Saturday, 17 October 2015

Five days in Huelva Province

Monday 12 October

Day 1: Dehesa de Abajo, Donana National Park

The big day had finally arrived with the long drive west to meet up with other members of the Andalucia Bird Society taking part on the three-night stay at Cosat Esuri in Ayamonte, just a couple of kilometres short of the Guadiana river and the Portuguese border.  In total we were twenty-four and occupying all eleven apartments owned by Marta Jariod and her Costaluz company.  Indeed, a great big thank you to Marta for all her help and support in arranging this first-class accommodation.

Last minute checks suggested that the outward journey and arrival at the meting point at the Dehesa de Abajo in the far north-eastern corner of the Donana National Park might be fine and sunny but we ought to expect heavy rain on the Tuesday, thunderstorms on the Wednesday and, probably, "iffy" weather on the Wednesday.  Too late now to cancel so a question of hoping for the best. In the even, if was a wet start, for me, from Algarrobo Costa east of Torre del Mar  followed by showers and then warm sunshine by midday when we arrived a the meeting point.  Heavy rain in the night but then four days of lovely warm sunshine albeit with a misty start to most days for about and hour or so.  Our first bonus of the week.  Given that, as a group, we setting out from Marbella, Frigiliana, Salar, Manilva, Malaga, etc I think we had a variety of starting experiences regarding the weather but we all arrived on time, well we would have had all bar four not stopped for a coffee at the nearby Cruce venta!.

No computer with me on this occasion so these following write-ups are being completed upon my return home.  However, I am very fortunate in having a great friend, John wainwright, who managed to complete his account every day and pass on to me so my intention is to use John's account and them supplement with sightings , incidents, etc as they occurred.  John's report will be in blue so it will be a somewhat colourful report.  Again, I have a mixture of photos and this not taken by myself will all be acknowledged.

A dampish trip down although brighter later.

As it was pitch black when we started from Salar (Granada), nothing was noted until we had our breakfast at km 56 (A92).  From here we still had small rewards but did get a small covey of Red-legged Partridges, Spotless Starlings, House Sparrows and a few Cattle Egrets.As we approached the La Crux cafe we spotted Grey Heron, Barn Swallows and a lone Spoonbill.

Greylag Geese Anser anser seen by the early arrivals at the dehesa de Abajo (PHOTO: Jenny Wainwright)
On the way to the Dehesa de Abajo reserve we stopped and looked across the now depleted rice paddies.  Here we found at least 40 Greylag Geese along with Glossy Ibis, Lapwings, Flamingos, Yellow-legged and Black-headed Gulls, Little and Cattle Egrets and a few Goldfinches.  Moving along to the Dehesa lagoon a Crayfish was found wandering along the white line in the road (probably a Cameron supporter not knowing which way to turn - we decided for it and deposited in the hedgerow).  At the lagoon we saw Shovelers, Marbled Ducks, Cormorants, Jackdaws, a single Purple Swamphen, good views of a male Yellow-crowned Bishop, Stonechats, Cetti´s Warblers, Willow Warbler, Goldfinches, Black-winged Stilts, Avocets, White Storks and Little Grebe.  Several Common Snipe were noted flying around the lagoon and overhead but never seemed to want to land. Across from the lagoon a Kingfisher was spotted then a Green Sandpiper, lots of Zitting Cisticolas and a couple of Sardinian Warblers were also seen.  Scoping the distant rice fields I spotted an Osprey and two more Marsh Harriers (one male, one female), lots more Glossy Ibis out there along with copious amounts of gulls.  Hirundines were moving through now consisting of Barn Swallows and House Martins.  Driving the "circular route" to Isla Mayor we located three Great White Egrets and two Black Storks.

Yellow-crowned Bishop Euplectes afer at the Dehesa de Abajo - a first for many (PHOTO: Jenny Wainwright)
We had to split from the main group here as Jenny was feeling unwell, so we drove through Villamanrique seeing en-route, Common and Lesser Kestrels and a Northern Wheatear.  Along the A49 (Portugal autovia) at the split to Huelva, we saw a beautiful male Montagu's Harrier along with Azure-winged Magpies and Crested Larks and as we drove up to the apartments three Common Magpies were noted.

Approaching the Dehesa de Abajo pool, which the previous week had been dry but sufficient rain during the following few days to provide food for the hundreds of Flamingos, Avocets and Black-winged Stilts, we had a quintet of Night Herons in the air which a few had previously seen on one of the small gravel pits.  Very few ducks on the water, just a couple of Mallard and a few Shoveler yet also a lovely pair of Marbled Duck to welcome us on the start of our little birding adventure.  There again, no shortage of White Storks, Little Egrets and Grey Herons along with a number of Cattle Egret and a smaller selection of Glossy Ibis, Marsh Harriers and even a Montagu's Harrier.

But it was not just about the main pool of water.  In the neighbouring vegetation we, I think, all eventually saw the Yellow-crowned Bishop that was hopping around in the reeds along with Zitting Cisticola and large flocks of House Sparrows that also contained a number of very white-looking Spanish Sparrows.  Crested Lark and Corn Bunting along with Zitting Cisticola were soon added to the ever-growing list as was, on our way to Isla Mayor a pair of well-showing Lesser Short-toed Larks, a very good sighting that I did not expect until we reached Portugal.  Also present here, there and everywhere were Stonechats and then it was back to the water where we duly recorded Coot, Moorhen and Little Grebe.

Lesser Short-toed Lark Calandrella rufescens
Never easy trying to observe birds on the road down to Isla Mayor where the Spanish seem to train their future F1 drivers but still plenty of the egret and heron family as already described above other than Night Heron.  However , a short stop did produce more Marsh Harriers and Lesser Kestrels. A longer stop on the far side of the town so that we could scan the rice fields and nearby river proved to be much more fruitful.  Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff and Cetti's Warbler and a couple of over-flying Spoonbills were a joy to add to the day's list.  A Little Owl was watching us past from its lofty position on the electricity wire whilst overhead we had House Martins and even a small number f Linnets were feeding close by.

At this point John and Jenny Wainwright, as described previously, moved on towards our final destination and John Brooks, Margot Grinstead and Gerry Licence took the opportunity to set off and explore the Donana Park  - but later reported back hat all was very dry and virtually nothing to be observed.  For the remaining participants we moved on the next set of rice fields which were currently being harvested and found scores of both egrets and Grey Herons along with about a score of Great White Egrets.  Catherine even managed to find the only Purple Heron of the week.  In addition to these larger birds we had a good range of waders including Ringed PloverRedshank, Greenshank, Snipe, Green Sandpiper and Lapwing.

In addition to the numerous (Common) Magpies there were very many Azure-winged Magpies to be seen by all.  Add on the Cormorants, and Blackbirds and the species total was now starting to look very promising.  A couple of cars took an alternative route to the motorway and luck Derek and Barabara Etherton along with Terry and Linda Osborn managed to also record Hobby (what a sighting!), Peregrine Falcon and Sparrowhawk.  Others added Northern Wheatear, Buzzard, Black Kite and Whinchat. Then, of course, we continued to see occasional Kingfishers and, eventually, White Wagtail and Hoopoes.  Finally, we must not forget Serin and both Osprey and Red Kite along with three gull species, Black-headed, Yellow-legged and Lesser Black-backed Gull plus a Little Tern.

By my reckoning, we arrived at our Costa Esuri destination with a final count of 72 birds and then were greeted by a trio of Common Swifts to increase the tally by one to 73.

Birds seen:
Greylag Goose, Mallard, Shoveler, Marbled Duck, Little Grebe, Cormorant, Night Heron,Cattle Egret, Little Egret, Glossy Ibis, Great White Egret, Grey Heron, Purple Heron, Black Stork, White Stork, Spoonbill, Flamingo, Osprey, Red Kite, Black Kite, Marsh Harrier, Hen Harrier, Sparrowhawk, Buzzard, Lesser Kestrel, Common Kestrel, Hobby, Peregrine Falcon, Moorhen, Purple Swamphen, Coot, Black-winged Stilt, Avocet, Lapwing, Snipe, Redshank, Greenshank, Green Sandpiper, Black-headed Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Yellow-legged Gull, Little Tern, Rock Dove, Wood Pigeon, Little Owl, Common Swift, Kingfisher, Hoopoe, Lesser Short-toed Lark, Crested Lark, Barn Swallow, Red-rumped Swallow, White Wagtail, Whinchat, Stonechat, Northern Wheatear, Blackbird, Cetti's Warbler, Zitting Cisticola, Sardinian WarblerWillow Warbler, Azure-winged Magpie, Magpie, Jackdaw, Raven, Spotless Starling, House Sparrow, Spanish Sparrow, Serin, Goldfinch, Linnet, Corn Bunting, Yellow-crowned Bishop.

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

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