25 February: Cabo de Gata and Rambla Morales

Come on, Dave, a morning without Chiffchaffs! Are you lot in Almería slacking off? Identification skills falling off? I mean, if you can identify a Spotted Redshank, a Chiff shouldn't pose too much of a problem! Sandwich Terns have been very scarce here again this winter, almost a rarity!There are plenty here and there were at Fuente de Piedra on Tuesday. By the by, apologies for putting this in with a delay but there is the new addition to the household, not a baby (not damned likely) but the previously featured pup who is taking up a lot of time and endless entertainment running around with the mop after the phantom piddler. 

As I loaded my truck with today's birdwatching paraphernalia at home in Arboleas, the red sunrise might be warning me that the weather could be bad for us (and shepherds!) later. It had forecast sunny, but windy down at Cabo de Gata. In fact it was wrong on both counts. It was cloudy with more of a breeze than a wind. Having already logged a few birds, including Southern Grey Shrike, Jackdaw and a Blackbird, on way way from the motorway, we met up with John, Barrie and Jan, making it  six members with Val, Gilly and I. After a welcome coffee in Pujaire, we headed for the first hide. 
The water level was definitely up from our previous visit. I counted 72 Black-tailed Godwits and there were Avocets, Dunlin, Ringed Plovers and Redshank. I managed to identify a Spotted Redshank and a Greenshank. Gilly spotted both Grey Plover and a Eurasian Curlew on the scrubland and Barrie saw a Whimbrel. John, as usual, spotted the Spoonbills, three this time, down the far right of the salina. He also spotted a pair of Shelducks. We had good views of a Dartford Warbler close to the fence in front of the hide. Also seen were Mallard, Black-headed Gull and a line of Black-necked Grebes, first seen by Barrie.
We next stopped at the beach by the second hide. Out to sea we only saw distant gulls, so we walked over to the hide. 
More Spoonbills could be seen on one of the islands together with a Yellow-legged Gull. A Black-winged Stilt made a noisy entrance flying up the dyke beside us. Also seen was a Corn Bunting, Sardinian Warbler and a pair of Stonechats. We only saw singles of Little Egret and Slender-billed Gull. John spotted some distant Shovelers.
We made our way to the public hide. Here we added Lesser Black-backed Gull and Kentish Plovers. Shelducks and Avocets were heads down resting. John checked out the causeway to the right, seeing more Avocets and some Sandwich Terns.
After another coffee in Cabo de Gata village we convoyed along the beach track to Rambla de Morales pool, seeing an obliging female Kestrel on the way. At the estuary we saw a Little Stint and a Shoveler. Our walk down the pools was curtailed after about 100 metres by a huge puddle, but we did mange to add White-headed Duck, Coot andLittle Grebe to the list.
A good days birding in good company. 44 species seen. Guess what....no chiffchaffs!


24 February : Fuente de Piedra

A smashing morning yesterday at Fuente de Piedra along with my old friend Ron and another from when we started the Seabird Group back in 1965, Prof. Chris Feare who has spent a chunk of his time studying Sooty Terns in the Seychelles these past 40 years. Chris was telling us how the ability to track birds by logging, GPS and satellites has revealed some incredible results of 'his' birds, including one bird which last year flew some 61.000 kms, flying into the Bay of Bengal and then as far east as Malaysia and that part of the world after breeding! It was as much as a chat session by old men about birds and birding in general, slagging off rarities committees and talking about old friends, some of whom who have sadly fallen off the planet (after all, between us we had something like 210 years of birding experience), about real birding which is observation and not just making lists on a beautiful, cold and rather windy morning.
Water levels in the laguna have risen to around 30cms but there are very few Flamingos present and breeding seems about as likely as me swimming to Morocco. The flash of water on the left on the way in showed the usual ducks, a few Teal and Shoveler but the avian presence was dominated by some 75 Black-tailed Godwits, some coming into breeding plumage,and we also found a couple of Snipe and at least 3 Little Stints. We ran into Antonio Tamayo from the Guadalhorce and he and Adrian had seen 4 Yellow Wagtails and a Wryneck whilst I was introducing Chris, who is setting up a home in Antequera, to Manolo Rendón, high serang of Fuente de Piedra and an excellent person and biologist.
It was lovely to see the Barn Swallows and House Martins as they flew low over the water looking for insects, and also to hear the Barn Swallows chittering, a real sign of spring. There were a few Chiffchaffs and we then got to talking about the fall in numbers of species in western Europe this autumn and wintear after running into an Irish birder when we went up to Cantarranas. It really as been an odd winter, although having seen the number of Chiffs at the Charca de Suárez last week with Bob, I reckon that most were wintering there!
It was at Cantarranas that we hoped to see the 7 (yes, seven) Great Bustards that had been seen on Monday but instead we ran into a large flock of Cranes, with odd smaller units, whch we rough counted at ca.540 birds, a lot for this date as they are usually reducing in numbers by mid February. We also saw 4 Marsh Harriers during the morning, an immature male and then 3 full and splendidly plumaged adults at Cantarranas, these migrating north before the females in order to set up breeding territories once on the breeding grounds.
So, home and to the new acquisition, a young long-haired teckel (male but the crown jewels will go soon) and with one blue eye and one brown, by name of Whisky. My children have been after me getting one for a long time and I suspect that I may have been set up, and Monday morning I succumbed. He is bright and delightful and will certainly keep me busy. The Phantom Piddler strikes again and is currently running around with a chew in his mouth!


13 February : Charca de Suárez (Motril, Granada)

female Little Bustard
This blog is very late, even by my standards of tardiness (tardiness, not Tardis) but I have been and am trying to get the damned book finished by the end of April. Therefore, you can read all about the trip in Bob Wright's blog at http://birdingaxarquia2.blogspot.com as well as see some more photos, most of which are better than mine. So here goes.

Bird of the day was undoubtedly a female Little Bustard which had left the steppes having decided to become an aquatic species. This, hardly surprisingly, was a first for the reserve. My friend Jorge Garzón tells me that there are a couple of records of the species from the Vega de Motril, the flat agricultural lands.

There were hundreds of Chiffchaffs feeding wildly on the insects which the sunshine had brought out. Once one starts to look at them itd is quite amazing the variety of of plumages that they show, which incuded one verty grey and white bird of which I could not get a photo but which made me think of one of the eastern races,  examples of which do turn up in Spain. Enjoying the mass if insect life were a few White Wagtails.


There was a very showy Purple Boghen and some rather tired/bored looking Cormorants. Of interest there is the presence of what used to be called Crested Coots but are now more accurately called Red-knobbed Coots. These are a part of the reintroduction of this once very scarce species. Three pairs of marked birds (white collar with numeric code) were released and whike in 2014 they laid 9 eggs but only one chick got to maturity due to predation, either by gulls or by rats. 
However, this unmarked bird is still present and appears to be paired with a marked one, although what the genetic links are I know not and one hopoes that there will be little risk of endgamia. The photos below show the marked bird. Note that the little red knobs shrink outside the breeding season but bluish bill colouration is a good i/d guide against the white of the normal Coots..

And I nearly forgot this little Hyla tree frog, whose correct name I do not know so shall call him Paco instead. It seems reasonably appropriate.

 Not a lot but better than now't!

18 February : Rambla de Almanzora and Vera

Hell's teeth, Dave. Is it really five years years since you frightened the living daylights of Gilly and the rest of us? Tempus fugit and all that classical rubbish, all you've done is make us feel older. The weather really has been vile and I think that we'll still get some more. In Huelva they've been having lots of gulls and one lucky observer saw 10 species the other afternoon, including a Franklin's, while there is still one 1st year Lesser Spotted Eagle being seen irregularly around the north end of La Janda.I have been seeing a few flocks of up to 100 Mediterranean Gulls heading eastwards during these strong winds which blow them onshore. This week no less than 8 Lesser Flamingos were seen together at Veta la Palma (Sevilla) but as Fuente de Piedra is drying up (I hope to get uop there this coming week and shall report) they could turn up anywhere, so eyes open!
I have a post to do on the visit last week to the Charca de Suarez with Bob Wright and shall get it put on line after this, mostly photos as you can read it all in the link to Bob's site.
It was five years to the day that I miraculously survived my triple heart attack so I was determined to celebrate by going out birding. I could have chosen a better day weather-wise though! It was forecast cloudy with light rain. As Gilly and I drove down to the Rambla de Almanzora it showered on us. We met up with two other serious(ly stupid) birdwatchers, Richard and John, who also had seen the weather forecast and decided to brave the elements! John, who had crossed from the opposite of the Rambla reported seeing Green Sandpiper, Mallard, Moorhen and a Water Pipit. We waited in the vehicles for another shower to pass before venturing towards the sewage works. Yellow-legged Gulls were struggling in the windy conditions above us as did a Grey Heron. We heard a Cetti's Warbler and the lack of Chiffchaffs was noted. More Green Sandpipers were seen and also a Common Sand. Gilly and Richard saw a large flock of Goldfinches, whilst John and I saw a pair of Barn Swallows. We headed back and added some Teal, a Magpie and a Hoopoe. We made our way over to the pool on the far side. Here we observed a Grey Wagtail, Ringed Plover and a Dunlin and I spotted the overwintering Bluethroat
After a very refreshing cup of coffee in Villaricos village we headed for the beach. The sea was very rough so there was no chance of birds being on the harbour rocks. Sheltering from the conditions on the ploughed flat area behind us was a flock of 27 Audouin's Gulls. We trudged over to the estuary where a large number of Cormorants were together with Coot and Grey Heron. John spotted a Little Grebe. Amongst the numerous Crag Martins I spotted a pale rumped bird - our first Red-rumped Swallow of the year! Also seen was a Sandwich Tern, a Little Egret and a couple of Chiffchaffs
Further towards the sea we saw a mixed group of Sandwich Terns, Audouin's and Black-headed Gulls. Struggling in the choppy waters was a single, pink, Slender-billed Gull. John spotted a Turnstone. Gilly and I tacked on way back along the beach against the wind, followed by John and Richard. We saw another Turnstone and an obliging Grey Plover.
We then headed to the Vera dual carriageway. On the mudflat we saw a Ruff and another Ringed Plover. Numerous Teal were tucked up under the shrubs. Further down in the shallow waters we saw a pair of Shelduck, four Gadwall and the three juvenile Greater Flamingos, now joined by an adult. At the Consum supermarket pool I saw White-headed Duck and some Common Pochard. My arrival put up all the Black-headed Gulls and a large flock of Shovelers. John informed me later that I'd missed the House Martins.....begger!!
With the arrival of more hirundines I hope this means spring is just round the corner! We ended up with 46 species, very good considering the appalling weather!


11 February : Las Norias and Roquetas

What I admire most about Dave is the way he shares everything with Gilly. Bet she doesn't share my admiration tho'. Trust you're feeling better Gilly! 'Playful' Little Stints, Dave? Playing at what, or shouldn't I ask?

After Rod's outing to Cabo de Gata being virtually blown away by the high winds, I decided a trip to Las Norias would be the order of the day. The weather was just what we wanted....sunny, no clouds and no wind. I picked up Richard Shropshire from Los Gallardos on the way down. Gilly was still feeling under the weather with this coughy flu thing I'd kindly passed on to her! We met up with Barrie, Jan, Colin, Sandra and Rod at the Jct 420 service station. 
We then headed to the first causeway. The water was as flat as a tack. As we scanned the left hand lake we could see small rafts of White-headed Ducks, Shovelers and Red-crested Pochards, together with Coot and Mallard. Barrie spotted some Common Pochards. On the posts down the far end we saw Cormorants, Grey Herons and a probable Night Heron. Sandra spotted a Purple Swamphen by the closer reeds. Also on the water were Little and Black-necked Grebe, but surprisingly not a single Great Crested Grebe seen all day. There were lots of little insect eating birds around. Black Redstart, Stonechat, Chiffchaff, a Meadow Pipit and above us Crag Martins. A Green Sandpiper flew over. We also saw a Sardinian Warbler, but only heard the Cetti's.
We moved round to the right hand side lake by the rocky isthmus where a few waders were seen. A single Redshank and some playful Little Stints

 Having no more joy we continued to the second causeway. Upon arrival I spotted a Marsh Harrier flying away. Numerous Red-crested Pochards took to the water from the gravel island. Barrie spotted a single male Teal. Rod was the first to see the Common Sandpiper, whilst I saw our first Barn Swallow of the year. We walked up towards the little bridge and were rewarded with good views of sunbathing Night Herons, an adult and 2 juveniles. I was just commenting on the lack of egrets when what should fly past but a Cattle Egret.
After stopping for a coffee, we made our way to the Roquetas Hotels salinas. We turned right at the junction and made for the first track crossing the shallow waters. Here we saw Greater Flamingos and a pair of Marsh Harriers. A Great White Egret obligingly flew over. There were many Lesser Black -backed Gulls with some Shelducks. Again there were many Shovelers. Also seen were a Kestrel and some Dunlins with some more Little Stints. We then said our goodbyes for lunch. Rod, Colin and Sandra added a Little Egret and a Turnstone at the marina.
A very good days birding with good mates. We ended up with 45 species in total.