Monday 23 September 2013

Tarifa and La Janda

Juvenile Collared Pratincole Canastera Comun Glareola pratincola
Friday 20 September

Lovely sunny start to the day so the car packed and off to Tarifa in preparation for Saturday's Andalucia Bird Society's monthly field meet.  Seen off the mountain by a lovely Blue Rock Thrush, we arrived at the El Algarobbo raptor site to the west of Algerciras by about 1.30pm where we were immediately greeted by a pair of Sardinian Warblers.  We were also welcomed by a keen breeze coming from the east so we suspected that most of any raptors were more likely to be at the far end of this particular sierra.

Swallowtail Pupilio machaon
However, having discovered that David and Juliette Hird had also recently arrived at the site, we were soon on to a very large Booted Eagle and then a small number of Griffon Vultures.  There was a constant dribble of Barn Swallows passing through and, whilst waiting for the next raptor, we were able to follow a number of feeding Swallowtail Butterflies in the neighbouring area.  Right on cue we had a Black Kite followed by a Short-toed Eagle.  A couple of Common Kestrels were also seen and then a small flock of calling Bee-eaters passes southwards overhead.

Lunch take and a large group of birders arrived so we decided to head off west to the Cazalla site above Tarifa.  On arriving we found that the breeze had now become quite a strong wind.  Difficult to see any raptors although we were informed that, in the calmer previous day, there had been thousands of migrating raptors.  We had to be content with a few more Griffon Vultures, Black Kites and another Short-toed Eagle.
A very curious Stonechat Tarabilla Comun  Saxicola torquatus

Leaving the windy ridge we drove down to the coast and paid a short, windy visit to the Los Lances beach where we immediately noticed that the boardwalk had been re-aligned to, presumably, protect the shore edges. Walking to the beach we had numerous House Sparrows and Spotless Starlings but then a female Pied Flycatcher and the first Stonechat.  A juvenile Blue-headed Wagtail was on the field to the rear of the hide whilst a Northern Wheatear and male Stonechat posed on the wooden fence rail.  Needless to say, there were numerous Cattle Egrets and a few Crested Larks in the area.  However, the real find at the site was a rather lovely Sedge Warbler.  With the tide almost full and scores of wind-surfers on the sea, there was limited scope for waders in the vicinity.  Certainly a number of Yellow-legged Gulls whilst the lagoon in front of the hide held a single Flamingo and a dozen Sandwich Terns rested on the poles in the water to our right.  Returning to the car, we found quite a number of resting Ringed Plovers and a few Sanderling on a rocky edge to the above lagoon and then, in addition to the small numbers of Barn Swallows moving through, the appearance of a single Alpine Swift.  How strange!  Finally, a couple of male Blackbirds and then we were off to Bolonia where absolutely nothing, other than a female Kestrel approaching the beach, was to be seen.

Dusky Meadow Brown Butterfly Hyponephele lycaon
Finally, we made a short circuit of La Janda staying on the main track rather than crossing the bridge up towards the "smelly Farm" and distant fields.  No sooner had we entered the site than we had our first of a small number of Marsh Harriers immediately followed by the first couple of even more Little Egrets.  There were scores of Cattle Egrets following the harvesters whilst, on the far side of the canal, at least fifty White Storks were either feeding or resting.

Working our way slowly down the rack we had a Zitting Cisticola and then a Northern Wheatear flew across the track to the far side of the water.  Eventually our first Grey Heron and then a small flock of Greenfinches.  Half-way down in a flooded area a single White Stork rested alongside a pair of Cattle Egrets whilst, in the water itself, a quartet of Little Egrets were accompanied by seven Glossy Ibis.  More House Sparrows and Goldfinches accompanied us and, over the fields on the far side, a rather lovely female Montagu's Harrier put in an appearance.  Similarly, no sooner had we found another perching Greenfinch than we recorded the only Southern Grey Shrike that had been also resting in the same large waterside bush.  Just beyond the first of two Turtle Doves that were seen whilst driving along the track.

Our first Montagu's Harrier Aguilucho Cenizo Circus pygarus; a lovely female bird.
Reaching the large bend in the track opposite the bridge the field had been well and truly flooded to create a sizable lake.  Here we found a flock of at least an hundred Glossy Ibis along with a number of Black-winged Stilts and and a handful of Coots.  A large flock of Calandra Larks was busy just beyond the eater and closer inspection of the latter produced first a small number of Ruff followed by a single Squacco Heron hidden on a small ridge.  There were also a number of Lesser Black-backed Gulls and a couple of Red-rumped Swallows overhead but, right in front of us on a parallel track at the edge of the water not ten metres away, a single juvenile Collared Pratincole.  This youngster was quite happy to either just sit, stand and pose or take a short walk whilst all who stopped at this point, as most did, were able to get very close sightings and photographs of the bird.  By now it was well after six so be beat a hasty retreat and carried along the main track passing more Ruffs, Marsh Harriers, White Storks, Herons and both Cattle and Little Egrets to our hostal for the night in Barbate.

Saturday 21 September

Up and away to take a look at the river in Barbate on our way to meet up with half of the Andalucia Bird Society to lead them around La Janda whilst the remainder commenced their day at the raptor sites.  Even more windy than the previous day and, with the tide almost at its top, very little to see other than Yellow-legged Gulls, a few Little Egrets and a small number of waders in the lagoon including (mainly) Ringed Plovers, Sanderlings and single Redshank and Turnstone.  The large area of flood water at the rear of the road produced a good-sized flock of Black-headed Gulls and a large number of Flamingos along with the resident Cattle Egrets.  Then the phone call came to inform me that the group was on its way to our meeting point at the Venta Apollo XI so necessary to get a move on - and we then saw a Hoopoe as we drove inland from Zahara.

Record shot of Northern Wheatear Oenanthe oenanthe
Coffees, comfort breaks and transport arrangements completed, we made our way to the nearby La Janda entrance track.  Stopping at the top of the tack we were able to scan the neighbouring fields, pick out the large numbers of White Storks on the distant ground below us and the Zitting Cisticolas that were fence hopping on both sides of the cars.  It was necessary to wait a further ten minutes as the cowboys move the breeding herd of fighting bulls, calves and mothers, down the track in front of us and then across the canal to distant pastures new.  As we waited then slowly made our own way to the canal we had Barn Swallows continually passing overhead in small numbers followed by our first of very many Marsh Harriers.

The slow drive with many stops alongside the canal continued to produce numerous Cattle and Little Egrets plus many House Sparrows, Goldfinches and Spotless Stralings.  We even had a Northern Wheatear fly across the water and, half-way down in the same flooded filed as yesterday,  a small number of Glossy Ibis resting with a handful of Little Egrets.  The first Grey Heron was found and, after that, they became a common occurrence.

The trouble with standing still is that you do need the occasional stretch - so showing the lovely white rump
Carrying on to the bridge, passing Goldfinches, Stonechats, Common Kestrels and Crested Larks, we spent some time checking out the shallow lake on the bend as yesterday.  In addition to Coots and at least 150 Glossy Ibis we also found a quartet of Shoveler, a couple of Teal and a female Red-crested Pochard.  Lots of Black-winged Stilts in the water and careful scrutiny of the ridges and banks duly produced both a number of Ruff and many Snipe.  The juvenile Collared Pratincole was still present on the lower track and, on this occasion, had been joined by a second juvenile.  Indeed, on at lest three occasions we also saw small flocks of flying Collared Pratincoles.  The two large white herons were, of course, resting Spoonbills and then the great excitement as we found a well-concealed Jack Snipe with its distinctive shorter beak and black striped head; for most of us a first sighting in Spain.  Even a couple of Lapwing were found near the Yellow-legged Gulls and all the while the Marsh Harriers continued to quarter the nearby rice fields.

Yet another female Montagu's Harrier
A chance to hide behind a wall and use the telescope duly produced a couple of Griffon Vultures to the rear of the site along with the first Montagu's Harrier of the day.  Then it was across the bridge, through the avenue of trees where we managed to record both Red-legged Partridge and Pheasant to the river and a stop for our picnic lunch.  As we arrived we found a single Turtle Dove very obligingly waiting for us on the wires and it refused to budge even when another Marsh harrier came within a metre.  During our stop we heard Cetti's Warblers calling from the nearby reeds and a rather splendid Sparrowhawk passed over and on to the sloping cotton field.  Whilst checking out this are we found a couple of Lesser Kestrels and were to see another handful a little later on as we approached the smelly farm.  Some of the group even managed to see a Booted Eagle and most of us recorded the single Blue-headed Wagtail.

Time to drive up to the smelly farm and beyond where we reached the junction before turning and making our way back to the road bridge and the "Ibis Pool".  More Pheasants and Red-legged Partridges, then loads of Wood Pigeons plus scores of Jackdaws and Rock Doves, plus a few Collared Doves, at the farm itself.  Beyond the farm we found our only Buzzard and a few members also recorded Sardinian Warbler.  Indeed, one member even managed to find an Oystercatcher at the edge of the "Ibis Pool".

Time to say "Good-bye" to our tame juvenile Collared Pratincole
Still hot and windy as we made our way back along the main road to the Venta Apollo XI and dispersal.  Some were staying a further night in the area so, hopefully, the wind will have abated so that they get the chance to see raptors on the 'morrow.  A couple of cars did call in at the wooden viewing station at Cazalla on the way home where only a couple of distant, unidentified raptors were seen until a large, dark Honey Buzzard flew over and around us.  What a way to end a marvellous day despite the strong winds.

Photographic footnote:
Having experience recent problems with the computer that gave all pictures an "orange" hue when reduced, the above is my first experiment using "Free Online Picture Resizer" to reduce the original converted jpgs from RAW by 75%.  Early days yet but it would seem to make the pictures a little darker and lose some of the sharpness.  More experimentation needed.

Birds seen:
Shoveler, Teal, Red-crested Pochard, Red-legged partridge, Pheasant, Squacco Heron, Cattle Egret, Little Egret, Glossy Ibis, Grey Heron, White Stork, Spoonbill, Flamingo, Honey Buzzard, Black Kite, GriffonVulture, Short-toed Eagle, Marsh Harrier, Montagu's Harrier, Booted eagle, Sparrowhawk, Buzzard, Lesser Kestrel, Kestrel, Coot, Oystercatcher, Black-winged Stilt, Collared Pratincole, Ringed Plover, Lapwing, Sanderling, Ruff, Redshank, Turnstone, Black-headed Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Yellow-legged Gull, Sandwich Tern, Rock Dove, Wood Pigeon, Turtle Dove, Collared Dove, Alpine Swift, Bee-eater, Hoopoe, Calandra Lark, Crested Lark, Barn Swallow, Red-rumped Swallow, Blue-headed Wagtail, Stonechat, Northern Wheatear, Blackbird, Cetti's Warbler, Zitting Cisticola, Sedge Warbler, Sardinian Warbler, Pied Flycatcher, Southern grey Shrike, Jackdaw, Spotless Starling, House Sparrow, Greenfinch, Goldfinch.

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

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