22 June : Caba de Gata and Rambla Morales

As Dave so rightly comments, summer is not only a-coming in, it's arrived! Mind you, so has a Slatey Junco at Algeciras, a probable hitchhiker on some vessel from the States. This, therefore, will probably be the last post for a while although there may well be two or three to cover my summer trip up to Spitsbergen and which will appear before the middle of August.
So, dear and faithful readers, have a good summer under 50 factor sunburn cream and if you're going to Britain, take your woollies. As the max. temp. in Spitsbergen a couple of days since was -5ºC (yes, minus 5), I am taking some very warm gear!
Many thanks, Dave, for all your efforts and reports over the year and I'm so pleased to see that you've taken Gilly out! And don't force yourself in to going out too much, I'd hate to think of you tiring yourself before the autumn!

For our ultimate day out, prior to the summer heat, we decided to make our way to Cabo de Gata. I managed to get Gilly out of bed at the crack of dawn so we got to the far end of the reserve by 8am. We'd already logged Jackdaw and Southern Grey Shrike by the time we started along the sometimes bumpy track going round the rear of the salinas. We spotted Blackbird, Crested Lark and Red-rumped Swallow before we came to some water. Through a break in an earth bank I could see a small number of Audouin's Gulls at rest. In the salina after the hide we found Greater Flamingo and Avocet. At the ternery I counted at least 15 sitting Gull-billed Terns and a lesser number of Little Terns. The Gull-billed Terns seem to be having a good year in our area. Gilly spotted a pair of flying Stone Curlews. We also had Shelduck and Black-winged Stilts and Gilly found a very bedraggled looking Raven. We saw at least 3-4 more Southern Grey Shrikes. Further along perched on a siempre verde hedge, Gilly spotted a Woodchat Shrike which posed superbly. We completed our early morning list with Hoopoe and a family of Sardinian Warblers.
We met up with John and Richard at the Pujaire cafe. After a couple of cups of coffee we headed to the first hide. Here we saw Greater Flamingo, Avocet and Mallard. There were no little waders round the rear of the reserve, but here we saw a small number of Kentish Plovers. Gull-billed and Little Terns were out feeding. House Martins, Barn and Red-rumped Swallows passed by.
There was nothing seen out to sea. Small white horses were appearing as the wind from the east increased in strength. We walked to the second hide from which Gilly counted 686 Greater Flamingos. She also spotted a pair of Little Egrets and some sheltering Redshank and I found a Shelduck.
Moving to the public hide, Gilly was the first to see now two bedraggled looking Ravens on the steppes! We added Slender-billed Gulls from the hide. Gilly found 4 Black-necked Grebes and John spotted a White Wagtail. We had a Common Swift on the way to Cabo de Gata village for a refreshment break.
The beach was full of children enjoying themselves. The holiday season had also brought out the Guardia Civil in good numbers. The sign of the times unfortunately.
We made our way to the Rambla Morales. The wind was very strong. We found some Kentish Plover and chicks plus a Black-winged Stilt by the "estuary". The water in the brackish lake was choppy. A male White-headed Duck showed well despite the waves. The black on his white head reminded us of the pure black headed one John found a few years ago. Yes, a black headed White-headed Duck. Strange but true! There were 20 Greater Flamingos here plus a few Coots. Gilly and I left John and Richard to it as we made our way out via the campsite. We added Moorhen, Bee-eater and Greenfinch to complete the days list. 37 species in all. A good day's birding despite the hot & windy weather. No group birding trips are planned till September, but no doubt I might be forced to go somewhere before then!
Gilly and I dropped in to see Val and Rob on the way back home. He's lost a bit of weight as has Val. He'd like to eat much more but his dietary restrictions don't allow it. Things are looking good. 
Regards, Dave


15 June : Sierra de María

This last Monday and Tuesday was definitely one that Mr. Coward could have used in his little ditty about 'Mad dogs and Englishmen going out in the midday sun' as temperatures were in the upper 30s to lower 40s. Not nice and my little teckel spent most of the day doing his impression of a hedgehog flattened on the road. However, Wednesday was positively cool, with only 29ºC in Torremolinos. I would caution against taking the street thermometers as being reliable, as if they are in full sunlight they can quite easily give 5º-7ºC more than the actual air temp..
Yes, I remember Gilly. How nice of you to take the lass out with you! Very decent.

46ºC in Arboleas on Monday, so Gilly....remember her?, Steve and myself headed up into the mountainous area of the Sierra de Maria. As we had a coffee at the Repsol garage cafe in Maria town we watched the House Martins nesting under the forecourt canopy. Adrian arrived as I spotted a distant Griffon Vulture gliding towards Vélez Blanco....yes, we were sitting outside!
We made our way towards the chapel, seeing a Corn Bunting on a chainlink fence. Very reminiscent of Extremadura!
Upon parking we immediately heard a European Cuckoo. I spotted a Linnet flying by and when we walked round to the water trough we had good but distant views of Linnet, Chaffinch, Rock Bunting, Subalpine and Bonelli's Warblers making use of the facilities. I then spotted an eagle flying low directly towards us and a Short-toed Eagle soared above us.
We made our way towards the Information Centre. A Raven showed well just as Jacky joined us. In the lower gardens we observed Coal and Great Tit, the latter using one of the nest boxes. A family group of Subalpine Warblers were seen. Adrian and Gilly hung around there as Jacky, Steve and I did the lower walk. We added Mistle Thrush and Blackbird plus fleeting glimpses of a Western Orphean Warbler. More Bonelli's Warblers were seen. 
Returning to Adrian and Gilly, they also had seen Crossbill and Robin and heard a distant Golden Oriole. We walked back down towards the chapel, leaving the energetic Jacky to do the middle walk. We spent some time trying to see the Golden Oriole in the trees near the chapel, but to no avail. 
At the farm buildings we added Carrion Crow and Barn Swallow. As we made our way to the sheep trough we spotted a Woodchat Shrike. The drive along the plain only produced Crested Lark. At the hamlet we saw Black-eared Wheatear and a pair of Lesser Kestrels.
We returned to the La Piza forest café for lunch where we were entertained by Crossbill, Chaffinch and Great Tit using the birdbath. An Iberian race squirrel also was thirsty. Jacky caught up with us. She'd added Great Spotted Woodpecker and Jay to the list. As we were eating all the birds took flight as a fast low flying Turtle Dove whizzed passed. I'm sure they thought it was a Sparrowhawk! Gilly spotted a Booted Eagle. We went our separate ways. We saw a group of ten Griffon Vultures soaring above the mountains before we got to Maria town.
 "Only" 35 species today, but great to be out of the heat! 
An update on Val's Rob. Operation went well and he is now back home.


8 June : Cabio de Gata & Rambla Morales

No photo opportunities from today. Here are some Black-winged Stilt reflection photos I took near Villaricos whilst waiting for Gilly to finish work.

As John had never seen a Spectacled Warbler before, we started out early to do the rear of Cabo de Gata reserve before meeting up with the rest of the gang. We arrived at the far end of the beach, just by Fabriquilla village at 07.45hrs. Little had changed since my last visit. Still no water in the first two salinas, but they were working in the Salt depot so there's hope seawater may be pumped into them. We saw nothing of interest, even venturing up to the ruined farm buildings for a gander (look, not a female goose!). Eventually I spotted a Little Owl on topb of the abandoned enclosure wall prior to the only hide. From there we saw Kentish Plover, Avocet and Greater Flamingo
On the water were Slender-billed Gulls and a good numer of Shelduck. We heard a Red-legged Partridge, then later saw one perched on a shrub. Also seen were Zitting Cisticola, Iberian Grey Shrike, Red-rumped Swallow and Sardinian Warbler. We stopped where I'd seen the pair of Spectacled Warblers previously, but of a sign there was none. Three Gull-billed Terns patrolled up and down. We heard then saw 2-3 Stone Curlews and concluded our tour with Goldfinch and Greenfinch.
We met up with Barrie and Beryl, Colin and Sandra and Trevor and Ann at the Pujaire cafe for a coffee.
Having made our way to the first hide, we observed the usual suspects. Greater Flamingo,Shelduck and Slender-billed Gull. Waders were in very short supply. Only singles numbers of Avocet, Ringed and Kentish Plover. Colin found an Iberian Grey Shrike, Barrie, a Little Egret and Sandra, a Hoopoe.
Our seawatch from opposite the second hide was a complete waste of time. Not even any gull species! From the hide we had Gull-billed Tern, Little Terns plunge fishing and I spotted a distant Whiskered Tern, whilst Barrie found a Common Tern. Black-winged Stilt and Yellow-legged Gull were added to the day list.
 John spotted the Kestrel on the pylon as we parked up by the public hide. From inside there I found a half dozen or so Black-necked Grebe. There were numerous Kentish Plovers and a well found Sanderling by John. I spotted a Yellow Wagtail. Two Common Terns were on the causeway.
We made our way to the Cabo beach cafe, seeing White Wagtail and Common Swift on the way. After a reviving drink...it was getting very hot....we, apart from Trevor and Ann, drove along to the Rambla de Morales. There were a few Coots at the beach end. We heard Reed Warbler and also saw Zitting Cisticola. No sign of the Paddyfield Warbler. Barrie had been lucky enough to see one at Pagham Harbour, near Chichester, W. Sussex a few years ago. John found a pair of Pallid Swifts as well as some Bee-eaters. Colin had a premonition we'd see a White-headed Duck and he found a female. Also seen was Moorhen and Little Ringed Plover. John and I added Jackdaw on our way back to the motorway.
In total we had 48 species. Things are definitely slowing down in the hotter weather.
No photo opportunities from today. Here are some Black-winged Stilt reflection photos I took near Villaricos whilst waiting for Gilly to finish work.


1 June : Las Norias & Roquetas

First some good news and bad news from the www.rarebirdspain.net website. The "bad"news was that a Hooded Crow was seen at Cabo de Gata on the 27th May and a Paddyfield Warbler was  claimed seen at Rambla de Morales on the 16th May. The "good" news was that we weren't there on both days so didn't miss them! There's some logic in there somewhere!
Right, back to today's trip....... I met up with John, Barrie, Colin and Les at the Repsol Garage cafe, Jct 420, off the E15/A7 motorway for a cuppa before heading to Las Norias. As we were parking up on the first causeway, Les spotted a Little Bittern. On the water on the better left hand side there were Red-crested Pochard, Black-necked, Great Crested and Little Grebes. We heard then saw a Turtle Dove. Later saw another three. We heard and then I spotted one of the Great Reed Warblers. A good number of Zitting Cisticolas were seen. John found some Gadwall. and also seen were Common Pochard, Little Egret, Coot, Moorhen, Grey Heron and a flying Night Heron. Barrie found a distant Cormorant. I wandered round to the dry reed area behind the pump house where I saw a female Blackcap on the power line. John joined me on a raised bank and we were lucky enough to see a Reed Warbler. Above us we had Common Swift, Crag and House Martins and Barn Swallow.
We moved round to the far side of the lake. A Crested Lark was seen as we parked up and we added Greenfinch, but the best birds were Little and Gull-billed Terns. More Night Herons and Zitting Cisticolas were seen and also Black-winged Stilt.
Moving to the second causeway, our views were hampered by vegetation again. Hoopoe, Blackbird, Kestrel and Magpie were added to the list. We walked up towards the little bridge. Barrie scanned back towards the island near where we parked. He found a Marbled Duck (that'll please Richard Gunn!). A Pallid Swift was found. I spotted a flying Squacco Heron which did a number of flypasts! We made on way towards Roquetas, seeing Carrion Crow and Woodpigeon on the way.
After a coffee/tostada break we made our way to the lake by the hotels. John spotted a flying Glossy Ibis and Barrie first had a Slender-billed Gull followed by a couple of Night Herons. He then found a Purple Swamphen. We then got into Barrie's and my 4x4s for the trip to the far end of the salinas. There were many Collared Pratincoles on the track. They were unfazed by us passing by. From our vehicle, John and I saw Common Terns, Greater Flamingos and some obliging Greenshanks which were in a track side pool with Kentish and Ringed Plover. We found a pair of Kestrels and some Red-rumped Swallows around an abandoned hut. Barrie, Colin and Les also had Avocet, Shelduck and Whiskered Tern
We stopped off at the Salina de Cerrillos where we had good views of  Slender-billed Gull, Sandwich and Little Terns and Les found an Audouin's Gull. Our return journey added Sardinian Warbler whilst the others also had some more Glossy Ibises,  Yellow Wagtail and Black-tailed Godwit. At the "Red Knobbed Coot" pool we had White-headed Duck and we observed a male doing a courtship display. He puffed himself up, raising his body in the water at least an inch (or 2.5 cms if you're metric). His head went down, then he swished his tail from side to side making a clapping sound and forming ripples all around him. 
That performance was a fitting finale for the day. 62 species so well pleased.
On a serious note, I'm sure you'll join Gilly and I in wishing Rob Hicks all the best for his operation tomorrow and, of course, to his lovely wife, Val, as well.


28 May : El Fondo/Hondo (Alicante)

Cat's away, miouse continues to play. The photo of the Common Tern is of a 1st summer bird, a relatively uncommon plumage to see even down here and well night impossible in more northerly climes. Rather early for a juv. Gull-billed Tern. We call 'foreign' areas Comanche territory here!


25 May : Caho de Gata & Rambla Morales

Dave, if you can't sleep, try counting your life list instead. You fall asleep after losing count fifteen times. Bit late for a Meadow Pipit, isn't it?
For some reason I awoke at 3am this morning and even though I counted sheep I couldn't get back to sleep. It was nice to hear Red-necked Nightjars coming from the overgrown & abandoned orange groves behind our house. So at 6.15am I departed en route to Cabo de Gata to check out the rear of the reserve before meeting up with the others at 9.30. 
I was there by 7.30, but the weather was a bit cloudy.   I came in by the southern end (where there's a new roundabout!). There was no water in the first two salinas, so it was a salt earth desert. No birds, no vegetation. Not a good start! 
I stopped to scan some old farm buildings and spotted a Little Owl. I then saw a bird of prey coming towards me. A Black Kite. And there, further along by the hide, was another one perched atop a pylon. Us here in the east of Andalusia don't often see these in our neck of the woods, so that was quite a find!  I checked out the hide, which overlooked the first bit of water. There were Ringed and Kentish Plover. Further along I saw Greater Flamingo, Slender-billed Gull, Avocet, Shelduck and Black-winged Stilt
A Sanderling confused me a bit by being in breeding plumage. Having been recently to Extremadura I easily identified the flying Corn Bunting. I spotted a Sardinian Warbler, but a short distance further along the track I found a pair of Spectacled Warblers. A Gull-billed Tern flew by as did a pair of Stone Curlews. The only other bird of note was a Meadow Pipit.
I headed to the Pujaire for a second breakfast to await the rest of the gang. I was joined by Barrie and Beryl, Les, Colin and Sandra, Richard and John, who's recently had a successful cataract op and I was to be his eye drop nurse for the day in Gilly's absence! John had already seen Kestrel and a Woodchat Shrike on the way into the village. We headed for the first hide. We saw Mallard, Shelduck, Yellow-legged and Slender-billed Gull and, of course, Greater Flamingo (a total of 350-ish for the day) Waders were few and far between: Little Ringed and Kentish Plover and John spotted a Green Sandpiper. Les found a Stone Curlew on the scrubland. A further search provided one or two more. Sandra found a Yellow Wagtail and then a Southern Grey Shrike. Also seen were Little Egret, Jackdaw and Little Tern. As we were leaving for the second hide a Gull-billed Tern flew by.
After many negative sea watches from opposite the second hide, today I spotted 5 Cory's Shearwaters heading down the bay towards the lighthouse! We were joined by Jacky. We didn't add any new birds at the hide. Barrie, I think, spotted another Stone Curlew.
We moved to the public hide. There were loads of Avocets and the odd Kentish Plover. I found a group of three Black-necked Grebe. We also had Sandwich Tern and Thekla Lark
We adjourned to the beach side cafe in Cabo village for refreshments and spent most of the time spotting further Cory's Shearwaters passing by. I suppose we must have seen about a dozen in total. A pair of Audouin's Gull was also seen.
We then convoyed along the track towards the brackish lake in the Rambla de Morales. We struggled here to start with....a Coot! We heard Reed Warbler, but managed to see Zitting Cisticola. We saw our first & only Black Headed Gull and some Common Swift. Barrie suckered us to walk down to the dead wood area saying he'd seen a Glossy Ibis there recently, but alas nothing. He redeemed himself by spotting a pair of Grey Plovers in full breeding attire down by the beach and a Common Pochard. Unfortunately by the time we'd walked back a 4x4, followed by a walker had flushed them away. We did see Sanderling in breeding plumage plus some Kentish Plovers and chicks.
A good days birding. 46 species in total.


18 May : Sierra de María

Before starting, I would simply like to say that finding and subsequent identification of Dupont's Lark is a needle in haystack job, even where there is a small, almost relict, population as in the huge area of Las Almoladeras (Almería). Away from there, I know of no certain records off-hand.The best time is around dawn when they are singing, although I have heard of occasional birds being seen/heard around dusk. Further, at this time of year birds are letting rip with their hormones and finding one away from the known area would be extremely unlikely, although nothing is impossible in the birding world - they don't read the guides! Add to that the difficulty of the effects of fading of plumage and the notorious difficulty presented by some pipits and larks showing individual variations, and one is presented with real headaches.
That said, on to Dave's report.
After a successful trip to Extremadura, I have now dried out and am now keen to visit the Sierra de Maria with other group members. I made my own way there, seeing some birds in the "zone" before reaching Maria town, the best being a Woodchat Shrike. I met up with Alan, Colin, Sandra, Barrie, Beryl, Les and Mary. After a catch-up chat and coffee we made our way to the chapel. Amazingly the first bird I spotted was a Melodious Warbler, closely followed by a Jay. Barrie and Alan identified the song of a Woodlark which was eventually found. Alan then spotted a Subalpine Warbler. We also saw Chaffinch and a female Black Redstart. Another Melodious Warbler showed very well before we headed to the water trough. Here Serin and more Subalpine Warblers were seen before we added a Bonelli's Warbler as well. Just beyond the trough a Western Orphean Warbler gave us good, but distant views. Moving further towards the Botanical Gardens, Mary spotted a Raven near the mountain ridge. Also seen were a Magpie and the occasional Griffon Vulture gliding along the ridge. 
As we got closer to the information Centre we saw both Coal and Blue Tit. Les decided to stay in the gardens whilst the rest of us hot-footed it onto the lower path as a coach load of school kids arrived. We heard European Cuckoo and Colin was first to hear a Great Spotted Woodpecker which later showed itself. We saw further Subalpine, Bonelli's and Melodious Warblers. Mary thought she'd heard Long-tailed Tits, but Les, as we discovered upon our return to the gardens, had seen some as well as Crested Tit, Short-toed Treecreeper and Crossbill. The walk down to the chapel added Wood Pigeon and a Cirl Bunting found by Alan.
We made our way to the farm buildings where we added Crested Lark and Rock Bunting. It was next to the farm trough and water deposit. The trough was empty but we still saw a pair of Hoopoes. Alan saw a pair of Turtle Doves as we arrived. There was a Black-eared Wheatear on the farm building and I spotted a distant Northern Wheatear on another building. Some Linnets, Goldfinches and a Red-rumped Swallow were also seen.
We then convoyed along the plains straight, me leading with Les at the rear. I spotted a Northern Wheatear by the ruined building and the Little Owl on its usual pile of rocks. There were also Crested Lark and Les saw a Red Billed Chough.
At the hamlet we checked out the Lesser Kestrel situation for Helen Commandeur's survey. There were a pair of adults and what appeared to be an immature female. We headed back to the La Piza forest cafe, Les bringing up the rear. We didn't add anything new on the journey, but Les saw Short-toed Larks and what he thought was a Calandra Lark
At La Piza, after asking the staff to fill their little pool with water, we were given a show by Chaffinches and numerous Crossbills. Great Tit was also seen.
A lovely days birding in good weather and company! 47 species in total.


04 May : El Fondo / Hondo

Dave's been back into Comanche territory in Alicante to el Fondo/Hondo. Herewith his account along with a bundle of nice photos at the end.

 A relatively early start, meeting up with Les and John at the Overa Hotel, Jct 547, at 07.00hrs for our trip to El Fondo. Kindly John agreed to drive, his car being far more comfortable than my 4x4. After an uplifting coffee at Cox we made our way to the Reserve's Information Centre​, sighting  10 commoner birds before arriving. Unfortunately Helen couldn't make as she'd been out the previous evening counting Little Bustards, so we were on our own. Yet again we were met by a cacophony of vociferous Great Reed Warblers which seemed to occupy almost every reed bed. On or next to the shallow water near the car park were Black-winged Stilts, Little Egrets and Les found some Common Pochard and Mallard down the far end. A Redshank flew over as did the first of many Glossy Ibises. I spotted a Whinchat and Les added a Stonechat. Quartering over the water were numerous Whiskered Terns. Also seen were Zitting Cisticola, Common Sandpiper, Little Ringed Plover, Little Grebe and Southern Grey Shrike.
Moving to the viewing area by the Centre building, we were delighted to find Marbled Duck, Red-crested Pochard, a Red-knobbed Coot with chicks and a Purple Swamphen also with chicks. Les found a pair of Skylarks as well.
Walking around on the elevated path we added Avocet and Kentish Plover. About 6 Collared Pratincoles were seen resting and flying. About 3 Squacco Herons also were seen. Jon found the first Purple Heron which later flew off being harassed by a Grey Heron.We didn't add to the list in the next hide but as we left there Les spotted one of a pair of Stone Curlews in the scrubland opposite. He also found another Whinchat.  
As we walked to the following hide we heard Cetti's and Reed Warbler. There were numerous Avocets, Shelducks and Black-winged Stilts here as well as hundreds of Greater Flamingos. Les found a distant Curlew Sandpiper before one obligingly settled right next to the hide. 
We also had Mediterranean and Slender-billed Gulls, Great Crested Grebe and Little Tern. Les spotted a far off hovering Kestrel, but missed the Marsh Harrier John had spotted. As we headed back to the car park, avoiding the coach load of school kids, we stopped to check out the pool. And what should walk out of the reeds and walk as bold as brass along the edge, but a Water Rail
After a hearty lunch (actually not good for the heart!) we made our way to the southern hide, where we discovered to John's joy the track had dried out and his car mats were safe! On the way we saw a flock of 17 Glossy Ibises in a field. Whilst parking another four were feeding with a flock of Wood Pigeons.We found numerous Black-necked Grebes in full breeding plumage. I missed the Little Bittern as I was attempting to photograph a Great Reed Warbler! A Squacco Heron was advancing along the track before us. At the hide from which we had to expel hundreds of mozzies, we saw White-headed Duck as well as Whiskered Tern, Greater Flamingo, Little Egrets and another Little Bittern which I managed to see. John and Les saw another Marsh Harrier. Getting back to the car, we heard Goldfinch and Greenfinch. We ended our list by seeing a Roller and two Bee-eaters on power lines near the closed North Gate. 
A fantastic days birding. 64 species in total.

​Collared Pratincole

​Purple Heron

​Purple Swamphen

​Squacco Heron

​Curlew Sandpiper 

​Squacco Heron


27 April : Las Norias and Roquetas

Slightly out of phase on date, but at least I have caught up! Collared Pratincoles doing 'the deed'. What deed, Dave? Would you be more explicit? If, on the other hand I think that it may be, I have a pair of Collared Doves which insist on trying 'the deed' on the curved top of a street lamp. As they regularly fall off, I can't imagine them producing much this year. Here is Dave's latest report:

Only three of us this week, myself, Richard and a new member, Dave, who Les met at RSPB Titchwell and passed on my details. I picked them up in the 4x4 and headed towards Las Norias, stopping for a coffee at our usual service station at the meeting time, just in case I'd forgotten anybody! No one else turned up so we made our way to the first causeway, flushing a Common Sandpiper from the road as we arrived. Weather was intermittent sun and clouds with little wind. Mosquitoes were about, but I think we got away without any bites. The increasing height of the vegetation was going to be problematic. 
On the water on the left hand side we saw Red-crested Pochard, Coot and Gadwall. Dave spotted a small raft of Black-necked Grebes. A small number of Whiskered Terns was seen. During our visit here at least four Night Herons flew over. I spotted three Turtle Doves over by the plastic greenhouses. I ventured round beside the pump house and heard, but didn't see, numerous Reed Warblers. Upon my return a very obliging Zitting Cisticola sat calling from the power line. Also seen were Grey Heron, Moorhen and Blackbird. Moving over to the right hand lake we added Great Crested Grebe, Black-winged Stilt, Yellow-legged Gull and Little Egret.
We drove round to the next viewing point which also was beginning to vegetate up. There was a Ringed Plover and Common Sandpiper on the rocks. Richard found a Greenfinch on the bamboo cane & also said there were some terns further round the rocks out of our view. Moving round I identified a Gull-billed Tern and two Little Terns. I also found a distant Common Pochard amongst its numerous Red Crested cousins.
The second causeway, usually the better birding point, proved disappointing. We walked up to the bridge. Dave found a Crested Lark, and Mallard and Sardinian Warbler were added to the day list.
The drive to Roquetas added Kestrel and Collared Dove. After a short break for an early lunch snack we made our way to the Reserve beyond the hotels, not stopping at the lake. We first stopped at a shallow pool to our left. An Avocet was close at hand with a Kentish Plover and a Black-winged Stilt on a gravelly island. A bit further on I found a pair of Collared Pratincoles. We voyeured them doing 'the deed'! We'd only gone a few yards when a Glossy Ibis flew out of the scrub immediately to our right. 
Further up we saw Slender-billed Gulls on roadside pools. We finally reached our destination, the salinas near the ruined pump house. There were many Greater Flamingos. On a sandy island there were more Slender-billed Gulls, an immature Yellow-legged Gull as well as Sanderling, Turnstone and a Redshank. Heading back, we flushed a Shelduck before stopping at the belated Red Knob Coot pool. Still none seen, but did have a pair of White-headed Ducks. All in all we saw 47 species. Dave seemed to enjoy himself seeing several new species.

Would 'anonymous' write to me at andy.birds (at) gmail.com and I shall be happy to pass on Dave's address for full details of the site.

28 April : Diclofenac and vultures


Diciclofenac is an analgesic and anti-inflammatory drug used in the treatment of cattle and pigs. Inevitably some of these animals die and the trend is ti leave the carcasses at set feeding sites for vultures. However, when vultures ingest meat treated with this drug, the toxic effect on birds beciomes rapidly visible.  Within hours of consumption, death has taken place as a result of kidney failure.

The permitted use of diclofenac in veterinary medicine is permitted in Spain in two medications,  – Diclovet and Dolofenac – could jeopardise the viability of Europe’s most important breeding population of Griffon Vultures. A new study published in the Journal of Applied Ecology and authored by scientists and ornithologists from Cambridge University, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB; BirdLife International Partner in the UK), Doñana Biological Station (CSIC), Miguel Hernández University and University of Lleida show that vulture deaths in Spain are estimated to fall in the range 715-6.389 per year, a decline of 0.9-7.7% per annum.. Obviously a  situation such as these numbers indicate will at worst wipe out the Spanish population or cerainly reduce it to dangerously low levels in terms of viability.

Spain is home to more than 95% of the European breeding population of the Griffon Vulture Gyps fulvus (about 26,000 pairs), but also because other threatened scavenging birds such as the Red Kite Milvus milvus, Spanish Imperial Eagle Aquila adalberti, Egyptian Vulture Neophron percnopterus, Cinereous Vulture/Black Vulture Aegypius monachus and Bearded Vulture Gypaetus barbatus also breed here. All of them are susceptible to the effects of veterinary diclofenac.
There is a non toxic drug - meloxicam, a vulture-safe alternative drug - which has the same beneficial effects of on livestock. The report reciommends the withdrawal of the use diclofenac and all drugs must be ‘target safe’ for other species.

Co-author of the study Professor Antoni Margalida said that apart from a precautionary ban, "animal carcasses favoured by vultures and carrion-scavenging birds found dead or dying at recovery centers need to be monitored for NSAID contamination".

The threat is not overexaggerated: Diclofenac provoked near extinction (~99%) of three vulture species on the Indian subcontinent in the '90s. "The Spanish government has a big responsibility to ban the use of diclofenac on farm animals, as well as responsibility for the conservation of the biggest populations of scavenging birds in the EU and one of the most important in the world. We just cannot afford to allow an environmental disaster to occur like it did in Asia," said Asunción Ruiz, SEO's (BirdLife in Spain) CEO.

The decline of vulture populations is bad news for people and the environment: vultures provide important ecosystem services by removing carcasses from the environment. This even contributes to a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions that would otherwise result from the physical removal and incineration of carcasses.

21 April : La Janda

Keeping this blog going is becoming more and more difficult and more and more behind. This is brief entry of the trip Ron and myself - his last before returning to Blighty - is only a a week late. In the week since then I have had a Bonelli's Warbler in the garden, but that has been all. So here goes.
We did the normal tour, along by the drainage canal, across the top and part of the distance down the Benalup-Facinas track, although noit so much as before as the rain (remember, that wet stuff?) and the track has been broken up rather by heavy agricultural vehicles and trucks.
The longest stretch is alongside the canal with many stops to look and scan. It was useful in that we picked up Cetti's, Reed and Great Reed Warbler plus some superb views of a little Whitethroat, an archtypal bird of mature hedgerows and may blossom when I was young and starting my birding career. We had decent views of a Common Buzzard which waited to be photographed instead of giving a nice rump view, plus a female Montagu's Harrier, the first of the two we saw during the day.
There were still 13 Spooonbills on the floodwater some halfway down, two of them wearing colour rings but too distant to see clearly. Surprisingly, there were no waders in what looked to be good habitat, only a bundle of Black-winged Stilts, along with a few Shovelers and some few Grey Herons and 2 Purple Herons, one of which gave superb views. There were plenty of Cattle Egrets and suprising numbers of Glossy Ibises, the cause of which became apparent when we had crossed the bridge.
In the trees which run alongside the stretch of road to the sluice gates there were large numbers of Cattle Egrets (Ron reckoned at least 400 putative pairs) in a series of focal points where they were building nests, with one or two apparently already sitting and one pair  doing what normal pairs do in spring. In adddition there were several pairs of Glossy Ibises, no guesstimates available, but one or two gave excellent views as they engaged in nest construction.

 There was little to be seen going across the top, although we did see some 20 Black Kites, I suspect these being late arriving immatures. There and going down the Facinas track turned up 2 immature female-type Marsh Harriers, a single Booted Eagle, 40+ Griffon Vultures and a single Hobby (of which there have been records than normal this past week in the Strait area).
As the track was rather muddy and uneven in parts, I decided that we make for Bolonia and go up to the Cueva del Moro. the cave where the Little and White.rumped Swifts were once regular but which now appear to be there no more, possibly due to disturbance. There was little joy apart from a young Griffon Vulture at the usual nest site and we had good views of a male Blue Rock Thrush, always a nice bird to see. I heard a distant Green Woodpecker and we saw another Hobby. On the way back down I was telling Ron that once, years ago but never since, we (I was with Federico) had seen a male Cirl Bunting when something small flew down and sat in the road in front of the car. I stopped. Binocs focussed and there it was. A male Cirl Bunting!
A good day and Ron very satisfied.


21 April : Sierra de María

This is the second day of Dave's week.

Two days in a row! Yes, I'm out again to the Sierra de María with Steve. Gilly had to work. As we made our way to the town we passed the "starting point" on the Vélez Blanco bypass and began logging the birds. Our best bird was a Hoopoe. We were joined at the Repsol Garage cafe by John, Les, his son Tom with girlfriend Holly. The sun was out but there was a chilly wind coming from the Sierra Nevada. We made our way to the chapel. John spotted some distant "corvids" which, with the help of Les's scope proved to be Ravens. Steve spotted a Little Owl, but it disappeared before being seen by anyone else. We were joined by Jacky. We also saw Goldfinch, Blackbird, Magpie, Serin, Cirl Bunting and both Blue and Crested Tit.
Moving towards the Botanical Garden, "hawkeye" Tom spotted an adult Booted Eagle  way up by the mountain ridge. I found a Bonelli's Warbler and in the garden itself we had good views of a pair of Subalpine Warblers. Also seen were Coal Tit and Black Redstart. Leaving Les there, the rest of us "did" the medium walk. We heard but didn't see more Bonelli's Warblers, Short-toed Treecreeper and an European Cuckoo. Jacky thought she heard a Jay. We heard then saw a Great Spotted Woodpecker. More Subalpine Warblers were seen. and Tom spotted a Kestrel high up. We managed to see at least three Griffon Vultures and some Crag Martins. Jacky spotted a Robin. Getting back to Les at the garden, he'd seen more of the same including a Great Tit and a pair of Short-toed Treecreepers
Fitness fanatic Jacky decided she now wanted to do the high walk, so we left her there to meet up at La Piza forest cafe later. We made our way to the ruined farm buildings. Les immediately saw a Rock Sparrowand John and I heard a Turtle Dove. We knew which tree the sound was coming from but could we see it? No! Luckily it flew off.
We then carried on to the farm trough. We saw a displaying Northern Wheatear and a pair of Hoopoes. Les got his scope focused on a pair of Red-billed Choughs. I spotted a distant Woodchat Shrike and we also saw Linnet and more Rock Sparrows.
Driving slowly along the plain we managed to see Short-toed and Calandra Lark plus another couple of Northern Wheatears. Les saw a Carrion Crow. At the hamlet called Pozo de la Rueda which is just in Granada province we saw 8 Lesser Kestrels (info for Helen Commandeur for the Lesser Kestrel survey). They breed under the roof tiles on one of the farm barns.
Heading back to the La Piza forest cafe, who should be sitting there upon our arrival but Jacky. She said " I think there are a pair of Hawfinches in that tree". She was dead right. A first for her, John and Steve. A number of Crossbills were also seen coming down to the small pool. Also seen were Chaffinches, Blue Tits and a Crested Tit, nesting in a box only metres from us but which defied any attempt by me to photograph it!. Jacky had seen Jay up the high walk.
We ended with 43 species. Star bird was obviously the Hawfinch.

20 April : El Hondo (Elche, Alicante)

This was the first of Dave's days out. For those who are unaware, the white collars sported by many Red-knobbed Coots identify birds from the reintroduction project.
I was delighted to be asked by Paul and Kath Groves if, during their holiday, I could take them to El Fondo Bird Reserve, just south of Alicante. I'd arranged to meet up with local birder, Helen Commandeur. As we skirted the reserve, heading for the Information Centre we logged a Roller on a power line as well as some more commoner species. We arrived a tad early so we were able to have a scan round the car park which overlooks one of the shallow pools. We saw Whiskered Terns, Red-crested Pochard, Grey Heron and Black-winged Stilt. On the adjacent staff car park there was a Little Ringed Plover. I spotted some Cattle Egrets and Paul got a Stonechat. Helen arrived, early as well, so we were soon into the reserve proper. A Glossy Ibis flew over as did the first of many Collared Pratincoles. All we could hear were the vociferous song of Great Reed Warblers and it wasn't difficult to spot the culprits on top of the reeds. Above us there were hundreds of Common Swifts. We made our way to the viewing area next to the Centre which overlooks a pool. 
Immediately we saw  a Purple Swamphen and a Squacco Heron. The Squacco flew over the fence and the Swamphen disappeared behind some reeds only to re-appear on the opposite bank with its partner and four chicks. Also close to the bank was a Marbled Duck, which later swam in open water giving great views. It wasn't long before we spotted at least four Red-knobbed Coots, easily identified by their white numbered collars. We headed towards the raised walkway, seeing Little Stint, Kentish Plover and Gull-billed Tern. A Southern Grey Shrike flew past. On a sandy ridge opposite, there were twenty odd Collared Pratincoles as well as a resting Whiskered Tern. On the viewing platform was local birder, Graham, who said he'd just seen a flock of feeding terns pass through comprising Whiskered, Common, Black and White-winged (Black) Terns.  He said a Spoonbill was close to the next right hand hide. 
We made our way there hearing Cetti's Warblers and Zitting Cisticolas on the way. No sign of the Spoonbill, but we did add Greater Flamingo, Shelduck and Avocet. There was a flock of 19 Curlew Sandpipers. The cacophony of sound was being generated from the Black-headed and Mediterranean Gull colony. Kath first spotted a Glossy Ibis, then a Squacco Heron, (as well as being my secretary for the day in Gilly's absence!). 
Paul also found a Sardinian Warbler and a Greenshank. We then back-tracked to the other hide. There was a small raft of Marbled Duck. According to aforementioned Graham, fifty Marbled Ducks had recently be released there. We added Great Crested Grebe to the list. A dark phase Booted Eagle flew over. We heard Reed Warbler song even though they were being nearly drowned out by their more vocal cousins! We headed back to the vehicles via Graham, who'd now seen a pair of Little Terns!
After a short lunch break we followed Helen up and down a track. The irrigation gully was dry which might explain the lack of bird life. At the one place where there was some water and reeds a Purple Heron flew out as we passed. We also added Hoopoe, Red-legged Partridge, Blackbird and Woodpigeon.
We made our way to the South Hide. If you recall my last report from here it was found the route to that hide was waterlogged and muddy. Slightly better news this time. It was passable with care. (Better with wellies!) Checking out the ever present Common Swifts above us, I manage to find a Sand Martin. As we gingerly made our way to the hide we found Black-necked Grebes and White-headed Ducks in the pools next to the footpath. The hide itself was slightly full of mosquitoes, but I have to admit I received no bites possibly thanks to Helen supplying everyone with anti mozzy spray! There were loads of Whiskered Tern and, yay, a few Black Terns as well. Remember that albino Black-necked Grebe from a previous visit....it's still here! A flight of 13 Glossy Ibis was seen before Paul, Kath and myself said our goodbyes and many thanks to Helen as we had a long journey home. She was staying on. The last time that happened she got the Sociable Plover! We had a wonderful day. Am going to arrange a Group outing in the next couple of weeks!
Ended with 59 species. Cracking day!