31/05 : in the merry, merry month of May, hey, hey...

Yes, I'm still alive after New York and immediately plunging into the presence of the Broad-billed Sandpiper, found at the Guadalhorce by Blas López, and it was present from the Tuesday 7 May when he found it and I watched it for a total of over 2 hours on the Wednesday, Thursday and Friday (8-10 May), during which time several local birders plus a lad from Granada and another from Madrid who is doing his 'big year' and dropped by on the Friday afternoon on his way down to Tarifa.. Another 3 Broad-billeds dropped in to the Albufera de Valencia on the same dates. As I last saw one, my only one, about 50 years ago, at that rate of sighting my chances of seeing another seem rather dubious. Needless to say, counting of other waders rather went by the board although there was plenty to be seen during those three days, including counts of 25+ Curlew Sandpipers (08/05) - some in gorgeous breeding plumage, similar numbers of Dunlin (10/05) and lesser numbers of other species which included 8 Bar-tailed Godwits (08/05) with 2-3 on other dates and 2 Whimbrels on 10/05, with 5 and 6 Grey Plovers regularly seen there on the final days of the month as well as 20+ Redshanks on several dates, while on 29/05 there were 41 Sanderlings showing a real mixture of plumages, this including a party which arrived straight in off the sea from the south and immediately started feeding..
migrant Ringed Plovers
I went up to Fuente de Piedra several times but unfortuantely the powers there decided to cut off the water supply to area around the board walk and keep the lake behind the information centre flooded. This, in my opinion, was a grave tactical error (and I have said so to the powers) as it deprived a lot of migrant waders of a resting and feeding-up place. For example, this flock of 36+ migrant Ringed Plovers was seen there on 11/05, a date when another lucky birder saw no less than 8 Squacco Herons (I saw 2 of them), others were around the Guadalhorce also. Equally, 1-2 Greenshanks were seen regularly at
both sites.
There are, of course, the usual baby plovers, Stilts and Avocets at Fuente de Piedra, and when one is confronted by a distraction display such as this in front of the car (photographed through the windscreen), slowing down rapidly is advisable (unless you happen to be the fat, ignorant s.o.b. who drove his Merecedes past at high speed nearly killing the distracted female, totally ignoring my flashing hazard warning lights and hand signals to slow down - another one for my not-so-little elimination list!). The reason was this enchanting pair of little Avocets, perhaps four days old.

 On the other hand, being a a Mum to three little Stilts can be a tiring job .....

Flamingos are breeding at Fuente de Piedra and there have been reports of up to 4 Lessers, I saw 2 actually mating on 18/05, but there is a lack of sightings since then. These are not visible from the information centre.
There has been a trickle of Whiskered and Black Terns, with more of the former, at both Fuente de Piedra (5 and 6 respectively on 11/05) and at the Guadalhorce where there have been 2 present these last three days of May. The numbers of Gull-billed Terns at Fuente de Piedra are quite suprising given that the lake still has high water levels. There is at least one pair of Lapwings at the laguna Dulce at Campillos. Both Shelduck and and Red-crested Pochards are breeding at Fuente de Piedra and it looks like a pair are also breeding at the Guadalhorce around the laguna de la Casilla. It may be that I am not particularly observant, but there seem to be few large broods of ducklings and young Coots and Moorhens around at the Guadalhorce - perhaps the effect of the foxes that are there?
The cold, windy at times rather damp weather of most of May can not have helped many insect eaters and on 18/05 there was a huge movement of Common Swifts, although some Pallids and even Alpines were involved, as they moved away ahead of the nth frontal system, with reports of aglomerations hanging together for warmth on the sheltered sides of buildings and also of deaths with birds flattened on the roads in both Granada and Almería. The same day there were 2 male Marsh Harriers and single late moving Black Kite and Booted Eagle at Fuente de Piedra, but to go back to 09/05, Honey Buzzards were coming ashore between Torremolinos and Benalmádena, a single, very black, bird came in over the Guadalhorce and 2 were reported from Vélez Málaga. An immature female Sparrowhawk came in off the sea the morning of 29/05.
There have been a lot of records of late Common Scoters - and not just ones and twos which are not too unusual  from along the Med. and Atlantic coasts of Andalucía, from Almería in the east (where there was a brief appearance at Rambla Morales by a Great Scaup for one morning a week since). These late scoters have been quite notable off the Guadalhorce, with no less than 15 on 29/05, of which at least 5 were immature males (brown, not black, mantle), the rest being females or immature females, but today, 31/05 there were no less than 25 of them, with one adult male and at least 2 immature males that I could pick out, the rest again being females or immature females.
My own garden has had an odd spring for migrants, although in May there was the first European Turtle Dove in years (damned Collared Doves have displaced them) on 12/05 and 13/05 singles of Melodious Warbler and a female Whitethroat, while a Hobby overflew on 16/05, the real suprise being a Wood Piegon, hotly pursued by a female Kestrel, on 21/05. I was beginning to wonder if I was ever going to see a Spotted Flycatcher, others had been reported, and at last one turned up on 24/05 and has been seen several days since.
At least the month finished in style, with a Roller at the Guadalhorce which both Bob Wright and Antonio Tamayo advised by mobile beafore I left for home.


03-06/05 : New York (USA)

'New York, New York, it's a wonderful town,' so goes the song but amongst its many wonders, some of sad memory, is Central Park but it does not mention that the spring migration in that park as one of them and that the first weekend in May is usually the best. If you check out the following link www.youtube.com/watch?/v=VkmXQGHalk  you can see why and it also explains well what the effect is of this huge green oasis in the jungle of skyscrapers, thousands of pedestrians and traffic which is a nightmare.
I have known about the spring migration through there for many years but not until this spring did I have chance to go. Not that all went well as the chap who was to guide me Saturday and Sunday was ill, which ruled out the visit to Jamaica Bay, plus it was the worst spring migration for at least two decades according to local birders as prolonged easterlies had driven the passerines, warblers in the main, further west and instead of anywhere between 15 and 25 of them per day, there were 5 to 7, which is not a lot. Neverthless, I was not unhappy, enjoyed myself and saw some good birds as you will see.
I flew both ways with an Iberia (big bird Airbus 340, all flights on time!) on 2 May and arrived in New York the same evening after a very long day, it always is going west which is infinitely preferable to the easterly return flight which always has a more shattering effect on the system for me, especially as I had to stage through Boston. For convenience, I had arranged to stay in an hotel on West 72nd right by the park, not cheap (it cost more than the flight for the four nights!) but comfortable and I slept well every night, got up early, breakfasted and was in the park by 07.30 each morning, including the last.
So, I spent all three days and a couple of hours the final morning in the park, with a side visit to the American Museum of Natural History on the West Side by the park to see a special and very good exhibition on whales, with all written information in English and Maori (not on my list of languages) as it was in cooperation with the New Zealanders and Pacific islands.
Strawberry Fields for ever
The park itself is very clean, in spite of the numbers of dogs walked and run there, with all dog droppings picked up by their owners (except for one old hag who studiously ignored a fellow walker's call for her to pick up the mess). It is well cared for and policed and daylight crime is virtually inexistent according to my information, and I believe it. Runners and cyclists are a hazard and the latter do not stop even when they should at pedestrian crossings. The New Yorkers care for their park and it is wall to wall people at the weekends, especially Sundays, if the weather is fine, with attractions such as these admirers of The Beatles (a pop group) who meet virtually every Sunday afternoon in Strawberry Fields (for ever) just in from the 72nd W entrance to comemorate the lads from Liverpool, especially John Lennon. This is also a good birding spot and where I saw my first ever Hooded Warbler, a superb little male, although I was to get even better views (but no photos) of another bird later.
Cherry blossom
Azalea Pond area in The Ramble
The great joy of it in the spring is the huge number of trees, one birder told me 25.000, with flowering shrubs and American oaks - these latter very atttractive to warblers if they are there.  There are some areas which are particularly good and which repay patience and sharp ears and eyes for sound and movement in the high layers where birds often feed on the catkin flowers of the American oaks. Particularly notable spots are the shrubs and trees around Strawberry Fields and in the North Meadow, Great Hill and, in particular I found The Ramble area very productive. A very useful, small, plasticised map of the park is available through Amazon. 
in The Ramble
This foliage attraction in turn means that one comes across groups of birders, several hundred who visit the park on a weekly basis and one often finds groups staring in to the foliage for high feeding species and results in stiff necks and some lumbar pain. The group below were trying to locate a Prairie Warbler .... and succeeded.
searching for a Prairie Warbler
European Starling
House Sparrow at nest
 There are obviously some species which are more common than others, although some of these are very flighty and difficult to photograph, whilst others will be totally familiar to those from Europe, as our forebears imported birds which reminded them of home and for which the Americans have been cursing us ever since, notably the European Starling and House Sparrow, these latter actually building nests (although not very well) in trees rather than in building. In fact, they have so many House Sparrows they could export a quantity back to the UK for repopulation purposes!
House Sparrows dust bathing
American Robin
Blue Jay
Brown Cowbird
There are American Robins all over the place and these often nest in apparently stupid places but nobody appears to molest them, although there will always be both Brown Cowbirds high up in the tree tops and Blue Jays are common but quite wary at the lower levels, both on the look out for unattended eggs.

Reasonably common, at times quite shy but at others incredibly tame, particularly early in the morning, are the bright red Cardinals.
One of the species that I particularly liked was the White-throated Sparrow, an unassuming little bird which at times stood out incredibly well in dark shadow while they scratted around in the undergrowth.

three White-throated Sparrows
 Chipping Sparrows are much more localised, difficult to locate and even more difficult to photograph as they are rather shy, as are the Black-capped Chickadees while are nigh impossible as they are higher up and in constant movement, as are Tufted Titmice which inhabit the higher levels.
Also quite numerous and certainly the most frequent are the Red-bellied Woodpeckers and I saw several pairs and saw 2 pairs excavating holes in old tree trunks. There are other woodpecker species in the park, all rather scarcer, notably Hairy, Downy and Flicker, each of which I saw on less than four occasions.

three Red-bellied Woodpeckers
Hairy Woodpecker, male
And so to the main objective of the trip, the warblers and vireos and the failure to see many species which should have been present. I have already mentioned the two superb male Hooded Warblers and to them can be added several Black and White Warblers, two or three Yellow Warblers and a similar number of Parulas, many of which refused to show, and singles of Black-throated Blue, Yellow-rumped (which showed very well) and a Prairie Warbler. Only seven species instead of the minimum of 15 expected, but that's birding!
Northern Parula
2 Yellow-rumped Warblers
The situation was rather similar with the viereos, the commonest being the Warbling Vireo, with sightings of White-eyed and Red-eyed (where the eye looks black unless in the hand and seen at a ceartain light angle, rather like the red-eye effect with a camera flash).
Warbling Vireo
Common Grackles are common, as the name implies, and the males show incredible irridescence if seen in sunshine but are very shy and seldom still. In the same family the Brown-headed Cowbirds and Red-winged Blackbirds are much less common, whilst Baltimore Orioles were just starting to arrive and we had the luck to see a full plumaged adult male which refused to be photographed. 
male Common Grackle

(l-r) male Red-winged Blackbird, male Common Grackle, American Robin (too close), stern of a female Grackle
female/young male Baltimore Oriole
Similarly the House Finch (an introduction from the West Coast when there was eye infection there which wiped out 90% of the population and done to save the species which is now all over the east coast) and the lovely male American Goldfinches refused to play ball. A single Blue-grey Gnatcatcher played hide and seek with us and gave only fleeting views, as did a Ruby-crowned Kinglet.
I renewed acquaintance with American Crow, Grey Catbird and a single Northern Mockingbird, felt as though I was back in Europe with Canada Geese on the water along with the ubiquitous Mallards, saw up to 4 Double-crested Cormorants and in the gull line Ring-billed, American Herring and Great Black-backed
Great Northern Diver / Common Loon
The surprises here were finding a summer plumaged Great Northern Diver (a.k.a. Common Loon to the Americans), Black-crowned Nightheron and a Great White Egret/Heron (call it what you will) which flew in every afternoon. 
Great White Heron/Egret or White Egret (USA)
There were very few Barn Swallows feeding over the water and a Northern Rough-winged Swallow made fly past, but not with the speed of 2 Chimney Swifts.
I have said nothing about the many Grey Squirrels which are all over the place at all hours and which get fed, even though this is forbidden. Nor have I mentioned the single Raccoon asleep high up in the fork of a trunk and from which the Tufted Titmice pluck fur for their nests.

2 Grey Squirrels

Dog Rose
And finally, before the trip list at the very end, my thanks to 'Birding' Bob DeCandido (see at www.birdingbob.com ) who leads 3 hour trips around for a small fee many weekends and daily in the migration period, (Friday morning in the park with him) and especially to Joe Giunta of the New York Audubon Society, one of the sharpest birders on calls that I have ever been out with, for taking pity on me and inviting me to join him and his group on Saturday and Sunday mornings.

Trip list (blue means new species)
Great Northern Diver, Double-crested Cormorant, Great White Heron, Snowy Egret, Black-crowned Nightheron, Canada Goose, Mallard, Ring-billed Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, American Herring Gull, Mourning Dove, Chimney Swift, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, Barn Swallow, Northern Rough-winged Swallow, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, House Wren, Gray Catbird, Northern Mockingbird, Veery, American Robin, Blue-grey Gnatcatcher, Black-capped Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, Blue Jay, American Crow, European Starling, White-eyed Vireo, Warbling Vireo, Red-eyed Vireo, Northern Parula, Yellow Warbler, Black-throated Blue Warbler, Prairie Warbler, Black-and-White Warbler, Hooded Warbler, Chipping Sparrow, White-throated Sparrow, Northern Cardinal, Red-winged Blackbird, Common Grackle, Brown-headed Cowbird, Baltimore Oriole, House Finch, American Goldfinch, House Sparrow,.
T = 49 species (12 new)  
Not bad, is it, and all in one lovely, lovely park to then return to the reality of life on night 6-7 May, jet-lagged out of my mind (not difficult) and to find a Broad-billed Sandpiper first found by Blas López at the Guadalhorce! It's a hard life being a birder .......  


08/05 : Sierra de María

Now safely returned and de-jetlagged from a flying visit to the Big Apple and with a bundle of photos to edit and the blog to write, I was too easily distracted yesterday by an early morning call to say that there was a Broad-billed Sandpiper down at the Guadalhorce ponds. Therefore, everything was dropped as I last saw one about 50 years ago and at that rate of sightings, I don't really anticipate seeing another! Yes, I did see it and very well too. So, with an awful lot to do today, I'm going to dive striight in to what will be Dave's last blog for a while as Gilly and himself are heading to Morocco  - have a good, safe and well birded trip about which I hope we may read more in the fullness of time. By the by, note the Arboleas Group badge shown here.
  I went with a friend to the Sierra de Maria last Sunday and had a great day with some good photographs so some have been used to illustrate today's group visit there. We met up as usual at the Maria Repsol garage cafe. There were 17 of us in total. I'd like to welcome Barrie's wife Ann on her first outing. As I've mentioned in the past she's been very ill, but I'm glad to report things are looking better. We'd already logged a lone Griffon Vulture on our approach to the town so we were hoping for a good day. It was cloudy but as the day progressed the sun came out.
male Cirl Bunting
     We made our way up to the chapel area. Immediatly we could hear a Nightingale over near the trough. We could also hear an Eurasian Cuckoo calling from the forest above us. We added the first of many Crossbills for the day. Blue and Coal Tit were also seen as was a Corn Bunting and a Serin. There was a team of chattering Spanish workers near the fuente, but they didn't put off the Nightingale giving it all from a very large bush nearby. Everybody managed to get a glimpse of it at least. We sauntered up towards the information centre seeing a Woodchat Shrike on the bush top perch. A group of Crossbills were adjacent to and on a small stone pillar. Curiously the adults appeared to be picking from the mortar. Were they after grit or insects? Right behind them a male Cirl Bunting was on sentry duty.
male Subalpine Warbler- a possible eastern race bird?
     We headed into the Botanical Gardens (open at 10am). A Rock Sparrow was on top of a pine. A Crested Tit was seen. The majority of the group carried on, completing the medium walk. We saw a pretty constant stream of Griffons heading along the ridge in the direction of Velez Blanco. We also saw Subalpine, Bonelli's and Melodious Warblers. No sign of any Western Orphean Warblers yet. Also seen were Jay, Rock Bunting and Short-toed Treecreeper. The walking wounded did a bit of the lower walk then headed back to sit near the Information centre. They added Firecrest and distant but good views of male Golden Orioles in the poplar tree near the chapel. Most of the group managed to see them as well when we got back. We headed back to the vehicles as a coachload of school children arrived.
     After a coffee at the La Piza forest cafe where we saw Crossbills but failed to see a first for Barrie, the almost regular now, Hawfinch, this not helped by strimming forest workers, we convoyed down on to the plain. At the farm buildings we had more Rock Sparrows and a soaring Common Buzzard. On the plain itself we managed to spot Short-toed, Crested and Calandra Lark. We also noted Black-eared and Northern Wheatear. At the hamlet there were about 6 Lesser Kestrels. A small flock of Short-toed Larks gave us all good views.
     Back at La Piza for lunch, the strimmers had gone, thank god, which brought in more Crossbills and to Barrie's joy, a Hawfinch feeding within 15 metres of us. A Great Spotted Woodpecker could be heard and was seen by a few of us. Gilly and I, together with Val, Rob, Barrie and Jan were off to the Vulture Feeding Station as the others headed home. As we left the massed ranks of hungry, screaming kids descended from their coach....what timing!
Bonelli's Warbler
    We added Red-legged Partridge on the journey. Not a lot at the station, only a few distant Griffons and a small acrobatic flock of Red-billed Choughs. Also heard Bee-eaters.  But at the end of the day we'd seen 47 species and had a great days birding with friends old and new.
      The photo of the Subalpine Warbler has provoked a discussion as to whether it could be an eastern race subspecies. Have a look at the Collins and see what you think.
     Lastly, our best wishes go to new member, Charlie, who had a triple bypass op today. Hope to see him back out with us again soon.
P.S. No reports till June as Gilly and I are off to Morocco again with hopefully no speeding tickets this time!


01/05 : Cabo de Gata & Rambla Morales

1 MAY : Workers' and birders' day (every day is a birders' day!). The workers are demonstrating, the Spanish economy is meltdown (ably led by a PM who has a PhD in procrastination and cuts); everybody hates Angela Merkel - no, let's be honest, everybody hates politicians, they only love themselves; why does anybody fly Iberia or Ryanair? and so on and so forth. 
But are Dave, Gilly and the Arboleas Group affected? Not likely. They go birding, even though it's a Spanish public holiday and there are no hey-nonny-no chaps titivated with bells and ribbons (reminds of Ermintrude in The Magic Roundabout for some reason, dear things) dancing in pouring rain around the maypole on the village green. 
Actually, this arrived just in time as I am off to the USA tomorrow for birding in and around the Big Apple Parks, including Central Park (see this link http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xVkmXQGHaIk where allegedly 113 spp. are shown! I got around 75 right without the Sibley guide) and Jamaica Bay for what the Americans call shorebirds, but as I'm a Limey, I shall call 'em waders. So there'll be nothing posted for a week (Dave's next trip) and I should have a trip report up in about 2 weeks.
It amazes me that every channel one consults about Spanish weather has a different prognosis, especially as virtually all the info. comes from the Agencia Española de Meteorología (Aemet).
I am very grateful to Mick Richardson (Loja, Granada www.lojawildlife.com/‎ ) for pointing out that the unidentified dragonfly in Dave's last missive is in fact a male of the species identified. Unfortunately his 'comment' has got lost and I also had difficulty copying over Dave's account, but all seems to be present.
 Yesterday, here in Arboleas, it poured down with rain. Brian, Mary and Adrian had worse further to the north so they decided not to come after Adrian checked his weather forecasting site which proclaimed that today's weather was dodgy. Mine said nothing of the sort so Gilly & I headed south in bright clear blue skies towards Cabo de Gata. We came off at Jct 467 of the E15 into the birding zone. Our first bird was a magnificent male Golden Oriole flying parallel to our car. We also added Pallid Swift, Jackdaw and Blackbird before reaching Pujaire where we met up with Rod and Linda for a coffee.

Common Shelduck
    As it is a Bank Holiday here in Spain, there were lots of cyclists, walkers and tourists in the area but we weren't disturbed at the first hide. There were numerous Avocets around the edges of the salina. Other waders were few and far between. Best was a Bar-tailed Godwit in full breeding plumage, closely followed by a Reeve (female Ruff). Also seen were Green Sandpiper, Kentish Plover, Spotted Redshank and Dunlin. We heard Stone Curlew to our rear. There was a Southern Grey Shrike on the power line. Small birds were rare. A Zitting Cisticola was heard and an iberiae Yellow Wagtail was seen. Also added to the list were Little Tern, Little Egret and Kestrel.

     At the second hide we saw Shelduck, Black-winged Stilt, Sandwich Tern, but no small birds, so we headed for the public hide. Most of the Greater Flamingos had departed and we counted only about 40 individuals. A small number of Grey Plover were seen. The Black-necked Grebes had gone.

     We then went to "Kevin's" viewing area behind the houses. We added Audouin's Gull, Redshank and Sanderling before heading for a second coffee.
adult Night Heron 
     We then headed to Rambla de Morales. We took Rod and Linda in our 4x4 due to the bumpy, muddy track. A group of Bee-eaters greeted us. A Sardinian Warbler made an appearance. We walked along the upper sandy track towards the water, the lower track was rutted and muddy (see later). At the watery crossover we spotted a Greenshank and a Green Sandpiper. Gilly found a pair of Turtle Doves, our first of the year. On the water itself we saw Common Pochard, White-headed Duck, Coot and Moorhen. A Shelduck posed nicely. Two adult Night Herons and a juvenile flew over, as did a Whiskered Tern. Also seen were a Common Sandpipers.

     On the way back we went to the rescue of two Spanish ladies who'd got their car stuck in the mud on the lower track. I was "lucky" enough to get splattered in mud head to foot by the spinning front wheel.

      What a great day it was in the sunshine. 52 species in total. Photos by Gilly.
       We send our best wishes to Helen who moved to near Torre Pacheo, near San Javier Airport. Her house got burgled whilst she was there during the night. She disturbed the intruders, but not before they stole her cameras, laptop and handbag.