Tuesday, 22 March 2016

3 Days in the Tarifa Area

Bottlenose Dolphins Turciops truncatus
Monday 21 March


Just back from three days birding in the Tarifa area and some wonderful birds seen with a finally tally of 105 species.  Great company, rain at night but no problem during the day either Saturday or Sunday and all sorts of bonuses including a number of Pilot Whales Globicephala melas and many Bottlenose Dolphins Turciops truncatus during the "Whale Watch" early Saturday afternoon which also produced both Balearic and Cory's Shearwaters, Gannet and a small flock of 15 Razorbills.

Having stayed overnight in Fuengirola following attendance at the local theatre to see a production of "Jesus Christ, Superstar", we were away early and met up with Barbara and Derek Etherton plus Steven and Elena Powell for breakfast just before reaching La Janda.  Glorious weather with clear, sunny skies as we headed off for a few hours at Barbate.  No sooner had we arrived, passing the very many Cattle Egrets, than a large flock of Bald Ibis passed over the cars and then we were looking at newly-arrived Collared Pratincoles not more than ten metres away.  What a way to start the morning!

Collared Pratincole Glareola pratincola
The tour round the water at back produced numerous Flamingos and Cormorants to the rear along with Great White Egret, Little Egret, Grey Heron and a single Avocet whereas nearer to us we had many Black-winged Stilts and Redshanks along with Kentish Plover, Grey Plover, Little Stint and Stone Curlews.  On the shore we had Crested Larks and Corn Buntings plus regular sightings of Blue-headed Wagtail, Linnet, Goldfinches and Meadow Pipits. Both Lesser Black-backed and Yellow-legged Gulls plus a single Audouin's Gull were to be seen along with a couple of Caspian  and a handful of Sandwich Terns.

Black-winged Stilt Himantopus himantopus
Then the warblers started to appear which produced a number of Subalpine along with ChiffchaffSardinian and at least one Spectacled Warbler.  A Yellow Wagtail of the British flavisima race passed over before the Hoopoe took off and a small number of Sky Larks were seen before we also encountered both Lesser Short-toed and Calandra Larks.  Whilst we expected to see the many Stonechats, it was certainly lovely to pick up a very close view of a Black-eared Wheatear and a few, also recently-arrived, Woodchat Shrikes.  But for me it was not the female Black Redstart but, rather, the most handsome male Common Redstart that put in appearance at the very far end of the track. Other sightings included a female Cirl Bunting and Green Sandpiper.

Woodchat Shrike Lanius senator (above) and Subalpine Warbler Sylvia cantillans (below)
Leaving Barbate and with more Bald Ibis sightings, we made our way back to Huerta Grande, midway between Tarifa and Algeciras so that we could prepare the stand for the Andalucia Bird Society at the annual Estrecho Nature Fair.  Whilst on site we also added Robin, Blue Tit and Blackbird along with the first Griffon Vultures,Short-toed Eagle and Sparrowhawk to add to the Common Kestrel previously seen.  Both Pallid and Common Swift were seen overhead and as we departed we had a noisy calling Cetti's Warbler followed by at least four Firecrests in the trees immediately above us.  A very good way to end the day with about 70 birds recorded.

Part of the re-introduced and free-breeding Bald Ibis Geronticus eremita flock
Following the heavy overnight rain and knowing that we had to be at the Tarifa port to catch our "Whale Watching" boat by 12.15, we decided upon a return visit to Barbate and were joined by visiting ABS members from Canada, Giselle D'Entremont and Judy O'Brien.  Again, both the Bald Ibis and Collared Pratincoles were waiting for us and as we made our way along the back track we continued to find both Black-eared Wheatear and Subalpine Warblers.  However, on the way to Barbate a very short call in at a known site near Zaharra produced both a Little Swift and a number of Barn Swallows before we saw overhead a Sparrowhawk and an Osprey.

A newly-arrived Black-eared Wheatear Oenanthe hispanica
Back at Barbate we had a Stone Curlew but also this time Spoonbills.  A Red-legged Partridge was a new sighting along with both Serin and a single Willow Warbler.  Waders included Sanderling, Redshank, Green Sandpiper, Black-winged Stilt and Ringed and Kentish Plover.  More Crested and Calandra Larks along with both White and Blue-headed Wagtails whilst the Woodchat Shrikes began to increase in number.  Still the ever-present Flamingos, Heron, Cormorant and Great White Egret along with just the odd Little Egret and a Buzzard made a brief appearance over the far hills.

Pilot Whale Globicephala melas (above) and Bottlenose Dolphins Turciops truncatus (below)

Back at Tarifa the sun was now open with mainly blue skies as our boat made its way out of the harbour and into the very choppy seas for its long journey into Moroccan waters to find the whales and dolphins.  Plenty of both Lesser Black-backed and Yellow-legged Gulls about and early Balearic Shearwater promised well, especially as it was soon followed by a couple of Gannets.  However, it was to be Cory's Shearwaters that put in the closest appearance and a couple of Spanish birders on the boat even managed to find a few Storm Petrels way out in the Straits.  Having enjoyed close sightings of a number of basking Pilot Whales and a many Bottlenose Doplhins close to the boat, we had a flock of 15 Razorbills flashing low over the water, indeed some speculated at first that they might well have been Puffins, before we eventually headed back to port.

Cory's Shearwater Calonectris diomedes skimming the choppy seas

Now bright and much warmer so a few hours at La Janda seemed the obvious choice before returning to our hotel for dinner.  A very good selection of birds during the next couple of hours or so including very many Linnets and Goldfnches along with Stonechats, Crested Larks, Corn Buntings and Serin.  No shortage of Cattle Egret and the occasional Little Egret and Heron until we hit the large pool half-way down the canal track where we found very many Spoonbills and White Storks along with Black-winged Stilt and Redshank,  A couple of Green Sandpipers had already been seen and we also managed before leaving this area to return home both Moorhen and a Purple Swamphen and, surprisingly I thought, a score or so of Mallard.

Corn Bunting Emberiza calandra (above) and Meadow Pipit Anthus pratensis (below)


The first Marsh Harrier was seen plus a distant Black-shouldered Kite and then a  few, distant Griffon Vultures.  Next up the first Montagu's Harrier of the afternoon plus both Raven and Jackdaw before we turned up towards the smelly farm and picked up Northern Wheatear followed by a number of Pheasants and Red-legged Partridges.  It was also in this area that we had both Zitting Cisticiola and Cetti's Warbler followed by a couple of Spanish Sparrows.

Female Common Kestrel Falco tinnunculus basking in the evening sunset
However, it was the fence and tree-lined area just beyond the farm that really produced the goods.  Every bush on the right seemed to contain a Woodchat Shrike making the area look like some kind of cotton plantation and the pair of Little Owls were found near their "usual" set of stones.  Griffon Vultures and Black Kites above followed by a lone Bonneli's Eagle before a quartet of Montagu's Harriers appeared on the scene closely followed by a few feeding Lesser Kestrels to join the previously seen Common Kestrel.  One of the female Montagu's Harriers spent considerable time of the ground trying to digest its prey whilst a Stone Curlew disappeared left behind it.  Our first Bee-eaters of the year as a small number passed low behind us and, finally, a Booted Eagle passed over and then it was the turn of both Pallid and Common Swifts to put in an appearance.

Feeding and hunting female Montagu's Harrier Circus pygargus



We thought we had seen everything as we started on our return journey until what, at first, had seemed like a female Common Kestrel on the fence turned out to be a female Common Cuckoo.  This was a Cuckoo that refused to depart the scene, merely moving on a post every time that we drove slowly along the road with cameras out of all windows!  What with a couple of Black-eared Wheatears in the neighbouring field we had had a very profitable hour on site.

A recently-arrived female Common Cuckoo Cuculus canorus basking in the evening sunshine and refusing to fly away!

No sooner had I remarked to Jenny as we regained the main road back towards Tarifa that we had not seen a Glossy Ibis all week-end than, you guessed it, an individual flew across the  road in front of us, turned and flew back as if to deliberately correct the omission!  So back to the hotel with another day totalling in excess of 70 birds.

A most handsome male Stonechat Saxicola torquatus
More rain overnight but clear by the time we booked out of the hotel at 9 o'clock leaving behind the Cattle Egrets and House Sparrows to visit the coast line in the area of El Camillo to the east of Tarifa in the hope of freshly-arrived summer migrants.  Straight away both Crested Larks and Stonechats and then, once again, many more Subalpine Warblers.  A particular area of bushes produced many Greenfinches, Goldfinches, Linnets and Serins plus Sardinian Warbler, Chiffchaff and a Cetti's Warbler.  On the other hand, perhaps the best sighting was that of a newly-arrived Whitethroat that was very determined to get his feather-work back into shipshape condition.  More Woodchat Shrikes along with Blackbirds and Spotless Starlings and then on to the mirador where we picked up a pair of Little Owls, both Black and Black-eared Wheatears plus Black Redstart.

Female Sardinian Warbler Sylvia melancocephala (above) and Common Whitethroat Sylvia communis (below)

Above us a flock of 40 Black Storks passed over the sea and inland whilst below a good number of mainly Yellow-legged but also some Lesser Black-backed Gulls and a couple of feeding Sandwich Terns.  the rock shore held up to a dozen or more Turnstones and a Common Sandpiper.  Also seen at least a couple of Whimbrel.  Driving along the lower track near the cliff face we also had Hoopoe, Meadow Pipit, more Subalpine Warblers and Stonechats followed by a very close sighting of a magnificent Osprey.


The flight of the Osprey Pandion haliaetus

Finally, it was back up to the higher ground where we were able to watch the arriving numbers of both Black Kites and Griffon Vultures along with a closely-packed flock of about 200 White Storks.  Both Common and Lesser Kestrel were seen as were Common Swift, House Martin, Barn and a Red-rumped Swallow.

The arrival of the Griffon Vultures Gyps fulvus

Here, towards 2pm, we all finally said our good-byes and made our separate ways home with Jenny and I calling in once more at Huerta Grande to check all had ended happily and successfully at the nature Fair.  A most enjoyable birding experience with very many special memories.

Woodchat Shrike Lanius senator; such a beautiful bird to welcome back for the summer

Birds seen:
Mallard, Red-legged Partridge, Pheasant, Cory's Shearwater, Balearic Shearwater, Gannet, Cormorant, Cattle Egret, Little Egret, Glossy Ibis, Bald Ibis, Great White Egret, Grey Heron, Black Stork, White Stork, Spoonbill, Flamingo, Osprey, Black-shouldered Kite, Black Kite, GriffonVulture, Short-toed Eagle, Marsh Harrier, Montagu's Harrier, Booted Eagle, Bonneli's Eagle, Sparrowhawk, Buzzard, Lesser Kestrel, Common Kestrel, Moorhen, Purple Swamphen, Black-winged Stilt, Avocet, Stone Curlew, Collared Pratincole, Ringed Plover, Kentish Plover, Grey Plover, Sanderling, Little Stint, Dunlin, Whimbrel, Redshank, Green Sandpiper, Common Sandpiper, Turnstone, Black-headed Gull, Audouin's Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Yellow-legged Gull, Caspian Tern, Sandwich Tern, Razorbill, Rock Dove, Wood Pigeon, Collared Dove, Cuckoo, Little Owl, Common Swift, Pallid Swift, Little Swift, Bee-eater, Hoopoe, Calandra Lark, Lesser Short-toed Lark, Crested Lark, Sky Lark, Barn Swallow, Red-rumped Swallow, House Martin, Meadow Pipit, Yellow Wagtail, Blue-headed Wagtail, White Wagtail, Robin, Black Redstart, Common Redstart, Stonechat, Northern Wheatear, Black-eared Wheatear, Black Wheatear, Blackbird, Cetti's Warbler, Zitting Cisticola, Spectacled Warbler, Subalpine Warbler, Sardinian Warbler, Whitethroat, Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler, Firecrest, Blue Tit, Woodchat Shrike, Jackdaw, Raven, Spotless Starling, House Sparrow, Spanish Sparrow, Serin, Greenfinch, Goldfinch, Linnet, Cirl Bunting, Corn Bunting.

Little Owl Athene noctua on guard at the nest hole
Always a few Red-legged Partridge Alectoris rufa to be seen at La Janda
Hundreds of White Storks  Ciconia ciconia arriving from Africa


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

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