11 February, La Janda

After seeing my first and rather early Pallid Swift of the year on the afternoon of 10 February and with a metcast that did not promise roaring winds for the Strait of Gibraltar but medium falling to light winds, it seemed an oppportune moment to go down to La Janda and also show it to my old friend Ron who is snow-birding it down from Yorkshire.

In fact, we were down past Tarifa by 09.00 and first went up to the sierra beyond Bolonia with the faint and unfulfilled hope of perhaps seeing a Little Swift. From there down to Tahivilla to meet up for a couple of hours with Stephen Daly of Andalucian Guides who has access to parts of La Janda that other birders do not. There were, of course, the inevitable White Storks. Here we, and especially Ron who has birded widely, were met by a quartet of species of larks - Calandra (very smart birds), Crested, Short-toed and Sky, plus Spanish and House Sparrows which included a probable hybrid male.

But the stars were undoubtedly the Cranes with, Stephen nformed us, an influx this last week of some 1.000 birds returning from Morocco to make a total of around 3.000 scattered around the place. We had some stunning views and it was notable that some of the youngsters were starting to moult their juvenile head plumage and showing shadow adult markings. It was with Stephen too that we saw a rather distant but none the less attractive male Hen Harrier. The rice fields, untouched after last autumn's harvest, were soggy and contained reasonable numbers of Snipe and there were a lot of Lapwings and both then and later during the day we were to see numbers of Green Sandpipers.

After Stephen had dropped us off back at Tahivilla, Ron and I went back to La Janda, first stopping by the canal corner, having admired this Lapwing on the way down. Indeed, some of these delightful plovers really were feeling frisky and at times the peee-wit call cut into the nearly constant 'talking' of the Cranes of which there were always several in sight.

We motored gently along the track alngside the canal which has some extremely attractive mud patches showing but saw little except Black-headed and Lesser Black-backed Gulls on the flashes, the occasional Grey Heron and the usual rather dopey-looking Cattle Egrets and some Little Egrets. An extra was the presence of 4 Spoonbills, all fast asleep as they usually are, but with their legs hiddne by vegetation which prevented us seeing if they wore any colour rings.

The best part of this drive was undoubtedly the presence of Purple Boghens (Swamphens too you if you want to be correct but I prefer my version, spread the word!) and one of these posed beautifully in all its glory before delicately stepping back into hiding once it realised that it was being watched.

There was a surprising number of Red-legged Partridges which had missed being blasted in to kingdom come and we also heard and saw Pheasants, both these species being bred for the well-heeled 'hunters'. What a life, reared, fed and generally looked after until you can fly, then fed again and then suddenly on day a blast if number 6 up your backside! I'm not surprised that the Red-legs scurry away when the see a human. I'm often inclined to do the same myself but for different reasons.

We went, bumped and swerved would probably be a better verbs as the tracks are not in the best of condition, up past the 'smelly farm' which apparently is really called la granja de la Media or something similar and once more something resembling a tarmacked surface. I had hoped for some raptors of interest as we had already seen Lesser Kestrels but all we saw as we stopped and started was a Common Kestrel and, much to my surprise, two corvids of interest. There are Jackdaws, which are regular there, and Ravens are usually regular too, but not today as we didn't see one (they can't have been taking their All-bran). But we did see a pair of Magpies, a species which I have never seen up there before, and a pair of Carrion Crows, this second extremely uncommon and this is only the second time that I have seen them down there, the other being a good few years since and also in late winter if the memory serves me right.

By now time was going on, we had started from Fuengirola at 0730 and I wanted to be home in Torremolinos by around 6 if possible, so we retraced the road (sic) back towards the N-340 and it was only in the final stretch that we saw raptors. There were 2 Buzzards on the pylons, one of which slunk off and the other showed very nicely, a very attractive bird, then a 'ring-tail' (female or first winter) Hen Harrier and a 2nd year male Marsh Harrier. A very pleasant way to end the day as here was nothing to be seen except a couple of Swallows - the only ones of the day - from the mirador del Estrecho just E of Tarifa.

Sum total, 49 or 50 spp. according to our calculations and a very happy Ron after a very pleasant day's birding.

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