30/05 : Las Norias / Roquetas

Now that I am back from bouncing around the Atlantic to the north of Lanzarote (and you do bounce with 3m / 10 foot seas!) I have some 420 photos to go through - a major task which I have whittled down to 130 on the first cut and shall attack the second cut tomorrow so by the weekend there should be a report. My butt is still sore - hence the expression 'my aching ass!' - and I'm less bruised than some, both humans and cameras!
Therefore I'm delighted for Dave's report of the Arboleas group's visit to fill in the gap and also his news of his son being accepted in to the Royal Marines. I know from experience what it's like and the sighs of relief when the off-sprung get their qualifications and are accepted into a profession, it removes a hell of a weight from ones mind. I wish the boy well in a unit with a long tradition. So now to his report.....

    I was kindly chauffeured down towards Las Norias by Rob and Val, Gilly being busy today. We met up with Colin and Sandra at a service station for coffee before heading to the lake. A Turtle Dove was waiting for us on a power line as we arrived on the first causeway, but it was immediately trumped by a very visible and vocal Great Reed Warbler in the flooded compound behind the building. There was very little on the high water. A pair of Black-necked Grebes, a Little Grebe and some Great Crested Grebes. I managed to catch a glimpse of a Little Bittern. We had better luck up in the sky with Night Heron, Squacco Heron and Gull-billed Tern overflying.
     We only added Red-crested Pochard, White-headed Duck and Grey Heron on the other side of the causeway so made our way to the Old Heronry site. Yes, it was devoid of nests, but our arrival flushed a Night Heron and Little Bittern from the water's edge. We were entertained by a small group of recently fledged Barn Swallows on a reed being fed by the parents.
      I warned Rob that I might shout "Stop" as we came to the small flooded meadow. Sure enough there were 4 Squacco Herons feeding  close to the road. Having got a few photos we parked up on the second causeway. The shrubs/reeds to the right had been turned into the new heronry. Lots of Cattle Egrets on their nests, plus a few Night Herons as well. In the smaller lake I spotted Common Pochard and a single Purple Swamphen patrolling the reed edge.
     We then made our way to the Roquetas lake. Again very little to excite us on the main lake unless you had an obsession with large numbers of Coot. We wandered up to the smaller lake. We were surprised to see a Red-crested Pochard duckling sitting by the water's edge. Alas, no Red-knobbed Coot again. There were however about 30-40 Mallards there. We only added Red-rumped Swallow, Collared Pratincole and Crested Lark to the day list. 35 species in all. A good day.
Our intrepid cyclists, Tony & Val are approaching the Danube river. If you have not seen the previous blogs (Why not?), they're cycling from The Atlantic to The Black Sea.

My other great news is that my 19 year old son Josh has been accepted into the Royal Marines. Going to Basic Training in August. We could not be more proud of him.


23/04 : Vélez Rubio

As I have not been out except to slowly walk the dog and the rest has been flyovers or in the garden, which latter has produced my first Spotted Flycatcher of the year, plus now I am preparing for going off in the direction of Lanzarote and then two full days way out on the ocean blue Saturday and Sunday (will I be able to withstand 05.30-21.00? Answer next week), returning Monday, I am most grateful to Dave & Co. for this account of their trip today.
By the by, for those in the west, the immature Bateleur Eagle was seen again yesterday along with some Griffon Vultures in the La Janda region.

Thankfully the winds had subsided as we headed to the cafe off junction 6 of the A91 east of Velez Rubio. Here we, Val, Rob, Gilly and myself, met up with Dave, Myrtle, Colin, Sandra and Adrian. After coffee we had a wander over the road where we could hear Golden Oriole. Alas no sightings for Val and Rob who'd never seen one, but we did put Barn Swallow, Pallid Swift and Rock Sparrow amongst other commoner birds on the list. We then had a tour round the country lanes of Adrian's patch, stopping for individual birds on power lines or suitable stopping points. 
In the process we had good views of Woodchat Shrike, Black Wheatear, Corn and Cirl Buntings and a distant Short-toed Eagle. By this time we'd been joined by Helen. The ultimate stop before we got to a stream I spotted about 7 Griffon Vultures circling above the María Mountains. We also heard a common Cuckoo.
       At the stream we heard Cetti's and Reed Warblers in the reeds. The sound of a Golden Oriole tempted Val, Rob and I towards the trees nearby. Eventually a superb male flew off giving us a short but good view. The vocal Nightingale remained unseen. Also seen in the area was a Cattle Egret, Little Grebe, Zitting Cisticola and Greenfinch.    
We then made our way towards the dam and reservoir. On the way we saw a Little Owl, a few Rollers and numerous Bee-eaters on the power lines. Also seen was a Kestrel, Booted Eagle and Red-rumped SwallowVal also spotted at least 3 more Golden Orioles as we drove past woodland.
       At the dam we saw Crag Martin, a solitary Red-billed Chough and Rock Dove. Colin spotted a Green Woodpecker. On the water there must have been at least 20 Great Crested Grebes  but not a lot else. A couple of Yellow-legged Gulls and a single Whiskered Tern were add to the day list.
       It was then down to the pine forest for a picnic lunch overlooking the water. A Common Sandpiper was seen, the only wader of the day. A Great Spotted Cuckoo and another Green Woodpecker flew across the water. In the trees we spotted Long-tailed and Blue Tits, Crossbills and Chaffinches while Griffon Vultures circled above us.
       51 species for the day. A very enjoyable tour. Thank you, Adrian.
The news via Facebook regarding our intrepid cyclists, Tony and Val, is that they've completed about 900kms and have seen the back of the Loire river. Wishing them good luck and better weather.


16/05 : Cabo de Gata & Rambla Morales

Any complaints about Dave's opening comment should be addressed to him, not to me! As usual, the Arboleas group had a good day out. Those who go to Cabo de Gata should keep theirs eyes peeled for any yellow-billed terns, and in particular one wearing a yellow plastic ring and please inform me and I shall pass on the record. This bird was ringed in Valencia some years since and has been seen there again and also there are records of from the Atlantic coast.

It was a lovely sunny day (sorry to you folks in the UK!), but there was a bit of a stiff breeze to keep the smaller birds under cover. We met up with Brian, Mary, Colin, Sandra, Rob and Tony at the Pujaire cafe, before heading to the first hide overlooking the Cabo de Gata bird reserve. There were numerous Avocets, smaller numbers of Black-winged Stilts, Curlew Sandpipers, Dunlins and Kentish Plovers. On the causeway were three Grey Herons with some Slender-billed and Black-headed Gulls. I made a rough count of the Greater Flamingos (250). Smaller land birds seen included Hoopoe, House Martin and Zitting Cisticola.
      We made your way to the second hide, stopping for a quick sea/beach watch first. After only seeing a Cormorant and an Iberian Yellow Wagtail we yomped to the hide. Here we added Shelduck, Little Egret and Little Tern. Colin spotted a pair of Southern Grey Shrikes on a distant shrub. At the public hide, our next stop, we only added Black-necked Grebe to the list. However it was nice to see numerous Little Terns on the islands and that the distant ternary seemed to be full to capacity with Sandwich Terns and Black.headed Gulls.
     We had a refreshments break then headed to Rambla de Morales via the campsite. There was no sign of the Little Swifts, in fact it was noted we'd seen no swifts at all. Of course, a Common Swift then flew over. We also saw Red-rumped and Barn Swallows plus a few Sand Martins. On the water there were White-headed Ducks, MoorhensCoots, Common Pochards and a solitary Little Grebe. Gilly, Sandra and Val were further behind us lads when they spotted a pair of Glossy Ibis. About the same time a pair of adult Night Herons flew over the water to the reeds. Heard numerous Reed Warblers. About 5 Whiskered Terns flew over with some Sandwich Terns. Gilly and I then made our way back to the truck. The Ibises showed well, as they did when the rest passed back that way. The photo of the two together is mine. Val took the other one shown. 43 species for the day.


14/05 : Fuente de Piedra and an appeal

A nice morning and she who thinks she rules was cleaning, so getting out seemed to the best and safest option, especially as the wader migration is now well on and there are still some, the highest latitude breeders, still moving through. I was late away and not down there until 10, which was a bit late as it was already starting to warm up nicely until it got downright hot, well over the 30ºC mark by the time I left around 12.30.
The heat and the wind is having a very negative effect on the water levels and there is now no water to the left of the road as one enters and that around the wooden board walk is diminshing rapidly but there are still some waders, although what I saw today may very well bear no relation to what is seen tomorrow.
Today there were some 200+ Flamingos over on the left as there had been less than a hundred last week and Saturday afternoon a flock entered but were very uncertain and restless according to information from Manolo Rendón, director of the reserve and a great chap and friend who has dedicated his career to the place and these birds and to whom the many birders who visit owe much.
There are plenty of Gull-billed Terns around and I estimated well over a hundred in the area just around the board walk as they fed over the fields and came and went on their foraging further afield. They are tremendously elegant birds and their call is a dead giveaway. On the other hand there were some Black-headed Gulls and there are nests, at least 15 as far as Manolo and I could see, on two islands in the lake behind the information centre. A single Collared Pratincole, another very elegant bird and with a flight which makes it hard to believe that it's a wader but which refused to come close and give me a try at a photo as it hawked for insects over the fields.
As for waders, there were 5 or 6 Wood Sandpipers - what a good spring we have had for these, and a single Green Sandpiper. Last Thursday Bob had seen 30+ Curlew Sandpipers, many in full breeding plumage, but today there were about 8, all feeding busily way out of camera range. The 20+ Dunlin, nearly all sporting the sooty black bellies, were feeding with equal enthusiasm, as were the 4 Ringed Plovers and the elusive single Temminck's Stint, now in virtually full breeding plumage but I saw only 2 distant Little Stints.
I wasn't really keeping much of watch for passerines or raptors, although the operatic Great Reed Warbler which featured in an earlier blog was still at it, although invisible in the depths of the reed bed, and a female Yellow Wagtail flew over, as did a pair of rather tatty Black Kites showing good signs of primary and tail moult.

Once more an attempt is being made to bring some pressure bear on the weak-kneed, lily-livered Maltese politicians to stop the spring massacre of migrants by their unspeakable hunting inhabitants, in spite of continual international condemnation. Therefore, please copy and paste to this link http://www.avaaz.org/en/petition/Stop_Spring_Hunting_in_Malta/  then read and sign.



09/05 : the ugliest bird in the world and other things

I know this is all out of synch. with Dave's blog of 10/05 being published a couple of days since but I had over 160 photos to got through after last Wednesday's trip down to the area of Vejer de la Frontera, followed by La Janda and finally Bolonia, then things got tied up with even more urgent jobs to attend to so now, on Saturday afternoon of 12/05, I can finally get down to work on this blog. Of course, you may well have read Bob's entry in his Birding Axarquía blog, but I trust that you will find the time to read this too.
If I tell you that we were down there by 09.00, it'll give you some idea of the start time and we made very good, if not strictly legal, time. 
The main objective was to go in search of the Bald Ibises as this introduction programme, carrried out jointly between Medio Ambiente, Jerez zoo and the Moroccan authorities with the aim of diversifying the population from the one site in Morocco and the 5 birds remaining in Syria (not a place to want to go for the hols!).
This programme has been so successful that three years or so some birds were released in the Sierra de Retín, all colour ringed and after successful breeding last year, this year three pairs are breeding on a cliff face right by a main road, which makes them easy to find (top L), especially one has decorated its nest with a polythene bag but which hides the bird itself unless it decides to do some housekeeping (top R).
The male (we presumed) flew in after a while and showed wonderfully (below L) and the blow-up (R) shows its reptilian head and why it it is in line for the title 'the ugliest bird in the world' and which makes any probability of hybridising with any other species very unlikely (my sister says). and made this Jackdaw look positively handsome!
So, already ahead of schedule, we had a breakfast at the bar across the road and then headed for La Janda, going down the canal and back, then across the top and down the passably reasonable central track that brings one out near Facinas. We had already seen 4 Honey Buzzards and a single Common Buzzard on the way up towards Vejer and no sooner had we entered La Janda by the northern track than we saw that they have started flooding the fields and turning them into rice paddies and at a reasonable guesstimate there must have been 180+ Glossy Ibises in the flooded fields whilst others were being prepared.
The drainage canal levels were very high, which certainly hasn't helped the Purple Boghens - we saw none, nor the Great Reed Warblers as I heard only 2 singing males and I also heard a Greenshank on a couple of occasions butd failed to locate it. On the plus side we had splendid views of 3 Purple Herons and the usual White Storks.
Scanning across the fields to the east produced no harriers at all, much to our surprise, and few Calandra Larks and some distant raptors, a couple of Lesser Kestrels and one or two Black Kites, some of the later ones in a distinctly tatty state as the bird on the right shows, whilst the fields were swarming with Mallards, little green and brown heads sticking up all over the place! A surprise bird along the canal was an immature Cormorant and a couple of Little Grebes were also enjoying the waters depths and a single Spoonbill feeding along one of the side drains was rather out of place.
Once across the bridge, the drive along the long straight showed that Cattle Egrets are going to use it as a strip development breeding site which, I regret to say, will almost certainly be to the detriment of the European Turtle Doves and at the corner there was a Nightingale singing and some Pheasants from the Las Lomas and which had escaped high velocity lead poisoning.From there it was up past the smelly farm which, suprisingly, was NOT smelly as the ground was dry and as there were no cattle with thewhole place having a singularly deserted aspect.
However, stopping further along the road to eat meant that the action started as it always does when one wants to eat. A few more Black Kites, a few Griffon Vultures and some Honey Buzzards, an immature Bonelli's Eagle, a couple of Booted Eagles and a Woodchat Shrike to add to the list before we set off down the central track in the direction of Facinas, but not before warning Bob that if it got impassable we would have to turn and go back.
A pair of Red-legged Partridges - more escapees from lead poisoning, I suspect - ran across the road and we kept on southwards with only occasional more difficult bits - how obvious it is that we have been lacking in rain this winter - but still no harriers but a few Stonechats until finally we spotted a superb male Montagu's Harrier. And true to the rule book, would it fly within decent camera range and show decent side views or would it shows its rear end and disappear over the hill - the answer is in the photo!
How Stephen Daly gets such brilliant shots is beyond my understanding.
As we still had plenty of time in hand and with the levante wind increasing in strength I gussed that any raptor movement there would be would be blown westwards and that heading up to the cliffs above Bolonia might be a good idea and, for once, I was right! We really hit gold  in the time were up there and, like an idiot, I never noted how long we were up there, an hour and a half perhaps but we had Honey Buzzards of all plumages.  
We reckoned  that at a conservative estimate we saw somewhere between 350 and 400 birds but if anyone had said 500+ I would find it very hard to disagree with them as they kept coming, 10 here, 20 there and more way over in a vortex, some up from the south and others in from the sea where the levante must have swept them out before they beat back in.There were some Black Kites mixed in with them, probably 20 or so, and we also saw a couple of Short-toed Eagles whilst the resident Griffons flew around.
There was no thought of really looking out for the rare swifts but a solitary Black Stork really looked out of place whilst down below a Cuckoo was calling. Bob wandered off up the road and saw Blue Rock Thrush, to be expected there as they are resident but time was moving on and we still had a fair run back to Torremolinos, although we were easily tempted to stop at the mirador del Estrecho on the way out of Tarifa and there were one or two Honey Buzzards there too and 3 or 4 Griffons which appeared to be coming in from the direction of Africa.
Bob reckoned about 50 spp. for the day and he's usually about right, but what mattered was the quality of what we had seen and the passage of the Honey Buzzards. A great day's birding!


10/05 : río Almanzora & Palomares

This is a Thursday evening blog from Dave, and mine from Wednesday is still in the process of having its 160+ photos sorted, although Bob has put his on-line in birding Axarquía, so the chronology will be out of sync. Mine will be out tonight, if all goes well (does it ever?).
News is that the imm. Bateleur Eagle that was seen to enter from Africa some three weeks since is still in the Tarifa regions, it being seen over Tarifa on 08/05. There have been some very heavy entries of Honey Buzzards these past 10 days and they are still pouring in although my friend Ron from Scarborough tells me that the first female appeared in the area he weatches some 10 days since. When they move, they move!
There are no photos in this blog.

Having spent a very expensive few days in the UK seeing the kids and grandkids (best birds being a pair of Bullfinches), I decided to do an evening visit to the Rio Almanzora followed by a check on the state of the Red-necked Nightjar site at Palomares beach.
     Colin, Sandra, Val, Rob, Gilly and I met up at the "ford" beach side of the Desalination plant and wandered along the embankment overlooking the rambla. It being 8pm the sun was in our eyes, but we did manage to see Little Ringed Plover and Black-winged Stilt. Small birds included Goldfinch, Serin and Greenfinch. Also seen were Pallid Swift, Barn and Red-rumped Swallow and House Martin. A pair of Great Spotted Cuckoos noisily flew round us. A Nightingale made fleeting appearances. A Spotted Flycatcher gave us good views. A Common Sandpiper was seen down the gully. On the water deposit was a small flock of Pochard and Mallard. On the water beyond the "weir" was a Greenshank. On the way back Gilly spotted a flight of 8 Turtle Doves.
     We then headed to Palomares. The village is famous because in the mid sixties, after a mid air collision during refuelling, the US Air force mislaid three atomic bombs. We parked up next to the beach at the rear of the Repsol garage. There was a large compound of pipework & a large digger which suggested a lot of disturbance in the area. A pack of 4 stray dogs patrolling the scrubland where the Red-necked Nightjars roosted couldn't help either. We were well covered to protect us from midges and mosquitoes. As dusk passed a pair of Stone Curlews flew in, landing within view. Gilly and I both heard a distant Red-necked Nightjar call. About 5 minutes later we were lucky enough to see one flying above the horizon between the garage and the copse of pine trees. Everyone saw it. Any view of a nightjar is a good one! 28 species for the evening.


02/05 : Sierra María

Another report from Dave & Co. from one of their favourite birding spots - rightly so given the species they see, the Sierra María. I have the same problems with the autfocus when there are lots of leaves, twigs and so on, Dave, as when I took the photos of the Great Reed Warbler at Fuente de Piedra recently.

  Gilly and I met up with Brian, Mary, Adrian and Helen at the Repsol Cafe in Maria. Brian and Mary had already seen a Golden Oriole on the way up. Woodchat Shrike was our best offering. We headed down towards the plains, stopping first at the ruins. Here we saw Crossbills near the water deposit. Heard at least 3 Hoopoes. We spotted a Black Redstart before I spotted a pair of Ravens being harassed by a lone Carrion Crow. We next stopped at the water troughs further along. There was a gathering of Rock Sparrows and some Corn Buntings.

     We then convoyed slowly along the plain road. There were many Calandra Larks and at least 3 Little Owls. A pair of Northern Wheatears were seen. We got down to the hamlet on the Granada Province border. There were at least 12 Lesser Kestrels hanging around the tiled roofs. We tried to get closer for some photos but they were very skitty. Mary then spotted a larger raptor on the ground near one of the barns. It was a Booted Eagle, plucking and devouring a hapless feral pigeon.
     We then retreated to the La Piza recreation area. On arrival I made haste to the loo. Upon my return everybody was glued to one of the trees. Gilly has a knack of finding Hawfinch .... and there were three of them! Took many photos, but only one was reasonable....bloody autofocus zoomed in on leaves, branches, twigs etc! Also had Short-toed Treecreeper and Griffon Vultures there.
After a coffee we headed to the Botanical Garden. Our warbler count was much better than my previous visit even though we only did the lower walk. We saw Subalpine, Melodious and Bonelli's Warbler this time......only Western Orphean to complete the usual María summer visitors! Also added to the list were Crested Tit and Linnet.
     39 species for the day.


01/05 : Fuente de Piedra

After a fairly rubbishy week with little movement on my part with most birding being from the terrace and the knees still wondering if they're really going to go into melt-down or not, I got up feeling reasonably alright, decided that I couldn't bird on a diet of sparrows, Goldfinches, the odd Woodchat Shrike, Bonelli's and Melodious Warblers, nice though they are, and that the metcast was good after the rain of these past days, so by 0930 I was at Fuente de Piedra to try and miss the great unwashed masses who were bound to turn up (and they did, along with noisy brats).

Actually, I had three reasons for going, the first being to see if there was any extra water which would help prolong wader migration (there was some so it will), which in turn mean that there would be still be waders (there were) and to try and get some photos of Great Reed Warbler (which I did, as you can see below).
The first two objectives were easily sorted out although the numbers of waders present was not great, even though there were some 12 spp. if I've recorded correctly. The least common was a single Temminck's Stint and most Little Stints appear to have departed northwards, while the most common was certainly Ruff, although many of these were hiding and feeding in the grass and vegetation, which made them much more difficult to see. This flight photo (L), while far from brilliant, does show the V shape of the rump nicely which is very useful for identification purposes. In between numbers varied between somewhere around 6-7 Redshanks and Curlew Sands., some very nervous but not as much as the 3-4 Greenshanks, while the 3 Ringed Plovers were their usual phlegmatic selves, all the way down to a a few resident Stilts, Avocets - this one was really putting some energy into feeding! - and Little Ringed Plovers, down to singles of Dunlin and Common Sandpiper.

Flyovers included a single Purple Heron and a slew of Gull-billed Terns, a single Collared Pratincole, plus a surprise in the form of 2 Slender-billed Gulls. Also flying over were plenty of Barn Swallows and House Martins, plus a couple of Red-rumped Swallows and lots of Common Swifts.

 But as I noted at the beginning, the objective was to try and geat one or two photos of Great Reed Warbler and I think that I can say that I am pretty well satisfied with results. Guided in by what only the generous would call a song - honk-honk, tswee-twee, chuck-chuck can hardly be described a song but it can be heard at a good distance, which helps in finding these king-sized warblers, much larger than a Reed Warbler that was singing in the same area.
The left hand shot shows the normal sort of view before they dive in to the depths of the reed bed. However, thanks to the marvels of digital photography, shots like the right hand one enable us to see the orange mouth while the little chap practises for what must obviously be a Wagnerian role.