28 February : Lagunas Dulce, Fuente de Piedra and Herrera

Home and with the brain and body more or less functioning in synchrony and a date with Federico this Día de Andalucía (Andalusia Day) to take a spin up to the lakes in the title, starting with the Dulce at Campillos and frankly the best. There were lots of hirundines, mostly Barn Swallows with a few House Martins, while Federico saw a Red-rumped which I missed and myself a Sand Martin which he missed. There was a nice mix of ducks, ranging from the usual Mallards through a flight of 3 Red-crested Pochards as well as their more common cousins and the rather rarer pair of Ferruginous Ducks which spent their time disappeaaring in and out of the reeds while a Purple Boghean fiddled around neaar to them. The Tufted Ducks are still present and we saw 7, the majority of them males (5) but surprisingly not a single White-headed. There are, naturally lots of Coots and onyone who wants to try to find a Red-knobbed, well, I wish them luck. My impression was that there were fewer Black-necked Grebes and also much fewer Great Crested, although it was delightful to watch these in display.
From there it was on to Fuente de Piedra, stopping briefly at Cantarranas where we saw 3 Marsh Harriers and singles of Raven, Buzzard and Sparrowhawk, as well as a few remaining Cranes. Round at the infortmation centre we were informed that 2 Lesser Flamingos and been seen last week and that there was one highly visible one out in ther lake, a very nicely coloured adult bird which gies onea hope of breeding again this Shovelers around and quite a few Teal, but our interest was centred more on the waders. At last some waders. Avocets and Stilts are always to be expected but rather better was the presence of a single Redshank (at last!), 3 Ruff (getting better) and some 16 Black-tailed Godwits, some of which were showing the start of breeding plumage and were highly attractive. Things can only get better.
Finally we made a flying visit to the laguna Herrera where there were some 12 Shelducks - very bonny birds, a single Green Sandpiper and a slew of Lesser Black-backed and Black-headed Gulls, with many more of the former.
I didn't do a full species count and I've not mentioned the many Chiffchaffs nor the Cetti's Warbler but we had a very satisfying morning out - rather different to what I was watching in Australia a week ago!


An Almería compendium

Hi all, no, I'm not dead but am just back from nearly 40 days in Oz and New Zealand where I was birding (that's a suprise, isn't it?) and also seeing old university friends in Brisbane, also birders. Now that body and brain have become at one with each other after the 21 hour flight from Brisbane, I have found myself with 500+ e-mails to sort and, where necessary, reply to. So, my thanks to those who enquired if I was alright and wondered it I had fallen off the planet.

Just to give you an idea,, I have this morning downloaded nearly 2.500 photos which now have to be sorted. I saw (if my sums are correct) 168 species of which 148 were new in Oz, and in NZ (again with the same caveat) 153 spp. with 99 new ones, some of these already having been new in Oz.
. All this stuff will, if there is a demand, appear in later instalments in this column. Meanwhile, I attach a photo of what I consider the best bird of the trip and what it is you will have to work out for yourselves. The name of the first correct reply will be forced to buy the drinks.

NOTE: Would Mark White and any others who have had similar ideas in the past please by introducing them as 'comments' notes that I will not put in any business advertising unless I have tried the product myself (i.e.. anything relating to birding) and think that it may be of interest to my readers, of which there are far more than I thought!  Thank you all, dear things.

Thanks to Nick Ransdale of Moulismes Nature and his web page www.nick-ransdale.com It is in both English and French, the brushingup of the latter won't hurt any (even if they did beat us in the Six Nations - quelle grande merde!). Glad that you've found the first book of 1987 helpful, Nick, and there is no refund on a book going on for nearly 30 years old!

So, now to all the stuff Dave has sent from Almería whilst I have been away and which I hope will all get put in as a compendium (don't know what it means but it sounds good).  This is unedited work and many thanks, Dave & Gilly and all the Arboleas folks. By the by, the record of the Brent Goose is a jolly good one and off.hand I can't think of any others this far south, akthough there are odd ones from Huelva, I believe.

21 January : Rambla de Almanzora & Vera.

I travelled on my own to the Rambla de Almanzora as Gilly had a Christmas Lunch to go to.....yeah, don't go there! There, above the "ford", I met up with 13 other members and two guests of Les & Lynn's, Eileen & Dolores...see, I did remember your names! It was good to see returning holidaymakers Phil & Sue again. Checking on the birds in the pools opposite, we saw Black-winged Stilt, Mallard, Shoveler, Teal, Green Sandpiper, Ringed Plover & Little Stint. Also seen were Black Headed Gull, White Wagtail, Moorhen, Chiffchaff & Crested Lark. We then walked up towards the desalination plant. Brian spotted the first Snipe of the day. A Southern Grey Shrike showed well on the power line crossing the rambla whilst a Kestrel perched in a similar position but further away. I spotted a Meadow Pipit and a Grey Wagtail was also seen. Lagging behind, Phil was lucky enough to spot his first ever Bluethroat, but it disappear into the shrubbery never to be seen again. Near to the weir I added a Water Pipit & Les spotted a Dunlin with a pair of Little Stint.

After our usual coffee break in Villaricos village we headed for the beach. On the harbour rocks were a couple of Audouin's Gulls, Cormorants, a Yellow Legged Gull, a Grey Heron and later a Little Egret.

The rocks closer to us eventually revealed a Kentish Plover & a Turnstone. Out to sea at least 4 Black Necked Grebes were seen. We then walked over to the estuary. More Grey Herons were seen. Also Coot, Little Grebe and distant but good views of at least two Kingfishers. A female Marsh Harrier came over, putting the flock of Black Headed Gulls to flight. A Sanderling was also seen. The walk back to the vehicles along the beach added Grey Plover, Sandwich Tern, Lesser Black Backed Gull and a well spotted Mediterranean Gull sitting out to sea by sharp eyed Les.

 We then convoyed to the dual carriageway above the pools at Vera. We saw more Teal and at least two female Red Crested Pochard. In the pool opposite the Consum supermarket we added Common Pochard & White Headed Duck. A Cetti's Warbler was heard. The star was an Adult Booted Eagle soaring above us. A large number of Crag Martins were feeding over the reeds & water. We met up with Colin Harrison, who lives nearby. Interested in birds, especially photography, so hopefully he'll join us on our trips.

Ended up with 51 species for the day. Good to be back on my local patch. On a personal note, had to take Gilly to A&E last Thursday. Her heart kept missing a beat. She's been put on beta-blockers and has an appointment with the cardiologist in February....which reminds me... I had my annual heart check up in an Almeria hhospital yesterday...all ok....but on the way down the E15, between the prison & Almeria Airport, 8am, Eagle Owl flew across in front of us. Cardiologist wondered why my blood pressure was slightly up....that could explain it!

26 January : Las Norias & Roquetas
Poor Gilly had to do a 12 hour shift with a man suffering from dementia in Mojacar which meant that after I'd dropped her off I was a free agent. With all the gear, including my repaired lens back from the land of the rising sun, I headed for Las Norias. It being a Sunday there were numerous illiterate locals fishing unable to read the "NO Fishing" signs. At the first causeway, on the lake to the left, there were some Coot, Great Crested & Black Necked Grebes, but the most numerous birds were two small rafts of Red Crested Pochard. There had been a change in the weather. Full sun and no wind, so the lakes were like mill ponds. A Sardinian Warbler sang from a nearby shrub as I scanned the reed edges. Along the left hand edge near the pumping station stood a Purple Swamphen. I checked round the other side of the building seeing the first of many Chiffchaffs and White Wagtails of the day. I walked back to near the car when a couple, who were obviously birdwatchers, had parked up. I fixed my scope onto the still visible Purple Swamphen and beckoned them over to have a look. His name was Juan and hers, Olivia. Both were from Granada University. He was studying Great Spotted Cuckoos. They'd satellite tagged 5 individuals at Guadix, but unfortunately only one was still broadcasting its location. Olivia was studying Ants, a phobia of Gilly's after her father decided it would be fun to poke a stick into a Bull Ant nest in Australia & Gilly got bitten! Luckily for me Juan spoke reasonable English. A distant flight of 8 Night Heron was seen. On the right hand side lake we only saw Shoveler to add to the day list.

Southern Grey Shrike
We moved round to the Old Heronry spot, but nothing of further interest was seen.  As we reached the second causeway a load boom sent lots of birds to flight. Not good for them, but after each boom we had a fly past. Common Pochard, Shoveler, Red-cCrested Pochard & Mallard. A Marsh Harrier was seen over the reeds next to the Plastic Recycling Factory. The next minute, looking the other way, I spotted a Peregrine Falcon coming our way. It suddenly put its wings back into the stoop position and shot down. Its target was the harrier! The harrier saw it coming and at the final second it turned virtually upside down presenting claws up. They put the Peregrine off and it aborted the attack. Amazing sight! A flight of 8 waders were seen & I'm pretty sure they were Knot. A Great White Egret also flew past. A Northern Starling was also seen. As we were saying our goodbyes we were joined by some English birders, Matthew, Liz and (I apologise) a man whose name now escapes me. There were on holiday in Mojacar till next Saturday so hopefully they'll be joining us at Cabo de Gata on Wednesday-

On my own again I headed for Roquetas. On the main lake there were shed-loads of Shoveler with the numerous Black Headed & Lesser Black Backed Gulls. The nice surprise was seeing two small groups of Wigeon. I then drove to the small pond where families were feeding bread to Mallard, Coot, gulls and a single male White Headed Ducks, Yet again, no sign of the Red Knobbed Coot. Have they been moved? As I was leaving a flight of 4 Mediterranean Gulls flew over. I carried on towards the salinas. On the way some waders were feeding close to the track. Dunlin, Kentish Plover & Little Stint.

The water level was quite high. Greater Flamingos were numerous. At the "good" wader spot the water was too deep for them. On an island there were 14 Grey Plover & a Redshank. Over the far side, amongst the resting Flamingos was a snuggle of 21 Spoonbill. I added Stonechat & Greenfinch on the way back. 44 species for the day. Some cracking birds & sights made it a great day.....and the lens appears to be working well. Having previously replaced the auto focus motor, they have now replaced the complete body apart from the glass and the ring with the serial number on it!

29 January : Cabo de Gata & Rambla Morales
The weather forecast on the TV was predicting rain coming in from the west as 16 of us hardy birdwatchers drank coffee in Pujaire before heading for the first hide on the Cabo de Gata nature reserve. We already had 6 species in the bag, the most notable being a Southern Grey Shrike spotted by Phil. It was cloudy & a bit windy. There were at least 3 large rafts of Black Necked Grebes to be seen, each containing between 40-50 birds. To the left in the more sheltered bay was a small group of Black Tailed Godwit and a Redshank. Paul later spotted a Greenshank there as well. On the narrow rocky causeway numerous birds were hunkered down sheltering from the wind. An Audouin's Gull, Dunlin, Grey Plover, Kentish & Ringed Plover, a pair of Avocet and some more Godwit, one of which Gilly noted was different and was identified as a Bar Tailed. Checking the water edges I came across a single Spoonbill near some Little Egret. On the wildfowl front we saw Shelduck & Mallard, then Kevin spotted a single Brent Goose, a remarkable find so far south!

Brent Goose
We then drove to the second hide, parking up adjacent to the beach. Considerably windier here with good sized waves crashing on to the beach. We disturbed a group of maybe 25 Eurasian Curlew on the savannah. I noted at least one Whimbrel amongst them as they landed on the beach. Out to sea a couple of Gannet were seen as were small flypasts of Balearic Shearwaters.. Lesser Black Backed Gulls patrolled up & down.

I was hoping the Brent Goose was still close to the hide, but it had moved away so was only able to get a "record" shot. A Slender Billed Gull was swimming in the ditch to our right. On the scrubland there was very little to be seen, just Sardinian Warbler, House Sparrow, Serin & Stonechat. Gilly counted 290 Greater Flamingos.

We moved on to the public hide. Colin spotted some Linnet. More Serin were seen and a Thekla Lark. Nothing new was added to the list from the hide. As we left some Greenfinch flew over. We headed for Cabo de Gata village for a coffee, noting Sanderling and a passing Cormorant. 

Wind increasing now as we drove along the beach track towards the Rambla de Morales. As we parked a low flying Greater Flamingo struggled against the wind. At the beach end of the brackish lake, numerous Sanderling were feeding together with a few Kentish Plovers. Above the reeds we saw Crag Martins. We added White Headed Duck to the day list. As Gilly was feeling increasingly unwell with an overnight hacking cough I decided enough was enough and left. I suspect the others followed shortly afterwards. We returned via the campsite route adding Common Pochard & Shoveler on the water & a pair of Cattle Egret near the visitors centre.

     44 species for the day, the bright star being the Brent Goose. The weather god was also kind considering the forecast.

31 January : Sierra de María

Since Matthew & Paul were only going to be holidaying for a short time I offered to take them to the Sierra de Maria on their last full day. We met up near Huercal Overa & I drove them to Maria. The weather forecast was clear & sunny.....wrong! It was overcast with some wind. The higher slopes had a sprinkling of snow on them. After a warming cuppa at the garage cafe we headed towards the plains to do a bit of in car birding till the weather warmed up. We first stopped at the old farm buildings and both Matthew & Paul were delighted to see their first Crossbills, closely followed by Cirl Buntings. We carried on to the trough & water deposit. Here a few Corn Bunting were seen with the many Rock Sparrow & Goldfinch. Also seen was a Linnet. Saw huge flock of 100+ Chaffinch feeding on field. Driving further we saw a Carrion Crow and the first of about 6 Calandra Lark. I spotted a Little Owl on rocks. At the hamlet we only added Crested Lark & a female Black Redstart.

On the way back we stopped off at the La Piza cafe, watching the bird feeder whilst drinking coffee. Great, Blue, Coal & Crested Tits entertained us. A small number of Crossbill were high in the trees.

It was then up to the chapel. Still quite chilly so not much around, just a few Serin. The sun was at last warming things up. We had great views of passing Griffon Vultures. We only added Mistle Thrush, Blackbird & an obliging Robin to the list.

Back to La Piza for lunch.., this time the Tits were joined by some Jays. We then went to check out the Vulture feeding station near Velez Blanco. As we approached the was a large flock of feeding Jackdaws & Red Billed Chough on the ploughed fields. In the feeding compound there were about 10 Griffons. In all we saw at least another 50 odd in various flights around us.

     A good days birding. Paul & Matthew saw at least 6 firsts. 28 species total. 

5 February : Embalse de Negratín
As Gilly & I drove up towards Baza in gusty winds, we could see dark clouds & rainbows, so birdwatching today was always going to be a challenge. We met up with Trevor, Ann, Josie and a Brianless Mary at the cafe before the Negratin dam for a coffee & tostada. Our first stop was the car park by the dam. A Sardinian Warbler was calling from the depths of a nearby shrub. A small flock of Crossbill flew overhead, one female eventually perched atop of a pencil cyprus. We wandered along the top of the dam and managed to spot two Cormorants and a Yellow Legged Gull. A buffeting wind made us skedaddle back to the vehicles.

It was much calmer & warmer in the valley below the dam. A flock of Woodpigeon was seen. We heard then saw a Great Spotted Woodpecker in the leafless trees. Also seen were Chaffinch, Great Tit, Blackcap & Blackbird. Gilly spotted a Southern Grey Shrike, closely followed by a male Blue Rock Thrush. Below the dam itself, above the outlet pool, Crag Martin were feeding and Rock Dove were squatting on cliff ledges. I spotted a Chiffchaff catching midges above the reeds. Gilly eventually spotted some red colour on silhouetted thrushes that flew over above us confirming their Redwing identity. It was then back to the cars in slight drizzle. En route back to the cafe Gilly & I added Jay, Raven and a Kestrel to the list.

     We ended up with 25 species for the day. I should add that Brian was unable to attend as he was waiting for the heating oil man to visit.

     Phil & Sue managed to capture on camera our first reported Great Spotted Cuckoo of the year near Los Gallardos last week. (Can't download it!)  Regards, Dave

12 February : Villaricos & Vera

At last the wind had died down and the sun was shining as Gilly & I met up with 18 other Arboleas Group members above the Rambla de Almanzora near Villaricos. We were glad to see Dave, Myrtle, Charlie & Val back after varying lengths away. We also welcomed Colin from the Vera Camera Club.

immature Cormorant
After a quick reminder regarding noise levels as there were so many of us, we started off by scanning the pools below us. All the usual suspects were there, Mallard, Black Winged Stilt, Teal, White Wagtail and Moorhen. As we carried on up further we added Snipe, Green & Common Sandpiper, Water & Meadow Pipit and Grey Wagtail. In the shrubs were numerous Chiffchaff plus Stonechat, Black Redstart, Serin, Goldfinch, Sardinian Warbler and a calling Cetti's Warbler. Further waders seen included Ringed & Kentish Plover, Little Stint, Dunlin and a Redshank that John spotted. I also spotted Southern Grey Shrike & a distant Kestrel.

     After a refreshing cuppa in Villaricos we headed down to the beach where numerous camper vans were parked up. On the harbour rocks were a number of Cormorant, together with an Audouin's and Black Headed Gull. A Turnstone was seen flying off. A Gannet was seen far out to sea. Nothing else of note was out to sea. No Black Necked Grebes or Red Breasted Mergansers that Les Senior had reported seeing at Garrucha previously in the week. We walked over to the estuary where we saw Grey Heron, Little Grebe, Coot, Little Ringed Plover and Little Egret. 
Phil was the first to spot the Great White Egret which showed well. A pair of Kingfishers was seen, albeit they were each end of the estuary! Feeding up & down the water were Sandwich Tern which were being harassed by both Black-headed & Mediterranean Gulls if they scored a fishy meal. On the shoreline were more Sandwich Terns, Audouin's Gulls & Cormorant, 62 according to Brian. A Grey Plover & a Whimbrel were also seen.

We then made our way down to Vera after assisting Val with her vehicle after the spare wheel dropped down after going over a small gully. There were hundreds of Black Headed Gull, but only a very small number of Crag Martins. The pool opposite Consum was virtually deserted apart from Grey Heron and a few duck. Most of the White Headed Duck & Common Pochard were in the pool nearer to Villaricos. As Gilly & I headed for lunch  we saw a Marsh Harrier over the reeds nearer Garrucha. 

We finished with 51 species for the day. A great days birding with great weather for a change!

19 February : Las Norias & Roquetas
As Gilly & I left Arboleas early this morning the weather was dull & cloudy, but by the time we got down beyond Roquetas the sun was out and there was a slight breeze. We met up with Colin, Sandra, Rod, Linda, John & Charlie at a motorway cafe before making our way to Plastic Greenhouse land at Las Norias. The water in the lake to the left of the first causeway was as flat as a tack so swimming birds were easy to spot. There were loads of Cormorant with smaller numbers of Great Crested & Black Necked Grebe, all at a distance. Grey Herons were seen before Colin spotted, not one, but two Great White Egrets down the far end. We had a flypast of half a dozen Red Crested Pochard. We also saw Common Pochard, Shoveler & Mallard. Yet again Colin came up trumps with a distant Purple Swamphen. Above us there were a fair number of Crag Martin. As the others continued to check out the lake I wandered round the other side of the pump house. I was rewarded with a brief view of a Bluethroat before it disappeared into the reeds. There was also a Magpie, Chiffchaffs & Stonechat in the area. The Bluethroat failed to appear for the group, but a Barn Swallow did. A pair of Common Sandpiper was seen & a Gadwall & Little Grebe were observed on the right hand lake.

     We headed round to near the old heronry. The best birds were 5 more Gadwall. We then drove to the second causeway. The large swathe of Bamboo by the dry meadow had been cut down. Along the lane we had Robin and a John spotted Northern Starling. On the meadow was a Yellow Wagtail, Black Redstart & more Stonechat. The group, apart from Gilly who was vehicle security, walked up the road passed the new heronry.....except the only birds in it were loads of Chiffchaff. As so often happens the one left behind saw a good bird, a distant Booted Eagle! We added a Lesser Black Backed Gull to the list. Slightly disappointed we headed towards Roquetas, seeing Kestrel on the way.

     Over a coffee, John suggested we have a short walk along one of the tracks across the salinas to the right instead of heading straight to the main lake. After an " interesting" drive we parked up. There must have been nearly 100 Shelduck at rest together with Greater Flamingo. I spotted a distant Marsh Harrier before Gilly saw a pair of Black Tailed Godwit. John spotted a Redshank.

     We then convoyed to the main lake where amongst the numerous Coot I spotted some Wigeon & red Crested Pochard. John spotted a Pintail. A pair of Marsh Harrier were seen as were a small raft of White Headed Duck. We decided not to yomp up to the " Red Knobbed Coot" pond due to to their non-appearance the last three times we'd visited. 

     And that concluded a good days birding. Have to admit I thought we should have seen more herons, egrets & swallows. We still finished with 48 species,

26 February : Adrian’s patch; Embalse de Puentes

Adrian very kindly agreed to show the Arboleas Birding Group round his patch which is about midway between Puerto Lumbreres and Velez Rubio. Thirteen of us met up at a cafe just off Junction 6 of the A91 motorway. After a coffee & chat we followed Adrian in our vehicles, stopping at selected locations, the first being by some derelict farm buildings. After a slow start birds began to show themselves. Black Redstart, Sardinian Warbler, Chaffinch,Stonechat, Robin, Blackbird, Linnet, Great Tit and finally a pair of Black Wheatear. The next stop, near to the El Cimbre complex had good views over to the mountains to the east of the Velez's. I spotted a male Blue Rock Thrush atop the El Cimbre sign, a magnificent structure with olive trees in large "pots"!  It eventually flew over us to a ruin, where it was joined by Thekla Larks. Alan spotted a plume of about a dozen Griffon Vultures over the aforementioned mountains. Then Carolyn, I think, was the first to see an eagle flying towards us, right over our heads. Our first Short Toed Eagle of the year. A Corn Bunting showed well just down the road ignoring passing cars until I approached with camera poised!
En route to the next stop we added Red Legged Partridge to the list. We halted in a rambla with some running water & reeds. We soon heard a Cetti's Warbler. A Little Egret flew over. Also seen were White Wagtail, Goldfinch and Kestrel. It was next onto the Embalse de Puentes. Adding Jackdaw, Grey Heron & Cattle Egret on the way, we stopped on top of the dam. Numerous Crag Martins were flying around together with a small number of House Martins. Very little on the water. Cormorants, Little & Great Crested Grebe and Coot. Surprisingly no wildfowl at all.
As starvation was setting in, we descended to the waterside pine wood for a picnic. The water level was estimated to be about 2 metres down. A lot of dead trees had been felled. We added Long Tailed Tits & Yellow Legged Gull. A steady stream of Griffon Vultures flew over as we ate.
We ended up with 35 species, the star being the Short Toed Eagle. Thanks again to Adrian. One member, Carolyn, has secured a dream job. She's working in Marine Tourism on a small island in the Inner Hebrides, near Oban for 9 months showing grockles (Sussex word for tourists) Dolphins, Seals & other wildlife. Even though we're all dead jealous we wish her all the best.