29 July, Cabo de Gata and some rarity news

Cabo de Gata
Dave Elliott-Binns, in an act of extreme bravery above and beyond the call of duty, ventured forth to Cabo de Gata and the salinas early this morning, before even the sun had risen and there must have been only a faint light in the sky. Here is his account, the brave chap, but I would remind him that to all intent and purpose the Andalusian Hemipode (forget calling it a Buttonquail) is allegedly extinct in Andalucía and that we would miss his accounts from Almería.

Yesterday evening I thought " That's it. I'm not skulking away from the sun like a cowardly Andalucian Hemipode any more. I'm craving for some birding!" So at 0600 hrs I left the house, a sleeping Gilly and headed south towards Cabo de Gata. After a cafe stop at Pujaire I went to the first hide. As I entered I was very happy that the sun and heat had dried up and made odourless what some desperate individual had left on one of the benches!! The water level was quite low so a lot of waders were on the salty mudflats, but were quite a distance away. I counted over 150 Black-tailed Godwits. There were even more Avocets. A Gull-billed Tern tried to hide amongst the small flock of Black-headed Gulls, but the best bird there was a Stone Curlew on the dried up causeway. Before reaching the second hide I checked out to sea. Flat as a tack, but no birds. About 100 Yellow-legged Gulls were on the beach. At the hide one could see over 1,000 Greater Flamingos, some in large tight groups. Numerous Little Terns were diving in. Shelduck and Mallard were the only wildfowl together with a few Slender-billed Gulls. At the public hide there were 100's of waders. I managed to identify Little Stint, Dunlin, Curlew Sandpiper, Redshank and Kentish Plover with more Godwits. I was desperately missing my telescope, which is awaiting repairs after being blown over by a gust of wind. I even forked out €1 and used the static one in the hide......would've done better with a couple of Coop milk bottles!! Pretty sure I saw Sandwich and Common Terns amongst the Little Terns. A trip to the lighthouse was not rewarding! I expect I could see 75 sq miles of flat sea, but only saw 5 Yellow-Legged Gulls on the rocks! However did see a couple of small pods of Dolphins. Round the back of the reserve a flock of 60 Audouin's Gull were resting. Unfortunately the steady stream of Mountain Bikers weren't! Did manage Red-rumped Swallow, Little Owl and Zitting Cisticola before hitting the tarmac again. A respectable 37 species and the sun was just breaking through the slight sea mist as I was leaving at 10 o'clock.

Rarity news
These are bits of information that I have gleaned through contacts this past week.

Long-legged Buzzard - Busardo Moro - has bred in the La Janda area of Cádiz and raised two young to flying stage, this is the first breeding in Spain. Last time I was down there with Bob Wright we had a probable one.

Little Swift - Vencejo Moro - is now well settled in as a breeding species, with nests at three well spaced out sites, with anything up to a total of 17 birds being seen in this past week (young will be on the wing now).

Rüppell's Vulture - Buitre Moteado - again something to keep an open for anywhere where there are concentrations, but especially in the Strait area. No less than 15 have been seen coming in from Morocco this spring-summer so it might just turn out to be the year that I see one! Generally they hear of me before me of them and shove off at high speed.

White-backed Vulture - one was wiped out by one of those many damned aeolic windmills that stand around on La Janda. Albeit a very dead and mangled one, this is only the third Iberian record.

If anyone is birding in the Chipiona (Cádiz) area, keep an eye on the beach and rocks at low tide as Roseate Tern has been seen, waders are frequent and also Little Swifts overfly. Further south, the first returning Lesser Crested Tern has been seen resting on the beach at Los Lances, Tarifa.

And finally, if anyone is passing through La Mancha and deviates to any of the lagunas in Ciudad Real province to do some birding, do keep an eye pen for Lesser Flamingos as 3 are knocking around the area, two are wearing colour rings and I would be most interested, as a member of the IUCN Flamingo Working Group, to have any news of them, when and where and if any rings were visible. A good way to see is to take a photograph if there is any sort of telephoto capability and then enlarge it to the maximum. Ain't digital wonderful? Many thanks.


Flamingo ringing, Fuente de Pierda

I have had the privilege of taking part in the ringing of the flamingo chicks at Fuente de Piedra some seven or eight times, including the first ever and the last time in 1999 as the knees won't take the strain at all and slipping and sliding around on mud covered by by precipitated salt is way beyond them! To have taken part is one of the great birding experiences, apart from the fact one sees friends. Peter Jones of the Andalucia Bird Society www.andaluciabirdsociety.com has very kindly sent the piece below and the photos are by José Antonio Cortés of SEO-Málaga.

Another year and, after the disappointment of 2008, a report of a successful breeding season at Fuente de Piedra for Greater Flamingo Phoenicopterus roseus. 2009 saw the 25th anniversary for ringing of the Greater Flamingo chicks at Fuente de Piedra and a total of 600 chicks - only a small representative sample of the total raised (normally about 10% -Andy) - were fitted with specially coded plastic colour rings. These colour rings can be easily read through telescopes and sometimes through binoculars, allowing observers to report on the movements of these birds as soon as they gain their independence and are able to fly to feeding grounds throughout the region and North Africa.

The ringing of Greater Flamingo chicks is a highly organised affair and run with military precision. The group of volunteers, numbering somewhere over 300, embark during cover of darkness slowly and silently encircling the nursery of young. As dawn arrives the nursery is slowly and safely encouraged towards a fence line and bell mouth shaped entrance to a holding corral. For the protection of the young, the entrance and corral are lined and padded with soft fabric and the corral is circular to avoid any sharp edges. This year, from the moment the required number where successfully corralled to the moment when all had been ringed and released took a grand total of 2 hours. If you consider the operation and further that each bird is processed for weight, measurements, blood sampling and inspected by attending veterinaries, then the minimum of time taken is a huge tribute to the thorough organisation of the operation. It’s been quite a year for the species at Fuente de Piedra with in excess of 30,000 adults being reported on occasions.

As the water levels drop, many adults make the daytime journey to Huelva and the Doñana to feed and return during the night to provide necessary sustenance for their young. An undisputed burden and act of dedication with a round journey every day of at least 160km to feed their offspring! Talking with the wardens Lesser Flamingo
Phoenicopterus minor apparently attempted to breed, but they believed the eggs were accidentally broken by the brooding adult and no further evidence of breeding was recorded.

Photographs illustrate the corral (above left) and also show a fraction of the nursery (below right).


22 July, Guadalhorce

After not getting out on Sunday, as previously detailed, and having seen what Patricia wrote, I was decided to get out early unless everything went pear-shaped. The morning didn't achieve that form, although it had a damned good try and after two coffees and 2g of paracetamol I got to the ponds an hour later than intended.

And did I see lots? No, I blankety-blank didn't! In fact, less than two per cent of damn all.

Waders: a few Stilts, LRPs and Kentish, plus a single Dunlin (whoopee!) and I thought I heard a distant Redshank but am not certain. What a stunning list and meanwhile the temperature rose and rose.

Down at the old river there were plenty of Audouin's Gulls resting and I saw my first juv. of the year, which was actually wearing a colour ring (white BCO8), and I managed to read another 10 rings, one of which is visible in the photo on the right if you click on to amplify it, which will be sent off in due course and in the fullness of time I shall be notified of their life histories. In sum, there must have been well over 100 Audouin's at the ponds and at least 50 Mediterranean Gulls, many of these still showing ample signs of full breeding plumage, plus a bundle of Black-headed Gulls, including some in full juvenile plumage.

And finally, on the way out, a Spotted Flycatcher, my first of the year, stupid as it seems, as this year there hasn't been one hanging around the garden.


19 July, Guadalhorce

I haven't been out at all what with illustrations which don't gel and knees which have little men with Black & Decker inside going hell for leather! And I had been prepared to get out early Sunday morning too. Therefore I was most pleased to receive the following brief report (lightly edited) from Patricia about what she saw Sunday afternoon. She also saw some flamingos, probably, as she remarks, refugees from the mass ringing of the chicks on Saturday. Many thanks, Pat!

First I espied a Dunlin in the laguna grande - then to my surprise I spotted a Whimbrel which seemed to be following a Common Sandpiper. Antonio Miguel arrived and eventually we got to the last hide on the Mota and there there were several Dunlin, Curlew Sandpipers, Redshanks, Common Sandpipers and well as Little Ringed and Kentish Plovers.
Previously in La Grande some Stilts chased off two Redshanks which were simply feeding and not bothering anyone.


13July, Sierra de María (Almería)

This arrived late last night (or rather, I arrived home late) and forgot to put it in this morning as I was doing my well known impression of the blue-tailed fly (which chases its own backside until the inevitable happens! Work that out for yourselves!), so, sorry, Dave. Left to his own devices as you will read, Dave took himself off birding, which takes some strength of mind in the heat we are currenlt experiencing. What a sad life we batchelor birders are forced to have. I hope mine is going to be away for a week or more in late August - early September!

As Gilly's away for a few days to the UK, I was up early and headed up to Sierra de Maria. In fact I beat the baker to the cafe, so dipped out on breakfast!! I reached the car park in front of the chapel & wandered over to the water trough behind it. I gained a bit of height, sat down and waited to see what would appear. Within 5 minutes I'd got Jays, Chaffinch, Crossbill, Cirl and Rock Bunting, Great and Blue Tit, Goldfinch, Linnet, Subalpine Warbler and Chiffchaff -Iberian, presumably). Highly satisfied I walked towards the Botanical Gardens, which were just opening. A Booted Eagle soaring overhead caught my attention.
The gardens staff's first job of the day in this hot weather is to put on the irrigation sprinklers in the tended area near the Information Centre, a fact I was unaware of but the local bird population did. Many of the previously mentioned birds were there, plus Crested Tit and loads of Coal Tits, one of which took a shower three feet in front of me. However, the bird of the day suddenly appeared... a Hawfinch. Never seen one there before. Managed to get a record shot. The walk round the rest of the gardens produced numerous small family groups of Bonelli's Warbler and a distant Griffon Vulture. Down on the plain...God, was it hot!....the only birds out were a panting Roller, a Crested Lark and a Northern Wheatear. Possible Corn Bunting and Lesser Short Toed Lark flew over. So, it was back to the La Piza woodland cafe for a large cold drink and lunch. A Short-toed Treecreeper made an appearance. Crossbills were hanging around the water spouts and, beggar me, another Hawfinch turned up!! A Woodchat Shrike on the drive to Vélez Blanco completed the days 35 total.


10 July, Guadalhorce

When Federico rang me a couple of nights since to say that he was coming down from Córdoba on the following day and did I fancy going down for a brieflook at the ponds this morning, Friday, it didn't take too much thought on my part - which was just as well as I wasn't capable of much after a day when little had gone right with the illustrations. A change, thought I, will do me good, clear the mind(?) or whatever.

So, at 0830 this morning, in we toddled with a temperature that was quite agreable and the expectation of seeing very little, in which we were not disappointed. From the bridge we could see a couple of Spoonbills way up river and a couple of Grey Herons. There were the usual House Martins and the Red-rumped Swallows which have their nest right under the bridge and which give fantastic views if one is sufficiently patient.

From the bridge there was considerable commotion in the water by the bank where there was a lot of rather large fish where for each leading one there seemed to be 2 to 4 others, smaller, following. We rather think that they were mating, the females spawning and each of the males eager to perpetuate his genes. As to which species, at this moment I haven't got a clue, but the females weren't small, easily over 40 cms long in the case of the biggest. The rather pathetic photo on the left gives some idea of the turbulence. Whatever they were, they were still at it when we came out about 1115 and at that time a single Florida Turtle slowly swam across.

So, on to the eastern arm and the laguna de la Casilla and there was not a lot to be seen from the first hide and even less at the second as there the water levels are virtually nil, a few Stilts and LRPs and Kentish Plovers and that was it. Further down there were more Kentish Plovers, including some very young birds which couldn't have been more than 3 days old.
There was a good sized flock of gulls, mostly Audouin's (very smart) with some adult Mediterranean Gulls still in breeding plumage (even smarter) and a scattering of Yellow-legged and Black-headed. By then the temperature was rising and heat shimmer was making life difficult, not just for taking photos, but also for reading the rings on the Audouin's, in spite of which we managed to read five, so we started to wend our way back.

It was a slow wend, as we stopped on several occasions to admire the numerous Bee-eaters, the young had obviously fledged and large numbers (a good quantitative analysis) were flying and sitting around. At the laguna Escondida we sat in the hide to watch while the sun super-heated our backs. No Purple Boghen to be seen and the rest was all pretty normal but we laughed at a female (we presume) Little Grebe (formerly known as a Dabchick to those of us who are old enough to remember) with two small chicks. Every time Mum dived there was panic, the chicks totally confused looking left and right, until she appeared, often several metres away, whereupon said chicks would scoot rapidly to her. You could almost here them shouting, 'Mum, mum, where have you been?'. As Federico and I agreed, often the simplest of things with the common species can give as much pleasure as something rare.

The final stop was the laguna Grande where there was also a lot of nothing, apart from 100+ Audouin's Gulls, a Grey Heron (the third of the morning) and a few Stilts and LRPs. So, as the sun was now warming us we decided to call it a morning and stopped briefly to take a look at the Red-rumped Swallows' nest right under the centre of the bridge, an incredible construction and in an unassailable position.

And so, end of morning and the next time we shall meet autumn migration will be in full swing and hopefully the temperatures will be lessening slightly.


8 July, Río Almanzora (Almería)

Gilly and Dave deserve medals for venturing out in the heat that we have been experiencing, although yesterday it did wane to more reasonable levels here in Torremolinos. Mind you, how they must have felt (and perhaps said, at least mentally) when they saw what was happening at what was a good birding site, doesn't bear thinking about. It is - was- a super site which I have visited a couple of times. The sad photos tell the tale and we can only hope that Dave's final, heartfelt wish come true and I suspect that it may well do so. I certainly hope so! Such is the price of progress and the need for water.

Rio Almanzora
Due to the heat and the knowledge a lot of the Arboleas Birding Group
were unavailable, no trip was organized this week. However Gilly and I made a visit to the Rio Almanzora estuary near to Villaricos. I regretfully have to inform you of the probable fatal demise of this location as a birding hotspot.

As you will see from the attached photographs the pipework for the Cuevas de Almanzora Desalination Plant has completely overwhelmed the beach end of the Rambla. These pipes, I assume, will eventually be oiked (a technical term) out to sea. Apart from the odd Yellow-legged Gull and passing hirundines, the area, quite understandably, was a bird desert. Things didn't get any better up the rambla towards Cuevas de Almanzora town as the other end of this pipework had been laid actually in the rambla, adjacent to which the Desalination Plant is situated.

Remember all those waders using the permanent shallow pools? Sorry....virtually all gone, a dry wasteland. There were a couple of pools in which Black-winged Stilts were present which gives hope that once the lorries and diggers have gone, the water, which obviously is still trying to survive there, may pool again. Time will tell whether this once birding hotspot will regenerate to its former glory. One can only hope!


1 July, Arboleas Birding Group, Cabo de Gata

Thank the great god Spuggie for the reports from the Arboleas Birding Group through the good offices of Dave and Gilly, plus his photos to enliven things. However, let Dave continue with this week's episode. Given the temperatures they deserve good birding on 1 July. It takes courage to go out now unless early in the morning and, as Dave rightly points out, heat haze makes life difficult.

As foretold in my previous missive, I returned to Cabo de Gata with Gilly and three
other members of the group. Apologies if this sounds very similar. At the first hide there were 100's of Avocets and Kentish Plovers. A Stone Curlew could be seen on the steppes to the right. There was also a small flock of Black-tailed Godwits and a single Ringed Plover. We were pleased to see a flock of 10 Curlews fly in. 2 Gull-billed Terns were present.

A juvenile Yellow-legged Gull was very close to the hide and I think from its demeanor not in the best of health. At the 2nd hide my faithful counter did her bit and notched up 638 Greater Flamingos. Little Terns were diving in all around. The public hide produced another 60 Black-tailed Godwits. More terns were on the sandy islands but the heat haze was getting much worse. I could confirm Sandwich Tern, but I suspect there were either Whiskered or Common there as well.
As we commenced our route round the rear of the reserve we were greeted by a Black
-eared Wheatear. Avocets with young were close to the track as were some Redshanks.
A very dishevelled Roller posed for us on the power lines. A single Slender-billed Gull was feeding close in. At the end of the day we'd seen 33 species.