Tuesday 2 January 2018

A Look back on 2017

A look back on 2017
Reminiscences of the past year as seen through the eyes of some of the members of the Axarquia Bird Group

Cream-coloured Coursers Cursorius cursor photographed by Mick Richardson
On the whole, 2017was a very good year birding year despite all the interruptions as I travelled back and forth to the UK and we still managed to complete 9 field meetings as follows (attendance in brackets):
Guadalhorce, Malaga (2 present  - but it was a very wet start)
Rio Velez, Torre del Mar  (9)  [Morning only]
Charca de Suarez, Motril (15)
Guadalhorce, Malaga  (10)
No meeting
Charca de Suarez & Velez de Benaudalla  (16)
No meeting
No meting
Charca de Suarez (12)
Guadalhorce, Malaga (8)
Ventas de Zafarraya & Hinterland (8)
Alhambra de Granada & El Robledal  (8)



From a birding perspective, there were good numbers of participants to maximise the observation opportunities.  Similarly, it was lovely to see a mixture of long-standing and new members.
With most of us living east of Malaga City we seem to have a limited number of venues without undertaking serious travelling.  This year we missed out on Sierra Loja so come the New Year I will send out a potential list of dates and venues and ask you to consider what needs changing and any other sites you would like me to add.  However, I am going to be away for about three months between April and the end of August so it may be necessary to undertake a little juggling.  As the last couple of years I will also try and get a couple of private visits to the Charca de Suarez on Wednesday mornings in June and September if possible.

From an individual perspective, I know that at least  four of our group maintain an annual list of birds seen so have asked the other three to join me in remembering their favourite birds of the year and, possibly, those individual birds that have not been seen this year.  In addition, I have asked Steve Powell if he would, perhaps, share a few of his wonderful photographs with us; those taken in Spain during 2017.  This is not a competition with winners and losers, just a reflection on the past year.  If other members of the group have an annual list and/or photos they would like to share then please contact me so that I can update this summary and send out a revised edition to all.

And having broached the idea of this “Summary” to many I have received a number of comments so the following is becoming more of a resume of the past year, a sort of happy reminisce.  So the following is more of a personal look back at the birding year of 2017 by a group of our members.

Mick Richardson

Species recorded in Spain:  300
Favourites: In the top five for me this year must be the Cream Coloured Coursers that have breed just off my local patch. Next came a cracking Pectoral Sandpiper which friend Juan Pérez Contreras and his wife Beatriz found near Granada and finding for myself a Red-throated Pipit on the fields at Huétor Tajar was also up there and all in Granada Province. The last two were out of Granada, An immature Iceland Gull in Bilbao was pleasing as I have lways liked gulls and last but not last bird that was seen by many of the group a Long-tailed Duck on the Malaga Coast.

Some that did not make the top 5 but were great to see were Steppe-grey Shrike, Eider, Velvet Scoter, Bean Goose, Brent Goose, Hudsonian Whimbrel, Red-throated Diver, Red-necked Phalarope, Lanner, Rock Pipit and a Rook, all of which were Spanish Lifers for me.
On the none bird front I was also very pleased with a guiding trip to the Andujar area where we dropped on the Lynx and watch a stunning male down to 15 meters. On the same trip we had Red and Fallow Deer, Rabbit, Hare, Wild Boar, Fox, Otter and Spanish Ibex.

Missed this year: Probably the biggest misses were Long-eared and Barn Owl, Marbled Duck, Baillon’s Crake and Woodcock.
[All photographs taken in 2017 by Mick Richardson]

Derek & Barbara Etherton

Species recorded in Spain:  266
The year started well, with Great Bustards, Pin-tailed Sandgrouse, Golden Plover etc on the Osuna track, all this very early in January.  The month also found a Long-tailed Duck on a golf course close to Marbella, possibly the most photographed bird of this species.

Barbara always wanted to find Iberian Lynx, so February saw us venture to Andujar along with friends for a 3 day hunt for this elusive creature.  Success on 2 days we had smashing views of un-collared cats, exactly as nature intended.  It just also coincided with fabulous displays by both Spanish Imperial and Golden Eagles.

The Red-necked Nightjars returned earlier than usual on 'our patch', we recorded the first couple on 26 March.  Prior to that the Penduline Tits had put on a super display in their usual reed bed.

We had UK friends staying with us (a Southampton fan, just like you!), now Nigel is a birder, Anne not so much, but Nigel wanted a day’s birding.  Finding a solution to keeping them both happy, marriage guidance counsellor me, I suggested Sierra Loja.  Neither had seen Rufous-tailed Rock Thrush, and what clinched it was the chance of Eagle Owl and the stunning scenery.  Well no owls on the way up, plenty of Wheatears of all persuasions and at the top easy to find Rock Thrushes!  Some of the males were so close to the car that binoculars were hardly needed to appreciate the colouring of this wonderful bird - happiness all round.  Heading back down the mountain I stopped in the turning circle to check the cave, more out of hope than expectation - something’s there!  Grabbing the 'scope and lo & behold 2 Little Owl chicks on the shelf - wow were we all happy.  All I heard about for the rest of the time our guests stayed was Eagle Owls!

August supplied a highlight by taking the Orca cruise from Tarifa.  Not just Orca's, but Shearwaters and, possibly the bird of the year, Wilson's Storm Petrel - witnessed by Juan Perez himself.

A surprise one September morning, pre-dawn, on 'our patch' whilst looking for the Nightjars - we 'accidentally' found a Barn Owl hunting.  Not hunting as they usually do, but this one was running and hopping along the ground chasing large insects etc.  All this captured on my dash cam!  Zapata also produced only our third sighting in Spain of Jenet, as well as Egyptian Mongoose on a regular basis.

Sad to miss out on Quail and Dotterel but they're not so easy at the best of times, even a Wryneck evaded us this year.

So a total of one better than last year - 266, but this is strictly for Andalucia .  However the real highlight for me, and Barbara, is the company we keep when out birding.  What a great bunch of regular friends join us on our days out, sometimes longer than a day - without them it just would not be the same - long may it continue.

John & Jenny Wainwright

Always one of the stalwarts of our little group and over the past year John and Jenny have seen just about all the local species to be seen.  A few of their favourite photographs follow:

 John’s photograph of a newly-arrived Nighjar Caprimulgus europaeus taken close to the Valverde Centre in the Donana National Park in April.

Bob Wright

Species recorded in Spain:  265
Always difficult to pick out winners and losers.  So often, a rarity is common place elsewhere and vice-versa.  An early Dunnock at the Rio Velez in February came as rather a surprise.  But stand-outs would have to include the long-staying Long-tailed Duck at Calahonda, Little Crake at Charca de Suarez, Ruppell’s Vulture at Tarifa and Water Rail at Alhama de Granada in December.  And note how many were actually seen on Axarquia Bird Group meets, that was another added bonus.

Both Quail and Dotterel slipped my attention this year but that was no great surprise.  And much as I would still like to eventually add both Wallcreeper and Dupont’s Lark to an annual Spanish list, the two big disappointments were missing out on Spotted Redshank and that most elusive of the swift family, the Little Swift.  But I hope to rectify both in the coming year so watch out for the coming blogs.

Long-tailed Duck Clangula hyemalis  near Calahonda in January

Ruppell’s Vulture Gyps rueppellii overhead at Tarifa in September

Lindsay Pheasant

Highlight for me was at Charca de Suarez with the Axarquia Bird Group.  Water Rail followed by a Little Crake then a beautiful Red Avadavat in full sunlight giving on to a Ferruginous Duck.  Four “lifers” for me in 20 minutes!  Brilliant.

Corrinne & Olly Hibbert

My special highlights (of many for a total amateur and someone new to birdwatching in Spain) were seeing the Purple Swamphen and the Red-knobbed Coot at Charca de Suarez. Olly’s was being the first to see a Black-tailed Godwit (also at Charca on one of the little floating beds) which was hidden behind other ducks/waders (I can’t remember what they were but you took photographs at the time). Olly was particularly pleased because (although he had no idea what it was until Lisette also spotted it)  it was very hard to see and took some finding. So these are our highlights.

Bryan Stapley

Now living back in the UK I really miss our group outings and hope on trips back to Spain I will be able to join you again.   I would say my most satisfying sightings over there this year would be my one and only sighting of the Spanish Imperial Eagle while on a trip to Tarifa with Bob and Lisette.   Next although a common bird in summer the Bee-eaters are a delight, not only sighting with the group but because every year they came in over our garden and often roosted in the valley just below us.   At Charca the two types of Waxbills was a treat and after a long drive to the top of Maro heights where sighting of high up White-rumped Swifts.    If there is a regret for the past year it would be I never sighted a Golden Oriole!

Marcus and Liz Roots

I would like to include this note for 2017on a visit to Lanzarote, thought it might be of interest.

Although most people have said why on earth would you visit Lanzarote, Liz and myself had a wonderful birding visit. Not only did we see all the endemics, including Bertholot's Pipits, which were everywhere, but also Spanish Sparrows, Iberian Grey Shrikes, Hoopoes and Lesser Crested Larks.  Wintering Spectacled Warblers were commoner than Sardinians!

Away from the very built-up southern shores, the northern plains are a different prospect.  The real surprise was the ease to observe species that are difficult to see in Andulucia.  Stone Curlews were seen commonly along with Trumpeter Finches, Barbary Partridges and a few Quail.  It was also good to see pure flocks of Rock Dove.

Another bonus were the wintering waders, Grey, Ringed and Kentish Plovers, Whimbrel, Turnstones, Redshank and Common Sandpiper were noted on the Northern rocky shoreline  Offshore many Cory's Shearwaters at late pm and Osprey.  The real gem of the visit (and we were very lucky) were the superb Houbara Bustards, displaying!  And a pair of Cream Coloured Coursers, which we found difficult to locate.  (Other interesting birds observed included Kestrel, Raven, Egyptian Vulture, Linnets, Little Egret, Sandwich Tern, Swallow and Pallid Swift.)

Stephen & Elena Powell

2017 was a busy birding year which included four foreign birding trips but there were some excellent birding highlights here in Spain.  In fact the New Year got off to an excellent start with sightings of Wryneck and Merlin at Fuente de Piedra and at last very good and close views of the Trumpeter Finches at Cabo de Gata.  Then two other sites in particular stood out for me this year.

Trumpeter Finch Bucanetes githagineus at Cabo de Gata

At the superb Tablas de Daimiel we had very close and prolonged views of a Savi's Warbler singing its heart out in the reedbed. Bearded Reedlings were prolific and gave good photo opportunities. Other highlights include Great Spotted Cuckoo, Roller, Bonelli's Eagle, all four Heron species, many Great Reed Warblers and much more. We will probably visit this excellent site every Spring.

Savis’s Warbler Locustella lusciniodes at Tablas de Damiel

Sierra Loja was very productive this year. Summer highlights include large numbers of breeding Rock Thrushes that proved quite easy to see and photograph. In Winter the Ring Ouzels were prolific along with Redwings and Mistle Thrushes all feasting on a heavy crop of hawthorn berries. Spectacled Warbler and Montagu's Harrier were also notable sightings up here, but no trace of the wonderful  Scops Owl that I photographed in 2016.

Ring Ouzel Turdus torquatus on the Sierra Loja

Other notable sightings from the year were the welcome return of the Dippers at the Rio Guadalfeo, several views of Golden Eagles in the Axarquia and the Red-necked Nightjars in Zapata.

Bearded Tit Panurus biarmicus also at Tablas de Damiel

On a final note I enjoyed the 100-species-in-a-day quest with Bob, Derek and Barbara Etherton.  It proved to be hard work in the middle of September but we finally reached that magic number at dusk on the beach at the Mouth of the Guadalhorce.

 Rock Thrush Monticola saxatillis on the Sierra Loja

My grateful thanks and appreciation to all those who have kindly let me use their photographs and recollections of the past year.

 Water Rail Rallus aquaticus seen at our last meet of the year at Alhama de Granada (PHOTO: Bob Wright)

Birding Opportunities that may be of interest to members

Within our little group we have one of the best, certainly, in the opinion of many, the best this side of Malaga, professional bird guides and talking to Mick Richardson he still has a few places available on some of his tours in 2018.  In addition, he has asked me to let members know that he is prepared to take out small numbers, up to a maximum of 4, on private day tours at a reduced fee.  Many of you will already know that not only is Mick one of our top birders out here in Spain but also is the “turn to expert” when thinking of dragonflies, butterflies and flowers, especially orchids.

I also have a personal contact and friend down in Huelva province with four sets of apartments including one in Punta Umbria and another close to the Portuguese border at Ayamonte.  Marta has made a special arrangement for any of our birders to book holidays at reduced prices that my appeal to some of you.  To help promote this new scheme I have helped her create a basic website giving details of what is available and the cost for a range of options from three days to two weeks.

Loja Wildlife Tours  (www.lojawildlife.com)
Tours available:
1.  Day tour for members, maximum of 4.  (Contact Mick direct)
2.  Donana and Extremadura: 28 April – 5 May (1 place left)
3.  Pyrenees:  June
For further information, costs, etc please contact Mick Richardson at:

Email:  mickbirdinginspain@gmail.com or Mobile: (0034) 670861731.

Apartamentos Costaluz  (www. apartamentoscostaluz.com/en/punta-umbria)
Marta Jariod has four blocks of apartments down in Huelva including one at Puenta Umbria which is very handy for the Odiel marshes and Doñana and another on the Portuguese border near Ayamonte, very handy for those who want to explore the other country in Iberia. All are of a superior standard and those at Esuri (Ayamonte) have two bathrooms so great if travelling with friends.  Not just free WiFi but they come with a complete kitchen and lounge so making it possible to have a fabulous holiday f you want a change from birding – or one or more of you not that interested in our feathered friends!  Check out the “Birding Huelva” site below for more information.
Rental costs at either Punta Umbria or Costa Esuri:

3 nights:                            130 Euros (per couple if in 2-bedroom apartment)
4 nights:                            210 Euros (as above)
1 week (6 or 7 nights):   500 Euros (Maximum of 4 per apartment)
                                                   [Note: this works out at €250 per couple for a week]
2 weeks:                           790 Euros (as above)  [Note: this works out at €395 per couple for a fortnight]
For more information visit:  www.birdinghuelva.weebly.com
Or direct contact with Marta:  info@apartamentoscostaluz.com

 Pectoral Sandpiper Calidris melanotos (PHOTO: Mick Richardson)

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