Cabo de Gata, Tuesday 29th December 2009
Last week the weather forecast for Wednesday down at Cabo de Gata wasn't too hot so we decided to go on the Tuesday. When I looked yesterday, Tuesday was cloudy, whilst Wednesday was clear and sunny. So Dave, Myrtle and I travelled down there thinking the worst. Gilly had overnight succumbed to the cold/flu I had had over Xmas so I'd left her in bed. The weather all day was good, but not brilliant. Sunny with high clouds, but with a strong warm breeze which kept the smaller LBJ's in the undergrowth. Over the past week or so, we'd seen in the local papers that the village of Cabo de Gata had had some serious rains followed by flooding, but it was still a minor shock to see the water level from the first hide. There were no visible mud scrapes. The rocky causeway had virtually disappeared. The water was within metres of the chain link fence below the hide itself. On the other side of the road the ground was covered by large pools.
On the causeway I could see 11 Grey Plover and a single Ringed Plover. Three Snipe flew off. On the scrub to our right a mixed flock of Spotless and Northern Starling were being moved around by a harassing Kestrel. Lots of Stonechats and Chiffchaffs were seen all day. We could see a flock of Black-tailed Godwits close to the second hide, so off there we headed. A check out to sea was fruitless. It was choppy. As we arrived at the hide a large group of Lesser Black-backed Gulls with 4 Sandwich Terns amongst them. We found the grazing flock of 25+ Black-tailed Godwits, which were joined by 6 Curlews. The numerous Greater Flamingos ( est. 750 +) were up to their bellies in water. I spotted two Spoonbills in their normal pose...asleep! A Bluethroat made a very brief appearance on a shrub before skulking away. Singles of Cormorant and Black-necked Grebe were seen. Very poor on the wildfowl front..... 11 Mallard and about 8 Shelducks for the day. None of the expected wintering duck seen. A solitary Slender-billed Gull was in the water-filled dyke beside the hide.
A visit to the public hide only added a few more Cormorants and Grebes. No waders to be seen at all. I had high hopes for the rear of the reserve. As we started our adventurous drive round, we were greeted by a very obliging pipit on a garden wall. It stayed long enough for us to confirm it was a Water Pipit. My 4x4 came into its own. Some of the puddles must have been 2.5 feet deep. Some Meadow Pipits were bathing in the fresh water. The expected numbers of wader didn't materialize. A few Sanderling, Redshank, Dunlin, Little Stint and Avocet. Spotted a godwit that flew off as we approached...no white wing bars, so a Bar-tailed Godwit. Not a single Kentish Plover or Black-winged Stilt seen all day. We ended up with a 44 species count. Well, that's it from the Arboleas Birding Group for 2009.
Wishing all a very productive birding 2010, Dave & Gilly.
Having gone up to Madrid in the impressive AVE, daughter and father drove back from Madrid in her car on 23 December - and just in case you think it was paternalism altruism, it wasn't, that way she wouldn't want my car over the holidays - I thought it would be an excellent opportunity to do a 550km transect for birds of prey as at times I have done quite well. The only trouble was that the opportunity was there and the birds weren't. In the 250kms between Madrid and Despeñaperros there was 1 (right, one) bird of prey, a ring-tailed Hen Harrier. Going through Despeñaperros, apart from a Southern Grey Shrike which tried to kill itself by flying at low level between the truck in front and myself and the usual set of welcoming Azure-winged Magpies, not a lot else apart from starlings sp. and 2 Kestrels when heading towards Málaga from Granada, which was when the rains started - I've seen more in my garden. So, no birding Christmas morning, instead I listened to a replay of the old Bill Cosby monologue of Noah and Ark - good stuff. I recommend it, it's on youtube.
So, when I awoke to blue skies (a lie, it was still dark but there was no rain splattering against the window and the predawn looked clear, as had last night's metcast), to get out seemed logical after it appears that the Torremolinos-Málaga area has received approximately 300 litres of water per sq. metre. Fuente de Piedra should be good now.
I was in at the ponds by just gone 0930 and wandered around for the next 3 hours, seeing some friends and doing some birding, not that there was a vast amount to see. The rain has raised the water levels so there is no space for waders, just a solitary Greenshank and a pair of Black-winged Silts trying to fool everyone that they were emulating phalaropes by swimming. There were 3 Spoonbills, strategically placed so that I couldn't see all its colour rings (avian cooperation is nil at times). Even ducks appear to have reduced in numbers with few Shoveler and Mallard, not a single White-headed but a lot of Teal, I think the most that I have ever seen there, I counted at least 54 with the males stunning in fresh plumage and try though I might, I couldn't find the American species, the Green-winged.
Raptors included a few Kestrels, not so many as other times recently, a couple each of juv. Marsh Harriers and pale phase Booted Eagles, an Common Buzzard and, of course, the splendid Osprey that is over-wintering.
So, as I can't see me getting down to the ponds again in 2009, thus endeth another year. To all you daring people who read this drivel, a happy new year and good birding - I think I said this before but it will still bear repetition of you're a birder!
And to all readers of this blog, a very happy Yuletide, that someone in your family has had the intelligence to buy you the binocs, telescope, camera, telephoto (delete as unwanted) that you so much desire, and especially, good birding in 2010. Thank you for putting up with my drivel (Dave's is excepted) and I hope you continue to read on next year.
I have taken up Dave's concerns about the status of the reserve and have just spoken with the SEO's Valencia office, which is in the midst of removals to a new address! However, I have extracted a promise that they will
It was very cold and dark when four members of the group left Arboleas at 5.30 am. We needed to get to the north gate of the El Fondo Parc Natural, Elche by 8.15 am when the park rangers would let us in. Access is allowed by appointment only on Wednesdays and Saturdays only from 8.15 to 11.15 am. We met up with two other members for breakfast before gaining access. The rangers were waiting for us with the gates open. We slowly travelled in convoy along the track beside a shallow canal. Within seconds we disturbed numerous Grey Herons which flew away. Not 400 metres in I spotted a bird of prey in the branches of a dead eucalyptus tree. It was what we had come to see. A Great Spotted Eagle. It was first light, so the photos I took weren't brilliant, but you could clearly see the attached radio antenna. The eagle, named Tonn, winters here, having travelled all the way from its native Estonia.
We carried on down to the covered elevated hide where we were joined by a local birder, the only other visitor to the reserve that day. From there we could see over a large expanse of reedbeds and lakes. Three Booted Eagles perched themselves on one of the dead eucalyptus trees. Marsh Harriers were quartering over the reed tops and during the day we must have seen at least 10-12 individuals. An Osprey was spotted sitting on a post. Red-crested Pochards were seen in small numbers. A Kingfisher stopped briefly on the wooden railings beneath us. A Little Bittern sounded off, but wasn't seen, as were Cetti's Warblers. We then walked to a hide which overlooked a vast shallow lake. On the way we saw a Southern Grey Shrike chasing after a Snipe which was feeding on the track ahead of us. A pair of Black-tailed Godwits flew over as did a Green Sandpiper later.
From this elevated position there were huge flocks of wildfowl. I would estimate over 500 Teal, 100 Pintail, 100 Shoveler and good numbers of Shelduck and Mallard. Didn't see any Wigeon, White-headed Duck or Marbled Duck. Two Ospreys were spotted on posts. Numerous Little Grebes were evident with a few Black-necked. Hundreds of Crag Martins were noted as was a flock of Avocets and a single Lapwing flew over. We also heard, and Gilly spotted a Reed Warbler.
On the way back a Bluethroat was on the track. We got back to the original hide. The local birder had seen a couple of Little Bitterns, a pair of Penduline Tits and a small contingent of Bearded Reedlings. A late House Martin flew by and a Purple Gallinule was just visible in the reeds. At our allotted departure time we drove round to the information centre. We added Common Buzzard and Hoopoe to the list, plus saw a flock of 27 Lapwing on the wheat field. We ended up with 53 species. The weather was reasonably kind to us with only a couple of showers whilst in the covered hides.
This is obviously a seriously important bird habitat all year round. It is still under serious threat from pollution, shooting water being extracted for irrigation. I implore the SEO and other organizations to exert extreme pressure to protect this gem of a site. It needs to be compulsory purchased from its owners if they don't comply with the needs of the 100s of 1,000s of birds that live or pass through.
I have taken up Dave's concerns about the status of the reserve and have just spoken with the SEO's Valencia office, which is in the midst of removals to a new address! However, I have extracted a promise that they will e-mail me with details of the reserve, the problems both within the limits and without and when all is received and I have translated the important parts it will be published in a special blog.
It will then be up to your good selves, dear readers out there in the ether of cyber-space, to write to the SEO Valencia office expressing your concerns, preferably stating at the end that you give them carte blanche = carta blanca (a lot of foreign here!) to use your communication as they think fit. The SEO is on the patronato, the sort of running committee, and have managed to stop some of the larger problems.
Today seven members of the group headed toMorales, near Cabo de Gata. The weather was wonderful, sunny with a slight breeze. Having left the seafront at Retamar South, we headed towards the Virgin of the Sea chapel. Along the route we saw the first of our many Chiffchaffs and Greenfinches. Once there, birds on the land were scarce, but out to sea we saw a single Razorbill and a couple of distant Gannets. On the beach were a small flock of Turnstones, numerous Sanderlings, a solitary Ringed Plover and a few Kentish Plovers. A single Cormorant flew past.
4x4s were needed for the bumpy track across the steppes towards the large pool. The expected flock of Golden Plover never materialised, but numerous Stonechats were spotted with a few Southern Grey Shrikes and a sole Corn Bunting.
At the pool we walked across the Playa del Charco (beach) and I managed to secret myself close to the water's edge to get some photos. Sanderling, Dunlin, Little Stint and Black-winged Stilt all came within camera range. Also present were Little Egret, Redshank and on the way back a Greenshank. Out to sea were a further 4 Razorbills. As we were about to walk along the far side of the pool, a female Marsh Harrier was flying low over the reeds at the far end. On the water itself we expected to see the resident White-headed Ducks and over-wintering Shovelers, but no. Only a few Coot and a Dabchick were seen. The water level was just right. It had dropped a couple of feet leaving muddy scrapes with stumps of cut reeds. Dave Green and I wandered down to the far end. On a scrape about 3/4 the way down I spotted the bird of the day, a Water Rail. It soon disappeared into the bushes. The only duck we saw were a couple of pairs of Mallard and Teal. A total of 43 species seen. Well pleased with the numbers, the Razorbill and the Water Rail.
Which takes me crudely to this last Monday morning, 7 December, when Federico and myself had a rather pleasant morning at the ponds along with Antonio Tamayo who was there in his rôle of warden and who also showed us some superb shots of a Barn Owl, taken in the reserve from the Suzuki, at night with only a big flashlight and car headlights as illumination. However, I digress.
On the face of it, if I hadn't made a full list and you had asked me if it had been a good morning I would probably have said 'pretty average', but as the total species seen between us was about 53 spp. (this assumes that I put down everything) and there were some quite good ones, well, it was actually a rather good morning and at least the weather was fine (turned out nice again!)
There were few waders akthough of 11 spp., with solitary specimens only of Redshank, Black-tailed Godwit, Lapwing, Avocet, Oystercatcher, Snipe and Common Sandpiper, for example, with 2 Turnstones, 3 Greenshanks (lovely things) and only double figures for Sanderling (not counted) and Dunlin (21).
We spent a pleasant time watching the sea. There were quite a few Gannets around, with one or two nice adults close in. Antonio saw the only Balearic Shearwater but we all saw the indecisive Great Skua (a.k.a. Bonxie to use the old Shetland name) which sat on the sea, flew west, flew back east and in which we lost interest. There were at least 14 Common Scoter in three groups, all females or young birds, and it was with one of the small groups that we saw the single Razorbill. There also several Black-necked Grebes on the sea, this being equally at home on salt as on fresh water.
Whilst seawatching we counted 6 Grey Herons moving into the reserve area from across the bay. Two of them were being given a particularly hard time by a single adult Yellow-legged Gull (the same bird each time?)and the evasive action such big birds can take is amazing. However, these evasive manouevres were insufficient for the last bird which was eventally splashed into the drink by the gull . Fortunately for the heron, this was within a few metres of the beach and it managed to get airborne and make land where it rested to regain its breath.
Rather more unusual was the presence of 3 Shovelers on the sea, pretending to be sea ducks. All the male ducks have moulted out of the eclipse plumage now and their plumage is stunning at times, and thr sheen on the heads of Mallard has to be seen to be believed. Indeed, just an or so since figuratively I ran into Patricia and she told me that on Sunday they had seen a flock of Teal and the males were in wonderful plumage. On the other hand, the number of White-headed Ducks has plummeted and we saw only one male on the laguna Escondida.
Raptors there were in small numbers, the usual Osprey, the pair of Peregrines could be picked out on the tall chimney to the east but hardly offered stunning views, there were at least 2 Booted Eagles, one being the marked bird back for its third winter, and also a single female Marsh Harrier. As usual there were plenty of Kestrels.
The rest of the birding was reasonably normal. There was a single male Bluethroat seen which showed very briefly, so much so that I missed it. These are not at all common this winter, unlike two winters since. Chiffchaffs there were a-plenty. The final goody of the day was when Federico and I were crossing the bridge on the way out. Looking upstream to see if we could see any Spoonbills amongst the Little Egrets -we didn't - we did pick up a single Great White Heron (they used to be called egrets when I were a lad!), this always a god bird to see down at the ponds.
Not bad at all when one stops to consider.
Also, and without detriment to Dave's report, Bob Wright's Axarquía group - visited Fuente de Pieda lake last Thursday. Check in his blog - http://birdingaxarquia.blogspot.com/ - for a full report but suffice to say that the lake is still very dry with one 7 Flamingos seen, 40+ Shelduck and some Shovelers although they hit lucky with Cranes after I left (force majeure), there having been only a family party of 4 on the lake bed.
After several days of high winds Gilly, I and 4 others members of the group decided to make our final visit to Sierra de Maria before the weather becomes too cold. The weather today was perfect. Hardly any wind, the sun shining and a bit of cloud. I noticed the car's outside temperature gauge was registering a bracing 6ºc when we arrived at the chapels car park. We were greeted with the sight of a pair of Short-toed Treecreepers scurrying up the gardens trees. Lots of Robins, Jays, Blackbirds and Mistle Thrushes. On the walk up to the Information Centre a flock of 9 Woodlarks flew over and settled on the rocky ploughed field. Cirl Buntings were quite numerous with a few Rock Buntings as well.
Once inside the Botanical Gardens Gilly, due to new boot problem, took the lower track whilst the rest of us made our way up the medium long track. We saw all the tits, Long-tailed, Crested, Great and Blue. Gilly however saw a very late straggler. A red/grey warbler showed itself well. She thought it was going to be a Dartford, but the telltale white moustache proved it to be a male Subalpine. (talking of stragglers, one of our group, Brian, saw a Roller not two days before at Partaloa). At the La Piza recreation area, there were numerous Crossbills round the water deposit. High in the leafless branches they were joined by a striking Great Spotted Woodpecker.
From there down to the plain and all the way to the Granada border the road is being widened. It is a narrow two vehicle road used a lot by 38 tonners, so the works well needed. Not many birds around due to this, but a Southern Grey Shrike was seen. A Calandra Lark was the best we saw at the hamlet.
A good day made better by the weather. 33 count in all.
At mid day today (28/11), just off-shore from the Guadalmar urbanisation, just to the west of the Guadalhorce, Pepe Rodríguez found a pair of female/immature Red-breasted Mergansers. By chance I was down there this afternoon and met him just as he turned up to try and photograph them, got the news and off we trotted,. Our luck was in and we watched and Pepe photographed the pair of them at ranges down to c.25m. A first ever record for him, ironically after just comng back from northern Spain where he failed to see any, and my first Spanish record. NOTE: Seen briefly Sunday morning also before the rains struck.
WEDNESDAY pm.: Still present in front of Guadalmar urbanisation.
There are previous records from Málaga province at least a decade since, during which occasional birds were seen off Calaburras just to the west of Fuengirola during 3 or 4 winters.
The other goody this week is the record on Thursday (26/11) of a Yellow-browed Warbler, a rarity at national record which thus requires a description for the Rarities Committee, which was seen in the Parque Tecnológico de Málaga on the road out the Campillos by Israel Lozano (in avesforum). Several years ago I had one that stayed around my garden for 4 days and was watched from the terrace by several members of SEO-Málaga, coffee and binoculars to hand - birding at its easiest!
Not so rare but still nice to see is a Short-eared Owl which has been seen in the Guadalhorce this week (Patricia Macauley) and see Bob's Arxaquia blog for what they saw on Thursday, while on 24/11 when walking the dog by the river I saw a solitary Greenshank and the Oystercatcher.
Rain is due tomorrow if the weather persons are to be believed. We shall see.
After 5 weeks in the wet and windy UK, Gilly and I were keen to get back in to the swing of things, especially as I'd had my telescope repaired! So it was with great anticipation that we set off to Cabo de Gata with 4 other members. At the first hide just passed the village of Pujaire we were very surprised to see some hirundines were still with us. At least a dozen Barn Swallows, a few Sand Martins and a single Red-rumped Swallow were with some resident Crag Martins flying over the scrubland behind us. A small flock of Golden Plover flew into there as well. We saw the first of the half dozen or so Southern Grey Shrikes for the day on the power lines. A Cetti's Warbler was heard.
The water level was still very high so very little could be seen on the water or its edge. What was there had to be IDed from silhouette as the sun was bright and low against us. Curlew Sandpiper and Kentish Plover were ticked off....the list, no, not angry! Also there on the bushes were
vast numbers of Stonechats. Over the course of the day we must have seen between 60
and 100. Also possibly the same number of Chiffchaffs.
We checked out what was on the flat, waveless sea. Unfortunately it was birdless as well. Hoping at least a Razorbill might have reached this far east, let alone the Little Auk!
The sun at the second hide wasn't so much in our faces. At least 5 Stone Curlews were spotted
on the steppes and a flock of Black-tailed Godwits joined them. Gilly counted at least 606
Greater Flamingos. Mallard were the main wildfowl, but Shoveler and Shelduck were also seen. As well as the Chiffchaff and Stonechat, we had good views of Dartford Warbler. Slender-billed Gulls were feeding in small numbers. 2 Audouin's Gulls were asleep on the far side. At the public hide still very few waders due to the high water level. Redshank, Greenshank, Little Stint, Sanderling, Dunlin, Black-winged Stilts and a couple of Avocets. A raft of 10 Black-necked Grebes was noted.
I was expecting the tour round the rear of the reserve to be very good as the wader numbers were so low elsewhere. Camera at the ready we slowly drove round..... hardly anything at all, let alone posing for us, hence no photos. So we ended the day on a bit of a downer, but SO glad to be back on my own patch. A count of 50 species.
The first paragraph of what was written below must be revised as Jorge has come to the conclusion that as the second set of photos and observation was far better than the first, there was indeed only 1 (one) bird present.
What can be considered a rarity within the Mediterranean, two Little Auks - Dovekies if you are American- were seen in the Ensenada de Calahonda, Granada province, this weekend.The first was seen last Friday, 20 November, and the second today, 22 November, and as there were plumage differences these are considered to be two birds. The first picture and accounts of the sightings are in
I saw one off Benalmádena, way back in February 1988 and there is a single Gibraltar record from March 1986. To the best of my knowledge, these two records are the second and third for Alborán after mineand the first and second for Granada. There are occasional records from Cataluña and all those to 1997 are summarised in Las Aves Marinas de España y Portugal.
Their presence makes me wonder what relationship there might be with the relatively numerous records of Razorbills this autumn after two virtually auk-free winters. What has pushed them into the Mediterranean? The only possible reason must be attributable to weather out in the Atlantic.
One sees very little as immature Spanish children are unaware of the meaning of and the need to keep quiet in the countryside. Consequently there was little serious birding as everything hid when it saw/heard the band, and also there was obviously little to see. Cormorant numbers have increased considerably, there must have been over 150 perched in the dead euclayptus trees, and ousted the osprey from its perch, we didn't see it all morning. The only other raptors were a good 8 or 9 Kestrels and 2 immature Marsh Harriers.
We only managed the eastern bank down to the seawatch mirador, all that in over 2 hours, before I had to head homewards, not having the time to take in the lagunas escondida or grande. So, what little else did we see? A few Pochard, not a single White-headed Duck, a few Mallard and that was the waterfowl except for a most welcome trio of Shelduck on the río viejo, my first of the year I believe without checking. Waders were scarcer than snow in the Sahara in summer with one Oystercatcher and 2 Ringed Plovers. Pathetic.
Most passerines vanished rapidly, and who can blame them? But the Southern Grey Shrike that appears to have set up its winter territory in the general area just inland from the mirador showed well through the 'scope until it realised just how many immature bipeds there were, after which it too vanished. I saw a brief Meadow Pipit and that was it.
There was movement on the sea off the mirador. A single Razorbill was feeding quite close in, there are plenty around this autumn so far, much more than these past two winters, especially last winter when I saw none! Sandra said that she saw several flying eastwards further out. There have been Balearic Shearwaters around all week and this morning was no exception with several buzzing around after a small pod of dolphin sp. (we needed David Jefferson to identify them) but again, I think that they were same ones I have seen twice from home this week, with 2 big males which jump splendidly, and at least 2 females with youngsters which stick very close to Mum and when she rolls it is possible to see them rolling exactly alongside her, like a little shadow. There were a bundle of Lesser Black-backed Gulls sitting on the sea and several Gannets flying around, including some splendid adults. After which it was time for me to head for home and arrange to meet Sandra sometime without the accompaniment. But the best was yet to come.
Those who go into the Guadalhorce now go up the ramp by the school (it is impossible to go across the sand bar as it is virtually inexistent and there is an outflow) and, looking across the river, there is the remains of a very dead eucalyptus. As I approached that area from the bridge, I heard a sort of chirruping noise followed by sharpish whistle, this repeated three or four times. I hadn't a clue as to what species of bird it was, as I had never heard anything like it before, but started looking, without the binoculars, as I had a pretty good idea that it came from the general region of the dead eucalyptus, which was when I saw a movement on a low branch that protruded from the water. The shape was definitely was mammalian and then the whistles and the image clicked (thanks to BBC documentaries) and I realised that I was looking at an otter. I got the binocs. up in record time and had about 5 seconds of decent look at it before it slid into the water, leaving a few ripples, some stirred up mud and a line of bubbles. LOVELY!!
I had arranged to meet Stephen and Charles, visitors from London who were put in touch with me by our birding priest, Manolo (I haven't dared ask him if he prays for good birding yet and if I tried the lack of success would be extreme!), in whose company they had seen the Great Bustard that overflew the ponds last Sunday (perhaps he does pray for good birding as he managed to photograph it too!). So with a start just after 0930, at which time I started the day list but forgot to put things down so there were at least 31 spp. seen although it is true that there were notable gaps. Nevertheless, the last part of the morning really was the best by a fair way.
We walked along the eastern bank first and here was not a lot to see.although we did get vfleeting views of an hyperactive 1st winter male Bluethroat - these are super little birds but they will not stay still be properly appreciated. I had a very brief view of a Squacco Heron. From there we saw the Osprey fly into the dead eucalyptus with a rather small fish and also logged at least 2 Common Buzzards during the morning, whilst I saw another and a 1st winter Marsh Harrier and 2 very distant vultures, most probably Griffons, after I left them. We also saw the Booted Eagle with a coloured wing tag which, I think, was marked about 4 years since but while the tag is still the original orange on the underwing, the upperwing part has faded to yellow, so be warned if you see a bird with one. We later saw another without tags, so 2 of those.
From the east bank we walked back round to the laguna Escondida, meeting Eric Lyon who had escaped from his wife while shopping and had done the sensible thing. He'd seen little to that moment but we sat down at the hide and scanned the laguna. And we were rewarded. Ten minutes before Eric had not seen the Purple Boghen (also known as Purple Swamphen or better still Purple Gallinule) but hey presto! There it was, standing half way up on the left as though it owned the place and did so before slowly stalking off out of sight. Later it swam slowly across but we missed it and all we sawwas the white stern vanishing under the tamarisks.
There was at least one Kingfisher present I rather think that there were two, but all we we were treated to was the sight of electric blue butts disappearing around corners rather than one spending a couple of minutes sitting and showing itself off.
Of waders there was very, very little to see, things go from bad to worse. There were 2 Ringed Plovers, only 2 Stilts(!), probably 3 Common Sandpipers, one of which deigned to be photographed, 3 Dunlin, and what was most probably the most abundant wader of the day, at least 4 Snipe, one of which showed beautifully instead of cowering under the reeds.
From there we went to the hide at the laguna Grande and met another photographer, Birgit Kremer who has a superb web page with super photos of birds and other beasts. Take a look at it on www.iberia-natur.com , you won't be disappointed. The snipe in particular delighted Stephen as it is his favourite bird.
At the laguna Grande, where the all these photos were taken, we could see the Osprey sitting in the usual tree and surrounded by interloping Cormorants, of there are many. But when the Osprey took to the air, the clag hit the fan and there was a mass panic by the Cormorants and they were all over the sky before eventually settling, rather nervously, it must be said, on the water.
Altogether a most satisfactory morning with gloriously unseasonally sunshine.
THE GUARDIA CIVIL INTERVENES 195 PROTECTED BIRDS
Seprona has denounced 15 people for the illegal capture of the creatures Agents of the Guardia Civil belonging to the Service for the Protection of Nature (Seprona) have, in the past few days, carried out activities against the illegal trapping of finches in the region of La Janda and the north-west coast which has permitted the seizure of 195 protected birds and denounced 15 persons for said capture. The actions took place after denouncements by ecologist organisations and as well as members of the public against the 'indiscriminate killing' of these birds in the period when exceptionally the legal capture of song birds is legally allowed, one of the persons denounced being the president of a wildlife society (sic) from Chipiona. This person claims that it was all perfectly legal and the society had the pertinent licence granted by the Junta de Andalucía (and that's another appalling and permissive story!) and that all was in order.
The Guardia Civil announced that indiscriminate and uncontrolled capture of other protected species, as is shown by the fact that 71 of the birds seized had been plucked and prepared for consumption. Also according to the Guardia Cvil, another fact which corroborates the previous is the use of prohibited hunting methods of protected species wich cause immediate death, such as those known as 'perches or ribs'. These are also widely used elsewhere in Andalucía, Valencia, Malta and throughout the Med.. Amongst the other effects seized were 69 'perches', eight methods of reproducing bird song (type not specified), two mist nets of 30 x 4m (only allowed and sold to accredited ringers), a clap net and an air rifle. Amongst the species seized there were pipits, linnets, goldfinches, sparrows, greenfinches and serins, 124 of these being later released.
So you see, Seprona and the Guardia Civil do take trapping seriously, do check and do follow up reports. The Guardia Civil number is 062 and ask for Seprona to report possible infringements. Watch from a distance, note time and place, do not try to remonstrate personally as you may face violence, take photos with telephoto lenses, car registration numbers in order to back up your denuncia.
Well done, Seprona. But please take care. Remember that cowards live longer!
The Brown Tit Mamma morena belongs to the family Mammidae and is one of four widely distributed species of which this is particularly prevalent in the tropical and subtropical regions. The other three species are the numerous Oriental Tit M. orientalis, the Dark or Chocolate Tit M. nigra which appears to be in regression in many parts of its natural habitat, and the scarce Indigenous Tit M. ignobilis which is either totally ignored or persecuted, especially in its range in the Americas and the relict South African, Australian and New Zealand populations. Although all have bred interspecifically, at times producing some interesting specimens, in general they have all maintained their specific identity. It is with the Brown Tit that this paper is concerned although reference will be made to the other two species. Evidence will be given of demographic increase, the races and morphs to be found and the correlation of these with climatic condition throughout the range of the species, as well as discussing the various and varied morphs.
The Brown Tit was first described in detail in a series of written communications, none of which are quotable, towards the end of the 19th century by the Reverend Augustus Sludgeworthy, B.D., sometime vicar of the deservedly inundated village of Peeling Bogmarsh. Sludgeworthy commented upon his observations to a small but like-minded group of observers in southern and eastern England and in particular to one George 'One-eye' Midgely who was for many years a privileged guest of H.M. Prison Service as he had been sentenced to a long term of penal servitude as a result of attempting to carry out in situ nocturnal observations of the species at the home of the Hon. Mrs. Willington-Smythe in South Kensington, something which was regarded as extreme folly by those who knew the lady in question, the custodial sentence imposed coming soon after his release after several weeks in Charing Cross Hospital.
In those far-off days, the species was exceedingly rare and more often than not the specimens observed were considered to be albinistic or at the very least leucistic. They were also considered to be separate species by some and more than one observer referred to them as the Pallid or Glaucous Tit M. alba. More recent observations along the shores of the Mediterranean and southern and western North America have shown that this is a purely transitory phase caused by lack of ultra violet light (u/v), as will be shown later.
Research in those days was limited by the confines of the meteorology in southern England as well as by the lack of optical instruments suitable for long range observation of a species which then was known for its exceptionally shy and retiring nature. It is interesting to note that in the past thirty years there has been a radical change in the behaviour and this will be considered briefly.
The tenacity with which Sludgeworthy and his small band of fellow enthusiasts carried out their work is all the more praiseworthy, especially in view of the objections raised by the very subjects of thier study and the exceedingly dim view with which the judicial system regarded their activities. Suffice to recount one of these tales to show the difficulties which this ardent band of watchers, or voyeurs as they were then known, met.
The incident in question took place on the shingle of the Chesil Beach in the county of Dorsetshire during the course of the Whitsuntide Bank Holiday of 1897. The Rev. Sludgeworthy, having espied what he took to be an example of the albinistic form of the species some way along the beach and which was occasionally showing itself from behind a large, yellowish boulder, decided to stalk it with the aim of carrying out a series of close range observations aided by his binoculars with a magnification of 2.5, the aforementioned boulder concealing him from view.
Boldly ignoring the gaze of the occasional stroller and the bothering attentions of a depraved Golden Retriever, he stalked the occasional tantalising flashes of white along the shingle until, by his calculations, the specimen in question could only be a few yards away on the other side of the yellowish boulder. Raising himself inch by inch, he was able to catch fleeting glimpses of the rara avis until, ever vigilant as it was in those days, it uttered its sharp alarm call.
One can well imagine the amazement of Sludgeworthy when the large boulder (on which he was resting his elbows with the natural reaction of steadying his fieldglasses because of the shaking of his nerves in the excitement of the moment) suddenly came to life beneath him. He had been, in fact, resting his elbows on the recumbent form of a sumo wrestler from the Land of the Rising Sun who was touring England with an aim of popularising that sport. Sludgeworthy may indeed be forgiven for thinking, as he expressed himself later to the judge after he had come out of hospital, that a miniature but particularly violent earthquake was taking place beneath him. The vision of the large oriental gentleman pursuing Sludgeworthy along the Chesil Beach conjures up unforgettable images.
Neither the physical damage to which he was subjected, nor a term in the local prison, nor the comments made by the judge about 'a man of the cloth' appear to have dampened his ardour for such esoteric research and it was shortly after this that he commenced his correspondence with 'One-eye' Midgely. It was entirely due to the very christian efforts of Sludgeworthy that, in the course of his long confinement during Her Majesty's pleasure, Midgeley was able to metaphorically keep abreast of current developments in research, although he often lamented the absence of the possibilities of ‘hands-on’ fieldwork in his replies.
It was not long after Midgeley's release that they collaborated on a paper which was presented at a reunion held at the summer residence of the Count of Foudre-les-Deux near Cap Ferrat in which they suggested the creation of the subspecies Mamma morena alba. This subspecies is now regarded as being the one to which the majority of specimens of England and northern Europe belong. On this trip they were both able to observe at close range specimens which closely resembled descriptions given from the type locality and were privileged to take biometric measurements of a captive specimen maintained by the Count himself, although it was apparently given to fits of hysteria when observed by strangers.
Sludgeworthy was also one the observers, along with some 200 more and thus proving that twitching is not a modern phenomenon, of the first British record of M. nigra on 24th December 1908 at the Finchley Music Hall. Sludgeworthy was, like the rest of the observers, overcome by excitement and failed to take the detailed notes. By the standards of modern ornithological requirements for a modern rarities committee there would have been doubt about the record but corroborative evidence was given by the heir to the Duchy of Cornwall and his accompanying party from the Brigade of Guards.
Until the early 1960s little more work of a scientific nature was done in northern Europe, most observers being unsuitably qualified amateur practictioners and certainly its distribution was little known. It was thought to be patchy at the very least and certainly related to climatic conditions although there was, and still is, a certain aberrance in its southern Scandinavian and north German origin. Since then much more work has been carried out on its populations and their distribution.
Evidence for population increase.
As noted above, the species was certainly rare throughout northern Europe until at least the middle of the 20th century and there is some scanty evidence that the same could be said for southern Europe also. This scarcity is attributed to the social mores as well as correlating with a lack of affluence and lack of suitable air travel.
However, since the mid 1950s and early 60s and coincident with the last two factors noted above, much work has been done on the distribution of the species and its populations, an expansion most visible on the northern shores of the Mediterranean Sea, although absent on the southern shores of that sea and in all countries of the Moslem faith (eg: Khomeini, A., 1980). Concurrent with the population increase has been a change in the habits of the species with a massive reduction in its timidity and where once shy and retiring it now positively flaunts itself (eg: Penthouse, 1965 et seq.; Playboy, 1961, et seq.).
The massive explosion of northern Mediterreanean populations, comprised in large part by the sporadic migratory habits of examples of northern European origin, seems to have occurred as a result of sudden social affluence and acceptance of the change in social liberty which has continued to the present and looks like continuing. There has been no such massive change in southern and western regions of North America and this appears to be governed by puritanical factors and it is still very often restricted to very localised areas with few inhabitants and an ample supply of sand dunes. Conversely, in South America and, notably, in Brazil it is often seen and the greatest affluence coincides with the carnival time where it is often observed in brilliant, if not scanty, partial plumages.
Subspecies and dominance
Taxonomically the existence of the superspecies M. morena remains open to discussion according to some authors. There seems to be little doubt that the original stock came from Africa as long as four million years ago and from which the other species developed (eg. Leakey et al., various publications), which means that M. nigra must have taxonomic priority, although in itself it was almost certainly a descendent of ignobilis. Actual development of M. morena appears to have taken place in Europe several tens of thousands of years ago, possibly as much as 750.000 years, and with subsequent migrations into northern Europe. M. occidentalis originated from ignobilis stock when some of the population migrated from eastern Asia into North and then South America in the last 25.000 years. There have also been small, localised migrations of orientalis in to the Americas in the past 150 years. Migration of morena into the same areas in the past 500 years and enforced migration of nigra took place in the period between 1600 and 1800.
The major irruptive waves of M. morena into Africa in the past 500 hundred years resulted in a struggle for dominance with the endemic M. nigra and it is only in the past 40 years that morena has lost its apparent dominance and nigra itself seems to be intent on wiping itself out.
The superiority of M. morena in the Americas has continued in most areas although demographic increase of nigra in the north has gone some way towards palliating the former dominance of morena. Former theories of specific dominance in both Europe and North America as proposed by A. Hitler in 1925 in Mein Kampf and by the KKK in North America are still to be found.
With exception of ignobilis, which is only just holding its own or generally declining in many areas of its range, there is ample evidence of the demographic increase of the remaining three species. In the case of orientalis there has been extreme fecundity which has resulted in population saturation in many parts of its range (eg. Japan, China and India) with the resultant habitat degradation. Evolution of nigra has had similar degrading environments results in many parts of its habitat although ultimately disease and genocidal tendencies are also reducing its population in several areas (eg. Somalia, Sudan and Ruanda). In the case of morena, demographic increase in Europe is stagnating and it has been postulated that this is favouring great demographic expansion of nigra in the years to come, as in many areas morena is showing a tendency to depend upon such input, although not necessarily favouring its full specific integration.
Races or morphs?
It has been suggested by several observers, largely as a result of field observations rather than by detailed biometric data and the handling of the species in the field, that there should be at least three races of Mamma, as indeed there are of the other species: maxima, media and minor. However, it has been shown that these morphological features are unstable from one generation to the next and that classification is impossible in juvenile females unless one wishes to emulate 'One-eye' Midgely, and it is not until the species is in virtually adult plumage that such assignation be effectively carried out. Even when adult, all races are highly vociferous and invariably reject and attempt at serious biometric measurement on a quantitative basis by casual observers, all of which factors pose grave problems, especially in the satisfactory determination of subspecific status where the case is borderline. It is, therefore, better to regard all the four species as polymorphic with regard to size.
The suggestion of subspecific status for the forms flaccidus and erectus is not regarded as valid. These are, in any case, preceded taxonomically by the same names in Homo sapiens, the former being a substitute for nointeressans and the second for excitans and this, in particular, is purely temporal on a very short-term basis. It is perhaps better to treat all of these as polymorphic variations, just as it is with undoubted colour morphs such as alba, ruber and pallidus.
However, it is still possible to arrive at some overall, although somewhat generalised, conclusions as to the classification and distribution of the species morena and nigra and the morphs of these from fieldwork in Europe and North America, as well as occasional casual evidence of vagrant orientalis, these mostly of Japanese origin, in both of those regions.
In the case of morena, the spread of the forms maxima, media and minor seems to be fairly evenly spread across the population, with regional preponderances of the first two on beaches in California, Florida and parts of the Mediterranean. In the case of nigra, there are big differences, the most well known being the so-called 'mammy' phase of monumental proportions, often shown in old Hollywood films (eg. 'Gone with Wind', 1939), which is still to be found in parts of the southern USA and Caribbean. However, this seldom extends to the native African population where wide scale malnutrition makes this morph somewhat difficult to encounter except on a very localised basis in specimens at the very top of hierachal scale. It is interesting to speculate what might happen should the nutritional availability change, which seems most unlikely on the basis of current evidence. The species orientalis appears to vary between media and minor, maxima being extremely rare and and virtually unknown in Europe, its natural shyness making field encounters difficult.
The concurrence of the morphs alba and ruber appears to occur only in morena as far as is known, the presence of these being present in orientalis is still under investigation. The morph alba is nothing more than a leucistic or even albinistic form of morena. Detailed research along the shore of the northern Mediterranean has conclusively shown that, when subject to prolonged exposure to ultraviolet light, irrruptive members from northern Europe show a transient period, more or less prolonged, of the morph ruber. The colouration of this phase varies between a pale pink and bright scarlet before finally attaining the brown shades of a typical morena. Such u/v exposed specimens often exhibit a strong dermal moult. It is interesting to note that endemic Iberian specimens show less evidence of the ruber morph and rapidly move through this to the morena morph.
There is, in virtually all cases, a strong correlation between the 25ºC isotherm and distribution, although certain Nordic specimens have been observed at lesser temperatures. Studies along northern Mediterranean shores show that as the ambiental air temperature increases, so does the number of specimens in any given area of sandy shore. Along the southern Mediterranean shore this species is never observed as all potential records have been strongly suppressed by the religious authorities, these being encouraged in some regions by the use of lapidation.
There is always a strong winter loss of colour from September or early October onwards, although there are occasional winter specimens to be seen without any loss of the morena plumage. These may be found in sheltered sites when the weather is fine and sunny and wind protection is available but with the increasing awareness of skin cancer possibilities, there appear to be fewer of these in recent years (unless they have already succumbed).
The first spring records usually occur on fine, sunny days from late March onwards with the appearance of the first alba and occasional ruber morphs. although this is usually regained rapidly in spring from March or April onwards in the case of Iberian specimens, these often reaching full morena status by late May or early June in the case of the more advanced specimens, and this lasts until as late as October in many cases.
More detailed study shows a much greater incidence in favoured areas from mid May onwards. Maximum abundance occurs from mid June and especially between mid July and the end of August. This abundance is coincident with localised Iberian irruptive movements and also longer range ones from northern Europe to the Mediterranean coasts. During this period, large quantities of all morphs in their many combinations may be easily observed without the aid of optical apparatus at very close range from mid morning onwards (sunrise plus 4 hours) until sunset.
Numbers decline quantitatively during September and by the end of that month there are fewer to be seen. Remaining specimens are often geriatric examples, often in a state of advanced decay. Selective culling of these geriatric specimens as a deterrent and with the aim of keeping a healthy and attractive breeding stock has often been suggested but authorities are quick to decline such ideas.
Warning The use of optical apparatus in the flocking areas should be undertaken with care, as irate mates have been known to be extremely aggressive. In such case, long range work should take place.
The elevation of the morphs maxima, media and minor to subspecific label is not recommended. This is seen as a folly and a sop to 'splitters', most of whom must also be 'twitchers' without the necessary stamina to carry out prolonged fieldwork, tied as they are to their car steering wheels or other forms of transport.
Until such time as future research shows it feasible, observers will have to be content with seeing the species Brown Tit Mamma morena with, for example, morphs media and ruber visible in the same specimen. Splitting serves only to confuse the issue, which is the continued enjoyment of field observation by all watchers until they go blind or insane. It is strongly recommended that intensive fieldwork be carried out in order to closely monitor future trends.
Warning The use of optical apparatus in the flocking areas should be undertaken with care, as irate mates have been known to be extremely aggressive. In such case, long range work should take place.
Although the temperatures belied it, there were ornithological signs of movement and the place was crawling with Chiffchaffs, there had obviously been a decent fall, and the same fall brought in the first Black Redstarts, Song Thrushes, Meadow Pipits and Skylarks of the autumn that I have seen (I am well aware that others who read have been out more and probably seen all of these at this date). Cormorant numbers continue to crawl upwards and there were 5 Spoonbills, one of which bore a set of colour rings and I am awaiting the data on this bird - I sent the e-mail 10 minutes since and such is the efficiency of Otto that I may have its history by the time I finish this off! (See note at the end.) The Osprey was in its usual tree and we saw a single Booted Eagle and a Peregrine Falcon overflew, apart from the usual Kestrels.
For waders, it was about as exciting as watching paint dry - 2 Greenshanks, 3-4 Common Sandpipers and a less frequent Green Sandpiper, a couple of Avocets and the same number of Snipe, and the single Oystercatcher that has been hanging around for several weeks now, plus a few Stilts and a couple of imm. Little Ringed Plovers. Add to those the usual selection of gulls and good views of the Southern Grey Shrike which is still with us, and that's the lot.
Short and sweet, but that's the way it goes sometimes. Good birding!
NOTE: Told you Otto was fast, the Spoonbill was ringed as a chick on the Dutch island of Terschelling on 13 June this year.
This time the late start (1045) was my fault as I had been with the Reichfüherin to health centre for anti-flu vaccinations and they were running late. Most of the birding was actually fairly run of the mill the stuff, nothing really outstanding but one or two nice bits such as the colour ringed Spoonbill - there were actually 7 around - and, as usual, I had a reply about its provenance (a juvenile ringed in Holland this year) from the super-efficient Otto Overdijk who runs the European Spoonbill colour ring network.
As for raptors, the same very attractive female Marsh Harrier, photoed last week, was still around and David has reminded me that they saw a second female after I had pushed off in search of sustenance and I also saw one of them again yesterday and today when walking by the river with the dog. . We also saw another very dark and by now rather late Honey Buzzard, plus, of course, the Osprey which spent a lot of time flying around with a fish slung like a torpedo under its body and a Booted Eagle (I saw a dark phase bird fly over when by the river yesterday afternoon).
There were quite a lot of Willow/Chiffs around, all that I managed to specifically identified appeared to be Willow Warblers. It was nice to see a Robin, I've also got one that has taken up residence in my garden and I found one dazed by the roadside this Monday, which fortunately recovered. Also, lots of Greenfinches and Goldfinches, as well as good numbers of Fan-tailed Warblers (a.k.a. Zitting Cisticolas, I've made my feelings clear on this name before). Ann was happy to get pretty good views of the electric blue rump and also other parts of a Kingfisher which several times shot across in front of us like an Exocet missile.
Numbers of Cormorants and Grey Herons are on the increase, as is to be expected, and this week I've had counts of up to >60 of the former, and it was nice to see 4 Black-necked Grebes amongst the masses of Little Grebes. After the dearth of waders last week, it was nice to see at least some of the usual ones, including 2 each of Turnstones, the ever elegant Greenshanks and Little Ringed and Kentish Plovers, a solitary Oystercatcher and also 1 each of Curlew Sandpiper and Dunlin, 4 Avocets, as well as at least 3 Common Sandpipers.
The total: 47 spp. if I have added up correctly.
Now for other odds and sods. I have already mentioned the increases noted in Cormorants and the Robins. The same afternoon, 15 October, I saw a solitary Barn Swallow on full afterburn heading westwards towards the Strait and in the garden this week I have had several Willow/Chiffs and also some Blackcaps, although getting a good view of the latter is difficult as they tend to shoot into the densest part of a tree or bush in a kamikaze-like dive.
In the Strait of Gibraltar they are still seeing Rüppell's Vultures and it is worthwhile remembering that the Griffon Vulture passage, several thousand of them, will be moving in that direction between now and the beginning of November, so don't be surprised if you see some where normally you would not expect to do so. Young ones get exhausted quite easily and are often found sitting on buildings or even in the middle of the road! I once saw a string of an estimated 800 or so down near Tarifa and as I was sufficiently daft to go through them one by ten, I found a juvenile Bearded Vulture / Lammergeir which had joined them and great was the joy!
The most interesting bird to be reported is,without any doubt, a House Bunting, seen and photographed in calle de Los Huertos in Nerja on 13 October by a Danish birder. This is, I believe, only the second Spanish record. If anyone living in that area feels lke going around and having a walk around and hits gold,I'd love to hear of it, preferably with a photo to help clinch the identification.
And as there no photos this week, I attach one not very good one of one of the skua plates for the book to titillate your jaded appetites. Good birding!