Thursday, 1 January 2015

New Year's Day at the Rio Velez

Thursday 1 January 2015

There is no doubt at all that if you want to try and achieve some sort of massive bird total on new Year's day then it requires two distinct aspects; plan out your itinerary for the day and, secondly, make sure you do not go out to welcome in the New Year and generally enjoy yourself!!!!

On the other hand, how better to spend the change-over form 2014 to 2015 than share the company of special friends, enjoy a lovely meal and then wander off down to the Balcon in Nerja, having first won the quiz contest, to drink a toast or two and watch the celebrations including a marvellous fireworks display.  Result?  A very late start to our Bird Challenge as we did not arrive at the Rio Velez in Torre del Mar till well after 11 o'clock!  But the company was good as Steve and Elena Powell along with Jenny set off from the track below the N340 road bridge having already recorded White Wagtail, Common Sandpiper, Ringed Plover, the resident Rock Doves and even an over-flying Cormorant.  Considering the weather was sunny and warm and we were present for less than three hours we had some very fine sightings, and I mean a very good sighting as you will read later.

Working our way downstream we had numerous Chiffchaff sightings and were soon seeing both Moorhens and Mallards.  More Ringed Plovers then a single, male Grey Wagtail.  The White Wagtail was obvious but not so much the juvenile Bluethroat that was also feeding at the water's edge. What was that "white thing" that just passed over?  As Steve commented, the first time he had seen a Lapwing at the Rio Velez but still not a common sighting.  At about this time we also discovered the first of a couple of Snipe and then a Kingfisher, seen by Elena, as it flashed downstream whilst Ringed Plovers and Common Sandpipers seemed to be constantly on the move.  No sooner had we recorded Meadow Pipit than awe also found a Water Pipit; a very good sighting indeed.

A Crag Martin paid a short visit to feed above the river and then a very "tame" Serin that refused to leave his supply of food no matter how close we approached.  I suspect he, it was a male, eventually sat on Steve's boot whilst he took the final photos!  Meanwhile, Cetti's Warblers continued to sing whilst the Chiffchaffs flitted here, there and everywhere.

Once ensconced in the hide we had our first sighting of a Coot and the recognition that were a good number of gulls to check on one we reached the beach.  A Stonechat posed in front of us and, even from here, we had marvellous views f a feeding Gannet as it slowly glided around over the sea and plunged in to the briny waters from far above.

Once on the beach and able to look upstream at the gulls on the lagoon we were able to pick out, in addition to the Coots, Moorhens, Heron and trio of Sanderling, five species.  Whilst, as expected, they were predominately Black-headed and Yellow-legged we did have the odd Lesser Black-backed and then found the small number of Mediterranean Gulls.  But one gull remained stubbornly unidentified.  No, Steve it is not a Black-headed, its more like an Audouin's Gull as it is bigger but not as big as the Yellow-legged which then rested even closer to give a direct comparison by size.  I was trying to convince myself that it was an immature, possibly third summer, Audouin's and yet it looked fully developed.  Not the expected blueish legs, more flesh coloured and then I noticed the large white plastic ring on the lower left leg and the alloy ring above the "knee" joint of the right leg. An ivory-coloured bill with  dark mark over both upper and lower mandibles just back from the tip.

With both the object bird and a nearby Yellow-legged Gull in the scope we were able to make an even more direct comparison, at which point I suggested Ring-billed Gull, an occasional American visitor to these parts of Spain.  Steve having photographed the bird on the ground then captured a flight shot and, on returning to the car to check with the Collins Guide, it certainly seemed to fit the bill.  Others of you may want to offer a comment if necessary once I get some photos from Steve to update this blog.

Then started the gradual walk back to the cars (as above) and we managed to get a very close, open sighting of a Cetti's Warbler followed by Zitting Cisticola, House Sparrow and more Serins.  half-way back suddenly produced a rash of new birds including Spotless Starling, Blackbird, Greenfinch and Crested Lark.  Elena managed to pick up another Bluethroat and, judging by her description, it sounded very much like the juvenile seen upon arrival.

Finally, on departing I drove under the old metal bridge upstream and found another Little Egret along with both Ringed Plover and Common Sandpiper.  For variety a Cattle Egret took off from the opposite field an made its way further upstream.  Then followed a short drive through the growing fields on the western side of the river which produced a Collared Dove and a good-sized charm of Goldfinches along with more Crested Larks and White Wagtails.

We had already seen Kestrels before setting off from Steve and Elena's home and I had a Thekla Lark as Jenny and I drove up the mountain to Casa Collado but, nevertheless, were surprised not to record Monk Parakeet, Robin nor Black Redstart in our morning's birding.  Even the Hoopoe managed to avoid us so our final tally for the morning was 40 species.

The "mysterious" gull

Note adult plumage in the Lesser Black-backed Gull Gaviota Sombria Larus fuscus and relatively narrow, ivory-coloured bill.  No wonder I thought, still think, it might be a Ringed-billed Gull Gaviota de Delaware Larus delawarensis

With adult Yellow-legged Gull Gaviota Patiamarilla Larus michahellis to the left n both photos 

(All above photos courtesy of Steve Powell)
Having seen the above photographs take by Steve Powell whilst we were at the Rio Velez on new Year's day, Andy Paterson is certain that we have a female Lesser black-backed Gull of the southern Graellsii race.  Even allowing that many females are smaller then the male, forget raptors at this point, I am still not entirely convince but, there again, Andy is the "Gull Man" so I must take notice and promise to pay more attention in future. No wonder I spent all my working life in the little school and never got to go back to the big school with the other professionals!  Looks like I am not going to be milk monitor (yet again) next week.

Birds seen:
Mallard, Gannet, Cormorant, Cattle Egret, Little Egret, Heron, Kestrel, Moorhen, Coot, Ringed Plover, Lapwing, Sanderling, Snipe, Mediterranean Gull, Black-headed Gull, Ring-billed Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Yellow-legged Gull, Common Sandpiper, Rock Dove, Collared Dove, Kingfisher, Crested Lark, Thekla Lark, Crag Martin, Meadow Pipit, Water Pipit, Grey Wagtail, White Wagtail, Bluethroat, Stonechat, Blackbird, Cetti's Warbler, Zitting Cisticola, Chiffchaff, Spotless Starling, House Sparrow, Serin, Greenfinch, Goldfinch.

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