Monday, 23 March 2015

Cabo de Gata Week-end

Trumpeter Finch Bucanetes githagineus (PHOTO: Barbara Laycock)
Monday 23 March

What a fabulous birding week-end based at Cabo de Gata in Almeria Province.  The March field meeting of the Andaluica Bird Society was on Saturday so Jenny and I travelled up on the Friday calling in at Las Norias on the way.  Similarly, after a brief return visit to the hide on the bend as you approach the village it was off home once again with  repeat break at Las Norias just in case anything new might have turned up; and it certainly did in the shape of both a Night Heron and a pair of Marbled Duck.  This was a really great week-end with lots of birds, I managed to record 83 over the period with a total of 62 on the actual birding day and, in total, this included thirteen new species for the year so I was a very happy chappy.  In addition, there is nothing better that actually finding your "target bird" (in this case the Trumpeter Finch) and having the pleasure that all twenty-one members present had good, personal views - not a departing silhouette with someone shouting out what it was.  But even more to come as not only did we manage to find a Marsh Sandpiper but the company was perfect and, I hope, all very much enjoyed the week-end, the more so as we all spent a couple of nights nearby, nineteen of us in the Hotel Blanca Brisa, right opposite the salina.

For those living in Malaga Province you will know that the rains that made their way towards us earlier in the week took on monsoon proportions over the week-end and have even given us a further soaking this afternoon.  Driving up to Cabo de Gata was horrendous with torrential rain and even hail at times with the temperature gauge indicating 13 on departure and then working its way down to 8C. However, somebody must have taken pity on us as we made a short stop on the way to drop off some furniture in a five minute dry period and the rain stopped as we approached the motorway exit for Las Norias, the sun came out and the temperature soared to 19C so that we could enjoy an hour's birding. No sooner had Derek telephone to check where we were (just back in the car and about to depart) than the rains started again and did not cease until we were almost in Cabo de Gata.  Thereafter we had a perfect birding week-end with a gorgeous sunny day on the Saturday and more of the same on Sunday morning; definitely shirt-sleeve order for me.  But then when we set off for home from Las Norias the cloud gradually arrived so that by the time we were approaching Malaga Province the rains were back with once again!

Las Norias is still as filthy as ever and it seems to have rubbish and waste all around the edges of the pools at the far end, the sheep were penned up in a small smelly field along with a rotting carcase of one of their flock and yet the birds seem to survive.  Lots of Barn Swallows making the most of the insect life along with House Martins and a few Sand Martins.  We even had a couple of Crag Martins but, best of all, a good number of Red-rumped Swallows, my first of the year.  Another first was the arrival a small number of Common Swifts.  On the water itself, plenty of Red-crested Pochards and a few Common Pochards along with Mallards, White-headed Ducks and Shovelers.  All three Grebes, Little , Great Crested and Black-necked were present, the last coming into breeding plumage, along with both Coots and Moorhens plus a single Purple Swamphen.  A good number of Grey Herons and Cormorants were present but neither Squacco nor Night Heron.  Yellow-legged Gulls were expected and it was no surprise to find a few Sandwich Terns but the couple of Gull-billed Terns and a Mediterranean Gull were a welcome addition.

Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis
Whilst wandering to the back of the pool along the path adjacent to the smelly farm, a Little Egret beat a hasty retreat as a Magpie flew over and disturbed the feeding Green Sandpiper below. Resident Spotless Starlings, House Sparrows and Collared Doves were duly noted along with a rather handsome Blue-headed Wagtail.

Then it was on through the monsoon to Cabo de Gata where I joined up with a few early arrivals to see what was about at the western end of the salinas.  In addition to more Little Egrets, Barn Swallows and House Martins we quickly added Flamingos, Black-tailed Godwit and noted the scores and scores of Avocet that were present an all waters.  A little more diligent observation duly added Black-winged Stilts, a handful of Spoonbill, many Kentish Plover, both Greenshank and Redshank (many of the latter) and a distant Marsh Harrier.  Derek even managed to find a lone Stone Curlew.

One of very many Kentish Plover Charadrius alexandrinus
Having then checked into the hotel and unpacked, I then took a drive down tot he far "Public" hide where we added a very fine Spotted Redshank, male Ruff, Sanderling, Golden and Grey Plover along with many Corn Buntings.  Out to sea we were in time to see a lone Gannet drifting eastwards just off the beach.

Black-eared Wheatear Oenanthe hispanica (PHOTO: Arthur Oliver)
Saturday dawned calm, bright and sunny as we all met up at the hide on the bend to sort out transport and where we might make a start.  All of yesterday's birds were present and we soon added the single Curlew that strutted along the skyline with some also recording. The Spoonbills seemed restless and we added both the Grey  Plover that had moved up from the far hide along with a male Blackbird. Leaving the Greenfinch to continue singing from the wires and, I suspect, watched over by a Common Kestrel we mad our way westwards to the middle hide , passing a couple of cars at the first hide.  However, no sooner had we removed our scopes than the message came through that the Trumpeter Finch had been found on the waste ground behind the light house; the same area on the mountain road adjacent to the unoccupied and proposed visitors centre.

The distant Trumpeter Finch Bucanetes githagineus (PHOTOS: Arthur Oliver)

Arriving to be told that the bird had flown we had to be content with Black-eared Wheatear, lots of Corn Buntings and House Sparrows, Black Wheatear then Black Redstart along a with an Iberian Chiffchaff.  But rescue was at hand.  Bou Peters arrived having had car problems at his hotel in San Jose and casually remarked that hew was looking at a small sparrow-like bird with a flush of pink and a red beak; what better description could one ask.  This bird seemed happy to remain and feed for ages so that we were able to focus telescopes as well as bins and everyone present had  a really good look at the Trumpeter Finch.  Marvellous!

Eventually we moved off and drove to the top of the hill overlooking the coast in both directions for some absolutely beautiful views.  The journey produced a few Cormorants at sea level and Crag Martins at the top along with a Rock Bunting on the descent.  A further stop upon return produced further views of the Black-eared and Black Wheatears, but no Blue Rock Thrushes on this occasion, along with another Black Redstart and the Iberian Chiffchaff plus a pair of Ravens over the mountain top.

Redshank Tringa totanus

Driving down towards the "Public" hide to take in the three hides along the coastal road, we all stopped to watch a Peregrine Falcon being driven away by a Common Kestrel.  On to the hide where we duly recorded more of the same including many Sandwich Terns, Avocets and Kentish Plovers along with Dunlin, both Ruff and Reeve and a few Shelduck.  The first and only Stonechat was added to the list along with both Sardinian Warbler and Sky Lark.

Distant Ruff  Philomachus pugnax

Nothing further to add so it was off along the beach track on the far side of the town to reach the river at the end of the ramblar.  No shortage of water here as our journey was curtailed by a flooded track so we simply stopped and enjoyed the local bird life which included many feeding Barn Swallows, House and  Sand Martins.  For good measure we had a number of Pallid Swifts above us and on the main water a couple of Shoveler, White-headed Ducks and a Coots.   The field to our right produced Linnets and Meadow Pipits and then about eight Blue-headed Wagtails.

Avocet Recurvirostra avosetta

Returning to the hotel there was still time to make a little sortie down to the Public hide to see what might have dropped in for the evening and along with Linda, Tom, Derek and Barbara we had further views of the male Ruff coming into breeding plumage along with a rather lovely, if somewhat sleepy, Greenshank.  Many, if not most, of the Sandwich Terns were now in the air and Derek managed to find a pair of Turnstone whilst looking for the Little Stint that I had found walking the spit just beyond the terns.  However, it was Linda who found the odd one out which could only be eventually, described as a miniature Greenshank, like some runt of the litter.  Much searching of the grey cells until finally the proverbial penny dropped and we realised that we had been looking at a rather delicate Marsh Sandpiper,  I told Derek it was worth all that soul searching and lack of sleep!

Sunday brought another beautiful sunny day for our various homeward journeys once goodbyes had been completed.  Gerry and Barbara returned to the lighthouse area where they duly found the Trumpeter Finch perched on the overhead wires whereas a group of us stopped off at Las Norias and added Night Heron to our ever-growing list of sightings.  Even better, no sooner had we added both Gadwall and Common Swift than Derek, who had been checking out the distant ducks and grebes with his scope, made the best discovery of the morning with a pair of Marbled Duck (or Marbled Teal if you prefer).  What a way to end a week-end before heading back to the rains of Malaga.

Very distant record shot of Marbled Duck Marmaronetta angustirostris behind Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus


Birds seen:
Shelduck, Gadwall, Mallard, shoveler, Red-crested Pochard, Pochard, Marbled Duck, White-headed Duck, Red-legged Partridge, Little Grebe, Great Crested Grebe, Black-necked Grebe, Gannet, Cormorant, Night Heron, Cattle Egret, Little Egret, Great White Egret, Heron, Spoonbill, Flamingo, Marsh Harrier, Kestrel, Peregrine Falcon, Moorhen, Purple Swamphen, Coot, Avocet, Black-winged Stilt, Little Ringed Plover, Kentish Plover, Grey Plover, Golden Plover, Sanderling, Little Stint, Dunlin, Ruff, Black-tailed Godwit, Curlew, Redshank, Spotted Redshank, Greenshank, Green Sandpiper, Marsh Sandpiper, Turnstone, Mediterranean Gull, Black-headed Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Yellow-legged Gull, Sandwich Tern, Gull-billed Tern, Rock Dove, Collared Dove, Common Swift, Pallid Swift, Hoopoe, Crested Lark, Sky Lark, Sand Martin, Crag Martin, Barn Swallow, Red-rumped Swallow, House Martin, Meadow Pipit, Blue-headed Wagtail, White Wagtail, Black Redstart, Stonechat, Black-eared Wheatear, Black Wheatear, Blackbird, Sardinian Warbler, Iberian Chiffchaff, Chiffchaff, Southern Grey Shrike, Magpie, Raven, Spotless Starling, House Sparrow, Greenfinch, Goldfinch. Linnet, Trumpeter Finch, Rock Bunting, Corn Bunting.

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

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