Sunday, 1 January 2017

Almeria and Cabo de Gata: Day 1

 Friday 30 December

Having been confirmed to quarters for the past ten days since my cataract operation I was determined to get in one last birding expedition before the end of the year and, at the same time, check out the new "bionic eye" to see what sight progress has been achieved following all the daily drops into same.  So, come a very bright, clear and sunny Friday morning, I collected Steve and Elena Powell from Frigiliana and we made our way up to Las Norias, Roquetas de Mar and the heath land just beyond Retamar in the Cabo de Gata National Park.  Then it was on to our hotel in Cabo itself so that we could explore the salinas and nearby light-house on new Year's Eve.  Our two target birds were the wintering Dotterel and the resident Trumpeter Finches.

Was it a successful couple of days?  It can't have been too bad as we managed to clock up about 60 species and whilst we dipped on the Dotterel on both days we did manage to find more than a score of Trumpeter Finches.  As for the eye. it is still very sensitive to bright light so wearing dark glasses is not the best outfit for birding!  Similarly, the constant streaming (or was it tears that we did not find the Dotterel?) was also more than a hindrance.  But there is a marked improvement in the sight but, I fear, still a long way to go before all will be back to normal.  Perhaps I was, am, being too optimistic expecting some sort of miraculous overnight return of perfect sight.  But I live in the hope that 2017 is going to be a great birding year and very special thanks to Jacinto and his team at the Hospital Civil in Malaga for giving me back my sight.

First stop the main causeway over the Las Norias lake where we quickly sorted out the Coots and Moorhens along with a good number of Cormaorants and Little, Black-necked and Great Crested Grebes.  Lots of both the last two.  Cattle Egrets were feeding in a side pool but only the one Little Egret seen.  No sooner had we added Spotless Starlings and Collared Doves than we identified both Black-headed and Yellow-legged Gulls before recording the numerous Crag Martins feeding above the water.  Immediately in front of us wintering Chiffchaffs were scouring the neighbouring bushes along with a very small number of Goldfinches and then it was time to scope the far end (Las Norias village) for the duck population.  Only the occasional Mallard but a good number of both Common and Red-crested Pochard.  Also recorded were a few Gadwall.

So on to the far end near the plastic waste factory where we were most surprised to find so little bird life.  A female Marsh Harrier passed over my head and then a singe Grey Heron was noted.  Just the two distant sightings of Purple Swamphen  but no Night or Squacco Herons. The narrow path leading to the main water next to the sheep pens is now completely overgrown and block so no chance of checking out this, usually productive, part of the water.

With a pair of White Wagtails walking the road we made our way over to Roquetas de Mar and the shallow water near the light-house.  Again, very few birds to be seen but this might be due to the higher water levels; it would certainly appear that Almeria has had more December rain than the Axarquia area. A Great White Egret flew over the water and the far lake produced a small number of Yellow-legged Gulls and mainly Shoveler on the water.  Again, a couple of Marsh Harriers were quartering the far (western) reeds and also a pair of Common Kestrel.

Leaving a single Little Egret to watch our departure we drove round to the fresh water lake before the salinas.  On the drive we recorded Kestrel, Stonechat, Iberian Grey Shrike and even a single Magpie on the wires along with both Crested Lark and a few House Sparrows.  Arriving at the lake we found a plentiful supply of birds on the water; mainly Common Coots and ducks, and that was when the fun started.  Busy sorting out more Common and Red-crested Pochards along with scores of Shoveler, a small number of Gadwall and Mallards plus at least three pairs of White-headed Ducks, not to mention a few Little and very many Black-necked Grebes, Elena drew our attention to a "spotted duck" feeding with a small group of Coots. Blame it on feeding on too much white bread or whatever but this leucistic bird looked very much like a "Spotted Dalmatian" of the Aquatic variety.  Even, at a distance, its face shield looked small than that of his cousins.  A very strange bird indeed nut, apparently, happy in it surroundings and accepted by those Coots of a more regular colouration.  I wonder what its off-spring will look like?

What would appear to be some form of leucistic Common Coot Focha Comun Fulica atra
Enteringthe track leading down to the salinas it was again very evident that there had been considerable recent rainfall with most of the side pools very full and a general dearth of waders.  We did find a couple of Little Stint and a number of Avocets on the main water along with, almost exclusively, juvenile Flamingos.  The main track area also produced Crested Lark, Black Redstart, Stonechat and feeding Chiffchaffs.  Turning off, after driving through some very flooded areas, to the main causeway we duly found the adult Flamingos and a very many more Shovelers.  A Bluethroat "upped" and disappeared away to our right and then the first of a couple of Zitting Cisticolas.  Here we also found a few Greenfinches before another surprise discovery.  A single Slender-billed Gull delighted us with its sudden appearance to our left and hidden away beyond the main flock of Shoveler on the right at least a dozen Pintails in beautiful breeding plumage; what a lovely sight.

Slender-billed Gull Gaviota Picofino Larus genel
Then it was on to Cabo de Gata with an unsuccessful stop to find the Dorretel.  We did find a good number of Greenfinhes along with both Iberian Grey Shrike and Crested Larks but not our target bird.  On the other hand, about a score of Sky Larks were feeding on a neighbouring grassy area so not all disappointment.

Arriving in Cabo de Gata there was time to book in to the hotel and use the remaining light to drive over to the light-house to see what might be about in the morning.  Again, Collared Doves and Iberian Grey Shrike on the wires as we drove past the salinas and on arriving at the light-house and getting out of the car Steve was transfixed as he watched a strange looking sparrow-like bird fly directly from a distant concrete building and land on the fence immediately in front of the windscreen.  Not just his first-ever Trumpeter Funch but a male showing lovely red shades on both head and chest.  Trouble was he could neither get out of the car quick enough nor sort out the camera to capture a shot!  Meanwhile, as he went off, successfully, in search of another specimen, Elena and I stood by the car and watched a pair of Trumpeter Finches feeding on the bank to our left not ten metres away!

Trumpeter Finch Camachuelo Trompetero Bucanetes githagineus feeding with House Sparrow Passer domesticus

Male House Sparrows Gorrion Comun Passer domesticus looking for their Trumpeter Finch friend!

Driving back to the village we had a lovely view of the local Peregrine Falcon before calling in at the public hide to see, again, not a great number of birds on the water.  Cormorant, Little Egret and Flamingo were obvious as were the Avocoets.  Nearer the hide a couple of Black-tailed Godwits were feeding and just the one pair of Black-winged Stilts.  Perhaps the last birds seen as the sun dipped on the horizon were Stonechats and few more Sky Larks.  And so the bed, well not immediately, and the thought of finding lots of Trumpeter Finches on the morrow.

Very late afternoon shots of Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo (above) and Little Egret Egretta garzetta (below)

Birds seen:
Gadwall, Mallard, Shoveler, Pintail, Red-crested Pochard, Common Pochard, White-headed Duck, Little Grebe, Great Crested Grebe, Black-necked Grebe, Cormorant, Cattle Egret, Little Egret, Great White Egret, Heron, Flamingo, Marsh Harrier, Kestrel, Peregrine Falcon, Moorhen, Purple Swamphen, Coot, Black-winged Stilt, Avocet, Little Stint, Black-tailed Godwit, Black-headed Gull, Slender-billed Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Yellow-legged Gull, Rock Dove, Collared Dove, Crested Lark, Sky Lark, Crag Martin, White Wagtail, Bluethroat, Black Redstart, Stonechat, Zitting Cisticola, Chiffchaff, Iberian Grey Shrike, Magpie, Spotless Starling, House Sparrow, Greenfinch, Goldfinch, Trumpeter Finch.

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