10 October : La Janda

Ok, I know this is late in getting out but what with preparing for work done in the apartment which has meant emptying wardrobe and drawers (how the devil does one accumulate so much?) and taking the car in for a service (a full morning out but very efficient at the Suzuki agency), plus proof reading a book for a friend (very time consuming and an interesting read as far as I've got) and learning of the death of another (not exactly the sort of thing that makes one do backward somesaults of joy), time has conspired against me so here goes with the account of last Saturday's trip down to La Janda.
First, it appears that the observatory at Cazalla (that's the one on your right just before heading down towards Tarifa) has been closed with heavy machinery in there.
Also, the road westwards from the mirador del Estrecho westwards has got worse and unless something very expensive is done to remedy incipient slips with drops of up to 2 cms in the road surface and the seaward side, I reckon that if there is heavy rain there could well be some major land slips which will make going down there a major task.  
I took the usual route: off the N-340 opposite the turn-off for Zahara de los Aunes, down to the drainage canal and alongside that before turning right over the bridge, up to the farm and past it, down to the track that runs southwards to eventually come out near Facinas. The harvesting of the cotton is still going on and the rice paddies are also being drained with the harvesting there also started. This meant that the American crayfish were coming off the drying paddies and for the first time my little dachshund met one, which had him rather bemused and fascinated.
Birding was good, with the White Storks (cigüeñas blancas) coming in and there were possibly as many as 1.500, although this is a very crude estimate, but few Glossy Ibises (moritos). At leasst 4 Green Sandpipers (andarríos grande) flushed out of the rice fields, but all that is jumping ahead somewhat as there was the usual male Stonechat (tarabilla común) awaitng me as I started off down the track.
However nice the Stonechat, I was really hoping for some halfway decent raptor watching and really did quite well, with no less than 13 species.
As expected, the most numerous was Marsh Harrier (aguilucho lagunero), with at least 10 females and juveniles and a couple of nice males, although as my counting was not particularly accurate that number is almost certainly on the low side. Along the canal bank track there were very good views of a Black-shouldered Kite (elanio común) which was using its incredible sight to spot what one must presume were voles, and at one point it parachuted down, wings held aloft but missed the target. Later, down the central track, another, less shy, bird gave good views.

 I had distant views of a distant subadult Bonelli's Eagle (aguila perdicera) and it was along there that I also saw two Hobbies (alcotán), one giving excellent views of this lovely, long winged falcon, as it shot southwards at high speed.
A very distant flock of Griffon Vultures (buitre leonado) was guesstimated at ca. 100 birds and later another group of 50 was briefly visible, these now starting to build up as the juveniles and some immatures start their annual migration and it will be quite possible to see biggish movements of these along the sierras if Andalucía, whilst almost certainly some, exhausted, will land in the most improbable places, often in villages and cities, occasionally on a motorway, and the police and/or guardia civil will be called out to remove it, a task I'm certain that many will not relish. A single juvenile Egyptian Vulture (alimoche) has been around La Janda for a while and it made a brief appearance to help boost the total.
Both species of Kestrel (cernicalo vulgar y cernicalo primilla) were seen and there were also several Common Buzzards (busardo), a pair of which hold a territory up at the NW corner. It was nice to see the first Hen Harrier (aguilucho pálido) (a juvenile) and later on, a superb male which really was the icing on the cake.
There was a southerly movement of Barn Swallows (golondrina común) all day, not massive numbers but a constant trickle and presumably feeding over the rice paddies as they went, and also a few Sand Martins (avión zapador). I must admit that I paid little attention to passerines but the white rumps of Northern Wheatears (collalba gris) are virtually unmissable and I saw at least 5, one of these very probably of the larger and more strongly coloured Greenland race, plus a flock of some 50 or so Yellow Wagtails (lavandera boyera) amongst the many flocks of sparrows and finches, including Linnets (pardillos).
However, the bird of the day was a distant, big, dark lump sitting in a field which I mentally marked down as a juv. Marsh Harrier (aguilucho lagunero), or until it took wing when it was definitely not a Marsh Harrier. It was too big by far, too broad in the wing with at least 6 primary 'fingers', a basically dark grey-brown with a new moon shaped, off-white, rump. It sat on an irrigation boom at around 400m range whilst I 'scoped it, pondered as to what it was, cursed the basic lack of any really outstanding features, and took a description over the next 20 minutes or so, during which time it took off and did a circle, thus revealing a dark underwing. Eventually it took off and vanished over the hillside. And I was still none the wiser as to what it was as I don't carry a field guide with me but did take two pages of field notes, although I was thinking in terms of adult Lesser Spotted Eagle (águila moteada), an age group I have never seen.
Later that afternoon, once home I consulted with the various guides, including Dick Forsman's, and discarded the adult Lesser Spotted in favour of adult Spotted Eagle (águila clanga) on the basis of darkness of plumage and what it didn't show. Time and the Spanish Rarities Committee will tell.


07 October: Las Norias and Roquetas

This blog contains a photo of cannibalism. At the end there is a set of dragonfly photos. Have a good trip to Blighty, Gilly and Dave.
The 25th March was our last visit to Las Norias, so it was about time we made a return visit! Gilly, Val and I met up with Colin, Sandra, Rod, Kevin and John at the service station off junction 420 on the E15/A7 for a coffee before heading to the first causeway. Viewing was hampered by the ever increasing vegetation.  
adult and juv. Great Crested Grebe
The commonest birds on the water were Great Crested Grebes (somormujo lavanco), some of whom had juveniles with them. Colin spotted some Teal (cerceta común). I was surprised that there were no Shoveler (pato cuchara)yet. John spotted some distant Little Terns (charrancitos)down the far end where Kev and Gilly made a Grey Heron (garza real) count. The greatest number was 47. A pair of Common Sandpipers (andarríos chicos) flew low over the water. Kevin wandered round the side of the pumping station where there's a small reed bed. He saw Reed Warbler (carricero común) and Willow Warbler (mosquitero musical) and Sardinian Warbler (curruca cabecinegra) and Chiffchaff (mosquitero común) were also seen. A Cetti's Warbler was heard. Bird life was much the same on the larger lake. I think we only added Cormorant (cormorán grande) and Black-necked Grebe (zampullín cuellinegro). Gilly took various photos of dragonflies.
Moving round to the next side of the large lake, the view was slightly better over the water, but vegetation obscured the view on the rocky point. There were a few Red-crested Pochard (pato colorado) and some Gadwall (anade friso). We headed to the second causeway. 
Blue-headed (flava) Yellow Wagtail
The meadow was dry but it did have quite a few Yellow iberiae Wagtails (lavandera boyera) feeding there. Gilly was the first to spot the Night Herons (martinete común). There were about ten, some juveniles, perched on the far side of the smaller pool. A couple of Little Egrets (garceta común) were seen. Ducks included Mallard (azulón) and Common Pochard (porrón común). Apart from the odd Barn Swallow (golondrina común) flying over we also added Sand Martin (avión zapador), Magpie (urraca), Cattle Egret (garcilla bueyera) and Green Sandpiper (andarríos grande).
We then convoyed, via a cafe, to Roquetas, stopping at the end of a causeway which crossed the salina. The water level was very low, so numerous small waders were attracted. We saw  Little Stint (correlimos menudo), Dunlin (correlimos común), Ringed (chorlitejo grande) and Kentish Plover (chorlietjo patinegro). Kevin spotted a Spotted Redshank (archibebe oscuro)and later a flight of 7 of these flew off. I spotted a distant raptor, which luckily flew closer to us. After much discussion it was agreed it was a dark morph Booted Eagle (aguila calzada). Also seen were Greater Flamingo (flamenco común), Yellow-legged (gaviota patiamarilla) and Lesser Black-backed Gulls (gaviota sombría).
We ended up with 40 species. Slightly disappointed if I'm honest, but it was good to be birding in great company.
Gilly and I are now away to the UK for two months. Rod and Linda are in charge.


05 October : some birding (at last!)

This is just a bit of a ramble about some birding that I have managed to get in at last, although there are no photos to make it nicer.
01 Octber: It all actually started when I opened my e-mails at 17.50 to find one from Ernest García with a copy of one to him from one John Hepworth who had been visiting the Guadalhorce that morning and asking me if I could get down there. Now, when one opens an e-mail like that and it says 'Solitary Sandpiper' (andarríos solitario) more or less at ones backdoor the old heart does a bit of flutter and backwards flip. So, grabbing camera, binocs and scope and shoving the dog in the car, I was down at the spot where it had been seen some 20 minutes later. I presume the speeding fines will come later.
I set up, scanned and there, on the opposite bank of the river some 30m away, was THE BIRD in question. I know the species well, as I saw them regularly in the Bahamas, long ago and far away. I got a pretty good description using my little 50mm Nikon with the 27xWW as the eyepiece of my Zeiss scope is being repaired. However, things went pear-shaped when I tried to take a photo of it and the tele wouldn't zoom or focus in and the battery then died. Which is why you might have happened to see a bluish cloud over the Guadalhorce last Thursday afternoon and then the bird was disturbed by some fishermen and flew off.
So home, and write up a proper description. I went down early Friday morning but no joy, and the same Saturday when I at least had the chance of meeting John, its finder and comparing observations, which have a coincidence level of around 99.5%. Which should make it acceptable as it will constitute the third Spanish record of this North American species.
04 October: Remembered the daughter's birthday which made me realise that I am not getting any younger at all, so I consoled myself by going down to the Guadalhorce to spread goodwill as it was BirdLife International's international bird weekend and SEO-Málaga put on their annual ringing and 'this is a bird display'. I wandered around as it got hotter and hotter, enjoyed seeing a pair of Ruff (combatientes) (male and female) which really showed up the sexual dimorphism (I'm still trying to find out what it means but it's neither vulgar not catching), saw some 18 Sanderling (correlimos tridáctilos) and a few Dunlin (correlimos común) and Ringed Plovers (chorlitejo grande). As seems to happen each year, there was an easterly trickle of Grey Herons (garzas reales), with a flock of 25 filtering through from the east of which many landed at the ponds, with a total of  43 between 09-13h.
A nice female Northern Wheatear (collalba gris) was along the shore and way out at sea a few Balearic Shearwaters (pardela balear) and rather more Cory's Shearwaters (pardela cenicienta).
I saw many old friends, the emphasis on the 'old' increasing year after year but none told of others dropping off the planet.
05 October: Went to Fuente de Piedra to pick up the text for correction of a book on Sooty Terns (charranes sombríos) in the Seychelles which incorporates the results of 40 years of studies of this pelagic tern by Chris Feare (we original seabirders stick together) and he had seen 2 Whinchats (tarabilla norteña) on the fence on the way in before me but they had gone by the time I arrived. However, checking the book'll keep me out of trouble for a a couple of weeks!
And it also rained! All the time! There was none of this 'gentle rain from heaven upon the place beneath' stuff (Shakespeare), this was good, honest to God, rain. We walked in the rain and  saw nothing except a distant Southern Grey Shrike (alcaudón real) whilst my little dachshund had a wonderful time running at high speed and tripping over furrows (you would too if your legs were only 10 cms long*) and ate something disgusting into which I will not delve further. He was wet, happy and is currently fast asleep!
We also saw the high serang of Fuente, Manolo Rendón, who I have known for around 30 years and who filled me in on the breeding of this year, with 3 nests of Lesser Flamingos (flamenco enano), one a colour ringed bird which I believe comes from a Belgian collection.
And that, you might, think, woud be that, but once home and staring mindlessly at the garden a largish warbler flipped into the lonesome pine and within 20 minutes there were no less than 3 Garden Warblers (curruca mosquitera) and Western Olivaceous Warbler (Zarcero Pálido Occidental), .