25/12/14

25 December: Christmas Day on La Janda

Ok, it may seem weird to some who revel in the joys unwrapping presents from Aunt Ethel and wondering what the hell it is and if you dare throw it out but you can bet that she might ask about it next time she foists herself on you. 
Or perhaps you are one of those who have what might be loosely termed as 'a swinging head and bad feelings' (Bahamian saying) after too much last night, or on the other hand you may be feeling as stuffed as the turkey you got outside at lunch today. 
I on the other hand, being a virtuous birder, went birding. And as the metcast was good, I went all the way down to La Janda, leavibg at 07.30 (no swinging head and bad feelings here).
First bad news. The bar where I normally have a coffee at Tahivilla was closed, which ruined my morning. Second bad news, La Janda was swathed in mist at 09.00 but it looked like burning off and clearing and indeed it did, turning into a beautifully sunny day with not a breath of wind. 
So, to the birds. Cranes heard in the mist and only 2 seen. A Green Sandpiper seen at close range (it would have been invisible at anything over 50m). Lapwings seen and pee-witting querlously in the mist, obviously the sat/nav had got lost. Ghostly Grey Herons sitting miserably (they always look miserable) in the unploughed and very muddy rice paddies, while both Little and Cattle Egrets wandered around vacantly, especially the latter which I suspect are mentally retarded. There were still considerable numbers of White Storks and a nice little flock of ca. 20 Glossy Ibises, of which one is shown. A late Squacco Heron flew along the canal, its persil-white wings contrasting well with the brown back. A single 1st year Cormorant on the bank seemed as surprised to see me as I was it.
There were plenty of White Wagtails and lots of Linnets and Goldfinches, plenty of Chiffchaffs too as there have been all autumn, but very few Meadow Pipits, plus I later learnt that I had missed a Richard's Pipit, of which several have turned up in the SW in recent days. Calandra and Skylarks bubbled overhead but were not particularly showy. A couple of nice coveys of Red-legged Partridges showed that not all fall prey to the hunters but a Pheasant which saw me beat a hasty retreat.
But it was raptors that I was after. In fact, the very first bird of prey that I saw was one that normally eludes me - Merlin. It did its best not to be seen by going along a fence at low level at about mach 0.95 but I saw it! Normally the track along the canal is swarming with Kestrels, today not one although I saw several later but numbers were definitely down. Marsh Harriers were the most abundant bigger raptor and even then the place was hardly crawling with them, and that includes going all the way to the Facinas track and around 3 kms down it. I have noted 5 birds, including a female with a lot of white in the forewing and this superb juvenile Marsh Harrier. I know the photo doesn't do it justice but if you use the imagination once the hangover has gone and try and imagine it like a sort of human photoshop without all those damned twigs, then you'll get an idea of how stunning the head pattern was. Those apart, there was a single juvenile harrier which did not give good views but a fairly stringly marked facial pattern and well marked pale collar, plus a wider wing base make me think of the very strong possibility of it being a juvenile Pallid Harrier rather than a Hen.
I have noted down 5 Common Buzzards, two of them, very black birds which I have seen in the area before, were having a real ding-dong but why the Kestrel tried to intervene I have not the slightest idea. A distant Short-eared Owl flew off high in the direction of Conil, so what it thought that it was doing is another mystery.  A single pale phase Booted Eagle sat in a tree. And finally, notably large numbers of Ravens, including a flock (yes, a flock) of around 10 birds plus another 2 further over. 
So that was my Christmas Day. I do hope that you enjoyed yours and will try and do the same again next year. So, as this may well be my last blog for this year (I'm going to try to get down to La Janda New Year's Day of the metcast is alright), let's all try and have a happy and healthy New Year with lots of good birding, always provided that the jihadists and politicians will let us. I reckon that they are about on a par with each other.

20/12/14

17 December : Las Norias & Roquetas

My apologies to Dave and the Arboleas group for being so tardy in getting this out. I have seen one Whiskered Tern in winter, actually flying in from the sea on New Year's day many moons ago. This past autumn has seen, as far as I am concerned, huge numbers of Chiffchaffs and there are still a lot around.
This last Thursday I was at  Fuente de Piedra with Bob & Co. but couldn't stay long although some of us saw a Water Pipit out on the mud of the main lake.
So, another year come and darned nearly gone. I shall therefore wish you all a not too alcoholic Christmas and New Year - remember the little green men with machines that you have to blow into -, with lots of good birding for preference in 2015! My especial thanks to Dave and for his reports and to Gilly for kicking him into action (not that he needs much encouragment!).
Due to the fact I sent all on my mailing list an invite to join us this week instead of just the local birders, you all know we were going to Las Norias and Roquetas. Due to illness, vacations and other commitments there were only 6 Arboleas Birding Group members who met up at the junction 420 service station, two of which arrived as the other four of us were heading to the lake. By the time Colin and Sandra had caught up with us we'd clocked up Great Crested, Black-necked and Little Grebes plus the common Coot and Moorhen
Great Cormorants
There were large numbers of Cormorants, easily outnumbering the Grey Herons. We saw a good raft of Shovelers plus a small group of Gadwall and a Common Pochard. Chiffchaffs were in abundance all day. Also seen were Stonechat, Black Redstart, and White Wagtail. Cetti's Warblers could be heard. I spotted a Meadow Pipit. Both Cattle and Little Egret were observed. John spotted a claimed raptor the far side of the lake. I followed his direction and identified a juvenile Night Heron. Minutes later Gilly came to his rescue spotting a Marsh Harrier in the same area. 
John the spotted a distant tern. We dismissed Sandwich and Little Tern. Alan reckoned a "Marsh" tern. Colin said a Whiskered. To get a better view of it we drove round to the side of the lake and luckily I spotted the tern sitting on a buoy in the centre of the lake. After much debate and checking in Collins, Colin proved to be right ... a Whiskered Tern. The distribution map in Collins did suggest some birds over-winter, but we'd never seen one before. From our viewing point we saw a Purple Swamphen flying low over the water. About six adult Night Herons were seen. Singles of Avocet and Little Stint were spotted, as were Red-crested Pochard and a Crag Martin.
adult Nightheron
We moved to the causeway where Sandra spotted a Green Sandpiper. A female Marsh Harrier flew over as did a Kestrel. More Night Herons were also seen.
We headed towards Roquetas, seeing a Southern Grey Shrike on the way. After a coffee and mince pie John and Alan suggested that instead of turning towards the hotels and "Red Knobbed Coot pool" (none seen for ages) we turn right at the junction and check out a spot they'd been to in the past. We followed them for a couple of kilometres and then turned left onto a tarmacked single track leading across the salinas. We added Greater Flamingo, Redshank, White-headed Duck, Black-winged Stilt, Slender-billed and Lesser Black-backed Gulls to the list. At this point a works vehicle approached from the opposite direction, so we packed up shop and reversed the 200 metres back to the road. At least we did get a "thank you" hoot!
That completed our day's birding. 45 species in all. I'm sure all our members would like to wish everybody a Happy Christmas. We'll be back in the New Year unless I'm brave (stupid) enough to venture to the Sierra de Maria to see what's around in the snow!

11/12/14

10 December : Cabio de Gata & Rambla Morales

News from Almería of the Arboleas Group's visit to Cabo de Gata and Rambla Morales. I have very recebtly heard that the operations ar the salt pans are shutting down but that the Spanish Ornithologica Society are endeavouring to see what can be done to maintain them in some sort of order adequate for waders and so on.

We could not have asked for a better day, weather wise, as Val, Gilly and I headed south along the E15 towards Almeria. Blue skies and a minimal wind. We met up with eight others group members at the Pujaire cafe before making our way to the first hide. As I looked towards the rocky causeway I could see a small expanse sandy rocky beach meaning the water level had dropped some 12" or so. I also noted a distinct lack of waders. Yes there were some Avocets, Black-tailed Godwits and a single Redshank, but not alot else. Gilly did spot a Turnstone, but small waders, there were none. Kev spotted a Great White Egret right in the middle of the salina. A Southern Grey Shrike was seen over to the right perched on the stump of a cut century plant stalk. Beyond it, out to sea, I spotted an adult Gannet. Other land birds seen included Sardinian Warbler, Stonechat, Jackdaw, Kestrel, Hoopoe and Chiffchaff. A man walking on the savanna caused about half a dozen Eurasian Curlew to show themselves.
We convoyed to the second hide. A short seawatch proved fruitful as I spotted 5 Balearic Shearwaters heading south. We then wandered over to the hide. First seen was a Grey Heron. Then a group of Spoonbills appeared from behind the island. They later took to the air and we counted 10 individuals. Gilly counted 150 Greater Flamingos. Also seen were Little Egrets, Shelducks and 89 Black-necked Grebes. A Cormorant was seen flying along the beach.
A slight disaster awaited us at the public hide......Two coach loads of kindergarten kids. Looking through the fence we added Sandwich Tern, Lesser Black-backed Gull and at last some small waders....Dunlin, Sanderling, Little Stint and Kentish Plover.
We retreated to the Cabo beach cafe for a cuppa before heading along the beach track to the Rambla Morales. The beach end had recently been breached but had already sealed itself. There were numerous Shoveler, Coot and Moorhen but only singles of White-headed Duck and Gadwall, both females. Both Little and Black-necked Grebe were seen.
We saw a total of 42 species. A good days birding. As Gilly, Val and I headed back towards the campsite my attention was pricked by movement in the reeds on the far side of the pool. At least 3 Wild Boar
As you can see,I've nearly sorted out the Camera/Photos/Computer problem. Thank you, Stephen Powell, for your input.

4/12/14

3 December : Río de Almanzora & Vera

I'm back, Dave's back. Life returns to normal. Or as Caesar (Julius, Roman dictator) wrote in his Gallic Wars which the latin master tried to beat into me and all I can remember is 'et siderae in cursu erant' (and the stars were in their courses). I don't know whether to be pleased or commiserate with his problems.

After six tiring weeks in the (dis)United Kingdom, Gilly and I were glad to be birdwatching again amongst friends at on our local patch, the Rambla de Almanzora. 17 of the group met up at the "ford" above the rambla. Was glad to have Ros Perkins, who'd been absent for about a year, and Richard and Maria Darby back with us today. The rambla was quite overgrown but there were some good views of the wet areas. First bird on the list was the first of numerous Black Redstarts. Second was a Hoopoe. Down in the shallow water we added Little Egret, Mallard, Black-winged Stilt, Little Stint, Ringed Plover, Dunlin and Moorhen. Kev Borman spotted a Snipe. Also seen were Yellow Wagtail, Spotless Starling and very many Chiffchaffs....yes, each one checked that it wasn't a Yellow-browed Warbler!!
We then wandered further up towards the sewage works. A Cetti's Warbler was heard. A Robin and Redshank addded to the list. At the sewage works pool a Green Sandpiper together with a pair of Little Ringed Plovers were observed. On the lower main pool there were Black-winged Stilts and a solitary Common Pochard. I spotted a distant Northern Starling high up on the power lines.
As we walked back towards the vehicles I saw a pair of Grey Wagtails having a right set to amongst the shrubs. John suggested that before we went for a coffee that it was good to cross over to the other side of the rambla as you got better views above the pools. We added a Water Pipit to the list and yes, the views were much better.
After a cuppa in Villaricos village we headed for the beach. What little tide the Mediterranean Sea has was definitely in! Not seen it so high. Some of the usual rocks outside the harbour were submerged. There were no rock formations to be seen further along the beach. We did see Cormorant and a Grey Heron at rest. A Sandwich Tern was the other side of the harbour. Far out to sea a few Gannets were seen. Unusually for this time of the year there were no grebes, mergansers or Razorbills to be seen on the near flat sea. Kev spotted a Kingfisher. A walk to the estuary added Coot to the list. There were numerous of them plus Mallard and 26 Cormorants there too. A Sardinian Warbler was seen. As we walked through the tamerisk and shrub tobacco plants Alan spotted an overwintering Wryneck perched on the highest shrub around. Unfortunately it was gone in a flash so missed by this author and most of the group! On the beach we saw Kentish Plover, Black-headed, Audouin's and Lesser Black-backed Gulls. John saw a Turnstone as well.
It was then off to Vera, stopping on the dual carriageway above the very shallow stretches of water. The normal Black-winged Stilts were there. John and/or Alan spotted a Ruff and a Teal. Also seen was a Southern Grey Shrike. Moving round to the pools opposite the Consum supermarket we were greatly assisted by a Marsh Harrier which put all the birds up into the sky, our view being hindered by high vegetation. There were 50-100 Shovelers and a couple of immature Greater Flamingo. I walked down to the pool near the dual carriageway. I added a couple of Yellow Legged Gulls to the list. Also seen was another Ruff and some Teal. Gilly stayed at the Consum pool and managed to get a retricted view. She saw Black-necked Grebe, Common Pochard, White-headed Duck and Gadwall.
In all we saw a creditable 53 species. The weather was perfect as was the company.
After months of nagging from Microsoft regarding my Windows XP being unsupported, I changed to Windows 7. Ok, but at the moment it doesn't recognise my cameras hence no photos on this report. Apologies.
 

4 December: I'm back again!

Yes, I'm back again after the entry on 31 October and I hope that this time it's permanent . What happened was that on evening 10 November, aftear a trip down to La Janda, I was putting together a blog, stopped to make a cup of coffee (strong and black, shaken, not stirred) and when I came back the screen of the laptop was blank. In fact, it was blanker than the combined brains of the government (choose any you want). My computer adviser and know-the-lot who earns his living sorting out the idiosyncrasies of the damned things came and collected it and shortly thereafter rang to tell me that it had died. Not just died. It was totally dead and the hard disc had broken into several parts so that it was buggered, totally and absolutely. So, go and buy a new laptop, a Lenovo 4GB, then try and get the thing running. Got e-mail working eventually then it wouldn't accept Picassa 3 so I couldn't load any happy snaps and finally, yesterday, all was up and running.
The next task was downloading seeing how much I had lost, the answer being no photos out of several thousand and none of the book (wiped sweat from fevered brow at that point, believe you me!). Some documents have been lost to memory dear, including all my rarity descriptions. It could have been a lot worse. There's a moral in there too!
So here goes with a brief resumé (it's a French word meaning resumé), I don't know why they can't say summary like the rest of us who speak proper.
White Stork (not carrying baby)
10 November, La Janda: A smashing raptor day with no less than 5 Imperial Eagles including an adult bird, 3 immature Bonelli's Eagles, 5 Common Buzzards and 7 Marsh Harriers, including  a very nice adult male. There were thousands (honest, it's a quantative analysis, I've never seen so many together on the deck) of White Storks and also 189 Cranes, always nice to see and hear. Seen too was a Wood Sandpiper and a Water Rail heard doing it's pig squealing act.
Bonelli's Eagle 1Y
Buzzard (R) which should think a bit before having a go at a Bonelli's Eagle (L)
14 November: A late Barn Swallow rocketting west in front of the Guadalhorce.
19 November, La Janda: Another trip down but not quite as good for raptors as the previous one witdh only 4 Buzzards, 4 Marsh Harriers and lovely male Hen Harrier. The rest of spp. seen was much as to be expected.
Don't drink and fly!
Anyone's relative?
20 November, Zafarraya: I went with Bob Wright and some of his members and had a very pleasant walk along the track westwards under the railway bridge and a bit further. The bird of the day was undoubtedly a dispersed Citril Finch which offered brief views, with the usual Golden Eagle fly-over, a male Peregrine hunting at jigh speed along the cliff face, presumably in hope of knocking off a thoughtless Crag Martin. There were lots of Black Redstarts, Black Wheatears and singles of Rock Bunting and 3 Rock Sparrows. There were also some mountain goats, but there are not generally known to fly.
1 December, río Guadalhorce: A walk along the left (west) bank in lovely sunshine followed by a look at the sea revealed 20 Shelducks swimming happily (I presume that they were happy), 7 Shovelers and 13 Common Scoters (which had increased to 17 by the following afternoon), plus a few Gannets and 3 Sandwich Terns.
So, that's me up to date.

By the by, thank you to anonymous who, after the first abortive return, said that he/she (I may have female followers) was gladto see me back. I think I'd wait a bit next time! Still, it was a nice thought and shows that someone cares.

31/10/14

31 October: I'm back! Fuente de Piedra

Greetings anyone who has been looking in vain for an entry, but I have been out of action with both eyes operated on for cataracts with a fairly high degree of success. Today, 31 October, was my first trip out apart from one last week when Federico took me down to the ponds. Otherwise, birding has been restricted to peering into a somewhat blurry world with occasional walks down the western bank of the Guadalhorce where there was a huge influx of Chiffchaffs after 21 October, peaking on 28 October. There were also 1 or 2 around in the garden but peering at everyone with binoculars at the ready gave me brief but very good views of a Yellow-browed Warbler on the same date. This bird was in the same tree and around the same date as the previous record in the garden some 10 years or more ago, the same year Ernest García found one in a supermarket down at Algeciras, feeing on insects in the fruit section! There have been lots of records in Andalucía with 5 ringed in Doñana and 3 in Gibraltar, thus surpassing their sum total of 2 over all the years. On 28 October I had 2 Red-rumped Swallows down by the river but fewer Chiffs..
So, today, 31 October, and with glasses to correct a slight myopia with which I have been left, today I took off for the Laguna Dulce at Campillos and then on to Fuente de Piedra, just to get out.
The laguna Dulce has much less water than when I last saw it, hardly surprising after this incredibly long, hot autumn and the high levels of evaporation, and the effect on the birds has been very negative. There were only 4 Red-crested Pochards, a few Shovelers, Mallard and Gadwall, plus a some 150 Coots and a single Black-necked Grebe. The best was a distant view of my first 4 Cranes of the autumn. Hardly earthshaking, so it was on to Fuente de Piedra.
The first good news is that after what has seemed to be an interminable wait the observation point at Las Latas, at the south end of the lake from where one can look down the length, is now operative. There is a parking area. then through a gate (please close the latch when leaving). The view, when there is water in the lake and it is full of birds, will be stupendous, but today there was little water and not a lot to see.
Las Latas observatory
view from Las Latas observatory
From there I went directly to the information centre, bypassing Cantarranas as it would mean looking directly into the sunlight. There wasn't much to see there either, except for a single adult Lesser Flamingo. By chance, my old friend Manolo Rendón emerged from his office, we talked and he suggested going to take a better look at the Lesser, an opportunity too good to miss, as he could also check out the Greaters for rings. Going in his Lnad Rover saved me a walk and we got nice and close and while he read rings, which apart from 8 from Fuente de Piedra ringed birds included 3 from the Camargue (S: France), one from Italy and one from Algeria.
He also told me that this year they had again had one of their oldest birds, a female born in the Camargue in 1977, which makes her 37 years old, back in the colony although they weren't sure if she had bred or not, although she did so last year. There was also a single Ruff and a few Black.winged Stilts, but most of the time we spent talking about future plans for Fuente de Piedra and, especially, for the Guadalhorce, all of which will be revealed in the fullness of time if all goes well but it sounds good, believe me.
So, I'm back in action and now for a few long distance shots of the Lesser which weren't helpoed by the heat haze. Heat haze on 31 October?




13/9/14

12 September : Guadalhorce

Black Kite
An excuse to escape from other tasks (which still remain to be done nearly 36 hours later so this going to be fairly brief) with a visit of my friend Joan Ximénez from Madrid which gave a chance for a walk/stagger around the Guadalhorce.
First, to give an idea of how much there was around, a total of no less than 55 species, which is pretty good, especially so if one takes in to account the fairly strong Poniente (westerly) wind which kept passerines down - I had hoped  for more having had a two Redstarts on the garden the previous day - and which also blew some migrant raptors down to the coast. The presence of no less than 34+ Black Kites moving westwards - the first before we had even left Torremolinos - the most notable and 17 Honey Buzzards (we probably missed some) was the most important feature. The only other raptors seen were a juv. Marsh Harrier, a single Booted Eagle and a couple of Kestrels
Honey Buzzard
This was followed by a movement of Grey Herons, some 8 or so coming in from across the bay whilst others had followed the coast, including a dispersed flock of some 15, mostly juveniles of the year. Most of the remaining species were what might normally expect at this time of year, although it was obvious that some, such as a small group of Sand Martins flying westwards, were moving and very probably so were the other hirundines, Red-rumped Swallows being notable by their presence. We saw a distant flock of ca.20 swifts through the 'scope, so far off that no specific status is claimed.
juv. Flamingo on the sea (stupid bird)
All the normally present ducks were there but with nothing to do backward flips with tuck about but the 6 Shelducks are always a good bird to see at the Guadalhorce, apparently there had been ca.20 the previous afternoon. The same can also be said for the waders of which there really was rather a dearth and it's very difficult to get excited about all three small plovers, nice little chaps though they be. A Snipe showed well, as did a single Avocet on the laguna Grande. The two Curlew Sandpipers were nice but again, nothing outstanding, and the only Dunlins flew past at mach 0.95. There was a flock of some 9-10 Sanderlings which were showing the whole gamut of plumage from a few still in summer plumage to about half of them in winter plumage. There were also 2 juv. Flamingos plus another one swimming on the sea! I know it sounds odd but they can and do and I once logged a flock of 90 or so birds, tired, which landed on the sea a km. or so out and simply floated around as a large pink mass for about half an hour before taking off.
Cross-billed Yellow-legged Gull
There wasn't a single gull on the río Viejo, which was rather surprising but there was some compensation with the gulls at the laguna Grande where a single Cormorant was playing dead at the top of the big pole to the left of the hide. There was a goodly selection of Lesser Black-backs, mostly adults, and the ubiquitous Yellow-legged Gulls. This where the bird in the photograph was seen with its abnormally long and crossed bill. Don't tell Bob, he'll want to claim it as a new species, something like Cross-billed Gull I should think! Being less flippant, these beak abnormalities are not too uncommon in the big gulls but this one really was highly visible. There were very few Audouin's, it's amazing how quickly both these and the Mediterranean Gulls move through although these latter will build up again with arrivals from the Black Sea and Sea of Azov, plus any that trickle down from such well-known maritime nations as Hungary!
However, as a consolation and although they were the only terns that we saw, a pair of Caspian Terns, an adult and a juvenile, which like all children was perpetually demanding food. Regrettably these didn't stay around long enough for me to get a photo.
So, really that was about it. passerines included a few, very few, Zitting Cisticolas, a single Melodious Warbler and a nice Northern Wheatear. A plus on the way out was a Stone Curlew which flew out of some the grounds that had been grazed by the horses.
See you in about a month with a bit of luck!

10/9/14

10 September: Cabo de Gata & Rambla Morales

Now more or less recovered from the very long and full three days in Euskadi, I think I'm nearly normal. I thank you all for your best wishes with the cataract ops., I can't say that I'm looking forward to them but they are a necessity. However, Dave, please note that I will not be able to see to post anything for at least three weeks. Meanwhile I have no doubt that I shall miss something incredibly rare. I should add that I have heard that the Dotterels are back on Las Almoladeras. You certainly had a a good day's birding.
My congratulations to Dave's and Gilly's son for getting through basic training into the Paras - you'll have to start being polite to him now, Dave!!! My son is in the depths of northern Thailand - and he's not even a birder!!! Heathen child.

Leaving Arboleas this morning there were clouds and the weather was decidedly cooler, but alas, by the time we got to Pujaire, near Cabo de Gata, to meet up with the rest of the crew the sun was out and the temperature rising! After a quick cuppa the ten of us headed for the first hide. Lots of Greater Flamingos spread over the various salinas, Gilly counting 496 later on. The causeway was filled with Slender-billed Gulls but I managed to spot an Oystercatcher amongst them. The larger waders included numerous Avocets, a few Black-tailed Godwits, a Les spotted Greenshank....to re-phrase to avoid anyone rushing to see what one looks like!........A Greenshank spotted by Les!. A Redshank. Barrie saw a Stone Curlew on the savannah and I spotted an Eurasian Curlew on a distant water's edge. A Marsh Harrier flew passed then up and away. 
There was a steady stream of Barn Swallows flying west. The only other migrants seen were a pair of Northern Wheatears on a distant fence. Of the smaller waders seen were Kentish and Ringed Plovers and Dunlin. Also seen were Southern Grey Shrike, Greenfinch, Thekla Lark and Grey Heron.
Moving on to the second hide, having easily completed a negative sea scan over the beach, we were greeted with numerous warblers in the shrubs in front of the hide. Spectacled and Olivaceous Warblers were identified, but I'm sure some got away! A couple of Reed Warblers were in the reeds below us to the right. Black Redstart was also seen. Barrie saw a Shoveler. We also added Spotted Redshank and Little Egret to the list.
We then made for the public hide. Alan spotted some Curlew Sandpipers. Gilly was sure she saw a Dartford Warbler fly past. Les added Little Stint and also seen were 4 Shelducks, Sanderling, Sandwich Tern and Black-winged Stilt.

After a much needed refreshment break we convoyed along the beach track to the Rambla de Morales. There were lots of Black-headed Gulls on the water together with Coot. On the water's edge we saw Kentish and Ringed Plover, but the stars were a Ruff and Reeve. Dunlin and an Eurasian Curlew were also seen. Walking further down Alan added Moorhen. There were 6 White-headed Ducks at the most. I was just about to do an about turn when I spotted numerous Night Herons perched atop the dead branches on the far side of the water. Ann counted 44, but when they flew off I guess there was more like 50, a mixture of young and old! A fantastic sight. Also seen were Yellow Wagtail and Sardinian Warbler. We then all departed home. Nearing the campsite we saw 7 Bee-eaters. Then after lunch Gilly and I saw at least 100 Red-rumped Swallows resting on power lines next to the cut through road to the motorway.
We ended on 51 species for the day. Migration in action! Not here next week. Gilly and I are being proud parents as my son, Joshua, is passing out into the Paras at Catterick, North Yorkshire.
I'm sure you'll all join me in wishing Andy Paterson all the best with his cataract operations.

9/9/14

5, 6 & 7 September : all at sea


I thought that the title might make for some comments but I really was at sea, this time off Bilbao at the bottom end of the Bay of Biscay, sailing out of Santurtzi (which is on the west bank end of the river from Bilbao. The trips are organised by my old friend Gorka Ocio, see www.verballenas.com and the boat is limited to 10 pax plus the skipper, Roberto, at weekends his wife Rosa, and Gorka. I flew down from Málaga Thursday morning, then out the following three days from 07.30 through to around 17.30, then home on Monday. We went out in a generally NE direction as far as the big, deep (like one which is about 2.500m deep!) canyons which should give upwelling and the big whales, dolphins and, which was my raison d'être for going, seabirds!! (Bet that surprised you!).
As for the photos, the ones of cetaceans which are copyrighted and not for any other use are those of Gorka, who knows his cetaceans, and the seabirds are mine. So, here goes.  
First the cetaceans. Much to my regret we did not get amongst the really big whales, the biggest and also the most common was the Cuvier's Beaked Whale, of which we saw plenty, including the one that jumped (above) and which was about 7m long  and made a hell of splash visible at kms range, as well as an extremely old male (they turn white with age, some of us know how they will feel) and this poor old chap which virtually scraped the paint off the boat and had lost his two protruding front teeth (some of us will also know about that too).
Bottle-nosed Dolphins
 Below: 3 photos of Striped Dolphins, the last from the bow



Sunfish jumping (in Spanish they are pez luna, or moon fish)
I was more interested in the seabirds but at the south eastern end of the Bay of Biscay much depends upon the prevailing wind direction, and wasn't doing much prevailing. However, we saw a single juvenile Long-tailed Skua each day - the two photos are of the bird seen on the first morning, the bird on the last day being a dark phase which had me spooked for a few seconds. On the other hand, we saw only one Arctic Skua.


European Storm-petrels
We saw very few terns, one or two Sandwich Terns at the mouth of the river and a single Common Tern out at sea. A juv. Sabine's Gull which flew over us on the last morning was nice to see but it could have stayed around and given us really good views. Neither were Gannets very common, although we saw them each day it was only on the last day that we saw an adult, the rest being this year's juveniles and a bird moulting to plumage 2. Most of the European Storm-petrels we saw were quite distant and simply buzzing back and forth.We saw a few Sooty Shearwaters, none of which hung around for long, but their cousins the very attractive Great Shearwater, now making their vway back down to Tristan da Cunha, did hang around and one or two offered some very good views, one of which was fascinated by the boat and didn't move.
Great Shearwater
I was rather caught out by the amount of non-seabird migration we saw, although I remember reading about it several decades since. Passerines migrate across the southern part of the Bay of Biscay, sort of cutting the corner between the jumping off point which, if the memory serves, is somewhere around Bordeaux and then hoping to make it across to Euskadi-Cantabria-Asturias, but so much depends upon the weather and the condition of the bird. Seems to me that evolution has messed things up a bit there because it can be a deadly decision as head winds can and do play havoc and the number of deaths at sea is incalcuable.
We saw Chiffchaff (which probably wouldn't have made it as it still had 30 nautical miles to go) and other warblers, including a Melodious (it could have been an Icterine but very unlikely). Skylarks, Meadow Pipits, a few Northern Wheatears (they looked strong), a few Sand Martins and a rather weakly House Martin, although the last migrants we saw were a small flock of 7 Dunlins which shot past the boat like formula one cars (obviously not Ferraris).
And yes, thank you, I did enjoy it.
NOTE: No blogs for a month as I shall be out of action.

4/9/14

03 September : Sierra de María

As Dave so rightly says, feels like school is back. However, I am posting this at 04.30 on Thursday morning as I'm flying up to Bilbao at 7 and then having 3 days at sea, so forgive any faults as my brain isn't supposed to be awake at this time of day at my age (or at any other, but those days are long gone!) and the coffee hasn't yet penetrated the neaarly impenetrable depths. So, herewith the new season from Dave, Gilly and the Arboleas Group.
 It felt like the first day back at school as Gilly and I headed up to meet the gang at the Sierra de Maria after a planned break for summer. Arboleas, where we live, has not, apart from some insignificant showers, had any real rain since Christmas Day! Yes, it's still oppressively hot here, hence our cooler destination today. We all met up at the Maria garage cafe for a pre-birding coffee. A good turn out. 19 of us as House Martins flew above and below the garage canopy. We drove up towards the chapel, stopping briefly to observe our first Spotted Flycatcher of the day. 
After parking, a scan of the mountain ridge revealed at least six sitting Griffon Vultures. Between them and us was a constant swirl of hirundines, mostly Red-rumped Swallows, but a few Barn Swallows and a Sand Martin. We wandered round to the water trough. It was alive with birds. Both Pied and Spotted Flycatchers, Subalpine Warbler, Chiffchaff, Rock Bunting, Black Redstart, Serin and Great Tit. The star though was an obliging Western Orphean Warbler which stayed visible for everyone to see. A Goldfinch and Hawfinch were also seen. We trudged up to the Botanical Gardens. It was still 25ºC so a chilled water in the Information Centre was very welcome. Numerous birds were attracted to the small pools. Great and Coal Tits, Rock Bunting, Chaffinch and Crossbill. Overhead Bee-eaters could be more heard than seen. Up to 25 Griffon Vultures could be seen flying over the mountain ridge. Some of the group stayed round the garden as we others did the lower walk. I think we only added a Jay to the list whilst the garden stayers were treated to a continual feed of thirsty birds.
We then convoyed down towards the plain apart from Brian and Mary who lived the closest and knew what a bird free area it was. We saw a Carrion Crow near the farm buildings, some Rock Sparrows by the water deposit, a passing Hoopoe and on the plain itself two Northern Wheatears and a Crested Lark! So it was back to the La Piza forest cafe to join Brian and Mary for lunch. Here a small man-made shallow pool near the picnic tables had Crossbill, Chaffinch, Great Tit , Coal Tit, Crested Tit and Long-tailed Tit all visiting. Also seen were Green Woodpecker, Melodious Warbler, Pied Flycatcher and Short-toed Treecreeper. And to top it off we saw a Short-toed Eagle on our way back to Maria. It was a great days birding in great company. 39 species in total.


17/8/14

16 August : Guadalhorce

I know that I have said it before but it really does bear repetition. Mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun ..... and yesterday (16 August) I was so brassed off with no birding and too much time thinking and looking at this screen that I did. I grabbed the nearest pair of binoculars and at about 15.45 set off for the Guadalhorce, heat, sweat, toil and tears and all. And, like a fool, forgot to take any water, refused to hump around a scope and camera with me. A nice, gentel trudge around would, I thought, do me good. It did, except that I got slightly dehydrated but that was remedied when I got home some three hours later.
So what did I see? Well, basically I went to look for waders but even vefore getting in came across the most superbly patterned chameleon, a really big chap about 12 cms long who was trying to imitate the pattern of the wire fence to which he was clinging. Damn, no camera!
A nice steady pace of not more than 1.5km/h was ideal and even then it started to get rather hot. The first decent bird was a female Northern Wheatear which showed very nicely. Nothing at the laguna de la Casilla going down the eastern track and at the wader pool (second hide) 4 Redshanks - there were at least 6 in the whole area, and singles of Curlew Sandpiper, Common Sandpiper, Green Sandpiper and Dunlin, not counting the omnipresent you-know.what hystericals. Further down in the río Viejo area it was solid with gulls, there being at least 200 (and probably a lot more) of Audouin's in all plumages ranging from juvenile through to adult. An object lesson for gull watchers. Then add all the Yellow-legged, some Lesser Black-backs and Black-headeds, and there must have been quite easily well over 500 present. I looked but between only binoculrs and heat haze couldn't find anything else.
I didn't fancy walking along the beach so walked gently back, the Northern Wheatear was still there so I shuffled round to the laguna Escondida where there was an awful lot of nothing. The laguna Grande was rather better with 2 Grey Herons and a few more waders, including a Whimbrel which was fast asleep and never stirred, a single Oystercatcher left over from the group that was there earlier in the week, 2 more Curlew Sandpipers and another Dunlin, making a total of 3 for the afternoon. Finally, after hearing at least 2 distant Greenshanks calling on and off they decided to take off and  flew off  in the general direction of Gibraltar.
By now I had a headache, a first symptom of dehydration, and cursed myself for coming without water so it was time for home. A very pleasant afternoon, in spite of the heat, and with some birds at least.
P.S: Dave and Gilly E-B went down to the Strait whale watching on Thursday and saw some 14 Orcas. Aaagh - it is possible to go off people.


10/8/14

06 August : at sea in the Strait of Gibraltar

At last, a new entry you may rightly say. In excuse, I must give family problems as one major part, another the fact that we are in the hot season (although I really should get out and see some wader passage now) and I am very busy drawing and writing for a book which will be handed in about 10 months late if I can maintain the present rate of progress.
However, I should also add that there aren't going to be too many blogs between now and mid October at the earliest as for reasons totally beyond my control I had to reschedule the cataract surgery on both which was going to be in early July and will now be in the second part of September, so bang goes another month out, which is why I'm bashing on with the writing and dzrawing (which I actually finished last night). On the plus side, I should be able to see a hell of a lot better after it!
Last Wednesday we went down to Tarifa for a 3 hour trip out with Turmares to try and see some cetaceans, especially the Orcas or Killer Whales which have been seen intermittently. In that we were unlucky, in fact neither did we see Sperm or any other whales, but we did get in amongst a big pod of some 200 (guesstimate) Striped Dolphins, many with small youngBottle-nosed and finally a few Pilot Whales (which are more closely related to dolphins).



In the bird line things were equally bad, if not downright poor. We saw at least 3 Black Kites crossing towards Tangiers, 4 or 5 Cory's Shearwaters but no Balearic Shearwaters, which rather surprised me; the odd Yellow-legged Gull crossing between continents and that was it. No masses of Black Kites, no huge spiralling flocks of White Storks, in fact, a lot of nothing. So you'll just have to make do with these photographs!

10/7/14

09 July : Las Norias

The second part of Dave's birding week....

On the way back from Motril the next morning Gilly and I dropped into Las Norias for my treat before being dragged round the Roquetas shopping mall! On the first causeway were were greeted by a noisy flight of Black-winged Stilt and a flyover by a Night Heron. A Great Reed Warbler was giving some from the reeds over to the right. We scanned but never saw it, but did see the Squacco Heron fishing nearby. We saw about half a dozen female Red-crested Pochard but no males. Also seen were Great Crested and Little Grebe, Coot, Yellow-legged Gull, Grey Heron and Cattle Egret. Land birds seen included Bee-eater, Hoopoe, Jackdaw, Turtle Dove and an obliging sitting Zitting Cisticola
Moving round to the "Old Heronry" Gilly decided that she'd stay near the truck as there were suspicious characters around  whilst I had a check on the bird life. I shouted to her to lock up and come over. On the rocky outcrop apart from a flock of terns there were about a dozen Collared Pratincoles, our firsts of the year! The terns were Little and Gull-billed, plus a Common when I checked the photos later!  Avocets and Black-headed Gulls completed the crowd. Also seen was a Kingfisher and Reed Warbler
We ended up at the second causeway. We added Woodchat Shrike and Magpie to the list. I managed to take a shot of a Night Heron from a different angle as it flew over.
We had 34 species, but boy was it hot and humid. The flies were a right pain, but luckily no mosquitoes.

08 July : Charca de Suárez (Motril),

Two missives in a row from Almería, published as separate entries, the first from Dave and Gilly who ventured in to enemy territory and teamed up with some of the Arboleas Group. Thanks for the condolences, Dave, I think you can be pretty certain that I won't be at the Bird Fair this year (or probably any other year in the future). I can go along with Red Underwing without any problem but shall leave the definitive word to Mick Richardson. By the way, what's this 'politeness' bit? Getting soft in the old age?

It may be hot and the Arboleas Birding Group's trips on temporary hold, but I was getting itchy feet stuck at home. I decided that Gilly and I would take a trip down to the Charca de Suarez bird reserve at Motril. 

I contacted Steve and Elena Powell and Bob and Jenny Wright out of politeness saying I was visiting their patch and they kindly agreed to meet us there. If you don't know this reserve I have to say it's a gem. It's only open at this time of the year, 18.00 - 20.00hrs each evening plus 09.00 - 12.00 at weekends. There has been a lot of work been done improving the site since I was last here.

Gilly and I arrived early at the gated entrance. 
We were blessed with an obliging Spotted Flycatcher to keep us company as we waited for the ranger to let us in. We were met by Steve and Elena. We first made our way to a new shallow lake. There we saw Black-winged Stilt, Yellow and White Wagtails, Little Egret and Ringed Plover. We were joined by Bob and Jenny, the latter still shell shocked after her recent car accident. We heard Reed Warbler and also saw Zitting Cisticola and Bee-eater. We carried on round towards one of the hides seeing Turtle Dove, Great Tit and Goldfinch on the way. 
We spent some time in this hide, which gave good views over a lake with some islands, on which were Cattle and Little Egret and Mallard. Bob identified a group of around 6 Ferruginous Duck down the far end and also a group of Audouin's Gull amongst the Black-headed ones. 
Also seen were Little and Black-necked Grebe. Gilly spotted a Little Bittern. At the next hide we added a solitary Red-knobbed Coot, then spent some time chatting about past and forthcoming trips. As time was getting on we hurried to the last hide. There we had good but distant views of Purple Swamphen and Night Heron. As we headed to the exit gate a large moth landed in the reeds by the path. The nearest ID we could find in the book was a Red Underwing. Perhaps one of you experts could confirm or deny it!

We ended up with 32 species. A really good time was had by all....the birds and the company!
I'm sure you'll all join me in offering our sincere condolences to Andy Paterson for the sad loss of his sister, Gay.

8/7/14

06 July : Guadalhorce

Now that the balmy summer days are with us and that by 10.00 it's boiling, Federico and I were in to the Guadalhorce at just gone 07.30 this last Sunday morning. We didn't expect too much but nevertheless built up a respectable list of some 41 spp. during the 2 hours 30 were were in there.
young Stilt finding life hard
Waders, leaving aside the Stilts and the rather few Little Ringed and Kentish Plovers (subjeactively much fewer of each than last year at this time), theare was only a single Common Sandpiper which those bullies the Stilts chivvied around. But while to my eyes there were much fewer young plovers than  in previous years, the Stilts appear to have held their own very satisfactorily and there were plenty of young, some of which found life rather tiring as the photo shows. The pair of Avocets that started with four young have now reduced these to two juveniles which are capable of flight, to which you can add the parents plus 4 more adults, a total of 8.
We saw both Common and Pallid Swifts and  although it's hard to be sure, I had the feeling there was quite strong westerly drift. There were a few Barn Swallows and even fewer Red-rumped, although there were plenty of House Martins around, mainly under the bridge.
(L-R) male Ferruginous Duck, male White-headed Duck, Coot (sex unknown)
There had been reports during the week of two Ferruginous Ducks but we only saw the one bird, the male, plus a small selection of others which included Gadwall, Mallard (including a female with 5 ducklings), Pochard and the usual White-headed Ducks. As ever, it was nice to see Little Bitterns, a total of 8 birds it was reckoned , including a very visible juv. fishing in the laguna de la Casilla and a nice male at the laguna Escondida. There was a single Grey Heron which flew off upstream
The most interesting passerines in what is now the quite time with breeding over and moult starting were 3 Yellow Wagtails (2 juvs.) and one or two Reed Warblers still churring away, although they too are losing their vitality, and a single Melodious Warbler flew across the path.
We walke ddown to the seawatch mirador and watched a short while, turning up some 5 or 6 Cory's Shearwaters, altghough technically these Mediterranean birds are now more or less officially known as Scopoli's Shearwater from a recent split which I fail to find totally convincing, these possibly from colony in the Chafarinas Islands, plus a couple of Balearic Shearwaters winging their way out to the Atlantic.
All in all, not a bad morning considering the time of year and heat.
PS:  I forgot to add that last week, evening uncertain as I failed to ask him, my son (and possible heir if I don't blow it all on birding trips) plus two friends of his cycled through the reserve one evening on their way to El Palo and back and on the way back saw the Barn Owl plus two nightjars (sp. unknown) with greenish eyes glowing in the lights of their cycles.

26/6/14

Selling off the Spanish natural patrimony

Hi:

On behalf the Spanish Ornithological Society (SEO), I would ask you to try and get the message behind these two short videos. The reason behind them is that the current Spanish government is wooing both the Russian and Chinese governments to come and invest in Spain, even if it involves selling off areas of great natural importance and/or beauty. Please try to understand the message behind them, even if your knowledge of Spanish is nil or scanty.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ciEPvtWwTj4
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bf-6SkNu188

Many thanks,

Andy

25/6/14

25 June: Rambla de Almanzora y Villaricos

This will be the last blog on here for a while as I shall be out of action until end July with the cataract ops. and then away part of August plus another factor which looks like intervening sooner rather than later. Thanks for your best wishes to Gay and myself, Dave. For me it's going to be quite a novelty seeing things clearly!
Dave is also letting up on reports and official outings with the arrival, sooner or later, of the hot weather. I have done little birding and a lot on this machine getting work out of the way, although I have had a family of Spotted Flycatchers around and last week a Bonelli's Warbler in the garden, a very odd date and I can only think that it was a failed breeder. So, have a good summer everyone.
By the by, Dave, my school reports tended towards the "could do a lot better if he tried" end of the scale. I've never forgiven the maths teacher for clobbering me for getting excited about an adult Lesser Black-backed Gull instead quadratic equations.

Only 6 months till Christmas Day! Now that's a thought! This report is my last official one till the weather cools down. As there were only 8 members volunteering to get frazzled in the sun, it was decided to do our local hot spot (no pun intended) of the Rambla Almanzora. When we arrived things didn't look promising with men working near the ford and another car parked further up near the pools. However we soldiered on, seeing both Pallid and Common Swift, Barn and Red-rumped Swallows flying around. There were Black-winged Stilts and a pair of Little Ringed Plovers in the water. We also saw Bee-eater, Hoopoe, Magpie, Kestrel, Southern Grey Shrike and Moorhen. A Sardinian Warbler was seen and Reed Warblers were heard. On the lake by the sewage works were numerous Mallards, more Black-winged Stilts and a Green Sandpiper spotted by Sandra. As we walked back to the cars, we heard then saw a Turtle Dove. Are there less of them around this year?
After a cuppa in Villaricos we made our way to the beach as had numerous sun worshippers...how dare they! Unsurprisingly there were no birds (feathered!) on the rocks so we crossed over to the estuary.
Gilly heard a Zitting Cisticola. More Reed Warblers were heard. A Grey Heron flew off as we arrived, but the full adult Yellow-legged Gull on the pipe stayed put. It was nice to see a pair of Bee-eaters going into a nesting hole in the sand bank on the far side. Gilly did well to spot a Little Egret through the reeds and both Ringed and Kentish Plovers on the far shore line. Being as there were anglers along the beach we didn't expect any birds, but we saw a Little Egret on the rocks and both a Cormorant and
a Sandwich Tern flew by.
As Gilly had to go to work in the early afternoon we then adjourned for a tapas lunch in Palomares. Afterwards Les went to the Vera lakes and added White-headed Duck, Little Grebe, Slender-billed and Black-headed Gulls.
We ended the day with 35 species. Not bad, but not brilliant.....sounds like one of my school reports!
Our best wishes go to Andy for his forthcoming eye operation, to his sister Gay and to Rob.