28 April : the flowers that bloom in the spring, tra-la!

OK, there are no prizes for guessing from where the title comes nor where I was yesterday afternoon. The only reason I was out and in the afternoon as it was so darned warm was that Joan Ximénez was down from Madrid and it was the only free time that he had. Not that we were overwhelmed by birds but it was a very pleasant, somewhat slow, walk in warm sunshine. So, on this extremely wet and rather cooler 29 April, with rain widespread over a goodly part of Andalucía (here, Barbate and Córdoba, that I do know from phone calls) what better thing to do than write up the little that we saw while my wife is watching some wedding on the television.

One of the first sightings, an adult Night Heron before we had even crossed the bridge, gave a hope which was not to be fulfilled and I would not be telling truth if I said we were inundated. Yes, we heard Nightingales and plenty of Reed Warblers churring, clicking and jizzing away.

Yes, there were the usual ducks, Pochards, a few male White-headeds, a few Gadwalls also and very few Mallard for a change. From the second hide that looks out onto the widened water and islands of the río Viejo the was at least the escaped (ringed) Ruddy Shelduck and on a more interesting scale, no Little Ringed Plovers seen at all although we did see a few Kentish Plovers along the shore, the first 3 of a total of 9 Avocets during the afternoon, the first Redshank of at least 4 also, plus a Common Sandpiper and only one Curlew Sandpiper. Nearly forgot, and also some Stilts including one flock of about 20 which to me appeared more of the migratory rather than resident variety.

There were plenty of gulls further down the río Viejo, with a suprising number of Mediterranean Gulls, nearly all 1st summer but half a dozen or so 2nd summer birds, lots of Black-headeds, a few of the ever elegant Audouin's and, rather surprisingly, at least 2 adult Lesser Black-backs. The only passerine of note was a single Woodchat Shrike, plus the normal qupta of Zits (Zitting Cisticolas/Fan-tailed Warblers) and Crested Larks. The best was virtually the last, my first Spotted Flycatcher, very nice after my first Pied Fly. the previous afternoon.

Not a big list and I think I must have forgotten to note down some things on a harbinger afternoon of the warmer weather that must but we had a very pleasant walk and talk which also included news that a pair of Lesser Flamingos have been seen in the colony of Greaters at the laguna de Manjavacas (Ciudad Real), which perhaps one of the 5 seen at Fuente de Piedra last week has gone. Please, on behalf of myself and the director of Fuente de Piedra, any news of Lesser seen would be much appreciated, especially if they can be seen to be ringed or not.

So, that is about it on this wet day in Spain when it did not rain in London and where I'm sure that many of you, either there or watching on the television, wherever you are, enjoyed the view of the Spitfire, Lancaster and Hurricane - I reckon those pilots had the best job of the day!

Nearly forgot, it was my Luna's 11th birthday too!


27 April, Cabo de Gata

And I had a Pied Fly. yesterday too and a Spotted Fly. this pm.!

A friend of mine, Dave, had never been to Cabo de Gata, so who was I to deny him a birding visit there. Gilly, unfortunately was still suffering from her tummy bug and unable to come along. The weather was brilliant. Sunny, but the wind strengthened later.

We saw our first Roller of the summer on the way down. At the first hide there were lots of waders to be seen. Curlew Sandpipers (a German birder called them Little Curlews, which made my heart miss a beat!), Dunlin, Kentish and a Ringed Plover and the resident Avocet and Black-winged Stilt. I spotted a distant Oystercatcher and the German a distant Spotted Redshank. 32 Cattle Egret were unusually on the waters edge and 2 Spoonbills were still present. Close to the shoreline Northern Wheatear, Whinchat and Yellow Wagtail were seen.

Moving on to the second hide we saw a full selection of local gulls. Yellow-legged, Slender-billed, Audouin's and Black-headed. An immature Night Heron flew over, possibly my first here at the Cabo. A group of 7 what I thought were Chiffchaffs I now believe to be Willow Warblers were in the shrubs in front of us. There were 93 Greater Flamingos. Also saw Redshank, Little Egret and Sanderling.

At the public hide 6 Common Sandpipers were sheltering as the wind had increased. Also there were Temmink's Stint. After a quick visit to the lighthouse where we had a glimpse of a Black Wheatear on the way up, we headed round the rear of the reserve. A Woodchat Shrike was seen first, followed by Black-eared Wheatear and Northern Wheatear. A Lesser Short -Toed Lark showed well till I got the camera out (typical!). I declined to get another photo of a Corn Bunting, but did take some of a Greenshank. Our final star bird was a Pied Flycatcher.

46 species in all. A wonderful days birding.

26 April, Fuente de Piedra

A brief blog, yes and late again too. A super morning's birding at Fuente de Piedra with Bob Wright (he got his blog online the same afternoon - where does he find the time?). A beautiful morning for birding, with virtually no wind and almost balmy temperatures, even at 9.30 in the morning. Greater Flamingos from here to Christmas and with breeding efforts also taking place in Doñana (where usually they fail because of intrusions by wild boar) and Odiel, plus very probably in at least a couple of lakes of La Mancha, especally La Pétrola (Albacete) and Catalunya. Later in the morning, we saw 3 first summer Greaters, all males by their size, having a bit of a push around (right), obviously trying things out as they hopefully will in future years, should they survive. As to Lesser Flamingos, I ran in to Manolo Rendón, the boss man, and he told me that last week during one day there were 5 birds in the lake, 2 pairs very definitely paired off and a singleton, all in different parts of the main colony. Furthermore, they all took off at dusk in the general direction of Doñana with the Greaters that go to and fro during the hours of darkness.

Bob and I had really gone for the waders but, of course, all is grist to our ornithological mill and amongst the notable birds we saw a remarkably shy Great Reed Warbler (left) which kept playing hide and seek, and a lovely Melodious Warbler - our first of the year and Stephen Daly of Andalucian Guides tells me that he has seen a big influx of these little gems in western Andalucía. The only raptor we saw was a Kestrel and I later saw a male Lesser Kestrel going out of the village on my way home. At this point I should add that yesterday, a birding friend, Andrés Serrano, had an immature Golden Eagle flying over the A-92 autovía near Antequera!

There were the usual ducks of course, including Pochards and Red-crested Pochards, a few Shelducks way out on the lake, whilst Andrés saw a pair of Garganey yesterday. There were also a few Black-necked Grebes out on the lake. The Gull-billed Terns were not feeding in the area of the centre and we saw few, although later one at the far end of the lake, up by Cantarranas, Bob saw several. We did see several Whiskered Terns, including this obliging bird, and a single Black Tern, although yesterday Andrés reckoned that there were at least 100 Black Terns and rather more Whiskereds than we saw.

But the waders were the stars, in particular the Curlew Sandpipers of which there were at least 70 and which were sporting every plumage possible except juvenile/immature, some of the summer plumaged birds being particularly splendid. Surprisingly, there were very few Dunlin, less than 10, and only 5 or 6 Little Stints, rather shy but very bonny coming in to breeding plumage as well as a similar number of Ruffs but no breeding plumage males. Naturally, there were the Black-winged Stilts and the Avocets, these competing for which species could make the most noise.

All in all, a very, very pleasant morning with some very good birding. If you are anywhere near, do go and have alook, it really does offer some splendid chances of observing waders and anything else that happens to be around, such as the Whinchat that Andrés saw yesterday. Birds come and go very quickly at this time of year and what's there now might well be kms away by tonight.


26 April : Las Norias (Almería) with Dave E-B

I was going to write up yesterday's trip (26/04) to Fuente de Piedra today (27/04) but life is not cooperating, so I'm doubly grateful for this from Dave. I shall try and get mine written up tomorrow morning and with some additions from a friend who was there today. For those of you who are within range, Fuente de Piedra is glorious at the moment, especially for waders. And this afternoon a female Pied Flyatcher graced the pine tree in the garden, only to vanish when she had the telephoto pointed at her, my first of the year.

Last week 12 of us,
but only Helen and I this week as we headed down to Las Norias, some 150kms south of Arboleas. In the middle of plastic greenhouse city, the lake is an unlikely hotspot for birds. As on our previous visit the water level as extremely high. On the left hand side there was very little on the water. All three grebes, Great Crested, Black-necked and Little. The only wildfowl were Red-crested Pochard and Gadwall. The first of numerous Night Herons flew over. On the right hand side we saw the first of many Great Reed Warblers. About 20 White-headed Ducks were on the water with some common Pochards. A Common Sandpiper was also seen.

On the way round to the next viewing place I saw my first Turtle Dove of the year. We stopped just passed the heronry...well, the ex heronry. All the trees were dead in the water, but we did see a few Whiskered Terns and a solitary Gull-billed Tern.

As we arrived at the causeway at the plastic recycling factory end, we saw the meadow on the corner was flooded. Standing there was a near-black Spotted Redshank. We caught fleeting glimpses of a Purple Swamphen and a Little Bittern as they disappeared into the reeds. At least 13 Collared Pratincoles were seen flying. Their usual breeding area, the gravelly island was invisible under the water. The heronry had moved into this area. Lots of Little and Cattle Egrets were seen together with the numerous Night Herons but only one Squacco Heron was seen, but there was not a good viewing point. I was about to use my phone to lure a Great Reed Warbler closer when I was distracted and put my phone in my pocket. About a minute later we heard a Golden Oriole only to discover the noise was coming from my pocket!! (It's always best to confess!). When we'd stopped laughing we headed towards Roquetas.

The gate on to the reserve at Punta Entinas Sabinar has been removed (lawfully or not, I don't know). Unlike others, we obeyed the " Only Authorised Vehicles" sign and walked up to the Red-knobbed Coot pond. Surprisingly we only saw the one individual. Hopefully the others were on nesting duty. On the return walk we heard a normal Reed Warbler and saw a Little Tern.

A great day. Wonderful weather after a weekend of rain and thunderstorms and 43 species in all.


21 April, Sierra María with the Arboleas Group

If Dave, Gilly and company had been here they'd have gone birding with waterwings, and even so this morning as I write it is bucketing down after an exceedingly wet night (see photo on the left here of my dog watching the rain). So, on this vile Good Friday morning with little good in it bird-wise, I leave you with Dave's account and the hope that the Easter Bunny has brought you something nice (not what you think, Dave!).

By the by, dogs are often better and nicer than their owners who should be literate and aren't, all except for my sister's black labrador who is mentally retarded!

There were 12 of us in the group that arrived at the chapel in the Sierra de Maria. Things didn't look good weather wise. We were in low cloud and visibility was down to about 50 yards. Having already logged Blue and Great Tit prior to getting here we saw Mistle Thrush and Crested Tit. We expected that the Botanical Garden might have been closed as it was a bank holiday, but we were pleased to discover it wasn't. We'd also picked up a 13th "member", a small Alsatian type dog who ignored the "No Perros" sign. Actually it was as good as gold. Didn't bark or run around. Birds were difficult to see. They could hear you approaching way before the visibility allowed us to spot them, but we had good views of Subalpine Warbler. We then spotted an Orphean Warbler which gave everyone good views. The only other birds of note were a Stonechat and Long-tailed Tits.

As we descended back to the main road the visibility got decidedly better. We headed towards the plain, stopping at the run down farm buildings where we saw Rock Sparrow. On the plain we stopped to see a pair of Northern Wheatears and a Lesser Short-toed Lark. I then got a phone call from Gilly who was in the car bringing up the rear to say they'd spotted some distant Griffon Vultures. I counted about 6 in the departing group. Whilst stopped a pair of Calandra Larks gave a good display.

At the hamlet just across the Granada Province border I wanted to check out the numerous Kestrels there.After a close study we can now confirm that they the majority were Lesser Kestrels with 2-3 of their larger relatives. We then headed back to the La Piza Recreation area with the sun now shining! The Crossbills were there but in smaller numbers. Gilly and I then spotted a chunkier bird flying into one of the trees above the water deposit - a Hawfinch wich was a lifer for many of the group. 35 species in all. Another very enjoyable day. Thanks to all present.
Dave & Gilly


20 April, embalse de Negratín (Baza)

Cor, wish I could get out as often as Dave and Gilly! I draw readers' attention to the note on the cliff nesting House Martins and the accompanying photo, which is how they used to breed before Homo not very sapiens started building houses with roof overhangs (also known as eaves) and other tall buildings under which they could build their nests. It sounds spectacular. I remember when I first saw them nesting on the cliffs at North Landing, Flamborough, with water underneath for any adventurous chick to fall into. I guess you can say the same for several species such as Barn Swallows, Common and Pallid Swifts, Lesser Kestrels and so on, man has been of some use at times, which makes a change!

Gilly and I met up with Brian and Mary just before the dam at the Embalse de Negratin near Baza. It started as a grey day, but by mid morning the sun had broken through. On the approach to the dam we saw a Yellow-legged Gull, but on the water there was nothing. Checking around the carpark there were Greenfinches, Goldfinches and Serins. A Rock Bunting was seen down below as was a Stonechat. We could hear Nightingales from the valley below. I spotted a large bird of prey in the distance. Another Golden Eagle for the year. Either we've been lucky in seeing them or there seem to be more of them this year.

We then drove down to the valley. Nightingales were singing all along the babbling brook and we managed to spot 3-4 of them. Great Tits and Long-tailed Tits were also seen. Walking down towards the gorge we also heard Cetti's and Reed Warblers. Only saw one Crag Martin, but there were 100s of House Martins nesting on the cliff face. On the way back to the vehicles Mary claimed a sitting Peregrine Falcon on the grass bank in front of the dam, but alas it was a water sprinkler head!
An enjoyable day. 31 species. Braving Sierra Maria tomorrow. Hope the weather holds.
Dave & Gilly


17 April : Cabo de Gata

My apologies to Dave & Gilly and you, the readers, for getting this out late, today has been on the hectic and stressing side of the divide.

Our newest member, Kathryn from Cantoria, has a birding visitor, Mark. So Gilly and I showed them round Cabo de Gata. To be honest, we could've chosen a better day. Yes, it was sunny, but the wind was excessive and, being the weekend, there were a lot of visitors around.
On the approach to the reserve a flight of Cattle Egrets battled the wind above us. I've never seen such a lack of birds from the first hide. There were a few Shelducks, a solitary Kentish Plover and a few passing Barn Swallows and House Martins. The stars were 3 Gull-billed Terns. A Corn Bunting sat obligingly on the fence to the right of the hide. We then drove to the "pool" on the opposite side of the road. Dry as a bone. Heard a Zitting Cistacola. Saw a Sardinian Warbler and a group of Common Swifts.

Things improved a bit at the second hide. 4 Spoonbills were sheltering from the wind with a group of Little Egrets. About 200+ Greater Flamingos could be seen. Also saw a Redshank, numerous Black-winged Stilts and a few Avocets.

Due to visitors and time moving on we missed out the public hide and headed round the rear of the reserve.A Woodchat Shrike was reasonably undaunted enough by our truck to be photographed. There was a feeding flock of 132 Slender-billed Gulls, whilst Pallid Swifts flew over. A probable Booted Eagle was high up over the mountains. We had good views of 3-4 Lesser Short-toed Larks. An impressive 6 Black-eared Wheatears were within yards of each other as a Spectacled Warbler made a brief appearance.
Only 31 species for the day, but we enjoyed ourselves.
Dave & Gilly


15 April: a spring morning at the Guadalhorce and PS

Only a day late, getting better! I met Bob Wright at 0915 on the dot and off we trotted (well, he trotted, I staggered), and no sooner up the ramp than the first good bird of the day, our first European Turtle Dove of the year sitting on a bare branch especially for us to admire it. What a nice change instad of seeing those damned Collared Doves! There were Nightingales singing and a Red-rumped Swallow floated across in front of us as we crossed the bridge, straight across and along, past the canes on each side of the path where there were at least 2 Reed Warblers singing, to the eastern path and down towards the seawatch mirador. A stop at the first hide en route and there wasn't a lot to be seen: Gadwall all nicely paired up, Pochards, hormonally loaded White-headed Ducks whilst overhead we could hear Bee-eaters but saw very few, whilst Common Swifts and hirundines (but no Sand Martins at all) and a Cetti's Warbler called without managing to show itself.

Down to the second hide and at last there was some mud and mud = waders, so there were some waders too. The first bird to catch the eye was a very smart Ruddy Shelduck but as it wore a metal ring, forget that as a genuine record. There were 4 Grey Herons in the area, all immatures and all looking pretty fed-up with life, and some Little Egrets also, whilst over in the distant eucalyptus there are now only 5 Cormorants left. But on the two muddy islets which are now showing and around the left margin we had, of course, the hystericals (you know what I mean) as well as a Redshank (we saw at least 4 during the morning) and a Wood Sandpiper, plus 2 Curlew Sandpipers, a couple of Little Ringed Plovers which were not taking kindly to the presence of the Stilts, and a solitary Dunlin.

Further on down, towards the sea, on the lower part of the río Viejo there were 3 Slender-billed Gulls which took fright when they saw Bob and a similar number of Black-headed Gulls and a Whiskered Tern which were obviously made of sterner stuff. From there we walked along the shore to later enter in at the entry point up towards the laguna Grande, seeing a few Kentish Plovers (Estebán reckons they have 8 nests, a huge drop from 25 or so of last year) and a couple of Sanderlings.

Back at the laguna Grande hide, there really wasn't too much to see apart from a quick glimpse of a Common Sandpiper but we kept on notching up the species. But what was probably the best was yet to come after a quick look at the very unstimulating turtles in the laguna Escondida - watching them is like watching paint dry - when we saw not one but 2 Whinchats. The male, through telescope, was a little beauty but the female vanished rapidly and kept her head down. I spent some time trying to get a halfway decent shot of the male but this is the best I could manage because of shrubs and grasses in the way and it doesn't do him justice, but at least you can see it's not a budgie.

Finally, at the end of the morning and back at the cars by the church, a count-up revealed no less than 54 spp. - not at all bad.

PS: This female Redstart (left), another first for the year, was in my garden in the afternoon.


13 April, Fuente de Piedra

Yes, I know, late again but I've been busy with some translating of seabird papers and it's mind-bending at times and I'm just half way through some 33! At any rate, you should have read Dave's blog on the Sierra de Filabres, which gave me extra breathing space, so now the one on this last Wednesday morning (13/04) along with Andrés Serrano and Juan Oñate.

We had an 09.30 start and actually walked little, basically looking around the ponds by the information centre (the new information sheet in English should be published soon) and then walking along the walkway and path to the road which leads from Fuente de Piedra to Sierra de Yeguas, signposted for 'La Vicaria', and which turned out to be exceedingly fruitful.

Although we had a nice number of passerines, including our first Great Reed Warbler of the year doing its swee-swee-churr-churr-honk-honk act which passes as singing, as well as its small relative the ordinary Reed Warbler, a smashing male iberiae race Yellow Wagtail and 6 or so late Sand Martins, it was the waders that stole the morning, and that in spite of a pair of Shelduck, some Pochards and a few Shovelers, not to mention several thousand Greater Flamingos out on the lake, but with no sign of Lesser Flamingos- the first thing I has scanned for from the mirador, but wait until the end of this blog for that news.

Both Andrés and Juan were keen to see a Marsh Sandpiper and we turned up lucky, my second of the spring which is being remarkable for the number of records : 2 at the Guadalhorce some 11 days since, the bird at Fuente on 7 April which I saw, then 2 seen there on 12 April with the one we saw obviously one of those, and another at laguna Herrera the same day for grand total of 5 birds, which may not sound much but really is a major influx for us. The bird today was really cooperative and showed exceedingly well, even allowing a comparison with one of the 6 or 7 Wood Sandpipers present and I was able to get a good comparison photo.

The Marsh Sand. occupied a lot of our time but we also had a good look at the other waders, including a nice little mixed flock of some 19 Little Stints, 4 Ringed Plovers , a couple of Little Ringed Plovers and some 10-11 Curlew Sandpipers, one of them showing the darkest chestnut plumage that any of us have ever seen (below, in the middle on the left). A Ruff seen from the mirador early on was never seen again and there was flock of some 40 Green Sandpipers which thoughtlessly plonked down out of sight. There were, of course, the usual lunatic asylum escapees in the form of Black-winged Stilts, as well as some Avocets and, regrettably, a Black-tailed Godwit with an injured right outer wing which looked liked a dislocation of the outer carpal bones from the odd angle. We had some reasonable views of Gull-billed Terns and distant views of 2 immature Marsh Harriers and a single male Lesser Kestrel.

I actually had the best raptor of the day along the A-92 autovía about 3 kms E of Fuente de Piedra on the way home - a Black-shouldered Kite circling over the fast lane!

Finally, the news is that a pair of Lesser Flamingos are present in the colony and appear to be settling down well, this from the director, Manolo Rendón. Will they breed this year successfully? Keep watching this space.


13 April, Arboleas Bird Group at Sierra de los Filabres (Almería)

I'm so glad Dave sent this report before I'd started mine on Fuente de Piedra today as it means I can wait until tomorrow! I now what you mean about 'could do better' on your reports, Dave, mine usually added '... if he tried'. And as for what awaited me at home, I shall not enter in to. That's what comes of gazing out of class room windows at gulls on the school playing fields!

The weather today was bright and sunny as Gilly and I plus 6 other members of the group headed up the hills south from Tijola into the Sierra de Los Filabres. We all met up at the bridge in the valley. Lovely to hear the sound of a babbling brook! A pair of Blackcaps weren't enthused by our presence. We saw Cirl Buntings, Sardinian Warbler, Black Wheatear, Blue Rock Thrush, Long-tailed and Great Tit. No sign yet here of Golden Orioles even though Brian & Mary have seen them in their neck of the woods near Chirivel.

Our next stop was a "lay by" further up the road. A Woodlark gave us good views on a power line. Also saw Red-legged Partridges and Chaffinches. Brian spotted a pair of Red-billed Choughs flying along the hill tops. (Photo - Morocco Feb 2011) A bit further down the road we stopped again after seeing a bird flying from the power lines into an almond grove. Eventually it was found to be a Black-eared Wheatear. We heard both Cuckoo and Green Woodpecker.

Onwards and upwards towards the disused copper mine. I spotted a bird sitting high on a craggy tor. A Golden Eagle being mobbed by Kestrels and Jackdaws. It soon took to the wing and showed itself to be an adult bird. At the mine itself probably saw the same Jackdaws and Kestrels, both of whichappeared to be protecting nest sites. No sign of the anticipated Rock Sparrows. More Choughs made an appearance.
Heading up to the Calar Alto Observatory, to a height of 7,112ft birds were few and far between, but we did manage to get a glimpse of a male Rock Thrush and a number of Northern Wheatears. Round the buildings we saw a pair of Black Redstarts and high above us was a singing Skylark which descended down onto the low vegetation.
We also descended back passed Bacares to the small valley beyond. Very little here. Only bird of note was a singing Nightingale. 32 species seen. " Could do better" as my teachers used to say.....on a regular basis!!

Dave & Gilly


7 April, Fuente de Piedra

I like Fuente de Piedra, especially early on a summer's morning before the world starts to awake and it can be equally attractive in the winter when an early morning visitor will find it covered in hoar frost. These are the times when one can cut the silence and the only noises are natural ones, the honking of the cranes and the flamingos basically, with a few ducks for good measure. I can't say it pleases me greatly when it's full of noisey, ill-educated school children (although those today were well under the control of the teacher and a monitor) and neither do I care for the coach loads of equally noisey (because they're half deaf) of the O.A.P.s. OK, I admit, I'm an intolerant old b****** according to my family but this morning there were none of these but civilised people (bar one who was obviously a city type - lack of education?) who either gave or responded to a 'good morning'.

I arrived late to Fuente de Piedra, gone 10.15, but as I was in no hurry and alone I could go at my own pace. The first suprise, just after coming off the A-92 and even before entering the village a Common Tern flew across the road in front of me. The lake is bueatuful at the moment, full of Greater Flamingos but no Lessers, nor have the latter been seen since 15 March when we saw 2. As there 4 in the lakes of La Mancha, we shall have to wait and watch.

But there is some good news and that is that the water levels are slowly lowering and there were waders on the flash on the right before the car park. From the lookout point at the centre I could see a Ruff (i.e., the male) and on the lake some Shovelers and 3 Shelduck along with the usual Mallard. On the little lake behind the centre, the laguneto del Pueblo, there were some 200 Greater Flamingos, the great majority asleep, and a solitary Whiskered Tern.

From the walk way to La Vicaria a Glossy Ibis hove into sight and then settled, there had been 3 the previous afternoon and this one had obviously missed the bus. Better still was the presence of 7 Wood Sandpipers, lovely things in breeding plumage, and a wader which at first with a poor view looked like a small Greenshank, of which there was one present, when it flew.

The only species that I know that looks like a small Greenshank is a Marsh Sandpiper and when it returned and posed next to a Wood Sandpiper it proved to be so and is shown here both alone and with a Wood Sand. for comparison.

I walked as far as the road to Sierra de Yeguas, enjoying the morning and the birds to the sound of the Black-winged Stilts and the Avocets. and the occasional brilliant flashing yellow of the male Yellow Wagtails. At the other side of the road on the receding water there was a pair of Ringed Plovers (or should I now call them Greater Ringed Plovers?) and also a single, very smart, male Kentish Plover, but I only heard and saw a single pair of Little Ringed Plovers.

I followed the same track back, the only extra being 3 Redshanks which had swept in noisily as usual. Not a great deal seen but what there was was seen well and all I had gone for was just that, plus a bit of R & R, and I wasn't in the least defrauded.
A massive double-barrelled report from Dave and Gilly, the first part about their trip to Extremadura (which is why you've not seen anything from them), and the second about birding on their return.

30 March - 3 April, Extremadura : A brief summary
This is a tale of highs and lows! We left home early on the Wednesday and headed for Fuente Piedra. We only stopped briefly, hoping to spot the Lesser Flamingos amongst the 1,000s of their larger cousins, but alas no. In the hour we were there we saw 29 species so it was a reasonably successful break from the long journey. Once the other side of Caceres we began to birdwatch in earnest. Lots of Black Kites and 100s of 1,000s of Corn Buntings.

At the reservoir due east of Caceres we spotted our first Collared Pratincoles of the year. Further along the road ... now a posh motorway, but the old road is still in use, we veered off towards Santa Marta de Magasca. We knew the first kilometre was a good area for Great Bustards but we had never seen so many. I think with thanks to a passing Peregrine Falcon we saw two large flights totalling at least 75-100 birds. In the evening we went down onto the Belen Plain, east of where we were staying in Trujillo, and saw more Great Bustards and some displaying Little Bustards. There were good flocks of Spanish Sparrows. Getting back to our hostel I discovered to my horror that I'd forgotten to pack my cameras battery charger. What a wassock!!

The next day we visited the Monfrague Parque National. What a magic place. 100's of nesting Griffon Vultures, Black and Egyptian Vultures and Black Storks at the hermitage and gorge. We then moved on to the cliff face beyond the dam. Here we had very good views of a Spanish Imperial Eagle. We ascertained where the Eagle Owls' nest was, but there was no sign of any adult or the single chick.

We next headed for the Arrocampo Ornithological Park at Saucedilla. It's a large expanse of water and reedbeds with a nuclear power station at one end. Here we heard and saw Savi's and Cetti's Warblers but only heard Great Reed Warbler, but saw nesting Purple Swamphen.

The next day we were taken out by our friends, Steve and Karen Fletcher. Steve's a professional bird photographer. For 35 years I'd never been able to see a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker. Steve knew where there was some near his village. Within 10 minutes of getting there my bogey bird was no more. Close up views of a female with at least 5 others drumming around us. Above the trees across the valley from us were a pair of Short-toed Eagles and we could hear our first Nightingales of the year. A Woodlark was in a tree in front of us and a pair of Hawfinches was also seen. They then took us on a tour round. We saw both Pin-tailed and Black-bellied Sandgrouse, a nesting Bonelli's Eagle and a Merlin. Local knowledge is a wonderful thing.

On our last full day we again went to Monfrague. Again we saw the Spanish Imperial Eagle, but alas the Eagle Owls still eluded us. Near the dam we parked by a picnic area where Azure-winged Magpies were. A ryvita crunched up on one of the tables was enough to bring about 10 of them to feed. I had just about enough power in the camera to take a few photos. At the Arrocampo Reservoir we added a Great White Egret, a real bonus, a couple of Squacco Herons and a Hen Harrier.
Had a great time. 101 species but saddened by not being able to take too many pictures!

Wednesday 6th April 2011, Arboleas Birding Group - Almanzora Esturary & Vera
Five other members of the Arboleas Birding Group joined Gilly and I on a trip to the Almanzora Estuary. We started at the Desert Springs end of the rambla seeing numerous Black-winged Stilts around the shallow pools. Down at the old ford we saw Green and Common Sandpiper, Little Ringed Plover, Redshank, Zitting Cistacola and 4 Bee-eaters. Moving down to the beach a pair of Turnstones and Kentish Plovers were noted as were a couple of 1st year Audouin's Gulls. After a coffee in Villaricos Gilly, Helen and I headed down to the pools opposite the Vera Aquapark while the others had a job to do in Cuevas. They missed the birds of the day. We saw a Purple Heron together with Teal, Shoveler, Greater Flamingo (2), Shelduck and Pochard. Some large birds came flying towards us. Another 3 Purple Herons landed in the reedbeds.
34 species for the day. Disappointing, yes, but Gilly and I had been spoilt the week before!


3 April : a wettish Sunday

Well, it's wet as I write this in the late afternoon. After not getting out yesterday for reasons totally beyond my control and today as the knees are still grumbling and the only answer from the vets is to rest the damned things and keep taking the analgesics, I decided to get on with getting this blog upto date (yesterday) and translate them today for the Spanish version. However, there is always something to enliven life, and thus it has been.

About 14.15, just as we were about to have lunch (3 members of the household are VERY slow on Sundays), there was a mobile call from Bob Hibbett. "Andy, do Basking Sharks occur down here?"

To which my reply was that I hadn't a clue and in turn he replied that he was watching one off the Guadalhorce. And as he lives down in Cornwall, he knows what they are like. At the same time life became complex as two warblers were lurking as only warblers can lurk down in the shrubbery in the garden. What to do? Look at the warblers and then ring friends who would know. One was a smashing little male Subalpine that I saw again after lunch, but what the other was remains to be seen as a Kestrel appeared and sat in the pine. However, as after lunch there were two Willow Warblers in the garden also, it sems reasonable to think that the unidentified bird was one of them. But I digress.

Believing that Salva was at sea, I rang Xulio in Galicia (both are marine biologists) and with great difficulty made contact as he was out in the country somewhere, but he did tell me that Salva was home in Málaga so I rang him and squeaks of excitement rent the air and then I rang Antonio Tamayo. So, the result was that in the rain which was steadily increasing in intensity, Bob, Salva, Antonio and myself saw the beast - distant but definitely one, which stuck its nose out of the water from time to time, which along with the big dorsal fin and the tail also breaking the surface.


1 April, All Fools' Day at the Guadalhorce

Doesn't sound promising as a title, does it? However, with Federico as company and later meeting yet again with Antonio Tamayo and briefly running into Hannu, things were bound to be better than the title might suggest.

There was, of course, the usual selection of hirundines with the Red-rumped Swallows very conspicuous by the bridge - I really must go down and spend some trying to photograph them, they are splendid birds. More Nightingales have come in, as evidenced by their songs, although we didn't see one, which is about normal. There was much the same as other days this past seven days, incuding 4 Teal still and a whole slew of White-headed Ducks, amongst which we found this very dark-headed bird which we believe to be a 1st summer male.

There are goodly numbers of Gadwalls this year and although at a first glance they don't appear overly inspiring, a good look at a male will reveal very finely marked plumaged, these lines known a vermiculations. (How educational this all is!)

Indeed, it was a morning to be examining birds and I saw this Stilt my heart jumped slightly as thoughts immediately turned to it being an American Black-necked Stilt because of the quantity of the black on the hind neck, and when I showed the first photos to Antonio his face was a picture as the same thought that it might be one hit him, which would have made it a huge rarity. As is some 40 years since I last saw an Black-necked Stilt, I couldn't remember all the field characteristics but as it was so unlikely, plus the extensive black didn't continue onto the mantle but was separated by a white strip made it much less likely. However, I reproduce three photos of here with the bird in the company of more normally plumaged stilts, although another has a lesser amount on the rear neck. So, just in case anyone else gets the same ideas, don't panic.

Apart from the Stilts, there were some other waders too : A brief view the rear end of a Greenshank as it vanished, never to be seen or heard again, a very nice and much more obliging Wood Sandpiper, Kentish and Little Ringed Plovers, these latter getting tuned up to breeding condition, and a single Common Sandpiper. (Patricia tells me she saw Snipe the previous afternoon.) Walking down to the seawatch mirador there were the two Flamingos still on the río Viejo, the ringed bird having been marked as a chick in the Camargue in 2004. On the far side of the river we could hear at least 2 Reed Warblers singing. We were hoping to see the 3 Pratincoles that had been seen the previous afternoon (Antonio and Patricia) but no joy, although Hannu rang me later to say that he had seen one some 10 minutes after we had met - AAAAGH!

There was a big movement of Bee-eaters going on with flocks passing high overhead all morning, most heard rather than seen, but as regards numbers we must be talking in terms of the high hundreds or even low thousands of birds from the virtually continual calling. In the rising heat, the migrants also included at least 4 Short-toed Larks and in total some 3 female Black-eared Wheatears and a female Northern Wheatear.

After finding 6 Common Scoters on the sea, 2 of these males, and a distant Sandwich Tern, as we trudged along the beach (I certainly trudged!) we picked up a nice Woodchat Shrike and - surprise, surprise - the Ring-billed Gull flew towards and past us, enabling brief but conclusive glimpses. From there it was back up by the laguna Grande where there must have been at least 2 Cormorants left. And that really sums up the morning as more than 4 hours had gone by since Federico and I had entered. But thee is a sting in the tail, as later Antonio texted me to say that he had seen 3 Slender-billed Gulls and an immature Whitethroat.

Nearly forgot the Fool of the day, a Superb Starling Lamprotornis superbus which flew in front of us as we walked up the rack from the beach to the laguna Grande. There is at least one pair of these in the rounds of the Parador de Golf which is less than 10minutes flying time away, and I bet it flew better than the huge and hugely underpowered Antonov Design Bureau prototype which staggered out of Málaga airfield in a fairly vain attempt to gain height and was last seen disappearing in the general direction of Algeria. Everybody down!