Thursday, 31 December 2015

250 Birds - at last!

Wednesday 30 December

At last, I have achieved my magic total of 250 species seen in Spain and at the very last minute, almost literally.  Not only reached but, at one point, I thought beaten with  last minute sighting.  I am not expecting to do any birding today on New Year's Eve, a final total of 250.  But who's counting?  Well I am!  And the funny thing is that the target was achieved almost at the very end of my visit and quite unexpectedly.

Up early and off to the Guadalhorce in Malaga with the sun shining down from a clear blue sky and not a cloud in sight in any direction.  The sea was like a mill pond but, on the other hand, the early morning temperature was actually colder than yesterday's cloudy start.  Arriving at the mouth of the western canal of the Guadalhorce a quick look at the beach and sea revealed a small number of Cormorants and a small flock of Lesser Black-backed GullsWhite Wagtails, Blackbirds and House Sparrows around me and, as ever, already the raucous Monk Parakeets informing all and sundry that they were up and out to play.  On the river eight Pochard were paddling quietly upstream and, no doubt, considering whether or not it was time to pop in he reserve and enjoy one of the lagunas (there was certainly plenty of water to be seen when I eventually got there.)  Next it was up to the main entry to the track leading up to the footbridge into the reserve and park the car.  Passing a Robin and the just the odd Coot on the river and the resident Rock Doves under the motorway bridge but further upstream a large gathering of Cormorants were resting on the water.

Male White-headed Duck Malvasia Cabeciblanca Oxyura leucocephala
Walking over to the Laguna Casillas hide I had the first of many Stonechat sightings plus at least fifty Cormorants flying in low overhead, presumably form the river I had just crossed, and was then greeted by a small flock of White-headed Ducks, along with a number of Coots, immediately in front of the hide.  A handful of Little Grebes were bust feeding and were almost immediately joined by the arrival of a dozen Teal.  A Moorhen paddled across and the first of the Chiffchaffs and Goldfinches that were to be regularly recorded put in an appearance.

Then the Teal Certa Comun Anas crecca arrived
Next it was the Wader Pool and here at first sight everything seemed completely empty.  However, I eventually found the sleeping Snipe and the pair of Stonechats occupying the territory along with more feeding Chiffchaffs.  I am not sure which brought the greater pleasure, the arriving Greenshank or the Bluethroat and came out of the shrubbery and posed nicely in the Stonechat's tree.  Cetti's Warblers continued to sing all around me and a Sardinian Warbler was spotted in a low bush.  The first of two sightings of Greenfinches was behind the hide as I started my walk down to the Sea Watch to check out the beaches, now freshly cleaned and all debris removed, and the immediate hinterland.

Juvenile Bluethroat Ruisenor Pechiazul Luscinia svecica (above) [note the lack of a white spot in the centre of the bib] and male Stonechat Tarabilla Comun Saxicola torquatus (below)


What I did notice was that there was not one single bird on the old river, Rio Viejo.  Nada, nothing and the first time that that has been may experience when visiting the Guadalhorce.  Also a first, during the while time I was present on the reserve I saw not one Little Egret.  On the other hand, approaching the beach I had first a Black Redstart and then Meadow Pipits.  To my left on the western canal was a quite large flock of Black-headed Gulls and the Cormorants continued to move back and forth into and out of the reserve.  With fishermen either side of the Sea watch and a digger working on the "sand" away to my left nothing to see out at sea so I mad my way back where a final visit to Laguna Casillas turned up something special.  Busy watching the Teals and White-headed Ducks which had taken shelter I suddenly had  ten Common Pochard drop onto the water but a closer look through the bins revealed that only eight were Pochards as they were accompanied by a pair of Ferrugnous Ducks.  Lovely to watch them bathing in a natural setting.

Ferruginous Duck Porron Pardo Aythya nyroca and with female Pochard Porron Europeo Aythya ferina (below)
Then it was on to the Laguna Escondida passing a couple of Zitting Cisticolas on the way but, again, this water had very little bird life.  A handful of White-headed Ducks and a couple of Little Grebe just about summed it up.  Another disappointment was not seeing the Black-headed Bunting that can often be found here if anywhere on the reserve so still no number 250 for the year.  On the other hand I did see my first Crag Martins of the morning.

Cattle Egret Garcilla Bueyera Bubulcus ibis at the Laguna Grande

Finally to the Laguna Grande and the main hide.  Again, lots of water and very little feeding area for any waders which probably explains why I saw none until I found the quartet of Greenshank sheltering on the small island to the back left along with some Cormorants.  Indeed, I pot a better view when a passing Marsh harrier happened by and put the waders up for a short spell until all was quiet.  This also led to me finding a pair of Lapwing sheltering on the ground to their right as I looked from the hide.  On the water many Little Grebes but also a pair of Back-necked Grebes.  A small number of Shoveler were about plus a trio of Shelduck and, finally, three Mallards appeared in the centre of the water for a few minutes and then disappeared about as quickly as they had arrived.

Black-necked Grebe Zampullin Cuelinegro Podiceps nigricollis


That seemed just about it and whilst looking at the gathered Collared Doves in the trees to my left I realised that there was no Booted Eagle this morning and I had not seen a single Spotless Starling.  Scores and scores of Cormorants and two or three Herons but no Little egret.  Five Cattle Egrets ventured out over the Cormorant colony on a couple of occasions and they were obviously resting some where at the back.  It must have been my wishful thinking as no sooner had I thought of the Spotless Starlings than about a dozen turned up in a tree to my left and on closer inspection discovered that the group also included a couple of Common Starlings.  A last close look at the trees to the back of the water through  the scope picked up a small raptor low down in the greenery.  A clear look at its darkish head and "streaked" chest but seemed to small for a Kestrel.  As I watched and started looking for other identification signs the bird dropped down out of the tree but still basically well-hidden and swooped round the back but sufficient time, as I was still looking through the scope, to realise that I had found a roosting Merlin.  Not only my last bird of the day but, low and behold, the magic number 250 for the year.  Great, now I can go home happy!

Little Grebe Zampullin Comun Tachybaptus ruficollis in the early morning low sun
Back at the car and still only 11.55.  I wonder?  Fuengirola can only be about twenty minutes away as i am almost on the motorway so I might just as well pop down to the watch point near the light-house on the off-chance that the Purple Sandpiper might still be present at hits regular wintering quarter.  leavi9ng camera and scope in the parked car near the bus stop (in the lay-by just off the motorway) I made my way up and over the footbridge.  A quick look to the east reveled what appeared to be a small number of waders on the beach about a hundred metres away so decided that I would look here before walking up to the hide.  I even managed to get closer having already identified a quinted of Sanderling, a single Kentish Plover and a couple of Turnstones.  On arrival behind the crash barrier and looking almost straight down on the birds I watch d a s a Whimbrel dropped it to feed in and around the rocks.  Sanderlings are very skittish individuals, always jumping here, there and everywhere and running around like headless chickens so nu wonder they have "canutus" as part of their scientific name as they try to keep the sea at bay.  But wait a minute, only four of the Sanderling are behaving in this manner; one has stayed behind happily resting on one leg and taking no notice.  At this point it dawned on me that the bird looked a little larger and fatter than the normal Sanderling and instead of a short black bill had a rather longer, curved appendage.  Yes, a winter-plumaged Curlew Sandpiper.  A walk up to the hide not only produced more Sanderling and Turnstones but also a single Ringed Plover to take the morning's tally to 47 birds for I headed home.

Sanderling Correlimos Tridactilo Calidris alba along with a visiting Kentish Plover Chorlitejo Patinegro Charadrius alexandrinus (below)


Birds seen:
Shelduck, Mallard, Shoveler, Teal, Pochard, Ferruginous Duck, White-headed Duck, Little Grebe, Black-necked Grebe, Cormorant, Cattle Egret, Heron, Marsh Harrier, Merlin, Moorhen, Coot, Ringed Plover, Kentish Plover, Lapwing, Sanderling, Curlew Sandpiper, Snipe, Whimbrel, Greenshank, Turnstone, Black-headed Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Rock Dove, Collared Dove, Monk Parakeet, Crag Martin, Meadow Pipit, White Wagtail, Robin, Bluethroat, Black Redstart, Stonechat, Blackbird, Cetti's Warbler, Zitting Cisticola, Sardinian Warbler, Chiffchaff, Common Starling, Spotless Starling, House Sparrow, Greenfinch, Goldfinch.

 
Time for the Turnstones Vuelvepiedras Comun Arenaria interpres to take their morning ablutions



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

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