16/03 : Fuente de Piedra

'black-headed' White-headed Duck
Before starting on the blog of the morning that Ron and I enjoyed at Fuente de Piedra yesterday, a bit more on 'black-headed' White-headed Ducks. Kevin Wade sent me the accompanying photo of another (or the same) bird which he took at the Guadalhorce in April 2012 and which I publish here for interest. Many thanks, Kevin. At the same time, talking with Mick Richardson from Loja yesterday evening, he told me of a flooded area in a field near him which he has never seen flooded, and apart from an assortment of waders, including 22 Green Sandpipers, there were 4 Egyptian Geese. Records of 'escapes' or 'exotics' like these are always welcome and I will ensure that records get to the Grupo de Aves Exóticas of the SEO.
RAF Tornado
I, for example, whilst fedup to the back teeth with the blasted Monk/Argentinian Parakeets which are all over the shop, have recently 'acquired' a pair of the scarcer, slightly less raucous and more attractive Rose-ringed Parakeets (formerly known as Ring-necked) which have taken up residence in the area and which flash between the apartment blocks in line astern in a way which would do credit to RAF Tornados (aircraft) on a strike mission.The photo on the left will help you to distinguish them from the parakeets.
So, on to the birding at Fuente de Pîedra. In view of the fact that La Janda is sodden and that three days since there was 1.5m of water flowing over the bridge that crosses the drainage canal and the track is apparently in a pretty rough condition more suited for a 4x4, so I was told, it seemed a long way to go for few birds and possibly a lot of water (forget that 'drops from heaven on the place beneath' stuff that Shakespeare blathered on about, if it's on me, I'm off it), so it was Fuente instead for Ron and myself and we were not to be disappointed, even though it was generally grey, definitely cool and we did get a slight sprinkling.
First, the ducks: There are still tons of Shovelers around, although I would have thought that most of them should have departed for points north by now. This included the behaviour shown in this photograph where, on the lake behind the information centre, there were two 'wheels' of Shovelers, all tightly packed and paddling around in circles (top photo). We had already been warned about this by a birding friend, Ángel, from Málaga who had witnessed it.
Neither Ron nor I had a clue what they were doing, and we weren't helped by the fact that they were actually contra-rotating at one point and Ángel suggested in a forum posting that it might be (a) some weird mating ritual, (b) a peculiar mass feeding event or (c) somebody had pulled the plug out of the pond and they were caught in the vortex of the down pipe. We discarded (c) and wondered about (a) and if they had been on extasis but according to Jorge Garzón it is (b), a documented event which has been seen in Shovelers in North America and it relates to feeding and stirring up the water and when the photo is really blown up (i.e enlarged, not as in bang) in the bottom photo it can be seen that many are indeed feeding. That apart, there are still quite a few Teal, Mallard, Pochard, a few Gadwall, and a single, normal White-headed Duck. Regrettably, there were no Garganey as we are now in the period of their passage and the males are the most splendid little ducks but there still a few Shelduck which we saw whilst walking the track in the direction of the Vicaria observatory and it was in that area too that we came across the 16 Gull-billed Terns resting.
This paragraph is not for those of a prudish disposition and shows two Flamingos doing what comes naturally in the spring to most birds, many mammals and even a few humans. The first point of interest is the size difference between male and female, and this really was a big male whilst the female was at the smaller end of the range. Another female nearby watched for a while and then sloped off, obviously disinterest evident, whilst the one on the receiving end of his attentions, which consisted of butting her stern with his sternum, put her head in the water and continued feeding which doesn't say much about the male's amorous techniques, either that or she had a headache.
These photos may also answer your question about the 'how' and 'what do they do with their legs'. With regard to the latter, they do have difficulties at times and I have seen males fall off, which brings a new twist the old phrase (and if you don't know it, don't ask me!) and also causes laughs.
Great Spotted Cuckoo
However, I digress. It was on the way to the lake behind the centre that we met Angel and he mentioned that they had seen a Great Spotted Cuckoo, which wasn't where they had seen it but after it had called a couple of times we managed to locate it. In my experience, they hide up quite well and when they do show are often surrounded by twigs and small branches to difficult their photography, usually obscuring the face and this one ran true to form! It was a beautiful bird and the colour shading on the breast a delight to see.
There were lots of swallows and martins, mostly Barn Swallows of which the numbers built up throughout the morning as the weather clamped down and there must have been going on for 1.000 in the area by the time we left, along with at least 40 Red-rumped Swallows, House Martins and 25+ Sand Martins, these so often overlooked. We saw only one swift, a Pallid, when we had hoped for more.
In the passerine line, we saw little of interest except for the first Woodchat Shrike of the year, a single Robin, the ubiquitous Stonechats - the males are gorgeous at this time of year, a single remnant female Reed Bunting and suprisingly only 3 Yellow Wagtails, 2 males of the iberiae race and a female and failed to find the Water Pipits that Ángel had seen - you win some, you lose some.
It was the waders that claimed most attention, as they usually do, and it is worth noting that going towards the Vicaria hide, either along the path or by car (parking is difficult) there is water on the right side of the road and we found this most productive, even more so than the boardwalk flashes as I suspect that the water there is a bit too deep for the smaller species (Little Stints and so on). A quick listing gave the following species with the following more or less accurate counts: Avocet (at least 25+), Black-winged Stilt (oh yes, and getting noisier!), Greenshank (1 heard), Redshank (8+ seen and heard!), Green Sandpiper (1), Common Sandpiper (1), Snipe (15+ quite easily but we didn't really look too hard), Little Ringed Plover (3), Ruff (25, of which at least 18 were males, one halfway into breeding plumage and gives a good chance to see the size differential with the Reeves (females) in what is known as sexual dimorphism. I am being educational today!), and we finished off with a flock of Black-tailed Godwits, some in beautiful plumage.
So, all in all an excellent morning's birding with some excellent views to brighten a grey day and possibly around 40 spp., although I must have missed something off.

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