29 December, Arboleas Birding GRoup, Cabo de Gata

After a rather busy day as my cocker spaniel had to have four papillomas removed and the vet was without his assistant (sick) and myself staying to help (blood doesn't upset me) this morning and then pick up a very nervous and stressed little dog this afternoon with sutures at 4 points on her body, well, another fun filled day! So, it was very welcome to receive the following from Dave and the Arboleas Group about their visit today to Cabo de Gata. And if it's any consolation for you down there, Dave, we have no shore space for waders at the Guadalhorce either and I am hoping that I may pick up some at Fuente de Piedra as soon as time permits.

Cabo de Gata,
Tuesday 29th December 2009
Last week the weather forecast for Wednesday down at Cabo de Gata wasn't too hot so we decided to go on the Tuesday. When I looked yesterday, Tuesday was cloudy, whilst Wednesday was clear and sunny. So Dave, Myrtle and I travelled down there thinking the worst. Gilly had overnight succumbed to the cold/flu I had had over Xmas so I'd left her in bed. The weather all day was good, but not brilliant. Sunny with high clouds, but with a strong warm breeze which kept the smaller LBJ's in the undergrowth. Over the past week or so, we'd seen in the local papers that the village of Cabo de Gata had had some serious rains followed by flooding, but it was still a minor shock to see the water level from the first hide. There were no visible mud scrapes. The rocky causeway had virtually disappeared. The water was within metres of the chain link fence below the hide itself. On the other side of the road the ground was covered by large pools.

On the causeway I could see 11 Grey Plover and a single Ringed Plover. Three Snipe flew off. On the scrub to our right a mixed flock of Spotless and Northern Starling were being moved around by a harassing Kestrel. Lots of Stonechats and Chiffchaffs were seen all day. We could see a flock of Black-tailed Godwits close to the second hide, so off there we headed. A check out to sea was fruitless. It was choppy. As we arrived at the hide a large group of Lesser Black-backed Gulls with 4 Sandwich Terns amongst them. We found the grazing flock of 25+ Black-tailed Godwits, which were joined by 6 Curlews. The numerous Greater Flamingos ( est. 750 +) were up to their bellies in water. I spotted two Spoonbills in their normal pose...asleep! A Bluethroat made a very brief appearance on a shrub before skulking away. Singles of Cormorant and Black-necked Grebe were seen. Very poor on the wildfowl front..... 11 Mallard and about 8 Shelducks for the day. None of the expected wintering duck seen. A solitary Slender-billed Gull was in the water-filled dyke beside the hide.

A visit to the public hide only added a few more Cormorants and Grebes. No waders to be seen at all. I had high hopes for the rear of the reserve. As we started our adventurous drive round, we were greeted by a very obliging pipit on a garden wall. It stayed long enough for us to confirm it was a Water Pipit. My 4x4 came into its own. Some of the puddles must have been 2.5 feet deep. Some Meadow Pipits were bathing in the fresh water. The expected numbers of wader didn't materialize. A few Sanderling, Redshank, Dunlin, Little Stint and Avocet. Spotted a godwit that flew off as we approached...no white wing bars, so a Bar-tailed Godwit. Not a single Kentish Plover or Black-winged Stilt seen all day. We ended up with a 44 species count. Well, that's it from the Arboleas Birding Group for 2009.

Wishing all a very productive birding 2010, Dave & Gilly.


27 December, Guadalhorce

At last I got out birding after a few days when, apart from a 2 day break to and from Madrid, it seems to have done nothing but rain, often torrentially, which precluded going birding - rain makes your hair curly according to the natives when I worked in the Bahamas, as they should know as it it always seemed the same. Howsomever, back to more important things.

Having gone up to Madrid in the impressive AVE, daughter and father drove back from Madrid in her car on 23 December - and just in case you think it was paternalism altruism, it wasn't, that way she wouldn't want my car over the holidays - I thought it would be an excellent opportunity to do a 550km transect for birds of prey as at times I have done quite well. The only trouble was that the opportunity was there and the birds weren't. In the 250kms between Madrid and Despeñaperros there was 1 (right, one) bird of prey, a ring-tailed Hen Harrier. Going through Despeñaperros, apart from a Southern Grey Shrike which tried to kill itself by flying at low level between the truck in front and myself and the usual set of welcoming Azure-winged Magpies, not a lot else apart from starlings sp. and 2 Kestrels when heading towards Málaga from Granada, which was when the rains started - I've seen more in my garden. So, no birding Christmas morning, instead I listened to a replay of the old Bill Cosby monologue of Noah and Ark - good stuff. I recommend it, it's on youtube.

So, when I awoke to blue skies (a lie, it was still dark but there was no rain splattering against the window and the predawn looked clear, as had last night's metcast), to get out seemed logical after it appears that the Torremolinos-Málaga area has received approximately 300 litres of water per sq. metre. Fuente de Piedra should be good now.

I was in at the ponds by just gone 0930 and wandered around for the next 3 hours, seeing some friends and doing some birding, not that there was a vast amount to see. The rain has raised the water levels so there is no space for waders, just a solitary Greenshank and a pair of Black-winged Silts trying to fool everyone that they were emulating phalaropes by swimming. There were 3 Spoonbills, strategically placed so that I couldn't see all its colour rings (avian cooperation is nil at times). Even ducks appear to have reduced in numbers with few Shoveler and Mallard, not a single White-headed but a lot of Teal, I think the most that I have ever seen there, I counted at least 54 with the males stunning in fresh plumage and try though I might, I couldn't find the American species, the Green-winged.

Raptors included a few Kestrels, not so many as other times recently, a couple each of juv. Marsh Harriers and pale phase Booted Eagles, an Common Buzzard and, of course, the splendid Osprey that is over-wintering.

So, as I can't see me getting down to the ponds again in 2009, thus endeth another year. To all you daring people who read this drivel, a happy new year and good birding - I think I said this before but it will still bear repetition of you're a birder!


23 December, Río Almanzora, Arboleas Birding Group

A pre-Christmas escape for Dave Elliott-Binns to the mouth of the río Almanzora in eastern Almería whilst I was driving down from Madrid, seeing only a ring-tailed Hen Harrier, 2 Kestrels and a single Southern Grey Shrike with a death wish flying in front of the car at 120 (well, nearly) on the Auotvía de Andalucía/A-4, the usual delightful Azure-winged Magpies in Despeñaperros and flocks of starlings spp. and sparrows spp..

And to all readers of this blog, a very happy Yuletide, that someone in your family has had the intelligence to buy you the binocs, telescope, camera, telephoto (delete as unwanted) that you so much desire, and especially, good birding in 2010. Thank you for putting up with my drivel (Dave's is excepted) and I hope you continue to read on next year.

Rio Almanzora,
Wednesday 23rd December 2009
Having escaped duties in the house, I made a personal visit to the Rio Almanzora, near Villaricos. The skies were grey and there was drizzle in the winds. The civil engineering works related to the Cuevas desalination works is continuing but the huge cranes by the estuary have gone. Access is still restricted. They appear to have dug a channel with boulder sides leading to the shore line. A causeway, some 400m long reaches out to sea. If access to this is eventually allowed it would be a very good sea watch point....so long as you can beat the fishermen to it! Today wouldn't have been a good day out there as the spray from the choppy sea was exploding over it. A Great Crested Grebe and at least 6 Black-necked Grebes were fishing close to shore as was a solitary Razorbill. A few Cormorants were further out. I saw a total of five Turnstones and one Sanderling by the waters edge. About 20 Sandwich Terns were diving over a presumed shoal of fish. Yellow-legged, Black-headed and the occasional Audouin's Gull flew past. I then drove up the rambla towards Cuevas de Almanzora. The pools by the crossover no longer exist, they having been destroyed during the above mentioned works. There were a few pools further up which might have some potential once vegetation has grown around them The only waders I saw in this once wader hotspot was a Green Sandpiper and my bird of the day, a single Golden Plover. A total of 26 species. I'm slightly more optimistic about this spot, but it's going to take some time to recover. Wishing you all a very Happy Christmas from a chilly eastern Andalucia.


15 December, El Fondo (Alicante), Arboleas Birding Goup

A brave and fruitful excursion by the Arboleas Group from Almería to El Fondo (a.k.a. El Hondo) a great reserve sadly menaced in Alicante . The Great Spotted Eagle to which Dave refers, Tonn, is spending his second winter in the area having been tracked by GPS satellite for two winters now from Estonia. Another, immature bird, is reported to be in the area also.

I have taken up Dave's concerns about the status of the reserve and have just spoken with the SEO's Valencia office, which is in the midst of removals to a new address! However, I have extracted a promise that they will

It was very cold and dark when four members of the group left Arboleas at 5.30 am. We needed to get to the north gate of the El Fondo Parc Natural, Elche by 8.15 am when the park rangers would let us in. Access is allowed by appointment only on Wednesdays and Saturdays only from 8.15 to 11.15 am. We met up with two other members for breakfast before gaining access. The rangers were waiting for us with the gates open. We slowly travelled in convoy along the track beside a shallow canal. Within seconds we disturbed numerous Grey Herons which flew away. Not 400 metres in I spotted a bird of prey in the branches of a dead eucalyptus tree. It was what we had come to see. A Great Spotted Eagle. It was first light, so the photos I took weren't brilliant, but you could clearly see the attached radio antenna. The eagle, named Tonn, winters here, having travelled all the way from its native Estonia.

We carried on down to the covered elevated hide where we were joined by a local birder, the only other visitor to the reserve that day. From there we could see over a large expanse of reedbeds and lakes. Three Booted Eagles perched themselves on one of the dead eucalyptus trees. Marsh Harriers were quartering over the reed tops and during the day we must have seen at least 10-12 individuals. An Osprey was spotted sitting on a post.
Red-crested Pochards were seen in small numbers. A Kingfisher stopped briefly on the wooden railings beneath us. A Little Bittern sounded off, but wasn't seen, as were Cetti's Warblers. We then walked to a hide which overlooked a vast shallow lake. On the way we saw a Southern Grey Shrike chasing after a Snipe which was feeding on the track ahead of us. A pair of Black-tailed Godwits flew over as did a Green Sandpiper later.

From this elevated position there were huge flocks of wildfowl. I would estimate over 500 Teal, 100 Pintail, 100 Shoveler and good numbers of Shelduck and Mallard. Didn't see any Wigeon, White-headed Duck or Marbled Duck. Two Ospreys were spotted on posts. Numerous Little Grebes were evident with a few Black-necked. Hundreds of Crag Martins were noted as was a flock of Avocets and a single Lapwing flew over. We also heard, and Gilly spotted a Reed Warbler.

On the way back a Bluethroat was on the track.
We got back to the original hide. The local birder had seen a couple of Little Bitterns, a pair of Penduline Tits and a small contingent of Bearded Reedlings. A late House Martin flew by and a Purple Gallinule was just visible in the reeds. At our allotted departure time we drove round to the information centre. We added Common Buzzard and Hoopoe to the list, plus saw a flock of 27 Lapwing on the wheat field. We ended up with 53 species. The weather was reasonably kind to us with only a couple of showers whilst in the covered hides.

This is obviously a seriously important bird habitat all year round. It is still under serious threat from pollution, shooting water being extracted for irrigation. I implore the SEO and other organizations to exert
extreme pressure to protect this gem of a site. It needs to be compulsory purchased from its owners if they don't comply with the needs of the 100s of 1,000s of birds that live or pass through.

I have taken up Dave's concerns about the status of the reserve and have just spoken with the SEO's Valencia office, which is in the midst of removals to a new address! However, I have extracted a promise that they will e-mail me with details of the reserve, the problems both within the limits and without and when all is received and I have translated the important parts it will be published in a special blog.

It will then be up to your good selves, dear readers out there in the ether of cyber-space, to write to the SEO Valencia office expressing your concerns, preferably stating at the end that you give them carte blanche = carta blanca (a lot of foreign here!) to use your communication as they think fit. The SEO is on the patronato, the sort of running committee, and have managed to stop some of the larger problems.


10 December, Morales with the Arboleas Birding Group,

Another offering from Almería by the active Arboleas Birding Group with this report from Dave. The photos are Dave's, of course. The Virgin of the Sea (Virgen del Mar) chapel to which Dave refers is that rather Byzantine looking little buildingwith its onion domed roof which looks as though it should be somewhere in eastern Europe and is a useful reference point for starting the seaward side of Las Almoladeras. Interesting the comment on the lack of White-headed Ducks as this is something we are also missing at the Guadalhorce and on whioch I commented in my last blog from there.

Today seven members of the group headed toMorales, near Cabo de Gata. The weather was wonderful, sunny with a slight breeze. Having left the seafront at Retamar South, we headed towards the Virgin of the Sea chapel. Along the route we saw the first of our many Chiffchaffs and Greenfinches. Once there, birds on the land were scarce, but out to sea we saw a single Razorbill and a couple of distant Gannets. On the beach were a small flock of Turnstones, numerous Sanderlings, a solitary Ringed Plover and a few Kentish Plovers. A single Cormorant flew past.

4x4s were needed for the bumpy track across the steppes towards the large pool. The expected flock of Golden Plover never materialised, but numerous Stonechats were spotted with a few Southern Grey Shrikes and a sole Corn Bunting.

At the pool we walked across the Playa del Charco (beach) and I managed to secret myself close to the water's edge to get some photos. Sanderling, Dunlin, Little Stint and Black-winged Stilt all came within camera range. Also present were Little Egret, Redshank and on the way back a Greenshank. Out to sea were a further 4 Razorbills. As we were about to walk along the far side of the pool, a female Marsh Harrier was flying low over the reeds at the far end.
On the water itself we expected to see the resident White-headed Ducks and over-wintering Shovelers, but no. Only a few Coot and a Dabchick were seen. The water level was just right. It had dropped a couple of feet leaving muddy scrapes with stumps of cut reeds. Dave Green and I wandered down to the far end. On a scrape about 3/4 the way down I spotted the bird of the day, a Water Rail. It soon disappeared into the bushes. The only duck we saw were a couple of pairs of Mallard and Teal. A total of 43 species seen. Well pleased with the numbers, the Razorbill and the Water Rail.


Monday at the Guadalhorce

Ok, yes, I know, late again, but you also know the old saying 'better late than....' except when it's a rarity, of course, which is when you get either, 'You should have been here 5 minutes ago' or 'If only you'd stayed on 5 minutes more!'.

Which takes me crudely to this last Monday morning, 7 December, when Federico and myself had a rather pleasant morning at the ponds along with Antonio Tamayo who was there in his rôle of warden and who also showed us some superb shots of a Barn Owl, taken in the reserve from the Suzuki, at night with only a big flashlight and car headlights as illumination. However, I digress.

On the face of it, if I hadn't made a full list and you had asked me if it had been a good morning I would probably have said 'pretty average', but as the total species seen between us was about 53 spp. (this assumes that I put down everything) and there were some quite good ones, well, it was actually a rather good morning and at least the weather was fine (turned out nice again!)

There were few waders akthough of 11 spp., with solitary specimens only of Redshank, Black-tailed Godwit, Lapwing, Avocet, Oystercatcher, Snipe and Common Sandpiper, for example, with 2 Turnstones, 3 Greenshanks (lovely things) and only double figures for Sanderling (not counted) and Dunlin (21).

We spent a pleasant time watching the sea. There were quite a few Gannets around, with one or two nice adults close in. Antonio saw the only Balearic Shearwater but we all saw the indecisive Great Skua (a.k.a. Bonxie to use the old Shetland name) which sat on the sea, flew west, flew back east and in which we lost interest. There were at least 14 Common Scoter in three groups, all females or young birds, and it was with one of the small groups that we saw the single Razorbill. There also several Black-necked Grebes on the sea, this being equally at home on salt as on fresh water.

Whilst seawatching we counted 6 Grey Herons moving into the reserve area from across the bay. Two of them were being given a particularly hard time by a single adult Yellow-legged Gull (the same bird each time?)and the evasive action such big birds can take is amazing. However, these evasive manouevres were insufficient for the last bird which was eventally splashed into the drink by the gull . Fortunately for the heron, this was within a few metres of the beach and it managed to get airborne and make land where it rested to regain its breath.

Rather more unusual was the presence of 3 Shovelers on the sea, pretending to be sea ducks. All the male ducks have moulted out of the eclipse plumage now and their plumage is stunning at times, and thr sheen on the heads of Mallard has to be seen to be believed. Indeed, just an or so since figuratively I ran into Patricia and she told me that on Sunday they had seen a flock of Teal and the males were in wonderful plumage. On the other hand, the number of White-headed Ducks has plummeted and we saw only one male on the laguna Escondida.

Raptors there were in small numbers, the usual Osprey, the pair of Peregrines could be picked out on the tall chimney to the east but hardly offered stunning views, there were at least 2 Booted Eagles, one being the marked bird back for its third winter, and also a single female Marsh Harrier. As usual there were plenty of Kestrels.

The rest of the birding was reasonably normal. There was a single male Bluethroat seen which showed very briefly, so much so that I missed it. These are not at all common this winter, unlike two winters since. Chiffchaffs there were a-plenty. The final goody of the day was when Federico and I were crossing the bridge on the way out. Looking upstream to see if we could see any Spoonbills amongst the Little Egrets -we didn't - we did pick up a single Great White Heron (they used to be called egrets when I were a lad!), this always a god bird to see down at the ponds.

Not bad at all when one stops to consider.


2 December, Sierra de María, Arboleas Birding Group

Apologies of for late posting but I've had some difficulties with this machine these past few days which I hope are now cured. So, herewith Dave's account of the Arboleas Birding Group's trip to Sierra Maria on 2 December, for which as usual the photo (from a previous trip) is Dave's and, of course, my thanks.

Also, and without detriment to Dave's report, Bob Wright's Axarquía group - visited Fuente de Pieda lake last Thursday. Check in his blog - http://birdingaxarquia.blogspot.com/ - for a full report but suffice to say that the lake is still very dry with one 7 Flamingos seen, 40+ Shelduck and some Shovelers although they hit lucky with Cranes after I left (force majeure), there having been only a family party of 4 on the lake bed.

After several days of high winds Gilly, I and 4 others members of the group decided to make our final visit to Sierra de Maria before the weather becomes too cold. The weather today was perfect. Hardly any wind, the sun shining and a bit of cloud. I noticed the car's outside temperature gauge was registering a bracing 6ºc when we arrived at the chapels car park. We were greeted with the sight of a pair of Short-toed Treecreepers scurrying up the gardens trees. Lots of Robins, Jays, Blackbirds and Mistle Thrushes. On the walk up to the Information Centre a flock of 9 Woodlarks flew over and settled on the rocky ploughed field. Cirl Buntings were quite numerous with a few Rock Buntings as well.

Once inside the Botanical Gardens Gilly, due to new boot problem, took the lower track whilst the rest of us made our way up the medium long track. We saw all the tits, Long-tailed, Crested, Great and Blue. Gilly however saw a very late straggler. A red/grey warbler showed itself well. She thought it was going to be a Dartford, but the telltale white moustache proved it to be a male Subalpine. (talking of stragglers, one of our group, Brian, saw a Roller not two days before at Partaloa). At the La Piza recreation area, there were numerous Crossbills round the water deposit. High in the leafless branches they were joined by a striking Great Spotted Woodpecker.

From there down to the plain and all the way to the Granada border the road is being widened. It is a narrow two vehicle road used a lot by 38 tonners, so the works well needed. Not many birds around due to this, but a Southern Grey Shrike was seen. A Calandra Lark was the best we saw at the hamlet.

A good day made better by the weather. 33 count in all.