Saturday 3 June 2017

Damiel and La Mancha

Friday 2 June

Just back from a couple of days in La Mancha with Jenny and Barbara and Derek Etherton.  Based in the town itself, it gave very easy and close access to both the nearby Laguna de Navaseca and the well-known Las Tablas de Damiel.  With all our target birds recorded including a full hand of the heron family, both Bearded and Penduline Tit, both reed warblers, Savi's Warbler and more active and voluble Nightingales than I think I have ever heard it almost made both Roller and a Great Spotted Cuckoo seem ordinary!  Did I mention both shrikes, Spoonbill, Golden Oriole and Green Woodpecker?  And the scenery, in lovely sunny weather, was a sight to behold.

The Bearded Tits Bigotudo Panurus biarmicus of the Tablas de Damiel

Most of the birds seen on the journey up to Damiel were also recorded once we arrived but one special species was a Carrion Crow, not a bird of our part of the country and only found in isolated pockets in southern Spain.  (We also recorded the bird on the way back.) Birds nor seen later in the day included Bee-eater, Black Kite, Booted Eagle, Lesser Kestrel, Jay and Azure-winged Magpie.

Flamingos Flamenco Comun Phoenicopterus roseus and Shelduck Tarro Blanco Tadoma tadoma
Arriving in Damiel we straight to the Laguna de Navaseca, a mere six minutes away from our overnight hostal.  Whilst the right-hand side of the water was almost completely drive save for a small area, and very productive that was to prove to be, to the north and the the right-hand track closed, there was plenty of water and birds on the main laguna.  Only a couple of cars present and the visitors had pre-school children with them so did not disturb our birding as we checked out water on front of us.  Lots of White-headed Ducks and Shelducks along with a good number of Flamingos. As we scanned around we also found a number of Black-winged Stilts and a single Purple Swamphen on the edge of the far reed-bed.  the water also held a number of mallard and a small flock of Greylag Geese.  Whilst the dominant Larus was the Black-headed Gull, we did pick up a Lesser Black-backed and a couple of Whiskered Terns were busy feeding over the water.

Male White-headed Duck Malvasia Cabeciblanca Oxyura leucocephala
The edges produced both Cetti's Warbler and Zitting Cisticola whilst in the car park area we had Serin, Greenfinch, Goldfinch and Linnet.  Early days but the Reed Warbers were calling.  On the far side we watched as the fist of a number of Marsh Harriers quartered the area and the Little Grebes were oblivious to all.  But not so the Black-headed Gulls who rose as one every time the harrier came too close to their nesting site containing a number of youngsters.

Shelduck Tarro Blanco Tadoma tadoma
No sooner had we stopped at the hide towards the centre of the road crossing the laguna than we were both hearing and seeing Great Reed Warblers in addition to there more common smaller cousins. These birds obviously seemed to relish the tall reeds and apparent lack of water and then a Squacco Heron flew in to and immediately opposite us just in from the reed edge.  Not content with the birds seen so far, a Little Bittern decided that he (and it was a male) too would fly past offering a great view before disappearing into the depths as is their wont.  meanwhile, on the other side of the road where we had parked the car overlooking the water, we duly recorded our first Little Egret along with a pair of Avoctes.  We could, with the aide of the scope, find the pair of Little Ringed Plovers and also had closer views of the Flamingos and Shelduck.

Great Reed Warbler Carricero Tordal Acrocephalus arundinaceus

Next it was a stop at the hide on the northern side of the laguna looking back to where we had started.  This view gave a very close sight of a Shelduck and we even found a small flock of six Black-necked GrebesHoopoes were seen regularly and, in addition to the Red Kite that drifted away overhead, we picked up more Reed Warblers, Zitting Cisticolas and Cetti's Warblers.  By way of new species we even added a pair of Gadwall and Moorhen.  By now we were seeing many Corn Buntings and recorded the first of the regular sightings of Crested Larks.

The ever-singing Corn Bunting Triguero Emberiza calandra
Still plenty of light so we decided to move on to the Tablas de Damiel for a "preview" of what we might expect on our early morning visit the next day.  Steve Powell had told us where he saw the Great Spotted Cuckoo near the old restaurant and sure enough it was there - albeit lying on the road having been struck by a passing vehicle and well past recovery and, within an hour, probably past recognition!  As soon as we saw the first water on our right we picked up a large flock of Greylag Geese along with Great Crested Grebes.  Numerous Barn Swallows were feeding over the water and we were also able to add a Red-rumped Swallow.  A Grey Heron drifted away and our first Red-crested Pochard. A little further on we stopped at the bridge where Steve had told us about the Rollers nest and, sure enough, we found a pair on the neighbouring trees along with Spotless Starlings and a whole host of breeding White Storks on the opposite side of the road.  here, the storks were making use of trees whereas  later n we were to find scores of nests on top of the large electricity pylons.  A few Jackdaws were milling around and we finally saw a second Blackbird of the day.  But, perhaps, best of all a high Bonelli's Eagle circling above us.

Male Red-crested Pochard Pato Colorado Netta rufina
And so to the entrance and car park to the Lagunas de Damiel.  Off we set on our anti-clockwise circuit of the "Yellow Trail" and within minutes had the sight of a Green Woodpecker sitting well-exposed in a distant tree.  Above and around us was a continuing cacophony of Nightingales as they blasted out their songs and calls but not before we found a family of Blue Tits feeding above us.

Distant record shot of the Green Woodpecker Pito Real Picus viridis
Once on the boardwalks we saw why the place is famed for its Red-crested Pochards, they seemed to be everywhere and judging by the family groups had had a very successful breeding season to date.  Our first Purple Heron drifted over us and we were saw a good number of Marsh Harriers including very many adult males in their fine plumage.  No sooner had we seen our first Great Reed Warbler at this site than we were seeing them everywhere along with our first Bearded Tits, a first in Spain for me.  Lovely views of adult males but mainly youngsters as they skimmed the reed tops then quickly disappeared below making it almost impossible to get a photograph.

And our Great Reed Warbler Carricero Tordal Acrocephalus arundinaceus continued to sing on and on
Missing out on the high observatory hide, we took the boardwalk, where Derek and Barbara heard the Water Rail, and called in at the final hides on this route where we found the same heronry which included both Night and Grey Heron.  A couple of Spoonbills were also present as was the wandering juvenile Great White Egret.

A distant lovely male Marsh Harrier Aguilucho Lagunero Circus aeruginosus
And so back to the town to check into the hostal knowing that all boded well for the morning.  Eating in the square outside Damiel church we were rewarded by scores of feeding, and screaming, Common Swifts.  What a way to end the first day.

Thursday morning, the first day of June, promised to be hot so we made a very early start and arrived at the White Stork and Roller nest by 7.15.  All were at home but a strange light at this time of day. The Barn Swallows and the odd Red-rumped were up and about along with a Common Kestrel and no shortage of Woodpigeons.  Both Greylag Geese and Great Crested Grebes were on the pool behind.  Alongside the Roller the trees contained a number of Magpies and we even had a Little Owl on an old farm building.  A good number of Crested Larks and, today, the Cormorants were more evident.

Early morning light at the Roller's Carraca Europea Coracias garrulus nest site
Then it was straight on to the main entrance to once again walk the Yellow Trail.  No Green Woodpecker but we did record Blue Tit, Greenfinch and our first Cetti's Warbler of the day.  having then added Zitting Cisticola, Crested Lark, Corn Bunting and Jackdaw we made our way to the boardwalks and the first observation platform over the reed beds.  Soon we were once again hearing and seeing Reed and Great Reed Warbler and, almost immediately, our first Bearded Tits of the day.  But our first new species of the trip came as we left this platform to cross the small hill and start on the long boardwalk.  A Penduline Tit was watched and then it moved further along to a more exposed part of the tree giving great views.  No sooner had I turned away than, looking towards the water to the right of the boardwalk, a Great Spotted Cuckoo took off from below me and flew across the reeds tot he trees on the far side.  About this time also we saw the first of so many Purple Herons that were obviously present along with the first of a number of Hoopoes seen during our stay.  Now you know why it is important to start your birding as near to daybreak as possible, even if the light s far from perfect from a photographic perspective.

The very obliging Penduline Tit Pajaro Moscon Remiz pendulinus
Naturally, we saw very many Red-crested Pochards, mainly females with their newly hatched ducklings in tow.

Female Red-crested Pochard Pato Colorado Netta rufina along with some of her brood

On the horizon flying over the reeds the Great White Egret was awake and in search of a new feeding site.  Strange how few Little Grebes were present but at least they were very close.  Meanwhile, the shallow water below us, probably no more than 30cm deep, held a good number of large fish which, Derek tells me, were Tench.  They are obviously finding plenty of natural food and looked large enough to feed two if not a whole family!

I'm told that this is a TenchTinca tinca

A walk up to the observation hide on the small hill overlooking the whole site produced  not only a good-sized flock of feeding Tree Sparrows but also a few Linnets.  From here we could follow both the Purple Herons and Marsh Harriers as they moved about below us.  A trio of Spoonbills flew over us as we mad our way back towards the boardwalk to continue our circuit of the site.

Lovely to once again see Tree Sparrows Gorrion Molinero Passer montanus
Once on the boardwalk we immediately heard another of our target birds for this visit, a Savi's Warbler.  We had to wait a while but, in due course, were able to see a specimen at relatively close quarters.  The Reed and Great Reed Warblers continued to be heard and seen and we also had a lovely sight of a Sparrowhawk as it made its way low over the reeds towards the distant trees.  Also lovely to find a pair of feeding Iberian Chiffchaffs in a tamarask next to the boardwalk.

Yet more Great Reed Warblers Carricero Tordal Acrocephalus arundinaceus
The barren trees on the island at the heronry duly produced Grey Heron, Cattle Egret, Little Egret, Night Heron and the lone Spoonbill whilst the Cormorants continued to fly about all over the place and the ever-present Marsh Harriers were on the look out for their morning feed.  And as a special treat for Barbara, having missed yesterday's sighting, a male Little Bittern flew close by giving us all a splendid view.  Finally, at last, we actually found our first Stonechats by way of a pair looking after their newly-fledged youngsters.

Night Heron Martinete Comun Nycticorax nycticorax
So it was then, after stopping for a close look at a male Night Heron, back to the hostal at about 10.30 so we could check out and think about where we might find somewhere for breakfast before heading off to the Cabaneros National Park, north-west of Ciudad Real.  Both Pallid and Common Swifts were added whilst we ate breakfast and so on to the Casa de Palillos Visitors Centre near Pueblo Nuevo del Bullaque adding House Martins by the score and which produced a Squacco Heron for Derek and Barbara as we arrived and we then added the local breeding pairs of Lesser Kestrel and, in the distance, a Spanish Imperial Eagle and a closer Black Kite. The country lanes leading up to this site had already provided a regular supply of  (common) Magpies and Azure-winged Magpies along with some very high Griffon Vultures and a rather handsome male Montagu's HarrierSardinian Warbler was also recorded.

At last we were able to see the Savi's Warbler Buscarla Unicolor Locustella luscinioides
Moving round to the next (main) Visitors Centre at Horcajo de los Montes we came across a very large flock of Spanish Sparrows and our first Woodchat Shrike, we had already recorded Iberian Gray Shrike at the Tablas de Damiel.  A couple of Raven were seen and a distant Black Kite resting in a tree above what well have been its nest,

Magpie Urraca Pica pica
All that was left then was to complete the circuit through the National Park and start out on the long journey home via Cordoba.  However, a stop at a stream on the way to Retuerta del Bullaque produced both Chaffinches and a Golden Oriole and the view point overlooking the Embalse de la Abraham produced Blackcap, a single Glossy Ibis and Great Crested Grebe on the water below as a lone Booted Eagle flew over.  Before leaving the region we also saw another Carrion Crow and added a couple of resting Buzzards along with more Bee-eaters and both Azure-winged and Common Magpies.

Finally, a Nightingale Ruisenor  Comun Luscinia megarhynchos out in the open - well shade!
A great time in great company and a great birding venue which is already calling us back and, next time, we intend to find the home of the Pintail Sandgrose.

A very handsome Little Grebe zampullin Comun Tachybaptus ruficollis

Birds seen:
Greylag Goose, Gadwall, Mallard, Red-crested Pochard, Common Pochard, White-headed Duck, Little Grebe, Great Crested Grebe, Black-necked Grebe, Cormorant, Little Bittern, Night Heron, Squacco Heron, Cattle Egret, Little Egret, Glossy Ibis, GreatWhite Egret, Grey Heron, Purple Heron, White Stork, Spoonbill, Flamingo, Red Kite, Black Kite, Griffon Vulture, Marsh Harrier, Montagu's Harrier, Spanish Imperial Eagle, Booted Eagle Bonelli's Eagle, Sparrowhawk, Buzzard, Lesser Kestrel, Common Kestrel, Water Rail, Moorhen, Purple Swamphen, Coot, Black-winged Stilt, Little Ringed Plover, Black-headed Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Whiskered Tern, Rock Dove, Woodpigeon, Collared Dove, Little Owl, Common Swift, Pallid Swift, Bee-eater, Roller, Hoopoe, Green Woodpecker, Crested Lark, Barn Swallow, Red-rumped Swallow, House Martin, Nightingale, Stonechat, Blackbird, Cetti's Warbler, Zitting Cisticola, Savi's Warbler, Reed Warbler, Great Reed Warbler, Sardinian Warbler, Blackcap, Iberian Chiffchaff, Bearded Tit, Blue Tit, Penduline Tit, Golden Oriole, Iberian Grey Shrike, Woodchat Shrike, Jay, Azure-winged Magpie, Magpie, Jackdaw, Carrion Crow, Raven, Spotless Starling, House Sparrow, Spanish Sparrow, Tree Sparrow, Serin, Chaffinch, Greenfinch, Goldfinch, Linnet, Corn Bunting.

White Storks Ciguena Blanca Ciconia ciconia guarding ther nest

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

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