31/12/10

28 December, Laguna Dulce and Fuente de Piedra

This will be the last post for 2010. Late yet again but I didn't want particularly to interfere with that of Dave on the same date from Cabo de Gata. So before starting and finishing off what will be a brief one.

This last Tuesday I took an ex-colleague and his father, an 80+ birder, on a brief morning trip around the laguna Dulce (Campillos) and to Fuente de Piedra in order to show im something different. It was a still morning, no wind but very humid and a slightly misty, diaphanous look about everything until late in the morning.

The laguna Dulce was remarkably devoid of waterbirds after the huge numbers of recent months and upon which I have commented here.For example, the 92+ White-headed Ducks I counted back on 13 November had reduced to no more than 5 or 6 birds visible - which may be why numbers are starting to rise at the Guadalhorce with a pre-breeding dispersal to the breeding areas, and numbers of everything else have fallen by, I reckon, at least 20 fold. In fact, the only species of which the numbers had risen was the Lapwing, while there were some Black-necked Grebes and Pochards way out on the laguna and a small band of Flamingos way over. There were at least 2, probably 3, Marsh Harriers but not a single Little Bustard to be seen. I rather suspect that there is too much disturbance for them at the present time.

At Fuente de Piedra I was particularly interested in showing them the Cranes and not just distant views but nice and close and neither they, nor myself,were to be disappointed, as the photographs below illustrate and of which we had splendid views.






As usual, the field on the right as one drives in where there is the tower of unknown origin and usage there was a small flock of Stone Curlews but less than normal, possibly because of the rather damp conditions. Because of the slight mist and diffused light, trying to pick out any errant Lesser Flamingos amongst the relatively few Flamingos was a well nigh impossible task but there were several hundred Shovelers and on the laguneto del Pueblo, behind the remodelled information centre, there were a few Coot and Teal and couple of Snipe.

There were more Coot on the flahes by the centre and this little party of Black-winged Stilts, one of which - a male - had incredibly heavy head and neck markings much more reminscent of the Black-necked Stilts of the West Indies but it immediately settled down and went to sleep and I was unable to get any shot of it but it was an interesting bird. But while there was a general dearth of waders, there was absolutely no lack of Chiffchaffs feeding everywhere in the sun once that came out but no sign of any Bluethroat such as the one which had shown itself so well last winter.

So, thus endeth 2010. My thanks to those who are brave enough to read all this, to those who comment, and especially to Dave and Gilly Elliott-Binns for their reports from Almería which undoubtedly enliven things, to all of you, whoever you are and wherever you are ....

good birding for 2011 and a happy and healthy New Year!

29/12/10

28 December, Cabo de Gata

From Dave and Gilly, who send their best wishes for a good New Year to all readers after a day at Cabo de Gata, a place which has an awful lot to offer and which those of you in foreign, and presumably colder parts, should consider for a long weekend's birding holiday. So, herewith Dave's account, which may be the last for this year but I wouldn't bet on it!

Yet again I had to scrape the ice off the car before Gilly and I met up with Colin Menéndez who used to work at Slimbridge and is staying in the area over Christmas and New Year. As we didn't leave Arboleas till 0800 we missed the Eurasian Curlew exodus from the water's edge to dry land by the time we got to the first hide. There were 3 Black-tailed Godwits, a small number of Little Egrets, a single Black-winged Stilt, but over to the right I spotted 18 Grey Plovers. Gilly pointed out 4 Lapwing sitting on the grassland.

We moved on to the pool on the opposite side of the road. Here were another couple of Godwits, 9 Black-winged Stilts and 5 Teal. A few Crag Martins whizzed over.
On the way up the beach road we saw some large waders land close to the road on the left hand savannah. Stopping the truck we spotted 3 Black-tailed Godwits feeding there. Out to sea there was nothing apart from a Cormorant so we walked to the second hide.
The highlight was a large raft of Slender-billed Gulls feverishly feeding.

At the public hide close scrutiny of a wader confirmed it as a Spotted Redshank with another 5 in a group further away. A large flock of Lesser Black-backed Gulls was resting on a sand spit and 9 Black-necked Grebes were seen on the far side. As we got back into the vehicle 2 small birds landed by a puddle in front of us. Good to see Trumpeter Finches. First time this year here.
After a reviving cup of coffee we ventured round the rear of the reserve through the muddy ruts and puddles. Water Pipits having a bath was the highlight and we did end up with 46 species for the day. The sunny weather and light winds helped a lot.

Wishing everyone good birding in 2011

Dave

26/12/10

a question : do swallows over winter?

This theme occurred some years ago in the Spanish avesforum and the question that follows has also been published today in fororoa, avesforum and my Spanish blog guiri-pajarero-suelto, so you can see that I'm hoping for some interesting discussion and comes about because of the Barn Swallow that I (and some others) saw this morning in the Guadalhorce reserve (Málaga).

We are accustomed to seeing records of apparently wintering hirundines, particularly so further west in the area of Brazo del Este, Guadiamar and Doñana, sometimes in relatively large numbers. Further east, here in Málaga, we also have occasional but much fewer winter records, although I once saw one on New Year's Day. This bring sme to the question: Was this a retarded migration bird?, or perhaps an early return migrant, perhaps ill? Or is it even a sign of global warming?

I should say at this point that I have my own ideas and reject the global warming one quite simply because this was happening and recorded long before the vogue of attributing all to global warming, just as we can discard the once accepted idea that they passed the winter in the mud of a pond, so we are left with either (a) was it late (b) very early or (c) ill?

What do you think, write if you wish and say what you think and why and by 7 January I shall synthesise all the replies and correspondence and put it all on to the various blogs and forums.

Meanwhile, dear readers, a happy New Year with good birding, be they rare or common, and I shall be celebrating 60 years birding! Gawd!

23/12/10

more from Almería

Doesn't Dave ever sleep or has Gilly thrown him out so that he doesn't get in the way of Christmas preparations? Hot on the heels of one mail yesterday and which I didn't even get time to post, another when I opened up a few minutes since. So, in order that I don't get another three awaiting by after Christmas, here they are. My apologies to Dave & co. for the delay, but in case you haven't noticed, the festive season is upon us (I hate bloody Christmas!) and someone keeps wanting me to do things, like shopping (which I also bloody hate!).

So, just in case you do like Christmas and that Santa and/or the Three Kings are going to bring you something optically appetising and that someone has been listening to your unsubtle hints,
Happy Christmas and, especially, good birding in the New Year. And if nobody has listened to your unsubtle hints, buy yourself your own presents, that's a 100% guarantee of getting what you want! I do.

Now to the accounts, first 22 December about Las Norias and Roquetas with the Arboleas Group, followed by today, 23 December, and Cabo de Gata by Dave on his ownsome.

22 December, Las Norias and Roquetas with the Arboleas Group The weather forecast for today was not good.....rain. For this reason Brian and Mary decided not to travel the long distance from Chirivel. So it was down to Dave, Myrtle and myself to head down to Las Norias. We left Arboleas at 0730, expecting to get wet at some point. We arrived at the causeway opposite the scrapyard in sunshine with a few clouds! Apart from numerous Crag Martins flying around, the first thing we noticed was the height of the water. It was at least 4ft above it's normal level. A scan round the left hand lake revealed hundreds of Shoveler, Great Crested, Black-necked and Little Grebes and Coot. The shrubs on the waters edge were alive with Chiffchaff and the odd Sardinian Warbler. There were 10's of Cormorants as well.

We then walked over the road to the right hand lake facing the scrapyard. The sun was against us but there were at least 200 White-headed Ducks with more Shoveler. Also spotted, swimming along the reed edge, was a Purple Swamphen. We then drove to the viewing site near to the empty heronry. Apart from a host of midges, we did see an unusual warbler with the Chiffchaff. It remains unidentified. A Cetti's Warbler was being vocal from the bamboo.

At the causeway near to the plastic recycling depot the water levels were extremely high on both sides of the road. The newly created gravel islands were totally submerged. A flapping of wings drew our attention to an adult Night Heron flying off. I made my way to the flooded fields on the corner. As I walked round the corner a Little Bittern disappeared into the reeds. I beckoned Dave and Myrtle over as this was looking promising. A Bluethroat was strutting its stuff on the path. A Redshank and a Common Sandpiper were feeding in the shallows. 9 Lapwing and a Black-winged Stilt flew over. A Snipe was also seen.

We then headed to Roquetas, stopping next to the hotels overlooking the large lake. Therein were Red-crested Pochard, Wigeon, Common Pochard and Shelduck. A Kingfisher whizzed by. We then walked from the corner to the little pool where we hoped to see the resident Red-knobbed Coot. We weren't disappointed, but only saw the one. Didn't see any of the "collared" ones. A pair of White-headed Duck were also there. An obliging Cetti's Warbler deigned to give us a reasonable view. As we walked back to the car a few drops of rain began to fall. Putting our gear back in the car I spotted a Marsh Harrier disappearing into the reeds.
A cracking days birding...sorry you missed it, Brian and Mary! 48 species in all.

23 December, Cabo de Gata
After yesterday's good luck with the weather, I suspected it couldn't last. I was dead right! I got down to the first hide at Cabo de Gata just after 0800hrs in time for the usual exodus of Eurasian Curlews from the waters edge to the savannah. The wind from the west was horrendous. There was little or no protection in the hide. The water level was up again with only small amounts of sandy scrapes available for waders.I scanned the scene in front of me. 3-4 Little Egrets, 36 Black-tailed Godwit and 4 Redshanks. A steady stream of Cormorants were heading towards the very rough sea. Spotted a single Eurasian Curlew. At 0822 it took off and flew north.
About 0830 19 Eurasian Curlews flew towards the hide from the far end of the salinas. About 300yds out they split into two groups passing about 150yds each side of the hide. I managed to pick up one of the birds to the right which was smaller in size and bill, but no positive ID. A Whimbrel or something much rarer? 6 Northern Starling flew low and fast passed the hide.
I drove round to the pool on the opposite side of the road. 3 more Black-tailed Godwits, an Avocet, 9 Black-winged Stilt and a nice male Teal. A pair of Crag Martin tacked against the wind. It was then on to the beach road to the second hide. I tried to look out to sea, but the wind made it impossible to hold binoculars steady let alone a telescope. I trudged to the hide. About 30 Avocet were sheltering below the nearest bank. 100+ Slender-billed Gull were huddled together to the left. Spotted some Stonechats on the leeward sides of shrubs.
The only birds seen from the public hide were some Greater Flamingos and 6 Shelducks. I fared little better round the rear of the reserve. No waders at all. Only a few more Shelducks and a Water Pipit. The track had huge deep puddles so definitely only for use by 4x4's.
26 species today.......and a Happy Christmas to everyone!!

18/12/10

17 Dec., Cabo de Gata, Arboleas Birding Group

Dave has been out to Cabo de Gata again. I'm certain that one day, sooner rather than later, their devotion will pay off with the BIG YIN - and I don't mean Scotland's best known philosopher, Billy Connolly, but a Slender-billed Curlew for which he is so assiduously searching. My apologies for late posting, Dave, but I been away up in Madrid and saw 2 Common Buzzards and a ring-tailed Hen Harrier from the Ave yesterday afternoon and dr9ving down today a single Buzzard near Ciudad Real and a few Azure-winged Magpies near the Bailén turn off. And if you think it's cold at Cabo de Gata, try Madrid this morning (Saturday) at -4ºC and hoar frost all over the car screen, followed by rain, at times very heavy, from Ciudad Real south to Málaga! And whilst I'm writing this there is thunder and lightning banging around, it's pouring down outside and the dog has objected to particularly large bangs a couple of times and also needs to go down but she doesn't like rain - a good job she doesn't live in Britain!

Also, before going to Dave's account, please note that the next Axarquia Bird Group visit will be to Fuente de Piedra, meeting at 10 am,Thursday, 23 December, in the main car park which is immediately in front of the re-opened Visitors Centre.

I should have known how cold I was going to get at Cabo de Gata as I scraped the ice off the trucks windscreen. My hands hugged a cup of thermos coffee as I sat in the first hide just after dawn had broken. The good news was that the water level had dropped so expanses of sandy ground had appeared. This had encouraged about a dozen Grey Plovers to settle. Also there was some Ringed and Kentish Plover, Dunlin and Redshank. In slightly deeper water a flock of 27 Black-tailed Godwit was feeding. I could see a couple of Eurasian Curlews on the right shoreline, but could also hears the calls of others. Between 0814 and 0833hrs both birds had moved onto dry land.

A Stonechat was oblivious to my presence as it patrolled along the fence in front of the hide, giving me an opportunity to capture it on film....sorry, digital imagery I suppose you say these days! A flotilla of 70+ Slender-billed Gulls were feeding amongst the legs of the Greater Flamingos. I could see to my right a large flock of birds moving en mass up and down the savanna near the beach, so that's where I headed after a short stop at the pool over the road. Managed to spot a single Teal, a Southern Grey Shrike and a few Black-winged Stilt.

As I drove along the beach road I came across this swirling flock of what turned out to be about 200+ Golden Plovers. This is, to me, an unusual location for them as they're usually to be found about a mile or two away on the Morales steppes. There was nothing out to sea. From the second hide I gained Little Egret and Mallard.

I stopped for another thermos coffee at the public hide car park & watched the numerous Greenfinches and a pair of Corn Buntings drinking at the puddles. 3 Eurasian Curlews were put to flight by a hardy walker. From the hide itself I saw 59 Lesser Black-backed Gulls resting on a spit and 24 Black-necked Grebes huddled in the water away from the cold breeze. On the wader front there was very little round the dry rear of the reserve but the sun had brought out the smaller birds: Water Pipit, Zitting Cisticola, Dartford Warblers and Chiffchaffs. 2 Stone Curlews were a very pleasant finale to the trip.
"Only" 34 species for the day. Was glad to be heading back home for hot soup & toast.

10/12/10

10 December, Cabo de Gata

One has to admire the fortitude of we Brits. against the weather - I've given up, I'm being a devout coward now on the vet's advice - as Dave's report of his visit will show. It's not been great here either, Dave, if it's any consolation, and I'm off to Fuente de Piedra tomorrow!

The weather was not good down at Cabo de Gata this morning. Low cloud, poor visibility and cool easterly gusting winds straight into your face in the hides. But it was my only chance this week to do the Slender-billed Curlew search, so there I was as dawn broke in the first hide. Greater Flamingo, of course, Shelduck, pair of Teal flew over, Little Egret and Avocet. There were 2 Eurasian Curlews visible adjacent to the rocky causeway together with a Grey Plover and 12 Black-tailed Godwits. The godwits flew to the calm of the bank to my left to get some shelter. The Curlews, as is their routine that I've noted over the past weeks, took off at around 0815 & headed to for dry land, this time over the top of the hide to the north. A flight of 9 Cormorants headed out to sea. A Greenshank and Little Stint made an appearance.

On the beach near to the second hide there were 100+ Lesser Black-backed Gulls all facing into the wind. The wind at the hide made it impossible to use the telescope. There was nothing at all seen from the public hide except 6 Greater Flamingos on the huge expanse of shallow water.

Hoping for more success I drove round the rear of the reserve where logic said it should be more sheltered. An obliging Water Pipit posed nicely on the fencing, but waders were very few & far between: Redshank, Black-winged Stilts and Kentish Plover. Having almost given up hope I was rewarded by about 15 Stone Curlews taking to the air as I reached the end of the muddy track.

37 species in all. Disappointing but glad to be doing my bit for the Slender-billed Curlew team.
Dave

9/12/10

8 December, río Almanzora and Antas, Arboleas Bird Group

A report from Dave on a 'local' trip in these days of unseasonal warmth, although with the occasional good storm to leaven the nights. Thanks for the book plug, Dave!!

As many of us have commitments we decided to "do a local" this week, so Brian, Mary, Gilly and myself headed the short distance (comparatively!) to the Rio Almanzora estuary. We approached initially from the rambla to the north where the new desalination plant is located.(see pages 283/4 in Andy Paterson's book, "Where to watch birds in Southern & Western Spain). The rambla was devoid of standing water all the way past the plant till just before the smaller old desalination plant by the "ford". This area used to be a hotspot for waders, but just north there appeared to be an off road motocross track construction. We spent some time birding by the ford. Having already noted Cattle Egret, Stonechat, Hoopoe and Black Redstart on the journey down, a Cetti's Warbler was heard, tens of Chiffchaff were seen but the star, spotted by Mary (said I would mention her in dispatches!) was a sitting Kingfisher, partially obscured by reeds. Hopefully shows the water quality was good. The only waders we saw were a pair of Black-winged Stilts and a single Green Sandpiper. There was quite a bit of water from there down to the estuary but we saw only glimpses of it due to proliferation of Tamarisk nd Shrub Tobacco plants. Good for the birds but not so good for the observers. Loads of Moorhens were grazing.
There are still major works going on at the estuary itself so we had a quick scan out to sea. Gannet and Cormorant were spotted. I spotted a female Blue Rock Thrush before we headed to the beach near to Villaricos harbour. On the small rocky islands there were about 10 Cormorants resting, as were a Grey Heron and a Little Egret. There were also about a dozen Sandwich Terns and on the beach itself a Turnstone and Kentish Plover were seen.
We then headed towards the Rio Antas pool. We stopped en route near to the Aquapark where opposite is a largish expanse of shallow water. It was obviously the "in" Coot place to be as there were 100s of them with small numbers of Little Grebe and Shoveler and a Teal or two. A Southern Grey Shrike was also seen.
There was not a lot of interest at the Rio Antas pool, only Mallard, Moorhen and Cormorant, probably due to the fact it was a Bank Holiday and the beach was awash with people and their dogs. Brian and Mary had visited a week or two earlier and had seen a Water Rail there. On the way home we spotted a Booted Eagle near Vera.
Lovely weather with good birding with 40 species seen.

8/12/10

along the river bank - the Guadalhorce

I like river banks and walking along them, I always have done as unless the local waterboard has been cleaning them up, i.e., making them totally sterile for any form of wildlife, they often have something to offer, be it avian, mammalian, piscine or insectivorous. My sister reckons that it's because when young we were both introduced to that classic 'Wind in the Willows' by our mother, who sensibly omitted the philosophic chapter 'Piper at the Gates of Dawn'. Ok, yes, it is anthropomorphic (you didn't even think I knew words like that, did you?) but I still like the book and I still like river banks.

The result of our mother's efforts was that at the tender age of 4, my then little sister desperately wanted a water rat (vole) for her birthday and all she got was (and I quote from a few minutes since) ... a bloody tortoise and a red scooter. She still hasn't recovered from the trauma!

Thus it was that when I was walking along the stretch of bank between parking the car by the school and had just gone up the ramp prior to going along and in across the bridge in to the Guadalhorce, I was stopped in my tracks by a whistle, a special sort of whistle, the sort of whistle that an otter makes. It was moving upstream on the far side, judging from the way the sound was moving, and it was the first thing that made my afternoon. I saw one very briefly along the same stretch a couple of years since and there have been regular records of pug marks as they move between the ponds within the reserve.

Bird-wise it wasn't bad either. It was very pleasant to see Pat and Antonio Miguel and also to meet a couple of students, Celeste and Jorge, who were out with a very basic field guide and small pair of binoculars but with the intention of learning. There are far too many of us old fogies around and we owe it to coming generations to help and encourage if they want us to.

At the laguna grande there wasn't a lot as water levels are very high after the recent rains but on the small island over on the far side there was a male Red-crested Pochard having its siesta alongside a Greenshank (the only wader seen all afternoon!) which was also fast asleep while out on the water a male Pintail was also having its siesta until it woke upon realising that someone was watching it and promptly swam out of view. The only active ducks were a dozen or so Teal, the smart little males busy calling and generally showing off to attract the females who appeared to show a sublime disregard. All very nice and there were plenty of Cormorants, of course, including a very white fronted first winter bird which is not a lucidus type from Morocco, even though it was having a go at a pretty good impression.

The laguna escondida had one Pochard and one Little Grebe and that was it so it was round to the east bank and the first hide looking across laguna de la casilla where Celeste was delighted to watch the rear end of a Kingfisher as she had never seen one before. At the second hide it was pretty dead too except for a nice female Shelduck and a Booted Eagle across in the eucalyptus tress which were receiving their afternoon adornment of Cormorants getting ready to roost. Three Marsh Harriers floated across and around and so did the Buzzard.

From there it was down to the seawatch mirador and Celeste delighted herself by being the first to spot a female Kestrel which caught a grasshopper before her eyes. From the mirador there was several hundred gulls to be seen on a calm sea and in amongst them 5 Shelduck, a single Black-necked Grebe and a single female/imm. Common Scoter. A Great Skua -I still like the old Shetland name of Bonxie - flew in from the east then changed its mind and flew back and out to sea. By that time the sun was sinking fast so it was time to go back and it was then, just after the second hide, that we had what for me was the bird of the day, a lovely Short-eared Owl which posed beautifully on a post for a few moments before floating off with those enormously deep wing beats and we lost it. The youngsters and myself pushed on an just before the bridge we picked the owl up again as it was hunting and watched it for several minutes to make a thoroughly good end to an afternoon.

Extra: A Red-breasted Merganser has been seen off Retamar, Almería, and in l'Estartit (Girona) a Red-footed Booby, the second for Europe, has been hanging around for 5 days now, in fact, whilst I was down at the ponds a friend texted me to say that he just seen it. It is possible to go off friends at times.

27/11/10

Fuerteventura, 15-21 November

Añadir imagenWhen my friend Stephen Daly of Andalucian Guides asked me if I wanted to a join a few friends and himself on a trip to Fuerteventura in the second part of November it didn't take me long to think about it, consult with She who gave her blessing, and I accepted before She changed her mind, even though other priorities mean that I had to reurn to the Peninsula a day early on 21 November but it was a Sunday and well know what Sunday birding can be like. So, with apologies for posting this a week after returning but there were some 600 photos to sort and 400 e-mails awaiting attention, plus reverting to being chief dogsbody for shopping and such mundane exercises, here is the story of 6 days of R & R.

All these photos are my own, the majority with my Olympus E-450 with 70-300mm zoom (4/3 system) and some which were digiscoped by Stephen through his scope using my little Nikon, this means that if you look at Stephen's blog at http://andalucianguides.blogspot.com/ and then click on the 'never mind the finnsticks' header, you will see that he has some great photographs, mine are obviously very inferior.

It may seem odd to you (it certainly did to me) that there are no direct flights from Málaga to Fuerteventura but there aren't and the easiest way is through Madrid, although with long layovers. Thus it was on Monday 15 November that I flew to Madrid, met up with Stephen, who had flown up from Jerez, at T4 and then we transferred to T1 before flying south and the birding as well as meeting the other participants: David and Dee Griffiths and Pat and Valerie Pearson (L), all of us staying in the Hotel Elba Carlota in Caleta de Fuste, a few kms. from the airfield, indeed the approach from the south flew over the hotel but fortunately there were relatively few inbound flights per day and certainly not at intempestuous hours.

16 November : Mostly sunny with some clouds at midday. The manadatory pre-breakfast walk in front of the hotel and a few hundred metres N to the rocky area gave 3 Gannets, the only ones seen all trip, a couple of Sandwich Terns, with up to 5 or 6 of these being seen daily while on the beach and rocks there were the usually present Turnstones (normally 2), Kentish Plovers (up to 18 seen this first morning) and a single Whimbrel.

After breakfast we set off in the general direction of La Oliva, seeing the first of many Ravens (the Canary race), the omnipresent Berthelot's Pipits (L) and were surprised by the density of Southern Grey Shrikes (race koenigii), while along the way at one of the muñtiple stops some of saw a single House Sparrow, the only one of the trip that I have noted, the rest being Spanish Sparrows. Further north we turned off the road in search of whatever might come into view and saw our first Barbary Ground Squirrels, which in an odd way reminded me of Meerkats when they stood up, on the rough side of a barranco, while in the avian line there were some Linnets and Spectacled Warblers, a species which has some specal attraction for Stephen, and a short view and not too satisfactory view of what we decided was a female/imm. Black Redstart and a Chiffchaff, which we believe to be probably a Canary island Chiff.

All this was very nice and scenery, arid and rocky, made one wonder how birds manage to survive in such a barren landscape, scarcely without trees but with some stunning sights. But it was when we came to the goat farm at Barranco del Valle that we started to get in amongst the specialities. Black-bellied Sandgrouse, of which you often hear the bubbling call before seeing the birds which fly over at an incredible rate and, like fighters passing low but as soon as they touch down their dorsal camouflage, nowadays known as cryptic colouration, makes them disappear as they scuttle away from you across the stoney ground (R). The first Trumpeter Finches and the first 4 Ruddy Shelducks of the day were also seen here.

Lunch was taken at the restaurant "El Labrador" (not the dog but a worker) at Castillas del Angel near Puerto del Rosario where we ate extremely well by the simple method of picking several dishes, including the Canary speciality of papas arrugadas - wrinkled potatoes to you - and which probably resemble the first ones brought back from the Americas than those we buy nowadays.

After lunch we went further around downstream of the dry dam of the embalse de Los Molinos and had our first really good views of Fuerteventura Chat, a species recently separated from our wellknown Stonechat, as well as seeing more Ruddy Shelducks making a total of 38 for the day, hearing and seeing some more Black-bellied Sandgrouse while down in the thin trickle of the stream there was a single Common Sandpiper and a Little Ringed Plover.

From there it was back to the coast at Cala de Fustes to look for waders amongst the rocks where apart from those seen in the morning there was also a Grey Heron, ca.40 Ringed Plovers, 5-7 Sandwich Terns moving back and forth which made counting difficult, a single juv. Gannet way out at sea ploughing its way north and a single 1st winter Black-headed Gull.

17 November Cloudy am with sun all pm. The pre-breakfast walk gave us the maximum Whimbrel count of 4 birds and also a pair of Bar-tailed Godwits.

Thus fortified for the morning, or at least until coffee time, we drove around the Blanca and El Cortijo area, seeing more Southern Grey Shrikes, Ravens and the Spectacled Warblers which have Stephen besotted/bewitched, I'm not sure which! and the ever-present Berthelot's Pipits, their Spanish name of Bisbita Caminero - loosely translated as the 'running pipit' - is most appropriate as they never stop moving, so getting a satisfactory photograph or two is quite an achievement. They were named after Sabin Berthelot, a French naturalist, born in Marseilles in 1794 and later French consul in Sta. Cruz de Tenerife where he died in 1880 - how about that for a bit of useless historical information with which to astound your friends?

Going out back towards the Antigua road junction, we saw 6 Common Buzzards as well as two military helicopters doing something so it was back towards the coast on the FV-2, heading south.


It was shortly after this, when we turned down the track by the goast farm at Antigua where not only was there a flock of Trumpeter Finches but also 3 highly cooperative and photogenic Cream-coloured Coursers (R), one of the major objectives of the trip and the only ones of the trip in spite of searching.

Lunch was taken at the restaurant "La Marisma" in Gran Tarajal and thence across to the F-617 road between Costa Calma and Pared on the rocky dunes in search of the second real rarity of the trip, going down towards Morro del Jable in search of Houbara Bustards.

This species
inhabits a huge area of sandy scrub and in a well signposted sensitive area, not that the signs appear to make much difference as as there are tracks of trailbikes and quads everywhere, once more testifying to the illiteracy of those who use the countryside and laying bare the apparent lack of policing by the environmental authorities of the island and Canaries in general.

We stopped, we scoured the countryside through binoculars and telescopes, Stephen and the others decided to go on along the track whilst one idiot decided to walk as he thought, wrongly as it turned out, that he might see something which might be missed from a vehicle. As I breasted the rise and caught sight of the crew-bus, I was treated to the spectacle of Stephen and Pat hurtling down the hillside, followed rather more sedately by David, whilst Val and Dee sensibly remained up by the van and watched from a distance. As Stephen stopped every now and again to raise his telephoto lens and by dint of following the angle that he was pointing, I too saw the 2 Houbaras just in time, one pitching down just as I picked them up and the other not far away. And they simply disappeared, melted away, gone, the black and white flashing of the wings gave way to the disruptive plumage of the upperparts. But we had seen them. The second big one had fallen, and there was still plenty of good birding to come. Oh yes, and there was a single Trumpeter Finch too.

18 November
Poor weather with rain showers most of the day. After the mandatory morning walk under lowering skies along the shore before breakfast when we saw absolutely nothing new, it was off in the general direction of La Oliva. This site showed us a few rather elusive Laughing Doves, many Spanish Sparrows, a single Sardinian Warbler, more of Stephen's favourite Spectacled Warblers and Southern Grey Shrike, Common Ravens of the Canary Island race canariensis).

By then the weather was deteriorating and we checked the Correlejo area for birds until the consensus was that lunch should be taken, this in La Oliva at the bar-restaurant El Horno where the general consensus was that the pizzas were some of the best ever eaten, a place which we recommend for the hungry.

Barbary Falcon on pylon Los Alares and 2 adult Egyptian Vultures on the cliffs of the barranco behind the salinas del Carmen, it being well posted so that the ignorant could not mistake the importance of the site for this rare CanaryIslands species.

19 November : A cloudy start then some sun pm. We made an early start at 07.oo, past the Salinas del Carmen and through to the barranco where a pair of Egyptian Vultures breed with 2 birds obligingly on the nest site (R). Visitors are, as can be seen from the photograph (above L), requested to keep their distance and not even pass during the breeding season, given the sensitivity of the birds to disturbance.

From there we went on to Los Alares, where we had good views of Common Buzzard perched and later in flight (L above), more Spectacled Warblers - the whole place was crawling with them - and Berthelot's Pipit. The late morning coffee stop at Antigua was enlivened by seeing the only Blue Tit of the trip (R above), a bird of North African race ultramarinus with wing-bar, this lacking in the Canary race teneriffae. (Stephen's photograph).

Lunch was taken at a small roadside bar-restaurant but when a Barbary Falcon flew over we all piled out of the door, probably looking like something out of a Marx Brothers film and certainly to the surprise of a the few locals, one of which would have made a good stand-in for a lighthouse siren in fog.

Going in south of the dam at Los Molinos to see if there was anything on the thin thread of standing water we first had an adult Egyptian Vulture fly over in front of us and down in the barranco on the stream we had quite decent views of 6 Ruddy Shelducks, although I later heard from Tony Clarke that they had seen 80 in the same area later in the afternoon, leaving us to think that the birds must disperse into the rocky plains and come in late to drink, as too the Black-bellied Sandgrouse which we also heard must do. This is a good area for Fuerteventura Chats and we were not to be disappointed. A juv. Little Ringed Plover was rooting around in the sides of the stream.
20 November : Clouds and sun. An early morning visit to the Salinas del Carmen at 0700 hrs gave a single Redshank, 2 Little Egrets, 1 Eurasian Spoonbill (juv), Sanderling and the solitary Black-winged Stilt. From there we took the FV617- road between Costa Calma and Pared nefore peeling off on the track over the rocky dunes to search for elusive Houbara Bustards (below R) and hopefully gain better views than the previous day. And we had luck.

First we found recent foot prints by the tracks, so recent that sand was still trickling in and the central toe nail had marked the sand so the birds had be close, so it was down to searching with telescopes. These took some finding but eventualy we located a pair feeding tranquilly, albeit at some distance, and had the pleasure of watching them for well over an hour as they slowly moved away. Heaven knows how many photographs were aken, the best method being the digiscoping with a small cameras, as in the attached, as they kept low most of the time and once one lost sight of one, it was more than difficult to find it again.

In the same area we also saw 4 Black-bellied Sandgrouse in flight (twice), yet another Southern Grey Shrike, more Common Ravens, Trumpeter Finch, Berthelot's Pipits, Lesser Short-toed Larks, Common Buzzard and a Kestrel. Lunch was again taken at Restaurant El Labrador.

21 November : Overcast all day. (These are Stephen's notes for the day as I was travelling, including a reading complete paperback inTerminal 4 at Barajas airfield, Madrid.)

Early morning after dropping me off at the airfield, Stephen saw Ruddy Shelduck (11) on the Salinas de Antigua Golf course (opposite hotel), together with 2 Common Sandpipers, Whimbrel, Fuertevnetura Chat, Black Redstart, Hoopoe and Southern Grey Shrike. After breakfast the group took the La Oliva to Tindaya track (very quiet) and tried for Houbara Bustards again but with no joy! Lunch was taken at El Cotillo on the coast at a lovely restaurant called 'Azzurro' (correct spelling) with great views, tapas & fresh fish.

After lunch they went took tracks through the dunes near El Cotillo, seing Lesser Short-toed Larks and 1 sub-adult Barbary Falcon hunting them! What a way to finish the trip!

22 November : Stephen managed to have a brief view of 2 Plain Swifts over the hotel before he too left for home.

Mammals and insects We saw very few lizards and then only at one site and which were not identified. I managed some photographs of a red darter dragonfly and we were all enchanted by the Barbary Ground Squirrels, some of which were exceedingly tame, even the one that was tryng to eat Stephen!

A full annotated trip list will be available by about 10 December for those who want one.

26/11/10

Lesser Flamingo and Hobby, Guadalhorce

Just a brief entry before attacking the blog on my trip to Fuerteventura last week (a huge dose of R & R). This week back to the grind at home but at least a nearly daily walk along the west bank of the Guadalhorce with my little blonde friend (the dog). Normally, this walk usually provides little except distant views of the Osprey, the occasional Marsh Harrier and/or Booted Eagle floating around over the reserve, multiple Cormorants, and down at the mouth, the occasional Common Sandpiper and, of course, a myriad of gulls, mostly Black-headed, some Mediterranean, Lesser Black-backed and the inevitable Yellow-legged, while along the banks there are Little Egrets and Grey Herons fishing. But sometimes one is rewarded, and this week it was not once but twice.

On Wednesay (24/11) I had loaded dog and self into the car. I had my binoculars of course as going out without them is like going out nude but had just left home when I realised that I hadn't taken the small but potent camera (an Olympus 590 with 26x optical zoom and 12 mbs), but as I hardly ever photograph anything I thought 'what the hell' and went on. And I was to regret it as if I had turned and gone back for it I would have obtained some stunning shots.

Down at the very mouth of the river and gazing out to sea in search of skuas and shearwaters and seeing neither, I picked up a flock of Greater Flamingos heading in from the SE, roughly from the Melilla direction rather than coasting along from Almeria direction. There were around 65 birds, 9 juvs. of the year and a smaller one, about two-thirds the size of its brethren, and a brighter reddish orange and as it got nearer while they circled for over 2o minutes I could easily see the black bill- a Lesser Flamingo without any shadow of doubt. They were stunning as they described huge, indecisive circles in the sunshine, magnificent against the lowering dark skies over the sierra and which also blocked them finding their way upstream, so eventually they set off SW in the direction of the Strait, having broken up into two flocks, leaving me cursing my stupidity in leaving the camera behind. Nevertheless, a jolly good bird to see.

Needless to say, yesterday, Thursday (25/11), I had the camera with me. Again the same routine and amongst the gulls on the beach a drop-dead gorgeous adult Audouin's Gull standing aloof from the rabble. Too far to photograph but always nice to see. But the bird of the afternoon was simply moving too fast to get the camera lit up and photographed as a rather late adult Hobby shot through at high speed on full afterburner, perhaps it knew what weather we were going to suffer today.

Two good birds on consecutive days but needless to say, we have not been out today, as the dog is a real wimp when it comes to rain, she does not like it!

25/11/10

19 & 24 November, Cabo de Gata,

Whilst I have been away enjoying the birding in Fuerteventura, which I hope to have blogged and posted by this coming Saturday or Sunday (there were over 600 photographs taken and which needed sorting and c.400 e-mails awaiting me on return), Dave, Gilly and the Arboleas Group have been down twice to Cabo de Gata. So, with my excuses made, herewith the daring and deeds of the Arboleas Group thanks to Dave's tireless fingers.

19 November
We arrived at the first hide before the sun had risen at about 7.15am. Gilly decided to snooze for a bit in the car before joining me. Birding got off to a good start as first into view through the gloom were a pair of L
apwings. I quickly spotted 6 Little Egrets. The water level was still very high so little waders were few and far between. I did manage to see a Grey Plover, Dunlin and Kentish Plover. There was also some Chiffchaffs, Sardinian Warblers and a Water Pipit.
Gilly now having surfaced and been revived with Thermos coffee, we drove over to the pool on the other side of the road. Here we saw 2 Black-tailed Godwits and a Little Stint.
Next up was the beach. Numerous fishing boats on the horizon meant that there was only a few passing Audouin's and Lesser Black-backed Gulls. On the walk over to the second hide there were of course an ample supply of Stonechats, a few Greenfinches and a couple of Corn Buntings. To the north I picked out 7 Eurasian Curlews feeding on the savannah. It was nice to have good views of Dartford Warbler amongst the Sardinians. A small flock of Teal were on the water and Gilly counted 165 Greater Flamingos.
On the approach to the public hide we disturbed a group of 12 more Curlews feeding. Avocet and Black-winged Stilt were added to the list. On the causeway to the right I counted 5 Sandwich Terns at rest. Shelduck were numerous with 45 seen during the day.
After a cup of coffee we ventured round the rear of the reserve. The first two salinas were now virtually dried up so very little bird life was to be seen. There was a large flock of Spotless Starlings feeding by the power lines. We spotted at least two Northern Starlings amongst them. Winter must be upon us! After notching up 43 specieswe headed home for lunch & a well deserved siesta.

24 November
The light rain woke me up at 4.30 in the morning and it was still drizzling at around 7am. Brian and Mary quite sensibly decide it was a long way to come with the chance the trip might be called off. It was therefore only Chris, Gilly and I who headed south to Cabo de Gata. It was sod's law that we travelled through bright sunshine, but as we approached the Cabo it became overcast, but luckily no precipitation.
By the time we'd reached the first hide we'd already logged a few birds including Cattle Egret, Hoopoe and Black Redstart. The water level was still very high with only the larger birds hanging around. A flock of 90 Slender-billed Gulls was on the rocky causeway. Little Egrets and Black-winged Stiltx were feeding where they could stand up.
A single Black-tailed Godwit flew over us towards the pool on the opposite side of the road so we followed it over there. Sure enough it had landed near to a pair of Dunlin and a Little Stint and there were also 6 Teal. We were very surprised to see 3 very late Barn Swallows feeding over the pool with some Crag Martin.
Checking out over the calm sea we saw nothing of interest, so we headed for the second hide. Gilly did her Greater Flamingo count, registering 211. 3 Grey Plovers, a Greenshank and a Ringed Plover were spotted, but the stars were a pair of Pintail. A Water Pipit gave us good views in the water filled dyke to our right.
Just as we were about to park up at the public hide an Air Sea Rescue helicopter flew over. It put up 14 Eurasian Curlews from the savannah all of which would've otherwise gone unobserved of which 12 returned to where they were feeding, but 2 landed on a sandy spit on the salina. Also seen from the hide were 8 Black-necked Grebes, Kentish Plovers, Redshanks, Sanderling and numerous Avocets.
The harvesting of the salt round the rear of the reserve has created a saline desert so very few water birds were seen with the exception of 39 Shelduck on one of the few expanses of water left. On the steppes to the left the only thing of note was a large flock of what were probably Meadow Pipits was seen....apart from the boringly numerous Stonechats!! We ended up with 45 species for the day.

13/11/10

13 November, Laguna Dulce (Campillos ) & Fuente de Piedra

This is a short blog about a super morning's birding in bright sunshine and zero wind, along with the always pleasant company of Federico. The first stop was the laguna Dulce just outside Campillos which remains full of waterbirds, all except the one which I really wanted to see - Ferruginous Duck. As we stopped a party of 7 Red-legged Partridges scurried along the lake side but I have a nasty feeling that there won't be that many of the family around as I write because the hunters were out with dogs, which in turn meant that there wasn't a sign of Little Bustards. A solitary juv. Marsh Harrier floated over the laguna but didn't disturb a single duck.

There were 3 spp. of grebes, and although I didn't carry out even a rough count I had the distinct impression that the numbers of Black-necked had increased since my previous visit while Great Crested remained about the same and there were very few Little Grebes. Ducks there were a-plenty, from Mallard, plenty of Pochards - a couple of hundred at a guesstimate but fewer Red-crested Pochards, less than 10 certainly. A quick count of White-headed Ducks gave a minimum of 92 birds, which isn't at all bad. There were a few Teal way over on the far side and a few Gadwall mixed in with the Pochards. A solitary Snipe gave quite decent views more or less 40 m in front of the hide and there were plenty of Chiffchaffs feeding in the reeds and tamarisks.

From there it was a short run to Fuente de Piedra.taking the road round the back towards Sierra de Yeguas. On the way we flushed a Southern Grey Shrike, a nice bird to see at any time. Once stopped on the top overlooking the laguna from the western end we were amazed at the total lack of Flamingos, I don't think we saw more than a dozen all morning and those were juvenile birds. There was some compensation in the form of several groups of Cranes, around 70 in all, as well as a solitary White Stork. Later we were to be treated to close views of a family party of mum, dad and the 2 youngsters (left). At the same end there were good numbers of Shovelers and 6 Shelduck, a rather erratic winter visitor at Fuente de Piedra.

From there it was round to the information centre and mirador, stopping to look at the field where there is the tower and whch usually harbours a wintering flock of Stone Curlew and we weren't to be dispappointed. Not that there were many, there weren't, around 22 or so. The difficulty is finding the first one, after which it becomes much easier to spot the rest and slowly the total rises until you are more or less satisfied that you've seen them all. It was here too that this nice little Stonechat showed itself.

From the mirador a look out over the lake showed a huge concentration of ducks over to the right and scoping showed them to be all Shovelers, so what with thosse and the ones at the other end there were easily more than 500 in the laguna (below).
Nearer the mirador there one or two Black-winged Stilts, a couple of Little Ringed Plovers and two small waders which took flight but fortunately Federico had marked them down and we were able to scope them and finish the morning with a 2 Little Stints.

NOTE that there won't be anything more until at least 22 November after the trip to Fuerteventura.

11/11/10

10 November, Cabo de Gata

Hooray, Dave and Gilly are back so there is news from Cabo de Gata. Thanks, Dave, and welcome back! I'll bet you're both still thawing out.

After 5 weeks in the UK I was very happy to be back birding in Spain. Gilly had charity work commitments so Chris and I headed down to Cabo de Gata, hoping that the high winds had subsided. After a coffee stop in Pujaire we made our way to the first hide. We were astounded to see that the water level was exceedingly high. Yes, there were Greater Flamingoes, but no sign of the usual huge numbers of Avocet, Black-tailed Godwit or Black-winged Stilt. Neither were there any small waders to be seen. We did see a Little Egret and a single distant Audouin's Gull. I then noticed a wader on the causeway - a Greenshank. Huddled next to it was a Grey Plover and a Golden Plover. Some Sardinian Warblers made an appearance as did the first of many Stonechats. Our intention was to saunter over the road to where we suspected the shallow pool was, only to be beaten there by a van. Its arrival did put a couple of Snipe and a Redshank to the wing. On the power lines was, according to my new Collins Bird Guide, an Iberian Grey Shrike.
A check out to sea revealed about 10 Gannets of various ages, but nothing else. The walk to the 2nd hide produced a pair of Corn Buntings. Again the bird life was few and far between. Some Mallards, Shelducks, a flight of Avocets, a feeding flotilla of Slender-billed Gulls and a single flying Turnstone.
Moving on to the public hide, things improved slightly. 3 Eurasian Curlew were a godsend as I didn't relish the thought of submitting a totally blank survey form to the Slender Billed Curlew Search team! We saw a small number of Shoveler, a Cormorant, a few more Avocets, some Black-winged Stilts and (birds of the day) a raft of 23 Black-necked Grebes.
As we drove round to the back of the reserve we we gutted to see that the first salina, where the majority of gulls rest, had been drained. But as this area is a working salt producing plant, none of the reserve would exist today without the past workings. The second salina was in the process of having its water removed. There were lots of shallow waterfilled trenches. These were feeding troughs for loads of Dunlin, Kentish Plover, Little Stint and Sanderling.
An average day by Cabo standard. 39 species and, sorry, no photo opportunities. Glad to be back though!

I must say that I don't really go on the new English name of Iberian Grey Shrike for Southern Grey Shrike, especially as I am not sure if they have been separated (at least officially) from the North African races of algeriensis and elegans, not to mention koenigi of the Canary Islands, in which case it's a bit regionalistic and jumping the gun. I see from my copy of the new Collins guide that they claim genetic didfferences, but I do know that some claims for other spp. have been based on comparative mtDNA differences of considerably less than 2% - a generally accepted divergence figure for speciation.

The same criticism can be applied to the Mediterranean race of Cory's Shearwater which some want to call Scopoli's and with which others (of which Hadoram Shirihai, Bill Bourne and myself are three) and where the genetic divergence Is only around 0.5% and which the Collins retains as a subspecies but does give the name Scopoli's. It is, in fact, the nominal race and used to be known as Mediterranean Shearwater (which is before my time even!) and Atlantic race is borealis.