The day started wonderfully well with this superb male of the pale-throated form of the Black-eared Wheatear flitting along the track in front of me (R). A little gem! I saw another pale form male later and also a black-throated form (L above), both of which are shown here. Also later I was to see a female Northern Wheatear, whilst Ron saw a male, but I jump ahead. The Red-rumped Swallows are back and there were lots, and I do mean lots, of Barn Swallows skimming low over the grass whilst the House Martins appeared to prefer more more height along with the Pallid Swifts which were outnumbered by Common Swifts.
Yesterday Stephen Daly had told me of aerial armadas of Bee-eaters over Barbate (Cádiz) way and some actually managed to turn east and overfly us. They fly so high that usually one hears them before managing pick out specks high in the sky, so high that although I heard the second flock perfectly well I never saw one of them.
I walked slowly down the eastern arm, stopping at the laguna de la Casilla hide and then at the río Viejo one. Water levels are painfully low, more like August, and thus not exactly suitable for waders. At the seaward end of the río Viejo there were the immature Flamingos which have been around for months, ca. 100 very smart Audouin's Gulls and sitting in amongst them and a rather sleepy Spoonbill in full breeding plumage.
There were the usual ducks both there and later on the laguna Grande, but my impression is that there are fewer White-headed Ducks than in recent years, Pochards and Mallards seem about normal, Shoveler numbers have diminshed notably since my last visit and the Teal have departed. Cormorant numbers are well down and I saw only one Grey Heron.
As for waders, 5 Redshanks and a single Greenshank with fair numbers of Kentish Plovers, although not as many as I would have hoped to see, and only a couple of Little Ringed and a solitary Avocet - a very poor showing for the time of year.
I heard 2 Reed Warblers singing in the extensive reed beds opposite the laguna Grande and saw another at the laguna Escondida, where the male Black-headed Weaver was flying back and forth. Far over Ted spotted a whitish spot which at 45x showed itself to be the only Woodchat Shrike of the day but by the time I had got round there walking back it had gone.
One flying object which did have me confused for a few seconds was the apparition of a what appeared to be a flying cotton ball but which turned out to be a Zitting Cisticola with its mouth chock-full of the fluffy part of phragmites reed heads, obviously meant for nest building. There were plenty of Zits (what an unfortunate abbreviation of the name) making themselves very obvious, a very easy bird to census for territories, but the only raptor seen was a dark morph Booted Eagle, not even a Kestrel in sight! A small consolation was the presence of 2 Squacco Herons at the laguna Grande, although a cyclist with binoculars told me that he had seen 4 together and these 2 proved remarkably difficult to photograph.
And no terns either, although at around 11.00 I received a text from Blas at Calaburras (W of Fuengirola) that he had enjoyed a fly-past by 4 Caspian Terns. I hung around the shore, having reckoned that they might be with us in less than an hour but missed out although nearly 2 hours later Ron was able to enjoy a single bird flying over his head along the shore line.
So, all in all a very pleasant morning, an escape from the multiple stresses of this week and around 45 spp (I think).
NOTE: A Jon Bowen has written to this blog twice asking for information but as there is no contact phone number or e-mail address, I am unable to reply. Additonally, to any who want information, get the 3rd edition of Where to watch birds in southern and western Spain, by Ernest García and myself and published by Helm. It was written precisely to tell people like Jon Bowen what was where within the limits of birding as birds can't read and don't go by our rules! Please note that I do not reply to such enquiries as I simply don't have the time as I have projects of my own which are much behind schedule and yes, I am a miserable old sod!
An amazing 15 members turned up for this morning's venture down the Rio Almanzora. Numbers will be down from now on as various couples depart to the UK or to their summer homes....alright for some!! We met at the ford on the rambla.The first bird on the list was a Purple Heron flying up from the beach direction. Around the ford we saw House Martins, Corn Buntings, Black-winged Stilts and Moorhens. We then strolled along the rambla embankment towards the desalination plant.There were numerous Little Ringed Plovers, but also a pair of Kentish Plovers and singles of Green, Wood and Common Sandpipers. Water Pipits were still around, but we only saw one or two Chiffchaffs. An Iberian race Yellow Wagtail showed well.
We arrived at the laguna Dulce just before 10.00, intending to look basically for the Ferruginous Ducks which then steadfastly refused to show themselves. But if we failed there, we had other rewards as there was a constant flow of swifts moving through, mainly Pallid but at least 25 Alpines - superb birds with huge white bellies as they swept through on sickled wings - and 10+ Commons so that we could see the comparisons with the Pallids. Additionally, for once I was looking the right way and saw a single White-rumped Swift that Ron missed. Feeding over the laguna there several hundreds of hirundines, mostly Barn Swallows but with a few House and Sand Martins.
There were a few Black-necked Grebes, some splendidly dressed in breeding plumage, a few Pochards, Mallards, Teal, the inevitable Coots and an amazingly high count of ca.85 Red-crested Pochards.
Fuente de Piedra is a lovely place and on a nice spring morning, with the water like a mirror, scarcely a breath of wind and most noise coming from the Greater Flamingos, it's the nearest that one - at least this one - can get to heaven. But the target was, of course as it has been for me for the past few years, spot the Lesser Flamingos. So, if you have read earlier blogs, you will reaslise that this is not twitching as I've seen them so many times and that on Monday I had seen 6 out of the 7 reported by Mick Richardson. Today, we were even luckier and saw all 7 - 3 definite pairs and a singleton. And yes, I am happy, very happy about that. And so was Ron.
We had little time to look for waders from the wooden walkway and saw basically the same as there has been of late - the male Ruff and 2 females, the same Wood Sandpiper that I had photographed before and a Marsh Sandpiper, a different bird to the one that had been present last week, I think. Two or three Little Stints gave very good views and we ran into demon digiscoper Huberto who thought that he had seen a Temminck's Stint but wouldn't swear 100%. Snipe and Avocets are, on the other hand, easy to identify whilst Gull-billed Terns flew overhead.
And then IT appeared, all the birds took fright and vanished over the horizon at a great rate of knots and I can't say I blame them. Here, I freely admit to making a gross tactical error in not photographing IT because what I am about to write takes some believing.
Try to imagine, if you will, a grossly large, pear-shaped, humanoid of uncertain sex and weighing in, at a guess, at around 120 kgs. I'm not saying the ground shuddered but Ron, Huberto and I did. This object (animal, vegetable or mineral, I hesitate to speculate) was clad in the ultimate in country wear - an extremely bright, not quite fluorescent, yellow garment which might well have been fabricated from an ex-Indian Army bell tent and then sprayed with the same bright yellow paint that they use on RAF rescue choppers (see in Google under Prince William but Kate catches the eye better) and may have been visible from space. At which point we too emulated the birds and fled. Honestly, dear readers, the mind boggled totally but we had at least seen 7 Lesser Flamingos.
By the way, the 3 Little Swifts seen at Rambla Morales (Almería) yesterday by Dave et al. were still present this morning, 22/03 (per Rai Martín in fororoa) and I have just seen a lovely little male Subalpine Warbler down by the Guadalhorce whilst walking (very slowly) with the dog.
Finally, just to really make you feel that spring is here, the ticks are out too and I have just removed three from the dog, so be warned.
Once more that Elliott-Binns chap and his followers beat me to the draw so my birding morning will be on line tomorrow, and that a day they had! I have also added a note from a friend who lives in Almería about Las Norias. My day wasn't at all bad either, but this ....
Then, there it was. A small swift with a white rump. I immediately called out "Little Swift!" and shouted " Follow my binoculars as I'm not losing it to find out where it is!" A couple of the group locked on to it as It disappeared north. Within 10 minutes I'd found two more in a different group. All the group found one or both of them. This time I asked Phil to try and get a record shot. Thankfully he did! ( Report submitted to SEO for confirmation).
Next a female Marsh Harrier flew over, but this was overshadowed by a Caspian Tern which did three flypasts! At the beach end we added Sanderling and Kentish Plover to the list as we were having a picnic lunch. The walk back produced Lesser Short-toed Lark, Skylark and Serin.
A note from my friend Raimundo Martín about observations from Las Norias, published in fororoa today but dated for yesterday (19/03). Rai saw an unringed Glossy Ibis, a Temminck's Stint, Wood, Green and Marsh Sandpipers (it's being a good spring for Marsh Sands), Ruffs, Garganeys and the White-winged Black Tern that has overwintered there is still present along with 2 Whiskered Terns and a Little Gull.
Southern Spain is yet again suffering a general lack of rain. The Mediterranean climate is characterised by periods of rain followed periods of drought, with a resultant biodiversity paradise. We now appear to be entering a drought period after three winters with ample rainfall. In the start of what appears to be a new drought period after a dry autumn and winter, beekeepers are suffering and many beehive colonies have fallen dramatically.
Human nature seems to be weak and needs to blame somebody (or something) for their misfortunes and Spanish beekepers have pointed their blame at Bee-eaters. They are wrong!
They claim that Bee-eaters raid beehives every spring, but naturalists’ observations contradict this and the latest report from the Ecology Unit of University of Murcia bears this out!
Standard beehives have an average of 55,000 worker bees and the daily replacement index is about 1,200-1,500 bees. The researchers and field reports show the number of worker bees eaten by a Bee-eater to be 1,493 individuals in a six month period. Additionally, bees are not the favourite insect for the birds, as other Himenoptera such as bumble-bee spp. are favoured, with additional predation of beetles and large dragonflies.
Decreasing numbers of Iberian bees appears to be related more to a combination of factors: the infection of the Varroa Asian disease, the very cold winter we have experienced and the lack of water and consequent wildflowers in the field as Bee-eaters have not yet arrived in Europe from their African wintering areas and will not do so until mid April onwards.
Therefore, Bee-eaters eat bees but do not decimate them as the apiculture industry says! The reportalso gives directions for improving output by changing beehive emplacements in the field.
Jorge Garzón ©2012
If you read the Saturday visit blog which was published yesterday (Sunday) and if you managed to get to the end, you will know that Mick Richardson had seen 7 Lessers yesterday lunchtime and also know of my dilemma, to go or not to go. So this morning I went. Early.
Like there by 08.30 early and it was cold but that way there would be (a) no school trips yet and thus no noise, (b) the light would be good with no heat shimmer to spoil observation and (c) there may be little to no wind - and there wasn't and the lake was like a mirror and it always at its best first thing in the morning. So, alone at the mirador, I started scoping.
There were 3 Lessers in with the mass of Greaters at the fresh water inlet over to the left (photo above R) and as all flamenco species have notable size differences between males and females (sexual dimorphism) I made it 2 males and 1 female. I continued scanning right and came across a very distant solitary bird and as there was no comparison, no sexing possible, and then over to right of centre another pair, male and female. Total 6 birds. As to where number 7 is, I would guess that it was way down in the region of the colony.
So I wandered up to the office and had a chat with Araceli, the research assistant, and she told me that this past two weeks she has regularly been seeing up to 4 birds, 2 pairs, in courtship display. We live in hope of successful breeding this year!
After that I had time for a quick walk around the flash and along the board walk, notching up 2 Shelducks, a bundle of Teal, 2 Black-tailed Godwits, some Little Stints (I made no effort to count them ), a very photogenic male Little Ringed Plover (above L) and an equally elegant Wood Sandpiper (above R). The Ruff, the male and two females, had migrated to the flash on the left side as one enters leading up to the parking area. Regrettably the Marsh Sandpiper appears to have departed.
The pantaneto del Pueblo gave us our first Whiskered Terns of the year and also included a 1st summer bird, a rather scarce plumage type to see, as well as a couple of very elegant Gull-billed Terns, always a delight to see with their distinctive calls and of which we were to see more during the morning. There were lots of Shovelers huddling and feeding and displaying together in little groups, with plenty of Coots and a few Pochards and Teal.
Although most unlikely to fly, an Ocellated Lizard appeared to have fixed residence in a hole not 3m from the righ-thand end of the hide and was easily visible. The fact that the spots on the side are not yet blue shows it to be an immature. These are lovely lizards, sometimes know as Jolly Green Giant of the lizard world, can quite easily grow to 30cm or more in length.
From there we had a quick look at the mirador and dismissed it as being full of people, concentrating on the waders on the side of the lake, mostly Little Stints of which there must have been at least 50 with a few Dunlin and string of about a dozen Avocets feeding out in the shallow watear and also a pair of Shelducks which were very visible. The flashes on both sides of the board walk are very productive and should become more so from now on until late May as migration gets under way, always assuming that they can maintain sufficient water. Here, virtually in front of the mirador and stretching over to the right, we had Little Ringed Plover and a few Little Stints and Dunlins, plus a pair of Black-tailed Godwits with a scattering of Shovelers and Teal.
But it was the area of water on both sides of the board walk that gave us the best, not many birds but great views, starting with a beautiful Marsh Sandpiper (L) of which there had been 2 earlier in the week.
And here a cautionary tale of another seen at the Guadalhorce this last week and which a visiting birder, believed to be English, had pronounced to Federico that it was definitely a Ruff. Fortunately Federico disbelieved him and photographed the bird, there being no doubt that it was indeed a Marsh Sand.. There is a moral here upon which which I shall not elaborate and leave you to work it out for yourselves by looking at a field guide or the photo here.
We, on the other hand, did see a Ruff (which strictly speaking is the name for the male only, the female being a Reeve and not a female Ruff, although I fear this old usage is falling into oblivion).
The Ruff was in early moult and if it remains around we should be able to see a nice development of plumage as I believe that it will be a largely white-ruffed bird (R). A Reeve flew in also and there is a big size difference between sexes here - what the biologists call sexual dimorphism.
This Reeve is shown here (L below) along with a Curlew Sandpiper, of which there were at least 4 birds present.We saw 2 Wood Sandpipers, a single Green Sandpiper and a very nice but very noisy Redshank, as are the Stilts at this time of year.
At one point, whilst I was looking the other way as usual, Federico and his son had brief views of a crake which was a very good record as seeing Little Crakes is not the easiest of pastimes and one needs infinite patience (something I lack) or luck (which wasn't with me).
We did see a nice demonstrative lesson in relative sizes when Little Stint, Dunlin and Curlew Sandpiper were all more or less in line.
By now you are probably wondering why I have said nothing about flamingos. First, there has been a notable increase in Greater Flamingos and second I spent a lot of time searching before eventually finding a very distant Lesser Flamingo - where its pair was is anyone's guess.
However, very this same lunchtime, I had a phone call from Mick Richardson from Loja, Granada (see www.lojawildlife.com and Mick, like Stephen Daly at www.andalucianguides.com, can show you parts that other birders don't reach - sounds like a certain beer ad.!) to say that he and some folks he was showing around were watching 7 (seven!!!) very visible ones at that very moment, a number which equals the lake record. I rang Manolo Rendón, who is Lord High Flamingo of Fuente de Piedra and a thoroughly nice chap and good birder too, to inform him but he added that yesterday afternoon 5 had been seen. Mick reckoned that none were ringed and Manolo said the same about the 5 seen yesterday. I spent a miserable lunchtime wondering if I should shoot up there immediately after but what with it being a Sunday and Sunday drivers and the masses, plus the heat haze, decided not to and shall be on my way up there by 08.00 tomorrow with hope in my heart. If there's any news, read about it here!
Nearly forgot, Mick also mentioned that they had seen 5 Ferruginous Ducks at the laguna Dulce.
By now it was 0930 and we decided that coffee was needed but not before I showed Ron the nest site of the Egyptian Vultures, their owners standing around until one, possibly the male, took off and returned with a large stick for the nest whilst his mate had waddled round the back out of sight. We now have irrefutable eveidence that Egyptian Vultures have no idea of the size of a stick when compared with their wingspan as the stupid bird must have brushed end of stick against a large, immobvable object (the cliff face) and dropped it. We hadn't gone on much further before we came across a Common Buzzard sitting on a telegraph post. Unlike most, it did not take flight and disappear for ever but flopped along a few metres to perch on the wire and thus afforded these photos.
After a coffee and a sticky thing (rather nice) at the San José del Valle bar it was on to La Janda, entering by the track down to the drainage canal. And from then on it was all go and eclipsed the already good omens by far. The first stop was just around the corner and scan, scan and scan again. Lapwings, a few White Storks, lots of little things in the fields and some bigger things, these including Calandra and Short-toed Larks as well as a moving flock of some 20 Yellow Wagtails which included both flava and flavissima males - both little beauties. Also, rather surorisingly, a pair of Mistle Thrushes added something different to the alrready great selection.
Somewhere in the distance a Greenshank called a couple of times but we never saw it, nor any other wader. La Janda is stone dry now and unless there is any rain there'll be no rice unless there is sufficient water in the canals. It was whilst we were there that a Purple Heron flopped in and stood there eyeing us suspiciously and occasional Marsh Harrriers - it was the day of the males - made their presence. And then our attention was taken by two rather distant largish plover type birds, observation of which not being helped by heat haze. However, eventually, by the simple process of noting what we could see and elimination of other species, especially Golden and Sociable Plovers, and with the help of 125 or so years of experience between us (honest! aren't we ancient?) we concluded that they were 2 Dotterels - a most welcome observation and best of the day for me.
From there we went slowly along the canal, stopping to laugh at a Purple Boghen wrestling not very successfully with a thick reed stem which must have been a reed stem. It is possible to see the size of the the reed by its left foot in the photo. We managed to get across the bridge and then up and past the smelly farm and a lunch stop. There had been multiple stops to watch raptors, most of them Black Kites but more Marsh Harriers, and narrowly missing a suicidal Hoopoe. From there we went down to the turn for the track to facinas and went down as far as the deer farm, adding more raptors (of which more in a minute) species such as Blackcap,this Stonechat which chose the most difficult spot to perch without doing itself permanent damage, 2 Song Thrushes, Linnets, Goldfinches and Greenfinches, not to mention Serins, Zitting Cisticolas and a single Magpie as well as a few Ravens.
We finished off by returning to the N-340, flushing a flock of ca.60 Lesser Short-toed Larks on the way and then spending half an hour at the mirador del Estrecho for more raptors, many still struggling in in spite of the wind which had risien to at least force 5, and these birds are also included in the raptor list below.
But it was a raptor day without a doubt, much to the delight of Ron and I wasn't displeased myself. So, something I don't often do, a list of the raptors seen, and in list order too!), some of which have already been mentioned: Black-shouldered Kite (1), Black Kite (500-600), Egyptian Vulture (3), Griffon Vulture (90+), Black Vulture (an exceedingly tattered 2CY bird, reckoned by Ron to be the bird of the day for him, as the photo shows), Short-toed Eagle (8+), Marsh Harrier (7+ of which only 2 were female/imms.), Hen Harrier (1 male), Sparrowhawk (ca.4), Common Buzzard (3), Booted Eagle (ca.8), Lesser Kestrel (10+), Kestrel (several) and Peregrine (1 male).
N = 14 species of raptors within a grand total of what I make to be 57 species, a jolly good total and fabulous day's birding with some great views which left us both tired but exceedingly happy.
Today eleven of the group descended on Adrians local patch between Velez Rubio and Lorca. After a light breakfast just off junction 6 of the A91 autovia we followed Adrian in convoy, heading ultimately to the Embalse de Puentes. Along the way we managed to see a Raven, Red-legged Partridge, a pair of Southern Grey Shrike and a Thekla Lark. The convoy then came to a stop at the sight of a large raptor on a pylon. A magnificent Short-toed Eagle, our first of the year. We next stopped at some farm buildings where there were Crested Larks and a Black Wheatear. I then spotted a raptor circling above us. A young Goshawk.
The next stop produced a singing Dartford Warbler and distant views of Griffon Vultures over the " Grandmother's Molar" mountain near Velez Blanco. Also seen were Goldfinch, Mistle Thrush, Stonechat and Black Redstart amongst others.
The most numerous wader by far was Little Stint with somewhere between 90 and 100 by our reckoning, these flashing back and forth. There were a few Dunlin, a flock of 19 Curlew Sandpipers and on the flashes by the centre we could hear Snipe grumpling but never saw one, as well as singles of Redshank and Greenshank. Federico was able to get good views of a very obliging Wood Sandpiper (R) which decided to have a bath after feeding, and shortly thereafter a Green Sandpiper, which let itself be seen reasonably well before shooting off and showing us its white rump dispappearing over the horizon. There were several Lapwings hiding quite well in the longer grass. To my mind, there were fewer small plovers than I would have normally expected at this date, especially Little Ringed, although this female was helpful (L). We could only find 2 Avocets, a not very encouraging figure.
There was a goodly assortment of ducks, especially Shovelers, but fewer Teal and Pochard now, and surprisingly low numbers of Mallards. Also in the aquatic birds line there were also Coots and Moorhens. The best duck was, without doubt, a smashing male Garganey which was on the left hand flash as one enters towards the parking and was the only water which we had not looked at and for which we had to thank Antonio Ternero and Juan Oñate for pointing out. They had been to the laguna Dulce and who had seen 4 Ferruginous Ducks and 3 Tufted Ducks there, as well as 29 late Cranes and 24 Little Bustards and at Fuente a skulking Spotted Crake and pointed out the superb male Garganey on the only water we hadn't covered.
We saw three spp. of hirundines, including my first 2 Sand Martins and there were plenty of Barn Swallows but relatively few House Martins. Chiffchaffs appear to be increasing, as I noted for the Guadalhorce last week, as they start to trickle north. We did see 3 or 4 Yellow Wagtails, including a super bright yellow male of the flava face and also 2 or 3 Meadow Pipits. Surprisingly, there were still some Reed Buntings around and Federico caught a glimpse of a male with a largely black head - needless to say, I was looking the other way! He also got this nice shot of a female.
The best of the day was not, however, the Garganey or the Yellow Wags., but the splendid views of 2 Lesser Flamingos. Not just because we saw the two together but could confirm that that are definitely a pair, a male and a female because of the size differences (known to those who care about these things as sexual dimorphism) which can also be seen in their bigger cousins. And not only did they stroll together, side by side - metaphorically holding hands - but displayed, heads left in unison, heads right in unison, all this with the necks and heads held high before they flew off together, watched all the time through our 'scopes. This is only the second time that I have seen Lessers in flight and the wing beat rate is faster than the bigger Greater Flamingos. A very satisfactory observation and Manolo Rendón told me later that they are frequenting the colony in the area of Los Charcones. Is it true love? Will they breed? Stay tuned to the flamingo love channel!
Finally, I recommend the next 2 months in the area around the flashes and the board walk as the waders are starting to move and there could be some good observations and it is worth going further along the track towards La Vicaria too.
It was a lovely sunny day as we headed towards Las Norias followed by Colin & Sandra in their car. The problem was the wind. Sure enough as we parked at the first causeway the waters were choppy and the water birds were sheltering on the peripheries. And another thing.... the water level was only 6" (or 15 cms) below the level of the road, an incredible 3-4 feet (or 90-120cms) above its normal level. There was therefore no places for waders to feed. On the left hand side there were small groups of Red-crested Pochards and Coots. Numerous Cormorants could be seen. Above us there were a large contingent of Pallid Swifts together with a few Barn Swallows, Crag Martins and the odd Sand Martin. Colin thought he might've seen a couple of Red-rumped Swallows as well.
In the flooded enclosure behind the building was a pair of Great Crested Grebes, who hopefully won't decide to nest in this vulnerable area. On the wader front we saw a pair of Little Ringed Plovers and Snipe fly over. Also seen were Teal, Shoveler and Gadwall.
After last Sundays health scare, when my blood pressure shot up to 170/110 & my pulse rate peaked at 170bpm, we (I) decided a walk in the fresh air would help with my recuperation. We headed our way up to the Sierra de Maria in sunny weather, but with a slight breeze. Rod, Linda and Val of the group had been in the area the previous weekend. I'll mention what they observed during this report.
(It was at this point the previous week, our three group members, together with others on a guided tour, saw a small aircraft take off near to the hamlet. After a short distance it plummeted to the ground, bursting into flames. They, together with their guide, who was a First Responder, rushed to the scene, getting there first. It was too late for the two occupants.)