23 May, Fuente de Piedra

I had intended to go up to Fuente de Piedra this morning (Saturday) but things didn't pan out as planned (which happens with ever-increasing frequency, I find), so when the Gauleiterin suggested going up there this afternoon, it didn't take too much for me to agree with her. So, off we trotted, arriving there in decent, reasonably warm, sunshine but later dpearting under lowering skies and damned big drops of rain but not enough to clean the car, it's so dirty I shall have to take it to the carwash.

But between the coming and the going, there was something to see, although both variety and numbers have fallen greatly since my last visit. Even before we had parked, I could see some Black Terns - probably about 15 of them - swooping around erratically over the flooded area and on the same water there were some Flamingos and an assortment of other species, notably Avocets and Gull-billed Terns, these elegant and noisy as always in which they were joined by a few Black-winged Stilts, and a few other waders. There was less than a hand of Redshanks in total, no stints of any sort, a solitary Common Sandpiper and out on the lake itself some 35-40 resting Ringed Plovers.

There were, of course, lots of Greater Flamingos in sight, some ridiculously close on the new flash, including the ringed one shown here - 4 bar F6, one from Fuente de Piedra which was ringed in 1994 - but a prolonged scan revealed no Lessers, not that the heat haze helped with identifying anything at distance. So, we staggered around to the hides where the wife hoped to see some ducklings of any sort, she's not choosy! She did see a couple of baby Coots with their ridiculously sparsely downed heads through which the red shows. and which, for some abstruse reason, reminded me of the not very lamented, recently resigned Speaker of the House of Commons. However, her afternoon was made when a female Red-crested Pochard hove in to sight with her flotilla of 10 young ducklings, these not more 3-4days old, I reckoned. We were also given the opportunity of admiring a couple male Red-cresteds with those ridiculously red bills and there were 3 females in total on the same pond. The single male White-headed Duck remains on the pantaneta del pueblo, it's either unwell or mentally retarded (my bet) if it hasn't got the sense to fly off in search of a female at this time of year!

By that time the clouds were gathering and over towards the Sierra de Yeguas it was raining so we made slow progress towards the car during which time the flock of Ringed Plovers took off, callling loudly and slowly gaining height as they headed northwards. I wonder where these late birds must be going, somewhere very far north like Spitsbergen or Novaya Zemlya (use Google if you don't know here it is!) is my bet as they are very late and still have an awful long way to go.

Under the darkening clouds I stopped for a last scan of the flamingos and picked up two Lessers, a long way off but sufficiently clearly that the wife even managed to pick them out all on her own. The first rain drops were falling on our heads (reminds me of a song from a certain film) as we got to the car and I had just stowed everything in the back when I heard two Greenshanks calling urgently.

Now, I like Greenshanks, they are my favourite wader, they are very attractive in a subdued sort of a way, I have a lovely print of one by an English artist Chris Lodge (you can find his name and a link to is work by checking in Google) and I expect it to call any time! Greenshanks have class, not like the riff-raff of the Redshanks who shout loudly and panic about everything, so equally urgently I got out scope and binoculars and went off to try and see these two equally late migrants. I couldn't really miss them as they were being very noisy, which is quite something for a Greenshank, and so were easily located as they swept back and forth, obviously nervous which is feature of waders on migration, settled long enough to allow me to ensure that neither was wearing colour rings and then they were off, also on a northerly track. And where would they be going? Anywhere in northern Norway and across into Russia at this date. It's a long, long way!
You need big maps and some romance in this birding game!


21 May, Guadalhorce

This is a short blog of yesterday's morning visit to the Guadalhorce with Bob Wright and members of his ad hoc group from the Axarquía. I enjoy groups and outings like these as we are not organised, there is no set leader, each contributes/asks according to desires/needs and talks about all and everything, plus it is an easy pace - just what one needs to relax, which is what birding is all about for most. So, after a start around 0930, off we jolly well went ...not that there was a lot to see.

We are just about at the end of the wader migration season and the last big push of Arctic-bound birds I had hoped for has not materialised this year. They must have overflown us, testimony to the good weather. Result: only half a dozen or so Dunlin, 2 Curlew Sandpipers, 5 Redshanks, a couple of Sanderlings and a single Ringed Plover. On the other hand the resident breeders, the Little Ringed and Kentish Plovers were in evidence, and there were baby Black-winged Stilts everywhere - Antonio Miguel told me some days since that he had some 52 nests controlled this year.

These baby plovers and stilts are delightful when very young, little balls fluff on long legs as the two shots show, and in the case of the last named, I often wonder how they manage to get the long legs in to a shell! We saw surprisingly few ducklings, but these did include a pair of White-headed Ducks with 4 young and a Coot with a red-headed young bird (they are half baldwith a bright red head!)..

As for the remainder of interesting things. On the old river, resting, a good group of Sandwich Terns, two or three Audouin's Gulls and a single, very smart, adult Slender-billed Gull which must have counted as bird of the day (for me at least) and which most managed to see, although the views were somewhat distant. Some saw a Squacco Heron, which eluded me.

I don't think that there are going to be too many more blogs from there and in general between the end of this month and the end of July, when the return - one hardly dare say 'autumn' - migation will start. We are entering the quiet and hot season, quiet as birds are all breeding or have bred and are resting and starting to moult, and hot for us humans as in order to avoid heat haze one needs to be in at dawn or very shortly thereafter and coming out by 11.00 at the latest


13 May. Arboleas Birding Group, Cabo de Gata

Another very welcome report from Dave and Gilly. The shot of the very distant Great Bustard (there have been other occasional records in the Las Almoladeras-Cabo de Gata area) doesn't show enough to warrant putting in, but the lovely little male Kentish Plover certainly does.

Once again, we, Gilly and I, headed back to our favourite local birding site, Cabo de Gata. The weather as we left Arboleas was lovely and sunny, but as we reached our destination there was a cloud covering and a bit of a breeze from the west, so at least we had no heat haze problems.

At the first hide the most numerous birds were Avocets. Amongst them were a few Black-winged Stilts, Shelducks, Mallard and Kentish Plovers on the shoreline. On the scrub behind us we thought we heard a Golden Oriole, but mimicking Spotless Starlings were about.

Things improved when we got to the second hide adjacent to the beach. There were loads of Little Terns diving for food and Sandwich and Common Terns heading out over us to feed out to sea. I then clocked a distant large tern with a red bill. Having seen the report of a possible Elegant species a week or so ago here, my heart missed a beat. I couldn't convince myself it wasn't a Caspian Tern. I was pleased with that. In the pool to the right we spotted a single Marbled Duck and in the scrubland we saw a pair of Spotted Flycatchers. Gilly's Greater Flamingo count was 324.

At the public hide our wader species number was increased with the sightings of Grey Plover, Dunlin, Black-tailed Godwit and Ringed Plover.

Usually our best area is round the rear of the reserve, but as we slowly meandered our way, there was very little to be seen. Suddenly I noticed a large bird flying up the middle of the salinas. I honestly couldn't believe my eyes.....a Great Bustard. Luckily Gilly grabbed the camera and got some distant "record" shots. We backtracked to the area where we thought it had landed but it had submerged itself into the scrubland. Smugly we headed for lunch, only to be rewarded with a Black Kite near the visitor centre. Kites are not common at all this east in Andalucia.

A very pleasing day. A final count of 39, but if we'd only seen the Bustard it would have been a

good day. Off to Extremadura next week.....lots of Bustards hopefully!!

Dave & Gilly


8 + 10 May, Guadalhorce, plus odds and sods.

After a rather less than pleasant Friday morning (08/05), I was glad to have the opportunity to get down to the ponds on Friday afternoon with Federico Vallés, which provided some consolation. It was warm but there was some breeze to ameliorate it. His company is always most welcome, but he met me with the news that when coming down from Córdoba the previous afternoon, at km.90 going towards Antequera, a Black-shouldered Kite flew 15m in front of his car, which had made him extremely happy.

On the bird front there were not vast quantities of waders, nor was there so much variety with a total of 10 spp., with a slight increase in Ringed Plovers with 15+ spread around and 10 each of Redshank and Dunlin. The sight of the first small Black-winged Stilts is always very attractive. Rather more interesting was the presence of some 10 Slender-billed Gulls, one of which was colour ringed but there was too much heat haze to read it, and another showed a beautiful rose pink breast. A solitary Whiskered Tern still moulting into breeding plumage hawked its way up and down the old river. For the rest, a single European Turtle Dove was my very late first for the year.

This morning, Sunday, I was down again, in company with Bob Hibbett and Federico and although it was cool when we went in before 09h, it definitely showing the first signs of summer heat when Bob and I left just before noon. On the bird front, a Purple Boghen had been seen, thus reinforcing rumours that they might be breeding at long last!

Antonio Miguel managed to dampen our feelings by telling us that yesterday (Saturday) he had seen 3 Squacco Herons, but we managed to out-count him with first a flock of 6 along with a single Cattle Egret (had it got delusions of grandeur?) which flew over, circled aroud and we last saw them moving off E over Málaga city, and then later another 4 at the main pond, the laguna grande. Bon and I also saw, very briefly, a solitary male Little Bittern at the laguna escondida. We had also seen a flock of c.6 European Turtle Doves hurtle over and a single one showed off in the very top of one of the eucalyptus.

As usual, the old river area turned up the waders, but again only 10 spp which is not a lot for this time of year. Numbers too were very similar to those of Friday but there was the addition of a very fine Grey Plover in full breeding plumage and when returning there was another, equally fine, at the laguna grande and its photos are shown here, note also the adult male Little Ringed Plover in the left hand one.

Antonio Miguel tells me that he has controlled no less than 52 nests of Black-winged Stilt (give or take one or two each way), an increase over the 45 or so of last year. There were also 2 Little Terns to attract the eye but really little else.

From elsewhere, numbers of waders at Fuente de Piedra have fallen considerably this past week, but there could still be some interesting birds to come. A Pectoral Sandpiper was reported from there this last week, the second of this spring. (Peter Jones, per Bob Hibbett).

However, the consolation is that there are still three weeks of wader migration to come and very often the late surge of birds heading for the high Arctic can produce something interesting.

Late news at 22.30h, that today must have been migration day for Squacco Herons, as at the Punta de lagos, Vélez Málaga, this evening, at
18:00 there were no less than 22 birds (A. García, en avesforum).

And finally, whilst awaiting the definitive figures, yesterday, 9 May, an estimated 10.000 Honey Buzzards arrived in the Tarifa area from Africa, and there were large numbers of this sp. and also Black Kites today, Sunday, with more yet expected this coming week (Alex Onrrubia, in avesforum).


7 May, Arboleas Birding Group, Sierra María

Having spent the morning waiting around for scans in a Málaga hospital (yes, they have found my brain!) and then lunch I went straight out and had a lazy, very pleasant afternoon at the Guadalhorce with Federico who is down from Córdoba. So, having come back and the sun has fallen and faced with writing a blog, I opened up the laptop to find the below from Dave and Gilly, along with a bundle of his imagery (this is an americanism and really means photos), I shall cherrypick and pop the best in instead. By the by, note that Dave says they saw Chiffchaff, this must be the Iberian Chiffchaff. Were they singing differently?

As I expect to be at the Guadalhorce on Sunday, I shall combine the two visits in one blog, but there was little to see and stimulate double backward flips with tuck.

Due to commitments and absentees, Gilly and I decided to change our destination and head back to the Sierra de Maria. This is the best time of year there for birds, in my opinion, and we didn't want to miss out. The weather was glorious., sunny, no clouds, and a light breeze to keep the temperature at a pleasant level. Ideal for photography.

We arrived at the chapel to be greeted by a Rock Sparrow on the cross and the song of an invisible Golden Oriole from the tall trees. We saw the first of many Crossbill in the higher branches and a Nightingale was in the shrubs. On the way up to the information centre, we met the head ranger, who informed us we had a couples of hours peace and quiet before a coach load of school kids arrived! Gilly spotted a bird singing away in a distant pine tree - our first Orphean Warbler of the year. Once we got into the Botanical Garden proper the commonest birds were Bonelli's Warblers. They were everywhere. We also saw a few Chiffchaff, Melodious and Subalpine Warblers, but surprisingly, no Sardinian. A single Short-toed Eagle floated over. We were very pleased to see a Blue Tit was nesting in the box we donated a couple of years ago.
Sure enough, at the designated time, we heard, from a great distance, the arrival of the kids, so we made our way to the La Piza woodland cafe for lunch, during which we were entertained by two pairs of Booted Eagle (3 pale, 1 dark morph) playing in the thermals directly above us. The usual Crossbills were drinking at the fuente. The arrival of the school kids curtailed further relaxation.

On the plain were two pairs of Northern Wheatear and singles of Calandra & Lesser Short-toed Larks. Six Griffon Vulture soared over. Our first Roller of the year was seen on the way back. It was then back over the mountian range towards Chirivel. The track had been graded so is now okay for non 4x4's. Stonechat and Black-eared Wheatear completed our 49 species for the day.


May Day at Fuente de Piedra

Another extraordinary morning at Fuente de Piedra with lots of waders, not the same quantity of numbers or species - only 13 today - as last Saturday, but with 2 new spp.- singles each of Bar-tailed Godwit and a splendid Knot in virtually full breeding plumage, as were some lovely adult Curlew Sandpipers, some an incredibly dark brick red. On the negative side, no Temminck's Stints.

Rather surprising was the continued presence from last Saturday of both male Ruffs, the darker one even further into full breeding plumage, and the female - the Reeve - with her 6 rings, plus a bundle more of them. By the by, this female was ringed on 5 May 2006 at Wommels, Iens, Netherlands so she is just under 3 years old.

There were more Whiskered Terns, very smart, with a peculiar croaking call which sounded more like aerial frogs! This morning we saw a total of 5 Lesser Flamingos, the sixth hopefully practising her incubation skills. Rather surprising was a distant Black Kite.
On the negative side, and leaving aside the fact that I am not a great lover of the human race unless they are birders (and not even all of them), the presence of the masses at Fuente de Pîedra in the late morning was a disaster, as they are (a) noisy, (b) are sufficiently ignorant that they walk in front of those who are obviously watching and/or trying to photograph them, (c) let dogs and little children off their leads (it is a reserve) and (d) in some cases were incapable of keeping to the paths and wandering all over the sodding place and putting up the birds, thus enabling those who do want to see them to watch them disappear rapidly over the horizon.

And not a warden in sight!

I shall be blogging about this in the not too distant future when I have some nicely incriminating photographs and any of you who wish to contribute with details of date, time, place and offence are very welcome to do so!