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!


25 August, Almería birding (Dave E-B)

Dave Elliott-Binns was thrown out of the house yesterday, as you will read, and took off birding. I reproduce his e-mail in its entirety, along with three of his photos (Montagu's Harrier, Crested Coot and Spotted Redshank).

Hi Andy (& Arboleas Group),
With the imminent arrival of kids and grandkids, I was told by Gilly to get out from under her feet as she wanted to clean the house from top to bottom. Not wishing to incur the Wrath of Khan, a day's birdwatching was in order.

Left the house at 0645 and got down to the far end of Roquetas, Salinas de Cerrillos, by 0830. I was greeted by a Kingfisher. The Marsh Sandpiper was still there, together with the usual selection of waders, which included Ruff and Curlew Sandpiper. Heading back towards the hotels, I managed to get decent photos of Spotted Redshank and Crested Coot.
With 39 species under my belt, I headed off to Las Norias. Numerous Black Terns were joined by Sandwich, Little and Gull-billed. A pair of Marbled Teal were in the pool near the plastic recycling centre. Also there were Little Bittern & Squacco Heron. Only saw one juvenile Night Heron near the breeding area. The wintering Shoveler and Gadwall have begun to arrive. Had a chat with a birdwatching Junta ranger. Said about the viewing problems regarding the fence and vegetation. He said he didn't have a problem. He wouldn't .... he's got a key to get through the gates and the use of a company 4x4, which he stood on the roof of to see over any obstruction! I don't think so!! After a hearty lunch I headed for Cabo de Gata. 100's of cars along the beach road, but it was deserted on the salinas. Hoping to see the Elegant Tern reported previously, my heart skipped a beat when I glimpsed a red bill in a group of distant terns. Unfortunately it was a Common variety! As I was on my own I drove round the rear of the reserve. Normally we turn round at the hide and head back, but this time I carried on to see where the track came out.
Suddenly all the waders and gulls took to flight. I stopped and scanned and found a pair of Montagu's Harriers quartering the scrubland. The first time I'd seen that species there. They took my day's total to 59 species.
Very satisfying but wasn't it hot!!


Erythristic plumage in Little Ringed Plovers

The Guadalhorce hosts quite a few Little Ringed Plovers now that the breeding season is over, and many are moulting away happily. Yesterday, 23 August, along with Joan Carles, I found 2 birds, identically marked, whose plumage was abnormally coloured, and this morning, 23 August, one (the bird photographed) was still present. While the photos are far from good because of dustance and are therefore much enlarged, they do give some idea of what they were like. There is no doubt, after a prolonged examination, that they are juvenile Little Ringed Plovers.

These photos are copied, the top in each case is the untouched original, the lower one has been given a 3 point touch to accentuate the contrast and 3 points less to reduce shine in each case. This treatment actually brings the bird closer to the actual white parts body and head colour but still understates it.

Both birds stood out like the proverbial sore thumb amongst the normal plumaged LRPs which can be seen in the foreground in the left hand photos.

The white head and body was changed to a pale to medium reddish ochre colour. This was notable on the body, especially the belly area, and on the forehead and neck ring, being palest to off-white on the rear of the neck and tail feathers. The back colour was visibly sandier in tone than in more normally plumaged birds and the legs somewhat paler and more orange.

Discussing these odd birds with Antonio Miguel Pérez, we came to the conclusion that we could discount some sort of staining for the following reasons: There were two identically plumaged birds present on Saturday and that as the aberrant colouration was identical and remarkably even and not patchy we could very probably rule out the staining factor.The same feature of two identical juvenile birds present strongly suggests that this aberrant reddish plumage is a genetic feature, inherited from parents which must be carrying the same rare recessive gene.

This abnormal, and probably very rare, reddish plumage is erythristic comes from an excess of red pigmentation in the feathers and the noun is erythrism. (Aren't I just a little mine of information? Fortunately Norberto Morán told me 'cause I hadn't got a clue either!)

More photos may be forthcoming and will be added if they do. Comments and suggestions will be very welcome!

various, weekend 23-24 August

An interesting weekend with news of migrants in the Guadalhorce and Almería, an interesting plumage in Little Ringed Plovers which I shall put in a separate blog after this, a light-weight scopoe for travelling, and one little chap with a huge ego.

Migrants From Almería, Raimundo Martín (in naturand) informs of a Marsh Sandpiper seen this week in the Salinas de Cerrillos (Roquetas - El Ejido ) (observer I. Sarabia) and also of the presence on 23 August of 8 Dotterel in Las Almoladeras (Cabo de Gata) (observers I. Sarabia & Rai).
I have been down at the Guadalhorce ponds twice, Saturday and Sunday, yesterday in the company of Joan Carles Fernández Ordoñez from Cataluña, today the usual Sunday gang with the exception of Federico. Plenty of movement, with the usual waders - Dunlin, Redshank, Greenshank, Curlew Sands and so on- both days, including a splendid Grey Plover still in full breeding plumage.
There have been several Little Terns around and on 23rd Antonio Miguel recorded around 30 Black Terns and also some Whiskered.
On 23rd, passerine records included the first migrant Common Redstart (a 1stW male) and a Pied Flycatcher, while this morning a Marbled Teal flew in whilst I was testing out the small Minox 50ED telescope I have acquired.

Minox 50 ED scope I got this recently in England as a small, light (c.650 grms) scope for travel along with a lightweight tripod when taking the heavier Zeiss would be unnecessary. It's obviously not the Zeiss, but the little 13-30x zoom performs quite well, we tested it on the Marbled Teal in quite grey, overcast conditions. It's considerably cheaper than the similar 50mm Nikon. In fact, at the Bird Fair I had suggested to the head of product development for Zeiss that they consider producing one, angled body with a choice of either a 15-28/30x zoom or a fixed wide-angle 27/28x eyepiece, with a ceiling price of around 500€. We'll see what they do, if anything!

Little chap, big ideas!
Joan Carles and I found this little chap on the right this Saturday, one of this year's brood obviously, staggering across a path as though he owned it, although how he hadn't been flattened by large feet and / or a bicycle is a miracle! He even had the gall to threaten Joan with wide open mouth when he picked him up to photograph and move him! Lovely, isn't he?

PS: The photos are mine, all mine, I'm getting better! And by request from Joan Carles, the finger that the chameleon is sitting on is his!


TARIFA BIRD FAIR, 18-21 September

A bit of advertising today, this for the first Tarifa Bird Fair, translated from the Fundación Migres web site:


The first Tarifa International Bird Fair will take place between 18-21 September and hopes to bring together as many as 5.000 birders from Spain and other countries with a long tradition of bird watching, such as Great Britain, France, Holland, the Baltic countries and Germany.

Tarifa is one of the most important points in Europe for birds and 30 million cross the Strait of Gibraltar twice a year. Because of this ornithological importance, the Fair has the collaboration of organisations such as WWF/ADENA and SEO/BirdLife, as well as the Rutland Bird Fair which is considered to be most important bird fair in the world. In addition, other local groups and organisations from the area, such as the Colectivo Ornitológico Cigüeña Negra are also taking part.

The organisation is being carried out by Plegadis and a total of 110 stands is expected, these to be on a site of 1.2 hectares in front of Los Lances beach. These will house wildlife and leisure tourist companies, and especially those which offer material for and allied to the observation of birds: photographic and optical material, clothes, books and magazines, etc..

Together with the Fundación MIGRES, also taking part in the organisation and promotion of the Fair are the departments of the Environment, Tourism and Sports, Science and Business of the Junta de Andalucía regional government, as well as the Town Hall of Tarifa, the Cádiz province county council, the Sub-department of the Government for the Campo de Gibraltar and the Rural Development Group for the Alcornocales park.

And if you really like punishment, come and hear me spout some drivel about birding on the Saturday afternoon! I'll put in updates as and when I know something about it.


CALIMERO : names & pseudonyms

I would be most grateful if Calimero would contact me as I would be delighted to publish his/her comment if he/she would add his/her name. Sorry, but I do think that anyone brave enough to read and then comment on my blog should give his/her name! The same goes for anyone else.

By the by, wasn't Calimero a chick in a Spanish TV children's series just after the ark had grounded? Is this a clue to the person? If so, send me a photo!

PS: The chick on the right is the only one I know and is my daughter, just in case you're thinking vile thoughts! I am only training to be dirty old man and failing dismally, birding distracts me too often.

Back from the wet; books; Cabo de Gata and yellow-billed tern

Back from the wet after a week in England and I think that I am finally dry after 24 hours down here on the coast. The Bird Fair was very interesting and, as usual, I saw several old friends, including Manolo Rendon from Fuente de Piedra and Antonio Román Muñoz of the Migres Fundación (Tarifa); my co-author of Where to watch birds ... Ernest García and his wife and he gave me a copy of the new edition of Where to watch birds in northern and eastern Spain by Michael Rebane and himself, as well as Richard and Pat Gunn of Almería who for some obscure reason have gone back to live in the UK in Lincolnshire.

Two days on the east coast just south of Bridlington at my sister's huge immobile caravan with two wet dogs showed few birds of interest between the heavy rain squalls except a few waders, the best being 2 Grey Plovers still in breeding plumage, plenty of Common Terns and a single Arctic Tern, a single Arctic Skua, 1000+ small ducks in Bridlington Bay , of which at least 200 were Teal, and a single Merlin which must have forsaken the North Yorkshire moors and which came over the cliff at about Mach 0.95 on full afterburn and frightened the living daylights out of the few remaining Sand Martins.

Thank heavens I had bought the dvd of Sir Alec Guinness in the superb BBC version of Smiley's People by John Le Carré and which we greatly enjoyed whilst the rain battered down!

Books As usual any thoughts of not buying any books went out of the window, and apart from the one Ernest gave me, I forked out on the rather neat little Waders of Europe, Asia and North America by Message & Taylor in the Helm Field Guides series (25 GBPs) and which should be in the library of all birders. Rather more expensive was the Petrels night and day. A sound approach guide by Robb & Mullarney, this impressive tome with two CDs being rather more expensive (I daren't put down the price in case my wife happens to read this) and specialist for seabird maniacs like myself.

20 August; Cabo de Gata: The attached, slightly edited note, from Dave Elliott-Binns, the photos are Dave's (Little Stint on right; Curlew Sand. on left). I should add that I fully concur with Dave's retail therapy comment!

Hi Andy, ( + Arboleas Group),
As most group members had guests, were away or finding the oppressive heat too much, Gilly and I popped into Cabo de Gata on our way to Almeria for some retail therapy ( or boredom, depending on your gender!). The autumn southerly migration is definitely on. Many waders, Dunlin, Redshank, Sanderling, Oystercatcher, Curlew, Little Stint, Curlew Sandpiper and Black-tailed Godwit were there in numbers plus the resident Avocet and Black Winged Stilt. 575 Greater Flamingos counted. On the 'little' bird list we saw Melodious, Subalpine and Orphean Warblers feeding up for their 100 mile flight to Algeria. A family of Woodchat Shrikes were doing likewise as was a pair of Northern Wheatear.

The yellow-billed tern which I mentioned as being at Cabo de Gata just before I went to off to upset England is now rated as being a 99% certainty as Elegant Tern! And I didn't go and see it!!!! Aagh!!!!!


OFF TOPIC : chapuza

Una chapuza is a lovely Spanish word which means a mess-up, slovenly piece of work, or more basically a f***-p. Got the idea?
Now add Egmasa. Not heard of Egmasa? You're lucky, it's the company which is subsidiary to the Consejería de Medio Ambiente, or Dept. of the Environment of the Andalusian regional government. I shall explain and then you can draw your own conclusions and decide if you want to laugh, cry or just say, 'blankety-blank normal'.

We have not had decent signs at the Guadalhorce since Pontius was a pilot in spite of commments by all and sundry but, as we all know, the wheels of a Spanish administration grind exceedingly slow. Back last March, by chance, I was at the Guadalhorce and came up with Manolo Rendón, director of Fuente de Piedra and José Miguel Ramìrez, a birder and biologist, both thoroughly nice people and good friends. With them was a young lady introduced to me as Marga from Egmasa who were going the signs.

I offered to check out the English part to avoid errors and Manolo accepted my offer (I have
translated bits for him before) and I gave said Margo my card with name, e-mail address and phone numbers. After that, silence total and absolute, until a couple of weeks since when the new signs go up, all 17 of them! Ten of one and seven of the other, and all with faults in the English. Look at the attached photos and you'll see what I mean. There are no prizes for spotting them or for working out what they should be!

Now why señorita Marga of Egmasa couldn't get in touch, I don't know. Perhaps she thought that her knowledge of English is superior to mine, but it obviously isn't. The impression it gives to visiting birders with a knowledge of English is is appallingly poor, if not pathetic. But, no pasa nada, Spain is different.

I shan't rant on, it's not good for my blood pressure, but the b****y incompetence of it and of the young lady in question irks me beyond belief, especially as it is the Spanish taxpayer who suffers in the end. I know that if it was up to me, she wouldn't have a job for very long.

Just in case you come to the conclusion that I am a grumpy old git (you may well be right according to my family), I suggest that you take a look at http://www.grumpyoldsod.com/index.asp and decide if he (and I) are right or not to be so.


various, week 3-10 August

Apologies for leaving things to one side, life could be easier, so there are various bits and pieces of interest.
Perhaps the most interesting is the presence of a yellow-billed tern in a small colony of Sandwich Terns in the salt pans at Cabo de Gata for the past month although news really got out this week. There has been a lot of talk about this bird and after the possibility of it being a hybrid Lesser Crested x Sandwich (my own choice originally), I have just (Sunday) seen some video of it and now tend to think in terms of Elegant Tern, altho' the rump colour has yet to be seen. Definitely worth a look if one is near Cabo de Gata and if any kind observer can see it's rump colour clearly, do let me know. Pity I'm tied up tomorrow and off to England on Tuesday.
A Lesser Spotted Eagle was reported from up the Río Guadalhorce on Friday 8 August but given (a) the short view, (b) the lack of description (the observer never sends in descriptions) and (c) the known difficulties of separating this and Spotted Eagle with the added problem of hybrids of these two spp., this should be treated with caution. In the same place, yet another Eleonora's Falcon was seen and the same day another seen near the Parque Tecnológico near Campanillas (Málaga).
I have managed to get to the Guadalhorce ponds last Sunday (3 August), Tuesday (5 August) and today, 10 August. The outstanding feature has been the heat and relatively high humidity wich has resulted in an extremely 'heavy' atmosphere and made birding not very pleasant. On each occasion there have 11-12 spp. of waders, with nothing really outstanding although I always enjoy seeing Greenshanks and Curlew Sandpipers, 4-10 Dunlins and with singles of Ruff and Little Sint on each occasion, although yesterday (9 August) there were 11 present, and today a single Whimbrel.
There are good numbers of waders and birding around Doñana still, in spite of the heat.
Note: This will be the last posting for until at least 20 August as I'm off to get wet in England for a few days!