01/01/2012 : Happy New Year!

I always reckon that a good way to start the New Year is booze less and get out birding early - that's my point of view. My children say that it's due to advancing years - I hate know-it-all children, especially if they're mine. At least I've not got a hangover so I guess I'm one up one them (had them in my time tho' - beauties - I'm not that pure!).
All that apart, I was going in over the bridge just as the sun was rising and a cold wind blowing down from the sierra, a lazy one, the type that goes through and not round you. I'd already ticked the first birds of the year when I took the dog out while it was still dark at 07.30 - a Blackbird and Black Redstart virtually simultaneously - and the list rapidly grew as I wanted to be home by 11.15 for my annual dose of culture from Vienna. Chiffs and Black Redstarts and Robins, a squadron of Cormorants overhead flying upstream while a pair of a Mallards dabbled in the river, a nice male Greenfinch followed by some Serins and then Goldfinches as I walked across to the eastern arm of the river and then down towards the sea, stopping at the first hide overlooking laguna de la Casilla on which a pair of Pochards were unsuccessfully competing with a Cormorant fishing convention, all other ducks having pushed off as there was no way that they could compete with 90+ big black things.
Going down towards the second hide there was next to nothing except a pair of miserable-looking Stilts so it was onward towards the río Viejo and, at last, some waders. 4 more Stilts, a couple each of Redshanks and Dunlins, a single Ringed Plover. I heard and saw occasional Skylarks, always niceto see but there was something even nicer in sight, and even though the following may appear to be a digression, it is not. As Gabriel Heatter was wont to say at the beginning of his wireless broadcasts (that'll give you a clue, the rest you can look up in Google), 'There's good news tonight.'

Regular readers will know that I have been constant critic of the lack of management within the reserve and I have, in this past year, written twice about the state of the reserve and the needs as I saw them (the second was a repeat and copied to Medio Ambiente in Sevilla) without receiving any reply until this past week. But, as I neared the wider part of the río Viejo it was obvious that there had been a cleaning out and even better, just to the right against the beach behind the wire fencing, they have cleared the scrub and sticks and made it much better for Kentish Plovers, a species which prefers sandy, open spaces, and the vegetation and sticks and branches gave too much cover to predators (rodents and snakes).

In all, at least a third of the length has between that point and the track in from the beach to the laguna Grande has been cleared and one can only hope that more will be cleared. Indeed 2 male Kentish Plovers were already on the cleared area, one in beautiful plumage with his little cinnamon cap, and there were some finches and Skylarks also. There is a whole list of things in the letter and hope to get permission to publish a resumé in a forthcoming blog but at least something has been done and, if the reply I received is to be believed, more will be done, albeit by volunteers.

Now back to the birds. I walked - perhaps staggered might be a better verb - along the edge of the fence and entered by the track to the laguna Grande. It was there that the White-headed Ducks, Teal - the pretty little males obviously feeling the flush of hormones in their systems although the females appeared to have communal headaches, a few Shovelers and the usual Mallards had taken refuge and were sharing the water space with both Little and Black-necked Grebes. A smashing male Marsh Harrier flew over the far side, too distant photograph but nice through the scope, and I later saw a female.

A single Booted Eagle sat on a branch on the tree remains on the far island and on the way out I was to see another which was eminently suitable for photography if only it would stay still. This winter there appear to be few Booted Eagles which is very probably a reflection of the few prey species available, although one I saw when walking with the dog yesterday afternoon had its crop grotesquely full. There were only 2 Kestrels today, one male calling very loudly for a long time as he circled high above the reserve, presumably staking out his territory.

There were remarkably few Little Egrets and Grey Herons, they must have been away up river feeding. More Robins, at one time 3 in view at once and more Black Redstarts as I walked around to the laguna Escondida which has the huge disadvantages of giving you the freezing wind from the sierra directly in the face in the winter and burning the skin off your back in the summer.

However, there was the bird I wanted to see, a Purple Boghen at the far end, busy feeding with one large red foot clamped round a root on which it was pulling furiously, white rear end stuck in the air, while a Moorhen chugged across amongst the Coots. So it was out and homewards to be in time for the concert from Vienna, but not before photographing the photogenic Booted Eagle.

Total 51 spp., not a bad start to the year and tomorrow down to La Janda!

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