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 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.


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.


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.