21 October, La Janda

Not having been anywhere, not even into the Guadalhorce ponds, since 8 October as the adult female member of the family was interned and the car learnt the way to the hospital at all hours, all birding was restricted to short walks in the afternoon along the river bank with the dog whilst the off-sprung stood guard with their mother (about time they were useful!).

All these walks gave of note was a pair of Barn Swallows and a single late Pallid Swift on 18th and a Whimbrel and a snake over a metre long of some sort (Luna would have thrown a whoopsie if she'd seen it) on 20th and a flock of c.135 Balearic Shearwaters on the sea in front of the humble abode, but, as they say back at home, 'owt is better than nowt'. Thus, when Stephen Daly of Andalucian Guides suggested that a morning out on La Janda where he has access to parts that normal beings can't reach (sounds like an ad. for that beer, doesn't it?) I accepted with something approaching the speed of light. I needed to get out as I was starting to get the first withdrawal symptoms.

So, by due appointment, at 0915 on 21 October I met Stephen at the Apolo XI bar at Tahivilla and from there we went boldly where I had never been before, into the forbidden lands of Finca La Haba, where he has visiting rights, after which we ran alongside the canal and out the top on to the N-2340. I didn't care that it was blowing a good 5-6 easterly, I was birding!
The area we went in to was full of rice paddies and we found a goodly selection of birds as well as American Crayfish which are gobbled up eagerly by egrets, White Storks and the like. The strong wind tended to keep the birds down and those that did move shot past at mach 1+. It was nice to see a late Northern Wheatear and a female Whinchat also, both very smart birds. We must have seen 5 or 6 Bluethroats but none showed well except for the 2 Willow Warblers as they didn't like the wind and hid quickly.
There were some big flocks of sparrows and even though they flew regularly, spotting the occasional male Spanish Sparrow when they settled was difficult in the lashing branches and leaves and we also spotted at least one probable hybrid male (crossed with a normal House Sparrow) in amongst them. In the open areas amongst the paddies there were plenty of Green Sandpipers and Snipe, as well the ubiquitous White Storks which can't be bothered to cross to Africa - after all, why move if you've the restuarant serving crayfish at all hours? There were quite good numbers of Meadow Pipits also and lesser numbers of Calandra Larks and later we saw a couple of lateish Swallows.

What was nice to see was the arrival of the first Cranes (although Bob has just phoned to say he saw the first ones in Doñana on Tuesday - read his blog, it makes one feel quite sick at all they saw in 4 days!). The lone injured bird which spent the summer on La Janda (R) must have been going bonkers at hearing and seeing them, somewhere in the region of 250-270 in various flocks.

The only raptors were a few Lesser Kestrels, plenty of Marsh Harriers with several immature males in amongst them, a single Common Buzzard and two of perhaps the prettiest raptor we see on La Janda - Black-shouldered Kite, of which this photo is testimonial of one of them as the distance was great and so was the wind.

Regrettably, all good things come to an end and Stephen had to be off by 12.30 which left me to bird on my own, so I repeated the run along the canal and then planned to go across the top, by the smelly farm and then down to the corner where the road turns left for Benalup. Just past the farm, I ran into a stream of Griffon Vultures moving south, their migration is on and there had been report of some 3.000 trying to cross the Strait earlier in the week. I examined every damned one of around 300 birds in the stream, but there was nothing resembling a Rüppell's so I carried on across.

ripening race field

Once at the corner, I stopped and to my amazement found that the track that heads south towards Facinas had been graded and roughly filled. This track has been effectively closed to normal vehicles for ages unless you have jolly big 4x4, preferably a Humvee or similar, so it was with delight that I found that it posed no problems for my Ford Fusion (which is just a bit higher clearance than normal saloon). So, off I drove and saw very little except clouds of dust and a solitary, rather late Black Kite.

Everything went well, the track was reasonable, until I found a pile of fill and from then on things went rather pear-shaped as there is still work to be done. At one point I even debated about turning round and going back back plugged on with great care and very slowly and got through without any damage to the exhaust system. And if it rains, it will be totally impassable in no time at all - YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!

Having regained tarmacked road by Facinas, it was time to be off and with the strong wind moving the car all over the place it was not pleasant driving. However, being a glutton for punishment, I stopped at the mirador del Estrecho, just east of Tarifa, and caught up with the same Griffon Vultures I had seen at the north end of La Janda. Vultures do not like crossing water and especially not in strong winds and they were wandering around, down to Tarifa, back again, fly inland, then down again but there was no way they were going to cross. So, to finish off the day, couple of photos of them - play at 'count the vultures' on the left hand photo - and homewards with a total species count of 43 for the day, not a lot but I had enjoyed my day out and Luna was glad to see me home!


some good news

This is not good news about birds or birding, it's not even about the Costa (although it does have applications down here as I shall later explain) but there is good news tonight (can you tell me who said that and when?) and copy and paste the attached link (it's loooong).

http://news.sky.com/skynews/Home/UK-News/Otters-Fight-Back-From-The-Brink- Of-Extinction-To-Make-A-Comeback-Across-English-Rivers/Article/201010315760408?lpos=UK_News_Second_UK_News_Article_Teaser_Region_5&lid=ARTICLE_15760408_Otters_Fight_Back_From_The_Brink_Of_Extinction_To_Make_A_Comeback_Across_English_Rivers

I saw my first otters up in North Yorkshire, a pair of them, early one summer's morning many moons since, although I knew about the protagonist one from a book (which?) where it says that '...there is nothing, simply nothing, like messing about in boats'. They feature too, of course, in that rather nice book 'Ring of Bright Water' (who wrote that?).

I have seen them on La Janda by the canal some years since and they are in the Guadalhorce at least, including within the reserve. Indeed, one was seen only a month since. They are to be found in the río Genil and there must be plenty of other spots. But quite simply, they are super mammals, intelligent, playful and a joy to watch if one is lucky enough to see one. I make no excuses for sharing the news with you.

And if you wish to exercise the little grey cells, work out the answers and write them in invsible ink on non-returnable 100€ bills.




These warnings are genuine and should not be ignored.

1. Guadalhorce Do NOT park your car up on the top by the bridge and even on the road by the ramp as I have heard of at least three vehicles which have been broken in to. Park either in front of the church or by the school, as these offer slightly greater security.

2. Fuente de Piedra The warning has just gone on the Spanish avesforum site out that cars left in the car park by the information centre have been broken into in the past few days. Things should ever be left in view of the light-fingered little gits which abound. This warning aso includes the observation area at Cantarranas.

3. Doñana Since witing the above, I have also been advised that such robberies are not unknown in the Doñana area.

4. Las Norias It also comes to mind that Dave Elliott-Binns had his vehicle broken into at Las Norias a year or so since and a camera nicked.

If you do suffer such an aggression, even if it is nothing more than the inconvenience of a broken window and no material loss, do take the trouble to denounce it to the Guardia Civil or local police. It has also been suggested that given that many of us have telescopes and telephoto lenses, that we photograph from a distance anyone seen around our vehicles and make these available to the authorities.

It has been suggested by several members of SEO-Málaga that birders, who are often prone to have bird group stickers on their vehicles (I have myself), are advertising that they may have valuable materials in the vehicle. It may well be a good idea to remove such stickers, as I shall be doing myself tomorrow.


3 and 4 October, Guadalhorce

Two rather incomplete mornings birding down at the Guadalhorce but for very different reasons. Yesterday, 3 October was International Birds Day, a world wide celebration organised by BirdLife International and in Spain by its partner, SEO (the Spanish Ornithological Society) and at the most basic, local level, by volunteers from the Málaga branch of SEO.

3 October: People, people everywhere and not a lot to see, rather sums it up. The stand SEO where people could watch ringing taking place (I know they got a Bluethroat amongst many other spp.), children colour in bird outlines (new spp. for the field guides!) and have their faces painted rather sums it up. The hides were full, as can be seen, and folks were still pouring in at nearly 13.00 when I left, having been in there since about 0830 and having seen 2 handsome adult Nightherons before even crossing the bridge in. It is, of course, an event where one runs into people that haven't been seen for a year and that too takes it toll on the birding.

On the bird front there was not a lot to be seen. In the dead and dieing eucalyptus trees in which the first Cormorants back for the winter are starting to sit, there was the Osprey tucking into its breakfast and further to the left a pair of Peregrines, it being always exciting to see these as one never knows what they are going to do, while a pair of 2 juv. Marsh Harriers were floating around, one a very black bird.

I actually made it as far as the seawatch mirador and was surprised by the number of juvenile Gannets moving out westwards and saw what is an annual event, the westerly migration of Grey Herons, these cutting across the bay and making their landfall just about over the reserve before continuing either westwards or making their way inland. I didn't keep an exact count and nor was I watching specifically (tut-tut!) but there must have been 18-20 that I saw. In the wader line there were a few Black-winged Stilts, and singles of Greenshank, Common Sandpiper and Bar-tailed Godwit. Hardly exciting but they probably saw the masses coming and got the hell of town! A fleeting glimpse of electric blue Kingfisher is always nice and at the opposite end of the scale an apparently drap but delicately marked Spotted Flycatcher was nicely visible, but in the it was people that were seen most.

4 October: This was a long-standing date to meet Ann and Dave Jefferson from Nerja, even though it was impossible for me stay a long time. An over-flying Sparrowhawk was vitutally the first bird I saw, but again, we spent as much time talking about their holiday in Scotland (Dave had previously sent me a great shot of an adult Sea Eagle). We went to the two hides and then the seawatch mirador along the eastern bank there were a few Swallows and Sand Martins were moving through, showing us that autumn is drawing onwards.

It was of some interest that at the laguna de la Casilla (in front of the first hide) there was a juv. Black Tern which Dave later managed to photograph (shown left here) and a few Pochard. On the way back there were also 2 juv. Little Terns, delicate little birds, which had come in and which are always a delight to watch. There doesn't appear to be a single White-headed Duck in the whole reserve at present - they're all up at tle laguna Dulce at Campillos having a convention! Down on the river at the end there was solitary Greenshank which we had heard earlier and a few juv. Gannets moving over the sea, but less than yesterday. In front of the second hide along the bank there were a few, rather sleepy Stilts, the more or less resident Spoonbills which seem to have been around for weeks and a single Common Sandpiper and by that time I had to make off for home, rather regrettably, as things promised to be better, and that without even visiting the laguna grande. Still, otra vez será.


1 October, Laguna Dulce and Fuente de Piedra

1 October This morning, as I was awake early and all body parts appeared to be without any malfunctions, I decided to hie me off and fit in a quick visit to three areas, the first to Los Llanos de Antequera where Mick Richardson had seen both Ortolan Bunting and distant Great Bustard earlier in the week, to be followed by the Laguna Dulce just to the east of Campillos and finally to Fuente de Piedra.

I was in the area where Mick had seen the Ortolans soon after dawn. In my book, this is always a good bird to see even though they breed at one or two points high up in the Sierra Nevada but the French still persist in eating them. I shan't say that I would like to in case sensitive persons are reading this. Needless to say - no luck.

So on to the Laguna Dulce at Campillos which has kept water in it all summer. I think the last time I saw it so full at this time of year was back in 1990 after the heavy rains of November-December 1989. The lake was a wonderful sight for ornithologically sore eyes in the early morning sunshineas it is teeming with aquatic birds and I could quite easily have spent most of the morning there but time was scarce. There are (or appear to be) thousands of Coots and it is claimed that a Red-knobbed Coot has been seen but finding one in that lot and given the size of the laguna, I reckon a pretty big dose of luck is needed, especially as the little red billiard balls it sports on its head shrink in the post breeding period. (That could be a good new name- the Red Billiard Ball Coot - like it?). And checking through the shape of the frontal shield on its forehead and the contrast between bill colour and frontal shield ..... well, good luck if you want to try it but make sure that you have lots of time!

So, scanning twice slowly through all the birds swarming all over the lake and the counting the White-headed Ducks and guesstimating some of the more interesting species took far longer than I had intended. However, I came up with a total of a minimum of 70 White-headeds and that it almost certainly on the light side, just as it is with the 20+ Red-crested Pochards (bonny birds, the males). I have no estimates for Gadwall (how does 'not a lot' sound?), Pochard (not a lot of them either)or even Mallard. It was nice to see at least 30 Black-necked Grebes and 20+ Great Crested Grebes. So, if you have the time and the telescope which is an absolute necessity, it is certainly worth a visit. I may well try and get up again next week and devote more time to it. (On Sunday,I heard that there have also been sightings of Ferruginous Duck there this last week.)

From there it was on to Fuente de Piedra. Coming round the western end on the road to Sierra de Yeguas, I stopped (as one should always do) at the open point as one goes over the top. The view was breathtaking. The lake is full of Flamingos and the smell of them wafted up delicately on the faint zephyrs of wind. How many? LOTS 'N LOTS - like 30.000 lots, give or take a few thousand each way. The sight fair takes your breath away (as they say where I come from and provided you're a non-smoker) Again, try counting but I was interested in trying to find a Lesser Flamingo, of which there has been a marked lack - like none - since a sighting I had right back in early January. Why? I suppose because that there's water everywhere where there hasn't been for years but neither have they been reported except as isolated records in other parts of Spain since then either.

A quick look from the mirador at Cantarranas revealed that it would be a waste of time to spend any time there as everything was up-sun and in silhouette, but there is water down in front of the watch point and it would undoubtedly repay attention in the afternoon when the sun has come round. 4 Black-winged Stilts were busy having one of their hysterical arguments on the edges but there wasn't even a harrier of any sort to liven the day. I carried on and stopped at the mirador at La Vicaría where there were a lot of Shovelers, lots of them, with at least 500 in the lake, many in front of the raised hide there.

So, with time running away and with a time limit to be home the last stop was the centre itself. There, I had the pleasure of watching 4 spp. of hirundines : Red-rumped Swallows (10+), Barn Swallows, House Martins (most juvs.) and Sand Martins (5+), these sitting on the wire by the centre and taking short flights around and where these photos were taken.

The lake over the back, the Laguneta de Pueblo, is virtually dry and held a few small plovers, LRPs and Kentish, and that was it.