Tuesday, December 31, 2019

New Years Eve 2019

☀️17C ~ Wind ⇐ N@5mph  Tuesday 31st December 2019 ~ My final post of the year finds Dazza and me at Zapata, a cracking little habitat right next to Malaga Airport. We decided to stay local today and just enjoy a nice afternoon stroll in the peace and quiet before tonight's festivities.

Zapata ~ Site details can be found HERE
We began at the ford where the usual waders tend to hang out and today these included Green Sandpiper, Greenshank and Little-ringed Plover. A few Shoveler and Mallards were on the water but nothing too unusual.

White Wagtails ~ The most abundant species during our visit
A Common Buzzard and Marsh Harrier passed by and the odd Cattle Egret passed through. By the time we reached the north-west fringes of the airport, we'd encountered numerous White Wagtails, Common Chiffchaff, Black Redstart, Crested Lark, Stonechat and Cetti's Warblers.

Bluethroat ~ A brief appearance 
The reedbeds which run for a good length along the peripheral of the site are always worth spending a little extra time scanning. Penduline Tit's winter here, although on this visit we didn't spot any but large groups of Common Waxbills that reside were constantly on the move, feeding mostly on the Bistort. There were a few Zitting Cisticola but the highlight at this point was a Bluethroat, which perched up briefly on some cut reed before disappearing once more.

Landing aircraft only yards above
As we headed back to the car it's impossible not to stop for a while and watch the planes coming in, especially for an enthusiast like me. They literally are only yards above your head and I'm always amazed how the local wildlife copes.

Blue Rock Thrush ~ The surprise of the day!
The walk back to the car is predominantly scrub and grassland and occasionally holds Stone Curlew and if your lucks in Wryneck. Unfortunately, not today but it wasn't long before we came across three Lesser Short-toed Larks, which are resident here but the birds are pretty flighty and difficult to photograph, so no shots I'm afraid. It was while watching these birds that the surprise of the day happened when a larger bird flew across the scrub landing on a nearby building structure. To our surprise, it was Blue Rock Thrush, a nice find for the final day of the year!

Monday, December 30, 2019

Vélez Estuary

☀️18C ~ Wind ⇐ NE@9mph  Monday 30th December 2019 ~ A drive out, spot of lunch and an hours birding to the Vélez estuary near the town of Torre del Mar, about an hour from the villa.

There are so few wetlands on the costa del Sol that this small estuary is a hotspot for birds during migration periods, but even in the winter months, I feel its always worth a visit. However, having visited before it's worth noting that the site has been blighted in the past by the traditional presence of certain gentlemen whose idea of 'a day at the seaside' is far removed from what might be considered mainstream practice. The problem has greatly diminished and I've never felt threatened during my visits but it may be best not to visit alone!

A great wintering ground for Common Chiffchaff 
With the water pretty low at present, the area currently comprises of a series of shallow reedy pools, flanked by trees and low shrub in which there appeared to be movement in every one. Common Chiffchaffs were in good numbers, constantly feeding and so engrossed that we could get reasonably close. Cetti's Warblers were heard regularly along the walk with the occasional one showing and this is a good area to find White Wagtail (Motacilla alba) with many present. Collared Doves, Monk Parakeet and Rock Doves, the latter particularly under the bridge eves, are commonplace.

Hoopoe checking out the leaf litter
At the water's edge, there were Meadow Pipits, Serin, Goldfinch and Blackbirds bathing, plus plenty of Moorhens and Coots. Within the undergrowth, a Hoopoe didn't seem particularly bothered by our presence, pausing briefly while checking out the leaf litter.

One of three Little-ringed Plover
There were a few waders to be found with a group of three Little-ringed Plover, two Snipe and a Green Sandpiper. At one stage a Common Waxbill overhead and by the time we reached the sandbar and the beach area Stonechat, a couple of Grey Wagtails and a Water Pipit were also noted.

1st winter ♂Bluethroat
We paused for a while when Dazza found a Bluethroat and spent a good half hour watching the bird, likely a first-winter male. I hadn't realised at the time but this was, in fact, a lifer for Dazza, so well done to her on finding the bird.

A stunning looking Audouins Gull
The beach area produced a couple of Balearic Shearwaters offshore, Sandwich Tern and Gannet and on the beach a stunning adult Audouin's Gull.

Meditteranean Gull ~ Easily picked out from the hoards of larger gulls passing overhead
Among the many larger gulls on a route, it would seem to roost, the odd Mediterranean Gull could be found. Finally, on the drive out back onto the main road, several Cattle Egrets were sticking close to a local farmer ploughing a field.

A Few More Images Of The Day...


Southern Speckled Wood



Thursday, December 26, 2019

Winter Birding Espania

☀️22C ~ Wind ⇐ WNW@3mph  Thursday 26th December 2019

Today Dazza and I took a drive out to Sierra de Loja, a limestone massif with its highest point at Sierra Gords, some 1,671 metres.

The rocky terrain of the Sierra de Loja
This is an open and beautiful but remote and sparse place. The landscape consists of a few trees, low lying scrub and bushes but is mainly short dry grass and rocky terrain, the scenery is simply stunning and the birding can at times be very rewarding. You can access the dirt road that leads up to the top at the Los Abades Services area exit off the A92 road to Granada.

Black Wheatear ~ Quite confiding birds and one of three seen today.
The lower section of the drive up is a good place to find Azure-winged Magpies, which are annoyingly elusive and when located are almost impossible to photograph. Rock Bunting and Black Wheatears are also a feature and the latter, once located can be quite confiding. Patience can also reveal the odd Red Squirrel in the lower pine woods.

Male Black Redstart
Stonechats, along with Black Redstarts seem abundant during the winter months and by the time we reached our halfway point we were in double-figure numbers for both.

Thekla Lark ~ Rather short bill with convex lower mandible than that of the Crested Lark but the contact call/alarm-call may be the best characteristic to separate it when both species occur
A distant Iberian Grey Shrike was the closest we got on this visit but Thekla Larks are a feature of the rocky slopes and were at close quarters during several stops. There's also a good population of Red-legged Partridge and we flushed several while driving along.

Griffon Vulture over the Sierra de Loja
In one particular area, a decent-sized population of Ring Ouzels can be found in what can only be described as an oasis of Hawthorn bushes. However, with the berry stock depleted at this time of year, the birds were a little harder to find. Overhead a Griffon Vulture and scoping the high peaks a Red-billed Chough was giving a Raven a hard time.

A small group of over forty Stone Curlews take flight when disturbed by a passing tractor
Once down from the mountains and after coffee in the Los Abades services we headed on the short distance to Huétor-Tájar, a municipality and town located in the province of Granada. Here a large population of Stone Curlews winter and can be found on the ploughed fields which surround the town. One field, in particular, has a footpath through the centre which runs adjacent to a narrow irrigation channel and leads down to the railway line. This can be very productive and can offer reasonably close views of over forty Stone Curlews.

Linnet at Huétor-Tájar
Along the irrigation ditch, a 1st-year Bluethroat made a brief appearance, which unfortunately Dazza missed and as with the mountain pass, there was an abundance of Stonechat and Black Redstarts, which were being almost outnumbered by Chiffchaff. Serin, Corning Bunting, Linnet, Tree Sparrow, Crested Lark and a large group of Common Waxbill were also noted.

Our final stop was to search for Little Bustard, which we located quite easily in the same field we'd found them in 2017. Unfortunately with little access, we had to content ourselves once more with scoped views while enjoying a turkey sandwich, what's not to like!

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Christmas Eve Walk

☀️22C ~ Wind ⇐ WNW3mph  Tuesday 24th December 2019 ~ Today was almost a carbon copy of last Christmas Eve with a walk and lunch along the La Cala de Mijas boardwalk. The boardwalk forms part of the Senda Litoral De Malaga (Malaga coastal path) and if its ever completed will run from Nerja to Manilva and span 163 km. The boardwalk hugs the coastline and has many bars and restaurant's along the way. It naturally provides good birding opportunities and so binoculars and camera are the order of the day.

Audouin's Gull ~ This one sporting rings which I'm investigating
Meditteranean Gull off the boardwalk
There were plenty of Gulls along the rocky outcrops and these included both Meditteranean and Audouin's Gulls, the latter one of my favourites. Among them just a couple of wader species with Sanderling and Turnstone. Northern Gannets were diving reasonably close in but the sun was quite harsh today and I never quite got to grips with my camera settings. At one stage a small group of Sandwich Terns suddenly appeared not far offshore, obviously attracted by a small shoal of fish but didn't linger long before moving on.

Monk Parakeet enjoying the shade
The many hotels and gardens along the route are worth checking and the local Monk Parakeets could be found sheltering within the palm trees, even at rest still as noisy as ever. In one particular garden, a Black Redstart and Stonechat made an appearance and for most of the walk, the Spotless Starlings could be heard mimicking every bird call under the sun.

Long-tailed Blue or Pea Blue ~ Lampides boeticus
A few butterflies on the wing today in the warm sunshine with Red Admiral, Painted Lady and the above Long-tailed Blue.

Spotless Starling ~ Great mimics 

Black Redstart ~ This one showing a particularly striking red tail probably due to the harsh sunlight!

Stonechat ~ Quite common here at any time of year

Spain at Christmas

☀️21C ~ Wind ⇐ WSW@4mph  Sunday 22nd December 2019 ~ We arrived in Malaga on Friday evening for our two-week stay over the Christmas and New Year period at my friend's villa in Mijas. Unlike the previous year, our Ryanair flight was on time and uneventful.

It's such a treat to be getting away from the monsoons of England, which have seemed unrelenting over the previous few months. That said, the weather for the first few days of our visit was something we're not accustomed to here with low clouds, sea fog and drizzly dank conditions.

Thankfully and to be fair as predicted by my many weather Apps we awoke this morning to glorious blue skies and a gentle breeze, which thankfully is set to continue for the duration of our stay. In the afternoon we headed off to Guadalhorce (Info HERE) for a leisurely walk. As I've mentioned many times in previous posts it's never a great idea to bird on a Sunday here in Spain but despite the many joggers, noisy kids and cyclists, we chanced it and enjoyed a pleasant visit.

Horseshoe Whipsnake 
Always on the lookout for amphibians and reptiles, Dazza was in great form today. Firstly finding a small Horseshoe Whipsnake just peering up from in-between a couple of rocks and then a monster of a Western Montpellier Snake enjoying the warmth of the day along one of the tracks. My contribution was a more common Moorish Gecko!

Western Montpellier Snake ~ Around 6' in length a species of mildly venomous rear-fanged colubrids
Two unexpected firsts for us today here in southern Spain with a group of Common Scoters just offshore of the reserve, with at least three Velvet Scoters within. My thanks have to go to a local birder who was kind enough to point the birds out in his scope, which I'm sure looking at the wintering range for these species are quite a rarity for the area, particularly the Velvets.

Crag Martin at Guadalhorce
At this time of year, Crag Martins are a regular sight, coming down from higher altitudes to spend the winter at sea-level. Crested Larks can be heard and occasionally seen darting around the scrub and there's also a regular wintering Osprey. Guadalhorce is also a great place to find Black-necked Grebes in good numbers. Passerines were thin on the ground but Serin, Black Redstart, Zitting Cisticola (Fantail Warbler) and Sardinian Warbler were all noted.

Wintering Black-necked Grebes at Guadalhorce
The Laguna Grande held the usual numbers of Black-winged Stilts, along with Greenshank, Ringed Plover, Sanderling and Common Sandpiper. There was also a group of five juvenile Greater Flamingo. Other highlights during the visit included three passing Booted Eagles and a few groups of marauding Monk Parakeets, which as usual were a noisy distraction!

More Images From The Visit...

Sanderling on the Laguna Grande

Black-winged Stilt ~ Always in good numbers at Guadalhorce

Osprey ~ A wintering bird

Moorish Gecko

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Brandon Marsh

☀️⛅️4C ~ Wind ⇐ WSW@4mph  Wednesday 11th December 2019 ~ Although I've managed a few visits to Brandon Marsh over the past few weeks this is the first opportunity I've had to actually post a short update.

I've spent the latter part of November and the best part of this month completing on-board repairs and small refurbishments in preparation for the sale next year. On reflection, this may possibly be my last winter at Brandon Marsh and indeed my last winter living aboard our floating home, as our big move back to terra firma and up to Scotland gets ever closer!

Anyway more on that in 2020 and back to today's visit to Brandon Marsh. Which in fact, surprisingly was in glorious winter sunshine, couple that with unflooded paths and you have a major rarity on your hands!

Great White Egret on East Marsh Pool today enjoying what seems to be a nice Perch
The highlights of today's visit included a Great White Egret, (2) ♀Goldeneye and Shelduck at the John Walton Hide, (2) Green Sandpipers at Carlton Hide and a confiding Kingfisher at the Ted Jury Hide.

Kingfisher at Ted Jury Hide ~ Nice to see this bird along a channel that I helped clear a few weeks ago!
Away from the pools the berry stocks are now almost depleted and the wintering Thrush population has once again taken to searching the leaf litter. It's actually worth spending time to check for movement below the canopy as today I managed a few Lesser Redpolls, Song Thrush, many Chaffinch and the odd Redwing.

A few images of today and my previous visits...

Shelduck on East Marsh Pool today

One of two Green Sandpipers at Carlton Hide during today's visit

A couple of Egyptian Geese on East Marsh Pool during a visit on December 2nd

Muntjac Deer along the track between John Walton and Carlton Hides

Grey Wagtail in front of John Walton Hide on November 24th