It was nice to see my first Whiskered Tern of the year wheeling and diving over the Laguneta behind the Visitor´s Centre.
After dropping Elena at the Airport on Friday to visit daughter & grandaughter in London I continued on to Fuente de Piedra. I heard the fringe pools around the Lagoon are full again after having been dry all year. Sure enough there was plenty of water but unfortunately the weather had turned nasty with a cold wind and heavy cloud cover. Crossing the boardwalk I noticed large numbers of small waders which I believe were mostly Little Stints but I spotted a few Temminks Stints in a separate group, also a party of Black-tailed Godwits, a few Ruffs, Avocet, Dunlin, Redshank, Greenshank, Ringed and L R Plover, Kentish Plover and of course the ubiquitous Flamingos.
Wildfowl included this handsome Gadwall, lots of Shoveler, Mallard, Pochard, Teal and one or two White Headed Ducks.
It was nice to see my first Whiskered Tern of the year wheeling and diving over the Laguneta behind the Visitor´s Centre.
Overall it was not the most exciting birding, being cold and quite dark. No sign here of passerines on migration yet, not even many hirundines. This time last year saw many more small birds arriving, hopefully things will pick up soon. Raptors included many Kestrels, a marsh harrier and a single Osprey passing over.
I did not stay long, the wind was picking up and I was not adequately dressed. Also the light was too poor for worthwhile photography, so having noted the easily spotted birds of interest I decided to head for home.
An earlyish start on Friday morning traveling down to Cabo de Gata in company with Bob Wright (Membership Secretary), Ellie Wallbeck (Treasurer), Gerry Collins & Pat & Eric Lyon for the March ABS Field Trip, led by Bob.
We called in at Las Norias/Roquetas de Mar on the way & here I picked up my main target bird for the trip, the elegant Slender-billed Gull. I hadn´t seen this species in two years so was delighted to see several of them on the lagoons at Roquetas, amongst many other species of course.
On our way into the main entrance to the marshes we unexpectedly came across a superb Tawny Pipit in clear view on a roadside bush. I dashed off a couple of shots but in my haste I forgot the camera was in auto exposure mode, perfect for the sky but not for the pipit. Here is the best I could do with the underexposed bird
Other interesting birds here included Glossy Ibis, Oyster Catcher, Great Crested Grebe, White Headed Duck, Red Crested Pochard, Garganey, Red-knobbed Coot, Purple Swamphen, Marsh Harrier and many more that I have probably forgotten. A full list can be seen on Bob´s excellent Axarquia Birder blog.
Sometimes birding is as notable more for what you don´t see than what you do. Today for example there was a singular lack of small birds about, none of the passerines one might expect on migration. No Woodchat Shrikes, no Warblers other than Sardinian, Buntings except Corn, Finches except Green, Tits except a couple of Greats. I didn´t see a single Stonechat all day, just one Black Redstart, a few Chiffchaffs and House Sparrows. Even hirundines were scarce even though the weather was warm and sunny. I believe the migration is late this year.
At Cabo de Gata we had a quick look along the River and checked a couple of hides on the Salinas before checking into our excellent Hotel Brisa Blanca. Elena and I were fortunate to catch sight of a Great Spotted Cuckoo in a tree near the river. On the Salinas the most abundant wader appeared to be Avocet, I stopped counting at fifty. Flamingos were also plentiful and a variety of waders included Little Stint and Oyster Catcher.
Next morning as Bob and Ellie were organising the ABS members at breakfast, Elena and I slipped away and added a few more species to our list from the previous day, including Golden Plover, Black-tailed Godwit, good sightings of Stone Curlew and some stunning Black Necked Grebes on the river, in full breeding plumage.
On the way out of Cabo de gata we called in at Torre Garcia where we had seen the Dotterel in January, but as expected they were gone. We did spot the first Southern Grey Shrike of the trip here however.
It had been a good couple of days birding but I look forward to returning here perhaps when there is more evidence of the Spring migration. A few more small birds would be very welcome.
On Wednesday this week I looked for a new butterfly for my life list, the Green Hairstreak. Friend and fellow photographer Allen Hartley had found them near his house by the Rio-de-la-Miel, and sure enough I located them flying low and settling on ground plants. It is always nice to find a new species, especially when it provides good opportunities for photography, unlike the Cleopatras and Moroccan Orange Tips that were flying around the location but never settling. I hope to try again later for those two.
Thursday was a mucky day with low cloud over the hills & not much brighter along the coast. However thirteen determined Axarquia birders met at the Rio Velez for the March outing. Plenty of birds about but nothing really exciting, and with poor light I was not expecting any good photography.
However I did snap a passing Cormorant and a close look at the photos revealed something really disgusting eating its way either in or out of the bird´s neck. I have never seen anything like this before but it does look like some kind of creature that had perhaps been swallowed and was eating its way out. Ugh.
No sign of the Garganey today but waders included Redshank, Dunlin, Kentish and Little Ringed Plover, plus a sizeable flock of Sanderling and of course a few Black-winged Stilt. A full list of all 55 birds spotted today can be seen in Bob Wrights excellent Axarquia Birder blog, I will just mention a few more notable species here such as the Raven and a solitary Snipe.
From the Rio six of us drove up to the picnic site above Alcaucin, which provided more interesting photographic opportunities. This Nuthatch for example sat on a wooden fence just a few meters away from me allowing some good close-up shots, which even in the dim light conditions came out rather well.
A Great Spotted Woodpecker entertained us as it probed the trunk of a dead tree, presumably looking for grubs or insect food.
Meanwhile a Rock Bunting and a Crested Tit taking a bath together kept us all enthralled for five minutes or so. Unfortunately the light was not good enough for really clear shots but the novelty effect of two such diverse bird species bathing together makes it worth posting.
Ellie Wallbeck was intrigued to see a resident Squirrel come down to take a drink from the water channel. Apparently they are not so common around her "neck of the woods", in Marbella.
Other birds sighted include Crossbill, Short-toed Treecreeper, Great and Blue Tits, Chaffinch, Robin, Red-billed Chough and a pair of Wood Pigeon roosting om a rocky crag in the distance. This shot gives an idea of the magnificent landscape here in the wooded foothills of Mount Maromar. To complete this blog entry I think another look at the delightful Nuthatch would be worthwhile.
A lovely sunny Sunday so Elena and I set off for a spot of birding. First stop the Rio Velez and as usual it threw up a very pleasant surprise. First however I shot this American Yellow-bellied Slider & his pal, taking the sun and gazing up at the sky, plane spotting no doubt.
Most of the usual birds were there today including Ringed, Little Ringed and Kentish Plover, Black-winged Stilt, Little & Cattle Egrets, Grey Heron, Sanderling, Water Pipit, Cettis, Zits, Robin, Monks blah blah, yes you know them all. But! what was this beauty I stumbled upon as I crept round the reedbed? Wow, a stunning Garganey. This has to be the most beautiful Duck. Not gaudy but perfect symmetry with wonderfully textured and patterned plumage. Superb.
After that everything else seemed rather mundane although the wheeling and circling display by a large flock of Sanderling was quite spectacular. Also the sheer number of Yellow Wagtails scurrying around the mudbanks made a pretty picture.
From Velez we drove up to Zafarraya for a look up the old railway track. Not much to report from here except the Red-billed Choughs gambolling around the cliffs, and a pair of Crag Martins flying through the tunnel & resting in a crack in the rock face. As usual we were observed by a small group of young Ibex who seemed quite frisky today, no doubt enjoying the spell of good weather.
A quick walk around the Guadalhorce today as we were in Malaga anyway for Elena to take her driving theory test again, (this time she passed).
The first bird we noticed from the main hide was a one-legged Oystercatcher. Birds often stand on one leg, for example the Avocet in the picture, but the Oystercatcher was hopping on it too, so the other leg is missing or not working. The Avocet was one of a pair sharing the little island with the Oystercatcher, some Shovelers and best of all a nice little Wood Sandpiper.
As we watched a Redshank flew in, giving us a good chance to compare size and colouring with the smaller Wood Sandpiper
I know I have said this often but I am shocked at how few birds there are at the Guadalhorce now compered with two years ago. I would say numbers are down by more than 50%, & that is a conservative estimate. Why? I don´t know, lack of food - possibly, excessive human disturbance - definitely, too many cyclists, joggers and dog walkers. Aircraft noise could be a factor but that has not changed, they are no closer than they ever were.
Although it was a calm, almost windless day there were quite large rollers pounding the beach, what little was left of it. The sea was almost up to the fence, so close in fact that it was difficult to walk along, being necessary to hug the fence in places. I guess that recent prolonged westerly winds have created a surge and the sea level had risen locally. It was causing some devastation as much of the sand appeared to have been washed away. In fact these Turnstones had to roost on a log to avoid the waves. More birds on one leg!
The only other birds in sight on the beach were a flock of fifteen or so Sanderlings, scurrying around on what little sandy foreshore was left.
Strangely there was not a single Gull anywhere in sight. perhaps they have all gone out to sea looking for food after all the storms have finally abated.
On a final, sad note, we were visited by a Barn Swallow that wanted to land close by in our direct path. I took some close up photos and I suspect this was a rather sick bird. The eyes look quite opaque and although it could fly well enough it looked tired and listless. I fear it might not be long for this world.
Awoke early this morning to the sound of the Blue Rock Thrush singing on our terrace wall. We were leaving early for a day´s birding with friend and professional guide Mick Richardson on his local patch near Loja.
And what a cracking day it was. Lots of Azure-winged Magpies along the picturesque road between Zafarraya and Loja. Then after a welcome cup of coffee with Mick we scoured the fields around his village, Huetor Tajar. Before long I had a lifer, a pair of Jack Snipe which we put up from an irrigation ditch, along with a few Common Snipe and a Green Sandpiper. A Bluethroat as well made it a very good start and an omen of things to come. These birds were too quick for us to get any decent shots though.
Mick had been pleased to find a flock of Common Waxbill a few days earlier, and they were still here. Not a species one would expect so far inland and at a higher altitude than on the coast where we normally find these birds. Nice to see though.
In the event we chose to go for the Cuckoo which flew deeper into the woods, so this is a shot from excellent views we had later of a pair that settled in a tree right next to the car, bonanza! We did get a couple of distance shots of the Little Bustard for the record though. One of two observed during the morning.
Shortly afterwards we stopped to look for Black-Bellied Sandgrouse, but in the event we were to be unsuccessful with them but I was not too disappointed as we were treated to good views of a pair of Stone Curlew, and I picked up a new butterfly for my life list, a Provence Hairstreak, an attractive ground-hugging species that settled nicely for us to get some good close-up shots.
From Huetor Tajar we proceeded to drive up the picturesque Cacin Valley which is always a pleasure. We were primarily looking for large raptors as this is usually an outstanding location for them, today was relatively quiet from that aspect, but we did have superb views of a female Bonellis Eagle, a few Common Buzzards were about and Marsh Harriers were quartering the marshes. Later we came across a colony of Lesser Kestrels, one of my personal favourites.
Birds of the day must go to the pair of Great Spotted Cuckoos that flew into a tree close to our car giving good photo opportunities. We were also treated to them calling loudly, a sound Mick described as being like a "demented Green Woodpecker". Now anyone who has heard both would agree that´s a perfect description.
Thanks to Mick for another fantastic day out. So many birds seen including Jack and Common Snipe, Azure-winged Magpie, Green Sandpiper, Bluethroat, Little Bustard, Stone Curlew, Common & Lesser Kestrel, Buzzard, Bonellis Eagle, Marsh Harrier, Great Spotted Cuckoo, Green Woodpecker (Heard), Pochard, Teal, Shoveler, Cirl Bunting, Song Thrush, Southern Grey Shrike, Crested - Thekla - Calandra and Skylarks, Linnet, Wren, definitely heard an Iberian Chiffchaff (Mick pointed out the different call), and a host of common species I will not list.
Butterflies seen include Provence Hairstreak, Cleopatra, Small Tortoiseshell, Western Dappled White, Swallowtail and Bath White, plus the usual Small & Large Whites.