27 July, Guadalhorce; colour ringed Avocet; 30 July, Las Norias

First, my apologies for the late posting, especially that of last Sunday at the Guadalhorce, but life has been pear-shaped in the Paterson household lately, and could well be so for a while.

27 July, Guadalhorce (Málaga) An early start on a hot morning (28º at 0630!) but the few were rewarded with 13 spp. of waders, a good number at this early stage of the return migration. These included some very bonny Curlew Sandpiper still in full breeding dress, 2 Ruff of which one male still showed the remains of its breeding plumage, 3 Greenshank (2 juvs.) and a 2 Redshank (1 juv.) , a couple of Dunlin, at least 9 Common Sands and singles of Wood and Green Sand, plus, of course, the usual small plovers and hysterical Stilts.

colour ringed Avocet The male of the pair that tried to breed in the spring was colour ringed, and thanks to Manuel Moreno we know now know where: 23 February 2006 at Testerre, Guerande (44º19'44"N, 02º25'41"W, SW Brittany, W of St. Nazaire), it was present at the Guadalhorce between early and late May at least (personal sightings).

30 July, Arboleas Bird Group, Las Norias (Almería) The following from Dave Elliott-Binns makes interesting reading and once again points up the parlous state of the lake at Las Norias (Almería) where little appears to be done to conserve this important and interesting site: Despite the heat, the Arboleas Birding Group returned to Las Norias, followed by a brief visit to Roquetas. We managed a very respectable 45 species. The heronry at Las Norias was still full of Cattle and Little Egrets and a few Squacco Herons. Night Herons were few and far between. The Sacred Ibis was found away from there at the plastic recycling plant end. A small sample of waders was seen. Singles of Wood, Green and Common Sandpiper. A pair of Stone Curlew with young (by their behaviour) being harrassed by 2 wild dogs. Since the erection of the 6ft wire fencing (€800,000 worth) water pollution by discarded fertilizer cartons has improved, but it didn't stop the dogs or the 3 pairs of anglers. The vegetation just inside the fence and now on the wader scrapes is increasing so birdwatching is getting increasingly more difficult. Collared Pratincoles, Gull-billed, Little and Whiskered Terns still present.


reports 23 July

Cabo de Gata Today the Arboleas Bird Group ventured to Cabo de Gata nature reserve. Birdwatching was sometimes challenging with all the tourists, but we had a good day. 37 species seen, including 5 species of tern, Little, Sandwich, Whiskered, Common and Gull Billed. Gilly counted 881 Greater Flamingo. On the wader front we saw 30+ Curlew, 3 Oystercatchers, a Ruff, lots of Black-tailed Godwit, 100's of Avocet and a few 'black bellied' Dunlin. Not much on the LBJ front apart from a very obliging Spectacled Warbler seen from the public hide.
PS. As this is a serious report I'll add here that we searched out to sea for Brown Boobies. No luck there, but quite a few pairs were observed on the beach!!!!
(My thanks to Dave & Gilly for this and for the two photos which are Dave's. Note: a Brown Booby was reported from Cabo de Gata in early July, hence Dave's innocent comment.)

Guadalhorce After the sighting of 3 Ferruginous Ducks yesterday, Paco Rivera and myself were down there by just gone 08 this morning but of course the damned things had gone, they always have done by the time I get there! There was some consolation, with 3 Wood Sandpipers which flew over, a single Redshank heard and, of course, the hordes of Stilts, of which I counted over 70 just along the nearly dry bed of the Río Viejo, so there must have been well over 100 in the reserve, taking into account others we had seen beforehand. We had superb views of a Purple Heron, good views of a Squacco Heron and also a Little Bittern.

This evening, between 2030 and 2110,I was down along the river banks with the dog and wife and apart from 40+ Mediterranean Gulls setting off to fly SW along the coast, a normal late evening migration strategy also done by Audouin's Gulls (photo above left), and surprisingly one flock was joined by a Squacco Heron (the same one as this morning?) but which thought better of it and turned back. There were c.10 Stilts which were very nervous, and twice took off, calling loudly, gained height as though to set off but turned back each time. Next time, chaps, next time!


Peregrine kills We all know that Peregrines are killing machines and that they do it magnificently, apart from affording us birders with a spectacle if we are fortunate enough to watch one in full action.

My friend Mike Clarke regularly watches them hunting at Slimbridge (which isn't on the Costa del Sol, I know) and we have both long maintained that they will sometimes 'play' with prey species, just to annoy them so it seems. Both of us have seen Peregrines head for a flock of resting waders with no intention of hunting, apparently for pure badness to watch the panic that their presence engenders as the waders scatter all over the horizon.
I once saw one flying high along with some Yellow-legged Gulls which weren't overly enamoured of its close presence and made some token movements towards it, whereupon the Peregrine gained 50-60m height on at least five occasions, wing tip turned and dived through them and caused a lot of squawking and general bedlam. It may sound anthropomorphic, but I got the distinct feeling that it was 'playing' with them.

Of course, they also hunt seriously, and one of the best bits of hunting I have ever seen was at Boat of Garten (Scotland) in the mid 1960s when I spent about three hours watching a pair with four well grown chicks hunting Wood Pigeons with an astonishingly high success rate. Several years ago, my wife and I spent a morning at the Book Fair in the Alameda, Málaga, and then crossed over to the park to listen to the municipal band playing Rossini and so on, whilst overhead the pair of Peregrines from the cathedral hunted pigeons. It's quite a counter point, listening to the wonderful overture to The Barber of Seville while a few feathers of some unfortunate pigeon float down.

All this was brought on by a note from Steve Penn at Calahonda (E of Marbella) who had the following experience over his breakfast: I was just having my cornflakes in the lounge and peering out down the garden when this huge shaped hawk /falcon shot across at just above roof height . I thought to myself ´what the hell`was that . Two seconds later several collared doves shot off in all directions at a great rate of knots.Thought, that's a bit strange. Carried on peering down the garden and all of a sudden this thing came back over the pool carrying a dove which was struggling like hell to no avail as its feathers were coming out in massive tufts and mostly in my pool. It was gone before I could get outside, so something got its breakfast. I presume it was a peregrine falcon, but didn't get a clear view as it was all too fast. One thing's for sure, that pigeon won't fly again as half its feathers are in my pool.

But they don't always get their quarry, as a couple of weeks since, coming back from Málaga and stuck in the usual traffic jam near the Málaga conference centre and suddenly a small corpse plummeted down, narrowly missed the car in front of me by cms, bounced on the road by me and there were some pathetic feathered remains which appeared to be headless and certainly unidentifiable without stopping, something I was not going to do! I couldn't see anything and then a small, obviously male, Peregrine floated over!


Crossing Sierra Nevada

28-29 June, crossing Sierra Nevada
Nacho García, one of our SEO-Málaga group, is an addict to the high ground and weekend 28-29 June he and some mountaineering friends walked the 30 km length of the Sierra Nevada, from Puerto de la Ragua (2.000m) in the east, and crossing the peaks of Morrón del Hornillo (2.375 m), Morrón Sanjuanero (2.610 m), Morrón del Mediodia (2.753 m), descending to Collado del Puerto (2.400 m), climbing to the Alto de San Juan (2.768 m), Peñón del Lobo, Peñón del Puerto (2.754 m), Collado del Puerto (2.600 m), climbing to Gallo (2.919 m), crossing Loma de las Albardas at about 2.800 m, Cerro de Trevélez (2.877 m) and finally Puerto de Trevélez, maintaining a mean altitude of around 2.600m.

Apart from being addicted to the mountains, Nacho is a birder, and hence the following sightings and comments, even though it was a walking rather than birding trip: Tawny Pipit (high densities all the way), Northern Wheatear (low density, seen at highest levels), Skylark (high densities), Black Redstart, flocks of of Red-billed Choughs, Sparrowhawk, Peregrine, Alpine Swift and the surprising record of a Quail calling at 2.400m altitude at Puerto del Lobo. Surprisingly, he saw no Ortolan Buntings, it appears that their distribution is rather patchy.

I am most grateful to Nacho for his permission to extract the bird information from his longer account in naturAnd and to use the photo.

Rare terns at Chipiona (Cádiz)

15 July, Chipiona Paco Chiclana from Sevilla is one of Andaluciá's leading birders and often covers the area between Chipiona and Sanlúcar de Barrameda, looking particularly at the beaches for terns at this time of year. Last year he found what many of us are convinced was an Elegant Tern (it's with the rarities committee), as well as Lesser Cresteds on a fairly regular basis. Today he posted the following sightings of two interesting tern species seen on the beaches between these two towns on forogiam :4 Roseate Terns on 5 July and 1 Lesser Crested Tern on 11 July.

In addition, Paco keeps a good weather eye open for the Little Swifts that frequent the area and came up with no less than 8 birds on 13 July, which is, I believe, the highest total ever seen and possibly reflects the successful breeding in the area.

His blog at http://elblogdepacochiclana.blogspot.com is always interesting for the Spanish speakers.


bits & pieces to 14 July

Common Pelican en P.N. Alcornocales (Cádiz) An adult bird seen on 19 June and 8 July 2008, in the Barbaterra reservoir (R. Romero en naturand)

13 July, Guadalhorce ponds A brief trip around the ponds in the first hours of the day with some of the domingueros (our Sunday morning birding group). There was not a lot to be seen and Paco and I left by 10h as it was starting to get too hot for comfort, but Patricia, Antonio T. and Antonio M. stayed on - he had to, he's the warden! Water levels are dropping fast and there's going to be little mud for returning waders, of which there was some more evidence in the form of a single Common and Green Sandpipers, and after we'd left Patricia & co. saw 3 Curlew Sandpipers which circled around but didn't stop, Antonio M. also saw a Roller, a rather irregular and scarce species during migration with us.


Sierra Nevada,

12 July, Sierra Nevada A colleague from SEO-Málaga, José Antonio Cortés, was up in the Sierra Nevada yesterday to escape from the appalling heat down here on the coast and kidly allows me to reproduce here (edited and translated) part of his account and advice as to what to do which he sent to members of the group. The photos and map photo are José's also.

Once up there it was easy to see how the females and young of the mountain goats had lost all their dignity (left at close range!), while the Alpine Accentors (right) have never had any!

Northern Wheatears
were everywhere and one undertook a spectacular ascent of nearly 100m, aided by the wind, to catch a high-flying butterfly. Over in the distance I saw what I took to be a group of dried trees and discovered that I was looking at a group of male goats with the biggest horns that I have ever seen.

José's advice: It is possible to go up to Veleta by a bus which leaves from the Albergue Universitario in Hoya de la Mora, thus saving time and energy for a more prolonged exploration of the sierra around; it has a limited number of places and there are details and timetable at this link :


Cars must be left in Hoya de Mora, near the Albergue Universitario, and the bus tickets collected in the reception of the Albergue which is very near the parking area. Once the bus drops you off (red on map) the ascending walk is quite easy but at one point the road curves round to the left and the rise steepens but carrying on there is a flatter earth track which one should follow, ignoring the track off to the left, (blue on the map). Where the main track ends there are several walks, but the refuge is to the left after walking up a small rise (green).

I realise that the map has not come out very clearly and if anyone wishes a good copy, write to me and I'll be happy to send one on.

A word of advice from José, which I echo, is not to forget that one is in the high mountains and should go equipped accordingly as a 30 km/h wind can make life very unpleasant, even in the middle of summer as he, for example was sitting in a sheltered spot in the sun to get warm and that included a polar fleece under his anorak!


Teo and White-rumped Swifts

My friend Teo is, to put it nicely, built for comfort and not speed and on top of it blames me for getting him interested in birds and photography, which could be the reason that he is divorced but that he has not confided. However, his photography is great and he comes up with some great shots.

Those who bother to read these meanderings will have seen his recent photos of Eleonora's Falcons near Coín (he says he's fed up of seeing them but still gets some good shots).

However, his latest interesting shots are of a pair of White-rumped Swifts, also seen yesterday 11 July in the same area. Here are a couple of the best ones where the bird looks very black, the shape of the curved white of the rump can be easily seen, as can the long, almost needle-shaped tail with only a small fork (as I commented. in an earlier blog on the subject) and the total lack of white visible on the chin, which I find to be not uncommon when watching them against the sky.


Odds & Sods to 8 July

After being out of the loop with the adult female section of the household in hospital in Málaga since a week last Sunday and braving the horrendous traffic twice a day to visit her (only the vilest words will suffice to describe it), birding (I hope that she realises my incredible selflessness!) and even taking the dog for a walk (she - meaning the dog - is depressed, according to the son and for once I agree with him, and his mother is too) has had little place in my life.

I haven't been to the ponds, but append a report on the RAM (combined coordinated seawatches, I'll explain them some time) from Blas López at Calaburras, W of Fuengirola, an edited list from Patricia Macauley, more news of Eleonora's Falcons in Coín from Teo Todorov (doesn't sound a very Spanish name, does it?), a sentence or so on migration at the Guadalhorce ponds yesterday evening and today, and that's your lot (as Tommy Cooper would have said). So, here goes.

1 July, Lesser Crested Tern, Tarifa (Cádiz) One seen flying E (into the Med.) by David Cuenca (in rarebirdspain).

3 July, Brown Booby, Roquetas de Mar, Almería A subadult seen by a species experienced observer (B. Carlson, in rarebirdspain).

5 July, 3 h seawatch at Calaburras, W of Fungirola (edited and translated mail from Blas López to forogiam) 150 Cory's Shearwaters (probably feeding movements) and 109 Balearic Shearwaters (W post-breeding movement to the Atlantic), the first Mediterranean Gulls moving W, very smart still in their breeding plumage, and a few Audouin's. A few Gannets, Sandwich Terns and, rather surprisingly, Gadwall and a few Turnstones.

6 July, Guadalhorce ponds (edited mail from Patricia and the super photo on the left of the juv. Red-rumped Swallow sitting on one of the hides is hers also) Antonio Toro was waiting for me on the new bridge and we went straight to the Old River - we saw a Yellow Wagtail - but only because I wanted to see one and really searched. Otherwise only Stilts and the odd plover. For the rest, lots of gulls - Black-headed, Mediterranean, Yellow-legged ( they really are huge), Audouins and some terns and a Gull-billed Tern. LOTS of House Martins and some Swallows and Red-rumped Swallows and the Osprey was there.We left around 11.30 - it was just too hot.

More on Eleonora's Falcons at Coín Teo keeps seeing a few Eleonora's from the flat lands to the south of Coín village (Málaga) and the splendid photo here of the bird pulling 5+gs as it goes in to attack something is his also.
Ernest García has commented that from the photos most of the birds appear to be immatures.

Note that this photo is NOT manipulated, rotated or anything illicit but is as taken by Teo during the weekend.

First wader migration at Guadalhorce ponds Evening of 7 July I took my depressed (but not when there's food around) spaniel for a walk down by the river in the last minutes of the day before sunset. I could hear what I reckoned to be 2 or 3 Redshanks calling very noisily, the sort of calling that says 'we're very nervous and are ready to go off on a night flight somewhere'.
Sure enough, after a few minutes the tempo increased and with the binoculars (I never go out without them, otherwise I feel undressed) I picked up 5 birds gaining height in the last light and calling loudly and watched them as they set out over the sea for Morocco and points south. I wonder where there are now and how many Ks they put in over night before settling down again?

Antonio Miguel Pérez (in naturAnd) picked up an early Wood Sandpiper flying and song-flighting (!) at the ponds during the course of the day.

On 8 July, Antonio Miguel also watched 2 juv. Penduline Tits at the ponds, as well as a single Redshank and a single Dunlin (in naturAnd).

Things are starting to move! Autumn migration, here we come!


Eleonora's Falcons in Málaga; Arboleas Bird Group at Las Norias (Almería); Bonelli's Eagles in Rambla Morales (Almería)

Eleonora's Falcons in Coín (Málaga) This news is not brand new but worth publishing and comes from Salva Solis and Teo Todorov (our favourite Bulgarian Spaniard), the photos are Teo's.

On 27 June, an Eleonora's Falcon seen by Salva to the south of Coín, and on 29 June he saw no less than 13 of the same, plus 2 Red-footed Falcons, in the same area. Only 2 falcons were left on 30 June, also in the area Peregrine, Booted and Short-toed Eagles

Arboleas Bird Group at Las Norias (Almería) The group visited the lake on 2 July and Dave & Gilly Elliott-Binns kindly sent the following; the photos are Dave's.

A good, but hot day with 40 species seen. Nice to see Little, Whiskered and Gull-billed Tern. A lot of breeding activity at the heronry. Little and Cattle Egrets, Squacco and Night Herons all present. Little Bittern also seen. Collared Pratincoles and chicks showing nicely at the plastic factory end. Before heading off for lunch we visited Roquetas de Mar to check up on the Red-Knobbed Coot, neck-ringed grandparents, parents and new chicks all doing well.

Bonelli's Eagles in Rambla Morales (Almería) Jorge Garzón told me this evening of 2 immature birds that he and a group from the Naturetrek tour put up there today. Years ago I saw a bird soaring over the horrible plastic greenhouse area near Las Norias. Incidentally, the plastic shows up well on satellite photos from way out there! Ain't man wonderful?