Thursday, 29 September 2016

Magical Day Tour of central Malaga Province

Wednesday 28 September

My friend Derek Etherton has been at it again along with wife Barbara, Mick Smith and Luis Albert Rodriguez.  Not sure what the eventual maximum will be but this latest attempt at a "Hundred Up" produced a magnificent 114 species.  Is this the current record; I must ask Derek?  All very well but your need a good alarm clock or a restless sleeper and then manage to survive all the daylight hours presented.  It also helps to have a variety of habitats with reasonably close proximity and as you can read in Derek's report some great birds recorded, including many surprises.

Find a hundred in a day: Wednesday 28 September

Back to the early mornings, well not so early as we are into the Autumn equinox, so early means meeting at 0630hrs in the pitch black.  A journey through the torturous back roads of Malaga and in the Montes de Malaga before first light.  No owls calling, but a fox came to investigate us whilst we stood at the car.  Showing no fear, and pleasingly looking well fed, he moved to within a couple of metres of us before wandering away.

As the sky lightened the first sounds of the early birds could be heard, a Robin 'ticking', Blackbird calling and many Crossbills chatting on their first flights.  Within 45 mins. we had a list of 23 birds including very close views of Nuthatch, Long-tailed Tits and Firecrests.

Moving on to stop for breakfast at a favourite stop, the top notch Catalania and the best coffee we carried on towards El Torcac.  But we stopped just outside of Villanueva to scour the freshly harrowed fields.  Large flocks of Corn Buntings had joined Thekla Larks making the most of the opportunity.  A single small tree in the next field held Serins, Stonechats, Northern Wheatear whilst a very low Sparrowhawk flew over causing some mild panic.

Stonechat Saxicola torquatus (PHOTO: Derek Etherton)
On to El Torcal - stopping at the derelict farm hoping for the Little Owl.  We were disappointed but clocked up Crag Martin, Blue Rock Thrush, Griffon Vulture and Black Redstart.  Continuing the ascent  we stopped again at a higher altitude to view bramble and hawthorn scrub.  Very productive with Garden Warblers, Whinchat, Whitethroat, Common Redstarts, Sub-Alpine Warbler and 3 female/juv Rufous-tailed Rock Thrushes.  

Rufous-tailed Rock Thrush Monticola saxatilis (PHOTO: Derek Etherton)
Continuing to the top for the obvious Rock Bunting we were not to be disappointed as they were seen around the car park.  But Barbara spotted something different, possibly a female Cirl Bunting over by some rocks.  We moved over there and fortunately LA had his camera with him enabling a couple of good pictures to be taken, so we could check when back at the car.  Wren showed as did Green and Gold Finch, then a male Cirl Bunting posed atop of the brambles.

Back at the car we examined the picture, compared the book and had little doubt the photographed bird was an Ortolan Bunting, the facial markings, eye ring were all very clear.  Leaving the top to start the descent a call was made for a large raptor in front of us.  Stopping we admired the passing over us of a Golden Eagle, soon to be joined by a Pergrine as its 'fighter' escort - wonderful!  

Find the Stone Curlew Burhinus oedicnemus (PHOTO: Derek Etherton)
So 50 birds so far, oh, did I mention we were going for a 100+ day?  No, well we were so onward to the next stop.  Normally that would have been Fuente de Piedra but there seems little point in that for now, at least until the rains and the Cranes appear.  So it was back to Malaga and more precisely Zapata.  What's the chance of the Grasshopper Warbler still being there?  Sadly zero but the Stone Curlew remain, 6 of them viewing well.  Common Waxbills, Crested Larks, Common Kestrel, Linnet, Cetti's, a smashing Yellow Wagtail, 2 White ones and the Grey came a little later.  Down at the ford 5 Booted Eagles circled, 4 dark and one light morph.  Marsh Harrier and one Osprey on a pylon eating its lunch.  Hoopoe, Common and Green Sand, Greenshank, Little and Cattle Egret, Grey Heron, Moorhen and Coot viewed well as did Little and Ringed Plover, Mallard and a very active Kingfisher. Common Swift, Barn and Red-rumped Swallows and House Martins flew around.  Can't forget the Monk Parakeets, or can I?  Plenty of Pied Flycatchers, so many this year and more Common Redstarts.

Hoopoe Upupa epops (PHOTO: Derek Etherton)
So down to Guadalhorce Desembocadura to finish the day.  Cormorants as we walked in with Grey Heron around but nothing new.  Standing on the green bridge it was sad to see so many dead and floating fish in the water - polution, lack of oxygen?  Who knows.  We soon added Spotted Flycatcher, Black-winged Stilt, Shovellers [back with vengeance] White-headed Duck, Avocet, Teal and Zitting Cisticola from the Escondido hide.  Moving onto Laguna Grande hide plenty of Kentish Plover plus Dunlin, Bar-tailed Godwits, Redshank, Shelduck, Gadwall, a solo Audoin's Gull, hundreds of Lesser Black-backed and a resting Grey Plover in front of the hide.  

Bar-tailed Godwit Limosa lapponica (centre) with Black-winged Stilt Himantopus himantopus (above) 
Down to the beach clocking juv. Woodchat Shrike and another Northern Wheatear en route we stopped to sea watch for a short time, Cory's and Balearic Shearwaters skimmed the waves reasonably close to shore.  A couple of adult Gannet were feeding and Black-headed & Yellow-legged Gulls flew over.  Down to the watch point [averting eyes] but comforted by National Police presence [looking for illegal fishing/dogs not on leash etc.] we reached the watchpoint to be greeted with 10 Turnstone flying in and above us.

Grey Plover Pluvialis aquatarola in front of main hide (PHOTO: Derek Etherton)
Walking up the track on the last leg of the journey the wader pool was full of birds; Greater  
Flamingo, Ruff plus more of the earlier waders and gulls.  2 more Osprey's were in the trees, one tackling a fish, and another Booted Eagle was close by.  First hide up contained Snipe [one of my favourites], a short view of Bluethroat and Jackdaw flew over.  Next up, via the police again, the next hide had Pochard and a Pallid Swift fly by.

Osprey Pandion haliaetus (PHOTO: Derek Etherton)
So a trudge, it was now gone 19.00hrs - a long day birding, back to the car and collapse and tally up over a drink.  A total of 113 declared - dreadful for me as I hate odd numbers, even the individual digits added up odd, couldn't allow that so Barbara and I added our calling Tawny Owl when we eventually arrived home at 21.30hr.  Late, well we had stopped for a couple of tapas en route - couldn't face having to cook!

A few pictures of the day attached, first 3 digiscoped including the Rock Thrush, but you get the idea.

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

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