13-14/04 : Rambla Morales, Las Norias & La Charca de Suárez

I feel that this contribution of Dave's should actually be called 'the great crake hunt', or something similar but it is obvious that is in need of a shot of anti-crake venom. I still have to write up my own yesterday morning trip and shall do that later, all things being equal, with some news from the Strait area.
Bob is on the road to the mend, I'm glad to say, and I fully endorse Dave's comments about this super little reserve as an example to follow. I rather suspect that the good folk of Motril are
Motrileños rather than Dave's suggestion!

Never having seen any sort of crake, I thought I'd take a trip down to La Charca de Suarez, near Motril, dropping in on Morales and Las Norias on the way along the coast road. I left Friday morning and drove through various showers before coming off the E15 at the Cabo de Gata turn. The first bird I saw on the roadside power line was my first migrant Woodchat Shrike. I parked up beyond the campsite and trudged my way towards the lake. There were swarms of low flying Common and Pallid Swifts due to the stiff breeze. I checked for any with white rumps, but only logged numerous House Martins and the odd Red-rumped Swallows. Also saw Barn Swallow and Sand Martin. A singing Nightingale showed itself briefly from some dense thicket. On the water were 27 Greater Flamingos, White Headed Ducks, Common Pochards, Shovelers and Black-necked Grebes. Having an eye out for white-rumped birds, I saw one flying low over the water - a Collared Pratincole. It landed on the beach. Managed to get reasonably close to it before it showed signs of anguish so I retreated back to the car, getting there just before a shower started.
I then headed to Las Norias. Again there were lots of Swifts circling over the first causeway. Also a single Collared Pratincole flew low over the water. There were the usual Red-crested Pochards, White-headed Ducks and Common Pochards on the water. I headed round towards the second causeway. Just prior to reaching it, there is a flooded meadow on the junction. Not only were there Cattle Egrets there, but also a pair of Glossy Ibises, not 5 metres from the road! A quick scan in the smaller pool produced a Squacco Heron, but alas, no Night Heron nor any terns in the area.
I then drove the 100km to Motril and with the help of my Sat Nav got very close to the small reserve called La Charca de Suarez. Getting final directions from a garage I found the narrow entrance. At this time of year it is only open at set times in the evening during weekdays and for a few hours in the morning & evening at weekends, hence me coming down on a Friday so I could get the evening session in followed by the Saturday morning one. (Managed to get room at the Estrella del Mar * Hotel a few hundred metres down the road for €29) After a siesta I was ready at the gate when it opened at 6.30pm.
I recognised Stephen Powell and his wife from Bob and Jenny Wright's 50th Wedding Anniversary party last year. They were allowed straight in as they were regular visitors whilst I was given the welcoming speech by a very pleasant warden. On the way to the first hide I saw a Purple Heron, a pair of Woodchat Shrikes and heard many Cetti's Warblers. In the hide Stephen was still there. They kindly let me tag along with them for which I'm exceedingly grateful. At the next hide, where crakes had been seen, there was a Spanish birder there with his camera. Immediately Stephen indicated movement near a clump of reeds to our right. Sure enough a crake appeared for a second then disappeared again. I got the impression of a Little Crake. This was confirmed by Stephen who checked the Spanish guys photos of the bird he'd taken before we arrived. My first ever crake....well worth the journey! The reserve closed at 8pm. Gave my thanks to Stephen and his wife and the warden and confirmed the opening time in the morning.
I was there ready at 10am and was allowed right in without the speech. The first hide produced Cattle and Little Egret, Coot, Moorhen, Little Grebe and loads of Pallid and Common Swifts. Hirundines included Barn Swallow and House and Sand Martin. I soon headed to the "Crake" hide. I spotted movement to the left in reeds by the waters edge. The crake moved right across the front of the hide, over a small clearing of the reeds, giving me a perfect view of my first Baillon's Crake. The photo came out alright despite the shaking hands! A Purple Heron flew in and was eyeing me up from the reeds opposite. As the time for departure loomed, so did rain clouds, but it didn't dampen my enthusiasm for this jewel of a well managed bird reserve. Other Spanish and British reserves could learn much from them. The Motrillions ( Is that their collective noun?) should be very proud!
Heard that Bob Wright has been ill. Hopefully he is on the road to recovery. Gilly and I send our best wishes.

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