Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Five days in the Donana National Park area

Wednesday 30 April

With the special Bird Fair to commemorate the sixtieth anniversary of the saving of the Donana and foundation of the Spanish Bird Society SEO (Sociedad Espanaol de Ornitologia) due to start tomorrow and run for up to four days at the Dehesa de abajo Visitors centre to the north of the Donana National park, I managed to book i at a very reasonable price in the Hotel Lince in the small town of Aznalcazar.  A question really of how to sped the first day travelling to the far west and where to stop on the way?

In the event I was driving up to the car park at Fuente de Piedra just before 9am and enjoying the sight of so many Curlew Sandpipers still in residence along with a good number of Little Stints.  The flooded filed is rapidly drying up but there were still both Avocet and Black-winged Stilts along with Dunlins, Little Ringed and Ringed Plovers.  Even a good number of Coot had joined the party to see what food was still on offer.  Over the water numerous feeding Barn Swallows so I parked up and made my way across the boardwalk to try and get some closer pictures with the sun behind me.  A few more Dunlin, Curlew Sandpipers and both small Plovers but the best sighting was the fleeting double appearance of a Water Rail.

Purple Swamphen Calamon  Porphyrio porphyrio
Returning to the laguneta behind the Visitors Centre via the lower path I could not help but notice the thousands of Flamingos.  A White Wagtail put in an appearance as did Spotless Starling, House Sparrow and Jackdaw.  On the back pool, apart from a couple of Little Grebe, most of the ducks were Common Pochard but also a good number of Red-crested Pochard, a few Mallard and Shovler plus a single male White-headed Duck.  Returning to the mirador overlooking the main water I had a Corn Bunting singing from the top of a bush immediately below me along with a Nightingale to the side.  The nearly dry scrape produced a couple of Turnstone whilst Moorhens wandered about and Gull-billed Terns started to appear.  In addition to the Hoopoe at the rear of the sight I also found a small group of House Martins and a couple of Cattle Egrets.

Some of the fifty plus Sand Martins Avion  Zapador Riparia riparia were quite restless
Time to set off for the eastern bank of the mighty Guadalquivir and a visit to the that wonderful birding area know as the Brazo del Este.  The journey was not without pleasure as it produced first a Common Kestrel the White Stork followed by Black Kite, Buzzard, a single Raven and a couple of good-sized flocks of Common Swifts.  Perhaps not the best time of the year to visit this site as all the fields as far as you could see in every direction were brown and bare having been ploughed and, mostly, also harrowed ready for the planting of the next rice crop.  No shortage of Crested Larks on the track and the occasional Grey Heron drifting over but the birds came as I reached the respective water holes and streams.  There is certainly no doubt as to where many of our local Black-winged Stilts and Purple Swamphens are residing.

Glossy Ibis Morito Comun Plegadis falcinellus
Spoonbill Espatula Comun Platalea leucorodia
Purple Heron Garza Imperial Ardea purpurea
These pools held not only the above but a good number of Glossy Ibis, a Spoonbill, many Mallard and Black-headed Gulls plus feeding Whiskered Terns overhead.  Again, no shortage of either Cattle or Little Egrets and the a couple of Purple Herons.  having been amazed to come a cross a hundred or more Sand Martins gathered on the wires, I was rather taken by surprise when a lone Squacco Heron dashed out from the bank below me.  Stopping a the same trees as last year I was rewarded by a beautiful male Black-headed Weaver, but just the one as far as I could see and well hidden in the branches most of the time.  Below the tree a Reed Warbler was busy singing for his supper and a lonely Lesser Black-backed Gull rested in the dried-up canal.  The opposite side produced a Yellow Wagtail of the Iberian race along with a couple of Linnets and then it was off towards Sevilla leaving all the White Storks bust feeding in the neighbouring fields.  The last birds to be recorded before leaving these dry fields was a group of about thirty Collared Pratincoles.

The very active Whiskered Tern Fumarel Cariblanco Childonias hybrida
Taking the usual journey towards El Rocio via Isla Mejor, I was able to stop at the Cattle Egret heronry and also find a number of Night Herons sharing the estate.  Just a hundred metres later I had first a Red Kite followed by a Black Kite in the sky to my immediate right but, at that particular moment, the camera battery gave up the ghost which necessitated a stop at the next opportunity to make the necessary change.  A Woodchat Shrike was followed by a couple of Buzzards and then a small feeding flock of Bee-eaters.  Approching El Rocio I had first a couple of Common Magpies then regular appearances of individual Azure-winged Magpies.  Time to head out of "Sand City" with a Blackbird and Marsh Harrier for company but driving towards Aznalcazar through the trees an added bonus when a Great Spotted Cuckoo decided it was tome to fly across the road giving me an excellent sighting.

Nigh Heron Martinete Comun Nycticorax nycticorax keeping watch at the heronry
So, to the Hotel Lince with a final tally of 63 species for the day.

Birds seen:
Mallard, Shoveler, Red-crested Pochard, Pochard, White-headed Duck, Little Grebe, Cattle Egret, Little Egret, Glossy Ibis, Grey Heron, Purple Heron, Squacco Heron, Night Heron, White Stork, Spoonbill, Flamingo, Red Kite, Black Kite, Marsh Harrier, Buzzard, Kestrel, Water Rail, Moorhen, Purple Swamphen, Coot, Collared Pratincole, Black-winged Stilt, Avocet, Little Ringed Plover, Ringed Plover, Little Stint, Dunlin, Redshank, Turnstone, Black-headed Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Gull-billed tern, Whiskered Tern, Rock Dove, Collared Dove, Great Spotted Cuckoo, Bee-eater, Hoopoe, Common Swift, Crested Lark, Sand Martin, Barn Swallow, House Martin, Yellow Wagtail (Iberiae), Nightingale, Blackbird, Reed Warbler, Woodchat Shrike, Azure-winged Magpie, Magpie, Jackdaw, Raven, Spotless Starling, House Sparrow, Goldfinch, Linnet, Corn Bunting, Black-headed Weaver.

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

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Sierra Loja with John and Jenny

What it is yo live close to the Sierra Loja so, not unnaturally, John and Jenny Wainwright obviously made good use of the improved weather (at least here with the strong winds abating) to take another ride up the Sierra Loja.  As to be expected, a great range of species recorded and especially lovely to see the first report of a flycatcher this year; not only one but both of our summer visitors Pied and Spotted Flycatcher.  I must keep a close eye open over these nest few days.

Sierra Loja: 28 April 

A hottish day, still breezy up above1000m.

At a loss for what to do for a few hours we ventured up to Sierra Loja after a stop for coffee.  The first part was very quiet and it was not until we got to the autovia tunnel that we started seeing things. As we passed through the tunnel several Crag Martins were seen - I wonder if they will nest here again this year? - and as we came up the hill Serins, Spotless Starlings, Collared Doves, Chaffinches and Mistle Thrush were spotted.  A nice spot by Jen here was of a female Pied Flycatcher and in the old workings we found a Spotted Flycatcher nest building.  Also at the site we saw Wren, Azure-winged Magpies, Goldfinches, Red-legged Partridges, Wood Pigeons and Great Tit.

Blue Rock Thrush Roquero Solitario Monticola solitarius  (PHOTO: John Wainwright)
Up at the hidden quarry we had a Blue Rock Thrush displaying, two Black Wheatears, a family of Stonechats, in the small fir copse we saw Sardinian Warblers, Greenfinches, Wren, Chaffinches and Great Tits.  On the cliffs we spotted four Spanish Ibex and above the cliffs large numbers of House Martins, a few more Crag Martins and several Barn Swallows.

We stopped several times through the tree line finding Short-toed Treecreepers, Great tits, Chaffinches, Coal Tits, Blackbirds and Mistle Thrushes.  Another Wren was heard but not seen, a few Crossbills were feeding in the tree tops and, as we emerged, on the cliffs a Black Wheatear and two more Spanish Ibex were noted.

Nesting Jackdaws Grajilla Corvus monedula (PHOTO: John Wainwright)
At the cliffs two Lesser Kestrels, Jackdaws and Chough were wheeling overhead due to three climbers being in the area - although climbing has been prohibited until July.  Also here two Spectacled Warblers were sighted, gathering nesting material, another two Black Wheatears and more Stonechats were logged.
Record shot of a Spectacled Warbler Curruca Tomillera Sylvia conspicillata (PHOTO: John Wainwright)

En route to the substation valley another pair of Spectacled Warblers were seen as well as Thekla Larks, a Little Owl and more Black Wheatears.

Little Owl Mochuelo Comun Athene noctua (PHOTO: John Wainwright)
In the valley we had good views of three Little Owls despite there being a lot of work being carried out by the shepherds here.  Also here Black-eared Wheatears, Spotless Starlings and Rock Buntings.

The ponds and cave areas gave us Northern (two females) and Black-eared Wheatears, Linnets, good numbers of Rock Sparrows, Rock Buntings, House Sparrows, Chaffinches, Crag and House Martins, Barn Swallows, Chough, a Common Kestrel, Black Redstarts, another pair of Spectacled Warblers and another displaying Blue Rock Thrush.

Rock Thrush Roquero Rojo Monticola saxatilis (PHOTO: John Wainwright)
On the return journey we located our only Rock Thrush of the trip and a Woodchat Shrike was also spotted.

Great report John with lots of special birds. 

Now it is off to the Donana National Park and its first Bird Fair to celebrate the sixtieth anniversary of the founding of the Spanish Bird Society - SEO (Sociedad Espanola de Ornitologia) and the saving of the Donana so that we can now all enjoy this wonderful birding site.  The Bird Fair is on from Thursday to Sunday, 1-4 May at the Visitors Centre at the Dehesa De Abajo.  Whilst there no doubt I shall make use of the opportunity to visit the park itself and, hopefully, spend a little time down at the Odiel marshes where, on a good day, you can probably see most of the waders recorded during the year.  Also, with luck, the Little terns and Collared Pratincoles may have started nesting so the opportunity of some close-up views.

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

Saturday, 26 April 2014

Bermejales and Salar areas with John and Jenny

According to John Wainwright it was "St Marcos Day" when he and Jenny took the car out for a round trip around the salar and Bermejales area, the hope being that they might avoid the masses making the most of the day out in the nearby campo.  It looks as if they made the right decision and I especially noted that they managed to trecord their first Quail of the year.

Embalse Bermejales and areas around Salar:  24 April

A warmish day but some strong breezes off the embalse.

The drive down to the embalse was fairly uneventful with just two Buzzards, Sardinian Warblers, Spotless Starlings and several Common Magpies seen.  As we passed over the dam at the embalse three White Wagtails flew of of the walls and Serins were heard as we pulled up for coffee.

Parking up at the embalse the local White Wagtail attack the car mirror and as we walked away from the car in the direction of the camp site we heard then saw a Red Squirrel .  As we neared the end of the copse a Common Sandpiper flew away from the shore line, back in the direction of the car.

Greenfinches, Coal Tits, and Great Tits were seen before we got to the small promontory, where we saw Sardinian Warblers, Long-tailed Tits, Serins, Mistle Thrushes and a Cuckoo was heard calling across the other side of the embalse.  A Yellow Wagtail was spotted heading towards the point and as we approached the point and a Green Sandpiper flew away (this is our first record of the latter being seen here), lots of Linnets about and Crossbills were heard over the trees but we never actually saw them today.

Woodchat Shrike Alcaudon Comun Lanius senator  (PHOTO: Jenny Wainwright)
Across the main road and we put out a number of Wood Pigeons from the trees - as we passed under them - and a Collared Dove.  Blackbirds, Mistle Thrushes and another Red Squirrel were also seen here.   As we headed back to the car three Common Swifts and several Bee-eaters were spotted.

Down to the Cacin Gorge where we picked up our first Quail of the season.  Lots of Jackdaws in and over the gorge, another Cuckoo, Rock Sparrows, Common Kestrel, Cirl Bunting, Zitting Cisticola, Azure-winged Magpies, Serins, Sardinian Warblers, Barn Swallows, Bee-eaters, Great Tits and a couple of Blackcaps.

Cirl Bunting Escribano Soteno Emberiza cirlus  (PHOTO: Jenny Wainwright)
Moving on and across country to Salar we found two Little Owls, Green Woodpecker, Stonechats, Hoopoes, Crested Larks, Common Kestrels, and the now obligatory Corn Bunting.

Our first of the day House Martins and more Barn Swallows were noted and a pair of Booted Eagles sailed overhead followed by a Lesser Kestrel.  In the fields two Short-toed Larks were found and a small number of Calandra Larks, while in the hedgerows House Sparrows, Woodchat Shrikes, Chaffinches and Linnets were logged .

Booted Eagle Aguililla Calzada Hieraaetus pennatus  (PHOTO: John Wainwright)
While we were having a cup of tea a male Subalpine Warbler surprised me by popping out of a bush but disappearing before I could get my camera out of my pocket.  More Jackdaws and Wood Pigeons and another Green Woodpecker was heard from across the fields.  While we were here I started lifting a few rocks and we came across two huge Megarian Banded Centipedes (Scolopendra Cingulata) the largest being just short of 10centimeters - dangerous little critters these are.  Lots of butterflies about today but only photographs of the Scarce Swallowtail were taken.

Megarian Banded Centipedes Scolopendra Cingulata (PHOTO: John Wainwright)
Scarce Swallowtail butterfly Iphiclides podalirius (PHOTO: Jenny Wainwright)
On the way home we saw two Southern Grey Shrikes, Lesser Kestrel, more Bee-eaters and Jackdaws.

Not a huge count but a very enjoyable drive round.

It certainly sounds better than joining the campo masses to celebrate San Marco -even if you missed out on the, presumably, free wine!

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

Thursday, 24 April 2014

Two days down at the Strait of Gibraltar

Egyptian Vulture Alimoche Comun Neophron percnopterus
Wednesday 23 April

Two days down at the Strait of Gibraltar visiting the raptor observation posts, Los Lances Beach and La Janda proved a little disappointing and, unlike previous visits, certainly did not live up to expectations.  No problem weather wise following the wet week-end but upon arriving at the observations posts between Algeciras and Tarifa very little to be seen in numbers.  Los Lances was even worse and, having carried scope and cameras down to the beach I was greeted with a sole Little Egret and a distant score of Yellow-legged Gulls.  Bolonia was not much better but it did at least provide a second Egyptian Eagle and a couple of Griffn Vultures.  Nothing for it but to bring everything forward and make an afternoon visit to La Janda before returning to my overnight hotel via La Barca to check on the nesting Bald Ibis.


One of many feeding Glossy Ibis Morito Comun Plegadis falcinellus

Approaching the "Punta Secreta" (nobody else to be seen at any of my stops) I had both Barn Swallow and House Martin but probably local rather than migrating individuals along with the usual mix of House Sparrow, Collared Dove and Spotless Starlings.  On the other hand, a single Woodchat Shrike made a pleasant change and then a male Blackbird followed by a few Pallid Swifts which might well have been recent arrivals from across the Strait.  Two Little Egrets on the shore and as I made my way back to the N340 a lovely Booted Eagle overhead.

The magnificent soaring Griffon Vulture Buitre Leonado Gyps fulvus
Arriving at El Algarrobo I had, initially, nothing,  Then a couple of distant Griffon Vultures before I was eventually rewarded with a beautiful Egyptian Vulure.  No point handing around so I made my westwards and drove up the short, rutted track to Puerto del Bujeo.  Lots of Goldfinches in the picnic area and, on reaching the top had more Griffon Vultures plus a handful of Black Kites.  However, the pick of the bunch was the lone, early Honey Buzzard making its way over this first mountain range upon arriving back in Europe.  Driving down I stopped just above the picnic area to watch a pair of Cirl Buntings feeding in the grass to my right along with nearby Serins and Thekla Larks.  Even fewer birds at the Cazalla watchpoint unless you include the occasional Stonechat and yet another, single Griffon Vulture.

Lovey to get a close sighting of the Cirl Bunting Escribano Soteno Emberiza cirlus

So much for a morning watching newly-arrived raptors and hirundines!  Off down to sea level and a walk out to the Los Lances beach carrying Scope, binoculars, camera, water for a good seabird watch and lots of gulls and waders.  Fat chance.  One Littel Egret and a score of distant Yellow-legged Gulls on the beach and that was it; even the sea looked rough.  Behind me a pair of Crested Larks but, other than that, nothing.  What to do?  Onwards and upwards with the drive to Bolonia where there would surely be something for me.  No.  Another single Egyptian Vulture and a resting Griffon Vulture on its, presumably, nesting site.  Crag Martins were nesting in the high cave and a Blue Rock Thrush was recorded on the rocks below.  Even the Kestrel made only a fleeting visit.

Female Blue Rock Thrush Roquero Solitario Monticola solitarius
The idea had been to leave the La Janda visit till the morning but, almost as a last resort, I decided to pay it and afternoon visit.  Approaching the canal there were a good number of Glossy Ibis and White Stork feeding ion the wet, muddy field to my right and always the occasional Corn Bunting and Stonechat.  Indeed, one Stonechat family had already fledged and could be seen feeding alongside Mum.  Also noted were the large number of Mallards feeding in the damp fields whereas not one was seen on the river itself.  A pair of Ravens passed noisily by with their dog bark-like call and then the first of many Red-legged Partridges to be seen in the next hour or so.

One of very many Red-legged Partridges Perdiz Roja Alectoris ruta
Driving along the canal I recorded only one Marsh Harrier followed by a couple of Black Kites.  But moving up towards the farm, not only more Red-legged Partridges but numerous jackdaws and then a party of Black Kites feeding over to my left above the timber yard, which was also where I saw my Pheasants.  I did also find one Moorhen on the canal itself but only a single Grey Heron.  The drive back to the min road once again took me past the heronry where there must have been hundreds of Cattle Egrets nesting.  How on earth do they manage to keep the egg(s) in the ridiculously small, twiggy nest nevermind actually raise young certainly baffles me.  It was also pleasing to note at least two nesting Glossy Ibis in the colony.

"Just a minute.  If you're going to take my picture then at least let me tidy up a bit!"
The breeding Cattle Egret Garcilla Bueyera  Bubulcus ibis at nest

My final call was a visit to La Barca to check-out the Bald Ibis situation.  Approaching the large car park I saw a male fly in carrying yet more building material and then, at the low cliff face found the rest of the birds.  A count of occupied nests gave me a total of nine  occupants along with three watchful males but given all the nooks and crannies I would not be surprised to hear if there at least another two or three occupied nests out of site from the road opposite.  Seeing the Bald Ibis, I have to admit that it is still an ugly bird with its strange "dead" eye and that spiky hair fashion that looks more suited to some ageing punk rocker!  Somebody is obviously monitoring this introduced species as every bird carried an assortment of specific metal ring plus a range of plastic easily-identifiable rings of all colours.

Male and female (below) Bald Ibis Ibis Eremita Geroniticus eremita at nest site
Resting Griffon Vulture Buitre Leonado Gyps fulvus at traditional nest site

The first Turtle Dove Tortola aeuropea Streptopelia turtur of the year

Up early and breakfasted so that I could be at La Janda before 9 o'clock.  Makes you wonder why I bothered when I saw all the mist over the canal when first arriving at the site.  No sooner had I entered the track down to the canal than I saw my family of Stonechats from yesterday  but this morning there were far more individual Stonechats, Crested Larks and Corn Buntings all the way down to the canal.  Just a few White Storks to be seen and some of these were so dirty they might almost be classed as "Black Storks."  The Glossy Ibis and a few White Storks were still feeding on their muddy field along with a number of Mallard but, given the very low and direct sunlight, no point in trying to take a photograph on this occasion.

Lots of Pheasants Faisan Vulgar Phasianus colchicus up and about and all over the place by 9am
Parked at the canal corner, I was able to record a Moorhen and the first of the numerous Cattle Egrets to be seen during the course of the morning along with a single Little Egret.  An Iberian (Blue-headed) Yellow Wagtail came out to feed on the gravel track whilst, behind me, the Cetti's Warblers were in full voice and a lone Woodchat Shrike sat on the top of the gate on the other side of the canal.  in edition to the expected, I also had my first Pheasants of the day within the next hundred metres or so and before the little bridge over the feeder channel.

Iberian race of the Yellow Wagtail Lavandera Boyera Motacilla flava iberiae
Driving alongside the canal a single Wood Pigeon flew over the car (the only one seen in both days!) and as I approached the over-bridge I was joined by half-a-dozen Jackdaws out busy looking for nesting materials.  The sole Marsh Harrier of the day passed over the car disturbing the resting Kestrel and more and more Barn Swallows put in an appearance.  The flooded grassland to the left not only held a dozen Mallard but also a quartet of Black-winged Stilts making use of the ready meal supply.  A single Grey heron flew past on my left whilst on the canal side the small mixed flock of Sparrows provided both House and Spanish varieties.  Also very active in the dense vegetation were small groups of both Goldfinches and Greenfinches along with a pair of Linnets and Crested Larks keeping guard on the track itself.

Ar the large heronry: Cattle Egret Garcilla Bueyera  Bubulcus ibis (above) in breeding plumage
A most handsome Glossy Ibis Morito Comun Plegadis falcinellus and note the white markings on the face
Over the canal bridge and off through the avenue towards the farm.  Hundreds of Cattle Egrets had made their nests in these trees along with at least a couple of pairs of Glossy IbisBlack Kites overhead and the continuous singing of Cetti's Warblers, Reed Warblers and Nighingales.  A couple of Collared Doves awaited on the wires near the water split but no sooner had I started off than I had a good sighting of a distant Purple Heron, lots of Red-legged Partridges and then the first Turtle Dove of the year.  I even had a second individual on the road-side fence just after the farm which, as usual, held large numbers of both Jackdaws and Rock Doves.  Needless to say, there were also many Pheasants in the area and often casually walking along the road.

Distant shot of a quartering male Montagu's Harrier Aguilucho Cenizo Circus pygargus
Taking the centre track to Fascinas I was surprised to see how well it had stood up to the winter weather; or I was until I reached the far end when it took great skill and patience to carry on!  Another Kestrel followed by a Buzzard being mobbed by a Peregrine Falcon and almost at the other end a handsome male Mongtagu's Harrier; again, the only one seen during the two days.  This track produced scores of feeding Common Swifts which, I presume, had recently arrived and were feeding up before moving north.  A Little Owl sitting patiently on top of a fence post to my right (you see, there is an advantage in having a right-hand drive car!) was an added bonus.

A very alert Little Owl Mochuelo Comun Athene noctua
Then it was back on to the main N340 for the long drive home.  I did make a very brief call to the observation station on the site of the former army base but it only provided Yellow-legged Gulls below until the return journey back to the main road turned up a quartering Short-toed Eagle.

Short-toed Eagle Culebrera Europea Circaetus gallicus (below)

Finally, as I drove towards Fuengerola a  pair of Ravens were seen to my right and then, driving up the mountain to Casa Collado, numerous Thekla Larks and Bee-eaters awaiting my return.  Not the number of birds I had expected but, none the less, a very enjoyable couple of days with a final count of 55 species.

Turtle Dove Tortola aeuropea Streptopelia turtur

Birds seen:
Mallard, Red-legged Partridge, Pheasant,Cattle Egret, Little Egret, Glossy Ibis, Bald Ibis, Grey Heron, Purple Heron, White Stork, Honey Buzzard, Black Kite, Egyptian Vulture, Griffon Vulture, Short-toed Eagle, Marsh Harrier, Montagu's Harrier, Booted Eagle, Buzzard, Kestrel, Peregrine Falcon, Moorhen, Black-winged Stilt, Yellow-legged Gull, Rock Dove, Wood Pigeon, Turtle Dove, Collared Dove, Little Owl, Common Swift, Pallid Swift, Bee-eater, Crested Lark, Thekla Lark, Crag Martin, Barn Swallow, House Martin, Yellow Wagtail (Iberian race), Nightingale, Stonechat, Blue Rock Thrush, Blackbird, Cetti's Warbler, Reed Warbler, Woodchat Shrike, Jackdaw, Raven, Spotless Starling, House Sparrow, Spanish Sparrow, Serin, Greenfinch, Goldfinch, Linnet, Corn Bunting.

And off waddled the last Red-legged Partridge Perdiz Roja Alectoris rufa!

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

Monday, 21 April 2014

"Black-headed" White-headed Duck at the Guadalhorce reserve, Malaga

Monday 21 April

What a conundrum!  A White-headed Duck Oxyura leucocephala with a completely black head seem to have taken up residence on the Laguna Escondida down at the Guadalhorce reserve in Malaga.  But where did it come from, both literally and metaphorically?  Again, is it a pure White-headed Duck or some form of mutant and/or hybrid with the American Ruddy Duck Oxyura jamaicensis?  Lots of questions here that I, for one, would love to know the full answer.

Male White-headed Duck   Malvasia Cabeciblanca Oxyura leucocephala at the Guadalhorce
If a White-headed Duck, was the bird hatched at its present location and, if not, where might it have come from?  If it is a first summer bird, will its first full adult moult result in the duck growing back a more "normal" feather colouration?  If not, can we say for certain whether the bird simply has a colour "problem" (after all, we do come across very many aberrations in the wild bird stock of many species) or is it masking some "foreign" genes/DNA in its ancestry?  What to do it the latter?  If ever there was a case for bird ringing (banding in the USA) the, surely, this individual might be a prime candidate so that we can monitor its progress and development over the coming months.

Male, summer/breeding plumage
Ruddy Duck  Malvasia Canela  Oxyura jamaicensis

Again, where did this bird spend its winter months?  There seems to have been no recorded sightings from the few birds that over-winter at the Guadalhorce so, perhaps, it was one of the hundreds that spent the winter months at the, relatively, nearby Laguna Dulce on the eastern outskirts Campillos.  If so, did it just "tag along" with migrating ducks and end up at the Guadalhorce purely by chance?  Will it return to the Laguna Dulce later this year?  Perhaps we should start scanning the wintering flock to see if there any any other black-headed variants which might imply that this is more than a case of an individual case.  But what to do then?

Distant views of the "black-headed" White-headed Duck on the Laguna Escondida at the Guadalhorce
Taking a closer look at the three variants, White-headed, Ruddy and "Black-headed" Ducks and look especially at the bill.  You will notice that, in addition to the actual black and white pattern on the head, the White-headed Duck has a somewhat bulbous shape whereas the Ruddy Duck has a more "flattened" bill.  Now look at the black-headed individual and you will see that its bill is more the shape of the former.

What if the bird has some Ruddy Duck ancestry in its genetic make-up?  Given the extensive culling that has been on-going for the past six or more years resulting in the removal of, I believe, over 7000 individuals being shot or killed in some way to protect the wild White-headed Duck stock, then this bird must surely be living on borrowed time.  That then beggars more questions; from how far back in its ancestry does the Ruddy Stock genes emanate?  Is this a well-travelled bird from, presumably, northern Europe or do we have more pure or fertile Ruddy Duck hybrids already in our midst?

One would assume, I imagine, that the "nature police" must by now be aware of this individual and some professional consultation and advice has been taken.  No doubt, if the consensus is that this bird has any Ruddy Duck genes in its make-up then we will not be seeing the bird at the Guadalhorce for much longer.  From now on it is very much a case of checking the Escondida water on future visits to see if our black-headed White-headed Duck can still be located.  Watch this space whilst I await reports.

Bob Wright

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

Saturday, 19 April 2014

Birding in Two Provinces - over 60 species

Friday 18 April

What a long, busy day.  Out of the house by 8 o'clock to spend a couple of hours with Mick Richardson in Granada province then the long drive over to Ronda to collect the latest ABS quarterly magazine with a stop at both the main quarry on the lower slopes of the Sierra Loja and Laguna Dulce (very much an in-and-out at the former) before returning via the bird-laden Fuente de Piedra - but late enough to miss most of the Easter holiday tourists.

The birding concentration was on the higher Cacin Valley with five target birds for the two-hour visit; the Little Owl being something of a bonus.  The journey over from Casa Collado had already produced Barn swallow, House martin, Rock and Collared Doves, along with House Sparrow and Goldfinch before I reached Ventas de Zafarraya and the provincial Malaga/Granada border,  Then it was Chaffinch, a number of Mistle Thrushes and a single Woodchat Shrike before entering the main area of the "Magpie Woods" where a number of Azure-winged Magpies were seen.  Driving across the arable fields to take the old, badly potted road up towards the Salar road I had first a couple of Common Magpies followed by Crested, Thekla and Calanda Larks.  Along the journey there was certainly no shortage of both Hoopoes and Corn Buntings.  And so to the meet with Mick and our move off to the designated site accompanied by the first of many Common Kestrels seen during the day as a whole.

Very distant shot of Little Bustard Sison Comun Tetrax tetrax
No sooner had we arrived than a distant Black-bellied Sandgrouse took flight and resulted in a total of at least eight individuals moving across the sight.  Then, moving on to the old ruin, a Little Bustard came into view to be followed by a Short-toed Lark as we drove towards the neighbouring almond orchard.  The first Rollers had arrived in the area only a few days before so we worked our way round to their new nest site in time to see the target birds disappearing off towards the almond trees.  All that was left was yet another pair of Corn Buntings to add to the many already seen on site along with , as before, Crested, Thekla and Calandra Larks.

And then the Black-bellied Sandgrouse Ganga Ortega Pterocvles orientalis flew over in the distance
Both Wood Pigeon and Goldfinches were seen as we made our way through the avenues of trees in the orchard trying to seek out our illusive Roller whilst, at the same time, keeping in mind that we still had yet one more target bird to locate.  Then the bird was found but, too late, we were already within a couple of metres and the bird took off.  Ans so we crept and crawled along n the car trying to catch up with our target.  Eventually, we were to spend very many minutes with close views of the bird; a lovely site to see them in their natural habitat rather than simply sat on wires above a road.

Roller Carraca Europea Coracias garrulus posing in its natural habitat
So, one species to go but not looking very promising.  Even Mick had to admit that he thought their numbers were down this year and so, finally, we took a final ride through the far fields to the next , large almond orchard.  Then, out of nowhere, Mick heard that distinctive call of a "yaffling" Green Woodpecker and a double dose of A class drugs and we saw a quick movement a few trees back.  Out of the car and a good walk round and, then, we managed to spot the bird almost hidden near the top of a well-leaved tree.  Yes, finally, we had found our final target bird, the Great Spotted Cuckoo.  Then, rather like the cream on top of the cake, as we drove to the end of the orchard I gave Mick the instruction to "Stop!" as, sitting well-exposed in a tree on his side was yet another individual.  Perhaps the Mapies have changed their preferred nesting site and the cuckoos have simply followed on. This was potentially born out when a Common Magpie landed in a tree not ten metres away where we could clearly see its nest.  Too late now to close the stable door!

Finally, we found our Great Spotted Cuckoos Crialo Europeo Clamator glandarius

The object of the Great Spotted Cuckoos nest searching, a Magpie Urraca Pica pica
Job done, I left Mick to make mt way over to Ronda but, with about forty-minutes to spare, took the opportunity to take the track up the lower slopes of the Sierra Loja to check out the main quarry and see if the local Eagle Owl was once more on site.  No, it was not.  On the other hand, I did pick up a male Black Redstart, Stonechat, Crag Martins and Choughs overhead.  Then, as I drove back to the track back down to the petrol station, another Woodchat Shrike.

Also seen, many Bee-eaters Abejaruco Europeo Merops apiaster

There seemed to be Corn Buntings Triguero Emberiza calandra everywhere
Onwards and westwards and still time to spend twenty minutes at Laguna Dulce to check out the present avian occupants.  On the way a small flock of Red-rumped Swallows crossed the road and at least forty Cattle Egrets feeding in a road-side field.  Lots of Common Coots but relatively few gulls of which most were Yellow-legged and Lesser Black-backed gulls.  A number of Grebes, mainly Black-necked but also both Little and Great Crested Grebes.  A couple of nearby Flamingos and then a small selection of ducks including both Common and Red-crested Pochard, White-headed Duck and Mallard.  A single Marsh Harrier quartered the far reeds whilst behind me a cacophony of song form the Cetti's and Reed Warblers.  Finally, it was a pleasure to watch the feeding Whiskered and Gull-billed Terns.

In addition to the Laguna Dulce, Fuente produced plenty of Whiskered Terns Fumarel Cariblanco Chlidonias hybrida

Business finished in Ronda and chance to wish Pieter a happy birthday, it was back to Fuente de Piedra, a passing Grey Heron overhead n the way, and a brief stop at the Mirador Cantarranas.  Lots of Flamingos to be seen but I decided to press on to the main entrance having heard that there were many waders to be seen on the flooded field on the left approaching the car park.  And that was certainly true with yet more Whiskered Terns also feeding from the surface of the water.  Also at this site were numerous Curlew Sandpipers along with a sizable selection of Dunlin, Little Stint, Ruff, Ringed and Little Ringed Plovers, Redshank and Common Sandpiper.  Both Coot and Black-winged Stilts were also making the most of this feeding opportunity whilst a number of Avocet fed near the far bank.

Numbers down but still plenty of Ruff Combatiente Philomachus pugnax to be seen
Too many visitors to make it worthwhile walking across the causeway so I concentrated on the laguneta at the back of the site.  A small number of Black-headed Gulls but also a Mediterranean Gull with an almost black head accompany the gulls an occasional Little Grebe.  Mainly Shovelers on the water, there was also a small number of Common Pochard, Mallard and Gadwall present.  Meanwhile, immediately in front of the main hide, there were a score or more of feeding Jackdaws on the field and a couple of Moorhen working their way back to the water.  Finally, the small pool in front of the smaller hide produced a pair of Red-crested Pochards and a couple of female individuals.

Now here's the challenge; how many waders can you identify?
And so, eventually and much Later than I had intended, I set off for home having reached a total of 63 species.

All the Shovelers Cuchara comun Anas clpeata seemed to be on the laguneta

Birds seen:
Gadwall, Mallard, Shoveler, Red-crested Pochard, Pochard, White-headed Duck, Little Grebe, Great Crested Grebe, Black-necked Grebe, Cattle Egret, Heron, Flamingo, Marsh Harrier, Kestrel, Moorhen, Coot, Little Bustard, Black-winged Stilt, Avocet, Little Ringed Plover, Ringed Plover, Little Stint, Curlew Sandpiper, Dunlin, Ruff, Redshank, Common Sandpiper, Mediterranean Gull, Black-headed Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Yellow-legged Gull, Gull-billed Tern, Whiskered Tern, Black-bellied Sandgrouse, Rock Dove, Wood Pigeon, Collared Dove, Great Spotted Cuckoo, Little Owl, Bee-eater, Roller, Hoopoe, Calandra Lark, Short-toed Lark, Crested Lark, Thekla Lark, Crag Martin, Barn Swallow, House Martin, Red-rumped Swallow, Black Redstart, Stonechat, Blackbird, Mistle Thrush, Cetti's Warbler, Reed Warbler, Bonelli's Warbler, Great Tit, Woodchat Shrike, Azure-winged Magpie, Magpie, Chough, Jackdaw, Spotless Starling, House Sparrow, Chaffinch, Serin, Goldfinch, Corn Bunting.

Another look at the delicate colours of the Roller Carraca Europea Coracias garrulus

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