29 April : Sierra de María

From Dave E-B and the Arboleas group. Congratuations to them on the initiative of the posters.
It was brilliant sunshine when Gilly and I headed for the Sierra de Maria, but outside the car it was windy with a chilly bite to it. On the approach to Maria the only bird seen of note was a Linnet on a telegraph pole. We met up with nine other members including Jacky Reany, new to the group. We first headed up to the chapel where Colin managed to see Goldfinch, Chaffinch and Greenfinch. Les spotted a Great Tit and a Mistle Thrush was seen. I managed to find a distant Booted Eagle with more unidentifiable raptors even further away. As the others began to walk towards the Information Centre of the Botanical Gardens, I drove up there. We handed over two framed posters of forest birds and Spanish raptors to the rangers for them to put on display. 
handing over the posters
Red-billed Chough
The garden area had a couple of groups of reasonably behaved school children so the majority of us headed at speed to the lower walk. The walking wounded stayed behind. Birds were few and far between, but eventually we had good views of Bonelli's Warbler. I found a Short-toed Treecreeper.  A steady stream of Griffon Vultures flew over. As well as a few Subalpine Warblers, Alan and I were lucky enough to have a glimpse of a Western Orphean Warbler. I spotted a Red-billed Chough flying along the mountain ridge. Also seen were Robin and Cirl Bunting. As we headed back to the gardens we could hear a Great Spotted Woodpecker drumming and we also heard a Raven. We mentioned it to the walking wounded who pointed skywards to show us the bird! They had also seen Bonelli's and Subalpine Warblers, Jay, Crossbill and Serin. Walking back to the cars, Les saw another Western Orphean Warbler and everybody saw the pair of Cirl Buntings.
The stop at the farm buildings only added a Corn Bunting to the list, so we motored to the water trough area. Alan and I saw our first Turtle Dove of the year. Numerous Rock Sparrows and Linnets were seen, as were a Rock Bunting and Goldfinches. Les spotted a Red-billed Chough on one of the buildings. We convoyed along the plain seeing the odd Crested Lark and a few Northern Wheatears. At the hamlet there were only a few Lesser Kestrels and we possibly saw Short-toed Larks.
Heading back to the La Piza forest cafe, we were delighted that Colin spotted a Hawfinch in the trees as we ate our lunch. Also seen were Crossbill, Chaffinch, Crested and Blue Tits.
A very enjoyable day which we hope Jacky enjoyed. She saw 4 or 5 lifers which can't be bad! 41 species in all.


25 April : Fuente de Piedra

After some 8 weeks without getting out (old age is not fun when one can't go birding, even though it allows politcal incorrrectness) I felt sufficiently human to go to Fuente de Piedra in search of waders and anything else which might care to show itself.
'... something to do with boiling oil'
The place was full of the great unwashed masses, at least three of which should have been subjected to a small, very fast moving object with a hollow point and who steadfastly insisted on walking the water's edge to photograph waders, in spite of being waved away by myself and other birders.
These were led by the ignorant and arrogant orange-haired female in the centre who totally ignored us and they only succeeded in flushing birds which were interested only in feeding. However, as a rifle was unavailable, as was any sight of a guard, one can only think of that immortal line from 'The Mikado' (Gilbert and Sullivan) regarding crime and punishment (not the book) about '... something to do with boiling oil'. However, leaving behind the selfish and ignorant, on to the birding.
Painted Lady
This Painted Lady butterfly was very cooperative.
On the passerine side, I must admit that I wasn't particularly attentive although I did see a very attractive Melodious Warbler and another birder told me that he had seen an Orphean Warbler. There was a Great Reed Warbler singing (?) and not far away a Reed Warbler was muttering happily to itself and a Nightingale really was singing.
The main attraction at Fuente is, of course, the Greater Flamingos and there are some 25.000-30.000 in the lake, with breeding started in the colony, although I find it difficult to see any success as  water levels are very low.
2 Greater Flamingos

2 Lesser Flamingos
An even greater attraction is the now annual presence of Lesser Flamingos, of which there 6, with one pair in the breeding colony and 2 are showing regularly in front of the information centre. One of these 6 birds has a red colour ring and very probably comes from some which left a Belgian collection some years since.
 In the wader line, I saw some 13 species, some in good numbers and in excellent plumage which made life very interesting. The Black-winged Stilts were remarkably quiet (are they on valium?), as were the very few Little Ringed Plovers, but compensation was provided by the Avocets.
Black-winged Stilt
 Numbers were pretty good in some cases, for instance the 40+ Ringed Plovers or the 14+ Redshanks although there was only 1 Greenshank and 5+ Common Sandpipers, as well as only 1 Green Sandpiper and 4 Wood Sandpipers, an always delightful species to see.
Common Sandpiper
Wood Sandpiper
There were fair numbers of Ruff, I counted some 16+ with some of the males coming into breeding plumage. At this date, Ruffs in Holland are breeding and I suspect that these, like the Ringed Plovers, are birds that have still a very long journey ahead of them, some to within the Arctic Circle where I have a memory of one on a fjell inland from Varangerfjord (Norway) walking on a frozen lake wondering where the devil the water had gone!
Little Stint
It was nice to see some 20+ Little Stints although numbers are often greater, many in full breeding plumage and they too with a long way still to go. After some searching the finding of a single Temminck's Stint was a distinct bonus. Many of the Dunlins present will accompany the stints on their journey north and many of the 25+ I counted were coming in to breeding plumage, their bellies black as though they had been sitting in soot.  
Curlew Sandpipers are not at all uncommon on migration and at this time of year many are coming in to breeding plumage, as is the bird shown in the photo below, while a few had not yet started to moult and a half dozen or so were in their full, immaculate dark chestnut, breeding plumage. These were the bird of the day, not because of the rarity because they are not, but because of the numbers, with a personal count of 180+, the biggest number that I have ever seen there.
Curlew Sandpiper
 I didn't make a full species list and I undoubtedly missed some but the waders were excellent watching. According to my notebook I saw some 43 species in total, which included some I have forgetten to mention above, easpecially the pair of Shelduck and the splendid Red-crested Pochards on the lake behind the information centre - the laguneto del Pueblo.
I did not see a single Yellow Wagtail nor a Woodchat Shrike, although there was one in my garden at home in the afternoon when I got back and  female Mallard was happily dabbling in the swimming pool!


23 April : Cabo de Gata & Rambla Morales

By the cringe, Dave is really giving the birding some stick (pure jealousy, Dave) and me still incapable of doing much, although things are improving and I hope to get to Fuente de Piedra tomorrow for an hour or so if the knees hold up. It's either that or hara-kiri! Just had a Garden Warbler in the most unusual place, the garden, the first record in 30+ years here I think.
Gilly had a sick note today (headache) so I left Arboleas, in the drizzle, at 7am giving me time to swing round the rear of the Cabo de Gata Bird Reserve before meeting up with other members of the Arboleas Birding Group. There were still a few rain spots as I took to the track. It was quite rutted and muddy in places so a 4x4 is advisable. The first two salinas were totally dry which might confirm the rumours that salt production has ceased. My first uncommon bird was what I believed to be an Iberian Chiffchaff on the chainlink fence. I also had a couple of Corn Buntings. Beyond the hide, there was water so I managed to see numerous Avocets and a Ringed Plover. At the ternery I was expecting to see Sandwich Tern, but no, I was pleased to see Gull-billed and Common Terns. I was then given great views of a male Whinchat fence-hopping in front of the truck.
Male Whinchat

The resident Little Owl on the ruined building was giving me the evil eye. Nearing the end I spotted two female Montague's Harriers flying east towards the Michelin test track. Two Stone Curlews and some Greenfinches were also seen.
I met up with 5 other members at the Pujaire cafe for coffee before heading to the first hide where the first bird was a Kestrel. Apart from Avocet we also saw Black-winged Stilt, Grey Plover, Kentish and Little Ringed Plovers. A flight of Dunlins landed and I spotted some distant Spoonbills which looked like six individuals. Shelduck were seen. A Red-rumped Swallow flew past as well as a small stream of Barn Swallows. Some Pallid Swifts were identified now that the sun was shining. A Hoopoe was calling from an electricity pylon. Sandra spotted a couple of Woodchat Shrikes and Alan pointed out an iberiae Yellow Wagtail.
Little Owl
We then motored round to the second hide. Alan spotted a shearwater out to sea. From size, jizz and colouring we believe it to be a Balearic. Bee-eaters were heard and screaming Common Swifts past by. From the hide we couldn't see the previously mentioned Spoonbills as they would have been below the bank in front of us, but I did spot three more in the pool to our right. Two Grey Herons were observed as well as a Little Egret. A Corn Bunting was also seen. In the distance towards the church we could see a mass of seabirds feeding so headed that way to find they had disappeared. We think they were the dozen or so Gull-billed Terns feeding over the savannah. Seems to be very good year for them. Only 78 Greater Flamingos seen.
At the public hide it was full of teenage girls. As I put my head in I heard one say, " God, this is boring!" so I decided we'd observe through the collapsed fencing. There were numerous Curlew Sandpipers, some turning breeding red. Alan spotted 3 Black-necked Grebes and some Little Stints. Lesser Black-backed Gulls and Sanderlings were also observed. Colin also saw a Thekla Lark and a Spotted Flycatcher beside the road.
After a coffee and snack at the Cabo beach cafe, we made our way to the Rambla de Morales. There were 4 Audouin's Gulls, 2 Slender-billed Gulls and some more Gull-billed Terns at the estuary before being disturbed by a cyclist. The best bird was a Garganey and there were also White-headed Ducks. Kevin spotted a male Red-crested Pochard. There was hardly any calling warblers. We eventually heard a Reed Warbler and heard/saw a Zitting Cisticola. Upon leaving Kevin and I took the rutted track back towards the campsite. A Green Sandpiper was seen. I also added White Wagtail and Jackdaw.
We totaled 59 species. Lucky with both the weather and the birds. A cracking day.


16-19 April : Extremadura

Having 'done' Fuente de Piedra, Dave, Gilly, Brian and Mary headed north in to Extremadura. Here is Dave's account of this area which has no coast at all but which will, I am sure, be of interest to many!

Having left Fuente de Piedra behind, Gilly and I in our truck and Brian and Mary following in their 4x4, we headed north towards Extremadura. Our bird list started at the "county line" but I thought I would mention a Collared Pratincole flying beside the Autovia before we took notes! Our first bird was a White Stork followed by the inevitable and numerous Black Kites. Lesser Kestrel was added before we had our first official birding stop ​at the Embalse de Guadiloba, due east of Cáceres. There were one or two Corn Buntings ....sorry, my mistake, one or two thousand Corn Buntings
Calandra Lark
Short-toed Lark
Also Calandra and Crested Lark. Nothing apart from Black-headed and Yellow-legged Gulls on the water. On the shore line were Cattle and Little Egret. We saw Cormorant, a posing Common Sandpiper and Black-winged Stilts. We also saw Black-eared Wheatear and a pair of Short-toed Larks. Moving further east we came across a Short-toed Eagle perched on a pylon.
Turning towards Santa Marta de Magasca we checked out the power lines and poles where new nest boxes for Rollers had been placed. We saw at least twelve Rollers and two pairs of Lesser Kestrels on or near the boxes. Scanning the field to the right we spotted at least two Great Bustards, one a displaying male. Moving on we glimpsed a Booted Eagle flying into a tree to perch. In a small valley with a bridge over a brown-watered river we added Grey Wagtail and a Kingfisher. A male Spanish Sparrow sat in a nearby tree. We both heard and saw Common Cuckoo and Bee-eaters. Brian's dream was fulfilled when we saw numerous Azure-winged Magpies and a Red Kite finished our day's list.
After breakfast in our hostel in Trujillo, we headed towards Monfrague, stopping at the various bridges on the way. We added Crag Martin, Common Swift, Woodchat Shrike, Mistle Thrush and Wren. More Common Cuckoos were heard and seen. An Egyptian Vulture flew over. We then drove up and parked below the hermitage at Monfrague. Although the weather was not ideally suited for flying, it being cloudy, it didn't seem to bother the large numbers of vultures around the opposite cliff face. They were mostly Griffons, but there were one or two Black Vultures as well. Quite a few were passing below us beside the ridge. I then spotted a darker vulture, the size of a Griffon but obviously not one. It had mottled white across its back and wings and a later internet check proved it was a Ruppell's Vulture, a first for all of us! I saw a Nuthatch and a Short-toed Treecreeper whilst Mary had a Blue Rock Thrush and a Rock Bunting. As we left a calling Red-billed Chough flew over. In the car park, right at the bottom of the hill, we saw another Nuthatch which had a nest hole in a branch just above an information sign. 
Spanish Imperial Eagle
In the gorge, looking up the cliff face, we could see large numbers of Griffon Vultures on nests with chicks. Gilly spotted a flying Black Stork and Brian saw a Black Redstart. We travelled further on, next stopping at the ultimate viewing "station" where a few birders were homed in on something. It was the Spanish Imperial Eagles' nest. We'd only been there a few minutes when the female returned and landed there. The male then returned and perched on an exposed dead branch. It looked as though he'd just had a wash as he was preening and hanging his wings out to dry, cormorant-like. 
On our return journey we tried to entice Azure-winged Magpies to the picnic area by the dam with pieces of bread but failed dismally. At the second picnic area a mangy dog fox with an obvious eye injury was eating human food remains. Nearby, House Martins and Red-rumped Swallows were using a muddy puddle to pick up nest material. We stopped next to a bridge, where House Martins and a few Alpine Swifts were nesting. Down a leafy lane to the side we saw and heard Robin and Nightingale. That evening we walked up to Trujillo's main square where White Storks were nesting on the tall buildings and Lesser Kestrels were flying over.
religious Barn Swallow
The next morning we headed to the Arroycampo bird reserve near the Almaraz Nuclear Power Station. Note to self....Saturday's not a good day to visit due to the anglers! They walk chest deep along the reed line...not good for birding! We headed to the information Centre in Saucedilla where we obtained a key for all the hides. We walked the short distance to the first one behind the centre. We saw Purple Swamphen and the first of many Purple Herons. We checked out the area where Black-shouldered Kites were supposed to be most frequent but only saw Marsh Harriers and Montague's Harrier. We returned to the anglers area hearing and then glimpsed a Savi's Warbler. Upon information received from a Surfbird's guide we went to the newly opened Orchid Centre in Almaraz village. Brian and Mary being botanists were very impressed. We then did some of the marked Orchid walk. We saw five different species, but the silence was marred by two local idiots on mini-motorbikes screaming around. From there we headed to the Belen plain to the east of Trujillo. We came across a recent cow death. There were about seventy Griffon Vultures on the body or streaming in to enjoy the feast. There were a few Black Vultures as well.
'Only' saw 76 soecies this trip but had a great time! How can you ever complain if you see a lifer? We shall be returning there in about four weeks.


14-16 April : Fuente de Piedra

Dave, Gilly and the Arboleas folks from Almería have ventured in to Comanche territory! Here is Dave's report, the second on their visit to Extremadura will follow in a day or so. All this takes time..... The photo of the Lesser Flamingos shows how different they are in size and colouration. Lapwings do breed in small numbers at Fuente, as do Shelduck. It was a jolly good list, Dave and Co..
Rod and Linda Prout very kindly organised at trip to Fuente de Piedra for 19 members of the Arboleas Birding Group. I usually do my reports the evening after the trip so my memory is not too blurred, but I'm writing this many days after so details will be vague! 
We arrived at the town late morning of Tuesday 14th April. After settling in to our hotels we met up at the Information Centre car park. Whilst waiting for others to arrive, some of us made our way to the viewing area. A large group of Greater Flamingos were relatively close, but there were thousands further away near the breeding platforms(?). An initial search for Lesser Flamingos proved fruitless.  Gull-billed Terns were frequently flying overhead. We made our way back to the car park. A Lesser Flamingo had been seen. We then convoyed round the western side of the lake to an elevated hide. From there we could easily pick out the single Lesser Flamingo. Lapwings were a good find. Heading further round we stopped at a mirador. From here we saw Raven, Purple Swamphen, Avocet, Spoonbill, Marsh Harriers, Whiskered and Black Tern.
Black Tern
Whiskered Tern
The next morning we had a better look round the Information Centre area. Waders seen included Ruff, Wood Sandpiper, Little Ringed Plover, Curlew Sandpiper, Sanderling, Redshank, Black-winged Stilt and Common Sandpiper. Also seen were Garganey, Red-crested Pochard, Shoveler, Common Pochard, Teal, Mallard and Shelduck. Smaller birds seen or heard were Melodious Warbler, both Reed and Great Reed Warblers, Blackcap, Sardinian and Cetti's Warblers. A Great Spotted Cuckoo showed well as did Yellow Wagtails
male Yellow Wagtail, race flavissima
Today we saw 3 Lesser Flamingos. Later in the day we walked over the boardwalk and up the track to the road. Had good views of Whiskered Tern. Lesser Kestrels had been seen in the area earlier. A male Montague's Harrier showed well. Only a few of us were in the car park at the end of the days birding when a Griffon Vulture and 3 White Storks flew over.
The next day Gilly and I met up with Brian and Mary Taylor at the car park before we headed further north. The three White Storks were grazing a field near the entrance. The Lesser Flamingos were still there. Had good views of resting Black Terns. The only new birds seen was a Green Sandpiper and a pair of Stone Curlews in the vegetation in front of the seated hide.
3 Lesser Flamingos
In total we saw 81 species. Thank you again to Rod & Linda for organising the trip.


08 April: Almanzora y Vera

Yes, I know this is late but unless you want a very rude reply and increase your vocabulary about commputers, servers or whatever, ask but I warn you that I am on a short fuse, unable to get out because of knees and their lack of cooperation and which have no solution according to the vet. If not, don't. But at last here is Dave and the Arboleas' Group's last outing.  This has not been edited or otherwise messed up as I'm due out in 10 minutes.
It is worthwhile noting there have been big numbers of passerine arrivals, both at my end of the universe and in Almería, including lots of Redstarts, Whinchat, and (as of this morning, 13/04) 4 Red-throated Pipits in Tarifa with records from Torrox (MA), Padul (GR) and Almería. I, being basically housebound and unable to walk far, have only just heard my first Bee-eaters.

waves at Mojacar
Winter.....they thought it was all over, but..... No, it wasn't today anyway. Having picked up Rod from his house nearby, Gilly & I made our way to the ford crossing the Rambla de Almanzora.....there was actually water across the road for a change! First to arrive was Les who had already seen a Willow Warbler amongst other birds. More members arrived. We welcomed back Ros and Charlie. Two new visiting members were Albert & Jeni from Holland. On the ford side pool we only saw Mallard, Black Winged Stilt & Moorhen, so we walked towards the sewage works. Everybody was wrapped up as the wind was up & it was a bit chilly. A Little Egret flew passed. A reasonable quantity of hirundines filled the sky, Red Rumped & Barn Swallow together with House Martin and a solitary Sand Martin. A Little Ringed Plover was identified in flight. I spotted a distant Southern Grey Shrike on a pylon. A Common Sandpiper & a Ringed Plover were also seen. We were then given a wonderful display by at least 6 Alpine Swifts flying low over us to "take the waters" in the large sewage works pool (clean water!). In the swift group were also Common & Pallid Swifts. A pair of Grey Heron flew over. Smaller birds seen included Blackbird, Sardinian Warbler, White Wagtail and Greenfinch. A Reed Warbler was heard. A solitary Bee Eater flew over as did a Kestrel. We walked back to the vehicles where we were joined by John who'd seen a Little Stint.
After a coffee break in Villaricos village we headed to the beach, John adding a Stonechat to the list. The waves were enormous hence no birds on the harbour rocks, but a couple of Audouin's Gull were resting on the sandy beach. We walked round to the estuary where the water level was high. A few Cormorant were at rest. Most notable bird was a single male White Headed Duck. Also seen were Grey Heron, Little Egret & Coot. A Zitting Cisticola was heard. A short walk to the next viewing area produced a Turnstone & a Hoopoe. As we tacked back towards the vehicles against the wind we saw the "resident" Whimbrel and more Turnstone.
Green Sandpiper
Val & Ros said their goodbyes as the rest of us made for the dual carriageway opposite the Consum supermarket. The water level was also up, so very few waders apart from a Green Sandpiper & the usual Black Winged Stilt. Wildfowl numbers were very much down. Numerous Mallard, a pair of Shoveler, a Teal and a few Common Pochard. Two Greater Flamingo were still present. Round at the smaller pools we had more Common Pochard, White Headed Duck and a pair of Little Grebe. Gilly, who'd stayed in the truck heard a Great Reed Warbler.
Despite the windy weather, we saw 47 species. It'll be a delayed report next week as the group are travelling further afield.


01 April : Sierra de María

Apologies for delay and only 2 photos, Dave, but this b****y machine is not being cooperative at all and refuses to download two of your shots. Any way, Dave and the Arboleas Group went to the Sierra de María, but I can't find anything that may make me think about having been All Fools' Day, such as a record of an Archaeopteryx gliding with the vultures. Incidentally, at least one Griffon was seen to ditch off Tarifa this last week, not having the strength to make it back from Afric's shores. Meanwhile, there have been many records of first arrivals, many of them of warblers, including Bonelli's, Subalpine and Whitethroat. Needless to say, thanks to my knees and sacro-iliac area which are in total meltdown, I ain't been nowhere and my watching has been confined to seeing masses of Common Swifts (remakably few Pallids) coming in, plus the occasional Barn Swallow doing its imitation of a Tornado on afterburn at low level and all small passerines have been either Goldfinches or Serins. Enough blethering, on to Dave's report.

Well, summer has arrived in South East Spain. Blue sky and hot sun all the way to the Sierra de Maria, although as per usual the temperature dropped by about 5 degrees the closer we got to it. Gilly and I spotted a Blue Rock Thrush as we passed Velez Blanco to start our days list. As we waited outside the Repsol Garage cafe in María, drinking coffee, House Martins were beginning to nest above the fuel pumps in the canopy. We met up with 11 other members. We added Goldfinch and Great Tit before heading to the chapel. The Griffon Vultures were already up and about. Gilly spotted at least 14 individuals. There was very little in the chapel area so we wandered over to the trough. I heard and identified (correctly) the Short-toed Treecreeper calling from the poplar tree. If you were able to crane your neck sufficiently you were able to see it! Gilly spotted a small bird, feeding, up there as well. After much searching...I never did see it in the flesh....it turned out to be a female Serin. As we walked up to the Botanical Garden, a pair of Ravens were flying over the wooded hillock to our right.
As we had a chat with the Gardens' ranger, we heard a woodpecker drumming. Once in the garden, I replied with my phone. It, a Great Spotted Woodpecker, flew past at great speed. Gilly ad Les decided to stay in the gardens whilst the rest of us did the lower walk. We only added a Jay, a Robin, a Blackcap and a heard Red-legged Partridge. Gilly and Les did much better being stationed near the small water features. They had Crossbill, Crested, Coal and Blue Tit , as well as Cirl Bunting. As Les and I passed the Information Centre, I said to him that I'd hoped to see more warblers. Typically I missed the Subalpine Warblers Gilly spotted and Les' Dartford!
We convoyed our way to the ruined farm buildings. Here we saw a female Black Redstart, some Mistle Thrush and Rock Buntings under the pine trees and Wood Pigeon and Carrion Crow. It was then on to the goat's water trough and deposito.
The small birds were now difficult to spot in the leaved almond trees, but we did see Linnet and Rock Sparrow. A Hoopoe displayed well. A Northern Wheatear was also spotted. Colin saw Black-eared Wheatear as well.
Lesser Kestrels
Down on the plain birds were also difficult to spot with the wheat crop growing. A pair of Calandra Larks were display flying. I managed to spot a Little Owl which was only showing its forehead and eyes above the rocks. As we arrived at the hamlet, I'm pleased to say that there were at least 4 pairs of Lesser Kestrels in nesting mode. Les was the first to spot a pair of Red-billed Choughs with nesting material, flying in and out of one of the barns.
We then retraced our tracks back to the La Piza forest café for lunch. Then only new bird using their feeding/watering area was a Long-tailed Tit. Also seen were a female Subalpine Warbler, a Chaffinch and Crossbill. Alan and Richard who I think left for home last, were lucky enough to see a pair of Booted Eagles.