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.