25 December: Christmas Day on La Janda

Ok, it may seem weird to some who revel in the joys unwrapping presents from Aunt Ethel and wondering what the hell it is and if you dare throw it out but you can bet that she might ask about it next time she foists herself on you. 
Or perhaps you are one of those who have what might be loosely termed as 'a swinging head and bad feelings' (Bahamian saying) after too much last night, or on the other hand you may be feeling as stuffed as the turkey you got outside at lunch today. 
I on the other hand, being a virtuous birder, went birding. And as the metcast was good, I went all the way down to La Janda, leavibg at 07.30 (no swinging head and bad feelings here).
First bad news. The bar where I normally have a coffee at Tahivilla was closed, which ruined my morning. Second bad news, La Janda was swathed in mist at 09.00 but it looked like burning off and clearing and indeed it did, turning into a beautifully sunny day with not a breath of wind. 
So, to the birds. Cranes heard in the mist and only 2 seen. A Green Sandpiper seen at close range (it would have been invisible at anything over 50m). Lapwings seen and pee-witting querlously in the mist, obviously the sat/nav had got lost. Ghostly Grey Herons sitting miserably (they always look miserable) in the unploughed and very muddy rice paddies, while both Little and Cattle Egrets wandered around vacantly, especially the latter which I suspect are mentally retarded. There were still considerable numbers of White Storks and a nice little flock of ca. 20 Glossy Ibises, of which one is shown. A late Squacco Heron flew along the canal, its persil-white wings contrasting well with the brown back. A single 1st year Cormorant on the bank seemed as surprised to see me as I was it.
There were plenty of White Wagtails and lots of Linnets and Goldfinches, plenty of Chiffchaffs too as there have been all autumn, but very few Meadow Pipits, plus I later learnt that I had missed a Richard's Pipit, of which several have turned up in the SW in recent days. Calandra and Skylarks bubbled overhead but were not particularly showy. A couple of nice coveys of Red-legged Partridges showed that not all fall prey to the hunters but a Pheasant which saw me beat a hasty retreat.
But it was raptors that I was after. In fact, the very first bird of prey that I saw was one that normally eludes me - Merlin. It did its best not to be seen by going along a fence at low level at about mach 0.95 but I saw it! Normally the track along the canal is swarming with Kestrels, today not one although I saw several later but numbers were definitely down. Marsh Harriers were the most abundant bigger raptor and even then the place was hardly crawling with them, and that includes going all the way to the Facinas track and around 3 kms down it. I have noted 5 birds, including a female with a lot of white in the forewing and this superb juvenile Marsh Harrier. I know the photo doesn't do it justice but if you use the imagination once the hangover has gone and try and imagine it like a sort of human photoshop without all those damned twigs, then you'll get an idea of how stunning the head pattern was. Those apart, there was a single juvenile harrier which did not give good views but a fairly stringly marked facial pattern and well marked pale collar, plus a wider wing base make me think of the very strong possibility of it being a juvenile Pallid Harrier rather than a Hen.
I have noted down 5 Common Buzzards, two of them, very black birds which I have seen in the area before, were having a real ding-dong but why the Kestrel tried to intervene I have not the slightest idea. A distant Short-eared Owl flew off high in the direction of Conil, so what it thought that it was doing is another mystery.  A single pale phase Booted Eagle sat in a tree. And finally, notably large numbers of Ravens, including a flock (yes, a flock) of around 10 birds plus another 2 further over. 
So that was my Christmas Day. I do hope that you enjoyed yours and will try and do the same again next year. So, as this may well be my last blog for this year (I'm going to try to get down to La Janda New Year's Day of the metcast is alright), let's all try and have a happy and healthy New Year with lots of good birding, always provided that the jihadists and politicians will let us. I reckon that they are about on a par with each other.


17 December : Las Norias & Roquetas

My apologies to Dave and the Arboleas group for being so tardy in getting this out. I have seen one Whiskered Tern in winter, actually flying in from the sea on New Year's day many moons ago. This past autumn has seen, as far as I am concerned, huge numbers of Chiffchaffs and there are still a lot around.
This last Thursday I was at  Fuente de Piedra with Bob & Co. but couldn't stay long although some of us saw a Water Pipit out on the mud of the main lake.
So, another year come and darned nearly gone. I shall therefore wish you all a not too alcoholic Christmas and New Year - remember the little green men with machines that you have to blow into -, with lots of good birding for preference in 2015! My especial thanks to Dave and for his reports and to Gilly for kicking him into action (not that he needs much encouragment!).
Due to the fact I sent all on my mailing list an invite to join us this week instead of just the local birders, you all know we were going to Las Norias and Roquetas. Due to illness, vacations and other commitments there were only 6 Arboleas Birding Group members who met up at the junction 420 service station, two of which arrived as the other four of us were heading to the lake. By the time Colin and Sandra had caught up with us we'd clocked up Great Crested, Black-necked and Little Grebes plus the common Coot and Moorhen
Great Cormorants
There were large numbers of Cormorants, easily outnumbering the Grey Herons. We saw a good raft of Shovelers plus a small group of Gadwall and a Common Pochard. Chiffchaffs were in abundance all day. Also seen were Stonechat, Black Redstart, and White Wagtail. Cetti's Warblers could be heard. I spotted a Meadow Pipit. Both Cattle and Little Egret were observed. John spotted a claimed raptor the far side of the lake. I followed his direction and identified a juvenile Night Heron. Minutes later Gilly came to his rescue spotting a Marsh Harrier in the same area. 
John the spotted a distant tern. We dismissed Sandwich and Little Tern. Alan reckoned a "Marsh" tern. Colin said a Whiskered. To get a better view of it we drove round to the side of the lake and luckily I spotted the tern sitting on a buoy in the centre of the lake. After much debate and checking in Collins, Colin proved to be right ... a Whiskered Tern. The distribution map in Collins did suggest some birds over-winter, but we'd never seen one before. From our viewing point we saw a Purple Swamphen flying low over the water. About six adult Night Herons were seen. Singles of Avocet and Little Stint were spotted, as were Red-crested Pochard and a Crag Martin.
adult Nightheron
We moved to the causeway where Sandra spotted a Green Sandpiper. A female Marsh Harrier flew over as did a Kestrel. More Night Herons were also seen.
We headed towards Roquetas, seeing a Southern Grey Shrike on the way. After a coffee and mince pie John and Alan suggested that instead of turning towards the hotels and "Red Knobbed Coot pool" (none seen for ages) we turn right at the junction and check out a spot they'd been to in the past. We followed them for a couple of kilometres and then turned left onto a tarmacked single track leading across the salinas. We added Greater Flamingo, Redshank, White-headed Duck, Black-winged Stilt, Slender-billed and Lesser Black-backed Gulls to the list. At this point a works vehicle approached from the opposite direction, so we packed up shop and reversed the 200 metres back to the road. At least we did get a "thank you" hoot!
That completed our day's birding. 45 species in all. I'm sure all our members would like to wish everybody a Happy Christmas. We'll be back in the New Year unless I'm brave (stupid) enough to venture to the Sierra de Maria to see what's around in the snow!


10 December : Cabio de Gata & Rambla Morales

News from Almería of the Arboleas Group's visit to Cabo de Gata and Rambla Morales. I have very recebtly heard that the operations ar the salt pans are shutting down but that the Spanish Ornithologica Society are endeavouring to see what can be done to maintain them in some sort of order adequate for waders and so on.

We could not have asked for a better day, weather wise, as Val, Gilly and I headed south along the E15 towards Almeria. Blue skies and a minimal wind. We met up with eight others group members at the Pujaire cafe before making our way to the first hide. As I looked towards the rocky causeway I could see a small expanse sandy rocky beach meaning the water level had dropped some 12" or so. I also noted a distinct lack of waders. Yes there were some Avocets, Black-tailed Godwits and a single Redshank, but not alot else. Gilly did spot a Turnstone, but small waders, there were none. Kev spotted a Great White Egret right in the middle of the salina. A Southern Grey Shrike was seen over to the right perched on the stump of a cut century plant stalk. Beyond it, out to sea, I spotted an adult Gannet. Other land birds seen included Sardinian Warbler, Stonechat, Jackdaw, Kestrel, Hoopoe and Chiffchaff. A man walking on the savanna caused about half a dozen Eurasian Curlew to show themselves.
We convoyed to the second hide. A short seawatch proved fruitful as I spotted 5 Balearic Shearwaters heading south. We then wandered over to the hide. First seen was a Grey Heron. Then a group of Spoonbills appeared from behind the island. They later took to the air and we counted 10 individuals. Gilly counted 150 Greater Flamingos. Also seen were Little Egrets, Shelducks and 89 Black-necked Grebes. A Cormorant was seen flying along the beach.
A slight disaster awaited us at the public hide......Two coach loads of kindergarten kids. Looking through the fence we added Sandwich Tern, Lesser Black-backed Gull and at last some small waders....Dunlin, Sanderling, Little Stint and Kentish Plover.
We retreated to the Cabo beach cafe for a cuppa before heading along the beach track to the Rambla Morales. The beach end had recently been breached but had already sealed itself. There were numerous Shoveler, Coot and Moorhen but only singles of White-headed Duck and Gadwall, both females. Both Little and Black-necked Grebe were seen.
We saw a total of 42 species. A good days birding. As Gilly, Val and I headed back towards the campsite my attention was pricked by movement in the reeds on the far side of the pool. At least 3 Wild Boar
As you can see,I've nearly sorted out the Camera/Photos/Computer problem. Thank you, Stephen Powell, for your input.


3 December : Río de Almanzora & Vera

I'm back, Dave's back. Life returns to normal. Or as Caesar (Julius, Roman dictator) wrote in his Gallic Wars which the latin master tried to beat into me and all I can remember is 'et siderae in cursu erant' (and the stars were in their courses). I don't know whether to be pleased or commiserate with his problems.

After six tiring weeks in the (dis)United Kingdom, Gilly and I were glad to be birdwatching again amongst friends at on our local patch, the Rambla de Almanzora. 17 of the group met up at the "ford" above the rambla. Was glad to have Ros Perkins, who'd been absent for about a year, and Richard and Maria Darby back with us today. The rambla was quite overgrown but there were some good views of the wet areas. First bird on the list was the first of numerous Black Redstarts. Second was a Hoopoe. Down in the shallow water we added Little Egret, Mallard, Black-winged Stilt, Little Stint, Ringed Plover, Dunlin and Moorhen. Kev Borman spotted a Snipe. Also seen were Yellow Wagtail, Spotless Starling and very many Chiffchaffs....yes, each one checked that it wasn't a Yellow-browed Warbler!!
We then wandered further up towards the sewage works. A Cetti's Warbler was heard. A Robin and Redshank addded to the list. At the sewage works pool a Green Sandpiper together with a pair of Little Ringed Plovers were observed. On the lower main pool there were Black-winged Stilts and a solitary Common Pochard. I spotted a distant Northern Starling high up on the power lines.
As we walked back towards the vehicles I saw a pair of Grey Wagtails having a right set to amongst the shrubs. John suggested that before we went for a coffee that it was good to cross over to the other side of the rambla as you got better views above the pools. We added a Water Pipit to the list and yes, the views were much better.
After a cuppa in Villaricos village we headed for the beach. What little tide the Mediterranean Sea has was definitely in! Not seen it so high. Some of the usual rocks outside the harbour were submerged. There were no rock formations to be seen further along the beach. We did see Cormorant and a Grey Heron at rest. A Sandwich Tern was the other side of the harbour. Far out to sea a few Gannets were seen. Unusually for this time of the year there were no grebes, mergansers or Razorbills to be seen on the near flat sea. Kev spotted a Kingfisher. A walk to the estuary added Coot to the list. There were numerous of them plus Mallard and 26 Cormorants there too. A Sardinian Warbler was seen. As we walked through the tamerisk and shrub tobacco plants Alan spotted an overwintering Wryneck perched on the highest shrub around. Unfortunately it was gone in a flash so missed by this author and most of the group! On the beach we saw Kentish Plover, Black-headed, Audouin's and Lesser Black-backed Gulls. John saw a Turnstone as well.
It was then off to Vera, stopping on the dual carriageway above the very shallow stretches of water. The normal Black-winged Stilts were there. John and/or Alan spotted a Ruff and a Teal. Also seen was a Southern Grey Shrike. Moving round to the pools opposite the Consum supermarket we were greatly assisted by a Marsh Harrier which put all the birds up into the sky, our view being hindered by high vegetation. There were 50-100 Shovelers and a couple of immature Greater Flamingo. I walked down to the pool near the dual carriageway. I added a couple of Yellow Legged Gulls to the list. Also seen was another Ruff and some Teal. Gilly stayed at the Consum pool and managed to get a retricted view. She saw Black-necked Grebe, Common Pochard, White-headed Duck and Gadwall.
In all we saw a creditable 53 species. The weather was perfect as was the company.
After months of nagging from Microsoft regarding my Windows XP being unsupported, I changed to Windows 7. Ok, but at the moment it doesn't recognise my cameras hence no photos on this report. Apologies.

4 December: I'm back again!

Yes, I'm back again after the entry on 31 October and I hope that this time it's permanent . What happened was that on evening 10 November, aftear a trip down to La Janda, I was putting together a blog, stopped to make a cup of coffee (strong and black, shaken, not stirred) and when I came back the screen of the laptop was blank. In fact, it was blanker than the combined brains of the government (choose any you want). My computer adviser and know-the-lot who earns his living sorting out the idiosyncrasies of the damned things came and collected it and shortly thereafter rang to tell me that it had died. Not just died. It was totally dead and the hard disc had broken into several parts so that it was buggered, totally and absolutely. So, go and buy a new laptop, a Lenovo 4GB, then try and get the thing running. Got e-mail working eventually then it wouldn't accept Picassa 3 so I couldn't load any happy snaps and finally, yesterday, all was up and running.
The next task was downloading seeing how much I had lost, the answer being no photos out of several thousand and none of the book (wiped sweat from fevered brow at that point, believe you me!). Some documents have been lost to memory dear, including all my rarity descriptions. It could have been a lot worse. There's a moral in there too!
So here goes with a brief resumé (it's a French word meaning resumé), I don't know why they can't say summary like the rest of us who speak proper.
White Stork (not carrying baby)
10 November, La Janda: A smashing raptor day with no less than 5 Imperial Eagles including an adult bird, 3 immature Bonelli's Eagles, 5 Common Buzzards and 7 Marsh Harriers, including  a very nice adult male. There were thousands (honest, it's a quantative analysis, I've never seen so many together on the deck) of White Storks and also 189 Cranes, always nice to see and hear. Seen too was a Wood Sandpiper and a Water Rail heard doing it's pig squealing act.
Bonelli's Eagle 1Y
Buzzard (R) which should think a bit before having a go at a Bonelli's Eagle (L)
14 November: A late Barn Swallow rocketting west in front of the Guadalhorce.
19 November, La Janda: Another trip down but not quite as good for raptors as the previous one witdh only 4 Buzzards, 4 Marsh Harriers and lovely male Hen Harrier. The rest of spp. seen was much as to be expected.
Don't drink and fly!
Anyone's relative?
20 November, Zafarraya: I went with Bob Wright and some of his members and had a very pleasant walk along the track westwards under the railway bridge and a bit further. The bird of the day was undoubtedly a dispersed Citril Finch which offered brief views, with the usual Golden Eagle fly-over, a male Peregrine hunting at jigh speed along the cliff face, presumably in hope of knocking off a thoughtless Crag Martin. There were lots of Black Redstarts, Black Wheatears and singles of Rock Bunting and 3 Rock Sparrows. There were also some mountain goats, but there are not generally known to fly.
1 December, río Guadalhorce: A walk along the left (west) bank in lovely sunshine followed by a look at the sea revealed 20 Shelducks swimming happily (I presume that they were happy), 7 Shovelers and 13 Common Scoters (which had increased to 17 by the following afternoon), plus a few Gannets and 3 Sandwich Terns.
So, that's me up to date.

By the by, thank you to anonymous who, after the first abortive return, said that he/she (I may have female followers) was gladto see me back. I think I'd wait a bit next time! Still, it was a nice thought and shows that someone cares.