Friday 27 October 2017

Axaquia Bird Group at the Guadalhorce

Thursday 26 October

Sixteen of us at the Guadalhorce, Malaga this morning which marks the tenth anniversary since the very first meeting of the Axarquia Bird Group in October 2007.  Perhaps we should have replicated that visit and visited the old railway track at Ventas de Zafarraya so, instead, will mark the occasion by visiting this mountain site next month.

Whist assembling at the entrance track up to the river we had a plentiful supply of Blackcaps in the nearby bushes and, overhead,  it seemed a constant stream of the marauding and screaming Monk Parakeets.  We could see a few resting Cormorants on the trees near the Laguna Grande and then, overhead, first a Barn Swallow followed by a handful of Crag MartinsHouse Sparrow, Spotless Starling and Collared Dove made up the introductory species. At this stage both Zitting Cisticola and Blackbird were also recorded.

Juvenile Flamingo Flamenco Comun Phoenicopterus roseus
Crossing the footbridge the odd resident Rock Dove was seen under the road bridge along with both Heron and Coot on the river.  Having crossed the footbridge, four members walked on the eastern arm,  five headed of to the Escondida  and we remaining seven ended up at the main hide overlooking the Laguna Grande, having watched the departing 17 Cattle Egret pass overhead.  At least a score of Cormorant in residence along with a few Herons and resting Shoveler and Mallards.  A pair of Black-necked Grebes were on the water and a lone Little Egret dropped in to take a look at the trio of juvenile Flamingos.  At the back of the water we soon found the resting Osprey, obviously digesting his recent fish breakfast as every now and again he would look down and find another little morsel at its feet.  In front we had a couple of Ringed Plover and a Common Sandpiper.  before leaving, as well as the numerous Chifchaff, which we were to find in abundance throughout the reserve, we also found our first Booted Eagle hiding behind the Cormarants in a tree to our left.

And so onto the Escondida wheer we found White-headed Duck, Mallard, Pochard and Gadwall along with a number of Little Grebes and a regular crossing of the water over the full length by a number of Kingfishers.  Were there as many as six present? A Robin put in an appearance to our left along with the site of our second Stonechat of the morning and loudly-calling Cetti's Warbler.

Little Grebe Zampullin Comun Tachybaptus ruficollis
The Laguna Casillas was surprisingly empty of birds with just a single Little Grebe and a handful of Coots.  Eventually a Moorhen but the action was on the dry scrape on the other side of the track.  A small flock of Serin then a handful of Goldfinch before we found the male Pied Flycatcher.  In a dead tree at the back not only a pair of Bluethroat but also a Black Redstart.  A Red-legged Partidge was heard by many of us and then, immediately below, a lone Meadow Pipit wandering around on the dried earth.  Finally, the regular appearance of a number of Greenfinches.

Stonechats Tarabilla Comun Saxicola torquatus
Not too many Black-winged Stilts on the Wader Pool but we did have a single Little Egret and another trio of juvenile Flamingo.  A few Ringed Plovers but the star s were possibly the pair of Ruff (one Reeve).  John and Jenny had just watched a quartering Marsh Harrier and saw our, we think, third Booted Eagle of the morning.  More Chiffchaffs busy feeding as we carried on down to the Sea Watch.  The sea was like the proverbial mill pond and it took some time to realise that there were any birds about.  A small flock of about two dozen Black-headed Gulls almost in front and then we saw an overfly of a couple of Mediterranean Gulls. A little further out about the same number of Yellow-legged Gulls but more spread out.  Scanning the distant water we picked up a couple of quartering Gannets which confirmed their identity as they dived down into the sea with a great splash.  The other group also picked up Cory's Shearwater.

Booted Eagle Aguililla Calzada Hieraaetus pennatus
Working our way back in reverse direction we soon added the Peregrine Falcon which was still resting high on the tallest chimney to our right.  Meanwhile, others had added both Crested Lark and Corn Bunting.  In addition a Jackdaw was recorded by Derek's group plus both Hoopoe and a Buzzard.  And they managed to find the hiding Teal.  By the time our various lists had been coordinated the group had recorded 62 species for the morning and then, not long after crossing the river to make our way home, a wandering single Raven crossed the road to add to the Jackdaw seen earlier.

Just received an udate from John so three more species to add to the list; Redshank, Sandwich Tern and Grey Wagtail.  Updated total now 66 species.

Birds seen:
Gadwall, Mallard, Shoveler, Teal, Pochard, White-headed Duck, Red-legged Partridge, Little Grebe, Black-necked Grebe, Cory's Shearwater, Gannet, Cormorant, Cattle Egret, Little Egret, Grey Heron, Flamingo, Osprey, Marsh Harrier, Booted Eagle, Buzzard, Kestrel, Pergrine Falcon, Moorhen, Coot, Ringed Plover, Kentish Plover, Sanderling, Curlew Sandpiper, Dunlin, Ruff, Snipe, Redshank, Wood Sandpiper, Common Sandpiper, Mediterranean Gull, Black-headed Gull, Yellow-legged Gull, Sandwich Tern, Rock Dove, Collared Dove, Monk Parakeet, Kingfisher, Hoopoe, Crested Lark, Crag Martin, Barn Swallow, Meadow Pipit, Grey Wagtail, Robin, Bluethroat, Black Redstart, Stonechat, Blackbird, Cetti's Warbler, Zitting Cisticola, Sardinian Warbler, Blackcap, Chiffchaff, Jackdaw, Raven, Spotless Starling, House Sparrow, Serin, Greenfinch, Goldfinch, Corn Bunting.

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

Saturday 21 October 2017

Sierra Loja and Huetor Tajar

Friday 20 October

Recovering from the disappointment of the sudden, last minute cancellation of our visit to the Isla de las Palomas in Tarifa, Marieke and I paid a mid-morning visit to the Sierra Loja where the mountain scenery is always spectacular and certainly not found in her native Belgium.  The recent rains had certainly replenished the ponds and water troughs although, on the other hand, removed the necessity for the birds to concentrate in the only areas that held a little water.  Lots of Mistle Thrushes in the lowest woods along with Blackbird and the occasional Chaffinch.

The main quarry was somewhat disappointing with just the odd Stonechat and a small number of Jackdaws making use of the Eagle Owls' cliff face until we heard the first Red-legged Partridge, looked up and saw the Goshawk making its way across far above.  No sooner seen than we had at least five Lesser kestrel feeding above, almost certainly on the swarms of flying ants.  The first Choughs were heard and then our first Rock Bunting as we moved back down the entrance track to continue on our upward journey.

Relatively quiet as we made our up but a number of Thekla Larks and more Red-legged Partridges and Jackdaws kept us occupied until we found a very welcome sight above the treeline.  A lone Ortolan Bunting feeding on the side of the track refused to move away giving ample opportunity to get some photographs despite having to lean over Marieke to see this very close bird at less than three metres.  In the end I simply and quietly left the car, walked round the back and got even better views albeit the bird was now viewed more from behind than in front or alongside.  And still the bird would not depart so giving a look at its strange upper mandible.  We thought it was the black shell or remains of recent food but now wonder whether or not it might have been some form of growth.

Ortolan Bunting Escribano Hortelano Emberiza hortulana
The area around the Charco del Negro produced Goldfinch, Serin and Linnet along with Black Redstart and our only Blue Rock Thrush.  having seen our first Northern Wheatear on the rocks near the electricity station we now added a second individual.  The "Fossil Cave" duly produced a number of Rock Sparrows in addition to more Goldfinches and, above,  the only sightings of Crag Martin during the visit.

Rock Sparrow Gorrion Chillon Petronia petronia
Driving down past the berry bushes we found just the one female Ring Ouzel but more Blackbirds feeding on same but it was as we started our return that we stopped to watch the passing immature Golden Eagle which was a great privilege and only spoilt by the low, thin and misty cloud.Wow!  A nearby small tree then produced a lone Chiffchaff.

Our imature Golden Eagle Aguila Real Aquila chrysaetos
Working our way back down the track we had a flock of about thirty Choughs then a good number of Azure-winged Magpies as we entered the trees.  In addition, the Golden Eagle flew towards and over us at a very low altitude as if to thank us for our visit!  Finally, almost back at the bottom we stopped to admire another Red Squirrel (black out here in Spain) which posed very close to the car before a fast-travelling following vehicle frightened it away.  Both Spotless Starling and House Sparrow added once back at the farm buildings.

Iberian Red Squirrel Ardilla Roja Sciurus vulgaris

Time enough to pay a very short visit to Huetor Tajar where we completed the usual short circuit having walked the track at the edge of the town.  Here we picked up Tree Sparrow and Crested Lark along with another Chiffchaff and Collared Dove.  No Stone Curlews or Little Bustards seen here but that might be down to the fields being worked or the heat of the afternoon.  The drive around the local Cacin river and neighbouring fields produced more Azure-winged Magpies and Crested Larks along with a Hoopoe, pair of (Common) Magpies and another Common Kestrel.

Birds seen:
Red-legged Partridge, Cattle Egret,  Golden Eagle, Goshawk, Lesser Kestrel, Kestrel, Rock Dove, Collared Dove, Hoopoe. Crested Lark, Thekla Lark, Crag Martin, White Wagtail, Black Redstart, Stonechat, Wheatear, Blue Rock Thrush, Ring Ouzel, Blackbird, Mistle Thrush, Chiffchaff, Azure-winged Magpie, Magpie, Chough, Jackdaw, Spotless Starling, House Sparrow, Spanish Sparrow, Tree Sparrow, Chaffinch, Serin, Goldfinch, Linnet, Ortolan Bunting, Rock Bunting

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

4 Days in Huelva

Sunday to Wednesday, 15-18 October

Off down and way out west with a great bunch of members from the Andalucia Bird Society to spend four days in Huelva based at Marta's lovely apartments (*) in Punta Umbria.  Sunday saw us arrive close to the Dehesa de Abajo where we had been informed, en route, that the lake was absolutely dry.  However, there was water in the small pools created by. presumably, either gravel or clay extraction and here we were not to be disappointed.  The real problem, however, was not so much the clear blue sky but the temperature mid to late-afternoon reaching a massive high of 37C!  Time then, with others, to check out the birds.

Squacco Heron Garcilla Cangrejera Ardeola ralloides

In the pool area some had already found Night Heron and Dartford Warbler but for us it was the lone Squacco Heron patiently waiting for us all to get a good, long look on the opposite side of the road.  Yes, we had Moorhen, Green and Common Sandpiper along with White Wagtail but all the action was on the recently harvested rice fields.  Numerous White Storks and an over-flying Black Stork along with regular sightings of Marsh Harrier and even a visit from a female Hen Harrier.  Large flocks of Glossy Ibis and feeding Little Egret and Grey Heron added to the general scene.  A single Purple Heron put in an appearance plus passing Jackdaws and, as might be expected here, a mixture of both House and Spanish Sparrows.

Male Yellow-crowned Bishop Tejedor Amarillo Euplectes afer
Time to journey on through the rice fields around Isla Mayor but a quick message from Rick Owen brought a few of us back to the dry lake as he had found a pair of Yellow-crowned Bishop.  What a marvellous sight is the male bird in brilliant custard-yellow and that black bib, yet even the female was not without beauty and showing a very large, creamy-coloured supecillium, not so different from below as looking at a large Zitting Cisticola - which was also seen on the wires.

From here we made our way over to our apartments in Punta Umbria and before leaving the park we had a view of many Buzzards and Common Kestrel plus the above female Hen Harrier.  A Raven looked down on us form its perch on top of a pylon and then we very much into "Magpie Country" with both Common and Azure-winged species.  Others birds recorded on this first day included Blackbird, Serin, Goldfinch, Crested Lark to name but a few along with the noisy Cetti's Warbler.

Monday  16 October
Black-tailed Godwit Aguja Colinegro Limosa limosa
The first full day saw us over in the Odiel Marshes, the Marismas del Odiel, where we had a wonderful time recording all sorts of lovely species and especially waders.  The small pool next to the salt works may have been very short of water but it still produced, along with many Black-winged Stilts, Mallard, Shoveler, Gadwall and Teal.  Small waders included Dunlin, Green,Common and Curlew Sandpiper along with Little Stint and Ringed Plover.  And, of course, this was our first sighting of the many Black-tailed Godwit in the area.

On the other side of the road we had many Flamingos in the salinas along with Redshank and Greenshank and ere long we were also able to add Turnstone.  In the air and on the water were Black-headed, Yellow-legged and Lesser Black-backed Gulls and, once at the Juan Carlos parking area, having stopped to admire the resting Osprey, we soon added both Whimbrel and Curlew.  No shortage of Stonechat and Crested Larks near the road edges and even a handful of Greenfinches before walking to the edge of the lagoon where we found our first Shelduck and Oystercatchers.

Three Black-winged Stlits Ciguenuela Comun Himantopus himantopus with friends
A look at the shore produced first Grey Plover then Sanderling and flying over the nearby Atlantic we had Cormorants, Gannet and even a Great Skua.  It was now that we saw our first Sandwich Tern of the visit.  Notwithstanding, we still had time to watch the few remaining Northern Wheatears feeding on the nearby ground.

Grey Plover Chorlito Gris Pluvialis squatarola

Working our way back most recorded Kingfisher and at the Visitors Centre I was also able to add both Pied Flycatcher and Chiffchaff along with a small charm of Goldfinch.  However, it was possibly the single Wood Warbler rather than the previously seen Bonelli's Warbler that gave most pleasure.  In the trees outside this sheltered hide were a number of Blackcap.

Spoonbills Espatula Comun Platalea leucorodia with Grey Heron Ardea cinerea and Great White Egret Egretta alba
A visit to the fresh water lake at El Portil on the way back to the apartments added both Little and Great Crested Grebes plus Pochard and Coot.  Indeed, along with a few Moorhen I also noticed a collar-ringed Red-knobbed Coot; now how did that individual arrive at the water?

Tuesday 17 October
The promised thunder storm arrived just as we were setting off for the Castro Marim reserves on the other side of the river border and into Portugal itself.  But, after about twenty minutes the rains stopped, just a few spots on arrival and the day turned out fine and sunny by afternoon.  Returning later we discover that the heavy rains had lasted for about three hours in Punta Umbria!

As soon as we arrived we had numerous Corn Bunting along with Azure-winged Magpie and a Zitting Cisticola.  The first Iberian Grey Shrike was seen within minutes along with both Sardinian Warbler and Stonechats.  Indeed, not long before we added Snipe and Red-legged Partridge and, in the first  of the pools, Redshank, Ringed Plover, Avocet and Black-winged Stilts.  Both Heron and Kestrel were seen overhead along with the first Spoonbill of the day.  It seemed to be only minutes before the distant Marsh Harrier came into sight and having seen one  the next soon appeared. A Little Owl posed on top of a small ruin and then a handful of Cormorants passed overhead.

On the water we had both Common and Green Sandpipers and from the Visitors Centre we were able to look down on Dunlin and Grey Plover.  Finally, looking over the main water-filled salinas we were able to find resting Black-headed Gulls, a pair of Caspian Terns, many Dunlin and Ringed Plover plus a rather handsome looking Ruff.

Following a break for coffee a few of us set off to explore the ditches, salinas and ponds near Tavira and we were not to be disappointed.  Not just lots of Crested Larks but a large flock of over 100 Spoonbill, Cormorants, Herons and Little Egrets.  It was probably at this point that we managed to see both the largest and smallest terns of the country when we recorded first Caspian then Little Tern having already watched a few fishing Sandwich Terns.

Whilst we still had Black-headed, Yellow-legged and Lesser Black-backed Gulls we also saw a number of Mediterranean Gulls and a handful of Slender-billed Gulls.  Closer inspection also revealed a similar number of Audouin's Gulls.  Running around on the ground were both Ringed and Kentish Plovers and, at a much reduced pace, a number of Turnstones.  The score or more of Grey Plovers seemed quite happy to just stand around and rest.  Along with the Mallard on the water we also found Shoveler and a pair of Teal plus a single Little Grebe.

Osprey Aguila Pescadora Pandion haliaetus
Up in the air not so much the regular flypasts by the Sandwich Tern but the arrival of the fishing Osprey that certainly grabbed our attention.  It also scattered the Spoonbill albeit one certainly was not too pleased and did its best to try and distract the raptor.  Add on both Lapwing and Oystercatcher and our day was just about complete.  Returning to the apartments, Marta had arranged a rather splendid reception for our group with invitations to other guests along with representatives from the local Junta and all recorded by the Canal Television Company.  Thank goodness we had guests Manu Mojarro and Laury Grenon, local ABS bird guides, present and even our own Ricky Owen was invited to put in his contribution.  But will anyone see the resulting programme?

Our Osprey and being "seen-off" by a persistent gull

Wednesday 18 October
The final day so off relatively early and a short stop at the Visitors Centre at the Odiel where we found the water at low tide.  On the river's muddy banks we found first a Whimbrel then Ringed and Grey Plovers, Common and Curlew Sandpipers, Dunlin and Cormorant.  More searching soon produced Green Sandpiper and Redshank along with Black-headed and Yellow-legged Gulls and a Sandwich Tern.

The pond still had Mallard, Shoveler, Teal and Gadwall along with Black-winged Stilt and there were numerous Flamingo on the other side of the road as both the Azure-winged Magpie and (Common) Magpie passed over the car park area.

Azure-winged Magpie Rabilargo Cyanopica cyanus
Our second stop on the return journey hoe was at the Abucete Visitors Centre just past Matalascanas.  Lots of Azure-winged Magpies here and also their Common cousins but, having been informed that there was some water to took a look from the first hide. Very little to add apart from House Sparrow and Spotless Starling but we did record Stonechat, Corn Bunting, Crested Lark and an Iberian Grey Shrike as we made our way to the SEO Centre at El Rocio.  Then, there were the Kestrel and Buzzard and even a Raven to add.  The Centre itself produced Goldfinch and Serin along with Cattle Egret and a good-sized herd of Red Deer.

A stop before lunch at the dry Dehesa de Abajo gave us chance to add Zitting Cisticola and, on the other side of the road in the wet fields we had very many White Stork and Little Egrets along with Glossy Ibis, Lapwing, a Great White Egret and even another Yellow-crowned Bishop.  Strange to see a good number of Flamingos but not, perhaps, the Cormorants, Cattle Egrets and Collared Doves.  At last, very clear views of Spanish Sparrows.

Hundreds of Spanish Sparrows Gorrion Moruno Passer hispaniolensis were seen in the Braza del Este
By way of a change we took the small car ferry across the mighty Guadalquivir and within 500 metres of landing we had not just a Kestrel but a very close Black-winged Kite on the wire next to the car.  A ghastly drive along the rutted tracks but we did add very many Crested Larks and a couple of Northern Wheatears.  However, not the White Storks, Little and Cattle Egrets or Grey Herons that had us counting but the total of nearly thirty Black Storks.  Similarly lots of Marsh Harriers and even a resting Booted Eagle.  There must have been a flock of at least 100 Spanish Sparrows which gave a photo opportunity and then a quartet of Red-legged Partridge.

Black-shouldered Kite Elanio Comun Elanus caeruleus

Our last drive was through the Braza del Este which proved, in the end, a little worrying.  No problem early on as we drove along the hard, wide track watching mirmerations of thousands of sparrows, scores of Mallards and very many Herons, Little Egrets and even a flock of Glossy Ibis.  In the same way, plenty of White Storks to be seen in the fields. Not so many Purple Swamphen as I had expected and as the hard track gave way to a muddy variant so we saw the last of the Crested Larks.

Record shot of Black Stork Ciguena Negra Ciconia nigra

Very much a question of following in the tyre tracks of the previous car until we caught it up on a narrow track where previously we had found both Night Heron and a colony of weavers.  And that's were, fortunately, we stopped about ten metres short when we realised something was wrong.  The car had been abandoned, material under the front wheels where the German owner (judging by the number plate) had tried to recover the car as it sank ever further into the soft mud of the track.  far too narrow to pass and, if we tried, we, too, would surely have dug ourselves into the soft track.  The car appeared empty and no signs of footprints so, presumably, the driver had set off in the same direction to seek help.  Fortunately, assuming all was well, he/she was within 100 metres of the turn back towards the main road and would have covered the journey in under an hour whereas I had to back up about 300 metres making sure that I both kept the wheels turning whilst remaining in the existing tyre tracks before being able to turn the car.  But at least I was able to stop the following birder from entering this same stretch of track.  So all the way back to the beginning and an extra 10kms at least.  Once we had "spun off" the accumulated mud we were able to finally start on the way back to Mezquitilla (recording our final bird of the day, a Red Kite, as we left Los Palios) where we safely arrived just before 9pm - the final stretch from Antequera in pouring rain but, at least, it managed to wash off most of the mud!  What a day and experience but we did manage to top the hundred mark for the visit.

Whimbrel Zarapito Trinador Numenius phaeopus
(*) Apartamentos Costaluz, Punta Umbria plus also Ayamonte, Isla Canela and El Portil.  Special rates for ABS members.

Birds seen:
Shelduck, Gadwall, mallard, Shoveler, Teal. Pochard, Red-legged Partridge, Little Grebe, Great Crested Grebe, Gannet, Cormorant, Squacco Heron, Cattle Egret, Little Egret, Glossy Ibis, Great White Egret, Grey Heron, Purple Heron, Black Stork, White Stork, Spoonbill, Flamingo, Osprey, Black-winged Kite, Red Kite, Marsh Harrier, Hen Harrier, Booted Eagle, Buzzard, Kestrel, Moorhen, Purple Swamphen, Coot, Red-knobbed Coot, Oystercatcher, Black-winged Stilt, Avocet, Ringed Plover, Kentish Plover, Grey Plover, Lapwing, Sanderling, Little Stint, Curlew Sandpiper, Dunlin, Ruff, Snipe, Black-tailed Godwit, Whimbrel, Curlew, Redshank, Grenshank, Green sandpiper, Common Sandpiper, Turnstone, Mediterranean Gull, Black-headed Gull, Slender-billed Gull, Audouin's Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Yellow-legged Gull, Caspian Tern, Sandwich Tern, Little Tern, Rock Dove, Woodpigeon, Collared Dove, Little Owl, Kingfisher, Crested lark, White wagtail, Bluethroat, Whinchat, Stonechat, Northern Wheatear, Blackbird, Cetti's Warbler, Zitting Cisticola, Sardinian Warbler, Blackcap, Bonelli's Warbler, Wood Warbler, Chiffchaff, Pied Flycatcher, Iberian Grey Shrike, Azure-winged magpie, magpie, Raven, Spotless Starling, House Sparrow, Spanish Sparrow, Waxbill, Serin, Greenfinch, Goldfinch, Corn Bunting, Yellow-crowned Bishop.

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

Saturday 14 October 2017

Charca de Suarez, Motril

Saturday 14 October

A lovely three hours at the Charca de Suarez this morning with my Belgian friend, Marieke Berkvens; a sort of rehearsal before we set of for the four-day visit to the Donana National Park and Odiel Marshes plus a trip over the border into Portugal.  Indeed, made even better by meeting some dear friends with David and Ann Jefferson entering the first hide within minutes of our arrival and then bumping into Gerry Collins about an hour later.  As we took our leave at the end of the morning we realised that we were also meeting George Hargreaves once again and I have not seen George since the very first meeting of the Axarquia Bird Group, exactly ten years ago this past week.

Purple Swamphen 
As we turned into "Turtle Dove Alley" we had already recorded a field of Cattle Egrets and upon arriving at the Laguna del Taraje the first birds on show were a pair of Purple Swamphen.  Also present a few Mallards and a Little Grebe followed by both Coot and Moorhen.  We watched a juvenile Spoonbill fly in and then proceed to feed on the weeded edges in front of the hide and the a Kingfisher flashed past.  A Cetti's Warbler was calling to our left followed by a pair of Teal paddling slowing across the water.  Not just a Robin dropping in but also a lone Snipe feeding, slightly hidden, almost in front of the hide.

Adult Little Grebe
With just a few Mallards to be seen on the now full Laguna del Alamo Blanco we made our way to the main hide overlooking the Laguna de las Aneas having first found a pair of Serin drinking near the previous hide overlooking the Laguna de la Cana de Azucar.  From the main hide we could see a number of resting mallard and Coot and with plenty of the latter on the water itself.  Also present were a pair of Cormorant and a single juvenile Flamingo.  A number of Little Grebe plus another Purple Swamphen before the Grey Heron dropped in in front of us.  We also had a good number of Moorhen and, looking carefully, more than a handful of Shoveler as well as a pair of Pochard.  As usual it seems, the first Red-knobbed Coot of the morning was the collar-ringed individual that is usually found right at the rear of this water, a flashing then feeding Kingfisher and, finally, a visit from a White Wagtail.

Well caught that Kingfisher! 
The Laguna del Trebol produced the expected unringed Red-knobbed Coots along with their more common cousins the Common Coot plus a further Purple Swamphen, Moorhen and a few Mallards. Leaving to visit the hide on the opposite side, where we confirmed that at least a pair of collar-ringed Red-knobbed Coots were still present, we saw both single Spotless Starling and a male Blackbird.  A very brief appearance of a single Common Waxbill before the female Pied Flycatcher put in a long appearance as she commenced feeding in iconic fashion.  Leaving the hide we managed to find two Chameleon, one green and one brown reflecting the branches on which they were respectively climbing.

Our friendly friend the Chameleon; green on green and brown on brown

A female Kestrel passed overhead before we made our last stop at the Laguna del Lirio where, yet
again, it was Moorhen and Red-knobbed Coot that were to be seen till a Grey Wagtail dropped in.  Finally, returning to Turtle Dove Alley we found a female Stonechat and having joined the main road immediately had a light morph Booted Eagle overhead.

You can hide but we can still see you Mr Spoonbill!

Birds seen:
Mallard, Shoveler, Pochard, Teal, Little Grebe, Cormorant, Cattle Egret, Heron, Spoonbill, Flamingo, Booted Eagle, Kestrel, Moorhen, Purple Swamphen, Coot, Red-knobbed Coot, Snipe, Collared Dove, Kingfisher, Grey Wagtail, White Wagtail, Robin, Stonechat, Blackbird, Cetti's Warbler, Pied Flycatcher, Spotless Starling, House Sparrow, Waxbill, Serin, Goldfinch.

Grey Heron visiting his duck friends

Juvenile Little Grebe

Red-knobbed Coot with the awful collar ring

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

Wednesday 11 October 2017

Quality birding at the Sierra Loja

Juvenile Ring Ouzel Mirlo Capiblanco Turdus torquatus
Tuesday 10 October

How often do you get a chance to say that today's birding was all about quality rather than quantity?  A great day out at the Sierra Loja with Derek and Barabara Etherton along with Micky Smith after meeting up the Abades service station on the A92 above Loja for a pre-visit coffee before driving up the mountain. And a special day, too, as if she had survived just six more months it would have been my mother's 100th birthday and then discovered that Mick's birthday was yesterday.  There must be something about we lovable Librans!

When was the last time that a birding trip ended up with buntings recording the highest number of species?  We had four (Cirl, Rock, Ortolan and Corn Bunting) and they were only equalled by the thrushes with Blackbird, Ring Ouzel, Blue Rock and Mistle Thrushes.  And not, if you will pardon the choice of words, a single tit seen all day.

First-winter Otolan Bunting Escribano Hotelano Emberiza hortulana
Just as I approached the service station a handful of Azure-winged Magpies crossed the motorway and Barbara and Micky Recorded a Little Owl on their journey so, already, the morning was looking promising and despite the early morning chill with the temperature down to 11C (but very warm in the afternoon) it was a lovely clear, sunny day and not a hint of the breeze until the afternoon.  taking just the one car we soon made a stop in the open woods just before the first picnic area to watch a couple of Short-toed Treecreepers and then the first a of a number of Pied Flycatchers.  Indeed, we were to see quite a few before the day was out and to think that we had all missed the spring passage of these lovely birds.  Also, for our great delight, we had a Red Squirrel (more black out here) amble across the ground within ten metres with is tufty ears sticking straight u and a long bushy tail, longer than its body.  Our friend even stopped to pose in the sunshine on top of a small boulder before carry on and where was the camera?  Yes, in the boot and we dare not open the car doors.  Barbara picked up a Nuthatch before we all saw our first Mistle Thrush and then we were at the picnic area where our first of many Black Wheatears was seen by all.

The main quarry was not as productive as one would expect with the main surprise that there was not a single Crag Martin about and we had to wait well over an hour until we had almost reached the Charca de Negra before seeing our first, single, specimen overhead.  However, this area can always be relied upon to produce the first Jackdaws along with a calling Red-legged partridge and Blackbird.  We thought we had a Sardinian Warbler suddenly "pop up" but as soon as it landed on the nearby bush it was easily recognised as a Dartford Warbler and we were to seen another three of four before moving on. Again, the first of very many Stonechats was recorded.  Working our way up the  track no Azure-winged Magpies but we did have another Blackbird followed by Blue Rock Thrushes and a number of Black Wheatears.  Yet more Stonechats all over the place and then a couple of parties of Thekla Lark and a pair of Crested Larks before a small flock of Spotless Starlings flew away to our left in front of the cliff holding the Eagle Owl's traditional nest site.

Now that we were well above the tree line the Thekla Larks became more common and as soon as saw our first Black Redstart these most handsome birds began to appear at regular intervals.  Then it was the turn of a rather lovely Iberian Grey Shrike to put in an appearance and, again, more individuals were seen on these higher slopes.  A stop at the usual place duly produced the first Spectlacled Warnler and very soon after a quintet of Red-legged Partridge  - followed by many more at fairly regular intervals, usually in small family parties.

Distant Iberian Grey Shrike Alaudon Real Lanius meridonalis

As we approached the turn at Charca de Negra we had, as previously mentioned, our first Crag Martin of the day and were very much in amongst the now exposed Rock Buntings; lovey, delightful little birds and  looking so pretty with their striped heads.  All that the pond area produced were distant Blue Rock Thrushes and Black Wheatears, more Iberian Grey Shrikes and a number of Golfinches.  But things got a little better as we made our way round to the fossil cave where we found a handful of Rock Sparrows on the cliff top above.  Our first close views of Chough also occurred and then a single Corn Bunting as, after partaking of our picnic lunch, we searched the nearby Hawthorne bushes for possible early-arriving Ring Ouzels.

(Young?) Male Sparrowhawk Gavilan Comun Accipiter nisus
Red-billed Chough Chova Piquirroja Pyrrhocorax pyrrocorax

It was here that we picked out a small raptor in the skies above and then watched in awe as the male Sparrowhawk aggressively attacked the lone Chough that simply refused to move away from, presumably, the former's teritory.  A remarkable spectacle that will certainly leave something in the memory bank for months to come.

Sparrowhawk v Chough; the territorial battle

Here, in addition to now regular sightings of Northern Wheatear, we found a rather bland-looking bunting which gave cause for extra diligence.  Eventually, comparing the fairly-distant photograph with a Collins Guide we were able to all agree on the bird being a first winter Ortolan Bunting; for me a first for the year.

Northern Wheatear Colalba Gris Oenanthe oenanthe
And so on along the track to where I would normally turn round and start the return journey.  Water, what water?  This is normally a barren landscape but today there was no water in the drinking troughs on the way up the mountain, both pools above Charca de Negra were bone dry and below us we could see two large water catchments.  The first with its plastic lining looked, from above, as if it had either dried up naturally or been emptied and its neighbour, an older man-made structure with a stone wall on the further, yet higher, side looked as if it actually did hold a small pool.  So, driving on until we found the path on the right, we descended to the said pools.

Rock Bunting Escribano Montesino Emberiza cia

What an oasis!  Possibly the only water for a very large area there were both Rock Buntings and Black Redstarts taking advantage of the facility.  Many Stonechats around and then we noticed that a number of Crested Larks were making use of the water to both bathe and drink.  The odd Goldfinch moved about and then a number of Crag Martins accompanied by a few Barn Swallows put in an appearance, both drinking the water and feeding over the muddy-emptiness of the adjacent, dry water deposit.  But better was to come.  A strange-looking bunting had us taking a closer look and we found, again, we were looking at a pair of juvenile Ortolan Buntings.  Micky was more than pleased when we then found a single Common Redstart coming down to drink but it was not the Blue -headed Wagtail (Iberian Yellow wagtail) that came down to thoroughly enjoy itself as it set about its ablutions but Derek had seen a stranger drop in which was out of site to the rest of use.

That's better!  Iberian Yellow Wagtail Lavendera Boyera Iberica Motacilla flava iberiae fresh from bathing

But patience had its reward as found we looking at, what appeared, to be a very exhausted and newly-arrived, Ring Ouzel.  (First of the year.)  The bird eventually made its way across the pool to a bare tree in front of us where, much to our surprise and pleasure, we realised it was not the only Ring Ouzel present.  I think we all pretty sure that this small number, probably about 8 as a maximum, had literally just arrived, completely exhausted, in the past hours or so and were now trying to regain their strength before feeding, etc. After that, having spent well over an hour at this particular site, we had wonderful views of the birds, were able to identify both juvenile and females and, at last, the birds resting in sunshine.  Not only did we see Ring Ouzels in the dead tree we also had both Cirl Bunting and Ortolan Bunting along with Linnet resting on the same branch so giving excellent opportunities to compare plumage and size.  And above them, and a couple of Ring Ouzels, another Iberian Grey Shrike at the very top.  What a site!  Now if only we could move the tree yet keep all the birds.

Our juvenile Ring Ouzels Mirlo Capiblanco Turdus torquatus
I think by now we had seen all and wanted to retain the experience as we made our way back down the mountain encountering a fairly large flock of House Sparrows at the newly-built lambing shed at the the Charca de Negra turn.  Packing our cars we had a Wood Pigeon fly over and then it was back to our respective destinations.  Having driven the four or so kilometres eastwards to make the turn back in the opposite direction towards Malaga, I decided otherwise and continued on to bear off to the right through Salar on the Alhama de Granada road over the empty hills and then down through the growing fields to Venta de Zafarraya.  As soon as I turned off the main road to the latter, the small cover of trees produced the expected Chaffinches and then, at the bottom of the hill, I encountered a pair of (common) Magpies.  But the most amazing was still to come.  Not more than a couple of hundred metres further on I had a Roller resting on a large rock at the side of the road on my left.  I stopped to take a closer look not believing my eyes - whereupon the bird upped and away then back across the road and away into the distance.  What a way to end a fabulous birding day in great company.

And yet, despite this being a visit where quality outshone quantity, it would appear that I recorded 38 species, forty if you include both the Little Owl and Nuthatch.  And I wonder what other species Derek, Barbara and Micky encountered on their return drive to Alhaurin de la Torre?

NB:  And the big question is: Do juvenile Ring Ouzels migrate in their own complany as no pure adults were seen?

Birds seen:
Red-legged Partridge, Sparrowhawk, Rock Dove, Woodpigeon, Collared Dove, Little Owl, Roller, Crested Lark, Thekla Lark, Crag Martin, Barn Swallow, Blue-headed Wagtail, Robin, Black Redstart, Common Redstart, Stonechat, Northern Wheatear, Black Wheatear, Blue Rock Thrush, Ring Ouzel, Blackbird, Mistle Thrush, Dartford Warbler, Spectacled Warbler, Pied Flycatcher, Nuthatch, Short-toed Treecreeper, Iberian Grey Shrike, Azure-winged Magpie. Magpie, Chough, Jackdaw, Spotless Starling, House Sparrow, Rock Sparrow, Chaffinch, Goldfinch, Linnet, Cirl Bunting, Rock Bunting, Ortolan Bunting, Corn Bunting.

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