16/11 : recce to El Fondo/Hondo, Elche

I shall let Dave's account of the recce that Gilly and himself made to El Fondo, also known as El Hondo, at Elche, Alicante. I would also ask you to read the very important announcement at the end.

1st winter male Bluethroat
As a few members of the Group expressed a desire to visit the Bird Reserve at El Fondo, south of Alicante, I decided that a recce was needed to check out the access and water levels, so Gilly and I made the 2hr trek, arriving at the Information Centre just after 9am. On the approach we'd seen Kestrel, Chaffinch, Robin, Crested Lark and a female Marsh Harrier. As we waited for a member of staff to get off the phone we took the opportunity to birdwatch over the pool through the large observation window. What a result! We saw three neck-ringed Red-knobbed Coots, three Purple Swamphens (with, unbelievably, three one week old chicks!). Lots of Chiffchaffs were flitting around the reeds. Also seen were quite a few Reed Buntings. A bird then landed on the surrounding fence - a lovely white spotted Bluethroat.
     We had a chat with the staff member. Access via the North Gate is as before. Wednesdays and Saturdays only by prior appointment from 08.30 to 11.30 hrs. Didn't ask about the water level as it was obviously okay. We checked where we could go today. Apart from the raised walkway circling the Centre, there were short walks to new hides as well.  We then began with the walkway. Lots of chiffchaffs, but also Zitting Cisticolas, Cetti's and Sardinian Warblers. Also seen were Grey Heron, Little Egret, Magpie and numerous Stonechats.
     We then reached a hide which over looked a large pond. We spotted Mallard, Common Pochard, Coot, Moorhen and at least 6 Little Grebes.  The next hide added Shelduck, Gadwall and Black-necked Grebe. Also seen flying was a bonny male Marsh Harrier and some Black-winged Stilts.
collared Red-knobbed Coot
 We then back-tracked slightly to walk up a path that had claggy mud to try and avoid. Luckily we'd had the forethought to put on Wellington Boots, but not any anti mosquito lotion. It was worth the ever increasing weight on the footwear and the odd bite. Saw another Bluethroat. Then Gilly spotted a Bearded Reedling in the dense reeds. I could only claimed some bird movement! After we'd seen Dartford Warbler and a Blackcap we conceded that the mozzies were getting the taste of our blood and retreated back towards the Centre, picking up Linnets on the way. On our way to lunch we added Cattle Egret and Crag Martin. On the pathway we found a Glow-worm Larva (see below).
     40 species in total and the weather was good. Hope our members enjoy the trip I've booked for the 5th December after I get back from my solo trip to Morocco delivering charity clothing to a poor village high up in the Atlas Mountains. Obviously I might manage to fit in a bit of birdwatching in the 9 other days I have spare!

glow-worm larva

Having seen Dave's reference to and this photo of a glow-worm larva, I am reminded of Churchill's remark (one of many!): 
'All men are worms, but I think that I was a glow-worm.

I am also unable to resist the following little poem about glow- worms:
I wish I was a glow-worm,
A glow-worm's never  glum,
For how can you be gloomy,
When the sun shines out your bum?


13/11 : Guadalhorce ; 14/11: Cabo de Gata

I have not had the time to write up the excellent morning I had down at the Guadalhorce on Tuesday morning because of double family emergencies on Wednesday morning, including an urgent op. on the old dog who burst a papilloma under a pad, with blood all over the place. As an encore the vet removed 6 more from various parts of her anatomy. She has recovered rapidly, especially if there is food around. 
 I digress. However, along with David and Ann Jefferson from Nerja and their friend Paul from the Mull of Galloway (not been there in nearly 50 years!) along with his lovely springer spaniel Ellie, who was beautifully behaved. We talked a lot, which probably explains the low species list as I didn't log, and saw and had good views of Osprey (1), Booted Eagle (1), Peregrine Falcon (1), Kestrel (2) and Booted Eagle (2, perhaps 3), and a couple of Marsh Harriers. No waders at all because of very high water levels; no ducks to speak of and only 3White-headed and a few Shoveler. A flock of Siskins and nothing brilliantly outstanding except missing a Bluethorat that showed to everyone else in the reserve that morning but not to us and a flight of Golden Plovers which were well out of our range. 
20/11 : A QUICK APOLOGY to David who has pointed out that in the above I missed out on the presence of a spelndid Short-eared Owl and that of this date the htree of them saw a super little male Bluethroat down at the ponds.
All of this makes Dave's full report from Cabo de Gata on Wednesday more welcome. As a comment, I have the impression that that this is a good autumn/early winter for Black Redstarts and there is no lack of Reed Buntings either. Reports are coming in of lots of good raptor watching on La Janda and Fuente de Piedra is worth a visit at the moment (actually, it nearly always is!).

After a couple of weeks of miserable, grey, drizzly weather it was nice to be driving down to Cabo de Gata in sunshine with the odd cloud. Gilly and I met up with 10 other members including Phil and Sue who popped over from the UK for a short holiday. Brian and Mary saw a Common Buzzard near to Pujaire.
     After a coffee and tostada  we headed for the first hide. Unsurprisingly the water level was very high, leaving little room for waders to feed on the muddy edges. We did manage to see Avocet, Little Stint, Ringed Plover, Redshank and a couple of Knot. There were also Slender-billed Gull, Little Egret and of course Greater Flamingo. (Gilly later counted 373 from Hide 2). On the smaller bird front, there were numerous Stonechats, Spotless Starlings, a couple of Southern Grey Shrikes, Sardinian Warblers, Black Redstart and a Robin. On the savanna to our right we spotted Eurasian Curlew and a flight of Golden Plover
     At the second hide we saw more Curlews and about 6 Stone Curlews together with Black-tailed Godwits.

In the shrubs we observed Serin, Greenfinch, Chaffinch, Corn Bunting and Chiffchaff. Shelduck and Mallard were the only wildfowl we saw. We did add Black Winged Stilt & a single Barn Swallow to the list. Back at the beach a steady stream of Balearic Shearwaters were heading towards a couple of fishing boats. Saw at least 30 in total. A adult Gannet was also seen.
     As a coach load of schoolkids was being dropped at the public hide, we reverted to plan B and made for the lighthouse, seeing Kentish Plover on the way. Adding only Black-Headed and Yellow-legged Gulls to our total we drove in convoy back. Leading, we spotted a small bird flying on to a roadside rocky bank. Stopping we saw it was a Trumpeter Finch (Yes, Mike, they do exist!) Unfortunately not all the group managed to see it before it flew off. 
     Getting back to the public hide we waited till the noisy horde had departed before seeing what, if anything, had stayed put. Lots of Lesser Black-backed Gulla were at rest. On the wader front we added Sanderling, Grey Plover and Greenshank, plus another pair of Knot. As well as more Stonechats, a skulking Reed Bunting was seen as was a pair of Dartford Warblers.
     We ended up with a respectable 48 species. Great to be birding again in decent weather.


10/11 : Fuente de Piedra

After the vast quantities of rain which have fallen in the past fortnight and having postponed two trips to Fuente de Piedra, even though I have had one or two interesting records from home including a very late Pallid Swift on 07/11 which fed in front of the apartment for about 3 minutes, and a male Peregrine which overflew the garden the follow day, plus the Black Redstarts have arrived down (with up to 4 in the garden squabbling about winter territories), and Chiffchaffs are present. So, when the metcast for Staursday was favourable, I was up to Fuente de Piedra in the company of Sandra, a long time friend and expert on raptor tracking who has worked on the reintroduction of the Imperial Eagles, Bonelli's Eagles and this year on Egyptian Vultures on Lanzarote and Fuerteventura.
   We didn't look at the laguna Dulce as my information was that the road from the Campillos direction to Sierra de Yeguas and the branch to Fuente was a claggy meass and last time it took four turns (4 euros)  to blast the mud off the underside of the wheel arches.
    The lake is full, there is water in the area to the side of the information centre where there is ther board walk and the fields beyond are slushy, (photo above) plus the lake behind the centre is so full that there is no shore space for ducks to haul out or for many waders to stand around. Indeed we didn't see a single a Avocet and in the waders line around 30 Stilts, 2 Green Sandpipers, a Wood Sandpiper, 4 Little Stints and singles of Redshank and Greenshank and some Lapwings which panicked every time a Marsh Harrier came near - hardly brimming over with birds. Relatively sparse too was the duck population with the usual Mallards, quite a few Shovelers but nothing like the numbers that will come in, some 40 Teal came in and out like bullets. It was whilst along the board walk way that we heard, but didn't see, small numbers of Cranes, but there aren't many in yet.
    In the raptor line, to please Sandra, there were some 3 or 4 Marsh Harriers, including a female which nailed a rabbit, although the rabbit wasn't too happy about it. We found a couple of Hen Harriers, a juvenile with its reddish brown body and an adult female, a couple of Common Buzzards and a Booted Eagle and nice little male Kestrel. A pair of Ravens flew over and attracted the attention of the Kestrel, but we would rather it had been a Black-winged Kite, like the last time I was there.
    There were were plenty of passerines around, including the Southern Grey Shrike which was probably the same that featured in a blog some weeks since as it was in the same place- We ran in to Bob Wright who told us of the presence of Spanish Sparrows, they're very skittish amd difficult to get a bead on as they mix with the House Sparrows, and it was with them that we found a Chaffinch and also a female Reed Bunting. Thearea were hordes and hordes of White Wagtails, to say hundreds would not, I think, be underestimating - at one point I had 15 in binocular view! - and more surprising was the preseance of at least 3 Yellow Wagtails, all immatures, with these. Theare wwere several Black Redstarts, the males are really stunning, around the centre, but the prize for bird of the day award must go to a first winter male Common Redstart, which was very late.
A very pleasant mornings birding and with a bit of luck I might even get down to the Guadalhorce this Tuesday, although the temperature at this moment is only some 7ºC but I've got the winter gear out ready!



31/10 Las Norias & Roquetas

Wednesday's the day for the Arboleas Group to be let out and herewith Dave's report on a good days birding. Note that the photo of the Red-knobbed Coot is a bird from the reintroduction project and that the ponds at Roquetas have always held large autumn-winter gatherings of Black-necked Grebes. Interesting the lateness of the Northern Wheatear as yesterday Stephen had seen 8 or so on La Janda at nearly the opposite end of Andalucía which makes me wonder if there might be any of Greenland race - often visibly bigger than the normal Northern Wheatear, more robust, more erect and brighter colouring generally.
Was a bit worried on Tuesday evening as the heavens opened, but thankfully the forecast was right. A clear sunny sky greeted us as myself and seven other Arboleas Group members arrived at the first causeway at Las Norias. Two things stood out. Firstly there was construction work on the left hand side. Secondly, hardly a surprise after the recent rains, the water was extremely high. Looking first to the left hand lake, we managed to spot Little and Great Crested Grebes and a pair of Gadwall. In the distance we could see numerous Cormorants hanging their wings out to dry and a few Shovelers. On the LBJ front there were lots of Chiffchaffs feeding on the millions of midges and mozzies and the occasional Cetti's Warbler called.
female Red-crested Pochard
     To the right we saw a Black-necked Grebe and an overflying Cattle Egret. Close to the waters edge was a Black Redstart, a Stonechat and a Yellow Wagtail. Near the scrapyard wall there were more Cormorants, Gadwall and Mallards.

Wood Sandpiper
      A new water pipe was being laid beside the road to the second causeway, so we didn't stop near the old heronry. As we approached the junction to turn right onto the causeway, we slowed to check out the flooded meadow to the right. There was a pair of Black- winged Stilts and a very obliging Wood Sandpiper (L). On the grassy verges were Meadow Pipits and White Wagtails. We parked and observed the little track between the reeds and the meadow. I first spotted a Snipe down the far end. A Robin made an appearance. Then (sorry, Brian) not one but two Bluethroats came out of the shrubs. Also seen were a Common Sandpiper, another Wood Sandpiper and a second Snipe. The rear end and legs of a Purple Swamphen disappeared into the reeds. The first Northern Starlings of the season were seen flying overhead. We then moved over to the left hand smaller pool. There were numerous Grey Herons, but it was great to see two Night Herons. Also seen were Crag Martin and a Little Egret. We then sauntered up towards the plastic recycling plant. Val spotted a third Night Heron in the reeds to the right.
Red-knobbed Coot
     We then drove to the lake at Roquetas, stopping for a coffee on the way. There were large rafts of Black-necked Grebes and lots of Lesser Black-backed Gulls. Also seen were a few White-headed Ducks, some Common Pochards and a pair of Greater Flamingos. We then walked the 300 metres to the little pool to the left. We were rewarded with good views of a Red-knobbed Coot and two female Red-crested Pochards.
An extremely good birding day. 42 species in total and cracking weather!