31 March, Fuente de Piedra

Another day out, this time with Dave and Chris Sowter - he a gull ringer and also Seabird Group member, which is a major part of the seabirder mafia to which my sister refers, and Dave and Anne from Nerja with whom they are staying. It was frankly grey on arrival at Fuente de Piedra but the sun eventually broke through and we enjoyed the sunshine which showed the lake and surrounds in all its glory and also some really great birding, even if there weren't too many gulls for Dave to see! I was also able to talk, possibly for the last time, with one of the guards, Rafael, who I have known for over 25 years and who will be retiring soon, after which time it will be not very litle that I see him again.

Flamingos first, very large quantities of 'em, thousands and thousands, scattered all over the lake, heaven knows how many but sufficient to think that searching for Lesser Flamingos might be a needle in haystack job, and I think that the two Daves thought so too. It actually took little time to find them, four together with another pair a few hundred metres away (=6 birds) and they really do stand out, even at well over half a kilometre or more. So, what else was there? The simple reply is LOTS and LOTS!

There were plenty of Yellow Wagtails - three races of males, the British flavissima, the Blue-headed flava and the Spanish iberiae, all of which are worth looking at in superb fresh plumage and which left me withg the distinct impression that they were moving through. A single Woodchat Shrike was knocking around, it'll probably breed in the area. There were lots of Pallid and Common Swifts moving through and feeding en route, sweeping through low and fast and plenty of Barn Swallows and a single Red-rumped, apart from House Martins.

The new layout and scrapes for waders are really proving their worth. Between them and the lake side itself there were plenty of waders, by far the most common numerically being Little Stint, well over a hundred of them, some few Dunlins and Redshanks, the inevitable Black-winged Stilts and also Avocets also busy shouting their heads off. There were half a dozen or so Ruffs (males) - have you ever noticed how small the head seems in proportion to the body?, and a single smaller Reeve (female in in the rather old English with which I grew up and which nobody seems to use nowadays), and also a similar number of Black-tailed Godwits. There were all the three species of small plovers : Kentish of which the males have a lovely little ginger crown to the head, Little Ringed and a single male Ringed Plover, as well as a Lapwing, which is also a plover and used to be called Green Plover in some circles years ago, like at the end of the 19th century, which is before my time even!! (Useless information a speciality!)

There was a single male White-headed Duck on the lake behind the newly reformed information centre, which is due to reopen around May-June time I understand, and a flock of 80+ Shovelers resting by the lake. The earlier Gull-billed Terns flew over, noisy as usual, and there was a single Whiskered Tern hawking over one of the new scrapes, plus a single Black-headed Gull had obviously taken up watching humans on the path.

We saw a female Marsh Harrier, rather distant I admit, and I missed a male Montagu's Harrier while driving which the four behind did not!! Aaagh, there's always something ... but who cares after a very good morning's birding in very pleasant company! It's what makes life worthwhile.


Sunday morning at the Guadalhorce; Lesser Flamingos; Brazo del Este

This is just a quicky note after a short visit to the Guadalhorce this morning after losing an hour's sleep with the time change to see (a) birds and (b) friends, or should it be the other way around? Not that there was a lot to see, certainly less than on Thursday when I was there and it was cooler too, more so as the morning progressed and the wind got up.

There are still a few Cormorants knocking around, all immatures as far as I could see, and the Osprey too remains. Antonio Miguel told of a couple of Pratincoles having been seen on Friday and Saturday, along with up to 5 Black-eared Wheatears and a single Northern Wheatear, but were they there this morning? Were they hell! And the Spanish Sparrows of a few weeks sicne have shoved off too. It's alright having Nightingales singing and Serins bouncing all over the place, but one requires a little more stimulus at times. And as fortune favours the bold/lucky/brave/stupid (take your pick) the stimuli came in the shape of first a Whiskered Tern which was still gaining breeding plumage and looked a little pale, and the second was a small flock of 6 Gull-billed Terns which flew inland up the river, presumably on their way to the lake at Fuente de Piedra where they breed.

Talking of Fuente de Piedra, Peter Jones of the Andalucian Bird Society tells me of no less than 7 (yes, seven) Lesser Flamingos seen there yesterday, 28 March. I am due to be up there on Tuesday, so I shall keep my fingers crossed.

Now that I have my Zeiss scope back from the Zeiss Krankenhaus in Deutschland, observation with a scope takes on a new meaning, not that I am knocking the little Nikon by any means, it's a great little scope.

Brazo del Este (Sevilla) (it's in our 'Where to watch ...' guide): Paco Chiclana has just posted a note about his observations there today, species including Grasshopper Warbler, Reed and Great Reed Warblers, Whiskered Terns and Pratincoles. After the rains there are goodly numbers of waders. There is also a colour-ringed Marabou Stork! Ye gods, Africa is here again.


A busy few days (3)

This is the third and final part under this heading and refers to Friday, 27 March, when I enjoyed the company of Federico Vallés, one of our Guadalhorce domingueros, on a trip to Tarifa and La Janda. A total list of some 50 spp., which gives some idea of the luck we ran.

The first stop was at the Los Lances beach where there wasn't an awful lot, a few Audouin's Gulls, a very smart gull and some Kentish and Ringed Plovers, as well as a very smart Sandwich Tern in full breeding plumage. I had hoped for some Yellow Wagtails but only one dared show its face.
From there it was a dash to Bolonia to see what could be seen in the way of rare swifts, either the White-rumped caffer or the even rarer Little affinis. The view down towards the Strait and Morocco was stunning but birds were distinctly on the scarce side. A Wren churred briefly and we nly heard a few warbled notes from the resident Blue Rock Thrush which steadfastly refused to show itself. There were several Griffon Vultures knocking around and the first of the few Black Kites that we saw during the day but not a swift with white rump in sight until finally a pair of Little Swifts hove into view, made two or three high speed passes and were gone, but at least Federico was happy as it was a new species for him.
He was even happier within 5 minutes of leaving as a male Cirl Bunting on the right nearly got itself run over but did oblige for happy snaps time. Another new one for him!
After that it was time for a quick coffee down at the San José del Valle bar and then on to one of my favourite sites, La Janda.
The former rice paddies of last year - los arrozales - were as dry as bone, much to my surprise, and there was an enormous lack of waders - we saw only a single Wood Sandpiper all day there - and the same could be said for the raptors, which were generally few and far between.

We did see some raptors as we went over the top
towards Benalup but nothing in great numbers, a few Griffons, a handful of Black Kites moved north and ditto of Booted Eagles of both morphs. We only saw one harrier all day, a nice adult female Marsh Harrier, and not a single Montagu's. There were the ubiquitous Kestrels, of course, and and one or two Short-toed Eagles which sat on the top of the electricity pylons and surveyed the universe as usual..

Of the smaller birds, the LBJs, a few Nightingales were singing, Fan-tailed Warblers were busy zitting their way around the sky, the Corn Buntings did their wonderful impersonations of rusty hinges in what might be loosely described as a song by the generous. There were very few Calandra Larks and a few Crested Larks, while Stonechats were terribly busy doing everything as they always do, and the best was probably the single female Spectacled Warbler.

A busy few days (2)

Part 2, referring to yesterday, 26 March, when I went down to the Guadalhorce in the morning along with Bob Wright who had ventured down from his retreat and in the mountains to spread wisdom amongst the heathens.
We couldn't locate any of the Spanish Sparrows which have been seen in recent weeks but the male Garganey which has been around for ages and which seems to believe that it is a Shoveler is still around. A pair of Teal were still present too, possibly the last ones, and the male White-headed Ducks remain in a high state of hormonal excitement.
Raptors were represented by the Osprey which is still hanging around. Will it go north soon? An adult female Marsh Harrier was present, as were two Booted Eagles but I suspect that these were more probably migrants rather than birds which have wintered in the area.
Water levels remain far too high for waders,although there were 40+ Black-winged Stilts, including the colour ringed bird we saw last year and also a week or so ago, this from a defunct French programme whose operator has closed down the relevant e-mail address, a real pain in the butt for those who wish to know from where these birds come. There was one Common Sandpiper which wasn't allowed any peace by the highly aggressive Little Ringed Plovers. Some 23 Sanderlings were resting on the beach.
On the migrant side, there was some movement of Bee-eaters, more often heard rather than seen as they travel at great height but their chirruping calls give them away. The bird of the day was undoubtedly a smashing little male Black-eared Wheatear.

A busy few days (1)

Things have been a bit on the slightly busy side of life since 18 March, which was when the Paterson family took off en masse to touristically destroy Tenerife in three short days, a situation which is not conducive to much birding by myself but I did manage a bit, as the few photos of birds will show and the first shot, of the dormant volcano Teide will show that I was indeed there.

The weather was not of the best, with plenty of low, grey cloud and rain, but I saw and managed to photograph a male Blue Chaffinch, with 3 males at less than 5m range, and also an hyperactive Berthelot's Pipit.

Good birds seen but not photographed included Canary Islands Blue Tit, a very attractive little chap with a dark, almost ultramarine, blue cap, and Canary Islands Chiffchaff.

On the seabirds side, on the Teresitas beach near Santa Cruz, this adult Lesser Black-backed Gull (there is a small breeding number in the Canaries) making up to a Yellow-legged Gull which looked like the atlantis race to me.

And last, but not least, in the gardens of the Loro Parque in Santa Cruz, this rather fine lizard which looked incredibly prehistoric and reminded me, not of my late mother-in-law (which is what you were expecting me to say, admit it!) but of an English comic - so-called and possibly defunct - by name of Les Dawson.

Arboleas Birding Group at María

Another missive from Dave and Gilly on the Almería group's exploits, this time to the area of Sierra María.

Thursday 26/3/09 - Trip to MARIA The weather forecast was for a sunny cloudless sky, and for once they were dead on. Four members of the group, plus two guests headed for our favourite mountain patch, the Sierra de Maria. Having met for breakfast at the garage cafe in Maria, we proceeded (sorry, this is beginning to sound like a statement in my previous life!) to the botanical garden just outside the town.
A wander round the chapel didn't produce anything of significance. Unlike some birders
I'm not that interested in the insect world, but we were confronted by one of those hovering bees. It would not move, so after a lot of jiggling with the camera I got a photo......who was watching who? Amazing!
As we walked up to the garden's information centre a pair of Woodlarks were chasing each other and we saw the first of many Rock Buntings. Inside the forest we caught glimpses of Coal, Blue & Great Tits. The only migrant warblers that had arrived were Subalpine Warblers, one of which I managed to get a snap of. Short-toed Treecreepers were quite obliging, as was a Stonechat. At the "La Piza" recreation area, numerous Crossbill were hanging round the water deposit.
Next we went to the ruined farm buildings where on arrival a Common Buzzard was seen,as were a pair of Raven. Rock Sparrows were presumably nesting in the buildings. A 4x4 stopped next to us and we were pleased to have been found by two British birders from Chirivel. They asked if we'd like to be taken to see where the vulture feeding site was. Of course we jumped at the chance and arranged to meet in Maria at lunchtime. The plains were pretty bare. Northern Wheatear and six Kestrels at the hamlet. So back to Maria we went. We met up with our new friends. We followed them back to the outskirts of Velez Blanco, where we turned left just before the quarry. Down we went into the valley to the left of the mountain we know as the "Old Woman's Molar". On the hillside to our left was a hut in an enclosure. As if on cue, our vehicles obviously having been spotted from a high altitude, a small group of Griffon Vultures descended to see if lunch had arrived! They were joined by a hovering Short-toed Eagle. Ten or so Griffons were soaring close to the mountain with Red-billed Choughs playing in the up-draughts. In the seven years we've been up this way, we never knew this feeding station was here. Obviously it'll be hit and miss with regards to being there when a carcass is left, but the Griffons don't know that either! We'll definitely be returning there, hopefully with our new local birders.

Dave & Gilly


18 March, Arboleas Bird Group

Apologies for this late post from Dave and Gilly of the Arboleas Birding Group's evening and feeding trip to Cabo de Gata on 18 March, but I have been away in foreign parts (Tenerife) where the weather was rubbish and the birding poor because I was with the family (God help me!), the only programmed trip, a short pelagic, falling apart because of the bloody boat company which couldn't be bothered to phone to confirm that it was on.

It was suggested for a change we'd visit our local favourite site, Cabo de Gata, in the evening. I'm sure it had nothing to do with "after-birding" meal!! Six members of the group travelled down the 100km. The weather was lovely and sunny, but the predicted gusty wind was a problem. The first hide, passed the village of Pujaire, wasn't very productive, even though the sun was, at that time of the day, not a problem. Avocet, Redshank, Little Stint, Kentish, Grey and Ringed Plover were seen. We also saw our first Pallid Swift of the year. "Little brown jobs" were keeping their heads down.
Arriving at the beach opposite the next hide, our view over the sea was reduced by the sun's glare. At the hide we could see 5 sleeping Spoonbill, two of which had rings on, but too distant for any numbers. We also saw Little Egret, Greenshank, Curlew, Stone Curlew & Black-winged Stilt. There were small numbers of Slender-billed, Yellow-legged & Audouin's Gull, but numerous Black Headed. Gilly counted 227 Greater Flamingo.
At the public hide all of the more common waders were seen, including a very nice Black-tailed Godwit in breeding plumage. A Yellow Wagtail was spotted & a few Sandwich Terns flew over. Round the rear of the reserve, very little was seen unusually. The sun was in the wrong place and a distinct lack of birdlife. We did see a large combined flock of Pallid Swifts, Red-rumped & Barn Swallows.

A total of 41 for the evening and, oh yes, the meal was great!!

Dave & Gilly


a quickie at the Guadalhorce

I hadn't intended going down to the Guadalhorce again until tomorrow when I should have been with Bob Wright and his group but circumstances beyond my control have intervened - my apologies to his group.

Sooo, when Xulio, who is from Galicia, rang to say that he was down with his wife, Esther, and could we meet, it didn't take much thought to agree. And a very pleasant couple of hours we had along with mutual friend Salva García, an ardent gull ring reader and for whom none gull species hardly exist.

Best birds first in this very brief report: 3 male Garganeys (lovely) and a female; at least 15 male White-headed Ducks in a high state of hormonally induced excitement (an important number if one remembers that the Guadalhorce hosts about 30% of the total Andalucian population); a single Tree Pipit, a pair of female/immature weavers, probably the Black-headed, starting to build a nest and an immaculate male Black-eared Wheatear of the black-throated form.

WARNING: the dreaded TICK season has started, it was early last year and even earlier this, so examine trousers regularly, remember they can be seen more easily against paler colours. And while there are flocks/herds/swarms in the sunshine, as the sun fell there was, at a conservative estimate, some 25 billion to the power 25 mosquitos in the air, some of which were hungry, and normally they never bite me.


it's all happening...

Yes, spring is definitely here, the little birds are singing and doing what little birds (and big ones too) are supposed to do, and I, like most of you, am missing some of them. So, off we joolly well go with birds and pieces.

First, Antonio Miguel, Patricia, Gonzalo Lage and the ineffable Kirri went to Almería on Thursday, the best being a large - I suppose over 300 birds is large - flock of Garganey, a truly bonny duck and one I always like to see, ever since the first male about 1957-58 at the Beacon Ponds north of Spurn Point, East Yorkshire, one ghastly late March afternoon. This insignificant flock was at the salinas de Cerrojillos, Roquetas de Mar. They also managed to contact with c.20 Dotterel, a super little plover, at Las Almoladeras.

And now to things more local, like the Guadalhorce ponds in the past day or so. Last week I reported on one or two first migrants and in the past 48 hours there have been more firsts for the year. Yesterday, a male Northern Wheatear - interestingly one was at the London Wetlands Centre last week, long before ours. as in fine weather they just keep on flying and overshoot, and this morning a male Black-eared Wheatear and I missed both. On the other hand, I did connect with my first Woodchat Shrike of the season this warm morning and had the first 2 Short-toed Larks of the season, but missed a Sedge Warbler.

We came across a a nice flock of around 20 Yellow Wagtails, all but one males and a single female. This is the best time of year to see the males and the yellow on some of them is a stunning dayglo, and it's also interesting to try and sort out the races whilst they rabbit around in the long grass, a challenge if ever there was one! This morning's group included at least 5 flava, the Blue-headed, and 8-9 iberiae, the Spanish Wagtail, and the remainder we couldn't get a bead on. So far I have seen five races this spring, the others being singles of cinereocapilla - Ashy-headed, thunbergi - Grey-headed and a British race flavissima, the yellowest of the lot and sometimes known as the Yellow-headed. What we really need to see is the Black-headed feldegg from the Balkans and eastwards and which are fantastic. Only the males can be separated, females all look the same as far as we humans are concerned but fortunately the males know them! Mind you, hybrids do occur and the past couple of years there has been a male hybrid iberiae x flava holding a territory down at the ponds.

On the way out, just before noon when the great unwashed masses were entering in their droves, either on foot or on their bicycles with reluctant children in tow, a Nightingale uttered a few mellow notes.

I am down there again on Tuesday with Bob Wright and his birding group from the Axarquia and will leave it to him to write up in his blog http://birdingaxarquia.blogspot.com/ (copy this address and paste to get to it) as this will probably be my last blog for 10-12 days as the family Paterson is off to Tenerife for 3 full days when I hope to renew acquaintance with Blue Chaffinch and see the Tenerife races of Firecrest, Blue Tits and, especially, a brief pelagic to watch cetaceans and (I hope) some seabirds!

And on a last, happy, note, the digiscoping centre in Madrid has told me that my Zeiss telescope is back from Deutschland and ready for collection, so I shall have it in very short order and be happy to look through it again. Even the bill isn't exorbitant for what needed to be done and the chap in the shop tells me that it looks like new.


Lesser Flamingos en Fuente de Piedra.

More on the Lesser Flamingos. Manolo Rendón, long-time friend and excellent person, apart from being director at Fuente de Piedra, has been in contact today and has given me the following information (below the photograph) and the photograph of Araceli's, for which I am most grateful. As can be easily seen, the Lessers stand out like the proverbial sore thumbs!

A pair of Lesser Flamingos is breeding in the Flamingo colony (Phoenicopterus roseus) at Fuente de Piedra Lagoon (photograph by Araceli Garrido). In previous months six Lesser Flamingos were counted and three pairs were prospecting in the colony (J. M. Ramírez, A. Garrido and M. Rendón-Martos).

Manolo has commented that in his opinion, and who am I to disagree with one of the top experts, that there was no breeding in 2007 and 2008 and that it seems most likely that the Lessers that were seen incubating had probably appropriated an abandoned egg and nest of a Greater Flamingo.


Spring hath come!! Sunday at the Guadalhorce

Sounds nice, but it has this morning, as the birding has shown. On top of that of yesterday in the previous blog, what a good weekend I have enjoyed! So, up early, not windy, not cold, body more or less functioning and amenable to going out, so off I trotted to the Guadalhorce. ('One day you'll go and live there!' quote from the wife). And I was not in the least defrauded, quite the reverse.
The first bird to be seen was not unusual, although there do seem to be more than usual at the ponds, was a juvenile Corn Bunting, yes, a juvenile, with its mouth wide open, yellow gape visible and wing quivering at the adult birds nearby. A very early bird this one which we were to all see again later. And so to the hide at the Charco Grande, the Big Pond (we are so creative in naming!), where the Little Ringed Plovers are busily and very noisily claiming territory, while on the water a few male White-headed Ducks were getting their hormones in shape too. A couple of male Bluethroats showed, one briefly and the other halfway reasonably and by that time Antonio Miguel Pérez, Paco Rivera and Antonio Toro had arrived and as the 7 Garganey seen yesterday had gone, we trotted off to la Laguna Escondida, the Hidden Lake, and stopped to look at some sparrows.

Sparrows, I hear you scoffing, but during the week Antonio Miguel had seen a male Spanish Sparrow, an incredibly rare bird in the reserve and the first record that I can remember. The good are always rewarded and we were with not one but two males, one of which sat in the top of a bush and allowed itself to be scoped. On the way Antonio M. found a small snake (I forget which species) which was picked up and protested very vigorously at the indignity, trying to bite Antonio T. as he tried in turn tried to photograph it, my own best effort is here.

There was little of note in the Laguna Escondida and apparently not much in the Laguna de Casilla either, but once sitting comfortably in the hide and watching and listening there were two very pleasant early records, the first for the year in each case, of a single Sedge Warbler and a single Reed Warbler singing - it's amazing that so many birds, once they hit Europe, think it-s time to start singing. By that time the day was warming up nicely and it, for the first time, a case of sweater off and shirt sleeves all the way down to the seawatch mirador, there being bext to nothing in the way of waders as the water levels are still far too high, and thence homewards.

As a late post scriptum, I have just heard from Patricia that yesterday at the ponds there was a female Pintail, a pair of Red-crested Pochards and the first Woodchat Shrike of the year! The date's about right for it.


Fuente de Piedra

After a week of fairly rough weather with some rain, grey skies and wind in vast quantities, the metcast yesterday promised a reduction in wind strength and, dare I even think it, blue skies and sunshine! So, with that in mind, Bob Hibbett and I set forth for a short visit of less than 3 hours to Fuente de Piedra lake and surrounds this morning.
Mind you, we had doubts as when we left the skies were grey and lowering and there was a wind that could hardly be described as a zephyr. And by the time we were nearing the top of Las Pedrizas, the big road that goes up and up out of Málaga, we were in the clouds with foglights on and the wind buffeting the car, and thus it continued until we started on th downhill run at El Romeral which leads to Antequera and billiard table flat plain when the first faint rays of a reluctant sun illuminated the landscape.
There was nothing at the Laguna Dulce, Campillos, and that in spite of the first standing water that I have seen there in several years, testimony to the rains of this last month. So, from there on to Fuente de Piedra, first stopping at the west end to look down over the lake and with the very pleasant surpriseof a few little heads peering over a rise on the far side of the road- 6 Cranes which soon showed as being an awful lot more, around 60 or so to which can be added another 29 at Cantarranas, sum 89 plus birds which should be rather more north by now. As the birds that winter in the are are usually on their way north by the end of the third week in February, I suspect that these were from further south still, probably Morocco.
There were plenty of flamingos, little, distant, pink spots, in the lake but that didn't deter us scanning hopefully for signs of the Lesser Flamingos which have been reported and it didn't take long to locate two amongst the mass of widely spread Flamingos, of which there were some small flocks in full display with heads and necks extended and wing-flashing at each other. We found another two later on from the information centre mirador. Finding and identifying them isn't too difficult, the colouration is much richer, almost an orange-pink in sunlight, and they are much smaller than their larger relatives. There is an ongoing discussion as to the origin of these and some are certainly escaped birds, indeed we caught one during the 1998 (I think) ringing of the chicks which bore a collection ring - a stunning bird in the hand with its ruby-red eye. But, there are so many records that I, and many others, believe that some probably make their way up with our flamings which venture down as far as the Banc d'Arguin, Mauretania, where there is a colony of Lessers.
As to the other species, a small selection of waders including a couple of Green Sandpipers and 3-4 Redshanks, a few each of Little Ringed and Kentish Plovers, a single Ruff, a considerable number of Golden Plovers, 80-100 at a guesstimate, and about half that number of Lapwings. There was a flock of Little Stints, possibly as many as 50 but many were distant dots, amongst which 8 Dunlins mixed and 3 Black-tailed Godwits rounded off the waders of the morning.

The Yellow Wagtails are coming through now, and while last weekend I had a male Ashy-headed cinereocapilla, today we had the pleasure of a superbly coloured male of the iberiae race -the Spanish Wagtail - and another which was of the Scandinavian thunbergi race, also known as the Grey-headed Wagtail while I had a brief view of what I believe was a British Yellow Wagtail, the flavissima. Other passerines of interest included 2-3 late Song Thrushes and, I am almost certain, a single Redwing. There were plenty of hirundines in evidence and passage is now in full flow, especially as the sun emerged and the temperature jumped 10º - lovely to be in shirt sleeves this afternoon!

And as a PS, this week there have been several reports of Pallid Swifts in the Málaga area Indeed, on Wednesday I saw 4 near my home and on Thursday around 20 birds in the same area, one of which was prospecting a site where I know that several pairs breed.


eight days ... and no nights! (22-28 February)

Thought you may like the title for this blog, sounds a bit film-like, doesn't it? Starring myself as the overworked birder. It is a brief blog, this, as I really have been very busy, a large translation which took about 12 hours in bits and pieces, escorting visitors to the Guadalhorce ponds, a couple of visits to the doctors to see if first myself and then the wife were still alive (more or less, is the verdict), and trying to get on with the illustrations for the seabird book - they really do progress apace but as a sheet can take anything between a minimum of 5 and up to 10 hours, progress is not speedy!

So, starting last Sunday, 22 February, at the ponds for a couple of hours with the usual assortment of domingueros, we had the first 2 Red-rumped Swallows of the spring and plenty of Barn Swallows and House Martins, but still no Sand Martins. A single Water Rail showed briefly - when do they ever show for long? There were a few Little Ringed Plovers making a huge amount of noise and that was about it, as I wanted to get back and get some painting done, plus the fact that I was going to be there the following day.

Monday, 23 February, to the ponds again as an escort for Clara Coen from Chicago and Luis Robles who came along, having brought her in from Málaga. It was a grey morning but we saw the first Sand Martin (at last!) and she got good views of a Red-rumped Swallow sitting resting on the tamarisks along with the a bundle of other hirundines. On the way to the eastern arm of the river a Great White Heron/Egret (or whatever they are currently calling the damned things) gave brief views while on the pond a female Mallard appeared with her flotilla of early ducklings, these about 5 days old, I reckoned, and they kept coming and coming until 11 had paddled across in front of us. She must have started sitting right at the end of January. I managed to pick up an Iberian Chiffchaff on call, there were plenty of ordinary singing Chiffs around to compare and a good thing too, as I am not good on calls. We got good views of a nice male Yellow Wagtail (another spring first) of the cinereocapilla race, sometimes called the Ashy-headed Wagtail - very bonny. And by that time the morning had flown it was time to call it a day, Clara delighted with her morning's birding - another satisfied customer!

28 February, the ponds yet again in the morning and drizzle with Luis Aleixos - one of us seabirders who was down from Valencia on a brief visit and staying with Salva García, otherwise Señor Colour Ring himself. There was not a lot to be seen but the first 2 Pallid Swifts of the year overflew and we saw all 5 spp. of hirundines, which isn't bad! An Osprey in one of the dead eucalyptus showed its colour ring nicely, black KM7, a German ringed bird. In the afternoon we met at La Caleta de Vélez but there was no fishing fleet active, it being a Saturday, so we found little apart from 6 Balearic Shearwaters - conspicuous by their absence here this winter but Luis says they are all off the Valencia coast where he saw over 2.000 not so many days since, a single Kittiwake in the harbour and a flock of 26-27 Black-necked Grebes on the sea - very nice too.
The objective of Salva was to take Luis up to Viñuela reservoir, inland from Vélez-Málaga, where there are huge afternoon concentrations of Mediterranean Gulls, Salva has guesstimated figures of over 17.000 birds! I set off home (paint and paper called) and on the way passed under a flock of what I reckoned was around 3.000 birds! Many of the adult Med. Gulls are coming into full breeding plumage and they really are stunning birds to look at, and if you don't believe me, have a look in your field guide.
So, on the eighth day, 1 March, there was a day devoted to more painting and a brief excursion out with the dog under lowering skies about an hour since showed 2 more swifts (species unknown) winging their west.