the art of eating well at Christmas

In view of the lack of input into the blog in recent weeks, and having received the following gem on the culinary delights of cooking and eating cormorants by courtesy of Ernest García, this seemed to be a splendid way to see out 2008. I do hope that nobody feels ill after reading this - you have been warned!

When the smoke has cleared away, take the cormorant down and cut off the beak. Send this to the local Conservancy Board who, if you are in the right area, will give you 3/6d or sometimes 5/- for it. Bury the carcase, preferably in a light sandy soil, and leave it there for a fortnight. This is said to improve the flavour by removing, in part at least, the taste of rotting fish.

Dig up and skin and draw the bird. Place in a strong salt and water solution and soak for 48 hours. Remove, dry, stuff with whole, unpeeled onions: the onion skins are supposed to bleach the meat to a small extent, so that it is very dark brown instead of being entirely black.

Simmer gently in seawater, to which two tablespoons of chloride of lime have been added, for six hours. This has a further tenderising effect. Take out of the water and allow to dry, meanwhile mixing up a stiff paste of methylated spirit and curry powder. Spread this mixture liberally over the breast of the bird.

Finally roast in a very hot oven for three hours. The result is unbelievable. Throw it away. Not even a starving vulture would eat it.

From Countryman’s Cooking, by W.M.W. Fowler, published by Excellent Press, 9 Lower Raven Lane, Ludlow, Shropshire, SY8 1BW. Tel: 01584 877803. Available from Times BooksFirst at £15.25, free p&p: Call 0870 1608080


Arboleas Bird Group trip, 17 December

I have been rather out of touch with the real universe (ie. the birdy one) because of circumstances beyond my control. Therefore I am really pleased to be able to put in the chronicle from Dave and Gilly with the Arboleas Bird Group. The photos are also Dave's.

Hi all,
As we left Arboleas the cold winds were blowing off the snow covered mountains, but as we reached the Cabo de Gata reserve it was obvious there was little or no wind. There was however a roaring sound coming from the beach. It sounded like a distant train, but we discovered later it was only the large rollers breaking onto the sand. As we were on a time constraint due to a later carol service, we didn't spend a huge amount of time at each hide and didn't venture to the lighthouse.

Gilly's usual count of the Greater Flamingo population found 186 individuals there. Hiding amongst them she spotted a pair of Spoonbill. A single White Stork was an unusual find. The usual waders were there in small numbers. Grey Plover, Black-tailed Godwit, Redshank, Ringed Plover, Kentish Plover, Avocet, Little Stint, Dunlin and Black-winged Stilt. A single Spotted Redshank was flushed from a large puddle
round the rear of the reserve There were large flocks of Serin, Greenfinch and Linnet. It was nice to see about 30 Trumpeter Finch (photo R) and some Lesser Short-toed Lark. A few Shoveler, Mallard and Shelduck were the only wildfowl seen. No Black-necked Grebe, which was unusual for this time of the year.

Our next proposed trip is the 7th January, so Gilly & I wish all a Happy Christmas and a prosperous New Year.


Yellow-headed Blackbird in the Guadalhorce

Paco Rivera went to the Guadalhorce today and met a Belgian woman, Michelle (I know not her surname), who I had met some weeks ago. As Paco's French is like my Swahili and Michelle speaks no English, the usual medium was the guide. She had seen and identified and Paco later photographed a beautiful male Yellow-headed Blackbird, obviously an escape but a bird which brightened a damp December morning for them.

long time, no write blog

True, long time no write but things have been a bit on the pear-shaped side of things with the older female of the family rather unwell and about ready for the knacker's yard at the rate she's going (she can't read English, ha-ha!)so a lot has devolved around myself, even unto cooking (I hate bloody food, why can't we have tablets?), hanging up and taking down washing (wonderful for reflection about the meaning of life!) and cleaning (why every day? Why not until you can write your name in the dust?).

The last time I was at the Guadalhorce was Sunday 1 December and was it cold! It was the weekend when there was snow on all the sierras, on Tejeda-Almijara over the eastern side of the bay (below left), and inland behind the Guadalhorce a lot on Sierra de las Nieves (below right).

Really, the only birding that I've done has been bits and pieces when I've been able to escape. I have been doing occasional flying visits to the beaches and port at Fuengirola to look for colour ringed gulls, with some success at least.

Most of the colour ringed gulls are Lesser Black-backs but trying to see the rings amongst a forest of legs and bodies, plus the disturbances from nasty little children and some mentally retarded adults like the wobbly grease-ball that waved her arms at them and kept flushing them because the she liked watching them fly. She'd have flown with a 12 bore shotgun, the way I felt about her antics!

These gulls have included a rather nice adult Mediterranean Gull green 3E8 which was ringed in France in 2006, which means it is now in its first winter as an adult.

The green ring can be seen and read quite well in the enlarged photo (useful these digital cameras).

Left is a 1st winter bird and a 2nd winter bird on the right to show the differences.
(The photos are mine, all mine!)


Fuente de Piedra and Campillos

This afternoon in fit of madness I took off for Fuente de Piedra to try and see if there was (a) any water to speak of and (b) anything worth seeing on said water or its fringes. As it turned out, the answer to (a) is that there is very little water (which can be partially seen or guessed at in the photo below)

and to (b) that there was very little of note, none of those pink things (I have just finished translating a very interesting paper which summarises the past 24 years at the laguna,) a few rather brassed-off Lapwings which were the only waders, a scattering of Mallards and Shovelers and about 6.000 gulls, basically Black-headed and Lesser Black-backs with some Yellow-legged thrown in as an afterthought. Pretty bad.

After the fairly disastrous visit to Fuente de Piedra except for 4 Cranes on the way to Campillos, I took off to have a quick look at the Laguna Dulce, except that there's no laguna as it's been dry for ages. So, you will ask, what is the attraction of the place? The attraction of a dry lagoon is that in the bed of this one, admittedly distant, there are often Little Bustards. In fact, they were feeding in field near the road before the pull-off, so I shot in like a frightened rabbit, grabbed camera (the binocs were already around the neck) and crept out of the car to try and get a better look at them, in which I succeeded partially and also managed to count them, about 42 I reckoned and took a photo. I gently walked a trifle nearer and they flushed, they usually do. A quick photo before they pitched down rather further away and enabled a better count, this time 52 of them. Very nice.
The two heavily manipulated photos show first the birds in the field and it can be seen how difficult they can be to pick out in a field in the first (try counting them quickly and remember this photo is enhanced!) ....

..... and below in flight where the white in the wings sticks out wonderfully and is a good identification feature.

Click on the photos to enlarge them, it helps a lot!


The good, the bad and the ugly

Well, what a day today (Sunday, 16/11) has been, and the heading sums it up, but let's start with the week first.

THE GOOD! Monday, 1o/11, down by the river with my faithful dog, a single Common Swift in immaculate condition (no broken/worn feathers) treated me to five or six very low, very fast fly-bys, and I learnt later that Israel Lozano had seen another (or very probably the same one) over the centre of Málaga bout an hour earlier. The same day down at the Guadalhorce ponds Antonio Miguel logged in a flock of 34 Cranes over-flying, and there are also some back at Fuente de Piedra.

On Thursday afternoon, 13/11, Federico and myself spent a very pleasant three hours wandering around the Guadalhorce, not a lot of birds but a couple of Wigeon, a single Greenshank and three very nice Snipe were sufficient.

I have mentioned that it's not unusual to see Griffon Vultures down on th coast at this time of year during their migration, but also on Thursday Samuel Peregrina saw two 1st year Black Vultures over the centre of Málaga. No, no mistake although one who should have known better queried the identification, which rather annoyed Samu, and I'm not surprised!

This morning, 16/11, was pretty good, really, with some the domingueros and, of course, Antonio Miguel. We saw a couple of Penduline Tits, a cracking male and a juv. with no mask at all, a Blue Rock Thrush - they do come down off the sierras in the winter but this is the earliest I can remember seeing one, a total of 7 Teal, some of the males very smart in the morning sunshine and a Richard's Pipit, is it the same bird back to winter for (I think) the fourth winter? Paco Villalobos and Paco Rivera swore blind they had seen 2 immature Rollers - they are unmistakable and everything tallied! We heard a Little Bittern, a few do over-winter in southern Spain, and Antonio had heard a Water Rail during the week. Here endeth the good.

THE BAD There are always half-wits on bicycles, usually mountain bikes, who tear along the tracks at high speed. No bell, no warning and we have been waving them down to slow them down. Federico usually tells 'em what a bell is, but if they don't one day there is going to be a major accident with a child or dog on a lead getting hit. And today one idiot, head down, high speed, with earpieces to listen to his mp3 or whatever, hit a leg of my tripod. Down went tripod, down went 'scope. Tripod wrecked for ever, 'scope battered at the front end but the optics seem to be alright, however, it will have to be checked out which means sending to Germany as Zeiss have no technician capable of dealing with it Spain - a major oversight, I feel.

THE UGLY Me in full verbal flight and not mincing words about the guy, his parentage, what would have happened to him if it had been a child he had hit, or even more my dog - I'd have killed the s.o.b.! But words don't go far in assuaging what I feel or what it'll cost as he had no insurance and it would cost more to prise cash out of him than pay the repairs myself, lawyers tending to show a strong affinity to leeches or tics. Paco reckoned I had scared him badly and if I see him there again, I'll have him- subtly of course, but I will.


EGMASA rectify signs, congratulations!

Those with longish memories will recollect me getting wound up in my blog of 11 August 'OFF TOPIC - CHAPUZA' about the English on the then brand new signs at the Guadalhorce.

I am very happy to report that Egmasa, the perpetrators, have rectified the errors and the English is now correct (L) and just about in the other (R), as can be seen from the photos.
Thank you and well done, Egmasa!

Guadalhorce today

Hurray, hurray, I went birding to the Guadalhorce today! Not very poetic, is it? But I risked my right knee as I was suffering severe withdrawal symptoms and if I had not got out there may have been some violence done within the family circle (not the dog, she's alright). So, off I trotted. It was very pleasant even though there was only Paco Rivera of the regular domingueros. He had already had some luck and photographed a Penduline Tit (left) and we walked round together in the warm sunshine, far too warm really as there are very few ducks around.

A Kestrel which was bumped off its perch by a Booted Eagle gave the eagle hell for several minutes, quite amusing and I'm certain the eagle got the full extent of the kestrel's insults. It rather looks as though a rather splendid Southern Grey Shrike has settled down in the area leading to the seabird watch point /mirador. There were plenty of Chiffs around and a superb male Serin which refused to be photographed, unlike the obliging female Black Redstart shown here (left, mine; right by Paco).

At the big pond there were a few Shoveler, odd Mallards and the female Common Scoter that had been found by Bob Wright & co. earlier this week, which was very obliging and gave good views at less than 70m as opposed to the more normal ones of birds bobbing up and down and diving as distant blots upon the sea.

We saw a small green snake, species unknown, which slithered across our path, and Paco showed me the photo which is reproduced here of a rather large and very striking caterpillar which he had photographed last week. It is the caterpillar stage of the Spurge Hawk Moth. We found one last December too and is something to be looked out for.


5 November, Arboleas Bird Group (Almería)

The following is from Dave Elliott-Binns about the trip that the Arboleas group carried out yesterday, 5 November. Note what Dave says about the next trip date if you're interested.

This week 8 members of the group stayed local and visited the Almanzora estuary. We arrived at our usual parking place overlooking the brackish pool near the beach only to find extensive works being carried out. In the pool itself there were 3 Teal, a single Little Egret and 11 Audouin's Gulls. There were 1,000's of gulls out to sea at the Tuna farms where it was obviously feeding time. A walk along the beach produced a Cormorant and a Shag, which flew right over us. On the rocks outside Villaricos harbour were a few Sanderlings and a Turnstone, together with a few gulls and a Sandwich Tern fishing. On the rambla, there were numerous Stonechats, a few Robins and a small flock of Meadow Pipit.

We then drove back up towards Cuevas de Almanzora. The pools, where the road crosses the rambla, were non-existent as the pipework for the new desalination plant had reached that point. It was disconcerting that there was very little standing water, even though we'd had rain on and off for weeks. Did manage to see one Green Sandpiper and a few Black Winged Stilts. A bit futher I spotted one, then two Alpine Swifts with a single Barn Swallow.

There were also works going on round the "lake" at Desert Springs Golf complex. A single Pochard and Black-necked Grebe were seen. They completed the days count of 44. Good, yes, but should've been better if it hadn't been for all the works.

Gilly & I are off to the UK for four weeks, so the next official day trip will be the 17th December.


In memoriam

It doesn't take much for things that I don't care for to get up my nose,which is a very unpleasant place to be, and I think that you will agree that I have more than a little cause to be downright annoyed with the following.

In memoriam - Bearded Vulture (two of 'em!)
This last spring a young Bearded Vulture, an female released in 2007 from the expensive hacking and release programme in the Cazorla and Segura area was found dead on an estate in the Sierra de Castril, Granada province. This bird was found as her GPS tracking transmitter showed that she hadn't moved and the sad body was found.

Now a second bird, one of 4 released this last May, has also been found dead on 28 October, apparently by poisoning! And in the same area and even on the same estate! Seprona, the wildlife protection people of the Guardia Civil, apparently found traces of carrion which had been poison baited. Investigations are, as they say, being carried out and further proceedings are expected, and in many cases, hoped for.

Legally, if there is a judge with the will and conscience, all hunting on the the estate could be banned by suspending their licence -it is one of those which makes a lot of money out of shooting parties - and the culprit(s) fined anywhere between 60.000€ and 300.000€!

Let us hope that the punishments are exemplary.

In memoriam - a Corncrake
On 26 October, near Alhaurín de la Torre, hunters shot a Corncrake thinking that it was a quail. Now, you know and I know that there is quite a size difference and their flight is also. There is also supposed to be a sort of test to ensure that hunters can identify birds before blasting 'em out of the sky. According to my good friend and excellent birder Antonio Tamayo in avesforum, Eduardo Alba has informed of another Corncrake which suffered terminal lead poisoning (I must stop reading Dashiel Hammett) in exactly the same area back in September 2005.

These happy chappies had obviously not had any sort of identification test as at first they claimed that they thought they had shot at a quail (legal at least), then decided that it was an Andalusian Hemipode (a.k.a. Small Buttonquail) which is at least the size of a quail and which is very, very rare indeed and there is a small relict population in the Doñana area (very illegal).

When will the administration which hands out licences willy-nilly do something about ensuring that the hunters have some idea what they are shooting, or will hell freeze over first?

I believe that execution in the town square for the offenders would be adequate punishment in both these cases, and I would be quite happy to do the job myself given the chance, always provided that I was sufficiently rapid to be first in the queue and not trampled in the rush!

The Guadalhorce and some interesting records

I've not been out much at all as my R knee is still playing silly sods, although improving slowly under the none too tender ministrations of a qualified English osteopath who operates/tortures here in Torremolinos and Alhaurín el Grande (if anyone wants his phone number, contact me privately). Neither did the weather help this last weekend, with over 80 litres/sq.m. on the Friday and some 40 on Saturday which meant that the Guadalhorce has breached again at its mouth, as Paco Rivera's photo (L) shows, and access is still impossible as of this afternoon (Tuesday). So, on to the birds.

Most of the records refer to this last weekend from those brave enough to venture out. This past week there has been a record of a couple of Goldcrests near Peñón de los Enamorados, near Antequera on 1 November (Antonio Tamayo in avesforum). There are occasional records virtually every winter but a jolly good record! Even better was the Yellow-browed Warbler that Salva Solis had in his garden in Fuengirola this weekend - I had one in my own garden some three autumns since so it's not so daft as it sounds as a place top see one!

On Sunday (02/11) I didn't venture out and according to Patricia there wasn't a lot at the Guadalhorce, although Antonio Toro told me of a late Garganey the same day. I walked down by the river yesterday morning (03/11) alone to see what the flooding was like and was rewarded with 2 superb examples, an adult and a juvenile, of my favourite wader, the Greenshank. In the afternoon and also today I went down with my dog, but there has been nothing of note, although yesterday I ran in to a Finnish photographer, Osmo Lehtinen, his wife and a photographer friend. Osmo's web page www.osmolehtinen.com has some stunning photos of bears amongst other things. I'm greasing here as I'm hoping that Osmo will let me put a rather nice photo of a line of gulls which includes a Laughing Gull into the seabird guide I'm trying to get done, this taken two winters since at Fuengirola harbour - a site always worth a look. Bird-wise there was little of note, except that there has been in increase in 1W Mediterranean Gulls and quite a few Sandwich Terns but nothing with an orange bill.

Today (04/11) , Bob Wright from the Axarquia was down to the Guadalhorce with some neighbours who he is trying to interest in birding and his e-mail with the sightings is below. The Water Pipits are a good record and the late Swallow is interesting, although these are quite a regular ocurrence. (I will try and write more about these in the future.) He also noted a Great Grey Shrike Lanius excubitor, but I have changed this as it is almost certainly a Southern Grey L. meridionalis, these having been recognised as two species for about ten years, the split, like many, being confirmed because of comparative mitochondrial DNA work (something which many undesirable and undesired humans have cause to thank for their convictions).

Just spent four hours at the river with a small group (8 others) from this area. Lovely morning followed by a menu round the corner for 7.50 Euros so did not leave area until 4.30 pm!
Lots of Crag Martins and Chiffchaffs plus Marsh Harrier, Booted Eagle, Osprey and Kestrel. On the return journey we were presented with a "Flying Fish" over the big pool with an Osprey resting on its back! Southern Grey Shrike, Kingfisher, Meadow Pipit and, my favourite, a pair of Water Pipits; first I have seen since I was a young lad.
However, the morning, despite 42 species, was most noted for what we did NOT see: no waders, no Black-winged Stilts and no Moorhens.
So, pride of place? For just about everyone else the Osprey at relatively close quarters (perched on top of the pole to the right on the water line as you look across the main pool - not the Cormorant look-out post to the left; that's where the Osprey started on his early lunch which then reminded us all that we, too , were hungry!), followed by the Southern Grey Shrike.
However, three of us, the serious bird watchers, were more impressed to see a very late single Swallow feeding - and resting close by - over the main pool right in front of the hide.


29 October, Arboleas Bird Group (Almería)

Another very welcome missive (nearly wrote missile) from Dave & Gilly on the Arboleas Bird Group trip to Cabo de Gata on 29 October.

Hi all,
Four members of the group went to Cabo de Gata this Wednesday. It was very windy, so the small birds were keeping their heads down in the shrubs and the waders were clumped in sheltered areas. But at least it wasn't raining!! Gilly did her usual count of Greater Flamingoes (323) and also counted the 42 Black-necked Grebes that have arrived. On the wildfowl front, only Shoveler have arrived. There were quite a few Shelduck. Large numbers of Redshank were present, together with Ringed and Kentish Plover, Little Stint, Black-tailed Godwits, Sanderling, a couple of Greenshank, a single Oystercatcher with the
resident Black-winged Stilts and Avocets. 20 or so Curlews were on the scrubland. No smaller versions were noted (Richard knows what I'm talking about!!)
The gulls were huddled on the beach. Yellow-legged, Lesser Black-backed & Black-headed. There were no Slender Billed, Audouin's or terns seen.
The "smaller" birds that did put their heads above the parapet were numerous Stonechat, a Southern Grey Shrike, Black Redstart, a Dartford Warbler and Chiffchaffs. About 10 Barn Swallow stragglers seen. Crag Martins had come down from the snow covered hills at
the back of Almeria. A total of 35 species for the day.

Best regards, Dave & Gilly


Tempus fugit* and winter comes

I see that the last entry of these meanderings was on 19 October, it really is really is amazing how the time flies (hence tempus fugit, or time flies for those with a non classical education). And in that time I have done not a lot birdwise and shall proceed to recount what little I have seen and what others have seen (with a lot more luck!).

There have been several days with a few Chiffchaffs moving through the garden and a female/juv. Black Redstart has arrived and is apparently interested in taking up residence, although there has been some opposition from a Robin with the same idea and the Blackcaps - the males are really smart little chaps - don't like the presence of the Robin, so nobody wins! The first Black Redstart appeared on 20/10. while there was a late Common Redstart on 22/10 along with a female/juv. Whitethroat. At the mouth of the Guadalhorce, seen when I was staggering with Luna, there was at least one Northern Wheatear on 21/10 and another or the same on 23/10.

Last week down at the ponds Antonio Miguel watched an Otter for a few minutes on the Tuesday afternoon and he rang me to tell me, he was so excited. There have been more and more sightings of footprints in the damp earth recently and some spraint (look it up) has been found, so the sighting was not wholly unexpected but extremely welcome nevertheless. On Saturday afternoon (25 October), the sighting was bettered as Antonio watched it again, this time on and off for about 40 minutes. Also on the Saturday he saw the first of the passage wildfowl, with a couple of Wigeon and no less than 12 Pintails. Federico didn't see it as he was there in the morning, but he did manage to see and get a photo (left) of a Wryneck, which is a jolly good sighting.

Needless to say, it wasn't there on Sunday morning when I staggered down - I was suffering from severe withdrawal symptoms by then - and the domingueros had a reasonably pleasant morning. Pat and I compared my little 50mm Minox with her little Nikon 50mm with ED glass, there being a two-fold difference in price and image quality, which makes the Nikon a good option for those who don't want to lug around too many kilos.

There wasn't a lot in the bird line and there certainly aren't many waders, the ponds having gone from too little too much. There were, on the other hand, 4 Wigeon, my first ones of the autumn. There were plenty of Chiffs around, something which I'd been seeing around the garden all week. A few Skylarks were moving through and Antonio claimed that he'd heard a Siskin.
The photo on the right (mine) is of a little Ladder Snake which seemed intent on trying to swallow Antonio Miguel, the white bit below the head is its lower mandible! Little did it know what it had taken on!

This Tuesday morning (28 October) the weather is grey, it has rained (Luna does not like rain and is currently sitting looking out at it) and the temperature is falling. The daughter, a teacher, rang from Madrid to wish her mother happy birthday and it was raining, cold and she was on playground duty! Ha-ha! On the bird front this morning, an unusual fly-by was a Grey Heron which enjoyed (?) the close escort of a very voluble squadron of those damned Monk Parakeets. A couple of Chiffchaffs moved through when the rain started, a not unusual occurrence at this time of year (the Chiffs, that is).

I had a message from Teo to say that yesterday he'd seen good movements of Griffon Vultures, with 830-870 flying W over Coín and later another 350-400 over the Sierra de Mijas. Many forget that these do migrate down to the Strait before crossing over to Morocco and points south. It is quite common for young, exhausted birds to be picked up anywhere along the coastal strip, often sitting in the middle of cities or on someone's roof. Some years since down at Tarifa I saw a flock, stream is a better word perhaps, which I estimated at about 800-850 strong and going through them with the scope I found a 1st year Lammergeir / Bearded Vulture, known in Spanish as the Quebrantahuesos - the bone breaker.

Coincidence! I wrote the above on the vultures just before lunch, and about 20 minutes since (1720L) coming loaded out of the supermarket I saw my first ever lost Griffon Vulture, a juvenile (they often are) flapping low over the outskirts of Torremolinos ecorted by a couple of flocks of starlings until it the lower skirts of the sierra when it gained some lift.


on a grey* Sunday afternoon

This afternoon matches my mood, grey and not very appetising with the Med. looking more like the North Sea, after a week which has been far from scintillating and, worse, without even a Sunday morning outing to the Guadalhorce in an apparently vain attempt to rest my right knee (so the specialist instructed me) which is not at all right (not a joke at all there), thus restricting me to walking the dog (which nobody else will do) and going shopping for some stuff as the Reichfüherin (look that up) is not well (really) and most birding is from the terrace while I fill myself with analgesics (which don't seem to work unless one goes into flagrant overdose) and coffee (which is replacing blood).

At home, a female/juv. Redstart has been around these past two days although I must say that I think it's pushing its luck with the way the weather has turned this afternoon. The Crag Martins are flying low this afternoon and very close to the buildings, the first ones having made an appearance around 10 days since. Any time now there will be the first Black Redstarts fighting for territory and the first Robins made their appearance a week ago. A couple of mornings since there were a lot of Blackbirds around and there had obviously been an arrival, even though they have gone on.
There have been reports of up to 5 Great Black-backed Gulls in the port area of Málaga, including 2 adults of which I am very sceptical, but at least one of the juv. reports is genuine. Down at the river on my afternoon staggers (walk is too strong word as I go at a snail's pace) with the dog there have been 5-10 Mediterranean Gulls nearly every afternoon, the adults really are persil-white! Gonzalo Lage and Angel López managed to see a Lesser Crested Tern too this past Monday, a good bird to see at any time.

Further afield, Paco Chiclana from Seville found a Marabou Stork (those are the horrible, stork-like, scabby-looking things which one sees in African wildlife documentaries) by a small damp area at Ojuelos, Marchena. The bird had a yellow ring on its left leg, which rules out a wild origin. These damned escapes, some of which bear no rings or wing tags and which then go on to breed are a real pain, I have Red-vented Bulbuls in Torremolinos, and there the ubiquitous and exceedingly noisy Monk Parakeets everywhere (above L) and the Blue-fronted Amazons were in my garden (R). One day I shall write more about these non-autoctonous species and what we have down here in the south, but believe me, it's a long, long list! The photos are, for once, both mine!

PS: For those from across the far side of the ditch, please note the correct spelling of grey.


Disheartening news

Two bits of less than happy news.

The first is of a Corncrake found injured at Rota (Cádiz province) on 12 October. It was taken to the recuperation centre of Jerez zoo, a very good place, but regrettably a badly broken wing had to be amputated. The bird is apparently coming on well. How sad, though, that such a scarce species is so often seen only as a result of accidents. A second bird was washed up dead on the shore at Valencia last week.
I have only seen two in my life, I saw one fly in off the sea at Spurn Point, East Yorkshire, way back in the spring in the late 1950s and another by a roadside in East Yorkshire back in the early 1970s. My father once told me of them keeping him awake at night in the spring in Dumfriesshire in the 1920s and of flushing them out of the long grass when haymaking or harvesting, which was done with a couple of Shire horses pulling the mechanical cutter! How times change.

The second is of the wreck of a bulk carrier right on Europa Point, Gibraltar, last Saturday during the vile weather when it lost an anchor. There has been the all too usual oil spill and subsequent oil slicks and cakes. The worst hit species in terms of importance looks like being the Shags which nest on the Rock. Three have been seen oiled as of a couple of days since and it has not been able feasible to catch them for rehabilitation. As the population numbers some 5-6 pairs only, the effect on this dwindling population, already under pressure, and its future looks to be bleak.


.... and autumn has come!

I see that the last blog was on 2 October and that I had detailed the first day's fruitless search for the Long-tailed Shrike -an exceedingly rare Asiatic species which the twitching fraternity would classify as a mega. The following morning some few of us managed to get to try and find it, but to no avail. The same on the morning of the 2 October, with all of eight of us looking, but again no joy. There were some super Whinchats, the males are so smart, 2 Southern Grey Shrikes and 2 late juv. Woodchat Shrikes, a Spotted Flycatcher and in the wader line a couple of Little Stints and a Ruff that didn't look too happy with life. But no L-t. Shrike. So that was it, we had tried but nothing, something to which all birders are well accustomed.

That same morning, I had scarcely had time to get myself a coffee and wander out to the terrace that same morning, lamenting the fact of no shrike of the desired sp., when I heard one of our resident kestrels raising cain very close by. Shortly a Honey Buzzard flew very nonchalantly by the front of the terrace at a range of not more than 20m, with the kestrel chasing it and making a dickens of noise, so much so it woke the dog from her slumbers in the sun, to which she also loudly objected and got her rump smacked for her pains.

A walk by the river the afternoon of 7 October did turn up 2 smashing adult Caspian Terns, my first ones this year and which will probably be the bird of the month (photo by Peter Jones).

Meanwhile, my garden has turned up quite a lot in the period 2-8 October, with some birds obviously staying several while they fed up and increased body fat supplies. Such was the case of the juv. Spotted Flycatcher which stayed from 4-7 October, a Redstart that stayed three days and a Pied Flycatcher which stayed a couple of days, while the juv. Willow Warblers (max. 2 birds per day and a single juv. Whitethroat and a single Garden Warbler (an unusual sp.) both only stayed a couple of hours.

Last weekend (3-5 October) was International Bird Day of BirdLife International. Here in Málaga the local group SEO-Málaga gets in speakers and sets up various outdoor events. This year I didn't manage to get to hear any of the speakers and the only event that I managed to get to was the open morning at the Guadalhorce ponds last Sunday morning. The public at large (sounds like a wild animal let loose, doesn't it?) loves watching the ringing of passerines and usually several hundred turn up with hordes of children, many of whom are far too noisey for my liking, as are some parents who couldn't control a somnolent hamster. However, if that's the way the future is bought, then I suppose it has to be so.

On the plus side, I see many friends, some of whom come into the 'once-a-year' category, but no less friends for that. During the time that I was there I had the very pleasant company of co-blogger Bob Wright who came down out of the hills to see how the other half live. There wasn't too much in the bird line, even though on the Saturday a Marbled Duck (or Teal if you're old-fashioned) had been seen. The unhappy Ruff had been so unhappy that it had popped it and there were a couple of Little Stints, at least one a different bird to the previously seen ones.

Today, Friday 10 October, the weather is not nice. After a sharp and very heavy rainstorm yesterday, the weathermen / women / persons got it right and we have gale force easterly winds, with rain in the wind and very heavy seas. I took the dog down to the river mouth to walk her a bit and to see if there were any birds but the weather won. The rather poor photo shows the seas sweeping over the sand bar! It was impossible to hold the binoculars steady and there were lots of gulls and a solitary adult Common Tern which had amazingly managed to catch a fish.

We shall see what the weekend brings as my knee is still giving me merry hell and I don't want to push my luck.


Virgen de la Resaca

I am very well aware that you, my readers, are undoubtedly a totally abstemious lot and that you read this blog for the high intellectual content. However, I do feel that the following may just amuse you somewhat between sips of the pre- or post-prandial drink and that you will pardon me for a little non-ornithological diversion.

You, dear readers, if you have lived here for any length of time, will be aware that for some peculiar reason many Spanish hospitals are given names such as Virgen del Rocio (Virgin / Our Lady of the Dew, in Seville) or Virgen de las Nieves (Virgin / Our lady of the snows, in Granada). However, this evening on the news I have come across the ultimate in hospital names and one which is definitely not for the abstemious.

According the TVE1 news, in Murcia there is a hospital which rejoices in the name of Virgin de la Resaca. For those whose Spanish is not up to the translation, a resaca is hangover. So, this hospital is obviously for those who do not suffer from the virtue of being abstemious as it is called Virgin /Our Lady of the Hangover.


Hunting the Long-tailed Shrike ; Arboleas Bird Group (Almería) and a PS

T'was Tuesday evening late on when Antonio Miguel, one of the wardens at the Guadalhorce (a.k.a. my second home) ang to say that he'd seen what he was certain was a Long-tailed Shrike (henceforth to be written as L-t Shrike) at the ponds at about 19.30h. Suffice to say, yesterday morning (Wednesday) four of us searched for the bird as it really would have been a major rarity find. I think that I am right in saying it would have been the first for western Europe west of Hungary and I heard last evening that some UK birders were thinking of coming down if we could relocate it! (Recession? What recession?)

We searched high and low yesterday morning but to no avail.There were plenty of Whinchats, I counted at least 7 including some lovely males, a Common Redstart, some Willow Warblers (it has been a very good autumn for them with lots of juvs. to be seen), a lateish Spotted Flycatcher and plenty of other birds, but no L-t Shrike. Last evening I heard that there had been a possible sighting so, with renewed energy and in my case a very unhappy right knee, the search resumed this morning.

We sought it here, we sought it there, eight of us sought it every ******where but we didn't find it. We did find 2 Southern Grey Shrikes and 2 juv. Woodchat Shrikes (rather late in leaving us these last), various Whinchats, 2 Redstarts, 3 Sparrowhawks and at least 6 Booted Eagles wending their way westwards. There were very few waders, no 'shanks at all, a raher unhappy looking Ruff which may go on to the great mudflat in the sky, the way it was looking, and a couple of very smart Little Stints. But no you-know-what shrike.

So, did Antonio Miguel see a L-t. Shrike? I am certain that he did, he is a very good observer, but he has suffered from it being a single-observer bird which declined to stay around long enough for others to see. This is, of course, a well known problem for those of us have birded for many years and who often bird alone.

The Arboleas Birding Group went to Cabo de Gata on Wednesday (1 October):
Lovely sunshine with little wind. Heat haze was a problem later in the day. We had a good day, totting up 42 species. A few migrants were stacked up: Woodchat Shrike, a very stupid Reed Warbler near the public hide, who thought he was trapped 5ft 6" up a 6ft fence!! There were 22 Curlews feeding on the scrubland, together with a cricket-chasing Cattle Egret. The large numbers of Black-tailed Godwits and Avocets had moved on. 365 Greater Flamingos were counted. Bird of the day was a juv. Peregrine Falcon.
Still no further news re my camera etc. from the Guardia Civil.

(My thanks as ever to Dave and Gilly for adding some biological diversity to this site!)

PS: At home I did have a single Honey Buzzard go west right in front of the terrace while having a coffee just after getting back from the ponds, it being hotly and noisily pursued by one of the resident Kestrels which had a real attitude to its airspace being invaded! There is still a Pied Flycatcher in the garden.


Arctic Warbler and Long-tailed Shrike

The Arctic Warbler found at the laguna de Medina (Cádiz province) on Sunday by two Finnish birders was refound yesterday afternoon (Monday) in the same place, more or less in front of the hide.

Yetsrday evening (Monday), about 30 mins. before sunset, a female Long-tailed Shrike Lanius schach was found at the Guadalhorce ponds, Málaga, by Antonio Miguel Pérez. It was not relocated this morning in spite of an intensive search.

Both of these, if accepted will comprise first records for Spain.


Arctic Warbler at Laguna de Medina; Sunday morning at the Guadalhorce

Arctic Warbler at the laguna de Medina, Cádiz province
I received a message from Martin Hellin in Finland late afternoon to say that some Finnish birders had been watching an Arctic Warbler a few minutes before.

Sunday morning at the Guadalhorce
The below is from Patricia, to whom I am most grateful for her report and making me envious, who circulated it to members of our Sunday morning group - the domingueros - who were conspicuous by our absence!

What a morning you lost! Ater so long without getting out to watch birds I had to go to the Guadalhorce this morning. First I went to point where we used to go in before crossing the sandbar to see what the state of things was and saw two people crossing the beach to go in.

So, I went in my car to the school, went in by the new bridge and directly to the big pond (Laguna Grande) where I met up with Javier y África who had just seen a Squacco Heron. A Booted Eagle there all the morning. The Osprey flew all over the place searching for clean water to fish as the sea was the colour of mud and river as always these days. Later there was a Marsh Harrier. Also while we were there, there was a Kestrel hunting behind us. There were some 50 Little Grebes together, a single Black-necked Grebe, Common Teal everywhere, 3 Cormorants.... a juv. Flamingo, a few gulls - Lesser Black-backed, Black-headed, Audouin's, a lot of Grey Herons and Little Egrets.

At the laguna Escondida there were plenty of Pochards, Little Grebes, White-headed Duck, Coot, Moorhen and a single Kingfisher. With the wind (it was an easterly, known here as a levante) water was being blown into the observatory and we all got wet backs. At Casilla observatory there was nothing to be seen except a beautiful Kingfisher which sat for us.

At the next observatory there was a lot to be seen. A beautiful juv. Ruff, Dunlin, Little Stints, Curlew Sands., Common Sandpiper, Redshank, Greenshank and Spotted Redshank, Avocet and Stilts. There were more Teal, Little Tern, gulls, House Martins, Sardinian Warblers, Serins and Starlings.

At times the light was poor and we couldn't see well, but at others it was excellent. It was a great morning which I thoroughly enjoyed and when I looked at my watch for the first time it was one pm..

And it is still raining! Hurray!!! Only 1 juv. Willow Warbler and a Pied Fly. in the garden today.


My garden in the rain

Those who know me know of the quantity, and in some few cases the quality, of species (about 108) which I have seen from my terrace as fly-bys, fly-overs or quite simply in the garden. The best time for species in the garden is obviously in the migration season and especially when there is low cloud, with or without rain. So, these past few days when we have all the conditions it has been pretty good. There have been Pied Flycatchers on three occasions since Wednesday, and also migrant Willow Warblers - all juvs. and some so brightly coloured that today that my wife called that she had see a canary!

This afternoon was undoubtedly the best, with the two species previously named, 2 being Willow Warblers and a single Pied Fly., plus a juv. Spectacled Warbler and a juv. Subalpine Warbler. Not bad for an urban garden, and some little consolation for being confined to barracks with this rubbish right knee!

At least I have made up my mind to get on with the seabird guide that has been sitting in a state of more or less suspended animation for far too long.

Guadalhorce ponds, 26 September

I am stuck at home with severe tendonitis in my right knee and on the point of starting to suffer withdrawal symptoms (what shall I do without going to the ponds on a Sunday morning?). However, Steve Penn and his nephew went down there yesterday morning and didn't get rained upon.

We had a smashing morning's birding, with it being overcast the light was perfect and we saw some lovely birds, great close ups and scoped veiws of Whinchat and Booted Eagles, 3 Sparrowhawks, 2 Marsh Harriers, 1 Squacco Heron, Willow Warblers, loads of Fan-tailed Warblers and many more. Wader-wise not too much, 3 Knot, 1 Redshank, 1 Greenshank, 4 Curlew Sands, Turnstone, LRPs, Sanderling, 1 Avocet - best days birding since I was there with you in the spring. (--) It was a shame that you couldn't have been with us (my sentiments too!) but it was a last minute decision to go as they´d predicted rain for the next few days and we weren't sure whether to go or not , but I'm mighty glad we did.


21 September, Guadalhorce ponds

An enjoyably wet morning all over the coast and inland today, 23 September, even though my dog doesn't like rain, and a Pied Flycatcher in my garden in Torremolinos during the morning.

Take a look at Bob Wright's blog http://birdinginaxarquia.blogspot.com/ on his visit to the Guadalhorce this last Sunday, 21 September.


19 September, Arboleas Bird Group and a cautionary tale

Dave and Gilly Elliott-Binns have sent the below. The birding was pretty good and through this blog two Spanish birders have joined the Arboleas Bird Group, which is ¡jolly good news as I am certain that all involved profit. However, what ended their day was very much less than pleasant and should be treated as a warning.

I have been robbed three times in my time here, once from the car and twice directly, the last at least 17 years ago, but the experience is not nice. I was advised to give them all rather than end up with extra orifices in the body. If anything similar happens to any of you, dear readers, please get straight on to the Guardia Civil and let them handle it. Their emergency number is 062.

Dear Andy and members of the Group,
The journey down to Las Norias didn't look to hopeful with quite a lot of rain, but by the time we'd had a cup of coffee and met up with one of our new Spanish birders, Juanjo, we, Norman, Gilly, Jenny and myself went down to our first stop, which is the causeway at the other end from the plastics factory. Lots of Yellow Wagtails around. A good view of a Purple Gallinule. We then moved round to the heronry stop-off. Juanjo had heard but never seen a Great Reed Warbler. I spotted one in an isolated area of reed/scrub whilst having a stroll a few metres down the road. We managed to get Juanjo a quick view of it with the use of my MP3 player. Yes, cheating I know! He also got another lifer there, a Whinchat. There were also 4 late Collared Pratincoles and maybe the last of the Pallid Swifts.
We then moved round to the causeway near to the factory, where we chanced upon a birder called Les from Turre. We told him about the group and that he had other birders living in his home town. From there we saw Marbled Teal, Squacco and Night Heron and Little Bittern. As we were waiting for the second Spanish birder, Juan, to meet up with us, we strolled down a track. We were surprised to see a small flock of a dozen or so Northern Starlings fly over, we usually see them only in winter.

Then we walked back to the locked and secured cars, or so we thought. Somehow, my car had been entered. The box containing my camera, lens's and MP3 player had gone together with Jenny's Mobile and a rucksack of Normans containing his bird book and glasses. How they got into the rear of my truck I'll never know. Juan and Juanjo got onto the Guardia Civil. Thank god they were with us. Gilly phoned to Jens' mobile and got a short reply. About 5 minutes later "they" phoned and said for €700 we could have the stuff back.

Well, to cut a long story short, which involved lots of phone calls, undercover Guardia Civil, guns being fired, foot chases, me being thumped, and the two offenders being lost by the Guardia. However there is very slight hope of some sort of recovery. Jens' mobile was recovered from the vehicle the Guardia stopped. They believe they know at least one of the thieves, and plans are afoot for arrests. They (los bastardos) had no intention of returning the stuff if I handed over money and the Guardia Civil said that they were going to rob me and run. I was okay at the time, but now reality's hit me of what could have happened. Things can be replaced. We then spent 4 hours at police station making statements. Juan, his wife Maria, and Juanjo were wonderful.

More on erythristic Little Ringed Plovers

Joan Carles Fernández Ordoñez, who was with me the day that we saw the two Little Ringed Plovers with the reddish erythristic plumage (see entry and photos on 24 August, as well as Mike Clarke's comment) has sent me a photo he took and the comment that he thinks that perhaps the colouring is due to bathing in the same muddy water.

I do not agree with JC because the birds were identically coloured and think that the odds on two bathing and getting identically stained are very small. However, here is his photo of one of the birds.

Dave Elliott-Binns, Almería

Having been away since 10 September, I'm now back from Madeira (great sea-birding, I may tell more at some point but it's hardly on the coast) and then going virtually straight on to the first Tarifa Bird Fair (more about that also in the next day or so), and having waded through the first 500 e-mails (seems like it and there's an equal quantity of spam!) I shall publish the first from Dave Elliott-Binns about his excursion on 11 September, the photo is Dave's of course, and tomorrow a second and rather cautionary report from him.

Hi Andy & fellow members,
Having seen the weather forecast - thunderstorms coming from Morocco - Norman and I weren't too optimistic about a good birding day at Cabo de Gata. It rained on the journey down and then the heavens opened as we ate a tostada breakfast a few miles from the reserve. Luckily Cabo de Gata is pretty well endowed with observation hides, so we only got slightly wet getting undercover at the first hide. It was only spotty rain now, but there was thunder and lightening all around us.
Lots of waders seen from here: 5
Oystercatchers, hundreds of Black Tailed Godwits and the usual compilation of smaller plovers, Dunlin and Stints. There was a huge flock of Avocets, probably over 100, feeding in close, organised formation feeding on a shoal of shrimps, presumably, the peripherals being dive bombed by Little and Black Terns. Huge panic ensued as a male Marsh Harrier flew over. We picked up Curlew and our first of a few Northern Wheatears at the next hide and a pair of Black-necked Grebes at the public hide. After a coffee break, we ventured round the rear of the reserve. Even though the rain had now stopped and clear skies were approaching from the south-west, the track was very sticky and the 4x4 was needed. Half a dozen Stone Curlews were on the scrubland. How is it they're not fazed by a 2.5 diesel engine, but fly off in panic at the minimal sound of a digital camera being switched on?
Then everything became very interesting. Two female
passed by, closely followed by Montagu's HarriersCommon & Alpine Swifts. Chiffchaffs and Spectacled Warblers were playing in the bushes. A Honey Buzzard and Black Kite drifted south, followed by a female Marsh Harrier. We carried on down the track towards Pujaire and saw a Booted Eagle being harrassed by a pair of Kestrels. Just before we reached the end, a late Black-eared Wheatear was seen and close by a Tawny Pipit, and overhead a very dark phase Booted Eagle. We ended up with 57 species. The most difficult birds to find were House Sparrow and White Wagtail!


TARIFA BIRD FAIR, 18-21 September

Take a look at the website:



various, including the Guadalhorce today

It's been an odd (ie. peculiar) week and I didn't even get anything written about the Guadalhorce last Sunday, so here goes.

Last week I had a good bellyache about the lack of raptors at Tarifa-La Janda on Saturday, and it didn't help me to hear later that the same day I should have been in the Algarrobo-Gib. area where they recorded 26.000 (more or less) Honey Buzzards moving southwards - honest, that figure is correct. You win some, you lose some.

Last Sunday, 31 August at the Guadalhorce there was the usual selection of waders, the outstandingly plumaged Grey Plover was still present, as were a few Curlew Sands and one or two others. As often walk my dog down by the river in late afternoon, I have been able to watch 4-5 juv. Little Terns that have been present every afternoon and Friday there were at least 24 Black Terns present also.

And after the erythristic Little Ringed Plovers, a leucistic Barn Swallow was feeding over the river on Friday afternoon. Andrés Serrano and myself saw one close by many years ago, an interesting basically mid beige colour with darker throat and white underparts, and I do know the difference between a Barn Swallow and a Sand Martin, of which there have also been a few this week.

This morning, Sunday, 7 September, at the Guadalhorce there were very few waders, incredibly few considering but there was large-scale compensation as we had a nice straggling flock of at least 600-700 Honey Buzzards move across E-W with at least 7 Black Kites and a single Booted Eagle.
At about 10.10 I rang Blas and Paco at the Mirador del Aguila to the NW of Fuengirola (it's in the new book) to warn them and the first ones appeared there about 40 minutes later. Updates on this movement by Blas gave that they had censused c.700 Honey Buzzards moving W by 11.25 and no less than c.2.000 had flown W by 1315! That's what I calla big movement. They are turning up some good raptors there and it's a site that's well worth a visit if you are in the area.
I later checked with Bob Wright who lives near the Viñuela Reservoir, more or less NE inland from Málaga and he had seen no Honey Buzzards this morning, although he had seen the first 6 Griffon Vultures moving W late yesterday. These are late migrants which will continue moving W into November, with the biggest movements in the second half of October.

It's just as well the raptors appeared today at the Guadalhorce because there was very little else to watch and it was some compensation for last Saturday's cop-out in the Strait. We have never seen so many raptors before at the ponds as they overfly between the sierras to the east and behind Málaga to those west of the airfield. I bet the control tower was watching them carefully as they overflew the airfield and there was a marked lack of air traffic.

My friend Teo, a great photographer, has put together a bundle of his photos of the Black Storks that have wintered in the province these can be seen at his blog at www.surfbirds.com/blog/andalucianature

I shall be away with the wife on Madeira for a week as of this coming Wednesday, 10 September, until 17 September, so there will be no postings for about two weeks. I hope to see some good seabirds, especially the Fea's and Zino's Petrels as we have two day trips booked to the Desertas Islands from Funchal.


Please, send me some birds!

I don't mind not seeing vast quantities of birds on migration, I've seen more than sufficient in my life, but at least when I go somewhere specially I do hope to (a) see some variety and (b) see a few well, not rare ones, just see 'em well - and it's not because of failing sight! So, I managed ti get down to Tarifa today and if I tell you that the most exciting thing that happened was a flat tyre, you might get the idea that there was sweet damn all to all intents and purposes.
I was on the beach at Los Lances by 0745 (I go in opposite the petrol station) and there was NOTHING, unless you count half a dozen Ringed Plovers, three or four distant LB-Bs and a Whimbrel that looked as though it was suffering from Alzheimer's, wandering around as though it had forgotten what it was supposed to be doing, plus a scattering of Short-toed Larks heard rather than seen.
After coffee and toast at the bar-hotel San José del Valle, off to La Janda and down to the canal. OK, I admit that there was a good sized flock of c.200 Calandra Larks, but that's to be expected at this time of year. Yes, there were at least 1.500 White Storks sitting around for the day to warm up, and when it did, they were off on the Road to Morocco (that was with Bob Hope and Bing Crosby, in case you have forgotten) and there is a decent number in the photo, I promise, it's just that you need Holmes' magnifying glass to see them! Failing that, click on the photo to enlarge it and keep the gramdchilden happy counting how many there are! I don't, so don't ask me.

There were a lot of Glossy Ibises moving around, somewhere in the range 225-250 probably, a nice male Marsh Harrier and distant female later, a juv. Montagu's and apart from a single Short-toed Eagle and 7 or so Black Kites later (my photo!).

Perhaps the most interesting of the day and it wasn't even a bird, was a Mongoose, yes, a real live one which waltzed across the track by the canal!