Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Two Razorbills and over Seventy Common Scoter

Snipe  Agachadiza Comun Gallinago gallinago
Tuesday 2 February

Up early and collected my visiting Dutch neighbour, Lisette Heikoop, from Caleta and then off to meet Derek and Barbara Etherton for a quick coffee before spending well over six hours at the Guadalhorce Reserve in Malaga.  As an additional "experiment" I took my old Panasonic FZ50 to see what quality distant photographs it would produce with a view to cutting down on weight for a future birding trip where I want also to carry a telescope.  As can be seen from the results it was all disappointing and in no way did justice to what was a fabulous day's birding in glorious sunny weather and, whilst cool at first, certainly warmed up as the morning progresses and ere long we were stripping layers.

The title certainly hints at what was to come but, then again, that does rather somewhat hide the fact that we had five raptors, a first ever Red-legged Partridge at this site and no less than six Penduline Tits happily feeding and out in the open immediately below us from the Laguna Casillas hide.

Grey Heron Garza Real Ardea cinerea
Arriving at the church and walking down to the entrance track up to the western arm of the Guadalhorce we had a local Blackird, Chiffchaffs and a White Wagtail and as soon as we reached the upper track both Black Redstart and Blackap.  Soon we had also added Sardinian Warbler and the first of many calling Cetti's Warblers whilst a Heron flew over revealing the first of the scores of Cormorants that were to be seen during the morning.  Both Moorhen and Little Egret were on the water up river from the bridge whilst the resident Rock Doves messed about on the motorway bridge and at least four Jackdaws were seen resting on or flying near the lamp standards.  The first House Martin was recorded and later we were to see many more before the increasing temperature forced the birds ever higher.  As we crossed the footbridge a Marsh harrier "skipped" across the river and (we) having crossed found what we thought was the bird but I rather suspect it was a Booted Eagle on top of the low, bare tree.

Walking across to the eastern arm of the river and the Laguna Casillas we saw Serins and the first Goldfinch .  A Greenfinch then a trio of Meadow Pipits alongside the path before turning towards the hide from where we watched an Osprey fly over before a good sighting of a Booted Eagle and our second, another female, Kestrel of the morning.  Meanwhile, on the water, we had a number of White-headed Ducks, Coots and the occasional Moorhen.  A couple of Little Grebes out in an appearance and then a trio of Teal but only the one Mallard.  All around us many, many Chiffchaffs and then the first Robin below the hide but pride of place went to the Pendulunine Tit feeding in a bare Tamerisk immediately below us.  And as we looked we realised there was just one individual abut at least half a dozen and they remained for a lengthy time; if only I had had the "proper" camera wit me.

One of many White-headed Ducks Malvasia cabeciblanca Oxyura leucocephala

Serins as we made our way in to the Wader Hide from where we could see about a dozen Black-winged Stilts along with the quintet of Greenshank along with more Chiffchaff and the distant Cormorants.  Moving on towards the sea we had our first fly-past of  a dozen screeching Monk Parakeets and a Collared Dove.  Nevermind the occasional Blackbird and more Serins along with Spotless Starlings we had found a lovely male Pergrine Falcon preening at the top of the tallest chimney to our left.  Lesser Black-backed and Black-headed Gulls on the river and then a handful of Linnets sang as they passed over.  On the barren land to the left we had Black Redstart, Stonechats, at least three Crested Larks and the female Kestrel continued to track our walk along with a "baker's dozen of raucous Monk Parakeets.

We saw the first Gannet out at sea as we approached the Sea Watch and a number of Yellow-legged Gulls were resting on the water along with their Lesser Black-backed cousins.  Barbara spotted a trio of Greater Flamingos flying east across Malaga Bay close to the water and we were to see another pair of adults flying overhead as left the Sea watch.  Derek found the first Black-necked Grebe not too far of the beach and then I noticed the dumpy black and white bird paddling eastwards not more than three metres off the beach.  You think Black-necked Grebe knowing that it is not even as you shout "Razorbill!"  watching and photographing we realised that there was a second individual and the birds remained relatively close the whole time.

Record shot of Razorbill Alca Comun Alca torda

Meanwhile, apart form the resting gull, Barbara commented on the fishing net that was stretched out in a long line.  Funny, the nets moving and then it disappeared.  No wonder as we realised we were looking at a raft of Common Scoters with Derek counting 25 only for Lisette to state that she had just counted 41.  Watching these birds was absolutely amazing as they seem to surface and dive in formation style yet always leave a "look out" or two on the surface.  Not only synchronised diving but they reappear as a group.  By the time we had all had various attempts at establishing the exact size of the raft we finally agreed that there was in excess of seventy individuals.  Amazing sight.

Exiting the Sea watch we were in time to see a single Song Thrush come in from behind us off the sea.  Surely if we had already seen such a fabulous array of species this might have been the "Bird of the day".  To our left in the trees a male Kestrel posed on top of a large bush and we had  a good, if distant, view of the resting Booted Eagle.  Then, between the two, we noticed that the male Peregrine Falcon had flown to also take a resting spot neat the top of a small tree.  Wonderful!  A Hoopoe took flight between us and the old river and then a couple of Zitting Cisticolas decided that they, too, should be included in the morning's sightings.

Sleepy Booted Eagle Aguililla Calzada Hieraaetus pennalus

And so it was back via the two hides and on to the the Laguna Escondida recording a Great Tit and another Hoopoe as we turned left of the main track.  Approaching the hide a Kingfisher flashed in front from right to left and then up and over the fence and away across the water.  Mainly White-headed Ducks here but also a handful of Shoveler and a few Mallards, not to mention at least seven Little Grebes and a quartet of Black-necked Grebes.  But we did find a couple of Common Pochard right at the back of the water and, needless to say, there were also many Chiffchaffs.  It was here that I saw my first Barn Swallow of the year as a single bird hawked for food over the water.

Finally, on to the Laguna Grande and the main hide.  Plenty of water which probably accounted for the fact that there was not a single gull of any species to be seen, nevermind the possibility of either Mediterranean or Audouin's.  Nor was there a single Little Egret but we did have a handful of Grey Heron and, probably, well in excess of 80 Cormorants on site at any one time.  On the water just a few Coots, Mallards and Shovelers but then the "specials" to the front and back of laguna.  Immediately in front we had a preening Snipe whilst at the back the Booted Eagle had arrived and posed for a long period before moving to the right to take up residence in one of the bare trees at the back.  However, in that same tree we had been happily watching and admiring the male Peregrine Falcon that posed beautifully (if only I had taken the Canon camera) and on the arrival of the Booted Eagle he took off and circled once before returning to mob the bigger raptor and then, finally, depart the scene.

The happily preening Snipe Agachadiza Comun Gallinago gallinago below the main hide at the Laguna Grande
Well that was it and now approaching 3.30 we decided that it was, perhaps, time to depart.  But no, just as we began to pack up a Common Sandpiper appeared in front of us to delay departure by a few more minutes and, at the same time, raise the species total to a rather rewarding 59.  Great weather, great birding with, unlike recent visits over the past few months, birds almost everywhere as spring had obviously sprung, and especially great company.

Birds seen:
Mallard, Shoveler, Teal, Pochard, Common Scoter, White-headed Duck, Red-legged Partridge, Little Grebe, Black-necked Grebe, Gannet, Cormorant, Cattle Egret, Little Egret, Heron, Flamingo, Osprey, Marsh Harrier, Booted Eagle, Kestrel, Peregrine Falcon, Moorhen, Coot, Black-winged Stilt, Snipe, Greenshank, Common Sandpiper, Black-headed Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Yellow-legged Gull, Razorbill, Rock Dove, Collared Dove, Monk Parakeet, Kingfisher, Hoopoe, Crested Lark, Barn Swallow, House Martin, Meadow Pipit, White Wagtail, Robin, Black Redstart, Stonechat, Blackbird, Song Thrush, Cetti's Warbler, Zitting Cisticola, Sardinian Warbler, Blackcap, Chiffchaff, Great Tit, Penduline Tit, Jackdaw, Spotless Starling, House Sparrow, Serin, Greenfinch, Goldfinch, Linnet.

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

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