Saturday, 8 August 2015

Forty Shades of Grey!

Thursday/Friday, 6 & 7 August

No, not some filleted female fantasy, rather the fact that Jenny and I spent Thursday evening and Friday staying with our friends Barbara and Derek in Alhaurin de la Torre (and, no that's not the fantasy either!) so that in the darkening grey of Thursday evening we could visit the Guadalhorce at Zapata just to the north of Malaga Airport to try and find Red-necked Nightjars and the illusive Barn Owl that appears to hold a local territory and then Derek and I returned in the lightening grey of Friday morning for a second shot at the targeted birds plus anything else that might be found in the early morning dawn as the little brown jobs rose from their overnight slumbers.  In the event, by the time we returned for a late breakfast we had managed to record a respectable forty species.  Just imagine the title if we hand found a further ten species!

So, Bee-eaters over the pool along with passing barn swallows and House Martins, not to mention the growing numbers of Collared Doves, and as the grey of evening approached we set off for the river.  Always a late Blackbird to seen dashing between bushes and as the grey darkened it was apparent that the Red-rumped Swallows were going to be one of the last to retreat to their bulky clay nests under the overbridge.  A lone Night Heron headed away from the river to seek the shelter of nearby reeds and we continued our search of the "usual" sites fr our targeted birds.

No sign of a Barn Owl although we dd have one very brief and distant image of something white suddenly disappear behind the bushes and vegetation and not to be seen again.  Was it the local Barn Owl?  We will never know.  But more luck with the Red-necked Nightjar.

Night photography of a Red-necked Nightjar Chotacabras Pardo Caprimulgus ruficollis
Returning to the narrow, banked track as we turned the car the headlights picked out the familiar double red dots of the bird's eyes.  Great views of the resting bird at the side of the track albeit trying to describe to Jenny where to look took a while and then "bingo" she was on the ball.  At that the bird took off to the right but was soon down again and in a position that enabled us to search the area.  We thought we had it in our sites so Derek turned the car slightly, headlights on full beam and there was the bird all lit up like a Christmas tree.  Strangely the bird seemed happy to remain and although it made two very short flight it, on both occasions, returned to almost the same spot.

Photographs taken through the windscreen, everybody happy to strain and find the bird with their binoculars when I happened to look up and there, on the car's on-board forward-facing camera was the bird itself.  It had been there all the time but nobody until that moment had seen the picture!

Never great to photograph through the windscreen so, having I hoped, got some record pictures I quietly opened the door, on the far side from the Nightjar, and managed to creep out and get a few more shots.  The bird never moved but continued to rest in the full glare of the car's headlights. Nothing ventured nothing gained so a few steps forward and able to get what I thought might be a clearer shot avoiding the stalks sticking up from the ground.  The main question would be whether or not any of the photographs would be usable.

Onwards and upwards as we continued another couple of circuits in the hope that we might find the barn owl but we were to be unsuccessful.  On the other hand, we did have a calling Little Owl before finally returning home via appropriate taps and a late night drink.

Friday morning saw us back on site before the grey of dawn but still no Barn Owl.  The Red-necked Nightjar was back on its favourite track and a further individual was found immediately in front of us on the main track remaining long enough for good vies but not able to photograph.  Also present, as with the previous evening, were good numbers of Crested Larks roosting on the track itself.  How do these little birds manage to avoid predation sleeping out in the open?

With the coming light, having first seen a Little Ringed Plover feeding near the ford, smaller birds began to appear including Blackbirds and House Sparrows whilst, overhead, we had moving Cattle and Little Egrets and the first, a juvenile, Night Heron of the morning.  Next up a very colourful display of Common Waxbills in a flock of at least thirty, feeding on both the track and neighbouring reeds, followed by Greenfinches, Serins, Goldfinchs and Linnets.  A Turtle Dove announced its presence before settling on a fence on the opposite side of the reed-bed and we had many Rock and Collared Doves about us.  Large numbers of Spotless Starlings were seen, a sure sign that autumn is approaching and that theses birds are already beginning to flock up for the winter so, maybe, a few Common Starlings will shortly be joining them from northern Europe.  On the other hand, perhaps it was the quartet of Red-legged Partridges that caught my attention in these early minutes of daylight.

Very early morning shot, little light, of the flock of Common Waxbill Pico de Coral Estrilda astrild
Also putting in an appearance before we mad our way to the riverside near the ford were both Barn and Red-rumped Swallows along with small groups of Yellow (Iberian sub species) Wagtails. Next we had a visit from some of the local House Martins and a single Common Swift.  Still to find the local Short-toed Larks we were but surprised and delighted to see a lone Peregrine Falcon which put on a special stoop display for us and, as looked eastwards we were rewarded by a flock of at least an hundred Flamingos flying high overhead as they appeared to be making their way towards Fuente de Piedra.  But where had these magnificent birds come from?  Too high to have come from the mouth of the Guadalhorce and as they are known to migrate at night it left me wondering whether they had made travelling westwards from as far away as Almeria and possibly Cabo de Gata?

No sooner had the Flamingos disappeared and we had the pleasure of the arrival of a small number of Short-toed Larks, feeding alongside both Greenfinches and Serins and a small number of Crested Larks not too far distant.  It was also pleasing to find a Spanish Sparrow resting on the fence and the shortened black bid might suggest that this was a hybrid with some House Sparrow in its genes but it did have that lovely white cheek and gorgeous chestnut crown.  So it was on to the Guadalhorce proper passing a Zitting Cisticola and with both Cetti's and Reed Warbler calling from the reeds below and the sight of at least a pair of male Sardinian Warblers.

Spanish Sparrow Gorrion Moruno Passer hispaniolensis
Our stay at the river produced more Little Ringed Plovers along with a Little Egret and many Blue-headed Wagtails, mainly juveniles.  The second pair of Jackdaws passed overhead along with a lone Yellow-legged Gull and then, in quick succession, first a Green followed by a Common Sandpiper.  A lone Hoopoe wandered across the area and there were feeding finches on the damp area this side of the main water to the north.  A Mallard drifted across the river and there were regular sightings of Moorhens, mainly juveniles.  But the final mystery was not the very briefest glimpse of a Kingfisher flashing upstream but the little warbler feeding in the low tamarisk.. What was it?  First impression suggested a Willow Warbler but wrong colour on the back; too much yellow on the front and too green to be a Bonelli's Warbler.  Derek had initially thought Iberian Chifchaff and, on reflection and much use of Collins, we also considered both Savi's and Isabelline Warbler.  Whilst we had immediately ruled out Melodious Warbler, on reflection I suspect that the bird may have been a juvenile which is somewhat similar in proportion to Willow but has less yellow, and not the deepness, on the breast - and it was in an appropriate habitat.  Over to you Derek and do I need to amend the list below?

Little Egret Garceta Comun Egretta garzetta

Birds seen:
Mallard, Red-legged Partridge, Night Heron, Cattle Egret, Little Egret, Flamingo, Peregrine Falcon, Moorhen, Little Ringed Plover, Green Sandpiper, Common Sandpiper, Yellow-legged Gull, Rock Dove, Turtle Dove, Collared Dove, Little Owl, Red-necked Nighjar, Common Swift, Kingfisher, Bee-eater, Hoopoe, Short-toed Lark, Crested Lark, Barn Swallow, Red-rumped Swallow, House Martin, Blue-headed Wagtail, Blackbird, Cetti's Warbler, Zitting Cisticola, Reed Warbler, Melodious Warbler, Sardinian Warbler, Jackdaw, Spotless Starling, House Sparrow, Spanish Sparrow, Common Waxbill, Serin, Greenfinch, Goldfinch, Linnet.

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

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