28 June, Cabo de Gata

Dave Elliott-Binns made a quickie trip to Cabo de Gata this morning, another early riser for which reason he was alone. Here is his account and his photos.

Cabo de Gata - Sunday 28th June 2009
A neighbour of mine needed to drop off a hire car at Almeria Airport, so I volunteered to collect him. We were meeting at 1115 hrs so at 0630 hrs I left home to do a bit of birding beforehand (alone - Gilly's not a morning person!) Glad I'd had breakfast before I'd left as the Pujaire cafe was closed as I passed it at 0730hrs. The news that it's summer still hasn't reached the Black-tailed Godwit population. From the first hide I saw a group of 15. The total for the day was 60 ! The most populous wader was Avocets, followed by Kentish Plover. 6 Redshank were also seen, together with a
single Curlew. There was zilch out to sea at the second hide, but on the salinas there were over 600 Greater Flamingos. Not an exact count as I was distracted by a very noisy Black-winged Stilt overflying due to a stray dog near its young, I presume. 3 Stone Curlews were spotted on the steppes. Along the beach to the public hide an opportunist Raven was checking on discarded tourist trash.
The hide itself added to the numbers of Black-tailed Godwits. Numerous Little Terns are nesting on the islands. Round the rear of the reserve, had good close views of Avocets and fluffy chicks.

Whilst driving back to the road, got some photos of a small lark. The dark patch on the breast side confirmed to me later that it was a well worn Short-toed Lark.

A flock of 53 Audouin's Gulls were resting. Slender-billed Gulls were feeding.

A total of 34 species for the day. Back here on Wednesday with the group.


Bolonia and La Janda (Cádiz)

27/06. This morning a very early start as Bob Wright and myself were heading for Bolonia with the aim of seeing both the Little and White-rumped Swifts and then going on to La Janda before it got too hot. Out of the pit by 04.45, much to the surprise of the dog, who was fast asleep, and unbeknownst to herself was coming with us and considered that she should have been left asleep until I produced a dog chew.

I met Bob on time at 06.00 just as the first fainlt light of day was showing in the east and just before 08.00 we were on station in front of the cave in the cliff face up behind Bolonia. On the way we saw the only Honey Buzzard of the trip and also a tremendously obliging Little Owl which posed beautifully at about 7m from the car, the only problem being that the cameras were in the trunk of the car and getting them out would have flushed it.
So, we watched the cave, although heaven knows for what as nothing, but nothing, went in or out. There was no swift of any damned species anywhere to be seen. There were 6 adult Griffon Vultures on the cliff and a juvenile at the nest, one of the adults bearing a yellow wing tag 9C2 (hopefully news of where that came from soon). We heard a distant Green Woodpecker and the dog was thoroughly enjoying herself and getting more and more excited - spaniels are like that - until a fox ran across in front of us and Luna showed what a wimp she really is by thinking that really it might be a good idea to go back to the car!

After nearly an hour there was no sign of any swifts on the blasted planet so down we decided to go down to the bar at the turn-off from the N-340 for breakfast. On the way down we were rewarded with brief, but very good, views of an adult Egyptian Vulture which wasprobably the best raptor of the day. So, after a much needed coffee and some solid sustenance, thence on to La Janda, enjoying a lightning glance of a female Montagu's Harrier swoop down just in front of us and grab a car strike kill by the road side before entering by the track down to the canal. The first part of the canal track was a write-off as a Biggles wanabe was flying his crop sprayer over the rice paddies and we didn't fancy a dose of anything toxic. A single Pratincole flew past and turned out to be the only one of the day. The paddies were pretty sterile, the odd White Stork, a few Little Egrets and lot of Cattle Egrets, 4 Glossy Ibises and a total of 3 immature Grey Herons, as well as Kestrels and a single female Marsh Harrier.

We tried the track back to the N-340, hoping to find juv. Pratincoles which had been seen sitting on that section of track yesterday, but they sure as hell weren't today, although there were a couple of Gull-billed Terns, rather unusual, and a 5 Audouin's Gulls (4 adults and a 1st summer bird) as well as a few Black-winged Stilts, much fewer than last year altogether.

So we back-tracked towards Benalup going across the top by what has got to be the smelliest cattle set-up in Europe. If it was mine I would be ashamed to let people see / smell it and when its wet and horrible I often wonder what the state of the hooves must be.

The long straight stretch just after going over the bridge over the canal is always good for European Turtle Doves and today was no exception and some showed themselves off beautifully. What a difference to those vulgar interlopers the Collared Doves.

We drove a few hundred meters back down the central track, I valued my car to try any more, parked and then walked a few hundred meters southwards. This proved to be quite productive, with at least a dozen or more Griffon Vultures, a couple of Booted Eagles, a buzzard sp. which may have been a Long-legged, it was an odd-looking bird at any rate. B
ut most interesting was the number of Black Kites. We must have seen at least 30, most of which were drifting south and all were in an incredibly lamentable plumage state, with primaries and secondaries missing, as well as tail feathers. I am insufficiently knowledgeable (I really know sod all) about the timing of their moults and even though Black Kites move south early after breeding, these seem very early and I wonder if they were 1st summer birds. No doubt somebody will tell me and I shall publish their reply unless they want to send it as a comment.

Oh yes, nearly forgot, we also had a split second view of a mongoose. By this time it was hot and after a brief stop at the mirador del Estrecho, just east of Tarifa, we set off back for home. A goodly day and we had seen 10 species of raptors if one counts the Little Owl and Bob reckoned that we had seen some 45 species. Not bad for the time of year and a short day's birding. I enjoyed it, Bob did and so, I think, did Luna as she is fast asleep in a cool spot.


24 June, Arboleas Birding Group, Embalse de Negratín

Thank God for Gilly & Dave's reports and photos as I am totally tied up with the illustrations. I may have a report for Saturday if the plans do not go astray! Please read the bit on colour ringed gulls at the end.

24 June, Embalse de Negratín Yet again trying to avoid the oppressive heat in our area, 5 members of the group headed north to the Embalse de Negratin, where we met up with our two Chirivel members. It was very disappointing on top of the dam. We eventually spotted a pair of Yellow-legged Gulls in the distance! Brian spotted an eagle sitting on a distant ridge. From its "jizz" the consensus was a Short-toed variety. Things improved bird wise once we'd descended to the valley below the dam. Golden Oriole was seen and heard. A Melodious Warbler was feeding 4 fledglings in a bush very close to the road. Spotted Flycatcher was noted. I ventured down to the shaded and dank brook where I saw the flash of a red-tailed brown bird, a Nightingale, fly across.

The mosquitoes attacked in force and followed me back to the rest of the group who weren't amused!! Managed to see a Grey Wagtail near to the bridge,but the flow of water coming from the dam outlet had flattened most of the reed bed and covered all the sand/gravel banks. A Raven, juvenile I think, was fruitlessly harassing the hundreds of nesting House Martins on the cliff face. A passing Peregrine Falcon would've been more successful if it had bothered!

30 species for the day + personal count of 10 mozzie bites in 30 seconds!!

(Pretty good, Dave, my record was 64 mossie bites in a day on Dovrefjell, Norway, back in 1964! The little swines even bit through thick sweaters and cord pants!)

Colour ringing There has been a colour ringing programme of Yellow-legged Gull chicks in Granada and Cádiz provinces, with several hundred ringed. These all bear an alpha-numerical code as well as the more normal metal ring. If you happen to see one and are able to read the code, the e-gulls group (of which I am a member) would be most grateful for the following information:
- colour of ring and letters/numbers and the leg on which it is placed
- code, note if reading up or down
- place, either with GPS if available or give information as detailed as possible where it was seen.
- plus observer(s) and date, of course.

I shall write in more detail about the colour ringing of gulls and other species and its scientific value at some time this autumn when I've got this bloody book finished! The photo is of an Hungarian ringed Mediterranean Gull I took in Fuengirola last autumn.


17 JUne, Arboleas Birding Group at Rambla Morales

Another of the weekly missives from Almería from Dave and Gilly, an act of bravery at this stage of the summer, even when lightened by sea breezes (one hopes) at Rambla Morales. The photos are Dave's, of course.

Anticipating serious heat problems, it was no surprise that group numbers were down this w
eek. We headed south towards Retamar, between Almeria Airport and Cabo de Gata.

Once we'd got to the beach we turned left towards the Ermita Torre Garcia, where we stopped and had a wander. Audouin's Gulls flew past, but there was nothing else of note out to sea. On the scrubland we didn't fair much better with a single Southern Grey Shrike and a few Crested Larks. We then drove in the essential 4x4's along the track towards the Rambla Morales. Small flocks of Lesser Short-toed Larks were seen on the way.

Once at the very green watered lake, Gilly counted 55
Greater Flamingos. Avocets were the most numerous waders, followed by Kentish Plovers and Black-winged Stilts. Two Black-tailed Godwits were still here. (see previous Cabo de Gata report) A single Stone Curlew showed well. On the water about a dozen White-headed Ducks were seen as was a single Slender-billed Gull. Sandwich, Gull-billed and Little Tern were seen. A total of 33 species and we were lucky with the weather as there was a cooling breeze.


Guadalhorce today

As noted at the end of yesterday's blog, I was planning to get down to the Guadalhorce this morning with Federico. We went, we saw and even if we didn't conquer we got one very good species.

0835 saw us going in over the bridge and it was already promising to be a very warm day. The laguna Grande produced nothing except half a dozen or so Audouin's Gulls and 2 adult Med. Gulls still in breeding plumage but there was heat shimmer already so views of them weren't great. So, round to the laguna Escondida in search of Purple Boghen, preferably with chicks (which David Jefferson hadn't seen yesterday) but on the way met Estebán in his Land Rover and he had looked and seen 2 chicks yesterday.

Hope springs eternal in the ornithological breast, we've got to be the biggest optimists here are after anglers, but at least we can see if there is little or nothing!

Yes, there was a Purple Boghen - one! No more. There were Coot with young. There were Gadwall with young. And White-headed Ducks. But not the object of our enterprise. Tough, but that's birding for you, so round to the laguna de la Casilla.

At first view there was not a lot. Pochards in quantity, a few Coot, a Moorhens. Then a smashing pair of Little Bittern flew across and gave brief but acceptable views and returned a few minutes later to give a fantastic but regrettably view, including the incredible red-orange bill of the male. The male Black-headed Weaver, a stunning bird with its orangey-yellow plumage, flew across after stripping a long strand of dead reed leaf, presumably it's into the nest construction industry.

And then we struck gold even though I nearly missed them as they swam across in front of us. Male duck with dark reddish-chestnut plumage and white under the tail. Female nondesript but with the same white under tail giveaway - Ferruginous Ducks! A pair of what is a very uncommon species! I managed one halfway decent shot, which is reproduced here. I hadn't seen one for years and it was a new species for Federico. So, justice was done and we had some real luck as our reward in the growing heat (remember what Mr. Coward sang about Mad Dogs, Englishmen and mid day sun), even though on the return we called in at the laguna Escondida, fruitlessly yet again, just in case.

By the by, when you go in to the reserve over the new bridge, keep eyes open for the Red-rumped Swallows. A pair is nesting under the bridge and it is possible to have superb views of them as they fly around, over and even under you!


10 June, Los Filabres (Almería), Arboleas Birding Group

As always, my thanks to Dave and Gilly for this report on the Arboleas Birding Group visit to Sierra de los Filabres. The photos are, of course, Dave's. It is interesting that they heard a Nightingale, as the males tend to dry up by about the end of May through sheer exhaustion, I reckon! Note how washed out the plumage is on the male Black-eared Wheatear.

To escape the lowland heat, 7 members of the group headed up the northern side of the Sierra de Los Filabres, heading for the Observatorio del Calar Alto. Having left the village of Tijola, our first stop was in a pleasant valley where a bridge crosses a fast flowing stream. We heard Golden Oriole, Cetti's Warbler and Nightingale, but managed to see Sardinian and Subalpine Warblers. Black Wheatears were playing on a ruined house above us. We then drove further up the foothills and stopped at a layby overlooking the valley with hills behind. We were greeted by a flock of 10 Red-billed Choughs.

On the telegraph wires were saw Corn Bunting and Black-eared Wheatear. Onwards and upwards towards our final destination, we stopped at the disused copper mine. Rock Sparrow and Crag Martin were nesting on the cliff face, but no sign of last years nesting Alpine Swift. Climbing further up onto the Observatory plateau, Northern Wheatears were common sitting on the natural rocky outcrops.

A Tawny Pipit
obligingly posed for a photo. We were now at the "summit" at some 2168 metres, 7,100ft, wandering around the Observatory buildings when we saw our bird of the day, a magnificent male Rock Thrush. We had good views of this blue/russet/white bird, but only from a distance as it sat on roadside snowpoles. Woodlark and Black Redstart were also seen. 34 species for the day, so well satisfied!

Dave and Ann Jefferson visited the Guadalhorce today (Thursday) and saw one Purple Boghen (sans any chicks) and 3 Gull-billed Terns, these failed breeders from Fuente de Piedra I rather suspect.

Yesterday, while walking the dog by the river, I figuratively ran in to Estebán (he who drives the Land Rover truck but appears to believe that walking is bad for the legs) and he had seen a Purple Heron
the previous day (Tuesday), perhaps the same as I saw last week. They bred there about 1997 or 1998. Is this a bird hanging around as a sign of things to come next year? I am going tomorrow with Federico who is down from Córdoba, so perhaps there will be more news.


a bit of blog

This is a bitty blog, that is, made up of bits and pieces (sounds like a song from many decades since, although rendered by whom, I do not remember).

This last Thursday morning, ejected from home and painting by the wife who had major cleaning plans in the lounge, I hied me off to the Guadalhorce for a couple of hot hours and was duly rewarded with very little apart from a mass hysteria of Stilts - is this a new collective noun? This morning, Sunday, Antonio Miguel tells me that there have been/are 72 nests and that the Yellow-legged Gulls are wiping them out at a great rate. However, there were Stilt chicks of all ages, from recently fledged balls of fluff who were running around on ridiculously long legs to nearly grown young which will soon be flying. There were baby White-headed, Mallard and Gadwall in broods of various sizes, although Antonio Miguel tells me that last week there were three Gadwall broods of 11, 13 and 15 respectively which will undoubtedly get wiped out.

The best of the breeding birds has been the first known breeding of Purple Boghen (a.k.a. Purple Swamphen or Purple Gallinule) at the ponds, when José Miguel Ramírez saw 3 last Friday in the laguna Escondida, which was why I was there early this morning after receiving a heads-up yesterday from Patricia, but more of that anon.

But going back to last Thursday, singles of Nightheron and an immature Spoonbill were quite nice birds to see and so also was a Purple Heron, rather a late record but there there wasn't much else and it just go too hot for comfort.

So, this morning, Sunday, and with the knowledge that I should have been getting on with the sheet of the Audouin's Gull which I laid out last night, I was up and out early to the ponds with aim of trying to see baby Boghens. And was I successful? Of course not. In an hour I saw an adult, which paraded back and forth a couple of times and then nonchalantly swam across the laguna Escondida but no sign of anything resembling a chick. Antonio Miguel arrived and he too was hoping to see them as he hadn't yesterday, although a very unseasonal pair of Pintails had dropped in. There were 2 Spoonbills, both immatures, on the laguna Grande and one was wearing a plastic ring, but thanks to Sod's Law (section, 3, paragraph 2), it was not in a readable position. They never are!

So, full of hope and impetus which has gradually waned as the morning has gone on, I hied myself off home. I have painted a bit (at least 5 minutes' worth) and then decided to write all this up, which meant opening the computer and checking mail, which takes me to the final bit of news from my friend Teo, excellent person and photographer, who lives in Coín, where he informed of 2 Eleonora's Falcons in the area and photo at the link below (copy and paste to get in to it)
And while on the subject of blogs, do cut and paste into that of Bob Wright and his birding exploits in the Axarquía at http://birdingaxarquia.blogspot.com - he's seeing an awful lot more than I am.

So I shall now watch formula 1, have an alcohol free beer to celebrate the Lions winning again in South Africa, albeit by the skin of the proverbial teeth, and then perhaps, just perhaps, I may get some painting done - after a siesta, of course!

And finally, I have just seen in the paper (El País) that one of the most iconic Brits of all time (I didn't say that, it was popular consensus vote I believe), one Sir David Attenborough, O.M., television star, incredible communicator, film maker and stimulator of interest in wildlife and natural history in hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of humans over the past half century; who has worn the same khaki trousers and blue shirt everywhere between Basildon and Borneo and whose unruly hair still sticks out just as it did in those first Zooquest programmes back in the 1950s, whose tie is always out of alignment (see photo), has been awarded the prestigious Principe de Asturias prize. It couldn't go to a better and nicer person. My humble congratulations, Sir David.

Have a nice day, y'all!


3 June, Arboleas Birding Group, Cabo de Gata

As I am totally tied up with illustrations, thank the Great God Spuggie (it's Geordie slang for a certain species of bird) for Dave's account of the Arboleas Birding Group trip to Cabo de Gata, with some super photos of his to illuminate the text.

Arboleas Birding Group - 3rd June 2009
, Cabo de Gata
This week we decided we'd follow Bob Wright down to Cabo de Gata. (see his blog at www.birdingaxarquia.blogspot.com ). Five members of the group headed south in the sunshine.
After a hearty breakfast in Pujaire we stopped at the first hide. There were lots of Avocet, a few Kentish Plover, 5 Curlew and 19 Black-tailed Godwit, most of which were in breeding plumage. On arrival at the beach opposite the 2nd hide a check out to sea revealed six 2nd winter Gannet. Our approach to the hide was guarded by obliging Crested Larks on the fence posts. Black Winged Stilt were calling as they circled the adjacent gully. On the water a raft of Slender-billed Gulls were feeding. A few Shelduck were around the edges.

Gilly's absence I did the Greater Flamingo count. As I finished about another 100 flew in from the sea, so the final total was +/- 317 individuals. Lots of Little Terns were in evidence, some on nests, viewed from the next public hide. Also there were 4 Gull-billed Terns. On the wader front, Dunlin and Ringed Plover were added to our list. Here the group split into two. Those in a normal car went to the Lighthouse and did not add to our daily bird list.
In my 4x4 we went round the back of the reserve. We had slightly more success than Bob had, as, apart from the Avocet, a group of Slender-billed Gulls were on the waters edge close to the track, so was able to get a good photo! We ended up with a total of 29 for the day and no sunburn or mosquito bites!!

Note from Andy: The presence of the Godwits in breeding plumage, Dunlin and the Ringed Plover at this late date is interesting. Are these high Arctic breeders (Icelandic in the case of the godwits while the Ringed Plovers breed as far N as Novaya Zemlaya and Spitsbergen) that have missed the bus or are they 1st summer birds? Puzzles that we may solve one day.