A trip up to the Loja area to see Mick Richardson in a quest to find those elusive Black Bellied Sandgrouse was interesting to say the least. I picked Bob Wright up on the way and although we did spot a few nice birds as you can see, we dipped yet again on the Sandgrouse. It is becoming one of my nemesis birds.
There was no shortage of Tawny Pipits and Northern Wheatear in this dry but cultivated landscape. Mick's resident Little Owls were in situ in some old farm buildings but ongoing agricultural ground preparation meant we could not get as close as he usually does.
Bob had been particularly keen to see a Whinchat for his monthly list and when we spotted one I moved through the dry scrub in four wheel drive trying to get a closer look. Alas in the process a piece of twig from a bush we scraped past broke off, shot in through the open window past Elena on that side, and struck Bob in the eye. I think I realised quite quickly that it was quite serious and we got him to a medical centre. The final upshot is that Bob will need a new lens in that eye as it seems to have caused a cataract. Good luck Bob.
One thing worthy of note here is that on the way back Mick spotted some Desert Orange Tip butterflies. This is a new species for me. It is always found in the vicinity of wild caper plants and although we didn't get any photos this time Mick did get some excellent shots when he returned later, they can be seen on his blog Loja Wildlife. I will try again next year.
The next day I had a look at what the Charca de Suarez had to offer and managed a few nice shots of a pair of Common Snipe. I found it interesting that a solitary Dunlin was shadowing them closely. I have noticed that this bird does not like to be alone, they will seek the company of other waders, such as Sanderling or Curlew sandpiper if there are none of their own about.
A few days later Bob & I met Mick again at Zapata, a delightful spot on the Rio Guadalhorce upstream from the estuary. Mick had spotted a Grasshopper Warbler just before we arrived but unfortunately for me it didn't re-appear, it would have been a lifer. We were amused by several waders including a very nice pair of Greenshank, and some Little Ringed Plovers. Kingfishers were flying back and forth across the river, an osprey was observed heading for the estuary and it was a pleasant place to spend a couple of hours.
Good birding was becoming increasingly difficult locally as the landscape has become so dried up in the plolonged drought. Very little rain now for a few years and it has been a long hot Summer with no end in sight. I trip up to Alcaucin picnic area produced just one poor shot of a Nuthatch although we did see Firecrest, Crossbill and Long Tailed Tit, all too fleeting for photography. I look forward to going a bit farther afield in the quest to see more and better birds.
After a week with family visitors we decided on another quick break in the Tarifa/La Janda area during the migration period. We stayed in a hostal on the edge of Vejer de la Frontera which is a beautiful hill town, great for a night out after a hard day's birding.
I start with perhaps the best photograph of the trip, a stunning Osprey that was sat on a pylon by the road through La Janda, and who should be sat in the car right beneath it? Ricky Owen. I recognized his big lens poking out through the driver's window. I pulled up right behind him and took a few shots myself. It is not often we get a close-up opportunity like this and the result speaks for itself. What a great bird.
On the way here we had stopped at a favourite migration watchpoint near Tarifa to see some of the raptors crossing the Straits on route to their wintering grounds in Africa. The most prolific species was the Booted Eagle, lots of them. One of the smallest of eagles without the long wings and powerful flight of the larger species I think they need very favorable winds to cross the Straits, so we were treated to the spectacle of lots of them swirling low around the coast waiting for the right conditions. Similarly the only slightly larger Short-toed Eagles were doing the same thing, giving me good photo opportunities.
There were a few late Honey Buzzards whose flight appeared to be more direct, they just crossed the sky on their way to Morrocco, more powerful in flight perhaps than the small eagles.
I had been here two weeks previously and then there were lots of Egyptian Vultures. This time I only saw one but fortunately it passed quite close by, enabling a photo. I believe all the Griffon Vultures and the larger Eagles were very high in the sky, not within camera range for sure.
The shots above shows how relatively large and powerful the Honey Buzzard's wings are in comparison to the Booted Eagle below right. The young Short-toed Eagle (left) has quite large wings but it does not seem quite so flexible and powerful in flight as the Honey Buzzard, although they are well known for their ability to hover when searching the ground for snakes.
The young Eagle above brings to mind how many young birds can be seen at this time of year. The juvenile Woodchat Shrike below was very easy to photograph on a fence near the marshes at Barbate. Perhaps it has not yet learned to be so wary as its parents.
Similarly the Northern Wheatear below was quite happy to sit on the fence as we passed by in the car. I think this is a young bird purely because of its small size.
When I first spotted the little wader below I thought Kentish Plover, on closer inspection however I see it is a juvenile Little Ringed Plover, it's just started to get some yellow specks on the orbital ring.
The Whimbrel below was conveniently grazing in front of the hide at Los Lances beach. There were plenty of waders to be seen here but all too far away for photography. I will not list them all but was pleased to note the presence of what I believe were some Red Knot in amongst the Dunlin, Curlew Sandpiper, Sanderling, Black Tailed Godwit and Oystercatchers on the beach. A solitary juvenile Flamingo attracted the attention of some of the beachgoers who were by now becoming quite numerous, so we headed off to get some lunch then head for home as it was too late in the day here to see much else.
Finally another look at the Osprey who gave us such a thrill in La Janda. A cracking bird.
A flying and unexpected visit to the Tarifa area, staying in Barbate overnight in place of Bob Wright who missed out due to his wife Jenny falling down the stairs in my house. I and I'm sure all our birding community and friends send her love & best wishes for a speedy recovery.
This was an ideal opportunity to test my new lens, Canon's new 500mm f4L IS USM. I hope it justifies the enormous price tag and that I can manage the huge increase in size and weight compared with my little 400 f5.6. One of the first shots took was of this friendly Roller found resting near the Northern entrance to La Janda, I used a 1.4 tele-converter to give even greater magnification and the result is encouraging. Lots of crisp detail and a nice soft bokeh, I like it. The colours do not transfer well to the internet blog but the actual image is extremely vibrant.
Not all birds are quite so easy to photograph, this Montagus Harrier required much more effort but I am fairly pleased with the result, and it gave my arms a good workout.
Before retiring to the hostal in Barbate I had a sweep around the marshes fringing the estuary and thought the Greenshanks, already in full winter plumage, were looking very attractive, here's a look at what I mean.
Attractive is not an adjective that applies to the Bald Ibis. I was fascinated to see a full coachload of Spanish tourists standing watching them from a distance, complete with telescopes and bridge cameras. Amazing what coach tour operators can come up with to sell trips. Does this bird look a bit miserable? well wouldn't you if as well as permanent manacles around both legs you had to carry a radio rucksack around on your back for the rest of your life.
Its cousin, the Glossy Ibis is common in and around the rice fields of La Janda. I imagine they feed on the crayfish and other crustaceans that live in the paddies.
I couldn't resist a shot of one of the many Stonechats that sit up begging for a photo of themselves. This rather handsome male was very obliging.
A Hoopoe crossed the road in front and settled in a bush, so I snapped him through the car window.
I decided that is such strong SE'ly winds there would be few if any birds crossing the Strait today, so instead of the usual lofty migration watch points around Tarifa I went down to the slopes along the coast into the military exercise zone, not too worried about the entry prohibited signs. Down here the air was filled with swirling raptors waiting for the wind to change. Literally hundreds of Black Kites, but other species mixed in amongst them.
Honey Buzzards were fairly numerous....
...but I was surprised to see so many Egyptian Vultures, lots of them. I didn't realise there were so many of these quite uncommon raptors, perhaps it's a sign that recent declines in their numbers have been reversed.
Booted Eagles were the next most numerous species, I post shots here of a pale morph and a contrasting dark morph bird, useful for distinguishing this bird in the future.
It had been a quick trip, I departed for home at 3 pm but was well pleased with the valuable experience gained in using my new lens. The final raptor shots here were taken using a tripod which definitely relieves the strain on my shoulders and arms. I have not been a fan of tripods in the past but am going to have to get used to it to get the best out of my new investment, so this was quite a useful session with some pleasing results.
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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