27 March - that was the week that was (TW3)

Those of us of a certain age will certainly remember the TW3 greeting of 'hello, good evening and welcome'. I can go along with the hello bit, the evening part too, as I am actually starting this in the evening, and definitely welcome to anyone who continues to tune in to this!

I didn't blog the ABS visit to the Guadalhorce last Saturday (21/03) as Bob had done it and there is also a report in the ABS.

Monday, 23/03

A brief visit early in the morning to try and see if any of the 9 Spoonbills we had seen on the Saturday had remained around and if so, were any colour ringed. The answer was a double NO. It really was a brief visit, a brief 90 minutes in and out but resulted in a singing Sedge Warbler, that same refugee female Ruddy Shelduck as Saturday (when it was photographed), a nice male Northern Wheatear and a Greenshank, as well as at least 10 Sand Martins feeding over the laguna Escondida along with sundry other hirundines.

Thursday, 25/03. At home in the morning a female Woodchat Shrike sat around in the bushes below, making brief sallies after unfortunate beetles and insects. In the afternoon, she had been replaced by a Nightingale. This may surprise you, given how secretive they can be, but in the spring and in the autumn, I usually see 2-3 birds and they bounce around on the grass, often with the tail cocked, rather like Bluethroats (they are in the same family, after all).

Friday, 26/03.
Another year gone and I celebrated by going to first to the laguna Dulce outside Campillos and thence to Fuente de Piedra with Bob and Jenny Wright, and I think it's fair to say that we were amply rewarded. The laguna Dulce had its fair share of flamingos - everywhere! - as the laguna's finges are well outside its normal vegetational area and this, I feel, will severely limit any breeding by waterbirds, like the few White-headed Ducks, the pair of Pochard and the pair of Black-necked Grebes that we saw. Even the rabbits are on the surface, they daren't bury down or they'll drown. Shoveler, albeit fewer in numbers, are still much in evidence but it was the Flamingos which dominated the scene, they flew in, they flew out, they fed, they slept, they ignored the 5 Shelduck which flew in.

Then on to Fuente de Piedra, stopping first to overlook the lake from the western end where the Flamingos appear to have set up several sub-colonies, apart from being scattered along the length of the northern shore where the waters are shallower. It was there too, from the vantage point, that we saw a distant Greenshank and a couple of Redshanks. Further round at Cantarranas mirador there was not a lot to be seen, largely because we were looking into the light. I managed to pick up a low-flying Great Spotted Cuckoo which Bob missed as it did a low level in-and-out amongst the bushes.

From that point we progressed slowly, saw a distant Short-toed Eagle flopping away from us and diced with death when a hell-bent driver of 25 tonner came towards like some demonic creation who had seen too many 'Mad Max' films but we made it unscathed to the observation point at El Vicario. Normally, I don't stop there as the water is so far away, but this year it is so near and also shallow that the Flamingos are in close. Around there were tens of Gull-billed Terns flying back and forth, tremendously elegant birds bird but damned noisy. A flock of some 25-30 Yellow Wagtails were feeding along the strip grass between parking spot and the water and I made out males of at least 3 races, most were Blue-headed flavas - the bog-standard western European race - and the Iberian race iberiae, with a couple of male British race flavissima - the yellowest of the lot and splendid they all were in full breeding plumage.

However, there was one which intrigued me and I'm still not sure what race it is, and the photo I have 'lifted' (i.e.: nicked) from Bob's site. I have put the photo on the rarebirdspain forum and hope for some answers but any suggestions would be helpful. Note: The one reply received suggests that it is probably a thunbergi, the Scandinavian race, although I must admit that I incline more to the Italian race cinereocapilla which has a white throat and a small white mark behind the eye which can just be made out.

Still at El Vicario, Bob and I searched through the Flamingos which were feeding in the pools between the salicornia and other scrub and found first a flock of ca.85 Avocets, very nice and we were to see at least another 30 around the information centre, plus another 2 or 3 Redshanks. But the best was to appear in the form of 4 males Garganey and a female (Bob reckons he saw 10, but they were hiding well from me in the inundated scrub), the males smartest of ducks, and two of them were having an argument about which should have the favours of the female who appeared totally bored by it all. I suppose I should say, 'don't they all?', but I won't. A pair of Slender-billed Gulls stayed briefly but Bob didn't latch on to those.

And finally, on to the centre and the surrounding flash and ponds. More Avocets on the pond behond and also a single Stone Curlew there which was photographiable for Bob with his big lens. A single Meadow Pipit but no sign of the little male Bluethroat which has over-wintered but in its stead the male Spanish Sparrow which we had seen back in December. The stars here were undoubtedly multitude of Swallows and a big northerly movement of Common Swifts which had been going since at least 1030 and was still going on when we left.

On the way home I tried to do some simple reckoning as to the number of Common Swifts passing through and came to the rather crude sum that we had been seeing anywhere between 10 and 25 birds a minute passing through in strip of perhaps 200-250m wide, this going on for 180 minutes would give between 1.800 and 4.500 birds passing just through that census strip in that time, take a mean of 3.150 and as these usually migrate on quite a broad front, say 10 kms wide at least although quite easily five or six times that, which would give 40 strips of 250m. with that volume of birds passing through. The figures now become quite staggering, theoretically between 72.000 and 180.000 swifts moving north in three hours, a mean of 126.000 but I'll settle for 100.000, and the movement was still going on when we left. Quite staggering numbers when one starts to look at them globally.

Saturday, 27/03
Home, sweet (?) home, in the garden this mid afternoon a Nightingale, second of the spring, sitting around in a patch of sunshine and catching the odd insect (photos). Later, I took the dog and wife for a walk down by the Río Guadalhorce, beautifully warm, plenty of Swallows and House Martins busily gathering mud. Then the wife excelled herself and saw something which turned out to be a lovely male Redstart, another spring first. Bee-eaters heard and later seen and a surprising 120+ Cattle Egrets in three flocks flying SW and I heard a distant Redshank. And to round it off, an English couple from Fuengirola whose names I forget ('If they were birds, you would!' I can hear my mother say from the other side) and for which I apologise, told me of sighting Purple Herons in the reserve. RESULT : Dog happy except for the ticks I have taken off her already (dog owners, beware!), wife happy(!), me happy. Amazing!!

And finally.... Sunday (28/03) Bee-eaters passing over this morning and still lots of Common Swifts.

25 March, Río Almanzora (Almería)

Here is tangible evidence that Dave is on the up and up with his report on the trip that Gilly and himself made to the río Almazora estuary on Thursday. The best bits are probably the early Bee-eater and the habitat improvement. I know how Dave feels about humping equipment- it's no joke!

Dave, a word of advice about retail therapy: (a) start to feel unwell - you, unfortunately, have had the perfect excuse, (b) ensure that you have no cash on you (lie like trooper if necessary) and (c) the person who wants it uses her own card on her own account! Mine pulls the trick of getting me to go for one thing and then deciding that she would also like to go to see other things. It makes life a bit argumentative but is worth the effort.

Gilly and I decided we'd spend some more time together by taking a look at our closest birding spot at the Rio de Almanzora rambla and estuary. On the journey down there I had a distant view of my first Bee-eater of the year and a Great Spotted Cuckoo. As "someone" wanted to do some retail therapy afterwards we joined the rambla near to Desert Springs and headed towards the coast. Having been very pessimistic about the desalination works being constructed adjacent to the rambla and the destruction of most of the shallow pools, I was very pleased to discover that prior to the desalination plant there were numerous pools that contained water and subsequently waders, the most prevalent being Black-winged Stilt and Common and Green Sandpiper, Greenshank and Redshank were also present. There must have been about 50 Yellow Wagtails (iberiae) feeding and resting around the edges. Also feeding were about 100 Barn Swallows together with some Sand and Crag Martins. A couple of Pallid Swifts made an appearance. They have not arrived in numbers here yet. Meadow and Water Pipits were observed, as were Corn Bunting.
Near to the ford some of the pools had recovered, but as yet there was no surrounding foliage so little bird activity. We carried on down to the beach at Villaricos as the usual route down to the estuary and pool had been blocked off by the continuing pipe workings. Near to the Roman remains site we saw our first Woodchat Shrike of the summer. We then walked along the beach towards the new 400 metre long rocky spit by the estuary. There were two Whimbrel some Audouin's Gulls and Sanderling on the rocky areas of the beach. On the spit it self we could only see Cormorants. Humping cameras and scopes along soft sand was exhausting for me, so we headed back, failing to reach the esturary pool itself.
Travelling towards Mojacar, there's a birding spot before you get to the Aquapark. Turn right at a roundabout directing you to the La Peperina urbanization. You'll see a large expanse of water to your left below the level of the road. Here we had more Black-winged Stilts, a Grey Heron (still no Purples seen) and some Pochard. Further along we also saw an Avocet.
42 species for the day, so reasonably happy, as I am about the improving habitat in the Almanzora rambla.


17 March, Cabo de Gata

A report from Cabo de Gata from Dave & Gilly , celebrating after Dave's dice with death. I'm sure that all readers (all 6 of you!) will join me in saying welcome back to the real world, Dave!!

It's great to be back birding. The cardiologist doesn't want to see me for 6 months. Thanks for all your best wishes for my speedy recovery.

Gilly and I got up early and headed south to Cabo de Gata. We stopped at the first hide and were greeted with the water level as my previous visit. The level hadn't dropped one iota. The only wader we spotted was a Black-tailed Godwit in the water-logged scrub between us & the water. There were 2 Sandwich Terns in breeding plumage on the flooded causeway and a few Shelducks. Three Slender-billed Gulls flew in, but that was it apart from the Greater Flamingos, of course. We then drove down to the pool on the opposite side of the road. We flushed a Snipe from one of the muddy puddles and a Green Sandpiper was feeding close to where we parked up. Lots of Barn and Red-rumped Swallows, lesser numbers of House, Sand and Crag Martins. A group of assorted Common and Pallid Swifts passed over.

A Marsh Harrier was quartering down the far end and an uncommon visitor for us, a White Stork, flew low over to our right and landed on an electricity pylon. Out to sea, although it was reasonably calm, we only managed to spot a couple of Gannets. On our walk to the hide we saw the first of many Corn Buntings.

Gilly counted 340 Greater Flamingos. Spoonbills were in their usual pose....asleep! On the steppe I spotted some large waders. They were an assorted group of Black- and Bar-tailed Godwits and Grey Plovers. Also seen was a Redshank. Lots of Meadow Pipits around together with Greenfinches and Linnets. On the water were at least 50 Shoveler and a couple of Black-necked Grebes. We then moved to the public hide. On our walk there we saw a Northern Wheatear and a Short-toed Lark.
Lots of Chiffchaffs around, some being very close to the viewing slots of the hide, so we were able to get some decent shots of them and a majestic male Black Redstart. Round the back of the reserve, where the ponds on the track had shrunk to large puddle size, 46 Audouin's Gulls were at rest. Got good views of Water Pipit and our only pair of Stonechats for the day. The Lesser Black-backed Gulls had all gone, as had all the smaller waders. Still had 4 Stone Curlews down the far end. Ended up with 63 species for the day.

Well pleased and so happy to be back!!
Best regards, Dave & Gilly


12 March: Fuente de Piedra and some other bits

Have you been wondering if I have been shot down or that something has befallen me? Well no, but I've not been out at all as life has been a bit hectic what with one thing (including messing up two sheets of nearly finished gull illustrations) and another, plus the weather has hit the birding rather badly. But first ...

An old friend from Scarborough from when I first (pre 1960) started seabirding at Filey has been down all winter and he has been out a lot more than myself. He was down at the Guadalhorce on Tuesday and apart from 2 stunning male Black-eared Wheatears and 2 Ospreys had nothing less than 3 Dotterels - first ever record for the area as far as I am aware - and which have got to be on the 'must' list of many. He has also told me of hundreds of hirundines of all spp. held up along the river at Fuengirola when there was the big blow some ten days since.

There have been 2 Common Gulls hanging around the mouth of the Guadalhorce at Guadalmar (Angel García and Huberto García, no relationships) and also some more Mediterranean Gulls, now mainly 1st summer birds moving and Huberto managed to photograph 2 colour ringed birds and some e-mailing revealed that they were ringed as chicks last year in western France.

I have been seeing the occasional Pallid Swift terrace at home and also a few passing Barn Swallows, whilst early this morning (12/03) there was a good movement east of Sand Martins, a rather self-effacing little hirundine which I rather like. There has been a marked lack of Willow/Chiffs with only a couple or so records, an amazingly low number for this time of year. Asn so rightly said, if you don't get out, you don't see the birds. And as the first hasn't occurred, neither has the second. And whilst I have been talking with Mick Richardson from Loja (Granada) who is down at Algeciras between the previous and following sentences, 2 Alpine Swifts flashed past as well as 5 or 6 Common Swifts. He has seen 'about 2.000' Black Kites today plus 'several hundred' Short-toed Eagles, as well as Montagu's and Hen Harriers...... I think I could feel ill!

There are 3 Lesser Flamingos in the lakes in the La Lantejuela area of Sevilla province (Paco Chiclana) but there sure as heck aren't any at Fuente de Piedra as I searched carefully for them this morning.

As Ron goes home to Scarborough on Tuesday, this morning, which actually not only promised fine but was!, we went up to the laguna Dulce and Fuente de Piedra in order that he could have a last look around. The first stop was the laguna Dulce, just outside Campillos and which was not particularly fruitful as there is so much water there is no vegetation (ie. reeds and the like) for waterbirds to breed. We did have a single White-headed Duck and some Pochard, whilst a pair of Black-necked Grebes in full breeding plumage were very smart.

From there we went on to Fuente de Piedra, going around and across the western end to be met with the sight of several thousand Flamingos - ca.7.000 according to information - scattered around the lake with at least half of them in the colony nuclei. Large rgoups were displaying, with the necks erect but there was little wing flashing. A pair of Ravens cronked their way over whilst Ron gazed at the view in splendid sunshine. From there we went around to the observatory at Cantarranas but the light is against you there but we did locate 21-22 remaining Cranes (some were seen over the centre of Madrid this last week!).

The final stop was at the information centre and there we got some superb views of Flamingos there, including a couple of copulation attempts, which if you are a flamingo is fraught with hazard with those long legs as the males fall off with a certain regularity, which must be extremely frustrating for them. We saw had a very brief view of the little male Bluethroat which has wintered there, a couple of rather dark-looking Meadow Pipits, lots of White Wagtails and a solitary male of the Iberian race of the Blue-headed Wagtail. A flock of some 24or so Avocets swam way out on the lake along with some Shovelers - this has been the winter of the Shoveler without a doubt, the things have been everywhere, there few Mallard and distant views of a pair of Wigeon.

But it was the swifts and hirundines which stole the morning. There has undoubtedly been a big movement (Mick Richardson had seen a lot of both moving in this morning just to the east of Algeciras-Los Barrios). Most of the swifts were Pallids, there were at least 2 Commons (but see above about the ones I have seen whilst writing this) and at least 6-8 Alpine Swifts, a real fast mover and lovely to see. There were hordes of Barn Swallows , some House Martins and at least 1 Red-rumped Swallow, so I ended up seeing all 5 spp. in the day as I had already seen Sand Martin this morning and I have seen Crag Martin at home here this evening before dusk.

So homewards. Ron very happy with the last morning's birding and he, like me, is now in love with Fuente de Piedra as a place to go birding. Except that he hasn't been there at the height of summer with the mercury going well through the 40ºC mark with the solano wind blowing and which sucks you dry.