24 December 2013 : lagunas Dulce & Fuente de Piedra

Christmas Eve and Ron and myself hied us off to see what was about, leaving the coast in sunshine, going through fog once over the top of Las Pedrizas and that clearing just as we neared the laguna Dulce just to the east of Campillos. Cool it was but at least we had virtually no wind and good visibility. We did quite well there with 3 Marsh Harriers but with a suprising lack of White-headed Ducks as we saw only one in spite of heavy 'scoping. Indeed, I thought that both Coot and duck numbers were well down for the date with only 10 Red-crested Pochards and relatively few Common Pochards, Shovelers, Mallards, Gadwall and even fewer Teal, but with the nice suprise of no less than 7 Tufted Ducks (one with an injured lower mandible), although I later found out that Mick Richardson had seen 12 there last week! Equally, we found only 1 Great Crested Grebe and far fewer Black-necked Grebes than one might normally expect given the water levels. A single Snipe rose and vanished from sight and 6 Black-winged Stilts comprised the waders there.

From there we went on to Fuente de Piedra, entering around by the western end where we stopped briefly to look down on the laguna which was where we saw the first few Cranes as well as brief views of a couple of Southern Grey Shrikes having a brief up and downer about winter territory. Round to Cantarranas where we really hit big numbers of Cranes with somewhere between 800 and 1.000 birds (although Marta at the information centre told me that 1.800 had been censused going to roost the previous week). Be the numbers what they may, the sight and sound of a large number of Cranes is a wonderful thing to enjoy. There we also enjoyed a distant rear end view of the Black-shouldered Kite as well as a couple more Marsh Harriers to the distant chorus of the Cranes.
There were reasonable numbers of ducks down on the water at Cantarranas but my own impression is that numbers of Shoveler are well down compared to previous winters. This was to be later reinforced at the main lake in front of the information centre and at the smaller laguna behind, there simply aren't the numbers of these or Black-necked Grebes that there have been these last few winters, although we did see 5 Shelduck. Flamingo numbers seemed pretty normal for the time of year but there was little sign of courtship activity with only a few strutting birds with raised necks but the greying skies may well have affected their joint libido.A female Blackcap was hanging around the bushes in the carpark and there was a female Black Redstart too.
Everything is terribly dry and the lack of rain has meant that there is no fresh green vegetation whereas there should be something by now. There were no Stone Curlews in the usual field although that was probably due to us arriving late and there had been families with small children shouting their heads off, which makes one wonder if gagging them should not be mandatory. Ron and I walked all the way along the path to La Vicaria up to the road. There were a few Skylarks in the stone curlew field, a nice Greenfinch, plenty of Chiffchaffs , a couple of smallish flocks of Goldfinches with Linnets intermixed. Once we reached the road a quick examination of a small flock of birds on the wires revealed Corn Buntings and a single male Spanish Sparrow.
So, a total of 49 species for the day and let us hope for the promised rain for Christmas Day, the countryside needs it.
I do hope that Santa brings you whatever you have asked for! Happy Christmas and all sort of bourgeois stuff. 


Doñana Bird Fair, 1-4 May, 2014

Doñana Bird Fair, 1-4 May, 2014 

It is 60 years since the foundation of the Spanish Ornithological Society – SEO/BirdLife – whose functioning in those early days was largely due to persons such as Francisco Bernis, Mauricio González-Gordon, José Antonio Valverde, José Manuel Rubio and a handful of ornithological pioneers who carried out expeditions to Doñana in which British ornithologists such as Guy Mountfort, Max Nicholson, Phil Hollom and others from the British Ornithological Union also took part and which are detailed in the splendid book ‘Portrait of a Wilderness’. This work enabled the start of the Sociedad Española de Ornitología (SEO) back in May 1954.
In many ways Doñana has been the scene and starting point for deeds and projects which have been decisive for the conservation of birds and wildlife in Spain and the rest of the world. It is thanks to those pioneering experts that then was born what is today SEO/BirdLife. It is important to remember that date now as one of those pioneers, Mauricio González-Gordon, died in 2013 and this has encouraged the SEO to celebrate the holiday weekend of 1 May 2014 with the Doñana International Bird Fair, Memorial to Mauricio González Gordon. It is the intention of SEO/BirdLife that this fair should be a big celebration of the 60th anniversary of the founding of the SEO and, especially, a meeting of the greatest number of birders possible in the splendid surroundings of Doñana and Dehesa de Abajo.
 Throughout the 60 years of its existence the SEO has taken part in campaigns in defence of birds and wildlife in all places and environments in the Spanish territory, both peninsular and in the two archipelagos. In prime position, Doñana itself, then the efforts at reclamation of the wetlands of the Tablas de Daimiel, the former bombing range at Cabañeros, the splendid scenery and avifauna of Monfragüe, the introduction of ecological rice production as well as other actions within the Ebro Delta, the marshes of the Marismas de Santoña and a large et cetera.. SEO/BirdLife has always been present and giving battle for the protection of the vast natural patrimony within Spain and, if it is possible, even more so where the battle has involved the protection of menaced species, be they in danger or vulnerable in the face if any aggression.

Since its foundation in 1954, SEO/BirdLife defined itself as a scientific body dedicated to the inextricably linked study and conservation of birds. For decades, with the help of members and collaborators, it has carried out the enormous task of bettering the knowledge of the Spanish avifauna. There has been a multitude of projects ranging from the censusing of migrant birds, especially the soaring species, in the Strait of Gibraltar which was started by Professor Bernis with GEMRA, the annual reports of the Rare Birds Committee (Comité de Rarezas – CR), the breeding and wintering birds atlases, all the censuses, monographic works and long-term censusing, all carried out thanks to the hundreds of collaborators, and not least the scientific investigations published in the journal Ardeola.
Independently of Spanish ornithologists visiting other areas within Spain, there are thousands of ornithologists from central European countries who wish to know and see the birds of the great Spanish birding meccas: Extremadura, Gallocanta, the Pyrenées, the Ebro Delta, Doñana, the Strait of Gibraltar … The Doñana International Bird Fair, 1-4 Mayo, 2014, will, apart from being a great opportunity to celebrate 60 years of the SEO, enable the meeting of both amateur and professional ornithologists in spectacle of spring in Doñana. The SEO does not see the Bird Fair as a purely commercial or professional encounter but a birding festival open to all those who enjoy birding and the environments in which they practice it. 
The site selected for the Doñana International Bird Fair is the reserve of La Dehesa de Abajo. Dehesa de Abajo lies within the bounds of the town of Puebla del Río at less than 30 minutes from Seville. The reserve has a visitors centre with all the installations necessary in order guarantee the success of the bird fair. La Dehesa de Abajo covers an area of 700 hectares within which there is the largest colony of White Storks in Europe and which breed in the wild olives. In the lake, La Cañada de la Rianzuela, there are large numbers of many of the most representative species to be seen in Doñana: flamingos, marbled ducks, white-headed ducks, red-knobbed coots …, not to mention raptors, gulls, terns and waders, herons and egrets and these sum more than 100 species at the time of spring the fair will take place. Dehesa de Abajo is surrounded by rice paddies and large forests of stone pines in which, apart from many bird species, there lives the extremely scarce Iberian Lynx.
In addition to the infrastructures at Dehesa de Abajo, the bird fair can count on the Franciso Bernis Ornithological Centre in the middle of the village of El Rocio in the municipality of Almonte and by the wetland of  la Madre de Las Marismas. This infrastructure in the very heart of the area of Natural Doñana in El Rocio will be the direct connection to the Doñana Bird Fair from Huelva, crossing the National Park and visiting sites such as the Antonio Valverde Centre in the FAO, Entremuros or the Guadiamar green corridor.

The Doñana Bird Fair is to celebrate 60 years since its inauguration and will take place between 1 and 4 May 2014 with a notable celebration. The fair will bring together activities related to the observation, instruction and enjoyment of the birds of Doñana and will bring together amateurs and professionals as well national and foreign exhibitors. The SEO is most grateful for the support of the Rutland Bird Fair organisation from Great Britain, the biggest birdwatching fair in the world. In the installations of Dehesa de Abajo visitors will be able to listen to talks, see projections, assist at workshops for observation and photography and take part in some competitions. 

So, if you are interested in seeing good birds, meeting fellow birders and so on, come along. And if you see me and want to chat, please do come and say ‘hi’ (or something). I shall be there for all four days.