Sunday, September 25, 2016

Birding Spain ~ Zapata 1st Attempt Sunday!

Having only discovered Zapata, this little gem of a site right next to Malaga airport earlier in June by reading the various blogs and Facebook posts from the Andalucía birding community, my first in-depth visit took place in the pitch black on Sunday morning. I must say that driving off-road in the complete darkness around a site I'm not overly familiar with can be a little daunting and with a ford to navigate, even more so!

Another early arrival over Zapata!
Why in the pitch black I hear you say? Well, Red-necked Nightjars to be precise as this is a known roosting area. I began about an hour before sunrise, naturally using my headlamps for the first glimpse of any red eyes tucked away in the dirt. As I reached the ford a couple of Black-crowned Night-Herons were standing along the edge, these together with Little-ringed Plover and Common Sandpiper, which didn't seem that bothered about my untimely appearance.

Arrival of Swiss Air into Malaga at dawn!
As I scoured the many tracks more birds were scurrying along, mainly Crested Lark and the odd Rabbit darted across my path. Being so close to Malaga Airport the first aircraft had begun to arrive, you are literally meters from the flare path but try as I might no joy with the Nightjars! A little too late in season perhaps?

Another Pied Flycatcher for the album.
With the sky brightening to the east I decided to park up at the ford and go walkabout. It was actually a real treat with Little Egret and Cattle Egret moving in droves overhead, more Pied Flycatchers and even Waxbills, another introduced species and spreading through Spain.

Greenshank ~ Not too bothered my presence!
Cetti's Warblers are plentiful here and Kingfishers too, a couple of Greenshank were noisily drifting up and down the river. Sardinian Warbler, Serin and many Spotless Starling but as the sun broke through it was time to call it a morning, so back to the villa for breakfast.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Birding Spain ~ Cantero los Arenales

After my long day down in Tarifa I decided on a lay in Saturday morning, rising at around 9am. After breakfast I decided to stay local and went for a walk in the hills above Mijas.

The stunning view across the Hoya de Malaga!
The area in question starts at a disused quarry Cantera los Arenales and from here you make a steep climb up through the scrub and pine woods. There are lots of tracks to explore with the climb eventually reaching some 3000ft, producing some absolutely stunning views across the Hoya de Malaga. In fact you can actually see aircraft some way below you on approach into Malaga, quite surreal!

Crested Tit ~ A great place to find these guys!
I've recorded Black Wheatear and Rock Bunting here in previous visits so you never know quite what to expect. In fact my first species of note was a Booted Eagle, drifting over south, then the ever present Sardinian Warbler. With so much pine around the inevitable species can be found and eight Crossbill were behaving noisily in the canopy as I made my way up. It wasn't long before a group of four Crested Tit appeared, I did eventually get a half decent photo but using a bridge camera to nail one of these is no mean feat!

Further up the track another group noisily passing through the pine included Coal Tit, Firecrest and Long-tailed Tits. I'd heard at least two Pied Flycatchers calling and eventually found one under the low canopy, four in total during my visit.

Pied Flycatcher ~ At least four today!
The top, as shown in the photo is an incredible place for a visible migration watch and so I found a shaded area and just took in the view. Barn Swallows and House Martins were passing frequently and then little pockets of other species: Alpine Swift, Red-rumped Swallow and the odd Crag Martin. A series of unmistakable calls then put me onto several Bee-eaters, but they didn't hang around long. I spent the best part of an hour here adding Sparrowhawk, another Booted Eagle and Common Kestrel before heading back down. Even more Crested Tit, Crossbill and Firecrest, then a first for me at this location, a Tree Pipit! Unfortunately no Black Wheatear or Rock Bunting today, but a cracking visit nevertheless.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Birding Spain ~ La Janda

After the spectacle of my raptor watch and a delicious packed lunch I moved further along the N340, leaving the road at the Zahara turn. In fact I'd only just rounded the bend on the track down to the canal when the first of many Stonechat popped up onto the fence.

Stonechat ~ One on every fence it seemed today
In the distance I could already see the hoards of White Stork along the channels, plus a distant Marsh Harrier and when I got out of the car to check out a flock of Storks circling above I noticed several Alpine Swifts and one or two Common Swift in among them. The ploughed fields held Crested Lark and when I stopped to investigate the first channel along the rice fields a Great Egret was found, in fact my first here.

Juvenile Montagu's Harrier
I lingered for a short while after reaching the canal turn to search a huge House Sparrow flock for Spanish Sparrow but dipped. That said I did manage at least one later in the day within the hundreds of House Sparrow that reside here. I spent a while on the canal bridge, a Kingfisher, Cetti's Warbler, a dozen Linnets and even more Goldfinch for company but a large raptor caught the eye, a ringtail Harrier. I watched for a while and took a few records shots and I'm happy with my conclusion of juvenile Montagu's Harrier, a nice start to the visit!

Another shot of Monty's
Following the canal and not getting out of second gear I paused a number of times, recording both Cattle and Little Egret and of course every channel held dozens of White Stork and one or two Grey Heron. Four more Marsh Harrier, Booted Eagle and several Common Kestrel until after a while a large exposed expanse of water within the rice paddies delivered a real treat. Well over 150 Glossy Ibis within and after a good search Green Sandpiper, Wood Sandpiper and Black-winged Stilt.

Huge number of Glossy Ibis
Another stop at the large sluice gate, a great place for roosting Cattle Egret and a brief walk down to some more open water. Not wanting to get too close to spook anything, there was at least thirty Spoonbill on the pool and even more Glossy Ibis before I turned back to the car, where a Woodchat Shrike made a brief appearance.

White Stork ~ A favourite of La Janda
As I turned across the large irrigation ditch I paused under a shaded area for a while to take stock. In the immediate locality a single Bee-eater and hundreds of Woodpigeons in the air and getting out of the car to stretch the legs I spooked a Short-toed Eagle from the pylons. From here I drove down towards Benalup checking out the fields which can hold Little Bustard but I dipped once more, never had one here!

Short-toed Eagle ~ Spooked while stretching the legs!
Another pause before turning back and checking out several areas as I returned recording: Sand Martin, Alpine Swift, House Martin, Common Swift, Red-rumped Swallow, Barn Swallow, Corn Bunting, Zitting Cisticola and Common Buzzard.

This woeful record shot of a Black-winged Kite does at least give the impression of how this bird is so unmistakable when seen in flight!
I did in fact save the best till last and this while checking out the irrigation superstructures. A Black-winged Kite in flight, this unmistakable bird, the size of a Hobby is one of only three I've seen here during my visits, what a wonderful way to end to the day!

Birding Spain ~ Tarifa Raptor Watch

After setting off from Mijas just prior to sunrise I arrived at the El Algarroba watch-point, Tarifa just before 9am, even before the 'Migres' staff had arrived. Before setting up I had a quick scour of the scrub area and it wasn't long before I'd recorded Common Redstart, Spotted Flycatcher, Pied Flycatcher, Chaffinch, Greenfinch and Linnet. A few Common Swift were drifting through and eventually several Red-rumped Swallow passed by along with a few Barn Swallows and House Martin.

A very quiet El Algarroba watch-point
With most people now preferring the new Cazalla site to watch from I was the only person at Algarroba during my three hour stint, apart from the staff and a couple of locals, so reaped the benefit of some expert spotters. In fact it wasn't long before the first raptors were found, a couple of Black Kite perched up on the pylons.

Honey Buzzard - By far the most prolific today!
Birds soon began to drift over the mountain tops, mainly at height due to the conditions but several came down low for some exceptional views. When here I'm always amazed at how many Sparrowhawks actually migrate through and today was no exception, with a count of over 40 birds! However, without a doubt the most prolific bird today was the Honey Buzzard, with both adults and juveniles constantly moving through, mostly in batches of between five and ten but one group over towards Gibraltar contained seventeen. A flock of eighteen Black Stork passed through and the Kestrel count included at least two Lesser Kestrel. No Rüppell's Vulture while here, although I did locate one on route down to La Janda but a single Bonelli's Eagle was gratefully pointed out by the staff.

Black Kites - Around 30 or so through today!
I left the counting to the 'Migres' people, I was here to simply enjoy the spectacle and by the time I departed just after midday my total species list consisted of: Booted Eagle, Short-toed Eagle, Bonelli's Eagle, Common Buzzard, Honey Buzzard, Osprey, Common Kestrel, Lesser Kestrel, Black Stork, Egyptian Vulture, Marsh Harrier and Sparrowhawk! A total of 12 amazing species.

Booted Eagle - A hundred or so during my stay!
From here I moved around to Cazalla but the place was mobbed, so this was where all the birders were! I didn't bother to stop, the parking was a lottery so I moved further around the coast, finding a nice stop to have my packed lunch. It was here I managed lots more passage birds, including my only Rüppell's Vulture of the day, in amongst a group of Egyptian and also several Alpine Swift were a grateful addition. La Janda next but I'll post that later as I want to include some record shots of my raptor watch!

Egyptian Vulture ~ All my photos today on the Canon SX50 bridge camera!

Young Honey Buzzard

Another Booted Eagle moving through!

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Birding Spain - September Visit

Arrived back in Spain Early Wednesday morning for my final visit of three for this year. With Dave travelling in South Africa currently and the wife away with friends further down the coast I have the place to myself for the next week, so I can literally devote my entire time here to birding and possibly a few beers! I eased into things today with a visit to Guadalhorce, one of my favourite reserves, being right next to Malaga airport I can also indulge in my other pastime, aviation.

One of four Cattle Egret
I arrived shortly after sunrise, which in this neck of the woods is just before 8am at this time of the year. After parking at the church, advisable if you know the area, I walked down to the bridge crossing and as usual was greeted by the call of Cetti's Warbler and of course the hoards of marauding Monk Parakeet, at least thirty or so in this party. I spent a while on the bridge checking out the river and banks below, a Kingfisher flew by and a few Rock Doves under the road bridge but the majority of activity was overhead, with a selection of mostly House Martin but several Sand Martin were mingled in. A few Common Swift were also passing through and a Zitting Cisticola was already doing what he does best, Zitting! The thing that struck me most while here though was the shear of number of Grey Heron, parties of four, five, six in flight all around and if I'd bothered counting I'm sure I could have easily reached a hundred or so.

Black-winged Stilt - Undoubtedly the most attractive wader today!
After an uneventful walk, Sardinian Warbler, Goldfinch, Greenfinch and House Sparrow mainly I stopped for a while at the Del Rio Viejo hide. However, just before entering the hide a call I didn't recognise alerted me to a small sparrow sized bird perched up on branches, unfortunately not for long and in direct sunlight! I had a few thoughts and after further investigation upon arriving back at the villa I'm certain it was a female or juvenile Black-headed Weaver, a bird I know which resides here, introduced apparently to Spain from Africa, but a first for me in Europe. At the hide a dozen Little Grebe, (2) Snipe, (6) Black-winged Stilt (2) White-headed Duck and single Green Sandpiper and Pochard.

Mightily cropped photo of Hoopoe and Booted Eagle
The Laguna Casillas was full of activity with more Little Grebe, four Cattle Egret, a brace of Little Egret and at least a dozen Little-ringed Plover. Towards the back of the lagoon a couple of Greater Flamingo and more Black-winged Stilt. Thirteen Greater Flamingo in flight towards the west of the reserve and perched up in one of the many dead trees a Booted Eagle, next to which was a very brave Hoopoe.

Hoopoe - Cant help love these birds!
The Rio Viejo (Old River) had plenty on offer, until everything flushed to an unknown predator, this just as I'd got the scope ready. When things settled back down a single Mediterranean Gull, along with mainly Yellow-legged Gulls and the odd Lesser Black-backed. Waders included both Bar-tailed and Black-tailed Godwit, Kentish Plover, Dunlin and Ringed Plover. A closer check of the scrub areas produced Black Redstart, Spotted Flycatcher and a single Bluethroat, which I was delighted with, being my first for the site.

Osprey - One of a trio today!
The Laguna Escondida was quiet, save for a Kingfisher, plus (22) Shoveler but with the sun directly on to my back I soon moved on to the Laguna Grande. On route (3) Red-rumped Swallow, several Common Swift, Barn Swallow, Kestrel and a Booted Eagle drifted south.

Little Stint at Laguna Grande
I spent the rest of the visit at the Grande and managed an impressive selection with the lagoon producing Grey Plover, Little Stint, Kentish Plover, Little-ringed Plover, Common Sandpiper, (8) Avocet, plus Bar and Black-tailed Godwit. Spotless Starlings were plentiful and both Sandwich Tern and Little Tern drifted through during my stay. However, the highlight for me was a trio of Osprey, one of which stayed for a while before finally drifting south.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Diary Update #53

Things have been pretty hectic of late, hence the lack of posts but hopefully I can start to catch up on things over the coming weeks.

Bearded Reedling - RSPB Titchwell
A quick mention, although I wont do this exceptional visit justice, was Monday's Brandon Marsh Away-Day with the volunteers. An unusually early start, leaving Brandon at 4am to arrive at RSPB Snettisham for one of the highest tides of the year. The highlights were of course the spectacle of Snettisham, including at least three Peregrine attacks on the flocks but for me a group of at least twenty Bearded Reedlings at RSPB Titchwell later in the afternoon stole the day. All the usual waders were recorded and a sea-watch during lunch at Titchwell beach disappointingly only produced a few Sandwich Terns and Gannet, this likely due to the light winds and calm conditions. The final noteworthy for me was at Wells Woods, where I managed, although briefly, a Yellow-browed Warbler.

Bearded Reedling
An early start tomorrow to catch my flight to Malaga, Spain, where during the next week I hope to be catching up with the raptor migration in the Straights of Gibraltar and visiting some of my favourite sites.

Monday, September 05, 2016

Diary Update #52

Spent the best part of an enjoyable day touring Brandon Marsh with our former BMVCT chairman Paul Norman, meeting in East Marsh Hide early morning. Amazingly it was Paul's first visit to the reserve in over three years.

Juvenile Little Grebe on a gloomy East Marsh Pool
Before Pauls arrival a scan of the Islands revealed a small selection of waders including a single Ruff, (6) Snipe, (2) Ringed Plover and a couple of Common Sandpiper. Numbers of Teal and Shoveler seem to be building on the pools and also of note, two Pochard and a young Little Grebe. A Mandarin Duck later found asleep on the Island, which I tweeted at the time as a female, is actually a male in eclipse. Thanks to Paul Cashmore for the photo. Teal Pool was extremely quiet, recently a haven for Green Sandpiper but none today, best while here a pristine looking Sedge Warbler briefly. At least four Chiffchaffs were actually singing on route to Carlton and Ted Jury Hides and feeding on the ripe elderberries, Blackcap, Bullfinch and more Chiffchaff. Paul hasn't actually seen the Ted Jury hide since it was erected just over two years ago and so it was nice to get his thoughts on both the hide and the phase 3 reed planting project! While at the hide a Greenshank was constantly calling but we never quite made contact.

One of the young Green Woodpeckers around the 'Tip' area!
After a good catch up and lunch at the nature centre we took a tour of the old 'Tip' area, Farm Pool and the top reedbed. A Hobby was a nice surprise perched up in one of the dead trees overlooking Horsetail Glade and at least six Green Woodpeckers, including juveniles and a single Marsh Tit before we arrived back at the centre. Plenty of Swallows and several House Martins around the reserve, including a late family of Swallows, which are almost ready to fledge at the centre, lets hope they make it!

Sunday, September 04, 2016

Diary Update #51

As usual at this time of year my cruising activities and boat maintenance have taken precedence and birding time has again been at a premium. That said I've still managed a 'Brandon Marsh Away-Day' in Lincolnshire and also endeavoured to slot in a little time at the reserve to help the conservation team complete the annual strimming of the Islands and banks. This along with a few excellent visits to Napton Hill, which has once again been arguably the best place to see Spotted Flycatchers and Common Redstart in Warwickshire, have kept my hand in!

Typical Spotted Flycatcher pose! Another one of the Napton birds...
As the Autumn migration begins to gather pace its time for me to get back out and about in search of those local rarities. This, along with trips planned to Norfolk with the Brandon Marsh team and my visit later this month to Gibraltar and Tarifa for the raptor migration, birding will certainly be taking centre stage once more!

Monday, August 22, 2016

Away-Day RSPB Frampton Marsh

Another away-day for the Brandon Marsh team, sixteen of us arriving at RSPB Frampton Marsh shortly after 9am. A stiff breeze was blowing from the south-west which was maintained throughout the day, warming up quite considerably by late afternoon and only a minor shower to contend with.

Distant record shot of Turtle Doves at the barn - Four today!
Initially most of the guys decided to head off along the sheltered treeline which eventually tracks around to an open barn, favoured by Turtle Dove. Once the landscape opened out a look back across the reserve and towards the barn initially flushed two birds perched up in trees, which appeared to fly down towards the barn. We edged a little further down the track and finally four Turtle Doves were observed , mostly around the barn area and the nearby apple trees. The large lagoon adjacent to the track produced a selection of wildfowl including Pintail, Wigeon, Little Grebe and even a single Barnacle Goose among the Canada Geese resting on the bank. A couple of Yellow Wagtail while here, (6) Snipe in flight, plus Swallow, House Martin and two Sand Martin noted. By the time we'd skirted along the southern edge of the reserve and around towards the sea bank and salt marsh Skylark, Ruff, Green Sandpiper, Ringed Plover, summer plumage Golden Plover, Sparrowhawk, Whitethroat and three Swift were added to the now growing day list.

Whinchat - So many photo opportunities missed today but I just wanted to enjoy the birds!
From here a first look across the salt marsh from the bank in what was a challenging wind produced (2) Kestrel, (3) Marsh Harrier, several more Yellow Wagtails which were abundant today, Whinchat and a total of five Wheatear by the time we reached the gate down to the central path. Further scans before Heading to the '360' Hide for lunch produced Knot and a look over the pools on the fresh marsh during a rain shower registered our first of many (200+) Curlew Sandpipers, Dunlin and the first of three or four Little Stints.

Unprecedented 200+ Curlew Sandpipers at Frampton today!
A chance to catch up over lunch in the hide gave some really close views of Curlew Sandpiper. While here Spotted Redshank, Greenshank, Little Stint, Avocet and huge numbers of Black-tailed Godwit.

Good comparison of Curlew Sandpiper (left) and Dunlin bill!
After lunch the most adventurous among us decided to walk the 4 mile round trip along the river to Witham mouth, something that's been on my bucket list for sometime. Difficult to bird the many bushes along this stretch in the strong breeze but Chiffchaff and Willow Warbler were noted and along the river Curlew, Oystercatcher and Redshank, with the odd Wheatear every so often along the bank. A bit of a surprise was a single Brent Goose on the salt marsh! We arrived some time later at the mouth which offers excellent views out to sea, but it was probably not the best timing as the high tide was much earlier in the day! After settling, or should I say collapsing on rocks and an ideally placed length of plank first birds of note were a stunning summer plumage Grey Plover and a couple of Little Terns on the mud, one seemingly a juvenile bird, with mum occasionally dropping in to feed. Many Seals basking on the sand banks, Bar-tailed Godwit, more Grey Plover and Curlew, then distant views of a Peregrine. We spent an enjoyable time here, probably better observed at high tide and arrived back at the centre some time later happy with our lot but nevertheless knackered.

A Barn Owl quartering as we left on route for fish and chips was a fitting end to a really enjoyable and spectacular days birding.

Little Stint - Courtesy of Fred Stokes

Species Seen:

Mute Swan, Greylag Goose, Canada Goose, Brent Goose, Barnacle Goose, Shelduck, Mallard, Gadwall, Pintail, Wigeon, Shoveler, Tufted Duck, Pheasant, Little Grebe, Great Crested Grebe, Cormorant, Little Egret, Grey Heron, Marsh Harrier, Common Buzzard, Sparrowhawk, Kestrel, Peregrine, Moorhen, Coot, Oystercatcher, Avocet, Ringed Plover, Grey Plover, Golden Plover, Lapwing, Ruff, Knot, Dunlin, Curlew Sandpiper, Little Stint, Green Sandpiper, Redshank, Spotted Redshank, Curlew, Black-tailed Godwit, Bar-tailed Godwit, Snipe, Black-headed Gull, Herring Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, Little Tern, Stock Dove, Wood Pigeon, Collared Dove, Turtle Dove, Barn Owl, Swift, Green Woodpecker, Skylark, Sand Martin, House Martin, Barn Swallow, Meadow Pipit, Pied Wagtail, Yellow Wagtail, Robin, Blackbird, Blackcap, Whitethroat, Chiffchaff, Wren, Whinchat, Wheatear, Great Tit, Blue Tit, Magpie, Jay, Carrion Crow,
Starling, Chaffinch, Linnet, Goldfinch, Greenfinch, Reed Bunting

Friday, August 19, 2016

Diary Update #50

After a weeks cruising it was back to home base and an opportunity for a visit to Brandon Marsh!

Fred Stokes - Encounter of the blurred kind!
In my absence Fred Stokes had seeming done it again with a terrific find of Purple Heron on Wednesday morning. Some confusion as to the sighting to begin with (not by Fred I hasten to add) but due to the fact that he was the only observer and the initial 'back of the camera' photo he texted across while on site was inconclusive! However, the flight shot he then sent out late in the day (above) put the sighting into a better perspective!

A brace of Pintail on East Marsh Pool
Todays visit for me was less exciting but nonetheless very enjoyable, with some good birds on offer. A brace of Pintail, Common Sandpiper, Ruff and a trio of Green Sandpiper initially. Then shortly after the rain set in an influx of six Common Tern, possibly a few more as the morning wore on with departures and arrivals.

Ruff on Teal Pool
Most of the visit was spent in East Marsh Hide, breaking for a full English breakfast midmorning in the company of Paul Cashmore, Richard Mays and Dave Cox. Then during rain intervals a sorte to the Ted Jury Hide with Alan Boddington and Bob Lee.

Little Egret - One of two seen today!
The notables for the day along with the above included: A second Common Sandpiper, (3) Snipe, (2) Little Egret, Willow Tit and Yellow Wagtail over.