26/01 Not the Guadalhorce again!

Yes, sad but true as I would have liked ot have gone further afield but with the Reichsfüherin (look it up) away in Madrid there was nobody to take care of the aging spaniel and there ¡s no way she can be left alone all day. So, as Bob, now back from foreign parts and sailing the ocean blue, was going to be down at the ponds with anyone who cared to turn up from his ad hoc Axarquía group, down I trotted.

And was it ever cold with a freezing wind blowing down off the sierra at 0930, although later it would akmost be too warm when I came off at just around 1300 and all those nice little yellow flowers that the Spanish call vinegretas were open although they are an invasive South African species. One needs to dress like a blasted onion and strip off layers as the sun warms the air.
I also saw some of the chaps and girls who had been doing the management work and Bob and co. were suitably happy with what they saw and we all agree that it may well make a big difference to the numbers of wheatears, pipits and other ground feeding passerines which will soon be upon us.
We also ran in to Federico who had not gone back to Cordóba as he had told me last night and who had seen 'good numbers' of Kentish Plovers on the cleared area, although I saw only one or two later on. It was quite a good morning for waders as Little Ringed Plovers have come in quantity and some were making territorial flights and calling. There was also a single Ringed Plover plus a single Redshank and two Greenshanks (heard calling only), several Common Sandpipers and 4 Dunlins, as well as an increase in Black-winged Stilts. The greatest variety together was actually on the rocks against the eastern bank of the eastern arm of the river, with no less than 13 Sanderlings, 4 Turnstones, a single Common Sandpiper and Robin with ambitions.
There were also several Black-necked Grebes on the sea, at least 4 if my counting is correct, plus at least 3 more at the laguna Grande and one at the Escondida. I should add that yesterday afternoon, there was a 1W Great Crested Grebe on the river when I was walking the dog. There was a somewhat paler and brownish Little Grebe, certainly paler than the norm, on the río Viejo. There was nothing outstanding in the way of ducks, the Pintails seen earlier in the week having vanished and all the rest was to be expected, although the little male Teals whose hormones are functioning at full blast and the male Shovelers really are beautiful with the sun on them.

Raptors were represented by a single Buzzard, a very dark and nondescript bird I saw on the way out, Kestrels of course, and 2 Marsh Harriers, one a superb male. Passerines were much as for previous visits, with 5 Skylarks seen and there is still a dearth of Chiffchaffs, although this one obliged very nicely, as did this Crested Lark, a species which normally pushes off p.d.q. at the sight of any sort of lens.
All in all, a very pleasant morning and I have a total of exactly 38 speacies noted down, although Bob probably has some I have missed.

Tomorrow promises rain, which is much needed and at this moment the TV news is forecasting rain for the weekend.


25/01 : coming up to date since God knows when!

No entries, are you dead? Have you forgotten how to write? What have you been seeing?

All these queries have been levelled since my last entry which, I see, was back in the mists of early January. The truth is that I have been very busy with lots of one thing or another, including getting a new laptop and having that set up (can't do things like that, my chips have self-destructed), so busy that I have few photos and even those haven't been downloaded yet and have also got to be done and edited to make this look relatively picturesque, and really insufficient birding time. So, this blog will be a series of short entries covering several dates, following on from the last one from me which, I see, was on 3rd January, so here goes.

06/01 River Guadalhorce
A very slow walk by the with the dog (there was a competion to see who could be slower which she won) and then a quick look out to sea showed a single Razorbill - it's been a good winter for them in Alborán - and no less than ca.30 Common Scoters, all females and imms., a large number by the standards of recent years. There was also a goiod sized flock of Cormorants doing some communal fishing in the river.

11/01 Torremolinos Standing on the terrace and blethering away on the phone and looking seawards, all at the same time (is thuis multi-tasking?), a single Alpine Swift came in from over the sea from the SW and shot on. This is a very early record but the week before there had been another seen and photographed near Sevilla.

13/01 Guadalhorce reserve
A walk around on my own in the afternoon, largely to see what management work has been done, showed that the huge stretch behind the wire fence, running from the seabird mirador to the western end, has been cleaned up of unwanted bushes and the like, something (amongst many) I have been pestering Medio Ambiente about and now looks good for Kentish Plovers as no longer will it harbour predators. It and the area between the eastern path and the río Viejo which has been given a good short back and sides with a strimmer should be also good for migrants, especially wagtails, pipits and wheatears. The 2 Greenshanks, Ringed and Little Ringed Plovers and a Green Sandpiper. It has been a good winter for Reed Buntings all over Andalucía but I only saw one. On the other hand, the place, like most of Andalucía, was knee deep in Robins and Black Redstarts, although there has been quite a fall in Chiffchaff numbers. My first Barn Swallow of the year was feeding at the laguna Grande. A total of 36 spp. for the afternoon without really trying too hard.

14/01 Barbate and La Janda
Time to visit Stephen Daly, meeting at La Barca from whence he took me on a tour around. This involved first showing me a Bald Ibis, a species I've never really bothered about going to see as (a) I'm not a lister and (b) they were a successful introduction in order to diversify the population, which is justifiable and has been successful. In fact, Stephen had found where they were feeding that week and we watched a flock of 24 birds, most ringed but 2 were not, so I suppose I can count them.

Crossing to La Janda, we saw most of the usual but were rather lacking in harriers, seeing only
Marsh, although we also saw 2 Black-shouldered Kites which are always beautiful little things to watch, found the communal roost of 11 Short-eared Owls, watched a pair of young Bonelli's Eagles as well as 3 or 4 Buzzards and a single Sparrowhawk.

It was after lunch (a tapa and an alcohol free beer) that we hadz what was undoubtedly the bird of the day, of not the month. Tootling along the road between Benalup and Sidonia, a falcon came towards us on the right side of the road, a small, slender falcon with long wings, smaller than a Kestrel and with an all grey body and dark underwing (shadowed by the sun). I don't know which of us got the identification by the odd nano second, but there was no doubt about it - a Red-footed Falcon. Stephen had seen and photographed an immature male on 6 January and we were only about 16 kms away. He swung the car round and we carried out a fruitless chase, but of the identification we have no doubt. Incidentally, José Antonio Cortés of SEO-Málaga had seen another immature near the laguna Dulce (Campillos, Málaga) around the time of Stephen's first sighting. Even more interestingly, Stephen's photos showed the bird to be ringed with both the standard metal and a colour ring, which has been identified by an Hungarian birder as being one of his ringed birds!

15/01 Torremolinos
More phone calls and from the terrace no less than 5 Barn Swallows flying determinedly eastwards.

18/01 Guadalhorce

A most pleasant afternoon out with Federico who is now out of dry dock and was itching to get in some birding.
He too was most impressed with the management work being done and even though we saw relatively few birds, apart from the masses of Robins and Black Redstarts and the continuing low numbers of Chiffs, perhaps the best was a small flock of 4 Skylarks. On the laguna Grande a group of Flamingos did what both they and Spoonbills do best when not feeding!

22/01 Fuente de Piedra
Another morning out with Federico, basically in search of Lesser Flamingos but although 2 have been seen daily, the light was againt us and we had no luck. In fact, we started at the laguna Dulce but as we could hardly see the water because of dense fog, the stay was necessarily very brief. We had good numbers of Marsh Harrriers with no less than 9 in view from the mirador at Cantarranas, plus at least 2 more during the morning at other points and a solitary Buzzard. Across the road from Cantarranas there were some 150 Cranes feeding, beautiful things! We had brief views of 3 Southern Grey Shrikes during the morning too. Thiss winter there have not been the numbers of Shovelers that there were last winter and most seemed to be concentrated in the laguneta del Pueblo behind the information centre. There we also saw a few Teal, Pochard and Gadwall and there were 2 Shelducks out on the laguna.

A walk along the path towards La Vicaria allowed us good views of a maximum of 9
Reed Buntings, the most I have ever seen down there, but no Spanish Sparrows. The final brush stroke to the morning was a series of excellent views of a Black-shouldered Kite, both perched and in flight, including hovering and doing its Kestrel imitation.

Not a vast species count, but a very pleasant morning.


11/01/2012 : Ramblas de Henares, Arboleas Group

I'm glad that Dave has sent this short trip report as I've been rather hosuebound, amongst other things, with the knees in near total self-destruct mode which is hellish painful. Before going on to his report, some bits from myself and further west.

Stephen Daly told me of up to to 3 Peregrines chasing Skylarks on La Janda where there may be as many as 3 female Pallid Harriers, at least 2 juveniles/1st winter birds and the single male is occasionally seen by the fortunate. I have staggered along to the Guadalmar side of mouth of the Guadalhorce where I saw c.30 Common Scoters (all females/imms.) last week and yesterday (12/01) an exceedingly early Alpine Swift, an even earlier bird having been seen last week further west! And this morning, a Short-toed Treecreeper working the trees in the garden. I also have some interesting news about future work/maintenance in the Guadalhorce, but of that more in a future blog. So, all that said, over to Dave.

Where? you may ask, are the Ramblas de Henares. It's Adrian's local patch Puerta Lumbreras side of Vélez Rubio. He very kindly gave us a tour up and down dale. The weather wasn't brilliant. Cloudy and cool which kept the birds sheltering. Normally I'd give details of where we were when we saw various birds, but I had no idea where we were in any of the ramblas. If Adrian wasn't leading us around we'd still be there! So I apologise as this is not good journalism, here is the list of birds we saw :- Spotless Starling, Kestrel, Southern Grey Shrike, Thekla Lark, Rock Bunting, House Sparrow, Serin, Red-legged Partridge, Blackbird, Robin, Magpie, Chaffinch, White Wagtail, Black Redstart, Carrion Crow, Corn Bunting (18 in flock), Green Woodpecker (2), Goldfinch, Greenfinch, Black Wheatear, Great Tit, Sardinian Warbler, Long-tailed Tit, Stonechat, Moorhen, Song Thrush, Little Owl, Wood Pigeon and we heard Crested Tit. 29 species, a very enjoyable day.

Many thanks to Margaret, Adrian's wife,, for a sumptuous after-birding meal and welcome to Sandra and Colin Hayward to the group.


04/01: Rambla Morales (Almería)

There were reports on www.rarebirdspain.net (in English and recommendable for those who are interested in the rarer birds) that the Desert Wheatear was still near to the Rambla de Morales, close to Cabo de Gata only a couple of days ago. Even though Gilly snd I will no doubt be seeing quite a few in about three weeks time, I decided to have a group visit down there. Having picked up Val, we met Brian and Mary in Retamer. We had a little walk round the Torregarcia where the bird had initially been sighted before Christmas. We did see Stonechats, Greenfinches, Serins, Dartford and Sardinian Warblers, Southern Grey Shrike and a Hoopoe. Out to sea were an Audouin's and Yellow-legged Gulls. On the beach were some Turnstones, Sanderlings and Kentish Plovers.
We then drove along the bumpy track towards Morales lake, seeing small groups of Golden Plovers. We noticed some Rangers on the beach looking out to sea at something. Curiosity took hold so we went to investigate. There were about 25 Razorbills. As we were about to leave a flight 6 Balearic Shearwaters flew past, easily seen over the flat sea. We carried on to the lake seeing a feeding group of 7 Cattle Egrets on the steppes.

We immediately saw a Little Stint on the flooded track near to where we parked. Further down was a group of feeding Sanderlings and a small number of Shovelers. Today being part of the Spanish Xmas break there were large numbers of Mountain bikers using the track and then crossing the beach by the lake. There was also a bird photographer in the water using a floating hide, which, to be honest, didn't seem to faze the water birds. He was keeping close to the reeds, photographing the Chiffchaffs. We heard the inevitable Cetti's Warbler.
On the water were Coots, Moorhens, Shovelers, White-headed Ducks, Teal, Black-necked Grebes and a couple of juvenile Greater Flamingos. Above the water Crag Martins were feeding.
37 birds for the day. Alas, no Desert Wheatear. It could've been anywhere on the 10 square kilometres of steppes! Lovely weather once the chill had gone. Great day to be out.


02/01/2012 : La Janda and a note

At least I've got a good birding start to the New Year and yesterday (02/01, yes, late again) I picked up my old friend Ron Appleby in Fuengirola at 07.40 and we were down at the bar Apolo XI at Tahivilla by 09.40, the bar San José del Valle at the turn-off for Bolonia having apparently closed and heaven knows if it will open again. Coffee taken, the birding started under cloudy skies which hardly bettered and even delivered some rain. This meant no photographs worth showing, but thanks to Stephen Daly of Andalucian Guides, I am able to show three copyrighted shots of the star bird of the day. Remember you can click on them to enlarge them. Many thanks, sunshine!

Basically, our route started coming off the N-340 and going down to the canal and spending an hour at the left-hand corner, then about another hour going alongside the canal before crossing bridge and going very slowly up and past the smelly farm, spending more time going across the top and down towards Facinas under lowering clouds before turning back and spending time on the stretch of land to the west of the smelly farm, this an area where harriers of greater interest than Marsh have been seen. From there, we went out towards the N-340, stopping and spending a good half hour looking over the soggy, if not water ridden, ploughed up and undrained rice fields and from there, after about 15.45, it was homewards for two very satisfied birders.

This going to be a short entry as firstly most of our birding was directed at raptors, basically harriers, and we werejust about overwhelmed by Marsh Harriers, of which I gave up counting when we got to 15 but this total was mostly female and 1st winter birds but there was also a 2nd year male and very nice adult male. All these ocurred all the length of the route with more on the lowr land over the rice fields.We also saw no less than 7 Hen Harriers, 4 of these being beautiful males, all along the route.

The star bird was, as you have probably guessed, was a Pallid Harrier. In fact, Ron thought that he had spotted a female no sooner had we started down to the canal but I didn't get a bead on it and it qasn't until the afternoon that we saw it twice, getting very good views of it and leaving no doubt as to a correct identification. The photos are of the same female that we saw as it has been hanging around for ages. We also saw 3 Buzzards, one a very black bird; 2 enchanting and probably one of the most attractive raptors there is - Black-shouldered Kites; Kestrels of course and, surprise, surprise, a single Black Kite! The zero wind early combined with the low cloud and then rain meant a lack of thermals and so we saw, believe it or not, no vultures nor any of the eagles, a pity as Ron wanted to see Spanish Imperial so we'll just have to go down again some time - oh dear me, I shall just have to force myself!

As to other birds, the last section of rice paddies was full of many tens of Snipe, along with a few Black-necked Stilts, at least 5 very noisey Greenshanks every time a Marsh Harrier went near them and, nice to see as 20 years ago there used to be flocks in the area, 3 Golden Plover but a good number of Lapwings and at least 3 Green Sandpipers and a few more Ringed Plovers. There were Mallards, of course, plus a few Teal and Shovelers. We saw 7, possibly as many as 9, Spoonbills but only 1 Glossy Ibis; lots of Skylarks but surprisingly few Calandra Larks. There were one or two Linnets and similarly low numbers of Reed Buntings, but hordes of Corn Buntings. 2 Ravens seen messing around in the same area as we were watching the Black Kite, a couple of Purple Boghens clambering around in the reeds along the canal. A single Magpie hung around briefly to the east of the smelly farm, an area that they have slowly colonised in the past couple of years and a Mistle Thrush flew across in the same area.
A great day, I don't know how many spp. as I didn't note all the passerines but somewhere around 40, but what quality!

NOTE: Down by the side of the río Guadalhorce this afternoon (03/01) and looking out to sea, a flock of about 30 Common Scoters, most unusual to see so many in recent years.


01/01/2012 : Happy New Year!

I always reckon that a good way to start the New Year is booze less and get out birding early - that's my point of view. My children say that it's due to advancing years - I hate know-it-all children, especially if they're mine. At least I've not got a hangover so I guess I'm one up one them (had them in my time tho' - beauties - I'm not that pure!).
All that apart, I was going in over the bridge just as the sun was rising and a cold wind blowing down from the sierra, a lazy one, the type that goes through and not round you. I'd already ticked the first birds of the year when I took the dog out while it was still dark at 07.30 - a Blackbird and Black Redstart virtually simultaneously - and the list rapidly grew as I wanted to be home by 11.15 for my annual dose of culture from Vienna. Chiffs and Black Redstarts and Robins, a squadron of Cormorants overhead flying upstream while a pair of a Mallards dabbled in the river, a nice male Greenfinch followed by some Serins and then Goldfinches as I walked across to the eastern arm of the river and then down towards the sea, stopping at the first hide overlooking laguna de la Casilla on which a pair of Pochards were unsuccessfully competing with a Cormorant fishing convention, all other ducks having pushed off as there was no way that they could compete with 90+ big black things.
Going down towards the second hide there was next to nothing except a pair of miserable-looking Stilts so it was onward towards the río Viejo and, at last, some waders. 4 more Stilts, a couple each of Redshanks and Dunlins, a single Ringed Plover. I heard and saw occasional Skylarks, always niceto see but there was something even nicer in sight, and even though the following may appear to be a digression, it is not. As Gabriel Heatter was wont to say at the beginning of his wireless broadcasts (that'll give you a clue, the rest you can look up in Google), 'There's good news tonight.'

Regular readers will know that I have been constant critic of the lack of management within the reserve and I have, in this past year, written twice about the state of the reserve and the needs as I saw them (the second was a repeat and copied to Medio Ambiente in Sevilla) without receiving any reply until this past week. But, as I neared the wider part of the río Viejo it was obvious that there had been a cleaning out and even better, just to the right against the beach behind the wire fencing, they have cleared the scrub and sticks and made it much better for Kentish Plovers, a species which prefers sandy, open spaces, and the vegetation and sticks and branches gave too much cover to predators (rodents and snakes).

In all, at least a third of the length has between that point and the track in from the beach to the laguna Grande has been cleared and one can only hope that more will be cleared. Indeed 2 male Kentish Plovers were already on the cleared area, one in beautiful plumage with his little cinnamon cap, and there were some finches and Skylarks also. There is a whole list of things in the letter and hope to get permission to publish a resumé in a forthcoming blog but at least something has been done and, if the reply I received is to be believed, more will be done, albeit by volunteers.

Now back to the birds. I walked - perhaps staggered might be a better verb - along the edge of the fence and entered by the track to the laguna Grande. It was there that the White-headed Ducks, Teal - the pretty little males obviously feeling the flush of hormones in their systems although the females appeared to have communal headaches, a few Shovelers and the usual Mallards had taken refuge and were sharing the water space with both Little and Black-necked Grebes. A smashing male Marsh Harrier flew over the far side, too distant photograph but nice through the scope, and I later saw a female.

A single Booted Eagle sat on a branch on the tree remains on the far island and on the way out I was to see another which was eminently suitable for photography if only it would stay still. This winter there appear to be few Booted Eagles which is very probably a reflection of the few prey species available, although one I saw when walking with the dog yesterday afternoon had its crop grotesquely full. There were only 2 Kestrels today, one male calling very loudly for a long time as he circled high above the reserve, presumably staking out his territory.

There were remarkably few Little Egrets and Grey Herons, they must have been away up river feeding. More Robins, at one time 3 in view at once and more Black Redstarts as I walked around to the laguna Escondida which has the huge disadvantages of giving you the freezing wind from the sierra directly in the face in the winter and burning the skin off your back in the summer.

However, there was the bird I wanted to see, a Purple Boghen at the far end, busy feeding with one large red foot clamped round a root on which it was pulling furiously, white rear end stuck in the air, while a Moorhen chugged across amongst the Coots. So it was out and homewards to be in time for the concert from Vienna, but not before photographing the photogenic Booted Eagle.

Total 51 spp., not a bad start to the year and tomorrow down to La Janda!