28 April, Cabo de Gata

Poor Dave, forced to go birding on his own because Gilly has driven him from the marital paradise in order that she can work and do household chores .... how hard can life get? So, what can a man do but go birding?

After Gilly and my successful trip to Southern Morocco, I was looking forward to see what birds were around on my "local" patch. None of the other group members were able to come, so I set off on my own to Cabo de Gata, Gilly having work and household commitments.

At the first hide I was very pleased to see the water level had dropped sufficiently to expose some scrapes for waders. These were occupied by both Ringed and Kentish Plovers. On the rocky causeway were two Stone Curlews. I checked out the scrubland behind me and saw a perched bird. I drove round to get a better view and discovered it was a Northern Wheatear. It was obviously exhausted after, what I think, is a late arrival. It stay in its position till I departed.

The pool supplied a second surprise. A flock of 25 egrets. No, not Cattle as I had expected but Little Egrets. On the far edge was a Wood Sandpiper and a Greenshank. A small flight of Whiskered Terns flew over.

I then moved towards the second hide. A check out to sea revealed both Sandwich and Little Terns feeding. A pair of Oystercatchers flew past. On the walk to the hide I saw a Short-toed Lark. My arrival was greeted by a very noisy Yellow-legged Gull, which gave the impression I wasn't welcome on its patch! I did a "man" count of the Greater Flamingos...there were about 400!!

At the public hide, the sandy islands were full of sitting Avocets with the odd Kentish Plover and Little Tern. I also spotted 3 Black-tailed Godwits feeding, together with the, I assume, previously mentioned Oystercatchers. As I was about to depart a final scan produced a breeding plumaged red chested Curlew Sandpiper.

A drive to the lighthouse was fruitless, so I headed round the back of the reserve. he star was a Bar-tailed Godwit feeding with 3 Greenshanks and a small flock of 15 Redshanks. On the new islands, just viewable, about 100 Avocets seem to be nesting. A Common Tern (not nesting) was amongst them. A flight of 3 further Northern Wheatears flew past me. Near the end a pair of Whinchats were flitting between bush tops. The final bird of note was a Great Spotted Cuckoo which may well be on its way south after doing its dastedly deeds for the last 3 months.
49 species in all. Missing Morocco, but glad to be home.

24 April, Fuente de Piedra

A lovely morning at Fuente de Piedra with Peter Jones, Bob Wright, Bob Hibbett and a slew of others from the Andalucia Birding Society who all combined to make it a great morning's birding, with the lake showing at its very best and myself with the aim of trying out a new camera and telephoto lens, the first reuslts of which are here. This is, therefore, a short report only.

I started out early with a short visit to the Laguna Dulce which is still full to overflowing and with a goodly population of Flamingos, most of which appear to be outside what would normally be the normal lakeside vegetation. This in turn means that there is little cover for aquatic birds to breed. On the other hand, the water level has fallen slightly so there is some mud in the fields to the right of the lagoon and around these areas there were a few Lapwings, which means that they may well try to breed as they have done so before, a single Little Stint and a couple of Green Sandpipers, plus some very pretty little male Kentish Plovers with their ginger caps and, naturally, the Black-winged Stilts.

From there it was on to Fuente de Piedra which is solid with Flamingos, there apparently being some 8 or 9 minor colonies rather than a couple of big ones, these can be seen from the western end of the lake. There were also an awful lot of people and, once more, not a single warden in sight. This morning we took the board walk towards El Vicario, although we only got as far as the road. I managed to miss a Great Spotted Cuckoo, but did we did find a rather odd duck, some sort of Shoveler, either a hybrid with something like South American Shoveler or, according to a friend in Brisbane, possibly South American x Australian Shoveler - an interesting looking bird which made the heart jump at least! (photo).

In the wader line, there was tight resting flock of some 20 Ruff, all females as faras could be made out, a whole slew of noisy Redshanks, most on the far side of the road, at least 120 I estimated on the way in, 10+ Little Stints and lots of Avocets and Stilts, I heard a Greenshank and also a Grey Plover and saw Ringed Plover, there being also quite a few Little Ringed Plovers. There were 3 or 4 Wood Sandpipers which were showing well, a very delicate wader this, and a single Common Sandpiper. Two male Iberian race Yellow Wagtails kept up a territorial struggle most of the time we were on the path and there was a surprising number of Sand Martins still around, plus plenty of Barn Swallows.

And last, but not least, was the presence of 2 Squacco Herons which flew off, landed on the far side of the reeds and stalked back through and allowed a photograph.
And although not birds, they do fly, there are goodly numbers of Painted Lady butterflies around.


11 April: Guadalhorce

Yes,I know, 'late again', I can hear you saying it. But better late than never which was how I felt when I eventually entered the Guadalhorce at about 9.15 on a Sunday morning, a good 30 minutes later than planned but that's the way things go. It was overcast and definitely cool but insufficient to dampen a singing Nightingale as I crossed the bridge, a sure sign that spring is here. In fact, it was a morning of singing birds and during the walk around I estimated at least 5 singing Sedge Warblers and probably about the same number of Fan-tailed Warblers (a.k.a. Zitting Cisticolas), which was a nice surprise after the long,wet winter which I had feared would decimate their population, and, of course, plenty of Cetti's Warblers in full cry.

First stop was the big lake - the laguna Grande - where there were plenty of hirundines hawking, mostly Swallows but with reasonable numbers of Sand Martins and, of course, some House Martins and a single Red-rumped Swallow, many of them resting on branches on the lee side of the bushes out of the easterly wind.

From the hide I was immediately rewarded with a super shot of the semi-resident female Ruddy Shelduck and I promise that I will put no more photos of her in this blog, but this is, I think, the best by some distance, probably about the same distance from which one can hear her raucous call for a mate. The White-headed Duck males must have their hormones functioning at 100% as they were being very aggressive amongst themselves, one actually trying to drown another, whilst the females feigned the usual indifference, one of these being a very dark-faced bird. On the far side of the lake there was a nice group of Little Egrets too. I heard a distant Greenshank but never saw it in all the morning, a pity as they are a very classy wader.

From there it was round the laguna Escondida and there was little there so it was onwards, as I had every intention of being home before noon (failed again!). The first thing to distract me was a nice Woodchat Shrike, closely followed by my first Pied Flycatcher of the year, a very smart little male - it has also transpired that the first ones were seen in several other parts of Spain yesterday. Then, even before I got to the corner, I was distracted again, first by a male Peregrine which shot off on full after-burner, climbing and cutting across the course of a pair of panicked Garganey. What the end result was, I know not, as the ducks dived out of sight as the killer was closing in.

The numbers of Grey Herons had fallen notably as had the numbers of Cormorants. I had no luck seeing Purple Herons although another birder told me that 15 had been seen together during the week. Round at the second hide along the eastern side of the reserve I came across the Spoonbills, amongst them the colour ringed bird which Manolo Moreno had photographed earlier in the week. This is an interesting bird as it was ringed on the Dutch island of Terschelling on 13 June 2009 and since then has been seen down here on five occasions since the first sighting on 25 October by myself, other observers being Bob Wright, Huberto García and Manolo, then yesterday again by myself. I also did my 'be nice and educate the public' act (that's it for the year) for some interested ladies from a walking (senderismo) group from Alahurín who were most interested in the story of the ringed Spoonbill and they all examined it through the telescope. The big question now is: What will it do? Stay around? Move north? This is the great advantage of colour marking (by the way, there are rings on both legs although it was standing only on one yesterday). In the same area there was a single Little Ringed Plover and a single Curlew Sandpiper, another first for the year.

A party of migrant Stilts were resting there too - the resident ones are already paired up and holding territories - one of them having only half of one leg and the one with the white ring that has been around for at least two seasons has also been seen.

And then came what was undoubtedly the bird of the day (it's a bit like 'Match of the Day' on the idiot box but better and certainly briefer) in the form of a large shape moving at quite a speed along the line of the eucalyptus where the Cormorants roost. Not a Buzzard and Marsh Harriers never move that fast, and then it did a sudden flare out, showed beautifully rounded wings and barred tail as it glued itself to a branch, glared around for just sufficient time for me to get the scope on it and there it was - a really big female Goshawk, what both Mike and myself would class as 'a buxom wench', my first for the Guadalhorce and probably one of very few records for there, and it was off again so darned quickly I lost sight of it and never saw it again. At least there was something to make up for the lack of Yellow Wagtails and Pratincoles.

So home and the rest of the day came and went with a nice little male Serin in the garden. They really are very smart little fellows as can be seen. There are hordes of Common Swifts around and down below me I have seen several screaming parties dodging amongst the buildings.

And this afternoon I learnt that Kirri (his real name is Francisco) from Vélez-Málaga saw three flocks of Whimbrels totalling some 350 birds yesterday afternoon off La Caleta de Vélez.


7 April, Embalse de Negratín, Baza

The Arboleas Bird Group strikes again, this time to the embalse de Negratín, Baza. The photos (one of which somehow reminds me of that film 'Gorillas in the Mist', except that perhaps it should be retitled 'Birders in the Mist' with members of the Arboleas Group starring as themselves. And as an afterthought, I wonder if the Chiffs that are mentioned might not have been Iberian Chiffs? Here is Dave and Gilly's report.

As we left Arboleas, low cloud obliterated the sun, but as we passed Tijola on our way to the Embalse de Negratin, the far side of Baza, the skies were blue & cloudless and the sun was shining. After coffee and breakfast, Gilly and I, together with 5 other members headed down to the dam. The birdlife on the water came up to expectations.....SFA apart from 4 Mallard and some passing Yellow-legged Gulls. The water level was as high as I've ever seen it. In fact they were releasing tons of water in a huge spray down the far end.

The best birds we saw from the dam was a flight of 7 Alpine Swifts. They were around most of the day so I suspect they might be nesting on one of the cliff faces. We then headed down into the valley. Lots of Goldfinches, Greenfinches, Blackcaps and a couple of Chiffchaffs. I then spotted movement in the trees in front of us. A Wryneck! We had good views and it was a "first" for a few of the members. We also managed to spot one of the Nightingales singing from the stream side foliage. A Rock Sparrow was also seen, as were Long-tailed Tits and some Bee-eaters flying high overhead. 7 Cormorants flew in formation towards the reservoir. As we reached the pool by the water outlet, the spray reached over the road. The "pure" Rock Doves were still in residence. There was nothing on the rivulet as the water level was very high, but we heard Cetti's Warblers from the reeds. On the way back to the vehicles we heard, then saw a Great Spotted Woodpecker drumming away. 33 species for the day. Disappointed that we didn't see any large birds of prey. Gilly and I are off on our delayed birding holiday to Southern Morocco next week.


odd wagtail at the Guadalhorce

I have written before about the Yellow Wagtails and the various races that it is possible to see down here in the spring, but last week (ie. week ending 2 April), Bob Hibbett, who is a very experienced and well-travelled birder, came across a very odd male Yellow Wagtail down at the Guadalhorce. He did some tracking down of what it might be and found the following two links which showed an identical bird:


and came to the conclusion that the nearest it came to be being - not that is necessarily was as Yellow Wags are notoriously variable and races interbreed where they meet - a Green-crowned Yellow Wagtail M. - flava taivana.

The details below are from Wikipedia:
M. f. taivana
(Swinhoe, 1863) –
Green-crowned Yellow Wagtail or Kuril Yellow Wagtail. Like flavissima but darker above, ears much darker, almost black. Sexes similar.
Breeding: between ranges of M.f. plexa and M.f. tschutschensis S via Sakhalin to N Hokkaido.
Winter: Myanmar (Burma) to Taiwan and S to Wallacea.

I'll bet Bob's heart went pit-a-pat-a-pit, that vital organ does tend to when one finds something odd!! It also shows the need to keep one's eyes open.

And two small bits of birdy news from England. The first this morning from my sister (she even owns up to being related to me!) that the first 2 Sand Martins have turned up at a colony she watches on the East Yorkshire coast south of Bridlington and at the same time she was watching a Barn Owl hunting at 9 in the morning in broad daylight. The second was from Mike in Worcestershire who not only saw his first Swallow of the year but also had a White Wagtail in his garden, this latter a first for his garden.


1 April : Cabo de Gata, Arboleas Bird Group

Seems like All Fools Day was the day to be out birding as Dave and Gilly and others of the Arboleas Group went down to Cabo de Gata. A pity it's so far away from here, I must go down and join them for a day and try to remind myself what waders look like! The photos are, of course, Dave's.

The sun was shining as Gilly and I plus three other members set off to Cabo de Gata. As we arrived at the first hide we could see that the water level was as high as before on both sides of the road. A group of 5 Little Egrets were feeding in the shallows. On one pool in the scrubland to our left there was a good selection of birds, Shelduck, Avocet, Black-winged Stilts and Black-tailed Godwits. Behind us Gilly spotted a female Bluethroat. Lots of iberiae race Yellow Wagtails. A flight of 9 Bee-eaters passed overhead. Small numbers of Barn and Red-rumped Swallows were seen, as were Pallid Swifts. I regretted wearing my 3/4 length trousers as we were pounced on by 100's of mosquitoes. As a consequence only Gilly and I ventured to the pool past the small desalination plant and Green Sandpiper was the best we got there. We joined up with the others at the second hide. Saw both Northern and Black-eared Wheatear, Woodchat Shrike and Corn Bunting.

The 100s of Chiffchaffs seen on our previous visit had moved on. At the public hide a pair of Black-necked Grebes were still present. The sandy islands were occupied by Avocets and a few Kentish Plovers. Here the group split up again due to the state of the Reserves rear track. Brian, Mary and Dave went off to search out a route to Morales through the campsite whilst Gilly and I ventured round the back. The water level was down by man's hand no doubt, drained by the salt works which was good. The track had dried to muddy patches which we tried to avoid. The rest was dry, but bumpy. We saw about 5 Spotted Redshanks and 3 Greenshanks.

I spotted a "big" bird heading towards us. A Bonelli's Eagle came right over the top of us. A bit further along we had good fleeting views of a Spectacled Warbler. As we approached the end of the track a single Stone Curlew took to the air, which made our 50th bird species of the day.

Dave & Gilly

1 April : Guadalhorce

Yes, I know 1 April is All Fools' Day and it felt like it with the bitter, force 5 pushing 6, wind from the west at 09.00 when Federico and I ventured in to the reserve. However, nothing venture, nothing gain, so we pushed on, first down the eastern arm. The first changes that struck us were that (a) the water levels have gone down a bit on the ponds, followed rapidly by (b) the quantity of sex-mad Gadwalls with males pursuing females all over the shop (have they been infected by Mallards which are known sexual maniacs?); (c) the notable increase in White-headed Ducks, mostly males (is it too much to hope that females are incubating?) and (d) the imbalanced quantity of 17 male Pochards and only 4 females on the old arm of the river (same thought as for White-headed Duck females applies here).

The female Ruddy Shelduck is still around and another different bird has also been reported, but Samuel has informed me that apparently all the ducks in the Málaga parks are ringed and have been pinioned (a simple process which removes the outer part of the tip of one wing so that the primaries don't grow and the birds can't fly, except in circles). So where this has come from is anybody's guess, but I wouldn't place bets on it being a genuine wild bird, they are too common in collections.

Walking on down to just before the seawatch mirador, we met Ángel who had seen a single Pratincole (we saw him again later and he'd seen 2 more, it's amazing how one can go off people) while he pointed out a female Northern Wheatear to us on the left side of the track. It was while we were watching this bird, plus the odd Yellow Wagtail, something even odder flew the field of vision of my scope and settled, which turned out to be Wryneck, which stayed around just long enough for Federico and Ángel to see it also. The Yellow Wagtails, only 5 or 6 of them on the right side of the track, were all males of the Blue-headed flava and the British Yellow flavissima races, and very bonny they all were. Also in that area there were 3 Woodchat Shrikes.

Waders were represented by a few Little Ringed Plovers, a single Sanderling along the shore and 3 Common Redshanks (another friend we met later said he'd seen a Spotted Redshank but it didn't sound right to me) and, of course, there was everyone's favourite hysterical wader, the Black-winged Stilt.

There was a nice collection of hirundines, with all 5 species being seen: Barn Swallows, at least 4 Red-rumped, a single Crag Martin, House Martins and at least 10 Sand Martins, these last being easy to overlook as they are such unassuming little chaps.

Ted Lord tells me that another Dotterel was seen down by the beach on 30/03 by a friend and himself, the second this year.

So, as that well-known philospopher Bugs Bunny would say, 'That's all, folks!'