Friday 10 May 2013

Broad-billed Sandpiper in Malaga!

Broad-billed Sandpiper  Correlimos Falcinelo  Limicola falcinellus
Super, sunny weather and the cold and winds of late are a thing of the past - and just in time to welcome my Belgian friend, Marieke Berkvens who will be staying with me for three days on her way back from Tarifa to Belgium.  Somehow, Marieke not only manages to bring the warm sunshine with her but you can guarantee her visit will coincide with something special on the birding front!  Last year it was my first and only, so far, very close-up views of a Red-necked Nightjar on our track with the bird happily sitting next to the car door and just moving on five metres at a time as we made our way home from an evening meal at the local restaurant (no camera of course and I never thought at the time that I could simply have used the telephone!).  This year even better; Marieke' visit coincided with the unexpected arrival of a single Broad-billed Sandpiper at the Guadalhorce and she even had a very late Yellow Wagtail of the British subspecies (another first for Marieke) and a lone Honey Buzzard passing overhead.  But more about these later.

Gorgeous Black-necked Grebe  Zampullin Cuellinegro  Podiceps nigricollis

 Wednesday 8 May

Common Redshank  Archibebe Comun  Tringa totanus

With Marieke due to arrive at the airport by noon on Wednesday, I drove over to the city and arrived early enough to pop down to the Guadalhorce for thirty minutes on the way.  Earlier, I had received a quick phone call from my friend Andy Paterson to let me know that a Broad-billed Sandpiper had been seen the previous afternoon on the old river and that he was on his way down to, hopefully, discover that the bird was still present.  Left me in a bit of a dilemma as I had arranged to take Marieke to Fuente de Piedra and Laguna Herrera on the way back to Casa Collado; what to do, re-arrange plans or hope that the bird, if still present, would stay at least another day so that we could catch up with it on Thursday after dropping Jenny off at the airport on her way back to a very wet UK?

Lots of butterflies including this Painted Lady Vanessa cardui
I had already recorded Thekla Lark, Serin, Goldfinch, House Sparrow and Collared Dove as I drove down the mountain and no sooner at the river than I was able to add Barn Swallow, both Common and Pallid Swift, House Martin and a disappearing single Jackdaw.  I only walked as far as the footbridge where I also recorded a couple of Red-rumped Swallows, the resident Rock Doves and a Little EgretSpotless Starlings were flying around the area and, as I left the area, I had a male Woodchat Shrike sitting on the school football field's crossbar.

Gull-billed Tern Pagaza Piconegra Sterna nilotica
Then it was back to the airport where I collected Marieke and we set off for Fuente de Piedra.  But, Marieka had not stopped on her drive up from Tarifa so we called in a the service station as soon as we joined the Sevilla motorway at Antequera.  Suitably refreshed and already off the motorway we changed our plans to take in the Laguna Herrera before driving on to Fuente de Piedra.  Still lots of Corn Buntings about but it was really hot now and the middle of the day so not all the birds I expected.  Most of the flooded fields had either dried up in the past week or, as a minimum, seen their water levels severely drop.  Just the odd Redshank and not so many Black-winged Stilts but there were still a couple of Wood Sandpipers to be seen.  Reed Warblers were singing away in the ditches and pool-side vegetation and then, on the laguna itself, a number of Coots plus a quartet of Black-necked Grebes, a few Great Crested Grebes and the odd Moorhen.  Overhead no end of screaming Gull-billed Terns as they went about their fishing ritual.  A Hoopoe was heard and then it was back into the car for the drive over to Fuente de Piedra.

Greater Flamingo Flamenco Comun Phoenicopterus roseus and below with Common Pochard Porron Europeo Aythya ferina  and Avocet Avoceta Comun  Recurvirostra avosetta

Here, again, the pool levels had dropped and most of the flooded fields were no more, albeit still plenty of water in both the main laguna and the laguneta at the back of the Visitors' Centre.  More, but not o many as usual, Black-winged Stilts and a small number of Avocets.  Lots of Flamingos on the water but numbers were down on my last visit and the main flock was at the far end in or near the nesting site. The small pool below the Visitors' Centre held pairs of Gadwall and Shoveler along with a number of Black-winged Stilts and Avocets.  A Blue-headed (Iberiae) Wagtail was also recorded here. 

Avocet  Avoceta Comun  Recurvirostra avosetta
Moving round the laguna we managed to record a male Montagu's Harrier as we rejoined the main road then Crested Lark, Linnet and a Red-legged Partridge before reaching the Mirador de Cantarranas where we were able to watch and follow a rather magnificent male Marsh Harrier.  Finally, time to head off back home for the evening meal that Jenny was cooking but, no sooner back on the road than we had our first Turtle Dove followed by a Blackbird.  A Stonechat completed the list of 48 species as we drove back up our mountain track.

Thursday 9 May 

Our Broad-billed Sandpiper  Correlimos Falcinelo  Limicola falcinellus
Back to the airport once again, this time to deliver Jenny for her onward flight back to the East Midlands.  Having already arranged to meet Andy at the church by 2.15 pm we then walked down to the Guadalhorce and, fingers crossed, the prospect of seeing a new "lifer" bird for both Marieke and myself.  Approaching the entrance tot he track up to the river we were greeted by vision of goodness knows what, almost beyond description!  Not so much the beautiful young lady hiding under a very delicate wide-brimmed sun hat but the impressive strongman walking alongside with his huge cowboy hat, sleeveless body warmer over a bare chest, a rather natty pair of shorts in a delightful pastel shade of yellow and great big walking boots (I almost said "hob-nailed" boots).  With a large camera slung over his shoulder and a pair of bins round his neck he was obviously of the birding persuasion but it was only when we were within ten metres of this apparition that we recognised the couple as our special friends Steve and Elena Powell.  They, too, had been down tot he old river to try and find the newly-arrived scarcity, the Broad-billed Sandpiper - but without a telescope to get that rally close look at the individuals on display.  (And, yes, I will have to have a word with Elena re Steve's dress code!!!!!)

There then followed a short interlude whilst we all re-introduced ourselves before taking our separate ways - but not before we had watched a Woodchat Shrike on the opposite fence around the school playing field.  Also in the area we had both Collared Doves and House Sparrows and a male Blackbird flew across in front of us as we reached the top path.  Next followed very many Barn Swallows and House Martins along with large numbers of Swifts, all appearing to be of the Pallid variety albeit we did manage to record a few Common Swifts as we crossed the reserve.  Crossing the footbridge we had the resident Rock Doves, a single Jackdaw and a pair of the nesting Red-rumped Swallows.

A selection of waders including Ringed Plover Chorlitejo Grande Charadrius hiaticula, Dunlin Correlimos Comun Calidris alpina and Curlew Sandpiper Correlimos Zarapitin Calidris ferruginea
So on to the Laguna Casillas where only a single male White-headed Duck was recorded along with a pair of Gadwall and a small number of Pochards.  Similarly, just the single Moorhen seen along with the handful of Coots.  A couple of Black-winged Stilts were below us and then a handful of squawking Monk Parakeets flew over whilst, nearby, a Reed Warbler could be heard singing his little heart out.  Hopefully, no strange eggs deposited in this nest!

Adult and immature Spoonbill Espatula Comun Platalea leucorodia
Goldfinches and Serins as we approached the Wader Pool where we found, not only a pair of Spoonbill but fifteen resting Little Egrets.  Just the one Redshanks and a couple of Ringed Plovers but also more Pochards, a Gadwall and single Mallard.  Naturally, there were also a good number of Black-winged Stilts.

Two of three Bar-tailed Godwits Aguja Colipinta Limosa lapponica
And so onto the Old River, the Rio Veijo; would the main attraction still be here, a third day, or would we be too late?  Would, also, there still be a the variety of small waders seen the previous day?  Now was the moment of decision.  A pair of Bar-tailed Godwits then a good number of Dunlin and Ringed Plovers.  The first Little Ringed Plover was recorded quickly followed by a Little Stint.  Another Bar-tailed Godwit roosting on the opposite side of the river and then a good number of Sanderling ranging in plumage from what looked very much like mid-winter white to full breeding colours.  Where was the bird; keep looking Andy because, as yet, I can find no diminutive Dunlin with a long beak.

Broad-billed Sandpiper  Correlimos Falcinelo  Limicola falcinellus

Yes, yes, yes!  Well done Andy for finding the little bird busy feeding relatively close-by on our side of the river.  And just to make things a little easier, the Broad-billed Sandpiper was actually feeding quite close to a Dunlin, so offering great comparison facilities. What a strange little bird was this single Broad-billed Sandpiper that seemed to stretch up his neck and creative a considerable "bend" on occasions as it continued to feed.  Studying the bird as closely as we could it even appeared to have different flank markings on each side of its body (see photos below).  After all the excitement we even managed to record a trio of Avocets in the river nearer to the sea plus more Redshanks until something spooked all the waders and they took to the air before re-settling.

So, all excitement over and a most wonderful afternoon spent in such pleasant company we started to make our way back, having decided to give the beach and other hides a miss.  Well, how do you follow seeing a "lifer" such as this?  The answer, for Marieke, by being shown a second "lifer" in so many minutes!  Whilst busy watching the Broad-billed Sandpiper a Yellow Wagtail put in an appearance on the sand just behind the bird; a very late arriving member of the British sub species, Motacilla Flava flavisima.  Annual birds for Andy and I but a first for Marieke from Belgium.

But the afternoon visit was still not over.  A quick look in at the Wader Pool as we passed by revealed a newly-arrived immature Grey Heron quickly followed by a single Gull-billed Tern and then, as we left, looking up we had one of Marieke' specials, her whole purpose for coming to Spain and visiting Tarifa, a Honey Buzzard.  Just the single bird which must have come in from the sea and of the dark morph variety.  Finally, as we walked back to the main road alongside the river, a single Zitting Cisiticola took to the air to bid us farewell and a safe journey home.

The high, departing Honey Buzzard Abejero  Europeo Pernis apivorus on his way, no doubt to Marieke in Belgium!
Back at the cars, Andy drove away and I thought to myself, how can you improve on two new lifers?  Obvious really, go for the hat-trick!  So off home via the Parador Golf to see if we could locate the Superb Starling that is the sole remaining ember of the previous small flock.  Even as we walked up to the kiosk Marieke was still giving me funny looks as to why would somebody describe (an ordinary) starling as superb or splendid?  Finally, the penny dropped and she realised that I was talking about a different species of starling, not our own resident Spotless Starlings.  Lots and lots of Monk Parakeets and even a Hoopoe flew right by in front of us.  We saw a female House Sparrow happily drinking from the beer drip tray as the attendant was busy shutting up shop for the day.  Obviously, she must have thrown out some bread crumbs because suddenly the Superb Starling was right in front of us both feeding and keeping away the other birds; obvious who is top of the pecking order here.  Seeing us watching the bird, we were then informed that the starling also had a name.  Welcome to Pepe!  If I come back as a bird in a next life than I think I will be a starling on this golf course where you can guarantee warm, sunny weather, lots of protection from the general riff-raff, hand-fed food on call and access to free beer whenever the fancy takes you!  Forget Passer Elenus and welcome to Sturnus RobertusKestrel, Thekla Lark and Sardinian Warbler as we approached home so a very welcome 44 species for a marvellous afternoon.

Superb Starling Estornino Soberbio Lamprotornis superbus named "Pepe" at the Parador Golf, Malaga

Birds seen Wednesday:
Shelduck, Gadwall, Mallard, Shoveler, Red-crested Pochard, Pochard, White-headed Duck, Red-legged Partridge, Great Crested Grebe, Black-necked Grebe, Cattle Egret, Little Egret, Flamingo, Marsh Harrier, Montagu's Harrier, Kestrel, Moorhen, Coot, Black-winged Stilt, Avocet, Redshank, Green Sandpiper, Wood Sandpiper, Black-headed Gull, Yellow-legged Gull, Gull-billed Tern, Whiskered Tern, Stock Dove,, Turtle Dove, Collared Dove, Swift, pallid Swift, Hoopoe, Crested Lark, Thekla Lark, Barn Swallow, House martin, Red-rumped Swallow, Blue-headed Wagtail (Iberiae), Stonechat, Blackbird, Reed Warbler, Sardinian Warbler, Woodchat Shrike, Jackdaw, Raven, Spotless Starling, House Sparrow, Serin, Goldfinch, Linnet, Corn Bunting.

Birds seen Thursday:
Gadwall, mallard, Pochard, White-headed Duck, Little Egret, Heron, Spoonbill, Honey Buzzard, Kestrel, Moorhen, Coot, Black-winged Stilt, Avocet, Little Ringed Plover, Ringed Plover, Kentish Plover, Sanderling, Little Stint, Curlew Sandpiper, Dunlin, Broad-billed Sandpiper, Bar-tailed Godwit, Redshank, Black-headed Gull, Yellow-legged Gull, Gull-billed Tern, Rock Dove, Collared Dove, Monk Parakeet, Swift, Pallid Swift, Hoopoe, Thekla lark, Barn Swallow, House Martin, Red-rumped Swallow, Yellow wagtail (British flavisima), Blackbird, Zitting Cisticola, Sardinian Warbler, Woodchat Shrike, Jackdaw, Spotless Starling, Superb Starling, House Sparrow, Serin, Goldfinch.

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

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