the "estuary". The water in the brackish lake was choppy. A male White-headed Duck showed well despite the waves. The black on his white head reminded us of the pure black headed one John found a few years ago. Yes, a black headed White-headed Duck. Strange but true! There were 20 Greater Flamingos here plus a few Coots. Gilly and I left John and Richard to it as we made our way out via the campsite. We added Moorhen, Bee-eater and Greenfinch to complete the days list. 37 species in all. A good day's birding despite the hot & windy weather. No group birding trips are planned till September, but no doubt I might be forced to go somewhere before then!
Gilly and I dropped in to see Val and Rob on the way back home. He's lost a bit of weight as has Val. He'd like to eat much more but his dietary restrictions don't allow it. Things are looking good. 
Regards, Dave


15 June : Sierra de María

This last Monday and Tuesday was definitely one that Mr. Coward could have used in his little ditty about 'Mad dogs and Englishmen going out in the midday sun' as temperatures were in the upper 30s to lower 40s. Not nice and my little teckel spent most of the day doing his impression of a hedgehog flattened on the road. However, Wednesday was positively cool, with only 29ºC in Torremolinos. I would caution against taking the street thermometers as being reliable, as if they are in full sunlight they can quite easily give 5º-7ºC more than the actual air temp..
Yes, I remember Gilly. How nice of you to take the lass out with you! Very decent.

46ºC in Arboleas on Monday, so Gilly....remember her?, Steve and myself headed up into the mountainous area of the Sierra de Maria. As we had a coffee at the Repsol garage cafe in Maria town we watched the House Martins nesting under the forecourt canopy. Adrian arrived as I spotted a distant Griffon Vulture gliding towards Vélez Blanco....yes, we were sitting outside!
We made our way towards the chapel, seeing a Corn Bunting on a chainlink fence. Very reminiscent of Extremadura!
Upon parking we immediately heard a European Cuckoo. I spotted a Linnet flying by and when we walked round to the water trough we had good but distant views of Linnet, Chaffinch, Rock Bunting, Subalpine and Bonelli's Warblers making use of the facilities. I then spotted an eagle flying low directly towards us and a Short-toed Eagle soared above us.
We made our way towards the Information Centre. A Raven showed well just as Jacky joined us. In the lower gardens we observed Coal and Great Tit, the latter using one of the nest boxes. A family group of Subalpine Warblers were seen. Adrian and Gilly hung around there as Jacky, Steve and I did the lower walk. We added Mistle Thrush and Blackbird plus fleeting glimpses of a Western Orphean Warbler. More Bonelli's Warblers were seen. 
Returning to Adrian and Gilly, they also had seen Crossbill and Robin and heard a distant Golden Oriole. We walked back down towards the chapel, leaving the energetic Jacky to do the middle walk. We spent some time trying to see the Golden Oriole in the trees near the chapel, but to no avail. 
At the farm buildings we added Carrion Crow and Barn Swallow. As we made our way to the sheep trough we spotted a Woodchat Shrike. The drive along the plain only produced Crested Lark. At the hamlet we saw Black-eared Wheatear and a pair of Lesser Kestrels.
We returned to the La Piza forest café for lunch where we were entertained by Crossbill, Chaffinch and Great Tit using the birdbath. An Iberian race squirrel also was thirsty. Jacky caught up with us. She'd added Great Spotted Woodpecker and Jay to the list. As we were eating all the birds took flight as a fast low flying Turtle Dove whizzed passed. I'm sure they thought it was a Sparrowhawk! Gilly spotted a Booted Eagle. We went our separate ways. We saw a group of ten Griffon Vultures soaring above the mountains before we got to Maria town.
 "Only" 35 species today, but great to be out of the heat! 
An update on Val's Rob. Operation went well and he is now back home.


8 June : Cabio de Gata & Rambla Morales

No photo opportunities from today. Here are some Black-winged Stilt reflection photos I took near Villaricos whilst waiting for Gilly to finish work.

As John had never seen a Spectacled Warbler before, we started out early to do the rear of Cabo de Gata reserve before meeting up with the rest of the gang. We arrived at the far end of the beach, just by Fabriquilla village at 07.45hrs. Little had changed since my last visit. Still no water in the first two salinas, but they were working in the Salt depot so there's hope seawater may be pumped into them. We saw nothing of interest, even venturing up to the ruined farm buildings for a gander (look, not a female goose!). Eventually I spotted a Little Owl on topb of the abandoned enclosure wall prior to the only hide. From there we saw Kentish Plover, Avocet and Greater Flamingo
On the water were Slender-billed Gulls and a good numer of Shelduck. We heard a Red-legged Partridge, then later saw one perched on a shrub. Also seen were Zitting Cisticola, Iberian Grey Shrike, Red-rumped Swallow and Sardinian Warbler. We stopped where I'd seen the pair of Spectacled Warblers previously, but of a sign there was none. Three Gull-billed Terns patrolled up and down. We heard then saw 2-3 Stone Curlews and concluded our tour with Goldfinch and Greenfinch.
We met up with Barrie and Beryl, Colin and Sandra and Trevor and Ann at the Pujaire cafe for a coffee.
Having made our way to the first hide, we observed the usual suspects. Greater Flamingo,Shelduck and Slender-billed Gull. Waders were in very short supply. Only singles numbers of Avocet, Ringed and Kentish Plover. Colin found an Iberian Grey Shrike, Barrie, a Little Egret and Sandra, a Hoopoe.
Our seawatch from opposite the second hide was a complete waste of time. Not even any gull species! From the hide we had Gull-billed Tern, Little Terns plunge fishing and I spotted a distant Whiskered Tern, whilst Barrie found a Common Tern. Black-winged Stilt and Yellow-legged Gull were added to the day list.
 John spotted the Kestrel on the pylon as we parked up by the public hide. From inside there I found a half dozen or so Black-necked Grebe. There were numerous Kentish Plovers and a well found Sanderling by John. I spotted a Yellow Wagtail. Two Common Terns were on the causeway.
We made our way to the Cabo beach cafe, seeing White Wagtail and Common Swift on the way. After a reviving was getting very hot....we, apart from Trevor and Ann, drove along to the Rambla de Morales. There were a few Coots at the beach end. We heard Reed Warbler and also saw Zitting Cisticola. No sign of the Paddyfield Warbler. Barrie had been lucky enough to see one at Pagham Harbour, near Chichester, W. Sussex a few years ago. John found a pair of Pallid Swifts as well as some Bee-eaters. Colin had a premonition we'd see a White-headed Duck and he found a female. Also seen was Moorhen and Little Ringed Plover. John and I added Jackdaw on our way back to the motorway.
In total we had 48 species. Things are definitely slowing down in the hotter weather.
No photo opportunities from today. Here are some Black-winged Stilt reflection photos I took near Villaricos whilst waiting for Gilly to finish work.


1 June : Las Norias & Roquetas

First some good news and bad news from the website. The "bad"news was that a Hooded Crow was seen at Cabo de Gata on the 27th May and a Paddyfield Warbler was  claimed seen at Rambla de Morales on the 16th May. The "good" news was that we weren't there on both days so didn't miss them! There's some logic in there somewhere!
Right, back to today's trip....... I met up with John, Barrie, Colin and Les at the Repsol Garage cafe, Jct 420, off the E15/A7 motorway for a cuppa before heading to Las Norias. As we were parking up on the first causeway, Les spotted a Little Bittern. On the water on the better left hand side there were Red-crested Pochard, Black-necked, Great Crested and Little Grebes. We heard then saw a Turtle Dove. Later saw another three. We heard and then I spotted one of the Great Reed Warblers. A good number of Zitting Cisticolas were seen. John found some Gadwall. and also seen were Common Pochard, Little Egret, Coot, Moorhen, Grey Heron and a flying Night Heron. Barrie found a distant Cormorant. I wandered round to the dry reed area behind the pump house where I saw a female Blackcap on the power line. John joined me on a raised bank and we were lucky enough to see a Reed Warbler. Above us we had Common Swift, Crag and House Martins and Barn Swallow.
We moved round to the far side of the lake. A Crested Lark was seen as we parked up and we added Greenfinch, but the best birds were Little and Gull-billed Terns. More Night Herons and Zitting Cisticolas were seen and also Black-winged Stilt.
Moving to the second causeway, our views were hampered by vegetation again. Hoopoe, Blackbird, Kestrel and Magpie were added to the list. We walked up towards the little bridge. Barrie scanned back towards the island near where we parked. He found a Marbled Duck (that'll please Richard Gunn!). A Pallid Swift was found. I spotted a flying Squacco Heron which did a number of flypasts! We made on way towards Roquetas, seeing Carrion Crow and Woodpigeon on the way.
After a coffee/tostada break we made our way to the lake by the hotels. John spotted a flying Glossy Ibis and Barrie first had a Slender-billed Gull followed by a couple of Night Herons. He then found a Purple Swamphen. We then got into Barrie's and my 4x4s for the trip to the far end of the salinas. There were many Collared Pratincoles on the track. They were unfazed by us passing by. From our vehicle, John and I saw Common Terns, Greater Flamingos and some obliging Greenshanks which were in a track side pool with Kentish and Ringed Plover. We found a pair of Kestrels and some Red-rumped Swallows around an abandoned hut. Barrie, Colin and Les also had Avocet, Shelduck and Whiskered Tern
We stopped off at the Salina de Cerrillos where we had good views of  Slender-billed Gull, Sandwich and Little Terns and Les found an Audouin's Gull. Our return journey added Sardinian Warbler whilst the others also had some more Glossy Ibises,  Yellow Wagtail and Black-tailed Godwit. At the "Red Knobbed Coot" pool we had White-headed Duck and we observed a male doing a courtship display. He puffed himself up, raising his body in the water at least an inch (or 2.5 cms if you're metric). His head went down, then he swished his tail from side to side making a clapping sound and forming ripples all around him. 
That performance was a fitting finale for the day. 62 species so well pleased.
On a serious note, I'm sure you'll join Gilly and I in wishing Rob Hicks all the best for his operation tomorrow and, of course, to his lovely wife, Val, as well.


28 May : El Fondo/Hondo (Alicante)

Cat's away, miouse continues to play. The photo of the Common Tern is of a 1st summer bird, a relatively uncommon plumage to see even down here and well night impossible in more northerly climes. Rather early for a juv. Gull-billed Tern. We call 'foreign' areas Comanche territory here!


25 May : Caho de Gata & Rambla Morales

Dave, if you can't sleep, try counting your life list instead. You fall asleep after losing count fifteen times. Bit late for a Meadow Pipit, isn't it?
For some reason I awoke at 3am this morning and even though I counted sheep I couldn't get back to sleep. It was nice to hear Red-necked Nightjars coming from the overgrown & abandoned orange groves behind our house. So at 6.15am I departed en route to Cabo de Gata to check out the rear of the reserve before meeting up with the others at 9.30. 
I was there by 7.30, but the weather was a bit cloudy.   I came in by the southern end (where there's a new roundabout!). There was no water in the first two salinas, so it was a salt earth desert. No birds, no vegetation. Not a good start! 
I stopped to scan some old farm buildings and spotted a Little Owl. I then saw a bird of prey coming towards me. A Black Kite. And there, further along by the hide, was another one perched atop a pylon. Us here in the east of Andalusia don't often see these in our neck of the woods, so that was quite a find!  I checked out the hide, which overlooked the first bit of water. There were Ringed and Kentish Plover. Further along I saw Greater Flamingo, Slender-billed Gull, Avocet, Shelduck and Black-winged Stilt
A Sanderling confused me a bit by being in breeding plumage. Having been recently to Extremadura I easily identified the flying Corn Bunting. I spotted a Sardinian Warbler, but a short distance further along the track I found a pair of Spectacled Warblers. A Gull-billed Tern flew by as did a pair of Stone Curlews. The only other bird of note was a Meadow Pipit.
I headed to the Pujaire for a second breakfast to await the rest of the gang. I was joined by Barrie and Beryl, Les, Colin and Sandra, Richard and John, who's recently had a successful cataract op and I was to be his eye drop nurse for the day in Gilly's absence! John had already seen Kestrel and a Woodchat Shrike on the way into the village. We headed for the first hide. We saw Mallard, Shelduck, Yellow-legged and Slender-billed Gull and, of course, Greater Flamingo (a total of 350-ish for the day) Waders were few and far between: Little Ringed and Kentish Plover and John spotted a Green Sandpiper. Les found a Stone Curlew on the scrubland. A further search provided one or two more. Sandra found a Yellow Wagtail and then a Southern Grey Shrike. Also seen were Little Egret, Jackdaw and Little Tern. As we were leaving for the second hide a Gull-billed Tern flew by.
After many negative sea watches from opposite the second hide, today I spotted 5 Cory's Shearwaters heading down the bay towards the lighthouse! We were joined by Jacky. We didn't add any new birds at the hide. Barrie, I think, spotted another Stone Curlew.
We moved to the public hide. There were loads of Avocets and the odd Kentish Plover. I found a group of three Black-necked Grebe. We also had Sandwich Tern and Thekla Lark
We adjourned to the beach side cafe in Cabo village for refreshments and spent most of the time spotting further Cory's Shearwaters passing by. I suppose we must have seen about a dozen in total. A pair of Audouin's Gull was also seen.
We then convoyed along the track towards the brackish lake in the Rambla de Morales. We struggled here to start with....a Coot! We heard Reed Warbler, but managed to see Zitting Cisticola. We saw our first & only Black Headed Gull and some Common Swift. Barrie suckered us to walk down to the dead wood area saying he'd seen a Glossy Ibis there recently, but alas nothing. He redeemed himself by spotting a pair of Grey Plovers in full breeding attire down by the beach and a Common Pochard. Unfortunately by the time we'd walked back a 4x4, followed by a walker had flushed them away. We did see Sanderling in breeding plumage plus some Kentish Plovers and chicks.
A good days birding. 46 species in total.


18 May : Sierra de María

Before starting, I would simply like to say that finding and subsequent identification of Dupont's Lark is a needle in haystack job, even where there is a small, almost relict, population as in the huge area of Las Almoladeras (Almería). Away from there, I know of no certain records off-hand.The best time is around dawn when they are singing, although I have heard of occasional birds being seen/heard around dusk. Further, at this time of year birds are letting rip with their hormones and finding one away from the known area would be extremely unlikely, although nothing is impossible in the birding world - they don't read the guides! Add to that the difficulty of the effects of fading of plumage and the notorious difficulty presented by some pipits and larks showing individual variations, and one is presented with real headaches.
That said, on to Dave's report.
After a successful trip to Extremadura, I have now dried out and am now keen to visit the Sierra de Maria with other group members. I made my own way there, seeing some birds in the "zone" before reaching Maria town, the best being a Woodchat Shrike. I met up with Alan, Colin, Sandra, Barrie, Beryl, Les and Mary. After a catch-up chat and coffee we made our way to the chapel. Amazingly the first bird I spotted was a Melodious Warbler, closely followed by a Jay. Barrie and Alan identified the song of a Woodlark which was eventually found. Alan then spotted a Subalpine Warbler. We also saw Chaffinch and a female Black Redstart. Another Melodious Warbler showed very well before we headed to the water trough. Here Serin and more Subalpine Warblers were seen before we added a Bonelli's Warbler as well. Just beyond the trough a Western Orphean Warbler gave us good, but distant views. Moving further towards the Botanical Gardens, Mary spotted a Raven near the mountain ridge. Also seen were a Magpie and the occasional Griffon Vulture gliding along the ridge. 
As we got closer to the information Centre we saw both Coal and Blue Tit. Les decided to stay in the gardens whilst the rest of us hot-footed it onto the lower path as a coach load of school kids arrived. We heard European Cuckoo and Colin was first to hear a Great Spotted Woodpecker which later showed itself. We saw further Subalpine, Bonelli's and Melodious Warblers. Mary thought she'd heard Long-tailed Tits, but Les, as we discovered upon our return to the gardens, had seen some as well as Crested Tit, Short-toed Treecreeper and Crossbill. The walk down to the chapel added Wood Pigeon and a Cirl Bunting found by Alan.
We made our way to the farm buildings where we added Crested Lark and Rock Bunting. It was next to the farm trough and water deposit. The trough was empty but we still saw a pair of Hoopoes. Alan saw a pair of Turtle Doves as we arrived. There was a Black-eared Wheatear on the farm building and I spotted a distant Northern Wheatear on another building. Some Linnets, Goldfinches and a Red-rumped Swallow were also seen.
We then convoyed along the plains straight, me leading with Les at the rear. I spotted a Northern Wheatear by the ruined building and the Little Owl on its usual pile of rocks. There were also Crested Lark and Les saw a Red Billed Chough.
At the hamlet we checked out the Lesser Kestrel situation for Helen Commandeur's survey. There were a pair of adults and what appeared to be an immature female. We headed back to the La Piza forest cafe, Les bringing up the rear. We didn't add anything new on the journey, but Les saw Short-toed Larks and what he thought was a Calandra Lark
At La Piza, after asking the staff to fill their little pool with water, we were given a show by Chaffinches and numerous Crossbills. Great Tit was also seen.
A lovely days birding in good weather and company! 47 species in total.