30/12 : Sierra de María

This from Dave E-B on their last visit of the year will also be my last entry for this year. A big thanks to Dave for his reports from Almería which have done a lot to keep this blog going. By the by, Dave, the red squirrels down here are often rather blackish and when they had some in the Retiro Park in the centre of Madrid some years ago some of them were just about black.
Thank you too for reading this blog, all you unknown readers out there, and I trust you will continue to do so in 2012. So, leaving you with Dave's report of the visit to the Sierra de María with the hardy souls of the Arboleas Birding Group, I wish you all a good new year, good health and enough time to get out birding and enjoy it!


It's all my fault. I decided it would be a good idea to go to the Sierra de Maria to clear the Christmas cobwebs!
I persuaded Brian, Mary, Helen, Adrian, Rod and Linda to join Gilly and myself. As we passed through Velez Rubio the towns temperature gauge displayed zero degrees. Yes, it was at least two degrees colder at Maria, but us here in Eastern Andalusia aren't put off by that! (Bet "they" wouldn't have come if they'd known!) After a warming coffee at the local cafe we headed up to the chapel. A few Jays flew around as did a flock of Woodpigeons. A small number of Crossbills were waiting high in the trees for the water trough to de-ice. Walking up to the botanical garden, still in the shadow of the mountains, we didn't see a lot. I think we only added a Mistle Thrush to the list.
We entered the garden as it opened. The tongue in cheek request for 8 cafés con leche was laughed at by the ranger. We kept to the lower path, frost still on the ground. Saw Great Tit, Chaffinch and a Robin.Things didn't look promising so headed back to the cars. Once we got into sunshine the birds appeared. We saw a small flock of Cirl Buntings and Chaffinches. At the La Piza recreation area we heard a Green Woodpecker hammering its presence and the usual Crossbills were perched above us. An obliging squirrel (are they supposed to be red?) sunned itself. A small flock of Woodlarks flew over.
Down on the plain birds were few and far between. Saw about a dozen Carrion Crows and a large flock of Linnets. At the hamlet managed to see the first Black Redstart of the day and a Thekla Lark. On the way back along the plain saw an obliging Little Owl which the occupants of the other vehicle had seen on the way down. Also a Southern Grey Shrike. As we headed towards Velez Blanco a soaring group of 20 odd Griffon Vultures made the day worth it.
Only 20 species for the day. 2012 beckons. Best wishes and good birding from all of us in the Arboleas Birding Group.
Dave & Gilly
PS. Special thanks to Brian & Mary for inviting us all to their Chirivel house for a hot Chilli meal after the days birding.


25 /12 : Fuente de Piedra

As I am not in to decking halls with boughs of holly and all that sort of thing, and the family wouldn't buy me a boat like this below to go out to watch seabirds, I was out early - crossing with the son as he came in from a night on the tiles - and went birding to Fuente de Piedra and the laguna Dulce (Campilllos) this Yuletide morning, and a jolly sensible decision it was! Mind you, this little Robin found quite a lot to sing about on a well nigh perfect morning with clear skies and no wind!

There were plenty of Greater Flamingos scattered across the lake but I was in search of a Lesser Flamingo and quickly found one and although this is a very long range shot I think that it clearly shows the size and colour differences which make them far easier to pick out usually, unless they are standing behind one of their big cousins!

There were quite a few ducks, indeed the predominant sound was that of Teal chirruping away to each other as well as plenty of Shovelers, although not so many as last year at the same date, and the ubiquitous Mallards and a single Shelduck. When it came to waders the only species to be seen were a few Black-winged Stilts and a single Avocet while amongst the few Lapwings this one had decided to have a bath!

There were, of course, the usual Stonechats, male above female here on the left, but I was very pleased to see this Southern Grey Shrike (right) which has, I see, been rebaptised by a recent best selling guide as Iberian Grey Shrike, although its blessing as a permant name is still a doubtful one. Note the hooked bill and take my word for it that getting nipped by one in the soft flesh between fingers is extremely painful and bloody, as a Great Grey proved when it got me many moons ago and far away when it was being ringed at Spurn in Yorkshire.
I had very brief views of a Water Pipit, very possibly the same bird that Bob and I saw a week since, and the Meadow Pipit (left) was much more obliging.
I saw a couple of Marsh Harriers too at Fuente and around 350 Cranes before making a quick visit to the Laguna Dulce at Campillos to see what was going on there before I ran out of time. Leaving aside the myriad Coots at the laguna, there was a marked paucity of ducks, although some distant Red-crested Pochards showed well through the telescope. More surprising was the number of Marsh Harriers with no less than 5 females and a single juvenile/1st winter bird, plus a distant and very unsatisfactorily brief view of an eagle of some sort before it disappeared over the crest of the hill. And thus homewards, leaving me with brief views of singles of Raven and Black-shouldered Kite over the autovía which made dstopping impossible and which rounded off Christmas morning very nicely and without and mistletoe, holly or ivy.


21/12 : Villaricos/Vera

In first place, and jumping in before Dave's identical wishes, seasons greeting to all and good birding in the new year.

Leaving Gilly at home to do Xmas cooking, I headed down to the Almanzora Estruary earlier than the appointed time so I could do a bit of a seawatch from the Palmores beach. It turned out to be very fruitful. Close to the beach was a raft of about 25 Black-necked Grebes and a Great Crested one as well. Also there were at least 15 Razorbills. I also saw Sandwich Tern, Yellow-legged and Black-headed Gull.

I then met up with Rod, Brian and Mary at the ford further up the rambla towards Cuevas de Almanzora and we walked towards the town. There were workmen erecting a fence along the track. There were birds however, just past the disturbance. We spotted a Kingfisher flitting about. We flushed a Snipe and Green Sandpiper. We had good views of Greenshank, Water Pipit and Little Ringed Plover. At the irrigation pool there were 4 Pochards, 6 Black-winged Stilts and a Grey Wagtail. 3 Little Stints flew past
Walking back past the vehicles we checked out the rambla on the beach side of the ford. Another Common Sandpiper, a Ringed Plover this time and Mary was good to spot some Teal amongst the vegetation.
We walked along the beach from the Villaricos village end. On the rocks was a Grey Plover, a Dunlin, 6 Audouin's Gulls together with their Yellow-legged cousins and the inevitable Cormorants. Brian spotted a distant Gannet. The walk back to the cars produced a Kentish Plover.
Still work going on the estuary. A digger was dropping huge concrete blocks with floatation bags into the sea to be towed out to be sunk further out. I assume the pipe from the desalination plant will rest on these blocks.Rod and I ended up on the dual carriageway opposite to check out the pools there. Brian and Mary went to the wrong place! They didn't miss much....Shoveler and Little Grebe. At the other pool opposite the acuaparc there were 100s of Chiffchaffs and 12 White-headed Ducks.
47 species for the day. A merry Christmas to you all.


19/12 : Guadalhorce with Bob

The title tells it all, doesn't it? A very pleasant morning's birding around the Guadalhorce with Bob, although early on it was cold enough to freeze certain anatomical parts off metal simians (work that out!) but did warm up somewhat later. As a general comment, before starting, it does seem to be a very good winter for Black Redstarts, of which we saw plenty including this stunning male, Blackbirds, Robins too are remarkably visible this winter and, of course, the plentiful Chiffchaffs.

We took the usual route in, straight across the bridge and down the eastern bank to the first hide which overlooks the laguna de la Casilla where, amongst the inevitable Pochards and the White-headed Ducks, which are building up numbers, we found this rather odd-looking Gadwall, the consensus of opinion being that it is a 1st winter male, still moulting. At first the dreaded word 'hybrid' had crossed my mind but thank heavens it wasn't. The view in to the top end of the río Viejo from the second hide wasn't exactly scintillating either, with a few Teal which are always a bonny sight and not a single wader in sight -not even one of those noisey Stilts of which we saw not one all morning.

Further down, where the río Viejo is wider, there were 2 Greenshanks, 2 Dunlins and a single Redshank, not exactly brilliant but better than nothing and later on a small plover, a Little Ringed, I think, shot over us like a bat out of hell near the laguna Escondida. But to go back. Surprise, surprise, there is a gang of workers clearing and burning the brushnear the seawatch mirador in the areas where the Kentish Plovers try to breed. I did suggest that clearing the sticks and branches that give cover to predatory rodents and snakes would also be a good idea, but that remains to be seen and I shall report later. At least something it being done and not only does it benefit the Kentish Plovers as we saw 7 Skylarks there too, which is nearly a record for recent years, and amongst the many Yellow-legged and Lesser Black-backed Gulls on the sea there were 2 Mediterranean Gulls. It was from this side too that we saw the Osprey sitting on the post in the laguna Grande surrounded by the riff-raff of Cormorants that had vanished by the time we got round there.

We walked back round to the laguna Grande via the Escondida, where no Boghens appeared to be willing to put in an appearance, but did have the pleasure of seeing 3 Meadow Pipits rooting around although getting a decent shot of them is another story.

The laguna Grande was rather more productive with a notable increase in White-headed Ducks with a sleeping flotilla of about 10 of them whilst further out 2 juvenile Flamingos were feeding before flying in closer. There has also been a notable but totally expected increase in wintering Grey Herons.

I haven't got a full list but we must have seen about 40 spp. - Bob will have put one in his blog - and had a very pleasant morning going at our own pace.


15/12 : a morning at Fuente de Piedra

Getting later all the time writing things up, but the time I spent there, abour 2h.30, was a lot less than Bob will have written up in his Axarquía blog as his group of followers stayed on and went around the lake, whilst all my birding was in the vicinity of the centre. Neither were the birds willing to be photographed, so that makes this blog even shorter and more boring.

So, basically, it came down to a single Lesser Flamingo seen from the mirador (there have been 2 and the other was presumed to be down at the far end of the lake), plus an increase in Greater Flamingos. The only waders were a few rather dejected looking Stilts and 3 Snipe. There were plenty of Shovelers and some lovely Teals, the males giving that absurd and very unduck-like chirruping call.

Passerines gave better play with a distant view of male Yellow Wagtail, but it vanished before I could get the 'scope on it. Whatever race, it's either very late or the mild weather has made it lazy. There were 2 Water Pipits, always a nice little bird to see, and only 1 Meadow Pipit, rather surprisingly. A Reed Bunting was seen, but that's not too unusual there in the winter. I suppose the best passerine was a smashing little adult male Bluethroat (white-spotted form, the red-spots don't migrate or winter this way). We searched fruitlessly for Spanish Sparrows and I at least never saw a single Stone Curlew, while I know that those who stayed on saw disant Cranes (there are around a thousand in the area, I am informed by the reserve office).

And that, as the late Tommy Cooper would have said, is your lot! Next blog will be this coming Monday when Bob and I shall give the Guadalhorce the benefit of our inestimable presence.


14/12: Arboleas Group visits Las Norias

Once more, Dave and Gilly save the day as I have absolutely nothing to recount about my flying visit to the UK except being 4 hours late due to strong winds,landing with the sleet flying past horizontally, roads like glass, -4ºC and I have started a new book, entitled provisionally, Ten reasons for not visiting the UK in winter! Few birds, especially enjoyable the small party of Blue and Long-tailed Tits whilst walking my sister's canine monsters.
With regard to Dave and Co. seeing Reed Buntings, there are indications of above normal numbers from several areas throughout Andalucía. The record of 3 Common Terns is also unusual, although there are occasional winter records but usually on the Atlantic coast. I suppose it's asking a lot to know what age they were,1st winter or adult birds.
For those who are within striking distance, La Janda is full of raptors and Stephen Daly of Andalucian Guides regales me far too often with tales of what he and the folks he takes around are seeing - Spanish Imperial, Golden and Bonelli's Eagles, up to 3 spp. of harriers including the fabled Pallid and the wonderful little Black-shouldered Kites plus heaven knows what else happens to be around. He knows where they are!

Gilly and I picked up Rod Prout at Antas and headed south to Las Norias. It was a long way but by the end of the day we all considered it was worth it. The weather was again on our side. Sunny with a slight breeze. We got to the first causeway and saw that the water level was very high. I'd told Rod to expect 100s of Shovelers, but sods' law dictated that they were few and far between! To the left there was not a lot. 3 Gadwalls, Great Crested Grebe, Little Grebes, Coots and Cormorants. The bushes were alive with Chiffchaffs. Gilly did well to spot some Red-crested Pochards down the far end.
To the right there were far more birds. There were 1,000s of Black-headed Gulls and lots of grebes, now including Black-necked. There were lots more Cormorants. Common Pochards were also seen before we headed round to near the "old" heronry.
I say old because it was now full of Cormorants and only a small amount of the branches were sticking out above the high water. On the track by one of the plastic greenhouses we saw a Meadow Pipit and also some Reed Buntings on the chain link fence. We then spotted a tern sitting on a rock in the middle of the expanse of water. Not being up on winter plumage, apart from Sandwich Terns as they are often seen by the coast, Rod and I concurred that this was a Common Tern. Two others were seen later. How Gilly spotted a Slender-billed Gull in the midst of the Black-headed Gulls, I'll never know. Rod spotted a couple of distant Night Herons perched on some reeds.
We then proceeded to the second causeway, where we saw at least another 10 Night Herons. There were also 6 or more Squacco Herons. This area, I think, will be the "New" heronry, which is ok by me as they were all within camera range! (Robert, am I now reinstated as the official photographer?)
After a reviving cuppa we went to Roquetas lakes. Here we added Marsh Harrier, numerous Lesser Black-backed Gulls, a Wren, Serin and a Zitting Cisticola to the list. I then observed a flight of birds approaching us. 12 Glossy Ibises! A lifer for Rod and we managed to see only one Red-knobbed Coot (No.84) in the pond, but that was enough to secure another lifer for him.

44 species for the day, so well satisfied.


07/12 : Arboleas Birding Group

Dave got this to me just in time as I was having a last look at any e-mails before starting to pack a small case for the trip to the UK later today. The wife has offered to make me an early lunch and drive me to the airport - should I read any significance in to this?

There I was, sitting in front of the computer, in our front room late Tuesday afternoon when I heard a honking sound from outside. Ran out and there above the house was a flight of 34 Common Crane circling above me. That's a good tick for my garden list!!
I travelled on my own down to the Almanzora estuary, as Gilly had other commitments. As I got there early, I went to check out the beach to the right of the rambla. You have access now but it's quite muddy. I checked out to sea, hoping for a Red-breasted Merganser or Razorbill but only logged some gulls and a pair of Gannets.
I got back to the arranged meeting point, the "ford" further up the rambla, and then met up with Dave, Myrtle, Rod, Linda and Val. There was quite a lot of shallow water away from the beach side and from the raised sides of the rambla we had good views below us. On the wader front we had both Little Ringed and Ringed Plover, Green and Common Sandpiper, a Dunlin and a couple of Snipe. Both Little and Cattle Egret were seen. A Kingfisher flashed by ( missed by me....drat!). A Cetti's Warbler was heard, but we did see Greenfinch, Goldfinch, Black Redstart, Black Wheatear, Chiffchaff, Blackcap, Sardinian Warbler and Serin. On an irrigation pool was a pair of Black-winged Stilts. As we got back to the vehicles we were joined by Helen and Adrian so we had a short walk in the opposite direction only adding a Robin and a Water Pipit to the list.
Next we went to the beach via the ploughed up flat field. Still not a lot out to sea, only the Gannets. On the rocks were numerous Cormorants and a single Audouin's Gull. Greenshank, Turnstone and Kentish Plover were also seen.
After a reviving cuppa we headed to the pools opposite the Consume supermarket. A lot less there than our previous visit, but did see Grey Heron, Southern Grey Shrike, Shoveler,Teal, Coot and Little Grebe. Access to the end of the pools by the road was blocked by claggy mud so we moved to the pool opposite the Acuaparc. There was much more here. At least 6 White-headed Ducks, Common Pochards and a Black-necked Grebe. A Crag Martin and a Barn Swallow made an appearance.
After lunch on my way home I spotted a Lapwing on some flooded fields at the back of Garrucha, making it a 52 species list for the day. Very acceptable as was the sunny weather!


06/12 : La Janda

The intention was to have gone down to La Janda last week but physical circumstances intervened, something which is happening too often. So, yesterday morning when I awoke at 05.15 and all parts of the Paterson anatomy seemed to be in the nearest that they can get to fine fettle, the niggle that I hadn't been down there came on. I was on the road before 07.00 and having coffee and a tostada before 09.00 in Tahivilla. And while the morning was clear wheh I left here, it was fairly thick mist at Tahivilla. However, nothing venture, nothing gain (another G &S quote for the cognoscenti), I pressed on to the canal turn and sat and waited.

It was actually rather interesting as the mist slowly started to lift after about 45 minutes and all around I could hear the calls of Cranes - make a good title for a book - 'Cranes in the Mist', perhaps I should patent it? Even by then I had seen a Marsh Harrier, the first of many, a Purple Boghen that wandered across the mud as the canal has been drained. There were Little Egrets and a few White Storks too, plus a Zitting Cisticola and one or two Chiffs. I phoned Stpehn Daly to see if there was anything around, always assuming that the clag would lift as a nebulous sun tried to break through, and he informed that he was on his way down with his elder daughter who is a budding photographer, so therefore I awaited their arrival.

In fact, by the time they arived the mist was starting to burn off and we could see birds. Cranes way over on the right, plenty of 'em, and in the rice fields on the left, now barren and apparently harrowed over, there were lots of Snipe and some Lapwings on both sides. It wasn't until we got nearer to the bridge end of the canal that things started to warm up in a big way, and I must admit I can't remember the order of things. No doubt Stephen will tell me if I'm wrong. First there was a nice male Reed Bunting, in fact there are reports of these coming in from many areas in larger than normal numbers. Virtually at the same time there was a pair of Penduline Tits, elusive little beggars at the best of times. an area with Boghens all over the place, flying, walking and climbing through the reeds. The rice paddies were full of Cattle Egrets, a few Grey Herons playing at being the Hunchback of Notre Dame and a single Great White Egret. Plus, note that today (Wednesday) Stephen found a Bittern sitting in the middle of a paddy!

Then further down a group of 5 Marsh Harriers, yes, five, were flying in erratic circles around a bush and we were pretty sure that there was an owl there, me going for an errant Long-eared and Stephen kept his canny Scots mouth shut. An owl there was, sitting right in the back of the bush, a jolly big one too with wonderful horizontal ear tufts, not vertical,and one baleful orange eye peering round the trunk. An Eagle Owl is a BIG bird, both perched and in flight.

And that, in very rapid succession, was followed by a harrier, a nice and very slender harrier with a bright chestnut body and notable neck and face markings which came through far too rapidly but which made us vacate the cars hurriedly - a juvenile Pallid Harrier, the same one that seems to have been around for several weeks now. Will it and the male which was also seen last week stay and over-winter?

It's at about this point that I've got a bit mixed on the chronology as we also found a very big female Peregrine, almost certainly of one of the northern races, which Stephen initially thought it might be a Lanner, sitting on one of the irrigation booms. I was later to see her hunting and she really was a big girl! Further over a large lump sitting showed itself as a Buzzard (Common) but Javi Elorriaga saw a Long-legged Buzzard and a Rüppell's Vulture leave Spain and cross towards Afric's shores the same day.

We found a distant female Hen Harrier and I was later fortunate to see a male, and there were yet more Marsh Harriers and, of course, the inevitable Kestrels. This was at the same time that we found two distant immature Spanish Imperial Eagles, plus a third bird which may well have been the juv. Golden Eagle I saw further on after Stephen had left.

In the small bird line, there were plenty of Skylarks and Corn Buntings, plus a few Short-toed Larks which should have left our shores by now but which have not read what they are supposed to do and when to migrate.

As noted, Stephen and Lucia had left me earlier and on their way back to the main road, the N-340, saw a pair of Black-shouldered Kites and a pair of Black Storks. So, if you've nothing to do or simply want to escape on, say Christmas Day or start the New Year off with an ornithological bang, you couldn't do much better than have a day down there!

The Red-throated Diver (R) which is a real rarity down here and at least one Razorbill are still frequenting Fuengirola harbour although the former is a bit erratic in appearance. There is a Short-eared Owl down at the Guadalhorce, be there in late afternoon for the chance of a view.

I am off to England for three days to upset my sister and deliver a selection of cover illustrations for the waterproof pelagic seabird book. Will I survive a UK winter? I've not been back there in te winter in 31 years! Do you blame me?


29/11 : Embalse de Puentes

So, Dave, Gilly and the Arboleas Group breaking new birding ground, which is always something of interest to report.

It was thrilling to be heading off to a new stamping ground, which was suggested by Adrian and Helen. Embalse de Puentes is between Lorca and the Sierra de Maria in the Murcia region, but only about an hour away from us. We met up with them, Brian, Mary, Dave and Myrtle at junction 6 of the A91 motorway. We had Rod in the truck with us. We travelled cross country through almond groves and open fields, interspersed with rundown cortijos. We stopped at various points to check out the birds. We saw Chaffinch, Goldfinch, Serin, Greenfinch, Southern Grey Shrike, both Spotless and Northern Starling, Crested and Great Tits, Corn Bunting and a distant Kestrel. Red-legged Partridge was heard. The leading cars occupants saw a Green (iberian) Woodpecker. There were numerous Thekla/Crested Larks and Dartford Warblers were more numerous than the Sardinians. We saw one or two Stonechats but 100s of Black Redstarts. On one farmhouse we spotted Black Wheatear. Cattle Egret, Mistle Thrush, Jackdaw, Robin and Jay completed our journey's list.
We drove on to the dam at the reservoir. It was fantastic to actually see some birds on the water as compared to the virtually birdless Embalse de Negratin! Lots of Coots, both Little and Great Crested Grebes. About a dozen Cormorants were drying their wings in the blazing sunshine (yes, that's not a typo!). A Crag Martin did a fly past and Rock Doves were on the cliffs by the dam. I managed to spot a Grey Wagtail by the waters edge and a Blue Rock Thrush up on some rocks. Rod unfortunately was some distance away so missed out on this lifer for him. A Mallard and White Wagtail were also seen.
We then headed into a pine wood clearing adjacent to the waters edge next to a reedbed. Cetti's Warbler was heard and Firecrests, Long-tailed Tits and Chiffchaffs were seen. As we ate our packed lunches a flight of about 12 Griffon Vultures circled above us. They were a lifer for Rod. I then spotted another Blue Rock Thrush on the top of a pylon which Rod saw this time.
A wonderful day. Great weather. Ended up with 44 birds. Will be coming back here again!