Wednesday 13 September 2017

The "Big Ton" Day

Tuesday 12 September

Out of the house by 5am and with Steve Powell off to the Plaza mayor in Malaga to meet up with Barbara and Derek Etherton where, once ensconced in Derek's car, we set out on the latest "100 in a day" challenge.  Straight up to the Montes de mMalaga where it was dark, getting colder as we waited for some action and, finally, our first bird of the day with a very noisy Tawny Owl.  A lot of time was spent at this venue and as the skies lightened we picked up Crossbills, Chaffinches and Blue Tit along with Wood Pigeons and a couple of Jays.  A Blackbird called before we found the Hawfinch a  top its usual tree below us and even a yaffling Green Woodpecker before it was really light. Whilst the Greenfinch and male Blackcap were a lovely addition, we could not add Derek's Great Spotted Woodpecker as he was the only member present to actually see or hear the bird and our rules clearly state that any species must be seen/heard by at least two of the members present.  We were to experience a very similar process at the end of the day when we were desperate to try and reach our target with me being the only one to see the Gannet dive into the water off the Guadalhorce.  Finally, a very early passage of a couple of Bee-eater flocks before we headed off to Colmenar for our breakfast at about 8.30.

Looking back as we left the Collared Doves, House Sparrows and Spotless Starlings at Colmenar we could but reflect that a lot of time had been spent up in the mountains for relatively little reward as no raptors and only one tit recorded.  But, perhaps, El Torcal would be a great substitute.  fat chance when two coaches overtook us at the bottom as we saw our first Griffon Vulture, Corn Bunting and both Thekla and Crested Lark.  And at the top even more coaches and very many cars, many parked in our favourite search area.  Working our way back down the mountain no surprise to find Crag Martins, Blue Rock Thrush and Black Wheatear but the male Rock Thrush certainly came as a wonderful and pleasant surprise.  In addition, we also recorded Stonechat, Sardinian Warbler, Goldfinch and both Spectacled and Subalpine Warblers were an added bonus as was the juvenile Woodchat Shrike.  So, no Rock or Cirl Bunting seen but good numbers of Black Redstart.

Rock Thrush Monticola saxatilis

So here we were with two sites completed and, according to Derek and Barbara possibly as many as fifteen or even twenty species short of our expected target by this stage of the day.  Nothing for it but to change our minds and head over to Fuente de Piedra in the hope that we might pick up something extra.  All very dry as expected but there were Flamingos to be seen along with Grey Heron, Little Egret, Lapwing, Ringed Plover and both Yellow-legged and Lesser Black-backed Gulls.  Our first Barn Swallow of the day appeared overhead immediately followed by both Red-rumped Swallow and House Martin.  The lagunetta was looking very sorry for itself but it did produce Linnet, Black-winged Stilt, Snipe, Green Sandpiper, Moorhen and Mallard.  In the scrubby areas we also found Willow Warbler, Linnet, Olivaceous Warbler and a Spotted Flycatcher whilst the nearby Cetti's Warbler screamed lest we forget to enter its name into our notebooks.  Then the drive over the fields to pick up the main road from Campillos to Teba Rock produced not only a Chiffchaff but many Northern Wheatears, Zitting Cisticola, Hoopoe and a Raven.  Not so much the Kestrel but the second, perched Raven which turned out to be, when scoped, a resting Buzard completed this section.

Olivaceous Warbler Hippolais opaca (PHOTO: Stephen Powell)

From our stop at the Teba Rock we saw Griffon Vultures overhead and scoping the large reservoir below we were able to add Coot, Great Crested Grebe and Cormorant.  Not a lot to add so onwards to the upper Rio Grande but no Black Storks to be seen.  However, there were many Cattle Egrets as well as Little Egret and heron plus a small flock of Serin.  Eventually we found a couple of White Wagtail and the others managed to catch sight of the departing Grey Wagtail.

Next stop was Zapata on the Guadalhorce just above the airport.  At last we could add Little Ringed Plover and a lone Black Kite passed over above us.  Similarly, we were able to add both Little Grebe and a lone White Stork.  Departing this site we were also able to add a Turtle Dove.

So here we were, at about 5.30, entering the reserve at the Guadlhorce with a present running total of 72 species.  Another 28 required which seemed a very big ask, especially of wader numbers were down but, at least we could try and end up with a respectable total for the day.  What a shock, therefore, after recording both Common and Pallid Swift as we crossed the entrance footbridge, when upon reaching the main hide overlooking the Laguna Grande we discovered a water given over almost entirely to Black-headed Gulls.  It it have been a new bird for the day but we had hoped for more.  Monk Parakeets screeched overhead and then a Kentish Plover below us and an Osprey in  a far tree busy disposing of a recently-caught fish.  And then, at the far side, a few Mediterranean Gulls and a Greenshank.  Perhaps the best sighting at this point was the brief sighting of a pair of Pied Flycatchers, the first of the year for all of us.

Osprey Pandion haliaetus
 We reached the Laguna Escondida still in need of a further 19 species but, again, not all the birds that we had expected to find.  Yes, White-headed Duck, Shoveler and Pochard along a female Kingfisher and a distant Booted Eagle.  Still 14 to go as we approached the Laguna Casillas.  A Short-toed Lark was first recorded and then a juvenile Blue-headed Wagtail quickly followed by the first of a couple of Whitethroat.

We arrived at the "Wader Hide" and what we thought was our final chance to add any number of new species.  A Black-necked Grebe and Wood Sandpiper were soon added along with a single Sanderling and, at last, our first Jackdaws of the day were seen passing over the trees at the back.  That was it. a total of 93, not an hundred but we had seen some great birds during the long day.  I think we were all tired as we moved along to check out the old river, the Rio Viejo and looking forward to a homeward retreat.  But come the river and yet more large flocks of gulls and we soon found a pair of Caspian Terns.  Lots of scoping and trying to look at every individual gull on the water and our hard work paid off when we found both a third-summer Audouin's Gull and a couple of Slender-billed Gulls.  A Couple of Little Stints on a small, stony island and then the arrival of five new waders and, wonder of wonders, they were all Curlew Sandpipers.

Orphean Warbler Sylvia hortensis (PHOTO: David Elliott-Binns)

At the time both Barbara and I had forgotten to add the Ringed Plovers seen at Fuente so did not record those seen at the Guadalhorce.  We believed we were on 97 for the day and how frustrating can that be.  As be debated what to do we were busy trying to catch up with a small warbler in a nearby bush and then it really exposed itself and we were able to add an Orphean Warbler.  Could we really set of home just two short of our target?  No.  Despite feeling tired we made the final trek down to the Sea Watch.  Just two birds to find and we could not believe it when we found a Balearic Shearwater working its way westwards and then, as we looked, it seemed that there were scores of the birds making a steady procession and the most  any of us had seen on a single watch.  99, just one to go.  "Got you!"  A Gannet diving for food but nobody else picked up on the bird so still one short.  Finally, at 7.29pm. a very small shearwater passing by and ten a second and a third actually resting on the water enabling is to get a good scoped view.  Yes, we all concurred as we wrote down Yelkouan (formerly Levantine) Shearwater.  Time for handshakes all round and retreated to San Julian so that we could celebrate the achievement with a large clara con lemon!  And to think that, without realising it at the time, we had already reached the century with the Ringed plover.

I have just been looking at the final eight sightings; Little Stint, Caspian Tern, Slender-billed Gull, Orphean Warbler, Audouin's Gull, Curlew Sandpiper, Balearic Shearwater and Yelkouan Shearwater.  Not a bad group of birds I am sure that you will agree.

Birds seen:
Mallard, Shoveler, Pochard, White-headed Duck, Little Grebe, Great Crested Grebe, Black-necked Grebe, Balearic Shearwater, Yelkouan Shearwater, Cormorant, Cattle Egret, Little Egret, Heron, White Stork, Flamingo, Osprey, Black Kite, Griffon Vulture, Booted Eagle, Buzzard, Kestrel, Moorhen, Coot, Black-winged Stilt, Little Ringed Plover, Ringed Plover, Kentish Plover, Lapwing, Sanderling, Little Stint, Curlew Sandpiper, Dunlin, Snipe, Greenshank, Wood Sandpiper, Common Sandpiper, Mediterranean Gull, Black-headed Gull, Slender-billed Gull, Audouin's Gull, lesser Black-backed Gull, Yellow-legged Gull, Caspian Tern, Wood Pigeon, Turtle Dove, Collared Dove, Monk Parakeet, Tawny Owl, Common Swift, Pallid Swift,  Kingfisher, Bee-eater, Hoopoe, Green Woodpecker, Short-toed Lark, Crested Lark, Thekla Lark, Crag Martin, Barn Swallow, Red-rumped Swallow, House Martin, Blue-headed Wagtail, Grey Wagtail, White Wagtail, Black Redstart, Common Redstart, Stonechat, Northern Wheatear, Black Wheatear, Rock Thrush, Blue Rock Thrush, Blackbird, Cetti's Warbler, Zitting Cisticola, Olivaceous Warbler, Spectacled Warbler,Subalpine Warbler, Sardinian Warbler, Orphean Warbler, Whitethroat, Blackcap, Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler, Spotted Flycatcher, Pied Flycatcher, Blue Tit, Woodchat Shrike, Jay, Jackdaw, Raven, Spotless Starling, House Sparrow, Chaffinch, Greenfinch, Goldfinch, Linnet, Crossbill, Corn Bunting.

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

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