Thursday, 29 March 2018

Guadalhorce, Malaga

Thursday 29 March

With both Jenny and visiting son, John out for lunch and afternoon, my chance to get up early, but not silly early, and pay a morning visit to the Guadalhorce in Malaga to see if the Spotted Crake was still with us.  Seen by friend Steve Powell on Tuesday morning this week but I feared the worst as i set off in a mixture of sun and broken cloud along with a stiff breeze.  But, even if the "target" bird had moved on there was always the thought that there might be a Yellow Wagtail waiting to be recorded for the year.  How wrong I was!  On the other hand, it must certainly be true to say that the Black-winged Stilts have returned to the site with a vengeance as I counted well in excess of 100 birds on the various waters.



Greeted by a quartet of Jackdaws as I approached the reserve at 9.30 followed by the first of many Blackbirds I was soon walking along the embankment and noticed my first of three Little Egrets for the morning feeding under the trees just before reaching the footbridge.  Crossing the bridge I could but not notice the resident Rock Doves resting under the motorway bridge and a handful of House Martins feeding over the water.  Then it was on to the far side and a quick check at the Laguna Casillas produced a few Pochard and Mallard along with the local White-headed Ducks.  Just two Black-winged Stilts present but hold your breath.

Now it was straight to a gap in the track-side trees which gave me cover but a good sight of the "laguna" on the opposite side of the track between here and the eastern arm of the river.  Steve warned me that the pool (given its size even when full "laguna" sounds a little pretencious) was rapidly drying and the vegetation around rapidly growing so scope set up and camera at the ready even if it meant a long wait.  What a waste of time.  No sooner, seconds later, had I done this than a wandering birder/photographer appeared on site having walked through the meadow from the direction of the beach and then stopped at the edge of the pool to see what he could find.  I can tell you he found nothing other than the two small waders that he flushed.  Talk about pulling your hair out!  Nothing for it but to depart and bird elsewhere until this selfish individual had departed, which he did almost at once, presumably on the basis that there was nothing to be seen.

Before spending time at the Wader Pool I returned to the Casillas to confirm nothing else had arrived and was in time to see the departing Osprey, off no doubt to Zapata in search of his morning desayuno.  At Wader Pool I counted 38 Black-winged Stilts then started again when the next group arrived.  In total there was a maximum of 51 individual at any one time.  A couple of Yellow-legged Gulls passed overhead and then a couple of Chiffchaffs below me from the hide.  Not too many Barn Swallows to be seen  and even Spotless Starling numbers were much reduced form previous visits.  In the trees to the back I picked up a couple of Grey Heron and a Kestrel was hovering in the distance.  Also noted was the first Cormorant and Collared Dove of the morning with more to be found later when visiting the main hide on the opposite side of the reserve.


Moving on to the Rio Viejo the water level was still very high, even though there were signs of  a falling level in both the main river and the two previous pools.  At first it looked as if it was another black and white scenario with at least another 15 Black-winged Stilts but, no, a single Avocet below me near the bend.  Further away, using the scope, picked out first a resting Greenshank and then Redshank and a pair of feeding Black-tailed GodwitsGreenfinch and Goldfinch were found in the neighbouring bushes and then I spotted the pair of Gadwall well up the river channel towards the interior, having first noticed the arrival of a single juvenile Spotted Redshank.

With more and more cyclists and runners appearing on the scene I decided against walking to the Sea watch but did take a look at the open space behind the track but no Yellow Wagtail to be found, just the lone Crested Lark.  So back to spend more time in search of the Spotted Crake now that, hopefully, peace had been restored to the specific area.  Walking back I watched the distant Marsh Harrier above the trees and then set to for the possible long wait.  The area is now really quite dry and even the mud has turned to a white hardness with little evidence of any soft feeding area.  I eventually decided that these lovely little crakes had moved on as, even with good cover, there seemed to be no feeding area at all.  Great shame but at least I had good views on my last visit here.

The Laguna Escondida was very quiet with the stronger breeze blowing straight into my face.  A pair of Common Pochard and a handful of White-headed Ducks plus two Coots semed to be the total bird life here so on to spend more time at the main hide.  Walking around I became even more aware of the number of other walkers and cyclist now about.

No sooner had I arrived at the Laguna Grande with seven birders already in residence than I looked out to see three Slender-billed Gulls right in front of me.  However, at the very moment I lifted the camera the woman who had been collecting grasses or something on the wrong side of the fence but near the main track, chose that moment to walk up and in front of the hide to continue collecting whatever she was looking for.  I think we were all too surprised and shocked to say anything but the mass departure of all nearby birds certainly delivered the message as she bade a hasty retreat with lots of angry eyes following her all the way back to the main track.  But most things return to normal albeit the Slender-billed Gulls decided  the water further out might be a better proposition.


Four Slender-billed Gulls gaviota picofina Larus genei on the laguna Grande
Looking out I was greeted by at least thirty resting Black-headed Gulls but Cormorant numbers were down to just over a dozen and only one Heron.  On the other hand,right in front of the hide, I had a flock of at least forty Black-winged Stilts.  Even allowing for constant movement, there must now be well in excess of an hundred individuals on site.  Three Whiskered Terns were feeding off the water and the far island held a resting Sandwich Tern.  I quickly found the half-dozen Shoveler and later, away to the far left, a single Shelduck, two more Avocet and the earlier Slender-billed Gulls.  Good to see that the water still held a dozen Black-necked Grebes and even three Spoonbill on the "Cormorant island" to the left.

Spoonbill Espatula Comun Platalea leucorodia resting with the local Cormorants Cormoran Grande Phalacrocorax carbo


Not sure whether it was sound or sight first but ere long a large flock of Flamingo were wheeling away on the far side of the laguna before getting closer and closer and finally right over the hide.  Very restless as these four dozen magnificent birds, always more attractive when in flight, whirled around the water giving excellent views to all present.  And so, at 12.30, I decided it was time to go home and let the general public enjoy their holiday at the reserve, noting the noisy quartet of Monk Parakeets as I made my way back to the footbridge.
 
 
 
The swirling flock of 49 Flamingos Flamenco Comun Phoenicopterus roseus
Looks like just one juvenile - and well behind the main flock of Flamingos

Birds seen:
Shelduck, Gadwall, Mallard, Shoveler, Pochard, White-headed Duck, Black-necked Grebe, Cormorant, Little Egret, Heron, Spoonbill, Flamingo, Osprey, Marsh Harrier, Kestrel, Coot, Black-winged Stilt, Avocet, Black-tailed Godwit, Greenshank, Spotted Redshank, Redshank, Black-headed Gull, Slender-billed Gull, Yellow-legged Gull, Sandwich Tern, Whiskered Tern, Rock Dove, Collared Dove, Monk Parakeet, Crested Lark, Barn Swallow, House Martin, Blackbird, Chiffchaff, Jackdaw, Spotless Starling, Greenfinch, Goldfinch. 
One of the tree Whiskered Terns Fumarel Cariblanco Childonias hybrida feeding on the Laguna Grande
Record shot of a distant Black-necked Grebe Zampullin Cuellinegro Podiceps nigricollis

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

Zapata and Teba Gorge with Derek and Company

Thursday 29 March

First Dave and now Derek with super reports from yesterday.  I suppose I ought to add that Steve Powell popped down to the Guadalhorce on Tuesday morning whilst Elena was at the hairdresser getting all spruced up for yesterday's departure to the UK for a couple of weeks and managed to find the Spotted Crake and large flock of Black-necked Grebes.  But more about this later when I report on my visit this morning.  As for Derek and company, if I am to reach these standards then I shall have to go into serious training to meet the early morning starts!!  No breakfast but, then again, with Derek he always knows where to find a cracking egg-butty!  Great report, so read on.


Wednesday 28 March:  Zapata, Teba Gorge, Fuente de Piedra and El Torcal

Morning Roberto....Yesterday we arranged to meet Jerry and Barbara Laycock at early o'clock, well not too early, 0715hrs to be precise, to see if the Red-necked Nightjars had returned yet to Zapata.  It was 26 March last year we had recorded our first bird, but last spring, of course, was warmer and not quite so wet.

As it was just Jerry showed, with Barbara (the other one, not my dearly beloved (I have to say that!) laid up with cold) so we three drove the short distance to Zapata to start the day.  How lovely to feel slightly warm as the northerly winds at last had dropped, although it was only showing 7C on the thermometer!

Still dark we started to look for the days target bird by driving the well known track 2 or 3 times, with some difficulty I must say after all the recent rain (18 months worth in March alone).  But the good old X-Trail 4x4 copes well with this terrain, just as well it knows it inside out.  Even though still dark Cettis Warbler called the day and we scattered some Crested Larks from the track - but no sign of the nightjars yet, perhaps they knew the weather conditions.

So we made our way down to the river, now nearly back to a more normal flow, and witnessed a dozen or more Night Herons returning to their daytime roost on the opposite bank.  A couple of Little Egrets were also visible as were Mallard, Moorhens and Coots.  Still dark, but with a promise of daytime in the eastern skies, we noted Common Sandpiper and 3 Little Ringed Plovers busy feeding and showing well in the car's headlamps.  Soon Serin and a Great Tit called the day and then one of the wintering Greenshanks flew on to the top weir.  The Jackdaws exited the motorway bridge roost as did the Common Kestrel that usually nests there.  A Green Sandpiper, then 2, joined the Common Sand feeding in front of us. 

By now dawn had broken and Goldfinches, Spotless Starlings and House Sparrows were visible.  The nightly large roost of Cattle Egrets started to disperse, flying over us in groups of up to 12 birds.  A Yellow Wagtail (Blue Headed - Iberian) appeared in front of us, and in the nearby bushes Sardinian Warbler, Zitting Cisticola, Corn Buntings and Greenfinches were observed.

Leaving the river bank (anyone reading this - don't cross the ford yet, unless you have a tractor) we headed up to the top track, now in daylight, to continue birding.  Barn Swallows and House Martins were active over the reed bed, but the Red-rumped Swallows seem not to have reappeared yet this season.  We could hear the Common Waxbills below us but it was still early, maybe too early for most birds.  Waiting at a spot where the Aquatic Warbler was ringed in February we heard our first Reed Warbler of the year.  Then we saw it, low down in the battered reeds, and then, was it the Aquatic?  For a warbler small, striped head suddenly showed in the same area.  It stubbornly refused to turn to show its back markings for what seemed an age, preferring to face us and preen itself.  Then it turned - and - no, it was a Sedge Warbler, still nice to see but a slight disappointment to us.  So I've still only seen Aquatics in Poland - one day perhaps in Spain.

By now the sun was up and some warmth was felt by us and a decision was made to push on to new grounds - but not without breakfast first!  Leaving the reed bed we also noted Collared Doves.

We stopped at El Cruze at Ardales for desayuno, always a good bacon sarnie here for those that don't want the traditional, before continuing to Teba, and the rock face.  Almost immediately we spotted a Peregrine Falcon (male) harassing the Rock Doves.  It was soon joined by its mate and they gave a fine display of joint hunting techniques.  Several Choughs appeared and Crag Martins were spied flying close the the rock face.  A lone Griffon Vulture flew over and both Black Wheatear and Blue Rock Thrush were 'scoped on the top of the rocks.  Behind us, on the now freshly filled embalses we viewed the usual Great Crested Grebes.  

Moving on we glanced to see if the vulture feeding station was active, but obviously fresh supplies were needed.  We stopped at an old site we used to use before Campillos to view the flooded fields.  Plenty of close by Greater Flamingo, Shelduck, Shoveler, Black-headed Gulls, a solo Lapwing, Black-winged Stilt and a fly past of 15 Glossy Ibis.

Proceeding to the off road track nearby we went in search of the recently returned Montagu's Harriers.  No disappointment here, soon found and we clocked 4 males and 2 females all displaying their wonderful courting techniques.  We 'wasted' an hour or so just watching these magnificent birds and it seemed they cared little for our presence flying directly over us at times.  I must admit to trying to photograph them but a bridge camera is not the easiest tool to use in these circumstances, so I tried it on video setting - now all I need do is convert them to Mp4's.

 
 
A selection of shots of the male Montagu's Harriers Circus pygargus (PHOTOS: Derek Etherton)
We eventually pushed on noting dozens of Yellow Wagtails (mostly Iberian, but 2 were flavissima), Crested Larks on the path and Booted Eagles in the skies.  Large flocks of Calandra Larks displayed well in the fields and a couple of Stonechats joined the numerous Corn Buntings.  Skylarks were singing and 2 Woodchat Shrikes were very visible close by.   Further down the track (at the moment only passable with a 4x4, or a prayer to your particular god!) we found a solo Little Bustard close by in one of the flooded fields.

Carrying on to Fuente de Piedra we were aware of Semana Santa and the fact schools were closed, the sun was out - so were the families!  Didn't stop us though and we recorded both Whiskered and Gull-billed Tern, Lesser Kestrels were also in the skies.  The water area before the visitor centre contained many Black-winged Stilt, Avocet, Redshank along with the many Coots.  

Parking up we walked to the higher level and viewed both Teal & White-headed Duck.  Eventually we located the sought after Garganey some way out on the lake, 6 in total.  The flamingo's seem very happy with the recent water supplies dumped on them, let's hope for a good breeding year.  Walking round to the laguneta a Marsh Harrier past overhead.  

From the hide we recorded, White Wagtail, Chiffchaff, Red-crested Pochard, Common Pochard, White Storks (back on their nest site), Black-necked & Little Grebe and, pleasingly, a very close, drake, Garganey.

Leaving the hordes of children (small children and bird hides - hmmm?) we returned home via El Torcal.  Would the warblers have returned yet?  No, but we found Black Redstart, more Blue Rock Thrush, Blackcap, Cirl Bunting, Thekla Lark, Raven, Blue Tit and Red-legged Partridge.

So calling it a day we drove back to Alhaurin having been happy with the days tally of 76 species, now all I have to do is convert these Mp4 files!

Derek Etherton

What a super day, Derek. Possibly more birds seen than some of our friends have seen all month if not year.  And what a fabulous selection and confirmation that summer really has arrived with sightings of the terns, Montagu's Harriers, Lesser Kestrels, etc.  Not long now then and we can also expect Bee-eaters, Rollers and, of course, the awaited Red-necked Nightjars down at Zapata.


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

Sierra Maria with the Arboleas Birding Group

Wednesday 28 March

It looks like the birding activity is well and truly under way with  the latest report from my friend David Elliott-Binns and reflected with some great sights by his Arboleas Birding Group, especially the Great Spotted Cuckoo, a first Common Cuckoo of the year along with Booted Eagle and Sparrowhawk et al.  Am I the only one yet to record both Common Cuckoo and Yellow Wagtail this year?  I shall just have to keep on trying.

Sierra Maria:  Wednesday 28th March

Even though it would be the third time I'd been to the Sierra Maria in ten days, I was still looking forward to a days birdwatching with the Arboleas Birding Group especially as the weather had improved so much.  No high winds, only sun and blue skies! I got picked up by Richard in his brand new person carrier.  We stopped at the Overa Hotel, junction 547, to pick up John and Les.  They arrived as a Great Spotted Cuckoo flew by.  We made our way to the garage cafe in Maria, seeing Rock Bunting, Crag and House Martin on the way amongst other commoner birds.  Trevor and Ann were waiting for us.  After Brian and Mary arrived we made our way to the chapel area.  Near the fuente there were numerous Chaffinch.  A Great Tit was seen. I spotted the first Griffon Vulture of the day, but the stars were about a dozen Siskin in and around the poplar tree.

Male Siskin Carduelis spinus (PHOTO: David Elliott-Binns)
Walking up to the Botanical Gardens we added a Robin, male Stonechat and a female Cirl Bunting.  In the gardens, Trevor did well to spot the protruding head of a Raven perched on a tree some distance away. Meanwhile Richard, who'd driven up, had seen Crossbill and Crested Tit.  The more hardy of us did the lower walk and only added a Woodpigeon whilst the remainers saw Long Tailed and Coal Tit.  A Magpie was seen as we walked back to the cars.
Crested Tit Parus cristatus (PHOTO: David Elliott-Binns)
We then made our way to the farm buildings, seeing a Blackbird on the way.  As soon as we parked up you could hear Rock Sparrows calling.  Many were seen.  A Barn Swallow was flying around and I also spotted a female Black Redstart.  There were Crossbill waiting to drink in the deposito.
Moving on to the farm water trough, there was a Crested Lark by the overflow.  We could hear a distant Eurasian Cuckoo calling.  Our first of the year.   Les spotted a Corn Bunting and I found a distant soaring Booted Eagle. 
(Blue-headed) Yellow Wagtail Motacilla flava iberiae (PHOTO: David Elliott-Binns)
Driving down the long plain straight, us in the first car saw a flying Calandra Lark and those behind found a perched Little Owl.  At the hamlet we counted 12 Lesser Kestrels.  There were two Red-billed Chough hanging around one of the barns.  A Carrion Crow was seen.  I found a Meadow Pipit whilst a Yellow Wagtail showed well among some White cousins.  Les found a Skylark and also spotted a Short-toed Lark as we headed back towards the La Piza forest cafe.
Red-billed Chough Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax (PHOTO: Mary Taylor)
The nut feeders were being well used by all the Tits...Long Tailed, Crested, Coal, Great and Blue ones.  Chaffinch were feeding underneath and Crossbill were using the water drinking facilities!  A Jay made an appearance.  Les found a male Blackcap.  Then what appeared to feed on some bread...a Great Spotted Woodpecker.
Great Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos major (PHOTO: David Elliott-Binns)
Unfortunately when we got back to Richard's brand new car, someone had reversed into a passenger door, stoving it in.  As we headed back towards Velez Blanco we saw a flying Sparrowhawk. Between there and Velez Rubio we had another Great Spotted Cuckoo.

Long-tailed Tit Aegithalos caudatus (PHOTO: David Elliott-Binns)
Apart from the damaged car, we had a brilliant days birding in good weather and company.  Finished the day with 43 species.  Photos by me unless otherwise stated.       Regards, Dave

Some wonderful birds seen Dave and, apart form the car incident, it certainly reads as if you had a great day.  No wonder it was your third visit in just over a week.  And Gilly has actually returned the camera into your care once more!


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

Saturday, 24 March 2018

Fuente de Piedra

Saturday 24 March

Invited to join a birding gathering, mainly Spanish bar the three of us, to help celebrate Andy Paterson's special birthday.  Sun was shining even if the wind was blowing a cold gale so I took the opportunity to call in at Fuente de Piedra before heading off to the venue for said party.  Lots and lots of water everywhere.  So deep on the main pool that you needed a scope to see the nearest Flamingo and then all very distant and blurred.  But there were a few Flamingo on both the flooded field to the left as we entered and also on the laguneta round the back.

Stopping to check out the field where nearly all activity seemed to be located, you were immediately aware of the number of Barn Swallows and House Martins feeding over the water.  I did find a pair of Teal and mallard but all other ducks appeared to be Shoveler.  A number of Coots at the back along with Black-winged Stilts and a couple of Lapwing whilst the damp area on the other side of the road produced a White Wagtail.  The big attraction to the watching birders was the lone Whiskered Tern feeding off the water.

Record shot of Whiskered Tern Fumarel cariblanco Chlidonias hybrida in blustery conditions
Visiting the Visitors Centre to initially check-out the main lagoon from inside confirmed that there was just about nothing to see; what Flamingos that were present were all at the far end.  However, also present were Mick Richardson along with David and Juliette Hird so we all walked back to take a look over the near side of the laguneta and quickly found the pair of Garganey Mick had picked out a few minutes before.  Also resent were a number of Black-headed but mainly Lesser Black-backed Gulls on the other side.

Black-tailed Godwit Aguja Colinegra Limosa limosa
Noting the resident Jackdaws we made our way to the restaurant for a warming cup of coffee before the main event taking the back track behind the railway station to access the Camping Bar, stopping to notice the White Stork hunkered down on its nest, and then an assortment of Spotless Starlings and Collared Doves whilst a Blackbird tried to dry itself after a recent bathe in the nearby pool.  Crested Larks on the path and a Hoppoe rose from the grass whilst, overhead, our attention was drawn to the passing Short-toed Eagle.  A Greenfinch exited a nearby bush and as we crossed the railway track we noticed a trio of waders on a flooded field to our right.  Plenty of time to spare so we drove along the road to the water and found three Black-tailed Godwits, all in almost summer plumage.  Amazing to think that in such a short time we had accumulated 26 species.

The three Black-tailed Godwits Limosa limosa

Birds seen:
Mallard, Shoveler, Garganey, Teal, White Stork, Flamingo, Short-toed Eagle, Coot, Black-winged Stilt, Lapwing, Black-tailed Godwit, Black-headed Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Whiskered Tern, Rock Dove, Collared Dove, Hoopoe, Crested Lark, Barn Swallow, House Martin, White Wagtail, Blackbird, Jackdaw, Spotless Starling, House Sparrow, Greenfinch


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

Friday, 23 March 2018

John and Jenny at Fuente de Piedra

Wednesday 21 March

Lovely to hear from John Wainwright with his latest report from a visit to a very wet Fuente de Piedra and nearby Laguna Dulce by himself and Jenny.  However, I was very sorry to read that Jenny has broken her ankle as a result of a fall and is now going to be on crutches for about six weeks.  I suspect John that you are going to have to amend your birding visits to those offering good tracks so that Jenny can continue to both observe and take photographs from the car.  Talking of which, I am assuming that it is good news and it is your car that is once more on the road.  I shall be at Fuente on Saturday, weather permitting, and look forward to finding my first yellow wagtails of the year.



Fuente de Piedra & Laguna Dulce: Wednesday 21 March


A warmish day but with a cold wind.


As we were over at the Mollina Boot Fair today we decided to have a look in at Piedra albeit from the car as Jenny has broken her ankle. In the flood meadow - which is well up an flowing into the ponds at the boardwalk - we found Redshanks, Shovelers, Avocets, Greater Flamingos, Mallard, Black-winged Stilts and Black-headed Gulls.  Across the road in the water meadows by the boardwalk, we located our first Blue-headed Yellow Wagtails of the season along with White Wagtails, Spanish Sparrows, Common Snipe and more Shovelers.  In the distance a Marsh Harrier was quartering the area.  A few Barn Swallows and House Martins were about as were the resident Jackdaws. 


Iberian Yellow Wagtail  Motacilla flava iberiae (PHOTO: Jenny Wainwright)

There was plenty of water in the "Stone Curlew field" but all we found was a few Meadow Pipits.
Moving round to the  Cantarras mirador, en route we saw Black Kites and a female Hen Harrier, a couple of Raven and a Common Kestrel.  At the mirador there again is a good quantity of water but alas no Black-winged Kites nor Common Cranes.  We did see, however, Goldfinches, Crested Larks and Black Redstarts.


Iberian Yellow Wagtail  Motacilla flava iberiae with feeding Snipe Gallinago gallinago (PHOTO: Jenny Wainwright)

We then drove on to Laguna Dulce, where we saw plenty of Greater Flamingos, Shovelers and Mallard, along with hundreds of Black-headed Gulls.  A few Corn Buntings and Cetti´s Warblers were seen along with some House Sparrows.  The wind had picked up so we returned to Salar, where we had Buzzard, Azure-winged Magpies, Collared Doves, Spotless Starlings and more Black Redstarts.

Not a bad day but the strong wind was keeping the small birds hunkered down, not that I blame them!!

Spanish Sparrows Passer hispanioensis (PHOTO: Jenny Wainwright)
Very pleased with the report John and that both you and Jenny are not going to let a broken bone or two get in the way of the birding!  Get well soon jenny and hope to see you soon.

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

Thursday, 22 March 2018

Four Days in Extremadura - Day Four


Day Four: Wednesday 21 March

After having been offered a huge breakfast included in the price, incredible value for money  but just a shame that the hotel was a little of the proverbial beaten track, we started off on the long journey back home to Alhaurin de la Torre, Frigiliana and Mezquitilla respectively but not before a last four hours once again exploring the steppes of southern Extremadura based on the Plains of La Serena where, all being well, we hoped we might get better views of the Great Bustards and both Sandgrouse species in the warm sunshine with clear blue skies.  Sadly, whilst we saw some wonderful birds, the target species were not to be seen in the expected numbers.

Lapwing Avefria Europea Vanellus vanellus

Leaving just before 9, within a few minutes we turned left over the bridge and there, immediately next to my window, was a Nuthatch, perhaps the least expected bird to be seen, and, following on behind us Derek and Barbara saw the Merlin flash across the road and narrowly miss actually hitting our car.  Before reaching our destination nearly two hours later using the motorway, we also recorded many White Stork, both Red and Black Kite, Buzzard, a number of Hoopoe, Magpie and Azure-winged Magpie and numerous barn Swallows.  It seemed that even the local Jackdaws came out to bid us safely on our way.

Golden Eagle Aguila Real Aquuila chrysaetos

The EX-349 was a narrow, quiet country lane not so dissimilar to driving over the Pennine Moors and resulted in frequent stops as we looked at Little Owl, Crested Lark, Corn Bunting and even a Thekla Lark.  Then came the major stop as we found a magnificent Golden Eagle above us and, no sooner had it moved away, than a male Montagu's Harrier came into view.  No shortage of Corn Buntings and even a pair of Mallard on a small pool added a little variety.  And all the time a regular supply of "floating" Griffon Vultures making good use of the thermals.

Secind-winter male Montagu's Harrier Aguilucho palido Circus pygargus

Once off the main road and onto the long tracks we were to explore for the next few hours, we almost immediately added the first Lapwing seen during our visit and, again, very many Calandra Larks.  Another pair of Hoopoe and then sightings of Red-legged Partridge.  Naturally, whenever we seemed to find trees and water there seemed to be large flocks of Spanish Sparrows.  A Short-toed Eagle drifted overhead which certainly scattered the small charm of Goldfinch.

Short-toed Eagle Culebrera Europea Circaetus gallicus

Taking a turn to the left to explore a sandy track we drove past the small feeding flock of Meadow Pipit and stopped to admire the large bird away to our right as it gradually gained height; our first Spanish Imperial Eagle.  Not long after we were confronted by the flooded river, where we disturbed a feeding Wood Pigeon, so a case of turning heading back to the main track.  Stopping where we had seen the Spanish Imperial Eagle not twenty minutes previously we now had low level Black Vulture to concentrate our minds.

Black (Monk) Vulture Buitre Negro Aegypius monachus

From then onwards, apart from numerous Calandra Larks, there was relatively little to be seen although Derek and Barbara managed to find a trio of Little Bustards and we had eight Black-bellied Sandgouse in the air in front of us.  A White Wagtail put on an appearance and before regaining the main road near Almorchon we also added an Iberian Grey Shrike.  Then a short coffee stop at Cabeza del Buey before the long drive home via Cordoba, in my case being dropped of at almost exactly 6 o'clock.

Checking the lists of birds seen by all of us and comparing notes with Barbara and Derek I found that we had recorded a magnificent total of 114 species and managed to find, between us, just about all the target birds other than an Eagle Owl.


Birds seen:
Egyptian Goose, Gadwall, Wigeon, mallard, Shoveler, Pintail, teal, Red-crested Pochard, Common Pochard, Red-legged Partridge, Little Grebe, Great Crested Grebe, Black-necked Grebe, Cormorant, Little Bittern, cattle Egret, Little Egret Great White Egret, Heron, White Stork, Spoonbill, Flamingo, Red Kite, Black Kite, Egyptian Vulture, Griffon Vulture, Black (Monk) Vulture,  Short-toed Eagle, Marsh Harrier, Hen Harrier, Montagu's Harrier, Spanish Imperial Eagle, Golden Eagle, Booted Eagle, Bonelli's Eagle, Sparrowhawk, Buzzard, Lesser Kestrel, Common Kestrel, Merlin, peregrine falcon, Moorhen, Purple Swamphen, Coot, Crane, Great Bustard, Little Bustard, Black-winged Stilt, Golden Plover, lapwing, Snipe, Curlew, Redshank, Green Sandpiuper, Common Sandpiper, Black-headed Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Pin-tailed Sandgrouse, Black-bellied Sandgrouse, Rock Dove, Wood Pigeon, Collared Dove,  Great Spotted Cuckoo, Common Cuckoo, Little Owl, Common Swift, Hoopoe, Calandra Lark, Lesser Short-toed Lark, Crested lark, Thekla Lark, Sky Lark, Sand martin, Crag Martin, Barn Swallow, Red-rumped Swallow, House Martin, Tree Pipit, Meadow Pipit, Water Pipit, Grey Wagtail, White Wagtail, Robin, Black Redstart, Stonechat, Northern Wheatear, Blue Rock Thrush, Blackbird, Cetti's Warbler, Zitting Cisticola, Subalpine Warbler, Sardinian Warbler, Blackcap, Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler, Long-tailed Tit, Coal Tit, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Nuthatch, Iberian Grey Shrike, Woodchat Shrike, Azure-winged Magpie, Magpie, Jackdaw, Carrion Crow, Raven, Spotless Starling, House Sparrow, Spanish Sparrow, Tree Sparrow, Chaffinch, Serin, Greenfinch, Goldfinch, Cirl Bunting, Corn Bunting.


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Four Days in Extremadura - Day Three

Day Three: Tuesday 20 March

The sun was shining and a clear day promised albeit the temperature outside the car was not scheduled to exceed about 14C.   The usual birds, including both Red and Black Kites along with (common) Magpie and Azure-winged Magpie were recorded on the way to the Monfrague National Park as well as upon arrival.  Indeed, Elena won the "bet" as the time taken from departure to record our first Buzzard of the day at 10 minutes.  By the time we arrived at the river bend to watch the Griffon Vultures we had already seen our first soaring kettle and recorded Crested Lark, Corn Bunting, Barn Swallow and House Martin.

Black Kite Milano Negro Milvus migrans
A stop at the two river crossings on the outward journey added both Sardinain Warbler and Black Redstart along with Sand and Crag Martin and Red-rumped Swallow in addition to the two above hirundines.  We also found a single White Wagtail at the first river.  A couple of Great Tit and a Blue Tit were fiddling about in the bushes below the road and a Cormorant was resting on the bank along with the first Grey Heron of the day.

Working our way down to the long bridge over the Tajo we explore the nearby car park and tracks and added Coal and Long-tailed, as well as both Great and Blue Tits, to the list.  Also present were a number of Blackcap and a Robin in addition to the local population of Chaffinches.

Long-tailed Tit Mito Aegithalos caudatus
Next it was on down to wards the dam crossing with Barbara and Derek picking up the Egyptian Vulture as we turned off the main road.  None in the usual place but a few of the breeding Griffon Vultures and as we alighted from our cars we had the pleasure of a passing Bonelli's Eagle.  Whilst I watched (unsuccessfully) for a returning Egyptian Vulture, the others walked down towards the dam and found a very obliging Cirl Bunting just waiting to be photographed by Steve.  I was left to admire the passing Goldfinches!

Griffon Vultures Buitre Leonado Gyps fulvus at nest site
Climbing away from the dam a stop above the river produced another Red-rumped Swallow and a couple of Raven.  Lots of Griffons and a few Black Vultures on view near the cliff face but this year the local Spanish Imperial Eagles had decided to nest behind the hill rather than at the end of the rock face as last year.

Rather than head off to our hotel for the night we stopped for a coffee break then drove over to the Arrocampo Reservoir and upon arrival were soon looking at Great White Egrets and Purple Swamphens.  Lots of Chiffchaffs about and then a Little Bittern made a very brief appearance as it changed feeding sites in the reeds.  Drifting over the water we had first a Red Kite then a handsome male Marsh Harrier followed by a second and a female.  Even a male Hen Harrier put in an appearance.  On the far bank a Little Egret and a pair of Great White Egrets.

Changing sites to the hide on the opposite side of the road we then saw more Purple Swamphens and hirundines along with both Cattle Egret and Cetti's Warbler whilst a single Zitting Cisticola put in a brief appearance and was quickly followed by a couple of Greenfinch on the track. Lots of Cormorants to be seen on the deeper water and a handful of Coot nearer to us.

White Stork Ciguena Blanca Ciconia ciconia
An Iberian Grey Shrike posed nicely at the top of a tree as we made our way along the track to the next hide.  From the hide we added Moorhen and another Heron but the main attraction was the small flock of pipits feeding on the ground amongst the local farmer's chickens.  A lot of Meadow but, as firstly Derek and Barbara, then the other three of us looked so we, too, found the small number of Tree Pipits.  Near the same spot we also added both Serin and White Wagtail.

Tree Pipit Bisbita Arboreo Anthus trivialis
A drive to the rear of the site soon added a number of ducks including Mallard, Shoveler, Teal and Red-crested Pochard along with both Green and Common Sandpipers.  A pair of Black-winged Stilts were working the edges and in the water-filled gully as we departed we were able to add another Green Sandpiper whilst, on thee the other side of the road, Barbara and Derek recorded a Snipe in the shallow, damp ditch.  Meanwhile, on the pond in front of the hide, Barn and Red-rumped Swallows, House and Sand Martins were feeding above the water.

Red Kite Milano Real Milvus migrans over one of the Arrocampo hides

Leaving the House and Spanish Sparrows along with a few Jackdaw to feed near the resting animals, we finally started out to return the hide key back to the Information Centre and start our journey to the new hotel for the evening in Tejeda de Tietar.

A snowy backdrop as we visited the Arrocampo Reservoir

One way to make use of a birding hide!


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Four Days in Extremadura - Day Two

Day 2: Monday 19 March

The forecast for today was continuous rain and, for once, it was correct!  Occasional heavy but mainly continuous light rain so a case of birding from the two cars.  Nevertheless, driving out of Trujillo we were soon seeing Blackbird, House Sparrow, Collared Dove and Spotless Starling plus the first of many Magpies.  Ere long we also added both Red and Black Kites.  Naturally, there was always a White Stork or two (read "two" as many!).

Off the main road and onto a country lane towards Monroy we added both Stonechat and Hoopoe along with a large flock of Spanish Sparrows near the warm complete with a feeding Little (rather than Cattle) Egret.  Both Goldfinch and Corn Buntings were on the fences on the other side of the road and, in addition to the many Chiffchafff, a single Willow Warbler.

Corn Bunting Triguero Emberiza calandra

On we drove and were rewarded with our first Northern Wheatear followed by both Crested Lark and Great Tit.  By now we were more than aware of the numerous Barn Swallows feeding low over the ground and then a stop to admire yet another Corn Bunting and Crested Larks on the rocks at the side of the road led us to check out the odd-one out which proved to be a Lesser Short-toed Lark, a most pleasing sighting.

Lesser Short-toed Lark Terrera Marismena Calandrella rufescens
Not just numerous Azure-winged Magpies but also another sighting of Carrion Crows before venturing up a wide track in the now heavy drizzle.  A look to the left produced a distant Black Vulture resting on the ground near a small flock of sheep and then, in the long grass on the other side of the wall on the right, a head sticking up up through the the sheaves revealing itself as a solitary Great Bustard.  Just time for a quick shot through the window before the bird made its departure.

Distant Great Bustard Avutarda Comun Otis tarda through the rain

Stopping close by we all had a very good view of the Iberian Hare sheltering under a small bush.

Iberian Hare Lepus granatensis
Now it was the turn of the many Calandra Lark to put in a welcome appearance and even the occasional Red-legged Partridge.  Whereas the passing Cormorant came as a somewhat surprise the the same could not be said for either the Sand and House Martin as we crossed the raging river.  More Ravens were seen and then on a s,mall pond we added Mallard, Gadwall and Little Grebe along with a lonely Black-headed Gull.

The biggest excitement of the day probably arrived when we stopped an an isolated hide overlooking a popular vantage point for viewing Great Bustards.  Fortunately, I nor the others were on our own.  Having checked out the plains below, recorded the Griffon Vulture and both Common and Lesser Kestrels we prepared to return to the cars, neither Elena nor Barbara having followed us into the hide.  Lovely solid, wooden hide with strong doors and perfect protection unless wet as it was in our case.  The wood had expanded and whereas we could push to enter we now discovered that there was no handle on the inside so no possible way to get out!  Nothing to get hold of as a lever so a case of having to stand near the door and shout, "Help" a few time!!!!  And help did eventually arrive and the girls were able to give sufficient push to open the door.  May have appeared funny at the time but a lone birder would have been in real difficulty and, almost certainly, his/her car left outside unlocked and, quite probably, the mobile in the car.  But to whom would I report this?

Lesser Kestrel Cernicalo Primilla Falco naumanni sheltering in the shade from the continuous rain

And after all this excitement and the rain at last having second thoughts about easing up for the day, we made our way back to Trujillo, recording a Woodchat Shrike before reaching the main road, and in time for a late menu del dia lunch.


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Four Days in Extremadura - Day One


Day 1: Sunday 18 March

Red Kite Milano Real Milvus milvus
Up very early having already packed last night and met by Steve and Elena Powell to drive to Lucena to join up with Derek and Barbara Etherton for breakfast at the motorway Service Station.  No sooner in the car than the rain started and absolutely through it down for the first art of the journey but we still saw saturated Buzzards sitting on top of the pylons along with Wood Pigeons as we made our way north.  Once refreshed it was onwards and upwards to Extremadura via Cordoba and much rain during the journey.  Approaching Cordoba we added the expected Black and Red Kites along with Wood Pigeon, Collared Dove, Spotless Starling and White Stork.  Plenty of Corn Buntings and Crested Larks about and working our way to the north of the province we also added Little Owl, Crow and Hoopoe.  A couple of distant Griffon Vultures added to the variety of species followed by Azure-winged Magpie, Cattle Egret, Blackbird and Kestrel.   Derek and Barbara managed to see both Great Spotted Cuckoo and a Sparrowhawk whilst we all noticed the eight or nine Cranes sheltering at the back of a roadside field.

Little Owl Mochuelo Comun Athene noctua
A Barn Swallow as we crossed the river and then we were in Extremadura and ready to meet the challenge of the steppes.  Almost immediately Goldfinch, Greenfinch and Red Kite before another distant Griffon Vulture and many roadside Crested Larks and House Sparrows.  However, before long we saw our first very large flock of Spanish Sparrows and then numerous sightings of the local White Storks.  Both Serin and a pair of Mallard were recorded along with a Black-winged Stilt in one of the numerous ponds on the very many flooded fields along with a single Lesser Black-backed Gull.

At home wit the White Storks Ciguena Blanca Ciconia ciconia
No sooner had a trio of Pin-tailed Sandgrouse crossed the road in front of us than seven Great Bustards took to the air in the opposite direction.  By now we were seeing regular sightings of Calandra Lark and then a score or more Golden Plover in the field to our left.  Then followed Corn Buntings and Raven and even a single, soaring, singing Sky Lark before the first of many Hoopoe sightings and a couple of Meadow Pipits.

Meadow Pipit Bisbita Pratense Anthus pratensis
Turning off road onto a track across the steppes it was not so much the Meadow Pipit, Hoopoe or many Magpies but the lone, presumably just-arrived, Subalpine Warbler that took pride of place.  A short distance on we added first an Iberian Grey Shrike and then a rather lovely Little Owl.  Just across the track a first Northern Wheatear then a male Stonechat and a posing Red-legged Partridge. 

Northern Wheatear Collalba Gris Oenanthe oenanthe
We were soon stopped by the raging river across the normally shallow ford and no way we were going to attempt a crossing, albeit Elena did venture in a couple of metres in her "wellies" and then thought better of the exercise!

Whilst here we had our first sight of a Golden Eagle that took to the skies at the most inconvenient time of a comfort break behind the bushes but did reappear for the benefit of others on the other side of the track along with a Short-toed Eagle!  A Curlew was heard calling then it was back to the main road.

Egyptian Goose Ganse de Nilo Alopochen aegyptiaca
Not long along the road and we stopped to look at a small pool holding a pair of Mallard to discover feeding Barn Swallows above the water and a resting Egyptian Goose at the side. It was shortly after that Steve noticed the small flock of thirteen Great Bustards and we managed to get a few quick shots as the birds took to the air and as they returned we noticed that they had managed to pick up an extra individual.


First sightings of the resident Great Bustards Avutarda Comun Otis tarda

Continuing northwards we added first Common and then many Lesser Kestrels.  A Cormorant flew over as crossed the dam of a large reservoir.  Taking a short-cut to the Alcollarin reservoir we stopped to admire the Golden Plover and found at least two Black-bellied Sandgrouse.  Arriving at the reservoir with a very rough surface we found both Black-necked and Great Crested Grebe along with Mallard, Shoveler and Pochard.  Derek and Barbara added both Greenshank and Redshank as we drove down to the picnic area and from this vantage point we then recorded Spoonbill and Great White Egret.  
  
Iberian Grey Shrike Alcaudon Real Lanius meridionalis

A Chaffinch was calling in the trees as we made oi way across the track below the lower dam to take a look at the far corner of the water,  Not just a single Flamingo but soon a handful of Tree Sparrows and a single Sardinian Warbler on the brambles.  Once at the far end we were able to look down in the water and find both Great White Egrets and a number of ducks including Wigeon, Pintail and Gadwall.   Also present were Little Egret, a Green Sandpiper and above us a small number of Common Swifts whilst a Crested Lark, along with a Blackbird, worked the banks.  To make matters worse for our car, Barbara and Derek following behind added a Common Cuckoo to   the day's tally.

More photographs:

Corn Bunting Triguero Emberiza calandra
Little Owl Mochuelo Comun Athene noctua


Red Kite Milano Real Milvus milvus

 
White Stork Ciguena Blanca Ciconia ciconia

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