26/06 : Las Norias & Roquetas

Hey-ho, Midsummer's Day, Night and Dream have passed and it still isn't particularly summery. So has la Noche de San Juan where the more paganistic amongst you will have run barefoot in the morning dew, rolled in it and done God know what else. You may even have been to a beach party, skinny dipped at midnight (the mind boggles) or jumped over flames in an act of purification. Forget being purified if that's what you've got to do! Never mind, it's all down hill towards Christmas now! I think I'll just carry on birding and so did Dave and those of the Arboleas group. 
Dave still hasn't got his telephoto lens back and the only photo that will reproduce reasonably is the group one. Sorry, Dave, but that's the way that it goes but I hope that you manage to get a shot of the Eagle Owl with your repaired lens..

There were seven of us who met at the service station for coffee before heading to Las Norias. The road was partially blocked by roadwork barriers on to the first causeway, but we could see the work site was further down in the greenhouse area, so we passed through and parked in our usual place. The new water pumps had obviously been working overtime as the water level was at least 2 metres below what it had been. On the left hand lake there must have been at least 20 Great Crested Grebes and not much else. A Mallard, some juvenile Red-crested Pochards and a Little Grebe were seen. Above the water there were a few Little Terns and a Common Tern made a fleeting visit. I spotted a distant Little Ringed Plover and Gilly was first to spot the adult Night Heron flying over. There were no additional species on the right hand lake. We all descended on the now empty pool behind the new pump house. We heard and saw both Great Reed Warbler and Reed Warbler.
      We then convoyed round to the second causeway, There was no water in the meadow, but we did see a Hoopoe there. We added Turtle Dove and a single Collared Pratincole before we walked down to the new heronry. Lots of Cattle Egrets, a few Little Egrets, Squacco Herons, Night Herons and a couple of Grey Herons was our reward. Also seen were Jackdaws and Bee-eaters and another two Hoopoes on the power lines.
     After a coffee break on our way to Roquetas we headed down towards the lake. There had been a recent fire destroying hundreds of square metres of reeds opposite the garden centre. It was obviously not a controlled burning as it had taken down telegraph poles and power lines. As we parked up in our usual place near the hotels a flight of Gull-billed Terns flew over. Gilly also spotted a Roller. There was a large raft of Coots and a small group of mostly juvenile Yellow-legged Gulls. Also seen were White-headed Ducks and Common Pochards. Gilly and I spotted a Red-rumped Swallow. We then walked up to the Red-knobbed Coot pool and yet again there was no sign of them, but we were rewarded with two long, visible flights of Little Bitterns. A steady stream of Audouin's Gulls flew over.
      "Only" 38 species for the day, but very enjoyable...........meanwhile near Adrian's house close to Velez Rubio, guess what he's been seeing on a regular basis. Yes, an Eagle Owl, lucky blighter. My lens is en route home so, if the owl's still around this Sunday I may venture up there!


21/06 : La Janda

Friday morning
Having awoken early and not feeling like doing anything constructive for the betterment of my fellow man, I thought it best to do something which would better the inner me. So I went birding. To be precise down to La Janda and after calling at the swift cave up behind Bolonia and wondering why I had bothered : = there was NOTHING, no swifts of any sort, nor martins, nor nothing except a rather brassed of looking Griffon Vulture, a male Chaffinch and 3 Green Woodpeckers, then a coffee to bolster my spirits, I was motoring gently down to the drainage canal on La Janda just before 10. And things started to look up.
Cattle Egret
The first decent bird, leaving aside half the European population of Stonechats, was a nice Short-toed Eagle sitting atop a pylon. A long, slow drive down the track revealed a few Bee-eaters and a couple of Collared Pratincoles, White Storks standing around and thinking deeply, a couple of immature Grey Herons, Cattle Egrets flying to and fro in  pairs and trios and some devious mission of their own. Down in the reeds that fringe the canal there were still 3 Great Reed Warblers with their swee-swee-chrr-chrr-honk-honk song (?) and few more of their smaller cousins, the Reed Warbler, still singing whilst the occasional Cetti's let loose a burst to advertise its presence. More surprising were the snippets of song from two widely separated Nightingales, rather late for them when they should have shut up at least three weeks since. About half way down the track I heard the pee-ooo of a Buzzard and finally located it over the sierra the far side of the N-340 and when 'scoped there was absolutely nothing to think that it was not a Common Buzzard and later an immature Marsh Harrier flopped its way south, the only harrier seen all day..
juvenile Cattle Egrets
There was a quite heavy human presence but the Ravens sitting on one of the irrigation booms didn't care. Actually, some of the rice paddies appear to be lieing fallow whilst the further northwest one gets the more there were flooded and with greater rice growth. In the flooded ones there were several immature Yellow-legged Gulls, plenty of Black-winged Stilts but I saw only 2 juvs., th eonly other waders being 2 Green Sandpipers. A pair of Gull-billed Terns were sitting on one of dikes, and I saw only 3 Glossy Ibises in the growing rice up at the end, although I am certain that that figure will be multiplied a hundredfold come September.
Once across the bridge on the long stretch towards the finca de Enmedio (Smelly Farm), there were lots and lots (a good quantitative analysis) of Cattle Egrets breeding again and hordes of young. There too I came upon at least 3 pairs of Glossy Ibis, although I am sure that Stephen Daly will tell me that actually there are at least 30! Along this stretch and over and past the farm I was pleasantly surprised by the numbers of the delicate Turtle Doves, the proper ones, not those brash interlopers, plus the bigger Wood Pigeons.
moulting 2nd year Booted Eagle
It was up towards the farm that I came across the first Black Kites of at least 15 that I saw during the rest of the morning. These are first summer birds, non-breeders in full wing moult and I have commented in other years that it's a wonder how some manage to keep in the air they are in such a tatty state with half a tail and missing half the primary flight feathers. In the same area there were also at least 11 Booted Eagles, all pale phase birds, and most in inner primary moult. More first summer birds? To add to these  a widely scattered stream of some 25+ Griffon Vultures circled their way across. 
moulting 2CY Bonelli's Eagle
I drove about a couple of kms. down the Benalup-Facinas track, pleasantly surprised by its good condition, but there was nothing of note that I hadn't seen before until I picked up very big distant raptor. I thought at first that from sheer size that it could well be another Short-toed Eagle but when it deigned to come somewhat nearer it was obviously not and I managed to get three distant shots of dubious quality, one of which is reproduced here. I thought that it was a 2nd calendar year Bonelli's Eagle, moulting in to its next plumage by the state of the tail and wings and after consulting with Ernest García, who knows more about raptor plumages than I do, we feel that it is probably the correct identification. Comments are welcome!
very prickly purple thistle
equally prickly yellow thistle

We are now into the thistle season and although I don't tend to put in photos of vegetation here, especially for all you braw wee laddies from north of the Border from Sassenachland, are photos of two of the best examples. The sharp-eyed amongst you will notice that I haven't got a clue as to what sort of thistles they are, so they've been rebaptised, although I doubt any sort of international acceptation of the names!

And that really was about it for the day with a total of no less than 44 species, rather surprising after the inauspicious start.


19/06 : Embalse de Negratín

As Dave is still without telephoto lens, there has been a move to photographing the close and immovable, as you will see. Still, only 250 euros as against a total replacement is some sort of relief. Isn't it nice to meet a coach load of kids when one is looking forward to a nice, quiet day watching wildlife? Makes one wonder why yiou didn't put the .50 calibre machine gun in the trunk of the car before you set off or if someone up there has it in for you. By the way, to me it looks as though the Oriole nest is made from plastic strips.

embalse de Negratín
Carolyn Perkins suggested some time ago that it would be nice to visit the Embalse de Negratin whilst the cherry trees were being harvested. Unfortunately she is in the UK when we visited today. Gilly and I weren't to confident of a good day especially as we were rained on as we approached Baza from the south. We met up with Trevor, Ann, their holidaying friend, Jackie, Brian and Mary at the cafe just prior to the dam.
     After a quick coffee we made our way to the car park before the dam. A coach load of school kids had just arrived. They made their way onto the dam itself whilst we hung around the vehicles. Gilly and I had already seen Black Wheatear and Bee-eater. We added White Wagtail, Goldfinch, Turtle Dove and an overflying Grey Heron and Common Swifts. As the kids returned we ventured out on to the dam roadway. As usual there was very little on the water. It was as flat as a mill pond. After much searching I spotted two Yellow-legged Gulls! A scope search of the cliff face and peaks I spotted another Black Wheatear and a pair of Blue Rock Thrushes. Brian and I were in the process of reminding Mary of her mistaking a water sprinkler head for a sitting Peregrine Falcon a few years ago when what should appear above the cliff face but a pair of the blighters, mobbing a Raven!
     We drove down to the valley below and parked up at the junction. The road towards the brook, bridge and dam pool was closed for vehicles. We attempted to see the birds singing in the fully leaved trees. Eventually we spotted Chaffinch, Sardinian Warbler, young Great Tit and Serin. Keeping an eye above us on the numerous House Martins, I suddenly spotted an Alpine Swift. A bit later we saw a group of 3-4 which may suggest they were nesting close by. We could hear Golden Oriole and Nightingale. A Spotted Flycatcher was also seen. Mary spotted a "big bird" but it disappeared over the hill before it could be seen  by others and identified. It was probably the Griffon Vulture we saw later. As we reached the bridge there was more security tape across the road and we could see more the far side of the overhanging cliff. A large boulder, the size of a Fiat 500, had fallen close to the road from the cliff. We decided we'd be safe on the bridge but not under the overhang! We added Rock Dove, amazed some were surviving with a pair of Peregrines possibly nesting above them. Also seen was a Black Redstart and a probable Short-toed Eagle. Looking down into the reeds I saw a Cetti's Warbler chasing a Reed Warbler. Brian and Mary also saw a pair Reed Buntings.
Golden Oriole nest
We returned to the cars and headed for the Cherry Orchards, seeing a Kestrel and Booted Eagle on the way. Cherries were purchased straight after picking....delicious, Carolyn! At lunch we had our count up. 32 species for the day and the weather god was kind to us.
     Attached is a photo I took of a Golden Oriole's nest, close to Brian and Mary's house near Chirivel. It was 5 metres from a track, only 2.5 metres off the ground. It contained two visible chicks. Taken from truck in the same amount of time it would take an F1 pit crew to change 4 tyres....5 sec, shoot and go. And yes, it appears to be made from plastic? Or is it strips of translucent silver birch bark?
     The news on my lens is that they are replacing the "Optical Control System Diaphragm". €250 is better than a new lens!


17/06 : the Campillos lakes

As promised at the end of my last blog, this last Monday Federico and myself went for a look around the lakes to the south of Campillos, not just the well known laguna Dulce, although that is where we started. I haven't been to the others for many years, largely because I've always been too short of time but now that excuse has gone after the death of my old spaniel, we started early and arrived back in Torremolinos much later than normal. So, lake by lake, here is the account of our long morning which started with a hot sun but clouding over very ominously later and wind which was just a mite too strong for our liking. Reference to site MA2 (page 182 et seq.) in that well known 'how to get lost and still enjoy birding' masterpiece Where to watch birds in southern and western Spain may help if you possess a copy.

Laguna Dulce: We started here at 098.00, the same old place with plenty of wavelets sufficient to hide the ducks and small grebes at times. There were 3 species of grebes  Great Crested, Black-necked and Little, plus Moorhen and Coot. We found no Red-knobbed Coots but the common have been most prolific and Federico found one with a black neck collar with white letters, which was duly read and reported to Manolo Rendón. There weren't many ducks in sight, most were hiding in the reeds, but a pair of Teal flighted in - rather a surprise at this date - and hid amongst the Flamingos feeding way over on the right (looking from the hide) and a single Whiskered Tern battled against the westerly wind of which the over-flying Gull-billed made light work. We reckoned that there were at least 4 Lapwings.
Our next stop meant going into Campillos and working our way through the town to the A-468 road which leads to all of the lakes. Lakes are not given in order of visit but in order along the road southeastwards.
Laguna Salada: This is just over 1 km out of the town on the left hand side. Park in the open space where there is a track which leads over the rise but beware. This can get very soft after rain and although I have never been caught in the clag, I know that others have and it was once a damned close run thing for myself. The track up to the top of the rise which overlooks the laguna can get very muddy and in winter you may end up with 10 kg feet. This is a big lake and, like the Dulce and the others, a 'scope is necessary. There wasn't a lot to be expected there and we weren't disappointed - Pochard, Mallard, White-headed Ducks, hundreds of Coots which have obviously enjoyed a good breeding year and more Flamingos and Gull-billed Terns, a few Stilts and Little Ringed Plovers. This site is much more worthwhile in the winter and at times there is flood water on the southwest side of the road and will repay a look. We shall be including it in our future itineraries. The best part birds here were undoubtedly some 2 or 3 Alpine Swifts seen very well as they flashed through amongst their commoner cousins.
Laguna Redonda: About a km. further along the road,  the last time I stopped here, about a decade since, it was a rubbish tip where a pair or so of Stilts rummaged amongst a dead refrigerator and sundry garbage in ghastly stagnant water. It has been cleaned out and enlarged and there is ample off-road parking and hide! Birds seen there included a Black-headed Gull, over-flying Gull-billed Terns, a pair of Little Ringed Plovers, a pair of Pochards with 6 ducklings and more White-headed Ducks. So, next stop ....
Laguna Capacete:  This is best seen as soon as one has gone over the railway bridge. Park carefully and 'scope the right hand area. This is the best area of the lake for migrant waders but we had Kentish and Little Ringed Plovers, the expected Black-winged Stilts and at least 2 pairs of Great Crested Grebes - these with 2 and 4 chicks respectively - and at least 2 pairs of Black-necked Grebes. A hundred metres or so further along off the bridge there is the entrance to a farm site where one can pull in. Big trucks use this and in the past we have had run-ins with stroppy drivers, so be warned! From there on to the final stop ....
Laguna del Toro: This lake is right by the road and one scarcely needs to get out of the car. We saw at least 25 Gull-billed Terns feeding over the lake and 2 Black-headed Gulls. Here too we found a pair of Black-necked Grebes with 3 chicks and a single Lapwing, Little Ringed Plover and hordes of Coots.
From there, having time in hand, we hied ourselves off to Fuente de Piedra under clouding skies, stopping to look down on the colony from the west end and also from Cantarranas in the forlorn hope of picking out a Lesser Flamingo, there being a pair nesting there in amongst some 3.000 Greaters. The colony is split into some 6 or 7 units this year because of the high water levels. We were joined by a single, raucous Raven but it didn't help us at all. Thbis has been a record breeding year for the Flamingos with some 20.000 pairs (yes, 20.000) and 15.000 chicks (give or take a few hundred either way), the only possible problem for the chicks being that there is too much water when they come to form the nursery (crêche, guardería) groups.
All in all, a very good morning's birding and we shall be doing the same route again come migration and winter.
And to finish, a story about a Lesser Flamingo from Kenya. reported this week in a mail from Colin Jackson :
The Ringing Scheme of East Africa has just received news of a Lesser Flamingo that was found freshly dead at Lake Baringo on 13th February this year with a ring. The incredible thing about it is that the ring was a BTO ring (British Trust for Ornithology) that was one of those rings used on a batch of several thousand Lesser Flamingo chicks that bred at at Lake Magadi in....1962!!  This bird was in fact ringed by none other than the very well-known Leslie Brown on 1st November 1962 making it 50 years, 3 months and 25 days old!
It must surely be the oldest recorded Lesser Flamingo and quite stunning that it lived for so long. A few years ago there was one recovered also at Magadi that was about 45 years old - there may be one or two more out there with rings from that time!   If anyone receives this who knows more about that ringing event of Lesser Flamingo chicks in 1962 - or was perhaps even there and took part, it would be really interesting to know the full story. I believe many of the chicks had got 'anklets' of encrusted soda formed around their legs which were acting as a 'ball and chain' and were killing the birds. Rescuers were breaking the balls of encrusted soda off and putting rings on thus saving the lives of many flamingos - some to live to over 50 years later!  The person who found the flamingo is Nick Armour of Swavesey, England, to whom we are indebted for reporting the ring. The distance from ringing site to recovery site is 242kms.

I actually remember the event and seeing film (what a memory!), presumably on the news or in some wildlife programme on the BBC, of what is said about the chicks being caught with soda anklets and thus prevented from moving, as is reported, plus the fact that many hundreds, if not thousands, were saved by volunteers carefully cracking off the sodium and thus releasing the chicks from a slow death.


14/06 : Guadalhorce in the sun

Late writing up but again have been busy, in part watching the British Lions in Australia against NSW and England in Argentina in the test match against the the Pumas. Both won and the Pumas aren't what they were back in the 1970s.  Add preparing material for the forthcoming edition zero of the SEO English birdy magazine Birds of a Feather and amusing my daughter's baby golden retriever puppy (a real little charmer and very bright) and I've had a full time weekend.
So, back to Friday morning. With the coming of the hot weather, Federico and I met at 08.00 and were into the Guadalhorce by 08.15. First stop was down the eastern bank at the first hide which overlooks the laguna de la Casilla. Not a lot there apart from a Reed Warbler singing, so on to the second hide overlooking the wader pool, now in the process of drying out very rapidly. Not  a lot there either until a flock of 9 Slender-billed Gulls arrived, rather distant but their jizz is distinctive, especially the long neck, shape of bill and ong forehead, plus larger than Black-headed Gull. We did see three fairly young Stilts and Mum and Dad, amazingly without having hysterics but giving a lot of flak to the Little Ringed Plover on the pool.
Further down, on the río Viejo, there were a few Stilts, Little Ringed and Kentish Plover, a couple of Avocets and a single Dunlin. Nothing to be seen either from the seawatch mirador so we plodded along the beach and in to end up at the laguna Grande. Not much of interest there either except 3 Yellow Wagtails, 2 males of the iberiae race and a juvenile. It was there that we met José MIguel Ramírez of Medio Ambiente and he told us of the good things to be seen at the Campillos lakes, so we're off there tomorrow and there will no doubt be a blog.
On we plodded in the growing heat to the laguna Escondida and apart from a few White-headed Ducks, including two with very dark heads and downy juvenile, stopping on the way to photograph this very attractive flower of the Caper Bush, also known as the Flinder's Rose.
 Also on the Escondida was perhaps the other good record of the day, a female Red-crested Pochard with 7 chicks of some 3.4 days old. Nice and the first time that I vere seen one breeding there, although one did at one of the 'no entry' ponds some three years since. There too we saw a female Black-headed Weaver stripping reed heads for nesting material and a couple of Reed Warblers were still singing. A male Little Bittern flew lazily across from one side to the other, disappearing quiuckly in to the reeds but its slowness allowed half way decent views..
I didn't log everything à la Bob, butd can safely say that there was not a lot for efforts, not that we had expected much in this slack period.
We shall see what we can find tomorow.


12/06 : Cabo de Gata & Rambla de Morales

Before letting you loose on Dave's account of Cabo de Gata and Morales, some of you might remember that earlier in the year the Spanish Ornithological Society (SEO) asked me to conduct a bit of market research about the possibility of magazine of some sort for English readers. First, thanks to all who did reply with comments/ideas, which were looked at carefully at a meeting I had with the powers in Madrid back in March. Planning is now under way following the lines of your ideas, material is being gathered together for an edition zero and I hope that within another month I will be able to give you a lot more details. So, the idea is not just sitting on a shelf gathering dust.
 On the birding front, we are now in to the slack season when birds are generally busy rearing young (those of you are parents will know how debilitating that is!), recovering from having done so and will soon be starting moulting in some cases. As Dave notes, roll on migration but that is, at its earliest, at least 4-5 weeks away before the first birds start coming back down.
That doesn't stop rarities turning up, such as the Grey-headed Gull in the Albufera de Valencia earlier this week, so keep eyes open for anything odd. Mind you, with the beaches being inhabited by things other than birds now the weather is warming up, there are some very odd things to see!

    Gilly and I met up with seven other members of the Arboleas Birding Group at the cafe at Pujaire. Most of them had already logged the Little Owl sitting on the telegraph pole on the approach to the village. Belated 75th birthday greetings to Rod. We made for the first hide overlooking the Cabo de Gata Nature Reserve. The Highways Department had done sterling work on the entry and exit of the lay by. No suspension testing drop and better visibility when leaving. To be honest there was not much at first glance. The predominant bird was the Avocet. Also seen were Black-winged Stilts, Yellow-legged Gulls, Mallards and numerous Little Terns. Brian was on top form. He first spotted a Shelduck on the horizon in the savannah. Next was a relatively close Eurasian Curlew just over the stone wall on the grassland. Finally, a Roller in a distant palm tree. Other birds seen were Sardinian Warbler, Kentish Plover, Woodchat and Southern Grey Shrikes and Yellow Wagtail.

     The sea was almost calm which made it easy for us to see there was no birdlife out there! We wandered over to the second hide, feeling the heat as we did so. Gilly counted 266 Greater Flamingos. Kevin spotted Little Ringed Plover on the weed rafts. Some Slender-billed Gulls were also seen.

     Things improved slightly at the public hide. Gilly spotted a larger tern, a Common Tern. Kevin found some Bar-tailed Godwits. We then made our to the viewing point over the salina at the back of the houses in the next village. Mary and Jack both got wasp stings from a nest hidden in the top of the conblock wall. With no large lens, Gilly was taking photos of Prey of Birds instead of Birds of Prey. An American Cockroach was her first model!

     After a refreshment break we drove to the Rambla de Morales with some trepidation. We were concerned regarding the walk in the hot midday sun.....mad dogs and Englishmen came to mind. A cool offshore breeze was a blessing. We immediately added Reed Warbler and Zitting Cisticola. On the water were female White-headed Duck (no sign of any males), Little Grebe, Coot & Moorhen. The advance party of myself, Kevin & Rod made our way towards the beach as there were some gulls at rest. An unfriendly scrambler bike made our trek a waste of time. We did pick up a juvenile Grey Heron on the way.

Upon our return a small flock of Slender-billed Gulls flew in. We then saw two new bits of bird behaviour. First a Bee-eater flew low over the water and had a quick dunk. Did it a few times. Then a small flock of Gull-billed Terns arrived. One, with a fish in its bill, flew low over the water like a skimmer, presumably washing its lunch before devouring.

     We ended up with 42 species for the day. Not bad, but roll on migration time!


Dave & Gilly's Moroccan Adventure, 13-30 May 2013

 As I had dropped Dave an unsubtle hint about a note on their annual trip down in to Morocco, Dave bit the bullet and has come up with below, bless his little cotton socks. Just in case you wonder about the lower than normal photographic standard, the auto-focus on his lens packed up, but owt is better is better than nowt (as they say in dark satanic mill country). Thanks, Dave!

Gilly and I embarked on our now annual trip to Morocco by taking the Balearia ferry from Algerciras to Tanger Med port which is about 60km east of the town and old port which takes ferries from Tarifa.

Common Bulbul
After sorting out our entry forms on the boat we did a bit of birding as we came into the harbour. We spotted Cory's Shearwater and Gannet to get our list off the ground. Apart from birdwatching we were also delivering 17 binbags full of clothing to our adopted "suburb" of Imlil, a trekking village up in the High Atlas Mountains. Moroccan Customs asked us to unload. Having extracted about half of the cargo the supervisor came over and asked, "Have you any guns?" (If I had, did he think I'd admit it?) " Have you a motorbike?" Seriously? As we had neither he let us through.

     We made our way to Larache where, just prior to the town is the Oued Loukkos Marsh. A passable road leads you beside the tidal river and then through wetlands and reedbeds. The highlights here were flocks of Red-knobbed Coots, 15-20 Spoonbills, numerous Squacco Herons, Red-crested Pochards, Purple Herons, Collared Pratincoles, Stone Curlews, Marbled Ducks and large numbers of Marsh Harriers. We also picked up Nightingale and Golden Oriole. A bonus was a Montagu's Harrier. We then made our way into town where, in the circular main square, we had Little Swifts above us. We stayed in a cheapo hotel where I had been before. €20 for the night. I don't know what they charged the couple in the room next to us who only stayed an hour!

Eleonora's Falcon
     The next day we had the long drive down to El Jadida, passing Casablanca and Rabat. On the way we made a brief stop at Moully Bousselham, just north of the Merdja Zerga where the probably extinct Slender-billed Curlews were prone to overwinter. Here we added Oystercatcher, Turtle Dove and a very obliging one-eyed Little Owl to the list. Arriving at our destination in good time, we headed further south to a salina area. Here we addded Little Tern, Whimbrel, Bar-tailed Godwit and Curlew Sandpiper before returning to the hotel.

       Todays destination was Agadir. On the way down we stopped at Essaouira estuary where Eleanora's Falcons were constantly overhead. The other birds of note here are Brown-necked Martins at their nest site. We stopped in the Tamri area but failed to see the resident Bald Ibises.

Cream-coloured Courser
     We had an early start to meet Lahcen, our guide for the day around the Sous Massa bird reserve. I'd failed to see Black-crowned Tchagra last time, but Lahcen got a pair of them within half an hour. In the shrubs we had Spotted and Pied Flycatcher, Moussier's Redstart and numerous Olivaceous Warblers. A Wood Warbler was a great bonus as was a Black Tern. We then went to search for Cream-coloured Coursers. We first got some Stone Curlews but soon had what we were looking for. It was at this point my lens's autofocus gave up the ghost, a big dampener on the holiday. Also seen with our guide were Little Bittern, Palm Dove, Cirl Bunting and Western Orphean Warbler. Gilly hadn't seen Mongoose, so Lahcen bought some sardines and placed them on a riverbank close to lots of shrubs. We made our way to the opposite bank and waited. Sure enough after about half an hour a mongoose appeared. As arranged he took us back to his house where his italian wife had prepared a fish tagine followed by spaghetti bolognaise.

Palm Dove
      Not wanting to haul all the clothes into the Sahara and back again, we cut across country heading up the Atlas Mountains to Imlil. Not done this route before. Road very narrow in places and I won't be doing it in winter! On route to the village we saw Woodlark, Blue Rock Thrush, Black Wheatear, Grey Wagtail and Rock Bunting. The truck was unloaded to its and our relief. Our contact and host offered us lunch so we opted for a cheese omelette. When it arrived it had cut up cheese triangles in it! Eatable but I'll go for a plain omelette next time. In the woods surrounding the village we had North African subspecies of Chaffinch and Blue Tit as well as flocks of Red-billed Chough above us and Levaillant's Green Woodpecker in the walnut trees. We headed for Marrakech for a couple of nights.
Alpine/Yellow-billed Chough
     We woke up to grey skies and rain....not what was expected. We were going up to the Oukaimeden Ski Resort some 65km up in the Atlas Mountains. We drove through the clouds and just as we reached the resort we climbed into blue skies and sunshine. There was very little snow so the Horned Larks and Crimson-winged Finches were nowhere to be seen, but we did see Mistle ThrushBlack Redstart, Rock Sparrow, Alpine Chough and Seebohm's Wheatear.

     It was off towards the Sahara today. Drove over the High Atlas Mountains, seeing our first Griffon Vulture in Morocco, plus an obliging Woodchat Shrike as we had a cafe au lait. As we got down onto the plain the otherside we started to see the desert birds. The very common White-crowned Wheatear, the rare Mourning Wheatear and Trumpeter Finches. We also saw our first Desert Lark of the trip. We reached our destination of Ouarzazate. Slightly beyond it is a large barrage, reservoir, where hundreds of Ruddy Shelducks were in residence. Also saw Avocets and Sanderlings and our first Rufus Bushchat.

Long-legged Buzzard
     Travelling further into desert conditions we stopped at the infamous rubbish tip just outside Boumalne. Gilly almost immediately got her first Thick-billed Lark amongst the detritus. We also had Red-rumped Wheatear, Long-legged Buzzard, Desert Wheatear, and Temminck's Horned Lark. We carried on towards Efoud picking up sightings of Bar-tailed Lark and Hoopoe Lark. As we pulled in to the Riad hotel Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters were flying above us.

      We were up early the next day. We were picked up by our two guides and another man who hopefully knew where Houbara Bustards were. He was an out of work Houbara Bustard security guard employed by the Saudi's to protect their illegal supply so they can ship the birds back to their country for falcon prey. As they only paid him from September to April he was supplementing his wages with a bit of freelancing. All I'm allowed to say is we travelled north from Efoud for some kilometres, then took a track to the left which eventually petered out into rough ground and with low lying shrubs and grasses. After about an hours searching Gilly eventually spotted one. In the end we saw 3-4, one flying. Our 5 year search was over! 
We dropped off our guard and went south towards the big dunes. We added Brown-necked Raven and Desert Sparrow before making for the Merzuga lake where we saw more Ruddy Shelducks and Greater Flamingos. In the evening we went to a great little spot just outside town, pointed out to us by one of the guides where we would've had superb photos of Rufous Bushchats and Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters had the lens been fu....nctional (Grrrrrrgh!)     

find the Pharoah Eagle Owl!
Moussier's Redstart
    We were out with another guide called Lahcen in the Rissani area the next day. He took us to the Pharaoh Eagle Owl site and soon found the bird in a hole high up on the cliff face. Next it was to the Lanner Falcon site where we saw both an adult and juvenile flying. He then took us to a sandgrouse area. We  observed a small group of Spotted Sandgrouse, a first for both of us. We then spent ages trying to find Fulvous Babblers but failed. You can't win them all!

     The next day we failed to anything new to the list. Going back towards the mountains we scraped a Stock Dove and a pair of Barbary Partridges. Back at Imlil I was determined to add to my woodland bird list so drove into the pine forest above the village. With the help of my phone I managed to attract Short-toed Treecreeper and Coal Tit. Later we logged Crossbill, Short-toed Eagle and Great Spotted Woodpecker as well.

     The next few days were spent travelling back to Marrakech and then Casablanca. On the penultimate day we stopped off at the Larache marsh. It turned up trumps again with sightings of Great Reed Warbler, Glossy Ibis and Purple Swamphen.  

149 species for the trip. Good birding and mostly good friendly people.


05/06 : Rambla de Almanzora & Vera

How's about letting us all have a bit on your Moroccan adventure, Dave?
Gilly and I got back from our Moroccan adventure last Thursday and  are still tired. Gilly still has an upset tummy! So we decided we didn't want to travel too far and selected a visit to our very local Rambla de Almanzora and the Vera pools. Apologies for no photographs. As you might have heard my telephoto lens's autofocus went up the shoot (no pun intended!). It is now in the A&E at Sigma Photo in Barcelona. Anyway back to today.......
There were 10 of us members who met up at the usual "ford" overlooking the rambla. The sun was shining, but a bit of a breeze. There was a fair bit of standing water on the far side, but we could only see a few Black-winged Stilts. There appeared to be smaller long yellow legged waders as well, but they turned out to be young Stilts! Also seen, but before the others had arrived, were Southern Grey Shrike, Kestrel and Magpie. Above were Barn Swallows, House Martins & Pallid Swifts.

We slowly wandered up the path/cycle way hearing Cetti's Warbler and Nightingale in the shrubs to our right. Back on the Rambla we finally spotted some Little Ringed Plovers and Mallard. A pair of Turtle Doves zipped passed fast and low. The sewage deposito was very smelly and attracted no birds or any inclination to hang around! Some more Little Ringed Plovers were near the man-made weir. On the way back to the vehicles we added Little Egret, Hoopoe and Red-rumped Swallow.

     During our coffee break in Villaricos we told the group about our delivery of 19 binbags full of clothing for the poor of Ait Souka, a "suburb" of Imlil in the High Atlas Mountains. The community had managed, with help, to build a small nursery school for 4-6 yr olds. They needed about €150 to buy a log burner. It was decided we'd donate one euro per person each birding trip to help them towards their goal. Thank you all.

     We then headed to the beach. The wind had picked up and breakers were crashing over the rocks near the little harbour. There was a small group of Audouin's Gulls on the now flat area behind where we parked up. We walked along towards the estuary seeing only a pair of Whimbrel on the low rocks. There was very little at the estuary. Eventually, through minor heat haze, we spotted Kentish Plovers which were joined by about half a dozen Turnstones.

     It was then off to the pools at Vera. We first parked up on the dual carriageway (in laybys) overlooking them. There were numerous Bee-eaters hunting above the shrubs. On the water were Mallard, but predominantly Coot. There was the odd Yellow Wagtail. I then spotted a Squacco Heron on the far side. It gave good views. Not so the Little Bittern I saw for a split second before it disappeared behind a small island. As we made our way back towards the main road, stopping at various points, we added Little GrebeCommon Pochard, White-headed Duck and a couple of Shovelers. Oh, and possibly a pair of Booted Eagles seen disappearing over the hill ridge and a pair of Great Tits as well.

     The view over the good little pond opposite the Consum Supermarket is severely obstructed by rising reeds. We did see more White-headed Ducks, one pair with young. Reed Warblers were heard. Gilly spotted another disappearing Little Bittern.

      A total of 43 species seen. Good to be back.


'Viaje a Las Rapaces'

The eagle-eyed amongst you will have noticed that this blog title is in Spanish, 'Viaje a Las Rapaces', which you could loosely translate as 'journey to the the raptors' and is an announcement of a book project. It is a project which, if you are feeling rich, will allow you to become a patron of the arts, in this case a mixture of art and literature and take part. Being a patron of the arts, usually painting or music (discount the court jester, the little guy with vertical attainment problems and a hat with bells on it like Noddy), is a very old tradition. Then, and in a few case now, a very rich person, often royal or with aspirations, who had gained his riches by screwing every possible penny, ducat or whatever out of the oppressed peasants who lived in abject poverty and provided the occasional virgin for the lord's Saturday night amusement, salved his conscience by funding some starving musician (eg. Mozart) or artist (anyone you care to think of except Picasso) with his financial patronage, thus allowing them to escape the garrett lit by a single oily lamp. The rich s.o.b., now a patron of the arts, thus became a nearly acceptable person (even the Borgias). Now I am not insinuating that you, dear readers, belong in that category as I at least am in the 21st century (parts are at any rate, others got left behind in the rush).
The modern form of patronage is, I have learnt today, called 'crowdfunding' whereby one donates a more or less modest amount of cash to help to get a work published. In this case, it is the book Viaje a Las Rapaces by Juan Varela (artist) and Victor Hernández (text) and it is because I like the project, the book content and believe that it deserves support and patrons (ie. yourselves, I've already done my bit) that I support it in this blog.
280x300mm, hard back, 128 pages
I have known Juan for more years than either of us care to remember (especially him) and it was way back in 1983 that we made a trip to the Chafarinas islands, off-shore from Nador, to colour ring Audouin's Gulls and we also saw not one but 2 Mediterranean Monk Seals. I have always admired (and envied) his work and style and am the happy owner of two of his water colours, one of a Common Buzzard, the other of a Barolo Shearwater (a.k.a Macronesian/Little). Currently, Juan is secretary-general of the Spanish Ornithological Society (SEO) and is also an internationally recognised bird artist. I do not know Victor personally although we have exchanged mails for years and I know that he is a more than competent birder (and his Spanish is a lot better than mine, not that that is difficult!).
'So,' you may ask, 'what has this got to do with me? What can I do to be a patron?'
The answer is that you can do a lot, and start by clicking on this link :
www.verkami.com/projects/5826-publicacion-del-libro-viaje-a-las rapac
Now this is in Spanish but it won't hurt. You must look at the samples of Juan's paintings and take it from me that the text is very good. Look at the project in general, the levels of patronage (mecenazgo) of which there are several. Then go and break open your child's (or grandchild's) piggy bank, go and beg on a street corner or even on the steps of a church, sell the Ferrari or any honest idea which comes to mind as I do not want any corruption in the ornithological world, there's more than sufficient out there as it is.
For me, this book is a must and will be an important addition to my bookshelves and I make it clear now that I am not lending it to anyone, not even Bob Wright! Fork out like I have done and help.
Juan and Victor have 40 days (39 as of today, 4 June) to gather together sufficient money to publish. Which for those whose mathematical knowledge does not extend beyond the 20 digits, which means that you have until 12 July to think, decide and become a patron. Do it, you won't regret it and you'll even feel good!

PS: And very soon, a look at the book Aves de Sierra Nevada, and in the uncertain future a look through the new Zeiss Conquest HD 10x32 binoculars which won't break the bank.