19/12 : Rambla de Almanzora & Vera

And now another contribution, the second for today, this time from Dave, Gilly and the Arboleas Group, to all whom I wish a very good Yuletide and New Year, particularly to Dave for his chronicles, and, especially, good birding to all.

As Britain is shivering in the cold, eleven members of our group met up under blue skies and full sun at the "ford" above the Rambla de Almanzora, near Villaricos. It was a bit chilly to start with, but warmed up later. The rambla itself is beginning slowly to regenerate after the devastating floods of late September. We quickly signed off the usual suspects of White Wagtail, Spotless Starling, Magpie, Collared Dove and, at this time of year, Black Redstart. We both heard and saw Cetti's and Sardinian Warblers. We spotted a few Chiffchaffs, but not as many as our previous visit. Below us on the rambla were numerous large shallow pools. The male Mallard shone with new plumage.  Brian spotted a Snipe. Also seen were Cattle Egret, Ringed Plover, Green and Common Sandpiper. The few smaller birds were identified as Stonechat, Robin and Water Pipit. As we walked further along we saw Serin, Hoopoe and Southern Grey Shrike
At the sewage works were Black-winged Stilt, a pair of Redshank and a solitary Wood Sandpiper. In the Rambla, where there is a pool before the man-made rock "weir", we saw a small group of Kentish Plover, Dunlin and Little Stint. A Grey Wagtail was also seen.
Penduline Tit by Mary
     After a refreshment break in the village we headed for the beach. The sea was as flat as a tack. There were Cormorants and an Audouin's Gull on the rocks by the harbour entrance with a Sandwich Tern fishing nearby. We saw at least 12 Black-necked Grebe on the sea together with a Great Crested Grebe. A distant Whimbrel was spotted on the rocks by Adrian . There were two Grey Herons on a rocky spit as well. I have to say the estuary has great potential. There is now an island on which birds can breed undisturbed, a narrow entrance leading to a large pool, leading to an area of reeds. Adrian and I headed back towards the vehicles chatting about our recent Moroccan experiences as the others followed behind. Got a text from Gilly to retrace our steps. She'd spotted small bird movement in the reeds. She'd only found a group of probably six Penduline Tits.  (Had previously seen some in that area many years ago with Richard Gunn). 

Marbled and White-headed Ducks
     On that high, we headed for the pool opposite the Consum supermarket at Vera. We soon added Shoveler, White-headed Duck, Little Grebe and Coot to the list. A majestic male Marsh Harrier flew over. Gilly then spotted something in the vegetation opposite. She needed the telescope to pinpoint the bird as none of us could pick it up. Two Marbled Duck. Luckily they came out into the open for a swim. Brian, Adrian and Mary later saw a Kingfisher as well.
     A very good days birding with a total of 47 species. As this is the Arboleas Birding Group's last official outing before 2013, Gilly and I would like to wish all members and readers of Andy Paterson's blog a very Happy Christmas and New Year.
Best wishes & good birding,

18/12 : Guadalhorce

A very pleasant morning's birding and talking down at the usual place along with David and Ann from Nerja. The photos are David's and are much superior to mine (and so is his equipment - photographic). We went in around 10.30 and I stayed until about 13.30 and we only covered the eastern bank in all that time, but it was well worth it. The sun shone, the birds were present and I felt relaxed and without the need to hurry which has governed my life for the past 4 years.
We saw the usual Grey Herons, Cattle and Little Egrets and here is an example of the race of Cattle Egret often known as the horse egret, not be confused with camel, hippopotamus and tractor egrets.
Of waders, there was only one species - a rather attractive Snipe which showed well, but there's just too much water and no nice muddy margins. Ducks were basically limited to the lagoon in front of the first hide with Mallard, some very attractive little Teal, Gadwall, Shoveler and 6 Pochard. There were, of course, the usual Cormorants flying on unknown missions. Birds of prey gave rather more, although I saw only one Kestrel, but couples of Buzzards - these rather disinclined to fly - and Booted Eagles, plus a single immature Marsh Harrier showed well.  
We saw 4 Skylarks and Crested Lark on the walk down to the seawatch mirador and there was a male Dartford Warbler in the scrub at the end and Chiffchaffs all over the place in the tamarisk.
We did very well for members of the Thrush family with no less than 6 species with the usual Blackbirds, Stonechats, Black Redstarts and Robins, plus at least 2 Song Thrushes but the undoubted the star was this male Bluethroat, a little beauty with a very large white spot which reached up his throat - this form is very variable, some lack the white altogether, who flaunted himself in the sunshine as David's photos show only too well.

Basically, although it didn't seem like it, we had a very fruitful morning with exactly 40 spp. noted down.


13/12 : Guadalhorce & Short-eared Owls

Well, I didn't get down to the Guadalhorce when hoped for but did on Thursday afternoon and had a very pleasant afternoon's birding between 15.30 and dark when I came out. I also met a correspondent from Scotland from years since and Malcolm and myself had a very pleasant time whilst watching and waiting - and for what and were we successful, you will have to read on. For once I did the route in rseverse, there being some method in my change of track but that you will have to work out for yourself - answers to be written in invisible ink on the obverse of a 50 pound note.
So, starting off by walking down towards the bridge the first large object, apart from the multiple Cormorants all over the sky, was a Booted Eagle. And how do I know it was a Booted? Just look at the dark-pale pattern on the coverts and this is the one that shows up in flight in both light and dark phases and makes identification infallible. Once over the bridge, I headed down to the laguna Grande picking up a nice selection of the commoner species on the way : Blackbird, Robin, Stonechat, hordes of White Wagtails, small flocks of Spotless Starlings and so on, whilst the Cormorants flew back and forth on secret missions known only unto themselves.
From the hide at the laguna Grande it was so easy to see the Osprey, the German ringed black KM sitting on top of his favourite pole whilst below there were immaculate ruby-eyed Black-necked Grebes in winter plumage. There were plenty of Grey Herons around and young one in particular took great exception to a Cormorant perched in the dead tree on the islet and kept reaching up to try and get it whilst the Cormorant presumably sneered down at it. As the afternooon wore on more and more Cormants came in to roost in the eucalyptuses, decoprating them like black Christmas ornaments, although something (or somebody) put them up whilst a male Peregrine flew overhead.
There were few ducks but we commented on how attractive male Gadwall are, delicately so, much more than the brash male Shovelers and Mallards and in a different class to the delicate little male Teal.
I left Malcolm there and walked round along the beach, checking the sea - nothing but gulls - and back along the eastern arm to the second hide (ie. the one nearer the sea in front of the wader pool) to have a single Song Thrush pass in front. Just as I got to the hide 2 Greenshanks and a Redshank swept in, and I do mean swept at a hell of a rate of knots, to join 2 Black-winged Stilts and 2 Dunlins. But the clock was bashing on and the light lowering and it was time to go and join Malcolm in the hope of seeing the target for the afternoon - the Short-eared Owls.

We saw all three of the Short-eared Owls in medium to poor light, they really are lovely things, and it was when one, who shall be nameless but demonstrated an ample vocabulary when he found out why his photographs were total rubbish - he hadn't bumped up the ISO rating to its maximum and while Malcolm's photographs were superb, he was shooting at in excess of 5000 ISO, the idiot in question was at 100 ISO. We also saw juvenile/1W, young adult female and an adult male Marsh Harriers coming in to roost before coming out at last light.
So a goodish afternoon with 37 spp. and both Malcolm and I went down again on the Friday afternoon, 14/12, to try and get better shots of the owls only to have even worse light. I shall try again next week if there is a nice, sunny afternoon.


12/12 : Cabo de Gata & Rambla Morales

After 30+ years doing a minimum of ironing, I am now being reintroduced to this fascinating aspect of family life, using a versión of La Traviata with Callas and Di Stefano as background anaethesia, and am now having a coffee break to put this entry of Dave's in, all so I can go down to the Guadalhorce this afternoon and try and see at least one of the three Short-eared Owls that are down there, plus a Long-eared Owl was seen last week.

Dave, American spelling is like Starbuck's coffee, pure rubbish! By the by, it can't recognize recognise either. It was, I think, one W.S. Churchill (who did win a Nobel Prize for literature) who said that Britain and the America were two nations separated by a common language!

I would be interested to hear privately what non Spanish birders would like to see in an English language magazine if the Spanish Ornithological Society decides to go ahead with one.

Bit of a chill in the air as we made our way to Cabo de Gata. We had 13 members in total including two more willing victims, Alan and Richard. After our usual coffee at Pujaire we headed for the first hide. There was a constant stream of Crag Martins but no Barn Swallows seen today. The Greater Flamingos had virtually departed en mass. Only 14 seen. And there weren't many waders either. The most numerous were Avocet (sad reflection of this American website's spellcheck didn't recognise Avocet and suggested Exocet instead!). Small numbers of Eurasian Curlews, Knots, Redshanks, Greenshanks, Ringed Plovers, Grey Plovers and Black-tailed Godwits. There were small flocks of Slender-billed Gulls and some Mallards. Around the vegetation there was an abundance of Stonechats. Southern Grey Shrikes were spotted on the power lines.  A Kestrel was also noted. Brian had a brief glimpse of a Dartford Warbler whilst Sardinians were easy to observe. Out to sea we could see Gannets flying past.
Trumpeter Finch
     The beach was devoid of bird life. A solitary Cormorant was swimming beyond the small breakers. At the second hide we had a better view of a Dartford but only added Greenfinch and Cattle Egret to the list before we headed to the public hide. Had a bit more luck here with a raft of about 20 Black-necked Grebes. Also seen were Lesser Blackbacked Gulls, Shelducks, Kentish Plovers and Sanderlings. On the causeway to the right were about a dozen Sandwich Terns and some Black-winged Stilts

      Brian and Mary went to "do" Rambla de Morales whilst the rest of us, apart from Dave and Myrtle, headed towards the lighthouse. Gilly spotted a Black Wheatear. We stopped to look, only to see two Trumpeter Finches and a Meadow Pipit nearby. By the lighthouse Val saw her first Blue Rock Thrush, albeit a brown female!

      We heard later from the "Morales 2" that they saw a Common Buzzard, Shoveler, Turnstone, White-headed Duck, Chiffchaff and Cetti's Warbler amongst others.
      All in all a reasonably good day with a combined total of 52 species.


06/12 : La Janda

After the past coup'le of weeks since the last trip dzown to La Janda whole rivers have flowed under bridges and life has been exceedingly stressful. Therefore, when the daughter in a bout of exceeding usefulness suggested that I go down to La Janda for the day and she would look after the old dog (who is missing the wife something terrible and nearly got trapped in a wardrobe the other evening whilst searching for her), I accepted like proverbial bullet.
This is a brief report as (a) there aren't any photos to make it look bigger and (b) there wasn't a lot to report from a basically grey, damp and thankfully windless day. I ran (metaphorically) into several Spanish birders I know which alleviated the morning.
The route was not to be as planned - PLEASE NOTE - as the track that runs from the bridge over the drainage canal up to the smelly farm is cut with immense muddy ruts just after sluice gates corner. I had a look at it and reckon that the best vehicle to get through is a big 4x4 of the Hummvee style or something more suitable for invading Iraq! A car will not go and may become entombed for eternity!
So, having gone in by the entrance opposite the Zahara-Barbate turn-off that runs down to the drainage canal I came across loads of Linnets, which were everywhere, as were Corn and Reed Buntings, and thought that I'd spotted a female Redpoll at one point but am not sure enough to say that it was or it wasn't, a might-have-been. The rice paddies have all been chewed over but there is a surprsing lack of Snipe but plenty of Lapwings, only 2 Green Sandpipers and a rather surprising 2 or 3 Curlews (I saw 2 but enough spacing in the calls to be 3 or even more). Down towards the far end 9 Spoonbills and what was probably the same Great White Egret as last time flushed along with good numbers of Lapwings. Grey Herons and White Storks there were in quantity, of course.
With the raptor watching curtailed by the mud, I didn't see as many species as I could have wished, the most abundant yet again being Marsh Harrier, with at least 11 birds seen but the sex-age ratios turned around. Males were the most abundant, with 5 in the air together at one point out of a total of 7! There were no females and only 4 juvs., a very odd ratio.There were quite a few Kestrels, which I did not count and 4 Black-winged Kites, plus a couple of Buzzards. The bird of the day, 2 of them, actually, was the immature Imperial Eagles.
It was nice to be out, very de-stressing and tomorrow I go to Madrid and thence to Vitoria and aboutd which I may just tell you next time.


05/12 : El Hondo (Murcia)

Sorry about the long silence but things have not been good in the Paterson family and I didn't even get my trip down to Tarifa on 24/11 written up (I saw a juv. Bearded Vulture / Lammergeir / Quebrantahuesos!) as when I got back my wife, who had been suffering from liver cancer for the past 4 years 6 months was very unwell (ie. even worse than she has been) and, as Dave very kindly alludes to, died on 30 November after being in free fall for the previous 3 weeks. And now to birding and to Dave's report of the Arboleas Group's official visit to El Hondo this day.   Having made our reservation to visit El Fondo (Hondo) Bird Reserve near Elche some weeks ago, high winds were not going to put us off.....might put the birds off though. It was an early start for us all, leaving home at 5.30am to get there for the 8.15am opening plus time for breakfast! There were nine members of the group and about six others who were allowed access for the three hours. Our first bird was a Kestrel. We then drove slowly down towards the elevated viewing platform at the far end, flushing a Snipe as we did so. From there we had good views to the large expanse of water to the east, with the sun causing problems, and to the smaller pool to the west. On there we saw both Little and Great Crested Grebe. There was far more on the larger pool. There must have been a flock of 150 Red-crested Pochard together with some Common Pochard. There was also Cormorant and Black-necked Grebe. In a tree to the north sat a Common Buzzard.
Whizzing around us were Crag Martins and the occasional Barn Swallow. There were numerous Marsh Harriers quartering round the reedbeds. Suddenly a flock of dark birds rose up beyond the small pool - Glossy Ibis, in two or three groups numbering about 47 birds. Also flushed were Lapwing. Both Shelduck and 4 Greylag Geese flew over. Also seen were Chiffchaff, a Reed Bunting and a fast flying squadron of Teal.
     Our group then left there and headed back towards the outer hide through the reeds. On the way a Great White Egret took to the air. We also saw its smaller cousins, the Cattle and Little Egrets. At the hide itself we apparently just missed good views of a Purple Swamphen. We did see a steady stream of Yellow-legged, Lesser Black-backed and Black-headed Gulls heading towards the adjoining refuse tip.
     Returning to the elevated hide, a Booted Eagle was overhead but we'd apparently missed a male Hen Harrier. Checking the hirundines, I was very surprised to find some House Martins. I was positively shocked to see a Red-rumped Swallow as were others confirming my sighting! Then a shout went up. Tonn, the Estonian satellite tracked Spotted Eagle was flying along the line of eucalyptus trees towards us. Its antennae was easy to see, confirming the identity. He was being harassed by a Booted Eagle.
There are three Spotted Eagles in the area. Before we headed back to the gates for release we also saw Golden Plover and a Kingfisher.
     We then headed to the information centre. Through the large viewing window out over a pond with reeds we saw at least three Red-knobbed Coot and a Purple Swamphen. A Black Redstart and a Stonechat were also noted. A walk round the wooden walkway didn't add to the list, but stragglers, Brian and Gilly did see a Southern Grey Shrike and some very distant Griffon Vultures over the mountains.
     A total of 50 species in all. Already booked another day at the end of January!
     On a personal note, I'm sure you'd all like to join Gilly and I in offering our sincere condolences to Andy Paterson following his tragic loss last Friday.

Thanks, Dave. The moral support we (the youngsters and myself) have received has been tremendous from both my Spanish birding friends and from the few of you who knew of the situation. All is now done and we are rebuilding lives and I am of the definite opinion that the Spanish method of getting the defunct disposed of rapidly (she was cremated just on the 24 hours limit) is a huge help to family recovery and not like dragging on and prolonging the agony as in the UK. Many thanks to those who have been in touch, Elena, Andrés and myself are most grateful.