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.

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