Our final day and Derek suggested we head down to the coast near Tarifa. This turned out to be a new and spectacular site for us and what a beautiful area it was, very green with stunning views of the coast and across to Morocco. The weather was mostly clear but with a few rain showers and we could clearly see Tangiers and Ceuta and all the ships traversing the narrow Straights of Gibraltar. I immediately started to pick up small birds in the shrubs, including this pleasing view of a Linnet. I like the colours and composition of this one.
And yes, there they were again, Subalpine Warblers, plenty of them flitting about in the low bushes. Having only ever had occasional sightings of this charming species we now had a surfeit, but that's birding and I was delighted to take more pictures.
We gradually started to pick up more species as the morning wore on. A few larger migrating birds started to come across. Black Kites, White Storks, Booted Eagle, Short-Toed Eagle and Griffon Vultures. There were several Little Owls around, this one looked quite comfortable perched in an air-vent on a ruined building. Turnstones on the rocks and Whimbrel flying inland and a diving Sandwich Tern entertained us.
An Osprey gave us all a thrill as it flew past very close, moving West along the coast, at one point driven off by the local Gulls did who not appreciate its presence.
By 1 pm hundreds of Black Kites, White Storks and Griffon Vultures filled the sky, the Storks and Vultures making use of the thermals to whirl around and gain height. Others we saw included Common and Lesser Kestrel. My final shot is a nice one of a Griffon Vulture that appeared over a nearby ridge and flew just over our heads. Spectacular.
By 2 pm we had had our fill and it was time to take our leave. Thanks to our birding friends for a super weekend in great company and with some super birds seen. In total we picked up over 100 species. We will be back.
On Saturday Morning we shared cars & collected tickets from the bird fair for an afternoon whale watching trip out of Tarifa. Then we went looking for Little Swifts at a known site for this uncommon species near Zahara. Here we had a Sparrow Hawk and a flight of Spoonbills amongst others before a solitary Swift appeared, too high to definitively say it was "Little". Although it did not look as powerful in flight as a common swift I will have to wait to add Little Swift to my life list.
After the Swift search we moved on to Barbate again where the same birds as on the previous day were all present. The Collared Pratincoles showed well on the same rocks, and Subalpine Warblers were once again quite numerous. We also picked up Stone Curlew on one of the islets but too distant for worthwhile photography.
We did add Calandra Lark to our list, the one below stayed on the grass as we drove slowly past, allowing a reasonable shot. Another possible sighting was Spectacled Warbler but it was a fleeting glimpse and could not be confirmed. However this had proved to be an extremely productive location that we all enjoyed and which provided quite a few additions to our trip list.
After Barbate it was back to Tarifa for the Whale Watching boat trip. This turned out to be a highly entertaining three hour experience for most people, with plenty of close sightings of Pilot Whales and Bottlenose Dolphins. Elena though was badly seasick and it was a miserable time for her, I was therefore unable to enjoy the wildlife as it pained me to see her suffering so badly. I did grab a few quick photographs of the marine mammals though and here they are for the record.
There were not too many pelagic bird species to be seen apart from the usual Gulls. A Gannet or two, this Cory's Shearwater and a distant flight of Puffins being the only other birds of note. A few people picked up Storm Petrel but I was otherwise engaged fetching sick bags for Elena.
After the boat I took Elena back to the hotel to recover while the others went off to La Janda. After seeing Elena was comfortable I to went for a look around La Janda where I added my first Bee-eater of 2016. I also picked up Black Shouldered Kite, Marsh Harrier, Glossy Ibis, Spoonbill, Great Egret, White Stork and last but by no means least, a Common Cuckoo by the main road. No chance for a photograph unfortunately.
All in all it had been a pretty good day, marred only by Elena's seasickness. We had been joined by our Canadian birder friends Judy and Giselle who had coincidentally checked into the hotel the previous night. I did take a lot of record photographs of a host of birds, but I prefer not to post too many repititions or poor quality records shots. I finish this day's report with a reasonable image of a Blue Headed Wagtail, one of so many we had seen at Barbate.
We had a superb weekend birding with Bob & Jenny and Derek & Barbara Etherton, all of us staying in a hotel just outside Tarifa. They had come to run the ABS stand at the local Bird Fair which did not seem to be too onerous as they had plenty of time for birding themselves. After meeting for breakfast at ten on Friday morning Derek suggested Barbate first as it was likely to be more productive than La Janda. He was quite right, the shallow lakes just outside the small seaside town had lots to offer.
As soon as we pulled up we could see a group of beautiful Collared Pratincoles standing on some rocks by the water's edge. Further out were Greater Flamingos and a variety of waders which from memory included Dunlin, Little Stint, Sanderling, Black Winged Stilt, Avocet, Kentish, Ringed and Grey Plover. All three Wagtail species were present and I was delighted to capture my first half decent shot of a Subalpine Warbler, a very attractive bird.
We were to see many more of these charming little warblers, there must have been a large influx and the sandy soil around this area creates the perfect habitat for this breeding species that winters in sub-Saharan Africa.
I was pleased to get some reasonable photographs of a Short-toed Lark as this species is normally quite skittish and hard to get. Small flocks of them were foraging in the grass and they were not spooked by the car as we passed slowly by.
This Corn Bunting profile shows that powerful and cleverly shaped bill, perfect for cracking seed kernels.
Speaking of specially adapted bills, a few Hoopoes were using theirs to probe for food in the soft sandy soil.......
....as were the Bald Ibis's that have been imported into this area as a conservation measure, which appears to be working fine as we saw quite a few in the fields around Barbate.
On Friday morning we made our way to Cabo de Gata for a monthly ABS field trip. We eventually joined around thirty other members for a few days birding in this unusual spot. With annual rainfall of about 156 mm and average temperatures in excess of 18°C Cabo de Gata is the only region of Europe with a truly desert climate. It is also the only mainland European location where one can regularly find the elusive Trumpeter Finch. Unfortunately this species continues to elude me despite numerous visits, but I continue to live in hope. The Common Kestrel below may be much less exciting but at least it makes a decent introductory image to the area, being conveniently perched on a Natural Park signpost.
Larks are the most abundant birds here. Crested Larks on the low sandy ground give way to Thekla Larks up the hill on the rocky ground around the lighthouse.The next two photos show the Crested Lark's longer bill and straight lower mandible. Theklas have shorter bills with a convex lower mandible.
I was not expecting to see Woodlark on this open area of sandy scrub behind the beach, no trees anywhere nearby. Other people were seeing lesser Short-toed Larks but when I posted this shot on Facebook as Lesser Short-toed, experts soon confirmed that it is definitely a Woodlark. One of the benefits of bird photography is being able to identify species after the event. In fact it's why I took it up in the first place.
Here are a few of the birds we picked up at las Norias and Roquetas de Mar on the way to Cabo de Gata, nothing outstanding but worth posting for the record.
I did manage to get a nice shot of a Black Wheatear on a wire at the highest point overlooking the beach at Cabo de Gata, The low sun created good light and imparted a slight rosy tint on the light cloud in the sky, helping to create a nice image.
Bird listers often routinely put down Rock Dove when what they have actually seen are feral pigeons, birds of indeterminate race. Here however there were plenty of the real McCoy, Rock Doves exactly as illustrated in Collins Guide. Very handsome birds they are too, especially when the sun catches their irridescent neck feathers.
Golden Plover were numerous in the semi-arid sandy terrain. Some people managed to see a few Dotterel in the site discovered by Mick Richardson a few years ago. They are regular visitors to the beach dunes area not far from the seaside resort of Retamar just a few kilometers outside Cabo de Gata. We stopped there on the way home and saw plenty of Golden Plover but "Dipped on the Dotterels". I do have shots of these elusive birds from a previous visit and resurrect one here for the record and to illustrate the differences.
Kentish Plovers love the dry sandy scrub type conditions around Cabo de Gata and there was no shortage of them today. This one was captured on a dune behind the beach close to the "river."
On Saturday we enjoyed the company of two Canadian birders Giselle and Judy as my 4 x 4 is the appropriate vehicle for this terrain. Giselle spotted a Little Owl roosting in one of the trees near the river while we were searching for Stone Curlew. We did in fact see Stone Curlew later on but it was fun scouring this large area of sandy trails in four wheel drive mode. I like pushing it hard and in fact as we dropped down onto the wet sand opposite the rivermouth at the beach I thought for a moment we would get stuck in the quicksand. I kept the power on though and we gradually inched our way forward towards dry sand and escape. It had been a close call.
Although the group's species total reached around eighty I think most people would agree that it had been quite hard work. Bird numbers seem to decline every year the drought goes on. Let us hope that next winter is a wet one, for all sorts of reasons not just for birding. The full list of species seen can be found on our leader Bob Wright's Axarquia Birding blog. I complete this blog with another shot of a Zitting Cisticola, yes I know it's as common as muck, but I like the shot so here it is.
I had some fun this morning watching the steady stream of customers enjoying the fare in Elena's Garden Restaurant. There is a variety of seeds on the menu, plus some delicious dried worms flown in from Germany. Pomegranate is another favourite delicacy, particularly popular with the Sardinian Warblers but Sparrows and Blackcaps enjoy it too.
Blackbirds are very partial to the dried worms but they will also snack on a few seeds and like to finish off with a drink of water each time, often kicking out the sparrows who are bathing & splashing around in it..
This old cock Sparrow looks like a finch with that big powerful bill. He is definitely a big seed eater but of course sparrows will eat virtually anything going. Sadly the young can only survive on an insect diet which is one reason why they have declined so rapidly in UK towns and cities. People these days pave over or deck their gardens, and spray insecticide on any surviving plants, inadvertently killing off the food that young sparrows require.
White Wagtails are always present. They like to walk around by the swimming pool, being naturally drawn towards water, but they also feed from the seed/worm tray. All our wagtails are of the Continental race Alba. For those who might be confused between this and the UK race Yarrellii I find the key is in the back colours, White wagtails have grey backs and Pied Wagtails black. The facial and other markings can be confusing, particularly with variations between summer and winter plumages.
Collared Doves like to come and check out all the activity. They occasionally take some seed spillage from the ground around the trays, but in general seem more interested in seeing what's going on rather than feeding.
So far I haven't been able to get a decent shot of the other visitors. Blackcaps are regulars on the pomegranate but I post some old shots of a couple in a neighboring house until I get a better shot. A Robin appears occasionally but never when I have the camera to hand, and Chiffchaffs put in an appearance from time to time, but not recently, perhaps they have already departed for Northern climes.
Got one finally, enjoying some pomegranate.