On Wednesday I decided to go back to the Charca to see what we had missed the previous day when we found it unexpectedly closed. Well the answer was - very little! I don't recall ever seeing so few birds there before and chatting with Manu the Warden he confirmed that it has been a bad year. Anyway before going into the Reserve at its opening time of 18:30 we checked the picnic site on the Rio Guadalfeo where I had spotted the nesting Dippers on the previous day.
We were shocked to find the place was reminiscent of Skegness beach on a hot Summer's day. The kiosk was open selling ice creams and alchoholic drinks. People in party mode had ghetto blasters blaring, the river held dogs, bathers, even a chap operating a radio controlled speedboat! I immediately thought that this would have driven away every bird for miles around, but to my surprise and delight, there were the Dippers going about their business as if nothing was going on around them. In fact they had become so used to the disturbance that they didn't seem to notice me wading out into mid stream to get some decent close-up images. I was just another punter to be ignored!
I quite like the image below as it shows the white eyelid that these birds flash to each other as a means of communication, particularly during courtship. Their bobbing and dipping that gave them the name is also used as a means of communication, it certainly makes them easy to spot.
I gave up trying to get a decent shot of the calling Golden Orioles high up in the eucalyptus trees, We could see them moving around from time to time and I did manage to capture one very poor image (below) but getting anything worthwhile was really a hopeless task.
I did capture a decent image of a Common Pochard in the Charca, and Turtle Doves were calling gently so I photographed one in good light.
As usual at this time of year Spotted Flycatchers were everywhere, foraying out from their conspicuous perches to live up to their name.
Here are "Two that got away". The Golden Oriole I mentioned earlier, and a Little Bittern in the Charca, capturing a very large frog. Although 90% obscured by long grass but it was right in front of us and was very exciting to watch. Eventually the Bittern took off with its large prize and flew off out of sight across the pond.
Just past the Little owl in Turtle Dove Alley we came across considerable numbers of Monarch Butterflies. It is always a pleasure to see these big colourful insects.
Last entry in this post is that of a Goose I spotted on an isolated stretch of the Rio Guadalfeo. Now I now it must be a hybrid of some sort, probably wandered away from a captive situation somewhere, but we get very few geese of any kind in Andalucia, and this one living on a wild stretch of river seemed worthy of note, so here it is.
I had a request from a friend to show a visiting birdwatcher some of the local birding sites, so I picked Gerry (Bennett) up in Nerja for a look at the Charca de Suarez on Friday evening. As luck would have it it was closed for some obscure Saint's Day (Another one) so we fell back on plan B which was a look at the riverside picnic site close to Velez de Benaudalla.
Our usual approach to the Charca along "Turtle Dove Alley" revealed the resident Little Owl sat atop an old farm building where he had been seen quite often lately. He was very obliging and remained in place as we stopped to admire and take a few photos.
At the picnic site we were delighted to find a pair of Dippers nesting behind a waterfall which cascades down on the opposite bank. This is in fact a very picturesque riverside setting and while watching the Dippers we could hear Golden Orioles calling from the tall Eucalyptus trees and Nightingales singing in the bushes around us. I spotted this charming Melodious Warbler on a branch overhanging the river, Spotted Flycatchers made regular sorties after the abundant insect life, and both Pied and Grey Wagtails were busy foraging along the banks. It was an idyllic way to spend a warm Summer's evening and it more than made up for the disappointment of the Charca.
The following day we took Gerry and Mary-Ann Murphy with us up to El Torcal for the May Field trip of the ABS. Although it did not show up vary many birds it was well worth it for the wonderful views and the verdant Spring countryside, green and full of wild flowers following a previous week of heavy rainfall.
Melodious Warblers were extremely numerous up here but we also spotted Subalpine, Sardinian, Blackcap and a solitary Spectacled Warbler, photographed by one lucky member. There were many other species to be seen of course, Griffon Vulture, Kestrel, Honey Buzzard, Red Billed Chough, Nightingale, Rock, Corn and Cirl Bunting and Wren are a few that come to mind.
This place is a sanctuary for Spanish Ibex, I do not believe hunting is permitted, so there were many to be seen, all quite used to people wandering around and so easy to photograph. All in all it had been a very pleasant day spent in good company in a spectacular environment even if bird numbers had been a little disappointing.
We picked the wrong week to go to Extremadura, persistent rain, sometimes heavy made birding difficult. The country around Trujillo is completely waterlogged. No insects are flying in this cold and wet, we didn't see a single butterfly or dragonfly which is an indication of just how dire the food situation is for insectivores. I don't know what they do during these periods when there are simply no grasshoppers, bees or insects to feed upon but they are not out and about visible to birdwatchers like ourselves.
I shouldn't complain. I have been bemoaning how the drought has affected the food chain and bird numbers, so eventually the rain will bring better birding times. It's just a pity that it all comes at once and just when we had time to get out there. A brief stop at Fuente de Piedra on the way revealed that the recent Marsh Terns are all gone, driven away perhaps by the adverse weather as there would be precious few insects to hawk right now. The rain didn't seem to bother this delightful Reed Warbler though, he was up in the reeds singing for a mate in full view.
A few Bee-eaters provided a splash of colour in the otherwise grey gloom. I wonder just how they manage during these periods, there are certainly no bees about anyway.
Wednesday Morning did at least provide a few rain free hours. We were able to watch a distant Little Bustard from our breakfast table and to view the White Storks nesting in the grounds of our country hotel. This Black Kite seemed very interested in the young chicks in the nest, but they were always well guarded by the ever watchful adult Storks.
From the road through the steppes to the west of Trujillo we came across a number of ring tailed harriers quartering the wide open spaces. I joined a couple of Danish photographers who were ensconced in the long grass complete with full camouflage, big tripod mounted lenses and a blue-tooth playback speaker placed to attract birds into areas of good light. They lent me some camouflage and I got down into the grass with them and took a few shots with my puny little 400mm f5.6.
Quite pleased with a couple of these female shots though which look very much like Hen Harrier to me, being very broad winged with five fingered primaries and marking patterns like the illustrations as for Hen Harrier in Collins Guide.
Most if not all the male birds I could see however were Montagu's, having that black stripe across the upper wing and just four fingered primary projections, all a bit confusing so I will ask for other opinions on the female.
As the morning wore on the cloud cover became heavy and the rain started to come down again. This young Griffon Vulture sat by the roadside looking thoroughly cheesed off, it was cold and wet and didn't bother flying off as we stopped within a few meters & took a couple of photos.
The rows of nest boxes along the C-99 would normally be full of nesting Rollers and Kestrels at this time of year. Now however we saw only a single pair of Kestrels in situ, this one with feathers puffed out for warmth....
.. and Rollers were not wasting time nesting, they know it was too cold and wet with insufficient food to be rearing young just yet. In fact we only saw two rollers in total, both sitting quite still and looking miserable.
One opportunistic pair of Jackdaws were at least giving it a go, this one with what looks like a beakful of goat hair to line the nest.
Later that afternoon, before the rain became too heavy we drove over to the Salto del Gitano opposite the Penafalcon at Monfrague. Apart from the usual Griffon Vultures and a Black Stork on the nest there was not much to be seen. We met Dave Elliot-Binns here with a couple of his birding pals. They sounded a bit downbeat about the weather too having tried for the White Winged & other Marsh Terns at Fuente on the way here, but with no success.
I did snap a couple of small birds in the trees below the Mirador, this Blue Tit looks attractive on a grey canvas with pale green lichen on the branches, and the Rock Bunting below makes a nice image with the copper coloured leaves on the dead tree.
The Griffon Vulture below was not letting the bad weather stop him from advertising for a mate by flourishing some nesting material
Instead of driving onwards to look for the Spanish Imperial Eagles nest near the Dam, we decided to go back to the small town nearby where we enjoyed an excellent menu-del-dia.
Then a final sweep through the wet dehesa which was well suited to species like the Spanish Pond Turtle, seen here crossing the road where there were no ponds nearby, only waterlogged ground. Later we did find a few Great Bustards, and a nice male Little Bustard, Spanish Sparrows and Calandra Larks were seen frequently and bird of the day was probably the Red Necked Nightjar, caught in the headlights as it sat in the road that evening.
I do not usually list all the species seen, it is too repetitive a practice for my liking. But I list below the more notable ones that I can remember. We cut short our trip by leaving for home on Thursday morning instead of Friday, rain and bad light had stopped play. The last shot is appropriately of a Corn Bunting which was without doubt the most numerous species of all on this trip.
Great and Little Bustard, Montagu's, Hen and Marsh Harrier, Short-toed and Booted Eagle, Buzzard, Common & Lesser Kestrel, Peregrine Falcon, Black Kite, Griffon & Black Vulture, White & Black Stork, Red Necked Nightjar, Golden Oriole, Roller, Bee-eater, Hoopoe, Calandra, Crested, Thekla and Short-toed Lark, Redshank, Greenshank, Ruff, Little Stint, Avocet, Flamingo, Yellow-legged & Black Headed Gull, Spanish & House Sparrow, Grey and Woodchat Shrike, Common and Azure Winged Magpie, Corn and Rock Bunting, Linnet, Blue and Great Tit, Greenfinch, Chaffinch, Goldcrest, Serin, Gull Billed Tern, Cettis, Reed and Great Reed Warbler, Common & Curlew Sandpiper, Ringed Plover, Black Winged Stilt, Mallard, Common & Red Crested Pochard, Great Crested & Little Grebe, Teal, Gadwall, White Headed Duck, Coot, Moorhen, Grey Heron, Cattle & Little Egret, Shelduck, Barn & Red Rumped Swallow, Common & Pallid Swift, Crag & House Martin, Spotless Starling, Jackdaw, Raven, Blackbird, Stonechat, Black Redstart, Zitting Cisticola, Grey Wagtail, White Wagtail, Spotted Flycatcher, Nightingale, Sardinian Warbler, Wood Pigeon, Collared Dove, ....to be continued
Having been busy with family visitors recently it was nice to be able to get out birding once again as I was going "Cold turkey". So, on a wet and rainy Saturday we headed over to Fuente de Piedra where Mick Richardson and others had reported seeing a White Winged Tern, which would be a lifer for me.
At first I was concerned that we may have missed out as it was not over the flooded field where everyone had reported seeing it. However as we walked across the boardwalk beyond the Visitors Centre Elena spotted it flying overhead back towards the entrance.
For the next hour or so it quartered the wetland just to the left of the access road. I think it is a very attractive member of the Tern family. Not as elegant or delicate as some but the contrasting black and white plumage more than makes up for it.
I became concerned that for all its wheeling and swooping it never entered the water or caught any fish. Then it dawned on me that of course all "Marsh" Terns feed mainly upon insects which they either hawk from the air or dip down to pluck from the surface of the water.
As well as the solitary White Winged Tern there were plenty of Whiskered and some Gull Billed Terns around.
It was interesting to distinguish the species in winter plumage, many of them 1st winter birds, lacking any real distinguishing features of adults in Summer plumage. I think the majority were Whiskered. Although lacking the dark grey colouring of an adult bird in Summer there was evidence of breast-side dark patches and other features that indicate whiskered.
The next photo is of a very similar bird which has a relatively small bill, the black patch behind the eye extends around the neck and there appears to be a slight breast side grey patch, all features of Whiskered not gull Billed, and is there just a hint of red in those legs? I don't know but if I had to put money on it I would say Whiskered Tern.
There were of course plenty of other species to be seen. I am not a lister so won't recall every species but post a few shots of some. The Curlew Sandpipers were particularly attractive in transitional moult, still having plenty of russet, almost brick red plumage.
Avocets are very common in Andalucia and so tend to get overlooked by Spanish birders, but there is no denying that they are one of the most elegent of waders. I remember the fuss and excitement generated when Avocets first returned to breed at Halvergate Island in Suffolk back in the eighties. In fact I spent a blissful night anchored by that island in a little sailing boat back then and being thrilled to see these charming birds for the first time.
Other birds spotted include Ruff, Shelduck, Squacco Herons, Wood and Common Sandpiper, Marsh Harrier, a single Whinchat, Common and Red Crested Pochard, White Headed Duck and of course many Greater Flamingos, which look best in flight I think.
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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