26 January, Las Norias

Herewith Dave's account of his trip to Las Norias (Almería) in search of the White-winged Black Tern (also now sometime sknown as White-winged Tern only) that has previously been reported from Motril and Adra. Like me, his luck was not in and the bird had b******* off, just as they do for me when they hear I'm coming. I should add that White-headed Ducks are now dispersing back to breeding areas, which could well account for the fall in numbers. Yesterday I saw my first Black Kite of the year, obviously one with a suicidal bent although it could have just been plain banjaxed as it battled the strong easterly with which we have been afflicted these past days as it flew close - like 10m close - and low in front of me as it crossed the autovía in to Málaga.

As our planned trip to El Fondo, near Alicante, was postponed as the majority of the reserve still being closed due to a lack of water, I decided to go to Las Norias, near Roquetas. There had been a report of a White-winged Black Tern being there. Weather forecast didn't look to good, but hey, I'm no fairweather birder......if the drizzle had been any worse when I set off I wouldn't have gone!!

Arriving at about 0900 hrs I was greeted by numerous Crag Martins flying over the causeway. There had been reports in the local papers about the high water levels here and for a change the papers were correct. The conditions were not particularly good as a fresh breeze was making the water very choppy.Checking the left hand side first, there were a few small flocks of Red-crested Pochards and Shovelers. Grebes were well represented with Great Crested, Black-necked and Little. A Common Sandpiper was standing on a rock. On the right hand side I could see White-headed Ducks sheltering on the far waters edge together with Pochards.

The second stop between the plastic greenhouses proved as waste of time, so I carried on to the causeway by the plastic recycling depot. Again the meadow on the corner proved to be the best birding spot, especially for waders. There were singles of Ruff, Wood Sandpiper, Dunlin, Kentish Plover, Black-winged Stilt, Snipe and Lapwing. 12 Little Stints were the biggest group apart from a large contingent of Cattle Egrets. From the causeway itself a Shelduck flew over and 4 Gadwalls were disturbed in the reeds. I spotted a Purple Swamphen on the far bank.

I walked up to the little bridge and saw a raft of about 100 White-headed Ducks. Didn't see the 1000 reported earlier but there are numerous water-filled gullies hidden by reeds where they could easily shelter from the winds and waves. I saw a distant juvenile Night Heron flying to conclude the day. No White-winged Black Tern. In fact no terns at all. 33 species for the day.


20 January, Cabo de Gata - and note from myself

Dave's back at his deservedly favourite spot .... no prizes for guessing where!

I got to the first hide at Cabo de Gata just as it was beginning to get light in order to catch the usual movement of Eurasian Curlews, but as I scanned their usual overnight haunts I could find no trace of them. There were plenty of Greater Flamingos of course, 323 over the day. 35 Black-tailed Godwits were feeding in the shallows along with some Avocets and Redshanks. 3 Common Cranes flew north passed the hide and I also spotted 5 Spoonbills feeding in the distance, their heads swinging from side to side. Grey Plovers and a flock of about 50 were near the rocky causeway.
At about 0850 hrs I heard the sound of calling
Dunlins and Curlews. I then saw 5 flying towards me from the southern end of the reserve. They passed to my right flying north.
I drove down to the pool on the opposite side of the road. A Lesser Black-backed Gull was there together with an Avocet, Ringed Plover, Snipe, Black-tailed Godwits and more Dunlin. Another Curlew flew in to join them. I heard a Cetti's Warbler and saw Water Pipit and Chiffchaff, the latter being less numerous than last week.

On to the second hide. Thekla Larks were guarding it on the fence posts, but the only observation of note were about 100+ Slender-billed Gulls in a feeding frenzy and Eurasian Curlew, together with a Black-tailed Godwit feeding on the grassland. Noted a Corn Bunting as I was leaving to go to the public hide.

There, the only new tick was a small raft of 16 Black-necked Grebes, so I headed along the beach road to a good seawatching spot. The sea was relatively calm so if there were any Razorbills out there I should see them. Alas no, but did see a Cormorant and an adult Gannet.

The track round the rear of the reserve has improved insomuch as there's very few muddy lakelets, but still rutted. Dartford Warblers and Zitting Cisticolas were displaying in the sunshine. 83 Shelduck were seen, but the star again was the juvenile Peregrine Falcon flying low over the area putting up flocks of Avocets.
A reasonably successful day. 44 species seen.

21 January - a note : Interesting the Cranes, I wonder if they had come across from North Africa? Here in Málaga we have forgotten what Razorbills look like! I was at the Guadalhorce again this morning and turned up the first House Martin of the year for there, although we had seen one last Saturday near Benalup (Cádiz).
Here too the fall in Chiffs has been notable.


20 January - down by the river side (Guadalhorce)

A nice afternoon and Sandra Sierra and myself went down to the Guadalhorce, not just for a walk but with a specific mission- try and see and, in my case, photograph at least one of the up to three Short-eared Owls that have been seen.

In fact, we hit gold,because we also saw (and photographed) the immaturePurple Heron that has been seen intermittently seen just before Christmas. As an extra extra, we also saw at least 4 Marsh Harriers, 2 juvs, a young female and an older female but not the young 2CY male I saw yesterday afternoon.

First, the Purple Heron which proceeded to spear and devour a vole before our eyes, something which one of the Short-eared Owls also did.

It wasn't a good afternoon to be a vole in the Guadalhorce! I don't think I've seen so many small mammals clobbered so effectively since watching Long-tailed Skuas dismembering lemmings on Varangerfjord some years since!

The second objective was the Short-eared Owls, or at least one of 'em.

We saw two but one performed pretty well and I was able to put my new telephoto to good use, as I hope the photos show, some taken in pretty poor light but I think that you can get the idea and see the major identification features.

Superb birds!


18 January, Almanzora estuary, Arboleas Group plus a bit extra from here.

Once again Dave and the Arboleas Group are on the search, this time to the Almanzora estuary in eastern Almería. Obviously I shall have to come down there and redo it for the next edition (always assuming that I can last that long!).

The day started so badly, but.......... Brian, Mary, Dave, Myrtle and myself travelled the short distance from Arboleas to the Almanzora estuary. We drove down the usual ramblaside track towards the turning area which overlooks the reeds and pool at the end. Our path was blocked by a vehicle barrier, so we began to walk down the 150 yds, only to be approached by the security man from the ongoing desalination works. Told him our intentions, but he said, due to machines working in the area, we'd have to go round to the opposite side of the rambla. Health and Safety has arrived in Spain!
Undeterred we went round the far side and began to birdwatch in earnest. At first we didn't see much on the pool. Coot, Moorhen and an overflying Audouin's Gull. Then a Shelduck swam into view, an unusual sighting here. We made our way back across the flat area between there and the beachside restaurant and on to the beach. There were Cormorants on the rocky islands. At Myrtle's suggestion we walked along the beach towards the estuary, very glad we did. Even though there were a few anglers there, we saw numerous waders on the rocky spits. Kentish and Grey Plover, Greenshank, Dunlin and Turnstone. Close to the shore were 3 Red-breasted Mergansers. On the estuary spit itself the were 17 Sandwich Terns and some Black-headed Gulls plus a Little Gull, this only spotted when they all took to the air and I spotted the diamond back design of this 1st winter bird. 9 Audouin's Gulls were also present. A pair of Little Stints gave us close views in one of the shelter bays.
Due to the coolish wind we had a reviving cuppa in Villaricos before heading up the rambla. Luckily, for a change, we headed up the Villaricos side. The ford to the other side had been blocked off as they're putting in pipes under the road at either end to divert the water from the ford. This has dried up the area on the Cuevas de Almanzora side, but the other side has flooded for 200yds or so. We had good views from our elevated position over muddy pools. We saw Common and Green Sandpiper, Redshank, Black-winged Stilt, Snipe and Ringed Plover. Brian spotted a Grey Wagtail whilst I had a fleeting view of a Bluethroat. Water Pipits were also present as was a single Teal.
The area has changed significantly from when Andy Paterson and Ernest García published their latest edition of "Where to watch birds in Southern & Western Spain". When all the works have concluded I'll have to send him a new map and description of the best viewing areas. Thankfully the area still seems to be a very good spot despite all the workings.
We headed further up the rambla, but to be honest, due to a lack of water, it was a bird desert. We therefore went to the Desert Springs Golf complex. The pool there was completely overgrown with reeds, but we did see flocks of Serin and Meadow Pipits on the fairways.
After such a disappointing start we eventually saw 46 species. A cracking day. Best thing was seeing the beginnings of a birding revival in the area. Hopefully it won't be too long before the construction works will be completed!

The extra bits are from me and include the Peregrine (a male by its size) that I saw flying over Torremolinos Tuesday pm. whilst walking the dog.

The other bit, and the photos are testimony, is about the ambition of a Cormorant which had caught and was endeavouring to swallow a rather big eel it had caught in the Guadalhorce on Wednesday pm (19/01). It did manage to swallow it after about 15 minutes struggle and had difficulty in keeping it down and its neck bulged very considerably whilst the eel struggled inside and the Cormorant was showing signs of considerable discomfort but did eventually manage to fly away, albeit with very laboured flight and very low.

Finally, Rai Martín from Almería has this morning (Thursday) reported a White-winged Black Tern from Las Norias. Javier Elorriaga reports a Long-legged Buzzard that has been seen down near Los Barrios and a Rüppell's Vulture near Tarifa


14 - 16 January : Guadalhorce (2x) and La Janda

(Tuesday evening) Apologies for the delay in getting this out but unforeseen (and undesired) circumstances like the computer refusing to take electricity on board have not helped at all. This is the brief story of three days fairly heavy birding, these two at the Guadalhorce (where else? I hear you say), the middle day down on La Janda and as far up as the embalse de Barbate.

Friday, 14 January : Down to the Guadalhorce by 09.00, far too early, so down to the mouth of the river just in time to see one of the Short-eared Owls flying along the far shore, perch briefly and then disappear, a very nice way to start the day except that I had left the camera in the car. I met with Federico Vallés and by chance meeting up with Paco Villalobos and Blas López, this at just before 09.30. Exactly how many spp. we saw, I'm not sure, somewhere in excess of the 39 I noted during the course of the morning. So, here are the better parts.

We found 6+ Skylarks (testimonial photo L) and the previous day Federico and Antonio Miguel had seen 6 Reed Buntings along on the right near the seawatch mirador the previous day and 2 still remained (Federico's photo R).

Down at the mirador itself things looked promising on the sea as there were hordes of gulls and apart from a single Great Crested Grebe which was associating at times with a flock of 13 female/imm. Common Scoters. Every time the gulls flushed, the typical sort of mass dread that one associated with skuas, we searched for a skua - there has been a marked lack of Arctic Skuas this winter - until eventually a dark morph Pomarine Skua was located moving west and it later flew back east, scaring the living daylights out of all the gulls each time but without doing anything positive. It was, I think, an immature bird and a different one to the Pom. I saw on 8 January as this bird had much less white in the primary wing flashes.

The water levels are still far too high and we saw one Kentish Plover on the beach and a Black-winged Stilt at the laguna grande. There were ducks, of course, and White-headeds have increased notably to somewhere over the 17 I counted, some of the males obviously feeling frisky! Shovelers were present, Mallards (naturally!) and 4 Gadwalls. Raptors were represented by the Osprey, Booted Eagle and Kestrels (why do they always perch with their back towards you?).

Nothing else really of note, but a very pleasant morning's birding.

Saturday, 15 January, La Janda to embalse de Barbate
With the report of the 1W Pallid Harrier found on La Janda and superbly photographed by Stephen Daly on Thursday ringing inside out skulls - see http://andalucianguides.blogspot.com , Bob Wright and I set off at 07.10 and were down on the canal corner of La Janda by 09.00 to the sight and sound of distant Cranes. In fact, we were due to meet Stephen at 10 in Benalup/Casas Viejas but with time in hand the detour was worth it.
Now, I must admit that I didn't keep a check list of everything we saw as basically I was interested in the raptors, although Bob did and if anyone wishes to consult it, they should look at his place, but he made it a round 50 spp., which ain't bad! From the raptors point of view, we saw Griffon Vultures, Imperial Eagles, Bonelli's Eagles, Booted Eagle, several Marsh Harriers, 4 Hen Harriers (including 2 males), several Common Buzzards, a single Sparrowhawk doing a passable imitation of an Exocet missile, half the Kestrels in the universe, a Short-eared Owl that played hard to see in amongst the foliage of a tree and proved damned nearly impossible to photograph and, for me, the stars of the day- Black-shouldered Kites.
To watch a pair of Black-shouldered Kites trying to dislodge a pair of Common Buzzards from a tree the kites fancied gave us a fantastic display of flying. The photographic chances were not many until on the final lap out to the N-340 when Bob and I saw one which flew close to the car, perched, hovered and generally showed off, as I think the following shots show.

A lovely little raptor, I think you'll agree!
So, apart from that, the other species which stand out are the flocks of Little Ringed Plovers on the sodden and unploughed rice paddies, along with lots of Lapwings, a few Snipe and a single Green Sandpiper. There was a single Southern Grey Shrike and my first House Martin of the year.
A great day's birding and I dropped Bob off for his drive back home 11 hours after picking him up. And, of course, our grateful thanks to Stephen for giving us great day in his neck of the woods.
Sunday, 16 January, Guadalhorce: I must be a sucker for punishment, although I admit that I didn't get in to the reserve until 10.30 and didn't stay much beyond 12.45. The most abundant species was, without doubt, homo not very sapiens in all its glory and variety- cyclists who go far too fast and one day there will be an accident, loud uncouth humans and their children and not many birds. And if I was a bird I too would have gone somewhere quieter. There were still 12 Common Scoters on the sea, unmolested by the human presence, and a single Gannet flogged its way westwards. On the laguna grande there was the usual selection of ducks as usual, but with only a single male Teal and the White-headed Ducks and Pochards. I saw the first Cormorants showing signs of breeding plumage with one or two adults showing the white flank patch but nothing of white on the head.

So, home and that's when things started to go pear-shaped with this computer and its power supply, my new mobile had gone off line on Friday and the car had blown a rear brake light. What a great way to start the new week but ameliorated this afternoon (Tuesday) when the first flock of migrant Mediterranean Gulls flew west on a dull noon and later this afternoon while walking the dog, a Peregrine flew through a flock of Yellow-legged Gulls and showed them total disdain, which at least was a half way decent way to end the day before starting to put all this together. Hope you've enjoyed the efforts as much as I enjoyed the birding!


12 January, Cabo de Gata

You will possibly be wondering why there is a photo of a plant on a birding page, especially when the writer of this blog classifies plants by the extremely simple system of colour and size - for example, large, yellow, in spring = daffodil, or, large, green with thick stems = a tree.

However, this particular plant rejoices in the scientific name of
Androcymbium europaeum and was found by Mary Taylor, a botanist, and photographed by Brian Taylor at Cabo de Gata. It is an extremely rare endemic and only found there. They were part of the Arboleas Group who went down to that most productive of areas, Cabo de Gata, as Dave reports below. The other photos are Dave's. By the way, Dave, I haven't seen any Razorbills either although I understand that occasional ones have been seen in Almería bay, nor any Arctic Skuas.

And before going to Dave's account, a 1st winter Pallid Harrier was seen on La Janda this last weekend and was seen again yesterday (Wednesday) along the track that runs along by the canal.

It was a lovely day down at Cabo de Gata. Sunny, getting warmer & no wind. The water level was still quite high in front of the first hide, so not many smaller waders were around, but the larger ones were more in evidence. 26 Black-tailed Godwit, Avocets and Greater Flamingos. (Gilly later counted 248). I spotted 23 Grey Plovers with a couple of Eurasian Curlews on the right water's edge. Then Gilly spotted a group of large birds grazing on the savannah, 6 more Curlews with 5 more Godwits. Also overflying the grasslands were about 50+ Golden Plover.

Gilly and I checked out the pool on the opposite side of the road (because we had the 4x4) as Brian, Mary, Dave and Myrtle headed for the second hide. At the pool we added Snipe, Black-winged Stilt, Ringed Plover and Dunlin to the list before following the rest of the group. Out over the calm sea was a solitary Gannet. Seen no Razorbills this winter at all. From the hide we saw 4-5 Stone Curlews sunning themselves on the steppes and a Water Pipit in the dyke.

We drove into the parking area by the public hide first. I stopped as I saw a bird by one of the puddles. A Trumpeter Finch, but it flew off before the others arrived as did a Dartford Warbler. From the hide we saw numerous Shelduck and Lesser Black-backed Gulls. Then somehow Gilly spotted a raptor sitting on a post through the heat haze. With full zoom on the scope we studied this shimmering bird. We concluded it was a Peregrine Falcon. Maybe Gilly and I would get a better view from the rear of the reserve. Meanwhile Brian had found a Trumpeter Finch on the fence by the car park and Mary spotted the elusive Dartford Warbler.

The others headed towards the lighthouse, seeing a Black Wheatear and Black Redstart along the way, as Gilly and I squelched our way along the muddy, rutted track round the back of the reserve. We don't usually stop at the hide a third of the way round, as normally there's nothing showing in front of it. We did stop this time to scan for the raptor, only to see a Curlew Sandpiper closing in on the hide. As the door and portals were open, I managed to get a photo of it without making too much noise on my approach. We carried on further and amazingly the raptor was still there. Closer and with the sun behind us giving us a better view. A brown coloured juvenile Peregrine Falcon confirmed. On the way to lunch in Retamar an obliging Cattle Egret didn't fly off as we stopped to get a photograph!! 46 species in all. Very pleasing day. Waiting to see the first Great Spotted Cuckoo. Can't be long now!


05 January, embalse de Negratín

Cor, don't these folks from Almería get around? There's me with my left knee wondering if it's going to self-destruct in the next 10 seconds, stops me going birding with Bob (tho' I did stagger out with the dog to the mouth of the Guadalhorce this afternoon and whilst she sniffed around I watched a dark phase Pomarine Skua frighten the living daylights out of the gulls - very tastey!) and with more stuff in from Dave on behalf of the Arboleas Group. Apologies for the delay, Dave!

As we approached the Negratin reservoir near Baza, I was thinking I'm glad I didn't chose this weeks birding location. The cars outside temperature gauge was registering zero degrees and the view in front of us revealed that the valley in which contained the dam was shrouded in fog. Yes, Brian, this is down to you!
We parked at the dam side carpark. Some Blue Tits made an appearance. I managed to spot a Cormorant through the gloom. The only good sign was the noise of birds coming from below the dam. So this is where we headed.

Having parked at the T junction at the bottom we began to walk towards the dam along the road. Blackbirds warned of our approach, sending Redwings up into the poplar trees (no, not Eucalyptus trees, Mary!) Blue Tits, Great Tits and Blackcaps were flitting around. Brian and I came across a small flock of Long-tailed Tits. A Robin, Stonechat, Black Redstart and Blue Rock Thrush were seen. The girls stayed on the bridge as we walked further on. I reached the narrow bridge over the fast flowing rivulet first. Spotting movement to my right in the bushes, I was delighted to see a Dunnock. Only the second one I'd seen in Southern Spain in 9 years! The first one not 400 yards from where I was standing. This is obviously "THE" place to see them!! It luckily stayed for Brian and Dave to see. A Green Sandpiper flew downstream. A Grey Wagtail landed on a gravel bank. Brian spotted a Ring Ouzel disappearing into the scrub and reeds further down.
We were glad to get back into the warming cars and head out of the valley into bright sunshine. 29 species for the day. Brians' reputation had survived....just! Heading back towards Arboleas we saw the Observatory was surrounded by snow. No one had the nerve to suggest we went there next week!

do swallows over winter? - the reply

As promised (albeit a day late), the reply the question I posed back on 26 December - do swallows over-winter in southern Spain? As this question was also put in the Spanish avesforum and in my Spanish blog, there are two replies in particular that I translate here. The first is from my good friend Dr. Ernest García who first proposed this to me several years since and which I was going to quote in any case as I like it and it is feasible. The second is Javier Ortega Pinilla of Madrid which gives his own theory, as does Alfons in a comment in my Spanish blog and which to some extent supports Javier's theory, and the final one from Alejandro Onrubia of the Migres Foundation and complements that of Ernest, so here goes.

Ernest wrote: I have commented reviously in this forum that the possibility of wintering hirundines (apart from the Crag Martin which is a wintering species) can be demonstrated only if birds in moult are found in the Peninsula. These species, like the majority of passerines, underatke a complete after breeding. In the case of the hirundines there are cases of partial moult in Europe which is then suspended until the birds arrive at their wintering areas in Africa. The normal pattern is that the birds fly to Africa and there, where there are highly favourable feeding conditions, moult the plumage. I believe that it is most probable that the swallows and martins which are seen in the the south of Peninsula from the end of December and especially in January are birds which have returned early from Africa having moulted and return to spend some time in the more tolerable areas for them in the Peninsula. They also have the advantage of arriving at their nesting areas before those which stay in Africa until March.

In order to fully over winter in Iberia they would have to complete the moult in mid winter, something which needs much more food than is needed to just survive. The ringers in southern Spain could inform us if they find swallows in active moult in mid winter, or if the birds seen then have fully completed their moult. I would like to know their data if it exists.

Javier wrote (and I quote only the relevant part) : I believe that as autumn extends more and more and some species are able to find food until the winter is on its way, it is easier fpr them to stay and delay the time of departure for Africa. It is clear, or it seems so to me, that the climate change and global warming is affecting the species.

Alfons wrote : .... some swallows have been frequenting, feeding on flies and roosting in a pig farm during all November and until mid December. The swallows slept on the beams where they had their nests and towards mid December they left the farm. Are they retarded migrants? Opportunist semi wintering birds? What have these swallowsdone and where have they gone? Have they moved south or have they stayed in some coastal area where the climate is more benign or have they been trapped by the cold? Perhaos some of these migrants which we see in autumn and early winter are birds which are unable to migrate for some reason such as weakness, illness, lack of adequate nutrition.They move as and when they are able.

And finally from Alex Onrubia:
This is a very interesting theme. As Ernest rightly indicates, it is not easy to distinguish 'wintering' birds from those which have returned early and the moult status is a possible indicator of prioving their status.

Here in the south of the Peninsula we caught (for ringing) some swallows in the Januaries of 2009 and 2010 and not ne was in moult. Nevertheless, we have caught some swallows in northern Morocco in January which were undertaking complete moult.

Wit respect to the moult of swallows, we have caught birds in Sepember in Cádiz in complete active moult, these constituting up to 20% of the birds on some dates, and on at least four occasions birds were moulting the last (outer) primary in September in southern Spain!

I believe that more information is needed from ringing recoveries and other techniques (perhaps isotopes?) in order to ascertain the origin of these 'wintering' birds.

So there you are! Interesting this birding, isn't it?


4 January, Fuente de Piedra

This is just a quickie on the trip that Ron Appleby, an old friend who was seabirding at Filey Brigg before I did and who helped kick me and some of the few others off in the right direction back in the late 1950s and early 60s, something for which I am most grateful. So, as he is a wintering species down here,it was a real pleasure to take him out birding around Fuente de Piedra and the laguna Dulce (Campillos) and show him some of our birds, including some Cranes of he is particularly fond.

We started off at the laguna Dulce on an ideal birding morning, cold and with reasonable light sun but no wind. This meant that we could use telescopes without fear of shake. Now that most of the water birds have departed apart from a large raft of Coots and a few Black-necked Grebes, my main objective being the Little Bustards which Ron was keen to see, although really it was a renewal of aquaintance. These were eventually found way over on the far side of the laguna, really too distant for good views but undoubtedly bustards.

There were quite a few Lapwings around the flood water on the right side of the laguna, some being decidedly frisky in the winter sunshine and one or two Black-winged Stilts were feeding in the same area.

From there it was on to the west end of Fuente de Piedra and the stop on the top where there is the most fantastic view of the lake. There were several flocks of Flamingos, including some with a lot of display going on with lage numbers of birds, as many as 50% in some groups, with necks extended high. A few Cranes were feeding in the long grass and a flock of some 20 or so Shelduck were feeding in the lake. The surprise here was the appearance first of no less than 4 Marsh Harriers together, including an immature male and an old female and there was a bit of bust-up between two of these, which was quite spectacular. After these had allflown offto the right (south) and out of view another 3 appeared and in totalwe reckoned we saw 9 or 10 of these.

On the way round to the information centre we stopped off at Cantarranas where there were 60-70 Cranes feeding on the edge of the olives on the inland side the strong morning light was, as always, against us for adequate observation and we saw several smaller groups during the morning, both before and after.

On the main lake, after showing Ron the newly renovated information centre and a needed coffee, it was time to search. The laguneto del Pueblo, the lake behind, gave us some Teal, a few Pochard, a single Common Sandpiper and 5 Snipe, plus we were informed that some other birders had seen a Green Sandpiper. On the main lake there were still very large numbers of Shovelers, a really huge concentration of hundreds of birds, along with a few Black-necked Grebes and a smattering of gulls.

The flashes near the lower track below the mirador had a few Black-winged Stilts, some already showing signs of breeding hysteria-it beats me how they ever manage to bring off any young! There was again an abundance of Chiffchaffs feeding on minute insects in tamarisks and using the boundary fence as a watch point.

The main surprise of the day though was that on the field on the right as one drives in, where the tower is and which is usually the refuge of a varying number of Stone Curlews failed to reveal one, not even after an extensive search with the telescopes.


4 January 2011, Cabo de Gata

Dave Elliott-Binns continues his valiant search for Slender-billed Curlews in Almería with an effort worthy of Britain's best , although I must admit that personally I feel that he would be better employed throwing snowballs at the moon. Let's hope I'm wrong!

Good job you didn't run over the Wryneck, Dave! Would you have admitted it and risk being blackballed? Or do you subscribe to the Groucho Marx theory that you wouldn't want to belong to any club that would accept you as a member?

Whatever, herewith his account of his visit today. I shall post mine about my today's visit to Fuente de Piedra some time tomorrow.

Continuing the search for an elusive Slender-billed Curlew I arrived at the 1st hide at Cabo de Gata just as dawn was breaking. The water level had receded slightly and the weather forecast was reasonably good with light winds & no rain. The back and white birds became identifiable first:Avocet, Shelduck, Black-winged Stilt and of course the numerous Greater Flamingos. 12 Black-tailed Godwits were feeding close to the water's edge in front of me. As the sun was about to show itself over the mountains I heard a very recognisable call as 4 Common Cranes flew passed the hide travelling north. Shortly after 12 Eurasian Curlews followed suit but further to the west two large birds flying caught my eye - Grey Herons, but more interestingly was the large white bird just below them, a Spoonbill.
I then moved to the pool on the opposite side of the road. 10 more Black-tailed Godwits, a Teal, a Snipe, Stonechats and a pair of Southern Grey Shrikes were the best birds. On the road to Cabo village a pair of Cattle Egrets were standing guard on a pylon and a Green Sandpiper flew past. Opposite the Moorish Tower I drove along a track in the area I had seen 2 Eurasian Curlews and 2 Godwits land, making sure I didn't cross into reserve land. Didn't find what I was looking for but did see 3 Ringed Ploverd. On the beach further up were Kentish Plovers and a Gannet out to sea.
At the second hide a raft of 100+ Slender-billed Gulls were feeding, some showing a nice pink colour. The Spoonbill was snoozingand a Spotted Redshank landed in the water filled dyke to the right. A single Stone Curlew sunned itself on the steppes.

A line of small birds on the fencing was waiting for me as I arrived at the public hide parking area. Trumpeter Finches with some Greenfinches. What a welcome! From the hide itself I saw more Spotted Redshank, a Ruff and at least 35 Black-necked Grebes.
Picked up a group of Sanderlings on the beach before heading round the rear of the reserve. Nothing of note on the wader front but saw Chiffchaff, Water Pipit, Crag Martin and Dartford Warbler.

What a great start to the year. 53 species. Plus nearly ran over a Wryneck on my driveway a few days before. Hoping my luck continues!


New Year's Day 2011 (and afternoon 2 January)


Yes, another year, more birding, so where does one go that's near to home? Right, you've got it - the Guadalhorce. And furthermore, it wasn't a case of staggering in there half way through the day but by 08.30, only to find that Antonio Miguel (the warden) and Paco Rivera had beaten me to it. Worse, Antonio reckoned that he'd heard the Richard's Pipit but did we hear it when we went down to its favourite area? - did we hell! However, all was not spoilt and although trying to be sure that the rear end view of a rather large, white egret was in fact the rear end of a Great White Egret (or whatever they're calling it now) just isn't on, even though he saw at least one bird later in the afternoon, so perhaps, just, it may have been ....

But I'm jumping ahead, with the first bird of 2011 being a Robin which I heard singing somewhere in the darkness of the garden at 07.10 whilst having my coffee (essential for the maintenance ofr some semblance of life). It was really rather an average sort of a morning down at the Guadalhorce, with nothing brilliantly outstanding, although seeing 2 early/late Swallows over the laguna Escondida was nice, and a friend told me that a late Red-rumped had been seen the previous week, as had a 1st winter Purple Heron. There was the usual assortment of ducks, some stunning little male Teal, 4 Shoveler, 3 or 4 male White-headed Ducks of which the bill colours ranged from still black of winter to a rather dirty blue, and so on for a total of 7 species, the most interesting being a flight of 7 Shelduck which came in from the general direction Morocco.

Also on the sea there was a single Great Crested Grebe and several Black-necked Grebes, plus a solitary, distant Balearic Shearwater and 2 Great Skuas / Bonxies which were practising flkying information for a while. It was also nice to see a small pod of some 7-8 dolphins, the male a really big chap who jumped clear of the water on several occasions and at least 2, smaller, youngsters.

Birds of prey included a Kestrel, 3 or so Marsh Harriers - I'm afraid these really are part of the scenery, as are Booted Eagles, in winter - and one tends to just note down their presence rather than numbers. The Osprey was there and had really scored for its breakfast with a big fish at least 40-45 cms long which would also have done it for lunch and a late afternoon snack too. Antonio Miguel was 'scoping it and said that he could even see the blood coming from the fish and acknowledged the truth of my comment that if he had Osprey talons stuck in his butt that he too would undoubtedly be bleeding considerably.

The bird of the day, for its scarcity within the Guadalhorce, was probably a Wood Pigeon - right,a Wood Pigeon! The remainder was all fairly normal but sufficient to notch up a total of 46 spp. for the morning before lunch and listening New year's Concert from Vienna and finsihing off with the RadetzkyMarch - I think I may put it on my phone for incoming.

2 January (afternoon) : I went down to the river again this afternoon as Antonio Miguel had put it out on the internet that he had seen one, and possibly two, Short-eared Owls and as (a) the sun was shining and the light good, (b) I thought it'd be nice to have it on my year list and (c) simply get out of the house, I went down there, as did several others with the same object. And were we lucky? Of course we weren't, you never are if you go out especially to see something. Some other afternoon, perhaps.