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!


14 April : Almanzora and Vera

My birding has been rather restricted but since the last input from Dave,I have had a few migrants in the garden, the best day being the 10 April with a female Subalpine Warbler, a Willow Warbler (the only one so far this spring) and a Nightingale singing down across the road to celebrate having reached Europe. The garden's attraction for birds has been reduced somewhat as the gardener's attitude to gardening would have made him an ideal proponent of Stalin's scorched earth policy after the Nazi invasion. Nevertheless, a Woodchat Shrike and Phylloscopus sp. turned up on the following day, with the same or another Woodchat on 12 April stayed around most of the day and there was also a notable overhead movement of Bee-eaters. A delightful pair of Red-rumped Swallows hung around the garden over three days, 14-16 April. Further afield,  there was a dead female European Nightjar on the road in an urbanization near Chilches on 16 April, while on the shore there there were 12 Sanderlings, all in breeding plumage on 17 April, along with a single Ringed Plover.
Was on an airport run yesterday, hence this week we're a day late! Summer appears to have arrived. The weather was hot and sunny. Gilly was working, so I picked Steve up in Arboleas & headed for the Rambla de Almanzora. We drove up the Palomares side, but saw not alot. John was ahead of us. Once we'd stopped behind him, he walked back and asked if we'd heard the Nightingale. Note to self.....turn off the CD even if it was Pink Floyd! By the ford we had the usual Moorhen and Black -winged Stilt. As we waited for the others to arrive we saw a pair of Stone Curlews, some Bee-eaters and Red-rumped Swallows. Another nine members arrived before we made our way to the new good spot further up the valley. On the way I spotted another Bee-eater on the power lines and a sitting Roller.
Les had got to the crossover first and had seen Curlew Sandpiper, Dunlin and Little Stint. Our arrival flushed them further along the pools. We added Redshank, Little Ringed and Kentish Plover. Moving up onto the bank Les spotted a Common Sandpiper and I a Sand Martin. A pair of Wood Sandpipers showed well. We moved further along and found the seven Curlew Sandpipers, some in breeding plumage. A Greenshank flew in and we had good views of Iberian Yellow Wagtails. Ann spotted another perched Bee-eaterI then spotted a single flying Red-billed Chough. As I tried to get a photo I was twisting, focusing and slipping. Am amazed by the result! Another Roller was seen. Before we moved on Les saw a distant Shoveler. A Woodchat Shrike was also spotted. On the way to Villaricos village we added a Black Wheatear.
After a refreshing cuppa we headed for the beach. Another Woodchat Shrike was on the wires. On the harbour rocks were two Audouin's Gulls. Colin saw a Cormorant and John spotted some Sanderlings while Sandra saw a Little Egret. Also seen was a Turnstone. The hoards of holidaymakers had not yet arrived.
Walking over to the estuary we disturbed some Kentish Plovers on the flat area. It was good to see two pairs of White-headed Ducks there together with some half dozen Common Pochards. We heard Reed Warblers and Zitting Cisticolas, seeing some of the latter later. There were 7 Greater Flamingos by the beach. They were disturbed by some dog walkers and appeared to swim away. It was noted how much they looked like Mute Swans from a distance! Also seen were Barn Swallow, House Martin, Common Swift, Little Grebe, Goldfinch and Serin. A Sardinian Warbler was heard. Jacky and her group saw a Squacco Heron which kindly showed itself to the rest of the group later on. More Cormorants and a Grey Heron was seen. By the shallows we had Ringed and Kentish Plovers, Dunlin, Sanderling and Little Stint. On the way back to the vehicles along the beach the "resident" Whimbrel was circling near its rocky feeding area as a local was searching for whelks or crabs.
Saying our goodbyes to Val, Trevor and Ann the rest of us made our way to the Consum dual carriageway at Vera Beach. On the way Les saw a Blackbird. A female Black-eared Wheatear flew across in front of my truck which was nice. Loads of Black-winged Stilts here, but better was the half dozen or so Whiskered Terns. I then spotted a distant Shelduck resting on the far side. I then noticed a Gull-billed Tern with some Black-headed Gulls. As we left I saw a Southern Grey Shrike perched atop a shrub high on the hill side. Jacky, Steve, John and I visited the pool by the Millionaires Bar, hoping for a Med Gull, but only saw immature Black-headed Gulls and an Audouin's.
It was a brilliant mornings birding with 59 species notched up. Thanks all.


06 April : Cabo de Gata & Rambla Morales

A quick intro. The Solitary Sandpiper is still believed to be at Almanzora (Almería) whilst in the west the presence of a Lesser Yellowlegs at Odiel (Huelva) is also attracting a number of twitchers. Lots of 'firsts' for the year have been reported with reports indicating fair numbers of Cuckoos. Lesser Flamingos and a White-winged Black Tern (or White-winged Tern if you prefer a recent name trend) have been seen this week at Fuente de Piedra (Málaga).
Gilly had a note excusing her from games today, so Val and I headed south along the E15 towards Cabo de Gata alone. The weather forecast said more sun than clouds, but it lied. We hardly saw the sun at all, making photography difficult, but at least there was hardly any wind. We'd already seen Hoopoe and Common Swift by the time we'd reached the cafe at Pujaire. There we met up with Trevor, Ann and Jen. John and Richard added Kestrel to the list when they arrived. After coffee we headed to the first hide. There were Black-winged Stilt on the nearest pool. As Gilly would have said, there were more Greater Flamingos than you could throw a stick at. (No sign of the previously reported Lesser Flamingos) Four Gull-billed Terns were on the causeway. Pink Slender-billed Gulls were feeding. I spotted the only two large waders, a Black-tailed Godwit and a Grey Plover. Also seen were Ringed and Kentish Plover, Avocet and a Greenshank which kindly flew into one of the nearer pools. Val spotted a Southern Grey Shrike on the scrubland, where John had a fleeting glimpse of a Stone Curlew. There were one or two Yellow Wagtails. I spotted a distant Shelduck.
We had a brief sea-watch over calm waters before trudging to the second hide. We only added Yellow-legged and Lesser Black-backed Gulls. As we approached the open sided shed, sorry, the hide, we were lucky enough to see a Subalpine Warbler and a female Blackcap. A noisy Stone Curlew exited left. Richard added a Thekla Lark, but the handsome star came in the form of a male Woodchat Shrike. I spotted a Robin and a far off Shoveler.
Moving to the public hide, we came upon Jesus Contreras, a local birder and guide with two clients. Thought he'd seen a Roseate Tern on the causeway. The photo he had looked convincing. As we arrived, not our fault, all the terns took off for some reason and had re-landed. A thorough check only revealed Sandwich Terns and a couple of Common Terns. We added Redshank, Cormorant and Blackbird. John saw an Audouin's Gull as we were leaving.
After a coffee and early tostada lunch and saying goodbye to Trevor, Ann and Jen, us remaining four drove along the beachside track to the Rambla de Morales. We normally see a few Greater Flamingos here, but today there were about 70 present. We had the usual Coot and Moorhen. It was good to see a few White-headed Ducks and a Gull-billed Tern was also observed. Val and I said our goodbyes to John and Richard. With my 4x4 we made our way along the slightly sticky track towards the campsite. We added Sardinian Warbler and a Black-eared Wheatear. Before we reached the E15 we also had some Jackdaws which completed our list of 49 species for the day. A really good days birding.