30 August, another Guadalhorce Sunday

So, back here fresh from freezing my ass off on my annual visit to England for the Rutland Bird Fair (the Andalucía stand on the left here) and to the East Yorkshire coast where I have never had such a poor visit, although I did see a flock of 21 or so Wood Sandpipers coming in from the direction of Norway which was very nice and visited my first birding home at Filey Brigg (photo right).

I also took with me 70 or so sheets of illustrations for the seabird book and passed them over to the publisher. And just in case someone out there is doubting, here is a draft of the cover with the working title (photo by Jesús Menéndez, set up by Jorge Garzón).

So, now back along with the new Olympus 590-UZ which gives me 26x optical zoom boosted to 40x with the 1.7x attachment, I trotted off early to the Guadalhorce this morning to meet Bob Wright and we also met Patricia and Paco Rivera of the domingueros. Not that there was a lot to see, there was that sort of dead feeling, and we first went in search of waders along the ponds on the eastern side. There was something at least, a Booted Eagle in eucalyptus trees in the mid distance, a bundle of least 50 Stilts, 2 each of Redshank, Dunlin and Common Sandpiper, 3 Sanderling and singles of Knot on the laguna grande (photo taken against the light), Bar-tailed Godwit and Little Stint, plus all three small plovers. As they say, algo es mejor que nada and that made 11 spp. of waders.

So we trotted round to the laguna grande and looked at the massed gulls - all Black-headed and Lesser Black-backs along with 1 Mediterranean Gull. A harrier made an brief appearance and vanished into the clear blue yonder and then a Spoonbill appeared from behind the tamarisks, remained just long enough to read its colour rings before wandering back out view, while three more Spoonbills flew in and promptly hid, bless the little dears.
Thanks to the super-efficient Otto Overdijk of the Spoonbill Working Group in Holland, I already have the sightings history of this bird. It was ringed in May 2005 in Holland and was not seen again until April and May 2007 in Vlieland (Holland) and between 9 May 2007 and 29 July flew to the Banc d'Arguin, Mauritania, a distance of over 4.000 kms, where it obviously spent the winter as it was seen there twice more during winter 2007-08, and was there again in November 2008, presmably having returned to Holland for the summer but not having been seen. The record of this morning would ndicate that once more it is heading south. Hence the value of reading and informing of any colour ringed birds. If you click on the photo to enlarge it, it is possible to see the rings but not read them, for that reason God invented telescopes!

Now is the time when the Woodchat Shrikes are moving out amd while the adults are now extremely scarce, there are still quite a few juvs. around, which look nothing like the adults so one has to use the jizz to help the identification, the pronounced scaling on the back and shadow of a mask helping with the identification, as this photo shows.

PARA MAISA: Por favor, escribame a mi dirección privada: andy.birds@gmail.com


15-16 August, Guadalhorce

As I have been suffering from a lack of birding through working far too hard on this damned book (it is coming on and I'm taking about 80% of it with me to the UK tomorrow), and I spent most of Friday putting all the bits that I am taking in order ready for the publisher (what a hell of a thankless task!), I thought that it was about time I went down to the Guadalhorce ponds.

So, yesterday morning (Saturday), I was down there by 0830 and spent the rest of the remaining 150 minutes wondering why I had gone down, because frankly there was very little (which is the polite way of expressing it). Waders, one Bar-tailed Godwit, 3-4 Little Stints and a single Common Sandpiper. There were 3 Knot around which I didn't see because they had flown from the laguna grande before I got there. For the rest, a handful of LRPs and Kentish Plovers and some rather disconsolate-looking Stilts. On the positive side, there was the first Osprey back. There was a distinct lack of Common/Pallid Swifts, 3 all morning I think. The White-headed Duck males are now showing a mixture of billcolouration, as they turn black in the winter, but one still with a blue bill was chivvying the others around. The male Black-headed Weaver provided good views and a brilliant patch of yellow but as the temperature rose and the scope and tripod seemed to weigh more and more with every step Paco Rivera and I decided that going home was a better bet, so we did.

However, hope springs eternal (or perhaps it's stupidity) in the Paterson breast so this morning (Sunday) saw me down there by 0845. And was there more to see, you will ask? My reply is, yes, marginally. The Osprey had gone but the male Peregrine was surveying its universe from the top of the tall chimney at the far, eastern, side of the river. But I am jumping ahead, because no sooner had I crossed the bridge than a Southern Great Grey Shrike made sure everyone could see it by sitting in the very top of a bare tree. There were also some more swifts, at least 10, and more swallows and martins, but no Sand Martins yet.

There were plenty of gulls but they were very jumpy and staying still to be scoped was definitely not on their agenda. The Black-tailed Godwit was still there and still asleep but there had been a minute (small is too strong a word) influx as there were now 4 Dunlin and a single Curlew Sandpiper and what was probably the same Common Sandpiper.

So, I am off Blighty tomorrow, to boldly go where no man has gone before near the centre of the unknown universe (near Morley) and nasty little men who play with explosives, as well as going to the Rutland Bird Fair and then on to the Yorkshire coast for some seabirds. See you at the end of the month.


9 August, Guadalhorce and other bits

Bob Wright (from here on known as Lord of the Axarquia, or LoA) has written about the visit we made to the Guadalhorce this morning, entering in the distinctly cool side of warm before 08.00 and I shall add a bit here. I don't normally make a list of everything that flies, walks or crawls across our path like LoA does and list only those that interest me (generally waders, gulls and terns) or unusual species. Neither did I take any photos today, so this is a poor offering compared his.

The water levels along the old river - río viejo - are very low and there is a need for the authorities to pump is at least 7-10cms to make more mud available for waders. The first hide along the easterly arm of the river produced next to nothing and inspired no confidence whatsoever, so the stay there was very breif and on we went to the second. here, at least, there were waders, indeed it was main concentrations for them apart from some at the very end very further on which could only be seen from a distance.

Discounting the normal Black-winged Stilts, none of which suffered an attack of hysterics at seeing us, and several pairs of Little Ringed and Kentish Plovers, all of which looked rather fed-up with life although I suspect that many will be in post-breeding moult as well as recovering from the stress of breeding itself, there was not a vast variety. Surprisingly, by my count (I do count waders, remember) there were no less than 9 Little Stints, rather attractive busy little chaps amongst the much larger Dunlins, only 3 of them in total all morning, and what was undoubtedly the joint best bird of the day, a Temminck's Stint which was still showing quite a lot breeding plumage. At the second hide, apart from the above, there was also a single, rather tatty-looking Greenshank in heavy back moult.

It was from this second hide that Bob (ak.a. LoA) spotted a small dot sitting in the top of one of the distant eucalyptus between us and the laguna grande. It took a lot of work and scoping to work out what it was but eventually it was decided that it wasn't a dwarf, somewhat anorexic, Peregrine nor any exotic raptor but a juvenile Hobby -and here's where we had the problem, did juvenile Hobby have the red on the trousers and lower belly? Well, they don't and that's what it was. Equal best bird of the day.

Onwards toards the seawatch mirador to see what was on the river, to which the polite answer was 'not a lot', the impolite one I leave to your imagination. No resting gulls, except one which didn't look overly full of life and could well end up joining a pair of its moribund friends. No terns at all, not one! And right at the very end, right on the limit of scoping with heat shimmer starting which is a birder's enemy, some waders. It took patience but there were some 7 Sanderlings, again moulting out of breeding plumage, and 5 Little Stints included in the total above, and a single Curlew Sandpiper, it too having lost nearly all its breeding plumage.

By now, the heat was starting to make itself noted, so back we staggered and 3 more Curlew Sands had flown in by the hide, making a grand (not very,really) total of 4 for the day. Round by the laguna escondida, where the sun beating down on our backs made us soon decide that sitting and looking at nothing except of few moping Pochard, a handful of White-headed Ducks and not much else was really a waste of time, and on to the laguna grande. There, a few distant Black-headed Gulls, a Grey Heron and few egrets, plus at least one Common Sandpiper, which brought the wader count up to 10 for the morning. Not a brilliant number and there wasn't a single Redshank, but at least something is happening. Time will tell and show us, always provided that we get out to watch!

Other bits
A House Bunting has been seen well down at Tarifa this past week but they are common just aross the water and I have seen them in the soukh in Tangiers. Further, this was actually watched taking bread and apparently the upper mandible is deformed. As there is plenty of maritime traffic across the Strait at this tme of year, it may vey well have been a hitchhiker (but not to any galaxy).

At home, I saw the first migrant, a Melodious Warbler, in the garden on 3 August and on 8 August no less than 3 Spotted Flycatchers, the first ones in the garden all year.

There has been a marked drop in the numbers of swifts (mainly Common) this past week and a week since the watchers at Tarifa counted over 80.000 moving across the Strait in one day from just one point, and these are birds that migrate on a broad front.