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.