Thursday, 24 April 2014

Two days down at the Strait of Gibraltar

Egyptian Vulture Alimoche Comun Neophron percnopterus
Wednesday 23 April

Two days down at the Strait of Gibraltar visiting the raptor observation posts, Los Lances Beach and La Janda proved a little disappointing and, unlike previous visits, certainly did not live up to expectations.  No problem weather wise following the wet week-end but upon arriving at the observations posts between Algeciras and Tarifa very little to be seen in numbers.  Los Lances was even worse and, having carried scope and cameras down to the beach I was greeted with a sole Little Egret and a distant score of Yellow-legged Gulls.  Bolonia was not much better but it did at least provide a second Egyptian Eagle and a couple of Griffn Vultures.  Nothing for it but to bring everything forward and make an afternoon visit to La Janda before returning to my overnight hotel via La Barca to check on the nesting Bald Ibis.

Tuesday:

One of many feeding Glossy Ibis Morito Comun Plegadis falcinellus

Approaching the "Punta Secreta" (nobody else to be seen at any of my stops) I had both Barn Swallow and House Martin but probably local rather than migrating individuals along with the usual mix of House Sparrow, Collared Dove and Spotless Starlings.  On the other hand, a single Woodchat Shrike made a pleasant change and then a male Blackbird followed by a few Pallid Swifts which might well have been recent arrivals from across the Strait.  Two Little Egrets on the shore and as I made my way back to the N340 a lovely Booted Eagle overhead.

The magnificent soaring Griffon Vulture Buitre Leonado Gyps fulvus
Arriving at El Algarrobo I had, initially, nothing,  Then a couple of distant Griffon Vultures before I was eventually rewarded with a beautiful Egyptian Vulure.  No point handing around so I made my westwards and drove up the short, rutted track to Puerto del Bujeo.  Lots of Goldfinches in the picnic area and, on reaching the top had more Griffon Vultures plus a handful of Black Kites.  However, the pick of the bunch was the lone, early Honey Buzzard making its way over this first mountain range upon arriving back in Europe.  Driving down I stopped just above the picnic area to watch a pair of Cirl Buntings feeding in the grass to my right along with nearby Serins and Thekla Larks.  Even fewer birds at the Cazalla watchpoint unless you include the occasional Stonechat and yet another, single Griffon Vulture.

Lovey to get a close sighting of the Cirl Bunting Escribano Soteno Emberiza cirlus

So much for a morning watching newly-arrived raptors and hirundines!  Off down to sea level and a walk out to the Los Lances beach carrying Scope, binoculars, camera, water for a good seabird watch and lots of gulls and waders.  Fat chance.  One Littel Egret and a score of distant Yellow-legged Gulls on the beach and that was it; even the sea looked rough.  Behind me a pair of Crested Larks but, other than that, nothing.  What to do?  Onwards and upwards with the drive to Bolonia where there would surely be something for me.  No.  Another single Egyptian Vulture and a resting Griffon Vulture on its, presumably, nesting site.  Crag Martins were nesting in the high cave and a Blue Rock Thrush was recorded on the rocks below.  Even the Kestrel made only a fleeting visit.

Female Blue Rock Thrush Roquero Solitario Monticola solitarius
The idea had been to leave the La Janda visit till the morning but, almost as a last resort, I decided to pay it and afternoon visit.  Approaching the canal there were a good number of Glossy Ibis and White Stork feeding ion the wet, muddy field to my right and always the occasional Corn Bunting and Stonechat.  Indeed, one Stonechat family had already fledged and could be seen feeding alongside Mum.  Also noted were the large number of Mallards feeding in the damp fields whereas not one was seen on the river itself.  A pair of Ravens passed noisily by with their dog bark-like call and then the first of many Red-legged Partridges to be seen in the next hour or so.

One of very many Red-legged Partridges Perdiz Roja Alectoris ruta
Driving along the canal I recorded only one Marsh Harrier followed by a couple of Black Kites.  But moving up towards the farm, not only more Red-legged Partridges but numerous jackdaws and then a party of Black Kites feeding over to my left above the timber yard, which was also where I saw my Pheasants.  I did also find one Moorhen on the canal itself but only a single Grey Heron.  The drive back to the min road once again took me past the heronry where there must have been hundreds of Cattle Egrets nesting.  How on earth do they manage to keep the egg(s) in the ridiculously small, twiggy nest nevermind actually raise young certainly baffles me.  It was also pleasing to note at least two nesting Glossy Ibis in the colony.

"Just a minute.  If you're going to take my picture then at least let me tidy up a bit!"
The breeding Cattle Egret Garcilla Bueyera  Bubulcus ibis at nest


My final call was a visit to La Barca to check-out the Bald Ibis situation.  Approaching the large car park I saw a male fly in carrying yet more building material and then, at the low cliff face found the rest of the birds.  A count of occupied nests gave me a total of nine  occupants along with three watchful males but given all the nooks and crannies I would not be surprised to hear if there at least another two or three occupied nests out of site from the road opposite.  Seeing the Bald Ibis, I have to admit that it is still an ugly bird with its strange "dead" eye and that spiky hair fashion that looks more suited to some ageing punk rocker!  Somebody is obviously monitoring this introduced species as every bird carried an assortment of specific metal ring plus a range of plastic easily-identifiable rings of all colours.

Male and female (below) Bald Ibis Ibis Eremita Geroniticus eremita at nest site
 
Resting Griffon Vulture Buitre Leonado Gyps fulvus at traditional nest site
 
Wednesday:

The first Turtle Dove Tortola aeuropea Streptopelia turtur of the year

Up early and breakfasted so that I could be at La Janda before 9 o'clock.  Makes you wonder why I bothered when I saw all the mist over the canal when first arriving at the site.  No sooner had I entered the track down to the canal than I saw my family of Stonechats from yesterday  but this morning there were far more individual Stonechats, Crested Larks and Corn Buntings all the way down to the canal.  Just a few White Storks to be seen and some of these were so dirty they might almost be classed as "Black Storks."  The Glossy Ibis and a few White Storks were still feeding on their muddy field along with a number of Mallard but, given the very low and direct sunlight, no point in trying to take a photograph on this occasion.

Lots of Pheasants Faisan Vulgar Phasianus colchicus up and about and all over the place by 9am
Parked at the canal corner, I was able to record a Moorhen and the first of the numerous Cattle Egrets to be seen during the course of the morning along with a single Little Egret.  An Iberian (Blue-headed) Yellow Wagtail came out to feed on the gravel track whilst, behind me, the Cetti's Warblers were in full voice and a lone Woodchat Shrike sat on the top of the gate on the other side of the canal.  in edition to the expected, I also had my first Pheasants of the day within the next hundred metres or so and before the little bridge over the feeder channel.

Iberian race of the Yellow Wagtail Lavandera Boyera Motacilla flava iberiae
Driving alongside the canal a single Wood Pigeon flew over the car (the only one seen in both days!) and as I approached the over-bridge I was joined by half-a-dozen Jackdaws out busy looking for nesting materials.  The sole Marsh Harrier of the day passed over the car disturbing the resting Kestrel and more and more Barn Swallows put in an appearance.  The flooded grassland to the left not only held a dozen Mallard but also a quartet of Black-winged Stilts making use of the ready meal supply.  A single Grey heron flew past on my left whilst on the canal side the small mixed flock of Sparrows provided both House and Spanish varieties.  Also very active in the dense vegetation were small groups of both Goldfinches and Greenfinches along with a pair of Linnets and Crested Larks keeping guard on the track itself.

Ar the large heronry: Cattle Egret Garcilla Bueyera  Bubulcus ibis (above) in breeding plumage
A most handsome Glossy Ibis Morito Comun Plegadis falcinellus and note the white markings on the face
Over the canal bridge and off through the avenue towards the farm.  Hundreds of Cattle Egrets had made their nests in these trees along with at least a couple of pairs of Glossy IbisBlack Kites overhead and the continuous singing of Cetti's Warblers, Reed Warblers and Nighingales.  A couple of Collared Doves awaited on the wires near the water split but no sooner had I started off than I had a good sighting of a distant Purple Heron, lots of Red-legged Partridges and then the first Turtle Dove of the year.  I even had a second individual on the road-side fence just after the farm which, as usual, held large numbers of both Jackdaws and Rock Doves.  Needless to say, there were also many Pheasants in the area and often casually walking along the road.


Distant shot of a quartering male Montagu's Harrier Aguilucho Cenizo Circus pygargus
Taking the centre track to Fascinas I was surprised to see how well it had stood up to the winter weather; or I was until I reached the far end when it took great skill and patience to carry on!  Another Kestrel followed by a Buzzard being mobbed by a Peregrine Falcon and almost at the other end a handsome male Mongtagu's Harrier; again, the only one seen during the two days.  This track produced scores of feeding Common Swifts which, I presume, had recently arrived and were feeding up before moving north.  A Little Owl sitting patiently on top of a fence post to my right (you see, there is an advantage in having a right-hand drive car!) was an added bonus.

A very alert Little Owl Mochuelo Comun Athene noctua
Then it was back on to the main N340 for the long drive home.  I did make a very brief call to the observation station on the site of the former army base but it only provided Yellow-legged Gulls below until the return journey back to the main road turned up a quartering Short-toed Eagle.

Short-toed Eagle Culebrera Europea Circaetus gallicus (below)

Finally, as I drove towards Fuengerola a  pair of Ravens were seen to my right and then, driving up the mountain to Casa Collado, numerous Thekla Larks and Bee-eaters awaiting my return.  Not the number of birds I had expected but, none the less, a very enjoyable couple of days with a final count of 55 species.


Turtle Dove Tortola aeuropea Streptopelia turtur


Birds seen:
Mallard, Red-legged Partridge, Pheasant,Cattle Egret, Little Egret, Glossy Ibis, Bald Ibis, Grey Heron, Purple Heron, White Stork, Honey Buzzard, Black Kite, Egyptian Vulture, Griffon Vulture, Short-toed Eagle, Marsh Harrier, Montagu's Harrier, Booted Eagle, Buzzard, Kestrel, Peregrine Falcon, Moorhen, Black-winged Stilt, Yellow-legged Gull, Rock Dove, Wood Pigeon, Turtle Dove, Collared Dove, Little Owl, Common Swift, Pallid Swift, Bee-eater, Crested Lark, Thekla Lark, Crag Martin, Barn Swallow, House Martin, Yellow Wagtail (Iberian race), Nightingale, Stonechat, Blue Rock Thrush, Blackbird, Cetti's Warbler, Reed Warbler, Woodchat Shrike, Jackdaw, Raven, Spotless Starling, House Sparrow, Spanish Sparrow, Serin, Greenfinch, Goldfinch, Linnet, Corn Bunting.

And off waddled the last Red-legged Partridge Perdiz Roja Alectoris rufa!


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

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