29 April, Arboleas Birding Group visits El Fondo (Alicante)

The Arboleas Birding Group bravely ventured out Andalucía to visit the El Fondo reserve (it is also known as El Hondo, the Fondo is apparently in the valencian dialect) in Alicante province. Even though it is not in Andalucía or the coast, it is a place well worth a visit and therefore here is their account of their visit, which apart from the birds appears to be also a reserve for huge numbers of mosquitos, as the photo of Gilly in her beekeepers outfit but minus gloves testifies. (How were your hands, Gilly? - Dave has since informed me that she wore rubber gloves and even then one mossie penetrated!). Again, photos by Dave and many thanks for this account.

We left Arboleas at 5.30 am to get our friends to Alicante airport for 7.30. After a hasty breakfast we headed to the north gate of the El Fondo Parc Natural near Elche, where we were to be let in to the reserve by one of the rangers. Access has to be pre-booked at the information centre for a Wednesday or Saturday, I believe, from 0815 - 1130 hrs. We drove with the three other birders down to the furthermost hide. On the way down our first Cuckoo of the season flew over. Also to greet us were thousands of large mosquitoes.

As you can see from the photo of Gilly, we were pre-warned and well protected. From this first raised hide we had good views over the tops of the reeds to large pools on two sides. Great Reed Warblers were very visible and vocal. Cetti's and Reed Warblers were just as vocal. Numerous Pochard were seen, together with their less numerous Red-crested cousins. A pair of White Headed Duck made an appearance.

At least 3 Little Bitterns flew between reed islands. Hundreds, if not thousands, of Pallid Swifts were feeding above us, together with the darker Common Swift. Whiskered Tern, Black-winged Stilt and a solitary Greenshank flew by. A Moustached Warbler made a fleeting appearance. Gilly and I then headed to the next hide which overlooked an area of cut back reeds. A pair of Squacco Heron were in the open. Two Glossy Ibis flew over. The next hide gave great views over a large shallow lake and a huge area of wet marshland. Gilly counted 982 Greater Flamingos. There were hundreds of Black-winged Stilts, together with very numerous Little Egrets. A Marsh Harrier glided by and then Gilly spotted a distant Osprey sitting on a post. A flock of 100+ Sand Martins sat on nearby reed tops, resting. We the sauntered back to the first hide. A Bearded Reedling was glimpsed. A Purple Heron flew by. The sight of the day was another Osprey making three unsuccessful fishing attempts.

At the prescribed time we were "released" by the ranger and headed to the information centre, round which there is a raised walkway. A lot of
Zitting Cisticolas were in the air, but the high point was a very obliging Squacco Heron posing on a low fence by the track.

A 44 count, but what quality, and numbers of most species was mind boggling.

Dave & Gilly

Photos of Ruff in breeding plumage

In the last blog about our visit to Fuente de Piedra last Saturday, I promised the photos of the Ruff in breeding plumage which Angel had promised to send. They have just arrived and I am most grateful to him. So, here is one of the male and another of a colour ringed female, almost certainly of Dutch origin but I shall endeavour to find out, along with it.

I shall hope to be there this coming Friday around 0930.


Fuente de Piedra

To Fuente de Piedra this morning with Bob Hibbett and we couldn't have chosen a better morning. To put it simply, it was Fuente de Piedra at its best, absolutely outstanding, a morning to remember. But why? you ask, and the reply follows.

For a start off, a beautiful morning with little wind and the sun shining, then shore to shore solid with Flamingos, heaven knows how many but at a guesstimate, not less than 20.000 scattered the length and breadth of the laguna. And in addition 3 Lesser Flamingos were showing sufficiently well to be able to be sure that none carried a ring of any sort.

But it was the waders that stole the morning, all 17 species of them and many close, a paradise for wader watchers and a gift for those who are learning waders. All of these were concentrated in the relatively new fresh water flash between the entry from the village and the information centre car park, with a short walk around in front of the mirador. I don't think that Bob would disagree with me that it was spellbinding.

There were Little Stints everywhere, well over a hundred I would think, and many in beautiful breeding plumage. Bob wanted to see Temminck's Stint, he saw 2 at about 25m range! You name it, we saw it, except for the Pectoral Sandpiper which had been seen Thursday, and neither did we see a Spotted Redshank, which would have been nice.

There were Curlew Sandpipers in every state of plumage possible, but those which were already in full breeding plumage were downright gorgeous. Possibly the biggest surprise was the presence of 2 male Ruff in virtually full breeding plumage and another well on the way, even displaying as they would on the leks, superb. I think that this is the first time that I have ever seen them in this state of breeding plumage down here and Angel, who was photographing them, was over the moon and has promised me a photo in the next few days, which I shall incorporate later. I shall put a full list of the waders at the end, so as not to bore.

There were plenty of Gull-billed Terns floating around and also several Whiskered Terns, both very smart species. Less to my liking were a few Yellow-legged Gulls, mostly immatures, but a pair of adults looked as they could be taking up residence on one of the islands on the little lagoon behind the centre, which would be bad news as they rob flamingo eggs mercilessly. There too was a single Black-tailed Godwit and 3 Stone Curlews pretending that we couldn't see them, although one realised its error and flew off.

And just in case you think that we were only looking at waders, the countryside was spectacular with flowers. OK, diversion over, let's not get carried away, shall we? Back to birds.

There was a Great Reed Warbler singing away noisily in the pond by the second hide, a big bird for a warbler, easily seen as they get right up in the top of the reeds and the song is a very robust swee-swee-churr-churr-honk-honk sort of affair, definitely not the sweet song of a Nightingale, and if you look sufficiently hard you can see their tonsils while they sing their heads off!

To end off the morning, we went around the laguna and at the west end a male Montagu's Harrier came floating across the wheat, dropped down and then rose with a small rodent of some sort in its talons, which was spectacular from our point of view but I have a feeling that the little rodent couldn't have been too happy about it.

Wader list (in no order at all): Avocet, Black-winged Stilt, Little Ringed Plover, Ringed Plover, Kentish Plover, Redshank, Greenshank, Ruff, Little Stint, Temminck's Stint, Dunlin, Curlew Sandpiper, Wood Sandpiper, Common Sandpiper, Green Sandpiper, Pratincole (yes, these are waders!) Black-tailed Godwit.


24 April at the Guadalhorce and a PS.

Due to circumstances beyond my control (which means just about everything!) I didn't get to Tarifa today. Instead I was able to get a consolation prize in the form of the Guadalhorce along with Ann and David Jefferson, starting at the unholy hour of a very warm 11.30 and staying until about 1500 or thereabouts. For some reason that well known song about mad dogs, Englishmen and midday sun came to mind more than once as it was hot but, rather surprisingly given (a) the lateness of entry and (b) the heat and consequent shimmer when using the scope, we had a very pleasant walk around.

A trio of Shelducks, generally uncommon here, on the laguna grande started the morning off nicely, while a single Greenshank slept peacefully, undisturbed by a couple of Redshanks and even the normally hysterical Black-winged Stilts seemed less noisey, perhaps the heat of the sun? Ann saw a Spoonbill while I was looking the other way, the story of my life! Round at the laguna escondida there wasn't very much to see either, except for a Reed Warbler which briefly showed itself before diving head first into the thickest part of the reed bed, an immature Purple Heron - you don't see too many of those around - and a pair of Coots with three red-headed young. A Pratincole winged its way north and offered very brief views. There were goodly numbers of swifts, nearly all Common, moving through all the time while we went round to the east bank and there was not an awful lot to see from the first hide but at the second there was plenty.

were in the majority by a long way, some 34 in the whole of the area I reckoned, and some were very nervous, moving and caling a lot, what the German investigators in the 1930s called Zugunrühe or migratory restlessness, and I have a very strong feeling that many of them will not be around tomorrow morning. There has been a slight buildup of Ringed Plovers as these head north. Otherwise, a couple of Dunlin, another Greenshank- a total of 3 during the morning, nice views of a Wood Sandpiper and a single shy Curlew Sandpiper and one Sanderling. It was while watching the Curlew Sandpiper that 2 little balls of fluff with legs shot past at mach 0.9, running after mummy no doubt, baby plovers but heaven knows of which species, Kentish or LRP. And to finish off the morning, although it was well in to lunch time period, a Pratincole, perhaps the same as before.

It was also nice to run into two flocks of Spanish school children, adolescents, who in the main seemed to be interested in what the teacher was saying (except for one couple whose hormonal levels were about the same level as those of the Little Ringed Plovers) and who were not making any noise at all, unlike many I have had the misfortune to run in to there and at other sites. As we commented, if only one becomes interested, then their visit had achieved its purpose.

PS: Yesterday, 23 April, Paco Chiclana and some birders from Sevilla saw a Long-legged Buzzard on La Janda (Cádiz province) where I should have been today.


a few records and the Arboleas Birding Group to 23 April

Once again, not a lot of my own observations as I have not been out, although observations from the terrace include a female Spectacled Warbler playing hard to see on 13/04 and on 14/04 a Woodchat Shrike and a Nightingale, this strutting around on the grass as though it owned the place.

Yesterday, 22 April, Javier Fregenal (in avesforum) visited Fuente de Piedra and enjoyed some 14 spp. of waders, including a Pectoral Sandpiper on the new water flash in front of the mirador by the information centre, plus 43 Ruffs (and, one presumes, Reeves), 72 Curlew Sandpipers and 71 Little Stints amongst the best. And for those who are interested in these things (me), two pairs of Lesser Flamingos appear to be involved in incubation duties. Will they breed this year?

And now for the report of 22 April from the Arboleas Birding Group kindly provided by Dave and Gilly. As usual, the photos are Dave's. We also had a very thick fog here in Torremolinos in mid afternoon.

Arboleas Birding Group - 22nd April 2009 - Cabo de Gata
The sun was shining as Gilly and I left Arboleas, but as we approached Cabo de Gata we drove into a sea mist which was with us on & off all day. At the first hide the highlight was a pair of Oystercatcher amongst the numerous Avocet, the Black-winged Stilt, Kentish Plover and Redshank. Red-rumped Swallows were commoner than the Barn Swallow.
The sea conditions were ideal for birdwatching. Virtually a flat calm, but unfortunately the sea mist restricted long distance views and in any case we saw nothing! At the next hide Gilly's count of Greater Flamingo only produced 60 odd birds.

At the public hide we had good views of a female Subalpine Warbler. Three Common Tern and a single Little Tern were seen. High flying and very noisy Sandwich Terns were abundant. A small flock of Lesser Short-toed Larks flew over.

After a birdless trip to the lighthouse we ventured round the rear of the reserve. The track was very muddy and rutted. We were glad we were in our 4x4 and apparently no vehicles had travelled that route recently. Lots of waders had been undisturbed. Redshank, black Spotted Redshank stood out, Sanderling, Ringed Plover, Grey Plover, Dunlin, Little Stint, Greenshank, but the stars of the show were Curlew Sandpipers in breeding plumage. 100+ Audouin's Gulls flew over. On the scrub Crested Lark were very obliging. A single Northern Wheatear was seen and three Stone Curlews were put to flight on our arrival. A very good count of 45 species.

Next week we're dropping friends off at Alicante Airport, so are visiting El Hondo reserve near Elche, which I hear is now fully open.

Dave & Gilly

A jolly good day's wadering, both there and at Fuente de Piedra, although I would disagree with Dave about the stars being the Curlew Sands., they are in a supporting rôle when compared with summer plumaged Spotted Redshanks. Hopefully I am off to the Tarifa-La janda area tomorrow and might have something good to report!


Arboleas Birding Group - 15th April 2009, Sierra de Maria

Thank God for Dave and Gilly and the Arboleas Birding Group, or this blog would be an awful lot poorer! Here is their latest excursion report, plus a pair of Dave's smashing photos of male Northern and Black-eared Wheatears, this latter being one of the black-throated form.

It was with great anticipation that Gilly and I left Arboleas in full sunshine on our way up to the Sierra de Maria. The sun was still shining as we passed Velez Blanco, where to our right we spotted 14 Griffon Vultures soaring on a thermal near to the feeding station. On the road from there to María town we saw the first of numerous Black-eared Wheatears. We met up with Brian and Mary from Chirivel at the garage cafe and then headed to the Botanical Gardens.

Our weather luck changed dramatically as we were wandering
round the chapel. Grey clouds were pouring over the rapidly disappearing mountain ridge like a waterfall and depositing an increasingly heavy shower upon us before we retreated to the safety of our cars we did manage to see Linnet and Cirl Bunting. At the La Piza recreation area we were greeted by
a Booted Eagle and a Raven having a
dogfight low above our heads. Loads of Crossbills were loitering above the water deposit and the first of numerous Woodchat Shrikes was seen, as was a single Crested Tit. After a warming coffee there we headed onto the plain where Calandra and Lesser Short-toed Larks were displaying. Corn Buntings were highly visible and audible. A pair of Northern Wheatears showed themselves as did a Little Owl. Brian and Mary then showed us a route back over the mountain ridge to Chirivel. Numerous Black-eared Wheatears and Woodchat Shrikes were seen, as was a small flock of Red-billed Chough through the low clouds. Even though the weather was against us we scored 41 species.

We were glad to warm up
back in Arboleas where the sun had shone all day!!


03-12 April

I have already intimated that for the foreseeable future (until the end of July, very probably) I shall be dedicated to trying to get 88 sheets of illustrations finished for my magnum opus seabird identification guide, which means that blogs with my own input will be weekly and will only be relieved by interesting stuff from Dave and Gilly and the Arboleas Birding Group. So, this is the first and covers from 3-12 April and refers mostly to the Guadalhorce.

03 April: Down at the ponds with Dave and Chris Sowter - he a gull ringing expert -and Dave and Anne Jefferson from Nerja, we being later joined by Salva García, an avid gull ring reader who was keen to meet Dave (and vice-versa). A very pleasant afternoon's birding and talking about gullss and colour ringing of said gulls, plus some earlyish Curlew Sandpipers, a couple of Avocets and a single Greenshank, at least 7 Northern Wheatears including 5 super males which were then outshone totally by a male Black-eared Wheatear.

05 April: Sister rang from England to say the first Sand Martins had returned to the big colony near where she has a big caravan on the East Yorkshire coast, 3 yesterday and ca.40 today. She has her uses!!

08 April: Took wife and dog for walk along the beach in front of the Guadalhorce and apart from 5 Turnstones, a single Pratincole which came in off the sea. The photo is of the dog.

10 April: Early on, a single Bonelli's Warbler stayed around feeding in the one remaining pine in the garden for half an hour, and later on when I went for the bread I looked skywards, an automatic reflex for an birder, to not only see a maelstrom of swifts and also 3 Sparrowhawks circling round as they moved eastwards.

11 April: Patricia, Federico et al. went down to the ponds and saw a single male Redstart and also a Wryneck, but not a lot else.

12 April: I had to get out this morning after a solid week of painting, so met Bob Wright and later Bob Hibbett, so down to the ponds! And was it worth it? Hell, yes. For a start, 10 species of waders which included all 3 spp. of small plovers, at least 15 Redshanks, a nice Wood Sandpiper and a pair of resting Whimbrel, but later a fly-over of a flock of 13 Whimbrels, lovely and of course the camera was in the rucksack. We watched a pair of female weavers, probably Black-headed, by the laguna Escondida, lots of swifts of both common species. We saw no wheatears nor any of the pratincoles that had been seen yesterday but there are still some Yellow Wagtails around and at least 4 Woodchat Shrikes in the area. Birds come in, rest and are off very quickly most of the time.

A small Acrocephalus warbler with an odd song had us confused and was not showing itself at all and thoughts of a possible Marsh ran through Bob Hibbett's head but after listening to song on the internet we have ruled it out as an oddball Reed Warbler.

As we were leaving two Purple Herons flew over, another first for the year. So, on now with some painting. I'll be in touch.


8 April 2009, Arboleas Birding Group - Las Norias & Roquetas

As I am putting in anything up to 12 hours a day on illustrations for the seabird guide, my birding for the foreseeable future is going be (a) limited and (b) very briefly written up in this blog. I am, therefore, most grateful to Dave and Gilly for their account of the exploits of the Arboleas Birding Group, and for the photos by Dave.

A lovely sunny day and hardly any wind, so the five group members were looking forward to a good days birding, starting at Las Norias and finishing at Roquetas. As we arrived at the first causeway we were greeted by trillions of midges & mosquitoes who were also enjoying the good weather. On the water there were numerous Great Crested Grebes and a few Black-necked Grebes looking very dapper in their breeding plumage. There were a couple of Gadwall, a dozen or so Pochard and a similar amount of Red-crested Pochard. On the wader front a Common Sandpiper was seen and a pair of very loud Black-winged Stilts flew over.
Numerous Cattle Egrets were heading towards the heronry, so we followed them round. The shrubs situated over the water were a mass of white. The place was full of breeding Cattle Egrets. Amongst them, the grey and black colours picked out the nesting Night Herons. Difficult to estimate numbers, but I should guess at around about 100 Egrets and a dozen Night Herons. A few Squacco Herons were seen to fly in and disappear into the white mass.
A few Whiskered Terns were fishing over the water, on which were small groups of Shoveler and White-headed Ducks. To our relief, when we got to the second causeway near the plastic recycling factory, a breeze had removed most of the flying insects. On the gravel island were 16 Collared Pratincoles and a few Black-winged Stilt. Mary, one our of new members from Chirivel, spotted a sleeping wader. Luckily it decided to stretch its wings and shake its head - a Bar-tailed Godwit - our bird of the day! We then headed to Roquetas and were glad to see a Short-toed Eagle on the way as was the Spanish driver who nearly rear-ended Dave's car!
As I was the only one with a 4x4 I took Brian and Mary to the pool along the bumpy track so they could see the Red-knobbed Coot, who appeared thinking we might have some food. On the main water, a Purple Gallinule was glimpsed on the reed edge and a count of the Greater Flamingos there produced 178. Five distant, and sleeping as usual, Spoonbills were seen.
Ended the day with 43 species.

Dave & Gilly