DAVE E-B & some birds

I am delighted to be able to report that Dave has been allowed out of hospital today and is home where he says that he is going to 'enjoy' a regime of diet and exercise, even though he says that he looks like a monster with red eyes after the defibrillation. So if you see him, don't scream and run.

Welcome back to real world, Dave, and remember, it's not Gilly's fault that you're on a diet! Stick at it, sunshine, we want you around for a long time yet!

Here in Torremolinos, Swallows passing this afternoon and this morning whilst I was looking out, a Hoopoe literally fell out of the sky and into the one pine we have left and sat looking totally banjaxed for a good half hour, it must have crossed the long way! Mick Richardson was down at the ponds on Tuesday and had a very early Tawny Pipit, he has just informed me.


medical bulletin: Dave Elliott-Binns - birds & weather

Gilly has been in touch with me a couple of times. As I know many if you who have read his reports from Almería with a mixture of pleasure and envy and I have had enquiries as to how he is progressing, this is the news as of today (23 February) from Gilly.

He has had two stents put in and but the covering ripped an artery as the catheter was being extracted (not at all unknown according to my son, who is an intensive care unit nurse) but because he is on blood thinners it's taking time to heal. Gilly says he is wanting to get home, which I always look upon as a good sign!!

Birds & weather
Today in Torremolinos we had sunshine at last with no rain at all - just about the first time this year and it was warm too!

This afternoon I had a call from Bob Hibbett down near Los Barrios (roughly inland from Algeciras if you aren't sure of your geography) to say there was a big inward movement of White Storks and Black Kites, plus more than a few hirundines moving through. Most of the action is further west and up in Seville province they are logging a lot more than us further east, the birds turn east later it seems, and the first Woodchat Shrike and Sedge Warbler have been seen there.


19 February, Fuente de Piedra.

First, some unfortunate news. I have just heard from Gilly Elliott-Binns that Dave, who has supplied so much information to this blog under the aegis of the Arboleas Birding Group, has had a major heart-attack today. He is responding to treatment and I am sure that all you who have read his reports and been jealous of what he and Gilly were seeing in Almería will join me in whatever power of thought or prayer that you may or not happen to believe in but basically wish him a rapid recovery, and of Gilly who is obviously most stressed. I shall endeavour to keep informed through this blog as I hear news.

So, on to today's birding which looked doubtful give the weather situation even up to 06.00 this morning after a very wet night here. after which the wind got up. I was very fortunate in that I was joined by an old friend who I have known for around 50 something years, a fellow seawatcher from Filey Brigg, and it gave me immense pleasure to take him and a birding friend of his up to the Laguna Dulce at Campillos and then on to Fuente de Piedra. They had a great time as well, even though there was nothing out of the ordinary and it was damned cold in the wind too.

Of course, and for the benefit of those outside Andalucía, it has been raining - so much that some have been looking up for the plans for an ark in google and all about cubits and that sort of thing. The effect on the country has been enormous. There has been huge flooding in some areas. In Cádiz province, for example, La Janda is under water, the reservoirs are having to discharge water as they are literally overflowing, rivers are in full, mucky brown flood (I shan't go more into the colouration) and the sea is stained brown to the horizon off Málaga-Torremolinos and Fuengirola.

So, on a very cold but at least not raining morning, we arrived first at the Laguna Dulce just ouside Campillos. It is, of course, over full, the fields around are flooded and there wasn't a sign of a Little Bustard where they normally hang out. The rabbits are on the surface as it must be sodden and they must need scuba gear to get in to their burrows. Surprisingly, there were few aquatic species than last time I was there with only a pair of Great Crested Grebes visible and about 6 Black-necked, although one of these was already in full breeding plumage, a rather splendid little bird. A small, probably about 30 birds, of Flamingos was feeding over on the far bank and there were a few Mallard and Pochard, Shoveler numbers had dwindled notably and a couple of Teal only and a small flock of about 14 Red-crested Pochards, beautiful things to see as most were males. There must have been a couple of hundred Lapwings in the soggy fields and I briefly picked up a distant flock of Calandra Larks.

From there we went on to Fuente de Piedra, going across the western end and seeing virtually no Flamingos at all except a small, distant flock and nearer small numbers of Cranes, which made Ron vey happy as he has them on his list of favourite species. He was to get even happier later after we had stopped at Cantarranas as there were birds spread out over the fields in front there and nearer to Fuente de Piedra. Mind you, I admit that I agree with him, listening to them 'talking' to each other is one of the great sounds of nature (along with listening to Great Northern or Black-throated Divers). We saw little else there except the same fox as I have seen on two previous occasions since December, except that this time he caught what I think must have been a Moorhen (it looked very black and there were no Coots in sight) and was last seen trotting off with his lunch.

On the road to the information centre, remodelled and now open with a tremendous picture window overlooking the lake, we saw more Cranes (the photos shown here were these birds) and also 5 Redshanks which took off and overflew us. As we turned off the road on to the lane up to the centre we saw the first of many Swallows, possibly as many as 50 during the course of the time there, lower numbers of House Martins and 1 each of Sand Martin and Crag Martin. All we needed for a full house was Red-rumped Swallow, but t'was not to be. These hirundines must be having a very hard time finding enough insects to maintain their strength with the mix of low temperatures and strong winds. On the rough land to the right where there have been Stone Curlews all winter there was not one but some 13 or so Dunlins feeding, later we were to get a maximum count at once of some 32-33 birds on the flash.

On the same flash there were some Flamingos feeding when we went in but they must have been sated when we left as the photo shows. Nearly all the Shovelers had gone and there was a solitary Avocet and the previously referred to Dunlin. No Bluethroat today and only one Meadow Pipit, a miserable list but at least Ron and Ian had enjoyed themselves greatly, and though it was cold we saw the sun!


17 February, Cabo de Gata, Arboleas Birding Group

Methinks that Dave must suffer from insomnia. In my household after a night with spasms of heavy rain we were awoken (all except the son and heir) by a clap of thunder that shook the windows, awoke the dog who reacted by barking just as there was another huge bang right overhead and all I could think of was John Laurie of Dad's Army fame and his sepulchral, "We're doomed, we're all doomed!" Once the dog was calmed down I decided that an early start and a coffee was in order, and I'm still working but this is the last act of the day whilst listening to 'The Gondoliers' - G & S is great to work to.

He saw 5 spp. of hirundines, jolly good going given the conditions but they still come, as I have heard of the same spp. coming over in the Strait and House Martins and Swallows have got up to Badajoz and House Martins have been seen in Madrid where there is snow (I shan't repeat what my daughter says about walking to work in the snow but it's not overly polite!). So, now to Dave's chronicle of what an insomniac sees when he ventures out in wild conditions!

The weather forecast was for strong WSW winds, which I hoped would push shearwaters towards the coastline. I got up early and was at the first hide just after first light. Water levels were still high, but there were a few larger waders sheltering on the mostly submerged rocky causeway. I could easily identify 3 Curlews and 4 Grey Plovers.
The others were Godwits. A passing Lesser Black-Backed Gull put them temporarily to flight and I counted 10 Black-tailed and 6 Bar-tailed. There was a lot of activity from the other side of the road. Due to the mud, I drove down a short track to the right of the small desalination building. There was a large shallow pool. Spring had obviously come to Cabo de Gata without my knowledge!

There were 10 Barn Swallows, a single Red-rumped Swallow, at least 3 House Martins, a similar number of Sand Martins and numerous resident Crag Martins.
2 Green Sandpipers flew off as I arrived. As I still hadn't ticked off a Black-headed Gulls for the day, I got the scope on a small gull down the far end. It was a first winter Little Gull. Got a distant record shot on the camera. 28 species for the first hide! At the beach, the wind wasn't as strong as predicted. A scan out to sea only produced 6 Sandwich Terns. I made my way to the second hide. A flock of 50+ Serins, the males very yellow, flittered between shrubs together with the odd Linnet and Greenfinch. The heavens then opened!

I was stuck there for over half an hour by the persistent rain and associated thunder and lightening. The only plus was that I would've missed the Oystercatcher! I eventually made my way back to the truck, slightly damp but happy to warm up with thermos coffee! At the public hide I managed to see Black-necked Grebe, Redshank and Kentish Plover.

I then moved to the seawatch point and was able to sit in my vehicle and observe the choppy sea whilst eating sarnies. Very disappointed. Only saw 4 passing Gannets and about 6 Sandwich Terns plus some regular gulls in the 45 minutes I was there. Maybe, due to the forecast, the sensible fishermen hadn't gone to sea and here were no boats visible.
Round the back of the reserve I headed. The track had reverted to elongated ponds (see photo).

The tally of waders rose with numerous Dunlin flocks, which had been infiltrated by Little Stints. There were also small numbers of Ringed Plover and Black-winged Stilt. As I reached the far end of the track I put up a flock of 50+ Stone Curlew.....and the sun was shining!! 51 species for the day. (And not even a runny nose, Andy!!). As I neared home a juvenile Bonelli's Eagle flew low over the truck to complete a very satisfactory day.


9 February, Cabo de Gata, Arboleas Birding Group

Another daring trip to Cabo de Gata by the Arboleas Birding Group, as well as the usual photos. I have put in two of Dave's photos of the Bluethroat as you can just see the reddish at each side of the base of the tail which is a good giveaway if you see one in brief flight (max. 3.9 seconds view in my experience) between one bit of scrub and the next, plus the Thekla Lark (I hate the damned things too, Dave). Nice to hear that you're seeing waders, envy, pure envy, there's damn-all here.

Dave Green had just got back from a family visit to Germany where the max temperature reached was a chilly -12c so he was pleased to warm up on a trip with Gilly and I to Cabo de Gata. At the first hide the water level was about the same, very high so very little on the water. On the flooded scrubland in front of the hide was a pair of Little Egret and a single Redshank. Over the road was a Black-tailed Godwit.

The star was a first winter Bluethroat who posed beautifully before us. At the beach the rollers were coming in & it was windy, but unfortunately it was coming from the wrong direction to bring any shearwaters close to shore. About a dozen Sandwich Terns had found a shoal of fish.

On route to the hide a Thekla Lark was very obliging (photo). ID confirmed by shape of beak in "Collins"....I still confuse them with Crested Lark.
Gilly counted 386 Greater Flamingos. There was one or possibly two juvenile (pink tipped bills) Spoonbill. Stone Curlew and Black-tailed Godwit were both spotted on the steppes. Small flocks of Greenfinches, Serins and Linnets were joined by the odd Corn Bunting. At the public hide, water levels dissuaded any waders, but not the 6 or so Black-necked Grebes. We then tried our new seawatch point beyond the end of Fabriquilla hamlet. Absolutely nothing apart from two mad French surfers! Round the back of the reserve the "ponds" on the track had reverted back to deep muddy puddles. A flock of 33 Audouin's Gull were at rest as were numerous Lesser Black-backed Gulls. We scanned the shallow waters for the Red-necked Phalarope which had again been seen a few days before, but to no avail. Did see Turnstone, Kentish, Ringed and Grey Plover, Redshank, Greenshank, Little Stint and Dunlin. Further along there were small flocks of Avocet and Shelduck. We ended up with 50 species so well satisfied with the day.


3 February, Rambla Morales, Arboleas Bird Group

Dave and Gilly were left to venture out on their own this last Wednesday, as Dave will explain. I draw your attention to his comments on the actions of the British dog walkers - Dave's mild description of them sums then up. Are you surprised that sometimes when I see British coming my way I cross the road and speak only Spanish? It makes me wonder what those men from 617 squadron, RAF, - the Dambusters - would have thought if they realised that they had given their lives for a bunch of ******** like those? I am ashamed to be from the same nation.

Gilly and I were on our own again as other members were abroad, or preparing to go there. The weather was sunny with a bit of cloud as we had a wander near to the chapel near Retamar. The sea was calm, but we only managed to see Cormorant and Black-headed Gulls. On the shoreline we had Turnstone, Kentish and Ringed Plovers and Sanderling. We drove off along the track and stopped for a little walk in a dried river bed towards a small tower. We were pleased to see a few Song Thrushes ....unusual here... a Blue Rock Thrush and our first Trumpeter Finch of the year. We'll definitely be stopping here again! Further along the track Gilly spotted movement on the steppes. A scan produced a flock of at least 52 Golden Plovers.

As we approached the Rambla de Morales we had good views of Lesser Short-toed Lark. Gilly managed to get some good photos. At the lake the water level was of course very high. 10 Greater Flamingos, 12 Shovelers, 3 Little Grebes, 7 Teal and a scattering of Coots and Moorhens were present. As we reached the far end we could hear a group of dog walkers approaching from the direction of the campsite. We increased our pace back to the track. As this loud English group, with their unleashed dogs, got level with the Flamingos they began to shout and whoop, causing the birds to take flight. As they flew off in formation these "scumbags" began to chant the dambusters theme song. There's never a warden or a Seprona officer around when you want one. Totally ruined our day. 39 species seen. Did see a sub-adult Golden Eagle on our way home up the motorway which cheered us up. Also, yesterday, the 6th, heard and saw our first Great Spotted Cuckoo of the "spring".