Saturday 21 December 2013

Axarquia Bird Group visit to Fuente de Piedra

Thursday 19 December

The one thing I have discovered about this part of Spain is that when you get heavy rain, especially when accompanied by string winds, you get power cuts.  Imagine my surprise, therefore when  come Friday morning we had lost no power so went up to the studio to start on the blog.  I obviously spoke too soon as a power line had come down further inland and taken out my Internet provider so no access to the computer until Friday afternoon.  Problem solved and most of blog completed then came upstairs this morning, Saturday, and discovered that, once more, the Internet connection was lost.  Back on line now at just after ten o'clock so hoping to crack on and finish the job whilst the sun shines on outside the windows!

The gang's all here - including our furry fried who seemed the least interested of all!

Christmas almost upon us and time for the last field visit of the year; as for the past three or more years to that wonderful oasis to the far north-west of the province of Malaga, Funete de Piedra.  Any visit to this large lagoon at this time of the year must be, in addition to the Greater Flamingos of which there were still thousands to be seen, to record those most graceful of large  winter visitors, the Common Crane Grus grus.  Of course, one would also like to see Stone Curlews and other delightful species and on all accounts we fifteen were not to be disappointed.  It was lovely to see both Gerry and Leslie Collins make the long journey over from Salobrena and then we also had travelling with them, the pleasure of meeting a first-time participant, Diana Porter.  Eric and Pat Lyon made the journey over from Sayalonga and Marcus and Liz Routes travelling down the mountain from Competa were kind enough to collect Dan Wilkinson and Brian Green from Triana on their way.  For David and Janet Fisher living in Antequera it was almost a "hop down to the shops" living so relatively close whereas Steve Powell travelled from distant Frigiliana which just left me from Lake Vinuela.  But not quite, as we were delighted to welcome visiting Christine and Paul Stockton from Chester who also gave a holiday home in Gaucin so not there first visit to this wonderful site.

One of the numerous White Wagtails Lavandera Blanca Motacilla alba seen during the day

I left home without a cloud in the sky and all was calm.  Scores of White Wagtails and the resident Thekla Larks everywhere and then, within fifteen minutes the dense cloud arrived giving a very ominous look to the skies as I headed towards Casabemerja and the motorway to Antiquera.  Rain was promised for the afternoon but I am pleased to report that we managed a great day's birding in calm weather, if somewhat cloudy, and only when we finally left the local restaurant after our Menu del Dia did we notice that the wet stuff had arrived during our meal.  Not only rain; by the time I got home it was pouring and the winds were very much on the increase leading to a very windy night (literally and not as a result of the garlic!) and, whilst we kept our electricity supply, the Internet was down due to a fallen wire and/or cable further inland which took out our supplier for most of the next day.  Hence the lateness of this posting; well, that's my excuse and I am sticking to it!

Distant Shelducks Tarro Blanco Tadoma  tadoma (PHOTO: Steve Powell)
Steve and others managed to record Chiffchaffs as they drove into the reserve and within seconds we had, I am sure, all recorded Flamingos and the first of many White Wagtails.  Following introductions it was up to the Visitors' Centre to make use of the facilities and the n a general look over the main laguna in front of us and the fields to the south before taking in the small lagunetta to the rear.  Not only Flamingos on the water but numerous Lesser Black-backed Gulls and a smaller number of their smaller cousin, the Black-headed Gull.  A handful of Shelduck were to the right long with seven Cranes, our targeted bird recorded much sooner than we had anticipated, along with a large flock of Lapwing.  A single Little Egret flew over and then we were able to see the large number of Shovelers in the water immediately below us along with a very small number of Teal and a few Mallards.  the more we looked the more Black-winged Stilts that we recorded and then the first Marsh Harrier in the distance.  But not to worry, we were to see plenty more before the morning was out.

The arrival of the Cranes Grulla Comun Grus grus (PHoto below: Steve Powell)
Down on the dry land near the fence a couple of Stonechats went about their business along with a score or more of Jackdaws.  A pair of Raven flew past and then a whole mass of Spotless Starlings to add to the fun.  The Marsh Harrier had settled to rest in the top of a distant tree but gave good views through the telescope.  Time to wander round the back an see what else was about.

Approaching the first, open, hide a small number of Serins, Golfinch and a female Balckcap were seen and then the first of a few MoorhensCoots were also picked up at the back of the reserve along, from the main hide, a few Little Grebes plus a single Black-necked Grebe.  Lots of Black Redstarts to be seen (they seem to be everywhere at the moment) along with a small number of House Sparrows and distant Rock Doves but the best reward was finding the solitary Little Owl trying to hide in a small bush immediately in front of us.

(PHOTO: Steve Powell)
Continuing on now that the Internet has been restored:

Returning towards the car park we crossed the long footbridge to take a closer look at the ploughed field containing the recently restored electricity tower, complete with Kestrel perched on the side of the roof.  The dry bushes in front of us quickly produced more Goldfinches and Serins and then a couple of Reed Buntings as they moved across the top. To the left a small flock of Meadow Pipits were foraging and then a handful of Corn Buntings joined in the fray.  Meanwhile, away to the front and right, more Jackdaws to be seen and a couple of wandering Lapwings but close searching and first seen by Pat Lyon, produced the target bird, a single Stone Curlew standing high, which in itself was most unusual.  The more expected result was the individual so low on the ground that, for most, it would simply be passed over as another clump of dead grass.

Spot the Stone Curlew Alcaravan Comun Burhinus oedicnemus (PHOTO: Steve Powell)
Continuing to regularly see Blackbirds we all set off for an anti-clockwise drive round the laguna.  Eric and pat Lyon were the only ones to call in at the Mirador de la Vicaria and for their troubles were rewarded by close views of both Southern Grey Shrike and a Buzzard resting on a low stump and a couple of Snipe.  For the rest of us, we had to be content with more Stonechats followed by a single Hoopoe making a rapid departure stage left and then we found the Cranes.  A lovely row of about a dozen silhouetted on the skyline and as they took off we saw the reason why; at least a couple of hundred feeding near the arroyo in front of us.

(PHOTO: Steve Powell)
On to the Mirador de Cantarranos where we could still see the cranes including a handful in the water below us.  Whilst the main body of the Flamingos were on the main laguna, a single juvenile was seen along with a fleeting glimpse of a Purple Swamphen as it moved between a break in the reeds.  Lots of Marsh Harriers to be seen including a range of ages and both sexes.  Over the water, many Crag Martins were feeding and, amongst the mainly Mallards and Shovelers, we also found a few more Teal.  Just when we deemed it time to move on a white shape caught my eye to the far left and then the bird went into "Kestrel-hovering" mode.  Certainly not a male Hen Harrier despite the black on the wing and as it moved to and fro all remaining members managed to get a view through either/both telescope and binoculars.  As a special Christmas treat, the bird decided to fly towards us and perch in the top of a dead tree to give even better, if somewhat distant, views of this most gorgeous of raptors, the Black-winged Kite.

Distant record shot of Black-winged Kite Elanio Comun Elanus caeruleus
The remaining journey round the laguna duly turned up a good-sized flock of over fifty Sky Larks along with the expected Crested Larks.  Then it was time to head off for lunch, passing another Buzzard and Kestrels on the way, and discover that during the morning a Gadwall had also been seen at the main Centre along with Robin, Sardinian Warbler and Great Tit.  The only other wader seen was a single Redshank.  An extremely good morning's birding in splendid company and, eventually, a total of over 50 species recorded in very reasonable weather.  But, as I said at the beginning, no sooner had we moved inside for our meal than the rains arrived and the rest, as they say, is history!

And so good-bye to the Cranes Grulla Comun Grus grus until 2014
But look on the bright side; if we get a little more rain then we can look forward to a multitude of waders when the Axarquia Bird Group visits the Guadalhorce, Malaga for its first meeting in 2014 on Thursday 16 January.

Birds seen:
Shelduck, Gadwall, Mallard, Shoveler, Teal, Pochard, Little Grebe, Black-necked Grebe, Little Egret, Flamingo, Black-winged Kite, Marsh Harrier, Buzzard, Kestrel, Moorhen, Purple Swamphen, Coot, Crane, Black-winged Stilt, Stone Curlew, Lapwing, Snipe, Redshank, Black-headed Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Rock Dove, Little Owl, Hoopoe, Crested Lark, Thekla Lark, Sky Lark, Crag Martin, Meadow Pipit, White Wagtail, Robin, Black Redstart, Stonechat, Blackbird, Sardinian Warbler, Blackcap, Chiffchaff, Great Tit, Southern Grey Shrike, Jackdaw, Raven, Spotless Starling, House Sparrow, Serin, Goldfinch, Linnet, Reed Bunting, Corn Bunting.

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

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