Monday 28 September 2015

Zapata and the Rio Grande

Monday 28 September

It's all birding, birding at the moment as I publish Derek's report and, outside, torrential rain and thunder!  But at least it should be fine for the Axarquia Bird Group visit to Charca de Suarez on Thursday.

We met up with a couple of old friends Ian & Sarah Ward from Casarabonela this morning for a visit to Zapata before breakfast.  Some days you know it's just going to be a good 'un, especially when the first two birds of the visit are Osprey and Night Heron!  Stopping in the middle of the Guadalhorce is now a must for us [so long as the river is not flooding!] and this morning was no exception.  Green Sandpipers, Squacco Heron, Greenshank, Ringed Plover, Grey Herons and Grey Wagtails [back in force] were busy feeding.  Returning back to dry land and walking carefully up the drier areas a juvenile Montagu's Harrier passed low overhead, first record for us here.  We managed very close views of the Squacco,  a Greenshank and a couple of Green Sandpipers and at least two Kingfishers.

Squacco Heron Ardeola raliodes (PHOTO:Derek Etherton)
Driving round to the reed beds specifically to find Common Waxbills, Ian and Sarah have never recorded these, it took us all of 5 minutes to find them.  Plenty of Cetti's calling, Zitting Cisticolas, Gold and Greenfinches, Serins, Linnets feeding.  Both Barn and Red-rumped Swallows were feeding and buzzing around us and whilst viewing these we were aware of a raptor calling.  Searching, four pairs of eyes always easier, we eventually discovered a Bonelli's Eagle high up heading toward the runway.  Wondering why it was calling so insistently we discovered why when it found it's mate. You go for months without seeing one and then they are like London buses, two at once.  They came so close together high in the sky, wheeled around for a few minuets before departing over the mountains, fabulous moment!   In 2 hours we notched up 40 species so with our tails held high it was off for breakfast.

Green SanpiperTringa ochropus (PHOTO:Derek Etherton)
Continuing the river theme we then travelled up to the higher reaches of the Rio Grande.  Nice to see it now with some water flowing.  Chiffchaffs, White Wagtails and lots of Sandpipers were making the best of it.  The top end gave us so many Grey Wagtails, Long-tailed Tits, Raven, Booted Eagle and a single Black Stork rising from the meadow to climb high on a thermal.  Whilst watching it climb we were lucky enough to pick a Peregrine Falcon high in the sky, no wonder the Feral Pigeons were nervous!  Lower down the river a couple of Short-toed Eagles gave us a close display and driving through the woods produced more Chiffchaffs and Chaffinch.  

Short-toes Eagle Circaetus gallicus (PHOTO:Derek Etherton)
A total of 51 species in all with the raptors the highlight for all 4 of us.

Sounds like a fabulous day Derek and more to come later in the week.

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

Charca de Suarez

Sunday 27 September

What a beautiful clear and sunny morning for a visit to the Charca de Suarez reserve along with Steve and Elena Powell which saw us arrive a little later than usual as we made our usual slight detour to take in "Turtle Dove Alley" (but none present on either the inward or outward drive) where we duly recorded a number of "flitting" Red Avadavats within minutes along with Zitting Cisticolas, Greenfinches and the usual House sparrows and Collared Doves.  Then it was on round the corner to the reserve itself where we were welcome by numerous calling Cetti's Warblers.

Avadavats Bengali Rojo Amandava amandava hiding in the reed like red glow-worms
First up, as per the last few visits, was a bee-line to the Laguna del Taraje where we did not find the Little Bittern, although it had been previous seen within the past thirty minutes, but managed a single Gadwall, Little Grebe, and a Purple Swamphen that had been watching the week-end broadcast of "Strictly Come Dancing" and was anxious to prove that anything a D-Class celebrity could do, he could do better!  Mind you, we did return to this water after completing our clockwise circuit and duly picked up a Little Bittern along with another Purple Swamphen.

Can you dance like a Purple Swamphen Calamon Porphyrio porphyrio?
Just the one Blackbird as we made our way to the new hide overlooking the now maturing new scrape of Laguna del Almo Blanco which is quickly becoming a popular destination.  Nevermind the mallards and a the lingering Greenshank at the very back, we had a pair of Snipe, a couple of White Wagtails and a single Black-winged Stilt wandering around the back of the reeds.  These reeds seem to be a fascinating centre of attention for the local Red Avadavat population which were continually buzzing around like demented witches.  The only trouble being that when they did stop they dived straight in to the reeds leaving you scratching your head in frustration as you glimpsed the occasional red shadow amongst the greenery.  In addition to the above we also had a Purple Swamphen, an overflying Grey Heron, a number of feeding Barn Swallows, our first glimpse of a Bluethroat this year, but not very clear, along with a lone Great Reed Warbler and very close Reed Warbler- though I still have my doubts that the last might even have been a Savi's Warbler.  (I shall have to send a selection of shots to Mick Richardson, John Cantelo and anyone else interested who might like to thrown in their two-penneth worth.)

We think it is a Reed Warbler Carricero Comun Acrocephalus scirpaceus but could it be a Savi's warbler?
However, without a doubt the star attraction was the pair of Kingfishers who seemed to take it in turns to pose of the planted post immediately in front of the hide.  Makes you feel so cross when you think of all those past views of a tiny speck at the far side of a river/lake!

The very photographable Kingfsher Martin Pescador Alcedo atthis
Then it was off to the main hide overlooking the Laguna de las Aneas , recording both Stonechat and Spotted Flycatcher on the way, where it soon became evident that the Common Coots were beginning to return along with more Moorhens, Little Grebes and even a pair of Red-knobbed Coots at the back of the water.  In addition to the resident Mallards we found a couple of Common Pochards and three juvenile Night Herons.  Naturally there were a few Grey Herons and Little Egrets, a lone Snipe and Black-winged Stilt but also, surprisingly, a trio of juvenile Flamingos still in residence.

Just the single Black-winged Stilt Ciguenuela Comun Himantopus himantopus
Very little at either of the hides overlooking the Laguna del Trebol other than more Moorhens, Common and Red-knobbed Coots and the same could very much be said for the Laguna del Lirio. But we did come across a small flock of Greenfinches and a single Great Tit.  Strange to record, the only gull we saw was a single immature Yellow-legged Gull.

Not that many Little Egrets Garceta Comun Egretta garzetta to be seen
With a little time to spare we returned to the first two hides where, as stated, we picked up the Little Bittern and another Purple Swamphen.  The new water still had the displaying Kingfishers, I think they were recorded on at least three of the waters,  Not only a Kestrel in the sky but also a single White Stork to give us something to think about.  A large charm of Goldfinches passed over but only a single Serin.

We finally saw the Little Bittern Avetorillo Comun Ixobrychus minutus fly in front and come to rest in a small reed growth

As we made our way back to the gate having only recorded 39 species we were rewarded by a gent;e fly-past from the solitary Black-shouldered Kite which, we hope, may have taken up residence in the area for the coming months.  A great way to end the morning, or so we thought, until entering Turtle Dove Alley to make our way back home Steve thought he had a Marsh Harrier on his side of the car but as it passed over and turned it flashed its distinctive white rump giving us the chance to add a female Montagu's Harrier to the list.  Almost certainly this was the distant raptor that had me scratching my head about thirty minutes earlier.  And add cream to the proverbial cake, we looked out to the right and there was a posing Whinchat.  A final total of 42 species for the morning.

At the end of the morning a record shot of the Black-shouldered Kite Elanio Comun Elanus ceruleus

Birds seen:
Gadwall, Mallard, Pochard, Little Grebe, Little Bittern, Night Heron, Little Egret, Heron, White Stork, Flamingo, Black-shouldered Kite, Montagu's Harrier, Kestrel, Moorhen, Purple Swamphen, Common Coot, Red-knobbed Coot, Black-winged Stilt, Snipe, Greenshank, Yellow-legged Gull, Rock Dove, Collared Dove, Kingfisher, Barn Swallow, White Wagtail, Bluethroat, Whinchat, Stonechat, Blackbird, Cetti's Warbler, Zitting Cisticola, Reed Warbler, Great Reed Warbler, Great Tit, Spotted Flycatcher, Spotless Starling, House Sparrow, Red Avadavat, Serin, Greenfinch, Goldfinch.

Spotted Flycatcher Papamoscus Gris Musciapa striata
Snipe Agachadiza Comun Gallinago gallinago

Lovely to see well-exposed Purple Swamphens Calamon Comun Porphyrio porphyrio

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

Thursday 24 September 2015

Axarquia Bird Group at the Rio Velez

Thursday 24 September

Good as they say to be "back in the saddle" following my absence and he long, hot, humid summer with, at very short notice, six members joining me for a couple of hours plus down at the Rio Velez in Torre del Mar. Not seen Gerry Collins, David and Ann Jefferson and David and Juliette Hird for months so along with Steve Powell we were able to take stock of the surroundings and see the end result of no serious rain since mid-march followed by hot and humid weather in July and August. The resulting drying-up of much of the river and rapid development of the bamboo and tall reed has somewhat decimated the site so making it almost impossible in most places to see any puddle nevermind the river itself.  Obviously, the heavy rain a fortnight ago did not flush out the rubbish. Indeed, I was astonished, nevermind disappointed to discover that from the beach, now accessible once again, there was the smallest area of clear water at the lagoon but no sight of the river behind. Makes you wonder where all the wintering gulls are going to rest and clean themselves in clean water.  Whilst all had seemed very quiet and very few birds to be seen, I was amazed on recording the sightings to discover that we had actually seen 40 species in just over two hours.

WE were greeted by the resident Rock Doves and very raucous Monk Parakeets before settling down to whatever else might be about.  David and Juliette had parked by the new hide so they actually got to see a female Common Redstart as well as a departing Squacco Heron.  Is it me or are there many more sightings of this lovely little bird this autumn?  Much Blackbird movement and the Cetti's Warblers seemed to be calling from everywhere as we made our way down the track finding a pair of Cattle Egrets resting very high in a tree on the opposite bank and then both a number of grey herons and, eventually, a couple of Little Egrets.  No sign of the reported Spotted Crake but, looking up, we did have a reasonable view of a Booted Eagle and then a fly past by a Common Kestrel.

Robin Petirrojo Europea Erithacus rubecula

A handful of Willow Warblers were busy feeding and then, in the riverbed, a female Pied Flycatcher.  Leaving the male Sardinian Warbler posed on the fence behind us we continued to the hide.  From here we picked up a small number of Goldfinches and a Great Tit plus hearing a terrific range of song from the nearby Spotless Starlings.  The first of a number of Zitting Cisticolas put in an appearance and then a Sparrowhawk above us disappearing west.  Above the river we could see feeding Barn swallows, a single Red-rumped Swallow and a number of House Martins which were joined by the visiting Black-headed Gulls.

Willow Warbler  Mosquitero Musical Phylloscopus trochilus

The walk to the beach produced a very exposed Robin and lots of gulls out on the water, mainly Lesser Black-backed but also Yellow-legged Gulls.  Looking up river into the reeds only produced another Grey Heron and a House Sparrow feeding on the edge.  However, walking upstream we did come across the occasional sight of the now narrow river which held both Coot and Moorhen and then a single Green Sandpiper and a Stonechat.  Meanwhile, Steve and David Jefferson had both heard and seen the odd Reed Warbler in the reeds near the lagoon.

Then it was a leisurely walk back to the cars by Gerry and I, David and Juliette having remained near the river's edge in front of the hide, picking up a Collared Dove and a last look at the relatively small puddles below the road bridge.  What a difference.  Within five minutes we had recorded another six species.  First a pair of Common Waxbill right in front of us looking resplendent with their bright red beaks and eye striped and a White Wagtail flew to a smaller puddle to look for food. Immediately behind came a Grey Wagtails and, talk about seeing all at the same time, its arrival signalled the urgent departure upstream of a (Blue-headed) Yellow Wagtail.  On the opposite bank, in the "main" puddle, a Ruff came to feed and yet another Mallard waddled along to see who the new visitor might be.  Finally, a couple of Serins flew over the river and away behind us taking the final tally, as fa as I know, up to a rather rewarding 40 species.

Common Waxbill Pico de Coral Estrilda astrild

Birds seen:
Mallard, Squacco Heron, Cattle Egret, Little Egret, Heron, Booted Eagle, Sparrowhawk, Kestrel, Moorhen, Coot, Ruff, Green Sandpiper, Black-headed Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Yellow-legged Gull, Rock Dove, Collared Dove, Monk Parakeet, Barn swallow, Red-rumped Swallow, House Martin, Blue-headed Wagtail, Grey Wagtail, White Wagtail, Robin, Common Redstart, Stonechat, Blackbird, Cetti's Warbler, Zitting Cisticola, Reed Warbler, Sardinian Warbler, Willow Warbler, Great Tit, Pied Flycatcher, Spotless Starling, House Sparrow, Common Waxbill, Serin, Goldfinch.

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

Wednesday 23 September 2015

Two days in Tarifa; Day 2

Day 2: Saturday 19 September

Meeting in Tarifa for the monthly filed visit with the intention of watching raptors passing overhead. I should have known there might be a slight problem when the wind picked up late yesterday afternoon and the skies clouded over.  Only the half of it as we awoke to overcast skies following a little rain during the night near Tarifa and very strong winds.  By the time we reached the agreed meeting point the weather had improved with broken cloud and the sun poking through but still very windy.  No real point in standing around at the raptor viewing points so the group split into two with six cars (20 members) following Derick off round the back of the sierras and on to Benalup and La Janda whilst I took thirteen members in four cars direct to La Janda and then on to Barbate.  Whilst the weather continued to improve and become very hot with the clear blue skies and overhead sunshine, the very strong winds continued all day which was most disappointing as it resulted in many of the smaller birds that we would have expected to see remaining within the shelter of whatever vegetation they could find.  Nevertheless, by the end of the day we had recorded 51 species including nine raptors.

Yet another quartering Marsh Harrier Aguilucho Lagunero Circus aeruginosus
No sooner had we left Tarifa than we had our first Stonechat and then numerous Cattle Egrets on the way tho the entrance track down into the rice fields of La Janda.  Stopping at the top of the track we could see numerous White Storks below and in the air and our first of very many Marsh Harrier sightings.  before reaching the canal at the bottom of the track we ad also added Collared Dove, House Sparrow and a Corn Bunting - despite the strong winds.

Glossy Ibis Morito Comun Plegadis falcinellus
once at the bottom we had some close views of up to four Glossy Ibis and a small flock of (Blue-headed) Yellow Wagtails were foraging at the feet of the cows in the holding pen opposite.  Little Egrets could be seen whilst a Short-toed Eagle hovered overhead and a Reed Warbler called from the river bank.  Moving along the track we had many sightings of both Little Egret and Grey Heron whilst Barn Swallows fed over the neighbouring fields but were, perhaps, surprised to see the pair of Cormorants.

One of a pair of Cormorants Cormoran Grande Phalacrocorax carbo
No shortage of Marsh Harriers all morning but just the occasional Common Kestrel and, approaching the bridge up to the "smelly farm," our first real glimpse of the large charms of Goldfinches with many accompanying House Sparrows.  It was here that we also encountered the large number of Wood Pigeons and then, just after crossing the bridge, Terry and company managed to see our only Black-shouldered Kite of the day, this coming soon after we had all enjoyed very clear views of a female Montagu's Harrier.

Green Sandpiper Andarrios Grande Tringa ochropus up close at La Janda
The next section up to and just beyond the farm produced not only both Red-legged Partridge and Pheasant but a group of magnificent raptors including a splendid immature Golden Eagle, a number of Black Kites, a couple of Booted Eagles and a splendid Short-toed Eagle also immediately overhead.  Add then the handful of Alpine Swifts and a female Norther Wheatear and we were most pleased.  As expected, there was certainly no shortage of either Rock Doves or Jackdaws at the farm itself.

A lovely pair of Northern Wheatears  Collalba Gris Oenanthe oenanthe
Time to move on to Barbate and the river mouth was relatively quiet as the tide was well out by now but we did find a lone female Curlew.  Inland from the main road just the odd wader including both Sanderling, Kentish Plover and Ringed Plover along with a Black-headed Gull.

The delicate Marsh Sandpiper Archibebe Fino Tringa stagnatilis
Driving on round to the back of the waters the settling pools produced a number of birds including Flamingoes, Grey Herons and Little Egrets.  The Audouin's, Lesser Black-backed and Yellow-legged Gulls were all at the far end along with at least nine Spoonbills.  Also seen at the water's edges as we moved along were Black-winged StiltRedshank and a Marsh Sandpiper.  The track itself held a few visible Whinchats and a couple of Northern Wheatears.  Apart from the regular appearance of feeding Barn Swallows we also picked up a handful of Common Swifts.  Leaving the site to make our way back to Tarifa we managed to also add a number of Spotless Starlings resting on the wires overhead.  All in all, a very enjoyable day in pleasant company despite the very unfavourable wind.

Spoonbills Espatula Comun Platalea leucorodia (above) and Greater Flamingoes Flamenco Comun Phoenicopterus roseus (

Birds seen during the two days:
Red-legged Partridge, Pheasant, Cormorant, Cattle Egret, Little Egret, Heron, Great White Egret, Glossy Ibis, Bald Ibis, White Stork, Black Stork, Spoonbill, Flamingo, Griffon Vulture, Egyptian Vulture, Osprey, Honey Buzzard, Black-shouldered Kite, Red Kite, Black Kite, Golden Eagle, Short-toed Eagle, Marsh Harrier, Montagu’s Harrier, Booted Eagle, Lesser Kestrel, Common Kestrel, Stone Curlew, Black-winged Stilt, Ringed Plover, Kentish Pover, Sanderling, Red Knot, Ruff, Bar-tailed Godwit, Curlew, Redshank, Greenshank, Green Sandpiper, Marsh Sandpiper, Turnstone, Audouin’s Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Yellow-legged Gull, Sandwich Tern, Little Tern, Rock Dove, Wood Pigeon, Collared Dove, Alpine Swift, Common Swift, Kingfisher, Hoopoe, Crested Lark, Barn Swallow, Yellow Wagtail (UK Flavisima), Yellow Wagtail  (Iberian), Common Redstart, Whinchat, Stonechat, Northern Wheatear, Zitting Cisticola, Reed Warbler, Melodious Warbler, Whitethroat, Woodchat Shrike, Jackdaw, Spotless Starling, House Sparrow, Spanish Sparrow, Serin, Goldfinch, Linnet, Corn Bunting.  (Total of 74 species)

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

Tuesday 22 September 2015

Two days in Tarifa: Day 1

Always good to see a Black-shouldered Kite Elanio Comun Elanus caeruleus
Day 1:  Friday 18 September

With the Andalucia Bird Society monthly filed meeting scheduled for 9.30 on Saturday 19th., Jenny and I travelled down the previous day to make the most of the long journey and, hopefully, cover some of the areas that we might not be attending on the visit day.  the idea was to catch up on La Janda and Barbate to concentrate on the raptors the following day.  But who could resist driving straight pat the raptor sites of El Algarrobo and Cazalla above Tarifa, especially when on the correct side of the road and seeing other birders already present?  The sun was shining in clear blue skies, calm weather so at 10.30 we were at the former.

Many White Storks Ciguena Blanca Ciconia ciconia overhead and on the ground
It may have been clear and sunny but the raptors were very high and few and far between so we only remained about thirty minutes before trying to locate our overnight accommodation in Petayo and then on to Cazalla.  However, we did record small numbers of Honey Buzzards along with a regular passage of Griffon Vultures plus a few Black Storks and three Egyptian Vultures including a juvenile.  Also seen were a small number of Black Kites and a Sparrowhawk.  Cazalla was well-supported by birders and difficult to even find a parking space in the large car parking area.  Again, no shortage of Griffon Vultures along with Short-toed Eagle, Black Kites, a single red Kite and by way of variety both Barn Swallow and Stonechat.

Then it was on to the settling ponds at the back of Barbate where we met up with Barbara and Derek Etherton along with Linda Roberts and enjoyed some great birding, a late drink and tapa before a quick(ish) tour of La Janda in the reverse direction to that normally taken but excluding the detour up past the "smelly farm."

Distant record shot of one of many Stone Curlew Alcaravan Comun Burhinus oedicnemus
No sooner had we arrived, passing Crested Lark, Spotless Starling and Collared Dove, than we were looking at a good-sized resting flock of Audouin's Gulls with a bout a dozen Sandwich Terns at the rear.  The nearer length of water contained a good number of Flamingos and, near the rear, a couple of Great White Egrets.  Certainly there was no shortage of Little Egrets, albeit not as many as the numerous Cattle Egrets that we passed whilst driving through "windmill city," along with a small number of Grey Herons.  Close by a Ruff was feeding alongside a Sanderling and a Black-winged Stilt strutted his stuff.  Looking around we could also identify Lesser Black-backed, Yellow-legged and Black-headed Gulls.  Our last recording was of a trio of Bald Ibis flying in to their usual feeding place near the local cattle far.  (A later meeting with a fellow birder informed me that they had seen at last twenty-five at about this time.)

The delicate Northern Whatear Collalba Gris Oenanthe oenanthe
As a Common Kestrel drifted over we moved off round to the back of the area and then the call from Derek to say he had found a Whinchat.  having waited all year to see my first Whinchat, just like the number 9 bus, along came another, then another followed by another!  Also in this area we found a single Corn Bunting on a fence, a Northern Wheatear on the ground and a mystery warbler that turned out to be a Whitethroat on closer inspection.  No sooner had the first of a trio of Hoopoes crossed the track than we stopped near the former information sign to check out the nearby island where, true to form, we found the residing Stone Curlews.  Looking up an Osprey flew over giving good views.  It was also whilst here that we found a handful of (UK) Yellow Wagtails  M.flava flavisima feeding at the side of the track.

Then a visit from a wandering Osprey Aguila Pescadora Pandion haliaetrus
Finally on to the end of the track at the last water and a small stand of Tamerisk.  In the water along with the gulls, Flamngos and Little Egrets seven Spoonbill.  In the end tree a Common Redstart rested and was joined by a trio of Melodious Warblers, all looking quite stunning as they fed heartedly to put on the necessary fat for their upcoming crossing to Africa.  Returning towards the main road a final stop to speak to some British visitors who reported that they had been watching a Marsh Sandpiper.  On searching the shoreline we found a Greenshank and a Redshank and then the said bird put in an appearance, looking just like a washed-out juvenile Black-winged Stilt.  A look to the nearby island also found a pair of resting Kingfishers to add to the day's tally.

Common Redstart Colirrojo Real Phoenicurus phoenicurus working its way south
Then it was on to the river mouth where we found a good variety of feeding small waders and a passing Whimbrel.  Lots of Kentish Plovers along with a few Ringed Plovers and Sanderling. Whilst a Little Tern swooped down for a fish a single Red Knot continued feeding and a pair of Redshanks wandered down the far bank.  Just a handful of Turnstones and further up a solitary Bar-tailed Godwit was found and our first of many Marsh Harriers for the day put in a close appearance.

No shortage of Little Egrets Garceta Comun Egretta garzetta at both sites
Time to leave Barbate, have our late lunch and make our way to La Janda where we were welcomed by hundreds of White Storks.  A Green Sandpiper was feeding in the muddy ditch to the right and thee was a constant presence of large charms of Goldfinches.  Accompanying these delightful small birds were a few Serin and the occasional small flock of Linnets.  A Zitting Cisticola "popped up" and the clouds of Sparrows seemed to be a good mix of both House and Spanish with the latter in the majority.

Green Sandpiper Andarrios Grande Tringa ochropus
Before reaching the main bend and the track off to the farm we had a close view of a couple of Booted Eagles and then, out of the nearby tress, flew our only sighting of a Black-shouldered Kite. Lovely! Meanwhile, we continued to watch the many Marsh Harriers quartering the rice fields and hundreds of Wood Pigeons seemed to be constantly on the move.  A pair of Lesser Kestrels were seen but very high.
One of many Marsh Harriers Aguilucho Lagunero Circus aeruginosus
At this point we took our leave so that we could actually find our hotel, get changed and meet our friends at their hotel for dinner.  Driving along the long straight we not only continued to record Barn SwallowsLittle Egrets, Grey Herons, White Storks and Marsh Harriers but also found a couple of Glossy Ibis and, almost at the far end, our first (female) Montagu's Harrier and a most handsome male Marsh Harrier, our first of the day.

Glossy Ibis Morito Comun Plegadis falcinellus
Spoonbills Espatula Comun Platalea leucorodia

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

Monday 21 September 2015

Guadalhorce at Zapata, Malaga

Monday 21 September

Not even had chance to finish working on week-end's photos and report re trip to Tarifa and La Janda and yet here are friends Derek and Barbara Etherton up and about before breakfast and recording their first Bluethroat of the autumn, nevermind winter.  Now that's early.  next thing you know and somebody will be reporting the first Cranes at Fuente de Piedra and they are not due until the very last days of October.

Derek's detailed report:

Greetings dear chap.......Barb & I drove down to Zapata ostensibly for a quick look before partaking of some important shopping, namely food!  We started off slowly as down by the ford very little was around.  The exceptions were a couple of fabulous Grey Wagtails [not seen them for ages], 2 Common Sandpipers, plenty of Grey Herons, a juvenile Night Heron and Cattle & Little Egret.  Jackdaws flew around the motorway bridge and Mallards and Yellow-legged Gulls passed overhead.

Moving down to the reed bed our fortunes took a definite upturn, plenty of Serin, Goldfinch and Greenfinch on the ground feeding.  A total of 4 Whinchats on the green fencing soon to be joined by a couple of fine Northern Wheatears still looking resplendent.  Luck must have been smiling on us because as we viewed them a Bluethroat came to perch a couple of meters away, first of the season for us down here, and superb it looked too.  It chose to first of all face us showing a full blue bib, and then almost like a model showed both sides and back, always a worthwhile moment seeing these beautiful little birds.

We then turned to the reed bed where 3 Kingfishers were chasing each other around both skimming the reed tops and seeming to fly through the vegetation.  This went on for a full 10 minuets, goodness knows what it was all about!  Just after this a Cetti's Warbler appeared at the reed edge in front of us in a very agitated state.  It was moving along and back low in the reeds scolding something, very soon we saw the culprit, a Weasel looking for breakfast. The Weasel ducked in and out of the rocks on the bankside trying to watch us and it's potential meal at the same time, it eventually crossed the track twice before disappearing into the rocks, meanwhile a lone Snipe flew out of reeds to move further down.

Plenty of Common Waxbills were busy feeding and a few Reed Warblers were showing well.  A solo Chiffchaff appeared for a good but fleeting view before hiding, easily done here!  On the power cables a Kestrel stayed perched for ages and later to be joined by a second, other than a distant Booted Eagle these were the only two raptors today.

Scanning the fenced off field a few Yellow Wagtails [not blue headed] were scavenging along with some more Northern Wheatears, Stonechats, Crested Larks and a couple more Whinchats.

Realising that our quick look had turned into 3 hours with no sign of breakfast we called it a day, off to the shops and then off to eat!

Now that's what you call a worthwhile wait for breakfast an, at the same time, puts off the dreaded shopping for another couple of hours!

Sunday 13 September 2015

Zapata and the Rio Grande

Looks like Derek, Barbara and company have been off down to the Guadalhorce at Zapata (behind Malaga Airport) again and continue o find some good birds. Reading Derek's report it reminds me that in addition to Hawfinch and Whinchat I have also to record the lovely Yellow-crowned Bishop this year.

Friday 11 September

We met up with Mick Smith & Jerry Laycock for our postponed from last Monday birding trip, deferred of course due to the tremendous rain on the Monday.  A  later start than has been the case in the past few months, a sure sign that Autumn is here  we began at Zapata as usual just as the first golden rays of sun were showing over Malaga.  First stop was at the ford, now with the raging torrent diminished greatly since earlier in the week, the area was alive with Cattle Egret passing overhead, Night Heron flying and also feeding along with Grey Heron, but no sign of our now 'usual' Little Bittern.  A rather handsome Greenshank was foraging on the margins together with Common & Green Sandpipers, soon to be joined by a few Little Ringed Plovers.  All of the Yellow Wagtails seem to have departed, but Linnets, Serins, Goldfinches were busy with breakfast.  Four Jackdaws flew around the motorway bridge and a couple of Mallard flew over heading up river.  Coot and Moorhen were also on the margins and at least 2 Kingfishers were busy zipping across the water.

Moving on down to the reed bed - looking totally different than before the rains as there are now flattened areas which is making viewing slightly easier - our first birds were Zitting Cisticola followed by Cetti's Warbler, Crested Lark and a couple of beautiful juvenile Woodchat Shrikes.  A Snipe lifted out of the reeds giving us an extended flypast and as we watched Common Swift were seen high above.  Walking further along Sardinian Warblers were active and both Collared,Turtle and Rock Doves [or ferals] passed overhead.  As  we followed the flight of the doves a Peregrine Falcon was spotted on the fringes of the runway.  At the usually busy feeding area we found Common Waxbills, Spotless Starlings and a smashing Melodious Warbler [a second bird found later elsewhere] but no sign now of the Short-toed Larks.  Monk Parakeets were their raucous selves and several Red Legged Partridge with their extended families ran around, always so busy!

Standing watching the feeding & sunning finches a flash of brilliant yellow appeared, the Golden Bishop/Yellow-crowned Bishop (or Yellow Headed Weaver if you like) giving us a rare but superb view. This was a first ever for Barbara and Jerry and a second for Mick & I and given that Barb and I have visited twice a week for the past few months, it's that rare!   Hopefully Jerry will have managed a picture or two, but attached is one I managed on my only other sighting.  The bird now looks absolutely stunning, with colourings as vivid as a male Golden Oriel.  Also a couple of Red-rumped Swallows still buzzed around.  
Yellow-crowned Bishop Euplectes afer at Zapata (PHOTO: Derek Etherton)
Thrilled by the sighting of the Golden Oriole which was only five meters away, we decided that it was time for desayuno, and replete after bacon sarnies and coffee we moved on up to the high end of the Rio Grande. Stopping before the crossing [to judge the depth of the water] we checked on the Booted Eagle's nest to see a couple of Great Tits 'mooching' amongst the sticks.  As we looked up about 50 Honey Buzzards who were joined by 2 Short Toed and 3 Booted Eagles passed low overhead.  A little flock of Skylarks were on the banks.   Deciding that fixed 4x4 should be selected to go through the water we crossed to find Hoopoe, White Wagtail and Spotted Flycatcher just over the other side.  A solo Raven passed high and a couple of Chaffinches were in the eucalyptus trees.  Not much else was found up in the higher reaches of the still rather muddy water, so we decided to push on elsewhere.

Stopping at Ardales for a second pit stop at El Cruze a Common Buzzard was spied perched on top of a power line pole.  Next stop Teba rock.  Many Griffon Vultures, extremely low, were floating in front of the rock and soon a pair of Sparrowhawks were hunting on the top.  Many Crag martins were  flying around and upon looking at the lakes behind us a pair of Great Crested Grebes were viewed by 'scope.

Moving on to Laguna Dulce, which we discovered is totally devoid of water or life so really not worth a visit!  So we carried on and took the back way to Fuente Piedra.  Stonechats & Barn Swallows were noted as we drove in past the s**t farm!  Oh dear, Fuente!  No water except for the tiniest amount to the left of the visitor centre, and this was spoilt by a vast quantity of dead Flamingos  lying around - adults as well as juveniles. However a few live birds continued feeding as did a lone Black Winged Stilt, some Ringed Plovers and a solo Redshank. Moving round to the large hide to view the laguna there was more disappointment; again no water, but our patience was rewarded with wonderful views of a Whitethroat and an Olivacious Warbler.  Moving on to the next hide where the smallest drop of water remained by the reeds a Green Sandpiper flew in.  Sitting and hoping something else would turn up we were eventually rewarded with a rather gorgeous Nightingale right in front of us and a little later a juvenile Shoveler entered the puddle.

Having spoken to a couple of other birders who had been watching a Wryneck in the car park, we decided to try our luck but sadly nothing - makes mental note not to enter the lottery.

We drove on to complete the circuit of the salt pan and down at the bottom end watched another Melodious Warbler and juvenile Woodchat Shrike and these were soon joined on the low barbed wire fence by a Whinchat.  In a distant tree falcons were spotted flying and perching, so 'scope out,  but the heat haze was too great to confirm what we thought were very red legs!  So the verdict had to come down to Lesser Kestrel.

By now it's 5 o'clock so the journey home began and the usual banter and chats about what had been seen, totalling the list, 66 species in all.   However the biggest topic of all was the complete lack of water at Fuente and what that entails for this winter.

Derek & Barbara Etherton

Thursday 10 September 2015

In search of the Nutcracker

Wednesday 9 September

Here in the High Ardennes, Belgium with our dear friend, Marieke Berkvens with the hope and belief that, during the coming week we shall have some wonderful views of the local population of Nutcrackers Nucifraga caryocatactes.  Based in an old, converted water mill, Neu Moulin, on the outskirts of Ruy du Moulin, surrounded by wooded hills with flowing streams and picturesque stone villages at an approximate altitude of 300 metres, the small population of resident Nutcrackers appeared as the result of an irruption of the Swiss sub-species of the bird which has a thicker beak that its Siberian cousin and feeds, unlike the eastern race and its pine seeds, exclusively on Hazel nuts.  These elusive birds may be heard but are rarely seen outside their coniferous homes until early September when they spend the whole time gathering Hazel nuts which are then cached.  It is reported that a pair of Nutcrackers may gather as many as 14,000 nuts and create about 9000 caches.  To achieve this result, assuming that a single bird gathers 7000 individual nuts, the bird, if able to carry a maximum of fifteen nuts in its throat, then an average total of 12 journeys per day would be required.   Given that the harvesting period lasts from about 4 September until 13 October, this means that the birds spend about 50% of their waking hours foraging!  Naturally, this average depends upon the annual harvest of good buts.  Unlike Jays and Squirrels, these amazing birds seem able to find every single cache and this is their sole basic food supply for the coming twelve months.   Indeed, fledged youngsters, which are produced early in the year, have to be fit and able to find their own nuts by the coming September.

Common Buzzard Buteo buteo
And so we set off on a three kilometre circular walk in calm, sunny weather with hardly a cloud in the sky.  Leaving the valley bottom, we were soon seeing Wood Pigeons and Magpies and a lone Grey Heron drifted up the valley.  Jays were both seen and heard but, as yet, no Nutcracker.  Blue Tits seemed to be busy in the roadside hedgerows and then, almost on top of us, Jenny was in time to see the Honey Buzzard passing over.  Just time for a very quick photograph before the bird disappeared behind the neighbouring trees.

Hold the press!  Now that I have enlarged the "Honey Buzzard" shot (above) I can see that it is actually "only" a Common Buzzard.  Well, it was exciting whilst it lasted and, hopefully, there will still be some of the former down at Tarifa this time next week.

A distant bird resting on top was unidentifiable so Marieke returned to the house to fetch the scope.  Once back with us I returned to retrieve an aid and whilst the bird had gone she and Jenny did have both a single Nutcracker pass over followed by a Hobby.  Seems my role in birding life is to return to car and/or house so that others can see the wonderful birds that I miss!

A Common Starling was stationed at the end of the roof of the local farm and a Raven was feeding in the field below.  Continuing along the top road we added a juvenile Robin just developing its red breast and a pair of Crows.  The down a track towards the valley bottom where the muddy puddles were attracting many Great and Blue Tits, Dunnock and even a Nuthatch. No shortage of Blackbirds and overhead a Common Buzzard was making lazy circles in the sky (makes this sound like a relapse into Oklahoma!). 
Common Buzzard Buteo buteo
Reaching the river at the bottom we had Barn Swallows in the field and then, with more Wood Pigeons and Magpies it was back to the mill.  Immediately opposite we stopped to watch a quintet of Song Thrushes and a pair of Mistle Thrushes a further five metres away.  A Jay came to rest and preen and a Red Squirrel scampered along the grass below the spaced trees.
A very distant Jay Garrulus glandarius
The afternoon was spent reading in glorious warm sunshine watching the regular visits by both Blackbirds and Blackcaps to the bountiful supply of berries on the Rowan tree not three metres away.  A little later a short drive to a possible second Nutcracker site produced a White Wagtail, Magpies, Crows and a rather lovely female Common Redstart.  Not a bad start to lovely week which promises much more to follow.  The one concern, however, is that whilst we found many signs of Nutcracker activity, there appears to have been a poor Hazel nut crop with many small nuts and even these show signs of infestation; all such nuts having been discarded.  Our Nutcracker is a most selective creature who only takes the best, a perfectionist.  He’s not going to waste his energy on any old rubbish!
A very hungry Blackbird Turdus merula outside the mill
And this Chiffchaff Phylloscopus collybita was also on the look-out for an afternoon snack
Finally, with the warm sunshine came at least four species of butterfly including these two.  No doubt, I will eventually identify or somebody will let me know.
By the way, in case you are interested, the Nutcracker eruption from Switzerland took place in 1968, almost fifty years ago, with the birds finding this area well populated with Hazel trees and nearby pine forests for both caching their spoils and future breeding.  Arriving in time for the gathering season, a plentiful supply of food and no obvious predators or competition, it was not surprising that many adopted their new found territory.

Thursday saw us, unsuccessfully, exploring new areas for the Nutcracker.  Lots of Buzzards and Red Kites along with Great and Blue Tits plus Nuthatch, Dunnock and a calling Bullfinch and then Friday became THE DAY.  An early morning walk produced not only a Dipper and a pair of bedraggled Crows, not to mention a pair of Red Deer, but finally, when almost back at the mill, a large "Starling" flying up the hillside to disappear behind the Hazel hedgerow and no mistaking that Jay-sized brown body with the white spots and thick beak; my very first Nutcracker.
The "wet-look" that comes with daybreak for this Carrion Crow Corvus corone
Another Common Buzzard Buteo buteo
The handsome Red Kite Milvus milvus
An early morning appearance of the Red Deer

This Common Starling Sturnus vulgaris had certainly staked a claim on this roof!