29 June, Sierra María

Dave and Gilly's account of their solitary and fruitful visit to Sierra María (Almería) on 29 June whilst I was at the opposite end of Andalucía.
Gilly and I were on our own on this visit to the Sierra de Maria. The weather was hot & sunny. As we arrived at the chapel we saw an adult Booted Eagle soaring above us. (Heard from a ranger later that there was a nest in the area). The water trough was crowded with 14 Crossbills with a single Cirl Bunting waiting its turn on a fence.
We headed up to the Botanical Garden, seeing a Woodchat Shrike on the way. Near to the "steel" tree, Gilly spotted some Firecrests. My MP3 player got them interested enough for a photo opportunity. The sound of Blue Tit chicks came from a nestbox. The most numerous birds were Bonelli's Warblers. We also saw Short-toed Treecreepers, Great Tits and Goldfinches. A lone Mistle Thrush sang from a pine tree top. Above us at least 25 Griffon Vultures flew over, but that number is nothing to the 200+ seen by Brian and Mary at the feeding station the previous week!! On our walk up and down dale we saw Melodious Warbler, Coal Tit and a high soaring Sparrowhawk. As we returned to the chapel we heard a Golden Oriole.
We made a welcome refreshment stop at La Piza, seeing only Crossbill and Short-toed Treecreeper. We didn't stop at the farm buildings as there were roadworkings going on, so we headed on to the plain, where the lines of field dividing rocks where many larks and wheatearz perch, were being loaded onto a dumper truck for hardcore for the road widening. We did manage to see Northern and Black-eared Wheatears and both Crested and Thekla Larks. At the area by the water deposit we saw Rock Sparrows and 3 Turtle Doves. Around the hamlet 8 Lesser Kestrels were present.
We'd been invited to take lunch with Brian and Mary at their home in Chirivel so headed over the mountain pass, adding a Stonechat to the list. Mary had a fall last week & bruised her hip. We wish her a speedy recovery.
36 species for the day.


29 June, La Janda

I knew that there was something wrong about today when I awoke at 06.00 and nothing was hurting. That meant (putting it in Victorian style) That Something Ought To Be Done. Which meant going down to La Janda, in spite of knowing that it would be (a) warm and (b) there probably wouldn't be a lot to see as we are in the dead period. And I was right on both counts but I have a couple of interesting points to raise and comments would be welcome.

So, having loaded Luna in the car along with water for her, camera, 'scope and all the usual paraphernalia, we were down at Bolonia with the forlorn hope of seeing both the rare swifts. And did I? Did I hell. Yes,I saw an adult Egyptian Vulture also Griffons and a Blue Rock Thrush and the usual Stonechats. So after half an hour it was on for a quick coffee and on to La Janda.

Currently it looks more like some part of China with the rice paddies and all one needs is lots of little people in funny hats to complete the picture. There are plenty of Stilts and I saw a couple of Green Sandpipers - 1st summer non-breeders or failed adult breeders? - and a single Pratincole but no other waders. A few White Storks were stalking around (joke) and there were a few, not more than half a dozen, Glossy Ibises, both adults and young birds and a couple of Purple Boghens flashing their white butts amongst the greenery. Along the canal there was still one Great Reed Warbler giving full voice in what is also laughingly known as song in its case and also at least 3 Reed Warblers also singing away happily. On the other hand, a single adult Nightheron (Black-crowned if you want be picky) refused to be photographed but showed well in flight but unfortunately trying to photograph on at 30 km/h. has little to recommend it.

But the place was wall to wall - or paddy to paddy if you prefer that - with Cattle Egrets. It didn't matter where you looked, the damned things were everywhere, flying, walking, standing looking daft as only a Cattle Egret can. I have never seen so many in many life and I can't be accused of exaggerating if I claim there were thousands of them around the paddies, and if you think that's overstating the case, then will you accept tens of hundreds? And I found out the reason once I had crossed the bridge at the north end of the canal.

Those who know the area will know that whilst the track is awful (and it hasn't got any better) there is a very productive line of trees on the left side. For some reason that has been taken over by Cattle Egrets and there are nests, more or less densely packed, along a good 600m long strip. And there are Cattle Egrets everywhere along there with adults still in breeding plumage, such as George on the right here. One or two birds are still incubating and there are some quite young birds still in down, with many others which are on the verge of flight. At one point further on, I saw about 500 or so in the tops of the flowering sunflowers. Will they eat unripe, budding sunflower seeds or were they looking for insect life? I don't know.

I feared that the egrets would have driven out the European Turtle Doves as that stretch has always harboured large numbersof this delicate dove and there are undoubtedly less, but there were still quite a few around. It really was very pleasant to stand and listen to their soft cooing, reminding me of areas of East Yorkshire where they were quite common when I were a lad (Yorkshire expression), long before those blasted Collared Doves made their appearance and I remember too seeing my first Collared Dovers, then a major rarity, around 1957 or so. They've even made to the USA and they aren't going to know what's hit them!

The other intersting thing to day was something I saw a year or so ago with Federico, the presence of Black Kites in heavy moult, and I do mean heavy! Without looking back through notebooks, I believe that we saw somewhere around 20, today I saw over 35. Some of them, such as the bird shown here, were in a pretty pathetic state of moult and I presume that these are first summer birds (i.e., birds born last year) undertaking their first full wing moult. One must presume that the birds sitting together are practising to be Christmas decorations. Along this stretch a single Melodious Warbler turned upin the oly bsh in sight before reaching the smelly farm.

By the by, Stephen Daly (bless the little chap) takes issue with me calling it the smelly farm and gives its real name in his blog. I don't care what it real name is in Spanish, Daly, but if you so desire I shall rename it La Granja Olorosa (remember that, dear readers). Past there on the way to Benalup, there was a single Booted Eagle, some very distant Griffon Vultures and 3 Short-toed Eagles, 2 with dark heads and this much lighter headed bird, probably an immature according to recent correspondence in the Spanish avesforum.

By the by, the guru/god of bird of prey identification, Dick Forsman, who is also a thoroughly nice chap to boot, is on the point of bringing out a new guide to raptor identification. I know what I'm going to buy myself for Christmas! Who wants socks and handkerchieves for the 27th time?


22 June : río Almanzora/Vera

Don't talk about expenses, Dave! My bank account hasn't recovered from the North Carolina trip and won't until at least October, I reckon. And there's me costing out what a spring Thursday-Tuesday weekend's birding in New York would cost! Anyone interested? Central Park and Jamaica Bay around the end of April-beginning of May? Warblers and other migrants and waders.

Having sent an expensive week in the UK, I was glad to get back to some relaxing birdwatching in the company of Gilly and Helen. Sadly Helen is intending to move to the Aguilas area shortly, so she got to chose the destination of her final trip. Hence we headed the short distance to the rambla at the Rio Almanzora. We noted a Green Woodpecker and a Roller on the approach drive. The best bird we saw on the rambla itself was a nicely perched Little Owl. There was no water on the actual ford, but a steady stream making its way uner the road into the reeds and scrubland. Zitting Cisticolas were the most prominent species, but we did hear a Reed Warbler as well. The Policia Local made an appearance and were well impressed with my telescope picking out a family of Woodchat Shrike on a distant power line.
We then headed down towards the beach. The large flat area adjacent to the moorish tower has been ploughed up, we gather, to prevent an influx of gypsies but it wouldn't have pleased nomadic motorhome owners or the local model aeroplane club. There's still vehicle access round the periphery to the beach. A pair of Turtle Doves were churring in the shrubs. On the beach were about 10 Kentish Plovers and there were 3 Audouin's Gulls on the rocky outcrop. A Little Ringed Plover was seen flying, as was a Sand Martin with the numerous Barn Swallows and House Martins.
After a refreshing cup of coffee in the village of Villaricos we headed along the coast to Vera. At the roundabout prior to the Aquaparc we turned right onto the dual carriageway. Coming back on yourself at the first roundabout you get a good view from the parking lane on to the expanse of shallow water below. It seemed to be a haven for breeding Black-winged Stilts and Black-headed Gulls. Examples of both species decided to mob me even though I was a good 50 metres from them.
Gilly spotted a Slender-billed Gull. Not a lot else apart from Coots and Little Egrets.
Going back to the main road we came off at the Aquaparc roundabout onto rough ground to the right which overlooked other parts of the lake.On this section there were 6 Whiskered Terns resting and on the next pool were 3 male White-headed Ducks.
Only 33 species. We wish Helen well in her new house. Her first job is to sort out some good birding spots so the group can descend upon her for the day.

The pictured plant is a Yellow-horned Poppy (
Glaucium flavum) on Villaricos beach. For Mary, happy birthday for Friday!!


16.-17 June, summer hath come

A brief bit on two short mornings out birding, yesterday 16/06 to the Guadalhorce in the morning and today, 17/06, to Fuente de Piedra.

Going in to the Guadalhorce, there were some 60-70 House Martins, mostly young, resting on the beam facing in to the early morning sun. At the Guadalhorce I had the fortune to run into Juan Ramírez and Sergio (whose surname I was never given) and apart from haring about Juan's birding/working trips to Madagascar (which he summarised as being full of nasty biting and stinging insects) and Israel (great birding) there wasn't much to see as we are now in the slack period before the start of autumn migration in another month. I didn't go further than the laguna Grande and the Escondida as my knees are giving me all kinds of hell ever since I came back from the US of A.The stilt chicks are growing up and their parents aren't quite as hysterical as before. There are still flotillas of ducklings are varying ages but basically as well terribly normal except for seeing a Cuckoo on the way out, the only one I've seen this year

I was really rather late in leaving for Fuente de Piedra and instead of being there before 0830, didn't make until at least an hour later having left the fog (yes, FOG, three days worth) behind on the coast. It was hot, there were mosquitos and heat haze, and the lake is beautiful and full of flamingos, of course. Apart from resident and noisey Stilts and always elegant Avocets and a single male Kentish Plover, the surprise on this date was a pair of Islandic race Black-tailed Godwits in breeding plumage, with a notable size difference. Heaven knows if they were 1st summer non-breeding birds late in returning north or failed breeders returning south,I suspect the former. The photo came out badly because of heat haze and light position but it's here for what little it's worth.
What there is a lot of is Gull-billed Terns. I can't remember having seen so many for years, they're all over the shop, and if anyone is any doubt as to what one is like and how to differentiate from Sandwich Tern, just take a visit. Also this year, and must be at least 12 years since the last time, Slender-billed Gulls are breeding way out in the centre of the lake but there are usually a few of these long-nosed, giraffe-necked gulls on the laguneta del Pueblo and this morning I had good views of four of them. Oh yes, and it was hot!


Cape Hatteras : 18 May - 1 June (part 2- other birds and things)

This is the second part of the Cape Hatteras trip account and inorder to help with orientation, click on the map on the right to
amplify it. Strictly speaking, Cape Hatteras and the Outer Banks start just where there is the right angle in the road at the top of the map, a little above where is says something about the Wright Brothers and their first flights at Kitty hawk (a national monument) and contnues for many miles until one arrives at the village of Hatteras in the south, just before the sound which separates the island of Ocracoke. All this is a national reserve with some large beach areas totally closed off to visitors by the National Park Service in order to protect the breeding areas of plovers and terns, and also this year a pair of American Oystercatchers (which I failed to see), much to the annoyance of the off-road 4WD fraternity who believe it is their god-given right to go where they please and who blast their horns at any birders they see, some of whom reply with a single finger salute.

I highly recommend possession of 'Where to watch birds in North Carolina' and the copying of the relevant pages in view of the weight of the book. As I was going to have little free 'not-at-sea' time I decided to concentrate on the southern part from the splendid Pea Island, so good that I visited it thrice, on the Water Association Road to the north of Buxton and also the the salt ponds. I was also later to visit Bodie island and Alligator Swamp on the return to Coinjock and Norfolk but with the thermometer at more than 35ºC and an exceedingly high humidity, to which there were assaults by the combined airforces of mosquitoes and deer flies which take out lumps of flesh, and that in spite of using the highy recommended insecticide Off which was supposed to keep them clear, as well as the hordes of ticks. For the first time in my life I have actually been bitten by ticks, three of the unspeakable little creatures, but none really managed to get a hold and start to have a suck of the Paterson blood. Perhaps the high coffee content in my blood stream kept them at bay? However, the area does harbour Lyme's Disease and other undesirable infections and if one really is bitten and sucked, consultation with a doctor would be advisable, especially if a rash apears around the bite.

I arrived Coinjock at Coinjock the nigt of 17 May and the following morning, 18 May, almost the first bird I saw was this well coloured Barn Swallow (L) whose colouration was very different and cntrasted notably with all the others. There was also a nest at each end of the small motel building (R).
LIke any good birder, I was wandering around with my binoculars and noting down the first species, such as the Purple Martin (L) and the American Robin (R) when a old lady invited me to have an early morning coffee (the best all the trip, they do not know how to make good coffee and Starbuck's is unspeakably bad) with her on her porch. Towmore of her neighbours joined us and they were fascinated by the idea that a Brit. living in Spain should come and see the birds in their area. There is almost a Purple Martin cult, as many homes have a Purple Martin apartment block in the garden, with various sections for this colonial species. This is not quite as altruistic as is sounds, as the Martins undoubtedly take vast number of obnoxious insects.

There too I saw the one and only Eastern Bluebird of the trip but it was very wary and did not allow me to get sufficiently near for a photograph. There were also the first first European Starlings of the trip (big deal!) and also Northern Mockingbirds (R above), enchanting birds, one of which in Hatteras often stated singing at 03.30 in the morning! There to I saw my first ever House Finch (R), a superbly coloured little male, and all of these carrying on life whilst an Osprey (above L) patrolled the river in search of breakfast.
But it was time for me to move south.I stopped briefly at Kitty Hawk and paid $4 to see the monumento to the Wright Brothers,well laid out and full of gawping tourists but time enough to see the first of several Brown-headed Cowbirds (L, photo at Pea Island). My first real programmed stop was at Pea Island with other stops on the way.
Pea Island is a variety of habitats, some open to the public by trails, others totally closed off in the interests of the birds. The water areas, the impoundments, can have their water levels regulated by sluices in the best interests of the migratory waders (water birds to the Americans although some illuminated do call them waders). There is a visitors' centre with ample information,maps and checklists, no less than four Zeiss 85 'scopes for observation from the centre, although cleaning the windows would have helped considerably, and a well marked pathwich leads to a raised platfor from where one can look out over further marshland with saw grass (it was there I saw the only American Bittern of the trip). Indeed, most of the waders and the herons, egrets and so on, I saw there, as well as a decent number of passerines.

The only waders seen outside the Pea Island area where the Whimbrel (American race), Sanderling - these in breeding plumage (R), Killdeer (L) and Piping and Kentish/Snowy Plovers, plus a Grey/Black-bellied Plover and some 50 plus (Red) Knot in a variety of plumages on a sand bar by the sound to the open sea,and not forgetting the 3 Red-necked Phalaropes we saw at least 30 miles out to sea heading northwards. I trust that you have noted the evident bilinguistic aspect of this report here!

In the inundated area, and they are large, of Pea Island there were not just the waders but a oodly selection of herons and egrets. To start with the waders, there were considerable numbers, various hundreds without a doubt, of Semipalmeated Sandpipers (R) and a few Greater Yellowlegs (L), in competition with the Black-necked Stilts (L). There were a few pairs of Semipalmeated Plovers and in the photo (R) the palmeated base to the toes clearly vsible. Another wader seen both there and on the beach was the Willet and there were examples of both the eastern and western races, while along the water's edges on Pea Island and also at the Buxton Salt Ponds there were also a few Dunlin, Least and White-rumped Sandpipers, plus a few Short-billed Dowitchers, with one or two in breeding plumage although I only managed one of this bird still in winter plumage (L).

Waders aside, there was also a good variety of terns at Pea Island. Leaving aside the Arctic and Bridled Terns seen at sea, there no less than 7 more, headed by the enormous Caspian Tern (L) down to the diminutive Least Tern, American version of the Little, with the delightful Royal Tern, Gull-billed, Sandwich, Forster's and Common to make up a respectable total of 9 tern species, which is not bad by anyone's standards.

And if Pea Island was not bad for terns, it was positively good for egrets, herins and the like, with no less than 12 species ranging from the solitary examples of American and Least Bitterns (this their version of our Little Bittern and I had seen neither since Andros in 1971!) and the same went for the Little Blue Heron, with daily observations of these and Great White Egrets (R) and Tricolored Heron, the ubiquous Cattle Egret and a Green Heron, also seen along the Water Association Road, the beautiful Snowy Egret, the giant Great Blue Heron, a single Black-crowned Nightheron which overflew and a few Glossy Ibises which were outnumbered by daily sightings of several White Ibises (L).

Neither must the passerines be overlooked on Pea Island as we both heard and saw the noisey Song Sparrow (L) but only heard an equally noisey Carolina Wren, in spite of being almost on top of it at times. And as ever, the accompanying background noise of the multiple and varied calles of the Red-winged Blackbirds, these wherever one goes on the Outer Banks. On the other hand, the presence of the Rufous-sided Towhees (R) was much more limited.

At Buxton, the road off to the old light on the north side of the village is very fruitful because of a short trail through the woods by the parking space on the right, although knowing the calls would be a huge asset. I visited the tiny British sailors' cemetery with its two headstones, one unknown sailor of the Royal Navy and one from the Merchant Navy and an informative plaque (L). Further on, taking the turn to the camp site or, better parking by the pond on the leftand then walking, take the track to ramp 44 and then a short path through the bushes, although this had been opened out by my last visit. Here one must take care as there are poisonous snakes, including water mocassins, these are highly poisonous.

It was there that I was able to photograph these female King Rail (R), not brilliantly as it was hardly sunrise. There was also a very bonny example of Eastern Meadowlark which showed well in the now risen sun (L). It was in the Salt Pond and on the nearby roped-off beach that a Park Service warden had reported seeing a Red-billed Tropicbird whose nearest nesting grounds are in Puerto Rico whilst we wee there but none that I knew had seen it. What we did see was a nice male Black Scoter with its enormous yellow protuberance on the upper mandible, and as earlier we had seen a female White-winged Scoter near the harbour entrance these weretwo nice and rather unexpected additions to the list. There too were more Least Terns, Gull-billed Terns and various waders, including Short-billed Dowitchers, and several female Black Ducks, each with a flotilla of ducklings although some were somewhat reduced in number.
Before going to the last site I visited I must mention the presence of there spp., two of these the grackles, the Common (above L) and the Boat-tailed with its white eye (above R), this a recent coloniser according to Brian. They too were everywhere and the males of each showed a magnficent irridescence when seen well in sunshine, apart from being quite noisey. Here too I should mention the presence of the Mourning Doves (above centre), also common as they either shuffled nosily along roadsides or sat together on wires and filled the air with the lugubrious call which sounded like mournful lighthouse with the mute on.

The last site I visited and have mentioned earlier is the Water Association Road, it too to the north of Buxton. It is best to go at first light, just after dawn, and to be well versed in the calls - something which I was not. It's not a long walk but can quite easily take an hour with all the necessary stops. It was along there that I saw the Cardinal, there were at least 3 pairs in little more than1 km. and one sp. which is not difficult to confuse! A Northern Flicker tried to demolish a dead tree briefly, the same one in which the Cardinal had perched and displayed and where the pair of Blue Jays, the one shown with its mouth full of nesting material (L), also used. A male Ruby-throated Hummingbird (below L) buzzed back and forth a couple of times and perched on the wire to warm up in the morning sun, something which I have seen hummers often do in the Bahamas.
All this is a very long list and I haven't mentioned the Grey Catbirds which were quite common, neither the two species of crow, the American and Fish Crows which were also common. I haven't said anything about the Sand Martin which passed us over 30 miles out to sea and which should have easily reached land, nor about the male Yellow Warbler (R) which landed on the boat at a similar distance, allowed itself to rest a while and be photographed but regrettably took off again. I doubt that it would have reached land.

I have said nothing about the return northwards when I visited Bodie Island - not really worth it - and also the Alligator Swamp to the west of Manteo when the access was restricted because of underground turf fires burning - we had smelled the smoke 35 miles out and 100 miles south one morning - and which was outstanding for a temerature of nearly 40ºC and the enormous biomass of mosquitos and deer flies which made life nearly impossible. The visit was redeemed only by the sighting of a pair of Turkey Vultures (L) and by a male Indigo Bunting. Discrection is better than valour when faced with such adversity.

I have said nothing about the marine mammals, of the Bottle-nosed and Spotted Dolphins and the Pilot Whales and the Sperm Whale (above L). Neither have mentioned the Portuguese Man o'War jellyfish (centre), floating happily along on the 4-5 knots of the Gulf Stream, nor of the turtles, including this splendid Leatherback (R) who kept yawning, obviously bored out of his mind and pondering on the meaning of life.

I had a great time and saw
a total of 109 species, according to my notes, which isn't bad considering that 2 days were spent travelling and there were only 3 for land birding, with 10 at sea where the specific variety is rather more limited.

Great Northern Dive, Fea’s Petrel, Black-capped Petrel, Cory’s Shearwater, Great Shearwater, Sooty Shearwater, Manx Shearwater, Audubon's Shearwater, Wilson’s Storm-petrel, European Storm-petrel, Leach’s Storm-petrel, Madeiran Storm-petrel, White-tailed Tropicbird, Brown Pelican, Double-crested Cormorant, American Bittern, Least Bittern, Great Blue Heron, Great White Egret, Snowy Egret, Little Blue Heron, Tricoloured Heron, Cattle Egret, Green Heron, Black-crowned Nightheron, Glossy Ibis, White Ibis, Mute Swan, Mallard, American Black Duck, Gadwall, Black Scoter, White-winged Scoter, Turkey Vulture, Osprey, Red-tailed Hawk, Clapper Rail, King Rail, Grey Plover, Killdeer, Semipalmated Plover, Piping Plover, Snowy Plover, Black-necked Stilt, Greater Yellowlegs, Willet, Whimbrel, Turnstone, Sanderling, Knot, Dunlin, White-rumped Sandpiper, Semipalmated Sandpiper, Least Sandpiper, Short-billed Dowitcher, Red-necked Phalarope, Pomarine Skua, Arctic Skua, Laughing Gull, American Herring Gull, Glaucous Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, Caspian Tern, Gull-billed Tern, Royal Tern, Sandwich Tern, Common Tern, Forster’s Tern, Arctic Tern, Least Tern, Bridled Tern, Black Skimmer, Mourning Dove, Chimney Swift, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Northern Flicker, Eastern Wood Peewee, Great. Crested Flycatcher, Eastern Kingbird, Blue Jay, American Crow, Fish Crow, Barn Swallow, Bank Swallow, Tree Swallow, Purple Martin, Carolina Wren, Eastern Bluebird, American Robin, Grey Catbird, Northern Mockingbird, Brown Thrasher, European Starling, Yellow Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, Blue Grosbeak, Indigo Bunting, Northern Cardinal, Eastern Towhee, Seaside Sparrow, Song Sparrow, Eastern Meadowlark, Red-winged Blackbird, Common Grackle, Boat-tailed Grackle, Brown-headed Cowbird, House Sparrow, House Finch