Friday, 22 March 2013

Axarquia Bird Group Field visit - March

Zitting Cisticola Cisticola juncidis (PHOTO: David Jefferson)
Thursday 21 March

Every year the mouth of the Rio Velez is rearranged with new outlets to the sea following the winter rains but this year we have seen, for the first time in ten years or more, a complete reconstruction of the banks themselves between the lowest road bridge and the beach.  Gone is much of the vegetation and cover so it remains to be seen what effect this will have on our summer Reed Warblers, Cetti’s Warblers and Nightingales.  This month’s field visit by the Axarquia Bird Group certainly let members see the damage to the Rio Velez that has resulted following the rains when, on a beautiful, clear, warm and sunny day nine members met near the old road bridge and proceeded along the track to the beach and back and, by the time we got back to our cars, had recorded a rather lovely, and surprising, total of 39 species.

Yellow Wagtail Motacilla flava iberiae (PHOTO: Steve Powell)
Great to see Patrick Raines from Canillas de Albaida, Eric Lyons from Sayalonga, Steve and Elena Powell from Frigiliana, Ian Kirk who had travelled over from Benalmadena, new members David and Ann Jefferson from Torrox and visiting UK birder Nigel Smith who was holiday in Nerja.  So we nine set off down the river towards the sea where the water not only stretched from bank to bank but, following the opening of the sluice gates up at Lake Vinuela was a fast-flowing surge heading seawards.  A quartet of Mallards flying over were presumably deciding where best to put down the undercarriage and it was certainly amusing to watch one of the drakes go "flying" past in the current a few minutes later like a latter-day surfer.  With both Steve and David complete with cameras and mine in the car for later, there was to be no shortage of photographs - as will be seen ion this blog!

Cetti's Warbler Cettia cetti (Steve Powell)
Back to the birds.  Good numbers of Blackbirds were in evidence and from the road to the pump house we had a mixture of small birds including Chiffchaff, Black Redstart, Stonechat, Greenfinch, Cetti's Warbler, and Crested Larks.  The usual gang of resident Rock Doves had not been moved on from favoured resting places below the bridge and atop the large trees on the  opposite side of the track’s start but nothing on or near the water’s edge.  Spotless Starlings were seen on the wires and then our first Woodchat Shrike of the year which stayed long enough for all to get good views.  The occasional Moorhen made a dash for the safety of the opposite bank as we walked down and then a single Little Egret came flying down the river to try and find some sort of feeding place.

At the pumphouse we managed to record both Serin and Goldfinch plus a couple of Hoopoes on the river-side meadow.  A Ringed Plover was found feeding on a very small island along with the earlier quartet of Mallards.  Behind the pumphouse a Little Ringed Plover took off from the fields and headed for the river.  Meanwhile, as we crossed the meadow to the far end of the river to overlook the lagoon, only a handful of Cormorants were seen and, likewise, there was only a small number of gulls in the mixed flock.  However, five species were identified including the over-flying Mediterraneans, the others being Black-headed, Lesser Black-backed, Yellow-legged and a single Audouin’s Gull

Mediterranean Gull Larus melanocephalus over the Rio Velez (PHOTO: Steve Powell)

On the water’s edges besides a number of passing Crested Larks we found at least eight Sanderlings, a single Kentish Plover and Common Redshank, both White and Yellow Wagtails, the latter of the Iberiae subspecies, and a very obliging Zitting Cisticola which refused to move on until everyone present had both admired and photographed him – apart from me having left the camera in the car.  Still in the same area we managed to hear and then see at least two Cetti’s Warblers.  Meanwhile, the single Avocet that has been in the area for a couple of days flew past giving good views as did a couple of Meadow Pipits.  Also present in the area were a number of Barn Swallows and a few House Martins feeding over the water and fields and on the way back to the cars we naturally picked up a couple of Monk Parakeets.  Finally, whilst sorting ourselves out for part two of the morning’s field visit, we had a mixed flock of Goldfinches, Greenfinches, Serins, House Martin and a single Corn Bunting near most of the cars whilst, on crossing the old bridge to collect their cars, both Ian and David were able to add Kestrel and Cattle Egret to the morning’s list.

Golden Eagle Aquilachrysaetos
Next it was on the picnic sites above Alcaucin to see what LBJs might be found there. Eric, arriving first, had a couple of Choughs passing over at a high altitude along with a Nuthatch on the ground immediately in front of him.  Not to worry, there were plenty of Nuthatches for the rest of us along with many Chaffinches and Crossbills, albeit the latter were further away than usual.  Overhead, at a very high altitude, an adult Golden Eagle made its way westwards.  Once amongst the table below the trees we soon added a variety of tits including Long-tailed, Coal, Blue and Great Tit whilst a single Robin was found skulking in the undergrowth.  A pair of Great Spotted Woodpeckers arrive in the usual “Crossbill tree” and a Green Woodpecker was heard yaffling away in front of us. 

A pair of Great Spotted Woodpeckers Dendrocopos major at Alcaucin picnic site
Steve managed to find and photograph a female Firecrest and then it was on up to the higher picnic site where we had much closer views of Crossbills and Chaffinches along with another Great Tit and a lone Reed Bunting hiding in the hedgerow.  The track near the top was not a sight for the feint-hearted but we eventually made the main road but not before a Cirl Bunting had moved off from in front of the car.  No sooner onto the main road and heading back towards Ventas de Zafarraya and not a Southern Grey Shrike but a Mistle Thrush on the wires.

Female Crossbill Loxia curvirostra (PHOTO: David Jefferson)

Skulking Robin Erithacus rubecula
Time to stop for a well-earned break by taking a Menu del Dia at the usual bar near the old railway bridge.  And having got this far it would have been a shame to carry on home without first checking out the old railway track up to and just through the tunnel.  Lots of Black Wheatears but only a very small number of Coughs on the “wrong” side of the road until the resident breeding pair of Peregrine Falcons took to the air above the cliff and that soon got the bulk of the Choughs out into the open for all to see.  Add on a good number of Crag Martins, a plentiful supply of Stonechats, a couple of Blackbirds and nearly all had been seen.  But then, of course, we had to successfully find both Black Redstart and another Rock Bunting before, eventually, locating a Blue Rock Thrush.  The watchful eyes of a trio of Ibex on the cliff above us was an added bonus.

Displaying Black Wheatear Oenanthe leucura at Zafarray (PHOTO: Steve Powell)

Rock Bunting Emveriza cia (PHOTO: Steve Powell)
Great Tit Parus major (PHOTO: Steve Powell)
So, eventually, down the mountain to our respective cars and the onward journeys home – but not before picking up a number of Collared Doves on the way to take the day’s final total to 61 species.  And more if members discover any birds that I have missed!

Kamikaze Crag Martins Ptyonoprogne rupestris at Zafarraya (PHOTO: Steve Powell)

Male Crossbill Loxia curvirostra
Blue Rock Thrush Monticola solitarius

And even the local Ibex Capra pyrenaica took an interest in our visit

Birds seen:

Mallard; Gannet; Cormorant; Cattle Egret; Little Egret; Golden Eagle; Kestrel; Peregrine Falcon; Moorhen; Avocet; Little Ringed Plover; Ringed Plover; Kentish Plover; Sanderling; Redshank; Mediterranean Gull; Black-headed Gull; Audouin’s Gull; Lesser Black-backed Gull; Yellow-legged Gull; Rock Dove; Collared Dove; Monk Parakeet; Hoopoe; Green Woodpecker; Great Spotted Woodpecker; Crested Lark; Crag Martin; Barn Swallow; House Martin; Meadow Pipit; Yellow Wagtail; White Wagtail; Robin; Black Redstart; Stonechat;  Black Wheatear; Blue Rock Thrush; Blackbird; Mistle Thrush; Cetti’s Warbler; Zitting Cisticola; Chiffchaff; Firecrest; Long-tailed Tit; Coal Tit; Blue Tit; Great Tit; Nuthatch; Woodchat Shrike; Chough; Spotless Starling; House Sparrow; Chaffinch; Serin; Greenfinch; Goldfinch; Crossbill; Cirl Bunting; Rock Bunting and Corn Bunting.

Check out the accompanying website at for the latest sightings, photographs and additional information.  

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