Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Birding Spain ~ Tuesday Penultimate Day

I did consider the option of driving back up to Tarifa and La Janda on my last full day here but to be honest I was getting pretty drained by now, with little sleep and some intense birding, things were beginning to catch up!

Booted Eagle ~ Across the river!
That said I was down at the Guadalhorce at first light and having recorded all of the regular waders during my previous visits I decided to concentrate a little more on passerines for this particular stay. My first notable of the day was a Booted Eagle perched up across the western canal of the Guadalhorce as I approached the footbridge and of course the usual Monk Parakeets were already marauding, I estimated over fifty birds. Spotless Starlings were five times that amount though!

Zitting Cisticola (Fan-tailed Warbler)
As I made my way along the Rio Viejo (the old river route), flushing four Red-legged Partridge a couple of Stonechat were perched up and a Zitting Cisticola was feeding in the reeds below. A flash of red put me onto a Common Redstart and while watching this a Pied Flycatcher low in the canopy, there's certainly been plenty of these during this visit.

White-headed Duck ~ A speciality of Guadalhorce
My first extended stop of the day was at the wader pool, which held a couple of White-headed Duck and the usual selection of waders: Common Sandpiper, Green Sandpiper, Black-winged Stilt, Little-ringed Plover, Ruff, Greenshank, Snipe and I'd just spotted a Little Stint when three Flamingo flew in scattering all! Both Cattle Egret and Little Egret were perched up in the surrounding trees but two birds tucked away just behind turned out to be juvenile Turtle Dove's, once I'd got the scope on them!

OK ~ So not the best image but hey its a Bluethroat!
The reeds directly in front of the hide appeared full of activity and after close scrutiny produced Cetti's Warbler, Reed Warbler and Chiffchaff. Then from nowhere a small bird dropped onto the mud, a very nice adult Bluethroat. As if that wasn't enough excitement a second, a 1st winter juvenile suddenly popped up, then abruptly departed!

1st winter Bluethroat - Fortunately camera at the ready!
After leaving the comfort of the hide I walked up to the sea-watch point but to be honest at this time of day its simply impossible, with the harsh sunlight low and directly in your face. I decided to forgo the beach walk, too many nuddies already for this time of day and I hadn't had my breakfast yet so instead I chose to retrace my steps, this time with the sun to my back.

Woodchat Shrike ~ Quite a favourite on mine!
On the scrub below Crested Lark, Hoopoe and a Woodchat Shrike before I turned to concentrate on the old river itself. Once again all the previously recorded waders with the addition of Wood Sandpiper and Bar-tailed Godwit. Gulls mostly included Yellow-legged and Black-headed but unfortunately I've not managed the usual Audouin's Gull on this visit, or indeed Slender-billed Gull, which I've recorded here in the past.

Bar-tailed Godwit on the Laguna Grande
Finally a walk around to the Laguna Grande produced Red-rumped Swallow, Common Swift, Sand Martin, House Martin and then excellent views of an Osprey, before it headed off towards the airport. Additions to the list on the Laguna were: Dunlin,  Turnstone,  Sanderling, Grey Plover, Kentish Plover and two juvenile Shelduck.

A few more images of the day......


Iberian Hare

Kentish Plover

Banded Groundling

African Grass Blue

Broad Scarlet

Monday, September 26, 2016

Birding Spain ~ Zapata 2nd Attempt Monday

After my first attempt at Zapata failed to yield my target bird, Red-necked Nightjar I decided to do a little more research when I got back to the villa. Thankfully, Barbara and Derek Etherton from the Andalusian Birding Group got in contact and Zapata being part of their local patch offered to meet up. I just couldn't refuse!!

Waxbill ~ You don't want to know what this bird is eating!
We met up at 06:45 at the Mesón El Cohete café, Alhaurin de la Torre, around a five minute drive into Zapata. A really lovely couple and as it transpired very capable birders indeed and very knowledgeable, as are most when it comes to their local patch. As it happens I had in fact found the correct tracks during my Sunday jaunt but it would seem after still being around just over a week previous, the Nightjars may well have left for their wintering grounds in West Africa. The nights are definitely getting cooler here.

Little Bittern ~ Surprised this photo came out it was still almost dark!
Notwithstanding, the day hadn't even begun! We decided to make our way down to the ford as Derek had mentioned it was a good place to see the sunrise and also to watch the hundreds of both Cattle and Little Egret coming away from their roost. As we drove down in the dark many Crested Larks were caught in the headlights, even a Red-legged Partridge was caught out too, but we avoided all. At the ford a couple of Night Herons flew through and already a couple of Kingfishers were busy, a Pied Flycatcher could easily be picked out in the increasing light and also of note Greenshank, Little-ringed Plover and Grey Wagtail. No sooner had Barbara and Derek said that this was a good time for Little Bittern, than a pair flew straight into the reeds, what great timing! While enjoying some excellent views a number of Waxbill were flitting around and as predicted many Egret overhead.

An off-road traffic jam at Zapata!
From here we drove to an area which is known to have Short-toed Lark and on route a couple of Marsh Harrier. When we arrived to scan the area for Larks Derek found five Stone Curlew, which even he was delighted with, not a common bird to the area apparently. We did indeed find Short-toed Larks and in the channels along the drainage ditch, a couple of Reed Warbler, Barbara also tells me a good place for Penduline Tit later in the year.

Black Stork at Rio Grande
After breakfast in the Mesón El Cohete we headed off for a new area for me known as the Rio Grande. Here there is gravel extraction and a fire station with small landing strip for fighting brush fires. The Rio Perelas and Rio Guadalhorce meet offering some excellent habitat but unfortunately at this time of year very little water could be found. That said another destination for my database and even with little water the birds were here. During our stay a Tawny Pipit, as we crossed what normally is the ford, Common Sandpiper, Pied Flycatcher, Waxbill and overhead Black Kite, Black Stork and at least fifteen Bee-eater. Many thanks to Barbara and Derek for taking the time, much appreciated!

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!