27/02 : Río Almanzora y Vera

On a day when the weather here in Torremolinos was absolutely unspeakable and according to my sister it was warmer in Leeds (!), even worse awaits us tomorrow according to the metcast. Spring may have sprung with you today, Dave, but it had crawled back into its hole here! And that's after seeing my first Pallid Swift of the year yesterday (26/02) and Chiffs (up to 7 in the garden two days ago) and the first Willow Warblers moving through the garden, while Ron Appleby reported ca.140 Common Scoters off the Guadalhorce yesterday as well as 6 Green Sandpipers and Blas López saw around 25 Razorbills, the most seen all winter, off Torremolinos (and I didn't). Antonio Tamayo has seen the first Garganey at the Guadalhorce. Further west around Barbate, Stephen Daly tells me of early Nightingales, which have also been reported from Gibraltar, and a wheatear sp. last Saturday. But the very bad - and I mean very bad -weather, for tomorrow and which is forecast to cover all the SE quadrant of the Peninsula does not bode well for the early migrants, the hirundines, raptors and all the caboodle.
However, the Arboleas Group doesn't let weather deter them! Read on, MacDuff, and damned be he/she who cries enough! Ah, the advantages of a classical education when I wasn't watching birds and getting afternoon detentions .....

 Due to expected high winds down at Almeria, I decided it best to return to our local patch at Rio Almanzora near Villaricos. There were 15 of us at the meeting place....a very good turn out. Would like to welcome Barrie and Jan, Carolyn and John to the group. I must admit the wind was definitely on the chilly side as I made introductions above the newly restored "ford". Commencing birding we soon picked out 3 Shovelers, a pair of Mallard and some Black-winged Stilts on the pool to the far side of the rambla. Slightly further up we had both Little Ringed and Kentish Plovers. At least 4 Green Sandpipers were seen. A Water Pipit was spotted by Gilly. On the shrubs were Black Redstarts, Stonechats, Serins, Greenfinches and Goldfinches. Above us was the occasional Crag Martin and a flight of Barn Swallows. A Grey Wagtail was observed. As we walked further towards the Desalination Plant we added Common Sandpiper, Moorhen and a late leaving Chiffchaff. Beyond the man made weir we saw Dunlin, Sanderling and a Redshank.
     After a warming coffee in the village, we headed to the beach. There was an offshore cold wind over the choppy sea. As we parked up I saw a Black-necked Grebe. There were the usual Cormorants and Sandwich Terns on the rocks by the harbour entrance. Barrie spotted a flight of Balearic Shearwaters. I managed to get a glimpse of them. I guessed there were about 10 heading north. I then spotted a Razorbill flying, then landing near us giving good views. At least 2 adult Gannets were further out. A pair of Whimbrel were around the rocky outcrops. Also seen was a single Turnstone. As we reached the estuary I spotted a flight of 3 more Razorbills. On the newly formed island was a group of Sandwich Terns and Audouin's Gulls. A Great Crested Grebe was also seen. As we headed back to the vehicles we added Sardinian Warbler and Southern Grey Shrike to the list.
     The pool opposite the Consum supermarket at Vera was a hive of activity, especially with the hirundines. We had the full set. Crag, House and Sand Martins; Barn and Red-rumped Swallows. Spring may have sprung! Also seen were Common Pochard, White-headed Duck and Little Grebe.
     54 species in all. I'd like to thank the group for welcoming and helping where necessary, the newcomers. Being such a large group, noise could be a problem. It was minimal. Thank you.


20/02 : Embalse de Negratín, Baza

The weather here was vile yesterday morning and the preceding night and as it was obviously moving eastwards, Dave and co. got it in the fullness of time. Brave chaps! Herewith Dave's report, but as he says, don't get too excited.

After Gilly and I joined forces with Alan at Arboleas we headed north towards Baza and onward to the Embalse de Negratin. As we passed Hijate we were driving through a rain shower. Being hardy....or foolhardy ... birdwatchers we carried on, only to be rewarded with overcast skies and no rain or drizzle as we pulled into the Cafe/Hostal near to the dam. We were joined by Heather and Jack. After a coffee, and no sign of any others, we headed down towards the dam, parking just prior to it.
     Gilly was first to spot Crossbills on top of leafless poplar trees. On the reservoir itself we saw more than usual....don't get too excited in anticipation! There were a total of 12 Cormorants, 4 Yellow-legged Gulls, 3 Great Crested Grebes and a pair of Mallards. From the roadway looking down to the valley below we did manage to see Blackbird, Black Redstart, Black Wheatear, Sardinian Warbler and a lovely male Blue Rock Thrush on the cliff face near to the water outlet pool.
     We then drove down to the valley, parking up at the junction and walking towards the above mentioned pool. I immediately saw a Great Spotted Woodpecker atop a poplar tree. As we got closer we saw that there were in fact a pair of the birds in that copse. Only added Great Tit to the list on the walk to the pool. Was hoping to see Redwing as in previous years, but alas no sign of them. Above the pool we saw a pair of Rock Doves. In the bushes adjacent to the babbling rivulet we added both Blue and Long-tailed Tit. Down the valley and high up on the steep slope Heather spotted movement. There was talk of Ibex, deer  and  Mouflon. I plumped for deer as they didn't have the large horns, but now back here in front of the computer looking at  photos of hornless Mouflon, I'm convinced that they were one and the same.
     As we walked back to the vehicle a light drizzle started to come down. Only 26 species for the day. It was a close run thing with the weather!


16/02 : LA JANDA

After one of those weeks when non-planned events take place and shoot down everything that you had planned, when the peak of the non-planned events was when the neighbour above me set fire to her kitchen Friday (moral : keep an eye when heating olive oil in a pan) although fortunately her son arrived before I did after trying to wrestle an extinguisher from the wall (have you any idea how much powder those powder extinguishers eject? - it's enormous) and the whole staircase was covered was covered in sooty dust and the place full of toxic fumes, and as for her kitchen. It looked as though it had suffered a major airstrike. The firemen were great and fast (yes, we have an efficient fire brigade in Torremolinos) and arrived at least 15 minutes before the ambulance which is a quarter of the distance away, and the local police were first there and then stood around looking gormless, which is about normal. You try concentrating on some rather nasty translation after that little lot!
So, yesterday (Saturday) I woke early, decided to hie myself off for a while on La Janda to try and recover a semblance of mental normality and was going down the track to the canal by 09.30 with low, grey skies but no wind. The first thing of interest after the ubiquitous Stonechat welcome was a Water Pipit on some dampish ground in a rice paddy along with a few Meadow Pipits. A scan of a party of starlings on the wires revealed the Spotless (expected) and also a couple of normal northern Spotty Starlings sitting in with them. Looking along one of the channels revealed the Little Egret shown here, obviously suffering the effects of a rather depressing grey morning. A few Barn Swallows swooped around in the distance and in the distance I could hear some Cranes and a Greenshank called but never showed. Skylarks bubbled overhead although it was to be some time before I picked up a few Calandra Larks. The Cranes are moving north with birds having come in from Morocco this past week, stayed around a short time to feed up and then moved onwards.
Usually the first corner when the track bear left to run alongside the drainage canal is productive but not that morning so very slowly, with lots of stops. A total of 4 Purple Boghens and plenty of White Wagtails whilst the Zitting Cisticolas weren't going to let a grey day spoil their fun. Then I came to a couple of paddies which were still flooded on the left side of the track (well worth a look if you're down that way) and there were hordes of Snipe - I counted up to 80 of them before giving up, plus there was a single Spotted Redshank and no less than 13 Green Sandpipers. Then came the first of four Black-winged Kites to be seen, gorgeous things.
Then it was onwards and over, now with the sun shining, and past the smelly farm to stop, look and scan in that area. Red-legged Partridges were aplenty and were in full cry from any vantage point. There were Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps in the dehesa type woodland plus a couple of Buzzards and the usual Kestrels. One the way back along the same stretch I metaphorically ran into Stephen Daly with a party and as many eyes make light work (or something like that) the first Black Kite of the day was seen (I saw 5 more on the way home, near the AP-7 toll station at Calahonda), plus a Hen Harrier (which I missed as I was looking the other way as usual) and a Sparrowhawk. A party of ca.10 Woodlarks literally dropped in and promptly became virtually invisible as they grubbed around on the ground. Then a single high-flying Black Stork wended its way north. By which time it was homewards for me and I picked up the only Marsh Harrier of the day and another Black-winged Kite. But when I got home and over a coffee started adding up all the species I had seen myself (and not counting the unseen Hen Harrier), I came up with a grand total of 50 - which was a lot more than I had bargained for. A very satisfying day.


13/02 : Rambla de Almanzora & Vera

Having been under the weather with a cold, sinusitis and allergy, plus day after day of cold winds blowing down off the snowy sierra - I was going to say that I was hors de combat but in view of the horse meat scandal in the UK I thought better, this report from Dave E-B recently returned from enjoying (?) the British climate is most welcome. Note his final comment!

Having only returned from a chilly UK late last night I'd decided some time ago that a local trip would be in order. Gilly and I met up with 12 other members above the Rambla de Almanzora, near to Villaricos. The weather was bright and sunny, but there was a cool wind. A Grey Heron flew by. In and on the shrubs around and below us we saw Stonechat, Sardinian Warbler, Black Redstart, White Wagtail and heard Cetti's Warbler. In the pools on the Rambla we spotted a pair of Snipe, Little Ringed Plovers, Black-winged Stilts and a number of Green Sandpipers. A Water Pipit, Crag Martin and Hoopoe were also seen. We walked along the cycle path towards the Desalination Plant. At the nearly dry gully we had Greenfinch, Serin and Chiffchaff in the trees and shrubs. Kevin spotted a Bluethroat in the gully, as was a Grey Wagtail. Gilly found a Red-billed Chough calling from a pylon on the opposite side of the Rambla. It was joined by a second as they flew off. Also seen were both Reed and Rock Bunting, temporarily perching on the chain link fence surrounding the pool. Further along on the shallow water prior to the man made weir were about 10 Dunlin and a one legged Kentish Plover.
     After a reviving cuppa in Villaricos, we headed down to the beach. On the rocks by the harbour entrance there were Cormorants, pale fronted juveniles and and adults with the white courtship patches. With them were a couple of Black-headed Gulls and an Audouin's Gull. A small grebe beyond the breakers was assumed to be a Black-necked. The cold wind was gusting as we trundled along the beach. A Whimbrel flew off into the glare of sunlight together with probable Sanderlings. On the spit near the estuary were more Cormorants and some Yellow-legged Gulls. Alan spotted some Common Gulls in the group. We walked back along the track through the shrub & reed area, but didn't add anything to the list. Myrtle and Colin with others retraced their steps along the beach & got a better view of the Whimbrel and also saw an Oystercatcher. A re-check of the rocks near the cars produced a pair of Turnstone.
     We then convoyed to the pools opposite the supermarket off Vera beach. Here we added Shoveler, White-headed Duck, Teal and Common Pochard. Gilly spotted a Lesser Black-backed Gull in a soaring plume of gulls in front of us. Another pair of Red-billed Choughs was with them. Spot of the day went to Alan, our now resident gull expert. Amongst the 100s of Black-headed Gulls, he saw a couple of Mediterranean Gulls. Kevin spotted a quartering female Marsh Harrier. Also seen were singles of Barn Swallow and House Martin.
     Great to be back birding amongst friends. Missed the banter!



06/02 : Cabo de Gata & Rambla Morales

This report from the Arboleas Group is not from Dave E-B who had to visit the vet. (he's alright, Dave, that is, the condition of the vet is not reported) and even now is winging his way towards a frozen Blighty. Better him than me! So, many thanks to Mary Taylor for this report. Without wishing to cast asparagus on the identification abilities, it is remarkably early for a Whinchat, are the observers sure it wasn't a well marked female Stonechat? Below the text, there is the list of species that they saw.

Unfortunately Dave and Gilly couldn’t be with us today.  Dave had a last minute appointment for the hospital following some chest pains last week.  He sent a text to say he’s OK and hopes to be with us again shortly.  Brian was handed the responsibility of being leader for the day.

Nine members met at the Cafe in Pujare before visiting the first hide.  The weather was extremely windy with large waves making bird watching difficult.  The water level in the salina was quite high.  Initially few birds were visible with only 9 flamingos  present but once we got our eyes in searching the sheltered areas we spotted black-tailed godwit, shelduck, grey heron and kentish plover. Braving the open water was a small flock of five teal. A southern grey shrike took advantage of a fence post as a vantage point.

At the second hide a couple of slender-billed gulls came along side the hide in the ditch searching for food.  Our ubiquitous friend the stonechat made the occasional appearance perching atop scrubby bushes.  Brief sightings of flitting birds included Dartford warbler, sardinian warbler and thekla lark.

We were greeted by a small band of three workers at the final hide as they sat sheltered from the wind eating their breakfast/lunch.  From the hide we were heartened by views of generous flocks of birds sheltering in the lee of the islands and spits.  Now we knew where the flamingos were.  There must have been around 150-200 flamingos (we need Gilly back for an accurate leg count!)  There were many lesser black-backed gulls, black-headed gull and the occasional yellow-legged gull.  Brian spotted a lone oyster catcher (bird of the day?).  In the shrubbery a small flock of greenfinches were feeding.  One particular male was in full colour and caused some discussion owing to its bright yellow/green colouring ( giving a yellow appearance).

The lake at Morales produced white-headed duck, black-headed grebe, little grebe, chiffchaff, moorhen and coot.  Flying overhead were the occasional crag martin, a house martin and a barn swallow. Behind us on the open ground a bluethroat was spotted and a little further down the track a few golden plover.  In a small wet scrape a redshank and a little ringed plover fed together. Just before we returned to the cars Colin and Alan both separately spotted a whinchat.

A sunny but difficult day rewarded with 45 species in total.

We look forward to seeing Dave soon but do take your time, we wish you well. Which I second (Andy)

List of birds:-
Black-tailed godwit
Kentish plover
Grey heron
Southern grey shrike
Slender-billed gull
Yellow-legged gull
Little egret
Thekla lark
White wagtail
Black headed gull
Lsr black-backed gull
Grey plover
Dartford warbler
Sardinian warbler
Black redstart
Spotless starling
Tern (Type unidentified)
Little grebe
White-headed duck
Black necked grebe
Crag martin
Barn swallow
House martin
Cettis warbler (heard)
Golden plover
Little stint
Ringed plover

From the car on the way home a first/second year golden eagle was spotted by Brian and Mary.


05/02 : Laguna Dulce & Fuente de Piedra

It may appear to the casual reader that Fuente de Pîedra exercises an almost magnetic attraction but it is a beautiful place and as thelaguna Dulce is not far away, it is almost axiomatic that one combines the second with the first, which is what Federico and I did this morning. We were at the laguna Dulce before 09.30 and it was firtunate that there was zero wind under blue skies, as the temperature was still near zero as the hoar frost still present in shaded parts showed. Even a casual glance showed fewer ducks and grebes than there were last Thursday, and worse, they were all at the far side of the lake.
True there were the species one might expect, but in lesser numbers generally. For example, we found only one male Tufted Duck (3 last week) and no Red-crested Pochards at all, and without counting specifically it was obvious that there were fewer Great Crested and Black-necked Grebes. On the oher hand, we found at least 15 White-headed Ducks. We saw 3 Marsh Harriers, the young and old females of last week and an immature male. The really abundant species was Coot, with many feeding out in the fields while above it this Corn Bunting sang from an almond tree in flower - which sounds almost Japanese in its conception and should be the subject of a haiku. You know the sort of thing: -
Corn Buntings sing
When almond blossoms bloom, .
From there we went on to Fuente de Piedra, stopping at the western end to look down on the lake and also seeing a lot of Chaffinches (but no Bramblings) and 3 Song Thrushes. It was here too that we found this Thekla Lark and I heard a Wood Lark singing that lovely falling cadence on a couple of occasions. On the lake there was some sign of Flamingos displaying, with a couple of hundred with necks raised skywards and occasional wing flashing. But it was when we stopped at Cantarranas and looked over the fields inland from the road that we came across the Cranes, all well spread out, but a count revealed 368, plus or minus a few as there was a bit of movement.
Going on towards Fuente and the information centre, on the left of the road there is a flooded areas which will repay a look. There were lots of Snipe around there and also some Lapwings - this photo shows why one of its old English names was Green Plover, apart from the onomatopoeic Peewit from its call, a single Redshank - the only one of the day - and singles of Black-tailed Godwit and Ruff, although there 4 more of the first and four more of the second, one a nicely marked female, tiny in comparison with the males, seen on the flash from the board walk. The whole area around the flashes and the lake in general was knee deep in White Wagtails, as it has been all winter, and there were several Chiffchaffs making brief feeding flights off the tamarisks. Venturing further along the path Federico spotted a Reed Bunting which promptly clone ditself into 3, one a 1st winter male showing some signs of incipient black on its head.
So, with the temperaure well into double figures and the pair of us feeling distinctly over-clothed, it was time to head for home, well satisfied with our morning and the splendid weather.


01/02 : Cabo de Gata & Rambla Morales

Today is supposed to be International Wetlands Day but the fine weather of the week with bright sunshine and little to no wind has given way (at least it has here) to a nice force 5-6 NW breeze, very unpleasant for those who have ventured out. This really has been a good week for those who like self-flagellation by reading all this stuff, first Dave and the Arboleas Group in Murcia, then myself with Ron and Chris with the double entry on Fuente de Piedra and laguna Dulce, and now Dave and company again, as promised.  
Today, Gilly granted me a free rein as she was out the early part of the day, so knowing that Val and Rob can't come on next Wednesday's trip to Cabo de Gata, I contacted them to see if they wanted a trip there today. We met up at Los Gallardos and I drove them down to the Byzantine Chapel, on the beach between the Rambla de Morales and Retamar Sur, where we did a bit of a seawatch while drinking our thermos coffee. Not being a twitcher, it was just coincidence that it was from here some Leach's Petrels had been seen a few days earlier. No, they were no longer there.....departed out to sea with the gales gone, no doubt! However we did see 5 Balearic Shearwaters heading east as well as Yellow-legged and Lesser Black-backed Gulls and some Cormorants.
adult Slender-billed Gull
Leaving there, we headed towards the first hide, stopping briefly near Pujaire to check out a Common Buzzard sitting on a telegraph pole. From the hide we saw Shelduck, Mallard and Slender-billed Gulls. On the wader front we spotted Black-tailed Godwit, Ringed Plover, Redshank, Little Stint, Greenshank and a pair of Grey Plovers. Unusually there were no Avocets to be seen anywhere.
As we walked over the scrubland to the second hide we disturbed a small flock of Meadow Pipits. From the hide we saw there were 4 Spoonbills on the far side. An Eurasian Curlew flew off and a Golden Plover was also seen. A Dartford Warbler came to check us out.
Little Owl
As we approached the public hide I spotted a bird atop a 6ft gate post. Another Bluethroat. Either we've been very lucky or it's a great year for them. Also seen from the hide were Black-necked Grebe, Dunlin, Shoveler and Sandwich Tern.
As we were in the 4x4, we drove round the rear of the reserve. Very disappointed to find all the salinas had been drained so there was not a wader to be seen. The track had been graded so was reasonably ok. A hire car, yes. Your own car, maybe not! We saw at least 6 Southern Grey Shrikes and had good views of Little Owls.
We then headed for the Rambla de Morales. We parked up near the end of the lake and ate our picnic lunch, watching a few Crag Martins overhead and listening to a Cetti's Warbler. On the water we added White-headed Duck and Common Pochard to the list. Also seen were more Slender-billed Gulls and Black-necked Grebes.
A good day, especially for Val and Rob getting a Bluethroat lifer. 47 species in all.


double entry : 29/01 Fuente de Piedra & 31/01 Laguna Dulce - Fuente de Piedra

This is a very long title and frankly it's easier to cover two for the price of one, especially as there's a mail just come in from Dave E-B which I shall put in tomorrow.
Both days there were three of us, Ron Appleby (L) whom I have mentioned before and, after 47 years since we last saw each other, Prof. Chris Feare (R) who, like me was an original member of the Seabird Group. We enjoyed two exceedingly pleasant mornings birding and, as Chris remarked, it was like a birding version of 'Last of the summer wine', a BBC series from years gone by, with three nearly or over 70 year olds with something like 180 years of birding behind them. All we lacked was a female birder who could have played the role of Nora Batty!
Tuesday 29/01, laguna de Fuente de Piedra. A lovely morning, as indeed all mornings have been this week after the initial cold of the night has been burnt off by the sun. We met at the carpark and set off first for Cantarranas where we ran into a very large raptor, notably larger than the 3 Buzzards we saw that morning and which took up a lot of time as it was quite distant. It was an object lesson in the effects of light as it showed a different back colour according to angle of light, ranging from mid brown in flight to nearly black when perched with a very upright stance. And when it flew very low from one tree to another  it showed mid brown upper parts with a barred tail with a notably wider subterminal band and between the shoulders a large persil-white inverted triangle, visible with the naked eye at virtually a kilometer range. Indeed, it looked more like a target and was very different to the more normal upper back marking. What we could see of the underparts was white to off white from chin to ventral region, with no spotting/streaking visible. The head was basically greyish-brown with a paler supercilium. Eventually, after much thought and speculation, we decided that it was 3rd/4th year Bonelli's Eagle with a somewhat abnormal plumage.
While we watched we could hear and see plenty of Skylarks and some Cranes and by the time we had finished with the oddity we just had time to take a look at the laguna area near the information centre scrape and the board walk area where there were Teal and lots of Shovelers, plus some Shelduck. There was little in the wader line with only 6 Black-tailed Godwits to lighten the morning before it was time to head for home, but not before agreeing to meet again on Thursday and take a look first at the laguna Dulce near Campillos.
31/01 Laguna Dulce & Fuente de Piedra  Another excellent morning with no puzzles. Before Ron and I even arrived at the lake a Southern Grey Shrike had flown off a telegraph pole. Chris was already waiting for us and the lake itself showed a goodly assortment of waterfowl with Mallard, lots of Pochards and Shovelers, a few Teal and Gadwall, but only one each of White-headed Duck and Red-crested Pochard, these being outnumbered by the 3 male Tufted Ducks, a not too common winter visitor to these latitudes. It was nice to see the Black-necked Grebes and a few Great Crested Grebes, with good numbers of Little Grebes feeding. Ron found a couple of Purple Boghens feeding on the far side of the lake about as far away as it was possible to get.
There was a nice little variety of raptors with a single Buzzard, a female Hen Harrier and a couple of Marsh Harriers, one an immature female with just a hint of white along inner forewing and the other an old female with a huge amount of white on her forewings.And while the harriers tried to harry, the Lapwings had combined heart attacks at their presence and a flock of 60+ Golden Plovers whizzed back and forth on the horizon. Nice!
                                                         There is one in there, I promise.

From there it was onwards to Fuente de Piedra and the first stop was at Cantarranas, but no Bonelli's to puzzle us, instead there was a Buzzard sitting on the same branch in the same tree. A couple of Ravens flew across to the background of more Skylarks bubbling, saw a nice male Blackcap and then we found the Cranes feeding way over, lots of them, so we did what any normal birder does, we counted them, all 280 or so in several groups.
Then, as we were being good little birders we got our reward as the Cranes moved nearer on to the washed out area and by dint of driving slowly down I managed the photos shown here. The nice thing about Cranes is that although sociable they stay together, Mum, Dad and one or two brown-headed young ones if they have survived the long flight down from northern Europe with all its hazards.
It was while we were watching the Cranes that our attention was distracted, first by a distant lump which was presumed to be earth but turned out to be a Little Owl when 'scoped, then further down the road by a Tree Sparrow which Ron saw and Chris and I didn't, a pity as they are distinctly uncommon in Málaga province. Then, carefully ignoring the many White Wagtails, we picked up at least one female Reed Bunting and something else, in fact 2 something-elses, which did not want to be identified easily and were outstanding by their general dullness and general lack of salient features. However, once home and able to consult his field guide, Ron was first to come up with a positive i/d that they were two 1st winter female Cirl Buntings.
By which time it was time set off home as I don't like leaving my aged spaniel for more than five hours or little more at a stretch, even though I am pretty sure that she had spent all morning on the terrace asleep in the sun.