28/11 : an afternoon at the Guadalhorce

It's not very often that I go down to the Guadalhorce ponds in the afternoon but after three and half days of my knees in self-destruct mode (which is what cut short my visit which I never bothered writing up as there wasn't a great deal from my point of view) to the Laguna Dulce and Fuente de Piedra last Saturday, they had improved sufficiently to go down yesterday afternoon. If I hadn't gone somewhere, I'd have probably gone bonkers (no comments, please), so off I staggered at my own rather slow pace. hoping to see something reasonably nice and a faint hope that I may latch on to one of the Short-eared Owls that have been seen.

The first thing I saw was a Kingfisher which flashed along the river before I even crossed the bridge and there were Cormorants flying in all directions. I went straight across to the eastern arm and was struck by the large quantities of Chiffchaffs, they were everywhere. Of course, the problem with Chiffs is that they may harbour something a lot rarer in their midst, so always provided that (a) the little devils weren't in deep scrub, (b) flashing from one bush to another or (c) hiding in deep shadow, I tried to check out those that did show reasonably well.

I stopped briefly at the first hide on the eastern bank where this female Pochard had decided that Monday afternoon was a good time for a bath, and she was obviously really enjoying it. None of the other ducks -more Pochards and one or two White-headed Ducks, Coots and a single Moorhen - thought but they sure as hell weren't emulating her!
After the rains the water levels have risen to the extent that there is now shoreline for waders but there were 5 Flamingos and some Teal, Mallard and more Pochards.

I was still checking out the Chiffs that were visible and I had gone on about 50-60m towards the seawatch mirador when I hit gold. One Chiff looked as though it had a white wing bar on the coverts. I lost it and found it again and it had. Just one bar on the coverts. And a good supercilium too. A Yellow-browed Warbler! My second one down here after one that stayed in the garden for four days at the end of October some years since and was twitched by varous friends from the balcony. But this was very active, I saw it, watched and lost it again, found it again and tis went one for three or four minutes, as which point I tried to keep an eye on it and extract the camera from the rucksack, which is when I lost it as it flew across into the tamarisks on the left of the path. I looked, but no joy. But what a bird and definitely the bird of the day, if not the month.

From there I went back round to the laguna Grande, stopping en route at the laguna de la Casilla and the laguna Escondida. In fact, it was this part between the laguna de la Casilla and the laguna Grande which turned out to be the most productive. Cormorants were starting to flight in to the eucalyptus trees and decorate them like macabre Christmas adornments. A pair of Great White Egrets flew in and landed clumsily in the bushes. The Osprey sat on the pole looking extremely like a portly old gentleman who has had a rather large lunch and was contemplating doing a lot of nothing. In the distance there were intermittent views of up to 3 Marsh Harriers, a juvenile, a female and an adult male, all of which were very nice, and a Booted Eagle overflew in direction of the church.
In the laguna Grande itself there was not a lot to see although there were some Teal cirruping away in one corner, a most un-duck-like sort of call, the maleslooking vey smart in the late afternoon sun. Black-necked Grebes have increased somewhat and at one point this kamikaze Little Egret flew straight towards the hide, giving me the chance of a lucky shot. And from then on, with no Short-eared Owls showing, it was time to trudge for home, feeling a lot better for being out and with Chiffs still flitting around as the sun fell behind the Sierra de Mijas - how romantic it all sounds.


23/11 : Cabo de Gata

Dave and Gilly have returned from their sojourn in an overly warm (all things are relative) England and where would they go? Cabo de Gata, of course, with the Arboleas Group, but not before first visiting a Brambling on a bird table!

Well it's great to be back home after 5 weeks in the UK. Upon our return Brian and Mary from Chirivel contacted us to say they have a Brambling visiting their bird table. Gilly not having seen one and me not having seen one for 38 years or so, we had to go. Sure enough, on Monday we went and after a 40 minute wait the Brambling duly arrived.

Today on our trip to Cabo de Gata we were blessed with good weather, sunny and a light breeze, and four new members, Val and Tony Penny and Rod and Linda Prout. We all met up with Brian, Mary, Adrian, Helen, Dave and Myrtle at the usual cafe in Pujaire. After coffee and introductions we headed for the first hide.
The water level was about right for a change. All the usual suspects were there. Greater Flamingos, Slender-billed Gulls and Avocets, as well as smaller numbers of Redshanks, Greenshanks and Black-tailed Godwits. A group of Eurasian Curlews was spotted on the rolling savanna to the right. Must have seen at least 40 of these during the day.
Land birds included 100s of Stonechats (well, it seemed like it!), Southern Grey Shrike, Sardinian Warbler, Robin, Black Redstart and an obliging Dartford Warbler. A lonely Crag Martin flew passed.

Next we went to the second hide ( the pool opposite the first hide was dry). Here we saw Ringed and Grey Plovers. Myrtle spotted some LBJs in the reeds beside the hide - Reed Buntings, a very good spot. Brian meanwhile had stayed by the vehicles near the beach. Upon our return he reported seeing 2 Razorbills, a Gannet and Lesser Short-toed Lark. A search for all three proved fuitless but we were blessed with a 120 strong Greater Flamingo flypast, a magnificent sight. At the public hide we spotted a pair of Shelducks and a raft of about 40 Black-necked Grebes. All at once the small to medium sized birds took to the air as a Peregrine Falcon swooped from nowhere.

Gilly had decided to stay in the truck. She didn't make herself "Miss Popular" when she announced she'd seen a Trumpeter Finch and had got a photo to prove it!

The group split here as usual. Rod, Linda, Gilly and I headed round the rear of the reserve in the 4x4, whilst the others made for Morales through the campsite. We were greeted by a feeding flock of Cattle Egrets. On the wader front we added Dunlin, Curlew Sandpiper, Little Stint, Kentish Plover and Black-winged Stilt to the list. We also saw White Wagtail, Corn Bunting, Zitting Cisticola and some Cirl Buntings drinking on the track's puddles.
The others did well in seeing an over-wintering Barn Swallow, Teal, Shoveler, White-headed Duck, Coot , Moorhen and Little Grebe.
Couldn't have asked for a better home-coming what with the weather, the birds and the company. 58 species in total.


17/11: Guadalhorce

I hadn't been out for a while, pressure of work (all this about retirement and easing up is rubbish, I seem to accumulate more and more birding stuff) which has repercussions on getting out to see the things. However, what will be hasn't been and yesterday I had planned to go out early with Federico but he called off as he had a heavy cold, so it was either call it off, go out later than planned and a my own pace or not go at all. Naturally, I chose the second and it turned out to be quite a fruitful morning with around 47 spp. seen, including some quite interesting onesalthough the majority were the usual regulars.
Things augured well before I had even crossed the bridge as two Booted Eagles - a dark morph adult and an immature intermediate morph - flew across and landed in the eucalyptus trees, but as usual, in unphotographable positions. Isn't it always the way? Later on I was to see a pale morph bird too, plus a nice little bust-up between 3 male Kestrels, with what must have been the resident male coming in at warp speed like a air-to-air missile to oust the two intruders and screaming its head off as it did so. The following bust-up was short but exciting to watch. Later I saw a single juv. Marsh Harrier but it flew off in the opposite direction.

There were Chiffchaffs feeding everywhere and I also saw and heard two Song Thrushes. At the second hide, in front of the wader pool where there was the first of the dozen or more juvenile Flamingos that were scattered around, some feeding and others, like the bird in the photograph, sleeping peacefully. I ran into Antonio Miguel, the first time I've seen him in ages since the sages(?) of Medio Ambiente didnt renew his contract and the lack of control without his presence is painfully obvious. We naturally caught up to date and after we had parted, me towards the seawatch mirador, he back inland, he rang me to say that there was a Griffon Vulture over the Martin Carpena sports centre. By the by, the name of the sports centre commemorates a local politician murdered in front of his wife and children by an assassin from ETA.

The sea was totally calm and spotted heavily by up to 2.000 gulls, mainly Lesser Black-backs and Black-headed with a few Yellow-legged. By dint ofcareful searching with the 'scope, I found 3 Black-necked Grebes, there were also 5-6 on the laguna Grande, and also 2 female/imm. Common Scoters, my first of the winter. But nary a tern in sight, there has been a huge lack of Common and Sandwich Terns this autumn and there should always be 2 or 3 wintering birds in the area at this date.
Water levels are much higher after the rains and there is consequently less shoreline and islets on the laguna Grande and along the río Viejo and in the wader pool in front of the second hide. All this meant that there was virtually nothing in the waderline, all dozne or so birds being cncentrated in the lower part of the río Viejo as it goes to towards the blind end near the sea. There were half a dozen or so Black-winged Stilts and with them a group of 3 Greenshanks, while on the nearer bank a solitary Ringed Plover. And that was it along that stretch, which was frankly pathetically poor. Later there was some compensation with the presence of a very photographable Snipe in front of the hide at the laguna Grande.
There was the inevitable decoration of Cormorants like morbid Christmas ornaments on the dead / dieing eucalyptus trees but no Osprey and no Black-winged Kite which has been seen on and off over the past fortnight in the same area.
Recently a Merlin has been seen - it shot through at high speed - but Antonio Miguel and I gave little credence to a report of Hobby seen that morning by an English birder. The date is very late as they migrate during Seotember and neither of us have heard of many later ones. There are also, and this is a reliable report, up to 3 Short-eared Owls present. The best time to see these is in the hour before sunset and if we get a nice, clear sky afternoon, I shall go down and try and photograph them.


La Janda

The idea to go yesterday was aborted when the car decided to play up by not pulling and belching out clouds of black smoke which meant aborting the planned trip to La Janda and instead taking the thing to the local Ford agency with thoughts of the turbo or cylinder head gasket having gone and a huge bill! In fact, a new plastic tube was put in and I was 80€ lighter, which is a hell of a lot less than a new turbo would have cost! Today was, therefore, a go situation (as mission control used to say at Houston) and I've been for a brief morning with Stephen on La Janda, seen 2 juv. Pallid Harriers and returned without any mishap and the car pulling like a train.

I arrived earlyish, by 10, and Stephen was awaiting me so we transferred to his vehicle. Up on to the canal bank and right in to no-man's-land into which he has permission to go. There were quite a lot of Cranes were around, both on the deck already (138 in one group) with at least 170 in the whole area as more flew in and others on the deck further on. I make no apologies for putting in photos of Cranes yet again as they really are superb birds.
There were plenty of Lapwings in the harvested rice fields and finches of several spp., including Chaffinches.
It was in this area too that we saw the first of several Marsh Harriers of which I didn't keep count but did include this rather splendid female but it was Pallid Harriers that we were after and we struck gold very quickly after going back on to the track alongside the rice fields and going north.
The first bird (below R) was sitting and pondering about the meaning of life, which I suppose must include plentiful vole supplies if you're a harrier. The second bird (L) - we actually had two in sight at the same time! -was also meditating, although rather more distant, but we could still see it well enough to see the facial and pattern to be sure of the identification.
However, in view of one or two recent comments about some putative records of Pallid Harriers in western Andalucía, note that Dick Forsman has warned of the possibility of hybrids with Hen Harriers. One must be aware and these links may help:...and here:
From thereone it was all down hill as we went along the track, seeing this juvenile Night Heron, a couple of Purple Boghens and later 2 Great White Egrets/Herons where we had seen one on Saturday, although Stephen tells me that they are now known only as White Egrets, and they certainly dwarf the Cattle Egrets in the photo here. Surprisingly, we saw only 1 Black-winged Kite and a single Buzzard, plus a few Kestrels. There were plenty of Chiffs and a single Willow Warbler, a bit late this bird, and quite a few White Wagtails. And thus, reluctantly it was time for home.

The car went like a bird - pity its best cruising speed is 135km/h, a speed which the little green men regard as illegal - was home for lunch by 14.30 and have since spent a couple of hours since lunch sorting out a few photos and listening to a highy recommendable digitally mastered version (in German) of The Merry Widow with Elizabeth Schwarzkopf and Nicolai Gedda. The other cd in the set is a very nice version of The Land of Smiles. There, you see I'm not the uncultured birding version of Billy Connolly that you thought that I was. So, herewith the story of a super morning's birding along with my thanks to Stephen and to his lovely wife for letting him out!

PS: I am informed that there is a Black-winged Kite at the Guadalhorce and I have had both Willow Warbler and Chiffchaff in the garden since returning home.