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 In the afternoon, she had been replaced by a Nightingale.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.

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