24-25 September, Tarifa & La Janda

Friday, 24 September: With the feeble excuse that I couldn't do the Tarifa Bird Fair and get in sufficient birding in a single day, I was up before 06.30 and on my way by 07.30 with only a strong black coffee to sustain me the morning of 24 September and I aimed to return early (about 17.30) on 25th as my dog is not well and, as she is the only member of the family that raises her head and says hello when I come in from anywhere, she deserves the best of veterinary attention (expensive).

So, by 09.15 I was at the observatory at the northern end of Tarifa beach (the one opposite the petrol station) to find it occupied by 3 Finns (who I was to run into seveal times more during the following 36 hours or so). A single Stone Curlew flew past as I walked in, closely watched by a relative of Ermintrude's (remember 'Magic Roundabout'?) and then flock of c.20 Short-toed Larks flew over, whilst overhead a couple of rather tatty Black Kites wended their way south. Higher up there was a good movement of fast moving Alpine Swifts, including one splendid flock of at least 200, in a movement that was to go on througout the morning. There were also several high-flying Short-toed Eagles, a few Booted Eagles, a single Honey Buzzard and a single Osprey, most of these so high that the AF on the camera couldn't lock on, so the Osprey was the best that I could do.

Once settled in the hide, scan for waders, 11-12 very nice Bar-tailed Godwits, a small of Sanderlings over to the left, a few Ringed Plovers scattered around (but not a single Kentish), a flock of Audouin's Gulls and one or two Yellow-legged Gulls (how exciting) and a few Sandwich Terns but nothing with a yellow bill. A scan over the sea revealed an absolute absence of anything avian so I turned my attention to the horse directly in front of the hide (OK, I know a horse isn't a bird) but around it 3 or 4 Yellow Wagtails, including 2 males of the Blue-headed flava race were feeding happily on the insects it stirred up. By now I was already late to meet Stephen Daly and on the way out to the car 3 Whinchats flitted past and one was considerate enough to land and give me brief but very satisfactory views of this very attractive relative of theresident Stonechat which decided that it was time to attack- they can be very aggressive little devils.

I spent the time between about 1030 and 1400 having (a) a late breakfast with Stephen and (b) bumping into friends who were either exhibiting (not themselves, I hasten to add) or simply doing as I did and looking. Considering the difficulties that there were in getting finances to carry out the Fair, it wasn't at all bad. It is always worth having a look at the huge literary offer on the stand run Libraría Agricola (and not just because they had two of my own books on sale), and, of course, the stands run by the Sociedad Española de Ornitología and Andalucian Bird Society respectively, one being able to chat with such friends and luminaries as Oscar Llama (one of the intrepid seven of us who were on the trip to watch Zino's Petrel in May, see entry of 1 June) on the first and the magnificently politically incorrect and excellent companion Peter Jones on the second (the first part of the lead-in probably being the reason why we get on so well, two grumpy old gits!), plus the many more local ones, all of which I looked at were well presented with lots of information available, either printed or on asking. I also ran into (figuratively) into Birgit Kremer, a fantastic photographer whose web page http://www.iberia-natur.com/es is always worth a look, even if you don't understand Spanish.

But there was something lacking and that something was birds, so I went and booked in at the hotel, tried to have a siesta as it was hot and I was tired (age and the onset of rigor mortis play a rôle in this best of Spanish inventions), having arranged with Bob Wright and his two American guests to meet them later up at Bolonia to try for the Little and White-rumped Swifts. However, Morpheus refused to cooperate by opening his arms for me, so wihout recourse 'nature's second course' (not too classical for you all this, is it?), I was on my way to La Janda by 16.00 and was very hot with lots of heat haze, which didn't help at all and three English birders at the canal corner.

There was a fair number of White Storks standing around wondering why they hadn't yet migrated to somewhere warmer and a tireless Stonechat, whilst several Marsh Harriers, all females and juveniles of this year floating around in the haze. Then a totally black harrier was seen. Scoping it with heat haze was difficult and at first we eliminated which it was, a melanistic Montagu's or a Marsh. The first was ruled out on wing size and shape and general jizz so it had to be the second and eventually we got enough on it to see the faint barring on the underside of the tail which would probably make it a juvenile and slightly paler markings in the underwing the base of the primaries. An interesting bird and the first dark morph Marsh Harrier I have ever seen. A white-headed, a juvenile, Short-toed Eagle dropped in briefly (above) and then lumbered off again. Meanwhile some 200 Glossy Ibises had been seen to the south but that was nothing compared with what was to come.

By now I was running late (again) for meeting Bob and his guests at Bolonia so shot off northwards and on the stretch of road between the bridge that runs eastwards to the smelly farm and onwards towards Glossy Ibises started to cross in front of me. A hunded, then another 80 and so and so forth. Naturally, I stopped to watch and photograph as they were so close at times. It was possible to see, even in flight, that some were carrying white plastic rings but even by enlarging the photos (you can see the rings if you look carefully) it has been impossible to read them but it's an odds-on guess that they are dispersing birds from Doñana. Eventally, I calcluated that there was well in excess of 1.200 and that the area must constitute some sort of holding area before they all fly off to roost somewhere.

After seeing this spectacle of Glossy Ibises, I saw another harrier, a very oddly marked bird, which whilst in movement (ie. me in car) looked like a female but once I had managed to pass it, ram on the brakes and shoot three frames, the best of which is reproduced here, I could see it was another oddly marked Marsh Harrier, a male this time. However, this morning I wrote to the raptor guru, Dick Forsman, who has kindly replied with the comment that it is a bird in transitional moult, entering its second winter plumage. So, you live and learn!

And so, risking the wrath of little green men with radars, I hurried to Bolonia to find Bob and company aleady there and waiting expectantly. On the cliff face, Griffon Vultures were already settlig down for the night but kept making occasional sorties around while one appeared to have grudge about something and was grumbling away to itself. One of had a colour wing tag and in principal it seems possible that it is from Castellón province where there is a programme in progress. Kestrels went in out, screaming a lot, and making them seem to be several tens but probably not more than 5 or 6. And we waited, and we waited, but no swifts, neither Little nor White-rumped. A British couple arrived, then the three Finns, all of with the same objective, those damned swifts. A Green Woodpecker called once and was silent. A trio of Peregrines appeared over the cliff face, called, flew around to let us admire them and then vanished.

The sun went down and we kept saying 'five minutes more, five minutes more'. Someone saw a white rump disappear at high speed into the cave and nothing more in the gathering gloom. Then, finally, in the last light the four swifts appeared and the sawn off tails, size and flight enabled identification as Little Swifts. Honour was satisfied.

Saturday, 25 September: Breakfasted and out under grey skies to La Janda at the canal corner by just gone 0930 along with Bob and his guests and found that the three Finns had beaten us to it! Virtually the first bird that I saw, apart from a multitude of finches and Corn Buntings, was a superb little male white-spotted Bluethroat. These really smashing little birds to see and having a had a female/juvenile in the garden last week I have started the winter off really well with this sp.. There were a few Marsh Harriers swanning around and quite a lot Cattle Egret and White Storks, but an adult Squacco Heron was rather nice to see, with the strong contrast between persil-white wings and brown back and a Green Sandpiper squeaked a couple of times but I at least did not see it well. In fact, the rice fields, which are not yet in the process of drying out, did not give any nice little muddy patches and therefore a marked lack of waders, but after the harvesting starts in mid October they should be well worth a visit.

That apart, a distant Short-toed Eagle hovered through the haze as the sun was coming out and there were many Swallows and quite a few Sand Martins feeding low over the fields. Kestrels were, as usual, much in evidence. Further along the canal bank track we found no less than 5 Honey Buzzards sitting apart on one of the irrigation booms. we saw the only Montagu's Harrier of the trip, a juvenile bird, and further along still when I had gone ahead, a small, pale raptor flying alongside the car made me swerve and ram on the brakes as it was one of the more desirable raptor species to be seen, a Black-shouldered Kite and it was considerate enough to park on one of the booms and let us all (which all now included a group of Belgians) watch it, albeit somewhat distant.

By now I was starting to run short on time due to promises to meet friends and we made for the top road which runs past the stinky farm (the Finns liked that description) and towards Benalup and can be quite productive for watching raptors. I was behind the Belgians and as I pulled in behind them a small passerine with a long tail, brownish reddish from mid back downwards and black suberminal and white terminal tips to the tail feathers - a Rufous Bushchat (or whatever they're calling 'em now). Brakes on while keeping an eye on where it went down, alert the Belgians without running into the back of their vehicle who got all excited and eventually some of them at least managed to relocate it. Bob, I think, missed it and what happened to the Finns in all this I can't remember but I was vey pleased as I haven't seen one in a decade or more, basically because I don't go to the right areas.

Then it was hurry, hurry, back to the N-340, get down to Tarifa to meet Stephen Daly and his wife for lunch, chat with more folks, meet a fellow seawatcher from the North East of England (if you read this, please get in touch so I can let you have details on the books) and another from my alma mater - the Filey Brigg Ornithological Group who joined after I had left, and then homewards about 15.30 as I wanted to get some things done.

Which left just one more call to make at the Cazalla watch point just to the east of Tarifa. Intended to be a brief one it extended somewhat as just as I was slipping and spinning wheels on the steep slope to park, Mick Richardson yelled down at me to get my skates on as there were 2 juvenile Imperial Eagles flying together! I got my skates on and managed to park without hitting either persons or cars, grab binoculars, camera and scope and was on to the pair in a very short time. One Imperial Eagle is always nice to see, so two is really good, especially as they flew down towards Tarifa, did a couple of turns and lazily flew back towards us before gaining more height and disappearing inland. What a way to finish the trip! So I said goodby to the Finns yet again and was on my way without collecting any speeding fines, I hope! Time will tell.

In sum, about 58 spp, which isn't much but I wasn't really trying, of which 14 were birds of prey of one sort or another. And yes, my dog was pleased to see me back!

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