30/01 : El Fondo / El Hondo

Dave E-B and the Arboleas fanatics ventured out of Andalucía and into Murcia to visit the famous El Hondo reserve where up to three Spotted Eagles have wintered, including the Estonian origin radio-tagged bird 'Tonn'. My days out on Tuesday and today, Thursday, will be on line on Saturday.
male Bluethroat
O5.00 hrs! Another early start today for some of us. Some members stayed overnight near the El Fondo Bird Reserve, near Elche so they didn't have far to travel to the Cox service station, the coffee and meeting place.  There were 17 of us, waiting to be let into the reserve at the appointed time of 08.15hrs. I would like to welcome Trevor and Ann to the group. It was also good to see Helen again since her move.
As we waited we started birding. We saw both Cattle and Little Egrets, Cormorants, 7 Grey Herons flying over as well as a Wood Pigeon. In the bushes and reeds we saw Chiffchaff, Chaffinch and Black Redstart. We also heard Cetti's Warbler. The ranger arrived and let us in. There were at least a dozen other birders so space in the hides was at a premium. We drove down towards the elevated covered viewing platform, seeing Booted Eagles and Marsh Harriers on the way. On the smaller lake we could see Red-crested Pochard, White-headed Duck and both Little and Great Crested Grebes. A Kingfisher made a brief appearance as did a Purple Swamphen. Colin spotted a Great White Egret. The view, at that time of the morning, over the larger lake was poor due to a bright, low sun. Did manage to spot Shoveler silhouettes, fast flying Teal and the larger Shelduck.
Penduline Tit
       I decided that as there were too many people and lack of view that I'd make my way to the hide in the centre of the reeds. Much of the group came with me. We saw a Robin as we walked towards the turning. Along the track I thought I spotted a Penduline Tit. Then Kevin said he saw one. We then had good views of at least 8 individuals. We used the hide in shifts. We added Greater Flamingo, Black-necked Grebe, Pintail and Black-headed Gull to the list.
      When we got back to the elevated hide, an Osprey was seen sitting on a distant post. Little Bitterns made brief appearances unlike the Spotted Eagles we'd hoped for! Some distant large birds were seen. Possibly Spoonbills, someone suggested? 
      11.20hrs was the end of our allotted time. We were released by the ranger and headed for the Information Centre. We managed to see a few Red-knobbed Coots in the small pool before walking along the boardwalk towards the other hides. From the first we had great views of a Bluethroat and also saw Little Stint and Black-winged Stilt. Troy spotted some Serins.
      It was a great mornings birding. 48 species in all. Looking forward to our next visit, hopefully in March.


25/01 : Calaburras

This afternoon, fed up of housework, translating and of niot getting out birding at all, I hiead me off to Calaburras, to the west of Fuengirola, in search of a species which I used to see in several tens and even hundreds of Purple Sandpipers at Filey Brigg and they even get goodly numbers at some sites in northern Spain, such as Gijón. But these rather dull and inconspicuous little waders who like pottering around on rocks only just make it down to the Strait of Gibraltar and into the Med., which is the southern limit of their range. They started turning up at Calaburras (it's in the 3rd edition of the 'Where to watch birds....' guide) about 6 years ago and have never numbered a maximum of more than 5 or 6 birds. This winter there appear to have been only a couple and there they were when I went down there this afternoon.
Actually, Calaburras is quite an interesting seawatch spot too, it having been pioneered by Paco Ríos, who was down there, along with a single, very smart male Ringed Plover, some 5 or 6 of its smaller relation the Kentish Plover, the males looking very smart with their cinammon coloured crowns, ca. 10 Sanderlings and a couple of Turnstones. The sea was like a mill pond and there was little to see except the usual Cormorants sitting on rocks round to the right and some sparkling adult Gannets out at sea. This single, persil white, Little Egret is quite frequent there and generally sits around doings its Quasimodo act although at low water it can get quite animated fishing.
I had just got back home when I had a phone call from Rai Martín whose birding area is Cabo de Gata and Almería Bay. This morning he had seen 5 storm-petrels feeding in front of the little Byzant
ine-like church cum hermitage at Torre García. He thought that they were Leach's and after the description he gave and some quetioning from me, I'm certain that they were. They are speacies particularly susceptible to long periods of bad weather and there are records from the Mediterranean as far east as Suez. A jolly good record!
26/01 : There were still 2 Leach's Stormies present yesterday (per Rai Martín).


23/01 : A nature walk at Nijar

This week's report from Dave and the Arboleas Group is somewhat different and is not devoted solely to birds but something which I'm sure many you will have done at some point. In fact, Dave told me that he would understand if I didn't put it in but I think that it'll do us all good to see that there are other things around and exploring this site in the spring may be a very different story. Birders, rather naturally, have a very marked tendency to go to known sites where they can be sure of birds, even when this means ignoring other sites which may turn up something interesting. What may be dull in the winter could be interesting in the spring/summer and vice versa. For example, at this site, would the protecting wall a male Black Wheatear builds to protect the nest hole be made of garnets? Now that would make an interesting photo.
I was hoping to have a report on a proposed trip to Fuente de Piedra tomorrow but this afternoon the gear box on my car decided that under no circumstances would third gear engage and second was happy with life either - it was like stirring blasted pudding, so it is now in the car hospital and I am walking and awaiting a large bill in a day or so.
And for those within the Málaga Parador de Golf - Plaza Mayor area, a Red Kite has been seen.
This afternoon an e-mail from David Jefferson sequestered in Aberdeenshire. Looking out of his sister's kitchen window a flock of some 20 or so Waxwings flew down into the garden. Fortunately he had his camera to hand! As he said, he's already seen his bird of the year!
And many thanks to those who have responded to my 'market research' piece. More, please, more!

The high winds have continued most of the last week. Today we woke up to snow on the hills around Albox. It put off some, but 7 more foolhardy members went to a new location. We knew it wasn't a birding hot spot so weren't disappointed with the low number. We headed for the volcanic crater behind the village of Nijar. To get to it, drive the E15 between Almeria and Antas and come off at junction 481, us by the southbound slip road  Immediately turn to the right on to a track, ignoring the service road. Follow the track for about 1km.The obvious crater is to your left. Pass the first gap, stopping at the second. There is a rough track through the gap in the rim into the crater itself. 
We were on the lookout for garnets. They were strewn all about, concentrated where sand had accumulated in the gullies. Birds were few and far between. We saw Thekla Lark, Serin, Greenfinch, Black Wheatear, Stonechat, Black Redstart, Kestrel, Crag Martin, Southern Grey Shrike, Hoopoe and White Wagtail. Yes, that is the complete list. We also saw a very startled Fox. It wasn't about the birds today, it was observing all nature.




As many of you know, I have long been a member of the Spanish Ornithological Society, better known as the SEO or, to give it its full title, the Sociedad Española de Ornitología. Living in Spain I felt, way in back in 1982, it was my duty to support the then very small SEO, just as it would be to support the RSPB or a county naturalists trust back in the UK, or the LPO in France. And that is leaving aside specialist organisations such as the Seabird Group, of which I was on original member back in the mists of time.
The SEO is very conscious of the increase that there has been in non Spanish birders living down here in Spain and also that many of them are retired. Now, it is a fact, like it or not, that many who do retire down here do so from the age of 60 onwards and that even with the best will in the world learning a foreign language at that age is, to put it nicely, often rather difficult. Thus, communication with Spanish birders is often difficult as the teaching of English has been and is often rather deficient (you ought to hear my daughter, who is English language coordinator in a state school on the subject, she is very scathing about the quality of the teaching). Now, leaving apart those who Brits. who feel that everyone should speak English (and they exist), this means that with the best will in the world on both sides communication is difficult and leads to nationality/language ghettos, which may include birders.  All of which leads to the request for help.
Back in December, I was talking with the president of the SEO, Dr. Eduardo de Juana (professor of biology in Madrid) and its director, Asunción Ruiz – better known to all as Asun, both of whom I have known for many a long year. During the course of our conversation, the subject of how the SEO could cater for the English speaking foreigners and, draw them into the ambit of Spanish birding. This also means stripping you of some small annual sum of cash to help Spanish bird conservation. 
So, being for my sins a well known guiri birder both amongst the Spanish and the Brits and non Brit. English speakers, I was asked if I would investigate the possibilities of some sort of birding magazine from the SEO but in English, this for a small annual fee. This is something I have being rabbitting on about for years, so I suppose that it was logical that they ask me. 
So I in turn am asking you, dear readers, for some input in writing to me, not to the blog but to my own e-mail address, which is  andy.birds (at) gmail.com  I would ask you to consider the following points (I have my own ideas but am saying nothing so as not to influence) and you could reply to each point by copying the list and then adding your comments after each point and any extras at the end :

1. Would you be willing to subscribe to such a magazine?
2. What would be the top annual price you would be willing to pay, as this would also incorporate you as a member of the SEO?
3. What sort of periodicity would you like (eg. quarterly) and what sort of size (number of pages)?
4. Would you prefer printed or pdf by e-mail?
5. What sort of content would you like to see? (eg. sites to visit; identification of ‘difficult’ species; bird book reviews; trip reports (within Spain only, I think); birdy orientated letters from and photos by subscribers; questions and answers; interesting records from regions; English speaking tour guides, etc. – the field is enormous.)
6. Would you like a small amount of ornithologically orientated advertising (eg. books, optical gear) or not?
There is more that I could add but leave that to you imaginations! 
If I could have responses by end February I would be most grateful as I am having a meeting in Madrid in mid March with Asun and would like to take up some sort of report on the viability or not of this idea.
By the by, I don’t know who would edit this but have a well-founded suspicion that it might be myself. Many thanks in advance.


16/01 : Las Norias & Roquetas

I suppose that like myself, many of you haven't been exactly thrilled by the current bout of high winds and low temperatures which have combined to give a nice chill factor, neither do I suppose that the birds have been thrilled either and feeding to maintain body temperatures a major task, particular for those which live at higher altitides. As these move down to warmer (?) levels, keep an eye peeled for anything unusual. However, Dave, Gilly and the Arboleas group are not so easily deterred and they did venture out ..... Seeing both the Little Bittern and the even scarcer Squacco Heron is pretty unusual and the latter is downright very scarce at this date. Neither would I sneer at Wryneck or Water Rail. As s Dave says, a very good day's birding. However,  read on to see what they saw at Las Norias and Roquetas.

     To be honest I thought today's trip might turn out to be a bit of a disaster due to the cold gusty winds we've been having for nearly a week. How wrong I was!  Gilly and I met up with the 9 other members at a service station about 10km from the Las Norias lakes. The brilliant news was that there was virtually no wind. The bad news was that (A) The road onto the first causeway was closed and (B) the water was almost lapping by the roadside. We overcame the first obstacle by driving round the barriers (typically Spanish!). There was heavy engineering work going on at the pumping station. We were able to observe the water to the right. There wasn't  a lot.  Cormorants, Shovelers, Great Crested Grebes and Coots. We heard Cetti's Warbler and saw Chiffchaffs, Stonechats, Kestrel and Hoopoe. Having been refused permission to walk through the work site to check the left hand lake, we drove all the way round, passing over the second causeway seeing Grey Herons and Black-winged Stilts
male Bluethroat
     Back at the first causeway a scan around the left hand lake produced a Purple Swamphen perched on a fence and a Marsh Harrier. Also seen were numerous Crag Martins and a single Barn Swallow. A Little Grebe was also spotted. We then headed back towards the second causeway. Things didn't look good as we approached the flooded meadow on the corner as Gilly and I spotted a cat running across the road towards it. We parked up and wandered back to take a look along the muddy lane to the left. It didn't disappoint. Yet again Bluethroats were there. Further down we could see Teal, Little Stint and Black-winged Stilt. Something suddenly flew out of the reeds beside us and headed for the tall reeds across the meadow. It landed in full view - a Little Bittern. I set up the scope so everybody could get a good view. I noticed movement on the water line below it. A Little Grebe.......but sat, half obscured slightly to the right was a Water Rail. We couldn't believe our luck.
Squacco Heron
We walked over to the smaller pool to the left. A Grey Heron was fishing in the right hand road side gully. It was teeming with fish. It was joined by a Squacco Heron, which appeared oblivious to passing vehicles, so Gilly and I drove slowly passed for a photo opportunity not to be missed! Next a pair of Night Herons flew from the reeds towards the Plastic Recycling Centre. Shortly afterwards Kevin spotted two Glossy Ibises flying from left to right. And then it got even better. 
Gilly was scanning the shrubs on the opposite bank. She spotted a brownish bird skulking in the vegetation on the top on a small bank. It was a Wryneck! How she spotted it from at least 75 metres I'll never know? Unfortunately it disappeared before all the group saw it. Down the far end we also saw Common and Red-crested Pochard. We then headed towards Roquetas, picking up Grey Wagtail, Common Buzzard and Common Sandpiper on the way. 

     After a coffee we stopped at the Roquetas Hotels lake. The wind began to pick up, but we added Lesser Black-backed Gull, Black-necked Grebe and White-headed Duck. There were large rafts of Coots being harassed by Marsh Harriers. Seeing 8 Pintail was very nice. We then walked up to the small pond. Only one Red-knobbed Coot was seen. We had close views of Red-crested Pochard and White-headed Duck. A Zitting Cisticola was heard and a Robin seen to complete the list.

     What a fantastic day! 49 species including some crackers!


09/01/2013 : Río Almanzora & Vera

First, I regret to report the sudden death this last weekend of Mario Mosquera, one of the original five of the then young Gibraltar birders who renovated the GONHS. I saw little of Mario but he was unfailingly pleasant and a mine of information, a thoroughly nice chap. He will be much missed and I presume that you will join me in expressing condolences to his family and to the Gibraltar birding community in general.
A side comment which is being reflected from reports within the Med. Spain sector and also the Cantabrian coast : where are the Balearic Shearwaters? I've not seen one yet. Any reports with site and numbers will be most welcome. 
Now to more pleasant news from Almería where Dave, Gilly and the Arboleas group ventured out on a chilly morn - it was unpleasantly cold and windy here in Torremolinos too - and visited the río Almanzora and Vera with a stop in Villaricos for what sounds like a much needed coffee. Herewith Dave's report (not tardy today, Dave!). I just hope it's less windy and rather warmer when I hope to be down at the Guadalhorce tomorrow morning.
Boy, was there a chilly wind above the Old Ford, Rambla de Almanzora when Gilly and I and 9 other members of the Arboleas Birding Group met up there this morning! Before most had arrived, we'd already ticked off (meaning = noted, not annoyed!) Stonechat, Black Redstart, Kestrel, Robin and a passing Grey Heron. Down on the pools in the Rambla we saw Mallards, Black-winged Stilts, Redshank, Green and Common Sandpipers, Kentish and Ringed Plover and Water Pipits amongst the numerous White Wagtails. We walked towards the Salination Plant, adding Little Ringed Plover and Grey Wagtail. The area around the small sewage works was unusually devoid of birds apart from Coot and Moorhen in the concrete gully. Small birds seen were Serin, Greenfinch, Blackbird and loads of Chiffchaffs. With numb fingers we retreated to Villaricos village for coffee.
     It was then down to the beach, seeing a Southern Grey Shrike on the way. The rocks near the harbour entrance only had Cormorants sitting upon them with a Yellow-legged Gull following a fishing boat in. Although the sea was relatively flat, a ripple obscured good views of the Black-necked Grebes. I spotted a very distant Gannet. We walked along the beach seeing only a single Whimbrel and one Grey Plover. Once down at the newly formed estuary we added 4 Audouin's Gulls, Black-headed Gulls and some Sandwich Terns. The walk through " Penduline Tit" alley only added Sardinian Warbler and Crested Lark to the list.

     We then drove to the pool opposite the Consum supermarket at Vera. Here there were numerous Shovelers and White-headed Ducks together with some Common Pochards and Little Grebes. Gilly spotted a Booted Eagle high above, being harassed by Crag Martins.

      We ended the trip with 43 species and a sumptuous lunch supplied by Val and Tony. Most grateful! 


05/01/2013 : La Janda

A brief and late note on Saturday's visit down to La Janda with my old friend Ron Appleby who is out for the winter. As usual, an early start and we were going down the track towards the drainage canal under clear blue skies and with virtually zero wind before 10.00h. - a beautifully tranquil morning with excellent visibility to follow the usual route, along side the canal, over the bridge, over the top by the not very smelly farm and thence down to the central track which runs from south iof Benalup through to near Facinas.
It's a pity that the farmers who use the tracks and road don't use some of their EU funded agricultural profits to better the surface. One must suppose it's cheaper to buy a new 4WD every few years instead of putting money into improving it. However, those regular users (and I am not one) who do not have such funding must see their more normal vehicles put through regular testing more suitable to the manufacturer's testing grounds!
Kestrel imm.
When one goes to La Janda the thoughts automatically turn to raptors, but there is lot else to see. In the winter months there is an awful lot else to see, both on the pasture land and on the rice paddies, now bereft of their crop and in the process of being gradually ripped apart to be ready for next season. There are large flocks of finches - Goldfinches, Greenfinches, Linnets and Chaffinches (we saw some beautiful males of both the latter species), the Corn Buntings, flocks of Lapwings so spread out that making some sort of census of their numbers would be a well nigh impossible task. We also saw a flock of some 25 Golden Plovers, possibly disturbed by a bird of prey but which returned later, but Lapwings and these apart, we saw little with only 2 Green Sandpipers and not a single Snipe, although another birder we met reported seeing a Greenshank.
There were Moorhens and on the stream which runs out from the embalse de Celemín, we saw4 Purple Boghens, but surprisingly there were none along the drainage canal. There were very few White Storks on the paddies and similarly few Little and Cattle Egrets. However, on the way back towards the N-340 we saw 3 large flocks of White Storks numbering somewhere between 750 and 1.000 birds in total and which had probably come across from Morocco. Amazingly we saw only 5 Cranes, although there are reputed to be some 2.000 in the area, and we did hear several distant calls.
Marsh Harrier, adult female
We did see both Common (henceforth to be known as Spotty) and Spotless Starlings. How many bother to check out for the northern species which comes down here in large numbers.
As for raptors, we saw relatively few, the majority probably being the Kestrels, even though I did not specifically count them and followed closely by 8 Common Buzzards and Marsh Harriers with only 7 noted, although it's quite possible that I missed putting down one or two, but I didn't forget to note down the female Hen Harrier or the 2 distant Peregrines. The dream raptor down on La Janda is the superb little Black-winged (I still think black-shouldered is better) Kite, of which we saw 4 but not one close enough to photograph well. Only a couple of distant Griffon Vultures deigned to put in an appearance to make a total.
The stretch of road to the east of the smelly farm is always worth a stop and it was along there, raptors apart, that we saw 3 Magpies, the most that I have ever seen there, and while scanning along there we found the pair of Southern Grey Shrikes (forget them being called Iberian Shrikes, or similar, as one new field guide has denominated them) and a distant odd-looking stone turned out to be a Little Owl taking in the beautiful winter sunshine, a new species down here for Ron.
Not a vastly earthshaking day ornithologically but satisfying.


03/01 : Guadalhorce

This will be just a brief note on the visit I made down to the Guadalhorce reserve on 03 January with Dave and Ann from Torrox. It was a very pleasant morning's birding, except for the strong levante wind which made life less than agreable and meant that all the small things kept well down in the foliage. We took the usual route, in across the bridge, down the eastern bank stopping at the two hides and to the seawatch mirador before going back, down to the laguna Escondida and thence to the laguna  Grande.
We spent a lot of time looking for and at Bluethroats and around the second hide on the eastern bank there were certainly two adult males, we know they were different because one was ringed. Plus, by comparing the photographs of these with the one we saw further down before Christmas, we know there are/were certainly three males in that stretch. The light for photography was not good but these two photographs show the ringed male.
Common Sandpiper
Leaving aside these little charmers, there were more Chiffchaffs than when I was last down and plenty of Goldfinches,  Greenfinches, Black Redstarts (all female/juvs.) and White Wagtails. We found on 4 Skylarks and only 1 female Reed Bunting. There was a nice little selection of waders but only in very small numbers, such as the singles of Common Sandpiper, Dunlin and Redshank, the 3 Sanderlings and the same number of Greenshanks and with possibly as many as 8 Turnstones down on the rocks at the river mouth. There were as many as 8 Black.winged Stilts but as yet there is no sign of the hysteria which will later grip them.
3 Greenshanks
A pair of Shelducks on the río Viejo were nice to see. and there was the usual selection of Mallard, Pochard  and only 4 Shovelers, although many may have been sheltering from tdhe wind. Very few Teal were visible, the possible reason for which will become apparent if you read on.
We didn't see the resident Osprey and neither did we see any Marsh Harriers but there was a single Buzzard, certainly 2 and probably 3 Booted Eagles and at least 3 Kestrels, including a rather splendid male.
The bird of the day arrived just before I was getting ready to be off for home, although Ann and David were staying on. This bird of the day was a female Peregrine Falcon, but not just any female but a very big one and I was able to get enough on her head plumage, along with the size, to make me pretty certain that it was one of the northern calidus race from the frozen north. Apparently on Sunday she had been seen to get in amongst a flock of Teal which unsurprisingly had a massive mass panic and dived into the bushes with at least one getting cuaght in a mist net. The female nearly got herself caught too but I imagine that the ringers (banders if you are of nearctic origin) breathed a joint sigh of relief. Dealing with an angry, rather well armed peregrine would not make my day, I did it once with an Osprey and one feels terribly vulnerable. After I had left, Dave and Ann saw it have a go at a Cormorant and the Cormorant dived straight into the water. Sensible bird as I have little doubt that the female Peregrine could have done it a lot of damage.
So, althgough unable to compete with Dave's total, I don't think that ours of 42 is too bad.


02/01/2013 : Cabo de Gata and Rambla Morales

Happy New BIrding Year to all readers! On a personal note, thanks to the readers for their notes of support after the death of my wife at the end of November and in part the sorting out of paperwork associated with probating of the will has been responsible for me not getting out. I've not been out yet but will be doing so down to the Guadalhorce later today and on Saturday to La Janda, but as expected Dave and Gilly beat me to it.

Flamingo display, necks raised high, wing flashing; note size difference between males and females
Dartford Warbler (male)
     After the Christmas and New Year festivities (and putting on a few pounds!), it was good to be heading south to Cabo de Gata with Gilly and Val. We met up with Rod and Linda at the usual cafe in Pujaire before heading to the first hide. All the usual suspects were present. I counted 280 Greater Flamingos during the day, some of which were beginning to display. There were numerous Slender-billed Gulls, a lesser number of Avocets and a few Black-winged Stilts. Also seen were Little Egret, Grey Heron, Black-tailed Godwit, Grey Plover, Dunlin, Ringed Plover, Greenshank and Redshank. On the small bird front we saw lots of Stonechats, singles of Southern Grey Shrike, Meadow Pipit, Greenfinch and a very obliging Dartford Warbler.
     Although the sea was calm, we saw nothing of interest out there so we made our way to the second hide. I immediately spotted some Stone Curlews over to the left in their sunbathing spot, seven in all.
Also saw Black-headed and Yellow-legged Gulls, Shelducks and Shovelers, but the "best" bird there was a Wren in the reeded gully to the right. A Sardinian Warbler displayed close by.
Sardinian Watbler (male)
     At the public hide we added Lesser Black-backed Gulls, Cormorants and at least 100 Black-necked Grebes in two rafts. Gilly also spotted 4 Eurasian Curlews flying low over the savanna to the left. A Spotted Redshank in front of the hide was a pleasant tick in the box. There were about a dozen Sandwich Terns on the causeway to the right together with a load of gulls. As we were leaving everything took to the sky, but as hard as we looked we couldn't see any birds of prey in the area.
     After a refreshing cup of coffee, sea watching without any success, we drove via the campsite to the Rambla Morales. After parking up we walked towards the reeds and water, flushing a Green Sandpiper and hearing a Cetti's Warbler. On the water we added Coot, Moorhen, Common Pochard, Teal and White-headed Duck. A solitary Cattle Egret was seen as were a few Reed Buntings. A small flight of Sanderlings shot up and down the expanse of water looking for somewhere to land. Gilly also photographed a small bird in the reeds which, once on the computer, turned out to be a female Blackcap. Finally, on the way to Retamar for lunch, we saw a soaring Common Buzzard to complete the list.
    52 species in all. A damn good start to the year.  Wish you all good birding for the year.