Saturday, 12 August 2017

Guadalhorce, Malaga

Little Bittern Avetorillo Comun Ixobrychus minutus
Saturday 12 August

Another early morning start and arriving at the Guadalhorce just before seven in the dark the fist first seen ere a pair of Backbirds taking advantage of the sodium lights for some early foraging.  With the first signs of light away to the east as I crossed the footbridge, I put up a Crested Lark resting on the track a the start of the "bamboo avenue" and then, at the other end, a resting Red-necked Nightjar taking advantage of the warm stones and yet to be disturbed by the first visitor of the day.  Lovely bird which let me, from about ten metres, put down the scope and camera case, take up camera and stand and then decided to fly away.  What a tease!

Juvenile Black-wiged Stilt Himantopus himantopus
On round to the Laguna Casillas and in the now large wet area behind the hide held a quartet of Mallards, three Wood Sandpipers and a single Black-winged Stilt.  From the hide itself the water contained about a dozen Coot, a couple of White-headed Ducks and the same number of Common Pochard along with Moorhen, plenty of Little Grebe and  a departing quartet of Red-crested Pochards which had, presumably, spent the night on the water.  Above the first Barn Swallows and House Martins put in an appearance along  with a singe Pallid Swift and an over-flying Little Egret.

On to the "Wader Pool" which looked decidedly uninviting and, as on my last visit, the deep footprints through the sandy mud to the first low island were being used by the ten Little Ringed Plovers as, what I can only describe as bunkers, to gets some from the sun as the temperatures begin to soar.  At least a dozen Black-winged Stilts on the pool and a single juvenile Flamingo.  Whilst both single Redshank and Dunlin were noted, I was more interested in, first, the resting Peregrine Falcon in the tree at the far back and, secondly, well away in the tower block in the distance the sight of a Barn Owl looking out of its either nesting space or roost.  To complete the listings a Collared Dove flew over, then a juvenile Goldfinch from the tiny charm landed in a nearby tree and a female Common Kestrel was recorded.

The short walk down to the Rio Viejo (Old River) produced a large gathering of birds looking like a snowfall on the far water.  Lots of gulls which were mainly Mediterranean plus a few Audouin's and a handful of Yellow-legged Gulls.  A score of Black-winged Stilts were roosting on the far back and feeding around their legs were eight Curlew Sandpipers along with seven Dunlin,  a couple of Little Stints and another Common Redshank.

Curlew Sandpipers Correlimos Zarapitin Calidris ferruginea and Black-winged Stilts Ciguenuela Comun Himantopus himantopus

Making my way back towards Laguna Casillas I picked up the first Spotless Starlings and House Sparrows of the day and from the hide was in time to see a pair of adult Flamingos fly over.  Two Gadwalls had now arrived and a flighty male Sardinian Warbler was active along the track.

Passing Flamingos Flamenco Comun Phoenicopterus roseus over Laguna Casillas

The Laguna Escondida might not contain the recently seen Marbled Duck but there were five Ferruginous Ducks on the water along with Mallard, White-headed Duck and a handful of Teal.  At the far end another Red-crested Pochard and more Coots, Moorhens and Little Grebes but the most obvious, and nearest, sighting was the lovely Little Bittern happily fishing from a horizontal reed below me to the left of the hide.  Indeed, the scope produced a male Little Bittern at the very far end of the water.

Hunting Little Bittern Avetorillo Comun Ixobrychus minutus
So on to the Laguna Grande and the main hide where yet more Mediterranean and a couple of Black-headed Gulls were recorded.  A trio of Collared Doves seemed to be very busy away to my left and the single Little Egret was roosting high in a tree, perhaps waiting for the return of his friends the Cormorant.  In front of me a couple of Kentish Plovers and a handful of Ringed Plovers along with a single Wood Sandpiper.  Not just the small number of feeding Barn Swallows and House Martins above but the large number of feeding swifts, mainly Pallid but a few Common Swift.  With the sun now well and truly up and the temperature rapidly rising, I decided at 10.15 to call it a morning and head off home.  A Zitting Cisticola as I made my way back to the car to bring the morning's total up to 43 species and realised, upon arrival, that in three and a half hours I had not heard nor seen a single Monk Parakeet!

Ferruginous Ducks Porron Pardo Aythya nyroca on the laguna Escondida

Birds seen:
Gadwall, Mallard, Teal, Red-crested Pochard, Common Pochard, White-headed Duck, Little Grebe, Little Bittern, Little Egret, Flamingo, Kestrel, Peregrine Falcon, Moorhen, Coot, Black-winged Stilt, Little Ringed Plover, Ringed Plover, Kentish Plover, Little Stint, Curlew Sandpiper, Dunlin, Redshank, Wood Sandpiper, Mediterranean Gull, Black-headed Gull, Audouin's Gull, Yellow-legged Gull, Rock Dove, Collard Dove, Barn Owl, Red-necked Nightjar, Common Swift, Pallid Swift, Crested Lark, Barn Swallow, House Martin, Blackbird, Zitting Cisticola, Sardinian Warbler, Spotless Starling, House Sparrow, Goldinch.


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

Friday, 11 August 2017

At Home (Sea) with the Orcas

Wednesday 9 August

Orca (Killer Whale) Orcinus orca

The advert stated that there would be a 30% rebate if no Orcas were seen.  No need for the company to worry about refunds today as we, on arrival in the feeding area, found well in excess of thirty individuals.  Indeed, so many we were unable to tell whether there was a large pod or we simply seeing the same animals many times over.  With a capacity boat and a good hour out of Tarifa to reach the area, rather than a three hour cruise it was almost four hours by the time we returned just before 6pm.  As has already been mentioned in the previous (bird) blog, there very very few birds on this trip and most were nearer the shore.  However, in total we recorded three Storm Petrels and, after much debate with local Spanish birding expect Juan Garcia, we are pretty sure that at least two were the very rare for the area Wilson's Storm Petrel Paino de Wilson Oceanities oceanicus.
I guarantee that the two to three thousand guests on the passing cruise ship did not see what we saw!     

Too late now but we were informed by the crew members that the Orcas tend to feed on the passing Red Tuna in the morning during their approximate three weeks in the area.  The feeding frenzy leaves much waste which is greedily snapped up by the birds, a few gulls but mainly shearwaters, skuas and storm petrels.  This year's added interest was the presence of the rare-visiting Wilson's Storm Petrel.  In addition to the Orcas, it was fascinating to see a handful of Sun Fish.  Just think of a very large, vertical disc, probably about 50cm in diameter, with a very small fin on top.   Having just seen one I raised my camera to take a photograph and then, presumably, photographed the wrong image below the water.  Take a look at the following photographs and see if you can determine what it might be.  It appears to have a "flag" or marker attached to it and I wonder if this might be the remains of some late departed Tuna.  Any ideas?

Dead fish (Note the flag in the top picture), waste or what?
One big beast. This male is more like a miniature submarine
Almost too close for comfort.  Make sure you keep your arm out of the water!

This is a male Orca.  Note the tall, upright dorsal fin.

In comparison, look at the fin of the female with her calf.  A much smaller dorsal and a definite "kink" to the rear.

Notches and minor variations to the outline help the observers to identify individual Orcas
Keep up son and don't upset Daddy (above)!
OK, I've taught you how to capture the fish now let's try and pinch one from the nets.  But make sure you know how to run (swim) if a boat turns up.

Looks like trouble so it's, "Dive, dive, dive!"

And if the worse come to the worst there's always a few relatives around to help you out.

Nobody looking?  Check out the nets for some easy feeding but don't let the boat see you!

And so ended a marvellous afternoon with many memories to be cherished for months to come.  And next time we will make sure that we catch a morning "watch" when the Orcas are more likely to be feeding on the Tuna and so encouraging visiting shearwaters and petrels to feed on the scraps.

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

Thursday, 10 August 2017

Twelve raptors and Scores of Orcas

Wednesday 9 August

Up and out of the house before 6 collecting Derek Etherton, Micky Smith and Lindsay Pheasant before carrying on down to Tarifa where, after a short break for breakfast, we were able to spend a couple of hours at the Cazalla Viewpoint above the town to check out on the earlier departing raptors and other bird movements.  We had already passed a couple of large flocks of Black Kites as we moved along the coast and nearly all the White Stork nests were occupied by either one or both of the current residents.

Female Common Kestrel Cernicalo Vulgar Falco tinnunculus
As soon as we arrived, with a gentle breeze to keep away the rapidly increasing temperature, we became aware of the number of Common Kestrels feeding in the ate area.  On the wires below the and at the back of the site not only resting Kestrels but a couple of Rollers.  In the distance the first of the soaring Griffon Vultures and then time to meet the other birders present at the site including fellow ABS member and friends along with Alejandro Onrubia from the Migres Centre.  Even better when Alejandro decided to join us at the Andalucia Bird Society.

Very distant Roller Carraca Europea Coracias garrulus
In very close succession we had our first Booted Eagle followed by a Short-toed Eagle.  The latter spent much time quartering the area to the west and we were able to see the bird literally drop out of the sky and down onto the path below where it found its morning breakfast of a good-sized snake.  I suspect much was left as the bird left then returned after for another "snack" but did not carry away its prey.

Booted Eagle Aguililla Calzada Hieraaetus pennatus
A group of Honey Buzzards moved over towards the sea and at the top of the group a single Egyptian Vulture.  Similarly, the flock of Black Kites had a single White Stork moving above them but looking towards the sea we then saw the rest of the White Storks flock with as many as twenty making their way south.  Meanwhile, a good number of Swifts had arrived on the scene, mainly Common but also a few Pallids.  The easily recognised calling from not too high revealed the passing flock of Bee-eaters and then it was back to more Booted and Short-Toed Eagles.  Again, following the Booted Eagle we were pleased to record the Goshawk next to it and clearly showing the size difference.

High Goshawk Aguilucho Cenizo Circus pygargus
Lots of excitement as an immature Montagu's Harrier put in an appearance closely followed by a female Marsh Harrier.  A further surprise followed as we watched a female Lesser Kestrel feeding on he wing.  Then ,by way of a change from the raptors, a pair of Raven drifted by towards the coast.  Something a little different was seeing a Long-legged Buzzard in the distance which started the debate as to whether it was a pure bird or one of the hybrid Steppe Buzzards that occur in the area. In addition to a Stonechat, other smaller birds feeding close by included Crested Lark and Sardinian Warbler.

Short-toed Eagle Culebrera Europea Circaetus gallicus including a shot on the ground after fist attack on the snake
We then drove down to the town and parked the car.  Walking to the docks to check-in for our afternoon "Orca Cruise" we, not unnaturally, recorded Spotless Starling, Collared and Rock Doves along with Blackbird , House Martin and Barn Swallow.

After time for a drink and sandwiches with a few Yellow-legged Gulls on the sea walls, we made our way aboard ship for an almost four hour trip out into the Strait, passing an immature Lesser Black-backed Gull before recording both Balearic and Cory's Shearwater along with a Pomarine Skua before reaching the Orca's feeding grounds.  Talking to the crew it appeared that the Orcas fed mainly in the morning on the passing Red Tuna so that would have been the opportune time, had there been any spare capacity, to  look for seabirds as they fed upon the scraps.  And whilst we did not see any Tuna it was wierd to see a couple of Sun Fish at the side of the boat.

I beieve one of the large male Orcas Orcinus orca
So, no Wilson's Storm Petrel but a couple of (Common) Storm Petrels did pass the boat.  But out here it was all about the Orcas; there must have been score and more and it would appear that more than half of these were females and each seemed to be accompanied by its calf.  Were we seeing the same animals over and over again?  Difficult to say but the Orcas were close to the boat, often too close, to get decent photographs.

Feamle Orca Orcinus orca and calf
After returning to the port at Tarifa we had close views of Cory's Shearwaters and, following a short stop for a drink we started out on the long return journey with drop-off stops at Marbella, Benalmadena and Alhaurin de la Torre.  Eventually home after seventeen hours at just before eleven but what a wonderful day out with great friends and marvellous company.

Resting Cory's Shearwater Pardela Cenicienta Calonectris diomedea off the Tarifa coast
Birds seen:
Balearic Shearwater, Cory's Shearwater, Storm Petrel, White Stork, Honey Buzard, Black Kite, Egyptian Vulture, Griffon Vulture, Short-toed Eagle, Marsh Harrier, Montagu's Harrier, Booted Eagle, Goshawk, Long-legged Buzzard, Lesser Kestrel, Common Kestrel, Pomarine Skua, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Yellow-legged Gull, Rock Dove, Collared Dove, Common Swift, Pallid Swift, Bee-eater, Roller, Crested Lark, Barn Swallow, House Martin, Stonechat, Blackbird, Sardinian warbler, Raven, Spotless Starling.

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

Friday, 4 August 2017

Zapata and Rio Grande, Malaga

Friday 4 August

Up very early and away to Zapata at the back of Malaga airport where I arrived a few minutes after six.  Still dark and a drive to the far end of "Nighjar Alley" produced the first and only Red-necked Nightjar as the bird took off immediately in front of the car and moved away over the bank on my left.  It never ceases to amaze one how large these birds are when seen at close quarters.

Then it was a casual drift back to the ford through the Rio Guadalhorce where I met up with Derek and Barbra Etherton along with Lindsay and Keith Pheasant to see the early morning light arrive and the awakening of the local bird life.   The roosting water birds started to move about and there were at east a quartet of Grey Herons along with a dozen or more Night Herons, either in the water or flying overhead. Whilst a couple of Moorhens paddled about the first of the Little Egrets dropped in to search for their breakfast and, once settled down, must have totalled at least a dozen.

Grey Heron Garza Real Ardea cinerea in the early morning shade
A small number of Cattle Egrets flew over and looking skywards we soon picked out half a dozen Glossy Ibis heading upstream.. At least an hundred Spotless Starlings gathered on a neighbouring wire and a hint of a murmeration which, about an hour later, became more of an explosion as a single Sparrowhawk whizzed round the corner from behind the reeds to see what night be take by surprise.  Along with the Spotless Starlings there were four Jackdaws then the arrival of a Purple Heron.  No sooner had the bird settled in a nearby tree than two more followed by a fourth individual graced us with their presence.  Checking the water and it edges we soon added both White and Blue-headed Wagtails and whilst a number of both Grey and Night Herons continued to rest we could but not notice the very sorry-looking Yellow-legged Gull which eventually walked its way down stream along the levelled gravel.  Little Ringed Plovers and Green Sandpipers were also active along with a flashing Kingfisher and, much closer to us, a family of young Cetti's Warblers and a reasonable-sized flock of Linnets and Goldfinch.  On the far side of the river both a couple of Blackbirds and a Hoopoe whilst, above,  a good number of Common Swifts had arrived along with accompanying Barn Swallows and House Martins.  Constant checking did eventually confirm the presence of a small number of Pallid Swifts , the arrival of a pair of Black-winged Stilts and even a trio of departing Mallard.

Gone nine so time to move on to the lower Rio Grande after a short stop for breakfast.  Upon arriving it was obvious that there was no shortage of Little Egrets but closer inspection also revealed a single White Stork and more Green sandpipers along with Common Sandpipers.  A handful of Black-winged Stilts were present and more Little Ringed Plovers.  Feeding over the water were mainly Barn Swallows and the occasional House Martin and as we made our way downsteam to cross the river and continue on to the narrow bridge to park up we encountered both House and Spanish Sparrows and Crested Larks plus a number of Collared Doves and a single Turtle Dove flying away from us back across the river.

Just a lone White Stork Ciguena Blanca Ciconia ciconia at the Rio Grande

However, perhaps the best sighting after the recent comments was the sight of a number of calling, flying and resting Bee-eaters.  Always a lovely sight and so welcome; the first for me since returning from the UK.  And once looking up it soon became very evident that they were not the only birds in the sky.  First a Booted Eagle quickly followed by a Short-toed Eagle.  Lovely to see these birds in their natural element as the single Black Kite seemed happy to just sit and relax on an electricity wire, although we did eventually see the bird flying low upriver.  With a number of Goldfinches, Greenfinches and Serins moving about near the tree tops we were to regular catch sight of more of these lovely raptors then the big moment when we happened to find a trio of Honey Buzzards circling and slowly making their way westwards.  The first week of August would suggest that these early arrivals are non-breeders.

At last, Bee-eaters Abejaruco Europeo Merops apiaster heard and seen
Immediately in front of us a male Sardinian Warbler with both adult and juvenile Grey Wagtail on the stream that represented the Rio Grande river.  Lindsay hear and then just a brief view of the Golden Oriole that flew into the trees, and also revealing the resting juvenile Common Kestrel, on the far bank below the bridge whilst above the bridge Lindsay then managed to find the first Spotted Flycatcher and Barbara a second Jay of the morning.

By now it was becoming quite hot and gone 12.30 so we made our way back downstrean and continued on to the confluence of the Rio Grande and Guadalhorce where, upon arrival, we were greeted by a single Iberian Grey Shrike and a few Chaffinches.  A couple of Mallards on the far Guadalhorce and more Little Egrets along with a pair of Black-winged stilts but, after recording over fifty species for the morning, it was time to say our goodbyes and a make a start for home 
food, a swim and a well-earned siesta - but not necessarily in that order.

Lots of Little Egrets Garceta Comun Egretta garzetta this morning

Birds seen:
Mallard, Night Heron, Cattle Egret, Little Egret, Glossy Ibis, Grey Heron, Purple Heron, White Stork, Honey Buzzard, Black Kite, Short-toed Eagle, Booted Eagle, Sparrowhawk, Kestrel, Moorhen, Black-winged Stilt, Little Ringed Plover, Green Sandpiper, Common Sandpiper, Yellow-legged Gull, Rock Dove, Turtle Dove, Collared Dove, Red-necked Nightjar, Common Swift, Pallid Swift, Kingfisher, Bee-eater, Hoopoe, Crested Lark, Barn Swallow, House Martin, Blue-headed Wagtail, Grey Wagtail, White Wagtail, Blackbird, Cetti's Warbler, Sardinian Warbler, Spotted Flycatcher, Golden Oriole, Iberian Grey Shrike, Jay, Jackdaw, Spotless Starling, House Sparrow, Spanish Sparrow, Chaffinch, Serin, Greenfinch, Goldfinch, Linnet.

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