30-31 March: a few more interesting birds

Now there's a surprise title for you, a few more birds! Never expected that, did you? So here goes although it will be brief as I want to try to get out and photograph Red-rumped Swallows later.

Yesterday morning, 31 March, it was a slow trundle around the Guadalhorce, part of it in the always welcome company of Antonio Tamayo. Surprisingly, the first bird seen and heardas soon as I had parked by the church was a Blue Tit. The Red-rumped Swallows were floating around by the bridge and should offer good photo opportunities. Also from the bridge I could hear my first 2 Nightingales of the year singing away, something they'll continue doing until late May, by which time they should be exhausted! The White-headed Ducks appear to have increased in numbers with a preponderance of sex mad males and fights between the males whilst the females undoubtedly suffer sexual aggression. Those apart, there was a good selection with Pochard, several pairs of Gadwall, the ubiquitous Mallards and, rather surprisingly as the date is getting late, 2 and a half pairs of Teal (i.e. 5 birds).

Several Whiskered Terns floated elegantly eastwards along the shoreline, as did 3 Meadow Pipits, while Whiskered showed very nicely at the laguna Casilla. There were 5 or 6 Woodchat Shrikes in total. There was only one Sand Martin yesterday and only 3 Yellow Wagtails seen, although the only male was a superb flavissima (the British race). The only wheatear was a female Northern.

Fortunately the number of waders, especially that of Kentish Plovers, has increased and of these there were some 12-15 birds but the conditions for them breeding are very poor, and also a handful of Sanderlings and 2 Ringed Plovers. 4 Redshanks were huddled together along the río Vejo, whilst the Black-winged Stilts are starting to get rowdy.

There were 2 Greater Flamingos on the río Viejo, one a ringed bird which was readable and a quick check at home showed that it had been in ringed in 2004 on the Étang de Fangassier, Camargue, France. Details will, of course, be sent off to France.

The surprise of the day was yet to come. Back in the late 1980s when the Guadalhorce was declared a Paraje Natural, the symbolic species was nominated as being a Glossy Ibis, and paradoxically since then there have been fewer and fewer sightings until now it is considered a damned good bird to see. So when we saw 2 sitting on shore the laguna Grande, Antonio and I nearly flipped, a flip when became damned near total when 2 more flew in and showed quite well overall, as these photos show.

Total of species seen, around 48.

At home in the afternoon, the only bird of interest was the Woodchat Shrike shown here which hung around between 14.15 and 17.10 but which was not present this morning. Also in the garden a single Red-vented Bulbul. After an absence of several months, I have seen and heard one or two of these escapes which first turned up a decade since.

31 March: This morning I took my little blonde friend for a walk and a look down at the mouth the Guadalhorce on the Guadalmar side. It was rather warm as we were rather later than intended, which she didn't like, but I was attracted first a pair of Common Sandpipers on the opposite bank, the male displaying to the female - some just can't wait! Better still, there was a small group of gulls on the sand bar and a quick glance showed 4 or 5 Mediterranean Gulls, all 1st summer birds, and a larger one but not a Yellow-legged. However, when it turned its all white head and I could see the black-tipped bill easily - at long last I had connected with the 3rd summer Ring-billed Gull that has been around and which I have mentioned previously. A very good bird to see. What a good week I'm having!


29 March, a few interesting birds

One day's birding from the terrace with a short walk down by the río Guadalhorce with the dog, nothing exciting one would think, in fact, pretty dull. Well, it shows that one can be greatly mistaken.

Part one (11.00) It started from the terrace when I was having a word with Stephen Daly and generally eying the world around which started with three warblers in the one remaining pine tree. It requires a bit of dexterity to (a) grab binocs, (b) push glasses on to forehead, (c) find and focus in on said warblers whilst (d) endeavouring to maintain a conversation without dropping the phone or, worse, the binoculars. However, all requisites achieved, 2 of the warblers were undoubtedly Bonelli's (by chance, Stephen had also seen some that morning in his garden in Barbate) but the third escaped unidentified.

Part two, 12.00-13.00 (approx.) I felt it was about time that I gave the knees and dog the chance of bit of gentle exercise and down by the Río Guadalhorce seemed a good place, it was flat, we could both go slowly - me to watch for birds and Luna to sniff and smell. I don't know what she smelt but it was interesting for her, but I saw a female Whitethroat and there were at least 2 Reed Warblers singing on the reserve side of the river. Bob Hibbett rang me from the seawatch mirador whilst we were still trundling along to say that he was watching the Ring-billed Gull that has been around that area for about six weeks and with which I signally have failed to connect.

Part three (18.00-20.30) This afternoon has been interesting, so first the swifts. There had been a goodish arrival of Commons on Sunday afternoon and this afternnoon there were more, as I could see from the terrace, with some Pallids mixed in. A walk around the town, about 1.5 km, with dog showed at least 400 and perhaps as many as 600 over my part of the town, which is basically the centre to western part of Torremolinos. It was nice to see them swirling and even more so to hear them and see the first few screaming parties in the low level pursuits and even, dare I mention it, a frustrated attempt at copulation by one pair. It takes a bit of practice after year without it!

And once more the garden. Goldfinches and Serins are a distraction at this time of year even though the males of these latter are little gems, as both bounce around all over the place and distract, but there was more to be seen apart from a very lost white Cockatiel, a species which I am confident is not a natural migrant here. First a female Subalpine Warbler, not the first in the garden but a bonny little bird, then a Woodchat Shrike which hung around forall of ten seconds and finally 2 Willow Warblers, one of which had been hanging around since the start of the afternoon session.

Not a bad day with 5 spp. of warblers, was it?


21-27 March, an uneventful week

This is nearly a full week's blog, between 21 and 27 March. Really, it started on 21 March, allegedly the first day of spring but blowing a gale. However, at least there have been one or two things of interest. On Tuesday, a rough day with lowering grey skies which promised rain and force 7 easterlies which were enough to peel your eyelids back against your forehead but the only day available before they went back to Blighty, I took Ron and Ian down to the rubbish tip at Los Barrios, inland from Algeciras, meeting up with Stephen Daly, David Cuenca and Dario (whoever, I can't remember his surname!).

Now, rubbish tips hardly rank amongst the most romantic of places but there have been large numbers of White (or mucky grey-brown) Storks there and also Griffon Vultures, as well as a Rüppell's Vulture and an immature Black/Monk/Cinereous Vulture (I do wish they'd sort out what they are going to call it) in this past week. Getting in around the edge of the perimeter fence is NOT a good idea for rocky knees and mine are still complaining bitterly. Yes, we saw a few Griffon Vultures, Black Kites and White Storks and very large numbers of gulls but to be honest I was more concerned about not going base over apex down the slope in the mud.

From there, Ian, Ron and myself went through to Benalup and then south to La Janda, going over the top by the smelly farm where we stopped briefly.

There were were more Black Kites, Griffon Vultures, a single male Hen Harrier, a Booted Eagle and both Common and Lesser Kestrels. From there we drove south along the side of the canal, clocking up a Purple Boghen in the process and more White Storks in need of the persil treatment, the one shown here being one of the cleaner specimens.

We took a quick look up at the swift cave at Bolonia, just to show Ian the place, and stopped to check the cave where the Egyptian Vultures breed, Stephen having seen them copulating the previous week, only to find a Peregrine sheltering from the elements in the mouth of the cave, and I don't blame it either! There were 2 Griffon Vultures on the cliff face but that was the lot and with the first spots of rain it seemed a good idea to set off for the two hour run, carefully trying to keep to 110 km/h which the Spanish government has imposed in its all-seeing wisdom with the aim of reducing fuel consumption because of the goings-on in Libya, which produces less than 2% of the world's production in any case.

At home, and with the knees definitely unhappy, I have not done much although I do at least have the Red-vented Bulbuls back in the area and there have been a pair on a couple of occasions. However, morning of 26/03, a signal date for me, I decided to have a quick run up to Fuente de Piedra and the laguna Dulce, there and back in less than 4 hours, basically with the aim of trying to find the Lesser Flamingos. In that quarter there was no joy and there were much fewer waders than ten days or so since with only a couple of Redshanks, some Avocets and the usual Stilts, although Gull-billed Tern numbers have gone up rather.

So it was on to the laguna Dulce at Campillos to find the Andalusian Bird Society outing with the august presence of Bob Wright and Bob Hibbitt on a brief trip. Indeed, Bob H. found a Little Bustard over on the far side of the laguna. There were plenty of hirundines, many of the Barn Swallows resting and preening between feeding flights and on the water at least one pair of Black-necked Grebes and certainly 2 pairs of Great Crested Grebes, both of these species delightful in their breeding finery. After which quick look it was time to run for home and take the family out for lunch and enjoy a very good gazpacho indeed, my first of the year.

Sunday, 27/03. As the knees are still playing merry hell and I had plenty to do, I decided not to go down to the ponds. It gets worse and worse on a Sunday what with families, arrogant cyclists who are likely to run over you and generally more and more like Picadilly Circus/Times Square at peak time At least I got my reward in the form of some 25-30 Bee-eaters in two parties - my first of the year - flying eastwards over the house.

'Sun comes up, sun goes down, Life gets tedious, don't?'


23 March, Arboleas Group at Cabo de Gata

Today was my last official search for the elusive Slender-billed Curlew, so I was joined by Gilly and five other members of the Arboleas Birding Group on the journey down to Cabo de Gata. After a coffee at the local cafe I suppose it was about 10 o'clock when we arrived at the first hide. There was a cool, gusty wind. The water level had dropped since last week. There were the normal Greater Flamingoes (267 for day) and numerous Slender-billed Gulls dip feeding. I spotted two Spoonbills in the distance. On the causeway we could see 4 Dunlin, a Greenshank, 9 Grey Plovers and Kentish Plovers. Also there were about 9 Sandwich Tern (my secretary had noted down Sandwich Pickle....the green tomatoes had got to her!). The wind caused most of the small land birds to stay in shelter.
Gilly, Chris and I checked out the pool on the opposite side of the road. Only finding some more Dunlin we headed off to the second hide to join Brian, Mary, Dave and Myrtle. On the approach walk we saw our 1st Woodchat Shrike of the year. From the windy hide we logged 17 Grey Herons, Avocets and Black-winged Stilts. A flight of 11 Eurasian Curlews circled and then landed on the grassland to our left.
On the drive to the public hide a Northern Wheatear flew across in front of us. Corn Buntings were singing away, but nothing was added to our day list from the hide.
Gilly, Chris and I headed round the rear of the reserve. We saw another 3 Woodchat Shrikes. A flight of Pallid Swifts, together with at least one Alpine Swift flew over. Barn and Red-rumped Swallows were also seen.
A Little Ringed Plover was caught having a bath in one of the many muddy puddles. 20 Black-tailed Godwits were noted. A small number of Chiffchaffs were flushed out by our passing truck, but the star birds were a Spectacled Warbler and a Willow Warbler. On our way to Retamar we stopped briefly at the "Dotterel field" with a negative result.
Meanwhile the others had made their way through the campsite to the Morales lake. Here they'd seen a Marsh Harrier, White-headed Duck, Shoveler and numerous House Martins to add to the list. They joined us and the House Sparrows later at the cafe.
A good day, but the weather could've been better. At least it didn't rain! 48 species in all.
Dave & Gilly


18-20 March - down by the riverside....

A pot-pourri (sounds awfully cultured that, don't you think?) of records for the past three days, most from the Guadalhorce but first, from Cádiz province, records of the first Whitethroats (Hannu Koskinnen) in this period (date not given) on the Los Barrios rubbish tip, along with Griffon Vultures, Hannua saw a Black Vulture (a.k.a. MonkVulture) and a Rüppell's Vulture. Also on 18 March no less than 3,200 Short-toed Eagles crossed to this side with over 4.000 raptors in the day (fororoa). Sedge Warblers have been heard in wstern Andalucía also.

From the Guadalhorce, on Friday (18/03) Ron Appleby and Ian Austin saw 59 spp (Hannu saw no less than 70 earlier in the week!) with year firsts of Common Redstart and 3 Common Terns, as well as 4-5 Woodchat Shrikes, Northern Wheatears, Yellow Wagtails and 2 Slender-billed Gulls.

I have no news from yesterday but was there jusr after 08.00 this morning and rather cool it was too! I had little time as I had promised to be home by 11.30 (it actually was just gone 12.00 when I got in) but this haste does not make for good birding. However, to be brief, the best sp. of the morning (for me) was the presence of 2 male Garganey, one on the río Viejo and the other on the laguna Grande, although 4 males were seen later. There was the usual assortment of hirundines but numbers were much lower than the last two visits and there are also much fewer Cormorants and only 2 imm. Grey Herons. There were 6 fly-by Yellow Wagtails and only 6 Kentish Plovers on the beach which is covered in canes. If we even get in to double figures of this last breeding this year it'll be a miracle - and I stopped believing in those years ago! Surprisingly, the 12 Common Scoters are still with us, although well out in the bay.

On the laguna Grande there was also a Ruddy Shelduck, and quite vociferous it was! There were also 3 Avocets and 3 Spoonbills, two of these latter were ringed, one is definitely a Dutch ring and I shall be sending off those details when I have finished this, whilst I believe that the other is from Odiel (Huelva) and shall send that off also. A flock of 7 adult Black-crowned Nightherons came off the sea and circled around as I was leaving. On the way out I met Pat and Paco and Pat has sent me an e-mail that they had seen a flock of 17 Bee-eaters at the laguna Grande.

It's all happening, folks!


17 March, Sierra María with the Arboleas Group

Dave E-B never sleeps, methinks, and when he des I'll bet he's dreaming about Slender-billed Curlews and the like! The Nikon lens cap he found at Cabo de Gata was lost by Bob Wright on Monday. Herewith the report of the excursion up the Sierra María today.

Firstly I'd like to welcome Helen Commandeur to our group. Gilly and I picked her up and took her for her first outing to the Sierra de Maria. We met up with Brian and Mary at the cafe before heading up to the chapel. A slow drive up to the car park produced Goldfinch, Greenfinch and the first of many Chaffinches. There was low cloud cover and a bit of a breeze. Not good for birding up here, but we persevered. We spotted a pair of Rock Sparrows. Above us was a very vocal Raven. We soon had notched up Rock and Cirl Bunting, Robin, Stonechat and a Northern Starling amongst some Spotless ones.
Round the Botanical Gardens, birds were few and far between but I did manage to lure a couple of Short-toed Treecreepers near us for Helen to get a lifer. As we got back to the car I spotted some very distant Griffon Vultures. Next a Short-toed Eagle appeared. We commenced the drive through the forest and saw a low flying Griffon to our left. We headed straight for the farm buildings to cut him off at the pass. Getting out of our cars, we looked back to discover at least 30-40 Griffons and a Booted Eagle trying to gain height on a thermal.

We drove down onto the plain where the sun was finally making an appearence. Our target bird was a Calandra Lark, another lifer for Helen. We didn't have to wait long to see some by the roadside, one posing beautifully for Helen and her large lensed camera. Then I spotted two birds flying in front of us, left to right. Quickly got the binoculars on them...Black-bellied Sandgrouse. A first for us up here.

On the way down to the hamlet (just over the border into Granada Province) we encountered large flocks of Linnets. At the hamlet we counted 10 Kestrels in the vicinity. Some flying around, some sitting on the rooftops, but lots of mating going on, unusual to see so many Kestrels in one place, so checked for signs of Lesser Kestrel with a negative result. On the way back we saw a glimpse of a passing Lesser Short-toed Lark.

At the La Piza Recreational area a lot of the tall poplars had been lopped, making the Crossbills perch lower, making photography better. From there we headed back to María, disturbing a Common Buzzard in the forest. Nesting? Thus ended a really good days birding with 35 species in total. Helen said she really enjoyed the day so hopefully she'll become a permanent feature. Looking forward to seeing her photos. The competition will be hot!
Dave & Gilly


16 March, Cabo de Gata

From Dave, the second of todays offerings. Dave also adds that if any reader has mislaid a lens cap for a large Nikon optic, he found one there. If it's yours, write to me and I'll send you Dave's adddress.

Another early start as I left the house at 0545 hrs to get to the first hide at Cabo de Gata by first light. For the first time this year I didn't have to wrap myself up like Nanook of the North as I drank my coffee in the hide. Hardly a cloud in the sky and not too much wind. They'd obviously had quite a bit of rain as the water level had risen and there were large puddles in the carpark. The Greater Flamingo numbers had increased in the two expanses of water in front of me from the 22 last week in the high winds to 80 today. The Avocets had returned from their hidden shelter as well. Numerous Shelducks were spotted about in random pairs and in the distance I could make out 7 Spoonbills at rest. No sign of the Common Crane.

On the causeway I could see an Eurasian Curlew calling. It was joined by another two. Also there were 8 Grey Plovers and some Dunlin. Far off I could see the Black-tailed Godwit flock, 34 in total. To the right there was a pair of Bar-tailed Godwits with Little Stints, Ringed and Kentish Plovers. A Sardinian Warbler posed beautifully in front of the hide.

Going to the pool on the opposite side of the road, the water level had also risen, but it only attracted a solitary Redshank. A pair of Kestrels sat on the desalination building. Hopefully they'll nest in one of the ventillation holes as they did last year. There was about 2 tons of tomatoes dumped there, so I filled a carrier bag full of green ones for Gilly to make pickle....got 8kgs!

There was a westerly offshore breeze so the sea was quite choppy as I headed towards the second hide. The sound of Corn Buntings was clearly heard. All told I must have seen 20 - 30 sitting on bushes. I saw small numbers of Barn Swallows and Crag Martins, much less than I expected and no swifts. Only gained Black-winged Stilt and Greenfinch for the day list from the hide.
As I walked towards the public hide I looked back towards the beach and saw a Raven flying along it. Also en route saw one of the two Stonechats of the day. From the hide saw a pair of Yellow Wagtails. Heading further along the beach I saw a small flock of Sanderling feeding, as were a few Sandwich Terns in the breakers.
As I thought, the track round the rear of the reserve was full of deep puddles, around which I disturbed another pair of Yellow Wagtails. Only added Greenshank to my wader list. Ended the day with 40 species. Expected more to be honest. Saw better birds in the howling gale last week.

15 March, laguna Dulce and Fuente de Piedra

This is a brief report, sans photos, of the excursion that Ron Appleby and Ian Austin of Scarborough and myself carried out to the above named yesterday. Although the weather was not promising after the rains, often heavy, of the past 10 days or more, we touched wood, crossed fingers, eyes, legs and anything else anatomical that one can safely cross and ventured forth. And we were not to be disappointed.

First, the laguna Dulce at Campillos. Waterfowl numbers have, obviously diminished considerably but there were a few Great Crested and Black-necked Grebes, both of these in full breeding plumage meant to be enjoyed, the Black-necked in particular showing off and very frisky. There were the ducks that one would rather expect- Mallard, Pochard, some White-headed (I had expected more), Shoveler and Teal, whilst the continuing presence of a pair of Tufted Duck was a bit unusual as I had rather expected that they would have departed by now, but how nice to see a male in full plumage and head feathers fluttering in the wind!

But the surprise of the morning was not the oresence of hirundines bu the vast quantity of them that we were to see both there and at Fuente de Piedra, probably several thousands of them. The vast majority of these were Barn but there were a few Sand and House Martins and at the laguna Dulce a few Red-rumped, but more about these later. There were numbers of Pallid Swifts heading NE all day and which must have numbered several thousands but we weren't counting them and again at the laguna Dulce we saw 4 Alpine Swifts, the last of these rocketting by us at about 4m range at eye level. Rather eye-catching! And the final birds there were what must be the last 18 Cranes of the winter. The only raptor to be seen was a single Short-toed Eagle which even managed to hover, doing its 'I'm a king-size kestrel' act.

At Fuente de Piedra the first stop was short at the top end of the lake but there was nothing to really keep us there except for the fly-by of 3 Gull-billed Terns, the first of the year, and neither was there at Cantarranas. It wasn't until we got to the Vicaria watch point that things started to look up, with - at last - some waders! Little Ringed Plovers are smart little chaps but when a flock of small waders flew past and Ron's call of 'Stints!', things got really interesting. The flock was very flighty, moving, settling, feeding and moving all the time and the longish grass made it difficult to get on to them with the scopes but in the end we were satisfied that that there were at least 10 Temminck's Stints - always a nice species to see. Whilst we were watching these up to 20 Skylarks flew past and also 3 Stone Curlews which gave very good views.

Nice, you may think, but as we drove towards the centre we passed the standing water on the left side of the Sierra de Yeguas road, and marked this spot to be later reached by walking the path that runs from the centre as we could see waders and flamingos on it.

I had hopes of finding Lesser Flamingos, a species that Ron has never seen in his travels and he was convinced that they would be difficult to to find. Whilst we had a most welcome coffee (the machine there makes really drinkable stuff, try it and well worth 1€) I took my 'scope and searched the flamingos flocked over to the right and hit gold. One bird was visible, almost hidden amongst its larger cousins and when one of the big boys moved a second was revealed. These two birds were watched extensively and they seemed to be a pair, with neither moving more than 2-3m from the other. They had actually been seen first the day before by one of the guards. My first ones of this year and a very happy Ron who now believed that that were actually quite easy to find, but a bit of altitude helps as they get hidden amongst the big ones very easily.

We had a look at the laguneta del Pueblo, the lake behind, but it was hardly worth the effort so we set off on the path the Vicaria observatory. Again, we were assailed by the huge numbers of hirundines and at this point we ran into a movement of anything up to a hundred Red-rumped Swallows, which as they were feeding as they moved gave us some of the best views that I have ever enjoyed of this delightful swallow. Pallid Swifts were still moving along overhead. Further along, both going and on the return, we ran in to a large flock of some 50 Spanish Sparrows which included at least 19 pure males, some of which were downright stunning, and not a single House Sparrow and there were also at least 3 Reed Buntings.

On the flash of shallow water to the left there were 3 Avocets and occasional Redshanks shot in and out,making sure that everyone knew they were there. Once we reached the road and were able tolook across to the flash I mentioned earlier, things started to get very interesting. There were Redshanks, these being the ones that were moving back and forth across the road, but the best was the flock of about 33 Ruffs (and Reeves) and if they are still there and you visit, a good look at them is very instructive as the variation in dorsal colouring of the males in particular was notable, varying from one medium brownish ochre bird to a rather medium grey bird, but in both cases as with the females, the scaled pattern on the back is a dead give-away. Two of the males were just starting to show the first signs of moult to breeding plumage, one will, I think, have a toally white ruff, whilst the other will be black in part at least.

Careful scanning by Ron picked up a single Green Sandpiper while Ian had seen and lost a Yellow Wagtail in the long grass - a very easy thing to do. But virtue is always (well, nearly always) rewarded and amngst the many very smart White Wagtails a flock of male Yellow Wagtails flew in and gave us some great views, there being at least 4 each of the Blue-headed flava race and a similar numer of the Iberian race iberiae, in both cases the brilliant yellow bodies showing beautifully as they ran about in the grass. Lovely stuff!

All good things must come to an end and it was time to walk back but not before seeing a pair of Common Buzzards circling high, at times almost touching wing tips, as they moved NE. Ain't love wonderful, even if you're a Buzzard?

Don't know how many species I didn't note down, a lot such as the Linnets, but it really was a great day's birding.


13 March, Guadalhorce

Sunday morning and up earlyish, although not exactly with the lark, and fed up of not getting out so off to the ponds, in spite of heavy rain overnight, for a brief morning outing where I knew that I could be sure of running in to Paco Rivera at the very least and probably Patricia also, and in both I was not mistaken.

So, by 0930 I was going in over the bridge under which there was a large quantity of dirty brown water coming down the river after the rains whilst around me Barn Swallows flashed through and the Red-rumped Swallows floated overhead - a very different flight and once you know them it makes distinguishing them much easier. I had already seen the Robin which has been hanging around the area all winter as well as a Black Redstart, both of which may well be on their way north fairly soon. The Cormorant numbers seem to be falling on an almost daily basis and there were relatively few Chiffchaffs around.

Pat and Paco were at the hide by the laguna Grande so I joined them there. A flock of some 60 or so Black-winged Stilts came in and circled several times searching for somewhere to land but tyhere is little space as the rains have wiped out what incipient shoreline there was last Tuesday. There were plenty of hirundines, and whilst Barn Swallow numbers were down there had been a big increase in Sand Martins which were busily feeding. On a side note here, Paco Chiclana saw hundreds of these arriving en masse on Saturday in the Doñana area, many so tired they just sat on the tracks and roads resting.

There were 2 Marsh Harriers and we were to see a third later on but there really was not a lot to be seen, so we walked through to the shore, flushing 3 Redshanks and a Dunlin off flood water. The walk along the shore, apart from seeing a dead turtle which was swelling rapidly with decomposition and also a few stranded Portuguese man o' war jellyfish, gave little in the bird line apart from less than half a dozen Kentish Plovers.

There was little of note on open land on each side of the seawatch mirador, I had hoped for a wheatear or yellow wagtail, but nothing except for a couple of Skylarks. On the river, the río Viejo, a female Mallard with attendant male was shepherding her flotilla of 13 (yes, thirteen) very young ducklings. The photo is not good but the light was worsening all the time and rain was starting to look a good bet yet again.

On to the hide nearer the sea and I heard but didn't see a Greenshank and on the open water there, the small islet of Tuesday having being inundated, there were 3 pairs of Gadwall and a few pairs of Teal, these males full of hormonal energy and displaying, part of which involves pushing their butts up into the air, presumably to show off the rear end yellow and black pattern. Whilst the females may have been impressed they didn't do anything for an immature Grey Heron which simply sat immobile and for a while we wondered if it had died standing up until there was a small movement of its head, but it looked downright miserable. A Booted Eagle was sitting in one of the eucalyptus trees and we also saw a Kestrel and that was about that and we all felt that home was the best bet before it rained. Total: about 33 spp. but I didn't keep a good count.

On a more positive note, Pallid Swifts are starting to arrive. I saw about 30 in front of the apartment on Saturday and as I write this on Monday afternoon, I can see 3 or 4 scything through the grey skies. I hope that this weather changes p.d.q. or the swifts and all the migrant hirundines will have a hard time, just when they need to replenish fat deposits vefore continuing north.


9 March, an appeal; Cabo de Gata, and any other business

First the appeal
A Libyan lad who is doing his doctorate on Lesser Crested Terns at Hull Univ. (UK, not Canada) has appealed for any sightings and readings of colour ringed birds from the colonies which are in Libya. There are, I believe, about 1.800 pairs in three colonies (or there were) and some have been fitted with the darvic plastic rings with individual alpha-numeric codes and he would love to hear if any are seen and read. One was seen last autumn at Melilla so it's not impossible. The usual info: ring colour, code, which leg, date, time and place and your name and e-mail address which I will forward.

And now, folks, what you've all been eagerly awaiting: another instalment in Dave's fruitless search for Slender-billed Curlews down at Cabo de Gata. Mind you, if he does find one then half the twitchers in Europe will descend on the place having first googled it before going to goggle at it. If you do, Dave, just remember your friends and I can be there in less than 3 hours, or better still, suppress the record and just tell your friends so that they can verify it. I must admit that I am not in the least surprised that the search teams that Nicola sent (sprayed) out along the North African coast found nothing, it was a needle in a haystack job, but I am surprised that all have returned safe and alive, given the political situation across there. I don't think many of us will be going to Libya for the hols. this year. Scunthorpe will probably be safer, albeit hardly as exotic.

Here is his account of Wednesday, which down at this end was pretty vile and the dog slept for most of the day - not that there's anything new in that but it's her reply to rain.

The weather forecast 38% chance of rain today, but the following two days were the same. I left Arboleas early again to get to Cabo de Gata at first light. I actually got to the first hide TOO early and was glad to have a warming cuppa as the gusty wind and heavy drizzle battered the truck. The precipitation subsided luckily as visibility got better. I was amazed to see that there were very few Greater Flamingos present on the two large expanses of water before me. It didn't take me long to count the 22 in vision! As I did so I saw 5 large birds flying low towards me - Common Cranes heading in a northerly direction. Counting the birds was easy .... Cormorants 16, Mallard 4, Redshank 3, Black-tailed Godwits 31 and Avocets nil! Suddenly all the hunkered down birds took to the air.
A male Peregrine Falcon made flying in the gale look easy. My first thought was , "Thanks, mate. All the birds have gone now", but soon a large flock of small waders landed on the water's edge. Took me some time to properly identify them. There were 75 young Curlew Sandpiper with the odd Sanderling as well. A few Kentish Plovers and a pair of Ringed Plovers were also seen.
I then checked behind me and saw a female Marsh Harrier quartering over the pool on the opposite side of the road. I made my way over there, knowing in the back of my mind it would be a waste of time because whatever birds were there would surely have skedaddled at the sight of the approaching raptor looking for her breakfast. I was not wrong....not only no birds but the amount of water there had been reduced significantly since last week.
As I drove towards the beach through the village of Cabo de Gata I saw both Barn Swallows and House Martins. I kept well below the new national speed limits as I closely scanned the grassland for Eurasian Curlews. Some movement brought me to a halt. I'd found two. As I watched them a small group of just arrived Pallid Swifts were making heavy weather against the gusty wind. I was in two minds as to whether I should go to the second hide. Glad I did though as I put up 5 Black-winged Stilts in the dyke. The Spoonbills were still there, now up to 9 in number. As I got back to the car I glanced back and I'm sure I saw the Common Cranes returning, beaten back by the NE winds.
There was nothing of note at the public hide except the fact there were lots of Greater Flamingos trying to find what shelter they could. I did spot a couple of Sand Martins over the grassland. I then headed round the rear of the reserve. The track was good, but the birding was poor with Zitting Cisticola, Chiffchaff and Southern Grey Shrike.
36 species for the day. Not a good number, but some good birds in there. Sorry, no photos this week....conditions terrible and no opportunities.
I e-mailed Nicola Crockford at the RSPB last week regarding the time frame of the Slender-billed Curlews northerly migration: until the end of March. The search teams have returned from the wintering grounds of North Africa with no luck. It's not looking good.
A.O.B My friend Andrés Serrano also saw a male Northern Wheatear up the río Fuengirola on Tuesday. Another local birder, who never sends in rarity records or tells anybody of anything so that they can see and inform, saw 3 Cream-coloured Coursers upstream of the Guadalhorce last week, but knowing them it'd be a case of here now and gone in 5 minutes, which has been my experience with them down here. The first Nightingales are in and singing in the Strait area and there seems to be a trickle of Pallid Swifts coming through and there has been a claim of Common Swift.

And now, with the wind howling and a heavyish sea running, I am going to take the dog for a walk that neither us will overly enjoy but both need and tomorrow we are hoping to go to the laguna Dulce at Campillos and Fuente de Piedra.

Beware the Ides of March!


8 March, Guadalhorce

It was not a brilliant morning by any standard when I staggered out of my pit, rather the reverse with lowering grey skies which threatened rain at any moment, a nice strong easterly which meant that the best support for a tripod would be an armoured personnel carrier (something not in my parking lot) and so the scope was left at home. In fact, if I hadn't been meeting Ron and Ian then I rather think that I might have had doubts about going. And if I hadn't then I would have definitely dipped (as the twitchers say).

I went in rather late, about 09.50 and as Ron and Ian were way later than planned, I went first to the laguna grande while the clouds over the Sierra de Mijas looked heavier and more threatening every minute. In fact, the lousy weather had slowed up hirundine migration and in total early on, before the weather cleared somewhat, there were many tens, perhaps even low hundreds, of Barn Swallows over the water and resting in the trees. There were some few tens of Sand Martins, House Martins which may well have come from the Guadalmar urbanisation and it looks like our Red-rumped Swallows are back and in residence (something Stephen Daly commented about this evening in his Barbate area).

From there it was back and round to the laguna Escondida which had nothing but a bunch of miserable sleeping White-headed Ducks, the rubbish weather having managed to dampen the hormones of the males for the first time in weeks. From there it was onwards and just before the little mound that comprises the high puint of the reserve I had what was probably the best bird of the day, an absolutely stunning male Northern Wheatear which pitched down about 10m in front of me, allowed me a 10 second look through the binocuolars and was off again. This was my first of the year and later I was to find a female down towards the seawatch mirador and which Ron and Ian managed to see also.

But I run ahead of myself as before then I had good views of a Woodchat Shrike, my second of the year and on a rather more normal date than the first), and a brief view of an immature Marsh Harrier. At the first hide along the eastern bank there was nothing on the water except a few Pochard but the prospects were better at the second at the top end of the río Viejo. At last there is a little bit of mud and the island in the centre has started to reappear and with it the waders. It is almost a novelty to see Redshank (1), Greenshank (3 but only 1 which is half hidden in the photo), Black-winged Stilt (2) and a pair of Little Ringed Plovers (2) plus a pair of Teal and the Shelduck which has been there for at least two weeks. There must have been some 20 Teal still, although the numbers of Cormorants have fallen notably. One of these had got itself hung up in on of the eucalyptus thanks to a fisherman of uncertain parentage who had left his line and the bird had become entangled. Fortnately, news had got to Antonio Tamayo, one of the wardens and a good birder and friend, who climbed the tree as far as he could and cut the branch. As it fell, the line broke and the bird flew off to the lake and started to bathe.

By now Ron and Ian had caught up with me and we trundled down the beach, basically because I was wanting to see what the group of workers were doing. They were gathering up the canes which had been carried down the river and then washed up by the tides and buring them, this I hope as a prior effort to restaking and wiring the nesting area of the Kentish Plovers, of which we did not see one. As two years ago there were 50 plus nests, last year half that number and nobody appears to have seen more than 12-13 birds this spring so far, the outlook is bleak. The problem is that there is too much vegetable growth and scattered canes in the area, all of which give cover to rodents and snakes which consume eggs and chicks and conditions are therefore unsuitable for these most attractive little plovers. At least resurrection of the fence will keep out the illiterate and those gentlemen(?) who feel the necessity to display themselves in all their glory(?),

The three of us walked along the beach and then in along the track to approach the laguna Grande from the sea side only to find the hide full of extremely noisey teenagers, a monitor who whose presence was about as useful as a wet paper bag and seemed to know little about what he was showing them - trait I have seen more than once there. The teacher with them fell in to the same category as the monitor when it came to controlling the unacceptable noise levels but as teachers nowadays have little or no power over the students, I can't really blame him too much, although a lady colleague who showed up with her group did rather better. However, a few choice words directed forcibly to the little dears brought immediate peace and quiet to the situation and we were able to watch in relative peace and quiet and I was able and happy to explain things to the one or two students who were interested.

So, time to go home and see what had happened in the family bosom - the dog was alright at least! And with 45 species noted down too!


2 March, Cabo de Gata

I didn't need to be much of a crystal ball gazer to know that it wouldn't be long before Dave was down at Cabo de Gata, it has that sort of magnetic effect on the lad. But before I go to his report I must say that (a) my contribution to the LBJ as a Tree Pipit was that it should have been eliminated as they do not exactly constitute my favourite group of birds (not exactly in those words) and it was Stephen who did the identification; (b) Hannu has just e-mailed me with news of hundreds of hirundines including Sand Martins up the río Fuengirola; (c) where you note Crows, Dave, do you mean Carrion Crows? I'm assuming so.

By the by, Dave, when I go off to North Carolina in May for the pelagics, we set sail at 05.30 so I will have to be up around 04.15, breakfast at 05.00, so don't feel so badly off. There is a Spanish expression, sarna con gusto no pica. Do your own translations!

And now to Cabo de Gata today ........

After being spoilt for twelve days in Southern Morocco, I was up early (0500) to get to Cabo de Gata as dawn broke to see what birding changes had happened in my absence. I was hoping for some early migrants. Disappointingly I didn't see any Swallows, Swifts or martins at all. Drinking my warming thermos coffee in the first hide at 0710hrs (....I'm beginning to hate the longer days!) apart from the numerous Greater Flamingos I could see a large feeding group of Black-tailed Godwits, 83 in all. There was an even larger group of Avocets in the distance all feeding in a long line. Also spotted were 29 Dunlins, probably about a dozen Grey Plovers, a few Ringed and Kentish Plovers, Redshanks and Little Stints. As the sun rose over the mountains to the south east I saw my target birds, the Eurasian Curlews. They were not doing their normal routine. There were between 10-20 of them giving a fast flying display over the grassland to my right. I couldn't see any raptor activity so I assume it must be some sort of courtship ritual? I also spotted a flock of Golden Plovers flying in the same area. I noted the approximate location where they disappeared for future observation.

After also seeing a single Black-winged Stilt and numerous Slender-billed Gulls I headed for the pool on the opposite side of the road. The water level was down, but a Wood Sandpiper had found it to his liking. A Zitting Cistacola and a Southern Grey Shrike were very vocal.
I then moved to the area where I'd seen the Curlews and Golden Plovers. Not a sign of them! That's the joy of birding for you! There was nothing out to sea either so I trudged towards the second hide. I was rewarded to see the 6 Spoonbills were still there and also a Greenshank. On the savanna Sardinian Warblers, Corn Buntings and Greenfinches were singing from sunny perches.

The only addition to the list at the public hide was the few remaining Lesser Black-backed Gulls, so I headed round the rear of the reserve. There was a group of 18 Audouin's Gulls resting on the dried salina and a few Sanderlings skittering about on the waters edge. There were quite a few Shelducks feeding and courting.

I was giving up hope of seeing any migrants when I saw a large raptor being determinedly harassed by two Crows. The ducking and diving went on for at least 5 minutes before the raptor got tired and landed on a pylon. I thought at first it was a Booted Eagle from the back markings but it was virtually pure white underneath so it was a young Short-toed Eagle. In fact another youngster appeared and took four attempts to land on another pylon on this windless day!

Carrying on further down the track I saw a bird in the top of a bush. I couldn't think what it was, so took a few photos to ask the experts later. It is apparently a Tree Pipit in moult. My grateful thanks to Stephen Daly of Andalusian Guides (who did) and Andy (who didn't) for their help. Ended the day with 43 species. Happy, but I can't stop thinking how it was in Morocco!!

Best regards,

Got some sad news for Arboleas Group members. Both Dave Green's parents, who were in their 90s have died within a couple of weeks of each other. Our thoughts and condolences go to Dave, Myrtle and their family at this sad time.
I also add my condolences to those of Dave and Gilly (Andy).