Saturday 26 August 2017

In search of the lonely Barn Owl

Saturday 26 August
Barn Owl Tyto alba  (PHOTO: Melissa Gilbert)

Great report received from Derek and Barbara Etherton concerning their early morning drive along the banks of the Guadalhorce at Zapata.  Following the surprise success of finding a feeding Barn Owl in the dark last Wednesday whilst looking for the resident Red-necked Nightjars, it was up in the middle of the night and back down to their favourite site at Zapata to see if the Barn Owl was still about.  Now read on to see whether or not Barbara and Derek were successful.

Following on our early morning at Zapata last Wednesday with the wonderful Barn Owl sightings we hoped to repeat the performance this morning.  Setting off from home with both Tawny and Little Owl making their presence heard in the dark we were on site within 15 minutes.  Of course we headed straight for the Barn Owl area and searched, sadly without success, however we did manage one Red-necked Nightjar today, one more than last Wednesday!  Still dark down at the ford but that doesn't stop the Night Herons, Little Ringed Plovers and Common Sandpipers feeding, a Grey Heron was a little further upstream.

A second sortie for the Barn Owl, and no better luck we again returned to the river in the growing light of day.  Positioning the car so the headlights shone onto the upper crossing we could see numerous waders in the gloom.  Within minutes these transpired as Common and Green Sandpipers, L Little Ringed Plovers a solitary Greenshank, Coot, Moorhen, Night Herons, more Grey Herons.  Then  a Little Bittern flew across the river from the far bank  to land in the reeds close to us.  It showed itself a couple of more times before disappearing into the depths.  A Kingfisher took its place and stayed just long enough to 'scope it.  By now Crested Larks were about and the Cetti's Warblers had woken up.  

Suddenly a Purple Swamphen appeared on the waters edge right in front of us, we both registered surprise, as did the bird, before it made a rather panicked departure. 

Crossing the water via the ford we noticed a single, odd shaped bird sitting on one of the pylons.  Stopping to 'scope it only to find a new addition for the Zapata list - Roller!  Presumably on its way south but enjoying a nights stop over at Zapata.  Anyway he took our 'patch count' to 152 species.

By now Common and Palid Swifts were numerous, and a little less so were both Barn and Red-rumped Swallows - House Martins were to appear later.  

The motorway drainage ditch that always seems to manage a little water had House Sparrows, Gold and Green Finches, Serins, Linnets.  Zitting Cisticolas were on the bankside scrub and a band of seven Jackdaws flew over.  A couple (pair) of Sardinian Warblers joined in the scrub feeding and above a Common Kestrel flew to perch atop of a pylon.

Driving back through the water with dozens of Cattle Egrets and a few Little Egrets above us we decided to drive down to the reed beds.  Immediately by the landing light pier were a large group of Spanish and House Sparrows.  Reed Warblers were dodging about in the reeds.  Monk Parakeets were their normal raucous selves, do we expect anything different?

By the time we made the visible crossing point we noticed our Spanish bird-ringing friends were engaged in their activities.  We stayed away from them watching the open area where the water is and were unexpectedly rewarded with the first Bluethroat of the season.  Early?  Well by 2 days as we had recorded one on August 28 last year. Indeed, It was nice to have found the Bluethroat before our Spanish ringer friends.  A new, young man with fair English told me they had been reported in Valencia last Wednesday but this was the first reported in Malaga area.

Plenty of birds around here including both Great Reed and Savi's Warblers, who then proceeded to net themselves giving us even closer views!   Short-toed Larks joined the mixed finches in drinking and bathing in the very welcome flowing water that has graced the area in the past two weeks.

Waxbills, both Common & Black-vented, were viewed and netted but it was interesting to note that several birds seemed very aware of the nets easily detouring under or over them on their flight path.  I guess once bitten (bittern!) twice shy.  Collared Doves added to the tally and as we bade our farewells to Paco et al, we were fortunate enough to have a very fresh looking Whitethroat land on the Tamerisk by the side of us.

A total of 45 birds in a couple of hours - who says there are no birds around in August?

Barn Owl Tyto alba (PHOTO: Phil Perry)
Just, literally, received the above night shot of a Barn Owl in very similar pose as that seen by Derek down at Zapata last Wednesday morning and recorded on his car camera.

What a list Derek and, as you say, get out of bed early and you will see as many in a couple of hours as you in a full day when making a later start.  And still home in time for breakfast and go shopping!

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

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