30 January, lagunas Dulce and Fuente de Piedra

After last week's effort, when the most we could see at the laguna Dulce (Campillos) was about 15m and a few Shoveler, Bob Hibbett and I tried again this morning, going on to Fuente de Piedra after. The sight of the laguna Dulce with water after so many years dried out is amazing, and it spills over in to the surrounding fields there is so much. In fact, I rather suspect that the total lack of Little Bustards, which I was fairly confident of seeing, might have moved off because of the soggy ground, and the rather surprising lack of flamingos there because there was too much depth for them.

The place was pretty good for waterbirds though, with a few Black-necked Grebes and at least 8 Great Crested scattered amongst the multitude of ducks, with Shovelers winning in quantity over everything else. There were several Teal and at least 13 Red-crested Pochards which are always nice to see, albeit at a distance, and 5 Wigeon. A flock of Lapwings (a rubbish photo in poor light) was frightened into the air by a 2nd year male Marsh Harrier, not a plumage that we see too often down here.

From there we went on to Fuente de Piedra, the light and visibility getting better all the time, going in across the western end so that we could look down and search for Lesser Flamingos amongst their bigger cousins, but with no joy. Neither did a stop at Cantarranas (photo R) yield much apart from more Cranes, their calls really are superb, a nice Song Thrush and a Raven and we saw a fox, presumably the same one as last week in almost the same place.

From there it was round to the information centre area, the centre itself being named after José Antonio Valverde, one of Spain's pioneer birders who had a lot to do with the founding of Doñana as a reserve. If you ever have the chance to get your hands on a copy, read Wild Spain by Guy Mountfort, which chronicles early expeditions along with Valverde and famous British ornithologists of that period (Eric Hosking, Lord Alanbrooke and so on) there in the 1950s, do so. It's well worth the read and will make you realise what life (and travel) was like back in those days. I picked up a copy cheap through Amazon some years since, and another outfit, Alibris may also have them.

In fact there really wasn't a lot there either. The only waders were 2 Snipe and a few Black-winged Stilts and we saw the same little 1W male Bluethroat in the same place as before (a smashing little bird!), a distant immature Marsh Harrier, but as far as I was concerned the best birds of the day were the 15+ House Martins, even though I had seen one last week, and 3 or 4 Barn Swallows - the harbinger of things to come, these hawking for insects over the laguneta behind the information centre. The numbers of Stone-curlews had dwindled to less than 20 and there wasn't a Golden Plover to be seen.


28 January, Cabo de Gata, plus Málaga news

Once more, a brave act in view of the amount of rain that had fallen in Almería (and indeed all over Andalucía) Gilly and Dave ventured forth on another possible twitch. Also, there are one or two bits of Málaga news after. So, read on and enjoy Dave's account.

28 January, Cabo de Gata, Arboleas Bird Group After a few days of rain, delaying our trip by 24hrs, Gilly nd I made our way to Cabo de Gata, hoping to
"twitch" the recently sighted Red-necked Phalarope. As anticipated the water level was extremely high. At the first hide a Curlew was sauntering between us and the water.
There were a few Black-tailed Godwits snoozing on the mostly submerged causeway. A pair of Black-winged Stilts flew over. On the scrub Chiffchaffs, Sardinian and Dartford Warblers were enjoying the sunny, windless conditions, as were the Stonechats. We moved to the beach, trying not to disturb the film crew making a Honda car advert! Out to sea Gannets were patrolling and a flotilla of 30 Balearic Shearwaters were on the water. Also out there, sadly, was a large rescue ship which presumably was above the crash site of the Rescue helicopter on which 3 in which crew lost their lives. As we walked to the hide we put up a small flock of mixed finches ... Linnet, Corn Bunting and Greenfinches. Gilly counted 165 Greater Flamingos. We saw a few Shoveler and a single Sandwich Tern. On the steppes 6 Stone Curlews were sunning themselves. Gilly spotted an Oystercatcher, but that was about it.

We faired slightly better at the public hide. 6 Black-necked Grebes were out there as well as a Grey and Kentish Plover. We then went along the front, right to the end to find a suitable seawatching point. We found one about 200m passed the last cafe. From here we manged to see 7 Razorbills reasonably close in and a Black Wheatear on the rocks behind us. The trip round the rear of the reserve was "interesting"! The puddles were ponds, one of which interested a Redshank. There was a large flock of gulls, mostly Lesser Black-backs, but a few Audouin's as well. The mozzies were out in force. Did see Black-tailed Godwit, Avocet, Shelduck and Dunlin, but no sign of the Phalarope.

With the successes of the Great Spotted Eagle and the Belted Kingfisher we can't moan.....much!!
A total of 47, so a good day.

News from Málaga
The peculiar northern calidus type Peregrine that caused so much discussion (see the blog) was still at the Guadalhorce as of 29 January (Bob Hibbett). There have been several records of 1-3 Purple Sandpipers at Calaburras, as well as a Grey Phalarope and a Great Northern Diver in the past week (Paco Ríos and Paco Villalobos). Almist a rarity and certainly a jolly nice bird to see is the Guillemot in Fuengirola harbour, first seen last week (Bob Hibbett) and obviously liking the place as it was still there yesterday, 28 January (me).


double edition, 21 and 22 January

Sounds like a bargain on the market, doesn't it? Actually, this is the blog for 21 January at the Guadalhorce with Bob Wright and members of the Axarquía Bird Group but all the time that was supposed go into that went into the previous blog on the odd Peregrine Falcon that we thought was a Lanner Falcon (if you really want to learn / be bored out fo your mind, read that!) and for yesterday, 22 January, when Bob Hibbett and I went up to Fuente de Piedra. So, here goes (although Bob has written most of it in his Axarquía blog).

21 January, Guadalhorce: A coolish start and later warm. As we went in, upstream there were 4 Spoonbills, none of them ringed. The colour ringed one that Bob saw last week and mentioned in his blog came from Terschelling (the second of the Friesian islands, Holland) and I recorded it last autumn. Where it has been since the two sightings is a mystery.

Most of the effort yesterday- several hours' worth - went into the odd falcon which has been previously reported and photographed and which was thought to be a Lanner - I have never seen a less peregrine-like Peregrine! But, as those who are strong will have read, it has turned out to be a calidus race Peregrine which may have wandered down from Siberia. Other raptors included Kestrels (of course), at least one Marsh Harrier, three or four Booted Eagles, the Osprey and a Common Buzzard - 6 species of birds of prey, which isn't bad.

The result of the preoccupation with the supposed lanner that wasn't meant that I forgot to keep a day list, but, as the accompanying photo shows, Bob didn't and here is the evidence of his ornithological prowess!

There is far too much water and no shore at all for waders to wade along, There was a suprising lack of ducks also, possibly because there is so much water all over Andalucía that they're spoilt for choice! The best was undoubtedly a very smart male Wigeon but the male Teal are also very bonny and were showing well at the laguna grande.

Only one Zitting Cisticola / Fan-tailed Warbler was seen, which is one more than last time I was there. I rather fear that the little chaps may have been badly hit by the prolonged heavy rain, just as they were a couple of winters since when it was very cold for a long time. Fortunately, they seem to be highly fecund and no doubt the population will bounce back rapidly. We also saw a single male Dartford Warbler down towards the seawatch mirador and a Hoopoe was also seen (I missed that).

We had a look at the sea but the only thing in evidence apart from the inevitable gulls, which also included a 1W Mediterranean, there were at least 8 Black-necked Grebes.


22 January, Fuente de Piedra: When Bob Hibbett and I left Torremolinos it promised a lovely sunny morning, until we crested the top of El Romeral, the road that takes one down towards Antquera and whole of the Vega de Antequera should be spread out in front of you. Except that it wasn't as it was blanketed in a thick fog, and I do mean thick. So thick that on the A-92 heading westwards with a visbility of less than 30m at a speedy 70 km/h (other idiots were holding to their 120 km/h, presumably their faith in a divine being greater than mine), we headed first for the Laguna Dulce at Campillos. First surprise, there was water in it - lots of water as far as we could see through the mist, which wasn't very far, in which a few male Shovelers were showing that their hormones weren't going to be deterred by weather conditions. Another visit soon with better conditions could repay the attention.

So, giving up there we headed first for a coffee at the camp site at Fuente and wondered what we would find at the laguna, always assuming that the fog would burn off. The answer is dead simple - we found FOG, thick FOG. So we had a look at the new information centre, now open and very plush it is too.They even have a web cam which showed .... fog! The huge picture window where there used to be the terrace would give a fabulous view if there wasn't ... well you know what!

Water there is in vast quantity, I haven't seen so much since 1998-99. The fields around are flooded and if only the waders find it on return migration it will be fabulous at the new flashes by the wooden walkway. As it was, there was next to nothing. We had very brief views of the same Bluethroat seen on other trips, a few Shovelers, some Lapwings and also some Stone-curlews, a few Black-winged Stilts that were only half-heartedly preparing for their breeding hysterics and a single Snipe. It was here too that we saw the bird of the day, the first House Martin of the year (Bob saw 2 but one vanished in the mist!).

By noon the fog was beginning to burn off so we went along to Cantarranas and by then the sun was starting to break through. We saw a few Cranes, 6 or 8 I think in total which included a family party of Mama and Dad and 2 off-sprung. As Bob said, hearing them 'talking' to each other is one of the most delightful, really wild, sounds that there is in nature, alongside that of divers calling to each other on a lonely loch I think. Also from Cantarranas we saw a superb fox with a really splendid brush (no, it wasn't Basil).

We made a final stop at the western end of the laguna where we could really appreciate how much water and how deep it is. The Greater Flamingos were concentrated in the shallower water, and even then some were up to their bellies, and there wasn't a single Lesser in sight. As Bob rightly said, the water is just too deep for them, so my prognosis is that there will be (a) few records this spring and (b) an attempt at breeding looks rather improbable.

So, as there are no photos from yesterday and as you know that I like dogs, as do some of your good selves, I thought that some may like to see a couple of shots of my sister's young retriever puppy, Holly, who was her Christmas present to herself and is an absolute little enchantress (the puppy, not my sister).


you live and you learn- Northern Peregrine Falcon

This is a very long blog, with photos, about the odd falcon at the Guadalhorce which was seen on 19 January, first by Blas López Soler who took the photos, and on 21 January by several including Bob Wright, Eric Lyon and myself. It was thought to be a Lanner Falcon by most of us and certainly it appeared most un-peregrine-like when we saw it. This prompted me to get in touch with some of the best European raptor experts, as you will see their comments at the end. Read on, McDuff, and damned be he/she who cries 'hold enough'. I shan't bame you if you give up, but it really has been a very educational exercise! Tomorrrow I shall write up what we saw and Thursday and what Bob Hibbett and I saw today, Friday. The morning of 21 January a group of birders, of whom Eric Lyon, Bob Wright and myself at least had plenty of experience of Peregrines in varous parts of the world, plus other species such as Gyr Falcon and Barbary Falcon.

The bird was seen perched in one of the eucalyptus trees, apparently the same one used when photographed by Blas and seen from the eastern embankment at a range of ca.300m but using telescopes with magnifications of up to 60x, with sunshine coming from the left. It was watched by Bob, Eric and myself for some 6-7 minutes before it dropped to the ground some 25m away from its perch, presumably on to some prey which it must have caught as it did not reappear, in spite of us waiting sometime and keeping watch throughout for it during the remaining 2 hours in the reserve.

The following description is that recorded by myself at the time and made up from the joint comments of the three of us as seen through telescopes at magnifications between 45x and 60x.

Size and jizz

Upright stance and not at all hunch-backed, it appeared rather long-necked, with head and bill clearly visible. Widest across the ‘shoulders’ and then a very tapered aspect lower body to long wings, their tips and tail being apparently the same length (see photographs). The general comment was that it was a most un-peregrine-like bird and there was no way that we were looking at a Peregrine Falcon.

- Back brown; tail not seen as obscured by wings (see photos).

- Breast with wide, clearly visible streaks which extended to lower belly and flanks; upper breast appeared unmarked; chin white.

- Face showed pale between bill and eye; a notably long, thin and pointed moustachial stripe, most unlike a Peregrine; a large, pale, off-white area between moustachial stripe and the brown towards rear side of neck.

The most intriguing part of the bird was the head pattern. It was extremely difficult to decide if the crown of the head was paler or not, but there was a hint of an eye stripe (even at 300m) also paler on the forehead. We were certain that the rear crown and nape of the neck was paler, position and light not letting us see if all the crown was pale.

When one compares what we saw with the photographs which I had not previously examined, it is obvious that the photographs give much more detail.

So, pretty well convinced that we had seen a Lanner Falcon as it was so different to any Peregrine, I set to and put out the news of it being a ‘probable’ Lanner. This, as I had hoped, elicited several replies from some very hot birders who know their raptors, in particular from Dan Zetterstrom (Sweden, co-author of the Collins Bird Guide) and Andrea Corso (Italy, who has done a lot of work on raptors in Sicily and Strait of Messina area in particular, and to Dick Forsman (Finland, author of The Raptors of Europe and the Middle East). To them I am most grateful for their comments quoted here.


From Andrea Corso: This is not a Lanner of any race... in fact, its a juvenile in fresh plumage and it show barred mark on flanks...NEVER shown by ANY Lanner when juvenile... only in adult feldeggi and few N African birds....

So, we are facing with a Peregrine for sure...only, I would like to know about its dimension and if you have or will manage to obtain any front view and underwing pattern...in fact, the tail seems to be short for a calidus, and also the whole body seems to be rather slim and small and compact...if it was rather small bird I would say a pelegrinoides, otherwise I would say a calidus !

Also, the head pattern is never shown like that in any Lanner...with this darker crown and than the broad supericlium meeting behind the head forming as a necklace around the crown.... this is very Barbary and calidus-like ….indeed calidus does not have any structure of the Peregrine most Europeans are used with...as in fact they are slender, longer tailed, longer winged, longer legged etc...as being long distance migrant...and they are confused with Lanner by 99% of WP birders...

From Dan Zetterstrom : Now I´ve had time to have a closer look at your falcon. I think we can exclude a Lanner right away because of headpattern (no dark 'tiara') and barred flanks, and concentrate on the peregrine-group. Those are really tricky and highly variable. The plumage of your bird is often regarded as typical of the calidus-type of Siberia, but a quite a few juveniles from southern Sweden is identical in this respect so I seriously question the possibility of identifying single calidus outside breeding-range. The other question is the possibility of a vagrant Barbary. Really tricky issue since this two forms seems to show a cline in plumage with only the most typical birds possible to identify. I think your bird show very light proportions with quite a large head (maybe pointing at Barbary), but this is also a feature of male Peregrines. If I had to 'vote' I would suggest a juvenile male Peregrine of northern origin.

From Dick Forsman: ….. regarding your bird, I'm afraid I have to disappoint you. The bird in the pictures is a juvenile of the northern, so called calidus-type Peregrine. They are constantly misidentified as Lanners or Sakers all over Europe, much because this type of Peregrine is so poorly illustrated in the field guides. The head-pattern, the broad spots on the flanks and the rufous markings below do not fit Lanner. This individual is actually a rather average-looking calidus-type juvenile.

So, you live and you learn. If you have stuck with all this, congratulations!

All photographs by Blas López Soler on 19 Januay 2010.


20 January, Embalse de Negratín, Arboleas Bird Group

Another brave offering from Almería and Arboleas Bird Group. Tomorrow, if I have time after going to Fuente de Piedra, I will tell you all the story of a peculiar falcon at the Guadalhrce today and what some of who get involved on behalf of others go through, although really it comes down to 'you win some, you lose some.....'

The forecast for Baza was clear blue skies, so five members of the group headed for the Embalse de Negratin. It was cloudy with sunny patches, so no complaints! As per usual there was very little bird life on the water. Three Cormorants, one Great Crested Grebe, a few flying Yellow-legged Gulls and a possible Mallard.....it was flying away from us so we only got a rear end view!!
Down in the sheltered valley below the dam we faired slightly better. Lots of small birds: Great Tit, Blue Tit, Serin, Greenfinch, Chaffinch, Blackcap, Black Redstart and Robin. Expected to see Redwing, but all the suspects turned into Song Thrushes. On the cliff tops we spotted Blue Rock Thrush and Black Wheatear. Gilly spotted a solitary Griffon Vulture. I was just trying to think what bird could be our bird of the day when a lovely Peregrine Falcon passed over our heads at about 100ft. Sorted!
Ended up with 31 species. Not brilliant, but great to be out in semi decent weather!!


a reply to Bob

This is hardly a blog but rather a reply to Bob (see comments section of my previous blog) who asks me to say what I really think, even if I buy the gun and he the shells, or vice-versa.

I shall ask for a Barrett .50 calibre sniper rifle for my birthday and a hundred or so rounds of hollow point shells for the long range work. These can stop anything at any range, but just to be on the safe side I shall also ask for a .357 magnum handgun, long barrelled, for closer work. I'll make Dirty Harry look like a beginner. And yes, I can shoot!

I am totally brassed off with the lack of wardening, the inadequate signposting and the total illiteracy and consideration of those who visit, many being either /or photographers or birders themselves who are equally illiterate and who think that signs do not apply to them. The dogs aren't responsible, their owners are and should be held to account. I should point out that there are some few owners who do keep their dogs on a lead all the way round and who are considerate, others are just plain damned arrogant and if one does say something then a mouthful could well be the reply.

Damned big fines of 200€ plus for any transgression after adequate signing is in place wouldn't be a bad start, with the rural agents who have the authority to stop and get details blitzing the place during a month. Four weekends of blitz and the word will get around. It's called education the hard way.

The day of reckoning will draw nigh when I let rip and I shall even give the authorities the right to reply before publishing the same and their replies in both blogs. If anyone has photographs of dogs loose, people loose where they shouldn't be and so on, do let me have them along with details of time and date. Lunatic cyclists who should have a bell (a legal requisite) and who just come upon one at a high rate of knots.

Things can not and must not be allowed to go on like this and unless someone is prepared to say something and others are prepared to stand up and be counted along with me, things will NOT improve. Am I annoyed? Yes, I ******* well am.

PS: Bob will now be counting the little stars and trying to work out what fits!


16 January, Guadalhorce (yet again) and complaints

Last evening I was full of what I was going to do this morning, which meant getting on with the blankety-blank illustrations as the son is away having a lecherous weekend and the daughter not gracing us with her presence from Madrid. But, as many of you will have realised by now, I am terribly easily led and when Federico rang to say that he was down from Córdoba and how did I fancy going down to the Guadalhorce... well, there are no prizes for guessing my reply. So, here I am, typing this whilst a major portion of what is laughingly called a brain is listening to my Christmas present to myself (Cecilia Bartoli singing Rossini's La Cenerentola - and jolly nice it is too, I like Rossini).

This it was at just before 0930 we ventured in. There is still a lot of very muddy looking water coming down both arms of the river and the levels were on the high side so the Spoonbills which have been frequenting upstream were not to be seen, although Pat tells me that there were 5 an hour earlier when she went in (the early birder sees the Spoonbills!). Indeed, the water levels are far too high all round, there being a marked absence of islets and shore on which waders and other species might stand and indeed there was quite a marked lack birds, both specifically and numerically. Nevertheless, we persevered and came up with one, yes, one wader, and that a Common Sandpiper on the shore. No Sanderlings, no Turnstones, not even an hysterical Stilt, in fact, no now't (as they say in Yorkshire).

And ducks and waterbirds you may ask? Well, you may but again the outlook was pretty dire. While there were plenty of Little Grebes we saw only one Black-necked. I didn't keep an exact duck count but I don't think that we saw more than half a dozen White-headed, perhaps twenty or so Pochard, some very bonny Shovelers, a few Mallard and a couple each of Gadwall and Teal, plus we heard a Wigeon which refused to show itself but the call is unmistakable but Pat, being lucky, saw 3 of them, as well as a Kingfisher and 9 Kentish Plovers on the beach (I don't do beaches except as a treat of the dog as my knees have a strong self-destructive tendency on sand).

Equally unmistakable was the call of a Stone-curlew down towards the seawatch mirador but which we couldn't find. From the mirador itself we saw 8 Balearic Shearwaters heading east. Actually, what I consider to be the best bird of the day was down there too in the form of at least one male Dartford Warbler, a distinctly scarce species in the reserve.

As a side note, we stopped to talk to an English gentleman - we knew he was English because he was in shirt sleeves whilst we did our impression of two Esquimaux and he also spoke English, which is a dead give-away - and he asked about a duck he had seen on Wednesday and gave a perfect description of a Ruddy Shelduck, but these are common in collections and are to be found in at least one Málaga park.

We stopped at the laguna Escondida to see if we could see a Purple Boghen and one showed itself beautifully for about 2 minutes before dispappearing deep into the reeds whence it had come (Pat didn't see that!). But there was little else there. Chiffchaffs were remarkably scarce considering how many there had been before the NewYear and we didn't see or hear a single Zitting Cisticola (a.k.a. Fan-tailed Warbler), perhaps the heavy and prolonged rains have decimated their population just as a prolonged cold winter did three winters since.

At least there were some raptors. The same Common Buzzard which has been around for nearly a month was sitting looking depressed amongst the riff-raff of the Cormorants in the eucalyptus, one of these (a cormorant, not an eucalyptus) was in nearly full breeding plumage. We saw 3 certain Booted Eagles, a single immature Marsh Harrier, the usual Kestrels and the Osprey.

The remaining species were the sort of thing that one might well expect to see and I'm not up to lists, so, the sum for the morning was 36 species. Not great but better than nothing and sitting indoors.

1. As Antonio Miguel Pérez, the warden, has not had his contract renewed by Egmasa we were treated to the sight of several dogs running free and nobody with authority to call attention. My own inclination is to shoot the owners first and the dogs second, the breeding season will soon be upon us. We saw two chaps in a Medio Ambiente van who stopped for at least 3 minutes, which is as much use as a wet paper bag.

2. The beach is in a terrible state and needs cleaning of unnatural litter (plastics, etc.), plus shelters built by the male nudists. If they like the sun and fresh air so much, why do they need shelters?

3. The blinds by the first hide overlooking laguna de la Casilla on the eastern arm and also at the laguna Escondida and which are supposed to hide the approach of man (and woman, just so I am not accused of chauvinism) are distinctly non-vertical and one by the hide at the laguna Grande isn't happy either. I wonder how long it will take for them to be repaired?

4. Meanwhile snail-gatherers, those are the chaps with plastic bags who wander around in a Quasimodo-like position, go where the devil they like and they are not stopped.

Keep watching this space. One day soon I'll have a really good gripe and copy the photos and text in the rather neglected Spanish blog too, then I hope that you can all have a mass gripe to the (in)competent authorities.


14 January, Arboleas Bird Group

Gilly and Dave must be the least wimpy as I haven't been out for ages except for a to and from Madrid since last Saturday when the best was a small flock of Cranes and 2 Red Kites on La Mancha on Saturday. The return on Monday is best forgotten as the Ave did not fly but rather staggered as far as Cordóba. But Gilly and Dave are obviously made of stronger stuff, as Dave's account shows, and I reckon they deserve a gold star for effort!

14 January, Cabo de Gata, Arboleas Birding Group
The forecast was for high gusty winds with cloud cover. Gilly and I were the only two members to the group to be brave (or stupid) enough to venture down to our favourite local site, Cabo de Gata. As we arrived at the first hide, just beyond the village of Pujaire, we could see the high water level we encountered previously was actually slightly worse. Again the water was virtually up to the hide and had stretched to the other side of the road. There a small flock of Crag Martins were overflying a shallow pool which was occupied by 4 Shovelers. On the main water in front of us the only wader visible was a solitary Black-tailed Godwit on the mostly submerged causeway. 2 Lapwings did fly over and we did spot 11 Grey Plovers on the scrubland to our right. A Southern Grey Shrike landed on the fence not three metres in front of the hide, but sound of a camera being picked up frightened it away!

We then moved to the beach, prior to going to the second hide. The off-shore wind was tremendously strong and big waves were crashing on to the beach. Out to sea we had glimpses of a steady stream of Balearic Shearwaters being forced close to shore. As well as a couple of Gannets, I'm sure other good birds were not identified because of only the briefest of views and streaming eyes! A single Sanderling and Curlew were on the sand. At the hide Gilly counted only 130 Greater Flamingos. One Cormorant was spotted and a couple more Curlew and Grey Plover were on the steppes. No waders at all at the public hide due to lack of unsubmerged scrapes. On the salina to the right I spotted a pair of Black-necked Grebes and a raft of 500+ Black-headed Gulls, a few of which had their full breeding heads on.

We then ventured round the rear of the reserve. Do NOT try this route at the moment without a 4x4. Puddles up to the running boards!

On the first stretch of water a flock of 83 Audouin's Gulls were resting. Was close enough to see the numbered rings of 7 of them which I've forwarded to Andy to pass on. It'll be interesting to hear where they've come from. A Meadow Pipit came nicely within camera range. Small numbers of Dunlin, Little Stint and Avocet were seen. Singles of Black-winged Stilt and Redshank were noted. As we got near to the end were there are cultivated fields we put up a Green Sandpiper and a flock of about 10 Stone Curlews.
Saw 40 species for the day. Well satisfied.


Belted Kingfisher in Murcia

A new message from Gilly and Dave from the Arboleas Bird Group, this about the Belted Kingfisher Ceryle alcyon, an American kingfisher not unknown in Europe and a major twitch, which has been around for at least a month. I used to see them regularly in the winter in the Bahamas where they would fish not only over fresh water, hovering, but also over the sea when it was relatively calm. Herewith Dave's chronicle and photo to their cracking start to the year.

As the Arboleas Birding Group trip today was cancelled due to the persistent rain, Gilly and I checked up on www.rarebirdspain.net to check out the last known location of the Belted Kingfisher. So this morning, in the pouring rain, we headed for the village of El Albujon in the Murcia province. The village was a bit awkward to get to, but well signposted. Following the supplied directions we headed down the N-301 till it was crossed by a concrete sided canal. We turned left along a small tarmacked road till we saw to our left a raised bank with a chain linked fence upon it. We knew from the satellite map this was the Megaceryle water deposit. We turned immediately right onto a road which down the side of that deposit and the much larger one behind it.

There, on the power lines between the road and the second deposit, was the Belted Kingfisher some 100 yards ahead of us. It was not fazed by passing vehicles. We drove only 25 yards closer. It flew over the water, hovered for 15 seconds, the returned to the wire. Managed to get a distant record shot before it flew to the south. Cracking bird. Was astounded by its size. Looked nearly Jackdaw size.

For the record :- Time 0930 hrs; date Thursday 7th January 2010


2 January, Fuente de Piedra

Having suffered a lack of birding recently and after a morning yesterday which could only be classed as 'adequate', it seemed reasonable to attempt a trip to Fuente de Piedra after the recent heavy rains, this time in company of Bob Wright. It was a beautiful morning when I left home and remained so until going down through the village of Fuente de Piedra when it got greyer and greyer and the visibility lower and lower. FOG. Was I happy? No I ******* well wasn't! But hope springs eternal in the Paterson breast when it comes to birding and my hope was that it would burn off, and burn off it did within 30 minutes of parking. In the end it turned into a beautiful morning, sunny, clear (with even more than a hint of heat haze when looking through the scope!) with the always agreeable company of Bob, one of those days which make life seem wonderful when there are the birds to accompany it.

And there was water in the laguna, lots
of it! And in the flashes on each side of the track in too, the only problem being that no waders had yet discovered it, but it was compensated for by a flock of some 110 Golden Plovers and on the way back they had been joined by 40+ Stone Curlews. But on the slow way in along the bottom track Bob found the first good bird of the day, a male Spanish Sparrow with nicely marked black spots on the breast and flanks in amongst the many House Sparrows (there may have been females too but we're not into those). There were hordes of White Wagtails and Chiffs too.

It was nice to see at least 3 Reed Buntings, they aren't exactly common but those were eclipsed by finding the 1st winter male Bluethroat which seems to be spending the winter there and which we saw on the last visit. Bluethroats are renowned for
suffering from an avian version of hyperactivity and this bird was no exception, but patience paid off and I got two half-way decent shots.

Meanwhile, out on the laguna a scan revealed a few Shoveler and Shelducks, some 50+ Avocets and, of course, the usual hysterical Black-winged Stilts some of which were practising their hysteria ready for the breeding season. Bob was looking the other way (usually my trick) and missed the female Marsh Harrier which had pounced on something unsuspecting and refused to fly again, presumably stuffed with New Year's rodent or similar.

A walk round the back to the big pond with the hide revealed very high water levels and once again the Little Owl was there, waiting for me to try and get a decent photo, and once again the Little Owl won, the score currently being 2-0 in its favour. The only other species of interest was a pair of Gadwall, the Mallards all looking as though they must have had a hell of a good party at New Year and were suffering from major hangovers. Thence back to the cars, spray water from the windscreen washers on a large moggie that refused to move from the bonnet of my car - it did so very rapidly! -and off we went around to Cantarranas.

And at last there were Cranes, well over 200 of 'em spread out in the fields on the right just before and down on the reserve. And there too were the Flamingos, well over a 1.000 we guesstimated. but the light was rather against us to see them well so we went on round to the west end where one can look down on the laguna as I was particularly interested in the presence (or absence) of Lesser Flamingos. As it was, there were 2 birds there, much redder and notably smaller than their bigger cousins, up to their bellies in the water (what a way to live!) whilst on the big cousins it only came up to the leg joint. A trio of Ravens came cronking over - how does the old country rhyme go and is it for Ravens or Magpies? "One for sorrow, two for joy, three for a girl, four for a boy ... etc." No girl appeared though.

So, running three-quarters of an hour late and in the clag yet again except for my dog who was glad to see me home - nice to know someone is even if it's for an ulterior motive as nobody had thought to feed her - I set off for home leaving Bob to go and have a shufti at the laguna Dulce. A really good morning's birding under ideal conditions, with some 39 spp., but I'm sure I've missed something on the list I was trying to keep. Days like this make life worthwhile.


1 January 2010 - Happy New Year (I hope!)

Happy New Year to all readers, reluctant and/or hung over or even avidly hanging on the pearls of wisdom that spout forth about birding (and if you believe that, you'll believe anything). Actually, I am nearly conscience stricken, or I would be if I knew what it meant, as last evening I said to Bob that as the metcast for this morning was rubbish it wasn't worth him driving down to the ponds and I hadn't any intention of going either, at which point I hadn't and I had more or less said the same to Patricia also.

First short break- there will be more - as I am watching that incredibly cultural cinematographic masterpiece 'The life of Brian' (in Spanish but it's still as funny and the dubbing is jolly good).

So, when it dawned relatively fine when I staggered out of the pit at around 08h, fed the dog, anointed her wounds from the surgery of the other day and had partaken of the first coffee of the day, it was still fine and didn't look like doing a downpour, I decided to renege on my words and go forth, especially as I hadn't gone forth on Christmas morning. So by 0930 I was parking when Patricia drove in behind me and we ventured in, Pat fashionably clad in a fetching pair of colour striped wellies. Not that we saw a lot as there has been so much water that there is no shore space for waders or foraging Bluethroats and even the duck population seems limited (either that or I have been unlucky yet again). In fact, the only waders we saw were 3 Black-winged Stilts on the way out. But I am jumping ahead and we're out before we're even in.

Three Spoonbills were way up river, along with a few Coots and Grey Heron. The most numerous ducks are still the Teal, immaculate still, and we saw those and very little else as we made our way to río viejo, along with some drops of rain which fortunately came to naught. The euclayptus trees, whcih look deader each visit with the after effects of massive doses of Cormorant droppings, housed, apart fom the aforesaid Cormorants, a Buzzard and a Booted Eagle. It is difficult to estimate how many Booteds there were, probably not more than 3 or 4, and they were definitely outnumbered by the Kestrels of which there must have been at least half a dozen. On the way out there was beautifully close adult female Marsh Harrier.

On the laguna escondida where we were joined by Gonzalo Lage. There was not too much either and the most interesting was a Cormorant that was engaged in a wrestling match with a rather large eel which the former was slowly winning but of which we did not see the end as they moved out of sight. My money was on the Cormorant. There too were a few Pochard and a single female White-headed Duck. There was no sign whatsoever of the 3, perhaps 4, Purple Boghens that Patricia had seen yesterday.

Thence to the final stop, the laguna grande which was also filled to the brim. More Teal, some 28 or so of them and a dozen of so Shovelers, a rather nice Black-necked Grebe - have you ever noticed how big their sterns look with all the feathers fluffed out? A single Kingfisher zipped across from left to right in front of the hide, one of those views that if you blink you've missed it! The male White-headed Duck shown here was there too and I think this bird had the longest tail that I have ever seen.It is easy to see why this small group of ducks is often called the 'stiff-tails'. Note too that the bill is black in winter, not that stupid blue of the breeding season.

And that just about brought us to the end of the morning, although there was still the best bird to see, a solitary Great White Egret/Heron (choose name according to age or guide used) which flew upstream. A total of about 35 spp. for the morning, not a lot but at least we were out in the fresh air.

And a final comment. The state of the blinds which are supposed to prevent the birds from seeing humans as we go to the hides is downright poor after the winds and rain. They have been like that for at least a week now. Anyone like to bet how long they will remain like that?