24/02 : Laguna Dulce + Fuente de Piedra

As hoped for yesterday, although nothing was certain until the evening, Federico and I were off to the laguna Dulce (Campillos) and Fuente de Piedra, starting at the first before 0930. It was a great morning, both weather- and bird-wise. Sunny, little breeze early on although cool, but warmer later but the wind got up. I should point out that this chronicle has only the one photo, which is by Federico, so you will have to trsy and imagine things.

The laguna Dulce was beautiful in the morning sun and the first thing we did was scan for Cranes, as we could hear distant birds. A count of those on tghe deck gave 350 or so but when they took flight in one long string - can one call it a skein? - what with those and the 80 os so left, there must have been around 450 birds in total. These will be on the long flight north very soon, staging at places like Villafafila and in France en route.

We then turned our attention to the water itself which had a fair covering of Coots and at least 30 Black-necked Grebes but no Great Cresteds. As for ducks, there were quite a few, including 18 Red-crested Pochards, some of the more normal European Pochards, a pair of Gadwall, Mallards of course and a handful of White-headed Ducks. The best by a long way was a very nice male Ferruginous Duck which tied for first place with 3 1st winter Little Gulls!
And just in case you might think that the Ferruginous looks a bit odd, with more white on it than it should have as shown in the guides, apart from the white stern, the white on the side is the white of the secondaries.

There were a few Barn Swallows hawking for insects and a single female Reed Bunting - it's been a pretty good winter for these nice little birds. A fat Corn Bunting uttered its squeaky gate call, always a good give away for this species.

On the way round to Fuente de Piedra, we noted a surprising quantity of Blackcaps (I had seen 5 yesterday in my garden) and went straight round to the information centre from where it was easy to pick up the pair of Lesser Flamingos feeding over to the left amongst their larger cousins. These are the birds that have been around for at least 6 weeks but this is the first time that I have seen them together, other times they have been at opposite ends of the lake. Can it be love?

We ran into Ron Appleby and shiortly thereafter into Bob Wright. Ron had been watching a male Bluethroat which we saw later very briefly as it took off to hide for the rest oif the time we were there, and Water Pipit showed briefly before flying off, whilst a Meadow Pipit hung around.

There were lots of waders, the majority being some 38 Little Stints but we couldn't find and Temminck's. These wandered like little clockwork toys along the water's edges amongst the larger waders such as the Avocets and the solitary Redshank, between the 4 feeding Shelducks, even making the 8 Dunlins appear enormous. Amidst all this coming and going, a solitary Greenshank slept on and a Lapwing ignored the lot of 'em.

And to round off an extremely pleasant and profitable morning, a couple of Marsh Harriers, a very distant Common Buzzard and the resident Black-shouldered Kite, always a delight to the eye.


22/02 : Villaricos and Vera

From Dave E-B, which I regret to say I overlooked this midday whilst trying to get umpteen things done at once, including that vital commodity called food. Sorry, Dave, but the record shot of the Penduline Tit comes out very badly so I had to eliminate it.
Things are moving, Chiffs are starting to move through again, as are Blackcaps (I had 5 together in my garden this afternoon, 23/02). In fororoa Birgit Kremer reports 12 Brent Geese from in front of Sanlúcar de Barrameda (Cádiz) whilst Antonio Miguel Pérez had 13 spp. of waders, 2 Water Rails and a total of 67 spp. at the Guadalhorce yesterday (22/02). Federico and I are off to Fuente de Piedra tomorrow, so we may have something interesting to report.

Firstly I'd like to welcome Heather and Jack Murrell and Phil and Sue Naylor to our group. I'm glad to say they would've had a good days birding with us. We all met up at the "ford" on the Rio Almanzora rambla. We were greeted by a very vocal Southern Grey Shrike high up on the power lines. We took a slow walk along the newly constucted, but not yet quite complete, walking/cycle track towards Cuevas de Almanzora which overlooks the rambla. There were still hundreds of Chiffchaffs. We saw Greenshank, Snipe, a few pairs of Little Ringed Plovers and noisy Black-winged Stilts. There were about half a dozen Teal, a single Cattle Egret and a Grey Wagtail. As we reached the water deposit a Grey Heron flew off and a Water Pipit was noted on the waters edge on the rambla. But the best birds until this point were a pair of calling Red-billed Choughs flying from the fields up to the hills to our right.
We turned round and headed back passed the vehicles towards the road bridge. Some Goldfinches and a Hoopoe were seen. I then spotted a small bird flying, then landing on a tamerisk shrub in mid rambla - a Penduline Tit. Thankfully it was seen by all the group. Managed to get a "record" shot. We have seen them in the area before, but down by the beach about 5 yrs ago with Richard Gunn.
We then moved en mass (11 members today) to the beach. Workers were doing pipeline construction on the flat parking area near the cafe. On the rocks were numerous Cormorants, a couple of Yellow-legged Gulls and an Audouin's Gull. A dozen Sanderlings, a Greenshank and a Grey Plover were on the rocks, as was a Kingfisher which I spotted but went before I could point it out. Out to sea were 3 Gannets, a couple of Black-necked Grebes and a Great Crested Grebe. No sign of Razorbills. Also noted was a complete void of Stonechats!

After a reviving cuppa and snack in Villaricos we headed to the pools at Vera. Here we added Shovelers, Little Grebes, Coots and Crag Martins. Still no hirundine influx. Phil did well to spot a magnificant adult Booted Eagle soaring in the distance. Oh yes, a few Stonechats as well!!Down at the pool opposite the 'Consume' supermarket, there were 100s of Black-headed Gulls and also seen were 6 White-headed Ducks and about 30 Common Pochards.

A very good day's birding, hopefully enjoyed by the new members, with 46 species for the day.



It's a little known fact that I like seabirds in particular and some may remember the posted in this blogspot back in May 2010 about the memorable trip that several of us from the Spain had made with Madeira Wind Birds to see Zino's and Fea's Petrels. Then, in the August of that year there was a devastating fire which severely hit the breeding grounds of the Zino's high up on Pico d' Areeiro on the top of Madeira (L) . Chicks were burnt to death, as were some adults, and the future looked bleak. However, thanks to an appeal by BirdLife International and in cooperation with the Porstuguese, immediate action was taken, with almost miraculous results. The article below is reprinted from today's mailing (15/02) from BirdLife International

Emergency conservation work pays off: Zino’s Petrel bounces back!

Wed, Feb 15, 2012

Zino’s Petrel was Europe’s rarest seabird even before a ravaging wild fire hit the heart of Madeira’s central massif, where this globally endangered bird breeds.

The fire, in August 2010, had dire consequences: 25 young and 3 adults were found burnt to death, and of the 13 young birds found alive, only one survived to fledge that year – the others were predated in their now obvious nests on the barren mountain ledges.

Suddenly, the species’ population – which had been increasing steadily in recent years, thanks to efforts by the Natural Park of Madeira (PNM) – was jeopardized. The situation was grave indeed – the fire not only led to a near-complete breeding failure in 2010, but also exacerbated soil erosion, causing several nesting burrows to collapse.

As soon as the smouldering cinders permitted it, PNM developed an action plan to mitigate the consequences of this natural disaster. A team of conservation wardens was deployed to place anti-erosion coconut mesh on the breeding ledges to protect the soil in some of the most critical places. Then, with financial and logistical support from SPEA/BirdLife in Portugal, the RSPB/BirdLife in the UK and BirdLife International, about 100 natural nests were restored, while 60 new artificial nests were built. A protective cordon was also built around the known breeding areas, with cat traps and bait boxes.

When the surviving adult birds returned from wintering at sea in April 2011, to prospect for breeding, conservationists were expectant. As the summer progressed, the news from Madeira got better – proof once again that adequate investment in conservation pays off. Monitoring of the breeding colony indicated that 45 nests were occupied – with eggs laid in 43 of them. Although breeding success was lower than before the fire, with only 19 nestlings hatching, the species’ prospects looked more positive again. Moreover, fledgling success was good, with 16 out of the 19 young birds eventually flying out to sea in October.

PNM and SPEA are now more hopeful for the future – and will keep fighting the battle to save Europe’s rarest seabird species.

This work was funded by the BirdLife Preventing Extinctions Programme, Mark Constantine and many generous donations to BirdLife’s online and World Bird Club appeal. Zino’s Petrel has also benefitted from Save Our Species (SOS), a joint initiative of the Global Environment Facility, IUCN and the World Bank, which aims to ensure the long-term survival and well-being of threatened species and critical habitats for biodiversity conservation. These achievements would not have been possible without the funds provided by members and supporters of SPEA, the RSPB and BirdLife International.

15 / 02 : Cabo de Gata

Dave, Spoonbills sleep during the day because they're basically nocturnal feeders. The flamingo ring (L)orange 8 bar TM (reading down) is one from Doñana, the bird being ringed in 2003.

After the adventures of Morocco, we were apprehensive about getting back to our Spanish birding. We met up with Val and Rod for a cuppa in Pujaire before heading to the first hide. We were greeted by a Barn Swallow fly past. In fact, apart from Crag Martins they were the only hirundines we saw all day, which was a bit of a surprise. The weather was sunny with a few clouds, but a cold easterly breeze kept our fleeces on all day.
There were numerous waders: Avocets, Little Stints, Curlew Sandpipers, Dunlins, Redshanks and Ringed Plovers. We saw the first of many Stonechats, usually in pairs.
We briefly checked the "pool" on the opposite side of the road. No water, but did see a Song Thrush.
On the way to the second hide, I spotted an Eurasian Curlew on the savanna. It flew a short distance away joining 30 others. None with short bills! Also in this feeding group were about 10 Golden Plovers.
The sea appeared devoid of bird life, so we proceeded to the hide. There were 327 Greater Flamingos and 4 Spoonbills (Why are they 99% of the time asleep?) Also seen were Shelducks, Cormorants and Black-winged Stilts. The walk back to tshe car produced Linnest and Corn Buntings.
The public hide added Shoveler, Sanderling and a Robin to the list. On the fence by a puddle colourful Greenfinches were waiting for us to leave.
We headed round the rear of the reserve. A group of about 10 Audouin's Gulls were resting with a couple of hundred Lesser Black-backed Gulls. Waders were few and far between but we did see one Bar-tailed Godwit and about a dozen Black-tailed cousins. The scrubland and ruined buildings produced Southern Grey Shrike and Little Owl respectively. As we got near the end I said to Val that we sometimes get Stone Curlew here, as she'd never seen one and two seconds later two flew up. It just happens like that sometimes!
A very good days birding. 51 species in all. Photos by my assistant, Gilly!!


06 / 02 : Guadalhorce pm.

Even by my standards of tardiness (I said tardiness, not Tardis, if uncertain ask anyone of less than 40 years old who likes sci-fi), a week late this is pushing it, although I plead mitigating cicumstances, my Lord, as I have corrected the English summaries on some 400 pages of three different conference proceedings, the English one marine scientific paper and one letter on same, plus trying to clear other stuff off my desk with a moderate degree of success and I've not even been birding. I have another blog to write for this and my Spanish blog before the end of the day too.
So, last Monday afternoon, 06/02, I met Federico for a rather cold walk with a rather unpleasant wind blowing down upon us from the sierras. Nevertheless, we had a very pleasant afteroon and notched up some 43 spp., of birds, which wasn't bad, although with nothing really oustanding. Our route was that we walked down the eastern bank, along the shore and up to the laguna Grande, across to the laguna Escondida and thence homewards.
It was nice to see some waders with 9 spp. recorded. The best was probably a single Wood Sandpiper, with plenty of Little Ringed, Ringed and Kentish Plovers, as well as some 5 Snipe, Black-winged Stilts, 3 Dunlin, Snipe and Common Sandpipers. There were up to 14 Sanderlings on the rocks over on the eastern arm of the river along with some Turnstones. Many of the waders were on the río Viejo, as were the juvenile Flamingos which have been around for ages, as well as 2 Spoonbills.

One of the reasons for going down was to assess all the work that has been done and Federico and I discussed it, but of that more in the blog which will follow this, today if at all possible but I may do the Spanish version first.
We saw the first adult Audouin's Gull of the spring, a lovely looking bird, they start coming in from about 15 February onwards.
On the laguna Grande we picked up the resident wintering Osprey, they really are fabulous birds, andf there were plenty of ducks, many sheltering from the wind. Apart from the White-headed Ducks, there were Teal - including these two (R) who did everything together - and the splendid males (below L), as were the male Shovelers (below R).

Ducks apart, both Federico and myself had the impression that numbers of Black Redstart had fallen somewhat whilst Chiffchaffs were on the scarce side. I should add here that my friend Samu both heard, which is really the only way to identify them on song, and photographed an Iberian Chiffchaff at the end of last week. These are early arrivals and some years ago a friend and I had one singing around 14 February. We saw only 2 Skylarks but I am hopeful that in the future we will see rather more wintering birds.
So, after one of the coldest weeks that I have had the misfortune to winter in 31 years on the coast, the temperatures are set to rise slowly and if anyone is heading towards Almería, the male Desert Wheatear was seen again this weekend near Torre García, Retamar.


marked Marbled Ducks

Morning everyone:

Through the medium of Javier Ruiz, who has acted as intermediary, I reproduce (translated) a note from Claudine de le Court of the Environment Agency (Medio Ambiente), on the marking and release of Marbled Ducks (I still call 'em Marbled Teal). If you see any of these marked birds you are not hallucinating but should send details of the sighting to Claudine at the e-mail addreass below. Obviously, such information as place, date and number of birds (marked or not) is vital. Let us see if we can help to cover the dispersal of these birds.

I would be delighted to be able to publish the fact that some of my few rreaders have been able to help, so please copy to me.


On occasión of World Wetlands Day on 2 February, 99 Red-knobbed Coots and 122 Marbled Teal were liberatedfrom Cañada de los Pajaros (Sevilla). The coots were marked with collars but these are of no use for the ducks and therefore it is impossible to gauge the success of the release.

Therefore, in order to be able to identify the birds born in captivity, we have trialled marking some 20 birds with the blue ink used by pigeon owners. These have been marked on the tips of the primaries and tertials and were liberated with the others. We hope to be able to identify and track these birds in the field and would be most grateful for any sightings reported.


Claudine de le Court
e-mail : cdelecourt@agenciamedioambienteyagua.es


03/02 : La Janda

Friday, 0755, I picked up Ron in the centre of Fuengirola and precisely 2 hours later we were having a coffee in the bar at the San José del Valle at the corner where one turns off for Bolonia. It was, the laddie in the bar said, cold, but of that we were well aware But when he added that at 0700 in Tarifa it had been precisely zero degrees without adding any wind chill factor which a force 3-4 wind could add, it was enough to make our eyes water, as if we hadn't known that already.

After that it was a run down to the turn off for the drainage canal and the start of what was to be a jolly good but cold day's birding. So good, in fact, that it is difficult to know where to start so I shall try and follow some sort of chronological order, although perhaps just giving the route will help you, dear reader, follow us to some degree, always depending that you know the area. Basically it was a long, slow run alongside the drainage canal and then right across the bridge, along the stretch and round the curve by the sluice gates and across and up to the smelly farm, past that and then instead of turning left for Benalup, about 1 km down the track back towards Facinas. The return simple retraced our steps but turning out and right over the bridge to the N-340 and home some 11 hours later.

The rice fields on the left had a patchy distribution of Snipe, although at the end of the track just before the bridge there was good concentration of well over 50 birds, with 3 or 4 Green Sandpipers and 11 Little Ringed Plovers. In the still unploughed rice paddies there were a few Grey Herons, including some taking shelter from the wind, and a quantity of White Storks. There were also plenty of passerines, mainly White Wagtails and mixed flocks of finches including Linnets, Goldfinches also Chaffinches, along with flocks - usually rather distant - of Skylarks and one of Calandra Larks, all upset by the presence of Marsh Harriers.

Progression along the track was slow with lots of scanning and lots to see in and over the fields on the right, on the far side of the canal. There were fair numbers of Lapwings scattered around and a flock of 30 Golden Plovers flashed through.
Not far down the track,as the water levels were low, we kept our eyes peeled for Purple Boghens and the only ones we saw was a flock of 7 which flapped across as we passead, pink legs dangling as they crashed in to the reeds. Throughout the length of the canal we had a trickle of Barn Swallows heading north against the bitter wind as well as 3 House Martins. (An entry of both of these species was also seen along the coast further north at Cádiz Bay and round to Odiel : from fororoa). It was along this stretch that we saw the most Marsh Harriers, including a dark female with very white crown and forewing patches which stood out a mile (or 1.6 kms) away and at the end, amongst the Snipe and LRPs, a Water Pipit. The only good sighting of Cranes was also along here when small flock passed overhead although we were to see more, 100+, in the fields way over.
It was the birds of prey that took the day, with no less than a minumum of 15 Marsh Harriers (1 ad. male; 8 ad. females; 1 imm. female and 5 1st year birds). However attractive a male Marsh
Harrier, a male Hen Harrier beats it hands down, rather like betting a pair of 2s against a full house at poker, although where one would place the 4 Black-shouldered Kites we saw, I am not sure.. In fact we had 2 different male Hens and also 2 females. Of a day total of 5 Common Buzzards, 4 were in the area between the smelly farm and the track down towards Facinas, 2 very black birds.
It was in this most fruitful section that I heard a Stone Curlew call and we also had 5 separate Black Kites, which although reasonably early, the first ones were seen coming in from Africa a month since. A single Booted Eagle which floated over while we stopped along the track to feed our faces had probably spent the winter in the area. More surprising, in bright sunshine, was a the call of what could only have been that of a male Tawny Owl, heard only once and which made Ron and I look at each other in amazement but it couldn't have been anything else.
After feeding we slowly retraced tracks, and it is here that I have saved the best to last.
We had seen 2 Long-eared Owls in flight after we had passed the farm around mid day, disturbed by a 4WD vehicle which came out of the property, and we met Stephen Daly along here by prior arrangement, left the cars, and along with an English couple walked slowly along, excamining the acebuche trees inside the fence, looking for brown lumps sitting well hidden and sheltered by the foliage. These brown lumps are the very devil to spot and I obviously lacked the practice of Stephen but we found a total of 7 Short-eared Owls and 4 Long-eared, two of which may have been the ones we saw in the morning.
And finally, to round off what Ron was later to classify as a brilliant day with approximately 50 species seen, a Great Spotted Cuckoo sitting well sheltered from the wind, which then left the two hours home.


01/02 : a morning at Fuente de Piedra

Two birding trips this last week and no blogs done, so first this one with no photos about the lagunas Dulce and Fuente de Piedra this last Wednesday, and then, as there are a bundle of photos to process and a lot more species to talk about, La Janda on Friday.

Ron Appleby and myself had a morning free and as my birding might be much reduced for family reasons after the middle of this month (yes, January has gone!) we took the opportunity for a quick visit to the laguna Dulce (Campillos) which was rather poor, in spite of seeing a Buzzard just bnefore drove off the road to the hide. Things have not been helped by a constant stream of trucks rumbling along the road over on the far side. This disturbance certainly accounted for seeing only 2 very distant Little Bustards and possibly for only 2 Marsh Harriers. There were very few ducks, a smattering of the common ones, and the same for the grebes with only one or two Black-necked and a single Great Crested. That made getting on to Fuente de Pîedra even more quickly a matter of some urgency.

We stopped at the top end where one can overlook the lake from the west. Quite a lot of Greater Flamingos but I couldn't find a Lesser, but they hide so easily if there is a mass of their big cousins. From up there we did find a group of 3 Black-tailed Godwits and later, from the information centrea end, a string of 15 more. But I jump ahead. A quick stop at Cantarranas gave us only 3 Marsh Harriers, the worst of this mirador being that one is looking in to the light in the morning. The other side of the road gave us some 150 Cranes, quite distant but very wary.

From the information centre, we had little time to spare but finding a Lesser Flamingo was very easy as the light was right, it was nicely apart from big cousins and the colour difference very visible. There were some very handsome Teal and Shoveler, as usual, quite a few Snipe and a pair of Shelduck were grovelling in the mud along the shore of the main lake. The bird of the morning was, without a doubt, the Black-shouldered Kite which made an appearance just as we were leaving for the run down to the coast, now some 10 minutes more rapid because of the new peaje (= toll but dirt cheap at 3.05 euros) autovía which runs from the top of Las Pedrizas down to Torremolinos, this cutting out the kamikaze curves. and possible jams coming round Málaga.

The Friday blog should be on-line tomorrow, Sunday, as apart from 60+ photos to go through, this universally cold afternoon England play Scotland for the Calcutta Cup.