31 August : CABO DE GATA

Well, now that I'm back from the UK and thawed out - why the hellI I go to the UK in August is beyond my comprehension but I did see Dave at the Rutland Bird Fair as well as Stephen Daly and the ubiquitous Bob Wright, and herewith the the first entry since my return, even beating my own visit to the Guadalhorce this afternoon with Birgit which I can now do in peace and tranquility tomorrow. So, fresh from the pen of Dave and Gilly, their day at Cabo de Gata. By the by, Dave, the photo didn't reproduce at all well so I removed it.

Can you believe it? Tomorrow is the 1st September! Doesn't time fly when you're enjoying yourself..... especially when you're getting older! We enjoyed ourselves today down at Cabo de Gata. Passing through Retamer Sur, on our way to Pujaire to meet up with Dave and Myrtle, Gilly spotted a pair of Rose-ringed Parakeet. After a reviving cup of coffee we headed to the first hide. A Roller was soon on the list together with numerous Red-rumped Swallows, feeding and resting up before continuing their journey south. There was lots to see on the water. Amongst the numerous Greater Flamingos (see count later) were Avocets, Black-winged Stilts and Slender-billed Gulls. I spotted a larger wader to our right, a Whimbrel, clearly showing its crown stripe. Iberian Yellow Wagtails were catching insects in the low scrub in front of us. On the waters edges were Greenshanks and Redshanks. A Hoopoe flew past as did a Sand Martin. Didn't see any House Martins or Swifts today. Think the Bee-eaters may also have migrated south. Then suddenly a mystery was solved as I spotted a Water Rail crossing the water, very close to where I saw a glimpse of a bird last week. On the causeway there were lots of Little Egrets. A short time later a Cattle Egret flew by as did a Turtle Dove. A Southern Grey Shrike was also seen.
The beach was busy with sunbathers and a group of Yellow-legged Gulls. Nothing was seen out to sea. We headed across the scrubland to the second hide. Here Gilly did her Greater Flamingo count with 985 seen from there. I estimate there must have been at least another 1,000 over the rest of the reserve. Also seen were 17 Grey Herons and 3 Shovelers. Numerous Little Terns were diving amongst the feeding Flamingos.
Next we went to the public hide. We added Black-tailed Godwit and Chiffchaffs to our list. There were numerous Sandwich Terns on the causeway to the right. We then split up as Dave's vehicle can't travel round the rear of the reserve. Gilly and I counted 50 Audouin's Gulls resting on the salina. A group of Willow Warblers taunted us along the fences in front of the car. Spotted a raptor sitting on a pylon. Through the scope I could see it was a Peregrine Falcon. Gilly then spotted a low flying raptor. A female Montagu's Harrier with a probable two more in the distance. We also saw a distant hovering Short-toed Eagle. There were less smaller waders round here due to the fact that we weren't the first people using the track. Lots of cyclists had been here before us scaring the waders away.
Even so, a great day. 42 species in total.


14 August : a rapid visit to Laguna Dulce

Having awoken very early when there were still stars in the sky (not really, it was quite misty but it sounds good) I decided to undertake an early, rapid run to the Laguna Dulce at Campillos after Bob had phoned last evening to tell me that it was wall-to-wall birds and that he had seen a nice male Ferruginous Duck there yesterday afternoon. I also wanted to be on the way back early becase of the traffic which at this moment must be blocking Las Pedrizas and which I experienced last week on the way back from the flamingo ringing.

Needlessto say, no Ferruginous Duck but half the Andalusian population of Coots - you trying to find a Red-knobbed Coot in that lot unless it's under your nose and waving a bright blue flag! There were a lot of Red-crested Pochards which seem to have had a good breeding season, and plenty of other duck spp. with a few Gadwall, Shoveler, Mallards of course, some White-headed Ducks and some Pochards. It was nice too to see a good supply of Black-necked Grebes whilst Swallows, House Martins and the occasional Sand Martin fed over and through the columns of mossies over the reeds on the right looking from the hide.

There was a bit of mud in front of the hide where there were 3 or 4 Little Ringed Plovers - all juvs., one each of Green and Wood Sandpiper, a single Lapwing further over and a single Reed Warbler flitted amongst the reeds right under the observation holes (one can hardly call them windows). There was also a single juv. Purple Boghen. All short and sweet and nothing outstanding but I missed the traffic also!


10 August : Cabo de Gata

Dave and company have been, like many a good solid British birder, out in the midday sun which can cause mental damage.... as he put down the date as 19 August! Into time travelling now, Dave? 'Cause I think that you'll have been at the Bird Fair on Sunday 19 August.

And I too think that it looks like a Black-eared, Dave. And if Dave will permit, when ring reading note which leg and if reading up or down and the presence of a metal ring on the other leg. Fuente de Piedra birds have rings which read upwards with a horizontal bar just below the top number, for example.

25th May....my god, is it that long since I've been to Cabo de Gata. What with the heat, tourists and the delights of the Sierra de Maria I have no regrets but do feel a little bit guilty! I left Gilly tucked up in bed as I left the house at 0600hrs to get down there at first light. My first surprise at the hide just outside Pujaire was that the water level was quite high, Weather wise there was a bit of a easterly breeze. The was a large group of Avocets feeding in a pack close to the hide. There were 100s of Greater Flamingos, Also seen were Black-winged Stilt, Black-headed and Slender-billed Gull, Little Egret, Redshank and Kentish Plover. Then noticed two largish waders flying to my right towards the grassland. An Eurasian Curlew followed by a smaller "Numenius" species. It was too distant to cause a heart stopping moment, so It went into the notebook as a Whimbrel. No, I really can't afford another weekly survey to check for Slender-billed Curlews! A couple of Greenshanks brought me back to reality.

I next checked the " pool" on the opposite side of the road. No water at all. In fact I drove round it only logging a Southern Grey Shrike. I then headed to the second hide. There were a group of Yellow-legged Gulls on the beach....beating the grockles! Disappointingly I didn't have a single addition to the list at the hide. No resident or migrating warblers seen or heard all day! There were some Sea Daffodils (Pancratium maritimum) in full flower...hope you're impressed, Mary!

Had a bit more luck at the public hide, adding Yellow Wagtail, Little Stint and Sanderling. Little and Sandwich Terns were seen. Huge numbers of Greater Flamingos here. Got to be nearing 1,000 for the day.....escaping the Fuente de Piedra count?
There were more round the rear of the reserve, one of which was close enough for me to see the ID number ( black on white) JATT on its right leg. Also round the back were a small flock of 28 Audouin's Gulls, Curlew Sandpipers, Ringed Plovers and Dunlins. A Wheatear posed nicely on a fence. Think it was a Black-eared but checking in Collins it had characteristics of Northern as well. I'm sure someone will prove me an idiot!
All in all a good day. Only 32 species, but 3 mozzy bites.


6 August : flamingo ringing at Fuente de Piedra.

This blog is slightly different to the others. In part it is a tribute to my friend Manolo Rendón, director of the laguna de Fuente de Piedra, and who I have had the privilege of knowing for more years than both of us care to remember. It is tribute to his organisation of the ringing of the flamingo chicks since that first, eventful and much more ad hoc affair back in 1986 and in which I had the pleasure of taking part. Talk about 'we few, we happy few, we band of extremely muddy brothers', which still applies and the memories which all those who have taken part over the years must have as this event is one of the greatest birding experiences, even though one may have serious doubts about ones sanity at times. There is the memory of Manolo Fernández-Cruz, dressed in yellow like a canary in that first ringing and the delicate effect of the dark grey mud on his outfit when he went full length. Or 1999, with water up to the navel and waiting in that for two hours, result of which many with cuts on legs got them infected and others, myself included, contracted cystitis which is not funny, especially when one is due to fly northwards in three days! It was also the last time I took part officially as my knees were giving signs of being a lost cause even back then.

Therefore, when Manolo most kindly invited me to take part in this, the 25th anniversary of the first ringing, I thought about, thought about what the knees and back would say, thought 'to hell with 'em' (or similar) and accepted. And I have no reason whatsoever to lament my decision, especally when staggering out, I heard a much muddied young lady of perhaps one third my years comment generally as to how she was going to feel on the morrow (Sunday) and the agreement of all around. I don't know how she felt but I wasn't at my brightest but neither was I as bad as anticipated on Sunday morning. But I digress. Also, all the images are small but by clicking on them they should enlarge without any problems.

On the Friday afternoon what only can be described as the gathering of the clan took place, to register, to see to which group and which task one has been assigned, given the correctly coloured shirt which designates which of the six groups with which one is placed, and then the briefing takes place. This is also a time of reunion, of meeting old friends in the bars afterwards and reminiscing and generally catching up on news. Some of the younger element go on all night and don't sleep. The older members go to a local hotel and try and get in some 3 or 4 hours, I managed nearly 4, before we have to meet the next morning around 04.30 at the bar El Chaqueta at the entrance to the village just off the A-92 autovía where we are supplied with much needed coffee and the well known madalena or bun. Something with which to line the stomach for what is to come.

As I was attached to the command group under Manolo to operate from the forward hide and from where he controlled the various surrounding groups which would drive the chicks towards the gathering pen, we were on our way by 04.40 and by 05.00 we were entering the lake. Along with José Sencianes and Rubén who were official photographers, Gustavo one of the guardas, a lass by name of Virginia and God knows who else, we went forward under the panoply of the universe, a magnificent black sky full of brilliant stars, much better than anything that Swarovski produces, a view not destroyed by city lights and which only those who go into the wilder places are privilged to see. And then the fun started.

Grasping firmly on to the 2m long canes provided, each a thick piece for easy gripping, we followed the prelaid flashing lights in single file, theoretically in silence but with the occasional muffled exclamations and occasionally splash as someone slipped (me, for example). Remember this was all in total darkness using only the ambient light from the stars, walking through water up to knee deep and with an extremely uneven and slippery bottom. Easy it was not and it seemed to take for ever to get through to the forward hide which overlooks the colony and it was from there, still in the darkness, that Manolo would coordinate whilst we waited.

By the by, remember that if you click on the photos they should enlarge.

Slowly the first signs of daylight appeared in the east and with the binoculars it was possible to make out the young flamingos which we could hear now silhouetted against the first reflected light on the water (L above). Then, slowly, we could make out the black figures of slowly moving figures (R above), each grasping a cane to aid in stability - the idea of Birnham wood coming to Dunsinane came to mind, whilst from above us Manolo issued the command orders as to which group should stop, slow, or increase speed. And meanwhile the flamingo chicks in front of us remained quiet until one or two heads were raised as they became aware that something was happening and that they were being surrounded and slowly started moving in the desired direction towards the arms of the corral as they were surrounded (L).
Once the chicks are corralled (R),the beaters go to their respective posts and assigned tasks, the ringing with the big alpha-numeric coded rings that can be read with telescopes and which have provided so much information over the decades, there is taking of biometric measurements and, most necessary, the flamingo carriers themselves (below centre). There are those that take blood and rectal sample for analysis and, regrettably but occasionally necessary, the veterinarians who deal with any injured birds. From there the birds are released (R below) and when all is finally done and all the 600 chicks plus a single adult that decided to run and not fly were ringed there was the release of those surplus birds from the corral (R below) under the control of the man himself, Manolo Rendón (L below).

One more little thing, but useful to flamingo researchers. The French flamingo workers at Tour du Valat, Camargue, have developed a website from where it is possible to find where and in which year a ringed bird received its ring. This is www.flamingoatlas.org and go to the language at the bottom right of the page, this available in French, English and Spanish amongst other languages and is easy to use (I can manage it so I'm certain that you can!).

Details of any ring read should be sent (in Spain) with details of date and site (give the province and in these days of GPS that reference if available) to anillamiento@ebd.csic.es or through
http://anillamiento.ebd.csic.es/ if it is Spanish ringed bird. In the huge fullness of time you should receive a reply with the history of the bird.


04 August : a morning on La Janda

In view of the the aount of stuff piling up and today being a busy one before shoving off to see friends and the briefing for ringing the flamingos tomorrow, this will be short. Basically I was up early well before dawn on Thursday morn and met Stephen Daly of Andalucian Guides at the Apolo XI (I think) bar at Tahivilla at 09.00. Fortunately there was no problem at Houston and a coffee went down a treat - it usually does at any time between getting up and about 20.00h!
Stephen is like that well known beer that reaches parts that other beers don't and has access to parts of estates on La Janda which are closed off to normal beings, so t'was in there we went, wandering around the rice fields as well as going across to past the granja olorosa (you call what you want, I know what I like!) on the way towards Benalup before coming back part way down the central track towards Facinas before branching off in to the rice paddies again.

Birding was not heavy and we were not inundated with spp. or numbers, nothing like one day last week which saw around 5.000 White Storks and 15.000 Black Kites. Of course, we saw both and we also saw a few Short-toed Eagles - have you ever noticed the predilection these have for electricity pylons? Beats flying around, hovering and looking for reptiles any day! We saw very few Montagu's Harriers and Stephen tells me that most of the eggs/chicks from the southern end have been predated, which makes me think in terms of foxes or genets. Nearly forgot the Hobby which flew over the car near the mirador del Estrecho on the way.

Along the track between the bridge over the canal and going towards the granja olorosa, there are still plenty of Cattle Egrets and, rather nicer, the bundle of European Turtle Doves, proper ones,not those mentally retarded ones that wander around in roads waiting to be run over.
Along the banking by the rice paddies there were a lot, and I mean a lot, of Green Sandpipers - along one stretch alone we reckoned there must have been between 40 and 50 of them, not that they stay still long enough to get a decent view, much less a photo, as there's that sharp little call and a white butt moving away at high speed over the lush green rice. There were some Black-winged Stilts, including these 2 chicks of a family of 4 marching away at high speed, and also a few Little Ringed Plovers, this youngster being extremely obliging. The last species, seen just on the way out was a pair of Short-toed Larks, which are always nice to see.

So, that was a pleasant morning's birding in extremely pleasant company, as always. But all is not finished, and now for the gem of the day.

Up at the north end of La Janda there were two crop sprayers, both piloted by mates of Biggles (if you don't get that reference, I'm not explaining it but look up Capt. W.E. Johns on Google) busily spraying the crops against some vile bug, although I'm not sure that vile bugs might not be a better bet than whatever muck is being sprayed on.
But better still was the sight of three workers, suitably attired in plastic chemical and biological warfare suits, along with face masks and each carrying a different coloured umbrella. We wondered for one moment if we had come upon a modern, avant-garde version of rehearsals for The Mikado with three peculiar little maids from school, but no, they were the markers for each spray flight.

And apropos of absolutely nothing, for those who like to know these things (there's got to be one of you out there), it was a century ago this week that Mr. W.S. Gilbert, the brilliantly cynical and sarcastic librettist of the Savoy Operas died. If you want a laugh, read his letters to The Times on drivers speeding! So, 'a wandering birder I, a thing of shreds and patches ....'


3 August : Sierra de María

My apologies to Dave and Gilly but I closed down early last night and have just opened up after this morning down at La Janda, which I shall post tomorrow.

It's been three weeks since we took Andy Tongue up to the Sierra de María. Today the usual motley crew of Dave, Myrtle, Brian and Mary were joined by Helen, who's a new near neighbour of today's location and a new member, Adrian, who lives near Helen. Having already seen Common Swift and a Jay on the ascent to the chapel our first big bird was a Short-toed Eagle. A Hoopoe flew over the car park, but not a lot else was seen round the chapel.

We headed up towards the Botanical Gardens seeing one or two Griffon Vultures gliding along the Mountain Ridge. Also seen were 3 Booted Eagles, 2 adults and a juvenile. Round the Information centre one bush contained 5 Subalpine Warblers. Immature Rock Buntings caused some ID problems. Also seen were Crested Tit, Short-toed Treecreeper and Bonelli's Warbler.

The relatively fitter amongst us did the medium walk whilst the walking wounded did the lower walk. The lower group logged Long-tailed Tit and Robin, whilst the medium group saw amongst other birds, Coal Tits. Both groups joined up for the descent where we saw a Melodious Warbler and a Stonechat. Back near the chapel a family group of Woodchat Shrikes were seen.

We then headed to the La Piza cafe for a refreshment break, seeing Crossbill, Great Tit and BlueTit. At this point Brian and Mary headed home to prepare our lunch....are we spoilt or what!!
The rest of us headed down onto the plain. Both Raven and Carrion Crow were spotted as well as a juvenile Southern Grey Shrike. Rock Sparrow were around the water deposits. Down by the hamlet not a single Lesser Kestrel was to be found. There were however numerous Larks on a ploughed bit of ground next to piles of wheat. I suggest both Thekla and Crested were there as well as Short-toed Lark.
40 species in all. A good day's birding in the heat, so a cold lunch and a dip in the pool for some of us at Brian and Mary's was very welcome and appreciated indeed.
Dave & Gilly


1 August, Guadalhorce

After a July which is best forgotten (excepting the afternoon up at Bob and Jenny's Golden Wedding do), and after a morning working on the penultimate illustration for the waterproof pelagic seabird book, an afternoon out, even in hot sunshine, seemed much needed. It was either that or murder at least two females in the family. So off I hied me to the Guadalhorce, with frankly very little hope in my heart but how mistaken I was going to be, as this brief entry will show.
Not a large total of spp., 34 of which no less than 10 were waders, which gives one a clue. Not that they were in massive numbers by any standard, that was left to the Black-headed and Audouin's Gulls along with a scattering of Med. and adult Lesser Black-backs - yes, early arrivals and at least 8 of them. A single Whiskered Tern on the laguna Grande was the only tern that I saw - and that after walking along the shore too - and it was the very devil to try and get even a half way decent shot.

The best was undoubtedly the waders and virually the first bird I saw when I arrived at the second hide which overlooks the ponds at the río Viejo was this little chap. Regrettably, the photo of this Marsh Sandpiper - always a good species to see and incredibly delicate, like porcelain - was against the light, like that of the Greenshank which it stood next to for a nice comparison shot. The there was a single Redshank and a flight of 5 vey nervous Dunlins which shot in like bullets. There were a couple of Curlew Sands. and a single, rather tatty, Grey Plover in full moult. There was a single Ringed Plover, back from breeding in the high north, and surprisingly only one or two Little Ringeds but still plenty of Kentish. Even the Stilts have given up their annual bout of hysterics even though there was one chick which couldn't have been more than 7 days old.

So, migration has started. I hope to get down to the La Janda area on Wednesday or Thursday and Friday afternoon-Saturday morning I shall be observing the annual flamingo ringing at Fuente de Piedra and so there will be some reports soon.