Sunday, 23 March 2014

Two days in Almeria Province

Sunday 23 March

Slender-billed Gull Larus genei (PHOTO: Steve Powell)
Yesterday saw the Andalucia Bird Society in Cabo de Gata but too far to travel for the day so, with Eric and Pat Lyon, Steve and Elena Powell, Ellie Wallbank and Gerry Collins we travelled up on the preceding day; birdng our way up via Las Norias, the salinas around Roquetas de Mar and a quick look at some of the venues I would be take the ABS group to on the Saturday.  On both days, early morning mist gradually cleared away to leave very warm weather, so sun and/or wind burning for all of us!


Leaving home with Ellie at 9 o'clock we had recorded both Linnets and Hoopoe before we were off the mountain and, once we had all met up in Salobrena the birding started in earnest.  As usual, Las Norias was surrounded by the dreaded plastic but, unexpectedly, there were relatively few birds and no Night nor Squacco Heron.  Lots of Coots and Cormorants along with many Red-crested Pochards and Great Crested Grebes to welcome us and then the search for the rest.  We started with a god selection of White and Yellow (blue-headed Iberian sub-species) Wagtails which had a single Meadow Pipit to keep them company.  Barn Swallows over the water along with Black-headed Gulls and Moorhens, Little and Black-necked Grebes on the water.  A Grey Heron flew over whilst more and more Little Egrets became visible on either side of the causeway.

Meadow Pipit Bisbita Pratense Anthus pratensis at Las Norias
Loads of Chiffchaff in the surrounding hedgerows along with Collared Doves and House Sparrows, not to mention Rock Doves, but the Blackcaps and singing Reed Warbler long with a lonely Robin were more to our liking.  A very fleeting view of a couple of Black Redstarts at the water's edge and then the first Purple Swamphen of the day.  Before leaving the area we also managed to find a couple of Gadwall along with a very small group of Common Pochard.

Slender-billed Gull  Gaviota Picofina  Larus genei
Our next stop was at the western end of the Roquetas de Mar salina near the lighthouse.  Crossing the water we had very good views of a lone Slender-billed Gull and a trio of Black-winged Stilts.  Off to the right the first views of White-headed Ducks and Greater Flamingos whilst to the left a small mixed flock of Black-headed and Mediterranean Gulls in their summer plumage.  However, best of all was the Tawny Pipit that sat patiently beside the track waiting to have it's photograph take, unfortunately through the car's windscreen.

A surprise Tawny Pipit Anthus campestris on the westen most salina at Roquetas de Mar (PHOTO: Steve Powell)
Sitting at the far end enjoying our lunch we could appreciated the variety of birds to be seen.  More gulls, as already recorded, along with a single Cattle Egret, another Purple Swamphen and, amongst the Pochards and Mallards, a single Garganey with a couple of Teal further back towards the far bank.  At that point an adult female Marsh Harrier decided it was time to take an interest in the proceedings.  Then, of course, we had to find a trio of Glossy Ibis (on looking at the resulting photographs at least one was bearing a ring), more White-headed Ducks along with Yellow-legged Gulls and a departing Common Kestrel.  Also recorded were a number of Yellow-legged Gulls,  a single Lesser Black-backed Gull and a small party of Audouin's Gulls.  The pool at the back of the housing complex duly presented us with a Red-knobbed Coot wearing its neck collar (are there any un-ringed/tagged members of this species left in AndalucĂ­a?) and the shallow pools left after the last rain seem to have adopted a number of Kentish Plover; and gorgeous birds they looked in their best summer apparel.

Where can you find a Red-knobbed Coot Focha Moruna Fulica cristata without a neck brace?
Time to move on and head up to Cabo de Gata, passing more Kestrels, Crested Larks and Magpies on the way but, instead of booking into our hotel for the evening, we took the opportunity to check out the pool and feed river tot he west of the village.  A couple of feeding Sandwich Tern over the sea and then lots of White-headed Ducks and Coots along with both Little and Black-necked Grebes and the occasional Moorhen on the main lagoon.  Barn Swallows by the dozen overhead along with a single House Martin.  On the shore-end beach a single Oystercatcher was recorded with a small number of Redshank.

Breeding White-headed Ducks Malvasia Cabeciblanca Oxyura leucocephala everywhere; female above and male below

Driving along the riverside track to reach the main road and once more enter Cabo de Gata to check-
out the public hide, we first saw more Crested Larks followed by a single Corn Bunting and then a small party of Greenfinches. Unfortunately, not having Elena's incredible eye-sight all of us bar Steve missed out on the Great Spotted Cuckoo that she found hidden in the centre of tree below the said Greenfinches!  It was whilst trying to locate the cuckoo that we first found the small charm of Goldfinches in the company of a single Serin and the lone Stonechat along with another Zitting Cisticola.

No shortage of Kentish Plovers Chorlitejo Patinegro Charadrius alexandrinus this week-end
Arriving at the public hide it was amazing to see so many Avocet feeding in the water and, again, the large number of Kentish Plover.  Also rather lovely was to find a trio of Little Stint along with a single Grey Plover .  A number of Shelduck were also present as were the scores of Flamingos.  Lots of Black-headed and Mediterranean Gulls but the light was rapidly failing so the correct identification of the terns would have to wait for the 'morrow, even if we were pretty sure of their identification.


And so the ABS meet where, for a first , we split into small groups rather than travel in convoy.  Just as well, as it is difficult to get half-a-dozen into most of the hides let alone thirty of us!  Off we all went in different directions having been given a map of the local area , sites to visit and contact details.  Foe out two cars it was case of visiting the hide at the back of the salinas (very little to see that could not be seen from the from hides), the on to the mountain road followed by the lighthouse.  Back to the three hides on the beach road than a circuit taking in the lagoon and  the feeding ramble followed by the initial hide.  All seemed finished and phone calls made to say that we were just starting off for the almost three hour journey home when I had a second thought.  More later.

Awaiting the call to breakfast (rather late at 8.30 so we must get that sorted before a future visit) I had Collared Dove, House Martin, Spotless Starling and House Sparrow flying around the hotel.  But before setting off, whilst making sure that everyone was aware of the programme, there were a trio of Stone Curlews and a couple of Eurasian Curlews to be seen on the grassland off to the right along with many Flamingos and Avocets in front of us.

Typical beady-eyed Stone Curlew Burhinus oedicnemusat Cabo de Gata (PHOTO: Steve Powell)
The rear hide produced a good number of Kentish Plovers and Black-winged Stilts plus the odd Redshank and a single Little Stint.  We had already seen a single Corn Bunting and very many Crested Larks on the long track down to the hide so it was good eventually see a pair of Sardinian WarblersAvocets to be seen along with distant Flamingos but we knew that there would be scores more once we moved to the opposite hides.  In addition, we also had the first Shelduck of the morning and a raft of Cormorants were taking their ease at the back of the water.

Next it was up the   no-through road to the mountain top where we encountered Eric and party returning who had seen a pair of Trumpeter Finches.  For us, we had lovely views of a beautiful Black-eared Wheatear which remained loyal to the same site for an hour or more.  The road produced a single male Blue Rock Thrush at the top and a number of Black Wheatears.

Black-eared Wheatear Collalba Rubia Oenante hispanica and Black Wheatear Collalba Negra Oenanthe leucura (below from car window) on the mountain road nearthe lighthouse, Cabo de Gata

Returning via the lighthouse, nothing to be seen, to the public hide we took stock of the variety of birds in front of us including the many species of Gulls; Black-headed, Mediterranean, Audouni's, Yellow-legged, Lesser Black-backed and Slender-billed.  There was also a goo collection of Gull-billed Terns resting on the end salina. On the water and near its edges fewer waders than yesterday but still very many Kentish Plover.  Also recorded were Shelduck, Black-winged Stilt, a single Grey Plover and lots of Flamingos and Avocets.
No reason not to see a Kentish Plover Charadrius alexandrinus (PHOTO: Steve Powell)

It was whilst here that we received an urgent mobile call from Pat Lyon to inform us that a Great Bustard had, literally, just flown past their hide (two down towards Cabo), landed in the distant, made a short display then retreated to cover.  So off we all dashed down in the hope that it could be relocated.  It seemed that many others had the same idea!   No chance and no one had a camera to take a photograph other than another birder who also happened to be near the hide and grabbed a quick shot on his small camera - or was it a mobile?  Time to also catch up and point out that we had seen our first Peregrine of the day.  Leaving the hide, a number of us took the track to the far end of the fence in the hope that we might get closer to the Great Bustard and, perhaps, get a chance to see this huge bird.  No such luck albeit one or two struggled to retrieve their cars from the soft sand on the track for their troubles!

Lovely Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis on the river (PHOTO: Steve Powell)

Lunch called so we made a stop on the shore, and saw a feeding Gannet thinking the same thought, before driving on down to the river and its lagoon.  Loads of White-headed Ducks on the water along with Coots and Moorhens.  A few Little and a couple of Black-necked Grebes were also recorded.  Above the water, very many Barn Swallows plus a single Red-rumped Swallow and a couple of House Martins.  Other ducks included Mallard and Common Pochard.  Whilst Eric's group manage to catch sight of a trio of Common Snipe taking off, we returned to the original hide at Cabo de Gata in preparation for our good-byes and journey home.  The track towards the main road  produced Greenfinches and, in addition to more Crested Larks, a lovely singing Skylark complete with white edges, etc.

Yet more White-headed Ducks Oxyura leucocephala (PHOTO: Steve Powell)
Back at the original hide, we duly found the Spotted Redshank in the company of a Common Redshank and Greenshank along with a single Black-winged Stilt.  It seemed that all four individuals were so bust feeding that they were in and out between the legs of the sole Flamingo in this stretch of water!

Spotted Redshank Archibebe Oscuro Tringa erythropus in the fading light

As mentioned above, we made our goodbyes to those who were staying on for another night and Gerry phone on ahead to let his wife know that we were just starting off on our way home.  At this point, Derek and Barbara announce that they, too, had paid a visit to the far end of field and the Great Bustard had risen from the depths before settling back down again. I wonder? Why not, it would only take less than five minutes to drive straight along the back track to the last known sighting.  And so we did.  Taking just binoculars and camera we once more walked the fence to its end and scanned the area.  Nothing; what a waste of time.  I'll just take a general photo of the area out of interest and then I catch up Gerry who was almost back at the car.  Meanwhile, Eric and Pat had called in to check if there were still any Dotterels about, there were not, and for their trouble were rewarded by a first Woodchat Shrike of the summer.

Very distant record shot of the Great Bustard Avutarda Comun Otis tarda
The journey home was uneventful, other than the Southern Grey Shrike who flew across the road between Retimar and the motorway and with no hold-ups Gerry was back in Salobrena by 7.15 and I reached Casa Collado just over an hour later.  Very tired after the full day and all the driving but chance foe a very quick look at the day's photos and, maybe, delete all the obvious rubbish.  Imagine my surprise when looking at the last photograph, the general view over he grassland at Cabo de Gata when, upon enlarging, the small concrete post turned out to be the illusive Great Bustard!  What a way to end a fabulous two days.  And I make that 82 species by our little Axarquia group over the two days and, probably, still a few more to add.

Always lovely to see a Southern Grey Shrike Lanius meridionalis (PHOTO: Steve Powell)

Birds seen (with lots more on the Saturday by other members of the group):

Shelduck, Gadwall, Mallard, Garganey, Teal, Red-crested Pochard, Pochard, White-headed Duck, Little Grebe, Great Crested Grebe, Black-necked Grebe, Gannet, Cormorant, Cattle Egret, Little Egret, Glossy Ibis, Heron, Flamingo, Marsh Harrier, Kestrel, Peregrine Falcon, Moorhen, purple Swamphen, Coot, Red-knobbed Coot,  Great Bustard, Oystercatcher, Black-winged Stilt, Avocet, Stone Curlew, Kentish Plover, Grey Plover, Little Stint, Snipe, Black-tailed Godwit, Curlew, Spotted redshank, Common Redshank, Greenshank, Mediterranean Gull, Black-headed Gull, Slender-billed Gull, Audouin's Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Yellow-legged Gull, Gull-billed tern, Sandwich Tern, Rock Dove, Collared Dove, Great Spotted Cuckoo, Hoopoe, Crested Lark, Thekla Lark, Sky Lark, Barn Swallow, House Martin, Red-rumped Swallow,  Tawny Pipit, Meadow Pipit, Yellow Wagtail (Blue-headed Iberian), White Wagtail, Robin, Black Redstart, Stonechat,  Black-eared Wheatear, Black Wheatear, Blue Rock Thrush, Blackbird, Zitting Cisticola, Reed Warbler, Sardinian Warbler, Blackcap, Chiffchaff, Southern Grey Shrike, Woodchat Shrike, Spotless Starling, House Sparrow, Serin, Greenfinch, Goldfinch, Linnet, Trumpeter Finch, Corn Bunting.

Can you find the Great Bustard?  Remember, this is a bird as big as a large turkey!

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

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