21 October, La Janda

Not having been anywhere, not even into the Guadalhorce ponds, since 8 October as the adult female member of the family was interned and the car learnt the way to the hospital at all hours, all birding was restricted to short walks in the afternoon along the river bank with the dog whilst the off-sprung stood guard with their mother (about time they were useful!).

All these walks gave of note was a pair of Barn Swallows and a single late Pallid Swift on 18th and a Whimbrel and a snake over a metre long of some sort (Luna would have thrown a whoopsie if she'd seen it) on 20th and a flock of c.135 Balearic Shearwaters on the sea in front of the humble abode, but, as they say back at home, 'owt is better than nowt'. Thus, when Stephen Daly of Andalucian Guides suggested that a morning out on La Janda where he has access to parts that normal beings can't reach (sounds like an ad. for that beer, doesn't it?) I accepted with something approaching the speed of light. I needed to get out as I was starting to get the first withdrawal symptoms.

So, by due appointment, at 0915 on 21 October I met Stephen at the Apolo XI bar at Tahivilla and from there we went boldly where I had never been before, into the forbidden lands of Finca La Haba, where he has visiting rights, after which we ran alongside the canal and out the top on to the N-2340. I didn't care that it was blowing a good 5-6 easterly, I was birding!
The area we went in to was full of rice paddies and we found a goodly selection of birds as well as American Crayfish which are gobbled up eagerly by egrets, White Storks and the like. The strong wind tended to keep the birds down and those that did move shot past at mach 1+. It was nice to see a late Northern Wheatear and a female Whinchat also, both very smart birds. We must have seen 5 or 6 Bluethroats but none showed well except for the 2 Willow Warblers as they didn't like the wind and hid quickly.
There were some big flocks of sparrows and even though they flew regularly, spotting the occasional male Spanish Sparrow when they settled was difficult in the lashing branches and leaves and we also spotted at least one probable hybrid male (crossed with a normal House Sparrow) in amongst them. In the open areas amongst the paddies there were plenty of Green Sandpipers and Snipe, as well the ubiquitous White Storks which can't be bothered to cross to Africa - after all, why move if you've the restuarant serving crayfish at all hours? There were quite good numbers of Meadow Pipits also and lesser numbers of Calandra Larks and later we saw a couple of lateish Swallows.

What was nice to see was the arrival of the first Cranes (although Bob has just phoned to say he saw the first ones in Doñana on Tuesday - read his blog, it makes one feel quite sick at all they saw in 4 days!). The lone injured bird which spent the summer on La Janda (R) must have been going bonkers at hearing and seeing them, somewhere in the region of 250-270 in various flocks.

The only raptors were a few Lesser Kestrels, plenty of Marsh Harriers with several immature males in amongst them, a single Common Buzzard and two of perhaps the prettiest raptor we see on La Janda - Black-shouldered Kite, of which this photo is testimonial of one of them as the distance was great and so was the wind.

Regrettably, all good things come to an end and Stephen had to be off by 12.30 which left me to bird on my own, so I repeated the run along the canal and then planned to go across the top, by the smelly farm and then down to the corner where the road turns left for Benalup. Just past the farm, I ran into a stream of Griffon Vultures moving south, their migration is on and there had been report of some 3.000 trying to cross the Strait earlier in the week. I examined every damned one of around 300 birds in the stream, but there was nothing resembling a Rüppell's so I carried on across.

ripening race field

Once at the corner, I stopped and to my amazement found that the track that heads south towards Facinas had been graded and roughly filled. This track has been effectively closed to normal vehicles for ages unless you have jolly big 4x4, preferably a Humvee or similar, so it was with delight that I found that it posed no problems for my Ford Fusion (which is just a bit higher clearance than normal saloon). So, off I drove and saw very little except clouds of dust and a solitary, rather late Black Kite.

Everything went well, the track was reasonable, until I found a pile of fill and from then on things went rather pear-shaped as there is still work to be done. At one point I even debated about turning round and going back back plugged on with great care and very slowly and got through without any damage to the exhaust system. And if it rains, it will be totally impassable in no time at all - YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!

Having regained tarmacked road by Facinas, it was time to be off and with the strong wind moving the car all over the place it was not pleasant driving. However, being a glutton for punishment, I stopped at the mirador del Estrecho, just east of Tarifa, and caught up with the same Griffon Vultures I had seen at the north end of La Janda. Vultures do not like crossing water and especially not in strong winds and they were wandering around, down to Tarifa, back again, fly inland, then down again but there was no way they were going to cross. So, to finish off the day, couple of photos of them - play at 'count the vultures' on the left hand photo - and homewards with a total species count of 43 for the day, not a lot but I had enjoyed my day out and Luna was glad to see me home!

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