Friday, October 27, 2023

πŸ“– πŸ‡ͺπŸ‡Έ ~ Spain Autumn 2023 Update 4

   πŸ‡ͺπŸ‡Έ  Friday 27th October 2023 🌀️  20C ~ Wind W@ 3MPH ~ A morning with Derek Etherton driving the dirt roads around the Zapata general area. Details of both Zapata & Guadalhorce can be found HERE

When I visit Andalusia at this time of year I always look forward to an early morning at Zapata in search of Bluethroats. These striking yet sometimes elusive birds can be found wintering along the reedbeds of the Guadalhorce. Over the years my friend Derek, who introduced me to this amazing little habitat a few years back usually knows exactly where to find them. 

Our first of four Bluethroats today at Zapata.

Firstly we began our morning at our usual spot near the ford in the dark. When I'm here in the early summer, we'd usually drive the tracks looking for Red-necked Nightjars, identified by their glowing red eyes in the headlamps but of course, by now they've flown to tropical West Africa for the winter.

A Cattle Egret among the sheep herds at Zapata later in the morning.

The reasoning behind starting at the ford this early is to watch the large numbers of Cattle Egret and smaller numbers of Glossy Ibis departing their nearby overnight roosts. Also along the river are Black-crowned Night Herons and the occasional Little Bittern. Not bad numbers today with (95) Cattle Egret, (5) Glossy Ibis and (7) Black-crowned Night Herons. No sign of any Little Bittern today.

Black-crowned Night Heron ©

At the ford we watched in awe as the dozen or so Cormorants were catching large numbers of fish, some I would estimate well over a few pounds in weight. At least three Kingfishers were also fishing and also noted. Greenshank, Green Sandpiper, Common Sandpiper, Black-winged Stilt and a Grey Wagtail.

Bluethroats ~ Always a treat at Zapata.

Our sightings as we drove along the reedbeds included Black Redstart, Serin, Common Waxbill, Stonechat, Sardinian Warbler, Cetti's Warbler and Chiffchaff but the morning was all about the Bluethroats.

After breakfast Derek departed and I headed over to the reserve at Guadalhorce. The place was disrupted today by diggers and tippers working on Laguna Grande so I took the Sendero del Rio Viejo route down to the de Aves Marinas (view point). 

Spotted Redshank with Green Sandpiper from the del Rio Viejo Hide.

With the disruption, there were fewer birds on the Laguna de la Casilla but the del Rio Viejo hide did produce a few waders and along with the resident Black-winged Stilts were single Green Sandpiper, Bar-tailed Godwit and Spotted Redshank.

Sandwich Tern from de Aves Marinas.

Just as I approached the viewpoint an Arctic Skua drifted by scattering the many Yellow-legged and Lesser Blacked-backed Gulls. Among them were a few Mediterranean Gulls and during my stay of note three Sandwich Terns and five Northern Gannets.

A few Ospreys winter at Guadalhorce.

On the walk back a flyby Osprey, along with (5) Eurasian Crag Martins, which are now coming to lower levels for the winter and appearing more frequently. 

A few more images of the visit...

Bar-tailed Godwit

Spotted Redshank

Wednesday, October 25, 2023

πŸ“– πŸ‡ͺπŸ‡Έ ~ Spain Autumn 2023 Update 3

  πŸ‡ͺπŸ‡Έ  Wednesday 25th October 2023 🌀️ 😢‍🌫️🌧️  18C ~ Wind SW@ 5MPH ~ A day out with friends Derek & Barbara Etherton and Andy Paterson my local Andalusia gurus.

Today's plan was to leave early for HuΓ©tor-TΓ‘jar in Granada County to search for Little Bustard and Stone Curlew. After that, we were planning to head to the high tops of Sierra Loja, which is around 5,000ft.  Unfortunately, the weather had other ideas. Despite forecasts of sun and clouds, it was apparent that our plans were ruined as soon as we reached our breakfast destination at Hotel Tajar. We were greeted with low clouds and rain. We decided to drive the dirt tracks around the HuΓ©tor-TΓ‘jar general area first, given the unfavourable weather conditions and then see if the weather improved.

You can probably make out two of the Stone Curlews in the gloom!

I think we actually did quite well in challenging conditions coming across a group of (15) Stone Curlew in fields shortly after setting off. Even more amazing was coming across (4) Little Bustard shortly after, although they were well sheltered by the crop field they were in. 

A Linnet looking a little forlorn in the rain.

In the gloom there were several flocks of mixed Serin and Linnet feeding on the crop seed and as we drove on at one point a Sparrowhawk perched high on one of the electricity pylons. 


As we took a short stop a Stonechat obligingly perched up beside the car, again another species looking slightly puzzled. What? Rain in Spain! 

Azure-winged Magpie ~ Difficult to get a good definition of these attractive birds in the conditions.

Moving on I was really surprised when we came across at least thirty Azure-winged Magpies. I normally struggle to find one when we're at Loja so this was a real treat. 

There's something quite charming about a Spanish Sparrow.

Lots of House Sparrows around the local farms mingled with the odd Spanish Sparrow. Around (12) Crested Larks were noted on the fields along with Meadow Pipits, Goldfinch, Greenfinch and (2) Corn Buntings.

A soggy-looking Thekla Lark.

A couple of Thekla Larks, (20) White Wagtails, (3) Sardinian Warbler, (3) Chiffchaff, (3) Blackcap, plus a surprise flock of some 40 Commons Waxbills before we headed for coffee.

Mirador at Fuente de Piedra

Over coffee and with no improvement in the weather we abandoned the idea of the high tops and instead decided to head over to lower ground and Fuente de Piedra, around 40 minutes and 60 kilometres. As it turns out it was a good decision with sunshine and cloud and even better, despite the drought, there was water in the Laguna after the recent rains! 

Marsh Harrier over Fuente.

As we turned into the reserve a large raptor was being mobbed by lots of Jackdaws which turned out to be an oddly coloured Marsh Harrier, which being honest caused some confusion initially. On the field below we counted (12) Stone Curlew before heading to the car park for lunch. While at lunch we watched a White Stork pass overhead. This actually turned out to be a local bird which nests on a nearby chimney stack and was still in residence.

Great to see Greater Flamingos back on the Laguna

From the Mirador a good selection of species included (140) Greater Flamingos, (14) Black-winged Stilt, (2) Avocet, (9) Ringed Plover, (5) Dunlin, and single Green SandpiperGreenshank, Lapwing and approx 1100 Lesser Black-backed Gulls

White-headed Duck

Our last stop of the day was the hide looking over the Laguneta, where there's always water! A good selection of wildfowl here with (7) White-headed Duck, (2) Pochard, (2) Marbled Teal, (2) Eurasian Teal, (4) Northern Pintail, unusual apparently for here, (4) Shoveler, (30) Little Grebe and (2) Black-necked Grebe

Black-necked Grebe on the Laguneta

White-headed Duck

Despite a challenging and disrupted day a very enjoyable one in great company with many laughs. Thanks to Derek for driving, Barbara for keeping the numbers and Andy for simply being Andy!

Tuesday, October 24, 2023

πŸ“– πŸ‡ͺπŸ‡Έ ~ Spain Autumn 2023 Update 2

 πŸ‡ͺπŸ‡Έ  Tuesday 24th October 2023 🌀️  21C ~ Wind W@ 10MPH ~ A few hours at Zapata site details of which can be found HERE 

I could easily see the effects of the long summer drought at Zapata. The scrubland was mostly dead and the surrounding fields looked parched, despite the recent rains. That said the ford through the Rio Guadalhorce to the village was running well although not too deep and the reedbeds looked healthy enough. 

You can drive around the dirt tracks at Zapata but I like to walk. Above is my eBird track and as you can see Zapata lies very close to the runways at Malaga Airport. Frankly, if this was a British Airport you'd get arrested for just being that close!

Common Buzzards always look more vivid in the strong Spannish sunlight.

As I walked down towards the river seven Monk Parakeets passed noisily overhead and as I watched them pass a Common Buzzard drifted over. There were a few Serin in the treetops, along with Chiffchaff, Blackcaps and Sardinian Warbler. Stonechats appeared to be everywhere today and I gave up counting when I reached twenty. 

Crimson-speckled Flunky

Initially, I would have headed straight for the ford, but instead, I crossed the remaining scrub and accidentally scared a pair of Iberian Hares, always a treat to see. There were a few butterflies on the wing including Bath White and Swallowtail, plus one of the more common moths for the area interestingly named a Crimson-speckled Flunky. Groups of Linnet, Goldfinch, Greenfinch and a single Zitting Cisticola were also encountered by the time I reached the airport perimeter.

A Booted Eagle eyes me up!

As I reached the reedbeds adjacent to the airport two Hoopoes suddenly took flight, likely due to the Booted Eagle that was passing overhead. 

Common Waxbills are common at Zapata

The reedbeds were particularly quiet and despite hearing a couple of Bluethroats calling they never showed themselves. A small group of Common Waxbills were feeding along the reed edge and a Cetti's Warbler called from deep inside.

White Wagtail at Zapata

When I reached the ford a couple of White Wagtails, a Grey Wagtail and a Kingfisher, which unfortunately I disturbed. 

A Common Sandpiper keeps an eye out.

Also of note were Common and Green Sandpiper, (4) Black-winged Stilt, (3) Little Grebe, (3) Little Egret, (2) Moorhen and (3) Grey Heron

Possible Epaulet Skimmer

There were several Dragonflies around today and after what seemed an age a few finally settled. I'm hopeful that one in particular may be my first Epaulet Skimmer but I await confirmation.

Long Skimmer Dragonfly ~ gorgeous blue eyes.

Also noted were Migrant Hawker and Long Skimmer, both of which I've seen here at Zapata before. 

Spotted Flycatcher ~ A first this autumn

The walk back to the car included (2) Red-legged Partridge, which scurried along in front of me, (2) Crested Larks and also produced counts of (19) Barn Swallows, (3) Crag Martin and my first Spotted Flycatcher of this autumn's visit. 

Sunday, October 22, 2023

πŸ“– πŸ‡ͺπŸ‡Έ ~ Spain Autumn 2023 Update 1

After Guadalhorce the remainder of my Saturday and Sunday was spent around the villa terrace enjoying the Crested Tits and I have to say the odd heavy shower. A Chiffchaff would pass through occasionally and the local Sardinian Warblers remained as illusive as ever, offering the odd view.  

Crested Tit makes his way through the pines

Blackcaps are still enjoying the Fig fruits and overhead the first Crag Martins of the autumn are coming down to lower levels for the winter. A few Barn Swallows pass by, normally in the early evening and also noted a couple of local Sparrowhawks

Kestrel ~ seemingly imitating a Hobby

At one time after a heavy shower, through the window I thought I'd recorded my first-ever Hobby over the villa as high up a bird seemed to be hunting in the air, catching dragonflies and eating them on the wing. As the bird continued hunting and came much lower I was stunned to see it was a Kestrel! I managed several photos but I don't think I've ever seen a Kestrel feed in this way before.

Raven adds to the 'terrace list' during lunch

During lunch on Sunday a Raven paid a visit, perching noisily on a nearby pylon for a while before heading off. 

Pea Blue on French Lavender

There are butterflies to be found around the gardens too and a regular at this time of year is the smart-looking Pea Blue.


A Crossbill pauses briefly in the late evening sun before heading off to roost.

In the evenings, a few Crossbills tend to visit the garden before heading up the mountain to roost. Today, four of them dropped by briefly. I ended my weekend with views of the local Eagle Owl flying down into the scrub, although it was too dark to take any pictures. Nonetheless, it was still a great experience to see him once more and he continued to call along with a couple of Tawny Owls well into the night.

Saturday, October 21, 2023

πŸ“– πŸ‡ͺπŸ‡Έ ~ Spain Autumn 2023

I had a rough start to this year's autumn visit to Spain. After escaping Storm Babet in Aberdeenshire, I arrived in Malaga only to be treated the following day to strong winds and rain which kept me indoors at the villa for my first full day. In the evening, the effects of Storm Aline even caused Malaga Airport to close for a few hours. Speaking to my Adalusia birding buddies, some of them said that they had not experienced such strong winds in over 30 years. I can well believe it, with gusts of 92 KPH registered at Malaga Airport.

The calm before the storm ~ Lots of Blackcaps feeding on the Fig tree fruit in the gardens. 

I typically avoid birding in Spain on weekends, but due to feeling a bit cooped up, I decided to head out to Guadalhorce for a few hours at dawn.  However, I should mention that the sun doesn't rise here until 8:30 a.m. at this time of year. (Reserve details can be found HERE ) I was walking down from the church at Guadalmar towards the reserve when I realised why I avoid birding on weekends. There were joggers and cyclists everywhere, making it difficult to spot any birds. Even inside the reserve, there were so many joggers that it felt like a training arena. Every time I tried to take a picture, joggers would pass by, scaring away the birds I had intended to capture. Despite the obstacles, I persisted and managed to complete the circuit.

Marbled Duck ~ Reintroduced a few years ago to Guadalhorce & it seems doing well.

From the Laguna de la Casilla hide it was obvious that there had been quite a large influx of Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs with many feeding around the reserve. Just below a pair of Stonechats, along with a Sardinian Warbler and a Cettis Warbler made a brief appearance. On the water as well as a half dozen Little Grebes there were also (5) Marbled Duck and (8) Northern Shovelers

Black-winged Stilt ~ A regular nesting species at Guadalhorce

At the del Rio Viejo hide the usual large gathering of Black-winged Stilts, (4) Greater Flamingo but for a change and due to the recent rains little scrape and no sign of any waders.

The odd Osprey tends to spend it's winter at Guadalhorce 

As I reached the Rio Viejo (the old river) there were plenty of waders, mostly at roost but I did manage various counts of Dunlin, Sanderling and Ringed Plover with single counts of Little Stint, Redshank and Greenshank. While here a Grey Plover flew south calling, closely followed by an Osprey fishing. Also of note Siskin, Crested Lark and Zitting Cissticola

Fly over Crested Lark

As I arrived at the Laguna Escondida hide there was no room at the inn! It was full of togs trying for that money shot of a Kingfisher. Flashbacks to the Carlton Hide at Brandon Marsh in the good old days here. I managed to have a brief look at the lagoon but no sign of the White-headed Ducks, Red-crested Pochards or Ferruginous Ducks which are normally around the laguna. 

Common Sandpiper ~ Laguna Grande

On my final stop at Laguna Grande, I once again found too much water due to the recent rain. However, the term is not often used in southern Spain, especially as this year has been a major drought year so any downpours are welcome. The best here were Booted EagleGreen Sandpiper, Common Sandpiper, Grey Plover, Red Knot and good numbers of Spotless Starling and Cormorants. Few Gulls today on the Laguna but (2) Slender-Billed Gulls, Yellow-legged Gull and Black-headed Gull all noted. 

Greater Flamingo on the Rio Viejo 

Monday, October 09, 2023

πŸ“– 🏴󠁧󠁒󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿 Girdleness~ 09/10/2023

 πŸ΄σ §σ ’󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿 Monday 9th October 2023 🌀️  15C ~ Wind SW @ 6MPH ~ After returning from Shetland yesterday afternoon it was back to some more local birding with a drive over to Girdleness. Scotlands mainland as you may know has been hit by torrential rain over the past few days and from a birding perspective at this time of year this can sometimes be a great time to get out into the field. I'd noticed that a few Short-eared Owls and plenty of thrushes and Goldcrests had been reported coming in off the sea yesterday at Girdleness so worth a look this morning.

A large amount of Goldcrests frantically feeding after their journey across from Scandinavia 

The conditions were bright and calm this morning so a perfect opportunity to check the shoreline from the harbour to the southern breaker. Lots of willows, meadowsweet and bramble. At least 30 Goldcrests by the time I'd completed my walk, plus a single Chiffchaff and Blackcap but the best of the morning was a Yellow-browed Warbler in willows. A walk across to Torry Battery didn't yield much else so I can only assume that with last night's clear night and calm conditions this morning most birds had dispersed. 

Yellow-browed Warbler ~ Best of my 2hr search at Girdleness

πŸ“– 🏴󠁧󠁒󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿 Shetland23 Day 7/8 ~ 08/10/2023

🏴󠁧󠁒󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿 Saturday 7th October 2023 🌀️  7C ~ Wind NE @ 11MPH ~ A chilly start today with a light breeze after yesterday's storm and an early morning walk for me locally from the cottage along to Tresta Methodist Church. This is a nice short walk with plenty of pine and sycamore to check out along the route. A steady flow of Redwings overhead and plenty in the surrounding trees but surprisingly, there was nothing in the way of warblers, just a couple of Goldcrests. A few Red Grouse calls echoed around the hills on the walk back to the cottage, two Curlew on the fields and a few Turnstones along Sandsound Voe and time for breakfast.

Esher Ness Lighthouse

After breakfast and with light winds we drove out to Esherness Lighthouse. During my last two visits to Shetland, it was blowing a gale whenever I visited the lighthouse so it was nice to walk the area with just a stiff breeze. Lots of diving Gannets offshore and despite reports of Twite and Snow Buntings at the lighthouse we drew a complete blank after an extensive walk further afield. Lapwings and Golden Plover around the area, along with a few Snipe were the best we managed. 

Great-spotted Woodpeckers ~ A scarcity in Shetland

A stop at Voe to eat our sandwiches and a walk to Old Olnafirth Church produced our first Great-spotted Woodpecker for Shetland, lots of House Sparrows and a very sad-looking Seal.

Very ad-looking Seal at Voe.

We ended the day in the hide at Spiggie Loch noting a couple of Drake Scaup, a dozen Whooper SwansPochard and a Goldeneye.

Snow Buntings at Grutness

🏴󠁧󠁒󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿 Sunday 8th October 2023 🌀️  12C ~ Wind NE @ 7MPH ~ With our flight back to Aberdeen at 4pm we spent the remainder of our time to the south of the Island around Grutness and Scatness, finally picking up the long-staying Cattle Egret on the stubble field over towards the Sumburgh Hotel. At Grutness we walked along the rocky areas and shoreline after a while came across a half dozen Snow Buntings

Willow Warbler

I'm always surprised to still find Willow Warblers on Shetland in October but the above photographed bird was feeding happily around at Fair Isle Ferry Terminal.

Tystie (Black Guillimot)

Finally, around to Scatness to walk this stunningly beautiful area. As you head towards the headland, the peninsula narrows and the ground becomes uneven and rocky. There are excellent views on either side of Fitful Head and Sumburgh Head and in the distance Fair Isle looms. Two Red-throated Divers, a Great Northern Diver, a few Tysties (Black Guillemots) and a huge flock of some 50+ Twite on our walk to the southerly point. The highlight on the walk back to the car was my 3rd Merlin of the trip, chasing a group of Linnets. Not a bad way to end another excellent week on Shetland.

Shetland 23 List ~ CAPITALS depicts new for Scotland.

Mute Swan, Whooper Swan, Pink-footed Goose, Greylag Goose, Barnacle Goose, Mallard, Wigeon, Teal, Tufted Duck, Greater Scaup, Pochard, Goldeneye, Common Eider, Red-throated Diver, Great Northern Diver, Gannet, Fulmar, Razorbill, Guillemot, Black Guillemot, Kittiwake, Common Gull, Herring Gull, Black-headed Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, Great Skua, Oystercatcher, Turnstone, Lapwing, Grey Plover, DOTTEREL, Golden Plover, Ringed Plover, Redshank, Curlew, Dunlin, Snipe, Grey Heron, CATTLE EGRET, Woodpigeon, Collared Dove, Sparrowhawk, Merlin, Peregrine, Great-spotted Woodpecker, Swallow, House Martin, Skylark, Rock Pipit, Meadow Pipit, Tree Pipit, OLIVE-BACKED PIPIT, Pied Wagtail, Grey Wagtail, CITRINE WAGTAIL, Starling, Blackbird, Redwing, Robin, Bluethroat, Black Redstart, Stonechat, Whinchat, SIBERIAN STONECHAT, Wheatear, Goldcrest, Marsh Warbler, Chiffchaff, Arctic Warbler, Yellow-browed Warbler, Blackcap, Barred Warbler, EASTERN SUBALPINE WARBLER, Red-breasted Flycatcher, Spotted Flycatcher, Hooded Crow, Rook, Raven, Goldfinch, Lesser Redpoll, Linnet, Twite, Common Crossbill, Brambling, House Sparrow, Snow Bunting, VEERY.