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.