26/09 : Cabo de Gata

From Dave E-B and about putting birds out of their stride by going birding on a different day (see the last paragraph!). We both had a good day yesterday!

Birding came early this week to fit in with visiting birders. Brian and Mary brought Richard and Ann and I took Stan, an ex-member returning to Arboleas for a holiday. Arriving in the Cabo de Gata area early, Stan and I stopped off at the "Dotterel" field near the speed camera. Alas there were no Dotterels in sight but we did see Blackcap, Chiffchaff, Sardinian Warbler and a passing Short-toed Eagle. We then headed to Pujaire to meet up with the others at the cafe. They also had arrived early and were waiting for us!! After reviving coffees we headed for the first hide where there was a Polish birder. He'd been on the reserve since first light (know the feeling from last year!). He reported seeing Whimbrel, Eurasian Curlew, Knot and two Ospreys. Apart from the 100s of Greater Flamingos we spotted Avocet, Little Egret, Greenshank, Ringed Plover, Slender-billed Gull and Spotted Redshank. A Sparrowhawk flew low past us causing pandemonium amongst the smaller birds.
Heading to the second hide, the scrubland to the left was alive with Cattle Egrets. There must have been about 75 on there. On the beach a few Lesser Black-backed Gulls had joined their Yellow-legged cousins for the winter. There was also a solitary Whimbrel wandering around on the sand.. The wind at the hide was bad, making the use of the scopes worthless. We did however note some Cormorants, Shelducks, Shovelers and Little Terns. After a short delay waiting for a coach load of grockles to leave the public hide we resumed our search for birds various, but only added to our list with Sanderling, Kentish Plover and Redshank.

At this point the two groups split up. Stan and I, before heading round the rear of the reserve, did a bit of sea watching (actually having a coffee from a beach-side cafe!). Spotted a pair of Gannets, an Audouin's Gull and at least 2 Cory's Shearwaters. Suitably revived we drove on to the rutted track and were rewarded with good views of Northern Wheatear, Whinchat, Willow Warbler, Thekla Lark, Spectacled Warbler, Dunlin and Little Stint.
Meeting up we the others at "Sulky's" restaurent in Retamar ( named after owner's miserable face!) we compared notes. They had gone through the campsite to the Morales water. Amongst other commoner birds they'd seen White-headed Duck, Black-necked Grebe and a distant Osprey ( don't you just hate it when that happens?) They also noted Zitting Cistacola and Cetti's Warbler.
54 species for the day. Coming on a Monday had obviously put the birds out of their routine. Wednesday is their hiding from birders day!

26/09 : Fuente de Piedra

A brief blog, this, about yesterday morning at Fuente de Piedra with Jorge Garzón. A splendid mornign when all we did during the more than 3 hours there was walk from the car park, round below and up by the mirador, a look at the pantaneta del Pueblo round the back and return by the same route. A shirt-sleeve and shorts morning, not that there'll be too many left, but lots of birds.

For a start off, 17 spp. of waders - not in great numbers but variety is better - and with good views too from the path below the mirador as nearly all were on the flash there. Don't worry, I'm not giving a full and boring list but noteworthy was the fact that we didn't see a single 'shank and singles only of Green and Common Sandpipers. A few Snipe wandering around as though they owned the place, a few Curlew Sands - one still in nearly full breeding plumage, and the same for the Little Stints with one still in mostly breeding plumage and quite incongruous as they wandered around underneath and between the legs of the Flamingos! Talk about the long and the short of it!

Also nice to see was the presence of at least 11 Ruffs and Reeves, some of the Ruffs splendid big chaps and one of an extreme variety with all the body, neck and head white with the white extending to about half way down the mantle - quite a striking bird and I've seen white-ruffed ones on the breeding grounds on Texel and in the polders many years since but never one like this. It is in this shot but between the distance and heat shimmer it gives some idea! As Jorge said, it seems to be my moment for seeing extra-white birds!

Way out on the lake, which still has quite a lot of water, there were 18 Black-tailed Godwits which later moved close in along with a bundle of Avocets . There were the usual Mallard and Shovelers, plus a pair of Teal in the duck line, plus a lot of Moorhens which must have had a great breeding year and the usual Coots.

Around the back at the pantaneta - pond to you - which is drying out and with little water there were 2 Stone Curlews, although a pair of Belgian birders, who later immediately endeared themselves to us by telling us what they thought about twitchers, had seen a flock of about 70 just before we arrived! It was from there that we saw a single Black-shouldered Kite, although the Belgians had seen two! You can't win sometimes but one is always better than none.

As for other bits and pieces, there were 4 spp. of swallows and martins, including a single Sand Martin. There were also goodly numbers of Corn Buntings moving through and we saw a andful of Yellow Wagtails, one a male of the flava or Blue-headed race.

NOTE : It is international bird day (weekend) and the Guadalhorce is open to visitors on Sunday when the S.E.O. will have a stand and there will be ringing demonstrations between 09 and 13h. In years gone by we have often done well, including one morning with no less than 5 Ospreys over-flying.


24/09 : Guadalhorce and an odd bod

This was going to be written last evening but at that time there was a missing link which will be explained in the fullness of this blog. Federico and I went down around 09.00 and had a gentle and quite fruitful amble around for te next three or hours or so. It was quite notable that in view of the clouds and even a slight shower of rain the previous afternoon there was a remarkable dearth of small migrant passerines but their absence was more than made up for by the presence of this 'odd bod', which seems a suitable place to start, a puzzle.

The 'odd bod' :
At this point you should study the photo on the right here and try and decide what it is (guides may be used) and write down the answer. The real answer is at the end of this blog. I should add at this point that neither of had a clue, and even after accessing guides later one we still weren't decided and I had to recur to the real raptor experts, Javier Elorriaga and Dick Forsman.

This large - certainly bigger than a Booted Eagle - and quite spectacularly marked raptor was seen first in the euclayptus and then in the tamarisks behind the río Viejo as seen from the second hide (photo by Federico) but regrettably we never saw the underwing. The eye was dark, by the way.

Now on to the rest of the birding. There aoppears to have been sone slight increase in White-headed Ducks, Pochards and certainly of Teal, of which there were no less than 12 on the río Viejo, whilst there was a female Pintail on the laguna Escondida. The río Viejo, both the wader pool area in front of the second hide and further down, provided most waders, notably a large number of very quiet, resting Little Ringed with a few Ringed scattered in amongst tem, but they really had to be looked for, as did the 3 Curlew Sandpipers and 2 Little Stints and a single Sanderling. There are few Stilts now, which I suppose is something to be thankful for! On the wader pool there was also a single Black-tailed Godwit and it or another on the laguna Grande, it's very difficult to be certain if there were 2 birds or not, plus a couple of Dunlin and a single Common Sandpiper. There were certainly at least 4 Redshanks and 3 Greenshanks scattered between the two areas and probably a total of 4 Avocets. A total of 11 waders isn't bad but should be better and points up the lack of management work

Both Grey Herons and Cormorants - we saw only one of the latter - appear to be slow on the autumnal increase and we also saw a single Purple Heron. Apart from the 'odd bod' raptor, there was a single Osprey and no less than 3 Marsh Harriers, 1 female, 1 2CY male and an adult male, which was very smart.

Which brings us to the 'odd bod'. Any ideas? All I could think of was an extremely pale Common Buzzard, of which I have seen one or two in my birding career and I could be sure of ruling out a pale Rough-legged Buzzard as they are what the twitchers would class as a 'mega'. Federico thought it might be a pale Long-legged Buzzard which would also have been a pretty rare bird here in Málaga. So, time to consult the experts in the form of Javi Elorriaga of Migres in the Strait and who sees more rare raptors in a year than I have in a life time. and, naturally, the guru of bird of prey identification- Dick Forsman who is the person to consult, apart from being a thoroughly nice person as well.

So off went the two photographs that Federico had digiscoped and this morning I had the replies, identical as to identification, and I shall quote Dick's as he gives the reasons:
This is a juv Honey Buzzard of the white morph. Diagnostic characters are:
- dark "sunglasses" around the eye
- largely yellow bill with just a tiny black tip
- prominent white scaling to upperparts.

Javi (who probably has seen more Honey Buzzards this than any 10 of us put together over a life time) added that he has seenoccasional birds as pale this. So there, problem solved.
Now, tell the truth: How many of you got it right?
This birding is just one big learning curve which seems to get steeper and steeper with experience! Or is the memory failing? By the by, Dick is bringing out a new raptir identification book soon which will make a nice Yuletide present if you believe in that sort of thing, personally I'll just go and buy it for myself!


21/09 : Sierra de María

The weather is slightly cooler and the Arboleas Group ventured to the heights of the Sierra de María with pretty good results. Don't forget that the Griffon Vulture migration will start very soon and large numbers could turn up along any suitable sierra and it's worthwhile watching carefully for something really good amongst them, like a wandering juvenile Bearded Vulture which is not unknown. I must say, Dave, that I've not seen/heard the old expression 'titmice' for donkeys years, this must be a sign of something, but I suppose it's better than saying 'a full complement of tits' - perhaps I should shut up!

Today we were joined by Brian, Mary, Helen and Adrian on this birding trip to the Sierra de Maria. I've got to say that the weather was perfect. Clear blue skies, sunny and not too hot, even with no breeze.
On the approach to Maria and the chapel we saw very few birds which was a bad sign, but we needn't have worried. On the smallholding between the chapel and the water trough we saw at least 4 Spotted Flycatchers and one Pied Flycatcher. A Chaffinch and some Rock Buntings were taking the waters. A Black Redstart was in the car park. A Cirl Bunting and a Robin were in the shrubs.
The walk round the Botanical Garden was very fruitful.
A steady stream of Griffon Vultures was flying over from the plain towards Velez Blanco. Didn't count them, but I would've thought at least 50 went over. A Short-toed Eagle soared above us and as we we heading back towards the chapel a Booted Eagle was also seen. Back in the pines we saw the full complement of Titmice....Blue, Great, Crested, Coal and Long-tailed Tits.
At least 4 Firecrests made an appearance. Also there in some number were Chiffchaffs. The summer warblers had apparently left, but a Sardinian Warbler was seen. I checked out the small flocks of hirundines amongst the vultures. Saw both Barn and Red-rumped Swallows, numerous House Martins, a Crag Martin and, probably a first for Maria, a Sand Martin. Also saw possibly my last Pallid Swift of the summer. Also seen were Short-toed Treecreepers, Jays and Crossbills.
After a short refreshment break at La Piza, where we saw more Crossbills, Brian, Mary, Gilly & myself headed onto the plains. At the farm buildings we added Blue Rock Thrush to the list. At the water trough we had Woodlark and Crested Lark. There were 3-4 Northern Wheatears on the rocky field dividers. At the hamlet there was no sign of any Kestrels, but we did see at least 15-20 Short-toed Larks on a small ploughed area.
Ended up with 40 species for the day. Dave and Myrtle were sorely missed.


comment on warbler at Embalse de Negratín

Readers will perhas remember that there was a photo, not good by Dave'd admission, of a warbler seen at the embalse de Negratín (published 8 September) which he put down as a Whitethroat but which I thought was more probably an immature Subalpine. In the interests that we all may learn, I have translated and publish the following from Jorge Garzón of Granada:

I also believe that it is a Subalpine Warbler. It is impossible to say if it is a juenile or 1st winter female, but the ochraceous-pinkish tinge of the breast and the hint of reddish on the htroat point to that species.
Although it is difficult to see, it appears that the point of the tail feather which can be seen is whitish and in juv. and female Whitethroats never reaches the points, something which this appears to do.

17 September : meeting FOROROA, Tarifa

For the non-Spanish birders, fororoa is the foro de la red de observadores andaluces, or in English : the forum for Andalusian birders. It was started over a year ago by Paco Chiclana and birders from Sevilla and has achieved a good number of followers from Andalusia and, I understand, from other parts of Spain too who are interested in our observations and doings. This last Saturday we had an open meeting - una quedada - down at Tarifa to watch raptor migration, in which we were far from disappointed, and then an excellent lunch at the Ventorillo del Nene at the entry to Facinas. In total, some 27 of us took part and I have every reason to believe that we all thoroughly enjoyed ourselves, I know that I did.

We met at 10.00 at the petrol station just north of Tarifa and found that our spies in place informed that Cazalla was probably the best option for raptors and the information was totally accurate. There was an abundance of raptors and a goodly number of birders too, ranging from we of fororoa, through the recorders of the Migres programme, a couple of English birding tours and the usual range of those who were solo or in pairs. There was much bird movement, many birds coming in from the east, some starting to cross and ten returning and often going inland ater an aborted attempt. Although some birds were reasonably low, others were at cosiderable height which did not help photography.

I didn't take any note of numbers by species but outstanding were the numbers of Black Storks with several flocks including one of 70+ birds, plus some White Storks, and in particular the Egyptian Vultures. The previous afternoon, the Cigüeña Negra group from Tarifa had posted that up to then, 999 had been seen and it was quite obvious that by the time we arrived that number had been surpassed quite considerably. Both of these species have increased notably since I first started going down to Tarifa 30 years since.
The quantity of Short-toed Eagles was also notable,as well as smaller numbers of Booted Eagles and Black Kites, with some Honey Buzzards mixed in and a small but continual movement of Sparrowhawks. Of note, but not seen by all as the action was so rapid, was the presence of a Bonelli's Eagle which first had a go at a White Stork, missed and then proceeded to frighten the living daylights out of it by stooping at an adult Egyptian Vulture which dived down frantically for the deck with the Bonelli's after it and thus lived to fly another day.
It really was quite a hectic morning and one of those days when accurate censusing by dedicated counters was damned nearly impossible as there were birds coming from all angles.

There were, as was to be expected, zseveral Griffon Vultures but, on a selfishly purely personal level, the best was the presence of not one but two Rüppell's Vultures after years of missing them by 5 minutes before arriving or after leaving. These birds were notably different as one had its flight feathers in a quite deplorable state (left), whilst the other was much cleaner (below right).

Federico and I made a quick run along the canal side of La Janda before lunch, seeing several tens Lesser Kestrels - there are always good concentrations there at this time of year, plus several young Montagu's Harriers and this harrier on the left, which we believe to be a Montagu's, possibly a female (now confirmed by Javi Elorriaga and Jorge Garzón), and a single Osprey. All these giving us a total of 14 raptor species for the days.

The afternoon could have finished off with a Royal Tern seen from the observatory on the Los Lances beach by David Cuenca and Stephen Daly amongst others, but as time was bashing on Federico and I made steps for home, finally arriving more than 12 hours after departing in the morning.

Finally, although this will be possibly of little use except knowing who to avoid and based on a photo by Federico, a guide to the Homo pajarensis andalucensis present. But joking apart, we would always be interested to hear from and enjoy the participation of non Spanish birders. Remember that a click will enlarge the photo for better identification.


09 September : Guadalhorce

Yes, late again, unlike good old Bob who gets his out before lunch but I mislaid my notebook and have only just found it, plus downloading and checking out photos (not a good crop, too much heat shimmer, I think) and yesterday morning watching England beat Argentina (World Cup Rugby) by the skin of their combined teeth. But today's the day, so here goes!

I had arranged to meet Bob and Federico down by the church at 09.00 but Federico, ever the early worm, was there long before and already in the reserve as his phone call affirmed as I parked. Bob was on time too, so in we toddled, soon meeting up with Bob, then a Dutch birder Albert Vrielink and Stephen and Elena from Bob's Axarquía group.

It really was a very good morning's birding, with plenty to occupy us, with the weakest link being that of the lack of raptors, seeing only a couple of Kestrels and a Marsh Harrier.

The best of the morning was undoubtedly the variety of waders, mostly seen from the second hide overlooking what is usually called the wader pool on the old course of the río Viejo. I can't say that I saw the Ruff that Bob claims , but that apart I reckon we saw some 14 species, which isn't bad by any standards although they were hardly in great numbers. There were, of course, the usual Stilts and Little Ringed Plovers, plus an increase in Ringed Plovers (or if you prefer it, Great Ringed) and a few Kentish Plovers too, but their numbers have declined drastically. As for the rest, as always it was nice to see the three species of 'shanks, Red, Spotted and Green, as well as Avocets, 2 - possibly 3 -Black-tailed Godwits, 5 or 6 Curlew Sandpipers, a couple Knots and Dunlin and a single Wood Sandpiper. The surprise bird was not its presence, Whimbrel are not unusual, but this one was walking along the path between the sea and the laguna grande and there were a few jokes about it perhaps being a Slender-billed. (Don't panic, Dave, no way that it was!). Here too we saw a juv. Black-necked Grebe with its wonderfully ruby red eye (click on the photo and you'll see what I mean). The area around the wader pond proved to be singularly fruitful as apapart from a single Wryneck, not well seen but sufficiently so to clinch its identification was a a nice bird to see, as was the Great Reed Warbler and the smaller cousin, the Common Reed Warbler, as well as a juvenile Yellow Wagtail.Here too we saw a juv. Little Bittern which showed quite well, as they too have this distressing tendency to dive into the deepest and thickest reedbed there is.

Walking along the beach between the seawatch mirador and the entry to the laguna Grande was pretty sterile apart from not particularly brilliant views of 3 wheatears, the first certainly a male Northern Wheatear, the other 2 too distant for a positive specific identification.

There were more waders at the laguna Grande, apart from another Avocet and a distant Black-tailed Godwit, the pair of Knot were still present and a single Common Sandpiper waggled its butt as it looked for insects whilst an Avocet poked around.

Hirundines were quite well represented with mostly Barn Swallows and House Martins, plus the occasional Sand Martin. Common Swifts and few Pallids were also around. Ducks were few, with White-headeds having started their usual post-breeding dispersal and there were a few Mallards and Pochards.

Obviously this is not the whole list but we also had a selection of gulls, including fleeting limpses of a 1st summer Little Gull by myself just before everything was put up by the Marsh Harrier., there also being a handful of Mediterranean Gulls and only one Audouin's, a few Yellow-leggeds and Lesser Black-backeds amidst a mass of Black-headeds. On the way out, Albert and myself saw a nice Melodious Warbler to make (e. & o.e.) a morning list of some 54 spp, rather less than that of Bob but then I forget to put things down. All I care about is that it was a jolly good morning's birding in very pleasant company, so what more could one wish for?


07 September : Embalse de Negratín

Dave's weekly offering from Almería along with some of the ARboleas Group comes this week from the embalse de Negratín. By the by, Dave, the photo of what you think may be a Whitethroat looks more like a juv. Subalpine to me, but then it's a well known fact that I am not good with les petits merdes, especually juvenile ones.

We headed north to the Embalse de Negratin, near Baza. At this slightly higher altitude the heat wasn't so bad. From the small carpark adjacent to the dam we could see a few birds. A pair of Black Wheatears on top of the distant cliff face. Both House and Crag Martins were circling above the reservoir outlet. The huge numbers of breeding House Martins had departed south. From the dam itself the water surface was totally devoid of any birdlife. Looking down into the valley below we could hear Cetti's Warbler and the odd Blackbird.

A pair of Stonechats and some Sardinian Warblers were flitting around the bushes. A Common Buzzard flew low over us.
Now down on the valley floor a male Golden Oriole showed itself well. There were at least 4-5 Spotted Flycatchers and the Black Redstarts were in evidence in greater numbers. At the bridge a Green Sandpiper was feeding in the shade. Around the reeds a Chiffchaff was seen. A Cetti's Warbler briefly showed itself. On the rock face we had Rock Sparrow and Rock Bunting. 2-3 Blue Rock Thrushes were seen. Brian spotted a Short-toed Eagle and Mary heard some distant Bee-eaters. On the way back to the vehicles I managed to get a photo of what I believe to be a Whitethroat. Not a bad days birding. A total of 30 species.


06 September: Guadalhorce

T'was a grey morning when I met up with Alexandra Farrell by the church and didn't look much like improving but it did, and when it did and the sun broke through it was jolly warm. It was the first time that I'd met Alexandra and for some reason which I can't fathom she had wanted to meet me. However, reasons apart, we had a very pleasant morning's birding for over 3 hours. So what was there.

It was nice to see both Willow Warblers and Chiffchaffs, a single Melodious Warbler and also a couple of Robins, plus a few Zitting Cisticolas, which more or less sums up the total of small items. There were also some 20 Common Swifts moving through, plus all thenormal hirundines - Barn and Red-rumped Swallows (I only saw juvs. of these latter, have the adults gone?), a few House Martins and a single Sand Martin.

High in the heavens, at times only visible through binoculars but clearly audible, a westward movement of Bee-eaters, some of which then returned east. Why? Only a guess but I would imagine that they were disorientated by the cloud cover. (I feel the same before my first coffee of the day.) There was a movement of Grey Herons going on and we saw at least 20, including one scattered group of 13 birds, plus a single unringed juv. Spoonbill. On the other hand there was a huge lack of raptors and a single Kestrel is not much recompense at this time of year.

Thank heavens there were some waders and we had all three 'shanks, Red, Spotted and Green, always a nice sight, plus at least 4 Curlew Sandpipers, 2 or 3 Common Sandpipers busy waggling their butts and a single Knot, with the usual riff-raff of small plovers and an ever dwindling number of Stilts, plus 3 Little Terns, not the 100+ of the other day.

However the bird of the day was undoubtedly the Water Rail (photo by Alexandra). This bird obviosuly hadn't had its morning coffee or read the rules about skulking (or both) as it came ambling way out in to the open in front of the second hide on the eastern bank and then, with what I can only assume was a massive attack of agorophobia, did what all rails do when they see binoculars/cameras being trained on them - disappear at the greatest speed possible so all credit to Alexandra for getting this flight shot of it before it disappeared, never to be seen again.


31 August : Guadalhorce

After Birgit had posted yesterday morning that she was going to the Guadalhorce to meet other birders, I rang her and asked if if she minded if I came along as I needed to get out for a while. So, at 16.00 we met at the church, having already seen an immature male Redstart as I had enetered by coming round by the schoool but said bird refused to show itself when we went round, but that's birding. Fortunately it wasn't too hot as there was a breeze as we headed first for the laguna Escondida where a pair of Little Gebes had 3 very young chicks, rather late I would have thought, and thence to the laguna Grande where Birgit was due to meet her contacts and from there we did not move for the next three hours as there was plenty to see.

We had already seen a couple of Little Terns at the laguna Escondida but the first thing that struck us was the huge quantity of them on one of the islets in the laguna Grande. I counted 94 on the deck but as birds were taking off whilst I counted there must have been well in excess of a hundred birds present, plus 2 juvenile Common Terns - one metal ringed - and a single Black Tern. At one point they all flushed, a scare and the reason was a small falcon which I am tolerably certain was a Hobby which flashed across by the eucalyptus trees. There were also a few gulls, mostly Black-headed but with single adults of Mediterranean, Yellow-legged and Lesser Black-backed.

A pair of Greenshanks dropped in and showed fantastically well in front of the hide whilst a single Redshank, one of four present which later took off together, rather noisily and headed off west, did what most birds do when they realise that someone is trying to photograph them, leg it off at high speed. This resting party of Little Ringed Plovers, most juveniles, did not do and did very little except settle down and sleep, as did a couple of Great Ringed Plovers. Way over there was a single Avocet and a pair of Dunlin and we also saw at least 4 Grey Herons.

From the hide we had brief views of 2 Yellow Wagtails, one a beautiful male of the flava race, identified by use of one of Birgit's photos and there was also a juvenile White Wagtail.
But the star was a Kingfisher which made good use of the stripped branches that Antono Tamayo (gold star Antonio) has put in for their and our convenience. They use them for fishing watch points which in turn allows we birders to see more than an electric blue flash as they pass across in front. These photos are nothing like those which Birgit has in her excellent web but at least gives one an idea.
So, in sum, a very pleasant afternoon's birding with the ever ebullient Birgit and three young ladies who are struggling with the beginning of birding and such joys as the separation and plumage differences of the three small plovers.