28 January, Arboleas Bird Group trip (Almería)

Another trip to the Arboleas Group, and the very welcome report from Dave and Gilly, with Dave's two photos as accompaniment.

After a week of extremely high winds, the weather forecast for the Almeria region was very encouraging. It was with some apprehension that we set forth for Las Norias. As some of you will know, the last time we ventured there our car was broken into & expensive camera equipment stolen.
Six members of the Arboleas Birding Group, including two very welcome new ones, arrived at the first causeway. Bright sun & most importantly virtually no wind. The water level however was high, so the scrapes were covered. The only waders we saw all day, if you can call them so, were two Lapwings! On the water were hundreds of Shoveler & Coot, numerous rafts of White Headed Duck a few Pochard & Mallard and the odd Black-necked & Little Grebe. Round the edges were Chiffchaff in large numbers, whilst overhead Crag Martins were in abundance. An over-wintering or very early Barn Swallow obligingly rested on the power cables not 10 metres from us, so I was able to get a photo for the record. A Kingfisher shot past & about 25 Cormorants and a Grey Heron were standing sentry down the far end.

We then moved to the spot overlooking the deserted heronry. Gilly spotted the first of two Bluethroat for the day. A Cetti's Warbler was heard but not seen. From the causeway near to the plastics factory, we saw several Red-crested Pochard, a pair of Gadwall and my first Tufted Duck in Southern Spain in 6 years!
We then popped over to check up on the Red-knobbed Coot at Roquetas and were pleased to find 6 individuals on the pond near the hotels.
Our final score was 39 species. A great day that removed some cobwebs and a few ghosts of the past!

Dave & Gilly


colour ringed Greenshank

In my last blog (Sunday 25 January) I mentioned the colour ringed Greenshank and promised to post details of it. So, thanks to the marvels of modern communications (ie. internet) and rapid replies from the UK (thanks to Pete Potts and Anne de Potier of the Farlington Ringing Group; for more information on their Greenshank project, go to http://www.greenshank.info/index.asp).

So, herewith the life story, which is quite a long and interesting one, YL-NY (yellow over green on the left tibia, black over yellow on the right tibia, above the leg joint, as can be seen from the photo taken when it was ringed in September 2005, and there is a photo composite of the bird where both rings and radio tracking antenna can be seen, which was taken by Teo on 21 January 2008 when he saw it up-river.

8.9.2005 Ringed Thorney Island, Chichester Harbour, Sussex, UK as a juvenile.

3.1.2006 Sighting at Peñon de Zapata, c 3km inland from mouth of R Guadalhorce, Malaga, Spain by Angel García López (reported as YG NY but subsequently confirmed as YL NY), reported by Andy Paterson. Noted as having deformed lower mandible.

12.4.2006 Sighting at Guadalhorce ponds, by Andy Paterson. Andy said it was one of 5 that arrived night of 11/12 April, 3 very tired including this one. Moved out by the following morning.

10.8.2006-2.11.2006 Reported on several occasions at Thorney Island by Barry Collins (all Thorney sightings are his.)

12.9.2007 First autumn record of the season at Thorney (UK).

28.10.2007 It was retrapped and radiotagged at Thorney. It was in and around the area regularly from 29.10.07 to 21.11.2007 (last detection; the last sighting was 16.11.07).

21.1.2008 Sighting at Rio Grande, near Pizarra, Malaga province by Teo Todorov

26.2.2008 Sighting at Guadalhorce ponds, by Andy Paterson. It was asleep, with 4 other birds.

17.4.2008 Sighting at Thorney Island (UK).

31.7.2008, 20.8.2008, 31.8.08 Sightings at Thorney Island (UK).

24 & 25.1.2009 Sighting at Guadalhorce ponds, by Andy Paterson and Antonio Tamayo.

If that isn't an incredible series of sightings, what is? It really does illustrate beautifully the information that can be obtained from ringing, and in this case colour ringing. On a romantic side, one could even make a decent attempt to construct a story around it and make a decent guess as to where it had been in the gaps in time.

So, if you see any colour ringed birds of any species, try to note what the colours were,. their position, read the code if there is one and, if possible, take a photograph of the bird. You will be helping science!


Sunday morning at the Guadalhorce and other things

Actually, I'll start with the other things, these being birds seen along the Doñana (Huelva) shore on Friday and Saturday by José Sencianes and others from Doñana. There have been some very interesting recordsd as a result of huge storms out in the Atlantic. On Friday they recorded up no less than 10 Fulmars (previously Doñana only had 2 records) and another was picked up on Saturday, most dead. Leach's Storm-petrels were recorded over the tide line on the shore and there were actually Kittiwakes sheltering in the dunes, while large flocks of Oystercatchers were seen. Another part of this storm was the presence of Kittiwakes in the harbour at Gibraltar (per Ernest García).

On Friday, Antonio Miguel Pérez took Patricia, Gonzalo and the incredible Kirri to the area around the José Antonio Valverde Centre at Cerrado Garrido, Doñana, and they had a long but very profitable day. According to Patricia and Gonzalo, in spite of the very strong winds, they saw no less than 3 Bitterns (possibly 4 but let us not be greedy!), a couple of Little Gulls, an Imperial Eagle, numerous Marsh and Hen Harriers, a Red Kite and also a Black-winged Kite, big flocks of Black-tailed Godwits and a variety of other waders including Green and Wood Sandpipers, Greenshanks and Spotted Redshanks, Ruff and so on, finishing with a nearly all white Stonechat!

Therefore, this morning's visit to the Guadalhorce was with the faint promise that we might actually see something of interest on the sea or some interesting waders. So, in company with Bob Hibbett, Patricia, Paco Rivera, Antonio Tamayo (recently a father a second time around - little does he know what awaits him with two daughters!) and later we met up with Gonzalo. There was nothing which could really compete with what Gonzalo and Patricia had seen in Doñana, although an imm. male Garganey was present and also a single male Wigeon (a much scarcer species than 20 or even 10 years since).

The water levels remain high so waders are very scarce, but we did find 2 Greenshanks, one colour ringed (which info.I shall send off later) and seen also yesterday by Antonio Tamayo, and a single Common Sandpiper, a single Snipe and a pair of Stilts.

Yesterday afternoon (Saturday) walking with my highly trained spaniel who got herself lost in the very tall vegetation at one point, there was an ad.W Little Gull sitting by the bank of the Guadalhorce and not looking at all happy with the state of the universe.

The best up to this point was undoubtedly the Richard's Pipit which forgot that it was supposed to dive into the deepest grass when it saw birders and binoculars and instead stood up and let us look at through telescopes for at least a couple of minutes.

A short (30 minute) look at the sea revealed several Black-necked Grebes and Gonzalo had earlier seen 3 Common Scoters, tons of gulls as usual but mostly too far out to identify if there was anything rare, although an adult Great Black-backed Gull did plough its way west - a first down for me down here in Andalucía after over 28 years! Unusual and far too early were 3 1st winter Common Terns, although I have occasional winter records from the 1980s.


Cabo de Gata, Arboleas Bird Group

The Arboleas Bird Group from Almería had another outing to Cabo de Gata and struck it rich, but let Dave Elliott-Binns tell the story (the photo of the gold in question is his also, my thanks to him as usual).

Hi all,
Today's usual Wednesday trip out by the group took us to Cabo de Gata. Lovely sunny day, hardly a cloud in the sky, but a cold breeze which kept a lot of the smaller birds in the vegetation.
At the first hide, a kilometre or so out of the village of Pujaire, the water level was quite low, so the waders were quite a distance away. All the usual suspects were present, Kentish Plover, Redshank,
Black-tailed Godwit & numerous Grey Plover. In the scrubland we saw the first of two Dartford Warblers
of the day. A lone Lapwing was also seen.

The second hide, off the beach road, produced 18 Shelduck, a single male Pintail, two female Wigeon, some Shoveler and a solitary Spoonbill. Rafts of Avocet were feeding and 6 Stone Curlew were cowering from the wind on the scrubland.

There wasn't a lot at the public hide. We'd previously seen the salt works Land Rover driving over the causeway so it wasn't a surprise. We did pick up Meadow Pipit & Corn Bunting on the approach and a couple of Black-necked Grebe on the water. Water levels were also down round the rear of the reserve, but we first saw a small flock of seven Ruff and the bird of the day, a single Marsh Sandpiper which was close enough to photograph (attached. Gilly also got a nice photo of a female Stonechat.
All in all a good day. A grand total of 44 species seen.

NOTE: Marsh Sandpiper is a local rarity. They are super little birds and very scarce on migration and even more so in the winter months.


16 January (part 1) : the rest of the day!

Bob Wright and I escaped today with myself venturing afield in to the hinterlands of Málaga province with an essay into Granada province. The first thing that Bob managed to show me, somewhere to the north of Zafarraya, was small group of 4 Bramblings - 2 males, a 1st winter male and a female, a species which I have never seen in Spain, and also a singing Mistle Thrush, although we could hear at least 4 more singing in the area.
From there we went on to visit the Pantaneta de Alhama, which was loaded with Coots and Pochards, with a few Shovelers. According to a chap from Medio Ambiente, the Red-knobbed Coot that got there by foul means in October (see earlier blog on the subject) was still present but invisible, not that we really tried very hard to find it.

Time was batting on by then, so it was time to retrace tracks and stop at Zafarraya. En route we saw a few Azure-winged Magpies - they are attractive birds - and a single proper Magpie, these being on the limit of their distribution here, as are the Azure-wings. After a quick and much needed coffee it was one to the railway track and walk westwards along it for a few hundred metres. The encounter with the Golden Eagle which stupidly upset the Peregrine has been recounted in the previous blog for today, along with Bob's photos. There was a nice flock of Red-billed Choughs, one or two very bonny male Black Redstarts and the rather more dowdy female and several Blue Rock Thrushes.

And thus homewards and the end of a very pleasant morning in a different environment with some good birds and good company. What more can one want? I must go up that way more often.

16 January : Peregrine beats up Golden Eagle

Undoubtedly the best part of the day's birding was at Zafarraya on the way back. We parked in the new car park which was being opened this same day by some local dignitary, all accompanied by an absolutely hideous piece of acoustic contamination. However, once through the tunnel and walking westwards under a lowering sky, the first thing that caught the eye - you couldn't miss it!- was a 1st winter Golden Eagle,which Bob managed to photograph, after which life took on a huge new dimension as a very irate male Peregrine Falcon decided that he wasn't going to have any damned eagles around his piece of real estate/sky.

The ensuing aerial battle was just wonderful, one of those rare things which take the breath away. How long it went on, heaven knows. Bob tried to photograph the battle with me shouting 'now' every time the Peregrine stooped, and it did with an awful lot of evil intent as the two accompanying photos show. The very odd-looking one, with the eagle in a very weird pose, is because it flipped over on to its back with its talons ready to repel attack. Heaven knows how many Gs the Peregrine was pulling when it zoomed out after each stoop. At one point the eagle made a feeble attempt to counter attack to which the falcon responded with what one must imagine was a sneer as it put on the after-burner and effortlessly climbed up 50 metres or so before resuming the offensive.

The eagle must have realised that it was on a hiding to nothing and left stage right, leaving a victorious Peregrine. At this point the female Peregrine appeared, a buxom wench with an apparently full crop, flew around a bit and disappeared. The male was also a very small bird, hardly big enough to be much more than a female Hobby, and scarcely more than half the size of the female.

The photos are Bob's.


14 January, Arboleas Bird Group

A missive from Dave & Gilly on the Arboleas Bird Group group outing today:

Hi all,
Wow, what a day!! We were a bit apprehensive about the weather, but although the
Sierra Nevada and its foothills had copious amounts of snow on them, the hills around the Embalse de Negratin, Baza, were clear. Bright sunshine and hardly a cloud in the sky. More importantly there was hardly any wind that could chill you to the bone.
Unfortunately as usual the reservoir produced very little birdlife, about half a dozen Cormorant, a Great Crested Grebe and some Yellow-legged Gulls. All the activity is below the dam wall in the secluded valley, through which a large stream flows. A Common Buzzard was in the trees and a pair of Raven flew over. Lots of Blackcap and Chiffchaff around the water's edge, together with a Grey Wagtail and a Common Sandpiper. Our key bird, Redwing, were in abundance. Must have seen at least 20. There were also 24 purest looking Rock Doves that you are likely to see on the cliff near the pumping station.
We ended up with a 35 species count. Not brilliant, but it was just great to be out in such good weather!!
Regards, Dave & Gilly


10 January, Fuente de Piedra

At last! I got out birding today and a very welcome outing it was too. I met Bob Wright (see his blog at http://birdingaxarquia.blogspot.com/),his wife Jenny and his brother-in-law Chris at Fuente de Piedra at 1030 (more or less).

A beautiful morning, but cold it was, as the frost on the grass and the large areas of ice on the fresh water with the Shovelers and Coots standing around looking miserable testified. But, as I was wrapped up like an onion and there was no wind and some very feeble sunshine which would hardly have warmed the cockles of anyone's heart, I was at least warm.

On the main lake, there were very few flamingos, just one flock of perhaps 250-300 birds and with nothing smaller standing in amongst them Neither were they feeling very frisky as I saw no display, which one usually does at this time of year. No head stretching and extending the wings en masse as they do when feeling the hormones running. All very sedate. There was a nice spread out flock of feeding Little Stints,some 40 birds I reckoned, and a couple of Dunlins thrown in for goo measure whilst a few Black-winged Stilts were around. A flock of Lapwings stood huddled up and not looking too overjoyed with life, and later we watched a solitary bird which really was very smart. A single Shelduck looked rather out of place and lost as it shoveled through the mud.

We had good views of a Southern Grey Shrike and I heard Skylarks fly over before Bob & Co. arrived. Anothe illiterate Hoopoe was seen (according to the field guides they are supposed to be in Africa now but some are seen as far north as Madrid even).

We had a look at the smaller ponds behind the centre, the main one being the Pantaneta del Pueblo with a nice hide. There we saw a couple of Green Sandpipers an a single Common Sandpiper, 3 nice Black-tailed Godwits which woke up and started feeding frantically. There were a lot of Shovelers, the ubiquitous Mallards, a pair of female Teal and some more which we didn't see but could hear chirruping (they don't sound in the least duck-like), another pair of Black-necked Grebes. A large lump of raptor on the opposite shore, unobligingly partially hidden by growth, caused a lot of thought. Whatever it was, it didn't worry a rabbit (mentally retarded?) which came to inspect it at a distance. After 300 or so photos by Bob and we still hadn't got a clue, a female Marsh Harrier dropped out of the sky and attacked it, whereupon 'our' bird took flight and revealed itself to be another immature Marsh Harrier.

From there we went on to the observation point - the mirador - at Cantarranas, stopping to watch a flock of Cranes, splendid birds, which included an adult and a young bird which afforded very good views. The view from the mirador at Catarranas gives a great view of the whole lake which was hosting several thousand gulls, I guesstimated around 15.000, with at least a 75% accuracy! 'An awful lot' would probably be a far better quantitative estimate.

At this point, we split and I returned to Torremolinos, but not before having a nice female Hen Harrier fly across the road in front of the car, excellent views of it. It was a very pleasing finish to a good morning's birding with very pleasant company.


7 January, Arboleas Bird Group, Almería

I have hardly been put at all, apart from the occasional hour early in the morning trying to spot colour ringed gulls on the shore at the Carihuela (Torremolinos), trying to fend off festivities, still struggling with a right knee which refuses to improve mobility and trying to renew work on the seabird guide for a UK publisher and there is a total lack of bird news from me, the Guadalhorce being remarkably quiet. I am, therefore, very grateful to Gilly and Dave for their report of the Arboleas Bird Group outing to the Rambla Morales area (Almería) and to Dave for the three photos with which this report is enlivened.

Hi All,
Due to the fact that only one 4x4 vehicle was available, four of us ventured down to Rambla Morales on our weekly Wednesday trip out. The weather wasn't great. The odd drizzly shower and grey.
We got to the beachside chapel and had a wander round, seeing the usual Chiffchaff, Stonechat, Greenfinch and Serin, the latter two in largish flocks. We then carried on along the bumpy track, hence the 4x4, towards the pool at the far end. On the way we saw about 50 Golden Plover & missed many more in the scrubland, no doubt. Out to sea, a single adult Gannet and a few Cormorant.
We were greeted at the pool by a flock of 25 Trumpeter Finch. There were waders and ducks in small numbers. Shoveler, Mallard, Gadwall, Teal and White Headed Duck. Ringed & Kentish Plover, Sanderling, Little Stint, Turnstone & Curlew. A single Black-necked Grebe was present. A Peregrine Falcon made a flypast as did a flock of 10 Shelduck.
We ended up with a count of 38 species. Attached are photos of a Sanderling, which I noticed was ringed when I downloaded the photo. Also a Little Stint and the Black Necked Grebe, which I didn't
"Red-Eye" out!

Gilly & Dave Elliott-Binns