25 March : Las Norias and Roquetas

Things have been moving. I was down at the Guadalhorce briefly on this same midday with David and Ann Jefferson until my knees revolted and I had to cut short or be left there. We did see Redshanks (2), an elegant Greenshank and a Common Sandpiper. There were quite a few Barn Swallows and House Martins, plus a single Red-rumped Swallow that I saw on my slow and painful way out. Aslo, at last, there were some Pallid Swifts and at home in the afternoon there was a small arrival of these and also my first Common Swift. David and Ann spotted a super male Redstart after I'd gone (isn't it always the way?), and while on the subject of the Night Herons seen by Dave & Co., Dave and Ann had seen a flock come in off the sea near Torrox earlier this week and there was another report of a flock from Velez Málaga. T'was about this time of year many moons since that some of us were delighted by a flock of 80+ coming in off the sea at the Guadalhorce.  
 I chose to go down to Las Norias this week after checking the long range weather forecast last week. It predicted sun with clouds. As Richard chauffeured Val and I south on the E15/A7 motorway in pouring rain I was getting very worried! But as we approached Almeria the rain turned to drizzle, then ahead of us we could see brightness and even small patches of blue sky and sun. We met up with Alan, Rod, Colin and Sandra at the Jct 420 service station. After a coffee, with biscuits supplied by Sandra, we made our way to Las Norias. Upon our arrival the sky was full of birds, many eating the millions of midges.

Night herons
I chose to go down to Las Norias this week after checking the long range weather forecast last week. It predicted sun with clouds. As Richard chauffeured Val and I south on the E15/A7 motorway in pouring rain I was getting very worried! But as we approached Almeria the rain turned to drizzle, then ahead of us we could see brightness and even small patches of blue sky and sun. We met up with Alan, Rod, Colin & Sandra at the Jct 420 service station. After a coffee, with biscuits supplied by Sandra, we made our way to Las Norias. Upon our arrival the sky was full of birds, many eating the millions of midges.   
Black-necked Grebe
I first saw a flight of Avocets, then the hundreds of Swifts, mostly Common but a few Pallids as well. There were many Red-rumped Swallows and Barn Swallow. Amongst this lot were some House and Crag Martins. A Zitting Cisticola also displayed above us.  On the water to the left were Black-necked and Little Grebe. The commonest ducks were Red-crested Pochard, but we also saw Gadwall, Mallard and White-headed Duck. Alan spotted a distant Purple Swamphen in the reed line. I spotted a Gull-billed Tern flying towards us. Would've had a great photo but the big camera was in the car. I then spotted some Night Herons flying our way. Ran to the car and got the camera before they ( eventually 26) flew over us. Colin spotted a rarity these days....a Chiffchaff.
We made our way to near the old heronry. Here there is a muddy and rocky spit. Very good for waders. We saw Redshank, Common Sandpiper, Little Stint, Dunlin,
Little Ringed Plover, Black-winged Stilt and a pair of Ruff/Reeve.
tired Pratincole
Suddenly out from behind some discarded plastic sheeting there appeared a Collared Pratincole, our first of the year. Also seen were Shoveler and Teal. Alan identified a couple of Sand Martin amongst the perched Barn Swallow. A Willow Warbler was heard. Two Iberiae Yellow Wagtails were also seen.
We next stopped on the second causeway. A Cattle Egret was seen by some as was a Great White Egret. The reeds here used to be full of Egrets and Herons, but this heronry was deserted. Thought they'd be starting to congregate to nest by now. Two pairs of Great Crested Grebe were on the smaller pool. A female Blackcap made an appearance as did another Marsh Harrier.
On our way for a coffee we added a Kestrel and some Greenfinch to the list. As is now our norm, we turned right to watch birds from the northern side of the salinas on the outskirts of Roquetas. We saw our third Marsh Harrier of the day. As John was not able to be with us today, it was down to me to point out the 6 Spoonbills amongst the many Greater Flamingo. Wildfowl seen included Shelduck, Shoveler, Red-crested Pochard and a smart male Pintail. Alan spotted a distant Greenshank whilst I found a Black-tailed Godwit. There were hundreds of Black-winged Stilt. I saw some Lesser Black-backed Gulls. Richard spotted a lone wader. It was identified by Alan as a Wood Sandpiper, a brilliant end to our list.
We saw 58 species. A great days birding and so lucky with the weather!


21 March : Sierra de María

This should actually be entitled 'What's an ark?' after all the rain that has fallen these past few days. Readers with memories will rember that at the beginning of the last post on Thursday I made a comment about there being an awful lot of clag on the radar down in the Strait. That clag in fact resulted in no less than more than 120 litres of rain per square meter at Tarifa. Here in Torremolinos it was pretty damp and continues to be so and is due to continue until Tuesday and there is a lot of water coming down the river. Yesterday morning (21 March) I saw my first Willow Warbler of the spring, along with the 2 Chiffs in the same tree and in the afternoon my first 3 or 4 Pallid Swifts m whilst this morning I have already seen 5 or 6 Pallid Swifts come in off the sea. However, Dave braved the elements and as Gilly is still away, the mouse played whilst the cat was away.

Yes, you've guessed correctly! Gilly is still in England. After all the rain and thunderstorm in Arboleas yesterday this morning started with bright sunshine. So off I went to the Sierra de Maria. The closer I got, the greyer the clouds got. As it was only 08.30 by the time I got to Maria I headed straight to the plains as the Botanical Garden doesn't open till 10.00. I'd already logged Woodpigeon and Woodlark by the time I got to the old farm buildings. Unusually there were no Crossbills waiting by the water deposit, but thinking about it, there are puddles all over place for them to drink from. I could hear Rock Sparrows from the buildings. I also heard Raven and shortly a pair came into view.
Also seen were Hoopoe, White Wagtail, Mistle Thrush, Chaffinch and Crested Lark. I didn't hang around at the next stop, the water trough, as the farmer had just let out his flock of sheep and the aggressive and loud dogs. I made my way, very slowly, along the plain. I managed to see 5 Little Owls on various rocky banks. Calandra Larks were few and far between. I did see my first Short-toed Lark of the year with some Crested Larks. At the hamlet there was a pair of Lesser Kestrels.
I then headed back to the Botanical Gardens. I got a Serin by the car park and a Short-toed Treecreeper on the poplar tree. There was nothing at the water trough. Walking up to the Information Centre I added Robin and Great Tit. There wasn't a lot of activity round the garden. Just aat the start of the lower walk I saw a male Cirl Bunting and a pair of Crested Tits. Further along I heard a Great Spotted Woodpecker. It eventually flew passed. A Coal Tit posed very nicely for me. Another two pairs of Ravens flew over at height.
I headed for a brunch at the La Piza forest cafe. I heard, but didn't see the Crossbill. For a change I took the track over the mountains towards Chirivel. I managed to see Corn Bunting, Rock Bunting, StonechatGoldfinch and Barn Swallow.   No sign of any migratory warblers yet. Barrie Avis reported seeing a Subalpine Warbler at
El Fondo earlier in the week.....And he saw the Great Spotted Eagle as well.


18 March : Río de Almanzora & Vera

From Dave, who is making the most of Gilly being away in the UK, and the Arboleas Group and entered whilst I get outside the first coffee of this Thursday morning after more welcome rain here andf the current radar image at 07.30 showing an awful lot of clag down in the Strait area and rain forecast for here this afternoon.
On Monday, whilst I was swanning round El Fondo, Alan made a visit to the Rambla de Almanzora. He hit the jackpot in the form of a Spotted Crake. With Gilly still in England, I'd already arranged to make our Wednesday trip to the rambla, but the weather forecast wasn't that good. It had rained overnight, but by the time I got there, early to check for the crake, there was a very slight fine drizzle which was was not a problem. Looking at Alan's photographic evidence, I guessed ( correctly) that he'd seen it on the pool by the road crossing. 
I checked the area, seeing Little Ringed Plover, Shoveler, Mallard, Teal, Common Sandpiper, Black-winged Stilt and, yes, a Chiffchaff! Val then arrived early. I was happy to point out to her her first Temminck's Stints. We also saw a Snipe, Black Redstart and Water Pipit
Shortly after Alan arrived we moved over to the usual meeting place where we met up with another 5 members. On the walk towards the sewage treatment area we added Little Egret, Green Sandpiper, Hoopoe, Sardinian Warbler and a Little Stint. Alan was the first to spot a pair of Stone Curlews flying off the rambla into the fields beyond. We heard a Cetti's Warbler but didn't see anything new before turning round. I received a lengthy phone call, hence I was walking alone when a male Black-eared Wheatear flew across in front of me. We made our way back to the "crake" area, but only added a Redshank to the list.
Suitably refreshed from a cup of coffee in Villaricos village we headed for the beach. The breaking waves were even higher than our previous visit. A Kentish Plover greeted us from the shoreline.  Alan spotted about 5 adult Gannets out to sea. We made our way to the estuary, carefully avoiding the mud. The place was alive with hirundines. Over 100+ Barn Swallows together with numerous Red-rumped Swallows, House Martins and the odd Crag Martin. Also seen was a Swift, probably a Pallid. The water level was up from before and there not so many Cormorants. We did see Grey Heron and Coot.
 On the beach I spotted some sitting Audouin's Gulls and a passing Lesser Black-backed Gull. We walked to the beach, our usual route blocked by a huge puddle. Alan spotted a pair of Avocets, unusual here. Val spotted the Slender-billed Gulls. The Whimbrel was still around and it eventually joined the Kentish Plovers, Turnstones and a one legged Sanderling on the beach by the vehicles. 
We then made our way to the Vera dual carriageway overlooking the shallow pools. The Greater Flamingos had departed as had many of the birds. We saw Shoveler, Teal, Black-winged Stilts, but only added Gadwall to the day list. At the Consum pools we had to tread very carefully to avoid claggy mud under foot. We added Common Pochard, White-headed Duck and a Little Grebe.
48 species in total. A good days birding. Many thanks to Val and Tony Penny for supplying us with a post birding lunch. We send our best wishes to Marian, John's wife, who fell and broke her arm earlier this week.


16 March: El Hondo/El Fondo (Elche)

Dave has escaped to foreign parts (Alicante in the Valencian Community) and here is his report of his day at El Hondo. I am envious of his duck sightings, Garganey being my favourite duck whilst Marbled Duck (which used to be called Marbled Teal when Dave and I were both a lot younger!) are always a jolly good bird to see. Nicve to see the Med. Gulls in breeding plumage too, a very smart gull on a par with Audouin's for noisy elegance. 
Can the English cricket tream get any better? Not that I really care as I prefer rugby and this Saturday, can England beat France in the final the Six Nations game for this season?

About a week or so ago Brian and Mary popped into the El Fondo Bird Reserve after dropping some friends off at Alicante airport. They reported major works round the Information Centre. Today I dropped Gilly off at that airport for a week's holiday in the UK so I was keen to see what's been going on at the reserve. Firstly, there had been a shower by the looks of the roads. The approach driveway by the canal was in places muddy with lots of potholes. I parked up in the car park for a snap (as they say up north) to eat. 
The view in front of me was new. I think there used to be reeds, but now there was a scrape, with shallow water with low islands therein. It looked virgin territory so I wasn't surprised to see no birdlife. My refreshment complete, I walked towards the Information Centre. As I did so a flight of 5 Glossy Ibis flew over. An auspicious start! Apart from the entrance side, the Information Centre was now surrounded by this expanse of shallow water. The enclosed pool adjacent to the building was still there and the raised wooden walkway with the viewing platform on the far side was cutting across the water. Don't think the birds will appreciate humans walking over there! I carried on to the first hide, my shoes getting more and more raised with claggy mud! En route I added Corn Bunting and Sardinian Warbler. The hide looked over a large pool surrounded by reeds. 
At first I only saw Mallard, Common Pochard and White-headed Duck. When I got my eye in I spotted a pair of Garganey, Little Grebe and a Red-knobbed Coot wearing its identity collar. A female Marsh Harrier glided majestically over the reeds opposite. Shortly afterwards a pair of Teal flew in and a Shelduck flew past. I scanned the reed line and was amazed to see a line of 16 Marbled Duck. They were so well camouflaged. I also spotted a Purple Swamphen
Marbled Ducks
Suitably impressed I carried on the the next hide. As I approached I could hear a cacophony of sound. Again the hide overlooked a large pool with surrounding reedbeds, but it also had islands that were full of pre-nesting gulls. They were mostly Black-headeds but I did managed to filter out a few Mediterranean Gulls as well.  There were large numbers of Avocets, a pair of Redshanks and a few Black-winged Stilts and Black-tailed Godwits. I counted 68 Greater Flamingos. I heard a Cetti's Warbler. Also seen was a Yellow-legged Gulls and a small flock of White Wagtails.
Mediterranean Gulls
 I then made my way back towards the Information Centre, this time via the now walkway bridge. There was only one bird on the water. This Red-knobbed Coot was not all fazed by my appearance! Through the viewing slits at the picnic area I checked out the enclosed pool. Here the only bird of note was a preening Purple Swamphen.
Purple Boghen
I ended up with 27, mostly quality bird species. Yes, I was impressed by the work done.....it reminded me of the English Cricket Team.....it can only get better!


11 March : Cabo de Gata and Rambla Morales

Dave and Co. went off to their number one area: Cabo de Gata and Rambla Morales. There is only one shot, a record shot, of the Great Bustard taken by Dave.
One of our members had visited Cabo de Gata last week and said the birding was very poor, but I'd made the decision and that was where we (the Arboleas Birding Group) were heading. I travelled down on my own as Gilly had to go to a funeral. It was sunny and warm if you kept out of the shade. I met up with seven other members at our usual Pujaire cafe. A few of the commoner birds had been logged from the motorway, the best being a Hoopoe flying across in front of Val and Rob's car. We made our way to the first hide. Large numbers of Greater Flamingos could be seen together with numerous Avocets. Other waders included Black-tailed Godwits, Ringed and Kentish Plovers, Dunlin and Redshanks. Also seen were Slender-billed Gulls, Little Egrets and Shelducks
Great Bustard
I was looking towards the second hide to the right when I saw a large flying bird being mobbed by a gull. First thought was a bird of prey, but then I realized it was a Great Bustard. It was heading in our general direction, passing at height and speed to our right and then over Cabo de Gata village. I had my bridging camera with me, so photographers amongst will appreciate how difficult it was to get a shot. I got a "record" shot which will probably fail to get through the editor's cut! We added a Red-rumped Swallow before making our way to the second hide.
 The sea was mirror flat so any birds on the surface would be obvious ( if there was any there!). We did see flying Black-headed and Yellow-yegged Gulls plus fishing Sandwich Terns. On the walk over we observed the first pair of Barn Swallow of the day. Probably we had about a dozen during our stay. A Black-winged Stilt was seen. I spotted a pair of Stone Curlews flying from the scrubland across the salinas. We managed to find another one to show a couple of British birders.
We then travelled to the public hide. There were large numbers of Black-headed and Lesser Black-backed Gulls on the right hand causeway.  One or two of the latter were very nearly black which may suggest a different origin. On the wader front we added Sanderling and Grey Plover to the list. Also seen were about 20 Black-necked Grebes, a handful of Cormorants and a solo Grey Heron. Alan spotted 4 sleeping Spoonbills. Having a final scan I was lucky to spot a pair of soaring birds of prey over the distant Michelin Tyre Testing track. Getting the scope on them confirmed them to be our first Short-toed Eagles of the year.
As we had a coffee in front of the beach side cafe in Cabo village, John spotted an adult Gannet.  We then convoyed up the track to the Rambla Morales. Last visit our birding exploits were thwarted by a very large puddle. This time there was a noisy party of 50+  school children on a day out.  Luckily they didn't hang about long but the damage had been done. A Black-winged Stilt returned to the estuary.  On the water were small numbers of White-headed Ducks and Common Pochards. On the reed fringes were Coots and Moorhens whilst sleeping just inside the reeds were some Mallards. Alan spotted a House Martin which added to the now 43 species list.
A good days birding with good company. Definitely not poor birding with migration beginning at a slow pace.


09 March : Another 50 up at the Guadalhorce

Greg Mills has very kindly sent the report below on his morning's birding at the Guadalhorce, but before coming to that, a bit of news from east and west of us. These past few days there has been a string entry of raptors in the Strait, including Black Kites, Egyptian Vultures and Short-toed Eagles, whilst last weekend at the other end of Andalusia there was a flock of ca.400 Garganey on the sea off Rambla Morales (Almería), along with a pair of Great Northern Divers. And now to Greg's morning.

Another fifty-odd species on show this morning, although with some notable alterations in the line-up from last week... Today's expedition started under gloomy skies and as I headed out on my bicycle from central Málaga, I started to regret my lack of layers as the sun was well hidden by thick grey cloud.
Entering the Guadalhorce from the Western approach, down at Sacaba beach, I flushed my first Kentish and Great Ringed Plovers, together with the first of many Meadow Pipits and Chiffchaffs. A Common Sandpiper sat gloomily on the side of the all too smelly and rubbish filled river overflow. I was impressed by the numbers of finches on display on the way in to the reserve, with mixed flocks of Goldfinch, Greenfinch and Serin. At least one Chiffchaff per bush, as they continue to prove by far the most numerous species on view, and a couple of Robins were added before I got to the entrance bridge.
 I was met by some rangers from the Junta with small group of very un-birdy looking folk, who appeared later clearing rubbish from the shrub area behind the beach. I hoped that they had been told to watch their step as this is an area being actively worked on by volunteers from the local SEO group, to help clear nesting grounds for the Kentish Plover.
 At the first hide (Laguna de la Casilla) I was astonished to see the amount of hirundines on show, with all the main summer visitors dashing past the hide or alighting in the reeds. Barn Swallows in the main, were joined by a Red-rumped Swallow, House and Sand Martins. A Bluethroat perched obligingly, albeit fleetingly, right in front of the hide. A single Snipe preened and then started up in a whir. Grey Heron and Little Egret as well as a single Flamingo were seen. The Sanderlings I saw last week seem to have dispersed, and they showed up in smaller groups at three of the four main lagoons. Black-winged Stilts? Well, just a pair and one singleton were the sum of it, which is odd for this time of year. Wildfowl included three pairs of Teal, plenty of Gadwalls and the resident White-headed Ducks.
  At the beach some Jackdaws were being closely watched by a couple of female Kestrels, and six Kentish Plovers had their proverbial hoods up as they huddled together in the chill. There was very little to see out on the sea, other than the passing gulls and the odd Comorant. I did catch the tell tail black wingtips of a distant adult Gannet fishing nearer to the port. Heading back to the lagoons, there were plenty of Corn Buntings calling and a twenty-plus strong flock of Linnets. Highlights from the Laguna Grande were four Booted Eagles all in the air at the same time, and four Grey Wagtails quite literally bouncing on one another on what used to be the island in front of the hide.
I also met a nice couple from Teeside and a very friendly Yorkshireman, as well as my first two Weasels seen at the Guada!


04 March : Sierra de María

Dave and Gilly note the presence of Great Spotted Cuckoos in their garden and there have been multiple reports of these and Golden Orioles over the length of Andalucía this last week and there are reports of Barn Swallows and House Martins getting up into Jaén. A juvenile Crane has been seen at the Guadalhorce also. The first photo, all taken by Gilly, is a replica of the socked in and not very pleasant conditions here yesterday (I am putting this in early Thursday morning). Nice to see that Dave still uses the old family name of titmice for the tit family, I haven't seen them called that for years! No Chiffchaffs yet again!

As Gilly and I got ready to head off to the Sierra de Maria, we could, for the third morning in a row, hear a pair of Great Spotted Cuckoos screeching from our rear garden. The weather was bright and sunny as we approached Velez Rubio. We could see the Sierra Maria mountain range from the south. It was almost devoid of snow. The shaded northern side still had pockets of snow in the gullies. We met up with nine other members of the Arboleas Birding Group in Maria's Repsol garage cafe. After a cup of coffee we made our way to the chapel. 
As we approached we could see a few Griffon Vultures flying close to the mountain ridge. A closer inspection revealed at least 22 individuals perched up there. Almost immediately I spotted a bird flying onto the side of a tree in front of the chapel. A Short-toed Treecreeper. In fact there were a pair. We walked round to the water trough. The arrival of the local sheep didn't help the birding but thankfully they didn't stop for liquid refreshment. Eventually a female Cirl Bunting flew down for a drink, closely followed by a Rock Bunting. Up at the Botanical Garden the sun was beginning to force the stripping off of fleeces. Birds were few and far between but we saw some more Short-toed Treecreepers and a variety of titmice: Crested, Long-tailed, Blue and Great Tit. Some of the group did the medium walk, adding Jay to the list. We in the lower group saw a posing male Cirl Bunting giving it some from his exposed perch. Both groups also saw Coal Tit.
We convoyed down to the ruined farm buildings. Predictably there were Crossbills waiting at the tops of trees near the water deposit, but not a lot else apart from a Carrion Crow strutting across a distant field. At the water trough further along towards the plain we added some Linnets.
Driving along the straight plain road we saw Crested Larks and 2-3 Calandra Larks. I spotted a Little Owl on one of the man-made rocky ridges, but after ducking down and only showing its eyes and the top of the head the others had difficulty in seeing it. At the hamlet we saw two female kestrels on the roof where the Lesser Kestrels nest. I'm pretty certain these were early arrivals. Also seen was a White Wagtail. John spotted a Rock Sparrow. On the way back there were better views of a Little Owl on the other side of the road. At the Piza recreation area we added Mistle Thrush as well as Chaffinch feeding by the cafe.
Only 29 species seen, but happiness that summer is round the corner. As well as no Chiffchaffs, we added Stonechat,  Ring Ouzel and Black Redstart to the list of absentees!
Dave Green said he saw a male Golden Oriole fly across in front of his car near Zurgena. On the way home Gilly and I saw a flock of Red-billed Choughs in a field right next to the E15 motorway by the Gonar plastic pipe factory.


02 March : Guadalhorce

Greg Mills has very kindly sent me and allowed me publish a report of his fruitful morning visit to the Guadalhorce. Many thanks, Greg.  Additional blog material is always welcome if anyone else feels that they would like to follow his example.
A round 50 species today including my first Barn Swallow of the season and the welcome return of the House Martins by the bridge but no Red-rumps and no Sand Martins. Other highlights were a pair of Little Ringed Plovers getting on with the breeding process at the Laguna Grande and a healthy spattering of Kentish Plovers. On the río Viejo there were three Black-tailed Godwits, a single Snipe and a pair of Greenshanks showing nicely, plus a flock of 18 Sanderlings down on the beach and a Black-necked Grebe fishing off the beach.

There were no less than a whopping 30 White-headed Ducks spread between the 3 main lagoons. Also worthy of note were a Spoonbill, 8 Flamingos and six pairs of Teal looking resplendent, two pairs of Gadwall, but no sign of the male Red-crested Pochard seen last week.  The only raptor of note was a pale Booted Eagle.
As regards to the Chiffchaffs, there's no wonder Dave didn't see any; they are all down at the Guada!