Tuesday 30 July 2013

Sierra Tejada and back to Casa Collado


Having watched a pair of Western Olivaceous Warblers (Isabelline Warblers) feeding on the growing vines outside the kitchen window yesterday evening, I decided that, perhaps, a day in the mountains was called for.  However, having gone back to bed I found myself leaving Casa Collado a good two hours later than intended!  Nevertheless, a good start with Sardinian Warblers in the drive and House Sparrows and House Martins as I drove through Los Romanes.  Approaching the bottom road at the lake a pair of Red-rumped Swallows flew over the car and then I was on my way to the start of the mountain track up into the Sierra Tejeda from Alcaucin.

First Collared Doves then Barn Swallows and I thought I was in for some good birds.  But that was it!  The lower picnic site arrived and a good walk round managed to locate a single Blue Tit, a small family of Crossbills and a lone Blackbird.  Even the human front was missing. So, onwards and upwards where I did come across a small number of Common Swifts and eventually recorded Rock Bunting and Chaffinch before reaching the main road at the top.  On the other hand, once past the huge pile of bark chippings that still remain on the track above the lower picnic site, I noted that the surface has been regraded leaving a most splendid camino which, never mind 4 x 4's, is perfectly safe for your ordinary saloon car.  No longer the excitement of crossing the ravines in the track near the top where a considerable amount of crushed stone has been applied and rolled.  Indeed, I have seen far worse "proper" roads in the area than the present mountain track.

A quick drive via the "Muck Heap" (no longer there and still fenced off) to the "Magpie Woods" provided a Greenfinch on the return journey along with a handful of Spotless Starlings.  The old railway track at Ventas de Zafarraya was not much better even if I did see a couple of Black Wheatears and more than a handful of Crag Martins plus a Serin.  Thank goodness for a small charm of Goldfinches.

The return journey back up the mountain to Casa Collado produced the expected Thekla Larks and, once again, the Bee-eaters were busy overhead.

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

Embalse Bermejales with John and Jenny Wainwright

First it was up the mountain and now John and Jenny have been to one of our larger reservoirs near the Granada/Malaga provincial border.  All the photos were taken by John including one of an abandoned egg that they came across.  It appears to be House Sparrow size and shape but, perhaps, too regular a pattern and blue rather than cream.  Can any reader identify the egg so that I can post the result; could it be a pipit's or even a wagtail's egg?

Can you identify this egg?

Bermejales  29th July 2013

A hot day with a slight breeze coming off of the water.

We decided to take a picnic down to our nearest embalse just outside of Alhama de Granada and arrived there about 11am  -  after coffee break, of course.  En-route seeing a Buzzard, Magpies, Common Swifts, House Martins, Barn Swallows, Hoopoes, a single Crag Martin and House Sparrows.

The place was deserted except for an ayuntamiento worker perusing the embalse with a ´scope.  Here we saw more of the latter hirundines, a Common Sandpiper searched the waters edge for insects, a few White Wagtails, several flocks of House Sparrows and Long-tailed Tits.

Spotted Flycatcher  Papamosas Gris  Muscicapa striata
I went for a walk alongside the embalse and then up through the belt of pines - this area is very quiet and I have never seen anyone else here, anyhow, I did see Short-toed Treecreepers, Coal Tits, Great Tits, five Spotted Flycatchers, Crossbills, Serins, Wood Pigeons (by the dozens), Collared Doves, Goldfinches, Sardinian Warblers, Crested Larks, Blackbirds and Magpies.  I heard Wryneck, Hoopoes and Greenfinches.  I also found an egg lying on the ground under a tree, no visible sign of a nest and the egg was still whole, anyone ID it please?  It was about 35-40mm in length and very light blue with brown speckles (as per photo).

While I was away Jenny had seen a Grey Heron. The masses had turned up for swimming etc., so we moved round to another part of the embalse where very few people get due to the poor access to the water.   Here, Jenny had a snooze while I went on another walk.  More Spotted Flycatchers, House Martins, Blackcaps and a Common Coot - first I have seen here - was in the reeds.

Black-tailed Skimmer  Orthetrum cancellatum
All around were hundreds of dragonflies most of them were the vivid Violet Dropwing (Trithemis annulata) with a few Red-veined Darters (Sympetrum fonscolombii) and two Black-tailed Skimmers (Orthetrum cancellatum).  Other butterflies were notably Scarce Swallowtails (more common than the Common, I find), Large Whites, Brown Argus and a few Mallow Skippers, also a very pretty Green Lacewing (Chrysopa pallens).

Green Lacewing  Chrysopa pallens
Not a terrific birding total - but the wife says the exercise is good for me !!

 All photos by and courtesy of John Wainwright

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

Sunday 28 July 2013

Once more to the Sierra Loja with John and Jenny Wainwright

Obviously, John and Jenny had the right idea when they wanted to continue their birding exploits; go high!  So, as often before, the Sierra Loja called them away from their nearby Salar home. Their reward was to find a whole host of juveniles including Rock Thrush and Woodchat Shrike, both so unlike their parents.  So, as John says, there is still hope for us all so, perhaps, a trip up the nearby Sierra Tejada might be called for early next week.

Sierra Loja 27th July 2013

A very hot and muggy day again but fresh at 1500metres.

I had finished my chores earlier than expected so we decide to have a couple of hours up Sierra Loja. We didn´t expect too much as the past fortnight or more it has been very hard work - even getting out and about with the heat has been a chore.

As we drove up the now recently reformed track, we saw Collared Dove, Wood Pigeon and Azure-winged Magpies.  Though the wooded areas were almost deserted we did manage to see Great Tit,  and Red-legged Partridges, the latter having some very young broods with them, also heard Chaffinches.

At the cliffs, climbers were about and not a peep was heard until we reached the flat area, where we saw Thekla Larks, a single Lesser Kestrel, at least two adult and several juvenile Woodchat Shrikes and a group of five Black Wheatears.

Juvenile Rock Thrush Roquero Rojo Monticola saxatillis (right) with Black-eared Wheatear Collalba Rubia Oenanthe hispanica

Close to the substation valley we encountered a Southern Grey Shrike and in the valley we came across our first juvenile Rock Thrush.  As we were photographing it, a Spectacled Warbler flew into view.  Also here we saw Black-eared Wheatears, more Black Wheatears, Thekla Larks, Goldfinches, Stonechats, two Common Kestrels and a circling Short-toed Eagle.  As we climbed out of the valley a huge flock of some two hundred Chough erupted from the mountainside.  A few Rock Buntings were seen here as were more Black-eared Wheatears and juvenile Woodchat Shrikes.

Juvenile Woodchat Shrike  Alcaudon Comun  Lanius senator

Instead of turning right for the ponds we kept on towards Sierra Gordo, along this part of the track we found another two Spectacled Warblers, a Black Wheatear, more Rock Buntings, and two good size families of Stonechats.

At the fossil cave we located the Little Owl on its ruin.  Also here we saw Black Redstarts, Black Wheatears, Red-legged Partridges and three Common Kestrels gave us their version of air acrobatics.  Then the rain started.  We had expected the possibility of it as the dark clouds had been threatening for an hour or so, luckily it was over and done with in a quarter and hour, but the temperature had dropped to a fresh 14C with a fresh wind to accompany it.

So onto the ponds, the top one being completely empty, the bottom one was in a very depleted state, but we did get our first (and only) Northern Wheatear here along with Linnets, Corn Buntings, Goldfinches, Chough, Rock Sparrows and Rock Buntings, our only Spotless Starling, more Theklas Larks and Black-eared Wheatears.

Juvenile Rock Thrush Roquero Rojo Monticola saxatillis

After lunch we headed back down seeing two Hoopoes and three more juvenile Rock Thrushes on the way.  It wasn´t until we had almost reached the main road when we saw Serins, House Sparrows, two Common Swifts and a few House Martins.  The last bird was a Turtle Dove as we neared Salar.

Butterflies and other insects were at a premium as were flowers although we did find a few Spanish Iris (Iris xiphium)still in bloom, Spanish Oyster Plant (Scolymus hispanicus) and a few Great Mullien or Aaron´s Rod (Verbascum thapsus) are still hanging on.

All photographs by and courtesy of John Wainwright

Great report, John and a reminder to us all to make the effort to get out and about.

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

Friday 26 July 2013

Where have all the flowers gone?

Friday 26 July

Not so much flowers as birds in this very hot weather!  Even my non-birding friends are freely talking about not seeing their usual eagles and small birds of prey (usually Common Kestrels) this year in any numbers.  Normally, we would be seeing Short-toed Eagles on a daily basis from early March onwards.  Jenny saw one back, I think, in early April but I had to wait until late yesterday afternoon for my first sighting in the "usual" dead tree on the opposite slope of the mountain.  Indeed, I only found the bird as I had been drawn to the upper terrace by the calling of the Ravens.  The day before we had a family of five on and around the  land below us and yesterday four were seen an hundred or so meres away.

Quite a day yesterday having seen both Barn and Red-rumped Swallows along with House Martin and Common Swift over the house.  Then, early evening sitting on the terrace trying to finish my latest Robert Crais novel I heard the chatter of young Barn Swallows.  Eventually, a total of ten resting on the TV wire from the dish to the house as they watched their parents (?) feeding/drinking over the pool.  Then the fun really started as the youngsters tried out this drinking experience for themselves.  Obviously, finding it difficult to grasp the idea of skimming the water so often a smack as the birds actually landed in the drink and then had to make a hasty upward flight.  All very well taking photos with a small camera but, in the end , I just sat in the pool on the steps alongside the corner and watched form a lower viewpoint.  Fascinating and wonderful at the same time.

No sign of the Short-toed eagle to day but the Barn Swallows have reappeared so, presumably, they are gig to continue their drinking lessons.  No doubt, they will also be joined by the Red-rumped Swallow family that usually graces us with their sight and pleasure.  Meanwhile, there seem to be loads of Thekla Larks about so they have, presumably, had a good breeding season.

Monday 22 July 2013

Laguna Dulce and Serrania de Ronda

Friday/Saturday 19/20 July

Off to Ronda on Friday so, naturally, we called in at the Laguna Dulce and the neighbouring Campillos lagunas.  Very hot and the water looked tempting for me nevermind the birds!  Woodchat Shrike as we came off the mountain along with a pair of Rock Buntings and then a single Black Kite west of Antequera.  Arriving at the Dulce it was obvious that the Coots had returned with a vengeance; there were hundred including the resident birds with their families.  Indeed, the chicks seemed to range in age from almost adult plumage down to a few who looked no more than a week or so old.
Rather shy Great Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos major
In addition tot he Coots, the next most populous bird was the White-headed Duck whose numbers could be measured in the high scores.  There were also some Common Pochard abut only a handful of Mallard to be seen.  A flock of about forty Lapwing were working the fields top the right of the main hide and all three Grebes were present; mainly Little but a good number of Black-necked and a couple of Great Crested.  Around the edges we counted about fifty Greater Flamingos and a single Cattle Egret but no Little Egrets or herons.  Above the water a pair of Gull-billed Terns and a number of feeding Barn Swallows along with the odd Common Swift were recorded.  Finally, a couple of Moorhens and a Common Sandpiper then we departed to the neighbouring lagunas starting with Redonda where we found yet more Greater Flaminmgos.

Every sheet of water seemed to contain good numbers of Greater Flamingos and, in total, we exceeded 150 for the area.  At the Laguna Redonda we also had both Green Sandpiper and Little Ringed Plover and, continued searching with the scope also located both Ringed and Kentish Plovers.  At this water, which is very shallow, we also found a handful of Shoveler.  Fewer Coot here; they were all at the Dulce for their July holidays.  On the other hand, this water did hold a number of Black-winged Stilts.  Naturally, there were good numbers of Goldfinches and Collared Doves to be seen both at the lagunas and travelling between the waters.  Indeed, we had a singing Turtle Dove at the Laguna Dulce and during the morning a couple of Common Kestrels.  The Laguna Capacete was also well full of water but nothing knew was to be seen even if there were plenty of Flamingoes.

Record shot of Little Owl Athene noctua
Saturday saw an early start to meet up with fellow members of the Abdalucia Bird Society for a morning's visit to the Montejaque area before the Annual General Meeting.  The first stop produced a pair of Great Spotted Woodpeckers as soon as got out of the cars and thee were quickly followed by Stonechat, Bee-eaters, Pallid Swift, Melodious Warbler and both Barn and Red-rumped Swallows.  A couple of Golden Orioles flew over but I was one of many who did not pick up the pair of departing Cirl Buntings.

The next stop overlooking the rocky cliffs soon located a continuous stream of Griffon Vultures and then both Bonelli's Warbler and Iberian Chiffchaff followed by a pair of Sardinian Warblers.  Both Chaffinch and Rock Buntings moved through the area and whilst watching a family of Ibex deal with the rocky slopes we had both Common and Alpione Swifts below us along with a few Crag Martins.  Before long we had also found the local Blue Rock Thrushes and then a Sparrowhawk darted through our vision.  Whilst at this site we also recorded House Martin, Great Tit and Goldfinch with yet more Hoopoes.

Moving up to the Libar valley, where we drove to almost the far end with a number of stops, we managed to see lots of butterflies (mainly    ) but also a rather lovely pair of Little Owls and then more Black Redstarts.  Either side of the track we picked up regular sightings of Lesser Kestrels and a number of Black-eared Wheaters before finding a couple of Northern WheatearsBlack Wheatears were also seen and recorded.  In addition to the Woodchat Shrikes it was also lovely top see a couple of Orphean Warblers and then, with the Griffons, a single Black Vulture soaring along the cliff top.  Towards the top of the valley we had a flock of "genuine" Rock Doves below and up to a dozen Choughs above the cliffs.  As has been recorded elsewhere thus year, a general lack of large raptors but Short-toed Eagle was seen and then, having returned to Ronda for the Society's AGM, at the conclusion of the business a Booted Eagle drifted across above us; obviously smelt the chicken and sausages on the barbecue!  Add on Serin, Wood Pigeon and Corn Bunting and it was a most enjoyable day.

Butterflies on view - please do confirm/correct names:

Common Blue Polyommatus icarus

Iberian Marbled White Melanargia lachesis
Spanish Gatekeeper Pyronia cecilia

Birds seen on both days:
Mallard, Shoveler, Pochard, White-headed Duck, Little Grebe, Great Crested Grebe, Black-necked Grebe, Cattle Egret, Greater Flamingo, Black Kite, Griffon Vulture, Black Vulture, Short-toed Eagle, Booted Eagle, Sparrowhawk, Lesser Kestrel, Common Kestrel, Moorhen, Coot, Black-winged Stilt, Little Ringed Plover, Ringed Plover, Kentish Plover, Lapwing, Green Sandpiper, Common Sandpiper, Gull-billed Tern, Rock Dove, Wood Pigeon, Turtle Dove, Collared Dove, Little Owl, Alpine Swift, Common Swift, Pallid Swift, Bee-eater, Hoopoe, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Thekla Lark, Crag Martin, Barn Swallow, House Martin, Red-rumped Swallow, Black Redstart, Stonechat, Northern Wheatear, Black-eared Wheatear, Black Wheatear, Blue Rock Thrush, Melodious Warbler, Sardinian Warbler, Orphean Warbler, Bonelli's Warbler, Iberian Chiffchaff, Great Tit, Golden Oriole, Woodchat Shrike, Chough, Spotless Starling, House Sparrow, Chaffinch, Serin, Goldfinch, Rock Bunting and Corn Bunting.

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

Thursday 18 July 2013

Axarquia Bird Group visit to the Rio Velez, Torre del Mar

Hoopoe Abubilla Upupa epops
It may have been a very hot day and the last "official" visit of the year for the Axarquia Bird Group but still, despite the heat nine of us arrived at the meeting point to walk the lower reaches of the Rio Velez at Torre del Mar.   Just over two hours later we were back at the cars having, surprisingly, recorded over 35 species.  Too hot to wear anything other than the least amount of clothing, species were recorded once back at Casa Collado so, no doubt, the emails will come flying i to remind me of what I have missed!  The main thing was that I was back in southern Spain and amongst long-standing friends and, as the saying goes, "get back in the saddle" after a seven week absence from birding the Axarquia.

On arrival Eric Lyon, Steve Powell, Malcolm Austin, Brian Green and Dan Wilkinson were already present (and I was a few minutes early!) and were pointing out both the Moorhen and Reed Warblers that were still present.  We were soon joined by Gerry Collins and Louise Gray from Salobrena along with Lesley Laver from Nerja who had made the longest journey and they , too, were able to pick up the same birds.  The resident population of Rock Doves was out in good numbers and within minutes we were being serenaded by dozens of Monk Parakeets who seemed to remain with us for the rest of the morning.  Malcolm managed to see the lone Common Sandpiper before it disappeared and then we started the leisurely walk down towards the pumping station and the beach.

Lone juvenile Kentish Plover  Chorlitejo patinegro Charadrius alexandrinus on beach
The walk produced regular sightings of Reed Warbers and Spotted Flycatchers and then a single Olivaceous Warbler in the low bushes.  No sooner had we seen the Purple Heron take off upstream than we were joined by numerous Barn Swallows and a good sprinkling of Red-rumped Swallows feeding over the water.  Very few waders about but there was a handful of Little Ringed Plovers and maybe three Ringed Plovers feeding on the river edges.  Similarly, a handful of the Iberian race of Yellow Wagtails (Blue-headed Wagtail) were seen and an occasional White Wagtail.  A small number of Bee-eaters were heard then seen overhead.

Juvenile Nightingale Ruisenor Comun Luscinia megarhynchos
Looking across to the river from near the pumping station we first recorded the first of a few Zitting Cisticola and then a single Little Egret followed by a handful of Cattle Egrets.  The Purple Heron reappeared and the trio of Hoopoes first seen near the start of our walk also reappeared.  Indeed, there seemed to be a plentiful supply of Hoopoes, Reed Warblers and Spotted Flycatchers about all morning.  In addition to the occasional Barn Swallow, we now had House Martins and both Common and Pallid Swifts, mainly the former.  We could see the resting roost of Yellow-legged Gulls in the far field but there also a good number present on the lower waters of the river awaiting our arrival.  Then, proceeding towards the beach, we had a very tame juvenile Nightingale on the track in front of us that seemed determined to continue looking for food and completely ignored us.

Female Red Avadavat Bengali Rojo Amandava amandava
Very little of the beach has, yet again, taken on a new layout, but we did find a single juvenile Kentish Plover.  On the far side of the rive a score of more of Yellow-legged Gulls, mainly immatures, plus a small number of both Black-headed and Audouin's Gulls.  Then, making our way back upstream, the delight in seeing a small flock of Red Avadavats.  Strangely, on this occasion it was the females that were easier top pick out but we did see males in their off-season browny-red coats.  More Common Swifts, House Martins and White Wagtails in this area and, again, a trio of Little Egrets passed overhead and our "tame" Hoopoes once again caught up with us.  Needless to say, we also had a fly-past by a small flock of Spotless Starlings and the noise and sight of the Monk Parakeets.  The river bank in front of us produced a regular supply of Serins, mainly juveniles, and the occasional Goldfinch plus more Reed Warblers and Zitting Cisticolas.

On reaching the cars, some departed for the cooler location of home whilst five of us took a look at the river above the road bridge where, in addition to a number of White Wagtails, we had a very close sighting of a Cetti's warbler, a second  Common Sandpiper along with another Blackbird and even a Collared Dove plus, of course, more noisy Monk Parakeets.  Add on the Kestrel, Stonechat and Thekla Lark seen as I drove down off the mountain and I was well-pleased with a total of almost 40 species for the morning.

Is this Audouin's Gull Gaviota de Audouin Larus audouinii having the last laugh?

Birds seen:
Cattle Egret, Little Egret, Purple Heron, Kestrel, Moorhen, Little Ringed Plover, Ringed Plover, Kentish Plover, Common Sandpiper, Black-headed Gull, Audouin's Gull, Yellow-legged Gull, Rock Dove, Collared Dove, Monk Parakeet, Common Swift, Pallid Swift, Bee-eater, Hoopoe, Thekla Lark, Barn Swallow, Red-rumped Swallow, House Martin, Yellow Wagtail (Iberiae), White Wagtail, Nightingale, Stonechat, Blackbird, Cetti's Warbler, Zitting Cisticola, Reed Warbler, Olivaceous Warbler, Spotted Flycatcher, Spotless Starling, House Sparrow, Red Avadavat, Serin and Goldfinch.

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

Wednesday 17 July 2013

Osuna area with John and Jenny

The heatwave continues and my great friend Andy reports very little at the Guadalhorce, especially in terms of waders, but John and Jenny Wainwright have been over to the steppes near Osuna in Seville province in the hope that they, too, might get some good sightings and photos of our small resident population of Great Bustards.  Judging by John's report below the answer would seem to be mixed; sightings but photo opportunities.  On the other hand, lots of Rollers and raptors about and there is some beautiful countryside, especially the hidden lake at Martin de la Jara.

Osuna area 16th July 2013
Booted Eagle Hieraaetus pennatus

[All photos by Jenny Wainwright]

A very hot day with the strong warm breeze.

We came off the A92 (Sevilla-Granada autovia) at km80 and headed for Lantejuela, en route seeing Crested Lark, Stonechats and Buzzards.  A single Roller surprised us when it leapt off a road sign and there were a few Bee-eaters about.

Instead of keeping to the main road we cut across country and found several Southern Grey Shrikes and their numerous offspring, a small family of four Common Kestrels, Calandra Larks, Red-legged Partridges, Red-rumped and Barn Swallows, Turtle Doves, Collared Doves, House Sparrows and just prior to one of the many bridges in this area Jenny spotted three Great Bustards flying.

Cicada Cigarra   Family:Cicadidae
We saw a Junta Andalucia sign saying " Vereda del Alamillo", so we decided to investigate.  We have never seen so many cicadas in my life; there were thousands of them and the noise was ear-shattering.  They were hitting the car, coming in the car windows and hours afterwards we were letting them out of the car.  Anyhow I digress, along this track we came across a largish group of raptors consisting of Griffon Vultures, a Booted Eagle, four Red Kites and over forty Black Kites.  Several Ravens were around here as well as two Common Buzzards.

After the raptors had dispersed we drove up to a derelict farm where we saw Stock Doves, another Black Kite, Cattle Egrets and several Lesser Kestrels.  Also here we found fourteen Rollers, including a good number of juveniles.  We hung around for an hour for photos but they were constantly on the move, over the newly cut cornfields, and photos were few and far between.

Juvenile Roller Coracias garrulus
We retraced our route back onto the main road, passing a group of some eleven Lesser Kestrels on the pylons and looking over the meadows we found three White Storks and lots of Cattle Egrets, feeding amongst a herd of cattle.  Also along this road we saw another small group of four flying Great Bustards - none on the ground today, mind you there is a lot of harvesting going on.

We left Osuna area and headed for Martin de la Jara and the Rio Blanco, here we found Hoopoe, Little Ringed Plovers, Black-winged Stilts, Corn and Rock Bunting, Coots, Moorhen, Hoopoe, Bee-eaters, Ravens, Goldfinches, Common Swift and House Martins.

We called in at Laguna Dulce but very quiet here, although we did get Purple Swamphen, Greater Flamingos, Coot, Moorhen, White-headed Duck, Pochard, Lapwings, Reed Warbler and Cetti´s Warbler.

On return journey to Salar, an Otter was seen in one of the small water-courses and a ring-tail Montagu's Harrier was noted.

Great report John and it certainly sounds as if you both had a great day's birding. 

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

Sunday 14 July 2013

Back to Spain and Casa Collado via the Pyrenees

The first sight of the Great Bustards Otis tarda
After five days we have finally arrived back home in our mountain top home above Lake Vinuela.  This time not for us the usual three full-day non-stop driving but rather a slower pace so that we could enjoy both the scenery and make both cultural and birding sops on the way back.  Monday took us from home and via the Dover - Dunkirk ferry to our evening destination in Boulogne-sur-Mer.  Tuesday was a long, non-stop journey down to Angouleme in central France arriving just after 8.30 in the evening.  Job done, we could now look forward to the interesting part and an early morning start saw us in Bordeaux by 9am.  Then it was south towards Bayonne to take the inland turn towards Mont de Marsan and Pau in preparation for the Pyrenees crossing.  And what a glorious route in turned out to be.  Not really a lover of the French countryside but this seemed like a mixture of driving into Swiss valleys or the Bavarian countryside.

Plenty of juvenile Goldfinches  Carduelis carduelis everywhere
First Orthez, then Navarrenx and Oloron Ste Marie as we looped west of Pau and so up to the summit where we joined a convey to be escorted through the 8,500 m tunnel and so into Spain for the descent down to Huesca and our evening hotel in the beautiful city of Zaragosa.  These French towns were a delight to pass through, and as Jenny said, a "must return" location so that we could spend more time to explore. the usual birds, mainly Black Kites, Magpies and Wood Pigeons on the journey but a stop for a comfort break in the woods approaching the summit resulted not only an opportunity to watch the local Nightingale but also a Jay fly across the road.  The same was true of the small towns and villages on the Spanish side with each appearing to have its own castle and fortified walls to their respective old towns.  Perhaps a week based in Pau and Zaragosa would produce both excellent historical and birding opportunities.

Wednesday evening was spent looking at the city and at dinner the local waiter informed us that there was very good birding site (relatively!) close by.  Decision immediately made to forgo the motorway route to Madrid and then south to Manzares near Daimiel to take in this site.  After all, what could possibly go wrong?  Well, to start with we had severe thunder and lightning after dinned and the heavens really opened!  Therefore, we spent Thursday morning looking at the magnificent cathedral accompanied by large numbers of both Common and Pallid Swifts before setting off at noon for the hour's drive south-east to the Laguna de Gallocanta recording many Buzzards and Griffon Vultures.  This detour, including very little motorway would probably mean a late evening arrival at our hotel but check-in was open till midnight.

And then at least 40 Great Bustards Otis tarda took to the air

Is it an Airbus 380 or a Boeing 787 Dreamliner?  Neither but this Great Bustard Otis tarda certainly seems to have a massive bulk in common with its metal equivalents!
What a magnificent sight!
Maps provided at the reserve, we then had a Menu del Dia before setting off on the track that led round the reserve to a number of hides and viewing points.  We had been informed that there was a resident population of Great Bustards in the area and where might be the best place to search the neighbouring steppes. No sooner had we set off than we had a Stonechat followed by the first of scores of Blue-headed Wagtails (Flave iberiae).  Both Commion Swifts and House Martins feeding overhead with a smaller number of Barn SwallowsTurtel Doves were out in force with a pair here and a pair there and many, many Corn Buntings.  In addition to the House Sparrows seen on arrival, we also managed to record Spanish Sparrow plus a small number of Rock Sparrows during the drive around the lake.Whiskered Terns and many Wood Pigeons and Magpies were also seen.  Barn Swallows were feeding overhead as we approached the first hide where, without a scope to hand, we quickly recorded Little Egret, Spoonbill, Heron and Glossy Ibis.

Further on from the next hide we also recorded a Black Redstart and then a good number of Gull-billed Terns before finding the resident Black-winged Stilts and a couple of Avocets.  Driving along the ploughed fields on the far side Carrion Crows were everywhere - but no Ravens.  At last a raptor with a distant Montagu's Harrier followed by a Kestrel, a Northern Wheatear and a rather lovely female Cirl Bunting.  At this point, in the area suggested that we search the neighbouring steppes, we suddenly had a pair of Great Bustards fly over the car and drop into the corn field between the car and the water.  Out of the car like a shot to see if the birds could be located, I had nor sooner found a concealed group of three when the birds, once more, took off and were joined by all the others already on site.  Whilst Jenny managed to count in excess of forty, at this point the memory card came up "Full" so necessary to make as quick a change as possible.  Well, at least I did get some shots and the sight of so many lovely birds at close quarters made our tour to this wonderful reserve all the more enjoyable and worthwhile.

Having drunk from the puddle of life this Quail Coturnix coturnix casually wandered back into the corn
Job done, so we turned on the barrow track and made an exit to take in a recommended corner about five km along the road on our proposed route to try and find the local Dupont's Larks.  But first, as an added bonus, the pool on the track produced a Quail bust drinking.  The shots through the windscreen were blurred record shots but the bird did remain long enough for me to fire off one shot from outside the car.  What a very pleasant surprise and addition tot he list.No sound recording device in the car, I do not know the call of the bird and my hearing not being what it once was, readers will not be surprised to read that we were unsuccessful.   However, not far into the journey and we did have an Egyptian Vulture pass overhead plus Chaffinches and a Jay.

Spoilt for choice photographing this Marbled Duck Marmaronetta angustirostris

And so on to our final hotel in Manzanares so that the final day might be spent at the Tablas de Daimiel.  A very strange noise from the back of the car like a folding chair rattling about for the next 100 or so km until, whilst stopped at a junction, an on-coming motorist indicated that something was amiss under the car.  Closer inspection revealed that the engine protection plate had come apart, fortunately at the rear end, and was bouncing on the road with the affixed nut giving off the metallic sound.  No garage, no nothing in the area so a case of carrying on at a slower speed and the likelihood that we would now not arrive until, probably, at least 10.30pm. We should be so lucky, even though I took over the driving and increased speed.  Being stopped by the Guardia Civil as left a small village did not help, even if the inhabitant were all out in the streets an gone eleven enjoying some celebration or other.  Once we explained our predicament and it was obvious that we passing through rather than passing liquids through our bodies, we were happily sent on our way.  Next, on arrival in the correct area we could not locate the hotel and it was now midnight.  Helped by some young lads who very kindly led us round back streets and goodness knows where else, we finally located the correct hotel at about half past midnight where the night porter let us in and gave us the keys.  What a day in all senses of the phrase.

Lovely to come across a trio of Squacco Herons Ardeola ralloides immediately in front of the car

And so to our final day.  Having made a point of wanting to visit the Tablas de Damiel it seemed a shame to give it a miss whilst seeking repairs to the Citroen  Compromise.  We decided to visit the nearby Laguna Navaseca for about an eye so that, at least, we would have seen some birds.  The water levels were beginning top drop on the right-hand side so we were able, without scope, to see Flamingo, White Stork, Spoonbill and Black-winged Stilts.  Numerous Barn Swallows and Sand Martins were feeding overhead and there was a smattering of both Serins and Goldfinches.  A drive along the stone causeway through the main water, including many track-wide puddles, produced a trio of Squacco Herons with Coots, Moorhens and Little Grebes on the water.  On a fence to the side we had both Spanish Sparrow and Reed Warblers.  On the far side a couple of Bee-eaters were resting on the wires with ample food in their beaks plus a single Redshank and then a couple of Glossy Ibis flew over.  There were also more Blue-headed Wagtails.

Two for the price of one with a Ferruginous Duck Aythya nyroca above and a Greylag Goose Anser anser below

So, we thought, birding ended for the day and drove to the nearby Citroen garage for repairs to be undertaken.  The young mechanic came out, took a look and then moved other cars out of the way, drove our car into the garage and onto the lift to check and repair the damage.  Just under thirty minutes later all had been repaired and, when asked, said there would be no charge!  What a gentleman.  However, placing the note in his coat pocket I told him to go and have a few drinks on us as we very much appreciated what he had done.  And it was still only 11.30 so we carried on to the Tablas de Daimiel for a tour along the "Yellow Trail" before taking a Menu in the town itself and, departing at 3.15 were back at Casa Collado by 7.45.

At least two Purple Herons Ardea purpurea at the Tablas de Daimiel

The reserve itself produced numerous ducks but no waders.  I my previous four visits I have never seen so much water.  Hoopoes came to greet us and, as before, lots of Magpies and Wood Pigeons. Again, there were Blue-headed Wagtails all over the place and this is always, as today, a good site to find Tree Sparrows.  A couple of Purple Herons flew over and even a Little Bittern made a sudden dash across the reeds having been disturbed by site-seers on the far side of the water.  Only a single Marsh Harrier but there were lots of Little Egrets and Cormorants about.  It would appear that the local Red-crested Pochards had had a good breeding season along with the Mallards judging by the number of ducklings about.  This site was also awash with butterflies and dragonflies.  Lots of the "little white" jobs which I must stop calling "Cabbage Whites" and the dragonfly identification will have to wait until the photos have been processed and checked with the field guide.

Not sure which of these two has the bigger problem; the aggresive Red-crested Pochard Netta rufa above or the drunk-looking Tufted Duck Aythya huligula below and I know how they both feel!

In addition to the birds, as indicated above there was a great number of butterflies and dragonflies about.  Most of the former were of the small white variety and the dragonflies seemed evenly split between the blue and red as shown below.  I suspect that the "green" specimen was a female of one or the other.  There you go Mick, Steve and John; see if you can identify them all before I get chance to work the Field Guide!

(Above and below) Great Banded Grayling Kanetisa circe

(Above and below) Male Black-tailed Skimmer Orthetrum cancellatum

(Above and below) Red-veined Darter Sympetrum fonscolombii

Male Ruddy Darter Sympetrum sanguineum

Female Ruddy Darter Sympetrum sanguineum

Many thanks to both Steve Powell and Mick Richardson for identifying the above butterflies and dragonflies.

Making a start on the green-coloured swimming pool the first day back and the mobile decided it was too hot to sit in my shirt's breast pocket so took a perfect dive into the deep end!  Despite the use of brush, covering myself up to enter the dirty lava-infected water and walking the whole pool , five feet at the deep end, the mobile refused to show itself.  Therefore, for the time being, I am incommunicado.  To reach me you will either have to email, ring the house (951321613) or wit until further notice.  All being well, the pool may be clear enough by midweek to reveal where the little blighter is so that it can be retrieved and given a good talking to!!!

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

From a Malaga Visitor

On sending out the reminders for next Thursday's Axarquia Bird Group meet at the Rio Velez, Torre del Mar, I received a lovely response from fellow educationalist Professor Malcolm Mitchell, the Chair of the Physiology and Animal Welfare SRUC in Midlothian, Scotland informing me that whilst he would be unable to be with us this week he had managed to get in a couple of recent birding trips to Spain, both here in Malaga and also in Bilbao whilst at the latter on business.  All being well, Malcolm will be out again to Malaga in August so, hopefully, we will once more be able to meet up for some birding.  In the meantime, Malcolm has forwarded a few photos taken on his recent visits which are published below for readers' pleasure.

Bee-eater Abejaruco Europea Merops apiaster

Black-winged Stilt Ciguenuela Comun Himantopus himantopus with adult above and youngster below

Zitting Cisticola  Buitron Cisticola juncidis

Greenfinch Verderon Comun Carduelis chloris

All above photographs by and courtesy of Malcolm Mitchell

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