I spent a week visiting my sister in Florida, south of Miami in the town of Homestead which is the access point to both the Florida Keys and to Everglades National Park.
I was primarily here to spend time with my sister but I did make one brief trip into the Everglades where I was struck by how birds have drastically reduced in both numbers and varieties since my previous visits, the last one being five years ago. This may be due to the massive amount of development and construction going on in South Florida which is now just a huge urban sprawl, and no doubt global warning will have something to do with it too.
As usual I picked up a Red-shouldered Hawk in open country just inside the Glades park entrance, it perches on tall tree stumps to survey the surrounding marshes. A Loggerhead Shrike sat conveniently on an exposed branch allowing a close-up shot from the car. When I reached Flamingo at the end of the road I found the Osprey pair still on the nest by the boat landings just as they were last time I was here, and again there were a number of Manatees in the boat docks. Apparently they come in to escape the cold water in the open sea and I believe they are being fed luttuces to help them survive.
This Eastern Phoebe sat in a low bush by the headquarters of the Park Adminstration and I feel is worth posting.
The most exciting find was this fantastic Bald Eagle in some trees close to the road as I left Flamingo. I have seen these spectacular eagles before on drives along US-1 through the Florida Keys, usually perched on roadside pylons where it is difficult to stop & take photographs, so this was the first real opportunity I had. It was a thrilling and very lucky encounter.
After the everglades I enjoyed a walk around Penny and Larry Thompson Memorial Park close to Miami Zoo. This contains a large stretch of pine forest where I spotted an American Kestrel with its lizard prey, and this Red-bellied Woodpecker provided a good photo opportunity.
Close to my sister's house is a small nature reserve called Castellow Hammock where I spent time watching various local bird species and in fact picked up four lifers, ie species I had not previously seen. The first of these being the Painting Bunting, The male is a very colourful bird which I was very pleased to see and photograph.
The Painted Bunting is officially Near-threatened but is apparently locally common around here. It is a strongly dimorphic species with the female being a rather plain green in contrast to the highly colourful male.
The Hammock has a planted garden of flowering plants that attracts large numbers of butterflies and provides a natural feeding station for Florida's only hummingbird species, the Ruby-throated Hummingbird.
The Northern Cardinal is another very dimorphic species, the male is bright red except for a black face whereas the female is mostly chestnut brown in colour.
I mentioned earlier that I picked up four lifers in Castellow Hammock, the first of which was the Painted Bunting. The other three were more difficult to get good photos of but these as follows are are the best I managed.
The Brown Thrasher and the smaller Ovenbird are both species that forage around on the ground in the bushes making it difficult to get clear shots in good light.
The fourth lifer I had to identify carefully as there are quite a few woodpecker species it could be, however those white flashes on the wings are diagnostic, this a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, the only one I have ever seen. Not a great photograph but good enough to clearly identify the species.
There were plenty of birds to be seen in my sister's garden but they are mostly common species that I have seen and photographed many times. Blue Jays, Mockingbirds, Grackles, American Crows and the constant presence of Turkey Vultures and Black Vultures in the skies were not of interest to me photographically as I have done them all before, but I did capture some shots of the small birds flitting around in the trees. These were mostly Myrtle and the closely related Yellow-rumped Warblers, but also quite a few tiny Blue-grey Gnatcatchers.
An annual trip with friends and birding colleagues of Derek Etherton has become a regular and very welcome event. This year it coincided with steady and consistent rain in the Osuna Triangle but staying in the cars allowed us to see most of the target birds, incuding a trio of Great Bustards and the regular Stone Curlews amongst the olive groves just outside Osuna Town.
The worsening rain however persuaded Derek to look for an alternative location and the forecast further east around Fuente de Piedra was much better, so we decided to head that way. It was interesting to see a raptor on almost every pylon along the road back to Osuna, they were fairly evenly split between Common Buzzards and Red Kites. Also I post an image of a very wet Zitting Cisticola only because it shows why the original name of the bird was Fan-tailed Warbler.
Before arriving at Fuente we diverted to have a look at a nearby location which was new to me, the agricultural fields around a small pueblo called Navahermosa. The stretch along the MA-454 was incredible. Right at the start this Iberian Grey Shrike perched in a tree right next to our parked car and very obligingly stayed put while I took photographs.
The bushes and small trees lining the track were alive with a variety of small birds and I grabbed a quick shot of this Dartford Warbler. Other members of the group were more interested in the raptors over the fields including Marsh and several Hen Harriers. One of the experts in the group, Ricky Owen identified a Pallid Harrier from one of his photographs. This bird had been previously reported but it was a very exciting discovery and one or two of the group managed to get decent photographs of this rare bird. I was not so lucky.
After a very pleasant hour or so watching the various Harriers quarter the fields around us the activity ceased so we moved on to Fuente de Piedra.
At Fuente we never got further than the pond on the left of the entrance road. Here we quickly located the vagrant Little Gull that had been reported, and as an added bonus a Jack Snipe showed itself on the far bank. This bird was difficult to photograph as it was mostly obscured by the reed bed but I did manage a reasonable record shot together with a larger Common Snipe in the same frame. This was nice because I had never managed to photograph this uncommon species before.
Thanks to Derek Etherton for alerting me to the presence of a Sabine's Gull at Caleta Harbour. This small gull is a scarce visitor to this part of the World so is worthy of note for that reason. This solitary specimen has taken up residence in and around the fishing harbour at Caleta de Velez.
Gulls can be very difficult to identify but in this case in this case there can be little room for confusion. The jet black leading edges to the upper wings, the unusual forked tail and the black bill with a yellow tip are all quite distinctive.
The only other bird sighting of note lately was a trio of Golden Plovers on a newly ploughed field on the west bank of the Rio Velez. I had a walk around this site with Gerry Bennet hoping to see the Penduline Tits again but they didn't show. However the Golden Plovers made up for it.
Back to Adamuz and the Alpacin Hides again, this time for the magnificent Spanish Imperial Eagle. Also to meet my friend Gerry Bennet who also wanted to experience such close encounters with iconic wild bird and animal species, for photography and the sheer thrill of it.
Gerry and his wife Carolyn were travelling down through Spain in their motorhome and we agreed to coincide at Adamuz and share a session in the Imperial Eagle Hide. Carolyn in the meantime would be out cycling in preparation for a North to South trans-African bike journey which sounded quite insane to me, but she apparently does stuff like that quite a lot.
We were settled in the hide at around 8 am and following a couple of quick fly pasts from a Sparrowhawk we were getting concerned after the first two hours as apart from lots of Iberian and Common Magpies, Jays and a few small birds nothing much else happened. Then I spotted this one-eyed Fox which prowled around the area for the next three hours. It was extremely visually impaired, if not completely blind and felt its way around cautiously, but strangely it never took any of the bait placed out to attract the eagles.
A couple of Ravens showed up and showed an interest in a dead rabbit laid out for the eagles, but like the fox decided against any attempt to eat it. Strange?
Eventually a superb Iberian Imperial Eagle flew in low across the trees and settled on a broken stump about 7 metres in front of the hide. It was a heart stopping moment and the bird stayed there for fully ten minutes or so showing no inclination to take any of the bait laid out for it.
Eventually our Eagle hopped to the ground, took a good look at the bait but decided he didn't fancy any of it, not the turkey meat or the dead rabbits. He flew off in disgust. So that's the Fox, the Raven and now the Imperial Eagle turning their noses up. Agustin needs to improve the quality of his wildlife lures.
Suddenly a pair of marauding Golden Eagles flew in fast and low and one grabbed a large chunk of turkey with one foot and flew off with it.
The other Golden Eagle settled on the ground and checked out the wares on offer. It came as no surprise to us that he/she too was not tempted, and before long the other eagle returned, probably after having dumped the turkey somewhere in disgust.
Eventually we had seen enough, it had been a fantastic show and we were well pleased so we called Agustin to collect us at around 1:30, five and a half hours had flown by. We let Agustin know he needs to freshen up the meat on offer to our wildlife cast and we set off for home after a good day's birding.
I picked up friend Hans Borjeson in Nerja at 08:30 and we started at Rio Velez in Torre-del-Mar. It was amusing to have this Purple Swamphen strut across the road in front of us as if it was out on a hike. Hans picked out Balearic and Cory's Shearwaters and Gannet with his spotting scope. There were a some waders on the mud banks behind the beach but fewer than on my previous visit.
Hans is a wizard on bird calls and is blessed with very sharp hearing, so after he heard the thin call of a Penduline Tit we found a little group of three in the trees along the west bank of the now dry river.
This beautiful Penduline nest hanging high over the riverbed is positive evidence of breeding at this site. We suspect the three birds we spotted were a family group.
At Alcaucin we spotted an overflying Golden Eagle and what Hans thought was a Goshawk but without a photo or closer look we decided it could have been a female Sparrowhawk, we may never know.
There was a full set of woodland species to be seen including a fine pair of Great Spotted Woodpeckers, four Tit species, Nuthatch, Short-toed Treecreeper, Crossbill, Jay and Mistle Thrush.
Zafarraya was disappointing with just Black Wheatear, Blue Rock Thrush and Crag Martin to add, so we headed north to Sierra Loja.
Up in Sierra Loja I was pleased to get a reasonable shot of a Red-billed Chough on a fencepost. These birds usually stay just out of range for decent images.
Rock Buntings and Northern Wheatears were quite numerous but unfortunately there was no sign of the Ring Ouzels seen recently by friend Derek Etherton, where had they gone?
I got quite excited when Hans spotted a Wryneck flying into a thick hawthorn bush. This is a bird I have long since wanted to photograph. Unfortunately this chap was not willing to come out in the open and I only managed to get a very poor shot through the branches, just enough to see that it is indeed a Wryneck.
Bird List - 70 species
On Friday this week I returned to Adamuz to visit the hides of Alpacin. This company constructs hides to allow nature photographers and wildlife enthusiasts like me to view and photograph some amazing and iconic species close at hand, and in this they have been hugely successful. Finding the right location, getting landowners permission, building hides and baiting them to keep the subjects returning regularly is a costly exercise requiring great expertise, so quite naturally it is expensive to access, but in my opinion worth every cent for such amazing experiences and photo opportunities. It also helps with conservation and encourages the local people to value the natural wonders around them.
Having already visited the Golden Eagle and Passerine hides (see May 2022) this time I chose to see the Bonellis Eagles then fill my time watching Common Buzzards. Bonellis Eagles are incredibly beautiful raptors with a very restricted and shrinking range within Europe, so it was an easy choice for me.
Once settled in the hide the eagle pair appear and usually stay for about thirty minutes so photographers need to be set and ready for them. As with the Golden Eagles my 500 and 400mm prime lenses are a bit too long for such close encounters so I also used a 180mm Sigma macro lens for some shots. I post a few of the better images here. It would have been nice to get some flight or open wing shots but unfortunately I didn't manage to get any completely within the frame, still the incredible beauty of these eagles is captured in a few images that I am quite pleased with.
From the Bonellis Hide it was on to the Common Buzzard hide which provided an additional bonus of a pair of foraging Egyptian Mongooses which prowled around right in front of the hide. Both the buzzards and mongooses provided excellent photo opportunities and I post a few of the many good shots here..
Elena and I met Bob Wright at the Charca de Suarez for a final visit before Bob moves back to the UK. In the event there was not a great deal to see apart from all the usual species. I did take a few nice shots of this Green Sandpiper that flew into the shallow water in front of the wader hide, it didn't hang around long but did give me time to get some nice record shots.
One of the resident Kingfishers perched on the depth meter stake in the first hide, not close but good enough to catch the wonderful blue back feathers glowing in the sunlight.
Perhaps the most interesting wildlife sightings were not the birds but this nice green tree frog and a rather large grass snake which swam across the wader pond.
Friends Derek and Barbara Etherton kindly offered to help us try for the Wryneck they had been seeing on their local patch at Zapata recently. This is a bird I have wanted to photograph for a long time but which continues to elude me, I knew it was a slim chance but there is always good birds to see at this spot by the Guadalhorce River near Malaga Airport.
We duly met at the Zapata Arches & transferred into Derek's very comfortable car before setting off in search of the target bird. In the event it was heard but not seen, which is a shame but the Common Redstart and a Zitting Cisticola in very good light helped to make up for it.
There were of course many other birds around, including a resident Osprey, this low flying Buzzard, Night Herons and a few waders on the Rio, but no visible Wryneck, oh well that's birding.
After a cup of coffee and very nice tapas at a local cafe we went to the Rio Grande up past Cartama. It was very dry but we did find a nice patch of water further upstream with a good selection of birds including a solitary Black Stork, a Great Egret along with a Grey Heron and several Little Egrets. I tried to get all of them in one frame but the Great Egret would not play ball. Here is a photo of the others however which makes a nice scene.
I drove to Chipiona for a pelagic trip organised by Oxyura Birding, originally planned for Sunday 25th Sept. then changed to Sat 24th because the boat skipper was concerned about the weather on 25th. Anyway I waited until the last minute to book a hotel near the port in Chipiona and drove up on the Friday to be ready for an 8 am sail on Saturday. Then at 3 pm while I was birding in Brazo-del-Este on the way to Chipiona I had a message that the skipper has changed his mind again and switched back to Sunday. I said no, too late. The weather forecast seemed reasonable for both days to me and so it proved, a nice fairly calm morning on Saturday would have been fine. I suggest Manuel of Oxyura Birding finds a different boat with a more competent skipper.
As it happens all was not lost, for a start Brazo-del-Este had plenty of water and lots of birds to see, including this nice male Yellow-crowned Bishop, and friend and fellow birder Derek Etherton told me he, Barbara and Ricky Owen would look for the Terek Sandpiper on Saturday morning that had been seen recently by the bridge in Barbate, so I decided to join them there.
Brazo-del-Este had many hundreds, if not thousands of Glossy Ibis, large numbers of Spoonbill, numerous Wood Sandpipers, the usual White Storks, Night Herons, Green and Common Sandpipers, waders such as Black Tailed Godwit, Avocet, Little Ringed Plover, Black-winged Stilt, Dunlin, Sanderling, Little and Cattle Egrets, Ruff etc. but no Black Storks and I only saw a single Marsh Harrier, also Squacco Heron was conspicuous by its absence. I will not post endless photos of waders which gets quite boring, just a Wood Sandpiper which is not so common.
Small birds were interesting, as well as the Yellow-Crowned Bishop here is one of the many Whinchats, a Zitting Cisticola, a nice Northern Wheatear and one of the many Pied Flycatchers which have been abundant this Summer.
The bird below is a female Black-headed Weaver, not a great photo but I am always fascinated with the large staring eyes of this introduced species, which is breeding very successfully here along with other non native species such as waxbills and large flocks of Yellow-crowned Bishops.
An evening visit to the Charca de Suarez produced a nice photo of a Red Avadavat. These are escaped cagebirds, seed feeders that have established breeding flocks in Andalucia and are often seen here where there are long grasses and reeds providing a supply of food. They are in company with a lot of waxbills which have also successfully established themselves here.
There is a resident pair of Kingfishers which does the rounds of the various ponds. This one was some distance away but the photo is worth posting because of the good light.
Another species that has become resident is the Ferruginous Duck. There are at least six of this handsome species here, seemingly permanently.
I also captured a nice image of a Nightingale down at the Rio Velez. The site has been cleaned up by the authorities but the river is dry in the drought except for the brackinsh pools close to the beach,
Retired seafarer living in Frigiliana, a white village in Malaga Province in southern Spain. Married to Elena. Keen bird and wildlife watchers.
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