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.

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