First Wheatear (female) - oenanthe oenanthe
Our House Martin nests are fully occupied, male birds are coming and going constantly to keep the females fed in the nests. Swallows and swifts are back. This week I heard bee-eaters for the first time, saw my first Northern Wheatear this morning and a Common Redstart yesterday. A pair of Short-toed Eagles have been circling our location for a couple of weeks now and Booted Eagles are regular visitors. We have seen Dunnocks below our terrace and a friend photographed this Subalpine Warbler this week. So why am I feeling that spring has not quite sprung yet, at least in birding terms? Well there are just not the numbers of birds around that one would expect in late March. The countryside should be ringing with birdsong, we should be seeing more waders and herons, little brown jobs are generally scarce and apart from an abundance of Woodchat Shrikes there is very little new bird activity to report. It must be the weather. Rain, wind, cooler seasonal temperatures and more cloud cover than usual has perhaps kept them away. Hopefully once Easter is over and done with the weather will improve and the birds will be back in abundance. Fingers crossed.
Blue Rock Thrush - monticola solitarius
A sunny day for a change and we awoke to the beautiful song of the Blue Rock Thrush, one of a resident pair that serenades us every Spring. Our urbanisation is built along a ridge overlooking a valley that sweeps down towards the sea, and many of the houses remain unoccupied for months at a time, so they provide an attractive "Rock face" for this species to live and breed.
This morning I took a walk along the riverbed in nearby Torrox Costa, looking for Dartford Warblers which a friend David Jefferson had been photographing there recently. Unfortunately I did not see any today but will try again soon,. There were however quite a few Woodchat Shrikes around which somewhat made up for the lack of Dartfords. Throw in a Sardinian Warbler or two and it was not so bad after all.
Yellow Wagtail male - motacilla flava
A lovely sunny day this Thursday, lucky for us eight members of the Axarquia Bird Group who met at the Rio Velez for a day´s birding. The Rio was a raging torrent, obviously water was being released from Lake Vinuela after the recent heavy rain and it was rushing out to sea through Torre-del-Mar.
We did pick up 29 species at this site which was not a bad total given that there was very little mud flat for waders and much of the cover for small species had been swept away. A pair of Yellow Wagtails were foraging in the muddy pools that were once the main footpath to the beach. This one with the obligatory "Bling" on its leg, all done in the name of science of course!
Cettis Warbler - cettia cetti
As usual the Cettis Warblers were more evident from their song than their sightings, but this one did show well and it made a nice picture, perched on the weather damaged canes near the beach.
There were plenty of late Chiffchaffs about and they are always very obliging photo models. Other little brown jobs included numerous Zitting Cisticolas and a Robin or two. Plenty of Blackbirds, a few Greenfinches, Crested larks and Meadow Pipits were seen along with the usual Goldfinches and Serins. A few Black Redstarts were present but I only saw one Stonechat. Barn Swallows, House and Crag Martins were all quite numerous. Starlings on the wires and a Woodchat Shrike gave good views.
There were a few Cormorants drying their wings in the sun but I photographed this one in the sea close inshore because he had a very colourful head with blue eyes and the neck tinged with grey. The yellow patch below the eye is bare skin.
Great Spotted Woodpecker - dendrocopos major
Other water birds included small groups of Sanderling, a Little Egret and various gulls including at least one Audouins.
From here we headed up to the picnic site above Alcaucin to look for woodland species, and almost immediately "spotted" a pair of Great Spotted Woodpeckers in the trees around the car park. At the same time the raucous yaffling call of a Green Woodpecker was clearly heard but this particular bird kept out of sight.
A high flying raptor kept us all "rapt" with it´s presence and in fact once the record shots were scrutinised it was confirmed as being a Golden Eagle, possibly bird of the day?
The trees in this attractive location always harbor Nuthatches and Crossbills and although neither were present in great numbers today we were not disappointed.
My favourite photographs of the day were of a humble Great Tit, which seemed unperturbed by my presence nearby. This is a particularly colourful and handsome specimen, probably a male in full breeding plumage. Whatever the case it made for an excellent photographic study with hints of yellow, blue and slate grey.
Siskin - carduelis spinus
After this things started hotting up. I stood directly under a Firecrest but only managed useless close-up shots of its bottom. I did manage some record shots of a Long-tailed Tit, and then I fired off a quick snapshot of a little bird in the same tree. I thought it might be a goldfinch but there was something different about it, and some time later I came across the photo and can see that it was in fact a Siskin! A Spanish lifer for me and quite a surprise.
We moved on from this location and wound our way on a circular route back to Zafarraya for lunch, after which we walked along the old railway track to observe the resident Red-Billed Choughs around the rock face, spotting also a pair of Peregrine Falcons and then adding more birds to our list with Black Wheatear, Blue Rock Thrush and Crag Martin.
Our initial count for the day was 61 species recorded by the group, since then however we can add the Siskin, to make a grand total of 62. Not a bad day´s birding. The full list can be seen on Bob´s (The Axarquia Birder) blog.
Short-toed Eagle - circaetus gallicus
On the way to visit my son Tom at the Pilot Training Academy in Jerez we made a quick stop at the migration watch point near Tarifa, and sure enough there was a steady stream of raptors passing high overhead. Mostly Short-toed Eagles with a scattering of Booted Eagles mixed in. Griffon Vultures were also quite numerous and others I could not be sure of as they were too high to pick out distinguishing features.
Blackcap female - sylvia atricapilla
On Monday a break in the almost perpetual wet weather allowed Tom to fly both morning and afternoon, so we made the most of the sunshine and after a fascinating trip to the famous Tio Pepe Bodega, took a walk around the Laguna Medina. This was once an important wildfowl and wader reserve until it somehow became populated by carp. The fish ate the water plants that wildfowl feed on to the extent that there are virtually no ducks there at all any more. In fact we spotted a pair of Shoveler, half a dozen Great Crested Grebes, one Moorhen and a solitary Coot, That was it, apart from a few hundred black-headed Gulls which were roosting on the water. A few years ago it would have teemed with wildfowl including Red Knobbed Coot, but no longer. The situation was seemingly exacerbated by the carp dying in numbers as the food supply dwindled, so polluting the water.
The fringes of the lake did provide a habitat for Blackcaps however which were very numerous, along with many Stonechats and a few Shrikes, both Woodchat and Iberian Grey varieties.
Spanish Festoon - zerynthia rumina
I noticed a lot of Spanish Festoon butterflies out again today, it has been a very good spring for this species which obviously are not adversely affected by wet conditions. I recall that in England during the wet summer last year there were more Ringlets about than any other species. No matter what the weather it always suits one or more species of wildlife. However today´s brief sunny respite brought out the Corn Buntings and the air was filled with the trill sound of their song, and there were plenty of Red-legged Partridges to be seen looking particularly plump and well fed.
I am slowly recovering from a bout of gastric flu or something equally evil, but having finally received my camera from the repair service in Madrid today I could not resist a short walk along the Rio Velez to test it out.
Little Egret on the rocks - egretta garzetta
Parking under the old bridge was impossible as it had become a lake in all the recent rains. In fact the Rio itself was high and rapid as this photo of a Little Egret standing on a natural weir just below the bridge will testify. Those who know this site will appreciate from this photo just how much stronger the flow is than usual.
Hoopoe - upupa epops
Further downstream the devastation caused by high winds and rain became evident. Most of the cane stands and riverside meadows were gone, replaced by expanses of mud and debris swept down with the torrent. I managed to capture this Hoopoe standing on a dry patch, probably wondering what had happened to its natural green habitat.
Crag Martin - ptyonoprogne rupestris
Upon reaching the beach it was clear that storms had caused flooding of the adjacent growing fields, so a drainage dyke and a six foot high protective barrier of soil had been built up to prevent further damage. There were quite a few hirundines about, barn swallows, House Martins and I noted several Crag Martins scouring the top and sides of the soil ridge chasing flying insects. They are one of the most difficult birds to capture in flight but I had a few attempts and this is the best of a bad bunch
Fishing Boat & entourage coming home
The swollen state of the river meant there were very few birds to be seen. Cettis Warbler, Zitting Cisticola and Serin were around along with a few Crested Larks, but apart from the egret there were no waders at all barring a few small flocks of Sanderling flying out over the sea. Not a solitary duck in sight and just a few Moorhens had stayed on after the rains. The weather has not been good for birds or birding. Plenty of Gulls about however, many attracted by the returning fishing boats approaching Caletta Harbour. The gulls were mainly Mediterranean with their full black hoods, plus Yellow Legged, Lesser Black-backed and Black Headed varieties.
Goldfinch - carduelis carduelis
The only interesting sighting of the day was the unexpected Dartford Warbler flitting around the drainage ditches in the growing fields. Too quick and brief for a photograph so I had to content myself with this shot of a Goldfinch sitting on a pole studying his toenails.
Wednesday walking again starting from Salares, a pretty white village in the foothills of Mt. Maromar, the highest peak in the Axarquia at over 2000 metres.
We left the village over a delightful stone bridge across the Rio Salares, the trail led past an orange grove and then up a steep hill, taking us up 500 metres at an average gradient of 1 in 6. Very good exercise.
Elena at the top of the hill
Elena was first to reach the top of the climb so I snapped her against the blue sky as the rest of the group were arriving.
Once there I prevailed upon them all to pose for a group shot with the snowy peak of Maromar in the background.
Sedella from above
The views of Maroamar and the surrounding foothills were spectacular. here is a glimpse of a small village below, probably Sedella.
The photographs on this walk were taken with a small camera as my primary Canon was out of order. In fact there are no further blog entries for a couple of weeks while the camera was away being repaired in Madrid, and coincidentally I was preoccupied, firstly preparing to exhibit some photos in the exhibition centre in Nerja, and then recovering from a bout of food poisoning or gastro-enteritis. This resulted in a lengthy pause between blogs updates.