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.

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