29/10: La Janda

A free day with the only intention being to go up the canal beside La Janda, cross over the top by the smelly farm (finca de Enmedio or whatever it's called), go on and then back, basically spending the day leisurely searching for raptors and especially the male and juvenile Pallid Harriers that have been there for a while. So, I was down there by 10.15 and the first stop was by the ford on the left hand turn before running alongside the canal.

It was a beautiful morning, with not a breath of wind and warm enough to be in shirt sleeves by 10.30. The rice fields there have been harvested and were full of White Storks and Cattle Egrets whilst I could hear the distant 'talking' of Cranes and then the first 3, later to be followed by 2 more and then a flock of 38 - lovely, and with the distant calls of at least 2 Greenshanks and later 2 separate Green Sandpipers, all the time interspersed with barrages of shotgun fire from all points of the compass. Yes, the hunting season has arrived.

Later in the day we saw a Great White Heron in one of the harvested rice paddies. There were plenty of Lapwings in the fields and at one point a 4 Golden Plovers in a flock of Lapwings. There was movement of flocks of Skylarks all day and the occasional Chaffinch mixed in with the Corn Buntings but very few Calandra Larks, less than a handful. A ccky female Bluethroat bounced along the track in front of me for some metres before disappearing into the scrub where the were plenty of Chiffchaffs to distract the attention. Before I ran (metaphorically) into Rafa García and Manuel Jiménez from Cádiz who had come on the same mission as myself - raptors with a certain preference for the aforementioned harrierIt was along here beside the canal that I saw a small group of rather confused-looking Red-legged Partridges. It was too easy to hear them wondering what the hell was happening and where Pepe and Paqui had gone. Poor little sods, being fed one day and getting blasted to hell and gone the next.

It was a good raptor day and until I left for home at 4.30 - it is a good 2 hour run home for me from the north end of La Janda - we saw 8 spp., although they saw the juvenile Pallid Harrier and a possible female whilst I was with them, but I'm not sure of this latter identification on what I saw. On the other hand we saw lots Marsh Harriers, so many that I lost count but probably in excess of 15, including a nice male. There had been an entry of Hen Harriers and we saw about 6 (it's difficult to discount repeat sightings), all females/juveniles except of a single, very smart male.

Alongside the canal I also saw a large female Peregrine, a really buxom wench, which based on the characteristics of the bird that was at the Guadalhorce and which Dick Forsman kindly diagnosed for us a being of the calidus subspecies from northern Europe. It was along the canal bank too that we saw the first Common Buzzard of the 3 of the day.

For some reason Black-shouldered Kites like the irrigation booms as look out and resting points and it was from alongside the canal that we saw the first 3 of what was probably somewhere 10 or 11 of these lovely little birds, some of which showed well, and later one decided that an over-flying Imperial Eagle was in no-go territory and gave it hell and treated us to a fabulous flying display. The Imperial Eagle ignored it, which must have been very frustrating.

In fact, we saw 3 Imperials, all immature birds, and although most of them flew very high, one decided to drop like a stone on to a Pheasant from the Las Lomas estate (another confused bird), missed it and perched briefly on an electricty post before flying off fast and low to frighten the living daylights out of something else. Other raptors seen included the bog-standard Kestrels that are always present to greater or lesser degree, and singles of Booted and Short-toed Eagles.

There was a huge Wood Pigeon flock of somewhere around 1.200-1.500 birds and another smaller one, all good food for the Peregrine. I also saw a single Stock Dove, a distinct rarity and a good record and one of the vey few I have ever seen down in Andalucía. I must apologise for the poor photos, but most of the time I was shooting against the light or the birds too distant/high. You win some, you lose some.


the state of the Guadalhorce

Readers will know that I have been very critical of Medio Ambiente - the environmental people - on more than one occasion, and I shall continue to be so.

First, as visitors are aware, very little has been done in the past two years to manage the reserve to maintain a variety of habitats and that there is a continual progression and development of vegetation and any work done has been minimal. Basically, I think that the problem is that the brains (if any) in the office don't appear to understand that this occurs and nor do they understand the difference, which is not a subtle one, between management and maintenance.

I am sure that they will - and indeed have in reply to a critical article in the local newspaper Málaga Hoy- classify any work done as management.

The widening of the tracks with a cutter in September and the current replacement of new posts and fencing on the access from the beach to the laguna Grande and the removal of the old posts and blinds by the hides (you can see what they were like in mid September on the left here) with new, very well cemented posts which will stand up to winter gales and awaiting new sheeting as I write (right), will undoubtedly be classified by them as management, when to me it is maintenance, unless my knowledge of English has suffered a sudden decline.

For thse who are uncertain, let me explain. Here is a photo taken from the seawatch mirador, looking east. This is one of the principal breeding areas for Kentish Plovers along the Málaga coast (185 kms) and two years ago there were 50 pairs, last year 25, this year I doubt if there were 15 and probably less although Medio Ambiente claimed that there was no fall in numbers. Here is where management comes into play. Look at the photo inside the wire (click on it to enlarge) and you can see a vast qanity of small, very dead branches and lumps of wood and quite a lot of encroaching vegetation. Kentish Plovers like lots of open, sandy ground with little cover. Here there is too much cover which can and will harbour rodents and reptiles (both snakes and ocellated lizards) which will happily predate a clutch of eggs, chicks and even a sitting female before devouring the rest. Good management would indicate a large scale vegetation and dead wood clearance. This process could be easly carried out at two other sites within the reserve and is called - wait for it - management!

It remains to be seen what, if anything, they intend to do about snail collectors and hordes of cyclists, none of the latter appearing to know what a bell is to warn of their presence even though some means of warning pedestrians of their presence is a legal requirement. If any of you ever do get hit by a cyclist, get details and denounce to the police - preferably Guardia Civil Seprona on 062 - along with a medical report on the damage to yourself from an Andalucian Health Service (Servicio Andaluz de Salud) clinic. As there are no signs warning cyclists and no effort to control the speeds, a lawyer friend informs me that Medio Ambiente would have subsidiary responsibility for lack of signalling.

What the reserve sorely needs is habitat management and back in the spring I wrote a six page letter to the then provincial director of Medio Ambiente in Málaga, señora Remedios Martel Gómez, and got no reply, which was no surprise. I tried again in September as a result of no reply, copying my previous letter to the new provincial director, señor Francisco Fernández España, and copied everything to Sevilla to the general director señora Rocio Espinosa de la Torre.

To date, one month later, there are no replies, but that simply reflects the arrogance and ill-manners of the administration (and not just Spanish but also British, French, German and so on) who forget that they work for and are accountable to you and me, the tax-payers, and that they are not untouchable. I shall possibly be asking for your cooperation in the course of time.

My Spanish blog will be getting the letters put up in the next two weeks and when I have the time I shall translate the basic points and put them in another Englsh blog and invite you to cooperate and write with your complaints. Please post any relatively civilised comments to the blog, not to me personally, in order that all may see. I shall not post comments saying that Torquemada should be brought back and all this lot should be put up against a wall and receive fast moving lumps of lead.

Am I p******d off? Yes, I b****y well am!

20/10 : Guadalhorce

On this very wet Sunday morning after a huge thunderstorm which has deposited tons of water and gaily dissipated lots of electricity in the atmosphere - most fetching but the dog wasn't too keen- and with rain still falling which means that I am not going to go to watch the rugby world cup final at a bar in the centre of town (rain makes your hair go all funny!), I thought it best to try and write some bilge about the trip to the ponds last Thursday along with Bob Wright and his followers from the Axarquía birding group which Bob runs.

I was there early and virtually the first bird I saw after parking by the school was an errant Magpie - an unusual bird to see down here to say the least. I started off keeping a list but get distracted and got to around 45 spp. but I know that I have forgotten some things, so this will be about the better ones and leave the more common but no less interesting for all that to one side. I heard autumn firsts in the form of the first 2 Skylarks, and a Song Thrush and saw a Black Redstart plus the start of the continuing influx of Chiffchaffs over the last few days has been notable and there were one or two Blackcaps seen.

Some of us walked along the beach to enter in to the laguna Grande from there. Not that there was anything on the sea, not a tern in sight and these have been in very short supply this autumn, nary a shearwater. On the other hand there was a lateish Northern Wheatear, although birds can been until the end of the month.
The Osprey was present amidst the riff-raff of Cormorants, which included one very white fronted juvenile. A Glossy Ibis made a brief appearance, and, later towards the end of the morning, a buxom female Goshawk also in the eucalyptus. Excitement, of course, as a Gos is a rare bird down on the coast but careful examination with the 'scopes on maximum revealed the presence of short jesses, and later showed as it flew high over our heads on the way out. We saw 3 Marsh Harriers, including an adult male which are always in short supply, in the course of the morning.

Pochards are increasing slowly, as are White-headed Ducks and Teal are also increasing, althugh we saw only one male. There were 3 immature Shelducks on the río Viejo, as well as a few Shovelers.

The best was in the wader line, a family of birds which many will know as being personal favourites, particularly Greenshanks, of which there were 3 alongside a very fine winter plumaged Spotted Redshank and at least 5 Redshanks. In fact, the wader action was all along the ower section of the río Viejo and once we started 'scoping it revealed at least 5 Dunlin and a couple of Little Stints, plus Kentish and Little Ringed Plover and a few Stilts which are hanging on, but without any hysterics, and along with Common Sandpiper and Snipe gave us a decent total of waders when we added the 2 Black-tailed Godwits on the laguna Grande which had been joined by the Spotted Redshank which had flown over for a change of scenery.

A very pleasant morning with somewhere around 50 spp. seen.


No, I'm not dead

I reckon that's what some of you may have been thinking. Nor have I been in jail or otherwise detained except for getting out for a little birding - far too little for my liking but that in large part has been the fault of my b****y knees which have been doing their 'shall we self-destruct today' act far too often, doing a lot of translation (interesting), writing an article (wich will apear in BIRDWATCH magazine in the uncertain future) and carrying out a long correspondence about Lesser Flamingos in zoos/collections which has meant that a joint project which we were planning has been shot down in flames. So where do I start? I suppose after 26 April, which was when I last posted a personal bit on birding, the rest being Dave's from Almería, so we'll go on from there.

29/09 Guadalhorce: A brief walk down in to the ponds for an hour's escape and a quick look at the big pond where there were Redshanks, Avocets, 2 Black-tailed Godwits and all 4 hirundines, with fair numbers of Sand Martins and Red-rumped Swallows. The best birds were undoubtedly the 4 Pintails.

01/10 International Birds Day of BirdLife International : This is actually more a day where one tends to see old friends, talk far too much and bird too little while the great unwashed masses with their too often uncontrolled young (I'd control 'em with a cattle prod given half a chance) 'oooo' and 'ahhh' over the ringers who show off their art when they show them such gems as the Kingfisher. The 2 Black-tailed Godwits from the other day were still there, as were the Avocets and a Common Sandpiper, whilst raptors were represented by a female Marsh Harrier and the Osprey. There was a good westerly movement of Red-rumped Swallows going on, mainly of juvenile birds it seemed. It's amazing how much these have increased in the past 30 years. There were also a few Sand Martins trickling westwards. The best bird was, for me, a rather fine male Whinchat.

02/10 Guadalhorce : Down there yet again and I've not even noted who I was with. Apart from the usual selection of Little Egrets and Grey Herons there was the additional presence of a Great White Heron/Egret (take your pick) which didn't stay around long. However, it was a good morning for waders with 12 spp, all the normal ones (stilts, plovers etc.) plus 2 Ruffs, 3 Greenshanks, 1 Curlew Sand. and 2 Little Stints and Snipe are always nice to see. It was nice to see 4 Teal, although the males are not yet back into breeding plumage. Rather more unusual was the sighting of 5-6 swifts very high up, Pallids I suspect, and there have been quite a lot of late records of these down here in Andalucía and also further north as far as Madrid.

05/10 Los Lances and La Janda : This time I know who I was with, Federico, in the hopes of a good day raptor watching. We started at Los Lances, parking by the petrol station and walking across. It's always best to be early there because of walkers on the sand, often with their dogs running loose, and the birds aren't quite so nervous.
A few Gannets were feeding out over the sea, all juveniles of this year, but we weren't really lucky with gulls, Audouin's always being nice to see but there were no rare terns. Waders were restricted to quite a lot of Sanderlings (how about that for a quantative analysis?) and plovers, mainly Kentish with one or two Ringed, spread out over the sand. What a juv. Flamingo thought it was doing there, I'm not sure.
It was windy, more so than forecast, and this pushed quite a lot of Short-toed Eagles and some Black Kites over us along the line of the beach and a single Sparrowhawk flew past fast and low crosswind, so fast that Federico missed it. The same strong wind kept the passerines down and under cover but we saw a few Yellow Wagtails and a single Northern Wheatear before pushing onwards for much needed coffee and a tostada before gong to La Janda.
La Janda was not as productive as I had hoped that it might be, but you can't win them all, even though this juv. Black Stork (R) gave us hope. and we were to see 10 more. We managed to accumulate quite a decent list of raptors by dint of going along the canal, then across and back down the centre towards Facinas before finishing off the day at Cazalla.
On La Janda we saw a female Marsh Harrier, one of very few seen that day, and a single Montagu's plus another harrier which we saw just after meeting Stephen Daly with a touring group of Swiss birders. This last was distant and I called it as a possible Pallid but eventually left it as a harrier sp.. Fortunately, just after leaving us Stephen had had much better views after also first calling it as a possible Pallid and managed to get a decent photograph which showed it to be a female Hen Harrier. It shows how difficult these can be at long range. And as an extra piece of information, at least 2 Pallid Harriers have been seen recently on La Janda and another in Doñana, plus Dick Forsman, the fount of all raptorial knowledge, says that they are increasing and expanding range westwards, so you never know .... but do try and get a photograph!

The rice had not yet been cut and so there was little in the wader line except a single Green Sandpiper. However, there are large numbers of Glossy Ibis, of which we got reasonable views as they fed in areas where the rice had been harvested, although they hadn't yet touched the length beside the canal. Evening counts at their roost have been in excess of 3.000 birds! There were lots of White Storks around and still a lot of Cattle Egrets. The central track down towards Facinas was much less fruitful than I had hoped for but at least was easily passable, a situation which will rapidly change after 3 drops of rain fall.
We finished off with an hour being wind-blasted at Cazalla and with a lot more Short-toed Eagles, a few Booteds, Black Kites and Honey Buzzards, Egyptian and Griffon Vultures and a single Sparrowhawk.

It was after this day out that things became low with a lot of computer time and looking out of the window in to the garden didn't produce much either, there being two days with single unidentifiable Phylloscopus warblers hiding in the foliage, it's been a poor autumn in the garden for warblers, and a nice Pied Flycatcher on 10/10 and single Chiffchaffs in the garden on 15 and 16/10.

13/10, río Guadalhorce: Slowly walking my aging spaniel down by the river - we're both getting slower, amongst the gulls there was a single 1W Kittiwake, a surprisingly early date and more so as there have been no Atlantic gales to blow them in. This bird was colour ringed, a red one, but distance precluded seeing if there was a code or not and although the bird flew strongly it had difficulties walking.

14/10, La Janda : I was going to meet a friend but his child had had a bad night so he hadn't been released. Therefore I bundled Luna in to the car and we went down alone. She's excellent in the car, just sleeps and never asks when we're going to arrive. There was virtually nothing that attracted interest at Los Lances beach so it was a coffee and then on to La Janda. They still haven't cut the rice along the left side of the canal, although further south and over to the east they have been busy and were busy mashing up the cut areas using this tractor with very wide wheels, creating a beautifully soggy mess on which there were masses of Cattle Egrets feeding.

Further away, there were large numbers of White Storks and Glossy Ibises but once again the blasted wind did just that. There were few raptors overall, with only Marsh Harriers, Kestrels and a single Lesser Kestrel, a few Short-toed Eagles, 2 Booted Eagles and a solitary Buzzard (ordinary common one). There were few Griffon Vultures with this exception, which sat stolidly in the middle of the track down to Facinas and refused to move, even after I drove up to it until it eventually decided to take wing.

In the passerine line, apart from more Yellow Wagtails, all of the flava race as far as males sighted were concerned, there was also a single Whinchat and a single Tree Pipit. More interesting was the presence of quite good numbers of Northern Wheatears, some of which I believe were of the leucorhoa race from Greenland and Iceland. In theory and according to the literature, these can not be separated from our European birds but some of 5-6 them - the most I have ever seen as usually I only see one or two in an autumn - were big, bulky birds, the 2 males of these I saw much better marked on the face and head, more strongly coloured and longer legged, and when I saw the two types together, but not long enough for a photograph, the difference was quite striking. Of the more normal sized type, I saw at least a dozen.

And that, O dearly and best beloved (who wrote that? Kipling?), brings me up to date.


05/10 : Río Almanzora/Vera

It seems that Dave and his happy band coincide with my outings at the moment, so, as he and Gilly are off for a few weeks to that cold, wind-swept island somewhere up there (points north) from which many of us have escaped, here is his commentary on the Arboleas Group trip yesterday andf after reading his final comment about tin hats on, I think I shall start to sing(?) the famous lead-in song to 'Dad's Army'. (This also gives me until tomorrow to do my blog on this week and my trip down to the Strait and La Janda!)

We met up with Brian and Mary in Arboleas and they followed us down to the rambla of the Rio Almanzora. We joined just passed the entrance to the Desert Springs Golf Complex. Gilly and I saw Southern Grey Shrike, Kestrel, Blackbirds and Blackcaps on our way down to the ford. Brian and Mary did a bit better, seeing Little Owl, a very late Woodchat Shrike and a Green Sandpiper.
At the "ford", where unfortunately there is no water now, we weren't expecting much, but our patience was rewarded with views of Sardinian and Cetti's Warblers, Zitting Cisticolas and overflying Cattle Egret. Gilly spotted a Bluethroat. A fleeting glimpse before it disappeared into the undergrowth. A "big bird" was seen but it annoyingly kept to the sunny side, so we only got a silhouette view. However later, nearer to the coast we got better views of it nd possibly its parents as 2 adults and a juvenile Booted Eagle were seen soaring above us.
At the beach, on the rocks, were some Audouin's Gulls, Little Egrets and Sandwich Terns. As we headed back to the vehicles 3 Cormorents flew over in formation.Near the vehicles was a track. Gilly spotted another possible Bluethroat. As we were trying to relocate it a small bird disappeared into a small shrub actually on the path. The shrub was only a few inches high and about 18" in diameter so we knew we'd see the bird again. Sure enough it appeared again. A pale and black striated warbler. Knew it wasn't a Zitting Cisticola by its appearence and its skulking jizz. In birding circles it isn't, for some reason, good form to carry a bird guide with you, so it wasn't till we got home that it was positively identified as an Aquatic Warbler. The Collins map shows that it is supposed to migrate through our area. A lifer for all of us!
After a reviving coffee in Villaricos we headed along the coast. We first stopped at the shallow ponds near to the Consum supermarket. Water levels were low, but we did manage to see a Ruff, Ringed Plover and a Redshank. At the pool near to the Aquaparc, Gilly and I disturbed a Kingfisher as we drove up. Little Grebes were on the water.
Next we went to the beachside pool at Vera, where Brian and Mary had had good views of a Purple Gallinule the previous week. No luck with that species, but we did add Common Pochard and White-headed Duck to our list. Another Kingfisher was also seen.
What a good days birding! 48 species in all. Gilly is responsible for the photos.....sorry they're not up to my usual standard! (grabbing tin hat as I type this!!)
Best regards,
Dave & Gilly