Monday 20 March 2017

Cabo de Gata week-end

Monday 20 March

The monthly field visit of the Andalucia Bird Society was at Cabo de Gata this past Saturday, 18 March and attended, on the day, by a total of 34 members as we explored the area in as few cars as possible, each with their own maps of the area so that, I think without exception, there were never more than two cars together at any one time - save when we came across each other at the occasional hide or mirador.  As a group we managed to record over 60 species on the day itself.

For Jenny and I the trip started at 12.30 the previous day as soon as Jenny had completed her hospital appointment in Velez Malaga to check up on the progress of her broken elbow from last September so, rather than a couple of stops on the way to Cabo de Gata in Almeria province, we made straight for the huge "lake" at Las Norias where we had our late picnic lunch.  I use the word "lake" reservedly and with some trepidation as for those who know this water they would perhaps smile, if not loudly guffaw, at such a description.  To reach the water you drive through a city of plastic and will not be surprised to learn that only plastic re-cycling plant that I know of is located at the eastern end.  Here, not only will you find vast quantities of bundled plastic awaiting the incinerator but, being the nature of the beast, no shortage of overspilled rubbish lining the banks of the far pool which is favoured by the breeding Purple Swamphens and roosting egrets and herons.  What a stinking mess this area can be with the wind in the wrong direction.

Male Red-crested Pochard Pato Colorado Netta rufina
We left Velez Malaga in beautiful warm and sunny weather but on opening the car door at the first crossing over the lake in Las Norias discovered to our surprise that there was a rather healthy breeze creating choppy waters.  Indeed the breeze was to stay with us for the rest of the day and the morrow.  Probably just as well, as come Sunday when calm returned the temperature soared up into the high twenties.  This first stop produced good numbers of both Great Crested Grebe and Red-crested Pochards along with Common Pochard, Mallard, Cormorant and Little Grebe.  Overhead, both Barn Swallows and House Martins were having a feast and what few gulls we saw were of the Black-headed variety.  On round to the last causeway near the plastic recycling works to park by the bridge.  More Great Crested Grebes including a pair performing one of their classic courting dances and the far, top, side a large roost of Little Egrets in a single tree and an almost continuous row of Grey Herons.  All seemingly seeking shelter from the string easterly breeze and, to our left, another tree holding a roost of Cattle Egrets.  In was in this latter roost that I discovered the single adult Night Heron.

Grey Heron Ardea cinerea with Little Egrets Egretta garzetta but can you find the Night Heron Nycticorax nycticorax?
Missing out the salinas at Roquetas de Mar we managed to arrive in Cabo de Gata by about 4pm which gave Jenny chance to settle into the hotel whilst I drove down to the far "Public Hide" to check on what might be about for the ABS field day in the morning.  What a surprise greeted me.  All the recent rain had so increased water levels so that not only were there very few feeding shores for the waders but the very end pool which has always had a long, narrow spit of rock on which both gulls and terns of all sorts roosted had completed disappeared below the water.  Not a bird in sight.  The main pool in front of the hide contained a good number of Flamingo and scores of feeding Avocets along with both Mediterranean and Black-headed Gulls.
Flamingos Flamenco Comun Phoenicopterus roseus with Avocets Avoceta Comun Recurvirostra avosetta
The larger island did have a very narrow shore on which the few waders were recorded, including Redshank, Kentish Plover and Dunlin.  So, watching a Raven fly past overhead and a number of Sandwich Terns feeding just of the beach, back to the first hide on the bend just outside the village where I found a few Slender-billed Gulls resting on the water along with Green Sandpiper, a dozen Black-winged Stilt and the opposite side of the road an Iberian Grey Shrike and a passing Marsh Harrier to add to the previously seen kestrel.  The final birds of the day were a rather lovely Garganey and a Black-tailed Godwit in full summer plumage.

Garganey Cerceta Carretona Anas querquedula

Saturday morning and at Hide One to outline the plans for the day to the expected twenty or so members to discover that our final tally was a magnificent 34.  (But I had already had a very short walk before breakfast to the flooded filed just 100 metres to the north of the hotel and found House Martin, Blackbird, Sardinian Warbler and Hoopoe.) Once maps had been distributed and car groupings sorted members took off to their referred starting point for the day knowing that we would all, or the great majority, meet up again at the local Blancabrisa hotel in the late afternoon.

My little group of seven in two cars set off through the town and picked up the beach-side track to the rambla making stops on the way to observe both the Gannets and feeding Sandwich Terns.  At the rambla itself we found plenty of water, unlike my last visit in January when there was a mere trickle down the middle, but very few birds.  A Moorhen and Mallard along with a Ringed Plover on the far bank before a distant Marsh Harrier was spotted quartering the fields.  Overhead a Raven wandered towards the village giving very good views and then eight Black-winged Stilts flew in from the direction of the sea and settled on the river.   As we followed these birds upstream we discovered a most gorgeous male Garaganey along with a single Green Sandpiper.  A few Goldfinches and a Sardinian Warbler were also recorded before I found a lone Golden Plover that popped its head up from the long grass between some low bushes just as I had the scope in that direction; very lucky indeed.  Needless to say there was a constant supply of Barn Swallows in small numbers.

Garganey Cerceta Carretona Anas querquedula with Black-winged Stilts Ciguenuela Comun Himantopus himantopus
From here it was one extreme to the other as we made our way to the far end of the site to try and find the wintering Trumpeter Finches near the lighthouse.  On approaching, the road around the lighthouse was jam-packed with tourists so we took the mountain road and parked outside the stone buildings.  Much as we tried we could not find our target bird albeit many did who had started at this end of the site.  Both Spotless Starlings and Black Wheatears were resting on the wires and no shortage of breeding Crested Larks.  In addition we added Crag Martin as we climbed (by car!) to the top for the amazing views over the cliffs and beyond.

Our final stop, before taking a comfort break and enjoying drinks and "fishy" nibbles at the roadside restaurant overlooking the sea, was on the track to the back of the salinas; just far enough along to check out the roosting gulls.  nearest to us were scores of Audouin's Gulls but we also recorded Black-headed, Lesser Black-backed and Yellow-legged Gulls.  Behind us we had a number of views of Crested Lark and the occasional Corn Bunting.

Following our short top we drove on the Public Hide  overlooking a large pool containing very many Avocets and Flamingos.  Once settle in and a chance to search other other birds we soon picked up Shelduck and Mallard along with Cormorants.   The nearby island produced Dunlin, Little Stint and Redshank whilst at the very back a quintet of Black-necked Grebes were moving along as a self-contained group.  It was here that we said goodbye to three of the group as they had to return home early so, after dropping Jenny off at the hotel, we remaining four returned to the original starting point with the sun now behind is to check out the water once more.  A small group of Spoonbill were soon spotted along with a single Cattle Egret, pair of Slender-billed Gulls and a few Mediterranean Gulls.  The Garganey was still present from last night and also a male Wigeon.  Tucked into the bank we had a couple of Little Egrets and a small number of Black-winged Stilts.  Still plenty of Avocets but all the Flamingos were at the far end.

Our final stop was back at the flooded field near the hotel where numerous Barn Swallows were feeding but also both Sand and Crag Martin along with a Red-rumped Swallow.  On the water mainly Black-headed Gulls but in the dead stems of what resembled a harvested paddy fields a group of a dozen Black-winged Stilt.  And a s we looked closer we found a full summer-plumaged Black-tailed Godwit and then a further three, one of the latter being in full winter plumage and almost making it look more like a Bar-tailed Godwit when compared with its companions.  And so back to the hotel for a rest and prepare for the evening's get together with the last new bird seen by me being an Iberian Grey Shrike.

Sunday morning, yesterday, and eight of us were at the "Trumpeter site" by 9.30 before the day-trippers arrived.  Still no Trumpeter Finch but the busy feeding Crested Larks suggested that there might be a nest of youngsters nearby.  In addition we found Corn Buntings, Meadow Pipit and Linnet to add to the Black Wheatears and Spotless Starlings.  We even had a female Black Redstart land on the wire in front of us.  Back to the hotel where I completed packing the car, collected jenny and set off back to Mezquitilla.  As we left Cabo I did stop for the very briefest of a look to check the water and say goodbye to this wonderful and beautiful site.  In time to record Avocet, Spoonbill, Slender-billed Gull, Mallard and Barn Swallow.

Black-winged Stilt Ciguenuela Comun Himantopus himantopus
Our first stop was at the salinas of Roquetas de Mar.  The picnic site pool provided lots of Mallards and a few Common Pochard along with  female White-headed Duck.  We managed to drive on quite a way along the track until it disappeared under the conjoined waters.  However, on the track we observed both Black-winged Stilt and Redshank with a couple of Ringed Plover further along.  On the main water lots of Avocets and Red-crested Pochards along with Shoveler and a flitting Zitting CisticolaFlamingos could be seen in the distance.

Great Crested Grebe Somormujo Lavanco Podiceps cristatus  about to get all excited!
Our final stop was at nearby Las Norias where, again, lots more Red-crested Pochards along with Cormorants, Great Crested Grebes and Herons.  No sign of the Night Heron from Friday or the reported Tufted Duck from Saturday.  However, we did add Chiffchaff, White Wagtail and Red-rumped Swallow before checking out the next causeway where we came across a good number of Gadwall.  To add to the excitement, a pair of Garganey was spotted and whilst zooming in with the scope I even discovered a feeding Purple Swamphen.  Meanwhile, on the very far bank a distant Great White Egret took to the air.  And so ended a very enjoyable week-end with lots of great birds and company.

Very distant record shot of a Purple Swamphen Calamon Comun Porphyrio porphyrio

Birds seen by me:
Shelduck, Wigeon, Gadwall, Mallard, Shoveler, Garganey, Red-crested Pochard, Common Pochard, White-headed Duck, Little Grebe, Great Crested Grebe, Black-necked Grebe, Gannet, Cormorant, Night Heron, Cattle Egret, Little Egret, Great White Egret, Spoonbill, Flamingo, Marsh Harrier, Kestrel, Moorhen, Purple Swamphen, Coot, Black-winged Stilt, Avocet, Ringed Plover, Kentish Plover, Golden Plover, Sanderling, Little Stint, Dunlin, Black-tailed Godwit, Redshank, Green Sandpiper, Mediterranean Gull, Black-headed Gull, Slender-billed Gull, Audouin's Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Yellow-legged Gull, Sandwich Tern, Rock Dove, Collared Dove, Crested lark, Sand Martin, Barn Swallow, Red-rumped Swallow, House Martin, Meadow Pipit, White Wagtail, Black Redstart, Black Wheatear, Blackbird, Zitting Cisticola, Sardinian Warbler, Chiffchaff, Raven, Spotless Starling, House Sparrow, Greenfinch, Goldfinch, Linnet, Corn Bunting.

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

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