Saturday 21 October 2017

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

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