Sunday 13 September 2015

Zapata and the Rio Grande

Looks like Derek, Barbara and company have been off down to the Guadalhorce at Zapata (behind Malaga Airport) again and continue o find some good birds. Reading Derek's report it reminds me that in addition to Hawfinch and Whinchat I have also to record the lovely Yellow-crowned Bishop this year.

Friday 11 September

We met up with Mick Smith & Jerry Laycock for our postponed from last Monday birding trip, deferred of course due to the tremendous rain on the Monday.  A  later start than has been the case in the past few months, a sure sign that Autumn is here  we began at Zapata as usual just as the first golden rays of sun were showing over Malaga.  First stop was at the ford, now with the raging torrent diminished greatly since earlier in the week, the area was alive with Cattle Egret passing overhead, Night Heron flying and also feeding along with Grey Heron, but no sign of our now 'usual' Little Bittern.  A rather handsome Greenshank was foraging on the margins together with Common & Green Sandpipers, soon to be joined by a few Little Ringed Plovers.  All of the Yellow Wagtails seem to have departed, but Linnets, Serins, Goldfinches were busy with breakfast.  Four Jackdaws flew around the motorway bridge and a couple of Mallard flew over heading up river.  Coot and Moorhen were also on the margins and at least 2 Kingfishers were busy zipping across the water.

Moving on down to the reed bed - looking totally different than before the rains as there are now flattened areas which is making viewing slightly easier - our first birds were Zitting Cisticola followed by Cetti's Warbler, Crested Lark and a couple of beautiful juvenile Woodchat Shrikes.  A Snipe lifted out of the reeds giving us an extended flypast and as we watched Common Swift were seen high above.  Walking further along Sardinian Warblers were active and both Collared,Turtle and Rock Doves [or ferals] passed overhead.  As  we followed the flight of the doves a Peregrine Falcon was spotted on the fringes of the runway.  At the usually busy feeding area we found Common Waxbills, Spotless Starlings and a smashing Melodious Warbler [a second bird found later elsewhere] but no sign now of the Short-toed Larks.  Monk Parakeets were their raucous selves and several Red Legged Partridge with their extended families ran around, always so busy!

Standing watching the feeding & sunning finches a flash of brilliant yellow appeared, the Golden Bishop/Yellow-crowned Bishop (or Yellow Headed Weaver if you like) giving us a rare but superb view. This was a first ever for Barbara and Jerry and a second for Mick & I and given that Barb and I have visited twice a week for the past few months, it's that rare!   Hopefully Jerry will have managed a picture or two, but attached is one I managed on my only other sighting.  The bird now looks absolutely stunning, with colourings as vivid as a male Golden Oriel.  Also a couple of Red-rumped Swallows still buzzed around.  
Yellow-crowned Bishop Euplectes afer at Zapata (PHOTO: Derek Etherton)
Thrilled by the sighting of the Golden Oriole which was only five meters away, we decided that it was time for desayuno, and replete after bacon sarnies and coffee we moved on up to the high end of the Rio Grande. Stopping before the crossing [to judge the depth of the water] we checked on the Booted Eagle's nest to see a couple of Great Tits 'mooching' amongst the sticks.  As we looked up about 50 Honey Buzzards who were joined by 2 Short Toed and 3 Booted Eagles passed low overhead.  A little flock of Skylarks were on the banks.   Deciding that fixed 4x4 should be selected to go through the water we crossed to find Hoopoe, White Wagtail and Spotted Flycatcher just over the other side.  A solo Raven passed high and a couple of Chaffinches were in the eucalyptus trees.  Not much else was found up in the higher reaches of the still rather muddy water, so we decided to push on elsewhere.

Stopping at Ardales for a second pit stop at El Cruze a Common Buzzard was spied perched on top of a power line pole.  Next stop Teba rock.  Many Griffon Vultures, extremely low, were floating in front of the rock and soon a pair of Sparrowhawks were hunting on the top.  Many Crag martins were  flying around and upon looking at the lakes behind us a pair of Great Crested Grebes were viewed by 'scope.

Moving on to Laguna Dulce, which we discovered is totally devoid of water or life so really not worth a visit!  So we carried on and took the back way to Fuente Piedra.  Stonechats & Barn Swallows were noted as we drove in past the s**t farm!  Oh dear, Fuente!  No water except for the tiniest amount to the left of the visitor centre, and this was spoilt by a vast quantity of dead Flamingos  lying around - adults as well as juveniles. However a few live birds continued feeding as did a lone Black Winged Stilt, some Ringed Plovers and a solo Redshank. Moving round to the large hide to view the laguna there was more disappointment; again no water, but our patience was rewarded with wonderful views of a Whitethroat and an Olivacious Warbler.  Moving on to the next hide where the smallest drop of water remained by the reeds a Green Sandpiper flew in.  Sitting and hoping something else would turn up we were eventually rewarded with a rather gorgeous Nightingale right in front of us and a little later a juvenile Shoveler entered the puddle.

Having spoken to a couple of other birders who had been watching a Wryneck in the car park, we decided to try our luck but sadly nothing - makes mental note not to enter the lottery.

We drove on to complete the circuit of the salt pan and down at the bottom end watched another Melodious Warbler and juvenile Woodchat Shrike and these were soon joined on the low barbed wire fence by a Whinchat.  In a distant tree falcons were spotted flying and perching, so 'scope out,  but the heat haze was too great to confirm what we thought were very red legs!  So the verdict had to come down to Lesser Kestrel.

By now it's 5 o'clock so the journey home began and the usual banter and chats about what had been seen, totalling the list, 66 species in all.   However the biggest topic of all was the complete lack of water at Fuente and what that entails for this winter.

Derek & Barbara Etherton

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