28 December, Laguna Dulce and Fuente de Piedra

This will be the last post for 2010. Late yet again but I didn't want particularly to interfere with that of Dave on the same date from Cabo de Gata. So before starting and finishing off what will be a brief one.

This last Tuesday I took an ex-colleague and his father, an 80+ birder, on a brief morning trip around the laguna Dulce (Campillos) and to Fuente de Piedra in order to show im something different. It was a still morning, no wind but very humid and a slightly misty, diaphanous look about everything until late in the morning.

The laguna Dulce was remarkably devoid of waterbirds after the huge numbers of recent months and upon which I have commented here.For example, the 92+ White-headed Ducks I counted back on 13 November had reduced to no more than 5 or 6 birds visible - which may be why numbers are starting to rise at the Guadalhorce with a pre-breeding dispersal to the breeding areas, and numbers of everything else have fallen by, I reckon, at least 20 fold. In fact, the only species of which the numbers had risen was the Lapwing, while there were some Black-necked Grebes and Pochards way out on the laguna and a small band of Flamingos way over. There were at least 2, probably 3, Marsh Harriers but not a single Little Bustard to be seen. I rather suspect that there is too much disturbance for them at the present time.

At Fuente de Piedra I was particularly interested in showing them the Cranes and not just distant views but nice and close and neither they, nor myself,were to be disappointed, as the photographs below illustrate and of which we had splendid views.

As usual, the field on the right as one drives in where there is the tower of unknown origin and usage there was a small flock of Stone Curlews but less than normal, possibly because of the rather damp conditions. Because of the slight mist and diffused light, trying to pick out any errant Lesser Flamingos amongst the relatively few Flamingos was a well nigh impossible task but there were several hundred Shovelers and on the laguneto del Pueblo, behind the remodelled information centre, there were a few Coot and Teal and couple of Snipe.

There were more Coot on the flahes by the centre and this little party of Black-winged Stilts, one of which - a male - had incredibly heavy head and neck markings much more reminscent of the Black-necked Stilts of the West Indies but it immediately settled down and went to sleep and I was unable to get any shot of it but it was an interesting bird. But while there was a general dearth of waders, there was absolutely no lack of Chiffchaffs feeding everywhere in the sun once that came out but no sign of any Bluethroat such as the one which had shown itself so well last winter.

So, thus endeth 2010. My thanks to those who are brave enough to read all this, to those who comment, and especially to Dave and Gilly Elliott-Binns for their reports from Almería which undoubtedly enliven things, to all of you, whoever you are and wherever you are ....

good birding for 2011 and a happy and healthy New Year!


28 December, Cabo de Gata

From Dave and Gilly, who send their best wishes for a good New Year to all readers after a day at Cabo de Gata, a place which has an awful lot to offer and which those of you in foreign, and presumably colder parts, should consider for a long weekend's birding holiday. So, herewith Dave's account, which may be the last for this year but I wouldn't bet on it!

Yet again I had to scrape the ice off the car before Gilly and I met up with Colin Menéndez who used to work at Slimbridge and is staying in the area over Christmas and New Year. As we didn't leave Arboleas till 0800 we missed the Eurasian Curlew exodus from the water's edge to dry land by the time we got to the first hide. There were 3 Black-tailed Godwits, a small number of Little Egrets, a single Black-winged Stilt, but over to the right I spotted 18 Grey Plovers. Gilly pointed out 4 Lapwing sitting on the grassland.

We moved on to the pool on the opposite side of the road. Here were another couple of Godwits, 9 Black-winged Stilts and 5 Teal. A few Crag Martins whizzed over.
On the way up the beach road we saw some large waders land close to the road on the left hand savannah. Stopping the truck we spotted 3 Black-tailed Godwits feeding there. Out to sea there was nothing apart from a Cormorant so we walked to the second hide.
The highlight was a large raft of Slender-billed Gulls feverishly feeding.

At the public hide close scrutiny of a wader confirmed it as a Spotted Redshank with another 5 in a group further away. A large flock of Lesser Black-backed Gulls was resting on a sand spit and 9 Black-necked Grebes were seen on the far side. As we got back into the vehicle 2 small birds landed by a puddle in front of us. Good to see Trumpeter Finches. First time this year here.
After a reviving cup of coffee we ventured round the rear of the reserve through the muddy ruts and puddles. Water Pipits having a bath was the highlight and we did end up with 46 species for the day. The sunny weather and light winds helped a lot.

Wishing everyone good birding in 2011



a question : do swallows over winter?

This theme occurred some years ago in the Spanish avesforum and the question that follows has also been published today in fororoa, avesforum and my Spanish blog guiri-pajarero-suelto, so you can see that I'm hoping for some interesting discussion and comes about because of the Barn Swallow that I (and some others) saw this morning in the Guadalhorce reserve (Málaga).

We are accustomed to seeing records of apparently wintering hirundines, particularly so further west in the area of Brazo del Este, Guadiamar and Doñana, sometimes in relatively large numbers. Further east, here in Málaga, we also have occasional but much fewer winter records, although I once saw one on New Year's Day. This bring sme to the question: Was this a retarded migration bird?, or perhaps an early return migrant, perhaps ill? Or is it even a sign of global warming?

I should say at this point that I have my own ideas and reject the global warming one quite simply because this was happening and recorded long before the vogue of attributing all to global warming, just as we can discard the once accepted idea that they passed the winter in the mud of a pond, so we are left with either (a) was it late (b) very early or (c) ill?

What do you think, write if you wish and say what you think and why and by 7 January I shall synthesise all the replies and correspondence and put it all on to the various blogs and forums.

Meanwhile, dear readers, a happy New Year with good birding, be they rare or common, and I shall be celebrating 60 years birding! Gawd!


more from Almería

Doesn't Dave ever sleep or has Gilly thrown him out so that he doesn't get in the way of Christmas preparations? Hot on the heels of one mail yesterday and which I didn't even get time to post, another when I opened up a few minutes since. So, in order that I don't get another three awaiting by after Christmas, here they are. My apologies to Dave & co. for the delay, but in case you haven't noticed, the festive season is upon us (I hate bloody Christmas!) and someone keeps wanting me to do things, like shopping (which I also bloody hate!).

So, just in case you do like Christmas and that Santa and/or the Three Kings are going to bring you something optically appetising and that someone has been listening to your unsubtle hints,
Happy Christmas and, especially, good birding in the New Year. And if nobody has listened to your unsubtle hints, buy yourself your own presents, that's a 100% guarantee of getting what you want! I do.

Now to the accounts, first 22 December about Las Norias and Roquetas with the Arboleas Group, followed by today, 23 December, and Cabo de Gata by Dave on his ownsome.

22 December, Las Norias and Roquetas with the Arboleas Group The weather forecast for today was not good.....rain. For this reason Brian and Mary decided not to travel the long distance from Chirivel. So it was down to Dave, Myrtle and myself to head down to Las Norias. We left Arboleas at 0730, expecting to get wet at some point. We arrived at the causeway opposite the scrapyard in sunshine with a few clouds! Apart from numerous Crag Martins flying around, the first thing we noticed was the height of the water. It was at least 4ft above it's normal level. A scan round the left hand lake revealed hundreds of Shoveler, Great Crested, Black-necked and Little Grebes and Coot. The shrubs on the waters edge were alive with Chiffchaff and the odd Sardinian Warbler. There were 10's of Cormorants as well.

We then walked over the road to the right hand lake facing the scrapyard. The sun was against us but there were at least 200 White-headed Ducks with more Shoveler. Also spotted, swimming along the reed edge, was a Purple Swamphen. We then drove to the viewing site near to the empty heronry. Apart from a host of midges, we did see an unusual warbler with the Chiffchaff. It remains unidentified. A Cetti's Warbler was being vocal from the bamboo.

At the causeway near to the plastic recycling depot the water levels were extremely high on both sides of the road. The newly created gravel islands were totally submerged. A flapping of wings drew our attention to an adult Night Heron flying off. I made my way to the flooded fields on the corner. As I walked round the corner a Little Bittern disappeared into the reeds. I beckoned Dave and Myrtle over as this was looking promising. A Bluethroat was strutting its stuff on the path. A Redshank and a Common Sandpiper were feeding in the shallows. 9 Lapwing and a Black-winged Stilt flew over. A Snipe was also seen.

We then headed to Roquetas, stopping next to the hotels overlooking the large lake. Therein were Red-crested Pochard, Wigeon, Common Pochard and Shelduck. A Kingfisher whizzed by. We then walked from the corner to the little pool where we hoped to see the resident Red-knobbed Coot. We weren't disappointed, but only saw the one. Didn't see any of the "collared" ones. A pair of White-headed Duck were also there. An obliging Cetti's Warbler deigned to give us a reasonable view. As we walked back to the car a few drops of rain began to fall. Putting our gear back in the car I spotted a Marsh Harrier disappearing into the reeds.
A cracking days birding...sorry you missed it, Brian and Mary! 48 species in all.

23 December, Cabo de Gata
After yesterday's good luck with the weather, I suspected it couldn't last. I was dead right! I got down to the first hide at Cabo de Gata just after 0800hrs in time for the usual exodus of Eurasian Curlews from the waters edge to the savannah. The wind from the west was horrendous. There was little or no protection in the hide. The water level was up again with only small amounts of sandy scrapes available for waders.I scanned the scene in front of me. 3-4 Little Egrets, 36 Black-tailed Godwit and 4 Redshanks. A steady stream of Cormorants were heading towards the very rough sea. Spotted a single Eurasian Curlew. At 0822 it took off and flew north.
About 0830 19 Eurasian Curlews flew towards the hide from the far end of the salinas. About 300yds out they split into two groups passing about 150yds each side of the hide. I managed to pick up one of the birds to the right which was smaller in size and bill, but no positive ID. A Whimbrel or something much rarer? 6 Northern Starling flew low and fast passed the hide.
I drove round to the pool on the opposite side of the road. 3 more Black-tailed Godwits, an Avocet, 9 Black-winged Stilt and a nice male Teal. A pair of Crag Martin tacked against the wind. It was then on to the beach road to the second hide. I tried to look out to sea, but the wind made it impossible to hold binoculars steady let alone a telescope. I trudged to the hide. About 30 Avocet were sheltering below the nearest bank. 100+ Slender-billed Gull were huddled together to the left. Spotted some Stonechats on the leeward sides of shrubs.
The only birds seen from the public hide were some Greater Flamingos and 6 Shelducks. I fared little better round the rear of the reserve. No waders at all. Only a few more Shelducks and a Water Pipit. The track had huge deep puddles so definitely only for use by 4x4's.
26 species today.......and a Happy Christmas to everyone!!


17 Dec., Cabo de Gata, Arboleas Birding Group

Dave has been out to Cabo de Gata again. I'm certain that one day, sooner rather than later, their devotion will pay off with the BIG YIN - and I don't mean Scotland's best known philosopher, Billy Connolly, but a Slender-billed Curlew for which he is so assiduously searching. My apologies for late posting, Dave, but I been away up in Madrid and saw 2 Common Buzzards and a ring-tailed Hen Harrier from the Ave yesterday afternoon and dr9ving down today a single Buzzard near Ciudad Real and a few Azure-winged Magpies near the Bailén turn off. And if you think it's cold at Cabo de Gata, try Madrid this morning (Saturday) at -4ºC and hoar frost all over the car screen, followed by rain, at times very heavy, from Ciudad Real south to Málaga! And whilst I'm writing this there is thunder and lightning banging around, it's pouring down outside and the dog has objected to particularly large bangs a couple of times and also needs to go down but she doesn't like rain - a good job she doesn't live in Britain!

Also, before going to Dave's account, please note that the next Axarquia Bird Group visit will be to Fuente de Piedra, meeting at 10 am,Thursday, 23 December, in the main car park which is immediately in front of the re-opened Visitors Centre.

I should have known how cold I was going to get at Cabo de Gata as I scraped the ice off the trucks windscreen. My hands hugged a cup of thermos coffee as I sat in the first hide just after dawn had broken. The good news was that the water level had dropped so expanses of sandy ground had appeared. This had encouraged about a dozen Grey Plovers to settle. Also there was some Ringed and Kentish Plover, Dunlin and Redshank. In slightly deeper water a flock of 27 Black-tailed Godwit was feeding. I could see a couple of Eurasian Curlews on the right shoreline, but could also hears the calls of others. Between 0814 and 0833hrs both birds had moved onto dry land.

A Stonechat was oblivious to my presence as it patrolled along the fence in front of the hide, giving me an opportunity to capture it on film....sorry, digital imagery I suppose you say these days! A flotilla of 70+ Slender-billed Gulls were feeding amongst the legs of the Greater Flamingos. I could see to my right a large flock of birds moving en mass up and down the savanna near the beach, so that's where I headed after a short stop at the pool over the road. Managed to spot a single Teal, a Southern Grey Shrike and a few Black-winged Stilt.

As I drove along the beach road I came across this swirling flock of what turned out to be about 200+ Golden Plovers. This is, to me, an unusual location for them as they're usually to be found about a mile or two away on the Morales steppes. There was nothing out to sea. From the second hide I gained Little Egret and Mallard.

I stopped for another thermos coffee at the public hide car park & watched the numerous Greenfinches and a pair of Corn Buntings drinking at the puddles. 3 Eurasian Curlews were put to flight by a hardy walker. From the hide itself I saw 59 Lesser Black-backed Gulls resting on a spit and 24 Black-necked Grebes huddled in the water away from the cold breeze. On the wader front there was very little round the dry rear of the reserve but the sun had brought out the smaller birds: Water Pipit, Zitting Cisticola, Dartford Warblers and Chiffchaffs. 2 Stone Curlews were a very pleasant finale to the trip.
"Only" 34 species for the day. Was glad to be heading back home for hot soup & toast.


10 December, Cabo de Gata

One has to admire the fortitude of we Brits. against the weather - I've given up, I'm being a devout coward now on the vet's advice - as Dave's report of his visit will show. It's not been great here either, Dave, if it's any consolation, and I'm off to Fuente de Piedra tomorrow!

The weather was not good down at Cabo de Gata this morning. Low cloud, poor visibility and cool easterly gusting winds straight into your face in the hides. But it was my only chance this week to do the Slender-billed Curlew search, so there I was as dawn broke in the first hide. Greater Flamingo, of course, Shelduck, pair of Teal flew over, Little Egret and Avocet. There were 2 Eurasian Curlews visible adjacent to the rocky causeway together with a Grey Plover and 12 Black-tailed Godwits. The godwits flew to the calm of the bank to my left to get some shelter. The Curlews, as is their routine that I've noted over the past weeks, took off at around 0815 & headed to for dry land, this time over the top of the hide to the north. A flight of 9 Cormorants headed out to sea. A Greenshank and Little Stint made an appearance.

On the beach near to the second hide there were 100+ Lesser Black-backed Gulls all facing into the wind. The wind at the hide made it impossible to use the telescope. There was nothing at all seen from the public hide except 6 Greater Flamingos on the huge expanse of shallow water.

Hoping for more success I drove round the rear of the reserve where logic said it should be more sheltered. An obliging Water Pipit posed nicely on the fencing, but waders were very few & far between: Redshank, Black-winged Stilts and Kentish Plover. Having almost given up hope I was rewarded by about 15 Stone Curlews taking to the air as I reached the end of the muddy track.

37 species in all. Disappointing but glad to be doing my bit for the Slender-billed Curlew team.


8 December, río Almanzora and Antas, Arboleas Bird Group

A report from Dave on a 'local' trip in these days of unseasonal warmth, although with the occasional good storm to leaven the nights. Thanks for the book plug, Dave!!

As many of us have commitments we decided to "do a local" this week, so Brian, Mary, Gilly and myself headed the short distance (comparatively!) to the Rio Almanzora estuary. We approached initially from the rambla to the north where the new desalination plant is located.(see pages 283/4 in Andy Paterson's book, "Where to watch birds in Southern & Western Spain). The rambla was devoid of standing water all the way past the plant till just before the smaller old desalination plant by the "ford". This area used to be a hotspot for waders, but just north there appeared to be an off road motocross track construction. We spent some time birding by the ford. Having already noted Cattle Egret, Stonechat, Hoopoe and Black Redstart on the journey down, a Cetti's Warbler was heard, tens of Chiffchaff were seen but the star, spotted by Mary (said I would mention her in dispatches!) was a sitting Kingfisher, partially obscured by reeds. Hopefully shows the water quality was good. The only waders we saw were a pair of Black-winged Stilts and a single Green Sandpiper. There was quite a bit of water from there down to the estuary but we saw only glimpses of it due to proliferation of Tamarisk nd Shrub Tobacco plants. Good for the birds but not so good for the observers. Loads of Moorhens were grazing.
There are still major works going on at the estuary itself so we had a quick scan out to sea. Gannet and Cormorant were spotted. I spotted a female Blue Rock Thrush before we headed to the beach near to Villaricos harbour. On the small rocky islands there were about 10 Cormorants resting, as were a Grey Heron and a Little Egret. There were also about a dozen Sandwich Terns and on the beach itself a Turnstone and Kentish Plover were seen.
We then headed towards the Rio Antas pool. We stopped en route near to the Aquapark where opposite is a largish expanse of shallow water. It was obviously the "in" Coot place to be as there were 100s of them with small numbers of Little Grebe and Shoveler and a Teal or two. A Southern Grey Shrike was also seen.
There was not a lot of interest at the Rio Antas pool, only Mallard, Moorhen and Cormorant, probably due to the fact it was a Bank Holiday and the beach was awash with people and their dogs. Brian and Mary had visited a week or two earlier and had seen a Water Rail there. On the way home we spotted a Booted Eagle near Vera.
Lovely weather with good birding with 40 species seen.


along the river bank - the Guadalhorce

I like river banks and walking along them, I always have done as unless the local waterboard has been cleaning them up, i.e., making them totally sterile for any form of wildlife, they often have something to offer, be it avian, mammalian, piscine or insectivorous. My sister reckons that it's because when young we were both introduced to that classic 'Wind in the Willows' by our mother, who sensibly omitted the philosophic chapter 'Piper at the Gates of Dawn'. Ok, yes, it is anthropomorphic (you didn't even think I knew words like that, did you?) but I still like the book and I still like river banks.

The result of our mother's efforts was that at the tender age of 4, my then little sister desperately wanted a water rat (vole) for her birthday and all she got was (and I quote from a few minutes since) ... a bloody tortoise and a red scooter. She still hasn't recovered from the trauma!

Thus it was that when I was walking along the stretch of bank between parking the car by the school and had just gone up the ramp prior to going along and in across the bridge in to the Guadalhorce, I was stopped in my tracks by a whistle, a special sort of whistle, the sort of whistle that an otter makes. It was moving upstream on the far side, judging from the way the sound was moving, and it was the first thing that made my afternoon. I saw one very briefly along the same stretch a couple of years since and there have been regular records of pug marks as they move between the ponds within the reserve.

Bird-wise it wasn't bad either. It was very pleasant to see Pat and Antonio Miguel and also to meet a couple of students, Celeste and Jorge, who were out with a very basic field guide and small pair of binoculars but with the intention of learning. There are far too many of us old fogies around and we owe it to coming generations to help and encourage if they want us to.

At the laguna grande there wasn't a lot as water levels are very high after the recent rains but on the small island over on the far side there was a male Red-crested Pochard having its siesta alongside a Greenshank (the only wader seen all afternoon!) which was also fast asleep while out on the water a male Pintail was also having its siesta until it woke upon realising that someone was watching it and promptly swam out of view. The only active ducks were a dozen or so Teal, the smart little males busy calling and generally showing off to attract the females who appeared to show a sublime disregard. All very nice and there were plenty of Cormorants, of course, including a very white fronted first winter bird which is not a lucidus type from Morocco, even though it was having a go at a pretty good impression.

The laguna escondida had one Pochard and one Little Grebe and that was it so it was round to the east bank and the first hide looking across laguna de la casilla where Celeste was delighted to watch the rear end of a Kingfisher as she had never seen one before. At the second hide it was pretty dead too except for a nice female Shelduck and a Booted Eagle across in the eucalyptus tress which were receiving their afternoon adornment of Cormorants getting ready to roost. Three Marsh Harriers floated across and around and so did the Buzzard.

From there it was down to the seawatch mirador and Celeste delighted herself by being the first to spot a female Kestrel which caught a grasshopper before her eyes. From the mirador there was several hundred gulls to be seen on a calm sea and in amongst them 5 Shelduck, a single Black-necked Grebe and a single female/imm. Common Scoter. A Great Skua -I still like the old Shetland name of Bonxie - flew in from the east then changed its mind and flew back and out to sea. By that time the sun was sinking fast so it was time to go back and it was then, just after the second hide, that we had what for me was the bird of the day, a lovely Short-eared Owl which posed beautifully on a post for a few moments before floating off with those enormously deep wing beats and we lost it. The youngsters and myself pushed on an just before the bridge we picked the owl up again as it was hunting and watched it for several minutes to make a thoroughly good end to an afternoon.

Extra: A Red-breasted Merganser has been seen off Retamar, Almería, and in l'Estartit (Girona) a Red-footed Booby, the second for Europe, has been hanging around for 5 days now, in fact, whilst I was down at the ponds a friend texted me to say that he just seen it. It is possible to go off friends at times.