Tuesday 12 January 2016

The Day of the Osprey

Saturday 9 January

Friends Barbara and Derek Etherton along with Micky Smith from Benalmadena took part in the "great Osprey Day count" on Saturday and chose Zapata on the Rio Guadalhorce at the back of the airport as their chosen destination followed, after breakfast at a local bar, by a visit to the Rio Grande.  Seems to me that they had not only a fabulous day, finding their Osprey but also a number of other choice birds including three Wrynecks just to prove that these delightful birds are very much still about.  Derek's very full and illustrated report follows. (All photographs are by Derek himself on the actual day.)

Having only returned from a wet & windy UK after a prolonged Christmas break on the Thursday we were looking forward to Spanish sunshine to accompany the Osprey count.  Wrong!  Up at 07:00hrs, peek out into the dark and see rain tipping it down.  OK we need it, but not today please, just give us 12 dry hours. However, ever intrepid and having arranged to meet Mick Smith, we left to meet him in Lidl's car park at 0830hr.  Peering through the rain we eventually found him hidden in his camouflage gear and looking very cheerful! 

So off down to Zapata for the days target bird, the Osprey since it was Spanish count day for this species. Entering the track with rain beating down, several Chiffchaffs were ignoring the elements - food obviously comes first.  A little further down the track a string of Greater Flamingos flew down river towards Malaga. Arriving by the ford with the rain still tipping it down, we wisely stayed in the car and watched a covey of Red Legged Partridge near the river.  Standing on a rock to the side of the ford crossing was a juvenile Night Heron intent on it's breakfast, a couple of Cormorants soon joined in as did Moorhen, Grey Heron and Coot. 

The rain now started to ease, well  enough to open the car windows which sure makes life easier and a male Black Redstart obliged close by.  A little further away the first Bluethroat was spied feeding hungrily.  By now we decided to cross the river and, as usual, to stop half way through the ford to view both Grey and White Wagtails, Mallard, Green Sandpiper and the Lesser Black Backed Gulls up stream.  A Cetti's Warbler announced it's presence in the usual way, but unusually posed in full view.  Yellow-legged and Black-headed Gulls wheeled overhead as we continued on our way to the other side.  
Greenshank Archibebe Claro Tringa nebularia (PHOTO: Derek Etherton)
With the rain now well on its way to stopping, we drove to the bridge to view the concrete drainage gully and whilst we did, something made Barbara turn around in time to see our target bird.   An Osprey, rose from the river with breakfast in its talons.  Job done and it was only 0910hrs!  But no, we three musketeers (OK, ardent birders) were enjoying this and there was so much more to come.  The drain, now running well with water from the motorway contained Common and Green Sandpiper, Serin, Goldfinch, Robin, preening and displaying Zitting Cisticolas, Ringed Plover, a solo Snipe flew in and then the first of two more Bluethroats were seen.  The first, a juvenile without it's tell-tale bib was soon joined by a beautiful adult with the tell-tale red, white & blue markings so prominent.  As the rain had now stopped the 'scope was out and the birds just posed for us.....fabulous. Soon both Little and Cattle Egret appeared as did Meadow Pipit, Crested Lark, Sardinian Warbler - such a busy place!

Leaving here to drive and stop under the motorway viaduct nothing new was found on the river but a distant Common Kestrel called for a 'scope for viewing.  Just as well because panning round the bamboo Greenfinches were being viewed when suddenly the first of the days Wrynecks appeared.  What a bonus! 09:45hrs with Osprey, 3 Bluethroats and Wryneck in the book; this doesn't happen everyday I can assure you!

So now to cross back through the river, stopping again  midway to check, but only adding House Sparrow, we continued the circuit to take in the reed bed.  Literally hundreds of Serin and Goldfinch were in scrub feeding away and constantly moving to avoid us.  Passing under the landing light pier we stopped to view an almost tame Corn Bunting that seemed determined not to move because of us.  Lucky we stopped for him because Barbara was scanning the bushes in the reeds only to discover a preening Penduline Tit.  What a bonus, all 3 of us out of the car to watch this lovely bird [the Corn Bunting staying put] but it was just too far away for a decent photo.
Corn Bunting Triguero Emberiza calandra (PHOTO: Derek Etherton)
Moving down to 'Short toed Lark corner' a Hoopoe flew over and a couple of Common Kestrel renewed their mating bonds only to be interrupted, and to chased off, by a passing Sparrowhawk.  A Booted Eagle was spotted circling high and behind us Common Waxbills made their strange buzzing noise as they flew among the reeds. Suddenly we were aware of the second-for-the-day Wryneck that had flown in to pose delightfully in a bare fig shrub.  Then, would you believe, it was joined by a second and the two birds stayed around for a few minutes before flying a short distance away.  Whilst watching the Wrynecks loud Water Rail squealing came from the reeds behind us and amongst the 'gang' of Sparrows was a perfect, deeply marked, Spanish variety.  Collared Dove completed our pre-breakfast birding so it was off to our local venta for coffee and sustenance.
Water Pipit Bisbita Alpino Anthus spinoletta (PHOTO: Derek Etherton)
The second part of the morning consisted of driving up to the Rio Grande to fill in a few blanks - well hopefully. Chaffinch & Greenfinch were bathing in a puddle as we entered and so we drove round under the bridge to tackle to top end.  Several Common and Green Sandpipers were about and a solo Greenshank looked resplendent in the now bright sunshine.  A little further up the river a Water Pipit went about it's business oblivious to us.  Black Winged Stilt and Great White Egret were viewed as we drove across the river to the top end and here Blue Tit, Linnet and Rock Dove joined the list.  Whilst standing on the bridge and scanning the skies above the distant Alora two displaying Bonelli's Eagles were spied.  What a way to end a great morning.

Anyway, enough of this boasting and the bird list is as below in alphabetical order.

Birds seen:
Blackbird, Black-winged Stilt, Bluethroat, Corn Bunting, Chaffinch, Chiffchaff, Coot, Cormorant, Dove - Collared, Dove - Rock, Eagle - Bonelli's, Eagle - Booted, Egret - Cattle, Egret - Great White, Egret - Little, Flamingo - Greater, Goldfinch, Greenfinch, Greenshank, Gull - Lesser Black-backed, Gull - Yellow-legged, Heron - Grey, Heron - Night, Hoopoe, Jackdaw, Kestrel, Lark - Crested, Linnet, Mallard, Monk Parakeet, Moorhen, Osprey, Pipit - Meadow, Pipit - Water, Plover - Ringed, Red-legged Partridge, Redstart - Black, Robin, Sandpiper - Common, Sandpiper - Green, Serin, Snipe, Sparrow - House, Sparrow - Spanish, Sparrowhawk, Starling - Spotless, Stonechat, Tit - Blue, Tit - Penduline, Wagtail - Grey, Wagtail - White, Warbler - Cetti's, Warbler - Sardinian, Water Rail, Waxbill - Common, Wryneck, Zitting Cisticola

Check out the accompanying website at http://www.birdingaxarquia.weebly.com for the latest sightings, photographs and additional information.

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